Book Review: The Cabinets of Barnaby Mayne

The Cabinets of Barnaby Mayne
by Elsa Hart

My rating: 4 / 5
Genre: Historical mystery

Cabinets

London, 1703–Cecily enters the house of famous collector Barnaby Mayne. In a circle of men who store and display wonders of the natural world, Mayne has the largest collection around. Cecily simply wants to use his cabinets to put identifications to her own small collection of pressed plants. Instead, she gets embroiled in a murder mystery when Sir Barnaby is slain. Though one man admits to the crime at the discovery of the body, Cecily uncovers too many inconsistencies to believe his hasty confession. Finding the truth will prove even more difficult than finding any particular item in the cabinets of Barnaby Mayne.

I was initially drawn to this book because of the cover, but I wondered if it might turn out to be a slow, dusty read. While there were a few small spots that dragged when cabinet contents were focused on now and then, overall, I didn’t have a problem with the pacing. The main characters were the highlight of the book, and the mystery itself was engaging.

Cecily is a strong, independent woman who has endured much in this world where women are not expected to participate in the affairs of men. There is also Meacan, who was a childhood friend of Cecily’s, though the two lost touch over the years. Meacan has been employed at Sir Barnaby’s house, and the two make quite the pair as the investigation picks up. For as much as I liked Cecily, Meacan was an even more interesting character. I certainly hope we get to see a lot more of her in the future, compared to the smaller role she had overall in this book.

I had a few theories about who the real murderer was and why, and even about why the confessor would admit to a crime he didn’t commit. While my initial guess on the latter turned out to be true, I had no clue about the murderer, even up to the reveal. Overall, it seemed to me like no one really had much of a motive for the murder, even though just about everyone seemed to have the opportunity. Looking back, the clues were mostly there, but meager enough, and stretched far enough apart, that I wasn’t exactly kicking myself for not solving it.

The writing and descriptions, as well as the dialog, gave the book just the right historical feel without bogging down the story. There is plenty of intrigue in the lives of both Cecily and Meacan to make them characters you want to follow into a series, and the ending definitely hints at more to come, though I see no specific indication that this is the first in a series. I certainly hope it is. My only real gripe is that the entire first chapter seemed completely unnecessary to me. I don’t really understand why it was needed. If it was simply to give us a glimpse at a character that would come into play more later, the scene could have gone a whole different way that would play into the story in this book a lot more. Otherwise, though, I think mystery lovers, especially those who like historical fiction, will enjoy this book.

Thank you so much to Netgalley and St. Martin’s Press for providing me a copy of this book to review!

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Publication date: August 4, 2020

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Book Review: Loving a Rebel

Loving a Rebel
Glory, Montana #1, The Preacher’s Daughters
by Linda Ford

My rating: 4 / 5
Genre: Historical Christian romance

To avoid succumbing to a winter storm, Flora Kinsley and Kade Thomas are forced to spend two whole days alone together in Kade’s small dwelling. The year is 1884, and Flora’s dad is a strict preacher, who she knows will not take kindly to the circumstances. With her honor and reputation at stake, will Flora’s rebel heart be forced into a marriage she does not want, or will Kade be able to convince either of the two stubborn Kinsleys into an amicable arrangement?

This is a short, clean romance that hits the nail on the head in regards to a person of Flora’s personality–simply that forcing her to do something will only lead to rebellion and hardship. I’ve always appreciated a well-done story about two characters who are thrust into a relationship or marriage and have to learn how to make it work. That isn’t quite how this story plays out, but it was still a good read.

From early in the book, as Flora and Kade spend their two days together, it is clear that they are both completely different in the taking-risks department. Yet, they begin to learn from each other and minds and hearts are eventually changed. I really appreciated the depth we delve into the reasons behind why both of these characters are how they are, which I wouldn’t have expected in such a short space. One thing that bothered me, though, is just how stubborn everyone in this book is. No one is willing to bend when it seems like they have no reason to be so firm. The preacher annoyed me in particular, given the way he acted toward Kade even way past the point when he had any reason to treat him that way.

