Book Review: The Thief of Lanwyn Manor

About the Book:

In this sweet Regency romance, Julia knows Matthew Blake, copper mine owner and very eligible bachelor, is the gentleman she should set her eyes upon. But why can’t she steal her gaze away from his younger brother, Isaac?

Cornwall, England 1818—Julia Twethewey needs a diversion to mend her broken heart, so when her cousin invites her to Lanwyn Manor, Julia eagerly accepts. Lanwyn Manor is at the heart of Cornwall’s mining industry, and as a guest Julia is swept into its intricate world. It’s not long, though, before she realizes something dark lurks in the home’s ancient halls.

As a respected mine owner’s younger son, Isaac Blake is determined to keep his late father’s legacy alive through the family business, despite his brother’s careless attitude. In order to save their livelihood—and the livelihood of those around them—the brothers approach the master of Lanwyn Manor with plans to bolster the floundering local industry. Isaac can’t deny his attraction to the man’s charming niece, but his brother has made his intentions to court the lovely guest clear. And Isaac knows his place.

When tragedy strikes, mysteries arise, and items go missing, Julia and Isaac find they are pulled together in a swirl of strange circumstances, but despite their own best efforts to bow to social expectations, their hearts aren’t so keen to surrender.

My Thoughts:

Sarah Ladd writes intriguing and suspenseful historical novels and The Thief of Lanwyn Manor is no exception.

While the book is the second in the Cornwall series it stands entirely on its own.

I have to admit that I thoroughly enjoyed this novel. While the first book in the series focused in on smuggling, this tale turned its focus to the mines and the livelihood of mining towns in Cornwall, which I could really envision after watching Poldark.

The suspense and mystery of Lanwyn Manor, the eerie atmosphere surrounding the house, the vivid character development, the fears, challenges and growth points all made this novel one that I stayed up entirely too late reading.

This is definitely one of my favorite of Sarah Ladd’s stories and I would recommend it.

I received a free digital copy of this book in exchange for my honest opinion.

Book Review: A Pursuit of Home

About the Book:

In early 1800s England, Jess Beauchene has spent most of her life in hiding and always on the move in an effort to leave her past far behind her. But when she learns the family she thought had died just might be alive and in danger, she knows her secrets can only stay buried for so long.

Derek Thornbury loves the past, which has led him to become an expert in history and artifacts. He knows Jess has never liked him, but when she requests his help deciphering the clues laid out in an old family diary, he can’t resist the urge to solve the puzzle.

As Jess and Derek race to find the hidden artifact before her family’s enemies, they learn as much about each other as they do about the past. But can their search to uncover the truth and set history right lead to a future together?

My Thoughts:

A Pursuit of Home is far and away my favorite book in the series. It may, in fact, be my favorite book by Kristi Ann Hunter.

The Haven Manor series begins with a short novella, A Search for Refuge, continues in book 1, A Defense of Honor, follows with book 2, A Return of Devotion, and finishes with this book, A Pursuit of Home, which releases November 5th. If you haven’t read the previous books you can start now and be up to date by release day. If you have, you can pre-order now and you are in for such a treat!

We first meet Jess briefly in the Hawthorne House series and she plays a secondary character role in the earlier Haven Manor books, but finally she gets a book all her own and it is a splendid tale full of adventure, intrigue, art, a challenge to overcome fear, the beauty of true friendship and the realization of what love really looks like.

Derek is also finally fully developed as a character and he is a fascinating man who manages to elevate the story to another level as he learns to read people the way he reads art.

All in all I can’t recommend it enough. I would recommend reading the whole series and if you are so inclined, meeting Jess and the Duke of Marshington in the Hawthorn House series gives a more fully developed context for the tale, though I’m sure the story would also stand alone.

I received a free digital copy of this book in exchange for my honest opinion.

Book Review: What Does Your Soul Love

What do you really want? What is your soul clinging to? What is getting in your way? In these pages Gem and Alan Fadling outline eight key questions that offer deep insight into how we experience soul change. These questions open the door to spiritual transformation. They help us unpack where we are stuck, where we are in pain, where we are afraid, and much more. They also reveal the path to joy and to the heart of God. Spiritual inventories and exercises will guide you, along with stories from Gem and Alan’s lives and their ministry together through Unhurried Living. “Embarking on a journey of transformation involves remaining awake to a deeper level of reality that is always present,” write the Fadlings. “Remaining on this journey requires a simpler, God focus. These eight questions about transformation can help us cultivate this kind of deeper awareness and soul focus. These paths help keep us on the journey of transformation. They keep us in the presence of the transforming One.” This practical, personal book offers a path to understanding what God wants to reveal in your soul.

