Saturday, July 30, 2016

REVIEW: From This Moment by Elizabeth Camden

From This Moment
by Elizabeth Camden

Publisher: Bethany House
Page Count: 350
Release Date: June 7, 2016
Format: Trade Paperback

How got: free copy from publisher

First attention getter: author


From GoodReads:

Romulus White has tried for years to hire illustrator Stella West for his renowned scientific magazine. She is the missing piece he needs to propel his magazine to the forefront of the industry.

But Stella abruptly quit the art world and moved to Boston with a single purpose: to solve the mysterious death of her beloved sister. Romulus, a man with connections to high society and every important power circle in the city, could be her most valuable ally.

Sparks fly the instant Stella and Romulus join forces, and Romulus soon realizes the strong-willed and charismatic Stella could disrupt his hard-won independence. Can they continue to help each other when their efforts draw the wrong kind of attention from the powers-that-be and put all they've worked for at risk?

My Thoughts:

Star Rating - 5

OK. My faith in Camden is restored. The last work I read of hers disappointed me as it seemed to be like every other Christian fiction work I’ve encountered: faith heavy and story light. I couldn’t even bring myself to write a review, just starred it. This work? Big improvement!

Another great story comes from Camden’s pen. The subway race and the trials of building such in a limited technological era kept me riveted. Funding such a venture, the mountain of bureaucratic paperwork involved, and the physical dangers all made for fascinating reading. She made the vibrant world of Gilded Age Boston also breathe with all its corruption, energy, and industry.

I loved both our leads. Their personalities are rooted in reality, making them seem more human to me rather than words on a page. Eccentric Romulus (and who doesn’t love a name like that?!) and proud Stella played off each other for stellar results. I loved how each approached life’s challenges differently, one with diplomacy and the other with brash argument. Yet, both cared for their friends and family so strongly that not even murder or legal issues could ultimately shop them in their tracks.

It’s that strong foundation with great differences that made their relationship so intriguing. They’ve got the spark of instant attraction; however, they also have enough similarities and outlooks on the world to make a relationship last for the long term. I couldn’t help but root for them as they faced life’s challenges and the special ones entailed with investigating a murder.

I was actually surprised at the murder/mystery plotline. I was kept in the dark by the guilty party’s identity until almost the very end. That doesn’t happen all the time for me, even in regular mysteries, long less Christian fiction with mystery subplots. The author does a fantastic job in dropping red herrings and clues in equal measures throughout the entire story, keeping her audience guessing.

Camden went back to her previous handling of religious themes and Christian touches that I enjoyed in the past. There’s enough there to know that this is a Christian novel; yet readers aren’t inundated with verbose preaching nor obvious moralizing. The themes explored are interwoven into the narrative and can apply to Christians and non-Christian alike. Taking life as it comes at you, attracting support with honey vs vinegar, being too proud, and jumping to conclusions are all lessons that everyone should learn, no matter their religion or background.

Its books like this that keep me coming back to Camden and make her a favorite of mine. She balances great life lessons, human characters, suspenseful plotline, and attractive romance into one great package. I’d recommend this book to anyone, really. It’s that good.

Note: Book received for free from the publisher via GR giveaway in exchange for an honest review.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

REVIEW: The Last Woman Standing by Thelma Adams

The Last Woman Standing
by Thelma Adams

Publisher: Lake Union
Page Count: 300
Release Date: July 1, 2016
Format: Kindle

How got: ARC through Amazon Kindle First

First attention getter: the heroine


From GoodReads:

Two decades after the Civil War, Josephine Marcus, the teenage daughter of Jewish immigrants, is lured west with the promise of marriage to Johnny Behan, one of Arizona’s famous lawmen. She leaves her San Francisco home to join Behan in Tombstone, Arizona, a magnet for miners (and outlaws) attracted by the silver boom. Though united by the glint of metal, Tombstone is plagued by divided loyalties: between Confederates and Unionists, Lincoln Republicans and Democrats.

