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The Christmas Heirloom: Four Holiday Novellas of Love Through the Generations

The Christmas Heirloom: Four Holiday Novellas of Love through the Generations by [Witemeyer, Karen, Hunter, Kristi Ann, Thomas, Sarah Loudin, Wade, Becky]In Kristi Ann Hunter’s “Legacy of Love,” Sarah Gooding never suspected returning a brooch to an elderly woman would lead to a job . . . and introduce her to the woman’s grandson, a man far above her station.

In Karen Witemeyer’s “Gift of the Heart,” widow Ruth Albright uses the family brooch as collateral for a loan from the local banker. But the more she comes to know the man behind the stern businessman, the more she hopes for a second chance at love.

In Sarah Loudin Thomas’s “A Shot at Love,” Fleeta Brady’s rough-and-tumble childhood means she prefers hunting to more feminine activities. She never expected her family’s brooch might be how a fellow hunter turns her attention from competition to romance.

In Becky Wade’s “Because of You,” Maddie Winslow has spent years in love with a man whose heart was already spoken for. When a church Christmas project brings them together and she stumbles upon an old family brooch, might it finally be her turn for love?

Review

I decided to read these novellas because two of my favorite authors contributed to the collection and I must say that I very much enjoyed all of the stories (though some more than others).

Kristi Ann Hunter’s Legacy of Love: Hunter writes regency novels very well. She knows the era, the layers of complexities that makes up the class structures, and the way to craft a good story. I will admit that I wasn’t a huge fan of the romance because it felt a bit forced to me and the plot seemed lacking at moments. But overall very cute.

Karen Witemeyer’s Gift of the Heart: Witemeyer  managed to write very complex characters in a short space. I immediately felt for the main characters, especially Ruth. She’s bold, determined, and kind. Simple though the story was, I couldn’t put it down. It was probably my favorite one.

Sarah Loudin Thomas’s A Shot at Love: This was my first introduction to Thomas and this won’t be the last time that I read her. I really liked the main character, Fleeta. She drove the story. She was not just a tomboy, but a woman with a passion and a drive. The romance wasn’t bad, but it did seem as though Fleeta wasn’t as invested as the hero…but she was so fascinating it almost didn’t matter.

Becky Wade’s Because of You: Another winner. I love a good contemporary romance novel. I liked the complexity of the relationship between Maddie and her guy. Wade writes fabulous heroines that are easy to connect with. The romance seemed a bit quick on the guy’s part, but overall it was enjoyable

Each book presented characters that prayed and had to trust God through some tough times (and of course those tough times pretty much ended on Christmas, but hey it was cute!).

Novellas are always hard for me to read because I usually feel like so much of the story is missing, but sometimes they’re just fun too. This collection was fun and I know at least one of them was linked to other series that the authors are writing. I really like the way they used the brooch to connect all the stories and the way it was a different generation each time. There were, I think, a few mistakes with the timeline, but overall if you like novellas, recommended!

**I received a copy from BethanyHouse. My opinion was not affected in anyway**

 

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Roseanne M. White’s An Hour Unspent

An Hour Unspent (Shadows Over England Book #3) by [White, Roseanna M.]

Once London’s top thief, Barclay Pearce has turned his back on his life of crime and now uses his skills for a nation at war. But not until he rescues a clockmaker’s daughter from a mugging does he begin to wonder what his future might hold.

Evelina Manning has constantly fought for independence, but she certainly never meant for it to inspire her fiancé to end the engagement and enlist in the army. When the intriguing man who saved her returns to the Manning residence to study clockwork repair with her father, she can’t help being interested. But she soon learns that nothing with Barclay Pearce is as simple as it seems.

As 1915 England plunges ever deeper into war, the work of an ingenious clockmaker may give England an unbeatable military edge–and Germany realizes it as well. Evelina’s father soon finds his whole family in danger–and it may just take a reformed thief to steal the time they need to escape.

Review

Ms. White is easily one of my favorite authors. She writes well researched novels filled with complex characters who often wrestle with spiritual issues and natural issues. However, as much as I’ve been enjoying this series, this book was my least favorite. My thoughts:

What I liked

Return of characters. Obviously, if you’ve been following this series, you get the return of the orphan siblings. I was very excited to find out who Barclay was and the kind of woman who would win his heart. Of course there was also the return of Willa and Rosemary and I enjoyed seeing what they were up to.

