Posted in Reviews

Keturah

Time flies when you’re reading good books! And I’ve read several great ones lately – and lost track of a couple of review due dates. So, since I have one review that’s a bit late and another that’s due now, you get two this week!

The first one is the latest historical fiction from wonderful storyteller Lisa Tawn Bergren. I was first introduced to her books through the God Gave Us children’s picture book series. Several years later, I was introduced to her adult fiction when I devoured her Grand Tour series. Then came her young adult River of Time series, followed by other books from each genre. The most recent delight from her writing desk is Keturah, book one in The Sugar Baron’s Daughter series.

For years, the widowed Lady Keturah Banning Tomlinson’s father has told his daughters again and again that the family sugar plantation in the West Indies is not the appropriate place for young women. But word of her father’s death is accompanied by word of dire financial issues, Keturah makes the decision that flies in the face of all societal convention: she is going to the West Indies to try to save not only the plantation but also her sisters’ inheritance back home in England. Unwilling to either be left behind or see their sister travel alone to Nevis, Keturah’s two sisters make the decision to travel with her. Challenges begin for the sisters almost immediately as they learn what it means for women to try to live and work in a culture dominated by men – white men.

Keturah offers everything I love about historical fiction. It is rich in exploration of the culture in which the story is set. That means the good and the bad, including a look at slavery. But that is not the only challenging topic Bergren deals with in Keturah. At the risk of introducing spoilers, our widowed heroine does not look back upon her short marriage fondly. Instead, she still bears the scars of the horror she silently and secretly endured as a young bride.

Because of this, I am a little more limited in my recommendation of this book than I might be with others this wonderful author. That doesn’t mean I don’t highly recommend it! It just means that I’ll only share it with my daughters as I know they are of an appropriate age to handle the material, and I will be careful to give warning to friends who still bear the scars of their own abuse experiences.

Well-written, well researched, and beautifully told, Keturah is a captivating introduction to The Sugar Baron’s Daughter series. I greatly anticipate the continuation!

This book was sent to me by Bethany House Publishers in exchange for my honest review.
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Posted in Reviews

A Song Unheard

Sometimes accidentally requesting to review book two in a series has delightful results. Such was the case with Roseanna M. White’s Shadows Over England series. Having borrowed and read A Name Unknown, book one in the series, I was excited to dive into A Song Unheard.

The mysterious Mr. V has a new assignment for London’s most exceptional family of thieves, and this time the special skills of young Willa Forsythe make her the ideal choice. Willa has always loved music, but when a old, battered violin came into her possession, she discovered that genuine talent also flowed through her. Although formal training was never available, time spent in the alleys near the open windows of practice rooms or up in the rafters of performance halls fed Willa’s hunger for music and introduced her to new tunes she could then bring to life with her treasured instrument. So, when Mr. V needs someone to obtain a cypher key created by the father of famous Belgian violinist Lukas De Wilde, the musically-minded Willa is the obvious choice.

After barely escaping with their lives, Belgian musicians have temporarily resettled in Wales where, thanks to the generosity of wealthy patrons, they prepare for concerts that will hopefully bring in finances to help fellow Belgians displaced or left starving by the German invasion. But Lukas De Wilde no longer cares about his incredible talent or once-enjoyed fame. Instead, he thinks only of returning to Belgium to find his lost mother and sister. When the fascinating Willa Forsythe arrives in town, his anxious heart is soothed somewhat by the discovery of a raw talent that far surpasses his own. Her passion, her strength, and even her stubbornness captivate his imagination, and he is determined to provide the formal skills she lacks and free her natural talent to truly blossom.

As I picked up A Song Unheard, I confess that I expected to discover a formula, of sorts, to the series. I was still excited about the book, because I knew the author could make even a formulaic novel feel captivating! But, as I began to read, I quickly realized that this second book of the series would be as unique and fresh as A Name Unknown. From the relationship between Lukas and Willa to the progression of Willa’s assignment, this story weaves history and fiction together in a beautiful glimpse of life in the early stages of World War I. Readers are taken from the streets of Wales to the depths of occupied Belgium and back again with a look at the struggle experienced on both sides of the English Channel. As with the first book in the series, this second installment was creative and captivating, full of unexpected developments, sparks of joy, and depths of heartache.

