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.

Book Review: A Beautiful Disguise

About the Book:

In Edwardian London, not all that glitters is gold as a lady and an intelligence officer’s secret mission take them from the city’s dazzling ballrooms to its covert intelligence offices.

Sir Merritt Livingstone has spent a decade serving the monarch in the field, but when pneumonia lands him behind a desk in the War Office Intelligence Division just as they’re creating a new secret intelligence branch, he’s intent on showing his worth. He suspects an aristocrat of leaking information to Germany as tensions mount between the two countries, but he needs someone to help him prove it, so he turns to The Imposters, Ltd. No one knows who they are, but their results are beyond compare.

Left with an estate on the brink of bankruptcy after their father’s death, Lady Marigold Fairfax and her brother open a private investigation firm for the elite to spy on the elite. Dubbed The Imposters, Ltd., their anonymous group soon becomes the go-to for the crème of society who want answers delivered surreptitiously. But the many secrets Marigold learns about her peers pale in comparison to her shock when she and her brother are hired to investigate her best friend’s father as a potential traitor.

Lady Marigold is determined to discover the truth for her friend’s sake, and she’s more determined still to keep her heart from getting involved with this enigmatic new client . . . who can’t possibly be as noble as he seems.

My Thoughts:

There is a reason Roseanna White is one of my favorite authors. Every book she releases is intriguing, well written and multi-faceted.

I enjoyed the glimpse into The Imposters, why and how they came about and the genius that allowed them to use their unique talents for the good of their own household and for society as a whole.

The scenario that the author presented of the birth of the UK’s intelligence service was also interesting and compelling.

The way all the threads wove together created a fascinating tale.

I recommend the book to you and look forward to the next book in the series.

I received a free digital copy of this book with the expectation that I would write a review with my honest opinion.

Book Review: The Starlet Spy

About the Book:

Hollywood Star Turns Spy

In 1943, Movie producer Henrik Zoltan approaches Amelie Blake under the guise of offering the Hollywood star a leading part in his upcoming film, but he has a more meaningful role in mind. Amelie’s homeland of Sweden declared neutrality in the war, but Stockholm has become the ‘Casablanca of the North.’ When top-secret atomic research goes missing in Sweden, the Allied forces scramble to recover the files before they fall into Nazi hands.

The United States Office of Strategic Services (OSS) needs someone who’s subtle enough to spy on the Swedish elite without triggering suspicion. Who better than the “all beauty, no brains” Scandinavian starlet? Fluent in three languages and possessing a brilliant memory, Amelie loathes being labeled witless but uses the misconception as her disguise. She’s tasked with searching for the crucial files, but Finn Ristaffason keeps getting in her way. Is the charming shipping magnate after the missing research? Or does he have other reasons for showing up at her every turn?

With the Gestapo on her heels, Amelie must rely on her smarts in addition to her acting skills to survive a world of deadly spies and counterspies.

My Thoughts:

This was the first book that I have read by Rachel Scott McDaniel and I was pleased to find it a balance of mystery and character growth. The author did an excellent job of helping me to enter into the world of 1940’s Hollywood, using the misconceptions about the leading lady to develop a surprisingly poignant story of both main characters. It was a fairly fluid and light read despite the wartime setting and danger that infiltrated the mystery. I’ll happily add McDaniel to my list of authors to watch for future titles.

I received a free digital galley of this book and in return am sharing with you my honest opinion.

Book Review: The Spacious Path

About the Book:

A simple invitation into a life ordered around listening and love

As we live through cycles of change and disruption, our familiar pathways crumble and we find ourselves in fragmented relationships with God, others, and our own souls. We are not the first to experience this disorientation: When Jesus offered the stunning invitation to come to him to learn how to work from a place of rest, he was talking to people weighed down by ill-fitting political, economic, and religious systems. And his life and ministry offer a glimpse of a better way.

For centuries a practice called the Rule of Life—built around rhythms of prayer, work, study, hospitality, and rest—has provided a loving pathway for anyone who desires to live out the whole gospel. More than a historic primer on an ancient practice, an aspirational overview of spiritual life, or a personal inventory focused on habits, The Spacious Path offers companionship through personal narrative, meaningful reflection, and guided prayer for readers to return to as often as needed.

Rediscover an ancient Christian practice to reorient your life around the unforced rhythms of Jesus, not by adding another ill-fitting system but by walking freely and lightly on the pathways of listening and love in the way of Jesus.

My Thoughts:

I rarely write reviews before I have finished a book, but this is one of those times. I am enjoying this book far too much to rush through it for the sake of a timely review.

I value the benefits of a rule of life and I love the author’s ability to invite you beyond the modern, negative connotations of the word “rule,” into its proper historical understanding as a motif, a pattern or a rhythm. The entire book is an invitation filled with grace and goodness.

I’ve read a number of books on spiritual practices and the idea of a rule of life. This one is, so far, the most gracious and engaging one I’ve ever read. I’d absolutely recommend it as a starting point for people who want to grow and thrive in their spiritual life, but don’t know what the path to that desire looks like. I’d also recommend it to those who have already spent years walking a path toward spiritual thriving as I’m finding it still has invitations for me to embrace.

I received a digital, pre-release copy of this book with the understanding that I’d provide my honest opinion. I’ve added A Spacious Path to my list of “purchase next” books, because I want to have a hard copy on my shelf.

