Tuesday, November 7, 2017

The Austen Escape - Katherine Reay

Mary Davies is an engineer for a start-up tech company that is growing rapidly, and experiencing some not-so-great growing pains.  Mary's future there feels uncertain, as the new hire in charge of growing the company doesn't appreciate Mary or her methods.  Mary's childhood friend, Isabel, has invited Mary to accompany her on a trip to England, where they'll escape into Jane Austen's world together as part of Isabel's thesis.  Initially, Mary refuses, but the uncertainty at work, along with a confusing potential relationship leads her to accept the invitation.  Once they've arrived, complications arise, and Mary is left reeling and caught in the middle of helping her friend and making decisions about her own life, relationships, and future.

I must confess that I am not a Jane Austen fan.  And yet, I cannot help but pick up every one of Katherine Reay's Austen books.  And I cannot help but enjoy them, even though I am certain that they would feel even richer if I were to understand the background and references that are so tidily woven into them.  This book, in particular, drew me in with its female engineer as the main character.  I am not an electrical-gizmo type engineer, but I am mathematically and scientifically minded.  I enjoyed watching the character's academic and practical nature contrast with her romantic inclinations and how she tied her memories of her past with her inventions and dreams for the future.

The relationship with Isabel was complicated, and could have served as its own story, but the pressures there, and the hurts that hadn't healed, all served to develop Mary's character and to help her to see herself as she should.  Additionally, the relationship with Nathan wasn't as fleshed out as it could have been, but that wasn't the purpose of the book.  Instead, Mary learned to deal with her past, and to realize how to make her future richer and to include the people around her to enable it to be so.

I give this book 4 stars.  I always hesitate to pick up these Austen books, because I feel like I'm doing them a disservice, having not read Austen herself, and yet I am never disappointed.

You can find The Austen Escape HERE.
You can find the author's website HERE.
You can also connect with her on Facebook HERE.

I received a digital copy of this book from the publisher, via NetGalley, in exchange for my honest review.

Saturday, October 28, 2017

Out of the Ordinary - Jen Turano

Picking up just after Behind the Scenes left off, we rejoin Miss Gertrude Cadwalader, friend of Miss Permilia Griswold, (soon-to-be Mrs. Asher Rutherford), and paid companion to the eccentric Mrs. Davenport.  Once again, Gertrude is tasked with keeping track of her quirky employer and covering up for her when things "mysteriously" go missing.  Only this time, she has caught the vindictive attention of Miss Clementine Flowerdew, distant cousin of the much more pleasant Miss Temperance Flowerdew.  Clementine has set her sights on Mr. Harrison Sinclair, whom Gertrude is just now realizing she has feelings for beyond their blossoming friendship.  When there are accusations and suspicious circumstances flying about, can Gertrude and Harrison sort out the truth of both circumstances and their relationship?

There are few authors I anticipate new releases from more than Ms. Turano, especially once a series has begun.  I was delighted to become reacquainted with Permilia and Gertrude, and get to know Temperance a bit more through this story.  Mrs. Davenport's oddities were finally given reason, and her past combined with Gertrude's own gave their relationship many complexities which both made their relationship work, but also kept it from being what it truly could have been.  It was good to see that well-resolved and on its way to being much healthier.  Harrison and Gertrude were so cute together in their easy friendship, as they began to realize and or hope for the possibility of more.  I loved that they didn't try to change each other, but rather helped the other to see the best in themselves. 

This novel also included a full cast of secondary characters, whom I can only hope we see more of in the future.  Miss Temperance Flowerdew became a much stronger character, but Harrison's sisters were also intriguing and I would love to see more of them!  The Huxley sisters, of course, continue to surprise and delight with their observations and interference into the lives of those around them. As a couple in love, Permilia and Asher were delightfully invested in helping their friends seek out a fufilling relationship for themselves. 

In addition to the colorful characters, the thread of seeking God's forgiveness for both imagined and legitimate guilt lent the book a bit more depth.  Whether it was the need to let go of anger towards a God who seemed distant, or the weight of bad decisions, the group of characters was able to point each other towards a God who loves and forgives, while acknowledging that there are consequences to our choices.

I give this book 4 stars.  I already am looking forward to the next book, and desperately hoping that there will be more than 3 books with this set of characters!

You can find Out of the Ordinary HERE.
You can find the author's website HERE.

I received a copy of this book from the publisher, in exchange for my honest review.