The setting. I feel like World War I is a war that’s rarely highlighted in fiction. White does a lovely job of showing London in this era and the effects of the war on those at that time.

Clockwork. You learn a lot about clocks and how they work and just how intricate they are. I really appreciated the time and effort that White put into explaining it.

Spiritually, the novel deals with how God is like a clockmaker…very much into the details of our lives. Every part of us is important to Him.

What I didn’t like

Evelina and Barclay. Okay, to be fair, it’s not that I didn’t like them, it’s that I didn’t understand them. Evelina was the more confusing of the two to me because I didn’t understand why she was the way she was and why I should care. She cares about the rights of women and factory workers but it seemed like just something she did because she was bored, not because their situations actually bothered her. She was a mix of things that didn’t make sense. She loved her father, but often treated him with disrespect. She cared for the poor and downtrodden and then at moments looked down on them. She wanted independence, but was not in anyway striving to get it. In the end I just did not connect with her character.

As for Barclay, he was a real sweetheart…which was part of the problem. I realized that he’s a believer in this book and no longer over a gang, but his personality was so soft that I had a hard time believing he had ever been as criminal as he kept telling me he was. Because let’s face it, it takes a certain, ‘I don’t care about others,’ attitude to live a life of crime. And Barclay cares a lot.

Which leads to the romance. Why did Barclay fall for Evelina and vice versa? They seemed so different from each other and I’m not referring to class. I’m referring to personality and character. Evelina came across as silly compared to everything Barclay had done and was doing. It just didn’t work for me.

Romantic scale: 6.5

Overall, not my favorite book by White, but she’s still one of my favorite authors!

** I received a copy from Netygalley. My opinion was not affected in anyway.**

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Michelle Griep’ s The Captured Bride

The Captured Bride: Daughters of the Mayflower - book 3 by [Griep, Michelle]

Mercy Lytton, a scout with keen eyesight raised among the Mohawks, and Elias Dubois, a condemned traitor working both sides of the conflict, must join together to get a shipment of gold safely into British hands.
A brand new series for fans of all things related to history, romance, adventure, faith, and family trees.

A War-Torn Countryside Is No Place for a Lady
Mercy Lytton is a lady like none other. Raised amongst the Mohawks, she straddles two cultures, yet each are united in one cause. . .to defeat the French. Born with a rare gift of unusually keen eyesight, she is chosen as a scout to accompany a team of men on a dangerous mission. Yet it is not her life that is threatened. It is her heart.  Condemned as a traitor, Elias Dubois faces the gallows. At the last minute, he is offered his freedom if he consents to accompany a stolen shipment of French gold to a nearby fort—but he is the one they stole it from in the first place. It turns out that the real thief is the beguiling woman, Mercy Lytton, for she steals his every waking thought.   Can love survive divided loyalties in a backcountry wilderness?

Five Reasons You Should Read This Book

  1. Mercy Lytton. I will admit that I struggle with heroines who are self-identified “strong” women. Especially in historical novels. I’m not saying that there weren’t strong women back then, but I think authors often struggle with making them strong for their times vs. strong for our times. Mercy is a woman strong in any time and she’s got the resume to back it. She often made mistakes but she would be the first one to call herself on it and fix it. I enjoyed Mercy. She’s a bit prickly, but she’s smart, sensitive, kind, and fierce without ever feeling like she didn’t fit. She was the kind of heroine a reader could trust.
  2. Elias Dubois. There’s nothing like a really great hero and Elias was a truly fascinating hero. He’s got the mysterious, hidden past without any of the darkness. Usually it’s the heroine who is the “light” in the book. But not so in this one. In spite of his situation, there’s something very lighthearted about Elias that made him a hero that was a bit unique. He is the perfect foil to Mercy. Which leads me to…
  3. The Romance. Due to the nature of how Mercy and Elias meet, there’s not a whole lot of trust on each side. But watching the two of them get to know each other and learn to trust was truly entertaining. Especially since personality-wise they are very different. While I wouldn’t classify this under the banner of “friendship” romance, I would definitely classify it under “partnership” romance. They worked together and where one was weak, the other was strong.
  4. Historical accuracy. Okay, to be fair I can’t say whether this book is historically accurate, but it felt accurate. Everything from the way the characters dressed to the way they spoke or even thought had me convinced the author knew her stuff. I felt completely immersed in the 1760s. Not one thing happened in the book that pulled me out of that era. Also, the book felt incredibly realistic. Half of the time I was on the edge of my seat worried about my characters. Those were some dangerous times and the littlest thing could get you killed.
  5. Spiritually, the novel dealt with the need for salvation and how it can change the course of your life. But the book also referenced how a walk with God is a walk of strength. It may not look like it on the outside, but it is.

