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

The Captive Heart

I must confess, I’m a bit particular about new authors. As much as I love to read, my fiction reading time is rather limited. So, I tend to reserve it for the latest from a handful of favorite authors, and I reserve my explorations for highly recommended books.

Something about the description of The Captive Heart caused me to make an exception, despite the fact that I had not read anything by Michelle Griep, nor have any of her books been recommended to me. It seemed, though, to be a book that would somewhat break the mold of the standard Christian fiction fare, focused on more than strictly a romance – offering depth of storyline and intriguing history as well. In other words, my kind of fiction.

I was not disappointed.

Beyond the Formula

Admittedly, like with most romantic fiction, it’s pretty obvious that the main characters will eventually fall in love. And, I could have predicted that they would each wrestle silently with their feelings, trying to deny and then hide them, each constantly misunderstanding the behavior of the other because of their own preconceptions. Those are not spoilers. They are just the nature of romance novels such as these.

But, Michelle Griep has taken a standard romance formula and turned it into a novel that overflows with rich character development, fascinating history, and a powerful story line. Perhaps the faith aspect of the novel is what grabbed me the most, though. It wasn’t forced, but it also was not lightly sprinkled. Instead, faith for both characters was real and hard won. It was interwoven throughout the storyline with such a natural inclusion that I can’t help but feel that I have caught a glimpse into the author’s own tried and true faith. Only someone who deeply understands what it means to have a growing relationship with Christ can communicate that to her characters. It resonated with me as personal and genuine.

The History

I must take a moment and confess that I did give this book four stars instead of five on Amazon. Why? Well, I’m a history nut. I absolutely love historical fiction. When compared to my favorite historical fiction novels, this one left me just a big hungry. The Captive Heart introduced a side of the pre-Revolutionary War years that is not widely addressed in the most popular history books or historical novels. In the process of trying to keep certain aspects of the storyline mysterious (which was fantastic, by the way) the author also obscured some of the potentially fascinated history of the time.

Ultimately, what does that mean for my inclination to recommend this book? Absolutely nothing. It’s a personal preference only. I highly recommend this book, and with just this one title, I now consider Michelle Griep to be a part of my “watch for the next release” list. Meanwhile, I will also begin gradually collecting her previous books. I already have my eye on a few rather captivating titles.

Michelle Griep states that she desires to glorify God in all that she writes. If The Captive Heart is any indication, she is fulfilling that desire by creating beautiful stories which fill her readers with a desire to know God as her characters do. To that I say…keep up the good work!

I received this book for free through the Amazon Vine review program.