Posted in Reviews

The Captivating Lady Charlotte

Not too long ago, I had the opportunity to review The Elusive Miss Ellison by Carolyn Miller, and I enjoyed it immensely. So, when The Captivating Lady Charlotte, book two in the Regency Brides: A Legacy of Grace series, came available for review, I was delighted to take the opportunity.

Once again, readers can visit a world where the meeting of social class expectations is critical and deviation is frowned upon. Novel after novel has been written about socialites who have bucked against the expectations of their class or their parents, declaring that love or personal ambition is more important than fulfilling social expectations. But is that always the case? Can embracing the expectations sometimes be the correct solution?

That, in a nutshell, is the conflict in The Captivating Lady Charlotte. And Carolyn Miller handles the conflict beautifully, processing through both the spiritual and social aspects of the question. How does independence flow with maintaining a relationship of honor and respect with one’s parents? Can social constraints and expectations always be categorized as positive or negative? When is a desire to break free of social expectations honorable and when is it self-centered?

Throughout the process of grappling with this conflict, Carolyn Miller also explores spiritual growth and relational dynamics while weaving a beautiful romance. Readers who enjoyed getting to know Nicholas and Lavinia in The Elusive Miss Ellison will enjoy seeing them again as their lives intersect with Lavinia’s cousin Charlotte.

Once again, my lack of familiarity with the culture and social construct of British high society in the early 1800’s left me pulling out the encyclopedia or running quick web searches now and then to explore just what the author was referring to when a specific destination or “current” events story was mentioned. What induced daily conversation among Britain’s elite in 1814 did not always reach the American history books of my day! But, although it might have been easier for me as the reader to have had a little more explanation worked into the storyline, it was also fun to stop and do a bit of research on my own, learning something new about a segment in history with which I have limited interaction.

Carolyn Miller’s second installment in the Regency Brides: A Legacy of Grace series is definitely one that I both enjoyed and gladly recommend. My daughters are enjoying the series right along with me, and we look forward to reading book three, The Dishonorable Miss DeLancey, when it comes out this fall!

THIS BOOK WAS SENT TO ME BY KREGEL PUBLICATIONS IN EXCHANGE FOR MY HONEST REVIEW.
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Posted in Reviews

Too Deep for Words

Sometimes I slip up and agree to review book two in a series. With A Note Yet Unsung, I managed to pick a book that stood on its own, despite references to the previous book in the series. This time, though, was a different story.

The book is Too Deep for Words by Andrea Boeshaar, and it is the second installment in the Shenandoah Valley Saga. As I began to read, I picked up hints very quickly that the back story being referenced was not just flashbacks or gap filling. It was references to a fleshed out story – one entitled A Thousand Shall Fall. Allow me to start my review of Too Deep for Words by encouraging you to go ahead and read A Thousand Shall Fall. No, I have not read it yet. But, if book two is any indication of the flow of the series, I can assure you that book one will be good, too!

Set in the Civil War, the Shenandoah Valley Saga series delves into both sides of the conflict. Readers get to know Union and Confederate characters, with a mixture of good and bad character on both sides of the line. In fact, the balance is one thing that drew me into this story. Andrea Boeshaar beautifully handles delving into the strong convictions held by good, godly men from both the North and the South. In Too Deep for Words, newly married Carrie Ann Collier is devastated to learn that her husband, US Colonel Peyton Collier, is missing and presumed dead. But Carrie refuses to believe the latter, and she will not rest until either he returns safely or she receives conclusive evidence of his death. Whether strong or wavering, this hope stands as the driving force behind her interactions, her choices, and her actions throughout the novel.

Too Deep for Words is well researched, intertwining historic characters and events with the fictional Colliers, Carrie’s sister Margaret, and their companions. Interspersed throughout the novel are news clips and journal entries tying war events into the flow of the story. And, the story truly flows. Little surprise events throughout the story keep it from falling into predictable patterns, and there are enough little loose threads to draw readers back for an upcoming book three in the series.

One thing I noticed in reading Too Deep for Words, though, was my lack of connection with the characters. I am typically drawn to a book by the characters more than the plot, and if I don’t connect with the characters, I don’t usually enjoy the book. This time, though, the plot held its own quite strongly. I do wonder if that will change after I read the first book, because frequently book two in a series rests on the solid character development of its prequel. The fact that I enjoyed Too Deep for Words enough to go back and read A Thousand Shall Fall to hopefully build that connection with the characters definitely speaks volumes for Andrea Boeshaar’s storytelling ability.