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

The Secret Life of Sarah Hollenbeck - Bethany Turner

Who is Sarah Hollenbeck?  Is she the former Sarah McDermott, divorcee of Patrick with the wandering eye? Is she Raine de Bourgh, author of steamy novels that are flying off the shelves, and getting her spots on talk shows? Or is she actually Sarah Hollenbeck, who finds herself a new Christian, ashamed of the work that has brought her wealth and fame?  And as Sarah finds herself falling for the pastor at the church she's begun attending, how does she reconcile all three of those people and pasts into a new creation trying to move forward?

I thought this was an interesting concept for a Christian novel.  Like Sarah herself recognizes as she attempts to move from popular romance to her own Christian romance novel, there is a gap in the Christian fiction market.  So many fictional couples have the perfect little romance with little to no temptation, and no sordid pasts to have to explain or be forgiven of.  How true does this ring to life?  While fiction is a good escape from the issues readers might like to avoid, sometimes it's helpful to see problems worked out in someone else's life to see that it can be done, and that they're not alone.

The other thing I really appreciated in this novel was that it avoided the trope of each half of a couple withholding the truth from each other under the guise that they didn't want to hurt their partner, only to have that bite them in the butt when the news was spilled from someone else.  I liked that both Ben and Sarah were as upfront with each other as they could be, even with awkward conversations.  And the one time Ben withheld information, it was because he honestly didn't see it as important.

I give this book 4 stars, for its interesting characters and fresh outlook on what a Christian character can look like.

You can find The Secret Life of Sarah Hollenbeck HERE.
You can find the author's website HERE.

I received a digital copy of this book from the publisher, via NetGalley, in exchange for my honest review.

Monday, July 17, 2017

The Writing Desk - Rachel Hauck

Tenley Roth should be flying high; she's just won a coveted award for her debut novel that has sold very well, and her boyfriend has just proposed.  However, the award was one named after her great-great-grandfather, so she doubts the integrity of having received it, and now she's under deadline for a second book, for which she has zero inspiration.  On top of that, the mother who left Tenley when she was a child has now called imploring her estranged daughter for help through chemotherapy, just as her fiance wants them to fly to Paris.  Should Tenley take the chance to get to know her mother?  Can she find the seeds of a successful second novel in the hidden corners of an old mansion in Florida?  Or will she find something even better?

There are several intertwined stories within this book, alternating between the Guilded Age and Tenley's contemporary  life.  It always feels a little jarring to bounce between such disparate scenes, but I was intrigued and curious to find out how the stories would tie together.  I appreciated Birdie's determination in an era where women were seemingly content to be married off to the men their fathers agreed upon.  I didn't quite get Tenley's fascination with a robe and slippers that belonged to someone she hadn't known, but her struggles to find whether she was more than her family's legacy kept me rooting for her.  While I felt that the book contained too many character and scene shifts to really get invested in the characters lives, the link between the families and generations kept me guessing.

I give this book 3 stars; I think I could have been fully engaged in either Birdie's story, or Tenley's story, but the jumping back and forth just left me feeling disconnected from either of them a bit too much.  Maybe if their generations could have been written close enough that they could have actually met at the end, that might have helped solidify the relationship.  I have, however, enjoyed all of the previous works of Rachel Hauck's that I've read, and I will continue to look forward to any future novels!

You can find The Writing Desk HERE.
You can find the author's website HERE.

I received a digital copy of this book from the publisher, via NetGalley, in exchange for my honest review.

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

True to You - Becky Wade

Nora Bradford is the middle sister in an unusual family; as a librarian and genealogist, she doesn't live what she would consider an exciting life.  And she's generally okay with that.  She's still recovering from being dumped by her fiancee three years ago, and is content, if not happy, with her job, her family, and her comfortable book-filled house.  John Lawson is a retired Navy SEAL, who has decided to search for his birth mother after a recent diagnosis leaves him wondering about his medical history.  Upon a chance encounter with Nora, he decides to use her genealogy and research skills to aid his search.

Oh my.  I have enjoyed many of Becky Wade's books, and have always found her romances light and enjoyable, and her fictional men swoon-worthy.  But this book.  Oh my.  Not only does she hold on to her strong male character, but this time she adds depth and more faith, and a smart, non-traditional, fun female genealogist/librarian character.  Nora is so fun to read; her quirks - she always clicks her key fob twice - are only mentioned enough to be endearing, not so much as to make her seem obsessive-compulsive, or become annoying.  I love her penchant for big words, and I love that John finds that penchant amusing.  Nora is a fiction-lover's favorite kind of character, with her love of reading, and fiction blogs, and her Goodreads account.  She's also easy to relate to, as she compares herself to her supermodel older sister and her adventurous, creative, younger sister.  But she really shines in her wheelhouse of genealogy and research, and it's this confidence that allows her to develop her friendship with John.