My Thoughts:

This book gives you eight “soul” questions to ponder.

  1. Desire: What do you really want?
  2. Resistance: What is getting in your way?
  3. Vulnerability: Where are you hiding?
  4. Truth: What is most real to you?
  5. Pain: How are your suffering?
  6. Fear: What are you afraid of?
  7. Control: What are you clinging to?
  8. Joy: What does your soul love?

With insight and practical application exercises, Alan and Gem lead you through these questions in this spiritual primer for your inner life.

The topics are diverse and entire libraries have been written on the subjects of each section, but here is a book that gives insightful consideration and a solid jumping off point for each topic. Applicable for someone who is just putting their toes into the river of spiritual formation as well as for those who are at home swimming in deep waters, What Does Your Soul Love is a valuable companion on the journey of transformation.

I received a free digital galley of this book in exchange for my honest opinion.

Book Review: Diamond in the Rough

About the Book:

To save her family from financial ruin, Miss Poppy Garrison accepts an unusual proposition to participate in the New York social season in exchange for her grandmother settling a family loan that has unexpectedly come due. Ill-equipped to handle the intricacies of mingling within the New York Four Hundred, Poppy becomes embroiled in one hilarious fiasco after another, doomed to suffer a grand societal failure instead of being deemed the diamond of the first water her grandmother longs for her to become.

Reginald Blackburn, second son of a duke, has been forced to travel to America to help his cousin, Charles Wynn, Earl of Lonsdale, find an American heiress to wed in order to shore up his family estate that is in desperate need of funds. Reginald himself has no interest in finding an heiress to marry, but when Poppy’s grandmother asks him to give etiquette lessons to Poppy, he swiftly discovers he may be in for much more than he bargained for.

My Thoughts:

Turano always writes fun-filled, page turning, improbable romances that I thoroughly enjoy. It doesn’t really matter that they are far-fetched tales. I am prone to laugh out loud while reading and I end each story with a smile on my face.

While Diamond in the Rough is part of a series and there are connections to the first book, Flights of Fancy, you could read this novel as a stand alone.

If you are looking for a implausible, but comical, light read then I would highly recommend this book. I’m looking forward to the next installment in the series.

I received a free digital copy of this novel in exchange for my honest opinion.

Book Review: Shades of Light

About the Book:

“I was desperate. . . . I couldn’t turn off the dark thoughts, no matter how hard I tried or how much I prayed. And then I spent a whole weekend in bed, and the crying wouldn’t stop, and I got really scared. I’ve had bouts with depression before—it’s kind of a cloud I’ve learned to live with—but this time was different. I felt like I was going under, like I’d never feel hopeful again, and then that just made my anxiety worse and it all spiraled from there.”

Wren Crawford is a social worker who finds herself overwhelmed with the troubles of the world. Her lifelong struggles with anxiety and depression are starting to overcome her. She finds solace in art, spiritual formation, and pastoral care along with traditional therapeutic interventions. But a complicated relationship from her past also threatens to undo her progress.

As Wren seeks healing in this beautifully written novel, readers are invited to move beyond pat answers and shallow theology into an experience of hope and presence that illuminates even the darkness.

My Thoughts:

If I’m honest I found this novel difficult to read. Not that it isn’t beautifully written, it is, but it takes you into the mind of someone struggling with mental illness and that is simply not an easy place to be.

I appreciated the exploration of Vincent van Gogh’s life alongside of Wren’s struggles. I also appreciated the exploration of the cross of Christ and what it means that we are all companions in suffering. There were some beautiful “shades of light” in this novel.

If you are looking for a book that will help you understand mental illness then I don’t think this is it. This is a book of companionship with mental illness more than an explanation of it. There is a mystery to the mind that can sometimes only be observed and can not be explained. The author asked hard questions around difficult topics, including the complete inadequacy of formulaic answers and the lack of clarity in where mental illness and sin align or diverge. I appreciated that Brown tackled many of the insufficient ways that the church deals with this topic.

This is a story of compassion and struggle: a story of Jesus who keeps company with us in all that is hard. It’s a story worth wrestling through, but not a light or easy read.