But when the silver-tongued Behan proves unreliable, it is legendary frontiersman Wyatt Earp who emerges as Josephine’s match. As the couple’s romance sparks, Behan’s jealousy ignites a rivalry destined for the history books…

At once an epic account of an improbable romance and a retelling of an iconic American tale, The Last Woman Standing recalls the famed gunfight at the O.K. Corral through the eyes of a spunky heroine who sought her happy ending in a lawless outpost—with a fierce will and an unflagging spirit.

My Thoughts:

Star Rating - 5

My only exposure to the personage of Josephine Marcus has been the movie of “Tombstone”. That portrayal intrigued me, this gal who doesn’t truck with the usual Victorian lady behavior but that blazes a trail all her own. Adams picks right up on that fantastic portrayal with a unique character voice and an intimate look at an American legend.

At first, Joe’s internal voice made me pause; she holds NOTHING back when it comes to her inner monologue. Everything from sex to personal impressions on the people she meets comes right thought her mind, and sometimes her mouth, with no filter. That’s refreshing amongst the abundance of very proper POVs in westerns and books set in this era.

I love Joe as a person, too. She’s an intriguing mix of innocence and brashness. Easily taken in by a charming smile and pretty face, she makes life decisions on the flimsiest of reasoning to detrimental effects at first. Facing all the challenges that come her way with a courageous spirit and pluck makes her someone I can relate to.

She itches for more out of life than hearth and home with an arranged marriage. Boy does she find it!! Shootouts, gangsters, threatened rape, death, and the dusty, arid world of Arizona greet her. However, she also finds the love of her life in the form of Wyatt Earp of the OK Corral fame. A man different than those she’d encountered before, he respects and honors her for who she is rather than the role she can fill for him. Their connection is immediate and emotionally resonant throughout the entire book.

Adams humanizes the Western legend of the OK Corral shootout and its aftermath with great skill. It wasn’t just bang, bang, legend born. There was buildup with strengthening tensions and animosity; the fallout had judicial and emotional elements. The rising tension and a town on the brink brought this action-filled and suspenseful world to life.

A great flesh out to a lesser known female Western figure, this book shines. A great setting and character voice make Josephine’s story unique; Adams draws her readers in and doesn’t let them go. After finishing this book, I had the sudden urge to re-watch “Tombstone”. I grew to appreciate this book all the more after finishing. What a tale!

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

REVIEW: Her Highness, the Traitor by Susan Higginbotham

Her Highness, the Traitor
by Susan Higginbotham

Publisher: Sourcebooks
Page Count: 323
Release Date: June 1, 2012
Format: Trade Paperback

How got: personal buy; from Amazon

First attention getter: the author; already loved her


From GoodReads:

As Henry VIII draws his last breath, two very different women, Jane Dudley, Viscountess Lisle, and Frances Grey, Marchioness of Dorset, face the prospect of a boy king, Edward VI.

For Jane Dudley, basking in the affection of her large family, the coming of a new king means another step upward for her ambitious, able husband, John. For Frances Grey, increasingly alienated from her husband and her brilliant but arrogant daughter Lady Jane, it means that she—and the Lady Jane—are one step closer to the throne of England.

Then the young king falls deathly ill. Determined to keep England under Protestant rule, he concocts an audacious scheme that subverts his own father’s will. Suddenly, Jane Dudley and Frances Grey are reluctantly bound together in a common cause—one that will test their loyalties, their strength, and their faith, and that will change their lives beyond measure.

My Thoughts:

Star Rating - 4

Higginbotham never fails to please in making history real to her readers; giving vague historical figures a 3D persona and impulses all their own. This work took a bit longer to get into, but she still excelled in these key points.

It took a bit longer for me to get into this work than her previous works. It had to do with the timeframe this one explored, Tudor times rather than the High Middle Ages. I’ve not read as much in the Tudor era as it seems overdone. Yet, this one talked about minor players in the “Game of Thrones” that was Tudor England politics so I figured I’d give it a try.

Historical integrity made an appearance, another hallmark of Higginbotham. The turbulent years of post-Henry VIII are lovingly portrayed in all their bloody and magnificent glory. Families and individuals rose and fell with startling swiftness in these years; the author explores how that impacted the women of these families, often the pawns of others trapped in a dangerous game. Knowing these ladies were real, getting to know them through tragedy and fire, is why I read historical fiction.

