Blue stained wood with crimson carnations

Friday, June 30, 2017

Book Review: The Innkeeper of Ivy Hill

Thora Bell was born, raised, and brought up her family in the coaching inn The Bell- only to see her son die suddenly and pass the family business on to his gentlewoman wife, Jane Bell- who has seemingly never taken in interest in the inn. Jane is forced to take in interest however when she finds that her husband has left a massive loan on the books- and the bank is long past being repaid! With their livelihood, past memories, and future security on the line Jane and Thora must find a way to work together and to bring the inn back to its former glory and pay off the debt before they are left with nothing!

Two women from two very different backgrounds and lives are the highlights of The Innkeeper of Ivy Hill! I cannot remember anytime recently seeing or reading a book where the two main characters were women of different generations and I loved seeing it here!

Thora is a working woman and always has been. She is steeped and invested in her family business and known for her knowledgeable running of the inn and for her sharply honest tongue. Jane is born to a life of privilege that lies far in the past with both of her parents dead and her family home being left in ruins. She is not accustomed to the life she’s been thrust into since her husband’s passing but that doesn’t mean that she doesn’t have the mind for it, or the strong will to survive! Together Thora and Jane make an unlikely pair, but a pair that works together the harder the circumstances that surround them become!

Something I thought was really interesting about this book was the look it gave to women working in the Regency era. This isn’t a book that is puffed up on a whirlwind romance in the halls of Bath’s best balls; it is an honest look at the working class of the countryside. Women are and always have been the backbone of farm and country industry. It was neat to learn about the strong connections of how woman and business in these small towns are truly dependent on each other and work to help each other.

Another thing I liked about this book is that it isn’t primarily a romance novel. There is certainly no end of potential suitors for both of the woman in this book but it never overtakes and overshadows the main conflict of the inn’s future. Both storylines complement each other but they do not fight each other for the spotlight. With this being the first installment of Klassen’s first series I was also rather delighted that this book felt like returning to the BBC’s Cranford and getting bits and pieces of all the lives of everyone in the village! I will look forward to the story continuing to unfold and for more to be revealed about all of the characters as the series progresses!

I would highly recommend this book to anyone- even those that have never tried a Regency set book before! I was very happy reading this and am looking forward to the end of the year when the next installment will be released!

Final Rating: 5

I have been given a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review and opinion of the product.

Book Review: The Loyal Heart

I was really excited to get into The Loyal Heart as I had enjoyed Shelley Shepard Gray’s short story that was a part of the book “Among the Fair Magnolias”. It’s not every day anymore that you get a western theme novel so I was excited to see this story set in Texas! 

This story has a really intriguing premise, Robert Truax, former Confederate Officer and war prisoner has some to Galveston to check in on the widow of his former comrade and to make sure she is comfortable and secure. What he finds when he arrives at Maranda Markham’s home turned boarding house is that everything is far from okay. Maranda is in a deep depression, her home threatened by her mother-in-law, and worse of all her husband, Philip’s, name dragged through the mud after being branded a traitor after his death.

Robert wants to honor the promise he made to Philip and the other men in his company to watch out for and care for each other after the war but he hardly knows where to start after discovering the position Maranda is in! As he begins to remedy the situation she is in he finds himself in danger of losing his heart- something that was never part of the mission!

I thought this was a nice story from start to finish. However- It really didn’t draw me in or delight me the way that the previous stories of the author that I have read and that surprised me and rather disappointed me. The story moves both quickly in the development of the characters feelings for each other, and slowly, in the way that the plot progresses. Something that was really frustrating was the repeating of information over and over again. I really don’t feel like once a detail has been revealed and explored that it’s necessary to repeat it again a few paragraphs of chapters later. Readers are intelligent and want to be pushed to explore, not talked down to and a number of times I kinda felt that way.

I would say give this book a go if you are looking for a light vacation read that doesn’t take a lot of time or concentration! 

Final Rating: 3 

I have been given a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review and opinion of the product.

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Book Review: Come with Me

I have really enjoyed going through this new devotional! In Susanne Eller’s “Come With Me” she focuses us into the disciples and to see who they really are, what they did, and how we can learn from them- and Jesus! Each chapter is dedicated to a single disciple and walks you through what we know, or maybe don’t know about each of them and draws out a lot of truth that took me time to digest.

The format of each chapter is laid out really nicely and has special quotes to jump out at you from the text, and header sections that break up the reading if you wanted to read a chapter over more than one day. The end of each chapter has a list of discussion questions that would be great not just for personal use, but for a small group meeting!  There is also a memory Scripture, prayer, and a section that gives you a few ideas on putting things into practice in your life.

