Friday, July 7, 2017

All That Makes Life Bright

All That Makes Life Bright
By Josi S. Kilpack

When Harriet Beecher and Calvin Stowe wed, they find that their different personalities and styles make adjusting to married life more difficult than they anticipated. Although they love each other deeply, they have different expectations and styles; Calvin thrives on order and thriftiness and wants his wife to develop her homemaking skills, while Hattie wants time to work on projects, especially her writing, and doesn't particularly care for cooking, cleaning, or other household tasks. Is there a way for Hattie to be true to herself and still care for her family?

I enjoyed the romantic aspect of this book and thought it was realistic in portraying the struggle to make a marriage work. While a lot of romances focus on the relationship before marriage, it was interesting to see how to develop and nurture love after the wedding. While there was a more serious, darker tone, to this book than a lot of romances (due to the worry and heavy feelings of Hattie and Calvin as they struggle to make their marriage work), I found that to be refreshing and realistic--and ultimately, hopeful, because relationships aren't all sunshine and roses, and they do take work and effort and sometime they're just hard. I think Kilpack did a great job conveying the struggles and emotions, particularly Hattie's struggles with feeling like she's losing herself as she tries to care for her family. Very well done.
4.5 stars.
I read an ARC via NetGalley. All opinions are my own.

Friday, June 23, 2017

Romancing Daphne

Romancing Daphne
By Sarah M. Eden

Daphne Lancaster is used to being ignored and rejected, so she isn't anticipating Lord Tilburn's attention to her--even though she has admired her since a brief encounter with him, in which he was kind to her, when she was twelve. So when he seems interested in her, she's inwardly thrilled--but when she finds out that his father forced him into a courtship with her, she is heartbroken. For his part, James never intended to court Miss Lancaster; he agreed to be civil and pay a little attention to her; when his father threatened to cut off not only his funds but his brother's and mother's as well, James is torn, knowing it's not fair to a young lady to have someone forced into caring for her but also wanting to take care of his family. When he finds himself coming to know Daphne, he finds that she is delightful, but the truth of how his attentions began threatens to ruin everything. James must find a way to convince first Daphne's formidable brother-in-law, the Duke of Kielder, who will not allow anyone to hurt his family, and then Daphne herself that he can be trusted.

I was a little apprehensive as I started this book, because Adam (the Duke of Kielder) is such a forceful character, that he would take center stage and Daphne would be overshadowed--and indeed, at the outset, it almost felt like the book was more about Adam than Daphne (at least in the chapters from James' POV). However, as the book progressed, I got to see more and and more of Daphne and Adam was moved to the sides more--which was brilliant because it realistically depicted how James's perspective and emotions shifted. I loved having another glimpse of Adam--he's one of my favorite characters and I laugh out loud at some of the things he says--but I also liked seeing both Daphne and James find their voices. This is another excellent book from Sarah M. Eden! Can't wait for more!

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Miss Whitaker Opens Her Heart

Miss Whitaker Opens Her Heart
By Jennifer Moore

Daniel Burton is sent to New South Wales as a convict--but when he arrives, he's pardoned and given the chance to become a landowner instead.He is grateful for his fresh start and is determined to make the most of it. He is intrigued by his neighbor, Sarah Whitaker, who arrived in Australia as a child and has become a successful businesswoman on her own. She seems a constant contradiction. While she has a strong dislike for the native people and convicts, believing them incapable of truly changing, Daniel also sees more in her--but can their fledgling feelings survive the truth of Daniel's background?

I think what I like most about Jennifer Moore's books is that she takes a familiar time period (Regency era) and brings in a different location. It's so interesting to see what life was like in other parts of the world during that era. I also liked seeing how Sarah had become who she was--and also how she began to change. Another great book from Jennifer Moore.

4 stars.

 I read a copy via NetGalley. All opinions are my own.

Saturday, May 6, 2017

Wings of the Wind

Wings of the Wind
Connilyn Cossette

Alanah has no life left among the Canaanite people after the deaths of her father and brothers, all killed by the advancing Hebrews, so she disguises herself as a man and joins the Canaanite army as they fight the Hebrews once more--only this time, her people are decimated, and Alanah, who thought she would die in battle, survives. A Hebrew soldier, Tobiah, finds her among the wounded, and to honor Yahweh and to protect Alanah, he marries her. Alanah and Tobiah have thirty days to consider if they will stay married, and while Alanah initially is certain that she will leave, as she comes to know her husband, his people, and his God, she begins to wonder if she could truly, for the first time in her life, find a home.

