Book Review: Murder at the Manor

Murder at the Manor
Tommy & Evelyn Christie #1
by Catherine Coles

My rating: 3 / 5
Genre: Historical cozy mystery

Tommy and Evelyn Christie are spending the weekend at Tommy’s family home, a large estate belonging to his uncle, the Earl of Northmoor. Evelyn, who is not initially from such high-society, is mostly expecting to just grin and bear it. But when the Earl dies and murder is suspected, it’s clear the weekend will be anything but boring. Tommy and Evelyn, who both worked for the police in some capacity in the past, can’t help but perform their own investigation into the plethora of family, acquaintances, and staff who were at the estate for the weekend.

The first in a series of cozy mysteries, I had some ups and downs with this book. The mystery was a little light, not that I knew for sure who had done it, but more that the motive behind it was mundane and easily suspected. The setting was interesting, though the dialog didn’t always feel true to the time period. I didn’t care for the way that pretty much every character except for the 2 MCs and most of the staff is hiding some kind of deplorable secret. Just about every married person is having an affair or had one in the past. Maybe this is completely normal for the setting, I don’t know, but I didn’t care for it.

The weirdest thing, to me, is that the investigating, in particular the interviews the MCs would perform with suspects, felt like something right out of a mystery video game. I’ve played a lot of Nancy Drew games in the past, and it seemed a lot like that. It just didn’t feel natural.

Overall, it was mostly an okay book, nothing to stand out in either direction. It’s fairly short, which I’m sure contributes to it feeling somewhat shallow, but it’s really not bad either. Just not my overall preference for a story. I thought it might be a new series for me to get into, with the 4th book being released a few months ago, but I will most likely pass on this series. However, I think plenty of fans of cozy mysteries and fiction from this time in history (1920s England) are likely to enjoy the book, so if that describes you, consider looking it up.

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Book Review: A Love to Cherish

A Love to Cherish
Glory, Montana #2, The Preacher’s Daughters
by Linda Ford

My rating: 2 / 5
Genre: Historical Christian romance

When Reese first sees Victoria, he’s convinced that she’s the missing daughter of a wealthy man from Chicago, where he used to live. But why is the woman living under an assumed name and claiming to be the adopted daughter of the local preacher and his wife? What Reese doesn’t know is that Victoria doesn’t remember anything about her life before 4 years ago when she was the sole survivor of a terrible accident. As Reese tries to untangle the truth, he grows closer to Victoria and begins to wonder if the truth might do more harm than good.

Unfortunately, I didn’t enjoy this story very much. I did not care for the main male character, starting right from the beginning when Reese makes a big deal (in the narration) about valuing trust so highly, and then he misleads a storekeeper into thinking he was asking questions about Victoria because he was interested in her as a possible suitor. And then he proceeds to hide his suspicions from Victoria, under the guise of protecting her. The fact that this story is a romance, and thus the male and female leads have to end up together, doesn’t excuse the author from such contradictory characterization, or the fact that there’s no real consequence for this deception.

The book is short, maybe novella length, and yet, there is a lot of repetition. The story is shallow, mostly focusing on the difficulties Victoria faces not knowing her past and Reese’s vow to always find the truth, after being spurned by a deceitful woman. What added to the shallow feeling of the story is the author’s way of showing how the characters are feeling. Generally, they either shuddered or shivered if they were worried, nervous, unhappy, scared, maybe even confused. That’s it…shuddering or shivering (which, it can be argued, are practically the same thing anyway) are all they, especially Victoria, seem to be able to do to show those feelings.

I liked the first story in this series, but I don’t think I’ll continue on after reading this one. It felt rushed and hollow. As is common with books that I don’t care for, though, most of the other reviews for it are positive, so please check them out if the story interests you.

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Book Review: Joy to the World

Joy to the World
by Carolyn Miller, Amanda Barratt, & Erica Vetsch

My rating: 4 / 5
Genre: Christmas-themed short stories, Christian historical romance

Joy to the World contains three novellas from three different authors, each in the genre of Regency romance, perfect for the Christmas season. My overall rating for the book is an average of my ratings for each story, shown below. Below the ratings are brief (as much as possible) reviews for each story.

“Heaven and Nature Sing” by Carolyn Miller2 / 5
“Far as the Curse Is Found” by Amanda Barratt5 / 5
“Wonders of His Love” by Erica Vetsch5 / 5

“Heaven and Nature Sing” is the tale of 2 people who were close to engagement a year past, but are now estranged and are thrust together during the holidays, which certainly allows for a romance to develop in a short time period. There’s history there. But strangely, the only way the author seemed to be able to inject romance was related to kissing. Everything was about finding ways to put them under a kissing ball (mistletoe) or thrust them into some other awkward situation with physical closeness, before they’d even had a chance to try to work out their issues from the past.