A Song Unheard is definitely a book I will both share and reread, and I greatly look forward to An Hour Unspent, book three in the Shadows Over England series.

This book was sent to me by Bethany House Publishers in exchange for my honest review.
Posted in Reviews

A Name Unknown

It’s book review time again!

I seem to have a knack for selecting review books that are part of a series – but are not book one! Fortunately, my most recent slip-up was discovered before I started reading the review book, and I had the good fortune of finding book one at the library. So, I started reading that one while waiting for the review book to arrive. And I’m very glad I did!

A Name Unknown is the first title in Roseanna M. White’s Shadows Over England series. Set in the early stages of World War I, A Name Unknown introduces readers to a rather unique London “family.” A family of thieves. Though none are related by blood, the dozen siblings care for one another with a love that is fierce, protective, and powerful. All are banded together by the oldest, a young man named Barclay, and all are watched over by a pub owner named Pauly. Together they survive by stealing from the rich to put food in their bellies and clothes on their backs.

Brilliant though their thievery may be, the family barely brings in enough resources to keep the many mouths fed. But, a mysterious stranger has picked up on the unique talents of the eldest members of the family, especially young Rosemary Gresham. He begins to offer her jobs, but the one he hands her now is the biggest – and highest paying – of them all. All she has to do is find proof that Peter Holstein, friend of the king, is a traitor.

The Holsteins, though Germans, had been highly thought of in their corner of Cornwall before their deaths. But, their son Peter is a different story. A recluse who mingles little with the people of the town, Peter struggles both at home and in the London political arena, fighting questions about his loyalty. But, with tensions in Europe on the rise, he is determined to prove once and for all that his heart and his loyalty lie with England. Unfortunately, any proof that may exist lies buried somewhere in the chaotic depths of what may have once been referred to as a library. Every potential employee he has found to help him tame the “cave” has fled in horror upon seeing the nature of the task…until a young woman by the name of Rosemary arrives at his door and agrees to tackle the job.

Roseanna M. White weaves a captivating story of character, history, intrigue, mystery, and yes, even romance in A Name Unknown. But, as I read, I had a struggle. Because I’d agreed to review it, I knew what the second book would be about. And I knew that getting to the second book meant that some of the events of the first book would most likely end up being either lame, overly contrived, or boringly predictable. I was delighted to find none of those as the story drew to a close. It was well written, captivating, and powerful in every way. It did not take me long to decide to own my own copy instead of just enjoying the library’s, since I’d soon have the second book anyway.

A Name Unknown is unique in its heroes and delightful in its twists. And I definitely recommend it to historical romance loving readers from the teen years on up.

Check back next week for my review of the actual review book, A Song Unheard.

Posted in Reviews

A Dangerous Legacy

Recently, I’ve come across a few books I thought I’d reviewed, but realized I never actually did! So, over the next few weeks, I’ll be fitting them in between reviews of current books.

The first in the list is A Dangerous Legacy by Elizabeth Camden. As a long-time Camden fan, it has been fun to read each new title and see how she has evolved – and stayed the same – as a writer. Her job as a research librarian seems to keep her creativity flowing as she discovers new and fascinating tidbits of history to combine with her delightful imagination, weaving engaging stories that combine historical facts, intrigue and mystery, engaging characters, and genuine romance.

In A Dangerous Legacy, Lucy Drake and her brother Nick have poured their lives and resources into a single goal: regaining rightful control of their grandfather’s invention. Unfortunately, their opponents have seemingly unlimited resources and influence to keep Lucy and Nick stuck on the losing side of the legal battle. Lucy’s job with the Associated Press provides her a secret weapon in the fight, but will it be enough?

Matters complicate even further when Lucy meets Sir Colin Beckwith, the new man in charge of Reuters, Britain’s news agency and rival of the Associated Press. The two agencies share a building and certain resources, at least for the time being. The partnership leads Lucy and Colin into a tentative friendship that cannot help but grow in depth. But, each one carries burdens, responsibilities, and secrets that no amount of friendship seems capable of breaching.

Every aspect of the story in A Dangerous Legacy reinforces Elizabeth Camden’s skill as a storyteller capable of weaving history and fiction, romance and real character development. But something felt different as I read this particular novel. It seemed that there was not enough room for the depth of development Camden usually manages to pull off. Lucy and Colin are, to be sure, explored beautifully. Their characters deal with life and issues that have no clear solution, and the resolution of their story fits with the reality that sometimes the answer arrives from a completely unexpected direction. There was something delightfully unexpected about the way events twisted and turned to their final conclusion.