Something that I really appreciated from the author was her transparency in writing. She shares many personal stories throughout but while sometimes those can bog down a devo book I didn’t feel there here. Rather, I felt like I was in the company of a good friend who was taking time to mentor and disciple me with things she had learned. I highlighted a great deal in this book so I could make sure I could go back and find all of my favorite parts easily!

In the final chapter of the book Eller turns the focus back to you and I as “The Thirteenth Disciple” wrapping up and challenging us to put into practice what we learned and how we will walk with Jesus in our lives.

Final Rating: 4.5

I have been given a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review and opinion of the product.

Book Review: The Mark of the King

Whenever I run into a book with a setting or premise that I have never heard of or read before I know that book is going to come home with me! When I saw this book, “The Mark of the King” from Jocelyn Green on the bloggers list I knew I was going to be eager to read it!

This story begins in 1719 France where our heroine, midwife Julianne Chevalier, is hard at work attending a birth. Tragedy strikes and Julianne is sentenced to one of France’s most infamous prisons- and forever branded by a fleur de lis marking her as a murderer. When Julianne finds a ticket out of prison and a chance to find her brother she takes it and finds herself in a whirlwind of events that lead to her on a boat to the fledgling Louisiana colony!  

While Julianne thought she was coming to a settled colony she finds instead the swamps of New Orleans, the push and pull of Native Indian wars sponsored by the French and British, and sickness and suffering everywhere, as well as becoming a part of soldiers and settlers alike who are forced to fight the land at every turn just to live- and still there is no definite sign of her brother. Fighting many of her own personal and professional struggles, and deep personal tragedies Julianne seeks underneath it all to find redemption from the past that marks her.   

I don’t want to give away too much of the plot of the book but I was really intrigued and surprised at every turn in this book- and there are many twists and turns the author always kept me on the edge of my seat! I loved the author’s writing style and how she expressed the characters and described the scenes!  

Readers should be given slight caution that there are two or three scenes of a stronger nature in this book. They did not damper my enjoyment of the book but it may startle more sensitive readers and may be skipped over with little trouble if desired.

Though it took me a while between busy days and nights to find time to read I was very glad that I kept going with this book! I very much enjoyed it and learned a lot too about the history of Louisiana. I think it’s great when a book is able to weave a great story and help you to learn something too! In the end I enjoyed seeing Julianna find that God’s grace covers all and we are all able to start again with Him at our side.

Final Rating: 5 

I have been given a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review and opinion of the product.

Saturday, March 4, 2017

Book Review: The Confessions of X

When this book first came in my mailbox I was convinced that it was a book that I couldn’t like on a topic I wasn’t interested in reading about. And so it sat around on my bookshelf for quite some time as I read through other review copies on my list. When I finally got myself in the mood to sit and read this I was very surprised about it indeed.

This book takes you to a very long time ago, to the ancient Carthaginian world of Augustine, the great Christian theologian. The story is told from the eyes of his concubine, a woman whose name is lost to history but whose impact was strongly felt on the life of the man she considered her husband.
From the very first the language in this book sucked me in, it is stunningly beautiful and lyrical and has a loneliness and hunger to it that compels the listener to hear her and know her story. The world in which the woman lives is nothing like our own- and yet her story is so familiar in the storytelling world. It is one of falling in love with someone not of her own class but being loved in return and dearly cherished. It is one of the journey of life and the struggle of living side by side with someone on a journey they don’t know the end of.  It is one of being ripped apart when the odds can no longer pretend they are in your favor.

The woman’s story is told in the strong brush strokes of a hard and sometimes harsh life. There is childbirth, and death, life and love painted in strongly worded descriptions. And there are also the soft stirrings of her own heart as she seeks to understand the world around her and follows alongside of Augustine and is a part of his philosophical work.  

I was very struck by all of this story and several times found myself in tears. I could spend a lot more words here trying to explain the details of this story but I think it would only cloud the issue. While I don’t agree with all the events that take place in this story I could not help but be moved by it all the same. This book doesn’t really fit into a box that I can neatly check as being good or bad. The writing is amazing. The story that is told is amazing. But it is also one that pushes me out of my comfort zone. The writer’s notes at the back of the book help to clear up some of the historical perspective and context and I did find that very helpful in understanding this book.

In the end, I would recommend this book to someone who was looking for something very different from the standard Christian fiction fare. I would not recommend it for younger teen readers, I think there is too much in here that needs an older eye to discern. But I’ll tell you that if you do read it, it will change you, and that I guess is what all books are meant to do.

