Book Review: A Castaway in Cornwall

A Castaway in Cornwall
by Julie Klassen

My rating: 4.5 / 5
Genre: Christian historical romance

Laura Callaway feels like a castaway as she searches flotsam and jetsam from nearby shipwrecks on the coast in Cornwall for anything that might be of value, either monetarily or sentimentally. She’s not completely alone, but she does feel abandoned by her parents. Then she discovers a real castaway on the beach–Alexander Lucas, who managed to survive a shipwreck. As Laura helps nurse him back to health, clues begin to surface about his identity, and before she knows it, Laura is caught up in a game of spies, smugglers, and prisoners.

This book had my attention from chapter one and kept it all the way through. I was surprised to realize how many pages it had once I was done, and the only reason it even took me more than two days to read is because I was too busy to get back to it like I wanted to. Laura and Alexander were both really interesting characters, and the description of shipwrecks, smugglers, and treasure kept me firmly in early 1800s England.

Even side characters and small side plots were interesting, and what I really liked about the story is that the romance wasn’t so in-your-face, as if it was the only thing that mattered in the book. The half-point detraction was for a few minor quibbles that mostly came about near the end of the book. Some things were resolved a bit too easily, in my opinion, including a relationship that ended up feeling like it was only strained to give the MC a stronger reason to feel “castaway.” Also the villain’s arc ended with a trope that I find tired.

Overall, though, I thoroughly enjoyed this book and am already looking for more from this author. I highly recommend it to fans of Christian books in the historical and/or romantic genres.

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

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Publication date: December 1, 2020

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Book Review: To Steal a Heart

To Steal a Heart
The Bleecker Street Inquiry Agency #1
by Jen Turano

My rating: 3 / 5
Genre: Christian historical romance

When a resident at the Holbrooke boardinghouse is falsely accused of theft, the other ladies of the boardinghouse band together, using their diverse talents and abilities, to clear her name. From this comes the idea to form the Bleecker Street Inquiry Agency, which appeals to the ladies of New York City in 1886. For Gabriella Goodhue, who puts her childhood as a thief to use for the agency, this leads to a reunion with her once-best friend from her childhood, who has also turned from a life of crime. Nicholas Quinn is as surprised to see Gabriella as she is to see him and even more surprised by the fact that she seems to hate him now.

This book, unfortunately, was not really for me. It hit a lot of wrong chords with me, and I really don’t care for the author’s writing style. The characters are okay, though most of the larger characters seem too similar to each other, with only a few stand-outs. The villain is incredibly over-the-top and cliched. The plot is disjointed and doesn’t really follow one thread all the way through, except maybe for the connection between Gabriella and Nicholas.

The premise is interesting and the story that comes out of it is decent. The given synopsis (clearing the friend’s name) comes to a conclusion before the 50% mark, which led me to wonder what the book was really about. In the end, the story goal seems to really have been about giving both of these street urchins (Gabriella and Nicholas, who were both orphans and part of a gang of thieves in their childhood) answers to their past. This came out of nowhere, as it wasn’t really established in the first part of the book, other than the simple fact that they had been orphans.

I also thought the history between Gabriella and Nicholas was not nearly strong or deep enough for how they acted and talked. Gabriella was 12 when she was taken away from the gang. Nicholas was (I think) 14. Yet they act and talk as if they were much older and more mature when they knew each other in the past. When they meet again, they’ve been apart longer than they’ve been together, and they certainly don’t act like they were super close as kids. We only know they were because they say they were.

All of the above things, however, would probably still have left me with a book I could enjoy, had it not been for the writing style itself. It was very wordy and felt really shallow. I’m not a stickler at all for the “show, don’t tell” adage, but if I am noticing an abundance of adverbs, it’s probably too much. Take for example the following: “That he looked incredibly furious was not in question, nor was it in question that he also looked rather dangerous.” Not only is this pure telling, it’s telling with way more words than necessary (and this happened often). Various expressions were overused throughout the book, too, like “resuming the friendship” and “lady love.”

I like the idea of the premise of the series, and the fact that the next book is about one of the most interesting characters from this book makes me a little sad. Because from reviews I’ve read of other Jen Turano books, I have a feeling this one is not a stand-out in regards to writing style. I don’t have any plans at this time to read any more of her books. However, she has many great reviews on a lot of books, including this one. So if you don’t think the issues I’ve mentioned in my review would bother you, please do give this book a try. It’s just a miss for me.

