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Book Review: “Love’s Awakening,” by Laura Frantz

Genre: Christian Inspirational, romance; historical fiction

Playlist…

Plot Summary: The story of the Ballantyne family continues with Silas and Eden’s youngest daughter Elinor.  The apple of her father’s eye, Ellie grows up knowing only love and privilege in the bustling city of Pittsburgh.  The Ballantynes are respected businesspeople, but also harbor fugitive slaves as they work with the Underground Railroad.  Danger lurks literally right next door as the rival Turlock clan head up a posse of bounty hunters to stamp out the acts of the abolitionists.  But Jack Turlock strikes Ellie as a more gentle soul, and his young sister looks up to her as a role model as she teaches Pittsburgh’s first finishing school.  Where will Jack’s loyalties lie when his father pressures him to break the law?

My Book Review: “Love’s Reckoning” (read my review here) was my favorite read from last year, so I was really looking forward to Laura Frantz’s next in the series!  Again, the book cover art is so vivid and gorgeous and it alone deserves 5 stars.  However, I had mixed feelings about LA…

The Ballantynes come across as being a very real family, real characters and it was delightful picking up to read about them again.  Their grace and faithfulness is wonderful—toward each other, their neighbors and even their enemies.  Ellie has grown up watching her parents love each other and wishes for the same kind of love for herself.  The trusting relationship Ellie had with her father was lovely; no doubt it helped her spot a good man when she saw one.  I also enjoyed reading about the prosperity Silas and Eden had established at the time this book takes place.  New Hope certainly sounds like a wonderful home in which to live and no wonder the escapees begged to live there at the risk of being recaptured!

He who pursues righteousness and love finds life, prosperity and honor.  (Proverbs 21:21)

LA has a very different feeling to it than LR.  Whereas #1 felt gritty, wintry and tragic, #2 felt full of spring lilacs and roses.  That’s not a bad thing, but for ¾’s of the book I wasn’t very engaged or interested.  It felt like a typical Christian romance and I felt disappointed.  But.  Then there was a plot twist which I am now beginning to really appreciate from this author, and the waterworks started up.  Just as I was reaching for my kleenex, there was another plot twist, and !

Unfortunately, the overall reading experience was not as good as the first, but I love how Frantz is able to leave you hanging at the end of her books (at least, the two I’ve read so far).  I am definitely going to be reading the last in the trilogy and can’t wait to read others by her.

I think older teens could enjoy this series as well.  The heroines are young women who grow in virtue and lovely character.  These are romances, and Frantz doesn’t deny sexual tension.  However, it is carefully worded (not titillating), nothing inappropriate happens between hero and heroine, and the curtain is drawn to keep the marriage bed sacred.

So if you are wanting something light and perfumed, I think you’re going to enjoy Love’s Awakening.  Note, I don’t recommend reading this as a standalone without reading LR first.

PS- I found this on Laura Frantz’s Pinterest and loved seeing how she envisioned the characters.  To be honest, Jack was hard for me to picture so this helps to “fill it in”, but at the same time it’s not even close to how I thought he might look.  Ansel on the other hand looks very much how I imagined!

I also recommend…

 

 
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Posted by on June 11, 2020 in Book Reviews

 

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Book Review: “Ashenden,” by Elizabeth Wilhide

Genre: historical fiction

Playlist…

Plot Summary: The history of an old English manor house is told from the point of view of successive generations of owners, servants, and occupants.

My Book Review: I think I might have discovered this book on the shelf at the library, or among goodreads recommendations.  It’s been a long time since I’ve read a book that wasn’t a classic or by a Christian author.  I think it’s time I start investigating other books out there and this looked like an interesting place to start.

Split narratives between past and present are it’s own genre now and its nothing new.  But this book looked interesting to me because the main character is really about a house, and how history treats it.  From the time it is built in the late 1700’s through to present day inheritors Charlie and his sister Ros, we are swept through history chapter by chapter.  In one way this kept me from growing close to the characters.  In another it kept my interest in what happened next.  We know a few things from the first chapter about how the house is in it’s present state, but then we are taken back to the beginning and are clued in as to how it happened.  And then the overall question at stake is, what will be its future?

Despite the interesting plot, there were a lot of things that kept me from liking this book.  There is a small amount of foul language and ‘observations’ I could have done without.  Around chapter 2 I wasn’t sure if I wanted to continue with it, but it takes a lot to deter me from finishing something once I start.  There are several characters who have mistresses or sleep around and have affairs.  In one instance, a man stumbles across a couple having sex which is briefly but graphically described.  So yeah, there are content issues.