However, in addition to such amusing, intriguing characters, this book encompasses some deeper topics, and the author weaves them seamlessly into the bigger story.  Without spoiling the storyline, be aware that there are some headline-type subjects that may not be appropriate for every reader.  These topics are not overly discussed, nor are they glossed over; they are essential to the plot and faith journeys of the characters, and they can leave the reader pondering how she would handle these situations in her own life.

I give this book 5 stars; it was the perfect combination of a cute romance, but with the depth of faith to make it even better.  I cannot wait for the rest of this series - the two sisters have already been introduced well, and I am excited to read their stories!

You can find True to You HERE.
The prequel, Then Came You, is about the sisters' father, and was free at the time of this review; Amazon prices are subject to change, and you should always check the price before purchasing: HERE.  I really enjoyed reading the prequel *after* Book #1!
You can find Becky Wade's site HERE.
You can find her Facebook page HERE.  (She and another of my favorite authors occasionally do Pinterest Wars on Facebook - they're really fun!)

I received a copy of this e-book from the publisher, Bethany House, via NetGalley, in exchange for my honest review.

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Behind the Scenes - Jen Turano

In the free novella, At Your Request, we were introduced to group of young women known as Wallflowers in New York society.  Women who, for one reason or another, have not been taken in by high society, and while they attend the social events, they are not expected to mingle or converse, but rather are banished to their own isolated section.  However, Miss Permilia Griswold has found a way to use her Wallflower status to her advantage, and collects information from unsuspecting society guests to use in her column published under the pseudonym Miss Quill.  While snooping around a wealthy hostess's house, however, she overhears a conversation that puts a gentleman in danger, as well as herself for having heard it.  Now, she must convince Mr. Asher Rutherford that she is telling the truth and keep both him and herself safe.

I love Ms. Turano's books; her characters are so fun and quirky, and unusual for the time periods they're set in.  I love how she develops friendships between groups of women, sometimes in unusual circumstances, such as this one.  Wallflowers are not supposed to have friends at all, and they certainly are not supposed to converse with one another, yet beginning with Wilhelmina in the novella, and continuing with Permilia and Miss Gertrude Cadwalader, as well as a small appearance by Miss Temperance Flowerdew, the author has again created a group of women who are brave and smart, and fun.  I greatly enjoyed Permilia's interactions with Asher, and the snippets of Gertrude's life that will surely prove to be an interesting novel later in the series.  If I had a wish for this book, it would have been to add in Wilhelmina from the novella, and to get to know Temperance a bit more - assuming she'll be the main character later on.

As much as I loved the main characters and their interactions in this book, the overall plot fell a bit short for me this time.  Without giving too much away, the dangerous situation seemed contrived, and overdone, and made the book seem sillier than others by this author.   It was a detraction from the character development for me, and I was left disappointed.  However, I still enjoyed the writing, and I am definitely looking forward to future installments in this series.

I give this book 4 stars, mostly based on the strength of the characters themselves, and the hope for this to be the beginning of a great series.

You can find Behind the Scenes HERE.
The free novella is available HERE or HERE.
You can find the author's website HERE.
Or, you can connect with her on Facebook HERE.

I received a digital copy of this book from the publisher, Bethany House, via NetGalley, in exchange for my honest review.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Home - Ginny Yttrup

Melanie Vander has an approaching deadline for her sixteenth book, but she can't seem to find the same sort of escape in her characters this time.  Rather, her characters seem to be pulling her in a direction she doesn't want to go, forcing her to examine not only their lives and backstory, but her own.  Meanwhile, her husband, Craig, is trying to keep his business and family financials above water, while watching his wife run away yet again, and Melanie's friend and neighbor, Jill, is facing her own rising issues.  Where can these folks find safety?  What does it take to find one's way home?

I have read a lot of books where the main character is writing a story, and the "story" turns out to be the book the main character is a part of.  This book sort of did that, but with the twist of the main character (and author?) using her main character to work through emotions and grief that she'd been unable to process in real life in real time.  The other characters in the book, however, who surround Melanie in her real-life are suffering their own emotional crises, and as she works through her character's problems, she is able to begin coming out of her hole to help them.  As she says in a phone call to her friend, Jill, "New is good, I think.  Let's do new."  There was a good balance of Melanie understanding her own problems through Chloe, but then working them out in her real-life relationships.

I loved how this book worked its characters through their problems; even though the easy thing was to run away, to ignore the things that kept coming to the surface, each character was eventually able to confront the hard things in their lives.  Nothing was glossed over, sometimes the only solution to the problem was not a fun one, and I appreciated that.  Usually, there's a conveniently timed rich uncle, or promotion, or romance waiting in the wings, but these characters faced everything in their own way, eventually together, and together, they made real-life choices with real-feel consequences.  My only complaint might be that I want to see where they all go from here!