There is one particular character who seemed a bit over-the-top, which I think is because I sensed his inclusion as a simple plot-driver more than I normally would. In the end, though, I was a little amused by him, which is pretty strange, given how he acted in the book. There’s a large part of me that would like to hear more about him in the future–perhaps a change in perspective, maybe even a conversion.

There are points in the book that felt way too modern to me, given the time period. Overall, though, I enjoyed the story. It is the beginning of a series, which I do intend to continue at this point. I recommend this book to fans of Christian historical romances, and have high hopes for the rest of the series.

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Book Review: A Bride of Convenience

A Bride of Convenience
The Bride Ships
#3
by Jody Hedlund

My rating: 3.5 / 5
Genre: Historical Christian romance

Bride

In the 1860s, women were shipped from England to Victoria, in what is now Canada, to become wives for the bachelors who lived and worked in the British colonies. Author Jody Hedlund imagines what might have happened to some of the women on those ships in her series The Bride Ships. This is book #3 of that series, though can be read as a standalone. Only a day off the ship, Zoe becomes the guardian of an abandoned infant. While a local pastor named Abe attempts to find the baby’s father, Zoe resolves to care for the baby herself. But single-motherhood is not only difficult, but nearly impossible in this untamed land. Through a misunderstanding, Zoe and Abe marry and then are faced with the difficult decisions that come from a hasty marriage of convenience.

Marriages of convenience have always been something that draw my attention, especially in a Christian setting. The story of Zoe and Abe and how they get to know each other, become friends, and hope for more, was sweet and captivating. If my rating were based only on that, it would have been at least 4 stars, maybe more. However, my lower rating is because of the physical lust that I had to wade through.

I’ll start with the positives, though, because outside of the physical stuff, or if I’d been able to skip over it, I really enjoyed the overall story. I liked both of the main characters as individuals, which seems fairly uncommon in romances I read these days. Abe had some issues being assertive (which I can relate to), but found a backbone when it was needed. Zoe was uncertain about her ability to be a “proper” pastor’s wife, but had a lot more actionable compassion than she realized. I was able to predict what happened near the end, but would have been pretty surprised about the way the rest of the story had gone if my prediction had not come true. I would actually like to see more of these two, as long as they can keep their physical desires about each other out of the narrative.

So obviously, the fact that Abe and Zoe are married through most of the book is going to involve some physical desires. And because they’re married, even though they’re still basically strangers, it’s okay, right? Sure, I don’t have a problem with a husband and wife lusting after each other, even if they’ve only just met, or if their marriage was not borne of love for each other. And I really appreciate the fact that they were completely respectful of each other, because, as Zoe herself observes, in the confines of being married, Abe may have felt he had the right to take whatever he wanted. But what did bother me was the near-constant leering. More specifically, it’s the fairly detailed descriptions of the leering that made me uncomfortable as I read. Just because two people are married doesn’t mean I want to hear the details of their love lives, lusts, or desires. Even Abe himself, in the story, finds himself uncomfortable in the presence of his friend and friend’s new bride, as they apparently made out in front of him a lot. Just because they’re married doesn’t mean we all want to watch them enjoying each other.

I’m sure it might seem to some like there’s no way around it, given the story presented, but I think that it could have been toned way down. And because this is a Christian book, which will be expected to be clean and okay for younger people, I wanted to make sure to mention this possible issue for others. To be fair, there’s nothing I would call explicit, but it’s about the closest I can remember reading in a Christian book. From the other reviews, it’s clear that I’m in the minority here, but as another reviewer stated, I would not allow my daughter to read this when she’s a teenager, and would be very uncomfortable listening to an audiobook of this with any members of my family around.

I hate to say this, because I do think the story was well-written. I have a feeling the other books in this series, maybe others by the author too, likely don’t have the same problem (I certainly hope not, at least). But I would have a difficult time recommending this book too widely. If you aren’t bothered by this kind of thing and enjoy Christian romance, certainly give it a try. But be careful where you’re reading it or listening to it, and please make sure to read it before allowing your teenager to read it.

Thank you to Netgalley and Bethany House for providing me a copy of this book to review.