Overall, in case you can’t tell, I thoroughly enjoyed this book!

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Kara Isaac’s Can’t Help Falling

Can't Help Falling by [Isaac, Kara]

A funny, heartfelt romance about how an antique shop, a wardrobe, and a mysterious tea cup bring two C.S. Lewis fans together in a snowy and picturesque Oxford, England.

Emelia Mason has spent her career finding the dirt on the rich and famous. But deep down past this fearless tabloid-reporter façade, there’s a nerdy Narnia-obsessed girl who still can’t resist climbing into wardrobes to check for the magical land on the other side. When a story she writes produces tragic results, she flees to Oxford, England–home to C.S. Lewis–to try and make amends for the damage she has caused.

Peter Carlisle was on his way to become one of Great Britain’s best rowers–until he injured his shoulder and lost his chance at glory. He’s determined to fight his way back to the top even if it means risking permanent disability to do so. It’s the only way he can find his way past failing the one person who never stopped believing in his Olympic dream.

When Peter and Emelia cross paths on her first night in Oxford, the attraction is instant and they find common ground in their shared love of Narnia. But can the lessons from a fantasyland be enough to hold them together when secrets of the real world threaten to tear them apart? Cobblestone streets, an aristocratic estate, and an antique shop with curious a wardrobe bring the world of Narnia to life in Kara Isaac’s inspiring and romantic story about second chances.

Review

A year or so ago, I read the first chapter of another Kara Isaac book, didn’t care for it too much and tossed it to the side. But then, this one was running a sale and I’m a huge British fan and Narnia lover…and it wasn’t fair to judge an author’s collection by a chapter in one book. Thus, I read this one…and was presently surprised. My thoughts:

What I liked

The setting. I love that the novel takes place in Oxford. Even though the main characters are out of school, you still get that university feel and setting with the bonus of it being Oxford.

Narnia. I could totally relate to Emelia climbing in wardrobes and looking for Narnia (at first, the obsession was a bit weird later until it was explained). As a kid, I definitely went to sleep praying I would wake up there. There is something about those books that just connects people.

Peter. He was the star of this book for me. I loved everything about him, even when he got angry and said silly things. He was an ultimate sweetheart. Peter struggled with not liking his brother (he’s very unlikable) very much and yet protecting him at every turn. He struggled with loving rowing and yet coming to the possible conclusion that that part of his life might be over. He was the kind of person who shouldered everyone’s burdens and put himself last. It’s hard not to like a hero like that.

Spiritually, the novel doesn’t go into a lot of detail, but Peter’s faith (and his friends) is very important to him. He’s not willing to compromise for anyone. There is also references to knowing that God is everywhere and in everything.

What I didn’t like

Emelia. And really it’s only because this is a novel based on a secret and it’s a secret she decided needed to be kept. Why? Why? Why? Would that the author had chosen the narrow path and had Emelia confess her sins right away and then she and the other characters could have worked through it. But no. Alas, this book follows the traditional route where secrets are concerned and that meant it was hard to like Emelia when you knew she was keeping things from Peter to save her own skin. She started to come off as flaky and wishy-washy and there were moments I wondered what Peter saw in her. That said, other than this glaring issue, she was a very interesting and moving heroine. I understood where she was coming from, but I did get fed up from time to time.

Romantic scale: 7

Even though this book had a huge flaw IMO, the writing was good. The characters were dynamic, the story original. I’ve already picked up my next Kara Isaac book!

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Shelley Shepard Gray’s Take a Chance

Take a Chance (The Bridgeport Social Club Series) by [Shelley Shepard Gray]

Kurt Holland wants the best for his younger brother, which is why he moves Sam to Bridgeport, Ohio. It’s a bigger town with a well-known high school. Just the place to give his little brother more opportunities—maybe even a scholarship to college. Kurt hopes his gamble pays off, since Sam’s future isn’t the only thing riding on it. Kurt’s put most of his savings into a new landscaping business there, too. But when Sam gets in trouble for fighting at school, Kurt isn’t so sure it was the right decision … until he meets Sam’s English teacher.

