First Line Friday – 3.24.17

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It’s Friday. What are you reading this weekend? Today I’m featuring When Love Calls by Lorna Seilstad. It’s Book 1 in the Gregory Sisters series and an excellent choice for historical Christian romance fans.

When Love Calls

Here’s the first line:

April 1908
Des Moines, Iowa

Did she dare?

Now it’s your turn! Grab the book nearest to you and leave a comment with the first line!

Then head on over and share your First Line with these friends:

Carrie @ Reading Is My Super Power

Rachel @ Bookworm Mama

Sydney @ Singing Librarian Books

Andi @ Radiant Light

Heather @ Encouraging Words from the Tea Queen

Sarah @ All the Book Blog Names are Taken

Robin @ Robin’s Nest

Katie @ Fiction Aficionado

Bree @ Bibliophile Reviews

Beth @ Faithfully Bookish

Amanda @ With A Joyful Noise

Lauraine @ Lauraine’s Notes

Jessica @ A Baker’s Perspective

My Review – A Lady In Disguise +GIVEAWAY!

My Review - A Lady In Disguise

Today’s review comes with a bonus GIVEAWAY! So be sure to read to the bottom and enter to win!

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In this intriguing novel of romance, mystery, and clever disguise set in Victorian England, a young woman investigates the murder of her own father.

After the mysterious death of her father, Miss Gillian Young takes a new job as the principal costume designer at the renowned Theatre Royal, Drury Lane. But while she remembers her father as a kind, well-respected man of the Police Force, clues she uncovers indicate he’d been living a double life: a haunting photograph of a young woman; train stubs for secret trips just before his death; and a receipt for a large sum of money. Are these items evidence of her father’s guilty secrets? His longtime police partner thinks so.

Then Gillian meets the dashing Viscount Thomas Lockwood. Their attraction is instant and inescapable. As their romantic involvement grows, Gillian begins to suspect even Lockwood’s motives. Does Lord Lockwood truly love her? Or is his interest a front for the desire to own her newly inherited property? And what should she make of her friend’s suggestion that Lockwood or men like him were involved in the murder of her father?

Soon Gillian is convinced that her father has left evidence somewhere that can prove his innocence and reveal the guilty party. But someone wants to stop her from discovering it. The closer she comes to uncovering it, the more menacing her opposition grows. With her life on the line, Gillian takes on an ingenious disguise and takes on the role of a lifetime to reveal the true killer—before it’s too late both for her and for those that she loves.

Why This Book:

It is far too easy to allow oneself to become stuck in a reading rut, so I make it a point to read outside of my genre on occasion. Granted, A Lady In Disguise is not too far outside my genre – it is still historical fiction – but it is definitely beyond my usual choice in novels due to its heavy emphasis on the mystery portion of the plot, leaving the romance as a secondary part of the story.

Additionally, Sandra Byrd was not an author I had read in recent years and I had never read one of her historical novels, so when I saw the opportunity to be part of a group who would have the privilege of reading the book prior to its release, I applied and was accepted. I did receive a free copy of this book, but was under no obligation to review it favorably. As always, the review below is entirely my own and an honest opinion of the novel I read.

Opening Line:

“I stood, that bleak day, in the graveyard in the village near Winton Park. The chapel’s stone gargoyles, pitted and blinded by the elements, nonetheless mocked our mortality with their jeering grins.”

First Impressions:

I think I was tired when I started this book, because despite the well-done first line it failed to intrigue me. The other explanation might be that the romantic interest is only briefly (and unconvincingly) hinted at in the first chapter and then not seen or really even mentioned again until chapter seven. So perhaps the romantic in me was feeling a bit impatient. Either way, the first few chapters, though beautifully written and filled with a mystery which engaged my curiosity, failed to engage my emotions.

Additionally, the first few chapters left me a bit frustrated by the lack of clarity regarding Mrs. W’s role in Gillian’s life. However, this was clarified in later chapters.

