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Julie Klassen’s The Ladies of Ivy College

The Ladies of Ivy Cottage (Tales from Ivy Hill Book #2) by [Klassen, Julie]

Return to Ivy Hill in The Ladies of Ivy Cottage as friendships deepen, romances blossom, and mysteries unfold.

Living with the two Miss Groves in Ivy Cottage, impoverished gentlewoman Rachel Ashford is determined to earn her own livelihood . . . somehow. When the village women encourage her to open a subscription library with the many books she has inherited or acquired through donations, Rachel discovers two mysteries hidden among them. A man who once broke her heart helps her search for clues, but will both find more than they bargained for?

Rachel’s friend and hostess, Mercy Grove, has given up thoughts of suitors and fills her days managing her girls’ school. So when several men take an interest in Ivy Cottage, she assumes pretty Miss Ashford is the cause. Exactly what–or who–has captured each man’s attention? The truth may surprise them all.

Meanwhile, life has improved at the coaching inn and Jane Bell is ready to put grief behind her. Now if only the man she misses would return–but where is he?

As the women of Ivy Hill search for answers about the past and hope for the future, might they find love along the way?

Review

I am a huge fan of Julie Klassen. No one does nineteenth century drama quite like her. I mean, she really makes her characters real. At any rate, I was very excited to get my hands on this novel as I really enjoyed the first novel and there were so many loose threads. My thoughts:

What I liked

The series. I read that the author wanted to write a series in a similar vein to the show Cranford. I think she succeeded. If this was a TV show, I would love it. The story is rich and layered and complex. There’s a history in this town with positive and negative relations. Like an onion, every layer is slowly peeled back. Some characters you will like, others you will dislike, but you cannot deny that you will feel like you know them well.

Rachel. I will admit that my first reaction to having Rachel as the main narrator was one of slight disappointment. I really liked being in Jane Bell’s head. However, Rachel grew on me and I found her to be just as interesting as Jane. Like Jane she is changing class and learning all that that encompasses. She also finds herself at the center of a small mystery and unraveling it forces her (and others) to confront some ugly truths.

Mercy. I found her to be so relatable even though I’m clearly not in her shoes. She’s very independent for her day and time and yet still desires a family and a home. The things she goes through in an effort to get them are at times, heartbreaking. I have a suspicion she might be the focus of book three.

 What I didn’t Like

The guy Rachel ends up with was so passive. He kept waiting for her to signal that she wanted him as though he didn’t live in a society where men had most of the power when it came to romantic relations.

There wasn’t enough Gabriel and Jane.

Also I am not terribly fond of the direction a certain someone’s story line is headed in and I hope the matter is resolved quickly in book 3.

Romantic Scale: 7.8

Overall, a very good sequel and I’m looking forward to the next one!

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

 

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Irene Hannon’s Dangerous Illusions

Dangerous Illusions (Code of Honor Book #1) by [Hannon, Irene]

Trish Bailey is on overload trying to deal with a demanding job, an ailing mother, and a healing heart. When a series of unsettling memory lapses leads to a tragic death–and puts Trish under police scrutiny–her world is once again thrown into turmoil.

Detective Colin Flynn isn’t certain what to think of the facts he uncovers during his investigation. Did Trish simply make a terrible mistake or is there more to the case than meets the eye? As he searches for answers, disturbing information begins to emerge–and if the forces at work are as evil as he suspects, the situation isn’t just dangerous . . . it’s deadly.

Bestselling and award-winning author Irene Hannon captures readers with a mind-bending story that will have them doubling back to retrace their steps–and figure out what they missed!

Review

Irene Hannon writes very solid suspense novels and this one is no different. My thoughts:

What I liked

The mystery/suspense. Hannon always sets up a lovely mystery (not quite a mystery since you know who the bad guy is). Right away you’re immersed into a who-done-it situation/ how-did-they-do-it situation. The way the characters work out what’s happening is always realistic and on point. Kudos to Hannon for not creating dumbed down characters. Her setups are complex and fascinating. Also, even though you know who the bad guy is, there are still a lot of little mysteries that, when solved, are a bit shocking.

