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Mist of Midnight and Coffee CupTitle: Mist of Midnight

Author: Sandra Byrd

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Cover rating: 3 out of 5 stars

Series: The Daughters of Hampshire

Challenge #2 in the Bethany House Reading Challenge: Read a book that begins a series.

Rebecca Ravenshaw has returned home to England from India only to find her very identity has been stolen. Someone masquerading as herself not only tried to steal her estate and inheritance–the impostor also lies buried in her family’s grave plot after meeting a sudden and suspicious demise.

Who was she? Will Rebecca be able to prove that she is the true mistress of her own estate? And what about the dashing but mysterious Captain Whitfield living in her home now? Can he be trusted, or are his intentions even darker than the rumors would imply?

Where to start with all that I loved about this book! I guess by saying that Sandra Byrd never disappoints to deliver something that’s fresh in the market and is a much-needed reprieve from predictable plot lines. She expertly chooses eras, settings, and characters that are both relevant enough to find interesting but also different enough to keep your attention.

I’ve read books before about a missionary returning to England from India, but this is the first time where I actually believed the character might have truly lived there. It was clear the author researched both England and India and made it an integral part of Rebecca’s life, which was fascinating. She was not your typical main character and I loved that.

Not long ago I spoke of how I was growing tired of romances, but this book is an example of one done right in my opinion. Several different relationships were paid attention to throughout the book, and parts reminded me of Downton Abbey because of the conversations between characters, which was so very fun!

It held my attention from the moment I started reading, and I couldn’t even begin to solve the mystery. There were several things to mull on throughout the book, and although it was dark and suspenseful enough to keep you turning pages, it ended very surprisingly in a light and inspirational way.

I am very much looking forward to the rest of the books in this series.

(I received this book for free in exchange for my honest review.)

Let’s Talk Book: What’s an interesting series you’ve read lately or have started to read?

Bonus shot. Just had to include this because I thought it was hilarious. My niece came over while I was taking pictures of the book and made bunny fingers behind it. She made me laugh treating the book as though it were a person, but then again, I think I was making her laugh taking pictures of a book... ;)

Bonus shot. Just had to include this because I thought it was hilarious. My niece came over while I was taking pictures of the book and made bunny fingers behind it. She made me laugh treating the book as though it were a person, but then again, I think I was making her laugh taking pictures of a book… 😉

the-colonels-ladyTitle: The Colonel’s Lady

Author: Laura Frantz

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

Cover Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

You voted, and we had a winner! The last time we met, I asked you all which of the 16 challenges in the Bethany House book challenge I should tackle first, and you all chose for me to read “A book with a great cover.”

Considering I’ve had Laura Frantz’s book The Colonel’s Lady on my Kindle for what seems like forever now, it seemed like a good choice. And talk about a book with a beautiful cover! The blue of that gown, the natural light coming in, the silver locket she’s holding… I just loved it!

Unfortunately though, the book didn’t hold up as well as the cover did. There were aspects I appreciated and it was an all-around solid read, but it just felt like something I’d read many times before. But I’ll stop and warn you all that this may be more of a rant than a review, because I’m personally starting to tire of the romance genre, and that probably played a significant part in why I couldn’t really connect with this book.

There were redeeming factors, don’t get me wrong. A child of a prostitute shown mercy. A traitorous brother. An amazing act of God of Biblical proportions. But these things were just touched upon so that the main thing was still the romance. I guess I’m just starting to wonder, especially in the Christian genre… shouldn’t our relationship with God be the main thing? You still need a storyline, I get that. But can’t He be the focus with romance on the side, instead of romance the focus, with God on the side?

I guess that’s just where I’m at. Feeling like the Christian market is kind of missing it. And from a writer’s perspective, I get it. I know why, and it’s a hard line to walk. I could easily be accused of the same thing myself one day.

But… I just miss seeing Jesus in the books I read. And with the popularity of books like Fifty Shades of Gray right now, we need to be stepping it up. And I don’t mean in steamy scenes that try to tempt the general market over to our side, but by being the light and salt of the earth and leading others to the only kind of love that’s unfailing and true. That eternally saves.

