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Joanne Bischof’s The Lady and the Lionheart

The Lady and the Lionheart by [Bischof, Joanne]

Virginia, 1890

Raised amid the fame and mystique of the Big Top, Charlie Lionheart holds the audience in the palm of his hand. But while his act captivates thousands, it’s away from the spotlight where his true heart lies. Here he humbly cares for his pride of lions as if they were his brothers, a skill of bravery and strength that has prepared him for his most challenging feat yet—freeing an orphaned infant from the dark bondage of a sideshow. A trade so costly, it requires his life in exchange for hers, leaving him tarnished by the price of that choice.

As the circus tents are raised on the outskirts of Roanoke, nurse Ella Beckley arrives to tend to this Gypsy girl. All under the watchful eye of a guardian who not only bears a striking resemblance to the child, but who protects the baby with a love that wraps around Ella’s own tragic past, awakening a hope that goodness may yet reign. When their forbidden friendship deepens, Charlie dares to ask for her heart, bringing her behind the curtain of his secret world to reveal the sacrifice that gave hope to one little girl—boldly showing Ella that while her tattered faith is deeply scarred, the only marks that need be permanent are his own.

Review

This book has been on my radar for a while now since it won a lot of awards when it came out. I will admit that the circus background was a bit off-putting to me, so in spite of the fact that I had this book, I put off reading it for a while. My thoughts:

What I liked

Setting. I cannot pin down the reason as to why the circus as a background was not initially exciting to me, but it wasn’t. With that said, I really enjoyed being at the circus in this book. Our heroine, Ella, is not any more familiar with the circus than I was, so I liked being exposed to the workings of the circus and seeing it all through her eyes. The author really brings to life the animals, the people, the costumes, the excitement, and even some of the magic of the circus. She also brings forth some of the dark elements of the circus—especially circuses in the 19th century which appear to have been largely unregulated.

Charlie Lionhart. Truly his name fits his character. Charlie is very lionhearted in so many ways. For one, he’s remarkably attached to the lions in the circus. For two, when he loves, he loves big. He includes everybody and he holds nothing back. Charlie was also trustworthy hero because he was a sacrificing hero. There was very little he did in the book for the purpose of just pleasing himself. Honestly, he carried the story. Charlie Lionhart was so fascinating that I found myself reading to find out more about him. That said, he was a little odd. I liked him, I appreciated him, but…if he was real person he probably would have drove me crazy. Kudos to the author for making such a vibrant character.

Beauty and the Beast. Beauty and the Beast is my favorite fairytale of all times and I knew before reading this book that there were elements of it in this story. While not completely consistent with the theme of Beauty and the Beast, it was close enough that I could appreciate what the author was doing. She managed to put her own spin on a familiar tale in a new way.

Spiritually, the novel deals with forgiveness and sacrificial love (i.e. the love of Jesus) and really portrays the two in lovely ways.

What I didn’t like

Ella. Let me just say that for the most part, she was a very good heroine encompassing all of the positive traits: kind, thoughtful, loving, etc., but she would have these moments where she made everything about her. Quite a few times, I wanted to give the girl a good shake and be like this moment, this event, is not about you.

Romantic scale: 8

Overall, I enjoyed this book. It was different, but in a good way.

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Sarah Sundin’s The Land Beneath Us

The Land Beneath Us (Sunrise at Normandy Book #3) by [Sundin, Sarah]

In 1943, Private Clay Paxton trains hard with the US Army Rangers at Camp Forrest, Tennessee, determined to do his best in the upcoming Allied invasion of France. With his future stolen by his brothers’ betrayal, Clay has only one thing to live for–fulfilling the recurring dream of his death.

Leah Jones works as a librarian at Camp Forrest, longing to rise above her orphanage upbringing and belong to the community, even as she uses her spare time to search for her real family–the baby sisters she was separated from so long ago.

After Clay saves Leah’s life from a brutal attack, he saves her virtue with a marriage of convenience. When he ships out to train in England for D-day, their letters bind them together over the distance. But can a love strong enough to overcome death grow between them before Clay’s recurring dream comes true?