Well-written. I found this novel to be typical Hannon–very well written. I only planned to read some of the book when I first opened it, but read far more. It’s an easy read.

Spiritually, the characters believe in God and pray.

What I didn’t like

I think I just have to accept that Hannon writes the same heroine and hero in each novel. Her mysteries are all different, but the people solving them are all the same…in spite of the fact that they usually have different back stories. It’s so bad, that my mom (who loves Hannon) and I spent ten minutes on Amazon trying to figure out if we had met these characters already.

Romantic Scale: 7

Overall a very solid and dependable Irene Hannon novel. You won’t be disappointed.

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

 

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Irma Joubert The Crooked Path

The Crooked Path by [Joubert, Irma]

Lettie has always felt different from and overshadowed by the women around her– this friend is richer, that friend is more beautiful, those friends are closer. Still, she doesn’t let this hold her back. She works hard to apply her mind, trying to compensate for her perceived lack of beauty with diligent academic work and a successful career as a doctor. She learns to treasure her friendships, but she still wonders if any man will ever return her interest.

Marco’s experience in the second world war have robbed him of love and health. When winters in his native Italy prove dangerous to his health even after the war has ended, he moves to South Africa to be with his brother, husband to one of Lettie’s best friends. Marco is Lettie’s first patient, and their relationship grows as she aids him on the road back to restored health.

In the company of beloved characters from The Child of the River, Marco and Lettie find a happiness that neither of them thought possible. With that joy comes pain and loss, but Lettie learns that life—while perhaps a crooked path—is always a journey worth taking.

Review

I have read every book written by Irma Joubert that has been translated into English. I am a big fan. My thoughts regarding this book:

What I liked:

Relatable heroines. Joubert always manages to write wonderful heroines. They are strong and smart and from the first page you will find yourself invested in their story. Lettie is no different. Having read other books by the author I had come across Lettie before and it was nice to be in her head. She has real insecurities that are completely relatable and yet she works so hard to be successful. She is kind and smart and thoughtful and easy to root for.

History. This book takes place during WW2 (and just after) in Europe and in South Africa. While I have some familiarity with Europe during WW2, I don’t have as much with South Africa. Knowing so little about South Africa, I found everything about it fascinating.

Secondary characters. It’s probably because I’ve read other books with these characters, but I found myself so curious about everyone and the different relationships between them. I rejoiced when they rejoiced and cried when they cried.

Romance. Joubert writes romances that heartfelt and deep and have such a way of sneaking up on you.

Spiritually, I will admit the characters have a tendency to come off as religious, but they do pray and attend church.

What I didn’t Like

Pacing. The pacing in this book felt a bit off.  It was slow when I thought it should have been fast and fast when I wanted to tell it to slow down. This book scanned decades. I had no problem with that I just was so confused by some of the decades she chose to focus on and the ones she chose to speed through.

Romantic Scale: 8

Overall, while this wasn’t my favorite book by Joubert (that would be The Girl From the Train), I was glad to read it and will continue to read anything she writes (that’s translated to English!).

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

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Bethany Turner’s The Secret Life of Sarah Hollenbeck

The Secret Life of Sarah Hollenbeck by [Turner, Bethany]

Becoming a Christian is the best and worst thing that has ever happened to Sarah Hollenbeck. Best because, well, that’s obvious. Worst because, up to this point, she’s made her very comfortable living as a well-known, bestselling author of steamy romance novels that would leave the members of her new church blushing. Now Sarah is trying to reconcile her past with the future she’s chosen. She’s still under contract with her publisher and on the hook with her enormous fan base for the kind of book she’s not sure she can write anymore. She’s beginning to think that the church might frown on her tithing on royalties from a “scandalous” book. And the fact that she’s falling in love with her pastor doesn’t make things any easier.

