Posted in Elizabeth Camden, Reviews

A Daring Venture

I recently glanced through all of my Elizabeth Camden books, remembering the plot of this one or a favorite character from that one. As I compared older books to her latest, I realized why I still do not hesitate to get my hands on each new release. Even though she releases at least one new title – if not two – every year, and even though her writing style and character development have morphed and changed over the years, there has never been a change in the quality of her research, creativity, and quality. Camden’s most recent effort, A Daring Venture, is just as captivating, and her characters are just as rich as ever.

A Daring Venture is unique in Camden’s ventures, however, in that it is a genuine sequel. Although once before Camden has taken a minor character from one book and turned him into a major character in another, nothing in those two books demands that they be read together. A Daring Venture holds its own as far as the story line is concerned, but readers will miss a great deal if they do not first get to know Nicholas Drake’s background through his sister’s story in A Dangerous Legacy.

(Note: This review, by nature, will contain some spoilers for those who have not yet read A Dangerous Legacy.)

Nicholas Drake’s inheritance from his estranged uncle has brought him fortune, but not automatically fame. Despite having vast resources, Nick must still fight a battle for recognition and acceptance among not only the wealthy, but also the political leaders in New York. He is convinced that being named Commissioner of Water for New York will allow him to earn the respect he needs to take care of the growing city, but he has no illusions that it will be an easy task. What he doesn’t expect, however, is the continued family tension that he cannot seem to escape – or that his new role might force him to sacrifice his heart.

Rosalind Werner’s world crashed around her early in life when a deadly cholera outbreak attacked her family. Now an adult, Rosalind has learned that impure water is not her only enemy. Educated as a research doctor in a time when women are not recognized as competent in the scientific arena, Rosalind must not only defend her qualifications, but also her controversial research findings – and even her personal reputation. But she never imagines the fullness of what it will cost her to stand and defend what she knows to be true.

I love the combination of flaws and strengths in Nick, Rosalind, and even familiar characters Lucy and Colin. The relational interactions are vivid and powerful, battling real temptations and struggles. A Daring Venture is not a neatly packaged, every-problem-solved romance. Yet it is satisfying and beautiful at the same time. Camden has beautifully handled the transition from single-story writing to weaving a series, and I felt that the character development from the first novel to the second was well-handled and strongly presented. And, of course, the history reminded me once again why I devour Elizabeth Camden’s novels. The story line explored an aspect of history vitally relevant to each and every one of us, yet one we take for granted and do not truly even think about. I love diving into these historical glimpses, and I love the way they urge me to research on my own. Camden does a great job of merging fictional and historical characters and exploring the impact events and decisions made on real people.

Elizabeth Camden continues to succeed, providing my teen daughters and I yet another book to read and reread. And, the story isn’t over yet! I am already counting down to next year’s release of book three, A Desperate Hope!

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

A Most Noble Heir

We all think we love – and would love to live – a good “rags to riches” story. But the reality of rising from one social context to another never runs as smoothly as the glorious fairy tales like to reflect. The struggle, rather than the fairy tale, is what is reflected in Susan Anne Mason’s A Most Noble Heir.

Nolan Price is perfectly at home in the stables, caring for the Earl of Stainsby’s horses. But Nolan’s real passion is for a place of his own with his beloved Hannah Burnham by his side. Just as those plans are coming together, however, his mother’s deathbed confession destroys every hope in an instant. Nolan is the earl’s son and rightful heir. His place is no longer in the stables but in the earl’s home, living as befits his station. Nolan wants none of it, and he is determined to move forward with his own plans. The earl, however, has no intention of letting Nolan go – and he has the power and authority to ensure his will is enforced, no matter the cost.