Characters:

Miss Gillian Young – The heroine. She is a self-confident, brave young woman determined to not only provide for herself, but also for those close to her as well as for those in need. Her sense of reason and caution are strong enough to make her a believable character in this story without making her bolder choices outside the realm of plausibility.

Inspector Young – Miss Gillian’s father is deceased prior to the start of the novel, yet he remains a character through Miss Gillian’s memories; and certainly, the mystery surrounding his actions prior to his death are what drive most of the plot forward.

Mrs. W. – Though no title is given, that I recall, Mrs. W. is clearly a long-time employee of the family. Not quite a servant, but paid nonetheless, Mrs. W. has difficulty accepting Gillian’s transition from child to adult.

Viscount Thomas Lockwood – Neighbor to Miss Young’s newly inherited country estate, he is apparently eager to be of assistance to Miss Young, though his motivations are unclear throughout most of the novel.

Sergeant Roberts – The young policeman who’d been training with Inspector Young prior to his mysterious death, now claims to be investigating his mentor’s actions.

Inspector Collingsworth – A long-time colleague of Inspector Young and friend of the family, he is seemingly the head of the Chelsea Police Division.

Francis Collingsworth – Inspector Collingsworth’s son, he is following in his father’s footsteps as a police officer. He is a childhood friend of Gillian with hopes of becoming more. (As they were most frequently – and appropriately – referred to by their last names, I had trouble keeping Francis separate from his father until I noted that he was a constable while his father was an inspector.)

Mr. Wilhelm – Miss Young’s employer at the Drury Lane Theater in London.

I did not wish to sound tediously repetitious. Otherwise, I could have added to literally every character listed (minus the heroine, of course): “his/her motivations are unclear throughout most of the novel.” For it seems that at one point or another each of the characters, outside of Miss Gillian Young herself, did or said something which might warrant suspicion.

There are additional important characters, but to mention them here would give away certain surprises, so I will end my list here.

A Lady In Disguise - Quote Photo

Emotional Engagement & Pacing of the Story:

As I mentioned, the first few chapters did not engage my emotions, although they did engage my curiosity. However, the book felt a bit like a snowball rolling downhill. The momentum gradually, but continuously built until it was at such a pace I could not make myself put the book down.

Elements I especially liked/disliked:

I enjoyed reading about life from the perspective of a primarily middle-class woman who had connections to nearly every level of the various classes in London 1883. I particularly enjoyed the glimpses into the lives of the pantomimes of the time. As a special bonus, there is an author’s note at the back of the book which shares some of the relative bits of history upon which the book is based, which I found fascinating.

I also enjoyed this references to Little Women sprinkled throughout the book.

Themes:

The primary themes are that no one is perfect, reputations are fragile, relationships are key to survival, and trust must be earned. Yet none of these themes are presented quite so clearly in the novel, which plays with these ideas in a way which causes you consider both sides of every story.

Ending:

Perhaps others saw the answers before I, but I will admit that this mystery kept me guessing until the very end. While the essence of the ending did not surprise me, how the author got us to it, did. Yet when it all concluded, everything made sense and fit together perfectly, as any well-written mystery should. I will also add for my fellow romance lovers, that in the end, I was quite satisfied with the conclusion of the romance portion of this novel.

Overall Rating:

3.75 out of 5 stars

(Although bigger mystery fans may rate it higher, this is a reflection of my own enjoyment of the novel.)

One last note:

While this is Book 3 in the Daughters of Hampshire series, I have not read either of the prior two and did not feel this impacted my enjoyment or understanding of this novel in any way. Therefore, I will say this book is clearly able to be read as a stand alone. The other two books in the series are:

Bride of a Distant IsleMist of Midnight

Have you read any of Sandra’s books? Are you a big mystery fan?

TWEETABLES:

“The momentum continuously built until I could not make myself put the book down.” 

