Friday, October 20, 2017

Dani Pettrey's "Blind Spot" - the plot thickens . . .

Blind Spot (Chesapeake Valor, #3)FBI Agent Declan Grey knows a terrorist attack is coming, but it isn't until he is temporarily partnered with crisis counselor Tanner Shaw that he finally gains a solid lead. Tanner and Declan have butted heads since first being introduced, but now working in close proximity, the tension is producing sparks. With the clock running down to figure out the terrorists' plans, and someone out to kill them both, will they ever get the chance to act on their feelings?

My earlier speculation that this series would be best read all together is proven correct--I'm really wishing July 2018 was a lot closer right now. It's not a true cliffhanger, but let's just say the next book can't come soon enough! The books all tie in together a lot more than most series in the genre, so I highly recommend reading them in order.

At first I wasn't too sure what to think of two entirely unrelated cases going on at once in the story, but given how much we've already invested in the characters in the series, I decided it's a good call. Griff and Finley, Parker and Avery, and now the upcoming Luke and Kate are all as equally important to the series as Declan and Tanner, though in this book Declan and Tanner take the forefront, as the others each do in their respective books. It's more like a tv show this way, with the main couple having the more important of the two investigations, and the supporting cast following their own, with each occasionally getting help from the other. It means we can keep tabs on all the characters who have come to mean so much in the series. The terrorist plot makes the other investigation seem--not trite, but of significantly less importance. Yet on the other hand, I felt that that investigation is much more personal to the group than a potential terrorist attack.

I was pleasantly surprised with Tanner in this book; my impression of her from the earlier books was that she is a crusader for whom the cause is more important than common sense. However, she proved a lot more sensible in this book, not to mention competent. She still has a big heart for helping refugees and the downtrodden, but she doesn't let it consume her at the expense of friendships, love, or survival. She and Declan really do make a good couple, with a lot more in common than I first thought (including their faith).

I enjoyed the non-stop action of this book, and I can't wait for the next!

Thank you Bethany House for a free book. I was not required to write a positive review, and all opinions are my own.

Chesapeake Valor
1. Cold Shot
2. Still Life
3. Blind Spot
4. Dead Drift (July 2018)

Monday, October 16, 2017

"Lady Jayne Disappears" by Joanna Davidson Politano - an enchanting story

Lady Jayne DisappearsBrought to her aunt's home along with her father's other personal effects after his death in a debtor's prison, Aurelie finds herself in household surrounded by small-minded relatives who greet her with apathy at best, with the exception of the one other houseguest, Silas Rotherham, who finds her conversation intriguing. With no other outlet but her writing, Aurelie decides to finish her father's serial novel about her mother--written under a the pen name, Nathaniel Droll. As her father was wont to do, she begins writing more of her secretive relations into the serial, and it doesn't take long for them to notice the similarities between the stories and their lives. Can she keep the identity of her pen name a secret as she searches for the ending--both the fictional one and the true one--to her mother's story?

The cover drew me in first, then the description heightened my interest--but the story is what enchanted me. It's different--more Dickens than Austen, Gothic yet faith-filled, and not without humor.

I loved Aurelie's simple, unshakable faith; there are a lot of things about both her life and her family's history that she has to learn, but God's faithfulness is not one of them. I especially loved her prayer, "God, give me exactly what I would ask for if I knew everything you know." She has the wisdom to ask for the best.

My opinion of Aurelie's aunt definitely changed by the end of the book; I could respect her decisions, hard as they clearly were for her--no matter how much you love someone and want to save them from themselves, at some point that beloved person has to accept the consequences of their choices.

I loved the ending; maybe I shouldn't have been surprised by it, but the story was sufficiently enchanting that I wasn't thinking ahead, just enjoying the moment. But I look forward to rereading it to see all those hints I missed!

Thank you Revell and NetGalley for a free e-book. I was not required to write a positive review, and all opinions are my own.

Friday, October 13, 2017

Denise Hunter's "Blue Ridge Sunrise"

Blue Ridge Sunrise (Blue Ridge Romance #1)Coming back to Georgia for the first time in five years, Zoe discovers that she's inherited her grandmother's peach farm. Everyone in her hometown expects her to stay and run it, while her boyfriend Kyle expects her to sell it and return to their singing career in Nashville with him. But Granny's farm was the one place she's always been happy, even if it also holds memories of her first love, Cruz Huntley--and her broken heart. As tension ramps up between her and her boyfriend--as well as Cruz--will Zoe regain the courage to choose for herself what's best?

During the story we get a fairly long flashback sequence of Zoe and Cruz's relationship, including the answer to the fairly big question of how Zoe ended up with Kyle instead. I definitely liked Zoe's adult self better than her irresponsible teenage self, though I didn't ever really connect with her--maybe it was too many personality changes (between the beginning, the flashback, and the end). Who I really liked was her best friend Hope--I'm glad to see the next book will feature her! She makes a great best friend, and I look forward to learning more of her story. And, for that matter, I really liked Zoe's brother (particularly as a great candidate for Hope).

While this isn't a thriller, there is some suspense towards the end. Apparently I psyched myself out (probably from reading too many actual suspense novels) into thinking that the obvious villain couldn't possibly be behind the arson; I had another perpetrator all picked out, motive determined and everything--but it turns out that I far, far overthought things.

There wasn't much of a faith message in this book, especially not compared to certain others by the author, though the characters (especially their poorer choices) felt realistic to today's society. It definitely was not my favorite of Hunter's novels, but still a solid romance.

Thank you Thomas Nelson and NetGalley for a free e-book. I was not required to write a positive review, and all opinions are my own.

Blue Ridge Romance
1. Blue Ridge Sunrise
2. Honeysuckle Dreams (May 2018)

Related novel:
Sweetbriar Cottage

Monday, October 9, 2017

Todd Johnson's "Fatal Trust" and "The Deposit Slip" - two great legal suspense stories

I've gotten into the habit of reviewing books so much that I almost feel guilty if I don't write at least a little blurb on my impressions. So here are my quick thoughts on a couple legal suspenses I just read--both taking place in Minnesota, for a change.

Fatal TrustFatal Trust by Todd Johnson ~ about a young attorney asked to distribute a several million dollar trust that grows more suspicious by the day, and might somehow be tied to Minnesota's greatest--and unsolved--art heist.

I enjoyed this legal suspense set in the Twin Cities--it was fun that I recognized a number of the places and neighborhoods mentioned, and even better, it offers one possible answer to Minnesota's greatest art heist. The author does a good job sucking the reader in, and just like Ian, we don't know just what we're getting into . . . until we're in too deep to stop. I'll have to read some of this author's earlier novels!

As a note, while there is a hint of romance, it is far more focused on the mystery and suspense; I wouldn't call it a romantic suspense, so if that's what you're looking for, be forewarned.

The Deposit SlipThe Deposit Slip by Todd Johnson ~ about an old deposit slip found for over 10 million dollars that the bank claims to have no record of, yet there are just enough inconsistencies to suspect there's something to the claim.

This is the third legal suspense I've read in about a month, and I'm getting a much better picture of how lawsuits work. I'd hope I'd never get involved in a case like this one, though--how do you prove something exists when the proof was wiped out years ago? Of course, any time people are involved, no cover-up can be completely guaranteed.

I enjoyed watching Jared and his crew do the impossible, and while I knew it had to work out in the end, it looked oh-so-grim for a while. It certainly kept me on the edge of my seat! A great legal suspense!