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Book Review: A Lady of Esteem

A Lady of Esteem
Hawthorne House #0.5
by Kristi Ann Hunter

My rating: 4 / 5
Genre: Historical Christian romance

Lady of Esteem

Though the ward of a man of wealth, Amelia grows up mostly alone. She feels more at home amongst servants, and not just those of her own household, than the aristocracy. This provides for some awkward moments when she catches the eye of a marquis with a bad reputation. As Amelia heads toward the age where she will no longer be anyone’s ward, her circumstances change in a way that leaves her with no idea where her future will take her, or if she’ll be able to see any of her friends anymore.

I got this book for free on Amazon, and at this point, I’m really glad the book and its following series were put on my radar. This book itself is a short read, but gave me a good feel for this writer, who was new to me. I liked the characters and enjoyed the short, sweet story of Amelia finding a home.

Amelia herself is a good example of a Christian woman, keeping to her morals and being a good example for others. The marquis, Anthony, is a recent convert, and while he struggles with knowing that his old reputation will follow him no matter how he acts now, he also has moments of contemplating going back to his old ways. These two complement each other very well.

There was one glaring coincidence that brought the story down for me a little, and a few points where I was just confused about what was going on in the moment. And I have no idea in the end if Amelia turned 21 during the story or not. It was approaching and was something she was really concerned about, and then…nothing really happened involving that.

Overall, I enjoyed this short read set in the Regency period. If you think you might be interested, it’s still free on Amazon as of the time of me writing this review. It also includes the first chapter or so of the first full novel in the series that follows. I have to admit, I got completely hooked with just what I read there. I’m really looking forward to reading the book that follows this one!

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Book Review: The Green Dress

Finished Reading: The Green Dress
by Liz Tolsma

My rating: 4 / 5
Genre: Historical Christian romance, crime

Green

Boston, 1886–members of the Robinson family keep falling ill and dying in the same way, with no known cure. When Harriet Peters, who is a close friend of Lizzie Robinson, watches her best friend die, she moves in with the family to care for the youngest members. As the illness claims another life, Harriet enlists the help of a new doctor in town, and he begins to suspect foul play. But how many more have to die before a possible murderer can be caught?

This is my favorite book so far in the True Colors series. It was well-written, the characters were real (and a little scary), and the crime was more interesting and woven into the story better than some of the others in the series (which are stand-alones written by mostly different authors), while also being less gruesome than that of one of the others. I was also a lot more engaged by the romance than I was with most of the others.

From almost the very beginning of the story, I suspected who the mastermind was and turned out to be correct. In fact, it took me a while into the story before I realized the author was attempting to throw us off the trail, make us suspect others. At least, I think that’s what she was trying to do. However, because the book is based on a real story, I think it might have been a bit better to make the criminal plain, at least a little, and add some excitement there. Though this being a Christian story, that might have made it too dark.

My biggest gripe isn’t even all that big. The title of the book was a bit of a stretch, in my opinion. I think the green dress should have been involved a little more for it to make the title seem less like it was forced, just so this book could be in the series. I did like the payoff (and suspected that to be the case as well), but still think it could have been more woven into the story.

The book is not terribly pushy in the Christianity department. Unsurprisingly, given the subject matter, there is discussion about death and what is really required of us humans to be able to go to Heaven. There is also a theme in the later parts of the book regarding God’s will, and how we can pray for healing, but sometimes God’s will is for someone not to be healed in this life. Overall, I enjoyed this book, and I would recommend this book for fans of Christian romance, especially the historical variety.

Thank you to Netgalley and Barbour Publishing, Inc. for providing me a copy of this book to review.

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Book Review: Daughter of Cana

Daughter of Cana
Jerusalem Road #1
by Angela Hunt

My rating: 4 / 5
Genre: Biblical fiction

Daughter

At a wedding in Cana, Tasmin oversees the week-long feast, with the help of her twin brother Thomas. But Thomas becomes more interested in what a guest from Nazareth has to say than helping his sister. Then that guest appears to turn water into wine, though Tasmin isn’t convinced. And neither is the guest’s brother Jude. After the wedding, Thomas goes with the Nazarene to Capernaum, and both Tasmin and Jude follow, each determined to retrieve their wayward brothers. But it turns out the task is not so easy, and Tasmin’s and Jude’s lives are upset as they try to balance their own lives with still making their brothers see sense–and hope to prove that the Nazarene is not who he claims to be.

