Friday, September 30, 2016

"This Road We Traveled" by Jane Kirkpatrick - the story of the Mother of Oregon

This Road We TraveledWhen Tabby Brown's son decides to strike out for Oregon, she is determined to go with, old age, crippled foot and all. Sharing the journey with her family--especially her daughter and oldest granddaughter--gives her the strength to keep going, even in the midst of hardship. On her historic journey to becoming the 'Mother of Oregon,' she discovers that even an old woman has plenty to learn.

Based on the history of Tabitha Brown, Pherne Pringle, and Virgilia Pringle--real women who followed the Oregon Trail

I enjoyed the unique perspective of the story, told by mother, daughter, and granddaughter, though it's not a perspective I would normally seek out. Tabby, Pherne, and Virgilia each have a very different outlook on life: Tabby, the old woman, wholly in the present, taking each day as it comes. Pherne, the middle-aged mother, looking back and grieving what is left behind. And Virgilia, the young woman, looking to the future.

There's a lot of food for thought in the story. When one thinks of the Oregon Trail, the hardships along the way are generally what comes to mind--from sickness to dangerous water crossings to getting caught too late in the season and encountering storms. And they are significant. But what resonated with me most was all the things they left behind--not just beautiful homes and family heirlooms, but family who chose not to make the trek. The grave of a child. In all likelihood, they would never return to see what and who was left behind. I could really understand Pherne's reluctance to leave.

Stories based on real people are not always as satisfying as those entirely imagined--what with real life intruding, and all--but I was mostly content with this one. It wasn't always exciting, and it certainly wasn't a romance, and I don't think I would read it again, but it has its place. I could see it being a good book for school.

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.

Related novels:
A Light in the Wilderness
The Memory Weaver 

Monday, September 26, 2016

Roseanna M. White's "A Lady Unrivaled" - brilliant, suspenseful conclusion to the trilogy

A Lady Unrivaled #3   -     By: Roseanna M. White
In the suspenseful conclusion to the Ladies of the Manor series, sweet, optimistic Lady Ella Myerston grows tired of everyone sheltering her from the dangers associated with the mysterious jewels her brother has been hiding for a friend, and she decides to research everything she can about them. Lord James Cayton is still battling the guilt of breaking two hearts, and he has no intention of adding a third to the mix, especially not Ella. But when he gets pulled into the fight for the jewels alongside Ella, it's all he can do to keep her safe.

It's a bit unusual to find an eternal optimist in a Gothic romance--which I would say this qualifies as, what with cursed jewels and mad villains and all--but Ella brings a ray of sunshine into what could have been a very dark tale. She surprised (and thrilled) me with her common sense, as, for that matter, did Cayton. I really like intelligent heroes. Especially heroes that don't keep dangerous or foolish secrets that are waiting to come back and bite them at the worst possible moment. Thus, I cannot recommend these two enough!

Normally I don't care as much for secondary characters who get their own point of view as for the main characters, but for Kira Belova, I can make an exception. I really liked her in this story; she added significantly to the plot and was fascinating in her own right. Having taken a number of Russian studies in college (and loved it), I felt that the author does a wonderful job capturing the Russian spirit and incorporating hints of the history leading up to the impending revolution. I can only approve of the reference she cites in the author's note, as Orlando Figes is THE historian to consult when it comes to Russian history.

This is one of the rare series that successfully navigates the stories of three different couples yet has a cohesive, series-wide plot following the the mysterious jewels and villains who are after them. All mysteries and motivations brought up throughout all three books are finally answered in this novel, with a sense of the journey being brought full-circle. As much as I enjoyed each of the individual stories, as a series (all read in a row), they are brilliant. And yes, that means I reread the first two to eke the greatest enjoyment out of this one.

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

Friday, September 23, 2016

Twilight at Blueberry barrens by Colleen Coble - a twisty, complex mystery

Twilight at Blueberry Barrens  -     By: Colleen Coble
In the final Sunset Cove novel, Kate Mason is trying to earn enough to survive after a disastrous blueberry season, so she rents out the cottage on her land to a man with his two nieces. Dissatisfied with the local law enforcement's explanation of his brother and sister-in-law's death, Drake Newham is staying in Sunset Cove to try to uncover more about their murders, and he needs a nanny to keep an eye on his nieces. Kate fits the bill perfectly, until her uncle escapes from jail and it appears a stalker is following her. In spite of the danger, Kate and Drake have growing feelings for each other, but will they survive long enough to act on them?

Though not as suspenseful as some other novels by this author, the mystery was characteristically twisty and complex. And with a stalker, it's sufficiently creepy. There was really only one person I thought the stalker could be--and it turns out I was right--but it was not without severely doubting myself several times, thanks to the complexity of the villainy in the story. I can appreciate an author who messes with my mind like that.