I received a free digital copy of this book in exchange for my honest opinion.

Book Review: More Than Words Can Say

About the Book:

After fulfilling a pledge to a dying friend, Zacharias Hamilton is finally free. No family entanglements. No disappointing those around him. Just the quiet bachelor existence he’s always craved. Until fate snatches his freedom away when the baker of his favorite breakfast bun is railroaded by the city council. Despite not wanting to get involved, he can’t turn a blind eye to her predicament . . . or her adorable dimples.

Abigail Kemp needs a man’s name on her bakery’s deed. A marriage of convenience seems the best solution . . . if it involves a man she can control. That person definitely isn’t the stoic lumberman who oozes silent confidence whenever he enters her shop. Control Zacharias Hamilton? She can’t even control her pulse when she’s around him.

When vows are spoken, Abigail’s troubles should be over. Yet threats to the bakery worsen, and darker dangers hound her sister. Can she put ever more trust in Zach without losing her dreams of independence?

My Thoughts:

There is something about Karen Witemeyer’s writing that allows it to be light-hearted, easy reading while also being entirely sincere. More Than Words Can Say broached subjects of past regret, secrets, broken relationships and a woman’s desire for both independence and fair treatment within a story that captivated the heart of compassion and the beauty of God’s redemption.

While this book could stand alone it would be best read after the first book in the series: More Than Meets The Eye.

PS – My only disappointment was not with the novel itself, but with the cover. I thought the cover was really appealing until I read the book and realized that the cover image of Abigail was a long way from the plump baker that I found in the novel. (Think Sookie from Gilmore Girls). In retrospect I feel a little disappointed for the character that on the cover they would choose to keep her dimples but alter her weight.

I received a free digital copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Book Review: The Adventures of Sarah Ann Lewis and the Memory Thieves

About the Book:

What Sarah doesn’t know…

…could doom us all.

It’s 1988 in the middle of nowhere, Texas, and 13-year-old Sarah is about to be swept out of her boring life and into a world of danger.

Spies are coming for her. The people next door are not what they seem. And Sarah’s family has been hiding something. Something BIG. Something not even Sarah knows.

The fate of the world hangs in the balance. But for Sarah, all that matters is rescuing her family. What’s left of it, anyway.

If she fails, the Memory Thieves will learn their secrets, and as a result, millions around the world will die. But to save the people she loves, Sarah will have to team up with strangers she isn’t sure she can trust. Strangers who aren’t even human.

This story is not what you think.

A captivating blend of rural sci-fi, fantasy, mystery, and thriller, the first book of this genre smashing series will have you begging for more.

My Thoughts:

I was captivated from the very first page. This middle grade science fiction, fantasy, mystery was very engaging and creative.

For fans of N.D. Wilson and the Chronicles of Narnia, The Adventures of Sarah Ann Lewis had all the elements of a great story. There was a mystery to be solved, danger to be avoided (the very real type that includes fighting for survival and even death, but isn’t overly graphic in its description), friendships to be made, trust to be reinforced (or betrayed), intrigue, adventure, talking animals and other-worldly creatures.

From a Texas school room to a basement in Berlin, the story never lags. My only complaint is that the next book in the series hasn’t been released yet.

I received a free digital pre-release copy of this book in exchange for my honest opinion. An honestly I really enjoyed it.

Book Review: The Reluctant Bride

About the Book:

Living in London’s poorest slum, Mercy Wilkins has little hope of a better life. When she’s offered an opportunity to join a bride ship sailing to British Columbia, she agrees. After witnessing so much painful heartache and loss in the slums, the bride ship is her only prospect to escape a bleak future, not only for herself but, she hopes, someday for her sister.

Wealthy and titled Joseph Colville leaves home and takes to the sea in order to escape the pain of losing his family. As ship’s surgeon, he’s in charge of the passengers’ welfare aboard the Tynemouth, including sixty brides-to-be. He has no immediate intention of settling down, but when Mercy becomes his assistant, the two must fight against a forbidden love.

With hundreds of single men congregating on the shore eager to claim a bride from the Tynemouth, will Mercy and Joseph lose their chance at true love, or will they be able to overcome the obstacles that threaten to keep them apart?