At first, I got a bit lost in the deluge of names, faces, and titles. Some background knowledge of Tudor politics and personages probably would have helped in this era. About the only title I recognized was the Duke of Somerset (Thank you Tudors TV show! LOL) and then of course, I knew of Jane Grey, her sisters/mother, and husband.

Higginbotham makes them so much more, though. Jane is a spoiled, cunning brat that starts to mature and show vulnerability as her ascent comes to a screeching halt. Frances is swept up in the whirlwind of her husband’s ambitions and plans, trying to keep an even keel for her family. Guildford marries into the wrong family at the wrong time, an innocent caught up in the struggle for the Crown. And it goes on… Each character grows as an individual, developing as the story progresses. I grew to care about the fate of each person, feeling melancholy when fate struck and joy when happiness was achieved.

Despite being a bit harder to get into than the other Higginbotham works I’ve read, this one still turned out a solid addition to her bibliography. I like that she’s getting away from the Middles Ages; her next work on my list to read is post-American Civil War. Wherever in the currents of history she chooses to play, Susan always manages to fish out great characters, glorious stories, and themes that touch the heart. Highly recommended!

Monday, July 11, 2016

REVIEW: Saving the Marquise's Granddaughter by Carrie Fancett Pagels

Saving the Marquise's Granddaughter
by Carrie Fancett Pagels

Publisher: White Rose / Harbourlight Books
Page Count: 272
Release Date: June 1, 2016
Format: Kindle ARC

How got: free ARC from NetGalley

First attention getter: pretty cover


From GoodReads:

In a land fraught with religious strife, they must break the barriers between status and faith to forge a fresh future in a new world… 

After her Huguenot father is arrested, aristocrat Suzanne Richelieu escapes Versailles. Handsome German peasant, Johan Rousch, risks his life to bring her to the safety of his family’s farm in the Palatinate duchy, but when Suzanne’s brother and the French army arrive with a warning that they plan to burn the area, she and Johan are forced to flee. 

With no money or options, both become indentured servants in exchange for safe passage to Philadelphia. Suzanne falls gravely ill aboard ship and marries Johan, only to survive with no memory of the wedding—a reality made worse when Johan spots the “priest” who married them working as a surveyor and later in Quaker cleric garb. 

Are their wedding vows valid? When Suzanne's former fiancĂ© arrives in port, planning to abduct her, Johan must save her again—but can he do so before Suzanne is lost to him forever?

My Thoughts:

Star Rating - 2.5

I started out with high hopes for this book; the premise and history behind it sounded intriguing. As we went further into the story, however, things got more and more muddled with leaps of logic, scenes that went nowhere, and a main character I had no empathy for. I finished for one character and the history behind the story. Otherwise, I’d have dropped this book like a hot potato.

The plight of the Huguenots, their flight path through Germany to the new world, and the world of indentured servants all are vividly explored. My personal family history has Huguenot and Palatinate German roots on two different branches. I was fascinated to explore how brutal it could be for the French Protestants as they fled the persecution of Louis XIV and his Catholic state. The author doesn’t skimp on the harsh details of their lives and dangers. I’m curious now to see if my two family branches might have crossed on similar paths as explored here.

I loved Johan. He was sweet and supportive, loving Suzanne for whom she was even if she didn’t initially share his faith and protecting her the best he could in a powerless situation. He was guided by his ardent faith and never wavered. Also who doesn’t love a burly, strong guy who’s devoted to protecting and providing for a gal?

Suzanne, though, I had no empathy for. I found her shallow and out of touch with reality. She couldn’t face her new circumstances, always harking back to the grand marriage she was going to make and getting back to Versailles and her aristocratic background, only changing her tune towards the end. I felt like she never returned the depth of emotion and love that Johan directed towards her. This made the relationship and eventual marriage one-sided for me. I can’t see a happy future for them together, even with God’s help.