Other things happened that made me dislike the characters or made me scratch my head, like Edith (female lead) allowing the other young adults to set George (male lead) up to mock propose to her, and then Edith actually blaming George for the situation! She also spends at least half of the story thinking about George and then mentally berating herself for doing that…and then she gets angry at him for saving her from a falling tree branch. I also noted a bit of dialog in which George asks Edith if she wants him to “kiss it better” in a story filled with flowery, old-fashioned language both in the dialog and surrounding it. Sadly, this story did not go over well with me. 

“Far as the Curse is Found” is the tale of two very broken people, albeit in different ways, who help each other out of the darkness. The connection between them is fast, but not in an unbelievable way. I think that Jenny’s background and brokenness are dealt with less than Dwight’s, and if the story had been longer, I would have liked to see more of how she had to overcome the trauma she’d gone through. It’s not treated frivolously, though, and she’s shown to be a strong character throughout.

Dwight undergoes the largest transformation, and I really like him every step of the way. Again, things may be a bit too quick, but it was explored well in the space the author had. The curse angle is a really nice glue for the story and ties into the story’s title and the book’s theme very well. Other reviewers have compared this story to Beauty and the Beast, which I can’t comment on, never having seen any version of it, but I can see some possible allusions. That aside, in case it’s not obvious, I loved this story! 

“Wonders of His Love” is the tale of a Scottish portrait painter trying to make a name for himself in England and the picture-perfect young widow that feels as displaced as he does. Cilla had married the future Duke of Haverly, who then died before he inherited the title. She’s left in limbo, having practically become a servant to her very demanding and prissy mother-in-law. She reminds me a lot of me–defaulting to a spot in the background, wondering if this will be her entire life. Even when she starts to make strides forward, she still falls back on old, “easy” habits. If the story had been novel-length, there would have been a lot more room to explore that, I think, but on the other hand, it might have started to get tiring, too.

Hamish is a different kind of character than I’ve read in this genre in the past (not that I have a very long history reading Regency romance), and I really liked that. I liked him in a lot of different ways, including the fact that the author didn’t dwell so much on him being tall and ridiculously handsome as every romantic hero seems to be. His talent and compulsion for sketching scenes, coupled with his ability to bring out the truth of  a subject, were all really interesting facets to his character. That’s a lot of why I would have loved to see a particular sketch Hamish had made come to fruition, and I’m not sure if the author simply ran out of space or forgot about it.

This third story was my favorite of the three by a very slim margin. I’ll admit right now, though, that what pushed it over the top was most likely the inclusion of characters from two of Erica Vetsch’s other novels. As soon as I realized who the female lead in this story was, I was so excited. And sure enough, both the Haverlys from The Gentleman Spy and the Whitelocks from The Lost Lieutenant were in the story (the Haverlys moreso, which makes sense, given that Cilla is the duke’s sister-in-law). Both of these books I read just recently and loved, but if you haven’t read them, don’t let that put you off from reading this story. You don’t need to know their stories to still follow and enjoy this novella.

Final thoughts on the whole book: Overall, it’s a wonderful collection of Christmas-related Regency romance stories. I do think plenty of others will like the first story, based on large differences in personal preferences, and I recommend the entire book to fans of the genres mentioned above, or even those looking for good Christian romance in general. I have a feeling I’ll re-read this during a future Christmas season and will even give the first story another chance.

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

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Book Review: P.S. Goodbye

P.S. Goodbye
by Tari Faris

My rating: 3.5 / 5
Genre: Christian romance

When Caroline Williams, expecting a proposal, is dumped instead, the last person she wants to see is Grant Quinn, on whom she had a huge crush when she was thirteen. But he’s moved to town, and comes to the store she runs with her sister, looking for work. Caroline offers a trade–he can work for them if he lets her help him find a more permanent situation…somewhere else. But Grant is a harder nut to crack than she thought he’d be, and she can’t afford to let her ordered, list-driven life fall apart by letting him in.

This is a short book, only about 170 pages. Grant’s character has some depth, but I think Caroline stayed in the shallow end. The most interesting thing about her was related to love letters she wrote to Grant when she was thirteen, and then letters she wrote him after the two had a short-lived connection when Caroline was 18. But that part of the story wasn’t fleshed out nearly enough for me (especially considering that the title of the book is related to it). Caroline also had a tendency to impose ground rules, only to break them herself. She was said to live her life by lists, but in the end, her actions did not prove that about her.

