Tuesday, June 30, 2015

REVIEW: Redemption

by Carolyn Davidson

Publisher: Harlequin
Page Count: 379
Release Date: Jan. 1, 2006
Format: Mass Market Paperback

How got: personal library

First attention getter: a bigger than average heroine and sweet-sounding romance


From Amazon:

Jake McPherson
Needed a bride . . .

He was a Civil War veteran, wounded in body and soul. And when his wife died unexpectedly, he retreated from life, craving only solitude and his happy memories. But his young son needed a mother's love and guidance -- even if Jake wanted no woman himself. So who better to choose than the town's spinster schoolmarm?

Alicia Merriweather
Wanted so much to love . . .

She had come to warn Jake his son was running wild. But she stayed because beneath his gruff exterior she saw Jake's pain and loneliness. Having borne the brunt of ridicule all her life, tall, plain Alicia understands both all too well. But could Jake ever learn to share his home and his heart?

My Thoughts:
Star Rating - 5

Another refreshing HR with a lead heroine that’s a bit older, plainer, and bigger in body proportions than your usual lead. It’s nice to see this as it says that women can find true love and happiness in her relationships and in life no matter her outer looks. I liked seeing Alicia’s personality and strength of will shine out as she butts heads with Jake.

I also liked that the main struggle in the book was the building up of these guys’ relationship. There weren’t any murky individuals from the past or another person trying to break them up. Overcoming stubborn pride and low self-esteem to create a beautiful romance and family was the star of the book. Even the bits with Jason trying to accept Alicia as his new mother didn’t detract from the main focus of the relationship building; it just added to it.

And I gotta say the emotions in this book are something else. I don’t think I’ve cried more while reading a book in a while. It was painful to read about Jake’s struggle to overcome his body issues from his war experiences and Alicia’s to see herself as a beautiful women just as she is. I liked that they started out their relationship as a practical arrangement to meet mutual goals and that it grew into something truly beautiful. Watching that growth in my mind’s eye was quite a journey.

I wish more historical romances were like this: characters more true to life and emphasis more on emotions and relationship building rather than outside conflict. I’ll be looking for more HR’s by this author as I think she’s done a swell job in creating a fantastic one in this book.

Monday, June 29, 2015

REVIEW: No Place For A Lady

No Place For A Lady
by Gill Paul

Publisher: AVON, division of HarperCollins
Page Count: 400
Release Date: July 2, 2015
Format: Kindle

How got: free e-copy from NetGalley

First attention getter: a time period/historical event not often portrayed in HF


From GoodReads:

All’s fair in love and war …

1854. England is in the grip of a gruesome war.

Lucy Harvington, ill-educated beyond how to be a wife, has travelled to the Crimea with her handsome and impetuous officer husband Charlie. As the day of battle dawns she can only pray her husband survives. If he doesn’t, what will become of her?

Dorothea Gray, volunteer nurse at the Westminster Hospital, is determined to follow her little sister Lucy to the front, and to serve her country alongside her heroine, Florence Nightingale, and the pioneering nurses already risking their lives.

But neither sister could possibly have known the horrors they are about to witness – the courage, the cowardice, the danger – and the excitement – nor could they have guessed the risks they must take, the passion they will taste, and the simple fact that they may never see one another again …

If you love POLDARK, Gone With The Wind or the storytelling of Victoria Hislop, this is the perfect summer escape for you.

NO PLACE FOR A LADY is a beautiful story you will never forget.

My Thoughts

Star Rating - 4.5

Most definitive statement for the historical research that went into this book: Holy carp!! There is a ton of information that serves as a background for this story of two sisters and their relationship during one of the Crimean War. Everything from horrifying details on battle and carnage to everyday life in hospitals and military camps to the glittering world of Constantinople and the seedy underbelly of that same city find their way into this book. I literally was learning as I read, and I love that in historical fiction.

I do have to give the author kudos for not being afraid to explore dark material as well as the general historical story. From just jaw-dropping carnage at Dorothea's hospital to the emotional turmoil on the soldiers and those experiencing the shells and death, this story covers it all and makes the reader think. I was especially touched at how the author portrayed PTSD and the depression present in the soldier population. It really made me think about our modern soldiers and what they're going through. 

At first, I wasn’t that thrilled with out two sister leads. I felt they were almost stereotypical or caricatures of female roles in the mid-1850s, something I loathe with a vengeance. However, once the story gets rolling and the events start slamming our girls, I grew to love them more and more. They both mature and change their life outlooks as the war and story progresses. I found myself engrossed with their growth as chapters flew by.

Lucy’s and Dorothea’s relationship is the heart of the story; seeing how it develops and changes as the months go by kept me enthralled. The war changed both of them; the reader can see that reflected in how both girls’ views changed about each other. Lucy starts to view Dorothea as more than just someone trying to butt into her life as a bossy pseudo-mother. Dorothea starts to see the intelligence and maturity that Lucy possesses deep down as she deals with tragedy after tragedy.

At first, I was going to rate this book lower due to how much I was gritting my teeth in the beginning over the girls’ characterization. Yet, as the story progressed into the Crimea and the war story really got rolling, my adoration of the book rose and rose. The author’s attention to detail/research shines through, and her attention to the girls’ and their relationship is just astounding. I would recommend this book to any lover of historical fiction, as it’s topnotch, and I look forward to delving into more of the author’s HF!