Book Review: Fairest of Heart

About the Book:

Once upon a time in Texas . . .

Beauty has been nothing but a curse to Penelope Snow. When she becomes a personal maid for a famous actress whose troupe is leaving Chicago to tour the West, she hides her figure beneath shapeless dresses and keeps her head down. But she still manages to attract the wrong attention, leaving her prospects in tatters–and her jealous mistress plotting her demise.

After his brother lost his life over a woman, Texas Ranger Titus Kingsley has learned to expect the worst from women and is rarely disappointed. So when a young lady found in suspicious circumstances takes up residence with the seven old drovers living at his grandfather’s ranch, Titus is determined to keep a close eye on her.

With a promotion hanging in the balance, Titus is assigned to investigate a robbery case tied to Penelope’s acting troupe, and all evidence points to Penelope’s guilt. But Titus might just be convinced that the fairest woman of all has a heart as pure as her last name . . . if only he can prove it.

My Thoughts:

A fresh Texas take on an old fairy tale.

Penelope is the classic genuine and innocent beauty, but the author draws upon a depth that the fairy tale often lacks. It is Penny’s relationship to the Lord, her dependence on the truth of Scripture, her genuine love and humility and her expectation that the Lord is at work that outshines even her physical beauty.

Titus is both skeptic and hero – the Texas ranger with a big heart, out to serve, protect and bring justice – and the man with a drive and perspective that arises from his own wounds and guarded expectations.

The villain is entirely self focused and the evil is real.

The story is satisfying.

I received a free digital copy of this novel with the expectation that I would leave an honest review.

Book Review: Rocky Mountain Rendezvous

About the Book:

In 1837, Juniper Collins and her sisters are shocked by their father’s deathbed request for them to return a special set of beads to a Piegan Blackfoot woman he credits with saving his life during his travels West. Together, the sisters set out for the trapper rendezvous to find the woman, but their mission turns more daunting when they come upon the mass of men and lodges spread out in the Green River Valley.

Riley Turner came West to find peace and quiet and live off the land, but when four unprotected women arrive at the rendezvous, he feels compelled to help them and is more fascinated by Juniper than any other woman he’s known.

As their search brings only empty leads and dead ends, the sisters must decide whether to return East or stay in the mountains to continue looking–and that’s if the mystery woman is even still alive. Is the risk to honor their father’s last request worth the danger they find at every turn?

My Thoughts:

Though Misty Beller has many books to her name I’d yet to read one. It’s always nice to come across an author that you aren’t familiar with and discover you enjoy their writing.

The Rendezvous, where all the trappers and many native Americans tribal people went to gather supplies, and the actions of the wagon train master, set the stage for immediate tension. You can’t help but appreciate Riley, whose heart is to protect.

The sisters seem far more naive than I would have expected for four women who set off across America on their own, but their confrontation with reality opened the door to their path of growth and development.

The twists and turns of this novel kept me engaged. The intersection of cultures was also well developed. I appreciated even the small ways that healthy perspectives were contrasted to unhealthy ones (as in the assumption about whether natives were at the heart of the crimes, or not).

While some of the plot direction followed predictable tracks, I found myself immersed in the story and I look forward to the next book in the series and the continuation of the journey to return the beads. In the meantime I’ve already picked up some other novels by Beller to explore.

I was given a free, digital copy of this book with the expectation that I would leave an honest review of my opinion.

Book Review: In This Moment

About the Book:

Maggie inherited a gift from her time-crossing parents that allows her to live three separate lives in 1861, 1941, and 2001. Each night, she goes to sleep in one time period and wakes up in another. Until she turns twenty-one, when she will have to forfeit two of those lives–and everyone she knows in them–forever.

In 1861, Maggie is the daughter of a senator at the outbreak of the Civil War, navigating a capital full of Southern spies and wounded soldiers. In 1941, she is a navy nurse, grappling with her knowledge of the future when she joins a hospital ship going to Pearl Harbor. And in 2001, she’s a brilliant young medical student, fulfilling her dream of becoming a surgeon.

While Maggie has sworn off romance until she makes her final choice, an intriguing man tugs at her heart in each era, only complicating the impossible decision she must make, which looms ever closer. With so much on the line, how can Maggie choose just one life to keep and the rest to lose?

My Thoughts:

In This Moment is the second book in a series. It can be read as a stand alone. Some of the lessons on life in multiple streams of time are set up in book one, which is called When The Day Comes, but the author gives you enough information that you can start with In This Moment.

I will say right off the bat that this series is not for the sensitive reader and it is not a light, feel-good type of time travel book. I found book one to be more than I expected, with some traumatic situations, (including abuse by a husband) that made it very difficult to read. Book two was less traumatic, but still not an easy read, which you can probably guess by the years the main character inhabits.

That said, if you can read past the intensity of the scenarios, the book is well written and the creativity of the author is evident in the way she tells the story and explains the impact of time and life experience on Maggie’s story. The intersection of choice and circumstance is developed, as it is how we live and what we choose, no matter what is happening around us, that is the true defining factor of our lives.

In This Moment will appeal to history buffs and those who resonate with the challenge of living well in the midst of hard times and difficult choices.

I received a free digital copy of In This Moment to read with the expectation that I would post an honest review of my thoughts.