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Bride of a Distant Isle CoverTitle: Bride of a Distant Isle

Author: Sandra Byrd

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Cover Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Imagine you’re a woman in Victorian England, the potential heir to a grand estate, and the only daughter of a woman who died in an insane asylum.

Add to that a greedy and dangerous cousin, a mysterious Maltese captain, and allegations about your own sanity, and you have the basis for Sandra Byrd’s newest novel, Bride of a Distant Isle.

Byrd has become a favorite for me over the years, and Bride of a Distant Isle once again delivers with strong characters and an intriguing storyline.

One of the things Byrd excels at are finding little-known historical niches with which to set her stories in, and with this particular read I was fascinated to learn more about the island and customs of Malta, as well as just how absurd insane asylums in the 19th century could be.

But while you’ll learn a lot reading this book, historical facts never take the place of story and the mystery will draw you in from page one.

Spiritual themes involve facing loneliness and finding your place in the family of Christ, and I strongly appreciated how the emphasis was never solely on romance, but each character’s individual relationships with God.

It’s hard to talk about all that I loved with this book without giving too much away, so I’ll just end by saying this: for readers who like well-researched books with an aura of mystery and a dash of romance, I definitely recommend Bride of a Distant Isle!

For a full description or to purchase this book, you can find it here.

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

 

 

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?

Silenced, PettreyTitle: Silenced

Author: Dani Pettrey

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

It’s finally happened! I’ve finally read a book by Dani Pettrey! I’ve been wanting to read a book by her for ages now, so when I was offered a free copy in exchange for my honest review by Bethany House, I leapt at the chance! I’m glad to say I wasn’t disappointed.

Silenced is the fourth book in the Alaskan Courage series, and it mainly focuses on expert climber Kayden McKenna and man-with-a-past, Jake Cavanaugh. When Kayden comes face to face with a dead rock climber, she won’t rest until the killer is found. Choosing to listen to his heart instead of his head, Jake decides to come alongside her and assist as deputy in the investigation. But as the mystery grows, Kayden and Jake will have to decide which is the bigger danger: a killer at large, or giving away the key to their hearts?

For the most part I’m mainly a Historical Fiction lover, but for a change of pace, I really liked this book! It starts out as a classic murder mystery with a plentiful suspect list and a million plausible motives. Then the story branches out a little, and it suddenly becomes a lot more dark and sinister than you’d originally expect. On one hand, I liked that. It switched things up a bit. On the other, it came across as a little disjointed. The shift was kind of abrupt and made me wonder about a few things that felt like loose ends.

But that may be because I didn’t start from the very beginning of this series. The characters in Pettrey’s books are all deeply connected, and while she does an excellent job of catching up a reader with all that’s gone on before, I couldn’t shake the feeling of coming late to the party. From this book alone, it appears as though relationships are big to Pettrey books. Both romantic and familial. I really enjoyed that aspect of it, but I think I’d need to go back and read the first three books to really “get” it.

Overall, Silenced doesn’t quite get a spot in my “Favorites” list, but it does make me very glad to have tried out Pettrey and eager to read some of her earlier books! Who knows–maybe a “favorite” is hiding out there. 🙂

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

Let’s Talk Book: What kinds of things do you read when you need a change of pace or a break from the usual?

Spoken For, Gunn and BethkeTitle: Spoken For: Embracing Who You Are and Whose You Are

Author: Robin Jones Gunn and Alyssa Joy Bethke

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

When I first saw Spoken For, I was a little worried it might be too simplistic and not that deep of a read, just because it came across as though it’s geared towards a younger audience. But the more I learned about it, the more I realized it actually seemed to fit the stage of life I’m in right now almost perfectly (early 20’s, for those of you who don’t know 🙂 ). While it was a tad simplistic in parts, I would highly recommend this book for not only teens, but also for women in their 20’s and maybe even their 30’s, that’s how good it was! Spoken For has a message every woman can relate to, and that’s about our quest for love. Our need to be desired and cherished, to hold and be held, to love and be loved.

Who doesn’t adore a good romance? The thing is, we often miss the greatest romance of all: the one we have with our Savior.

How do I describe all that this book did for me at this stage in my life? Let’s just say it was a message I desperately needed to hear, and that it left me in tears. Authors Robin Jones Gunn and Alyssa Joy Bethke helped me understand God’s love in a way I never have before in such a raw, touching way, I can honestly say this is one book that has helped change my outlook on life and relationship with my Savior forever.

There aren’t many books that can do that!

I am adopted, and while I grew up with the two most amazing, loving people I know as parents, I’ve always struggled with some feelings of rejection. So when I read the chapter called, “You Are Wanted,” I cried. I’ve never been the girl to turn heads, have never had a boyfriend, and usually hid in a corner on prom nights. So when I read, “You Are Pursued,” I bawled. And what salve to my soul to hear “You Are Loved” after a season of isolation and pain that seemed to last forever.

I also appreciated the authors’ honesty about the down times in their lives and the study questions they had at the end of every chapter as well. I usually hate those, but somehow they managed to write them in a casual, non-annoying way.

So dear broken heart, if you’re reading this right now and need tangible proof of God’s love, please pick up this book, and may you know how high, how wide, and how deep His love reaches.