Note: Book received for free from publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Sunday, June 28, 2015

REVIEW: Larkspur

by Dorothy Garlock

Publisher: Warner
Page Count: 407
Format: Mass Market Paperback

Hot got: personal library ($0.25 @ a garage sale)

First attention getter: taking place in Big Timer, MT - always love a HR set in MT


From GoodReads:

Miss Kristin Anderson had never left home before, but no one could stop her from going to Montana to take possession of Larkspur, the ranch she had inherited. At 23, she was considered a spinster, but she stood tall, wound her braids primly around her head, and tucked a derringer in her purse and set out for Big Timber, Montana.

She didn't know she'd have to outsmart gunslingers and a land grabber named Forsythe the moment she arrived. And she never dreamed that Buck Lenning, the "old" foreman at her ranch, was a young, lanky, secretive cowboy taking care of his elderly pa.

Soon Kristin and Buck were butting heads, hunkering down to protect Larkspur from Forsythe's henchmen, and discovering that they both wanted the same thing - a home and a love worth fighting for.

My Thoughts:

Star Rating - 4

Typical and predictable plotline for a historical romance: girl gets ranch in inheritance, meets sexy cowboy, ranch dude, bad guys try to get her ranch, struggle ensues, hijinks in the local town, big showdown, happily ever after. So no surprises there.

I liked Kristin, for the most part. She started out strong, knowing how to shoot her way out of problems and having the intelligence to see through Forsythe’s schemes very early on. As the story progressed, there were times where she regressed into the damsel in distress model, having to be rescued by Buck multiple times. There were times I was mentally shouting at her to carry her god damn gun more and shoot the balls off any guy trying to kidnap her. Yet, at least she wasn’t afraid to speak her mind and stand up for herself in some capacity.

I also liked the author’s careful attention to setting and environment. I’ve personally been to this area of Montana: Big Timber, the Crazy Mountains, and the Sweet Grass Creek (where it runs through Melville, MT). A ton of the towns and areas mentioned I’ve also been to or seen on a map: Helena, Miles City, and Billings. In my humble opinion, the Crazies are the most majestic and gorgeous of Montana’s mountains and serve as a fitting backdrop for this story. I could see why Buck and Kristin would like to live out here.

With a predictable, typical plotline and a heroine that slides into the damsel-in-distress mode more often than I like, I don’t think I’d say this is a favorite romance or one that stands out among the crowds. Yet, it’s got some good points with a story, though predictable, is still enjoyable, a heroine who at least has a backbone at times, and a great setting. So not jaw-dropping in its awesomeness, but still an enjoyable historical romance.

Friday, June 26, 2015

REVIEW: The Rules In Rome

The Rules In Rome
by A L Sowards

Publisher: Covenant Communications
Page Count: 304
Format: Kindle

How got: personal library

First attention getter: I love a good spy story!


From GoodReads:

With Hitler’s forces firmly entrenched in Europe, countless heroes seek to end the madman’s reign. Bastien Ley is one of the best. Working in Italy for the Office of Strategic Services, he’s been tasked with sabotaging German convoys. When his team kills an officer headed for Rome, the man’s similarity to Bastien is undeniable, and seeing an opportunity to turn the tide of the war, Bastien makes a bold decision: he will assume the dead officer’s identity. He becomes Dietrich, an Iron Cross–wearing German officer—an ideal position from which to infiltrate the Nazi ranks in Rome.

To help with his stressful assignment, his superiors send him a reinforcement in the form of the lovely Gracie Begni, an intelligent and eager radio operator with absolutely no undercover experience. With a gulf of resentment between them, these two agents must find a way to portray a couple in love.

Soon their reluctant alliance becomes much more as Bastien and Gracie find themselves getting lost in their feelings for each other. But as they engage in battle against the deadliest foe the world has ever known, the pair quickly realizes their love may be doomed. As the Rome Gestapo threatens to destroy all they’ve worked for, will Bastien and Gracie survive their charade?

My Thoughts

Star Rating - 4 Stars

Knowing how to keep the suspense quotient up, the story keeps the reader engaged with a continuous sequence of getaways, rescues, and secretive meetings in dark corners, interwoven with great characterization moments. I think this book excels in the spy/Resistance portion of the story. I never knew what was going to happen next or how soon the Germans would catch onto our dynamic duo.

There were parts that seemed a bit far-fetched or eyebrow-raising. Flimsy backstories, plans of action put into motion with no forethought, and some stupid decisions do call into question the intelligence of our spies and Resistors more than once. Thankfully, though, these didn’t overtake the whole book and only reared their ugly heads rarely.

Where this book really shines is in its characterizations, both for the main leads and the secondary characters. Gracie and Bastian are immediately relatable, distinct, and you just can’t help rooting for them. Both change and adapt as the story progresses, keeping the reader engaged each step of the way.

Yet, it’s the secondary people that really stand out here. Both Bastien’s fellow Italian Resistance fighters and the Germans make for a vibrant background of people for our leads to play off of. I liked that the author made the Germans more human; I could see a author easily falling into the trap of portraying them all as goose-stepping emotionless bad guys. Yet, Sowards gives us men who experience love, friendship, loyalty, and decency just as much as our lead.

The biggest gripe I have with this book is the main relationship. It touts itself as a romance. However, for the first half of the book, the characters have absolutely no chemistry, as much energy as a pooped out puppy, as much chemistry as distilled water. There are a few heated glances but for the most part, they are two individuals just acting out parts in a bad play. The latter half is better, with some nice scenes of sweetness and devotion. But there’s no development up to there, just presto-chango romance!

