Five Stars, Heather B. Moore, Low Language, Low Romance, Moderate Religion, Moderate Violence

Empowerment

Last night I had the privilege of being in the same room as some pretty incredible women. I felt slightly intimidated most of the night, but came away from the evening feeling empowered. Women have the potential to do such good in the world.

I’m all about girl power, however I wouldn’t necessarily call myself a feminist. At least not in the way it’s used across social platforms today. My ability to do good and be good, does not in anyway diminish my husbands ability to do and be good, and it doesn’t mean I need him any less. One of the women on the panel last night said, when you allow yourself to shine, you make those around you shine brighter.

H.B. Moore was able to do exactly that with her character Deborah in the historical fiction Deborah: Prophetess of God.

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Deborah, a young Israelite woman, lives a quiet and isolated life with her father and brothers. As a shepherdess in the hills near her home, she knows well the perils of her work. But when faced with incredible danger, she witnesses a series of remarkable events that preserve her life. The hand of the Lord is apparent, and it is clear that hers will be no ordinary life.

Years later, Deborah is a faithful wife and mother when she learns that the Third Judge of Israel has died–and she has been called to take his place. It is a tumultuous time in history, and soon, Deborah–prophetess, judge, and military leader–faces a seemingly insurmountable task: alongside the commander of the Israelite army, Deborah must lead ten thousand soldiers in their final campaign against their Canaanite oppressors with only her faith in God to guide her.”

Heather Moore has taken a rather short story in the book of Judges and created a beautiful character and an empowering story.

Heather creates in Deborah a fascinating balance. Deborah is humble yet strong. She’s obedient, but strong willed.

The story it self is also a beautiful balance between women empowerment, family support, religious dedication and sweet romance.

I especially appreciated how she dealt with the relationship between Deborah and the men in her life. In spite of  her prestigious calling, Deborah was respectful, loving and empowering to her father, her brothers, her husband and the military commander Barak. This added not only historical accuracy, but depth to Deborah and the other characters.

The romance, the family and the connections all build a world that connects you to the heart of what the people may have been experiencing and the type of person Deborah may have been in order to lead her people to freedom.

Just a note: The author does a fantastic job of keeping this book non-denominational. Though it is a religious book, it isn’t geared to any one faith. It is a work of fiction so keep that in mind, but would be pertinent and enjoyable for anyone of any faith with a connection to this time in history.

or two: Deborah led her people into war, so though I wouldn’t label this book as violent,  it does have battles and moments of violent oppression.

 

Five Stars, Jen Geigle Johnson, Low Language, Low Religion, Moderate Romance, Moderate Violence

It’s Official

We are officially in our new place, school has officially started and I’m officially behind on my reviews. But those first two things should help with the later.
I’m also officially a history nerd. I love learning about the details of the past; what made them great and what made them hard. Jen Geigle Johnson has a way of not only making history come to life, but making it relevant to the reader.
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“Molly O’Malley, lady’s maid to the progressive Lady Amanda Halloway, is determined to continue the life’s work of her lost love, killed in the Peterloo Massacre. But when her efforts and a trip to Lady Halloway’s charitable orphanage culminate in her own abduction, Molly’s eyes are opened to the horrifying crimes transpiring in the city’s slums. Despite the risks, she broadens her mission and is drawn ever closer to the peril all around them. 

Thomas Flaherty, a footman in the Halloway household, has been with Molly from the beginning, but he fears she will never trust him with her heart. Even though her cause and happiness are of foremost importance to him, his loyal patience is tested by the fears that keep her at a distance. But with their safety on the line, Thomas is resolved to sacrifice everything for the woman he loves. 

Risking their lives and their love, Molly and Thomas and a team of nobles on their side will stop at nothing to empower the powerless, no matter the personal cost.”