However, I liked the conclusion the book makes [SPOILER] in that it doesn’t matter if there is a long uninterrupted line in a single family that owns a place so much as it does if the people who live there are happy and love it and can care for it.   [END OF SPOILER]

I would have to say that my favorite time era depicted was probably when the original architect James Woods goes back twenty years later with his two nieces to visit the house he built.  I liked the idea of Maria carving her initials for Reggie and Bunny to find more than a hundred years later.  They have no idea the context for it, but they appreciate it as being a part of the history of the place as indeed it is.  I wish there were more “easter eggs” like that throughout the book.

You might like this if you enjoy the manor house genre, and especially if you are into Downton Abbey.  Enjoy with a good cup of tea!

I’ve heard that Ashenden Park is based on real-life Basildon Park in Berkshire, but I don’t know this to be 100% certain.  It certainly sounds very similar, featuring honey-color stone and an octagonal room to boot:

I also recommend…

 
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Posted by on April 28, 2020 in Book Reviews

 

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Book Review: “Mrs. Lincoln’s Dressmaker,” by Jennifer Chiaverini

Genre: historical fiction; Inspirational; Civil War

Playlist…

Plot Summary: Elizabeth Keckley, a former slave woman living in 1860’s Washington DC, is hired by many of the city’s female elite for her superior dressmaking skills.  While serving many congressmen’s wives, as well as Varina Davis, Mrs. Keckley also receives an opportunity to sew for Mrs. Lincoln as her husband prepares to enter the White House.  For the duration of the Civil War, Elizabeth is employed by Mary Lincoln as her personal modiste and she witnesses history in the making first hand.  When tragedy strikes, what will become of the bond of friendship between these two very different women?

My Book Review: Jennifer Chiaverini is known for her fictional “quilt genre” books.  Those haven’t really piqued my interest, but I have a few of her other historical fiction on my TBR.  This is the first I’ve read by her, and I was impressed.  Although it felt a little slow-reading for me at times, I came away from it being glad I learned a lot about the people on whom this story is based.

Elizabeth Keckley was a real person who was born into slavery in 1818.  She was able to buy her and her son’s freedom at the age of 37 and eventually moved to the capitol and established a successful dressmaking business for herself.  This lady was so interesting to learn about.  I would relate more, but it would spoil the book.

We’ve heard about Antietam, Gettysburg, the Emancipation Proclamation, 13th Amendment, the fall of Richmond and John Wilkes Booth.  But this is told from a friend of the First Lady’s point of view which makes the story unique.  The most interesting part for me was the time related after Abraham Lincoln’s assassination.  I had no idea what happened to Mrs. Lincoln after the White House years.  It was fascinating, but if you’re hoping this story ends in a grand fashion with fireworks you would be wrong.  In some ways, it was heartbreaking.

In this story, we learn the kindness of a true friend in Keckley.  She was a fashionable, dignified, self-educated woman with common sense and whom Mrs. Lincoln needed and turned to in times of trouble.  Sometimes, Elizabeth could be too over-giving in a codependent sort of way.  Mary Lincoln wasn’t the easiest person to get along with.  But reading of Keckley’s love and loyalty was beautiful.

I was thinking about our modern era of social media.  How easily one’s text can be misconstrued and before you know it there is a facebook battle or twitter backlash.  We think our troubles are unique to our time, but in reading Mrs. Keckley’s story we find that is not true.  How does she handle the media outrage against her?  As a heroine– with perseverance, honesty, and right living despite not everything being made just this side of heaven.

If we think we have a terrible time of it in politics, it is maybe slightly comforting to learn that nothing new is under the sun.  Lincoln was not elected by the majority of the population, and many Republicans tried to run against him during his second presidential campaign.  Many “friends” deserted them and the news was full of criticism, slander and lies.  But the country made it through, and history remembers Abraham Lincoln as one of our greatest presidents.

I think Chiaverini was pretty methodical in her historical research.  I felt like the characters leapt off the page and it’s been fun to look up their photographs and feel like I know them.  If you are a history buff, I think you will appreciate this one.

PS- As you can tell from my review of Lincoln here, it is one of my favorites.  I was interested to know that Elizabeth puts in a cameo appearance as Mrs. Lincoln’s attendant in some key scenes!

The video below sums up her life in brief, but does contain spoilers:

I also recommend…

 
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Posted by on February 9, 2020 in Book Reviews

 

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Book Review: “The End of Law,” by Therese Down

Genre: historical fiction

Playlist…

Plot Summary: Three people living in Germany during the 1930-1940’s must make decisions that will affect the others’ lives forever.