For the most part, the action parts of the spy/Resistance storyline was very well done. Characters shined in their individuality, even the bad guys. But the romance? It’s almost like “what romance?” for the first half and then suddenly they’re in love. That could have been handled better. I’d recommend this book for lovers of WWII spy stories, with a side of romance. Just don’t go looking for a strong romance quotient ‘cause it ain’t there for the whole book.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

REVIEW: Enchantress of Paris

Enchantress of Paris
by Marci Jefferson

Publisher: Thomas Dunne Books
Page Count: 336
Format: Kindle

How got: free copy from NetGalley for review

First attention getter: historical fiction about lesser known female figure and pretty necklace on cover!


From GoodReads:

Fraught with conspiracy and passion, the Sun King's opulent court is brought to vivid life in this captivating tale about a woman whose love was more powerful than magic.

The alignment of the stars at Marie Mancini's birth warned that although she would be gifted at divination, she was destined to disgrace her family. Ignoring the dark warnings of his sister and astrologers, Cardinal Mazarin brings his niece to the French court, where the forbidden occult arts thrive in secret. In France, Marie learns her uncle has become the power behind the throne by using her sister Olympia to hold the Sun King, Louis XIV, in thrall.

Desperate to avoid her mother's dying wish that she spend her life in a convent, Marie burns her grimoire, trading Italian superstitions for polite sophistication. But as her star rises, King Louis becomes enchanted by Marie's charm. Sensing a chance to grasp even greater glory, Cardinal Mazarin pits the sisters against each other, showering Marie with diamonds and silks in exchange for bending King Louis to his will.

Disgusted by Mazarin's ruthlessness, Marie rebels. She sacrifices everything, but exposing Mazarin's deepest secret threatens to tear France apart. When even King Louis's love fails to protect Marie, she must summon her forbidden powers of divination to shield her family, protect France, and help the Sun King fulfill his destiny.

My Thoughts:

Star Rating - 3.5 Stars

I anticipated this book’s arrival like nuts; any historical fiction about a lesser known female figure is always appreciated. Exploring the opulent world of Louis XIV’s court also makes me smile. When I saw it offered on NetGalley, I jumped at the chance to read and review.

The author pleases in the atmospheric and story areas. The shifting alliances and intrigue of court politics appears front and center throughout the entire book. The characters only have a very few people they can completely trust; even family can stab you in the back. Those features kept me turning the digital pages like a whirlwind.

The author’s attention to historical detail and the timeline, I also appreciated. She explores an area of French history often neglected, giving us a window into a court in flux as the old regent powers that be are waning and the young Sun King is rising. I lived and breathed the times along with the characters. I appreciate that the author didn’t try to change historical events to give us a preferred ending; she stuck with the actual historical events, which this history buff explored.

The characters, I’m a bit mixed on. I had a hard time empathizing with Louis and Marie. I found the king a teenager brat who liked to throw his status around in vain attempts to get his own way; a dandified Louis throwing a temper tantrum, beating feet and fists on the floor, came to my imagination. Maybe it was his age as a younger individual, before he got all his power, but I just didn’t like him at all.

Marie, I liked a bit more. There were times where she also acted like a love struck teenager, having teenage hysterics and melodrama to try and get her own way. There’s nothing else that will turn me off a character faster than that. Yet, she at least showed some change in maturity as the story went along. I liked the flashes of intelligence and strength of will I occasionally got from her.

A lovely look at 17th century France, this book shines in its attention to detail and enthralling story. The characters I wasn’t so hot-to-trot for, but Marie at least showed some promise. I’d probably not pick this book up again for a re-read; once was enough. Yet, it’s still a pleasant read for historical fiction lovers.

Note: Book received for free from publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

REVIEW: Longing

by Mary Balogh

Publisher: Signet
Page Count: 432
Format: Paperback/Tradeback

How got: Personal library
First attention getter: I'll admit it, the pretty cover.


From GoodReads:

From New York Times bestselling legend and author of the Survivors' Club series comes a cherished novel about the risks and the compromises that come with falling in love.…

Governess and mistress—he wanted her as both.…

The illegitimate daughter of an English lord, Sian Jones abandoned her heritage to live in a stalwart coal mining community in South Wales. Empowered by their cause, she’s engaged to be married to the leader of a revolutionary movement that is bracing itself against the tyranny of English mine owners. But Sian’s principles are unexpectedly shaken when she accepts a job as governess under Alexander Hyatt, the mysterious Marquess of Craille, the oppressive symbol of everything she has come to resist.

She never expected Alexander to upend all her expectations. He is sympathetic to her cause. He is a loving father. A man of wealth and position, he is fatally attractive. And he is offering his heart to the independent woman who has illuminated his life. Now, caught between two worlds, and between the promises and desires of two men, Sian must make a choice that will define her future—one that can only be made in the name of love.…

My Thoughts:

Star Rating - 5 Stars

My first experience with this author met with an unfortunate dead-end, the book being abandoned due to irritating sniping and relationship interactions that drove me up a wall. So it was with a smidge of hesitation that I embarked on another work by Balogh. Yet, the pretty cover (yes, I’m a cover slut!), the intriguing story premise surrounding the romance, and the author’s reputation made me decide to give another go here. Paid off in spades!

First off, I tip my hat to Balogh in her efforts to give us a fascinating historical background to go with her romance and plot. She excels in both atmospheric details and incorporating actual history into the tale. I could viscerally picture the settings in my head: the Gothic type castle architecture of Alex’s home, the smoke rising over the Welsh hills from the ironworks and mines, and the wild beauty of those same majestic peaks. Then there are the details of the Chartist movement incorporated into the story, with actual people, meetings, and marches woven throughout to give historical weight.

