Friday, January 27, 2017

The Lady and the Lionheart by Joanne Bischof

The Lady and the LionheartElla Beckley, finally given a chance to be a nurse, is the only one who cares what happens to a sick infant girl, save for her striking father. Charlie Lionheart, a lion tamer for the circus, will do everything he can to protect baby Holland, and if that means bringing the nosy nurse back to the circus with him, then so be it. As she gets to know Charlie and other performers, Ella sees both the light and the dark of the circus, the beauty and the scars; and she is given a chance to heal from her own deep wounds.

Both the bright magic of the circus and the darker, grittier aspects are brought to life in this story, while maintaining the setting of the East Coast and Appalachians.

I was expecting Charlie Lionheart to be a showman and larger than life--which, to a degree, he is--but the way he's introduced is so down to earth and real, that that was how I saw him throughout the story: a man in love with his child, doing everything he knows to do to provide for and protect her. Only as the story progresses do we find out what lengths he has gone to, what intensely personal sacrifices he has made to protect the baby. He's the best kind of hero.

A moving story of healing, it focuses on both physical and spiritual aspects. I wouldn't call it an allegory, but there is definitely a fair amount of symbolism--in many ways, Charlie is a reflection of Jesus, and it isn't much of a stretch to see ourselves in Ellie's place. Over all, it's a beautiful story, and a winner of the 2017 Christy Award for best historical romance--the first ever given to an independently published book!

Monday, January 23, 2017

"A Moonbow Night" by Laura Frantz--exploring the Kentucky Frontier

Sion Morgan lives for his forays into the wilderness, surveying the frontier for its eventual settlement. In the midst of the backcountry, he and his team stumble on a frontier inn, run by a woman and her two grown children. When the Tuckers fled Virginia with the Boones back in 1773, tragedy dogged their heels, and even four years later, Tempe Tucker still struggles with her loss. With hostilities between the whites and Indians on the rise, Sion needs a guide, and everyone points him to the aloof daughter of the Inn. In requesting her help, will he get more than he bargained for?

A Moonbow NightThis book hearkens back to the author's debut novel The Frontiersman's Daughter, with its in-depth look at the Kentucky frontier. I loved how the author tied in little-known history about Daniel Boone and his son, while taking full advantage of Kentucky's natural wonders, like the Cumberland Falls and even Mammoth Cave. It feels like we're right there with them surveying their way across the Appalachians. Given that this takes place in a time with a lot hostilities between the encroaching settlers and the Shawnee and Cherokee, it's no surprise that the Indians are portrayed generally as a threat to the surveying party. However, the author treats them fairly--not dehumanizing them, but acknowledging their right to the lands that the whites are stealing.

I wish we could have seen more of Tempe's family, particularly near the end. More about her parents' relationship would have been wonderful, as well as more about Russell and Paige--given how much time we spend with them at the beginning, a more detailed account of their continued growth and change later one would have been nice. It just ended up feeling a little short--like not quite enough pages, or maybe a little too much time spent dwelling on the past, when we could have had a little more of the present.

I didn't love it like I did The Frontiersman's Daughter, but it was an excellent book nonetheless, and I would happily read it again.

I received a free ebook from the publisher via NetGalley. No review, positive or otherwise, was required--all opinions are my own.

Other recommended novels about the Kentucky frontier by Laura Frantz:
The Frontiersman's Daughter
Courting Morrow Little
The Colonel's Lady

Friday, January 20, 2017

Julianna Deering's "Murder on the Moor"---Drew Farthering meets The Hound of the Baskervilles

Murder on the Moor (Drew Farthering Mystery #5)In the fifth Drew Farthering mystery, Drew and Madeline are invited to a friend's Yorkshire estate, where mysterious happenings have been occurring on the moor, not a mention a murder in town that the local constabulary has been unable to solve. Could the two be related? And how does his friend's society bride--a woman of questionable interests--fit into everything?

The problem with reviewing a mystery is that it can be so hard to gush about the things one likes without spoiling the plot, hence the following somewhat vague praise. I was pleased to have figured out (or, in the case of the murderer, simply guessed right without anything to back it up other than intuition from reading too many mystery novels) a couple of the mysteries in the story before Drew did. It's so satisfying to beat him, even if logic was only involved in one particular case, and not the other. And I was pleased that certain characters that I wanted to be innocent were, in fact, innocent. I would not have appreciated the story nearly as much if they hadn't been.

Nick is adorable Nick, but at the same time he has a slightly different role than we usually see him in, and it added a lot to the fun of the novel, changing things up a bit. It was an excellent choice. I also appreciated that issues from a former book have returned, namely regarding certain prejudices that have resulted from bad experiences in Drew's past. Of course, just because he is prejudiced doesn't mean he ISN'T right . . .

