Book Review: This Homeward Ache

About the Book:

That sudden yearning you feel when you see a sunset. That pang of longing you sense deep in your bones when you attend a funeral or even gaze at a poignant piece of art. Those experiences that sting you to attention in moments of beauty, peace, or sorrow—the ones you can sense are offering you a twinkling, piercing hint of heaven:
 
Are these meant to do more than point you to eternity?
 
What if they could enable you to live more fully on the way there? 
 
Through personal reflections, evocative stories, and profound writing, author Amy Baik Lee offers This Homeward Ache, inviting you to remember the times you’ve been deeply moved by a glimpse, a spark, of something you know is beyond the visible present—moments that other cultures and times have called Sehnsucht, saudade, hiraeth, or galmang. In each spellbinding chapter, Amy traces her own brushes with this longing, unfolding her discovery that it is designed to enrich and alter every area of our lives: our valleys of pain, our relationships with other people, and ultimately our reception of the love of God.
 
If you’ve ever wondered how to keep going in this world while holding on to the hope of the world to come, This Homeward Ache offers you courage, companionship, and a stirring sense of the scope of our journey home to Christ.

My Thoughts:

Here’s yet another book that I’m late reviewing. I’ve had trouble moving through this one and it’s not the book, it’s all me and where I find myself these days. I love Amy’s writing. She’s a master at a beautiful turn of phrase. I’ve been following her online for a few years. I was really looking forward to this book, but it came at a time when I just haven’t had the mental space to be as present to the writing as I think this book requires. At first I thought it was just trying to read it on kindle, but then I bought a hard copy and still struggled. It’s definitely a book that requires something of you in the reading.

The subject matter is good and it’s one I’ve spent quite a bit of time reflecting on over the years. It’s a mix of communicating ideas about how we journey and personal stories from the author’s own journey. I like the fact that you are invited to jump around and not to feel compelled to read it in order, though I wonder if that’s part of what is keeping me from moving on to the next chapter. It seems like each chapter is unto itself in some ways and there is a need to read reflectively so it’s maybe a little easier to put it down that a book where every chapter is urging you on to the next. I do appreciate what I’ve read so far (about 35%) and I’m hoping that sometime soon I’ll be able to give this book the focus that it deserves.

Have you read it? I’d love to hear your thoughts on the book.

I received a free digital copy and purchased a hard copy of this book.

Book Review: The Irish Matchmaker

About the Book:

As daughter of a well-known matchmaker, Catríona Daly is no stranger to the business of love–and sees it as her ticket away from the sleepy village that only comes alive during the annual matchmaking festival. Enter Lord Osborne’s son, Andrew, who has returned to the festival after being disappointed by a rival matchmaker’s failed setup. Catríona seizes the opportunity to make a better match for the handsome man–and for herself!

Cattle farmer Donal Bunratty is in desperate need of a wife after loss left him to handle the farm and raise his daughter on his own. Shy and lacking the finer social graces, he agrees to attend the matchmaking festival to appease his daughter. But when he arrives, it’s not any of the other merrymakers that catch his eye but rather his matchmaker–who clearly has eyes for someone else.

Catríona will have to put all her expertise to work to make a match that could change her life forever. Will her plan succeed? Or will love have its own way?

My Thoughts:

Jennifer Deibel’s is an excellent author, but I wasn’t sure that I wanted to read anything as intense as her books can be in this particular season. Christmas break is a time when I would typically reach for a lighter story-line. So I was very pleasantly surprised to discover that this book was a little more lighthearted than her previous novels.

While I would generally say Deibel writes compelling stories, this time I would say that I found The Irish Matchmaker an enjoyable read. The author didn’t shy away from the difficult circumstances of the characters or the overall injustices of the time and place, but those things seemed to stay a bit more on the periphery of the narrative arc.

I’d recommend the book as a beautiful integration of character development and personal discovery among the intriguing setting of an Irish matchmaking festival. (Who knew there even was such a thing?)