My Thoughts:

While a perfectly reasonable book for whittling away an afternoon I found A Reluctant Bride to be a rather middle of the road novel. Though it was based on a true story I just didn’t find enough in the story to make it feel entirely believable to me and it seemed heavier on the romance than it was on the history. I’ve read a number of books by Jody Hedlund, but I just didn’t find The Reluctant Bride measured up to my expectations. I couldn’t quite come to terms with Joseph being titled and making the choices that he made, even with him originally being a second son and his unusual upbringing. I also had to look up facts about telegraphs to England from the territories at one point in the book, because the dates didn’t seem to correspond with the ability to send a trans-Atlantic message and expect to hear back in under a week. These little details are important to me, however, someone else might just slide over them without becoming distracted from the plot.

On the positive side, the author paints a realistic picture of life in the London slums. There is no sugar coating here. The fact that Mercy remained compassionate and self sacrificing in her surroundings makes her an exceptional character.

Overall, it was a nice romantic story, but I’d call it light entertainment rather than a riveting novel.

I was given a free digital copy of this book in exchange for my honest opinion.

Born to Trouble

In May I stayed the night in Venice before a flight. I was walking the streets from San Marco to the bus station when I heard this terrible shriek of pain. I looked up and a seagull had caught a swallow and was killing it. I wanted to throw something at the seagull. I couldn’t get the shriek out of my mind. It over-shadowed my evening.

I came home and was watching a family of birds at my feeder. Out of the corner of my eye I saw the neighbor’s cat and before I could blink a baby bird was carried away in cat jaws.

I sat on a Spiritual Direction call as tears dripped through the telephone line. Trouble. Pain. Loss.

And these words from N.D. Wilson came to mind:

Heat rises. Man is born to trouble. When Job lifted his face to the Storm, when he asked and was answered, he learned that he was very small. He learned that his life was a story. He spoke with the Author, and learned that the genre had not been an accident. God tells stories that make Sunday school teachers sweat and mothers write their children permission slips excusing them from encountering reality.

Lions are fed. Every day, animal stories end in those jaws. Leviathan snorts fire. Unicorns won’t plow. What good is a story without struggle? What good is a plot without danger? How is a character’s mettle tested? How is it made in the first place?

Nails are forged for pounding. Man is born to trouble. Man is born for trouble. Man is born to battle trouble. Man is born for the fight, to be forged and molded—under torch and hammer and chisel—into a sharper, finer, stronger image of God.

Eve had done nothing wrong. Our mother wandered the garden, doing no evil. She and her lover existed in Paradise. What had she done to deserve a dragon? A serpent? A forked tongue and lying eyes laboring to get her killed?

She had been born. Her life was a story. She was born—even when pure—for trouble.

Ponder this. Adam. Our unfallen father arrives on the scene to discover what exactly?

Adam was given the world and a garden and all manner of fruit to eat. He was given every beast to tend and name. He was given a wife and lover traced by God’s own fingers—a muse to make Helen of Troy put on sunglasses and a hoodie in shame. Fairy tale. And then, having done no wrong at all, he was given a dragon, a wife who had been deceived, who had believed that God was a petty liar and therefore chosen to defy Him. Eve had stepped directly under the curse of the Almighty, smack into thou shalt surely die. Adam, still having done no wrong, had been given loss. He had been given trouble with a capital T. And like every person who has been given a beating heart and breathing lungs and seeing eyes and hearing ears and fingers and thumbs and thoughts and an entirely unasked-for existence in the flowing stream of history on this space-time stage, he had been given a choice.

As the sparks fly upward, Eve was born to a moment in the garden when she faced a dragon spewing lies.

As the sparks fly upward, Adam was born to a moment when his garden was invaded by a deceiving dragon and he learned that his love was under a death curse.

The plot hinged. The past was ready to be written in forever stone. The future waited to swirl up or down, left or right.

Death By Living – N. D. Wilson

The future waits for us to choose. How will we live in the midst of turmoil and trouble. Some days lions are fed. Other days God sends an angel to close their jaws. Sometimes, having done nothing in particular to earn it, we are given trouble. We are given choice.

The plot hinges. What will you choose? What will I choose?

Can I worship in the echo of the screaming swallow?

Will I trust the Word of the Lord when a serpent out to get me killed comes crawling into the garden?

The plot hinges…

I suspect I’ve quoted this book more than any other book.
It’s impact on me can’t be measured. Check it out:
Amazon US: https://amzn.to/2Xeiy5t
Amazon UK: https://amzn.to/2XkrUg0