But, then there was Nick Drake. As I read, I could not help but feel that I was supposed to be getting to know him better. That his story was there, waiting to be exposed and explored. That his interactions were essential, not to the immediate plot of A Dangerous Legacy, but to becoming known. The feeling intensified as I read the epilogue and realized that new information was being presented – information that could not possibly be resolved in a few pages. Sure enough, Nick’s story will continue in A Daring Venture, releasing in 2018. This is part of what shows Camden’s skill as an author. Instead of trying to cram too much into this one novel or glossing over the additional story begging to be told, she allowed the glimpses to shine through and lay the groundwork that would allow a sequel to follow.

As with other Elizabeth Camden books, I recommend this for older teens through adults who love history and intrigue interwoven with some romance.

This book was sent to me by Bethany House Publishers in exchange for my honest review.
Posted in Reviews

The Ladies of Ivy Cottage

Welcome back to Ivy Hill, the setting of Julie Klassen’s first series, Tales from Ivy Hill. Last year about this time, I reviewed book one, The Innkeeper of Ivy Hill. I was delighted to return for the second installment entitled The Ladies of Ivy Cottage.

Shifting attention from Jane Bell and her inn, Ivy Hill readers get to know two other characters a little better. Mercy Grove, introduced in book one as one of Jane’s dearest friends, runs a residential girls’ school with help from her aunt Mattie. Although Mercy would love a husband and children of her own, she is content pouring her heart and love into the girls who attend her school. Meanwhile, she is thrilled to welcome Rachel Ashford into her home. Once a belle of high social standing, Rachel had turned the head of the highly eligible Sir Timothy Brockwell years before. But, when her father became embroiled in scandal, everything changed. And, upon her father’s death, the Ashford home was inherited by a distant cousin, leaving her homeless. Welcomed warmly into Ivy Cottage, Rachel seeks to find a way to earn her own keep and make herself useful. Could the unlikely idea of a circulating library be the solution she has been needing?

Rachel Ashford’s story is the highlight of The Ladies of Ivy Cottage; but just as in the first book, every story continues to press forward. Although Jane Bell is enjoying great success at her inn after solving the mystery behind her husband’s death and the impending financial ruin of the inn, her heart is still processing through the many stages of healing, and it is obvious that changes may still lie ahead of her. Meanwhile, great changes are already taking place in the life of Mercy Grove. Hints exist of what might lie ahead for her in an upcoming installment of Tales from Ivy Hill.

As in all of Julie Klassen’s novels, threads of mystery run through The Ladies of Ivy Cottage, but relationships seem much more prominent in this book. And, these relationships are handled quite well as the characters work through issues at stake as well as spiritual dynamics. And, as with The Innkeeper of Ivy Hill, this book offers a story with closure while still keeping readers hungry for the next book.

Yes, book two definitely confirms the Julie Klassen can write a series as successfully as she can write a single, self-contained novel.

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

Death at Thorburn Hall

Although I enjoy a good twist or a bit of mystery worked into historical fiction, mystery whodunits are not necessarily my favorite genre. But, my oldest enjoys them. So, when I came across a Drew Farthering Mystery, I decided to give it a whirl to see if it was suitable for an avid sixteen-year-old reader who loves a good mystery.

Death at Thorburn Hall is the sixth book in Julianna Deering’s Drew Farthering series. So, there are obviously little details scattered throughout the book about character history and past “cases” that readers jumping in late won’t quite understand. But, those little details did not cause issue for this story. They were more like hooks, making me want to learn more about Drew Farthering.

This particular episode of Farthering’s mystery-solving adventures was an interesting one set in beautiful Scotland in the mid 1930s. While British citizens enjoy the British Open and debate happenings in Europe – especially Germany – Drew Farthering, his wife Madeline, and their friends Nick and Carrie are invited to enjoy a holiday at the home of a distant cousin of Drew’s. But upon arrival, Drew quickly realizes that his host, Lord Rainsby, had more than entertaining distant relatives on his mind when he extended the invitation to the Fartherings and their friends. Knowing Drew’s propensity for solving mysteries, Lord Rainsby shares sketchy details and feelings of unease with Drew, hoping to get to the bottom of some nagging suspicions. But before Lord Rainsby can truly disclose what is causing his unease, he is killed in a fall from his horse during an afternoon ride. What initially appears to be an accident begins to look suspicious as small clues present themselves, leaving Drew and his companions scrambling for clues.