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

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Publication date: November 17, 2020

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Book Review: This Little Dark Place

This Little Dark Place
by A.S. Hatch

My rating: 2 / 5
Genre: Psychological thriller

In the wake of the death of his mother, while his long-term relationship seems to be going nowhere good, Daniel writes a short, drunken letter to an unknown convict through a prison pen-pal organization. This is the beginning of his deep connection with Ruby, the inmate who he’s paired with. But when Ruby comes to find Daniel, things become too real…or maybe unreal.

If you’re looking for a dark, psychological read that will leave you feeling a little unsettled, this is it. If you’re looking for a thriller with twisty goodness…maybe not so much.

The book is fully in epistolary format, with the main character Daniel writing letters to someone named Lucy. From early in the book, I had some theories about how the story might unfold. Though things happened along the way that led me to other theories and the anticipation of one or more surprise twists near the end, it turned out that only my first ideas were correct. And there were no real twists. As I read the final pages, I felt let down.

The writing style is easy to follow, and I did at times feel invested in the story. Overall, though, there is no happiness in this book. Nothing uplifting whatsoever, not that I necessarily expect that from a psychological thriller. But it just all felt so hollow and empty. I was depressed for everyone in the book. And Daniel made such stupid decisions all throughout the book, it made it hard for me to care what happened to him in the end.

What this book really made me feel is happy to be a Christian. Grateful to have the hope that comes from knowing that God is real and that He loves me. That He is in control. It’s not that Christians are all perfect, always-happy people–far from it. But there is something nice in knowing that tragedy doesn’t have to destroy me and that I don’t have to try to fill the void in my life by myself.

A note about the story format–it’s broken into 3 long chapters, which did not bother me as it did others. There are scene breaks if you need a more definite spot to step away for a while. And at times, Daniel’s re-telling of events from years past are broken up by observations of what’s going on around him as he’s writing. This also bothered other readers, due to not being formatted well enough to be able to follow the jumping back and forth. I fear this was an issue with the ARC digital copy, which is a shame, because that shouldn’t come into play in a review. But it can, if it makes the book hard to read (I’ve been there). I read a physical release copy, and I had no issues with scene breaks or the jumping around.

Thank you to Netgalley and Serpent’s Tail for providing me a copy of this book to review.  

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Book Review: Imagine… The Tower Rising

Imagine… The Tower Rising
Imagine series book #6
by Matt Koceich

My rating: ? / 5
Genre: Children’s Biblical fantasy-ish?

While on the observation deck of the Willis Tower in Chicago with her family, Bella is suddenly transported to Shinar in 2300 B.C. There she sees the Tower of Babel mid-construction and becomes caught up in a dark plot to lead the people astray.

I am not completely sure what I just read. I expected an adventure similar to Superbook or Adventures in Odyssey, but there is definitely something else going on here. The tower being built, the reasons behind it, and Bella’s attempt to stop the people and explain why what they’re doing is wrong is a small part of the book (which is quite short anyway). But then there are some strange and unexpected fantasy elements going on, with a boy and a woman who are sort of like her guides through this experience, while also at times seeming to not know anything outside of what they should know if they were just regular people from that time period.

Then there are a couple of chapters that are “outside” of the adventure, involving people who are never properly introduced, and it’s never explained who they are or why they’re involved. One of them can communicate with the “bad guy” involved in the tower building, and gives him instructions. It’s clear from this that there is a whole over-arcing plot going on throughout this series, and I jumped in at book 6. My mistake, but there was nothing in the synopsis at all that would give any indication that these stories are so very connected. Out of curiosity, I have now read the first book in the series, and it was nothing like this book; no over-arcing plot line was set up either, so I can only guess it came up later in the series.

So…I don’t know how to rate this book. It was like reading someone’s account of a dream. I don’t want to down-rate it due to being so completely lost about the series-long story, but it would have been a lot better if I’d known I was being thrust into this ongoing, apparently supernatural battle between good and evil (for as much as I could tell from those sections).