Bottom line: I would recommend the Shenandoah Valley Saga series. Just don’t make the mistake I did and start in the middle!

This book was sent to me by Kregel in exchange for my honest review.

Posted in Reviews

Welcome to College

My best friend’s oldest daughter starts college this fall. My own daughter is just two years away from this new journey. She has taken her first stab at the ACT, and we’re getting ready to find out how to proceed with other tests and scholarship applications. College is definitely on my mind.

College can be overwhelming to a young person’s personal management, interpersonal relationships, and spiritual growth. Years of working with and speaking to college students have proven this truth to author and speaker Jonathan Morrow. The updated edition of Welcome to College is his effort to place a resource in the hands of college students to help them process through these overwhelming challenges in a way that keeps them grounded in their faith.

The advice and theological content found in Welcome to College are both very solid and sound. So many young adults drift away from their Christian upbringing during the college years, many of them never to return. This drift is often because they process through high school without hashing through these concepts, then get to college and find that they have no solid foundation of understanding to stand on. Welcome to College helps students process through these concepts, establishing a firm footing.

My question is this: would you have read this book as a college freshman? Or even during the summer before starting college? The chapters in Welcome to College are short, but with forty-three chapters, four appendices, and a total (including notes) of 410 pages, this is not exactly a quick, light read. The strong, weighty content makes this a book that should not be read quickly, either. It is too much to absorb in a quick, summer read, and it is unlikely that the information would truly be grasped were a student to try to read it in the midst of all of the new experiences of the freshmen year – if they even got it read at all.

In short, despite the solid content found in these pages, I would not give Welcome to College to my best friend’s high school senior as a graduation gift. Despite the fact that she is a studious, responsible, diligent young lady who would gladly embrace the advice and information in this book, she does not have the time to pour through it.

But that doesn’t mean I wouldn’t recommend the book. If Welcome to College were to be handed to an incoming freshman, I would encourage it to be done as a part of a mentoring group planning to work through it slowly. The chapters are short enough to read one a week and be prepared to talk through it in a group, even with a full school load. But an even more ideal situation would be to suggest that Welcome to College be backed up a couple of years. I know it is written to college students, but I see this filling a need for students pushing through their last couple of years of high school. Students like my own daughter who is finishing up her sophomore year. Thanks to the discussion questions in the back, this book would be a great year-long mentoring or small group study for high school students, helping them process through the content and allowing them to ask questions of people they know and trust before they hit the chaos of college.

Yes, Welcome to College holds a great deal of solid information and is one I would recommend. But, even better would be to not let our students get to college without having these concepts worked out before hand!

Posted in Reviews

The Elusive Miss Ellison

The popularity of television shows such as Downton Abbey reflects a literary popularity that has been steadily growing for some time now. Authors who loved Jane Eyre and the various heroes and heroines of Jane Austen as teens are now penning their own Christian versions of stories from the same period of history.

I did love Jane Eyre as a teenager, but only recently has my overall taste for historical fiction branched from my preferred American pioneer or World War II genres to include the collision of the genteel and popular British culture of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. So, I recognize that I still have much to learn. The various ranks and habits of the British nobility remain a bit unfamiliar to me. The stories, however, are very fascinating.

As with other favorite genres, I am trying to explore new authors as I have the opportunity. Carolyn Miller’s The Elusive Miss Ellison came up for review through Kregel, and the plot sounded intriguing. I was not disappointed!

Miss Lavinia Ellison is the not-so-eligible daughter of Reverend Ellison and crusader for the plights of the poor villagers in her father’s parish. When Nicholas Stamford, the new Earl of Hawkesbury, arrives to evaluate the situation of his holdings, he finds Lavinia Ellison formidable, opinionated, and disturbingly intriguing.

The Elusive Miss Ellison is very obviously a romance. Readers know quickly that the anticipated romantic tension will exist between Nicholas and Lavinia, and it is obvious that the pair will be forced to conquer challenges posed by the expectations of two very different social stations. It is not an uncommon theme for romantic fiction of this genre. So, what makes this particular novel stand out?