Review

This book was definitely one of my most highly anticipated reads of this year. My thoughts:

What I liked

Clay. I’ve been looking forward to meeting Clay since the first book in this series. I was definitely curious about his mindset considering what we learned about him in the previous books from his brothers. Clay does not disappoint. He’s clearly battling what forgiveness looks like while getting past his own hurts. I love that the author doesn’t shy away from how he would have felt as a person of mixed race. Much of Clay’s storyline takes time to knit together the loose threads between him and his brothers and I thought it was done well.

Leah. Leah’s overall personality was unique. She was not one to let bad circumstances dictate her future. I’m not going to say I always related to her, but because she felt very fleshed out, I did understand where she was coming from. She was a very upbeat, resilient, and a kind heroine.

Marriage of Convenience. I love a romance that starts with a marriage. Clay and Leah have different reasons for getting married, but ultimately they want the best for each other. The fact that they are married to each other for most of the book adds a fun layer.

Spiritually, the novel deals with forgiveness and what that really looks like. Further, it deals with trusting God in difficult times.

What I didn’t like

The romance. Let me start off by saying that when Clay and Leah were together, it was lovely. I enjoyed seeing them interact. The problem was, it felt like much of their romance happened offscreen. When they were in the same place at the same time, often we, the reader, would learn that they had done this or that, but were not able to see it. Then, Clay goes to war and while we see a few of their letters to each other, again, most of the interesting tidbits seemed to occur in letters we weren’t shown. I understood the romance, I just would have liked to see it played out a bit more.

Leah’s circumstances. Leah and Clay each have something they are dealing with outside of each other. For me personally, the “thing” Leah is dealing with was sort of…boring. I understood her search and her love for her real family, but the issues she had with the community around her failed to draw me in.

Also, I must admit that the war itself didn’t quite draw me in. I love war fiction, but watching Clay go through training was boring (he trained a lot). I found myself skimming those parts. And then, when Clay was at war, there was an element of removal there. He was so focused on a particular goal that mentally, it was almost like he wasn’t at one of the most dangerous battles ever fought. I imagine that being on the ground for D-Day was traumatic, goal-oriented or not, but Clay didn’t seem to be largely affected by the sights and smells going on around him–and that felt really odd to me.

Romantic scale: 6

Overall, I will admit to some slight disappointment. I love how much time the author took to resolve the issues presented from the start of the series, but it felt like Clay and Leah’s romance took a bit of a hit because of it. Still, love Sarah Sundin and I’m looking forward to what is coming next!

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

 

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Laura Frantz’s An Uncommon Woman

An Uncommon Woman by [Frantz, Laura]

Unflinching and plainspoken, Tessa Swan is not your typical 18th-century woman. Born and bred on the western Virginia frontier along with her five brothers, she is a force to be reckoned with.

Quiet and courageous, Clay Tygart is not your typical 18th-century man. Raised by Lenape Indians, he returns a hero from the French and Indian War to the fort that bears his name, bringing with him Tessa’s long-lost friend, Keturah, a redeemed Indian captive like himself.

Determined to avoid any romantic entanglements as fort commander, Clay remains aloof whenever he encounters the lovely Tessa. But when she is taken captive by the tribe Clay left, his hand–and heart–are forced, leading to one very private and one very public reckoning.

Intense, evocative, and laced with intricate historical details that bring the past to life, An Uncommon Woman will transport you to the picturesque and dangerous western Virginia mountains of 1770.

Review

Laura Frantz is one of my favorite authors because of her attention to historical details and her finely crafted romances. My thoughts:

What I liked

Time period/location. Whenever I read a novel by Frantz, I truly feel transported to whatever time or location she is writing.  It is the attention to the very smallest of details like food and dress that truly bring the time period to life. This book is no different. Between Clay and Keturah, I felt completely immersed in the frontier.

Keturah. Keturah is an uncommon woman (per the title) for her time. She’s bold and while she’s not completely unafraid, she doesn’t let fear hinder her, but she’s not the delicate woman of the 18th century. Because of where she lives, she cannot afford to be. And yet, she never drifts into becoming a 21st century woman…which has a tendency to happen when authors write women who are a bit ahead of their times. She’s a bit more forward, but she still plays by 18th century rules. Also, let’s not forget the backdrop of Indian raids, the British, Americans trying to move into land that’s not theirs….there is a lot of tension in this book that Keturah has to navigate. I would be lying if I didn’t say I was expecting trouble around every corner.