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

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Publication date: November 1, 2020

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Book Review: The Lost Lieutenant

The Lost Lieutenant
Serendipity & Secrets #1
by Erica Vetsch

My rating: 4.5 / 5
Genre: Christian historical romance

As Evan Eldridge recovers from an injury sustained in the war against Napoleon, he wants nothing more than to get back to the fighting. Instead, the Prince Regent (who later became King George IV) makes him an earl, due to Evan saving the life of the prince’s godson in the same event where Evan was injured, not that Evan can remember much of anything about that day. The Prince Regent then insists that Evan marry his goddaughter Diana, whose father is looking forward to marrying her off to someone of his choosing, for his own gain. Diana and Evan both bring secrets into this marriage, and real lives are at stake.

This book hit so many right buttons with me. The characters are well-crafted, historical details are immersive, and the stakes are high in so many ways. I really liked the story that unfolded regarding Evan’s trauma and forgotten memory–his PTSD was real, and the mystery and intrigue culminated in an exciting climax.

Evan and Diana were both characters that I really connected with in some way, and together, they had a beautiful romance that was one of my favorite kinds in fiction. I wouldn’t classify it as actual “marriage of convenience,” but it’s similar, and I love that trope, especially in Christian fiction. Diana has some trauma of her own, in the form of an abusive father and brother. Together, they have a lot to overcome as husband and wife. I loved several of the supporting characters in this book as well and am especially excited to read the second book in this series, which focuses on one of those side characters.

There was one thing that happened, which I won’t explain in detail, that I felt was more of an obvious contrivance–something to keep the couple from being too happy too soon in the book. It bothered me, especially, when there was a clear opportunity for this thing to be addressed later, but it wasn’t, and I think that was a further contrivance for the plot. I only wish the author had chosen something less important, something the climax wouldn’t have hinged upon, if she wanted to throw a new wedge between the married couple.

One other thing, and this isn’t a fault with the book, is that the synopsis, in my opinion, gives away too much. I won’t say more, though, because it might be subtle enough if I don’t point out details. Small gripes aside, I loved this book and definitely recommend it to fans of Christian romance, historical or otherwise, and fans of Regency romance.

I received a free review copy from the publisher in exchange for my honest unedited feedback.

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Book Review: The Shepherd’s Wife

The Shepherd’s Wife
Jerusalem Road #2
by Angela Hunt

My rating: 5 / 5
Genre: Biblical fiction

In the Bible, Jesus is said to have at least two sisters, neither of which are named. In The Shepherd’s Wife, author Angela Hunt gives these women names, families, and lives. Pheodora lives in Bethlehem with her shepherd husband, and Damaris is married to a wealthy merchant’s son in Nazareth. While Damaris’s husband takes steps toward becoming a well-respected Pharisee, Pheodora’s husband, Chiram, is thrown in debtor’s prison. It is up to Pheodora to follow through on Chiram’s plan to breed and raise two pure white goat kids for the Yom Kippur sacrifice, which is their only hope to pay Chiram’s debt.

I enjoyed the first book in this series, but absolutely loved this one. By the last third or so, I had a hard time putting it down. All of the brothers and sisters of Jesus (called by his Hebrew name Yeshua in the story) are involved, and I appreciated seeing the family dynamics as they interacted with each other, worked together, and even talked about what their eldest brother was up to. Pheodora, whom the plot revolves around, was determined, loyal, and hard-working, but also had plenty of flaws. The book is probably more character-driven than plot-driven, which is really my cup of tea.

The book is written from the sisters’ alternating perspectives, with Pheodora’s being the one shown most often. I wasn’t sure what the point of showing Damaris’s POV was at first, but it really did add to the story. Especially at a point somewhere in the middle when the suspense ramped up because of something we only knew happened due to seeing Damaris’s home life.

It started to get really difficult to read as the injustice against Chiram was more fully revealed, and though I assumed all would be made right by the end of the book, it was all just too real. And in real life, things usually aren’t made right, so I wasn’t sure how I’d feel by the end. However, the last quarter of the book brought such surprises, emotions, and lessons learned, that I was not thinking about whether or not the incredible injustice was made right.

I have a difficult time giving books 5 stars unless I can see it being a book I’ll re-read at least once in the future. This is a book I definitely will read again someday, at least once. I highly recommend it to fans of Biblical fiction, and I’m really excited about what the author has planned for the next book in this series!