This was an interesting take on the ministry of Jesus (referred to by his Hebrew name, Yeshua, in this book) from the perspective of one of his half-brothers, who did not believe he was the Christ during his ministry on earth, and the perspective of a sister to one of the apostles. As Jesus himself put it, no man is a prophet in his own hometown, and that principle applies in some way to both of the main characters (in their view of Yeshua). Most of Jesus’s works are seen from a distance, and I expected that to become tedious, but I appreciated the way the miracles were told by those benefited by the miracles or even bystanders.

I was a little concerned early on, as it seemed Yeshua was being portrayed as lazy and even slightly belligerent to his parents, slacking off while his brothers did all the work, even before his ministry started. I came to see that as the perspective of a frustrated, even jealous, brother, though. There was also one point where Jude talked to his brother in private, and I mentally winced in anticipation of the words the author might choose to put in Jesus’s mouth. Fiction or not, that strikes me as an unwise thing to do. However, his dialog was still right out of scripture. Granted, he obviously said those things to a larger crowd in the Bible, but there is evidence Jesus repeated some parts of his sermons anyway. It was a good decision on the author’s part, I feel.

While Tasmin and Jude spent most of the book with little in the way of their own story, and even of their own personalities, they grew enough later in the book that I still felt some connection to them. The best thing about the book, for me, was that it gave me the ability to feel like I was there, back in Jesus’s day, hearing him speak, seeing him myself, even if from a distance much of the time. There were Hebrew words and phrases sprinkled here and there, and the meaning wasn’t always clear to me. I didn’t quite see the reason for most of that, but that’s a small down-side to an otherwise lovely book. I would recommend it to fans of Biblical fiction.

Thank you to Netgalley and Bethany House for providing me a copy of this book to review.

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Book Review: 4 Years Trapped in My Mind Palace

4 Years Trapped in My Mind Palace
by Johann Twiss

My rating: 4.5 / 5
Genre: YA historical fiction, fantasy

4 Years

Fourteen-year-old Aaron spends two years paralyzed, but still aware of his surroundings. He’s believed to be brain dead, though, and left to his own thoughts during that time. After two years with only his imagination to sustain him, inside of which he created a world he calls his Mind Palace, he gets a new roommate–Solomon, a dementia patient with a colorful history. The next few years are the best of Aaron’s life, so far. An unlikely friendship is forged, and neither Aaron nor Solomon will ever be the same.

This is a book that I worry I’m going to have a difficult time reviewing. I really liked it, but it’s hard to explain why without giving anything away. There were moments that made me laugh, moments that made me cheer, and even moments that made me tear up. It was an interesting conglomeration of historical fiction and fantasy, and I really liked the characters.

Before Solomon moved in, Aaron had to find ways to cope, and he became a bit snarky and sarcastic (in his mind). This led to some humorous observations. And his paralysis led to a similar situation to someone who’s lost a sense, and the way their other senses compensate for that loss. As such, each other character that ever entered Aaron’s room was associated with a specific scent, which carried on throughout the book. I really appreciated this small touch.

The book takes place in the late 80s, and we get to experience some specific points in history, thanks to Solomon. 1920s NYC, the Chicago jazz scene of the 40s, and a night during WWII, amongst other things. Not to mention the first-hand experience of the 1989 earthquake in California.

Considering the name of the book, I thought the Mind Palace was fairly under-represented. In the end, I think it could have been written out of the book and it wouldn’t have made much difference. Partly because of this, and partly because of some comments made in the second half of the book, I expected a vastly different ending. I did like the ending, but was waiting for something more that never happened. That is my only real negative comment.

Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed every moment of this book, and would highly recommend it for everyone who enjoys historical fiction, as the fantasy aspect is not a detraction whatsoever, and for readers of all ages.

I received an advance review copy for free, and I am leaving this review voluntarily.