Clay. I liked Clay. Clay’s past has made him into almost two people. He may be white, but he has spent a large part of his youth with the Lenape. It was interesting to see him view situations through both lenses. He’s easily a character that you trust and like.

The plot. This book is definitely more character focused than plot driven. There are a lot of dynamics here as people grapple with life on the frontier. Even though the novel doesn’t have that fast-paced, TV vibe, something is always happening in this book to keep you turning the pages.

The romance. It wasn’t complicated. I enjoyed watching Clay and Keturah dance around each other. I thought it felt realistic to who they were.

Spiritually, the characters pray and learn to trust God.

What I didn’t like

To a degree, Frantz has played with the issues raised in this time period before: Native Americans vs. whites, the American push into the West, white captives and the aftermath thereof. But she does it so well. It’s like looking at the same picture through a different lense. So, I said that to say that if her other novels were not your jam, you might be a bit bored with this one, but if you enjoy being pulled into this part of history, you’ll love it.

The blurb on the back of the book. Let’s just say that it had me looking for something that was a small part of the book.

Also, the ending felt a bit rushed.

Romantic scale: 8

Overall, it was lovely. I thoroughly enjoyed this book and didn’t want to put it down.

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

 

 

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Elizabeth Camden’s Christmas at Whitefriars

Christmas at Whitefriars: A Novella by [Camden, Elizabeth]

Mary Beckwith lives in a magnificent English castle during the twilight years of the gilded age. With the help of an American millionaire, she has succeeded in renovating her beloved Whitefriars castle into a splendid estate just in time for Christmas.

From across the ocean, millionaire Everett Wooten has spent a fortune propping up Whitefriars to add modern conveniences and rebuild crumbling old walls. Even though he’s never met Mary, they have enjoyed a lively business correspondence over the nine years they have been working toward a renovation. Now he has finally come to see Mary and the castle in person, but nothing is as he was led to believe.

Mary and Everett try to find a way forward, but red-blooded American entrepreneurship doesn’t always mingle with blue-blooded English tradition. Can a Manhattan business tycoon and an English lady come to an accord, or will their joint venture in Whitefriars result in heartbreak for them both?

Review

I’m a big fan of Elizabeth Camden and I’ve read the other books in this series, of course I had to read the novella!

What I liked

Characters. This book may have been a novella, but at no point did I feel like I didn’t know the characters. Some of it is helped by the fact that half the cast in the novella are characters from previous books, but some of it is because Camden doesn’t write caricatures. I’ve said it before and I’ll probably say it again: Camden writes the most fascinating heroes. They’re never cookie cutter and I appreciate that she takes the time to really flesh out who they are, flaws and all. She managed to make me curious about Everett long before he appeared on the pages. Everett has one of those personalities that makes social interactions a bit difficult for him, but at the same time, he doesn’t let his personal hang-ups keep him from going after exactly what he wants. Like Everett, Mary too is very well described in the book and Camden always writes smart, knowledgeable heroines. While Mary may not be particularly relatable, you definitely walk away from the story knowing exactly who she is. Unlike Everett, Mary doesn’t have difficulties with interacting with different ones, but she does have a particular psychological issue that she too has to deal with. Except that Mary has let it run her life more than Everett. Watching two people who are the same sides of a flipped coin fall in love was lovely.

Location. Location is a big deal in this book. Through Whitefriars, you see the history of Mary’s family and her world, but also the limitations. There’s definitely a clash of old world/new world that Camden is exploring here and it really shows in the castle. Whitefriars itself almost becomes a character in the novella as the characters learn more about it, explore it, and what on earth to do with it.

Spiritually, the characters pray and have to trust God.

What I didn’t like

The only problem with this book—and  I’m not sure it’s a problem per se—but I feel like with a novella you either go after plot or you go after characterization. There is typically very little space to do both. Here, Camden seemed to go after characterization more so than plot. This is not a page turner. You’re not on the edge of your seat. But it is a lovely romance between two unusual individuals that will draw you in and make you want to read more.

Romantic scale: 8

Overall, for a person like me who generally avoids novellas, I’m glad I read it!

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Roseanna M. White’s On Wings of Devotion

On Wings of Devotion (The Codebreakers Book #2) by [White, Roseanna M.]

