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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?

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.)

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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.

Roses Have ThornsTitle: Roses Have Thorns

Author: Sandra Byrd

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Queen Elizabeth I has always been a personal favorite of mine (I mean, talk about a great name, right?) so author Sandra Byrd had a tough feat ahead of her from the onset. I picked up “Roses Have Thorns” with great expectations and warned myself ahead of time not to put any undue pressure on the author. However, I can honestly say that while Byrd’s vision of Queen Elizabeth I didn’t completely match mine, I was not disappointed.

The story follows the adventures of Lady Elin Von Snakenborg as she serves as a lady’s maid to Queen Elizabeth. Readers are transported to another time and place as Elin struggles to balance both allegiance to the queen and allegiance to her heart. While threats against the queen’s throne mount, threats within Elin’s own home abound.

I really appreciate how down-to-earth the author made both Queen Elizabeth and Elin. You feel the pain right along with Queen Elizabeth as she chooses loyalty to her people over the love of her life, and with Elin you see real flaws that would be impossible not to relate to.

What I really appreciated about this story was that Byrd didn’t just stop at “happily-ever-after” and a marriage. Instead, she goes past the marriage and straight to what it means to rediscover love once the honeymoon is over. Because of that, Elin’s love story is one of the more realistic and poignant I’ve read.

I wouldn’t consider myself a prude by any stretch of the imagination, but I did feel as though the author could have done without so many sexual references. While the references were always within the context of marriage and tastefully done, I didn’t feel it was necessary to know of every time the characters made love.

However, as with any Byrd book, readers are in for an emotionally gripping read with unforgettable characters who face real challenges and end up overcoming them in a way that makes you want to cheer aloud. Byrd is a master at subtlety, and all of the witty play on words were fun to find.

Although “To Die For” will remain my favorite, all the books in this series were well-worth reading, and it is with a fond farewell I say goodbye to the “Ladies in Waiting” series and look forward to more!

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

Let’s Talk Book: Okay. I’m gonna be real here, guys. My egotistical self does tend to lean towards characters and/or historical people who have my name. Tell me I’m not the only one who does that!

How ’bout it-do you lean towards fictional or historical characters with the same name as you?