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: 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: The Sky Above Us

The Sky Above Us
Sunrise at Normandy #2
by Sarah Sundin

My rating: 5 / 5
Genre: Historical Christian romance

As D-Day approaches, fighter pilot Adler Paxton is determined to “make ace” (which means shooting down 5 enemy planes), but first has to learn how to be a wingman. While struggling with this lesson and memories of a tragic last day at home, he meets American Red Cross worker Violet Lindstrom. All Violet wants to do is be a missionary overseas, but England isn’t what she had in mind. She’d rather go somewhere that she can make a difference, not serve the Air Force men who aren’t in need. Both Violet and Adler have a lot to learn about themselves and each other, as long as they can survive the war.

This is the second book in a series of three, following three brothers who were separated by a very unfortunate series of events that led to three years of estrangement. I’ve read books #1 (The Sea Before Us) & #3 (The Land Beneath Us), so this was the last of the series for me. I really enjoyed this book, both as its own story and as part of the greater story. I am continually amazed by the level of detail that Sundin has put into these historical books, making me feel like I’ve stepped back in time. And the characters in this book felt very real to me. Adler’s path from the darkness he feels regarding his role in the tragedy that pushed him away from home is one of my favorite things about this book.

Violet’s process through this book is a lot more subtle, but no less important. She learns something about herself and how she views others that might not seem like a big deal to many people, but I think a lot of us actually could see the same concerns in ourselves if we looked very hard. (And on a side note, the woman on the cover is not how I pictured Violet at all. That woman looks way too petite.)

I liked this one a little more than book #1, and not quite as much as #3 , but it’s still a 5-star read for me. After I finished this book, I had to go back and read parts of the third book to get the full resolution of the Paxton brothers’ story. Though the majority of each of these three books is a standalone story, I would highly recommend reading them in order. I know for sure that I will go back through this series in the future and read them the way they were meant to be read. It’s a great series full of pain and sin, grace and forgiveness. I recommend this book and series to all who enjoy Christian romance and Christian historical novels.

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Book Review: before i knew you

before i knew you
Choices Matter #1
by Beth Steury

My rating: 3.5 / 5
Genre: YA Christian romantic drama

When high school juniors Preston and Maggie meet, they’re both planning for abstinence until marriage. But where Maggie has always had that plan, for Preston, it’s a result of a period of bad decisions with girls that he wants to come back from. Though he knows it’s a bad idea, he keeps his past a secret from his new girlfriend. Unfortunately, the truth has a way of coming out. Can their relationship survive when Preston’s past comes back to complicate his life?

For about the first half of this book, I felt like there wasn’t much of a story. It was a fairly standard building of a relationship between two high schoolers. But the second half of the book contained all of the story, and I found that it was interesting enough to redeem the first half.

During the first half of the book, I grew increasingly uncomfortable as the story only seemed to be a progression of Preston and Maggie going further and further in their physical relationship. Lots of kissing, touching, making out, etc. I was, quite frankly, relieved when things started to get awkward between them for various reasons. For a book that is meant to help teenagers make good choices in their relationships, it certainly is steamy, and it seems to me that it might just make hormonal young people more desirous. That is my biggest issue with the book.

Outside of that, and especially after that was over, the story had more plot. And I was able to answer the question I had during the first half, which was whether the characters were actually Christians or not, as it was only vaguely discussed during that part (seems to be a commentary on how God doesn’t really enter into the picture when one is giving in to desires of the flesh, but I don’t know if that was intentional or not). I also found it strange that Preston says his parents are involved, in regards to keeping their relationship in check, but I didn’t see that at all. As someone who had strict restrictions about how alone I could be with a guy in high school, the parents in this book were downright lax by comparison, especially for Christian parents.

The difficulties that come up due to Preston’s past experiences, as well as for other teens that the two MCs know, help to give an understanding about why saving yourself for a future spouse is the best way to go–not just as a Christian to avoid sinning, but because of so many undesirable consequences that can happen, even beyond the obvious like teen pregnancy.

Though I give the book 3.5 stars, I don’t know that I could recommend it for the audience it’s intended, due to what I said above about the intense way the ramping-up is described. But I don’t know that I’d recommend it to adults either, because they’re not necessarily the audience that really needs it. Maybe the best set of people to read this book is parents of teens, or future teens, to help them understand better the minefield that is teenage romance.

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Book Review: Jubilee Manor

Jubilee Manor
Landry Park
#2
by Bethany Hagen

My rating: 4 / 5
Genre: Dystopian romance

Spoiler notice: The following review may contain some spoilers for the previous book, Landry Park.

As Madeline, her family, and the estate deal with the actions at the end of Landry Park, one of Madeline’s fellow gentry heirs is murdered. Madeline suspects a particularly hateful Rootless man, which puts her at odds with her uncle and cousin, as well as with David Dana. A second murder only serves to escalate the threat of violence between the Rootless and the gentry, as Madeline feels caught in the middle, hoping to make a difference, but unsure of who will listen.

This short book series has a difficult-to-define quality to it that gives it a charm and depth that I really enjoyed. Several surprises came up in this book, and though a few threads were still left hanging, overall, it was a nice conclusion to the short series.

Most of the things that bothered me in the first book were gone in this one. The relationship between Madeline and David deepened in a way that did still cause a lot of drama for Madeline, but it was based on a real conflict, rather than the immature-feeling jealousy in the first book. They argued a lot over Madeline’s insistence that the murderer was a Rootless man, though, and there were several things about that whole situation that bothered me–probably the biggest detraction in the entire book for me.

The mystery wasn’t very deep or intriguing, but it was a good catalyst for the plot. I wouldn’t go as far as to put this book into the mystery genre, but I think fans of romance and dystopian worlds, especially those who also like books set in the Victorian or Regency eras should give this 2-book series a try.

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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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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: 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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