Looking for a great mystery? Check out @KathleenDenly’s review of this historical fiction by @SandraByrd

Psst! Feel free to borrow any of the photos in this post for sharing on social media and remember to tag me @KathleenDenly !

A Lady In Disguise - Giveaway Image

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The short version

  1. Share this post on FB/Twitter & tag me!
  2. Comment with Twitter/FB account & favorite historical fiction novel.
  3. Follow the rules.
  4. Check back on Monday, March 27th to see who wins!

The long version

GIVEAWAY Instructions:

Okay, for those of you who enjoy a strong historical mystery with a little romance to sweeten the deal, here’s your chance to win a FREE copy of this book! I’m giving away my advance copy of A Lady In Disguise to one lucky reader! All you have to do to enter is:

  1. Share this post on either Twitter or Facebook and tag me in it using @KathleenDenly! (I’ve made it SUPER easy with those Tweetables above & the FB share button below.)
  2. THEN leave a comment on this post with the title of your favorite historical fiction novel and the Twitter/Facebook account you used to share this post. For example:  If I entered using my Twitter account, I would comment with, “Hey Kathleen! You write the best book reviews on the planet! My favorite historical fiction novel is ___. I shared this post on Twitter via @KathleenDenly“… or you know, something like that 😉

The Rules:

You MUST complete BOTH steps to enter. Only one entry per person is allowed. If you forget to add your Twitter/FB info in your original comment, just reply to your own comment and both your reply and original comment will count as one combined entry. All entries must be complete by midnight on Sunday, March 26th. Winner will be announced on http://www.KathleenDenly.com and contacted directly within 24 hours via the social media account (Twitter/Facebook) they used to share this post. Winner must email their shipping address to writeKathleenDenly@gmail.com within 48 hours, otherwise an alternate winner will be chosen. Unfortunately, due to the cost of international shipping, I must limit this contest to U.S. Residents ONLY. Void where prohibited.

How it works:

I will assign a number to each person who enters.  I will then enter those numbers into Random.org‘s Random Sequence Generator. Whichever number comes up at the top of the list will be the winner. I will then verify that that person has completed both steps and has not made multiple (rule-breaking) entries. If they have not completed both steps or have made multiple entries, they will be disqualified and the process will be repeated until a valid winner is found.

Remember: Check back March 27th to see who won! Or just subscribe to receive my blog updates by email and have the announcement delivered to your inbox! 

First Line Friday – 3.17.17

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Don’t you just love discovering new books? For today’s First Line Friday I’m featuring Courting Miss Amsel by Kim Vogel Sawyer.

Courting Miss Amsel cover

I just finished listening to this one on Audible and will be sharing my review in my quarterly newsletter so be sure to sign up. I didn’t want to stop at the first line today so here’s the first paragraph (or two):

Walnut Hill, Nebraska
September 1882

     This certainly isn’t the way I imagined it.

Standing on the raised planked platform with her name – Miss Amsel – chalked in the flowing script across the center of the black-painted board behind her, Edythe searched the somber faces for any small sign of enthusiasm. Row upon row of unsmiling lips and apprehensive eyes greeted her. Her stomach trembled.

Now it’s your turn! Grab the book nearest to you and leave a comment with the first line!

Then head on over and share your First Line with these friends:

Carrie @ Reading Is My Super Power

Rachel @ Bookworm Mama

Sydney @ Singing Librarian Books

Andi @ Radiant Light

Heather @ Encouraging Words from the Tea Queen

Sarah @ All the Book Blog Names are Taken

Robin @ Robin’s Nest

Katie @ Fiction Aficionado

Bree @ Bibliophile Reviews

Beth @ Faithfully Bookish

Amanda @ With A Joyful Noise

Lauraine @ Lauraine’s Notes

Jessica @ A Baker’s Perspective

My Review – The Scarlet Coat

My Review - The Scarlet Coat

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Surrounded by the musket fire of the American Revolution, Rachel Garnet prays for her family to be safe. When the British invade the Mohawk Valley and her father and brother don’t return from the battle, she goes in pursuit of them. She finds her brother alive but her father has been killed at the hand of the enemy. Amidst the death, how can she ignore a cry for help? Rachel reluctantly takes in a badly wounded British officer. But how long can her sense of Christian duty repress her hatred for his scarlet coat?