It doesn’t mean we become prudes. It doesn’t mean we completely ignore the physical attraction side of romance. But does 2/3 of the storyline have to be purely based off of the character’s physical responses to one another and both pretending they don’t like each other until the very end of the book with nothing more but maybe a prayer or two thrown in?

To me, a good book–especially in the Christian market–should draw me closer to God or deepen my relationship with Him in some way. But lately the opposite has happened instead. I realize that could be my own fault, but it’s happened in too many books and stages of life now for me not to wonder if there isn’t some level of improvement that could be made in the genre itself.

We’ve forgotten our first love, and it’s about time we got back.

Let’s Talk Book: I’m really curious to know– what do you all think? Do you find reading romances hinder or help your relationship with God? Could romance writers improve on this a little bit? Are we missing the bigger picture, or doing the best we have in years?

Pursuit of Tamsen LittlejohnTitle: The Pursuit of Tamsen Littlejohn

Author: Lori Benton

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

I first fell in love with Lori after her debut novel Burning Sky hit the racks last year (you can read my review of that one here :  http://wp.me/p2QkQq-U). Since then, Burning Sky has won three Christy Awards: one for Best Historical, Best First Novel, and another for Book of the Year.

Critics and fans agree: this lady is something special.

I’m pleased to say The Pursuit of Tamsen Littlejohn lives up to high expectations and doesn’t slack on quality. It follows the lives of Tamsen Littlejohn and Jesse Bird, two people just trying to survive in the wild frontier of the late 1700’s. Eager to escape an unwanted suitor and a harsh stepfather, Tamsen places her life into the hands of rugged frontiersman Jesse Bird. As the two run from pursuit, they may just end up landing in one another’s arms.

As in Burning Sky, once again Benton’s characters leap off the pages with how real they seem. Not a single character is overlooked, and even the secondary characters are given histories that breathe life into them without pulling away from the main plot. Her literary style and descriptions are just beautiful. There is something so unique to her work, something so emotional and real about her characters, that it doesn’t take long to get pulled in.

She also does her research well, and I really enjoyed learning about “The Lost State of Franklin” which follows the short but chaotic attempt of western North Carolina to break apart and form its own separate state. Super interesting stuff!

The only reason I didn’t give this read a full five stars is because it didn’t completely measure up to Burning Sky in my mind. Why is hard to put my finger on. Did I just personally connect more to the characters and plot line of Burning Sky? Was it because The Pursuit of Tamsen Littlejohn was just a little bit too long? I’m not sure, but I will still gladly recommend this book and have mentally categorized Lori Benton into my “Must-Read-Any-and-All-New-Releases” List.

If you’re looking for a new author who’s making noise in the Historical Fiction genre, I highly recommend Lori Benton. You won’t be disappointed.

P.S. Lori Benton just recently posted a fascinating look at how the cover of The Pursuit of Tamsen Littlejohn was made. I’d highly recommend checking it out here: http://loribenton.blogspot.com/2014/07/cover-journey-chat-with-artist.html

(I received an ARC of this book for free in exchange for my honest review.) 

Let’s Talk Book: What are some of your all-time favorite book covers?

A Place in His HeartTitle: A Place in His Heart

Author: Rebecca DeMarino

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

First, a quick bio from Amazon.com: “Anglican Mary Langton longs to marry for love. Puritan Barnabas Horton still grieves the loss of his beloved wife, but he knows his two young sons need a mother. And yet these two very different people with very different expectations will take a leap of faith, wed, and then embark on a life-changing journey across the ocean to the Colonies. Along the way, each must learn to live in harmony, to wait on God, and to recognize true love where they least expect to find it.

This heartfelt tale of love and devotion is based on debut author Rebecca DeMarino’s own ancestors, who came to Long Island in the mid-1600s to establish a life–and a legacy–in the New World.”

There were some things I liked about this book, and some things I didn’t. So to make it easier, I’m just dividing this review into two straight-forward categories: things I liked about the book, and things I didn’t. 😉

Things I Liked:

Lately I’ve been lacking in my early American history, and this book immediately caught my attention because it’s set right in that time period. We owe so much to those first settlers and explorers who paved the way for us. It had to be terrifying, striking out into the great unknown like that, and it was people like the author’s ancestors who played a part in creating what we now call The United States of America today.