I really enjoyed our leads in this one. Their personalities felt balanced with both good and bad qualities, giving them a 3D feel not often felt in historical romances. I liked Sian’s stubbornness, strength of will, and soft, caring inner core. She was comfortable in her own skin and wasn’t afraid to break her own trail in life by the end. She wanted to fit into her mother’s community but wouldn’t squeeze into a preconceived mold to do so; I admired her for that.

Alex’s sweet and sensitive nature was a nice departure from your usual romantic hero. Now don’t think that makes him a soft touch and a wimp; by the end, he got macho when he needed to and showed people what’s what. Yet, I liked that his first inclination wasn’t to huff and puff to show his masculinity; his preference for compromise and working with people to meet a mutual goal was an incredible show of maturity and again, being comfortable in his own skin.

I loved their interactions and romance. With the right balance of sexual tension and heightened emotion, it kept me flipping page by page till the very end. I really liked that the author stayed away from the interaction model she used in the previous book I read by her. There wasn’t a constant exchange of sniping remarks and bantering; this relationship had more depth and sweetness that I enjoyed. I found myself more emotionally engaged by this book than I usually get, enough that I finished in a marathon session lasting till 1AM.

I also appreciate the role that sex played in this book. The scenes were utilized as something that moves the story or character development forward. Nothing was used as fluff or fan service; every encounter had a reason for occurring or had a lovely sense of spontaneity that drew me further into the relationship rather than disengaging from excessive porn. I liked that weightiness.

This book redeemed Balogh for me. I enjoyed every aspect: the different historical factors in the book, the characters, the main relationship, and the utilization of sex in the narrative. I had to finish the book in one last rush read-a-thon since I just couldn’t tear myself away from the story. I highly recommend this book to fellow historical romance lovers; it’ll be a tale that you’ll want to put real life on the back burner for.

Monday, June 22, 2015

REVIEW: The Cherry Harvest

The Cherry Harvest
by Lucy Sanna

Publisher: William Morrow and Company
Page Count: 336
Format: Hardcover

How got: free from GoodReads FirstReads giveaway

First attention getter: forbidden love on WWII American home front


From GoodReads:

A memorable coming-of-age story and love story, laced with suspense, which explores a hidden side of the home front during World War II, when German POWs were put to work in a Wisconsin farm community . . . with dark and unexpected consequences

The war has taken a toll on the Christiansen family. With food rationed and money scarce, Charlotte struggles to keep her family well fed. Her teenage daughter, Kate, raises rabbits to earn money for college and dreams of becoming a writer. Her husband, Thomas, struggles to keep the farm going while their son, and most of the other local men, are fighting in Europe.

When their upcoming cherry harvest is threatened, strong-willed Charlotte helps persuade local authorities to allow German war prisoners from a nearby camp to pick the fruit.

But when Thomas befriends one of the prisoners, a teacher named Karl, and invites him to tutor Kate, the implications of Charlotte’s decision become apparent—especially when she finds herself unexpectedly drawn to Karl. So busy are they with the prisoners that Charlotte and Thomas fail to see that Kate is becoming a young woman, with dreams and temptations of her own—including a secret romance with the son of a wealthy, war-profiteering senator. And when their beloved Ben returns home, bitter and injured, bearing an intense hatred of Germans, Charlotte’s secrets threaten to explode their world.

My Thoughts:

Star Rating - 3 Stars

I found this novel to be the most realistic and visceral exploration of life on the American home front during WWII I’ve come across yet. The hard economic times faced by many, the fear of POWs working among the community, and the endless worry for those fighting overseas all make an appearance. Other issues like PTSD and a forbidden love affair also make suspenseful additions to the overall nail-biting story.

Every character varied in their personalities, giving us many outlooks and POVs to enjoy the story through. I liked seeing through the very different eyes of Kate and Charlotte; their different generational POVs brought more dimensions to the events portrayed and storyline that I enjoyed.

Yet, for all the enjoyment I got out of the different POVs, I found I actually didn’t really like any of the characters. Not really. I never really got around to caring whether Kate got to go to university or how Ben dealt with his post-war health issues or Charlotte’s relationship problems. I just didn’t really care one way or the other. It’s safe to say I wouldn’t be pursuing any of these individuals as friends or acquaintances…

A good story and lovely world building makes this an enjoyable read. The characters provide for different takes on the story, yet I just didn’t like any of them as individuals. Not caring what happens to your leads makes for a strong ding against this book. Not sure if I’d recommend this one, but I think I’d check out the author’s future stuff since this was only a debut. She may approve with experience.

Note: Book received for free from publisher via GoodReads FirstReads program in exchange for an honest review.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

REVIEW: Queens Consorts

Queens Consorts: England's Medieval Queens from Eleanor of Aquitaine to Elizabeth of York
by Lisa Hilton

Publisher: Pegasus Classics
Page Count: 496
Format: Kindle

How got: Kindle Unlimited library

Why read: to learn more about lesser known medieval queens


From Amazon:

Meet the subjects of history’s greatest dramas: the first queens of England

Though their royal husbands occupy the lion’s share of history books, the queens of early England are fascinating subjects in their own right. Lisa Hilton’s Queens Consort vividly evokes the lives and times of England’s first queens, from Matilda of Flanders and the Norman conquest of England to Elizabeth of York and the beginning of the Tudor dynasty.