Passages of Scripture and fleeting images of society are all Andrew Wyndham recalls after he awakens to the log walls of his gentle prison. Even his name eludes him. Rachel Garnet insists he is a captain in the British army. He mourns the loss of his memory, but how can he hope to remember war when his “enemy” is capturing his heart?

Andrew’s injuries are severe, his memory slow to return, and the secret of his existence too perilous to ignore. As Rachel nurses him back to health, his hidden scarlet coat threatens to expose the deeds of her merciful heart, and Andrew is forced to face a harrowing decision—Stay hidden and risk losing the woman he loves or turn himself in and risk losing his life.

Why This Book:

Last month I won a copy of this book over at Mary Manners & Friends. (Thank you, Mary & Angela!) There was no obligation to provide a review at all, but I was hooked from the first line and after reading the first chapter, I knew I had to share this book.

Opening Line:

“The last rays of sun faded into twilight, and the wind whispered through the trees, as if warning Rachel to turn back.”

First Impressions:

The entire first chapter of this book was compelling. Who am I kidding? The whole book was compelling! Reading the first chapter, though, I felt like a fish on a line being reeled in. And it just kept going. I did not want to put this book down.

Characters:

Rachel Garnet – This heroine has a quiet strength and realistic internal struggles which make her a pleasure to read about.

Joseph Garnet – Rachel’s brother isn’t just an ancillary character. He has depth and undergoes an emotional journey of his own.

Andrew Wyndham – The soldier spared from a slow, agonizing death by Rachel’s unexpected compassion has an interesting backstory which is revealed in pieces as he recovers. I dare not say more lest I reveal too much.

Daniel Reid – A neighbor and family friend whose loyalty is put to the test.

Fannie Reid – A neighbor and family friend just coming into womanhood and the interests that come with it.

Rodney Cowden – The neighbor most vocal about his hatred of the British.

Each of these characters are well-developed, as revealed by the believable choices they make in the circumstances that face them throughout the book.

The Scarlet Coat - Quote Image

Emotional Engagement & Pacing of the Story:

This story drew me in. I could clearly picture the world of these characters and I cared deeply about the choices they were making. The pacing was not so intense that I wanted to skim paragraphs in an eagerness to reach the next event, but it definitely kept me reading page after page. There were twists in the story which I did not see coming and that is always a great comment to be able to make about a book.

Elements I especially liked/disliked:

This book felt like a journey back in time. Instead of viewing the Revolutionary War from the distant, almost omniscient and impersonal perspective we were taught in school, this story takes us into the home and personal lives of just one family. We get a sense of what it might have been like to live through that time of war and be called upon at any moment to take up arms and fight. To know what it was like to kiss your loved ones goodbye, never knowing if they would return home alive or be carted home as a corpse in a wagon.

Themes:

The primary themes are compassion, forgiveness, loyalty, and the ethics of war from a biblical perspective.

Ending:

Just when you think it’s all over, there’s a twist. Rachel and Andrew are certainly sent through the wringer, but the ending the author creates is all the better for it. The Scarlet Coat provides a thoroughly satisfying conclusion, but I must admit I am eagerly anticipating the release of the second book in this series:

the patriot and the loyalist cover image

 The Patriot and The Loyalist, coming April 7, 2017.

(not an affiliate link)

Overall Rating:

5 out of 5 stars

Have you read any of Angela’s books? What do you think?

TWEETABLES:

“Just when you think it’s all over, there’s a twist.” Click to Tweet!