Friday, October 6, 2017

"The Secret Life of Sarah Hollenbeck" - full of both humor and real-life issues

The Secret Life of Sarah HollenbeckWhen Sarah Hollenbeck--a.k.a. erotic romance novelist Raine de Bourgh--comes to Christ, she's determined to live a life more fitting with with her new convictions. But just because she has new convictions doesn't mean it's easy to leave behind the world, especially when she's still contracted for one more book--and her publisher and fans have some decided expectations from steamy Raine de Bourgh. Also, it didn't occur to her that the church might take issue with her tithing royalties from her notably scandalous novels . . . and then there's the fact she's falling in love with her pastor while still figuring out how to be a christian woman in a secular society.

I wouldn't call the entire book laughing-out-loud funny, because there's way too many thought-provoking and seriously moving moments throughout the story, but there were moments I laughed so hard tears were leaking out of my eyes. And moments when my eyes were leaking for entirely different reasons.

What impresses me most about the book is the very honest feel to it--you have a woman who is lost and unloved, who is trying to find herself again. After some crazy detours, she eventually finds God and is needing to reconcile her new life with the choices and consequences of her past that won't just go away. She is just learning how to be a Christian, including things that so many of us grew up with, like basic bible stories, and tithing, and all the "rules" that "good Christians" have had drilled into them from birth. Her transformation is genuine, which leads to--in spite of her comparative ignorance--convictions that she chooses to follow. But that doesn't mean that living the pure life she wants to live is remotely easy, and almost immediately she encounters blatant Pharisaical attitudes in the church. And the fact is, in real life it's really hard to avoid the temptations of the flesh, and the church is full of broken, imperfect people who need Jesus as much as you do.

I think everyone can find something in Sarah to relate to--whether it's the fear of opening oneself up to friendship or love and risk being hurt again, or the temptations of a wordly lifestyle that doesn't want to let go, or the disillusionment of following one's convictions only to be blasted by the people who should agree with your choices, or just the insecurities almost every woman faces when in a relationship. But just as easily, I think people can relate to her self-deprecating humor and ability to laugh at herself. It's the perfect balance between humor and gritty, real-life issues. 5 stars!

As a side note, I would love to read Piper's story--she's the best kind of best friend!

Thank you Revell and Netgalley for a free e-book. I was not required to write a positive review, and all opinions are my own.

For a musical-style trailer for the book, I highly recommend watching the video, "What's a Girl to Do?" by Easton Toles--it captures Sarah Hollenbeck's dilemma perfectly!

Monday, October 2, 2017

New October Christian Fiction releases

Lots of new releases this October, in historical, contemporary romance, and suspense. I can't wait to read them all!

Christmas at Carnton (Carnton #0.5) Too Far Down (The Cimarron Legacy, #3) Lady Jayne Disappears
Christmas at Carnton by Tamera Alexander (Thomas Nelson); Carton, book 0.5 (novella)

In the midst of war, an expecting widow facing eviction finds work with a wounded soldier at one of Franklin, Tennessee's estates.

Too Far Down by Mary Connealy (Bethany House); Cimarron Legacy, book 3

An explosion at the family mine brings the eldest son--a Harvard graduate--home, but will it be the cowgirl friend from childhood that keeps him there?

Lady Jayne Disappears by Joanna Davidson Politano (Revell)

When her penniless father dies, a young woman takes over his pen name and serial while trying to discover the mystery of mother's disappearance.

A Dangerous Legacy Where We Belong The Secret Life of Sarah Hollenbeck
A Dangerous Legacy by Elizabeth Camden (Bethany House)

A new arrival threatens a telegrapher's position, but when she discovers his shocking secret, she agrees to help him--if he helps her find her family's stolen inheritance. But there's a lot more going on behind the scenes than either could ever predict . . .

Where We Belong by Lynn Austin (Bethany House)

Accompanied by their butler and a street urchin, a pair of atypical Victorian sisters set out on an adventure to the Holy Land to find an important biblical manuscript.

Contemporary Romance:
The Secret Life of Sarah Hollenbeck by Bethany Turner (Revell)

When a writer of steamy romances meets the Lord (and a handsome pastor), what should she do with her new convictions when they don't align with her publishing contract?

Blind Spot (Chesapeake Valor, #3) Dangerous Illusions (Code of Honor #1)
Blind Spot by Dani Pettrey (Bethany House); Chesapeake Valor, book 3

An FBI agent and crisis counselor come across evidence of a terrorist cell and are in a race to stop them before the "wrath descends."

Dangerous Illusions by Irene Hannon (Revell); Code of Honor, book 1

When a series of memory lapses leads to a tragic death, a woman lands under police scrutiny--but is there more to the case than meets the eye?

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Irene Hannon's "Dangerous Illusions" - a diabolically clever twist

Dangerous Illusions (Code of Honor #1)When Trish Bailey's mother dies from what looks like could be a pill overdose--possibly due to Trish's memory lapses--Trish falls under police scrutiny. Detective Colin Flynn's gut says she's innocent of deliberate wrongdoing, but as time goes on, strange inconsistencies begin adding up to something more sinister than Trish and Colin could have possibly guessed.

For me, Irene Hannon's villains are the highlight of her suspense novels, and this might be her cleverest twist yet on a villain--a twist that I did not see coming. There's very little I can say about our most clever and diabolical villain without spoiling the brilliance for everyone else, so suffice to say, he's good and supremely well-developed. The author is brilliant for creating him.

The backcover copy of the book describes it as "a mind-bending story that will have [the reader] doubling back to retrace their steps--and figure out what they missed!" While I would normally consider this exaggeration, in this case it was actually true for me. And everything I retraced made total sense.

Based on the story, I'm assuming the next two books of the series will follow Colin's close friends from their childhood Treehouse Gang, who are--contrary to patterns in previous series--not all in law enforcement. I'm definitely interested to see where their stories go!

Thank you Revell and NetGalley for a free e-book; I was not required to write a positive review, and all opinions are my own.

Code of Honor
1. Dangerous Illusions

Friday, September 22, 2017

"A Dangerous Engagement" by Melanie Dickerson

A Dangerous Engagement (The Regency Spies of London, #3)When Felicity Mayson receives an invitation to a country house party, she is instantly paired with a pleasant young man who doesn't mind her lack of dowry. In a whirlwind romance, she accepts his proposal--and then learns her fiance is a leader of an insurrectionist group intent on leading a revolution in England. Phillip McDowell is undercover with the group gathering evidence against them, and he convinces Felicity to continue masquerading as the man's fiancee rather than break it off. But can they find proof--and get it out--before they get caught?

Felicity is definitely in over her head, playing a very dangerous game, but at least she's constantly turning to the Lord for help. To be honest, she's not a good spy, and she's an even worse coquette, trying to string her fiance along without letting him take more than she wants to give. It's amazing she isn't called out long before, but at least she shows gumption in her spying.

I have trouble believing these particular insurrectionists could stage a mass uprising against the government; they just don't strike me as particularly effective or committed revolutionaries if they spend their evenings getting drunk and fighting with each other. I would think that if they were truly devoted (or desperate for change), they would be more apt to exercise self-control. Outside of Lady Blackstone, they seem rather . . . inept. She and Ratley are the only members of the group with any kind of personality.

The story is not too deep, but it's fast-paced and full of suspense.

Thank you Waterfall and NetGalley for a free e-book. I was not required to write a positive review, and all opinions are my own.

Regency Spies of London
1. A Spy's Devotion
2. A Viscount's Proposal
3. A Dangerous Engagement

Monday, September 18, 2017

Tamera Alexander's "Christmas at Carnton" - novella introduction to a new series

Christmas at Carnton (Carnton #0.5)Pregnant and recently widowed, Aletta Prescott is struggling to make ends meet. With eviction looming and her hopes of a cooking job dashed, she is afraid for the future. However, the acquaintanceship of a wounded soldier offers her a different opportunity of employment, as well as a surprising friendship. Jake Winston would give anything to get back to the army and his sharp-shooting, but the head injury he sustained when shot has affected his vision, and he fears losing not only his greatest skill, but his very identity. However, working with Aletta proves a better assignment than he expected. But with her having already lost one love in the war, and him raring to go back, can there be a hope of more than friendship?