Final Rating: 4

I have been given a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review and opinion of the product.

Book Review: Fading Starlight

Have you ever wanted to run away from your life? Have you ever had a personal and professional disaster so large that you couldn’t ever imagine recovering from it? Well welcome to Lauren Summers life. Hollywood and the fashion industry are savage and unforgiving when it comes to ‘wardrobe malfunctions’ and when the brightest ‘innocent’ starlet of the moment suffers such a humiliation as she receives an award the backfire Lauren receives as the gown’s designer ends in the stunning silence of a two line text message as her boss fires her minutes later.

Blackballed from designing again in respectable circles Lauren finds a little job making costumes for a private high school’s theatre company and takes up residence in a run-down cottage in a secretive gated community-  and tries to reassemble the remainders of her heart and her dreams.  
Living in the gated community offers privacy, but isn’t without its challenges. The imposing figure of Charlotte Montgomery- a former starlet of another era looms large at the end of the lane. As time goes on it becomes clear to Lauren that Charlotte isn’t just an old woman with a prickly exterior- but is someone who has had her own personal disasters…that she is still running from.   

Can common threads knit them together and bring about healing for them both?

If you are someone who knows me at all you know that I love classic film, and that I love historical costuming! What a treat is was to have the two laid out like a buffet throughout this book! Katherine Cushman paid attention to all the fine details of both the classic era of old Hollywood film, and to its signature luscious couture and created a book that is full of delicious descriptions! It was loads of fun for me to read about the gowns and costumes that Lauren was working on and every detail was vivid making me wish for a fairy godmother to bless me with someone to create such lovely things for me! ;)

Fading Starlight is not all about the dresses though it’s about the people that surround them. Miss Montgomery is a hurting woman with a bitter past that has taken more than her social standing- it took her will for living life and soured her on any who have dared to cross her path.

Lauren herself faces a crossroads as she looks at her own disappointments and decides what to do with the rest of her life. I liked that Lauren was so real in this story. She feels all that she is going through and feels it deeply, but she is also looking to God, and consistently and willingly seeks out the counsel and guidance of her second mother Rhonda’s wisdom. The cast of secondary characters from Lauren’s best friend Chloe, to Miss Montgomery’s housekeeper Frances, to the handy-man Cody are all important and delightful additions to Lauren’s life and story and I couldn’t help but like them!

One little thing that I liked was that this isn’t a romance story. While Chloe does her best to hook Lauren up with Cody and start something brewing Lauren recognizes that her life is in a bit of a shambles right now and is focused on getting herself where she needs to be personally before she begins any romance. I appreciated that perspective.

I highly recommend this book and enjoyed to so much! I will look for other titles from Ms. Cushman in the future! 

Final Rating: 4.5

I have been given a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review and opinion of the product.

Thursday, March 2, 2017

Book Review: Dawn at Emberwilde

From the moment I began this story I couldn’t bear to put it down for long! Being a great fan of regency novels I was eager to begin Dawn at Emberwilde and to see what author Sarah E. Ladd had to offer- I’ve been looking at her books for a while now and I wanted to know if the insides were as lovely as all the covers! I was not disappointed!

This book follows Isobel Creston, an aspiring schoolteacher who has some up through the ranks in the small girl’s school she and her half-sister Lizzy have found home for many years. Orphaned, Isobel’s main hope and dream is to make a safe and comfortable life for herself and her sister. But their entire lives are turned upside down when relatives magically appear to claim them and invite them to live in their family estate.

Everything is not as it seems at Emberwilde however, the great forest that surrounds the estate is said to be haunted, her cousin is cordial but hiding something and her aunt clearly has her reasons for bringing them there but Isobel can’t figure out why- or get her aunt to answer questions about Isobel’s mother and why she left the family. To complicate matters two gentleman of the county seem to have a growing interest in her- and as Isobel faces the pressures of her aunt to marry and marry quickly- when all she really wants to do is protect her sister from the trappings of the lavish lifestyle that she is quickly becoming used to- and figure out why God has brought them to this place!

All throughout the book I found Isobel a sensible and likeable character that in a gentle way put God and her morals at the forefront of her life. Isobel was not in any way stuffy or un-relatable, she is pictured from the first as someone with a great whimsy and love of nature, someone who was kind and sought the best for those around her.