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Book Review: The Sea Before Us

The Sea Before Us
Sunrise at Normandy #1
by Sarah Sundin

My rating: 4 / 5
Genre: Historical Christian romance

Sea Before

Wyatt Paxton is a lieutenant in the US Navy. Dorothy Fairfax is a first officer in the Women’s Royal Naval Service. Both of these divisions of the US and UK military are working closely together to plan the invasion of Normandy in June of 1944, which is when Wyatt and Dorothy meet. Dorothy’s job is to piece together thousands of holiday pictures of the beaches of France so that Wyatt can make informed decisions for the invasion. Though Wyatt is drawn to Dorothy, she has her eyes set on another man…who has his eyes set on several other women. Both have to find a way to keep romantic entanglements, as well as other family drama, from distracting them from the ultimate goal–winning the war.

What I liked about this book is that it was not just about the romance. Wyatt and Dorothy both had a lot of other things going on in their lives, and that’s besides the looming invasion. In fact, the romance plot line is what detracted the most, or at least a particular aspect of it, as I’ll explain a bit further below. Overall, though, the book was engaging, enjoyable to read, and clearly well-researched.

The book begins by showing an incident in Wyatt’s past that haunts him throughout the book. It was especially interesting to me, because I’ve already read book #3 in this series and knew of the event, and now got to see it happen. Wyatt himself was a great character–great guy with a lot of depth, and I had an easy time imagining his Texas drawl, because his dialog was well-written. Feeling guilty about his part in the incident that happened before he joined the Navy, Wyatt sees himself as a prodigal son, leaning on God to get him through this tough time, and sharing his faith with Dorothy.

Dorothy had a lot more going on in her story, but I liked her less. She was a good daughter, and not necessarily mean to Wyatt (for the most part). But frankly, it took her way too long to see Eaton, her crush, for what he really was. There were times I was sure she was on the turning point, but she just kept pushing Wyatt aside in her mind and crushing on Eaton. And why was she so set on this? Because of what I felt was the weakest part of the book–her mother once told her that she regretted marrying her father, because he was boring, and she needed excitement. Her mother said that Dorothy was just like her, and warned her to marry someone exciting like Eaton. Why she wrote Wyatt off as “boring” so very quickly, I’m not sure, but she stuck by that assessment for far too long.

Other than a further contrivance later in the book, the rest of it was great. The book follows Wyatt into the invasion, from his position on a naval ship, and though a lot of the terminology was lost on me, I was caught up in it. There were several scenes in the last quarter of the book that made me so happy. In the end, I definitely recommend this book to all who enjoy Christian romance and Christian historical novels.

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Book Review: Star of Persia

Star of Persia
by Jill Eileen Smith

My rating: 4 / 5
Genre: Biblical fiction

Esther

When the queen of Persia refuses an unreasonable demand of King Xerxes, she is banished. Jewish girl Esther, known as Hadassah for her first fifteen years, is one of many unmarried women who are brought to the palace to contend to be Xerxes’s next wife. Made queen in place of Vashti, Esther and her adopted father Mordecai have to navigate palace politics and eventually, it’s up to Esther to save all of her people from extermination.

Though the Biblical account of Esther is commonly known by most who would read this book, I liked the way the author brought it to life. The struggles that those would have faced due to the politics, culture, and religions of that day were not glossed over. It’s common, and even somewhat necessary, for the author to take creative license in some areas, as not all details are ever known in a Biblical account, and while I didn’t necessarily agree with everything the author chose to do, I don’t think any of it detracted from the story.

I loved the way that Mordecai, who had chosen to stay in Susa when the Jews were allowed to return to Jerusalem, struggled with his decision to keep his heritage a secret. We all know that even the most prominent figures in the Bible (besides God himself) were flawed humans, some more than others, and that is clear with the two main Jews in this book as well. I also think that the way Xerxes was portrayed was realistic, considering that he does often consult others, even his servants, in the Biblical account, so his character in this book was fleshed out from that perspective, and I loved it.

As I mentioned above, I disagree with one main point the author decided on. It is not immediately evident who King Ahasuerus is in the Biblical account, due to language differences, I believe. He seems to be most commonly accepted to be Xerxes. However, Xerxes has only 1 verified wife–Amestris. I did not do nearly as much research as Smith must have for this book, but I see more evidence that Amestris is another name for Vashti, or even possibly for Esther herself. So having a rival wife that is actually directly or indirectly behind much of the shady things that happen in the account seemed unnecessary to me. However, it did provide more intrigue for the fictional version, and while I would have chosen a different route, I respect her decision and am not saying whatsoever that the book was any worse for it.