Even now.

Even here.

Even to you.

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

Let’s Talk Book: Have you ever read a book that completely changed you or how you viewed your relationship with God?

The Pawn, JamesTitle: The Pawn (The Bowers Files Book #1)

Author: Steven James

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Boy, you better be ready for a ride with this one! The Pawn is somewhat of an older book, but since I’ve wanted to read James for a while now and this is the first in a series, I figured it would be better to start there. Based on the first book alone, I think it is the type of series where you have to start from the beginning to really get it. There were a few hints in this first book that suggested more of the story and main character would be revealed in the next. And good golly, that character! But let me give you a peek at the plot first before I get too carried away:

“Special Agent Patrick Bowers had only met one man who made him truly afraid. Until now. When he’s called to North Carolina to consult on the case of an area serial killer, he finds himself in a deadly game.
Cunning and lethal, the killer is always one step ahead of the law, and he’s about to strike again. It will take all of Bowers’s instincts and training to stop this man who calls himself the Illusionist. And just when the pieces start to come together, Bowers realizes they’re not quite adding up. Can he unravel the pattern and save the next victim? Or will the Illusionist win the game by taking one of his opponent’s pieces? Thrilling, chilling, and impossible to put down, The Pawn will hold suspense lovers in its iron grip until the very last page.” (Amazon.com)

Let me tell you, “thrilling and chilling” is one very apt description! The author goes so deep with his characters. Like, scary deep. Think Criminal Minds deep. On one hand, I was really impressed by that. His villain has a motive, and the motive is very plausible. His main character, Special Agent Patrick Bowers, is so well-developed he almost became like Sherlock Holmes, that’s how real and how heroic he became. A man with flaws but also almost otherworldly talent. If you’re going to name an entire series around a certain character, he better be a good one, and I’m pleased to say Patrick Bowers easily held up his end of the bargain.

The plot was also fantastic. The writing was superb. This will sound really strange, but my only complaint is that it was too real.

I got really freaked out by this book, I’m not gonna lie. There’s a scene at the very beginning of the book I just cannot get out of my head. It was grisly and creepy and just way too real. That’s where my struggle comes in. Because was it excellently written? Absolutely. The fact that it got under my skin so much shows how great of a writer Steven James really is. But can I recommend it? I’m not sure. Would I read him again? I don’t know.

I suppose it comes down to this: if this looks like your kind of genre, then by all means, read it! It’s very well-written. But if scary reads aren’t really your thing, you may want to avoid this book. It’s not that I wouldn’t recommend this author. I’d just recommend him with a caveat.

So! Here’s my question for you:

Let’s Talk Book: Weigh in and let me know what you think! Should I read the second book in the Bowers series? Comment on this blog post with your vote by clicking on “comment” on the top right-hand side. If you’re voting no, tell me why and what I should read instead! If yes, then a review of The Rook may be coming to a blog near you!

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.

Gone to Ground, CollinsTitle: Gone to Ground

Author: Brandilyn Collins

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

In the small town of Amaryllis, Mississippi, everyone knows everyone and most don’t even bother locking their doors. That is, until the murders start happening.

In the past three years five unsolved murders have occurred within the town. All the victims were women, and all were killed in similar fashion in their own homes. And just two nights ago, there was a sixth.

As panic floods Amaryllis, three women are certain they know who the killer is and will stop at nothing until he’s caught. The only problem? They each suspect a different man.

Who is right?

Who is wrong?

And who is dead?

Brandilyn Collins has become one of my favorite authors, and Gone to Ground is a fantastic example of why I love her writing so much. At this point I’ve read four novels by her, and I can pretty much guarantee that if you pick up anything of hers you’ll be hanging onto the edge of your seat until the story finishes. Her books are fast-paced and almost impossible to put down, and Gone to Ground is no exception.

Not only was I completely immersed in the story, but I could not figure out who-dun-it. I enjoy books that make you think and keep you involved in the mystery, and with this particular novel I was guessing until the very end.

Throughout the book Collins’ uses the viewpoints of three different women who are certain they know who the killer is. I’d read one viewpoint and was certain I knew, too. But then the other woman would get a chance to tell her story and show her evidence, and I was certain she was right. And so it went the entire book.

Collins is a master at both suspense and cleverly woven twists, and Gone to Ground had a twist I never saw coming.

The characters in this book were even more well-rounded and defined than I’d seen before in any of the other books I’ve read by Collins, and their voices were so uniquely crafted that I think you would know who was speaking even without the chapter headings at the top. I also really appreciated the fact that Collins went a little deeper than she normally does with her characters’ faith.

Because of the perfect balance Collins struck between an excellent plot and characters you felt as if you’d known all your life, Gone to Ground may be my favorite of hers yet.

So if you haven’t guessed already, I’m highly recommending you check out this book!

Let’s Talk Book: What’s your favorite surprise ending or twist you never saw coming? Just this once, I’ll even let you use a twist from a movie if you want. But just this once! 😉

P.S. You can leave a comment by clicking on “Leave a comment” up at the very top of this post. It’s small and a little hard to find, but just keep looking to the right after all the tags at the top, and you’ll find it there!