I loved the juxtaposition this book created against it’s predecessor, A Nobleman’s DaughterWhere the heroine and hero in that story were bold and fearless these were quite and somewhat reluctant heroes who grew into their roles and purpose. Both kinds of people have a place in this world and I loved that representation.
There was not one, but two relationships developing in this book and both added dimension to the story. It was beautiful to see Molly’s struggle with guilt, and the realization that it is possible to love again after loss.
Overall the story kept and held my attention, I felt invested in the characters success and a desire to learn more about this time in history. I officially love Jen Johnson’s historical romances and can’t wait for more!
Five Stars, Low Language, Low Religion, Low Romance, Moderate Violence, Nancy Campbell Allen

Dream

Nancy Campbell Allen is a master of comic relief. Though I don’t often pick the more intense books too read, I love hers because of how well she balances the tense moments with the often dry, spot on, humor.
She gave the Rapunzel story a genius twist while pulling in all the great concepts we love from various originals.
The family connection she develops in the book was brilliant. The ability she had to develop both of their characters through Hazel was great writing. I love how the two girls balanced each other’s strengths and weaknesses.
The romance was beautifully written, a wonderful slow burn that leaves you anxious for more.
Loved this story! The author always does a great job of teasing the next characters so you are anxiously waiting the next book.

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Hazel Hughes has spent her life believing she is a Medium—someone who can talk to ghosts. But as of yet, that skill has remained frustratingly elusive. She is also suffering from a reoccurring childhood dream of someone who looks almost exactly like Hazel, but this dream version of herself is slowly going mad.

Sam MacInnes is a talented surgeon who runs in the highest social circles thanks to his family’s position and history. When Sam hires Hazel to assist him with his medical practice, he is immediately drawn to her intelligence, wit, and beauty. Their potential relationship is derailed one evening when a mysterious count arrives in London and reveals to Hazel the truth about her past: she was abducted at birth and her twin sister has fallen dangerously ill.

Hazel agrees to travel to Romania with Count Petrescu in order to save her sister, and Sam insists on accompanying her. The count has secrets, though, and the journey grows more sinister with every mile that draws Hazel closer to her homeland. Even as her feelings for Sam become deeper and more complicated, she fears she might not survive the quest to save her sister with her heart intact, not to mention her life. She must learn to draw on gifts she doesn’t know she has if they are going to ever return home again.

Hazel and Sam must fight their way past dark magic, clockwork beasts, and their own insecurities as they try to reach her sister in the impenetrable Coppergate Tower before time runs out.

Four Stars, Low Language, Low Religion, Low Romance, Moderate Violence

Your Escape

Last week I escaped to my sister’s house. Our kids are similar ages and they easily occupy each other. Leaving us free to read, talk books and just chill. It was amazing. One book we had both recently read was Chalon Linton‘s Escape to Everly Manor.

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“Nineteen-year-old Lizzy and her young brother, Thomas, find themselves orphaned after a tragic accident claims the lives of their parents. Their estranged Uncle Cline arrives to claim his inheritance, and his roguish ways cast a shadow over the manor. Both the family estate and guardianship of his niece and nephew were left to him, and diabolical Uncle Cline is determined to indulge in his newfound wealth and rid himself of his charges. Desperate to save her brother from a dangerous life at sea, and herself from being married off to a detestable old gentleman, Lizzy knows there is only one choice left—they must run.

Lizzy and Thomas sneak away and find refuge in an abandoned cabin. There they remain hidden—until fate acquaints Lizzy with Mr. Barton, a charming gentleman who is immediately intrigued by the mysterious young woman. Concealing her identity, Lizzy is unaware that there is much more to this compassionate man than meets the eye. Through his kindness to herself and her brother, Lizzy begins to trust him. Soon Lizzy realizes Mr. Barton may be her best hope for a life in which she can live—and love—as she chooses . . .”

Sometimes when you read a lot of books in the same genre they can start to seem slightly repetitive in their tropes and even some of the subplots. It can be easy to see where the story is headed. Chalon Linton’s story was uniquely it’s own and went in unexpected directions. I loved that.  The plot was a little heavy on the drama for my tastes, and there were a few plot points that were a little confusing, but the story moved at a good pace and held my interest.

Chalon Linton has excellent character development and I was delightfully surprised that the story turned out to be from both points of view.  The author’s description of Lizzy’s emotions made you feel as if you were in Lizzy’s head without being in first person. You’ll quickly fall in love with the characters and root for them through to the end.

 

Four Stars, Low Language, Low Religion, Moderate Romance, Moderate Violence

Historical Spymance

I love history and I learning little details, but I’m finding there is a very fine line that must be walked between the history and the fiction. Too heavy on either end and it comes across as too dry or not believable. Laura Beers did a great job of blending the historical and the fictional in her novel The Baron’s Daughter.