I received a free digital galley of this novel and in return I am providing my honest opinion in this review.

Book Review: Rocky Mountain Promise

Amazon US Affiliate: https://amzn.to/3Rnh18s

About the Book:

Lorelei Collins possesses a soft heart for any animal in need, so when she finds a buffalo calf bawling beside its lifeless mother, she can’t help but bring it home to raise on the ranch she and her sisters are building in the Rocky Mountain wilderness. Little does she realize that its white coloring is rare and considered sacred by Native Americans, which makes it highly valuable to them and European trappers alike. Men soon begin to visit their ranch to regard the marvel, with some trying to woo Lorelei into marriage and others trying to steal the calf outright.

When the men’s advances become more sinister, Lorelei approaches Tanner Mason, the quiet and mysterious owner of the new trading post, with an idea: she and the calf will move to his post, along with her family’s trusted Blackfoot friend. This will solve both their problems by bringing customers to his trade room and protecting her family from the trouble brought on by so many strangers. Yet as the danger travels with her, Lorelei and Tanner are faced with a threat greater than anything they’re prepared for–one that will test the limits of their abilities and the love growing between them.

My Thoughts:

This is the second book in the Sisters of the Rockies series. We made only a tiny bit of headway on the mystery woman they are searching for, but we got to journey into a beautifully developed narrative where both Lorelei and Tanner discover their worth.

You could probably figure out the context without reading book one, Rocky Mountain Rendezvous, but I’d recommend you start at the beginning and get to know the sisters and their context. I’m enjoying this series and look forward to the next installment.

I received a pre-release digital galley of this book in exchange for my honest opinion.

Book Review: To Spark A Match

About the Book:

After five unsuccessful Seasons on the marriage mart, Miss Adelaide Duveen has resigned herself to the notion that she’s destined to remain a spinster forever–a rather dismal prospect, but one that will allow her to concentrate on her darling cats and books. However, when she inadvertently stumbles upon Mr. Gideon Abbott engaged in a clandestine activity during a dinner party, Adelaide finds herself thrust into a world of intrigue that resembles the plots in the spy novels she devours.

Former intelligence agent Gideon Abbott feels responsible for Adelaide after society threatens to banish her because of the distraction she caused to save his investigation. Hoping to return the favor, he turns to a good friend–and one of high society’s leaders–to take Adelaide in hand and turn her fashionable. When danger surrounds them and Adelaide finds herself a target of the criminals in Gideon’s case, the spark of love between them threatens to be quenched for good–along with their lives.

My Thoughts:

Jen Turano is an author that I often turn to when I need a light and enjoyable novel. Turano excels at quippy dialogue and outrageous and comical tales. To Spark a Match was entirely delightful. It was so much less of a “romance” and so much more of a tale of friendship becoming something more, something built on the ability to be your own unique self and to pursue who God created you to be.

Adelaide is a bit of chaos with a heart of gold. She’s far “too much” for society to tolerate, even with her background as one of the Knickerbocker set. That is, until a society darling takes Adelaide in hand to convince everyone that rather than just being odd, Adelaide is “an original.”

Gideon’s background in intelligence has convinced him that he will need to remain a bachelor, as he can not bear the thought of those he cares for being targeted by his enemies. His view on this has never been challenged, until he meets Adelaide, a woman whose insight and courage is exceptional.

Romping through bookstores and convincing society that owning cats is fashionable are other delightful aspects of this imaginative and fun novel.

I received a free galley of this book in exchange for my honest opinion and as I thoroughly enjoyed this story I recommend it to you. To Spark A Match follows book one in the series A Match in the Making, but can be easily read as a stand alone if you prefer.

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Book Review: Christmas Forevermore

About the Book:

This holiday season, fall in love with a brand-new collection of swoon-worthy novellas from four of your favorite historical romance authors. From meddling matchmakers to fortuitous fiascos, the holidays have never been more magical!