 This book is Biblical fiction at its finest. Connilyn Cossette gives you everything--characters who you care about deeply, amazing descriptions, beautiful language, and a compelling plot, as well as an invitation to think about God and His presence and His ways.
I loved Tobiah, his quiet strength and his determination to do what is right, and I loved seeing Alanah's walls come down, as she learned that she didn't need to rely only on herself but that she could trust Tobiah and God. I loved the message of hope in her story (as well as certain other characters we meet later in the book), as she finds healing from deeply inflicted emotional wounds. 

The descriptions of the scenery, as well as of the people the Hebrews fought and their depravity, really made this period of history come to life. It made some (in my opinion), somewhat dry chapters from the Bible become much more interesting. The language had a similar effect, bringing to life a fascinating story.

There were so many things to love about the plot--seeing Tobiah and Alanah come to trust and care for each other, seeing Alanah's acceptance of Yahweh, and subsequent challenges (which I can't mention without giving spoilers!) were so gripping. This is one of those books you should try to clear out a large chunk of time for, because you don't want to put it down once you stop.

This was an excellent book, and I can't wait for more from Connilyn Cossette!

 I received a free copy of the book from the publisher and author. All opinions are my own.

Monday, April 17, 2017

Dreamland Burning

Dreamland Burning
By Jennifer Latham

As Rowan Chase's family starts a remodeling project on their property, workers find a human skeleton. Rowan is captivated by the discovery, and she and her best friend James set out to discover who the skeleton belongs to and how he came to be buried on her property. Because of this search, as well as her summer job/internship working at a clinic in the poor part of town, Rowan comes to think about race differently than ever before.

In 1921, William Tillman, who is half-white, half-Indian, gets caught up in the racial conflicts sweeping Tulsa. As he works in his father's Victorla shop, he comes to know a couple of Negroes, and when the racial tensions explode, he must decide whether to side with the whites who are determined to rid Tulsa of "bad" Negroes, do nothing except protect his own skin, or help those who are being attacked.

This book started off a little slow for my liking, but I'm so glad I stuck with it. Not only is this a well-written and captivating story, it's also an important one, as it introduces readers (most of whom, like me, likely aren't familiar with the rioting and killing of many African Americans in Tulsa in 1921) to a significant even in history. The way the story is presented made it fascinating, as readers wonder, along with Rowan, who was killed and why. William's story was even more interesting, as we see his growth. The culmination of the tensions in violence is so gripping--and even terrifying as the readers have to wait to find out who survives and who doesn't. This was really, really well-written and makes my best of 2017 list.

4.5 stars.

Monday, March 20, 2017

Newton & Polly

Newton & Polly
By Jody Hedlund
When John Newton meets Polly Catlett, it's love at first sight. He knows she's the girl for him--but unfortunately, there are things that make him not the right man for her. He's impulsive and undisciplined and doesn't stick with anything he starts. His father has gotten him several different jobs, only to have Newton mess up each one of them. He also gives into his desires to drink and gamble and doubts the existence of God. Polly cares for him in return and wants him to rise up an d become the man she thinks he can be...but instead, he seems intent on descending further and further.

Wow. Fantastic. Jody Hedlund does a great job developing Newton's and Polly's feelings and getting you to really want things to work for them. It was painful to watch Newton fail again and again--and to continually blame it on others instead of realizing it was his own fault, time and again. He got to a point where it was really hard to like him--which makes the novel all that more well-written because it truly shows how God can redeem even the vilest of sinners. I would have liked to see even more of his transformation from the entitled brat who indulged his lusts to the man redeemed through God's grace. Really captivating story.

The Secret of the India Orchid

The Secret of the India Orchid
By Nancy Campbell Allen
On the very day Anthony Blake plans to ask his best friend for permission to court his sister, Sophia Elliott, circumstances arise that make the relationship he has dreamed of impossible. Before coming into his inheritance, Anthony had served as a spy. Now, a valuable document with detailed information about British spies--including Anthony--and their families and associates. Anthony needs to retrieve the document in first his safety but also for the safety of those he loves. In order to resume his role as a spy, though, Anthony has to cut ties with Sophia and act the part of a playboy. 
Heartbroken, Sophia sets about to forget Anthony--and when staying in London doesn't do the trick, she embarks on a trip, only to run into Anthony, whose attempts to retrieve the stolen document have led him there. It's harder than ever to pretend he doesn't care for Sophia, especially as she becomes involved in circumstances that seem connected to the stolen document--including the murder of the man Anthony believes last possessed the document. More than ever, Anthony wants to be able to give his heart to Sophia--and she wants to know what is truly going on with him.

This was a fascinating read. It gave some really interesting insights into the British experience in India and relations between the British and the Indians. The mystery element of the book was also captivating; I was very interested in finding out who had the document and who committed murder to get it. And of course, the romance between Sophia and Anthony was superb. I loved both of them in My Fair Gentleman, and I was so excited to get to read their story in this book--and I love how their story played out. Fantastic read!

I read an ARC through NetGalley. All opinions are my own.