That’s one of the main things I really appreciated about this book. I was just washed anew with an overwhelming gratitude, appreciation, and understanding for what all of our ancestors endured to give us the land we live in today. Because the author was writing this about her own distant family, I think her passion and understanding of what they had to sacrifice for The New World really came through.

And how about that–this story is actually true! Of course, creative license is almost always taken with Historical novels to fill in the blanks–and the same is true here–but Mary Langton and Barnabas Horton were real people. They actually existed. For me, that just adds a whole ‘nother layer of “cool.”

Things I Didn’t Like:

This book was so sad! The title gives you a clue, but it apparently went right over my head, because the entire book really is about Mary trying to win a place in Barnabas’s heart. As far as romance goes, it’s all one-sided until almost the very end. I hurt for Mary trying to win her husband’s heart, but it just takes way too long for them to get there and becomes a pretty depressing read. Barnabas was also a really hard character to like. To me, he came across as a very selfish character, and with Mary making one too many excuses for him, I didn’t see how winning his heart was all that big of a deal. Granted, it’s obvious these characters are developed enough to have very strong feelings towards them as a reader. I just wish there had been a better hero and heroine to cheer for.

All-in-all, it was clearly very well-researched and pretty well-written, but I just couldn’t get behind those characters.

(I received this book for free from the author in exchange for my honest opinion.)

Let’s Talk Book: What’s a time period you enjoy reading about or would like to read so that you can learn more about it?

Full Steam Ahead, WitemeyerTitle: Full Steam Ahead

Author: Karen Witemeyer

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

I usually love Karen Witemeyer’s novels, and Full Steam Ahead was no exception! There is just something so down-home and American about Witemeyer’s books. Like tucking into a thick quilt on a cold night, or dipping into a steamy apple pie fresh from the oven. They’re simple, sweet, and completely satisfying.

Full Steam Ahead focuses on two main characters: Darius Thornton, who’s hiding his past–and Nicole Renard–who’s hiding a knife.

Nicole Renard just wants to carry on her family’s legacy and find an heir for her ailing father. Striving to be the son her father always wanted, she’ll do anything to continue his legacy and protect the family heirloom, the Lafitte Dagger. Even if that means marrying to do it.

Darius Thornton, on the other hand, has left his family behind to work on perfecting boilers to reduce the risk of steamboat accidents. But now he’s nothing more than an obsessed scientist focused only on blowing things up. It’ll take a miracle–or one very pretty lady–to get his attention.

Basically, I loved this book, and this review may start sounding more like a cheesy fan letter than it does a critique. But when there’s humor, romance, action, and a moral to the story, what’s not to love? It was one of the first books in a while that I just couldn’t put down, and it had me laughing and/or sappily sighing pretty much every other page.

The whole harried professor thing is hard to beat as far as humor goes, then you get Witemeyer’s talent for creating sweet romances and the most down-to-earth characters you’ll ever find, add a pirate dagger for a dash of danger, throw in some very realistic spiritual journeys, and how can you not like this book?

True, she does lean very heavy on the romance. It can get a little sappy in parts. So if romance isn’t something you enjoy reading, you’ll probably want to stay away from this one. But other than that, I can’t think of anyone else I wouldn’t recommend this book to.

Read it, loved it, can’t wait for her next book!

(I received this book for free from Bethany House on NetGalley.com in exchange for my honest review.)

Let’s Talk Book: Who’s an author you’re pretty much guaranteed to love and never hesitate to read?

Born of Persuasion, DottaTitle: Born of Persuasion

Author: Jessica Dotta

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Strangely enough, I first heard of debut author Jessica Dotta through an ad on my Facebook feed. The ad claimed Dotta’s style to be similar to that of both Jane Austen and Jane Eyre, and being the Jane fan I am, I was cautiously optimistic about her upcoming release, Born of Persuasion. Cautiously optimistic because there are a lot of authors who claim to have styles similar to both the respective Janes in an effort to sell books.