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

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Publication date: October 6, 2020

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Book Review: The Librarian of Boone’s Hollow

The Librarian of Boone’s Hollow
by Kim Vogel Sawyer

My rating: 5 / 5
Genre: Christian historical fiction

While the nation struggles to recover during the Great Depression, Addie must leave college just before the end of her junior year and find a job. At the same time, Emmett has just received a degree, but is learning that not many positions are open for a man with his education. Both end up in the small village of Boone’s Hollow–Emmett to look for any work he can get in or near the village where he grew up, and Addie to start a job as a packhorse librarian for a program that aims both to give people jobs during this difficult time and to get books into the hands of poor families in the hills. Though they both have grand plans for their future, both must take whatever work they can find. The people who live in the area, though, hold a lot of prejudices that turn into trouble for both Addie and Emmett. Will bigotry and sabotage ruin both of their chances at making their own way?

There’s a lot to try to put into the synopsis for this book, and I always prefer to keep it to one paragraph, so my blurb above doesn’t do the book justice. And while for some books, having so much going on can lead to a convoluted story, it all worked together so well in this book. I thoroughly enjoyed the plots that threaded together, the characters, and the ending to all of those different storylines.

One of the the things that I loved most about this book was that every victory was hard-fought. Nothing just happened because the author said so, characters and their reactions were real, and the outcomes were believable. I also liked that, though there was a romance sub-plot, everything didn’t hinge around it, and obvious, over-done cliches weren’t forced into the plot in order to make the romance “interesting.” It was the exact kind of subtle, sweet, clean romance that I love.

When I first realized that the story was going to be told from so many perspectives (4 total, if I’m remembering correctly), I thought it would start to bother me. But it never did, and the author did a great job of making each character’s narration feel like that person. Yes, some were similar to each other, but I was never confused, and really, it was interesting to get the little extra perspective from a few of the smaller characters (comparatively).

By the end of this book, I was really caught up in the stories. The themes presented throughout culminated in one really touching scene that made my eyes a little misty. The faith portrayed was the perfect balance of being woven throughout the story without being so in-your-face. It’s shown most in both of the main characters’ mothers, as witnessed by their children, and I loved that. “Look for the blessings,” “kill them with kindness,” using love and kindness to drive away hatred, all of these things were infused in the words, and it’s a lesson I learned right along with the characters. In case it’s not obvious, I highly recommend this book to any fans of Christian and/or historical fiction.

Thank you to Netgalley and WaterBrook & Multnomah for providing me a copy of this book to review.

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Book Review: The Black Midnight

The Black Midnight
by Kathleen Y’Barbo

My rating: 3 / 5
Genre: Historical romance, crime

Pinkerton detective Alice Anne, great-granddaughter to Queen Victoria, investigated a series of murders in Austin, Texas in 1884, along with her partner Isaiah Joplin. The perpetrator was never caught, but the pair team up four years later to try to solve a similar series of murder in the Whitechapel district of London. Are the killers the same, and will a culprit be caught for either case?

I think the biggest issue with this book was in the subject matter. Each of the books in the True Colors series focuses on a different true crime from history, with real historical facts melded with fictional characters and situations. The difficulty, though, is in making an interesting, fulfilling story out of a crime that was never solved, as is the case with the real murders this book is set around. While I understand the author’s desire not to make up a conclusion that didn’t really happen, I think I would have preferred fictionalized closure to the “we really don’t know anything,” hemming & hawing mess this book devolved into.

As the detectives investigate, we are constantly presented with theories followed by, “But maybe not.” Over and over, this is all that happens in the case. It made the story feel slow and pointless, and as if the entire investigation was just a wash (which I realize might have been how the real investigators felt back then, but it doesn’t make for interesting fiction). My favorite example of this is said by the queen herself: “‘The truth always has its day,’ Granny said with a shrug. ‘Until it does not.'” What is even the point of making a statement like that?

There were some strange inconsistencies throughout the book too–for example, early in the book it says that Alice Anne (known as Annie for most of the book) was using an American accent, I assume to blend in, since she was keeping her identity a secret. But later in the book, a reporter muses about the oddity of this Pinkerton detective with the British accent. This is one example of a few things that made me stop and look back to see if I’d missed or mis-remembered something.

Overall, the book was a quick read, but not a very satisfying one for me. The ending was muddled and felt very rushed, after a climax that I don’t even get the purpose of. I think a majority of what I disliked about the book was due to the unsolved crime it was based around, but like with a previous True Colors book I read, perhaps this was simply a bad choice for the subject of a fictional romance book. I found it difficult to care about the relationship, and especially the culmination of the romantic storyline, because the rest of the book was so confusing and underwhelming.