“A Family Christmas” by Sally Britton

After years abroad, Cyril Grant worries about relating to his highborn relatives at the family’s holiday celebration. But an unexpected connection with a member of the household staff opens his heart—in more ways than one.

“Christmas Forevermore” by Sarah M. Eden

In this re-imagining of the beloved Charles Dickens tale A Christmas Carol, spinster Minna Schofield is inadvertently ensnared by a local matchmaker whose meddling launches Minna on a journey of self-reflection that could lead her to unexpected love.

“Christmas at Cranfield” by Ashtyn Newbold

Though childhood friends Hannah and Samuel secretly adore one another, fate conspires to keep them apart. But after years of shared holidays and missed opportunities, this Christmas brings the hope that their stars will align.

“A Thrill of Hope” by Karen Thornell

After a devastating loss, Christmas holds little appeal for Isabel Reid. But when a snowstorm traps her in the company of a surprising traveling companion, the perpetual winter of Isabel’s heart may just begin to thaw.

My Thoughts:

I enjoyed this collection of novellas.

A Family Christmas was a sweet story of connection and discovering that sometimes our perspectives keep us from discovering the joy that is right before us.

Christmas Forevermore was a more sober story, with a fair amount of focus on grief and loss. I didn’t see any significant connection to “A Christmas Carol” myself – apart from the fact there were three suitors who caused Minna to think of her past, present and future, but I thought it an honest and moving narrative.

Christmas at Cranfield was one of those stories where you are expecting a happy ending and yet at every turn you wonder if the characters are doing everything in their power to prevent a satisfactory resolution to the tale. I was pleased with the way it ended.

A Thrill of Hope is another story that dives into the impact of grief and loss and insecurity and weaves a tale with a real depth of joy.

All the stories were the type of reading I’d choose for a good holiday read and I recommend the collection to you.

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

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Book Review: The Juliet Code

About the Book:

Newlyweds Lord and Lady Astley Finally Reach Their Honeymoon Destination Only to Encounter a New Mystery in Need of Solving
 
Frederick and Grace Percy finally make it to Italy to enjoy a delayed honeymoon and explore the beauties of the historic city of Venice. To their surprise, their friend, Detective Jack Miracle, is also in the city, investigating a series of art heists starting at the house of eccentric millionaire, Laraby Covington. Drawn into a world of boat races, mysterious houses, and parties of the rich and unusual in Venice, Frederick and Grace learn of the existence of the Juliet paintings, (Renaissance paintings feature Shakespeare’s tragic heroine) rumored to hold a secret code to an underground vault of similarly treasured artwork assumed lost over the centuries. As Freddie and Grace are pulled deeper into the mystery and their beloved Detective Jack disappears, can they use their wits and work as a team to find the thieves and Jack before it’s too late. 
 
The Juliet Code is a Freddie and Grace Mystery, sequel to The Mistletoe Countess and The Cairo Curse.

My Thoughts:

I’m writing about this book a month before its release because it’s absolutely delightful and if you haven’t read the first two books in the series you have a chance to get them now before book three releases.

If you didn’t gather it from the above, I adored this book. I generally don’t like murder mysteries, but I do like treasure hunts and art and the characters of Grace and Freddie and their friends. Grace and Freddie just keep growing and in this book you really begin to see Grace less through the eyes of naivety and more in the context of the beauty of trusting faith and expectation. There is a solid theme of trusting God that weaves it way through the series, but it particularly comes forward in this novel.

Despite the trauma, and the characters have experienced a fair bit of trauma and near death experiences over the course of the series, the books felt light and hopeful. Grace’s character is radiant and somehow her enthusiasm for life lifts not only the characters, but the reader as well.

The mystery is intriguing and the author is good enough to keep you guessing when it comes to conclusions. And of course, I love Italy and so a Venetian island is an excellent setting for a mystery.

I do hope the author doesn’t stop at a trilogy, but keeps taking us on new adventures with Freddie and Grace.

I received a digital pre-release galley of this book in exchange for my honest opinion…which is go and read this series. It is so fun.