By profiling twenty different queens, Hilton provides an intricate and dramatic composite of the English monarch: from the ruthless Isabella of France, who violently gained control of England by dispatching Edward II, to the beloved Matilda of Scotland, known for her intelligence and devotion despite her philandering husband, Henry I; and from a girl who was crowned at the age of nine to a commoner who climbed the social ladder at the most opportune moment. Queens Consort dispels many of the myths that have surrounded these women for centuries, while simultaneously illuminating lesser-known facts about their lives.

My Thoughts:

Star Rating - 3 Stars

I was thrilled to see this book; the personalities of the medieval queens of England are incredibly large and vibrant for the time period. The author gives us a window into their lives and personalities, even to the lesser known like Adelizia of Louvain, making them breathe with relevance and making them real people to a modern audience. I really enjoyed getting to know them on a personal level and seeing the role they played on a grander scale. I also was enthralled to see how the role of queens changed throughout the Middles Ages that the author explored.

The amount of research and information that went into this works is astounding. The sheer wealth of information presented makes my jaw drop; the author must have been at it for years. I also liked that she wrote in such a way that the reader is kept engaged and isn’t tired out from an excess of dry facts and figures. Chunks of primary material are kept to a minimum, and the author keeps her readers engaged with her research being interwoven with her own words.

However, this book did suffer in a few areas that kept it from being a truly stellar work. First off is the lack of editing and proofreading. I’m not sure if the author didn’t have other people editing her work or not; I would think for a professionally published work that she would, though. Yet, there are typos and grammar mistakes literally everywhere. Spaces where there shouldn’t be, randomly inserted letters/misspellings, and the occasional run-on sentence made me grit my teeth in frustration. I can just imagine the frustration of a true grammar Nazi…

Then there is the overuse of symbolism the author utilizes throughout, especially in her comparisons to the Virgin Mary and queen-ship. Sometimes the conclusions the author reaches when utilizing these comparisons seemed far-fetched, but maybe that’s just me. Yet, I did find the amount of times these comparisons and symbols being used in the narrative excessive and overused.

So not a bad work overall, especially in an area that isn’t explored much in non-fiction. The author breathes personalities into people that might otherwise be footnotes in history or stereotypes for all queens or she-wolves of history. The amount of research is clearly evident and shines through, to the author’s credit. However, an abundance of typos and grammar mistakes along with an excessive use of questionable symbols keep this from being a true forerunner in the nonfiction body of work on medieval queens of England.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

REVIEW: The Major's Daughter

The Major's Daughter
by J. P. Francis

Publisher: Plume
Page Count: 400
Format: Paperback

How got: Personal library

First attention getter: forbidden love in WWII American POW camp; always a sucker for forbidden romance


From GoodReads:

Like Snow Falling on Cedars, a stirring tale of wartime love

April, 1944. The quiet rural village of Stark, New Hampshire is irrevocably changed by the arrival of 150 German prisoners of war. And one family, unexpectedly divided, must choose between love and country.

Camp Stark is under the command of Major John Brennan, whose beautiful daughter, Collie, will serve as translator. Educated at Smith and devoted to her widowed father, Collie is immediately drawn to Private August Wahrlich, a peaceful poet jaded by war. As international conflict looms on the home front, their passion blinds them to the inevitable dangers ahead.

Inspired by the little-known existence of a real World War II POW camp,The Major’s Daughter is a fresh take on the timeless theme of forbidden love.

My Thoughts:

Star Rating - 3 Stars

This author evidently knows how to set a scene. His phrasing is lyrical and almost poetic, with phrasing and imagery that evoke all the emotion and symbolism that the poetry medium presents. I’m not usually a fan of over-lyrical description; I find myself lost in the deluge of words. Yet, I didn’t mind in this work. The reader gets an amazing setting of pine-scented New Hampshire mountains, the glitter of the upper-crust Ohio society, and the bustle of a newly launched POW camp.

I’m also not usually a fan of the insta-love in most books; usually it’s not portrayed realistically or believably. However, Francis distinguishes himself from the pack again in presenting a romance between two individuals who suit each other in both temperament and life outlook that I could actually believe in. I found myself rooting for Collie and August from their first meeting, their gentle encounters and sweetness melting my heart.

The one downer to the book is, unfortunately, a huge one. There is an overall sense of despair and sadness that permeates the entire book, almost from the very beginning. Just when I was expecting some positive development or good outcome, I’d be hit with either a broken heart or something far worse. It’s almost like the author was trying to tell us that forbidden love will never work out, and we should never strive for its culmination. Bad things will happen if we try… Probably not the message he was really trying to convey, but it’s the one I got.

Great setting skills and a main relationship I thoroughly enjoyed make this a work I enjoyed to a point. If only I wasn't burdened with the “depths of despair” (as Anne Shirley would phrase it!), I think this work would have rated higher for me. Yet, I just can’t enjoy a book overall when I keep crying and blubbering over the characters and their fates. So not a bad book, but bring the tissues!

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

REVIEW: Civil War Love Stories

Civil War Love Stories
by Gill Paul

Publisher: Sterling
Page Count: 192
Format: Hardcover

How got: Personal library

Why read: the personal stories from an epic historical event


From GoodReads:

In December 1860, South Carolina became the first Southern state to secede from the United States. There followed over four years of continuous fighting between the Union North and Confederate South, in what remains one of the cruelest conflicts in history.

The Civil War tore families apart, pitted friends against one another, and left an estimated 200,000 women widowed. Some three percent of the total population of America perished.