I enjoyed that Kate got her own story--she's had a rough life, and is impressively well centered in spite of it. It wasn't my favorite of the three Sunset Cove novels, but it fit well with the others in the series.

I had a sudden revelation while reading this novel (which many others likely caught onto long ago in the series): the Sunset Cove novels overlap Denise Hunter's Summer Harbor series both in setting and characters! It was a fun surprise that two authors are sharing a setting and characters, but each with their own twist. Sheriff Colton sounded so familiar, and now I know why!

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

Sunset Cove
1. The Inn at Ocean's Edge
2. Mermaid Moon
3. Twilight at Blueberry Barrens

Summer Harbor by Denise Hunter
1. Falling Like Snowflakes
2. The Goodbye Bride
3. Just a Kiss

Monday, September 19, 2016

Kim Vogel Sawyer's "Guide Me Home" Rebekah Harden goes looking for a job at Mammoth Cave, there are no openings for a girl--just a cave guide, and those have always been men. Determined to help her family, Rebekah dresses as a man, and under the protection of experienced guide, learns the ropes of the cave. When university student Devlin comes to map the extensive cave system, Tolly and Rebecca are his guides. Can a rich politician's son and a hillbilly girl have a future together?

I enjoyed learning the history of Mammoth Cave and the surrounding area. I really liked Tolly and the way he watches out for Rebekah in body, heart, and reputation. For me, he was far more intriguing than Devlin, as Tolly is a son of slaves yet so proud of the history his ancestors had in making this country, even back to the War of 1812 and Revolutionary War. I didn't have any idea what role the Mammoth Cave had in our nation's history, or the vital importance of the people (mostly slaves) who worked in it.

Rebekah is sweet and sympathetic. Devlin didn't do much for me as far as heroes go. Cissy (Rebekah's sister) is pretty frustrating--foolish, ignorant, and selfish, which makes for a bad combination. It's hard to find something redeemable in her until the very end, and by that point I'd grown weary of her rebellious shenanigans.

One thing I really appreciated is that though Rebekah dresses as a man, it's not really a secret that she's a girl--it's just not advertised to the visitors, so she receives more respect. It's a lot more believable than most cases where a pretty girl dresses as a man and somehow pulls it off for weeks or months on end.

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.

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

"Can't Help Falling" by Kara Isaac - a fun story with a Narnia theme

Can't Help Falling
"A funny, heartfelt romance about how an antique shop, a wardrobe, and a mysterious tea cup bring two C.S. Lewis fans together in a snowy and picturesque Oxford, England . . ."

Emilia Mason abandons her career in tabloid journalism after a story results in tragedy, and she burns her bridges behind her to travel to Oxford in hopes of reviving a dying charitable organization, both to start anew and to atone for her part in the tragedy. Peter Carlisle was headed for the Olympics in rowing before a shoulder injury knocked him out, and now he's desperate to get back to the top, even if it means ruining his shoulder for good. Helping with his cousin's charity throws him together with Emilia and sparks instantly fly, especially with their shared love of Narnia. But can their relationship overcome the ugly secret Emilia hides?

Lots of humor and references to The Chronicles of Narnia await those who pick up this romance, but there's pain and remorse to get through before the end. The author strikes an excellent balance between humor and drama, and there is a poignant spiritual thread as well.

Being as I've read the Chronicles of Narnia, I can't say for sure how much a difference knowledge of the series makes for understanding this book--it certainly increased my appreciation level. The important references are explained, and often with a clever punch for the plot (especially the Lucy vs Susan thing)*, but there are a lot of less-important-to-the-plot references that aren't explained in detail. I was pleased that the author references to the whole series, not just The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe.

Though it is a minor part of the book, I enjoyed the continuation of Allie and Jackson's story from Close to You - it's no surprise that they're still working through issues, but it's good to see more closure on their story. And it fits in nicely with Emilia's tale! I'm hoping Kat gets her own story soon.

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

*I have to add, the book makes me annoyed with CS Lewis all over again, because I liked Susan in the Chronicles of Narnia, and I agree with Peter's assessment of her before his enlightenment - "Susan was great too. She had the magic horn and was an awesome archer. She was brave and resilient." So what if she has an important symbolic role to play in the final book--nothing will ever make me happy with Lewis for ruining her character in The Last Battle.

Related novels:
1. Close to You
2. Can't Help Falling

Friday, September 9, 2016

"A Hope Undaunted" by Julie Lessman

Hope Undaunted, A: A Novel - eBook  -     By: Julie Lessman
Katie O'Connor has planned her life out for herself, and it doesn't involve kowtowing to the whims of the men in her life - not her father, and not her future husband. However, she doesn't have much choice when her father punishes her by sending her to work in the legal department of an orphanage under the authority of her childhood nemesis, Luke McGee. Will they learn to work together? And will Katie learn in time that her plans can't compete with God's plans?