My Book Review: Most books set during the Holocaust are from the “good guys’” points of views—the victims, the good Germans, Jews, resistance fighters, etc.  I wanted to read a book that was from an ordinary German citizen’s perspective.

It was clear from the first chapter that this book would not be drawing me in deeply emotionally.  The characters felt held at a distance, the main character Hedda does not fit your typical heroine mold, and large chunks of time was passed over fairly quickly.  However, I found it a quick read and my interest was held more on a need-to-know basis than on invested feelings.  This may have been a mercy because I’m not sure I could have handled the content otherwise.

I appreciated that this story focused on an aspect of the Nazi regime that is not told as often as others, and that is the euthanizing of precious lives of disabled and mentally ill citizens, many of whom were young children and infants.  As mad and deranged as you may know the Nazis to have been, there is probably much worse you didn’t know and this book tells of the sad history and fate of so many.

I’m always reading books (particularly fiction) to see how they parallel the world and situations I live in.  Many don’t believe anything like Nazi Germany could happen today.  Either that or they go to the other extreme to flippantly call anyone they dislike with a Nazi.  Let’s look at some of the things the Nazis did.  They determined some persons worth less than others because they lacked ‘the perfect body.’  If a person’s health was in a certain undesirable way to the State, they ordered that person done away with.  Hundreds of infants were killed (on the basis of race, health or disability).  Germany ignored their own laws in order to permit this treatment of people.  Therefore, the title: The End of Law.

This child was killed in the euthanasia program. His name was Richard Jenne.

Does any of this sound chillingly contemporary?  If it doesn’t, why not?  If it does, what will you and I do personally?  That is the biggest takeaway a person could glean from this book.  The characters Karl Mueller and Walter Gunther made a lot of terrible choices and contributed to feeding their country’s killing machine.  Yet one allowed God to penetrate his conscience and at a point in time decided enough was enough and started by saving one life.  The other continued to harden his soul until he could no longer feel anything and he became despicable even to his superiors who gave him his bloody orders.

In the midst of living in a brain-washed culture, some individuals dared to not believe in what was going on.  But I had never considered how lonely and agonizing this must have been for them.  You couldn’t trust anybody; how could you bounce ideas off of another rational person when you didn’t know who was rational and who wasn’t?  It was basically efficient crazy-making.  And if you could hold onto your beliefs, what could you do with them?  Can what may seem like a one-person army make any difference?  The real-life hero Albert Goering makes a fictional appearance in part of the story (see the documentary “Goering’s Last Secret”).  I marveled at how one person making a public stand against craziness and death could have such a huge impact.  You never know how one’s actions may inspire another to think and then also act, like a domino effect  I only pray I can be faithful in my world.

I left the book wishing I could have cared more about the characters but I was glad to have learned some history and I would like to learn more about some of the things presented.  I really encourage you not to pass over this book just because “you aren’t into Holocaust tales”.  The point is not entertainment, but to remember and learn and be wisely responsible in today’s world. I don’t ever want to be the type of person that passively let a Fourth Reich happen.

 

 
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Posted by on February 2, 2020 in Book Reviews

 

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2019 Year in Review + Favorites Awards!

I guess I have myself pretty well pegged by now, as I completed exactly the amount of books I set out for myself in 2019, which was 24 books.  That was more than I had read in the previous 4 years, so hooray for me! 😀  Do you reach any reading milestones?

I read some great Christian living non-fiction books this year, tried a lot of new-to-me authors, did some rereading and even stepped out into the cozy mystery genre a few times.  I also decided to quit my third-party book selling on Amazon, and haven’t been attending as many used book sales.  That freed up more space around here for my ever-growing home library.  I now have two half shelves of space (but not for long)!

This is the part of the show where I say “This is the part of the show where I answer silly questions with silly titles from silly (or not so silly) books…”  I play this every year and it’s a real blast!  This year, there’s a few more questions thrown in.  I will try not to repeat:

Describe yourself:  “This Is My Body,” by Ragan Sutterfield

Describe where you currently live:  “Uncle Sam’s Plantation,” by Star Parker

If you could go anywhere, where would you go:  “Ashenden,” by Elizabeth Wilhide

Your favourite form of transportation: “Slow,” by Brooke McAlary

What’s the weather like:  “Rhythms of Rest,” by Shelly Miller

You and your friends are: “Between Us Girls,” by Sally John

You fear:  “The End of Law,” by Therese Down

What is the best advice you have to give: “The Power Formula for LinkedIn Success,” by Wayne Breitbarth