References to Jane Eyre and The Hound of the Baskervilles abound. I really need to refresh my memory of the classics BEFORE reading the mystery so I can actually catch all of the references. I can't decide which book I like best--Murder on the Moor or Death by the Book. Suffice to say, this is one of the best!

I received a free e-book from the publisher via NetGalley. No review was required; all opinions are my own.

Drew Farthering Mysteries
1. Rules of Murder
2. Death by the Book
3. Murder at the Mikado
4. Dressed for Death
5. Murder on the Moor
6. Death at Thorburn Hall 

Monday, January 16, 2017

"At Your Request" by Jan Turano

At Your Request (Apart from the Crowd #0.5)After her father's loss of fortune, Miss Wilhelmina Radcliff was summarily dumped by her fiance and sidelined by society. Thanks to her exquisite penmanship, she has found employment among the fashionable set as a social secretary, penning invitations and guest lists. Amongst the other wallflowers at yet another ball, Wilhelmina encounters Edgar Wanamaker, her oldest and dearest friend--whose proposal she rejected years before. Will they be able to reconcile after all these years and changes of circumstances?

Short, lighthearted fare, this novella is sure to cheer you up. I always love the crazy situations Turano's characters get into; even in a story as short as this, there is still room for several minor disasters, from bustle problems to the cranky New York weather.

I enjoyed getting a taste of the heroines of the series; aside from Wilhelmina, we get to know Permilia the best in this story, but I am definitely looking forward to getting to know Gertrude better, if her quick-thinking falsehood at the ball is any indication of her personality. I also suspect some of the girls' associates--Permilia's stepsister and Gertrude's companion--will prove problematic in the future novels. I can't wait to find out how!

Apart from the Crowd
0.5: "At Your Request" (free prequel novella)
1. Behind the Scenes
2. Out of the Ordinary
3. Caught by Surprise

Friday, January 13, 2017

"An Uncommon Courtship" by Kristi Ann Hunter - awkward, amusing, and honest

An Uncommon Courtship #3    -     By: Kristi Ann Hunter
Trapped in a marriage to a woman he doesn't know, Lord Trent Hawthorne is having a hard time reconciling his new position with his dreams of marrying for love. Ever in her sister's shadow, Adelaide hasn't even been introduced to society, yet now she's part of a duke's family, and she has no idea how to navigate her marriage, let alone society. Trent determines the only way to make their marriage work is to court his wife, but even then, will they be able to find common ground?

Wow, that was awkward. Amusing, frustrating, moving, surprisingly honest--and definitely awkward. But what can one expect out of a marriage of convenience when the bride and groom don't know each other?

In some respects, this is one of the most realistic marriage of convenience books I've read. Even people who know each other well prior to marriage experience their fair share of awkwardness after speaking the vows, so going into a marriage blind like this, I can see how it could be so supremely awkward trying to gauge how to act, what to do, how to get to know one's spouse without the benefit of normal courtship buffers. For the record, the physical side of marriage is addressed--it only makes sense that it would be--but it is done tastefully, in a way that you get a pretty good idea what happens without having the details spelled out. I wouldn't call it risque; it's both too vague and realistic (yes, weird combination to pair together, but accurate) to qualify. I thought the author handled it very well.

How do you know when you love someone? Can you love and be angry with them at the same time? The author explores beyond typical romance into what love looks like in a marriage relationship, and how it's not just a feeling, but choices. I really liked how the GUYS get together to teach Trent what Godly love is--it isn't up to the women to do it. It's refreshing to see men really step forward as spiritual leaders in their homes.

I do love how well Hunter portrays the Hawthorne family; no matter what foolish choices individuals make, the family sticks together and protects it own. And they willing make room for new members like Adelaide, who, given her family's machinations and the circumstances behind the wedding, in any other family might have been given the cold shoulder. I enjoy getting more opportunities to spend time with Miranda and Georgina. And I am greatly looking forward to meeting the woman who can shake up oh-so-orderly Griffith's world!

I received a free book from the publisher. No review, positive or otherwise, was required; 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, January 9, 2017

"The Mark of the King" by Jocelyn Green - an intense, historical read

The Mark of the KingAfter losing a client in childbirth, midwife Julianne Chevalier is branded and imprisoned for life, a criminal beyond redemption. However, in spite of her condemned status, she is given the opportunity to sail to the Louisiana colony, where her brother was stationed with the army. However, nothing is as she imagined: the price of passage is forced marriage to a convict before sailing, and the arrival in a primitive settlement proves disillusioning. Her only dream is to find her brother in this hostile land, but even that proves beyond her grasp. Even in this new place, will she ever be free of the king's mark on her shoulder?