I would say the writing itself was what mainly detracted from the story for me. I personally think there was at least one POV too many. The story was told from the following perspectives: Esther, Mordecai, Xerxes, Vashti, Haman, and Amestris. If I’m missing one, I wouldn’t be surprised. But I think we could have done without getting to know Vashti, considering what her parts set up aren’t resolved. And she’s just a shadow of the true heroine anyway. There are also a couple of things that happen with Haman that confused me, like him grumbling about his wife and her back-talk, when the entire rest of the book, she seemed nothing but supportive to me, giving him advice that he followed. He even called her wise at one point. Then suddenly, he’s about ready to punish her if she opens her mouth again. I don’t know what was going on there.

Overall, I enjoyed this book a lot. I am one who tends to read romance (not just romance in the traditional sense) into certain accounts in the Bible as I’m reading, and it’s nice to see it come alive in this way. I will likely re-read this someday, but first, I plan to check out Smith’s take on Ruth, which is my favorite book in the Bible. As for Esther’s story, though, I highly recommend it to fans of Biblical fiction.

Thank you to Netgalley and Revell for providing me a copy of this book to review.

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Book Review: The House at the End of the Moor

Finished Reading: The House at the End of the Moor
by Michelle Griep

My rating: 3 / 5
Genre: Historical Christian romance

House Moor

An opera singer in hiding and a wrongly convicted jewel thief collide on the moors when she finds him half-dead and nurses him back to health. When the necklace Oliver is meant to have stolen are found in Maggie’s possession, together they embark on a journey to clear his name and fix some wrongs in her life too. All the while they must stay just one step ahead of the brutish officer who is intent on returning Oliver to prison.

I was right there in this book for the first half or so. There were some narrow escapes and Oliver in a dress was pretty funny. I had my ups and downs with the characters. And then by the second half, things began to get a bit repetitive. It felt like it took longer than it should have for things and relationships to move forward. The plan to catch the real bad guys always felt flimsy at best. And the ending was a little strange.

I liked Maggie well enough, but I didn’t really care for Oliver. He was violent and usually seemed to chalk it up to the victim deserving it. I didn’t agree with him most of the time. I really liked Cassius, though, though I won’t say who he was exactly, so I don’t spoil anything. I even liked Nora, for all she was in the story. And then there was Barrow, the officer trying to return Oliver to prison. And I’m sure we’re supposed to dislike him, but violence and wholly inappropriate behavior, alongside a self-righteous attitude was a bit too much for me. Even the pay-off for him, which I began to suspect and frankly would have been really disappointed if the build-up led to nothing, didn’t satisfy me.

This book is rife with coincidences. Besides the fact that Oliver happens to end up in the house of the woman who ended up with the necklace he was accused of stealing, he was at her last performance before she went into hiding. They both want to bring down the same man. And then near the end of the book, there’s this huge, out of nowhere coincidence that I do not understand why it was even written into the story.

I also don’t understand the perspective and tense choices the author made for this book. From Maggie’s POV, it’s 1st-person and present tense. For the other POVs (Oliver’s & Barrow’s are the only ones I can remember), it’s 3rd-person and past tense. At times, changing from one to the other left me feeling a bit disoriented. I have never understood the decision to do something like this.

There was an interesting focus on father-child relationships that I liked. I appreciated the atmosphere presented especially while on the moor. Once the story moved to the city, I missed the moor. The Christianity in this book was a bit muddled. Besides Barrow and his warped sense of God, I’m not sure where Oliver ended up at the end. It almost seemed like his redemption came from the love of the woman, the fact that she was willing to marry him, not from God.

Overall, I did enjoy the book to a degree, but was kinda glad when it was over. I was excited to read this book, because I’d read a Christmas novella by the author last December and really liked it. I’m not giving up on Michelle Griep yet and have my eye on a few of her other books. I would recommend this book for fans of Christian romance, especially the historical variety, and judging from other reviews, I’m in the minority again anyway. So if you like this kind of book, please read those other reviews too!

Thank you to Netgalley and Barbour Publishing, Inc. for providing me a copy of this book to review.

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Publication date: April 1, 2020

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