I enjoyed “watching” the relationships explored in The Elusive Miss Ellison. Friendships, both new and longstanding, formed a foundation for the story. But, my favorite relationships were those that quietly and steadily shared the love of Christ. It was fascinating to watch various characters discover the spiritual standing of other characters. I also enjoyed the fact that the Christians in Carolyn Miller’s novel were real people who had to work through their faults and struggles like anyone else – but they had both the encouragement and the correction of the Holy Spirit to make it happen. Discipling relationships were sprinkled throughout the novel. Discipleship through relationships is a passion of mine, and I love to see it explored in fiction as an example for real life.

I also appreciated the author’s approach to bringing the romance to fruition. I won’t explore this particular point too deeply, because to do so would give away too many spoilers. But, despite the familiar ebb and flow of a Christian romance novel, the author introduced creativity in the storyline that kept it from being overly predictable.

My familiarity with early nineteenth century British culture and society is still limited, so I admit to getting lost a few times when “popular” references were made or when members of the nobility discussed their society from an insider perspective. I missed the significance of much of the banter, simply because I had no context for it. It did not diminish my enjoyment of the story, but it did show me that I am not in the “in” group when it comes to readers (and writers) of this genre.

So, would I recommend The Elusive Miss Ellison? Definitely! It is a good read for teens and adults alike. I’m not sure I would encourage readers with little or not exposure to early 19th century British culture to start here, but it is definitely a good read.

This book was sent to me by Kregel Publications in exchange for my honest review.
Posted in Reviews

Where Hope Prevails

Over the years, I’ve had opportunities to review books that I knew my children would enjoy. In the past, I’ve read the books myself before passing them onto my children for their opinion before writing up the review. More recently, though, I’ve started asking them to write the reviews!

My middle daughter loves Janette Oke, so she’s been delighted to get her hands on the Return to the Canadian West series, cowritten by Oke and her daughter Laurel Oke Logan. She agreed to write the review for the series’ third book, Where Hope Prevails. Here’s what she has to say!

Where Hope Prevails is the third book in Janette Oke and Laurel Oke Logan’s series Return to the Canadian West. Beth Thatcher is returning to Coal Valley after a family vacation which ended surprisingly (Where Trust Lies, book two). She highly anticipated seeing her beloved mountain town again, but many things have changed. Coal Valley is growing up, and some of the changes throw Beth rather for a spin.

I very much enjoyed the Return to the Canadian West series, and Where Hope Prevails is my favorite of the three books. I think it is a good young adult read, although twelve and thirteen year olds would probably enjoy it too!

During the book, Beth’s faith is taken for a turn. She had clung to it during her trying summer and had grown deeper. But now she has to face a question: what does it mean to love your enemies?

Through all her confusion comes the happiest time in her life – and more questions. But as her day approaches, another day comes along which makes her think. As Beth learns what it truly means to love her enemies, she finds both her own love and the place where she’s truly meant to be.

I loved Janette Oke when I was my daughter’s age, and it is fun to watch her devour the same books and add new ones to the list. Although I have not yet read this new series, I know I can hand these to my daughter without concern over the content.

Posted in Reviews

A Note Yet Unsung

Over the years, I have frequently seen Tamera Alexander’s name among currently popular Christian fiction novelists. But, I have never taken the time to check out her writing. Recently, though, A Note Yet Unsung, her latest novel, came up for review. I had time, and the description looked intriguing. I decided it just might be time to give this particular author a try.

When I agreed to review A Note Yet Unsung, I did not realize that it was book three in the Belmont Mansion series. Fortunately, while the series is built around Nashville’s Belmont Mansion, and while characters from each book do intersect with the storyline in the other installments of the series, each novel also stands on its own.

Set in Nashville immediately after the Civil War, A Note Yet Unsung welcomes young Rebekah Carrington back from Vienna, where she has spent the last ten years honing her music skills and interacting with European musical greats. Unfortunately, Rebekah lives in a time when women are not welcome into the public world of music. The dominant opinion of the day is that the world of the orchestra is too rigorous for the fragile female, and the idea of a woman in public performance is one of scandal and horror. So, instead of seeing her dream fulfilled, Rebekah is relegated to teaching solo lessons to the daughter of the wealthy Adelicia Cheatham of Belmont Mansion.