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Lord Morgan Easton is, first and foremost, an agent of the Crown. To achieve his purposes, he has become Society’s golden boy, and a renowned rake. When it’s discovered that notorious French spy, Genet, is attending a house party in a small seaside village, he is tasked to infiltrate the gathering and arrest the spy. But first, he must convince a certain woman to become his partner and pose as his wife. The challenge is that she would rather see him dead.

Miss Josette Northcott guards her secrets fiercely, trusts few, and enjoys the anonymity that goes along with being the headmistress of a private school in the rookeries. When Lord Morgan offers her a deal she can’t refuse, she makes it clear that this is nothing more than a business arrangement. No man, no matter how charming or infuriatingly handsome he is, can know the truth of her sordid and twisted past.  

Morgan and Josette must learn to trust each other however, trust does not come easily to either agent, and when the truth of Josette’s past is finally unveiled, will they be able to accept that not only is their mission on the line, but their hearts, as well?

Though I have read some of the Beckett Files, I haven’t read them all. And unfortunately for me I had not yet read book 5 when I was sent book 6. I wish I would’ve read that one first, though not strictly necessary, I do find there were some plot holes that could have helped my understanding of the characters personalities and current situations at the opening of the story.

Despite the missing pieces of the main character’s history together, I didn’t love them any less. They were well written and engaging. The mystery was intriguing enough that though I guessed Genet’s identity early on, I was never one hundred percent sure I was correct in my guess.

Laura Beers presented the side characters so well that you were always guessing at their allegiance and trying to piece together the puzzle, a mark of a great spy novel.

I always read the book blurb before I read the book, this time I wish I hadn’t. I mistakenly assumed more about Josette’s past than it entailed, but it was a pleasant surprise, one I was happy to be wrong about. I think I would like to read it again with out the assumptions I went in with the first time.

I was intrigued with her pieces of history. On a side note, this was one of few regency books that not only discussed The Whigs and The Tories, but gave you a very good layman’s description of the difference between the two. It was a well researched and delightfully mysterious regency spy novel.

Don’t you think that should be a genre? We have a whole section on our Pinterest Reviews board dedicated to them, we call it Historical Spymance, you should check it out!

Five Stars, Low Language, Low Romance, Moderate Religion, Moderate Violence

You’re Welcome

My daughter, like every other little girl in the world got caught up in the Frozen saga, the costumes, the dolls, the songs. I’ll be the first to admit I enjoyed both the movie and the soundtrack, but there is a limit to how many times you can press repeat until you just can’t anymore. That’s until Moana came out.

If I got a nickle for every time I heard one of my three kids say “Alexa, play shiny,” “Alexa, play You’re Welcome.” I would be a very rich woman. That I actually didn’t mind too much, it’s adorable to hear a toddler say Alexa, but everything has a limit. Thankfully that phase ended too, but the songs came back very quickly as I read Ilima Todd‘s A Song for the Stars.41wGq01L-LL

“Inspired by a true story

Hawaiian Islands, 1779

As the second daughter of a royal chief, Maile will be permitted to marry for love. Her fiancé is the best navigator in Hawaii, and he taught her everything he knows—how to feel the ocean, observe the winds, read the stars, and how to love.

But when sailors from a strange place called England arrive on her island, a misunderstanding ends in battle, and Maile is suddenly widowed before she is wed.

Finding herself in the middle of the battle and fearing for her life, Maile takes John Harbottle, the wounded man who killed her fiancé, prisoner, and though originally intending to let him die, she reluctantly heals him. And in the process, she discovers the man she thought was her enemy might be her ally instead.

John has been Captain James Cook’s translator for three voyages across the Pacific. He is kind and clearly fascinated with Maile’s homeland and her people—and Maile herself. But guilt continues to drive a wedge between them: John’s guilt over the death he caused, and Maile’s guilt over the truth about what triggered the deadly battle—a secret she’s kept hidden from everyone on the island.”

I’ve never been to Hawaii, it’s definitely on my bucket list though. However Ilima Todd’s imagery painted such a beautiful picture, I felt like I was there. Her descriptions were not just visible either. I felt like I could smell the flowers, hear the waterfall, and feel. I could feel so much, you can tell that this novel contains all of Ilima Todd’s heart, it bleeds through ever page.

That includes Maile. I could feel her confusion, her naivety, and her strength. The switch between John’s journal and Maile’s first person narrative was a perfect way to convey the clash of cultures the misunderstandings and the growing feelings between the two. All were handled so well I found myself laughing and crying and yes even sighing.