In regards to the O'Connor family, this book is so far my favorite (though I still have two to go!). Even though Katie seems like a spoiled brat at first, she improves quickly and isn't as prone as her older sisters to make foolish choices. She actually might be the most sensible of the four girls, and I like that, though it took me by surprise.

I was pleased to note the return of Cluny, Katie's nemesis from A Passion Denied. While he's not quite the same scene-stealer he was then, I like the man he has become - still at odds with Katie, but honorable and protective. I also liked both friends Parker and Betty a lot, and it's hard to see the heartache they each go through.

I enjoyed the historical aspects of this novel, as it takes place around the stock market crash, and the author is really good about weaving in details of how life is changing with the times. It helps to have read the three Daughters of Boston novels first, as their stories have all continued in A Hope Undaunted, and one can gain quite the historical perspective starting with A Passion Most Pure, which takes place during WWI, and then working onward in time from there.

One side note, I do find it a trifle odd that so far all four O'Connor girls have been engaged to at least one man doomed to never be their husband (if not two men) prior to their marriage . . .

O'Connor Family Saga:

A Light in the Window

Daughters of Boston
1. A Passion Most Pure
2. A Passion Redeemed
3. A Passion Denied

Winds of Change
1. A Hope Undaunted
2. A Heart Revealed
3. A Love Surrendered

Monday, September 5, 2016

Denise Hunter's "Just a Kiss"

Just a Kiss  -     By: Denise Hunter
Riley Callahan had been planning that the next time he's home from overseas, he'd tell his best friend, Paige, that he loves her, but an IED explosion leaves him short a leg, and now he fears he will never be enough for her. However, his new plan to distance himself from her never gets a chance to take off, since his family arranged it so he ends up spending his recovery at Paige's house. Will Riley find the healing--both inner and outer--that he needs? And will Paige ever fall for him in turn?

I think this book is enhanced having read the first two in the series first--Paige and Riley have a lot of history, and while it's explained well in this one, the anticipation and build-up are so much greater after reading the whole series. The same goes for Aunt Trudy and the sheriff; we finally get to know the rest of their history and why Trudy has held a grudge against him for so many years!

I really like that the author was bold enough to make Riley an amputee; it's a direction that few authors are willing to go, since if one is going to do it, it has to be done right. And I think she succeeds. PTSD is much more common now in fiction than it used to be (and it only makes sense that Riley has it), but the complication of losing a limb adds another dimension.

Between Riley's pain and Paige's feelings of abandonment, this one invokes quite a number of tears! Overall, it's a sweet romance with an uplifting message.

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

Summer Harbor
1. Falling Like Snowflakes
2. The Goodbye Bride
3. Just a Kiss

Sunset Cove by Colleen Coble (related romantic suspense series with cross-over characters)
1. The Inn at Ocean's Edge
2. Mermaid Moon
3. Twilight at Blueberry Barrens 

Friday, September 2, 2016

September 2016 releases!

The new Christian fiction for September 2016:

Newton & Polly   -     By: Jody Hedlund
This Road We Traveled    -     By: Jane Kirkpatrick
A Lady Unrivaled #3   -     By: Roseanna M. White
Newton and Polly by Jody Hedlund (Waterbrook)

The story of John Newton and the devout woman who loved him

This Road We Traveled by Jane Kirkpatrick (Revell)

Based on real events, three generations of women band together to follow the Oregon Trail.

A Lady Unrivaled by Roseanna M. White (Bethany House) - Ladies of the Manor, book 3

The daughter of a duke determines to take action against the danger that has been following her friend and brother--but who will protect her?

A Lesson in Love and Murder by Rachel McMillan (Harvest House) - Herringford&Watts Mysteries, book 2

Female detectives Herringford and Watts are sent on a mission to find an anarchist bomb maker, whose talent may be used against a presidential candidate of the United States

A Lesson in Love and Murder (Herringford and Watts Mysteries, #2) Just a Kiss  -     By: Denise Hunter
Twilight at Blueberry Barrens  -     By: Colleen Coble

Contemporary Romance:

Just a Kiss by Denise Hunter (Thomas Nelson) - Summer Harbor, book 3

The youngest Riley brother joined the marines to distance himself from the girl he loved, but an IED sends him home again, broken. Will her feelings ever change towards him? And if they do, can he open his heart again?


Twilight at Blueberry Barrens by Colleen Coble (Thomas Nelson) - Sunset Cove, book 3

Threats swirl around a Maine blueberry farmer, with her murderer uncle escaped from jail, someone out to kill her tenant's family, and a stalker dodging her steps,