I enjoyed this introduction to the Carton Estate. I love how the characters have multiple--and somewhat surprising--skills, with stereotypes being turned on their heads: Aletta is a mother and respectable cook, but she also has a talent for (and enjoyment of) carpentry. Jake is a sharp-shooter, but he is also a decent handyman and an artist (and proves to have a way with words). Both of them have real struggles as a result of the war, but I especially can't imagine being in Aletta's position, having one child and another on the way, no job, facing eviction, and no time to grieve the loss of her husband.

Tamera Alexander excels at weaving historical details into her books, and this novella--short as it is--is no exception. I'm looking forward to the upcoming novels and seeing exactly what role the Carnton estate played in the Civil War; the author hints that it saw its own share of action.

Thank you Thomas Nelson and NetGalley for providing a free e-book. I was not required to write a positive review, and all opinions are my own.

Related Nashville Novels (contain some cross-over characters/connections to Carnton):

Belmont Mansion
1. A Lasting Impression
2. A Beauty So Rare
3. A Note Yet Unsung

Belle Meade Plantation
1. To Whisper Her Name
2. To Win Her Favor
2.5 "To Mend a Dream" (part of the novella collection Among the Fair Magnolias)
3. To Wager Her Heart

Friday, September 15, 2017

"An Inconvenient Beauty" by Kristi Ann Hunter - a fun end to the series

An Inconvenient Beauty (Hawthorne House, #4)In the final Hawthorne House novel, Griffin Hawthorne, Duke of Riverton has decided it's time to take a wife, and after a year of study and research has found the perfect women. Unfortunately, the woman proves elusive, abandoning him frequently in the company of her cousin, Isabella Breckenridge. Isabella is participating in the London season for only one reason--helping her uncle in exchange for the funds to save the family farm. Even if Griffith were interested with her--which he's not, as he's pursuing her cousin--catching the eye of a duke will not help her cause, since such a rank would scare off the plethora of suitors she needs to accomplish her goals. But while Griffith and Isabella are busy trying not to attract each other, somehow they've slipped into a friendship . . . a friendship that threatens to become something more.

As sad as I am to have reached the end of the Hawthorne House novels, I have to say the series ended in a highly satisfactory manner. Griffith (he-who-is-always-in-control) definitely meets his match in Isabella--not that she deliberately tests his control, but that she is so far out of the running for a bride that she worms her way under his shell before either of them realize what's happening.

I enjoyed that plain, boring Fredrika--Bella's cousin--is not actually a boring person; she might be sedate and not the best conversationalist in public situations, but with Bella she's lively and fun. I could see her being a good match for Griffith or any man, if she weren't in love with someone else. The antics that the girls go through to help Fredrika avoid Griffith and sneak time with her true love were really funny. I laughed out loud several times throughout the book, generally because of them (though Griffith's ladder incident cracked me up too). And of course, helping her cousin leaves Isabella more time with the one man she doesn't want to pursue her--making for more good scenes.

I enjoyed the bits of history added into the story (which the author points out in the note at the end), and I feel like I finally have a glimmer of what the British House of Lords vs. House of Commons is; Griffith might be the first British aristocrat in a book I've read to actually physically do anything with politics in the course of the story (even if it isn't a big part of the book). The message in the book is simple yet good--trust in the Lord, not your own power. Oddly (yet somehow frequently-true-to-life), it's the powerless Isabella rather than the powerful Griffith who needs to learn it.

Thank you Bethany House for providing a free book. I was not required to write a positive review, and all opinions are my own.

Hawthorne House
0.5 "A Lady of Esteem" - a free novella introduction to the Hawthornes and friends!
1. A Noble Masquerade
2. An Elegant Facade
3. An Uncommon Courtship
4. An Inconvenient Beauty

Monday, September 11, 2017

Lori Benton's "Many Sparrows" - a piercing a story

When her husband leaves for help following their wagon crash and her son is captured by the Shawnee, Clare Inglesby is left alone and in labor with her second child, desperate to recover her son, but without a means forward. Frontiersman Jeremiah Ring comes to her aid, but his connections among the Shawnee make it more complicated than before--the woman who has adopted Clare's son is his own grieving sister. With the Shawnee village on Rain Crow's side, and war threatening to explode on the frontier, will Clare ever get her son back?

There is always so much to love about Lori Benton's books--from the real, human characters, to the fascinating backbone of history, to the piercing message we can take away from reading them.

I cannot imagine the pain either Clare nor Rain Crow experiences over little Jacob/Many Sparrows--for Clare, the kidnapping of her son. For Rain Crow, the joy of an adoption destroyed as the birth mother suddenly appears to take her child back. Right away I wanted to make peace between the two women so they can both be happy, but I know it isn't that simple. At times I was frustrated with Clare for her single mindedness about taking Jacob back to civilization, even after she gets to know the Shawnee, but when I stop and think--who wouldn't do everything she could to rescue her child?

Being caught between worlds on multiple fronts, Jeremiah is a wonderful source of balance. He's been through fire and knows now how to truly put his trust in the Lord. It doesn't mean life is easy for him--especially when caught between his sister and the woman he promised to help--but his faith is a wonderful example for us. He is a spectacular example of a godly man--the best kind of hero.

Seeing the Shawnee perspective on Dunmore's War reminds me how it takes both sides to start a war--and how many missed opportunities for peace there always are. Though the real life characters Logan, Cornstalk, and Nonhelema have primarily background roles in the story, their words and actions are moving; Logan's because his years of peace with the whites was shattered when the rest of his family was ambushed and massacred; Cornstalk and Nonhelema's because they advocated for peace and knew exactly what war--especially losing the war--would cost, yet they were willing to lead their people into battle anyway (and then make them face the consequences of their choices).

Perhaps the thing I love most about Lori Benton's stories is how so many lives affect others--one bad decision can devastate a whole family or more, yet healing and reconciliation can be brought around not just to include those immediately involved, but also to enfold others. It's beautifully reflective of God's hand in our lives, where He is at work in a far greater and more complex way than we can possibly imagine.

I highly recommend reading The Pursuit of Tamsen Littlejohn immediately after this, since it is the story of a couple of the secondary characters in this book (young Wildcat when he is all grown up).

Thank you Blogging for Books for providing a free book. I was not required to write a positive review, and all opinions are my own.

Related novels:
The Pursuit of Tamsen Littlejohn

Friday, September 8, 2017

Ronie Kendig's "Crown of Souls" - an Indiana Jones-esque adventure

Crown of Souls (Tox Files #2)When Tox Russell takes a sniper bullet to the shoulder, it isn't an assassination attempt--it's a message from an old brother-in-arms: join or die. Alec King, wearing an ancient crown of questionable power, has gone off the deep end as a vigilante, taking vengeance on both terrorists and old comrades who wronged him, and he wants Tox to join him. As Tox and his team race to stop Alec, Tox fears his similarities to his old friend, wondering if they aren't one and the same--both monsters at heart. He wants desperately to save him, but will the crown warp Alec beyond redemption?

I love the Indiana Jones-esque theme to these books (and the fact they they even reference him in the story)--the ancient history and supernaturally powerful artifacts make these books so different from the average military suspense. And I was most pleased to have my suspicions about a certain questionable character confirmed!

Since I love the racing around the globe and focus on the ancient historical sights, the beginning felt a little slow to me as they figure out what's going on and prepare to head out (to be fair, it's very important to the story--just not as interesting to me).