Civil War Love Stories tells the stories of 14 of the couples behind these statistics. Lovers’ heart-wrenching correspondence is recounted here, offering unforgettably poignant glimpses into the relationships that held fast despite the huge strains imposed by the war.

The love stories include: Confederate general Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson, a brilliant military tactician, who longed to win the war so he could return home to his loving wife, Mary Anna, and their new baby daughter, Julia Laura. David Demus, who swiftly joined the Union cause after the formation of the first African American regiment, but relived the perils of fighting for their freedom in somber letters to his wife, Mary. Malinda Blalock, who couldn’t bear to be parted from her husband, Keith, and so joined the Confederate army disguised as his brother, “Sam.” Down-and-out Charles Tenney, who enlisted with the Union cause to earn the good favor of his family, but instead earned the love of his close friend’s sister, Adelaide Case.

My Thoughts

Star Rating - 4 Stars

Giving us an intimate window into the lives and relationships of the personalities that lived and fought the Civil War, I found this book engaging and very readable. I got to know these men and women on a personal level and so felt myself closer to the historical events talked about all the more. I especially liked the personal touches with the pictures of actual individuals and letter quotes in the narrative.

This is more a light historical read than any hefty tome on the subject of the Civil War. You won’t find in-depth explorations of battle strategies or memorialization of grand ideas in this book. If that’s what you’re looking for, definitely look for another volume. Yet, even though the focus is more on personal stories rather than background details of battles, I still got a real feel for the history behind the stories.

So while probably not going to be a primary source for a high school or college essay, this book still is a pleasant reading experience for those who like the personal side to history. I felt closer to the people and events involved and enjoyed every sentence.

Monday, June 15, 2015

REVIEW: The Curiosity Keeper

The Curiosity Keeper
by Sarah Ladd

Publisher: Thomas Nelson
Page Count: 352
Format: Kindle

How got: free copy from Net Galley for review

Why read: heard good things about author and interesting story concept


From GoodReads: 

“It is not just a ruby, as you say. It is large as a quail’s egg, still untouched and unpolished. And it is rumored to either bless or curse whomever possesses it.”

Camille Iverness can take care of herself. She’s done so since the day her mother abandoned the family and left Camille to run their shabby curiosity shop on Blinkett Street. But when a violent betrayal leaves her injured with no place to hide, Camille has no choice but to accept help from the mysterious stranger who came to her aid.

Jonathan Gilchrist never wanted to inherit Kettering Hall. As a second son, he was content working as a village apothecary. But when his brother’s death made him heir just as his father’s foolish decisions put the estate at risk, only the sale of a priceless possession—a ruby called the Bevoy—can save the family from ruin. But the gem has disappeared. And all trails lead to Iverness Curiosity Shop—and the beautiful shop girl who may or may not be the answer to his questions.

Curious circumstance throws them together, and an intricate dance of need and suspicion leads the couple from the seedy backwaters of London to the elite neighborhoods of the wealthy to the lush, green Surrey countryside—all in the pursuit of a blood-red gem that collectors will sacrifice anything to possess.

Caught at the intersection of blessings and curses, greed and deceit, two determined souls must unite to protect what they hold dear. But when a passion that shines far brighter than any gem is ignited, each will have to decide how much they are willing to risk for their future, love, and happiness.

My Thoughts

Star Rating - 5 Stars

The characters in this book were immediately relatable. It’s actually kinda hard for me to put into words; almost immediately I felt like I knew these people. It can’t be summed up in saying that the author does a great job in giving her characters both vices and virtues. She does, yet there’s an element to these characters that make them feel real to me. Almost as soon as I started reading, I felt like I could have met these people on the street and found common ground with them. I enjoyed exploring all the depths of these people as they found their way through romance, mystery, and finding their way in the world.

The author’s attention to historical detail was a real treat. Intimate details on shops in Regency England, the educational system, medical care, and the differences between the various classes kept this history lover jigging in her heart. The author makes sure to bring the setting to life all the while telling a great story to balance it out.

I’m happy to see another Christian fiction author who knows how to balance her religious elements with her actual story narrative so one doesn’t overpower the other. The religious presence is very definitely felt in the lessons of the story and in frequent mentions of God and his power. Yet, the reader isn’t preached at on soapboxes of morality. The story is able to stand as itself, a fantastic tale of love and learning what’s important in life.

I’ve found me another Christian author I adore!! With great characters, story, balance of elements, and research, she’s able to craft a tale I can enjoy and learn from. I’ll definitely be checking out more of Ms. Ladd’s works; I think I’ll be ranking her up with Elizabeth Camden and Tamera Alexander as a favorite Christian author if her writing holds true in other books.

Note: Book received for free from publisher via NetGalley in exchange for free review.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

REVIEW: Exchange of Princesses

Exchange of Princesses
by Chantal Thomas

Publisher:Other Press
Page Count: 336
Format: Kindle

How got: free copy from NetGalley for review

Why read: interesting time period and the subject of children used as marriage pawns in international politics


From GoodReads:

Philippe d’Orléans, the regent of France, has a gangrenous heart–the result of a life of debauchery, alcohol, power, and flattery. One morning in 1721, he has a brilliant idea to further appease his thirst for power: he decides to marry eleven-year-old Louis the XV to the daughter of Philippe V of Spain, who is only four. This, Orléans hopes, will tie his kingdom to Spain’s. But it could also have a more duplicitous effect: were Louis XV to die without begetting an heir–the likeliness of which is greatly increased by having a child—Orléans himself would finally be king. In exchange, Orléans tosses his own daughter into the bargain, the 12-year-old Mlle de Montpensier, who will marry the Prince of Asturias, the inheritor of the Spanish throne.