Emily Springer is passionate about helping all of her students succeed, but there’s something about Sam Holland that makes her want to go the extra mile. When he’s caught in a fight at school, she goes to bat in his defense, and during a conference with the principal she meets Sam’s rugged older brother—and guardian. Emily has a strict no-dating policy when it comes to her students’ parents, but Kurt isn’t technically Sam’s parent. It’s OK to bend the rules a little bit, right?

In an effort to make some friends and find a place in the Bridgeport community, Kurt starts up a weekly poker game in his garage. It’s not long before everyone wants in, and they all soon discover that these Friday night poker gatherings are about more than just the game.

Shelley Shepard Gray’s new Bridgeport Social Club series is about men who need a place to call home, a community in need of hope, and a group of women who are special enough to help both things happen. This first installment is genuine and heartfelt. It’s filled with hope, warmth, and the belief that love and acceptance can overcome any tough situation.

Review

I have been reading Shelley Shepard Gray for years (though not her Amish novels) and so I was super excited to see that she had written a contemporary romance (that was not Amish)! Let’s just say, this book was a bit of a surprise. My thoughts:

What I liked

The characters. I liked Kurt who had so much faith and love for his brother that he would pick up and move for him. Heroes who sacrifice their dreams and desires for others are always a win in my book. Also, Kurt learns to establish male friendships which I think is not something that is necessarily addressed for men past the age of high school. You could begin to see where the series was going with the different men that Kurt knew. I liked Sam, who even though he struggled a bit with the move, recognized and appreciated his brother. I liked Emily who isn’t one to just take stuff. She’s a tough cookie, but in a good way. This was definitely a more character driven novel than plot driven, but the characters were such that you didn’t mind being in their heads. And sometimes it’s nice to read a book about relationship dynamics be it father-son, brother-brother, or teacher-guardian.

The writing. I’ve already alluded to this, but the story, though it’s not complicated, does a lovely job of pulling you in.

The romance. While it wasn’t exactly a forbidden romance, it was a romance that was tinged with possible overtones. You can see Kurt and Emily’s hesitation and reluctance, and that’s what makes it sweeter as they are constantly thrown together. Kurt and Emily worked well together and even though they had their miscommunications and frustrations, those were not the things that drove the book.

What I didn’t like

This is not exactly what I didn’t like, but more like what I didn’t expect. Obviously, I approached Gray’s novel expecting a christian contemporary and while this book was clean and the characters mentioned church…I’m not sure about the christian (at least not mature christians, yes, let’s say that). I’m not knocking the book for this per se, just saying that my expectation was one thing, and what I read was another.

Romantic scale: 8

Overall, I enjoyed this book because Shelley Shepard Gray is a fabulous writer. I’m looking forward to book two.

**I received a copy from Netgalley. My opinion was not affected in anyway.**

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Kathryn Springer’s The Hearts We Mend

The Hearts We Mend (A Banister Falls Novel) by [Springer, Kathryn]

Planning and Post-It notes are the epitome of Evie’s life. But when she meets Jack, her life gets more than a little complicated.

Thirteen years ago, Evie’s firefighterhusband was killed in the line of duty, leaving her to raise their young son, Cody, alone. Now, Cody is marrying the love of his life, and as he packs up his belongings, the house feels as empty as Evie’s heart. But for all her planning and mad organizational skills, Evie could never have anticipated the dramatic shift her life is about to make.

Tattooed, rough-around-the-edges Jack raises quite a few eyebrows in the tight-knit community of Banister Falls. Where Evie’s life is stream-lined, Jack’s approach to living is moment-by-moment. But as Evie gets drawn into Jack’s world—a world that isn’t as safe or predictable as the one she’s worked so hard to create—he challenges her to open her eyes to the problems outside the walls of the church.

Jack doesn’t make Evie feel comfortable, but he definitely makes her feel something. Something she hasn’t felt since Max passed away—or, maybe ever. Because even though Jack isn’t anything like her late husband, he just might be everything she needs.