It's slow going for Tox, but he is taking more steps on the journey toward healing and faith. His struggle over his similarities to Alec, especially in light of his secrets, was poignant--as is Haven's faith in him. I wouldn't have minded a touch more on Tzivia--she seems to be treading a fine line with self-destruction. I just hope she doesn't hurt herself more in the process . . . Looking forward to book 3 and whatever supernatural adventures the team will be getting into!

Thank you Bethany House and NetGalley for providing a free e-book. I was not required to write a positive review, and all opinions are my own.

Tox Files
0.5: "The Warrior's Seal"
1. Conspiracy of Silence
2. Crown of Souls

Monday, September 4, 2017

Rachel Dylan's "Deadly Proof" - a thrilling legal suspense

Deadly Proof (Atlanta Justice #1)Attorney Kate Sullivan is tapped as lead counsel on a huge case against a massive pharmaceutical company and their cover-up of their latest drug. When a whistle-blower comes to Kate, she hires private detective Landon James to check out her authenticity--but the woman is murdered before giving Kate the details. As Kate prepares for the trial and Landon looks further into the woman's death, it becomes clear that someone in the pharmaceutical company is intent on winning  trial, and they're not afraid to hurt--or kill--to do it.

This book is pretty much exactly what I was hoping for in a legal thriller--lots of digging to find the truth, danger and suspense, and a dash of romance. And the hint of conspiracy always livens things up. While I enjoy romance, I appreciated that it doesn't compete for the main focus of this story; instead, the case is most important, with the romance and Kate's friendship with the opposing lawyer, Ethan, coming in a tie for second.

I never, ever want to become a lawyer; sitting on a jury would likely be hard enough. However, while such a job might be torture for me, I really enjoyed reading about all the trial prep and search for proof. Dylan appears to know her stuff; a lot more goes on behind the scenes than we see in tv shows. I never felt the story get bogged down in legalese, and the pacing is perfect.

Ethan is kind of in the role as the villain (being as he represents the evil pharmaceutical company), but he is far from evil--just caught in the slippery slope of questionable ethics. He makes some poor choices, but I can pity him as each decision leads him one step further from where he should be. I also appreciated that while Ethan is teetering toward the path to the dark side, there are still other lawyers besides Kate who have a moral compass and refuse to be compromised, even when the consequences are significant. That inner debate for the lawyers--seeing whether they will follow their values when temptation comes their way--is really what makes them human and keeps me reading!

Both the history and camaraderie of Landon and his college roommates reminded me of the men in Dani Pettrey's Chesapeake Valor series; readers who have enjoyed Pettrey's novels will enjoy this one too (I know I did). I have high hopes for Kate's two best friends and Landon's college roommates to get together in future novels (but that is pure speculation on my part). Also, seeing what happens with Nicole and Miles could be interesting as well. I'm glad this is advertised as the start of a series!

Thank you Bethany House and NetGalley for providing a free e-book. I was not required to write a positive review, and all opinions are my own.

Atlanta Justice
1. Deadly Proof
2. Lone Witness (May 2018)

Friday, September 1, 2017

September Christian Fiction releases

New Christian fiction releases for September 2017:

An Inconvenient Beauty (Hawthorne House, #4) All this Time (Walker Family, #4) Crown of Souls (Tox Files #2)
An Inconvenient Beauty by Kristi Ann Hunter (Bethany House); Hawthorne House, book 4

While a debutante should be enjoying her society debut, an unpleasant bargain made to compensate for her family's reduced circumstances hinders her marriage prospects--and possibly love, if she can't find a way to get out of it.

All This Time by Melissa Tagg (Indie); Walker Family, book 4

His past refuses to let go, while her fears hold her future captive. Can these two long-time friends find the courage to reach for something better?

Crown of Souls by Ronie Kendig (Bethany House); Tox Files, book 2
Deadly Proof (Atlanta Justice #1)

When a rogue Special Forces operator shoots Tox, an old friend insists they go after the would-be assassin in vengeance, but that old friend is using an ancient artifact linked to some of the worst slaughters in history--and he's becoming more and more like the slaughterers.

Deadly Proof by Rachel Dylan (Bethany House); Atlanta Justice, book 1

In the biggest case of her career, an attorney is tapped for lead in a case against a pharmaceutical corporate cover-up, but someone is willing to do anything--even commit murder--to keep the case from going to trial.

Monday, August 28, 2017

"The Austen Escape" by Katherine Reay--reality vs escapism

The Austen EscapeAt her dad's request, Mary Davies allows herself to be dragged away from the tension at her engineering job and a romance that was over before it had even begun to a Jane Austen Regency experience in Bath, England, with her best friend--and occasionally worst enemy--Isabel. Her friendship with Isabel has always been a little tense, not the least because Isabel adopted Mary's family as her own to replace her own neglectful family. And when tensions shoot sky-high between Isabel and her father, Isabel shuts down, becoming the character Emma Woodhouse to the point where she physically remembers no other life than that of a Regency-era woman. Mary is frantically trying to take care of her friend when she finds out their lives have intersected more than she had realized, and now she finds herself caught between who Isabel was, who she seems to be, and the man who stands between them.

I realize I've gotten a bit behind the times, and this is the first Katherine Reay book I've ever read (even though I've heard many, many good things). And of course, I wonder what took me so long.

The Austen Escape reminds me of Shannon Hale's Austenland, with its Austen-esque, Regency experience, but it is much kinder--a place of healing rather than disillusion. I appreciate the truly welcoming atmosphere of guests in a friend's home, and it feels down-to-earth and real, offering guests the freedom to go as deep into the Regency experience as desired without requiring they give up any more modern technology than they wish. And though there are moments of humor, it never feels silly--it's far more thoughtful.

I enjoy how different Mary is from the norm--an engineer, brilliant with electricity and gadgets, who, for all her less than typical pursuits, is still plenty feminine. In some respects it feels like we're getting the story of the sidekick rather than the heroine, a role Mary has been relegated to too often in her life, yet she crawls out of that role to become a heroine of her own making. There's a strong focus on friendship through the story, probably equal to that of the romance (which, really, is more like real life than the average romance novel). Her struggles with her job, with the loss of her mom, with her feelings as a sidekick rather than a heroine in her own right--all make her very real and relatable. All in all, a very enjoyable Austen experience.

Thank you Thomas Nelson and NetGalley for providing a free e-book. I was not required to write a positive review, and all opinions are my own.

Friday, August 18, 2017

Ronie Kendig's "Operation Zulu Redemption" - full of danger and suspense

Operation Zulu RedemptionThey never should’ve existed. Now they don’t.  Zulu, the first all-female special ops team was set up to take a devastating fall. Fearing for their lives, Zulu members vanished with new identities. Isolated and haunted by their past, they are terrified of being discovered.  Over the years, the brave women of Zulu have begun to hope they might be safe and the terrible tragedy forgotten.  Until two of them are murdered, setting off a chain of events they can only pray they'll survive . . .

Originally published serially, Operation Zulu Redemption is a 5-part mini-series that would really make a great TV show. Full of action and danger, it's really hard to put down! I really enjoyed the TV-series-like concept of "episodes" and putting them together into a "season." As with TV shows, there's significant potential for a second season, with many relationships and mysteries that could be explored further.

The women all had believable side effects from the trauma of their sabotaged Op, as well as five years of building a new life. Some are ready to embrace their new lives, only to have it ripped from them again; others are unable to cope with the trauma and new identity, and happy to be back on the team where they feel they belong. Of the women, I had the hardest time reconciling the Teya of Zulu with her Amish alternate identity; she's just so very effective at her job, with being probably the best hand-to-hand combatant of the bunch. Nuala I would love to know more about--it felt like she took a bit of a backseat to the others, but I really liked her quiet observation, her constant belief in the best of others, and her more introverted personality.

