Posted in Reviews

Before We Were Yours

I tend to only review books that are sent to me for that purpose, but the more I read, the more I realize that I want to share about other outstanding titles I enjoy. I primarily want to do that because it will enable me to share more nonfiction (which I rarely agree to review because I read nonfiction much more slowly and don’t want to be rushed for the sake of deadlines). I’ll be starting those nonfiction reviews soon, but for today I have another novel to share.

I can’t remember where I first heard of Before We Were Yours, but some suggestion somewhere along the way led me to put it on reserve at the library. When I reserved it, there were sixteen people in line ahead of me – not surprising considering it spent six months on the New York Times Bestseller list. Fortunately, it was also a book my mom loved, so she bought her own copy and loaned it to me months before I would have gotten it from the library. I can tell you this, though: it would have been worth the wait.

One look at the synopsis reveals very clearly that Before We Were Yours is not a light and fluffy read. On the contrary, it’s quite hard, especially if you tend to start, like I do, by looking at the historical context for a novel such as this. Fiction, no matter how dedicated the author to depicting history, can rarely fully encompass the horror of dark points in our history. And that is the case in the story Lisa Wingate weaves of Rill Foss and her family. Despite the horrors Rill and her siblings endured, many families endured much worse in real life.

Rill’s story is set in the late 1930s and early 1940s during the days of Georgia Tann, a woman who “rescued” poor children from their bleak circumstances and matched them to wealthy families who desired children, usually for a hefty price. Some of the children were rightfully removed from their families by the state, victims of abuse and neglect. But others were literally stolen from happy, loving families whose only crime was poverty.

Decades later, a chance encounter leaves another young woman, Avery Stafford, stumped. An elderly woman she’s never met claims to know Avery’s beloved grandmother. Avery knows she should simply leave the question alone, but the woman’s cryptic statements, combined with her own grandmother’s failing memory and odd responses, spark her curiosity. Even more disconcerting is the fear that the connection between the two women may hide a scandal that could destroy her family’s political and societal standing. Determined to uncover the truth, Avery embarks on a journey that will change her life in more ways than one.

Before We Were Yours is the type of historical fiction I love – a glimpse into the side of history that never makes its way into the history books. Lisa Wingate explores both the immediate and long-term impact of historical events, while also building a beautiful tale of relationship and family. She combines the treat of being able to read a beautiful open-and-closed storyline with the reality that no life can truly fit within the beginnings and endings of a satisfying novel. The story also reminds us that hope and joy can be found even in the darkest of places. Even though the spiritual aspect of that reality is not really explored in Before We Were Yours, it is not difficult for believers to see how God’s hand was present even in the darkness that encompassed so many families during Georgia Tann’s decades of power. Yes, it’s a hard read, but it is also a worthwhile read.

I definitely recommend this book for adults and for older, mature teens.

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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.
Posted in Reviews, Roseanna M White

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 Elizabeth Camden, 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

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 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.