Lest anyone think that this book is all romance and naught else- never fear! There is a great mystery lurking under the cover of darkness in Emberwilde Forest and Collin Ellison, the local magistrate is keen to get to the bottom of it- his only problem is he keeps running into a certain attractive young lady that has recently arrived on the estate! I liked Collin a great deal and really took a shine to his manner and thinking, and his presence was a welcome addition to any scene!

Overall I really enjoyed the book and would recommend it! I made a great read in between work over the course of a week and I looked forward to that time I could pick it up and enjoy it. I will look forward to enjoying more of Sarah Ladd’s work in the future too!  

Final Rating: 4

I have been given a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review and opinion of the product.

Book Review: The Beautiful Pretender

This story is a new retelling of an old, old story. Avelina is a servant and companion to the earl’s daughter, lowly in standing, but very smart and clever on the spur of a moment’s notice as she is always needing to aide and cover up Dorothea’s misdeeds.  

When it’s discovered that Dorothea has run off with one of her father’s knights- just as word comes of the Margrave of Thornbeck holding a search for a bride- a bride that will help ally and strengthen neighboring regions- Avelina has little choice but to obey the earl’s command and take his daughter’s place!

Avelina’s one job if she is to keep her family safe and well cared for is to get into the margrave’s good graces for the sake of her region- but not get herself noticed too much- and certainly not allow herself to fall in love with the margrave!  With a serious of odd and dangerous occurrences keep happening around the castle Avelina however, may be in danger of failing her mission- and falling in love with a man she can never marry!

I read this book over the course of a couple of weeks as I sat in and out of doctor’s appointments and waiting rooms- and boy was I glad to have this book as companion! I really enjoy old themes and stories being retold in new ways and enjoy the medieval time period this book is set in! It’s a nice change of pace from more modern books and settings, and from some of the same-old, same-old historical eras and settings that flood the market today.

I really love reading YA fiction from time to time and usually find that the storylines are more interesting and the plot is more detailed with more twists and turns than your average novel. This is the case of this book by Melanie Dickerson. As in her previous works I found myself drawn right into the story and swept along to enjoy every minute of it! I cannot remember anything that I found objectionable content wise, though if you are sensitive to kissing scenes and talk of attraction there is some of that in the latter portion of the book. I didn’t find this overly or soppily done (as I do in many books) but felt it was in keeping for the situations and relationship point where they take place. Frankly, I was more interested in at last solving the whole of the mystery that is throughout the story, and was glad to see it come to a satisfying conclusion!

I would recommend this book for yourself or for a mid-teen reader that you may know!

Final Rating: 4.5

I have been given a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review and opinion of the product.

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Book Review: Among the Fair Magnolias

Among the Fair Magnolias is a compilation of short stories written by four different Christian fiction authors. I had been looking forward to reading this book long before it came out as it includes an entry from my personal favorite Tamera Alexander, and also at the time I won it from a Goodreads giveaway I was not familiar with any of the other authors and was eager to get to know them! The cover on this book is incredibly pretty and makes me want to grab it right up and set to some cozy reading!

With there being four novellas in this book I don’t want to take up too much space in detailing the entire plot of each story and my reactions so I will try and summarize things briefly and add a few thoughts from there.


A Heart So True by Dorothy Love
In this story Abigail must choose between marrying the man her father has picked for her even though she knows he is unscrupulous and violent and the childhood friend and sweetheart she is truly in love with.

As I have mentioned before I really am tired out with the ‘tyrant father’ trope in writing and here in this book we find it in full force. It is overused and I think it shows bad precedent for teen readers that contributes to pulling down their own dads. Having said that however, in this story I found it equally annoying that ninety percent of the heroine’s problems stem from keeping a secret from her father that she should have immediately revealed when it occurred then none of this would have happened! Additionally, when she did talk to her father and have the chance to tell again she didn’t press the point and make him listen!

I didn’t feel like there was anything to praise in this story, I feel like the writers style is very blunt and lacks subtlety. It was not my favorite story in this collection.

To Mend A Dream by Tamera Alexander
In this story Savannah, a side character from the novel “To Win Her Favor” gets to tell her story!  Savannah is a seamstress in post-Civil War Nashville taking care of her younger siblings and taking on a redecorating job in her former family home! She knows her father left a treasure for her family- now this is her last chance to find it!  
I don’t know if being a Tamera Alexander fangirl makes me the best of worst candidate to review this story but I do know how much I enjoyed it! This story really makes me wish that Savannah had her own full length book! Every inch of what is backed into this story however is gold!  I really liked the hero Aiden and I would have loved to get more on his backstory! I appreciated that I didn’t feel like the way that his and Savannah’s relationship develops cheated or was at the expense of any other character. They were a great couple!