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

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Blog Tour & Book Review: Paris Never Leaves You

Paris Never Leaves You
by Ellen Feldman

My rating: 3.5 / 5
Genre: Historical fiction

Feldman - Cover Art

A story of survival at all costs and the aftermath of war and trauma, Paris Never Leaves You is told in alternating timelines. Charlotte survived occupied Paris and moved to America to start a new life, but the past is never quite in the past. One letter is all it takes to bring back a flood of memories and unravel Charlotte’s life.

There’s plenty to appreciate about this book, from the descriptions of life in occupied Paris to the very real trauma involved in later years. Charlotte’s daughter deals with prejudice and strives to learn more about the heritage that has people hating her for no reason. I had no issues with the dual time periods, and appreciated seeing a different part of WWII than I’ve most often read about in books.

You may read some reviews where it mentions the romances in this book–one in each time period. Let’s not kid ourselves–none of this is “romance.” Charlotte’s decisions in Paris are the kind where you can’t really say what you’d do unless you’re in the situation yourself. Her decisions in New York nearly ruined the book for me. There was no need for the relationship to happen the way it did (or at all, really), and I’m just not a fan of infidelity romance. Her reason for not getting off his lap when he gave her the wheelchair ride was a cop-out, plain and simple, and it went downhill from there, for me.

All that said, I am glad I read the book. It brings up a lot of moral quandaries, from start to finish. It can really make you think, questioning how you would act in that situation, both in Charlotte’s shoes, but also in many other characters’. I do think that fans of historical fiction, especially WWII/Holocaust related fiction, will like this book. But steer clear if you don’t like your heroines getting involved with married men. Also be aware, there is at least one slightly graphic physical encounter in the book, though fortunately not very much of it.

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

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Book Review: Don’t Keep Silent

Don’t Keep Silent
Uncommon Justice
#3
by Elizabeth Goddard

My rating: 2.5 / 5
Genre: Romance, suspense, Christian

Don't

Investigative reporter Rae Burke’s sister-in-law has a secretive and troubled past, so when she disappears, Rae knows it won’t be easy to track her down. However, with the help of former DEA agent Liam McKade, with whom Rae once had a relationship, Rae refuses to give up. Though they are both professionals, it still won’t be easy to put their past behind them, especially since Rae once ruined Liam’s career and almost got him killed. Can they battle bad guys, nature, and their own issues to find Zoey?

This was yet another time when I can’t help but wonder if I read a different book than everyone else. Maybe I’m just far more particular. But while I liked the setting and appreciated some of the characters, overall I had a lot of trouble with this story, especially in the plot and writing style.

I don’t know how to explain it, exactly, but many times, it felt like the author had an outline of things she wanted to have happen in a scene and just sort of threw them together. One paragraph would have 2-3 different, unrelated topics in it, lacking any kind of transition. Conversations didn’t make sense half the time, either because the characters sometimes seemed like they were not having the same conversation as each other, or because the dialog was stilted in general.

As the mystery unfolded, I tried to get involved. The plot itself was decent for most of the story, but the revelations at the end were convoluted and nothing you wouldn’t expect from the set-up. There were some incredible coincidences that I think the author tried to give good reason for, but they fell flat for me, most likely due to how complicated things got. It didn’t help that I felt like I was missing half the story. I know this is book 3 in a series, and I do wish I’d read the first 2 before diving into this one, but I’m pretty sure that the parts related to Rae & Liam’s history weren’t in a previous book. I would have liked more explanation there.

The author’s attempts at suspense fell flat, usually because information seemed to be given sorely out of order. Rae convinces Zoey’s mom that she’s able to help, so Zoey’s mom opens up to her…but then only after being pressed for more info does she mention that the primary suspect has recently been announced dead?! This is just one example of strange or contradictory situations I noted throughout the book.

The book is billed as Christian, but it’s barely that. The main characters give silent, single-sentence prayers every once in a while, pleading with God for other characters to be all right, but that’s about the extent of it. I have no idea what either of them believe, or if they actually trust the God they’re seeking help from.

I really don’t like writing reviews like this, and I certainly wish I’d enjoyed the book more. Based on other reviews, I think it’s safe to say that if you’re interested in this type of book, you should still check it out. Though I’d strongly recommend starting with book 1, as there are things about Liam’s family that are mentioned in this book with no context, and the other two books are about his brothers.

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

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