The Spanish court enthusiastically agrees and arrangements are quickly made. The two nations trade their princesses in a grand ceremony in 1722, making bonds that should end the historical conflict between them. Of course, nothing turns out as expected. In a novel that reads like a fairy tale, Chantal Thomas chronicles a time in French history when children were not children, but pawns in an adult’s game.

My Thoughts

Star Rating - 2 Stars

The author’s careful attention to detail and the amount of research she did is very evident right off the bat. The lush descriptions of Georgian court life and the extravagant world of the nobility comes to vivid reality. I could almost hear the rustle of silk and clink of jewels in real life.

I really enjoyed the subject matter explored in the book. Not only the lives of royals in the Georgian era, always a fascinating subject of historical fiction lovers. The way that royal children were utilized as commodities to obtain peace and power was also an enthralling subject. The author does a great job of making the reader feel for these youngsters as they’re thrust into a world they’re not prepared for and roles that seem daunting.

Yet, I think this book has a severe identity crisis that kills the work overall. At times this book would read as a historical fiction and at others it would read as a non-fiction. Alternately, the reader would get into the character’s heads and explore their motivations. And then the next paragraph we would be given dates, facts, and figures interspersed with snatches of primary material. More than once I was thrown from the narrative as we flip flopped from book style to book style so that by the end, I just really wanted the book to be over with.

So while there is some interesting material explored within and in vibrant, life-like detail, this book ultimately fails for me as its flipping between book styles. I actually finished the book in disgust, wishing it would make up its mind on fiction or non-fiction. So maybe read if you’re really hard up for reading material, but I wouldn't go out of your way to find this one.

Note: Book received for free from publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

REVIEW: Dearest Rogue

Dearest Rogue
by Elizabeth Hoyt

Publisher: Grand Central Publishing
Page Count: 326
Format: Kindle

How got book: personal Kindle library

Why read: I'm always a sucker for blind protagonists in HRs.


From GoodReads:


Lady Phoebe Batten is pretty, vivacious, and yearning for a social life befitting the sister of a powerful duke. But because she is almost completely blind, her overprotective brother insists that she have an armed bodyguard by her side at all times-the very irritating Captain Trevillion.


Captain James Trevillion is proud, brooding, and cursed with a leg injury from his service in the King's dragoons. Yet he can still shoot and ride like the devil, so watching over the distracting Lady Phoebe should be no problem at all-until she's targeted by kidnappers.


Caught in a deadly web of deceit, James must risk life and limb to save his charge from the lowest of cads-one who would force Lady Phoebe into a loveless marriage. But while they're confined to close quarters for her safekeeping, Phoebe begins to see the tender man beneath the soldier's hard exterior . . . and the possibility of a life-and love-she never imagined possible.

My Thoughts:

Star Rating - 4

The best word to describe this book is sweet. It’s one of those romances that make you go “aaawww” and just grin in happiness at the romantic schmoop. There are a few darker elements explored to contrast with all that romantic stuff, but in this work, it definitely doesn’t take over. I usually like a bit more emphasis on the darker; yet, in my first work by Hoyt, I found the overemphasis on romance and love fitting and enjoyable.

I really liked the characters in this one, especially Phoebe. Her blindness doesn’t become a crutch nor define her character. She doesn’t let it limit her exposure to the outside world or prevent her from enjoying life. She’s a bright, strong spirit that I enjoyed reading. The hero, James, was also a guy I could get behind. A bit angsty at times, he still acted when he felt he needed to to protect the woman he loved and overcome his past to put himself forward as a romantic prospect.

The overall plot was OK, pretty typical for a historical romance actually. I rolled my eyes more than once at the multiple kidnap attempts and rescue scenarios. Yet, I’m always game for a good rescue, and I love the idea of the noble girl/common guy. So the clichés didn’t bug me all that much this time around.

A pretty enjoyable historical romance, this book has great characters and the perfect level of emotional resonance and romantic fluff. While there are some clichés of the genre that caused a few sighs, they don’t overtake the whole story. Highly recommended for lovers of the genre as I think you’ll definitely enjoy it. I’ll be looking for more by this author.

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

REVIEW: The Stolen Crown


Publisher: Sourcebooks Landmark
Page Count: 403
Format: Kindle

How got book: personal Kindle library

Why read: fascinating time period and good previous experience with author


From GoodReads:

On May Day, 1464, six-year-old Katherine Woodville, daughter of a duchess who has married a knight of modest means, awakes to find her gorgeous older sister, Elizabeth, in the midst of a secret marriage to King Edward IV. It changes everything-for Kate and for England.

Then King Edward dies unexpectedly. Richard III, Duke of Gloucester, is named protector of Edward and Elizabeth's two young princes, but Richard's own ambitions for the crown interfere with his duties...

Lancastrians against Yorkists: greed, power, murder, and war. As the story unfolds through the unique perspective of Kate Woodville, it soon becomes apparent that not everyone is wholly evil-or wholly good.

Award-winning author Susan Higginbotham's The Stolen Crown is a compelling tale of one marriage that changed the fate of England forever.

My Thoughts:

Star Rating - 4 Stars

This book solidifies this author’s mastery at world building and historical details for me. Her intimate research on the events of the turbulent Wars of the Roses and how it impacted the various parties involved shines through. It was intriguing to see how these events impacted such young individuals as our leads and how they molded their characters and outlook on life.