As can be imagined, the interactions and relational dynamics of A Most Noble Heir are intense. Every relationship Nolan holds dear is stretched and strained, and the one relationship he never had but truly wanted has now been forced upon him in a most undesirable way. At the risk of spoiling the story a bit, I must confess that Nolan’s reactions to his life upheaval left me preferring every other character – even the earl himself! – over Nolan. I wanted him to be, well, noble. I wanted to see what it was about this man that made Hannah fall in love with him. Looking back, though, I realize that what I wanted was fluffy idealism. The picture Mason has painted in A Most Noble Heir is a realistic one, depicting a young man with good character but an untried heart. His life, while encumbered with the challenges of servitude and relatively low station, has not truly been stretched. The sudden upheaval of everything he held dear stretches and strains him, revealing flaws that need purification and youth that needs maturation. Although I still find myself drawn more solidly toward other characters in the book, I see that Nolan is much more the picture of the noble heir than I initially believed him to be.

So, where does that leave the book as a whole? Despite the potentially heavy subject matter of A Most Noble Heir, this is a quick and easy read, full of sweet moments and even a touch of humor. Being married to a church history nerd, I did notice that a more modern concept of faith was incorporated into the narrative. While it will seem very fitting to contemporary readers, it is not an accurate historical depiction of what Christianity would have looked like, even for those with a solid and intimate relationship with the Lord. This does not distract from the story itself – it is simply a reminder that our appetite for both history and theology may be whetted by fiction, but we can never be content to allow fiction to be our main course in either discipline.

The storyline moves along at a good pace, and a small thread of mystery weaves its way throughout the narrative, leaving the reader wondering what other forces are working behind the scenes. Lessons are learned, character is developed, and a few surprises are worked in along the way. All in all, A Most Noble Heir is a fun read for lovers of late 19th century historical fiction.

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

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

The Promise of Dawn

Well, it seems as if I am only getting reviews written these days, but I’m definitely thankful for the chance to write those and encourage other writers in their endeavors. It can be hard to imagine that a prolific writer such as Loraine Snelling would be encouraged by reviews such as mine, but maybe you will be nourished by reading her novels as I share them with you, thus encouraging her to keep up the good work!

It’s no secret that I love fiction. And although romance just for the sake of romance is not my favorite genre, I do enjoy the novels that have romance brewing while deeper issues are being dealt with. But, most of us spend a good deal more time living life after the giddy feelings of a new romance. So, it is nice to see Christian fiction that matches that stage of life as well.

That is where The Promise of Dawn fits.

Opening in Norway where the Carlson family struggles simply to put food on the table, The Promise of Dawn proceeds across the ocean and over land to Minnesota where Rune and Signe Carlson and their three sons intend to help an uncle and his wife clear timber from their farmland. Rune embraces the opportunity, expecting his family to flourish in America in ways they never could in Norway. But Signe’s concerns fill her with reluctance from the moment the invitation arrives. An illness-filled journey and cold welcome do not ease her mind in any way.

Signe’s fears are confirmed as her family interacts more with Uncle Einer and Aunt Gerd, feeling the burden of their thankless, demanding hosts. As the weeks pass, the Carlsons wonder if they will ever find the better life Rune had dreamed of for his family.

The Promise of Dawn is real life. The perspective, understanding, and struggles of Rune and Signe remind me of my own experiences with newness and unexpected disappointments. I could feel the weight of discouragement, challenged faith, waning hope, and strained relationships as I walked with the Carlson family through challenges that seemed to have no foreseeable end. How often do we feel the same? Even though The Promise of Dawn is set over a hundred years ago in a time and culture long gone, the nature of the challenges remain the same.

That is why The Promise of Dawn was so refreshing, even while reading of seemingly insurmountable challenges. It was reminder that our choices in attitude, relationship, and spiritual growth are critical, whether our circumstances change or not.

The Promise of Dawn is book one in the Under Northern Skies series, and the characters are connected to Loraine Snelling’s two Red River series. I look forward to going back and meeting some of those characters while also getting to know the Carlsons a little better as the Under Northern Skies series continues. Loraine Snelling is definitely an author I would recommend and want to explore more myself!

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