Meanwhile, Nashville’s brand new, highly acclaimed orchestra conductor is struggling. He has a very short time to complete a symphony to perform at the grand opening of Nashville’s new opera hall, but he is stuck. The stresses of his position, including pleasing the orchestra’s wealthy patrons, combines with an alarming head pain that is increasing in frequency and greatly impacting his ability to function as a conductor. Although he cannot allow the talented Miss Carrington into the orchestra, he can arrange for her to be his assistant. Perhaps with her help, the symphony will be finished on time.

It is probably obvious to even the most casual reader of Christian fiction that A Note Yet Unsung sets up the ideal setting for a romance. But, it also explores an aspect of history that the average reader probably would not consider. The storyline delves into multiple cultures, including a primary look at the elite Nashville society, a glimpse into the transition from slavery to servitude for some former slaves, and a hint at the culture of the eastern Tennessee hill country. The story is well written, well developed, and captivating. I love fiction, and there are very few novels that I’m ready to walk away from. I usually hunger to find out how it ends, but still want to hang on a little longer. Occasionally, though, a book comes along that lingers with me long after the last page has been turned. I find myself wanting to continue the story and walk with the characters just a little bit longer. A Note Yet Unsung is just such a book.

There is one little factor I must address while trying to also not give away any spoilers. As I read, I will admit to furrowing my brow at the way the author handled a couple of small side plots. They were little mysteries – hints of something – but they remained hints. The book drew closer and closer to the end, yet those little plots were not developed. Instead, they were resolved in what seemed, at first, to be a rather anticlimactic manner.

The more I considered the way these details were handled, however, the more I liked it. We are so conditioned to make big deals out of every little thing in our movies and novels. But, in life, some things are very present, yet still small. These two side plots were masterfully handled in a real life manner. Anything more would have ruined the impact of both.

I now find myself wishing I had requested the previous two Belmont Mansion books when they were available for review. But, I’m already planning to check them out of the library for the time being and hopefully add them to my book collection somewhere down the road.

Posted in Reviews

The Mark of the King

Being more diligent about reading is allowing me to get back to trying out new fiction authors while I wait for my established favorites to finish their next round of books. The latest new experience was Jocelyn Green through her novel The Mark of the King.

The Mark of the King covers a segment of history that is unfamiliar to me. Set primarily in New Orleans in the early 1700s, this story explores France’s attempt to settle their Louisiana territory – oftentimes through rather unsavory means. When Julianne Chevalier, a French midwife, is convicted of murder after the death of one of her clients, she jumps at the chance to be a part of the Louisiana settlement. Little does she know, however, that her commitment means a forced marriage to another convict, miserable conditions in a harsh foreign land, and one tragedy and heartache heaped upon another.

Other than learning how France’s presence in Louisiana impacted the British colonies and then, later, turned into the French-American treaty that resulted in the Louisiana Territory being added to the United States, I have never greatly explored the history of France’s presence in the Americas. So, viewing settlement from the French perspective was fascinating to me. The Mark of the King offers a small glimpse into the challenges France faced when attempting to settle Louisiana, especially knowing Britain’s success in settling their own colonies. Additionally, this novel explores conditions before the French and Indian War, revealing how the British and French pitted Indian tribes against one another in order to protect the interests of the colonies.

Like all good historical fiction, The Mark of the King explores how that grander scope of historical seasons impacted individual lives. In this case, the individual lives were convicts like Julianne and her husband Simon, military personnel such as Marc-Paul Girard and his subordinates, and the local tribes that interacted with both the French and the British. And those individual lives faced hard challenges. The beauty of this novel is that it deals with the hard challenges – and describes them very clearly – while still showing the thread of hope that comes only from discovering the personal nature of God. Although all who showed a more personal relationship with God were persecuted in France, the isolation of the colonists, and the lack of an organized church, tended to forge a natural path for these settlers to seek God and His mercy.

Do keep in mind that The Mark of the King is not a lighthearted read. It fully depicts the nature of life in the colonies, including Indian attacks, the results of leaving “law” in the hands of restless soldiers and colonists, and the harsh nature of life in an unsettled land. So, although you will find romance and beauty in this novel, know that it is not your standard escapist Christian romance. But, it is just the kind of novel I tend to highly recommend because of its historical depth, its picture of mercy and healing even in the midst of hopelessness, and its exploration of difficult truths. If this is typical of Jocelyn Green, then I am definitely interested in more of her novels.