All of England thinks Phillip Camden a monster–a man who deliberately caused the deaths of his squadron. But as nurse Arabelle Denler watches the so-dubbed “Black Heart” every day, she sees something far different: a hurting man desperate for mercy. And when their paths twist together and he declares himself her new protector, she realizes she has her own role to play in his healing.

Phillip Camden would have preferred to die that day with his squadron rather than be recruited to the Admiralty’s codebreaking division. The threats he receives daily are no great surprise and, in his opinion, well deserved. What comes as a shock is the reborn desire to truly live that Arabelle inspires in him.

But when an old acquaintance shows up and seems set on using him in a plot that has the codebreakers of Room 40 in a frenzy, new affections are put to the test.

Review

Roseanna M. White is one of my favorite authors, so of course I requested her new book. My thoughts:

What I liked

The premise. I’m going to be honest. I was not especially excited about reading about Phillip. But, it’s Ms. White, so I decided to get the book anyway. And I’m so glad I did. It’s been a long time since I’ve enjoyed a book as much as this one. And the thing that I loved, was that the book never went in the direction that I expected. Almost every single time I thought I knew where this book was going, it would venture off into a completely different direction. Kudos to the author for keeping me on my toes! While this book does have suspenseful elements and a mystery, it was actually the personal life events in the story that really moved it along. I was invested in the story all the way.

Arabelle Denler. It’s been a long time since I so related to a heroine. And I’m not saying that Arabelle and I are in any way alike. It’s just that she became so real, that her pain was my pain and her joy my joy. Arabelle is lady of grace and wisdom and kindness. And she is not afraid to confront the truth. That is not to say that she doesn’t have flaws—she does. But they made sense and they were a part of her without being her.

Phillip. I thought Phillip would be dark and depressing the whole book. But he isn’t. He’s funny and charming even as he’s trying to cope with some pretty weighty moments in his past. But he was so well-developed that I found myself rereading different passages with him in it.

Romance. This book definitely had my favorite kind of romance: one built on a solid foundation of friendship. There is an honesty and openness and such a lack of deceit in their story that I could really root for them.

Historically, the novel takes place during World War I. White introduces a particularly fascinating facet of the war that I had never considered: diving.

Spiritually, the characters pray for themselves and for one another. There are some really lovely moments about facing one’s past and a message of salvation that I thought was presented well. I always find White’s books to be very encouraging.

What I didn’t like

Truthfully, I could have cared less about the villain in this book. The villain did not detract from the story. I was just so invested in Arabelle and Phillip that I didn’t care about the “bad guy”.

Personal note: I’m not typically a fan of one of the elements introduced into the romance here. I’m not going to say what it is as it would be a major spoiler. However, the author did make it work.

Romantic Scale: 9.5

Overall, I loved this book. I can’t wait for the next one.

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

 

 

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Julie Klassen’s The Bridge to Belle Island

The Bridge to Belle Island by [Klassen, Julie]

After a humiliating mistake, lawyer Benjamin Booker resolves to never again trust a beautiful woman. When an old friend is killed, the senior partner isn’t satisfied with Bow Street’s efforts and asks Benjamin to investigate. Eager to leave London for a while, Benjamin agrees. Evidence takes him to a remote island on the Thames, a world unto itself, shrouded in mist and mystery. Soon he finds himself falling for the main suspect–a woman who claims not to have left the island in ten years. But should he trust her?

On Belle Island, Isabelle feels safe and leads a productive life, but fear keeps her trapped there. When Mr. Booker arrives with news of her trustee’s murder in London, Isabelle is stunned. She has not left the island, yet she has a recurring dream about the man’s death. Or is it a memory? She had been furious with him, but she never intended . . . this.

When a second person dies and evidence shockingly points to her, Isabelle doesn’t know who to trust: the attractive lawyer or the admirer and friends who assemble on the island, each with grudges against the victim. Can she even trust her own mind? While they search for the truth, secrets come to light and danger comes calling.

Review

There’s something about Julie Klassen’s novels that reminds me of a good episode of a period piece on television. I always enjoy being swept away to 19th century England with one of her books. My thoughts:

What I liked

The mystery. I really enjoyed the process of the investigation in this novel. It is a classic who-done-it. The murder victim is one of those unlikeable people where everyone and their mama might have killed him. It was so much fun trying out different theories in my mind and just watching everything unravel slowly.