Although not the most complex or surprising mystery I’ve ever read, Death at Thorburn Hall is also not a formulaic murder mystery. A few unexpected twists and turns give even the seemingly evident facts an element of surprise, keeping the reader engaged even when the guilty party seems apparent.

Not having read other Drew Farthering books, I did wonder if Julianna Deering had settled into a pattern in the series or if she’d been able to keep each book relatively unique. After reading this one, my mystery-loving daughter decided to check a few others of the series out from the library, and her assessment is that Deering does a great job of keeping each individual story in the series fresh and unique.

Since Death at Thorburn Hall nudged my daughter to check out other titles in the series (and add these to her wishlist of potential books to buy or ask for as gifts), I’d say Julianna Deering has produced a winner! If you enjoy a murder mystery series, Death at Thorburn Hall and the rest of the Drew Farthering Mysteries might be a great option to check out!

This book was sent to me by Bethany House Publishers in exchange for my honest review.
Posted in What I'm Learning, Work

Slow Processes

Don’t you just love how God can teach lessons during every season of life?

This season of not having a personal writing rhythm has lasted much longer than I would have chosen. Even when it seemed like I was writing regularly, I wasn’t. It was hit and miss. In fact, it has been several years since I have had a good rhythm. And for the longest time, I have seen that only as a negative thing. I’ve wondered why God has not helped me find a rhythm for something that obviously nourishes and grows me.

But here’s the thing…God doesn’t see things like I do. Or maybe it’s the other way around. I don’t see things the way God does, at least not at first. In fact, so many of my experiences are times of needing to gradually gain His vision. Sometimes I’m slow and He has to delay so that I can catch up. But other times I think it’s just the nature of growth. We often want to learn things quickly, but the more quickly we learn, the less we retain. Slow learning – slow progress in almost anything – usually means much more solid retention and growth.

There’s a quote in George MacDonald’s novel The Landlady’s Master that I love, one I recall when I’m frustrated with slow progress. In an idealogical discussion, one character presents ideas and perspectives that seem dreadfully slow and ineffective to his conversation partner. His response concludes with, “All God’s processes are slow. The works of God take time and cannot be rushed.”

That has definitely been true of my writing journey. It has been extremely slow – excruciatingly so at times. But in the process, and especially in this most recent stretch in which a personal writing rhythm has been so elusive, I have learned at least one very important lesson. To really explain it, I need to back up a few years, back to a time when my writing was regular and I had a solid rhythm.

Every morning, I journaled. Throughout the day I would keep a notebook or planner handy to jot notes. I had a notebook in Evernote strictly devoted to writing ideas. Writing fodder piled up so high that I could not write quickly or frequently enough to utilize it all! But as time went on, I began to notice that the ideas were harder and harder to flesh out. What had been great inspiration when I wrote it down was simply an empty statement by the time I got around to fleshing it out. At first I thought it was because I didn’t flesh out the thoughts quickly enough, losing the essence before I could actually write the post. So, I began to take more thorough notes. But, that often failed as well.

It took me a while to realize that the problem was not with the ideas. The problem was with me.

At one time, I’d written from the outflow of what I was learning and experiencing in life. But, somewhere along the way, that changed. Blog writing became the goal instead of the outflow. Instead of internalizing the inspiration, lessons, and Spirit whispers coming to me throughout life, I was simply writing about them.

Over time, the writing well began to dry up. My journal showed huge gaps because I seemed to have nothing to write, even for my own edification. I had not stopped growing altogether, but my growth was stunted because my focus was distracted.

Slowly but surely, I have had to relearn how to journal for the sake of journaling. How to hash through ideas for the sake of real growth. How to remember that life is not blog fodder. Writing is, instead, an outflow of what I just cannot keep cooped up inside as God molds and transforms my heart.

Looking back at it all, I can see why God has not yet granted the wisdom for a writing rhythm. He’s been slowly working on me. Who knows when I’ll be ready for the next step? I hope it’s soon, but I have a little more patience these days now that I’ve realized it all comes down to God taking His time working on me. Working out His slow processes.