With so any characters and points of view, I really appreciated that it's long enough to flesh out the characters and plot (over 500 pages! I love long books!), and yet somehow there's the sense that we've still only scratched the surface . . . I hope the author has more plans for Zulu!

Monday, August 14, 2017

Lynette Eason's "Chasing Secrets"

Chasing Secrets #4  -     By: Lynette Eason
In the final Elite Guardians book, bodyguard Haley Callaghan finds herself in danger on multiple fronts--from the local gangbanger who beats on a kid she's taken under her wing to the murderer who assassinated her family 25 years ago in Ireland. Detective Steven Rothwell takes it upon himself to back her up, but can they keep ahead of the bullets, bombs, and bad guys that never seem to quit?

Haley is just as tough as the other members of her team, if not more so, since she spends most of the book wounded yet not taken down. There's a lot going on with the story, between Haley's past, her bodyguard job, and her personal life helping kids, not to mention Steven's past and his current case that has no apparent connection with Haley's problems. With all that happening, the story certainly moves quickly, and as I have come to expect from Eason, it's non-stop action.

It definitely wasn't my favorite of the series--it didn't have the novelty I felt in the first book (the introduction to the women bodyguards), nor the out-of-the-box plot of the third. However, I think a good part of my lower level of enjoyment was a result of distractingly enticing non-reading activities, and the slightly less unique plot couldn't compete. I will say, the romance progressed fairly realistically compared to other suspense books, and there were some good thoughts on forgiveness.

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

Elite Guardians
1. Always Watching
2. Without Warning
3. Moving Target
4. Chasing Secrets

Friday, August 11, 2017

"To Wager Her Heart" by Tamera Alexander

To Wager Her Heart (Belle Meade Plantation, #3)One year ago, two trains crashed outside of Nashville, killing over a hundred people. Silas Rutledge, new owner of the Northeast Line Railroad, comes to Nashville to put in a bid to develop a new rail line into Belle Meade Plantation, but the competition is stiff, especially for an outsider from Colorado. He needs help breaking into the Southern Gentlemen's circle, and Alexandra Jamison, daughter of one of Nashville's oldest families, is the key. Alexandra, in pursuing her dream to teach at the freedmen's school, is cast out from her own family and must provide for herself, so she agrees to help, in spite of her reservations--chief of which was having lost her fiance in the trash crash his father was blamed for. However, she finds herself learning to respect him. But in Nashville's post-war society, can they find the justice they seek?

One thing you can count on in Tamera Alexander's stories is a deep appreciation for--and attention to--historical detail. From the Fisk University (a freedmen's school) and its internationally renowned Jubilee Singers to hymn-writer Philip Bliss to the prevailing prejudices of the time, the story is rich with historical detail. While each book in the series is perfectly stand-alone, they also fit well together, dealing more pointedly with the prejudice in Reconstruction-era Nashville, while tying them in with the historic Belle Meade Plantation.

Alexandra grows a lot during the story, both learning to find her own way and overcoming deep-seated fears and grief. Like Alexandra, I found my initial opinions of Si changing. Not that I ever disliked him, but I was impressed by how willing he was to ask for help when he was clearly a strong, self-made man. The romance is sweet, gentle, and believable as they grow into friendship and slowly evolve into romance, each helping the other pursue their dreams.

Overall, it was an enthralling and inspiring story, in classic Tamera Alexander-fashion.

Thank you Zondervan and NetGalley for providing a free e-book; I was not required to write a positive review and all opinions are my own.

Belle Meade Plantation (contains some cross-over characters/connections to Belmont)
1. To Whisper Her Name2. To Win Her Favor 
2.5 "To Mend a Dream" (part of the novella collection Among the Fair Magnolias)
3. To Wager Her Heart

Belmont Mansion (contains some cross-over characters/connections to Belle Meade)
1. A Lasting Impression
2. A Beauty So Rare
3. A Note Yet Unsung

Carnton Mansion  (contains some cross-over characters/connections to Belle Meade and Belmont)
0.5: "Christmas at Carnton" (novella, October 2017)

Monday, August 7, 2017

Hillary Manton Lodge's "Jane of Austin" - a story of sense and sensibility and tea

When a new landlord takes over and remnants of their father's business scandal force the three Woodward sisters out of their home and San Francisco tea shop, they find themselves landing in Austin of all places. Jane is having a hard enough time finding anything to like about Texas, with their inability to find a new location for their tea shop and her baby sister unhappy about leaving her friends, but her older sister Celia hurting from a break-up--and refusing to talk for the first time in their lives--is the worst. But then, they have an encounter with a heroic and chivalric Texan, and Jane just might have found one thing to like about the state . . .

I'd like to think that just because a novel is related to Jane Austen's work, I wouldn't automatically pick it up--but that has yet to be proved. Perhaps I might have been able to resist, but there is that huge focus on tea and baking . . . and I love tea. So there it is.

Lodge takes a different tack from the average Jane Austen knockoff with the focus on Sense and Sensibility (as opposed to the more popular Pride and Prejudice). And it works really well; there's no Austen references in the text, but the story is undeniably a modernized Sense and Sensibility. I'm more of an Elinor than a Maryann, so I identified with the personality of Lodge's Celia more so than Jane, but Jane proved a bit more pragmatic than Austen's Maryann (even with her heightened 'sensibility'), and I enjoyed her sense of humor (not to mention all her baking and tea-making, though I cannot understand her love of chamomile).

I have to admit, one of the big draws to this book was that I knew it would have recipes in it--and one of my favorite recipes (a Moroccan tagine with couscous) came from another of the author's books. These look equally delicious. Other than a brief mention of seminary in the last chapters, there is absolutely no faith element, regarding which I was a little surprised and disappointed (especially considering the publisher), but on the other hand, the story is clean and entertaining. It is my favorite book by Lodge to date.

Thank you Blogging for Books for providing a free book to review. I was not required to write a positive review, and all opinions are my own.

Friday, August 4, 2017

August 2017 New Christian Fiction

New releases coming out in August 2017:

Many Sparrows The Promise of Breeze Hill (Natchez Trace) Chasing Secrets (Elite Guardians, #4)
Many Sparrows by Lori Benton (Waterbrook)

When a settler's son is captured by Shawnee, she will do anything to get him back, even follow him in enemy territory herself.

The Promise of Breeze Hill by Pam Hillman (Tyndale) - Natchez Trace, book 1

After his indenture is purchased by a colonial plantation owner's daughter, a carpenter discovers that someone has his eye on the plantation and is willing to do anything to acquire it.

Chasing Secrets by Lynette Eason (Revell) - Elite Guardians, book 4

A body guard finds herself in danger when a case from 25 years ago is reopened.

Monday, July 31, 2017

"Dear Mr. Knightley" by Katherine Reay - a modern "Daddy Long Legs"

Dear Mr. Knightley
After growing up in the foster care system, Samantha Moore finds safety in books but can't seem relate to other people for her life. When yet another disappointment lands her back where she started--a group home--she decides to go to grad school after all. An anonymous benefactor agrees to sponsor Sam, provided she study journalism and write frequent updates. So Sam begins attending grad school, certain that the courses will be a breeze and she can fake the human interaction. But she learns that nothing is that easy . . . With her anonymous Mr. Knightley as her confidante, she chronicles the ups and downs of her journey toward healing.

There are a lot of contrasts in this book; it's both an ode to the classics and a very modern read, with tough, real-world problems. There's humor, but also a lot of pain. Both self-realization and lying to oneself. Hope and despair (though hope triumphs).