Book Review: A Royal Christmas

About the Book:

Adelaide Smith is too busy for fairy tales. She’s been working hard to put herself through law school and now that the end is in sight, she’s determined to stay focused on her goals. Then she receives a letter notifying her that she has been found through a DNA registry to be a direct descendant of King Maximillian V, the ruler of a small Eastern European principality called Montovia. She’s understandably skeptical. This is the stuff of cheesy made-for-TV movies, not real life.

Although the pieces of this surprising family puzzle seem too good to be true, curiosity gets the best of her. At the king’s invitation, Adelaide embarks on a Christmas break trip that is chock-full of surprises, including a charming village, an opulent palace, family mysteries, royal jealousies, a handsome young member of Parliament–and the chance at a real fairy tale romance with a happily-ever-after ending.

Spend this Christmas with bestselling author Melody Carlson as she whisks you away to a royal holiday you’ll never forget!

My Thoughts:

I’ve read a number of books by Melody Carson and generally classify them as a short and light Sunday afternoon read. This one fits the category, but it wasn’t one of my favorites by Carson. I would actually have enjoyed it more as a Hallmark movie than a book.

I think the general reason it fell a bit flat for me was that the author did a whole lot of telling you about things rather that writing in such a way that they unfolded in front of you. Part of that is likely due to the brevity of the book, but I just think it wasn’t the author’s best writing. That said, it was a sweet story of family and hope and finding your place in the world. There was a nice emphasis on stepping into something for the greater good and being able to lay it down and walk away for the sake of another.

All in all it was a feel good style Christmas story that just wasn’t quite as well written as it was well imagined. Still, if you are looking for a book to curl up with a cup of hot chocolate on a winter’s afternoon, a book that doesn’t require too much engagement from you, then it might be just the thing.

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

Book Review: The Queen and the Knave

About the Book:

Romance and mystery come full circle in the fifth and final book of Sarah M. Eden’s best-selling Victorian Proper Romance series.

London, 1866

Móirín Donnelly has spent the last five years working in the shadows for the Dread Penny Society, a secret fraternity of penny dreadful authors who use their profits, influence, and street smarts to protect the poor and vulnerable of Victorian London. But spending so much of her life in secret is taking its toll on her soul—and her heart.

When members of the Dread Penny Society begin disappearing, Móirín turns to her friend Detective Constable Fitzgerald Parkington for help. The two have developed a friendly rapport, and Móirín feels like she can trust him, though perhaps not with all of her secrets.

Fitzgerald Parkington has a sixth sense when it comes to tracking down criminals, which is why he’s recently been transferred to the Detective Department at Scotland Yard. But when roadblocks and red tape keep him from tracking down the criminal mastermind known as “The Tempest,” he must rely on the one woman who has unexpectedly captured his heart—the brash, bold, and fiery Irish lass, Móirín Donnelly.   

As the Tempest’s deadly reach threatens to overwhelm all of London, Móirín and Fitz are caught in an elaborate game of cat and mouse that leads down back alleys, through dark London buildings, and right to the gates of Kensington Palace. Móirín has one chance to save Fitz and the Dread Penny Society from the Tempest, and she might have to sacrifice her one chance at love to do so.

My Thoughts:

First, you need to know that this is not a stand-alone book. You’ll need to read the first four books in the series if you want to have any hope of following and truly enjoying this one.

The Queen and the Knave is a fast paced and fascinating conclusion to the efforts of the Dread Penny Society and their attempts to make London a better and safer place for “the least of these.” As is typical of this series, the author intersperses two different Penny Dreadfuls into the mix of the story that is unfolding. I really enjoyed that juxtaposition along with the story of the society itself. I was happy with the conclusion and recommend the series to those who like a little mystery mixed in with a bit of comedy and romance.