Characterization was a strong suit for this author in the previous book I read by her, and this one is no different. Her characters seem to just walk off the page in their complexity and bigger-than-life personalities. Even the secondary individuals like Margaret Beaufort were as strong as the leads. I found myself thrilled to see Harry and Kate grow with the times and events presented, growing from the innocence of early childhood to the jaded reality that was late medieval England politics. The author gets the voices down well for both stages in life and everything in between.

My only glitch with this book is the beginning third; it seems more like a told-scene non-fiction work rather than a fictional account of real events. There was a ton of dates and figures presented in such a way that it read like non-fiction, with occasional spurts of fictional scenes for flavor. I’m not sure if it was because the main leads were so young, Kate as young as 4, that it was hard to tell the story as flavorfully as an adult POV would allow. But I had a hard time getting through that first third, at times.

With great characterization and historical world building, this book is a pretty good addition to Higginbotham’s body of work. The first third can read slowly at times with the excessive use of told scenes and non-fictional accounts, but that doesn’t weigh down the story overall. Definitely a fine read to immerse yourself into.

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

REVIEW: The Chosen Queen


Publisher: Macmillan
Page Count: 352 pages
Format: Hardcover
How got book: Personal library
Why read: tale of a little known woman that history forgot.... yes, please!
From GoodReads:
1066: A date that changed the course of history; a date that changed her life forever

Love should be free - that is what Edyth Alfgarsdottir has always believed. As a young girl she witnessed Earl Harold standing barefoot in his handfast marriage to the beautiful Lady Svana and has yearned for her own love match ever since.

Amongst England's royal court, marriages are not often chosen for love and political matches are rife while King Edward is still without an heir. When her family are exiled to the wild Welsh court, Edyth unexpectedly finds herself falling for the charismatic Griffin - first King of all of Wales. Becoming his Queen catapults Edyth onto the opposing side of a bitter feud between England and Wales. She has to grow up fast but has the support and encouragement of her closest friend, Lady Svana.

Years later, Edyth is in line to take the crown of England. This time the lines of love and duty are far more blurred. As 1066 dawns, Edyth and Svana will be asked to make an even greater sacrifice, perhaps the greatest of all. In the midst of war, can love - and freedom - survive?
My Thoughts:
Star Rating - 5 Stars
I remember reading about Edyth as a kid in Morgan Llewelyn’s WingFrom Hastings. I was really young and so only remember vague impressions, like remembering that Harold was a big bully and her brothers were toads. It was a real treat to re-visit this era and these people specifically to get another look at them.
For a debut novel, this author has done a fantastic job. She took a lot of time in her world building and research of details. The reader gets a real sense for the sights, sounds, and smells of late Anglo-Saxon England and wild Wales. The intense political situation the characters found themselves in was thoroughly explored and made for suspenseful reading. I also was very fascinated by all the details on hand fasting vs traditional Roman religious weddings and the differences thereof.
 All the characters and their various relationships made for enthralling reading. To see Edyth, Harold, and all the others come alive again was a real treat. The author gives them real depth of emotion, personality, and understanding. I especially liked Edyth and her understanding of the various political situations and her place in them. Being married to two men who are enemies and the particular situation with Harold/Svana showed her maturity and clear thinking. I also liked how real she felt in her sensual nature and curiosity, like any other girl/woman her age.
 Altogether, I feel that this is a robust start of Joanna Courtney’s new trilogy and total career. She tells a great story, gets the historical details right, and makes her characters and their relationships breathe with depth and realism. I definitely look forward to more works by her; I feel she’s going to be among the greats for me.


Monday, June 1, 2015

REVIEW: Dear Enemy

Publisher: Bethany House Publishers
Page Count: 283 pages
Format: Paperback

How got book: local library rental

Why read: story idea: American nurse held captive behind enemy lines in WWII France


From GoodReads: 

Nurse Annie Rawlings has seen the atrocities of war and believes, as do most Americans, in the inhumane depravity of the enemy--the Germans. But when a rogue rescue mission ends in tragedy, Annie finds herself behind enemy lines, captured and alone with a wounded German soldier. Through shared danger, faith, and a love of music, the two forge a bond that will be tested by prejudice and the separations of time and continents. When Karl is sent to a prisoner-of-war camp, their fragile relationship seems at an end. Annie searches for Karl, but friends--and a new suitor--urge her to get on with her life.Will she ever see her Dear Enemy again?

My Thoughts:

Star Rating - 5 Stars

I really liked the story flow in this intense tale of survival in war torn France and the coming together of two people from very different worlds. The author has a gift for telling a gripping narrative that keeps the reader going, scene from scene, without any slow gaps of extensive exposition or over intense scenes of war battles.

I was really touched by the primary theme as well. The idea that individual people can’t be judged by their overall society or by their government is a powerful one; that just being a part of a country or group of people doesn't define an individual. That’s a great idea to explore in a Christian WWII work, and the author pulls it off well.

The characters shined well; both Annie and Karl kept me spellbound by their struggle to deal with the horrors of war and keep an identity that is separate from all the carnage around them. I adored how they found common ground between them even through the tragedy that surrounded their meeting. Their growth as individuals and their coming together as a couple really made this book.

I actually really liked this one. From some of the reviews already written elsewhere, I was thinking I might have some problems, but everything was smooth sailing. I adored the characters, smooth story, and themes explored. I’d definitely recommend this to anyone who enjoys WWII historical fiction with a Christian fiction flavor.