I love how on point Tamera always is with her Spiritual content! Her observations are always timely and her writing always ends up being my own personal reminder note for me from God!

Love Beyond Limits by Elizabeth Musser
In this story Emily teaches freed blacks, young and old, in her little schoolhouse and struggles to protect them against the growing threat of the Klan even as her family pressures her to marry.
I was really surprised by this story! It took me a lot of different directions that I wasn’t expecting and delivered on a satisfying ending! I found there to be good historical accuracy with the origins of the Klan and of the political environment of the day which is always refreshing to read! This is my first time reading a story by this author and I really liked it! I think I will have to check out more of her books in the future!

An Outlaw’s Heart by Shelley Grey
In this story Russell finds his way home after fleeing seven years ago as a mere boy of 15, now he must reconcile with his dying mother and see if his fleeting hopes of rekindling love with his former sweetheart is possible.

This story is set a bit west of the deep south as it slides on over to Texas- and really- I may have enjoyed this story a little too much! For many years I have been a huge fan of westerns and cowboy stories and have spent many hours reading that genre but those stories aren’t popular in the Christian market anymore and it’s a shame! This story was delightful and though short, explored some important themes of forgiveness and redemption- all with great cowboy stubbornness and humor! It was easily the best western story I’ve read since Stephen Bly’s passing and I can’t wait to read another! I very much hope the author continues to write in this genre!


In the end this was a great collection of novellas and it was a great pleasure to read! Though I didn’t personally enjoy one of the stories it was really nice to be able to have a ‘sampler’ of authors and if you haven’t read any- or some- of them before it will give you a great idea of whether you should try their other works! Among the Fair Magnolias is a definite recommend for me! I’m sure you will enjoy it! 

Final Rating: 4

I have been given a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review and opinion of the product.

Book Review: A Respectable Actress

I was intrigued by Dorothy Love’s A Respectable Actress when I first picked it up, the cover is attractive and the back cover reveals a detailed storyline and promises a good mystery set in post-Civil War Georgia. I wish the inside of the book had held up to that promise.

This story follows India Hartley, professional touring actress- and accused murderess. On the second night of her new show her leading man is shot dead on stage seemingly at her own hand- but she insists it is all a horrible mistake. Enter Philip Sinclair, her legal counsel and the man who whisks her away from the outrage of the city to the solitude of his country plantation. As Philip and India try to unwind the hidden details of her case India begins to find some mysteries lurking around the plantation as well and begins to fall for who will help determine her fate.

As I look over my notes I’m really not sure where to begin on all the ways I disliked this book. The ‘fake-out’ opening of the book was confusing to understand and a blur of sensationalized information that was simply repeated in more detail a few paragraphs later and it annoyed me from the first. I had a really difficult time connecting with India and found her whiny and clueless. Her romance with Philip was sadly lacking and frankly boiled down to ‘oh my, what a handsome man with such broad shoulders and look he rescued me, let me cling to him’. India was far more interested in assessing his physique and snooping around his home than she was in aiding her own defense. Where I was expecting the two of them to spend many long hours together talking and sleuthing methodically working over her case they only had a couple of minimal conversations and the remainder of the time she went around playing amateur Nancy Drew on his past while he was back and forth away on other business! It annoyed me that only minutes from her trial he gives her a few rushed instructions and coaching on being a defendant and how this was needed to be her role of a lifetime if she hoped to get off!

Aside from the story I did not enjoy the writing style either. I felt the pacing of the details of the stories- things like the conversations, and the how we get from here to there narration to be rushed and choppy. For example, at one point when India is found snooping and is questioned she offers an excuse and then suddenly is magic'ed back into her bed without any response from the other party or further discussion of any sort on the matter. It’s like the people around her are players, only meant to bounce her thoughts and feelings off of to her own ends and benefit and not individuals with autonomy, action, and feeling! Additionally, there is a great deal of unusually large words in this book that I had difficulty slogging through much less understanding, even from the context, what they were or meant.

Overall, I just didn’t like this book. I felt like the author tossed the reader from one implausible scenario to another racking up scenes but not developing the characters or plot. There was nothing about the characters or plot that I found engaging and all too often I found myself checking and gauging how much more was left in this book and how soon I could stop reading. In the end I couldn’t even give myself any good reason for India and Philip to be together- or even care about who the culprit in the shooting was. This is not a book I will be recommending to anyone anytime. 

Final Rating: 1

I have been given a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review and opinion of the product.