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

Featured Book: Nourishing Narratives

About the Book:

Humans are story-shaped creatures. We make sense of our world, pattern our lives, and reflect on what is ultimately significant through language and the words that compose our stories. But how does this relate to the narrative of the Bible and the story that God is writing through history? In Nourishing Narratives, writer and professor Jennifer Holberg engages with words from the likes of Dante, Gerard Manley Hopkins, Flannery O’Connor, Marilynne Robinson, and more while also offering some of her own stories to reflect on the importance of story to our lives and our faith. Here, readers are encouraged not only to understand how stories nourish our faith, but to discover how our stories are part of God’s great story.


Advance Praise

“Pull up a chair and let this master storyteller gently question and correct the destructive stories we often rely on to make sense of our lives. In an age marked by narratives of stress-inducing scarcity and individual achievement, Jennifer Holberg invites us to instead live out truer narratives of abundant friendship and restorative hope. As the philosopher Alasdair MacIntyre has written, if we want to rightly answer the question, What am I to do? we must first answer the question, Of what story or stories do I find myself a part? Holberg is a wise guide to the faithful, life-giving stories that Christians are called to inhabit.”

-Jeffrey Bilbro, associate professor of English at Grove City College and author of Reading the Times

“Not only is Jennifer Holberg a clear, compelling, and beautiful writer, but her words in Nourishing Narratives are also filled with truth and goodness. I can’t remember the last time I read a book that made my heart sing along as this one did. Nourishing Narratives will open your eyes, grow your faith, and feed your soul.”

-Karen Swallow Prior, author of The Evangelical Imagination: How Stories, Images & Metaphors Created a Culture in Crisis

From Me:

This book looks fascinating and the premise resonates with me. I picked it up in July with the intent to write a review, but this summer had been a bit overwhelming, for a number of reasons, and I simply haven’t had the time to read very much of it, certainly not enough to give you an honest opinion. (I only really have capacity for reading light fiction at the moment – I haven’t been able to dive back into my non-fiction stack). So, I’m just going to say that I liked what little I’ve read and I look forward to the point when I’ll have time to pick it back up again. In the meantime you might like to check it out for yourself.

Book Review: The Lost Manuscript

About the Book:

A priceless manuscript could be one woman’s key to finding her missing grandmother—and to her own second chance.

“A perfect blend of Indiana Jones style adventure and heart-tugging romance!” -Tara Johnson, author of Engraved on the Heart.

It’s not just Ellora Lockwood’s home that’s being emptied as she prepares to sell—her heart seems to be empty too. Since the mysterious disappearance of her beloved Grandma June and separating from her husband, Alex, Ellora has felt adrift. Then comes an invitation from Alex to teach history at a summer program at Alnwick Castle in England. He’s even found information about the location of a medieval manuscript that was her grandmother’s obsession before she vanished.

Warily, Ellora accepts Alex’s offer. Surrounded by lush English countryside and captivating history, she pieces together clues about the manuscript’s whereabouts—and uncovers new questions. Could someone have been sabotaging her grandmother’s work? Anonymous threats lead Ellora to suspect she too may be in danger, but as she and Alex work together, she’s finding strength, new purpose and the courage to see this quest through, wherever it may lead.

My Thoughts:

When I reviewed “Bookshop of Secrets” last year I described it as “intense and layered.” As it was my first experience with Rushmeyer’s writing I wasn’t entirely sure that I wanted to read “The Lost Manuscript,” because intense is not the style that I’m choosing these days. The synopsis, however, proved too alluring and I decided to give it a try.

I loved it.

This book is also layered, and I suppose some may call it intense, but the relational nature of the conflicts and the historical intrigue around the mystery drew me in without making the story feel heavy. The fight to live and to love, to discover and to honor all soothed my heart in the midst of the story, so that I felt such hope for the characters as they traveled the path before them. And the story of the manuscript itself was completely engaging.

Also, being a dual citizen, I enjoyed the US-UK aspects of this story.

It was very Indiana Jones or T. Davis Bunn “Gold of Kings” style reading and I’m glad that I took a chance on it. I received a free digital copy of this book with the understanding that I would provide a review with my honest opinion.