I can't speak for how accurate this story is in portraying an adult who grew up in the foster care system--the closest I've come is one friend who was adopted as a baby, but she has never had cause to doubt her parents' love. Regardless, the story resonates--the feelings of abandonment, the walls put up to shelter one from more hurt and disappointment. If this is even remotely close to what some foster kids experience, it's powerful and painful. I can understand why Sam would retreat from real life into fiction when things hit too close to home. To my limited experience, the author portrayed this really well.

Another thing she did well--the author knows her classics! Not just Austen and the Brontes, but also Dumas and Dickens and Shakespeare and others. I consider myself decently versed in the classics, but there's no way I could keep up the quote wars (though at least I recognized many of the Austen quotes). It was fun how she was able to incorporate them so easily, using them both as a guide for polite behavior and a weapon.

In some ways it's a coming of age novel (which is fitting, being based on the classic Daddy Long Legs), though Sam is a bit older of a protagonist than usual. It's definitely a moving tale, and one to make you think.

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Karen Witemeyer's "Head in the Clouds" - an old one, but a good one

Head in the CloudsAdelaide Proctor resigns her stable post as a schoolteacher to follow her heart--and ends up getting crushed when the man she pursued turns out to be married. With no job to go back to, she answers an ad for a governess for an English sheep-herder's daughter out in the wilds of Texas. Adelaide's resume isn't the one Gideon Wescott would have chosen for his adopted daughter, but the way she draws out the traumatized child cinches the deal for him. When little Isabella's uncle comes to claim her and her inheritance, Gideon and Adelaide must work together to protect her.

This was the first Karen Witemeyer book I ever read, which pretty much sealed her as one of my favorite authors. A blend of humor and heart, both sweet and inspiring with a touch of suspense, the story (even after some four or five read-throughs) never ceases to disappoint.

I like how the author puts a different, more biblical spin on the phrase "head in the clouds"--while the term can refer to Adelaide with her dreams of love and happy endings, she's also got her eye on the sky to watch for a cloud pointing the way, just as the Israelites did when following God in the desert.

I love the characters (except for the bad guys; they're perfectly despicable). The story itself is particularly well-told, leaving one happily satisfied on all accounts. It's one of my favorites!

Friday, July 21, 2017

Jane Orcutt's "All the Tea in China" - a lively and non-traditional Regency romance

All the Tea in ChinaFun-loving Isabella Goodrich has never quite fit the mold of a proper, young Englishwoman, and when she realizes she has been put firmly on the shelf, she makes a radical decision. Having just had an encounter with the less fortunate and seen a new possibility for her future, she jumps a ship to China to become a missionary. However, the missionary she joins, Phineas Snowe, is proving to be hardly what he seems, and he is intent on putting her back on the next ship to England. Will her impulsive decision be her ruin? Or does God have a plan for her beyond that of the average Englishwoman?

This is the second time I've read the book, and it still greatly entertained me. It's definitely not one's average Regency romance, since it takes place primarily at sea on the voyage to China, and many of the popular social situations of the Regency era do not apply on an ocean voyage. Isabella is hardly the average Regency heroine, being not only scholarly but also athletically inclined, and actually desirous of marriage (whereas so many bluestocking spinsters tend to be in denial). For that matter, our hero is far from the suitable, traditional Englishman one comes to expect in the genre.

It's a lively, light-hearted book that nevertheless touches on some serious subjects, such as prejudice and loving those who persecute you, but in a gentle, compassionate way, not sermonizing. And I like the romance, how it kind of creeps up on Isabella and suddenly we see her perspective shift.

I wish the author had lived to write more Rollicking Romances.

Monday, July 17, 2017

"A Name Unknown" by Roseanna M. White - spectacular story on the eve of WWI

A Name Unknown (Shadows Over England #1)Rosemary Gresham, a thief with no family but a ragtag group of former street urchins, is hired to steal proof that a certain gentleman is loyal to Germany instead of Britain. Reclusive, stuttering Peter Holstein knows that war is coming, and anyone of German descent--especially him, with access to the king's ear--is suspect. Proof of his family's loyalty would go far to clearing his name, but his home is filled with three generations' worth of papers and books, and no one is willing to take on his chaotic, overflowing library. When Rosemary shows up at his door willing to take on the job, he's thankful to leave her to it and get back to his most closely-guarded secret--writing his next novel under the pseudonym Branok Hollow. But as anti-German sentiment rises and Rosemary digs into his past, will what she finds exonerate him--or condemn him?

There is a lot to love about this book, not the least of which is the unpredictability. With a professional thief for a heroine, it's really a toss-up what might happen. Rosemary ended up a lot more bold than I was expecting--not in a I-don't-need-anyone's-help kind of way (though she is remarkably self-sufficient, except for remembering to eat), but in a speak-her-mind-to-anyone and feel-perfectly-comfortable-plopping-down-in-the-local-pub-and-boldly-making-friends kind of way.

It had what I consider the best kind of romance--where two people overcome barriers first to become friends, and from there advance to a romance. Peter really is a sweetheart; Rosemary pegs him perfectly when she loses her temper defending him. I could understand being peeved at his one-track mind and habit of shutting out the entire world, though. He's a great sweetheart of a hero.

Having studied modern wars some, I enjoyed being able to keep up with the politics of this story as the powder keg that was Europe grows ever closer to exploding into war. It was fascinating to get a more personal view of the relational politics--how all the close familial relations between the major powers factored into it--and how the author makes the British royal family into real people, not just aloof state figureheads. I wouldn't call it particularly suspenseful, but it was a fascinating and spectacular book. I can't wait for the next one! Highly recommended!

Thank you Bethany House for providing a free book; I was not required to write a positive review, and all opinions are my own.

Shadows Over London
1. A Name Unknown
2. A Song Unheard (January 2018)
3. An Hour Unspent (Fall, 2018)

Friday, July 14, 2017

"A Matter of Trust" by Susan May Warren - suspenseful adventure

A Matter of Trust (Montana Rescue, #3)In the third Montana Rescue novel, state senator and former lawyer Ella Blair chases her irresponsible younger brother to Glacier Park, where he takes off on a dangerous snowboarding trip with a storm rolling in. Only one person has the skill to go after him--former professional snowboarder Gage Watson, whose life was ruined by a lawsuit Ella had a part in. In spite of hard feelings, Gage knows Ella's skill on the slopes and allows her to come along track down her brother. But can they find him before the storm hits--or before he hurts himself?

I enjoy the occasional survivalist-type book, and chasing two amateur snowboarders down a massive, dangerous mountain--with the hopes of finding them before they kill themselves--definitely qualifies. I have not particularly enjoyed my experiences skiing, but the sport is much more enjoyable when experienced through a book.

Over all, it's a very well-balanced book, with intense, suspenseful adventure, romance, and spiritual themes of grace and forgiveness. I definitely recommend reading the other books in the series first, since there are a fair number of characters and complicated relationships, plus a series-long case that has yet to be solved.

Being as the next book doesn't come out for nearly six months, I'm not particularly thrilled with the way this book ended (with quite the teaser of an epilogue). However, it promises another exciting adventure to come! Perhaps the unclosed case will at last be solved . . .

Thank you Revell and NetGalley for proving a free e-book; I was not required to write a positive review, and all opinions are my own.

Montana Rescue
1. Wild Montana Skies
2. Rescue Me
3. A Matter of Trust
4. Troubled Waters (January 2018)

Monday, July 10, 2017

Sandra Orchard's "Over Maya Dead Body" -- fun mystery, quirky characters

Over Maya Dead Body (Serena Jones Mystery #3)Serena Jones is off on vacation with her nosy, intrusive family, when they stumble across a dead body and the distinct possibility of an antiquities smuggling ring. Serena is determined to help on the case, but after an attempt on her life, next thing she knows both the men in her life--her FBI coworker Tanner and her mysterious apartment building superintendent Nate--arrive on the island to help her out. If the case hadn't been complicated enough before, the two guys butting heads form a mighty distraction--and at the rate things are going, a distraction might just get her killed.

