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Shelley Shepard Gray’s All In

All In (The Bridgeport Social Club Series Book 2) by [Gray, Shelley Shepard]

Meredith Hunt is content with her solo life. She owns and runs a successful Pilates studio, volunteers at the high school every week, and recently bought a house. She can take care of herself, which is good because she has a hard time relying on other people. When she’s mugged and a handsome man comes to her rescue, she doesn’t know how to accept his help-or how to stop staring into his chocolate-brown eyes.

Ace Vance moved to Bridgeport to offer his fifteen-year-old son, Finn, a better life. Here, Finn has a chance to play football for a good team and maybe even earn a college scholarship. And Ace scored a job at a top-notch garage, where he gets to fix up classic cars. Plus, they could both use some distance from Finn’s toxic mom. The last thing on his mind is falling in love, but he can’t help offering assistance to a gorgeous redhead in need.

Thrown together by a careless criminal, Meredith and Ace can’t deny their attraction. But can they open their hearts-and their lives-to make room for love?

Shelley Shepard Gray’s Bridgeport Social Club series explores how communities can come together to support each other, whether it’s around a poker table, in a Pilates studio, or anywhere in between. Get ready to fall in love with a group of men and women who, even when they feel lost, refuse to lose hope.

Review

Shelley Shepard Gray can write some really good romance novels, but more than that she has a way of bringing a freshness to the genre…which is why I read this book even though I knew it wouldn’t be quite on the same…spiritual level as her other series. My thoughts:

What I liked

Relationships. This is a book about relationships and there are a lot of great ones. First, there is Finn and Ace. Ace has always been there for Finn as a dad, but he hasn’t been “all in” like he should be. The novel does a lovely job of showing what surface parenting is verses being a full time parent. It even addresses the problems that might arise when you’re not totally committed. That said, watching Finn and Ace really get to know each other made me really love the characters.

Secondly, there was, of course, Ace and Meredith. I thought Gray did a lovely job of showing a new relationship coming together. There were insecurities on both sides and both characters had past relationships that didn’t end so well, nevertheless that kind of theme of going “all in” was there and it made for a very cute romance without drama. Also, I loved that theirs was a relationship with a lot of give and take. Ace is there for Meredith and Meredith is there for Ace. It was a relationship you could believe in.

Thirdly, Meredith and Finn. I think it would have been easy for Gray to gloss over Finn and Meredith’s relationship but she does a lovely job of crafting their relationship outside of Meredith and Ace.

Fourthly, friendship in general. Ace has his friends and Meredith has hers. I think the overarching theme of this series is the importance of stepping out of yourself and developing relationships…especially when it’s not easy or comfortable.

What I didn’t like

There were four points of views in this novel. One of those povs could have been cut.

There was a moment or so when I wanted to tell Meredith to have some backbone. She was supposed to be withdrawn and independent, but every decision she made seemed to come from someone who was just needy.

I will say that though I knew this wasn’t going to be a “Christian” romance per se, I was still surprised by some of the choices the author made. And not necessarily in a good way. When I consider all of the other books she has written, I was left more than a little confused about things.

Overall, I read this book because I wanted something light and fluffy. I got that. But. I just may not be reviewing this series anymore on my blog as it not within the purview of my typical reviews.

**I received a copy of this book from Blackstone Publishing through Netgalley. My opinion was not affected in anyway.**

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Tamera Alexander’s With This Pledge

With this Pledge (The Carnton Series Book 1) by [Alexander, Tamera]Elizabeth “Lizzie” Clouston’s quietly held principles oppose those of the Southern Cause–but when forty thousand soldiers converge on the fields of Franklin, Tennessee, the war demands an answer. The Carnton home, where she is governess, is converted into a Confederate hospital, and Lizzie is called upon to assist the military doctor with surgeries that determine life or death. Faced with the unimaginable, she must summon fortitude, even as she fears for the life of Towny, her fiancé and lifelong friend.

As a young soldier lies dying in Lizzie’s arms, she vows to relay his final words to his mother, but knows little more than the boy’s first name. That same night, decorated Mississippi sharpshooter Captain Roland Ward Jones extracts a different promise from Lizzie: that she intervene should the surgeon decide to amputate his leg.

Lizzie is nothing if not a woman of her word, earning the soldiers’ respect as she tends to the wounded within Carnton’s walls. None is more admiring than Captain Jones, who doesn’t realize she is pledged to another. But as Lizzie’s heart softens toward the Confederate captain, she discovers his moral ground is at odds with her own. Now torn between love, principles, and pledges made, she struggles to be true to her own heart while standing for what she knows is right–no matter the cost.