With a powerful voice, penetrating insight, and plenty of wit, Bethany Turner explodes onto the scene with a debut that isn’t afraid to deal with the thorny realities of living the Christian life.

Review

It’s not often I pick up a debut author’s book without reading any reviews, but after reading the blurb of this book I was completely hooked. My thoughts:

What I Liked

The topic. I loved, loved, loved the idea of a steamy romance novelist getting saved and falling for a pastor and kind of dealing with the fallout of that. I thought the author did a lovely job of raising all the issues and problems that a situation like that would bring because the issues Sarah faced felt real. I like that the author doesn’t shy away from sexual temptation and what that looks like. She also provides some practical ways a believer can address those kinds of concerns. She faces tough topics straight on without brushing past them and it really made this novel standout.

Dating. Okay, this book suffers from one of my least favorite tropes: insta-love. And when I say insta-love, they were bringing up the “L” word on the first date. That said, I love the way the author walked them through their courtship. I love that they set up rules to follow and that one of those rules was to be completely honest with each other. Both Sarah and her guy really worked to make their relationship a success and to have a relationship built on a solid foundation.

Spiritually, you see Sarah get saved and how being saved isn’t always the easiest thing…especially if you have to disconnect from your former life. We certainly see Sarah learn how to navigate this new facet of her life throughout the tale.

What I Didn’t Like

Telling. There was just so much telling in this book. Because this book is first person narrative (and I don’t mind that) a lot of Sarah’s past is revealed through her own personal summary which she tells the reader. Then Sarah has a friend that she uses as a sounding board throughout the entire novel (we learn almost next to nothing about the girl) where they literally just meet only to talk about Sarah. Then we are told that Sarah falls instantly in love with her guy and him with her, so we don’t get to see that develop as a reader. Then her and her guy spend a lot of time talking and rarely doing stuff that shows us things about their character. With all the telling, I found myself not as invested in the characters and as this is not a plot driven novel, it would have benefited from stronger character development. As a reader, I didn’t know the characters past what they told me about themselves and thus, I found myself skimming a lot.

*Personal pet peeve. This doesn’t affect the rating of the book, but and this may be spoilery, a pastor and his wife are both called to ministry, in my opinion. I have no problem with a pastor’s wife having a colorful past when unsaved, I do have a problem with a pastor’s wife only being saved a few months before becoming a pastor’s wife. It just seemed like she needed to be a stronger, more tested believer and no one seemed to bring that up. But again, that’s just me.

Romantic scale: 5

Overall, kudos to the author for tackling this subject matter! I’m very interested to see what she does next.

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

 

 

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Elizabeth Camden’s A Dangerous Legacy

A Dangerous Legacy (An Empire State Novel Book #1) by [Camden, Elizabeth]

Lucy Drake’s mastery of Morse code has made her a valuable asset to the American news agencies as a telegrapher. But the sudden arrival of Sir Colin Beckwith at rival British news agency Reuters puts her hard-earned livelihood at risk. Newly arrived from London, Colin is talented, handsome, and insufferably charming.

Despite their rivalry, Lucy realizes Colin’s connections could be just what her family needs to turn the tide of their long legal battle over the fortune they were swindled out of forty years ago. When she negotiates an unlikely alliance with him, neither of them realizes how far the web of treachery they’re wading into will take them.

Review

Elizabeth Camden is an auto-buy author for me…not because I love everything she writes. It’s because she’s a good writer and more than that…one of those rare ones who is able to create different heroines and heroes in each novel. I never know what to expect and I love that feeling. I will admit that with this one, I started it, and then put it back down. Usually I can tell where a book is going almost from the first few chapters. I couldn’t with this one. However, once I picked it back up, I fell in love with it. My thoughts:

What I liked

The plot. Here we have a bit of a Bleak House (Charles Dickens) situation. Lucy and her brother are in the midst of fighting a legal case that’s been fought for generations. The family that they’re fighting though is not just legally annoying; they do everything they can to tear down Lucy and her brother’s life. Then you have Colin who is a titled gentleman from London. At first I didn’t know where he fit in as he is trying to marry an heiress. And yet somehow these two plots managed to get tangled in such a lovely way.