No deception. Benjamin Booker goes to Belle Island to investigate a mystery and low and behold, he manages to solve it without lying or deceiving anyone. There’s a certain honor about Benjamin that shines through in the narrative making him a trustworthy character–even when he feels like he can’t trust himself.

Romance. Because of the honesty of Benjamin Booker, nothing about the romance was off here. And not only his honesty. Isabelle has more than one opportunity to make things complicated and she chooses not to. The main characters were able to build a romance off of trust and friendship and more than that, work together instead of apart, to solve the mystery.

Spiritually, the characters pray and learn to rely on God especially when it comes to anxiety and fears.

What I didn’t like

In the author’s desire I think, to have a wide net of potential killers, she does create a cast and a history that feels a bit clunky at times.

I think that some readers could find this novel to be a bit slow in parts. The mystery really takes its time and you get to know not only the characters but Belle Island. Really, every Julie Klassen novel I’ve ever read, because they’re heavy on character development, are not as fast-paced as many other novels. Her books take place in a slower time period and thus her characters tend to move at a slower pace. It has to be your cup of tea.

Romantic scale: 7.5

Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed it. I found it to be entertaining and fun and very well written. I read it in a day.

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

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Dani Pettrey’s Killing Tide

When one Coast Guard officer is found dead and another goes missing, Coast Guard Investigative Service special agent Finn Walker faces his most dangerous crime yet. His only clues are what little evidence remains aboard the dead officer’s boat, and the direction the clues point to will test Finn and the Guard to their limits.

When investigative reporter–and Finn’s boss’s sister–Gabby Rowley arrives, her unrelenting questions complicate an already volatile situation. Now that she’s back, the tug on Finn’s heart is strong, but with the risks she’s taking for her next big story, he fears she might not live through it.

Thrown together by the heinous crime, Finn and Gabby can’t ignore the sparks or judgments flying between them. But will they be able to see past their preconceptions long enough to track down an elusive killer, or will they become his next mark?

Review

Dani Pettrey has written some of my favorite contemporary mysteries so of course I had to pick up her new one. My thoughts:

What I liked

The use of the Coastguard. Pettrey does her research. I’ve never given much thought to the U.S. Coastguard so it was fascinating to me, as a reader, to learn what all their job entails. I realize this is a novel, but it was very much high action, lots of water, and plenty of nefarious criminals.

Mysteries. There is more than one mystery in this novel and all of them are very layered and complex. They are quite the balls of thread to unravel and you can tell that the author takes her time to craft them. Things also happen very quick. Reading one of Pettrey’s novels is often like watching an episode of NCIS.

Spiritually, the characters pray, realize the importance of accepting God’s grace, and learn to rely on him.

What I didn’t like

Gabby. I’ve never met a female journalist in person. I have, however, met several of them within the confines of fiction. Based off of novels, here is what I have learned about female journalists, they are: abrasive, self-centered, deceptive, they will put themselves and others in danger if it means getting the story, and they don’t care what relationships they have to sacrifice to make things happen. If you can’t tell, I don’t like female main characters who are journalists. I had high hopes Gabby would be different. She wasn’t. I understand that her main goal in the novel was to recognize her own faults. But I was completely turned off by her behavior almost immediately and was therefore unable to connect.

Too much going on. Dani Pettrey almost always starts her novels in medias res. The reader is just dropped there right in the middle of things and relationships. But this one was too much too fast. I read the first three chapters and wondered if I was reading the first book in a series. I had to stop and check Amazon to see if I had missed something. There was so much action and so little character development. This may have worked if the story stayed purely from Gabby and Finn’s point of view. But it didn’t. There were so many characters and I didn’t know who they were (like I knew their names, but not their personalities). I like to see friendships form and relationships develop. Without any kind of background, I found myself largely not caring whose point of view I was reading  cause it all felt the same and I was definitely skimming towards the end.

Romantic scale: 7

Overall, not my favorite book by the author. This may be a personal thing, however. I’m a much more character-driven reader than plot-driven and the little character I got was unfortunately, largely unappealing.

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