Review

Tamera Alexander is easily one of my favorite authors. I love her style of writing, I love the way she crafts her romances, and I love her attention to detail. That said, this book did not work for me. My thoughts:

What I liked

This book, more than any other of Alexander’s “Plantation” books really explores the complexity of slavery and Christian slaveowners. I thought she did a really good job of showing the layers of slavery and its effects on people personally and often professionally. Without telling you that slavery is wrong, through her characters she’s able to show you (almost too well, but more on that later).

Furthermore, she was really able to take a moment in history (there’s a battle/hospital scene) and really make it come to life with her descriptions. You could really see it and smell it and experience it.

I have read all of Alexander’s books and she continually amazes me by creating characters that are very different from one another and yet none of them are cookie-cutter. Lizzie is a very soft-hearted character (often too soft hearted) and you could really see that in every action and decision that she made.

What I didn’t like

Usually, Alexander interweaves history with fiction well. In this book, there were too many times where it just didn’t work. I would instantly know that the speech someone was giving was probably real, or the letter being read was genuine, or the description of some scene was used by a person who had actually been present at that time. It took me out of the story each time because it just didn’t flow. Instead it felt like Alexander did a ton of research and did her best to include as much as she could. It was too much.

It got slow. I don’t mind slow. Especially from master-crafts of characters like Alexander. But most of this book takes place in one location and I felt like I was there forever. I definitely was skimming the second half.

The setting. Let me first start by saying I really don’t care for the Plantation settings that Alexander has been on a kick with lately. I say this as someone who loves all things Civil War. I love Civil War fiction, I visit battle sites (and Plantation homes), I watch documentaries…I just plain find it all fascinating. So, it’s not the time period or the era that bothers me. At all. It’s this strange romanticizing of Plantation homes and their owners that I struggle with. She is constantly trying to convince me that they were good, honorable people. I am quite simply not buying. That said, I’ve been able to push past it with her other books, but I think because Alexander tackled the issue of Christians owning slaves, I found it really didn’t work with this book.

I have always found it incredibly difficult to reconcile the idea of godly people being slaveowners but in this book we actually get some stories from the slaves themselves about their owners. And they’re awful. On the one hand I’m presented with the owners of Carnton as examples of all things godly, on the other hand I learn they sent their slaves down south so they wouldn’t run away and the one slave they kept is slightly terrified of them at times. So, yeah. That didn’t work.

 Then we have the hero, Roland, who is also a slaveowner but held up to be honorable, kind, thoughtful, pious, and everything that a hero should be. Except his views on slaves, while a product of its times, made him not a romantic figure in my mind. In fact, one of his slaves describes a horrific event that took place either under Roland or under Roland’s father’s authority and so now I’m really not liking the man. I get that Christian people owned slaves, but being cruel to their slaves is just mind-blowing to me. And when he complained about them running away…

By the end of the book I could have cared less about Roland and Carnton and Carnton’s owners. Like go fly a kite.

I get it. People are complex. And it cannot be easy to write a book that is accurate when it comes to the way in which people thought back then. But when these people are held up as a godly standard, and their slaves tiptoe around them, their piety just reads as false to me. And I’m not saying you can’t like problematic people. You absolutely can. Hello, Rhett Butler (talk about charming). And I have read Christian books with slaveowners as heroes that I actually liked (Charles in Lynn Austin’s Candle in the Darkness). But Roland didn’t work and I think it boils down to the fact that you can’t be presented as both kind and cruel. Either the hero stays a little bit cruel to everyone all the time or he transitions from cruel to kind. But he can’t be both. And Roland was both. As a commentary, his personality worked. As a romantic hero, he failed.

Overall, not my favorite. But I’ll still read the next book she writes.

 **I received a complimentary copy of this book from Thomas Nelson through NetGalley. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.**

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Sarah Sundin’s The Sky Above Us

The Sky Above Us (Sunrise at Normandy Book #2) by [Sundin, Sarah]

Numbed by grief and harboring shameful secrets, Lt. Adler Paxton ships to England with the US 357th Fighter Group in 1943. Determined to become an ace pilot, Adler battles the German Luftwaffe in treacherous dogfights in the skies over France as the Allies struggle for control of the air before the D-day invasion.

Violet Lindstrom wanted to be a missionary, but for now she serves in the American Red Cross, where she arranges entertainment for the men of the 357th in the Aeroclub on base and sets up programs for local children. Drawn to the mysterious Adler, she enlists his help with her work and urges him to reconnect with his family after a long estrangement.

Despite himself, Adler finds his defenses crumbling when it comes to Violet. But D-day draws near. And secrets can’t stay buried forever.

Bestselling author Sarah Sundin returns readers to the shores of Normandy, this time in the air, as the second Paxton brother prepares to face the past–and the most fearsome battle of his life.