I loved how she had John and Maile start out on so completely opposite sides, the conflict between them added depth and a beautiful heartache to the story.

The only thing I struggled with was the wayfaring. For the most part, it was fascinating. I loved how something that was so special to her and Ikaika also brought her closer to John. However there were a few moments when I felt like the wayfaring details slowed down the story right when I felt like it was picking up. This however didn’t take away from the beauty of the novel.

This should definitely be on the top of your TBR pile, you’ll thank me. So in advance… You’re Welcome.

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Four Stars, Low Language, Low Romance, Moderate Religion, Moderate Violence

Bloom in Adversity

When Mulan first came out I thought, finally! We finally have a kick-but Disney princess! The humor of Eddie Murphy and the swoony singing voice of Donny Osmond didn’t hurt the movie either. Incredibly, Melanie Dickerson‘s retelling of Mulan, The Warrior Maiden, only improved upon it.

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When Mulan takes her father’s place in battle against the besieging Teutonic Knights, she realizes she has been preparing for this journey her whole life—and that her life, and her mother’s, depends on her success. As the adopted daughter of poor parents, Mulan has little power in the world. If she can’t prove herself on the battlefield, she could face death—or, perhaps worse, marriage to the village butcher.

Disguised as a young man, Mulan meets the German duke’s son, Wolfgang, who is determined to save his people even if it means fighting against his own brother. Wolfgang is exasperated by the new soldier who seems to be one step away from disaster at all times—or showing him up in embarrassing ways.

From rivals to reluctant friends, Mulan and Wolfgang begin to share secrets. But war is an uncertain time and dreams can die as quickly as they are born. When Mulan receives word of danger back home, she must make the ultimate choice. Can she be the son her bitter father never had? Or will she become the strong young woman she was created to be?

This was one of my favorite of Melanie’s re-tellings. She followed the story really well, but made enhancements that improved on the original.

The gender reveal between the two main characters and then with the rest of the army was handled better than the Disney story we’re familiar with. That was possibly my favorite change. The chemistry was sweet and just right.

The one story element that was odd to me at first was having the attacking army be religious zealots. It made the book feel a little more preachy than some of her others, but overall it worked for the story line and felt natural for the characters she created.

The sidekick maybe didn’t have Eddie Murphy’s humor, but was spot on and really complemented Mulan’s character. –M.V.

 

Four Stars, Low Language, Low Religion, Low Romance, Moderate Violence

Always Greener

I have the tendency to be swept up into feelings akin to that old phrase “the grass is always greener,” always wanting.

When I was a young teen I wanted to be 16 so I could drive; then it was, all I want is to graduate and be done with school. After graduation I was a bit boy crazy and all I could think of was how much I wanted to be married. I got married and wanted nothing more than to have a baby. I finally achieved that and not long after having our little bundle of joy I found myself again in the wanting.

Who knew babies would be such work ;). I don’t have the time to just read when ever I want to any more I can barley get myself ready for the day. I hate being cooped up in the house, I want him to be just a little older then we can go places and do things just have a bit more freedom. Now I don’t know about you but the never ending wanting is a thing that can just suck you till your dry.

Then I read Hunted by Meagan Spooner.

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“Though Yeva grew up with the city’s highest aristocrats, far from her father’s old lodge, she knows that the forest holds secrets and that her father is the only hunter who’s ever come close to discovering them. 

So when her father loses his fortune and moves Yeva and her sisters back to the outskirts of town, Yeva is secretly relieved. Out in the wilderness, there’s no pressure to make idle chatter with vapid baronessas…or to submit to marrying a wealthy gentleman. But Yeva’s father’s misfortune may have cost him his mind, and when he goes missing in the woods, Yeva sets her sights on one prey: the creature he’d been obsessively tracking just before his disappearance. 

Deaf to her sisters’ protests, Yeva hunts this strange Beast back into his own territory–a cursed valley, a ruined castle, and a world of creatures that Yeva’s only heard about in fairy tales. A world that can bring her ruin or salvation. Who will survive: the Beauty, or the Beast?”

Its a really good retelling of a classic “Beauty and The Beast” with a wonderful twist and message. Now I don’t want to spoil to much but I have to say I love how she used the story to portray that cycle I was in and how detrimental it can be to ones health and sanity.