Wow, I was afraid this book was going to leave me hanging--it was getting right down to the wire when certain...[cough]...things I've been waiting on since Book the First were resolved. Both Nate and Tanner are great guys--if a little frustrating on occasion for needing to show the other up--and both make terrific heroes. The decision between them has been a long time in coming! And I think I'm satisfied with the result (though I confess I may have waffled back and forth a few dozen times during the series).

We finally get to find out more about Nate's past (and the past of a certain other character of whom I had been growing suspicious), which was quite satisfying. I love how Serena's quirky family plays such a large role in the series, especially nosy, old Great-Aunt Martha, and how she's become more of a side-kick to Serena than a liability. Well, mostly. There's no one who can find trouble like Aunt Martha, though Serena certainly takes after her in that regard. I love the stories more for the characters than for the cases they investigate.

I do recommend reading books one and two first--while not altogether necessary, there are a number of references to them in this book, plus they're plain fun. While this appears to be the final novel in the series, there's certainly room for more Serena Jones mysteries; I'd love it if the series were continued! While I enjoy the genre, I don't keep many mystery/suspense novels, but these are a permanent fixture on my shelf!

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

Serena Jones Mysteries
1. A Fool and His Monet
2. Another Day, Another Dali
3. Over Maya Dead Body

Friday, July 7, 2017

"The Promise of Breeze Hill" by Pam Hillman - Colonial Mississippi

The Promise of Breeze Hill (Natchez Trace)In the Natchez market, Isabella Bartholomew purchases carpenter Connor O'Shea's indenture, with the stipulation she will pay for his brothers' passage from from Ireland. However, her home of Breeze Hill is barely solvent after a series of misfortunes that may or may not be sabotage. With the assumption Isabella will inherit, suitors are clamoring for her hand, but the one man she'd consider--Connor--will have nothing to do with her, having been burned by a landowner's daughter before. Can he set aside his feelings to keep Isabella and her family safe?

It was interesting to learn a bit more about the South at a time we hardly ever study--after the American Revolution, when it left British hands and became controlled by Spain (but before Napoleon took control and sold it to America). Even then there were contentions over slavery, and it was particularly interesting to learn about the white slavery that the British had perpetrated. Highwaymen and disreputable folk abounded in the relatively recently-settled territory, leaving room for adventure.

I had a hard time caring for Connor as much as I felt like I should, especially at first--he's neither particularly nice nor respectful to Isabella, thanks to previous bad experiences with a woman, and he gives a lot of mixed signals. To be fair, his actions are generally kind and considerate, but his attitude grated on me. I did like Isabella, and kind of wanted to see her put Connor in his place. Occasionally she does something extremely foolish, but at least it's with good intentions. I really liked Isabella's family and servants--who seemed like family anyway, especially the kids. The estate feels like a real tight-knit community, and I really enjoyed how the author brought out that feeling of closeness.

Thank you Tyndale House and NetGalley for providing a free e-book; I was not required to write a positive review, and all opinions are my own.

Monday, July 3, 2017

July 2017 Christian Fiction Releases

Some titles coming out this July--from historical suspense to mystery to outdoor adventure!

A Name Unknown (Shadows Over England #1) Over Maya Dead Body (Serena Jones Mystery #3) A Matter of Trust (Montana Rescue, #3)
A Name Unknown by Roseanna M. White (Bethany House); Shadows Over England, book 1

On the eve of WWI, a thief who has taught herself how to blend in with England's upper crust is sent to find out where a wealthy gentleman's loyalties lie--with Britain or Germany?

Over Maya Dead Body by Sandra Orchard (Revell); Serena Jones Mysteries, book 3

FBI Agent Serena Jones is just joining her family on a vacation to Martha's Vineyard, hoping to get some R&R, but crime waits for no one--next thing she knows, she's caught up in an antiquities smuggling case and in over her head.

A Matter of Trust by Susan May Warren (Revell); Montana Rescue, book 3

A PEAK Rescue worker and former snowboard champion is forced to confront the woman who betrayed him when her brother goes missing in Glacier National Park and she insists on joining the search party.

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

"The Invisible Library" by Genevieve Cogman - fun fantasy world-building

Irene and her assistant Kai, professional spies for the Library, have been sent to an alternate-reality London to retrieve a particularly dangerous book. Unfortunately, by the time they arrive, the book has already been stolen. Irene and Kai are in a race against London's underground factions to find the book, and in a chaos-infested reality where supernatural creatures and magic run rampant, the task looks near impossible. But if they don't retrieve that book, the nature of reality itself might not survive . . .

A bit of mix between The Librarians tv series and Jasper Fforde's Thursday Next books, The Invisible Library is another fun play on the concept of a library storing not merely books, but artifacts that could alter reality. One thing different about this one is that it subtly questions the morality of both the Library and librarians who work there--while it's all that Irene has ever known and an entity she loves and believes in, there is definitely some question of corruption and room for less than altruistic motives within, especially with its hints of political maneuvering. I'm interested to see how that plays out in future books.

Since the premise of the series is that there are hundreds--perhaps thousands or even millions--of alternate realities, which can be magical, technical, or varying mixtures of each, there is a ton of room for creativity. This book was a fun dip into steampunk, with a war between the technical and magical balancing each other out (and neither side particularly innocent or good).

Our heroine Irene is a little stiff and cold, though to be fair, she rarely works with anyone, generally being assigned solitary retrieval missions. I'm really hoping she loosens up in the following books, especially now that she's accustomed to--even appreciative of--Kai's friendship. Who, for the record, I liked quite well. It was fun to see his true nature poking through more and more as events progressed.

There was one short scene that really didn't fit with the rest of the story (a brief discussion on sex when they'd known each other all of one day), and it didn't mesh with either personality. It felt more like an unnecessary attempt to make the story less Young Adult. It doesn't fit, especially at this stage of the series, and it did absolutely nothing for the plot. One could pretty much rip that one page out of the book and be just fine (other than living with the frustration of knowing there's a missing page).

There's definitely a lot of loose ends and backstory yet to be fleshed out, but as it is a series, I'm hopeful that my expectations will be met in future books. I thoroughly enjoyed the book, with it's interesting concepts of alternate realities and the vast room it has for creativity.

Thank you Blogging for Books for providing a free book; I was not required to write a positive review, and all opinions are my own.

The Invisible Library
1. The Invisible Library
2. The Masked City
3. The Burning Page
4. The Lost Plot

Friday, June 23, 2017

Karen Witemeyer's "Heart on the Line" - a romance over the wire

Heart on the Line (Ladies of Harper’s Station, #2)After her father is killed before her eyes, Grace Mallory goes into hiding in the women's colony, Harper's Station, where she continues her job as a telegrapher. Over the months, she strikes up a friendship over the wire with Amos Bledsoe, another telegrapher 150 miles down the line. When a warning comes through that her father's killer has found her, Amos--who has been trying to gather the courage to meet her in person--overhears and takes off for Harper's Station to protect her, even if his stature is less than that of the typical hero. It's up to two telegraphers, a marshal, a Pinkerton agent, and a town full of women to bring a killer to justice.

I'm pretty sure it's because of Karen Witemeyer that several years ago I read the nearly forgotten classic Wired Love, a witty novel not unlike Jane Austen's writing, which became part of the inspiration for this story. The romance over the wire is surprisingly similar to today's relationships begun online--where one must simply take the other at their word they're who they say they are. I love the idea of a secret language between Grace and Amos--being telegraphers, they can communicate whatever they want while no one else can understand their tapping.