Lucy. My initial reaction was oh goodness, Lucy is going to be one of those heroines who is really rabid about something to the point where she  puts it above everything else…but she’s not. She’s kind and generous and smart and thoughtful (Camden creates some of the most brilliant heroines). Obviously she cares about the legal case but that’s because she has an innate sense of justice. The case does drive her, but never to the point where she becomes unlikeable.

Colin. Colin is a man with a great sense of duty and honor. Even though he’s trying to marry an heiress, you know it’s because he cares about his tenants at home and taking care of his family line. I like that he’s a man who can take charge and still lives with his nanny. He’s very smart and brave and yet suffers from a malady that makes him look weak. He’s complex, but loveable.

The romance. This was a romance based on honesty. Thank you Elizabeth Camden. Colin and Lucy are completely upfront with each other regarding what they want. There are no secrets and no hissy-fits. They enter their friendship/relationship with their eyes open. And this served to make their romance just that more tender, just that more sweet.

The history. I managed to learn so much about this era in time, about plumbing, about honing pigeons, about journalism, about telegrams and so much more…all without the author stopping to give me long paragraphs explaining how it worked. She was able to interweave all these facts into the narrative effortlessly.

Spiritually, both Colin and Lucy learn what’s really important in life and once they’re willing to give it up and trust God, He will make a way.

What I didn’t like

I guess I should say the beginning since it didn’t draw me in right away, but other than that, I really had fun with this book.

Romantic scale: 8

Overall, a real winner. As always I’m looking forward to the next Camden novel

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

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Dani Pettrey’s Blindspot

Blind Spot (Chesapeake Valor Book #3) by [Pettrey, Dani]

FBI agent Declan Grey is in the chase of his life–but isn’t sure exactly what he’s chasing after. Threatened by a terrorist that “the wrath is coming,” Grey fears something horrible is about to be unleashed on American soil. When his investigation leads him to a closed immigrant community, he turns to Tanner Shaw to help him. She’s sought justice for refugees and the hurting around the world, and if there’s anyone who can help him, it’s Tanner.

Tanner Shaw has joined the FBI as a crisis counselor . . . meaning she now has more opportunity to butt heads with Declan. But that tension also includes a spark she can’t deny, and she’s pretty sure Declan feels the same. But before anything can develop between them, they discover evidence of a terror cell–and soon are in a race against the clock to stop the coming “wrath” that could cost thousands their lives.

Review

I’m always excited when a Dani Pettrey novel comes out. She always manages to combine romance, a big family (whether biologically related or not) and a good mystery. My thoughts:

What I liked:

Plot driven. It’s not often I read a plot driven novel, but this one is definitely that. There is a lot going. Almost on every page there’s a revelation or someone being shot or something random happening. It’s a very quick-paced book that makes for a quick read.

Tanner and Declan. We’ve been getting tidbits about them from previous novels and so it was nice to get them on the page. I liked what I read, I only wished I could have learned more (see below).

The cast of characters. Pettrey has created a nice mix of main and secondary characters who have their own talents and gifts and quirks. They come together and feel like family.

The way the book ended. That was a lovely cliffhanger ending. I’ve been waiting for it since book one and I’m very excited to see where the author takes things.

Spiritually, the novel has characters who pray and seek God’s direction throughout the novel.