Review

I randomly stumbled across this book, bought it (cause it was a deal!), read it, and was pleasantly surprised. I will admit that I was a bit hesitant at the age of the heroine since her son is getting married in the novel, but I was won over with the description of Jack. I’m a huge fan of the unusual hero. My thoughts:

What I liked:

Evie. I don’t usually like heroines, but I liked her. I understood her. She’s a planner who is learning how to deal with some big surprises…the main one being that her 18 year old is getting married and going to be a father. On the outside she looks like she has everything together but on the inside life doesn’t feel so great. Watching Evie walk through this season in her life was a joy. She’s kind and compassionate, and even though she may not understand, she tries.

Jack. I love me a good hero and Jack delivers. He’s a man with a past who is doing his best to live right and lead his family to Jesus. In some ways, he’s kind of all over the place, but you still manage to get that sense that he’s someone you can count on. The author does a lovely job of introducing him and making me root for him right away.

The romance. I feel like it’s been so long since I’ve just really enjoyed a Christian contemporary romance novel, but I really liked this one. Evie and Jack are so different and so it’s easy to see why there was hesitation on both sides, but what I loved was that when there was conflict or confusion, they confronted it. They learned who the other was and then worked together.

Spiritually, characters pray and learn to rely on God even when things don’t turn out the way that they think they should.  Also, there’s a lovely theme on showing what love in action really looks like.

What I didn’t like:

I think I pretty much loved this whole book. It was weird that Evie’s kid was 18 and married but Evie thought it was weird too.

Romantic scale: 8.9

I can’t think of the last time that I’ve enjoyed a contemporary Christian novel as much as I enjoyed this one. I didn’t want to put it down!

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Tessa Afshar’s Thief of Corinth

Thief of Corinth by [Afshar, Tessa]

First-century Corinth is a city teeming with commerce and charm. It’s also filled with danger and corruption—the perfect setting for Ariadne’s greatest adventure.

After years spent living with her mother and oppressive grandfather in Athens, Ariadne runs away to her father’s home in Corinth, only to discover the perilous secret that destroyed his marriage: though a Greek of high birth, Galenos is the infamous thief who has been robbing the city’s corrupt of their ill-gotten gains.

Desperate to keep him safe, Ariadne risks her good name, her freedom, and the love of the man she adores to become her father’s apprentice. As her unusual athletic ability leads her into dangerous exploits, Ariadne discovers that she secretly revels in playing with fire. But when the wrong person discovers their secret, Ariadne and her father find their future—and very lives—hanging in the balance.

When they befriend a Jewish rabbi named Paul, they realize that his radical message challenges everything they’ve fought to build, yet offers something neither dared hope for.

Be transported back in time by this gripping tale of adventure, bravery, and redemption, and discover why Debbie Macomber says, “No one brings the Bible to life like Tessa Afshar.”

Review

I always read Tessa Afshar’s books when they come out and I was very excited about this one. My thoughts:

What I liked

History. Tessa Afshar really is able to bring alive cultures and worlds that I’ve read about in the Bible in such a way as to make them real. I think it’s easy to forget that these were real people with real lives and it’s so fascinating to see it come alive on the pages. I always learn so much.

Secondary characters. Theo, Justus, Dionysius, the Claudias, the rest of Ariadne’s family…all of them are very unique and present a different look into the times and place in which they lived. Not to mention the hero in this story. Afshar writes great heroes! Though this book isn’t necessarily romance focused, it has a very sweet romance that envelopes slowly on the pages.

Spiritually, I thought the way the author incorporated a faith in Jesus really worked seamlessly with the narrative. I particularly liked how the book doesn’t just end with salvation…the characters must learn to walk and live it out!

What I didn’t like

For me, it felt like I kept waiting for this book to get started. So much of it in the beginning is the laying out of what’s happened and watching Ariadne grow up. I think because the book is titled the Thief of Corinth, I read the book waiting for specific events to happen and actually didn’t get them until much later. For this reason, it felt very slow in the beginning.

Also, strangely enough, I did not connect to Ariadne. I think due to some of the author’s detailed explaining, a distance was created there.

Lastly, my favorite character kept getting the short end of the stick in the book. The author tried to put a positive spin on it, but I just wanted him to really win for once.

Romantic scale: 7

Overall, a good book, though not my favorite from the author.

** I received a copy from Netgalley. My opinion was not affected in anyway.**