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
2. Heart on the Line
2.5 "The Love Knot" - found in the Hearts Entwined novella collection

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

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!)

Monday, June 5, 2017

"The Road to Paradise" by Karen Barnett - A Vintage National Parks Novel

Margie Lane, avid naturalist, convinces her father to procure her a position at Mount Rainier National Park, but the head park ranger Ford Brannon isn't thrilled to have a book-smart socialite with no survival skills tagging along all summer. When Margie's former fiance decides to develop the park, making plans to turn it into a tourist playground instead of the pristine wilderness preserve it was meant to be, it's up to Margie and Ford to stop him.

While I have been to several national parks out west, Mount Rainier is not one of them (though I've seen the peak from Victoria, BC). The book certainly makes me want to go out and visit! I got a kick out of Margie, since she can quote scientific names and seems to love wildflowers as much as I do--maybe even more. And we both have a habit of watching what's growing near our feet when out hiking rather than keeping an eye on what's ahead.

It's an entertaining read, particularly if you are environmentally inclined, or love the old poets, like Emerson. The romance is sweet and the 1920's setting fresh, with some inspiring thoughts on God's hand in nature. The villain was a touch over-the-top, but that just means one can despise him without pity or guilt. I look forward to more Vintage National Parks novels!

(And for the record, this is not a mystery; I kind of thought it might be, based on the cover, but it is not--more a historical romance.)

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

Vintage National  Parks
1. The Road to Paradise

Friday, June 2, 2017

June 2017 Christian Fiction releases!

Here are some upcoming June titles!

Freedom's Price (Keys of Promise #3) With You Always (Orphan Train, #1) The Captain's Daughter (London Beginnings #1)
Freedom's Price by Christine Johnson (Revell); Keys of Promise, book 3

Without a future in England, a woman sails to America to find her mother's family, only to find her family gone and their plantation in disrepair.

With You Always by Jody Hedlund (Bethany House); Orphan Train, book 1

Desperate for work, a young immigrant woman takes an orphan train to find a position in the burgeoning towns out west.

The Captain's Daughter by Jennifer Delamere (Bethany House); London Beginnings, book 1

Two stagehands meet briefly working backstage on Gilbert & Sullivan's HMS Pinafore, but when he play is done will their dreams pull them in different directions?

Heart on the Line (Ladies of Harper’s Station, #2) High As the Heavens Sweetbriar Cottage
Heart on the Line by Karen Witemeyer (Bethany House); Ladies of Harper's Station, book 2

Two telegraphers strike up a friendship over the telegraph line, but when he intercepts a wire with a threat against her, it's up to him to rescue--and finally meet--the woman he's falling in love with.

High as the Heavens by Kate Breslin (Bethany House)

A WWI spy, nurse by day and waitress by night, helps rescue a downed RFC pilot in German-occupied Brussels, but getting him out of the country safely is another matter entirely.

Sweetbriar Cottage by Denise Hunter (Thomas Nelson)

When a tax issue makes it clear a couple's divorce was never finalized, they have to meet up to straighten the mess out, but between a storm and car problems, they end up spending more than just a few minutes together signing papers.