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
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
5. Storm Front
6. Wait For Me (November 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.