There were also some romance tropes in this book that aren’t my favorite, like one pretending to be the other’s girlfriend/boyfriend to get family off the one’s back. And then the pretend girlfriend/boyfriend initiating a steamy kiss just to make it seem more real. And this leads to one of the other things I didn’t like about it–it was more about the physical than I prefer, especially in a Christian story. There was nothing graphic at all, but definitely more emphasis was put on physical attraction and touching than I like.

I did enjoy this book more often than not, which was mostly due to Grant, because Caroline was a flat heroine/romantic lead. This is a prequel to a short series of full-length romances, and I would be interested in seeing how the author does with a novel-length story.

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Book Review: Forsaking All Others

Forsaking All Others
Western Vows #1
by Kari Trumbo

My rating: 2 / 5
Genre: Historical Christian romance

Escaping the Santee Sioux Reservation in Nebraska in 1881, Rose and Pete travel to Kansas to start a new life. Life outside of the reservation is different, and as Rose quickly learns, so is Pete. Unable to agree about who to trust and how to move forward, their friendship is put to the test. Pete has always been there for Rose in the past, and she doesn’t understand what has changed. All she knows is that she can’t go back to the reservation.

Sadly, I had a very difficult time finding much of value in this short story. As a male romantic lead, Pete has some serious issues. And while that alone isn’t a problem, for me to care about the relationship between these two, he really needs to have some kind of redeeming qualities. He doesn’t–at least, not in my opinion. He’s stubborn and hot-headed, treats Rose like dirt, and essentially feels that the simple fact that he loves her and has helped her a lot in the past should be all that matters. Even when he has a change in attitude, all Rose has seen from him since they left the reservation is his sulky, jealous attitude, so frankly…the romantic climax just fell flat for me.

Morgan is probably the character with the most depth, but he’s treated badly–both by the characters and by the author. I feel like a decent attempt was made with Rose, but the relationship stuff she had to deal with just made her seem weak and cliche. Overall, I think the story suffered a lot from being so short. The heart and attitude changes that Pete went through, had they been fleshed out far more, and had he really been given the chance to show Rose that he’d changed, would have made the story so much better.

The writing style was easy to follow, but the dialog was way too modern at times. And in the second half of the novel, the editing seemed to just fall apart. I noticed a lot of grammatical errors, and that really detracted from the story.

The story is the beginning of a series, the books of which (all stand-alones, from the looks of it) get longer as the series goes. This one is Kindle-only, and looks like it came out after the rest of the series. The title doesn’t really fit the book, in my opinion, which may have just been an attempt to keep it in the theme of “wedding vows” that the series has going for it. And this is yet another time where I feel like I read a different book from everyone else, because most of the other reviews are 4-5 stars. Please be sure to check some of them out if the book interests you. As for me, I don’t plan to continue this series.

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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 Soldier’s Promise

A Soldier’s Promise
Crystal Lake #2
by Laura Scott

My rating: 3.5 / 5
Genre: Christian romance

Derek wants nothing more than to be a father to his recently motherless daughter Lexi, but there are some seemingly insurmountable obstacles to that dream. As he tries to outrun some of those obstacles, he’s in a car accident that forces him to stop his flight in Crystal Lake. There, he and his daughter are helped by ER nurse Julie, who has her own burdens to shake off. Will these three find what they’re looking for in each other?

This story is about a novella-length, about twice the length of the previous one. And it did have more substance than the previous book, even allowing for a fairly serious storyline to be tied up. Unfortunately, even with the shorter format, there’s a good deal of repetitiveness in the narration, especially involving the main characters’ inner turmoil about their individual situations (as well as their joint situation). I appreciated Derek’s characterization, but felt Julie left a lot to be desired in, regarding having much of a personality.

Most likely because the story is so short, it has the unfortunate common situation where two characters who have only just met develop feelings for each other very quickly. This particular relationship moved to kissing more quickly than I prefer, especially for a Christian read. And so much of the romance we see them develop revolves around them admiring each others’ looks.

I appreciated that Julie wanted to share her faith with Derek, and by extension, with Lexi. I don’t recall it being wrapped up in the story, but it certainly wouldn’t have to be, realistically speaking. I think there was a good foundation there for the future, though (their fictitious future that won’t likely be in any future books, of course). There was one theology point I didn’t agree with, but I won’t mention it here.

As the second book in a series of similar stories, and both being decent, but not stand-out reads, I don’t plan to move on in this series. However, if you are interested in a short, sweet, clean romance, this book can easily be read as a standalone in the series. I thought we might get a bit more of a glimpse of the characters (as a pair) from the first book than we did, since they all work in the same hospital. Please be sure to check out other reviews, as there are plenty who liked it more than I did.

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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

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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