Thought for the day: “Distinctly You,” by Cheryl Martin

My soul’s present condition: “Seated with Christ,” by Heather Holleman

How I would like to die:  “Love’s Awakening,” by Laura Frantz

2019 can be summed up as: “Respect for Acting,” by Uta Hagen

If you looked under my couch you would see: “The Shape of Sand,” by Marjorie Eccles

At a party you’d find me (with/in etc.): “The Country Beyond,” by James Oliver Curwood

At the end of a long day I need: “The Enchanted Hour,” by Meghan Cox Gurdon

My fantasy job is (to be): “Million Dollar Baby,” by Amy Patricia Meade

To fight zombies, I’d arm myself with: “The Woman in White,” by Wilkie Collins

A happy day includes: —-

On my bucket list is/are: “The Fortunes of Captain Blood,” by Rafael Sabatini

If I was competing in the 2020 Japan Olympics/Paralympics, my chosen sport would be: “Rooted,” by Banning Liebscher

Almost filled in all the blanks!  It’s more fun when you have a longer list of titles to work with.  What would your answers be?

Arranged by category, my 2019 Favorites Awards are as follows:

What fiction book won my heart this year?…

#2 in the Gormenghast Series was just so much fun to read and though some books may come and go, not many leave such an impression as the world Mervyn Peake created, on the edge of insanity and pure bliss.

Here’s to another wonderful year of reading; may it be informative and full of wonder and imagination!

 
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Posted by on January 10, 2020 in Reading Habits

 

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Book Review: “The Cloister and the Hearth,” by Charles Reade

Genre: classic; romance; historical fiction 

Playlist…

Plot Summary: Gerard is the favorite son of Eli and Catherine of the village of Tergou in Holland during the latter period of the middle ages.  His family’s plans for his future have always been to go into the Catholic church, since his knowledge of history and languages and skills as an illuminator are great.  Indeed, he was completely content to follow along this path until he meets the fair Margaret Brandt, daughter of a physician.  A serious family row ensues, but there is no easy resolution to this tale.  For these are still medieval times, and both Gerard and Margaret will have long paths of sorrow and tribulation to tread before they are reunited by Providence.   

My Book Review: This is definitely one of the longest books I have tackled in a great while.  Numbering 700+ pages and being 102 chapters.  Ugh.  I dislike long tomes so!  But I know it is good to stretch myself out of my comfort zone every once in a while, and prove to myself that I can do hard things.  And I completed this lengthy undertaking, even if it did me take 3 months and bribing the librarian to renew it past the amount of times you’re allowed {for the record though, I do that often}.   

Memory escapes me as to why I ever thought I wanted to read it.  Perhaps I thought the forbidden romance between a priest and his lady love sounded intriguing, or maybe it was because the main character is an illuminator and I love that type of detailed art.  The important question to ask is: Was it worth it?  The answer is not a very simple one.  I came away feeling that if I had known how miserable a tale it would be, I would not have begun to read it in the first place.  I really didn’t get much from the story personally.  Every possible obstacle was put in the characters’ ways and the story dragged on and on.  It is quite an unfortunate tale of love and loss and waiting against hope, of death and despair and the subjugation of comfort and affection.  

However, after finishing the book, I felt I had a little better understanding of the different medieval civilizations of Europe—France, Germany, Italy, Holland.  I read strange and unusual vocabulary words.  And best of all I felt the satisfaction of finishing something hard.   

I had a hunch that the length, ebb and flow of the action pacing signaled that it had begun in serial form in the 1800’s, and upon doing some research I learned that is correct.  In which case, I think this very dramatic novel would make a good basis for a serialized audio drama.   

I was surprised to come to the end of the book and find that this story is a very “supposed” account of two people who actually lived.  This is a very Catholic story, but at the same time it takes place on the eve of the Reformation and Gerard has his own opinions on doctrinal issues.   In actuality, it is the author’s agenda that shows through in the end.  I particularly appreciated his making the case for community to help overcome one’s temptations, rather than isolation. 

One of Reade’s goals was to put flesh (or, a story) on the dusty bones of forgotten names in history, which is a very interesting idea.  How many times do we read our own genealogies, only to just let the names glaze us over and we fail to grasp that these were living, breathing human beings at one point just as we are?

“Not a day passes over the earth, but men and women of no note do great deeds, speak great words, and suffer noble sorrows.  Of these obscure heroes, philosophers and martyrs, the greater part will never be known till that hour, when many that are great shall be small, and the small great; but of others the world’s knowledge may be said to sleep: their lives and characters lie hidden from nations in the annals that record them.  The general reader cannot feel them, they are presented so curtly and coldly: they are not like breathing stories appealing to his heart, but little historic hailstones striking him but to glance off his bosom: nor can he understand them; for epitomes are not narratives, as skeletons are not human figures.”