I give this book 3.5 stars.  It's never easy to be vulnerable in fiction, and a lot of readers probably want their fiction to turn out like a fairy tale, but there's not a lot of truth or growth in that.  Sometimes, we need to see that faith holds true even when the world around us does not.

You can find Home HERE.
You can find the author HERE.

I received a digital copy of this book from the publisher, via NetGalley, in exchange for my honest review.

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Love Story - Karen Kingsbury

If you've read any of the Redemption series, Sunrise series, Firstborn series, Bailey Flanigan series, or the Above the Line series, you're familiar with the Baxter family and the other characters that fill out their lives.  This book is described as being the Love Story of John and Elizabeth Baxter, the heads of the Baxter clan, as told through John's memories as a class project for his grandson Cole.  However, their story is only a piece of this novel, and readers will catch up with several characters from throughout the Baxter Family Series, including Cody and Andi, Bailey and Brandon, and Ashley and Landon.  As Ashley listens to her parents' story, that was far from perfect, she is forced to revisit the past that led to Cole, and how her story led her back to Landon.  Bailey and Brandon are about to have a baby, and Bailey is keeping in touch with Andi as Cody and Andi try to figure out how to move forward with their lives.  This novel will dip you back into the Baxter family as if you'd never left them.

As part of Cole's project, he hears the tale of the man who prayed for John and Elizabeth that one day "God [would] give [them] a marriage and family so beautiful all the world [would] want to know [their] secret."  The early Baxter books conveyed that family so well that I think most readers probably wanted to be a Baxter; I know I wanted to come home to that cozy house and enjoy the family picnics and camaraderie.  The Baxter past hasn't been an easy one, and while I do feel that some of the trials get glossed over in these books, if you look, the story of grace and redemption is still there.  Several of the main characters in this installment are forced to confront their previous mistakes, and learn from them to live more godly lives, and to begin a legacy that will live on in the faith of future generations.

While this book lacked some of the depth and faith searching of the early series, it was a good step forward for the Baxter family, with a good review of their past.  It did a good job reminding readers of the characters' connections, without rehashing too much of the previous series.  A reader new to the family might be drawn in enough to go back and live with them throughout the earlier series.

I give this book 3 stars; I enjoyed checking in with a favorite fictional family, but I felt that it both tried to cover too many stories at once, and yet didn't catch up with enough of the family to feel like coming home.  I also felt that it was a little light on how the consequences of past choices affected the characters' lives; everything always seems to work out perfectly for the Baxter families, and while I know it's fiction, it would be nice to see that there are always ramifications to mistakes, even where there is grace and forgiveness.

You can find Love Story HERE.
You can find the author, Karen Kingsbury, HERE.
There have been articles for awhile now that they're making the Baxter Family into a TV Series.

I received a copy of this e-book from the publisher, via NetGalley, in exchange for my honest review.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Too Pretty - by Andrea Grigg

In a world where women are judged harshly on their looks, frequently coming up short to the unrealistic standards, falling too close to the dream brings its own set of problems.  Ellie Paxton has spent her life fending off unwanted advances, being passed over for jobs, and fighting jealousy from women on all sides.  Now, having lost her job through no fault of her own, and having been badgered by her aunt yet again, Ellie decides to pick up and move to the city with her cousin Chloe.  Not only does she want a fresh start career-wise, she decided to take a 6-month break from men, to find who she is and who God wants her to be.  Even as her resources dwindle, and she meets a handsome yet elusive man, Ellie holds tight to her promise, and learns that God loves her and has His own plans for her.

While the premise may be a tricky one for some readers to accept, the author does a good job of creating a world in which a stunning young woman struggles to be accepted, and to accept herself.  Thankfully, she also has some realistic friends who help keep her from drifting too far, and who seem happy to lend her a hand whenever she needs it.  Between her quirky friends, her bumpy past, and her charitable heart, Ellie was just the right mix to be a lovable character.  Her 6-month commitment to herself and God was not easy, did not come with promises of success, yet she stuck to it, and she learned to listen to that still, small voice, and to see herself through God's eyes.

My favorite parts about this story was that nobody was perfect.  Nobody.  Everybody had a backstory, or a flaw, or made bad choices.  But they learned from them.  They didn't preach it, they lived it.  There were mistakes, but there were also apologies.  There were broken relationships, but there was also forgiveness.  There was pain, but there was also grace.

I give this book 4 stars.
You can find the author HERE.
You can also find her on Facebook HERE.
You can find Too Pretty HERE.

I received a copy of this e-book from the publisher, via NetGalley, in exchange for my honest review.