I have to say, I adored Amos. Being married to a geek myself--one without the impressive physique so common in fictional heroes--I loved seeing someone more like my husband save the day with his brains and win the heart of fair lady. Amos is well aware of all his physical shortcomings, but he doesn't let them rule him, even when in subtle competition with the Adonis-like Pinkerton agent. It's funny how someone can seem plain and unappealing at first impression, yet the more one gets to know the person, the better looking and more appealing they become.

I love how in this adventure, everyone gets a chance to take part in saving the day--sure, the brawny marshal and Pinkerton have a hand in it, but both Grace and Amos--neither a candidate for Most Likely to Save The Day--have a crucial role in bringing the bad guys to justice. Over all, it's a charming romance and adventure, with both humor and heart.

Thank you Bethany House and NetGalley for providing a free e-book; I was not required to write a positive review, and all opinions are my own.

Image from Inspired by Life and Fiction blog--Karen Witemeyer
Ladies of Harper's Station
1. No Other Will Do
1.5: "Worth the Wait" - found in the All My Tomorrows novella collection (September 2017)
2. Heart on the Line
2.5 "The Love Knot" - found in the Hearts Entwined novella collection (January 2018) 

Monday, June 19, 2017

"The Captain's Daughter" by Jennifer Delamere - Backstage of Gilbert and Sullivan

The Captain's Daughter (London Beginnings #1)When circumstances leave her penniless and alone in London, Rosalyn Bernay takes refuge as a dresser behind the scenes of Gilbert and Sullivan's long-running HMS Pinfore. Army sergeant Nate Moran has been filling in backstage until his brother is back on his feet, but he yearns to be back with the regiment. He recognizes Rosalyn's naivety and offers her a friendly hand. The two have potential to become more than friends, but he is leaving for India soon, and her heart has been captured by the theatre. Will their dreams pull them in opposite directions?

With a new author (to me, anyway), I'm never sure exactly what to expect, but I enjoyed this book. Rosalyn is fairly naive, yet resourceful--which comes in handy when her naivety gets her into trouble. Nate is a kind, gentle hero, still battling his own demons, yet a quiet, protective presence. It's both entertaining and faith-filled.

The theatre plays a major role in the story, and the people that make it up are neither wholly selfish nor whitewashed to perfection--just people, both good and bad, and often a bit of both. While some practices have changed with technology, it's funny how much hasn't changed behind the scenes. It was interesting to read about the background of Gilbert and Sullivan's productions, including the secrecy revolving around Pirates of Penzance and the tactics used to keep the rights to their own productions from being pirated.

Not everything is wholly wrapped up, but nothing major is missed; there are two more books to come, at which point I imagine more will be addressed. I look forward to learning more about Rosalyn's sisters, Julia and Cara!

Thank you Bethany House and NetGalley for providing a free e-book; I was not required to write a positive review, and all opinions are my own.

London Beginnings
1. The Captain's Daughter
2. The Heart's Appeal (March 2018)

For those who love Gilbert and Sullivan, I'd also recommend Murder at the Mikado, a 1930's murder mystery revolving around the title production.

Friday, June 16, 2017

"Freedom's Price" by Christine Johnson

Freedom's Price (Keys of Promise #3)When her family's estate in England is entailed away, Catherine Haynes sets sail for her mother's estranged family in Louisiana. During an unexpected detour in Key West, she makes friends with a captain and wrecker, Tom Worthington, who escorts her the rest the of the way to Louisiana. However, the family plantation has fallen into neglect, and there are dangerous secrets hidden in the bayou.

Suspense and romance follow along on a journey from England to Key West to Louisiana. This is the most action-packed book of the series, with adventure on both land and sea, both natural disaster and man-made. It stands nicely on its own, with characters from the previous books only having minor supporting roles.

Catherine is the epitome of the fiery red-head. She's quite headstrong and proud; she's also incredibly gutsy to waltz into her estranged relations' plantation and expect to be instantly one of the family, complete with the authority inherent with the position. While her moxie can come in handy, it's also a definite flaw when it comes to common sense and her safety. I spent the latter half of the book shaking my head at her fool stubbornness--it's clear which way the wind is blowing, and she walks right into it.

While I enjoyed the increase of danger, I didn't feel the emotional tug of the previous book.

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

Keys of Promise:
1. Love's Rescue
2. Honor Redeemed
3. Freedom's Price

Monday, June 12, 2017

Kate Breslin's "High as the Heavens" - WWI Espionage

High As the HeavensBritish nurse Eve Marche, trapped in occupied Belgium, works in the hospital by day and for the Belgian resistance by night. En route to a clandestine meeting, she watches an Ally plane go down right in front of her and is shocked to discover she recognizes the downed pilot. Simon Forrester is taken to the hospital as a prisoner of war, where he could be shot as a spy at any time. Eve knows she has to get him out of Belgium, but time is running short, and there may be a double agent in their midst . . .

While there are many novels that take place during WWII, there are a lot fewer about WWI, so it was a pleasure to read about the Great War for a change, and in occupied Belgium, no less. There are definitely similarities between the wars, so it was nice that the author included hints of period detail, such as corsets (which went out of fashion not long after the war) to keep the reader grounded.

I love it when the author includes a historical note to let the reader know what was real, and it was gratifying to learn that both Eve and Simon's experiences were based off those of several historical figures. I can't imagine the terror of crossing borders, with the fences and trenches strung up all over, checkpoints on all the roads, and people always watching and spying. I appreciated that the author didn't paint all Allies as good and all Central Powers figures as bad, but that they were all human--with the choice to do good or bad, regardless of their side of the war. Eve may have been staunchly on the side of the Allies, but her desire to save every soldier that comes into her hospital is a fine example for others around her, painting all soldiers as people and not enemies.

I really liked the romance and thoroughly enjoyed the surprise of the first meeting. I can't imagine the pain that either Eve or Simon went through thinking the other one dead, not to mention the fear of not knowing what happened to family.

Thank you Bethany House and NetGalley for providing a free e-book; I was not required to write a positive review, and all opinions are my own.

Related novels:
Not By Sight

Friday, June 9, 2017

"The One True Love of Alice-Ann" by Eva Marie Everson

The One True Love of Alice-AnnOn the eve of her 16th birthday, Alice-Ann plans to tell her brother's best friend Mack of her love for him, but the bombing of Pearl Harbor disrupts her plans. With the country headed to war and Mack enlisting, Alice-Ann extracts a promise from him to write--and hopefully over their correspondence they'll both fall in love. When Mack's letters inexplicably cease, Alice-Ann is waiting for the worst. During the days of unknowing, her best friend's brother Carlton is shipped home, gravely injured, and Alice-Ann agrees to visit and read to him during his long recovery. Carlton becomes an unexpected friend, and as their friendship turns to something more, Alice-Ann will have to decide who her one true love truly is.

Set on the homefront in WWII, it depicts the the hardships of those at home--the anxiety of waiting to hear from loved ones, the devastation to the whole town at a death. I could just hear the southern Georgia drawl in the dialogue, and the author brings the sweltering southern setting to life.

Sweet and gentle, the story takes its time. I wasn't surprised by the direction it takes, or any of the twists, but it didn't detract from my enjoyment. It's less a romance and more a coming-of-age story. Oddly, there were moments that reminded me strongly of Gone With the Wind, and it wasn't just the Georgia setting and background of war. For all that both physically and personality-wise Alice-Ann is the direct opposite of Scarlett O'Hara, there were several moments in their respective romances that paralleled each other. I suppose in large part it's because both girls have some growing up to do to learn the difference between infatuation and love. They each have their "Ashley, I love you" moment, and the moment they have to choose who they truly love.

And as Aunt Bess says, "You can't choose who you fall in love with, but you can choose who you marry." Thankfully Alice-Ann has Aunt Bess for advice (Scarlett surely could have used her!)