And after all of those chapters, descriptions, vocabulary &c. , I STILL could not ascertain whether Gerard and Margaret were ever legally married!!  Does anybody have a clue?

I also recommend…

 
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Posted by on October 8, 2019 in Book Reviews

 

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Anticipated Christian Fiction Reads, Fall 2019

I don’t know about you, but these new books coming this fall are looking pretty good to me!  You can view them and many more at the CBD catalog– and no, CBD does not stand for cannabis in this case.  That would be Christian Book Distributors!

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Posted by on September 26, 2019 in Uncategorized

 

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Book Review: “Captain Blood Returns,” by Rafael Sabatini

Genre: classic; adventure; historical fiction (1600’s)

Playlist…

Plot Summary: The second in a rollicking trilogy about the adventures and exploits of one Dr. Peter Blood… turned pirate!

My Book Review: “Captain Blood” was an enjoyable read for me several years ago (you can read my review of it here).  I was happy to learn there were more books in the series, however one thing one must know going in is that the adventures in the second and third books are not in chronological order.  In other words, they are interspersed within the timeline of the first.  This also means that there is no appearance of Blood’s sweetheart, Arabella Bishop.  Boo-hoo!

 

Despite this drawback, there is plenty of romance—both in the classical sense and in the emotional lives of some of the side characters.  There are plenty of women to keep the story lively!  Another thing I appreciated was that each chapter was pretty much a completely different scene altogether.  No repeats here!  Sea battles are described in such a way as to not get too much over one’s head, and still be exciting.

Chivalry, courage, wit, and strategy… They say Ryan Gosling has it all, but I rather think it’s Peter Blood.

 
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Posted by on August 27, 2019 in Book Reviews

 

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Book Review: “Secrets on the Wind,” by Stephanie Grace Whitson

Genre: historical fiction; Christian Inspirational; romance

Plot Summary: When Sergeant Nathan Boone happens across the remains of an Indian attack on the Nebraskan plains, he does not know he will also discover a young woman who has survived horrible abuse.  Laina Gray is at first unable to speak but, gradually with the help of kindhearted Granny Max, begins to take a few steps forward toward a new life.  What will happen when a newcomer to Camp Robinson who has taken an alias to escape his past recognizes Laina from her days as Riverboat Annie?

My Book Review: A friend’s mom recommended the author Stephanie Grace Whitson to me many years ago.  Although I enjoy many genres, I rarely read Westerns for some reason.  But I happened across this series on goodreads and was not prepared for how much I would come to appreciate this book.

At first I thought it would be a typical Christian historical romance but I’d stick it out and finish it.  I thought maybe this one would be one of those ‘tell instead of show’ books.  But the more I read, the more interested I became and I was deeply drawn into the story and the characters.  I really wondered what would happen next.  I feared the ending would be predictable, but the next chapter brought a new twist!  Then I found myself crying.  I was surprised at the spiritual depth in it, seasoned no doubt by the author’s own experiences.  Whitson pulled off a rare feat—I began to worry about the characters and how the story would end.

People who are supersensitive to what they may call ‘preachy’ books will probably not enjoy this read.  However, I don’t consider this story to be preachy.  Characters in their situations have conversations about spiritual matters and prayer lives (just like in real life), but that doesn’t make it preachy in my opinion.  A romance (or two) occurs, but I didn’t feel the book centered on it.  Instead, it was a natural occurrence that sprang among two people after both went through a thorough season of transformation by God.  It was amazing to read about, like they were your close friends.

Is it possible for fictional characters you thought you thoroughly disliked to become your objects of compassion?  This is what I found whilst reading the first in the trilogy, Pine Ridge Portraits and am looking forward to my experience in reading the next.  Yes, keyword: this book was an experience.  Whitson has my newfound admiration.

I also recommend…

 

 
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Posted by on August 6, 2019 in Book Reviews

 

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Top Ten Tuesday: Auto-Buy Authors

This is a “Top Ten Tuesday” exercise…

By ‘Auto-Buy’, I assume TTT means authors we would automatically buy just because of the author’s name on the cover.  I don’t give authors so much liberty in my world, but there are a few that seem to come up with plots that almost always go on my TBR.  Some of them I haven’t even begun to start reading, yet I consider them almost kindred spirits in way because of the way we tend to love the same sorts of subjects, plots and backdrops.  So here are a few of those KS:

 
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Posted by on July 15, 2019 in Book Shopping, Top Ten Tuesday

 

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