But I decided to try her out, and I am so glad I did! Dotta was the first author in a long time whose style really did hearken back to Jane Eyre. (As far as I can tell without having actually read the book. I know! Completely unforgivable. But I have seen the movie and have the book at the top of my must-read list!) I read a lot in the Christian market, and the more you read, the more you begin to see a lot of the same thing over and over. Publishers find a formula that works and/or sells books (historical setting, girl meets guy, girl can’t have guy, they’re finally together, the end), and they tend to stick with it. I completely understand why, but it can get a bit boring and a little predictable after a while. So when I find a book that shakes things up a little, I get really excited!

Dotta’s novel does just that. Full of mystery, drama, and intrigue, it became the book I didn’t know I was looking for. Both Dotta’s style and plotline were completely unpredictable. For starters, forget just one suitor. The heroine in this book has to deal with two. And for once, I had no idea who she should pick! I felt just as confused as she was about which of them measured up to the title of hero. Add to that a twist I never saw coming and a rich historical setting, and Charlotte Bronte, we’re in business!

If I had to pick one thing I wasn’t fond of, it would be that she does have a couple of scenes that do edge closer to the “hot and heavy” line than was probably necessary.

But overall, Dotta made quick work of making me an avid fan, and I cannot wait to see more from her!

Here’s what Amazon has to say (and, BONUS: Born of Persuasion is FREE right now on Kindle! It would be terribly silly of you to miss that kind of opportunity):

“The year is 1838, and seventeen-year-old Julia Elliston’s position has never been more fragile. Orphaned and unmarried in a time when women are legal property of their fathers, husbands, and guardians, she finds herself at the mercy of an anonymous guardian who plans to establish her as a servant in far-off Scotland.

With two months to devise a better plan, Julia’s first choice to marry her childhood sweetheart is denied. But when a titled dowager offers to introduce Julia into society, a realm of possibilities opens. However, treachery and deception are as much a part of Victorian society as titles and decorum, and Julia quickly discovers her present is deeply entangled with her mother’s mysterious past. Before she knows what’s happening, Julia finds herself a pawn in a deadly game between two of the country’s most powerful men. With no laws to protect her, she must unravel the secrets on her own. But sometimes truth is elusive and knowledge is deadly.”

(I received this book for free from the publisher on Goodreads. All opinions are my own and are not paid for or solicited.)

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Burning Sky, BentonTitle: Burning Sky

Author: Lori Benton

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

This book had me at hello. I mean, just listen to this description: “Abducted by Mohawk Indians at fourteen and renamed Burning Sky, Willa Obenchain is driven to return to her family’s New York frontier homestead after many years building a life with the People. At the boundary of her father’s property, Willa discovers a wounded Scotsman lying in her path. Feeling obliged to nurse his injuries, the two quickly find much has changed during her twelve-year absence—her childhood home is in disrepair, her missing parents are rumored to be Tories, and the young Richard Waring she once admired is now grown into a man twisted by the horrors of war and claiming ownership of the Obenchain land.

When her Mohawk brother arrives and questions her place in the white world, the cultural divide blurs Willa’s vision. Can she follow Tames-His-Horse back to the People now that she is no longer Burning Sky? And what about Neil MacGregor, the kind and loyal botanist who does not fit into in her plan for a solitary life, yet is now helping her revive her farm? In the aftermath of the Revolutionary War, strong feelings against “savages” abound in the nearby village of Shiloh, leaving Willa’s safety unsure.

Willa is a woman caught between two worlds. As tensions rise, challenging her shielded heart, the woman called Burning Sky must find a new courage–the courage to again risk embracing the blessings the Almighty wants to bestow. Is she brave enough to love again?”

If we’re making a list of things Lizzie loves, Burning Sky has quite a few of them!

Strong female character? Check.
Scotsman? Check.
Great time period and awesome Historical setting? Check.
Betrayal, tragedy, and a chance to overcome both in one breathtaking fictional treatise on hope? Check.

I really connected to the character of Willa wondering where she belongs in the world, and I cared about her from the very beginning. It was just one of those stories and one of those characters that will always stick with you. I was pulling for Willa from the very first page, just as heartbroken as she was over the loss of her family, and, even more than that, her identity. There’s only a few books in life where you can look back and say, “I almost felt as if the characters in that book were real. I’ve walked that road. I’ve fought that fight. I’ve felt those tears,” and Burning Sky was one of those books for me. I’ve walked away from plenty of books saying, “Well, that was a good read. Fun and fictional, but good.” And then there are those that are real and relational. It’s a tricky thing to accomplish, which is why I applaud Benton all the more.