Meagan did a wonderful job of pulling me into a well known story, yet still have me questioning things. I enjoyed that she touched on that slightly mocked part of beauty and the beast where people say its not love, its called Stockholm syndrome; and made the reason for beauty’s need to return a little more believable.

Needless to say this book was not only a wonderful retelling but an eye opener into my need to be happy where I am and with what I have in the now. -A.B.

Five Stars, Low Language, Low Religion, Low Romance, Moderate Violence, Sarah M. Eden

Faint of Heart

Sarah Eden’s newest book,  Healing Hearts  takes us back to Savage Wells. I have to admit that westerns aren’t really my thing, but I fell in love with this town and the people in it in “The Sheriff’s of Savage Wells.” I was so excited to be back in their world again, and loved every second of it.

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Miriam steps off the train looking for a job not a husband. She refuses to be wed, and Gideon is unspeakably embarrassed by the misunderstanding. Stranded in Savage Wells, Miriam has nowhere else to go and a secret that she’s determined to keep from everyone. She has epilepsy, a condition that other doctors had claimed was symptomatic of madness, a diagnosis which prompted her family to have her committed to an asylum. Miriam is afraid that if Dr. MacNamara finds out the truth, he will send her back to the asylum a place that is little better than a prison.

But Gideon is not like the other doctors she has encountered, and he offers Miriam the nursing position anyway. When illness sweeps through the town, Gideon and Miriam work together to care for the growing number of sick people. As they do so, their relationship slowly grows into something deeper. When Miriam’s former doctor arrives in town to take her back to the asylum, Gideon, along with some familiar faces in Savage Wells including Cade, Paisley, and Hawk must rally around Miriam to protect her from a dangerous fate. And for Gideon, it might mean risking his heart one more time for a chance at love.

This is a beautiful novel showcasing excellent character development and intriguing story lines. Sarah Eden has an amazing grasp of human nature and it makes her novels shine.

The book centers on a common mail-order bride trope, but Sarah Eden shifts it into something creative and unconventional. Then she uses that unconventional relationship to pull out our greatest anxieties about relationships and confront them.

Sarah Eden has no pretense of what should and is awkward and difficult, and is willing to write about it in beautiful stories and settings that are both entertaining and edifying.

The history of the struggles women faced during this time are fascinating, but it was more than beautiful historical fiction. Through Miriam’s condition she reflects our own worst personal fears and brokenness back at us and then gives Miriam powerful moments to succeed. Giving us the power to see more into the hearts of each characters and in ourselves.

I have a dear friend whose two year old started having seizures last year, out of the blue and with no apparent connection. Even with a team of doctors and medical experts at hand, it has been a scary process for their family. I can’t imagine how hard it would be to deal with unexpected medical conditions with out the medical knowledge or the freedom to pursue it. I loved how this novel opened my eyes to the gratitude I have for both those things.

 

3 1/2 Stars, Low Language, Low Religion, Low Romance, Moderate Violence

Boys will be Boys

While reading I love to come across a scene where the characters do something that surprises you, but not because it’s unusual. I love when the thing that surprises me, is real life. Sometimes novels give us the highest of highs and the lowest of lows, but not much of the everyday. Like two friends duking it out in a stable. I loved this particular scene in Mindy Strunk’s novel “An American in Duke’s Clothing”. It was delightfully unexpected, and yet exactly on mark.

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“When unexpected deaths leave Tad Wentworth as the heir to an English title, he leaves his American homeland to fulfill his duty. Upon arriving in the country, he discovers an arranged marriage is part of the plan. But when his affections guide him toward a different lady, he must decide if he will follow his heart or his head. 

Violet Allen’s questionable past has left her with few friends. When she meets a dashing stranger who shows interest in her, she allows herself to dream of a future with him. Until she discovers the stranger is not only a Duke but is also engaged to her sister. As her feelings for him grow, she must decide if she will be loyal to her sister or her heart.”

Mindy Strunk’s characters were fun to read and I enjoyed the story line. There is an art to sharing just enough information to satisfy but withholding enough to keep you interested. I felt that balance was a little off at times, but not enough to truly distract from the overall story line.

The character depth and development is what really pulled me into the story. Not just Violet and Tad, but Dawson and the family relations as well. Mindy Strunk created some great secondary characters that I hope we’ll get to see more of.