The Christian elements are about what I expected for a themed work of this type. They weren’t in your face nor preachy. God was called on often for strength, as to be expected from the events these characters faced, and they constantly harkened back to God’s teachings as they grew. As a non-Christian reading this work, I found them well incorporated into the overall storyline.

The writing style and devices used throughout, though, are this book’s greatest downfall. For one thing, the writing doesn’t flow. Sentences are either choppy or massive run-ons held together by commas, sometimes four or five to a sentence. This also applies to the paragraphs. I felt, at times, I was reading the work of a child or very young writer.

There would also be leaps of logic with no explanation: characters would have information with no explanation of how they got them, information would be conveniently written down somewhere for reading and assumption making, and characters would act without motivation being divulged. More times than not I was confused and irritated, trying to figure out this book.

The history and Johan are why I kept reading and finished. Suzanne, I could give two figs about. The writing style is wacky and just out there. I think this book could benefit with more editing and reworking. I don’t see myself searching out this author again or reading this particular book a second time.

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

Friday, July 8, 2016

REVIEW: In the Shadow of the Mountains by Rosanne Bittner

In the Shadow of the Mountains
by Rosanne Bittner

Publisher: Fanfare
Page Count: 640
Release Date: June 1, 1991
Format: Mass Market Paperback

How got: personal buy; used bookstore

First attention getter: the author, already loved her!


From GoodReads:


In one magnificent family burned the vision that built a great American city. They were the Kirklands: David--the brave, big-hearted mountain dreamer who risked his life to stake a claim to a new life in the rugged Colorado Rockies; Beatrice--the ambitious, strong-willed matriarch who sacrificed her girlish dreams for the perils and hardships of an unknown, untamed wilderness; Irene-the beautiful young woman who shared her father's passion for the land and ached for the one man she was forbidden to love; Elly--the scheming daughter who vowed to possess the family fortune and the man she worshipped above all else; John-the desperate son who struggled to escape his mother's domination and carve out his own life.


Bold, headstrong, and passionate, the indomitable Kirklands struggled to survive in a treacherous, hostile land. From penniless settlers to wealthy mine owners to Denver's regal first family, together--and separately--they pursued their dazzling dreams of love and glory. From the era of the covered wagon to the rise of the western railroad, from the gold rush years through the golden age of the American West, In the Shadow of the Mountains is the breathtaking saga of a remarkable family who endured tragedy and hardship to build a glorious mountain empire.

My Thoughts:

Star Rating - 5

Another win from Bittner! After a couple of works that I dropped for various reasons, this book illustrated why I’d fallen in love with her stuff in the first place. She seems to be one of these authors that either writes gold or very mediocre stuff. Like the peaks of Colorado, this one was gold!

The epic family drama and the emergence of Denver as a prominent Western metropolis kept me spell bound. Much along the lines of Outlaw Hearts and Wildest Dreams, this book follows two individuals through very trying circumstances and follows their family build up through to the beginning of the modern age. Each generation builds upon the accomplishments of the past to create the next leg in the saga.

Historical romances are not the usual scene for these type of family dramas; in fact, Bittner is the only one I can think of that incorporates it. I feel it adds so much to a romance as we get to see the fruits of labors and the consequences of decisions in such a grand scale, over decades rather than just a few months or years. The actions of each generation impacts the next, and I loved that.

Surviving fire, flood, crime, war, and riot, Denver rose to become one of the jewels of the West, the Queen City as it was called. The vast history of the West was also explored in gold-rush California and arid New Mexico. I was especially intrigued with the history in this book as I’m going to be able to visit several of the spots discussed on a road trip this fall; so I got all the more excited, reading about them and learning some of their back story. Bittner excelled in this book aspect.

Her characters and romance also shined. Every character felt real to me. Even the nasty personalities like Elly and Chad, I was able to see why they acted the way they did, their motivations and inspirations. There is more than one romantic pairing in this book, giving us a more rounded picture of romance as well. As loyal business partners or passionate lovers or healing friends, seeing the different types and levels of romance made for a more well-rounded romantic tale.