Review

I had other books in my queue to read, but when I saw this one on Netgalley I pushed all of those away. I was super excited about this book because I was completely fascinated by the Paxton storyline from the first book. And more important than all of that, it delivered. My thoughts:

What I liked

Adler. Actually, I didn’t like him at first because of what I learned about him in the first book, but I knew somehow, someway Sundin would make me like him and she did. To be perfectly honest, he’s arrogant and rather dismissive of those who are not like him. But he undergoes such a transformation throughout the story and becomes a very humble and likeable guy. He’s not without his faults, but that only serves to make his character richer. Adler has quite the past he has to wrestle with (kudos to the author for making such a hero). It would have been easy to dismiss some of it, but I thought Sundin did a lovely job of confronting everything without lessening who Adler was.

Violet. Violet was an interesting foil to Adler. In many ways, the two of them were cut from the same cloth because they both start off as pig-headed and bit prideful. While her transformation is not as dramatic as Adler’s, it still was an important one to follow. I found her personality to be a good match for Adler’s…especially as she had to deal with some of the fallout of his choices.

History. I love, love, love WWII fiction. The last book was about the navy, this book was from the point of view of the air. You really learn a lot about the conditions of pilots in WWII and a lot of situations they had to face. I also learned a lot about the Red Cross. I had never really considered anything that they did besides nursing. Sundin was able to immerse herself (and her readers) into the time period easily without making anyone feel like they were inundated with facts (I will say that sometimes the characters phrases sounded corny, but I’m also not going to say people didn’t talk like that either).

Overall story. I really like how Sundin is telling the Paxton brothers’ story. Not only do you have D-Day from the point of view of air, land, and sea, but you have this family drama that is slowly unraveling with each book. You keep getting a piece of it from each of the men’s narrative and the more you find out the more it becomes slightly horrifying and completely intriguing (idk what that says about me).

Spiritually, I loved the concept of what it looks like to accept God’s forgiveness, forgiving yourself and others, realizing what pride really looks like, and the simple fact that actions have consequences.

What I didn’t like

I mostly liked Violet. I understood Violet. But sometimes she was frustrating to me. There is a scene where I thought if she had acted one way, she would have saved herself a lot of frustration later. Still, in spite of this, the story was good.

Sundin does follow her typical formula where each main character has one or two flaws that they specifically work on in the story. While it is kind of routine, it doesn’t detract from the story.

Romantic scale: 7.5

Overall, a very good book. I desperately want the third book about Clay. His story is really setting up to be quite the crescendo.

** I received a complimentary copy of this book from Revell through NetGalley. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.**

 

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Laura Frantz’s An Unbound Heart

A Bound Heart by [Frantz, Laura]

Though Magnus MacLeish and Lark MacDougall grew up on the same castle grounds, Magnus is now laird of the great house and the Isle of Kerrera. Lark is but the keeper of his bees and the woman he is hoping will provide a tincture that might help his ailing wife conceive and bear him an heir. But when his wife dies suddenly, Magnus and Lark find themselves caught up in a whirlwind of accusations, expelled from their beloved island, and sold as indentured servants across the Atlantic. Yet even when all hope seems dashed against the rocky coastline of the Virginia colony, it may be that in this New World the two of them could make a new beginning–together.

Review

I always look forward to Laura Frantz’s historical fiction novels (with romance) and this one was no different. My thoughts:

What I liked

The premise. I’ve never read an indentured servant story quite like this one. Frantz does a very good job of showing just how difficult it must have been to be sentenced to an indenture and what that life would have probably looked like for people in that kind of situation.

History. As always, I learned a lot without feeling as though I had been taught. Frantz is able to insert a lot of small facts in her narrative that show that she did her research without beating the reader over the head with it. She also spends quite some time in the Caribbean which is definitely an area in which I knew very little about.

The romance. To be honest, the hero and heroine did not actually have a lot of time together on the pages to fall in love, but the author set up such an intensely felt back story that I found myself rooting for them almost right away and never wanted to stop.

Spiritually, both main characters are believers and show it well with their actions. I love how no matter how difficult things got, Magnus’ faith never strayed. He’s a solid rock of a character. Lark constantly and consistently shows Christ’s love by loving others when it’s easy and when it’s difficult.

What I didn’t like

After reading what the book was about, I kept waiting for certain events to happen right away. The book felt a bit like it was taking its time to get there. In other words, the beginning was a little slow.

Also, the main characters, at one point, are separated for about 25% percent of the book (which I’m never a fan of) and what happens in that portion, while interesting, was also predictable.

The ending was fast. If this is a series, it works. I’m totally buying the next one. If this is a stand-alone, then there were too many loose threads for me.

Romantic scale: 8

Overall, I enjoyed this book so much more than I thought I would (it started slow folks). The characters had me completely invested and kept me thoroughly entertained.

**I received a complimentary copy of this book from Revell through NetGalley. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.**