Like Born of Persuasion, Benton’s debut novel was refreshingly different. Again, two suitors. (In a way, three, but I’ll let you discover that on your own!) And just as confusing about whom she should choose.

So, to sum things up, you should go buy this book. No, really. Go buy it. Now. 😉

Until next time!

(I received this book for free from WaterBrook Multnomah in exchange for my honest review.)

Let’s Talk Book: What is it you look for in a debut author? What would make you pick up their next book? Who are some debut authors that you’d recommend?

Governess of Highland Hall[1]Title: The Governess of Highland Hall

Author: Carrie Turansky

Rating: 2 out of 5 stars

Julia Foster is an ex-missionary who has traveled from India back to England to assist with her father’s failing health. Desperate to help her parents pay the bills, she takes on a job as governess to the four very privileged charges of Sir William Ramsey of Highland Hall. But she is not welcomed by everyone.

Placed in the awkward position of being neither downstairs help nor upstairs family, Julia struggles to find her place as she battles difficult children and a growing attraction to a man far out of her reach.

Meanwhile, Sir William Ramsey struggles to keep both his floundering family and estate from financial ruin.

I originally requested this book to review because it’s set in the early 1900’s and looked like the book form of one of my favorite shows, Downton Abbey. With it being set in the same time period and with the author using several different view points (such as the housekeeper’s, gardener’s, and estate owner’s), it’s quite obviously supposed to be a Downton Abbey spin-off.

Unfortunately, the book fell flat for me. I found the main character Julia to be very hard to relate to and similar to Mary Poppins–practically perfect in every way.

Julia always thought the right things, nearly always said the right things, and pretty much became the savior of the entire household from upstairs to down. I’d buy it if she helped change the lives of maybe one or two people. But changing the lives of the housemaid, gardener, the estate owner, his children, his sister, and his two cousins? Not as likely.

Still, there was a very funny instance of mistaken identity in the beginning that became my favorite part of the entire book, and I like how the author explored several different virtues and points of morality. I also appreciated the way she portrayed the children in her book. Usually whenever I see children in fiction, they come across as very unrealistic to me. The children in Turansky’s book nearly leapt off the pages with how real they seemed, so I give her major props for that.

However, as much as I didn’t like the book, my mom (who is also an avid Downton Abbey fan) loved it. So while I have to be honest and say that it wasn’t my favorite, who knows? Maybe it could be one of yours!

*I received this book for free from WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group for my honest review.

book_cover_book-2_bending-toward-the-sun[1]Title: Bending Toward the Sun: The Quilted Heart Novella Two

Author: Mona Hodgson

Rating: 2 out of 5 stars

Emilie Heinrich is divided between the two loves of her life: her widowed father and the handsome Quaid McFarland, who’s just returned from serving in the Civil War. A childhood friend, Quaid isn’t the schoolboy Emilie remembers. But even as Emilie and Quaid’s affection grows, Emilie’s father becomes more determined than ever to keep them apart.

Although I’m not usually a fan of novellas, I decided to try this one because I wanted to check out this particular author. It almost feels unfair to review a novella, because I always feel as though the author is given an almost impossible feat: make us (the readers) care and be forever attached to the characters in 100 pages or less. With that said, I think Ms. Hodgson did an admirable job. There’s a definite beginning, middle, and end, and I was surprised to see she did get in a very clear “moral of the story” which was probably my favorite part. I also appreciated how she approached the romance scenes-she mentions a kiss and then it’s on to the next thing. Not too detailed, but not too sparse, either.

However, the beginning was slow and it’s just too short of a story to really fall in love with the characters. It’s a sweet story that may be good to pass the time in a doctor’s office, but I’m not sure I’d recommend it for much else. There just wasn’t anything too terribly unique to make this novella stand out. But-and I’d like to emphasize this-short as this story was, I did see some definite flickers of good writing and would very much like to see one of this author’s full-length novels before I completely pass judgment.

(I received this book for free from WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group in exchange for my honest review.)

Let’s Talk Book: What do you think? Are novellas impossible to please because of their length? Which do you prefer-novellas, or full-length novels?