As I've come to expect from the author, this book layers an inspiring story over some intense, meticulously researched history, and she doesn't sugar-coat the reality behind the story. I can't imagine how the women must have felt when offered the "freedom" of forced marriages to convicts before being shipped, starving, to a miserable land that couldn't support them.

Looking at the history of New Orleans, it's hard to credit any people group with noble intentions and actions, other than the native peoples who early on graciously kept the colonists from starving. But by the time this story takes place, France didn't even care about her starving, deserting colonists; the local government, in squabbles with the British, played one Indian tribe against another. The tribes were growing disillusioned with the French, and less likely to keep the peace. It is hardly a proud moment in American (and especially French) history.

Depressing history aside, the story was inspiring. I love the author's use of symbolism; though the mark of the French king condemns Julianne, she has also been marked as a child of the true king, God, in whom there is no condemnation. There's a lot of loss and sorrow, but there's hope too. It's an excellent book--highly recommended! Well deserving of the 2017 Christy Award for historical fiction!

I received a free e-book from the publisher via NetGalley. No review, positive or otherwise, was required; all opinions are my own.

Friday, January 6, 2017

Melissa Tagg's "Keep Holding On" - a sweet story of friendship

Keep Holding On (Walker Family #3)Beckett Walker returns home for the first time in six years to make things right--and gets thrown in jail the moment he steps into town, sentencing him to hundreds of hours of community service and, thanks to his absence, getting him fired from his job in Boston, putting his dream of becoming a military lawyer further out of reach. What he doesn't expect is his childhood best friend Kit to be home trying to run her family's apple orchard. It should be simple: Kit needs the free labor, and Beckett needs the community service hours. A month or two's work together, then they go their separate ways. But neither expects their hearts to get involved.

I enjoyed both impulsive Beckett and straight-laced Kit, but they're even better together--all their history of friendship makes for a wonderful base for their relationship, even if they don't know how to make their opposing goals work. I love how the author brought out the quirky traditions to their friendship, like climbing in and out of windows to see each other. Aren't old friendships like that? You've known each other so long and well that even when you haven't seen each other in years, you can fall right back into the old patterns. It's like coming home. That's how Kit and Beckett's relationship seemed to me: coming home.

What a tear-jerker! Not sad tears, but tears from all the healing in the story. The title perfectly fits the theme of the book--keep holding on. To your dreams, to hope, to God. I also sense a theme of restoration in Tagg's books: saving an old orchard, rescuing the small-town paper, restoring a restaurant, fixing up the historic depot, not to mention all the restoration in her characters' lives, both main characters and secondary.

It's been a lot of fun getting to know the Walker family, and I'm definitely looking forward to Rae's story!

Walker Family
0.5: "Three Little Words"
1. From the Start
2. Like Never Before
3. Keep Holding On
4. All This Time

Related Series:
Enchanted Christmas Collection
1. One Enchanted Christmas
2. One Enchanted Eve
3. One Enchanted Noel

Monday, January 2, 2017

January 2017 Christian Fiction Releases!

Lots of exciting releases to start out the new year! Several of my absolute favorite authors have novels/novellas coming out this month! (Pretty much all the authors are in my top 10.)

A Moonbow Night An Uncommon Courtship #4

A Moonbow Night by Laura Frantz (Revell)

When a land surveyor arrives at a frontier Kentucke inn looking for an experienced guide, he is surprised to be saddled with the innkeeper's daughter.

The Mark of the King by Jocelyn Green (Bethany House)

After being imprisoned and branded for the death of her client, a midwife trades her sentence for exile in the Louisiana colony in hopes of being reunited with her brother.

An Uncommon Courtship by Kristi Ann Hunter (Bethany House); Hawthorne House, book 3

The younger brother of a duke finds his hopes of marriage of love dashed when he finds himself honor bound to wed a lady of quality he barely knows.

"Worth the Wait" by Karen Witemeyer (Bethany House); Ladies of Harper Station book 1.5

A woman's colony only allows certain two men to enter its gates, and the freighter is falling hard for a particular woman and her son--only she has no use for a man in her life ever.

"At Your Request" by Jen Turano (Bethany House); Apart from the Crowd, book 0.5

After a financial disaster, a formerly wealthy society miss takes a secretary position, only to have it push her into contact with a former suitor.

Worth the Wait (Ladies of Harper’s Station #1.5) At Your Request (Apart from the Crowd #0.5)