For most of the book, our main pairing wasn’t together, which in another historical romance might have killed the book. Yet, the strength of their love and the trials they go through to ultimately find themselves together keep it in the forefront of the story. Even though they marry others and face tragedy separately, I felt their chemistry together even so.

Even though there were a few flaws here or there, they pale in comparison to the work as a whole. The vibrant history, characters, and romance all make for a gripping historical romance read. This is a solid five in my book; works like this are the reason I love and adore Bittner. I’ll be looking out for more!

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

REVIEW: Daughter of York by Anne Easter Smith

Daughter of York
by Anne Easter Smith

Publisher: Touchstone
Page Count: 594
Release Date: August 23, 2011
Format: Kindle

How got: personal buy from Amazon

First attention getter: Margaret of York


From GoodReads:

History tells us that the intelligent, wealthy, and powerful Margaret of York had everything any woman could want, except for love. The acclaimed author of A Rose for the Crown takes us between the lines of history and into her heart.

It is 1461: Edward, son of Richard of York, ascends to the throne, and his willful sister, Margaret, immediately becomes a pawn in European politics as Edward negotiates her marriage. The young Margaret falls deeply in love with Anthony Woodville, the married brother of Edward's queen, Elizabeth. But Edward has arranged for his sister to wed Charles, son of the Duke of Burgundy, and soon Margaret is setting sail for her new life. Her official escort: Anthony Woodville. Margaret of York eventually commanded the respect and admiration of much of Europe, but it appears to history that she had no emotional intimate. Anne Easter Smith's rare gift for storytelling and her extensive research reveal the love that burned at the center of Margaret's life, adding a new dimension to the story of one of the fifteenth century's most powerful women.

My Thoughts:

Star Rating - 3.5

Margaret of York is one of those historical figures that just makes history interesting by her sheer force of personality, even if the work that portrays her doesn’t quite live up to her. This one excels at making her strong will and political acumen shine through; yet some of the storytelling and writing choices made by the author keep this from being one of the greats about this fascinating historical figure.

Smith is known for her attention to details and historical realism. This work is no different. Colorful medieval jousts, court scenes, and weddings make their appearances as expected. Everything is lovingly described and portrayed.

Margaret is someone most people nowadays haven’t heard of; only someone really interested in the Middle Ages would have heard of this dragon lady. I’ve only heard of her as I adore strong female figures from that time period, and she’s one of the strongest. She basically held together one of the strongest and richest kingdoms of the late Middle Ages after her husband died through sheer force of will and determination. Her smarts and connections preserved the duchy for her step-daughter for at least a few more decades after Charles’ death.

I love what Smith did in portraying her. Margaret’s never been more forceful and resilient against incredible odds and prejudices. A brutally abusive marriage and a society that didn’t appreciate her genius illustrate her strength of character when facing such. I love an intelligent medieval woman who knows how to work the system and earns the respect of those around her due to more than just her pretty face. Margaret is one of those women that made things happen.

Yet for all this strong frontal character and a great medieval background for her, the author made some story flow and telling options that kept this from reaching a great level. The ending left something to be desired. The author chose to leave off telling Margaret’s story at an odd place, knowing all the drama in her life coming that the author chose to leave out. While I can understand the want to leave the story ending on a positive note, the author choosing where they did made this story feel incomplete and with a sudden drop of an ending with no resolution. Maybe someone completely unfamiliar with Margaret’s story wouldn’t notice this odd ending, but I definitely did.

Also, a trait I found annoying was the author’s habit of inserting side paragraphs/speeches describing what was happening or an outsider’s impressions of people and places. You’d be immersed into a vivid scene, flowing along with the story, when suddenly we’d get a completely different POV describing how beautiful or wise Margaret was or something along those lines. Usually, it was to further describe and praise Margaret. I found these side speeches annoying; they pushed me out of the narrative more than they added anything to the flow.

A great story and primary lead make this an enjoyable read, but I’ve come across better in the genre. I loved the historical details and Margaret; she alone makes for a great tale. This one is a great escape for lovers of medieval historical fiction. The items that irked me may not bother another.