What I didn’t like:

Mystery. There are two mysteries in this book. There’s a murder/stealing one and there’s an international one that has been carried over from the last book. The problem was that I didn’t remember the details of the last book. I felt a bit lost in the latter mystery and it took me a while to find my footing or really care. And when I don’t care about a mystery I fall back on the characters. But that lead me to another problem…

Too many characters. I like all of the characters that Pettrey has in the series. The problem though, was that the main characters, Declan and Tanner, really kind of suffered here. Obviously if you’ve been reading the series, then as a reader you’ve been introduced to them already, however, I was fully expecting to get behind the surface of them. Instead, I maybe learned one or two new things about them and the everything else was superficial. But the reason for this I thought was because the author was too busy telling other people’s stories…people who already had their own books. I wanted more Declan and Tanner (who is not American born so why is her name Tanner??).

Which leads me to my last problem, the romance.  I didn’t get to know who Declan and Tanner are (ok we learn an interesting tidbit about Tanner and then that’s it. No more. Nothing about her family or culture). Having read the other books, I felt like Declan and Tanner got the short end of the stick in the telling of their story.

Romantic scale: 7

Overall, a very good, quick read. I felt like I was watching an hour of mystery on tv. I would have wished for more fleshed out characters…to learn why they think the way they do or tick a certain way and I felt like I didn’t get that with this one. Nevertheless, I am sure most people won’t have the hangups I did. Looking forward to the fourth one!

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

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Tamera Alexander’s Christmas at Carnton

Christmas at Carnton: A Novella by [Alexander, Tamera]

A Christmas story to launch a brand new three-book series . . . The Carnton Novels

Amid war and the fading dream of the Confederacy, a wounded soldier and a destitute widow discover the true meaning of Christmas – and of sacrificial love.
Recently widowed, Aletta Prescott struggles to hold life together for herself and her six-year old son.With the bank threatening to evict, she discovers an advertisement for the Women’s Relief Society auction and applies for a position – only to discover it’s been filled. Then a chance meeting with a wounded soldier offers another opportunity – and friendship. But can Aletta trust this man?
Captain Jake Winston, a revered Confederate sharpshooter, suffered a head wound at the Battle of Chickamauga. When doctors deliver their diagnosis, Jake fears losing not only his greatest skill but his very identity. As he heals, Jake is ordered to assist with a local Women’s Relief Society auction. He respectfully objects.Kowtowing to a bunch of “crinolines” isn’t his idea of soldiering. But orders are orders, and he soon discovers this group of ladies – one, in particular – is far more than he bargained for.
Set against the backdrop and history of the Carnton Plantation in Franklin, Tennessee, Christmas at Carnton is a story of hope renewed and faith restored at Christmas.
Review
Tamera Alexander is an auto-buy author for me because of her lovely detailed romances and her ability to effortlessly interweave history throughout her narrative. My thoughts:
What I liked:
Aletta. Immediately she becomes a character that I feel for. She is a war widow with one child and another on the way and she is having serious money problems. She’s also a woman who has gifts and talents that are not necessarily attributed to women in that day. She’s a hard worker and she makes so many sacrifices all while going through a very difficult time. I very  much liked her.
Jake. Jake is battling losing a piece of his identity and learning a new way of life he didn’t plan for. He is kind and compassionate and willing to admit when he makes mistakes.
Romance. Together Aletta and Jake make sense. At first, I didn’t think they would because there is something strange about a man courting a pregnant woman, but it worked here. In typical Alexander fashion, you see the two of them become friends first before they really fall for each other. At the end of the novel, you have a romance they believe in.
Spiritually, both Aletta and Jake must learn to trust God in difficult, unexpected times.
What I Didn’t Like
I thought the pacing was fine, but I could see how some people might have found this book to be a bit slow at times. This is not a plot driven book. It’s very much character driven.
Also this is a personal preference, but I am not sure why these people in these huge plantation homes are so interesting. For me the least interesting part of the novel is learning about the people at Carnton (nevertheless I shall read this series).
Romantic scale: 8
Overall, I really enjoyed this novella. The best part was that it didn’t actually feel like a novella. Every character was so fully crafted and rounded. It’s a lovely start to a new series and I can’t wait to read more!
* I received a copy from Netgalley. My opinion was not affected in anyway.**