“Reading the first chapter, I felt like a fish on a line being reeled in. And it just kept going.” Click to Tweet!

Psst! Feel free to borrow any of the photos in this post for sharing on social media and remember to tag me @KathleenDenly !

First Line Friday – 3.10.17

first-line-friday-3Welcome to First Line Friday! Whether this is your first week joining us or you’ve been following all along, I hope you enjoy this week’s first lines and I’d be delighted if you would share a first line of your own! So be sure to leave me a comment before clicking over to visit my First Line Friday friends (links below).

Today I’m featuring, A Most Inconvenient Marriage by Regina Jennings. This book made my list of the Top Ten Historical Romance Novels I read in 2016.

a-most-inconvenient-marriage-cover

Here’s the first line:

February 1865
Gratiot Street Prison
St. Louis, Missouri

“First, you’re going to write a good-bye letter to my sweetheart, and then you’re going to marry me.”

Talk about an attention grabber! This book made my list for a reason. If you haven’t read it already, I highly recommend it.

Now it’s your turn! Grab the book nearest to you and leave a comment with the first line!

Then head on over and share your First Line with these friends:

Carrie @ Reading Is My Super Power

Rachel @ Bookworm Mama

Sydney @ Singing Librarian Books

Andi @ Radiant Light

Heather @ Encouraging Words from the Tea Queen

Sarah @ All the Book Blog Names are Taken

Robin @ Robin’s Nest

Katie @ Fiction Aficionado

Bree @ Bibliophile Reviews

Beth @ Faithfully Bookish

Amanda @ With A Joyful Noise

Lauraine @ Lauraine’s Notes

Jessica @ A Baker’s Perspective

5 Essential Items You’ll Regret Not Bringing to a Writers Conference

5 Essential Items You'll Regret Not Bringing to a Writers Conference by Kathleen Denly

Having attended four writers’ conferences now, I have a pretty good handle on what I like to bring and what I can happily leave at home. Many times I will pull something out to use it and the person sitting next to me will exclaim, “Oh I wish I’d brought that!” Here are 5 of the things which nearly always earn me that response:

1. Lip balm!

You will be surprised how quickly your lips will dry out after hours and days of talking in a temperature controlled room. Not one to normally need lip balm outside of a visit to the snow, my lips will inevitably begin drying out and cracking the second day of a conference even with repeated use of this stuff. Without it … I shudder to think.

2. A portable battery charger

Using your phone for digital notes, checking your calendar, time checks, and the occasional pop-in to social media during breaks, can be surprisingly draining on your battery. By the time you’re crawling into bed at one in the morning after 14 hours of nonstop learning and networking it can be easy to forget to plug in your phone and the last thing you want is to spend the entire next day asking the person beside you what time it is. So do yourself a favor and pack one of those portable battery charging things (yes that’s the official term) – just don’t forget to charge it before you do!

3. A fine point permanent marker

Over the course of a conference, if you’re networking like you should be, you will find you have collected several business cards from the people you’ve met. In addition to retaining all the wonderful advice the speakers are dispensing, it can be difficult to remember exactly who gave you which card. Thus, I have developed a little trick. I make a note directly on the card in one or two words that will remind me what story that person is working on, or what genre they typically write in, or whatever little personal bit of information I gleaned from our conversation that will help me put the business card to the face later on. You can do this with a regular pen of course, but I have found the glossy surface of some business cards difficult to write on. A permanent marker solves this problem and a fine point ensures that I can fit what I need to write in a tiny space.

4. A disposable floss pick

Yes, seriously. Every conference I have attended has served salad and every conference I have attended there has been someone who comes out of the stalls behind me to find me digging a floss pick from my little pouch and says, “Oh that’s so smart! Do you have an extra?” There have also been two times when I’ve had to very discretely indicate to someone that their lunch was showing. Floss. Bring it. Use it.

5. Snacks!

The first morning of a conference can be nerve-wracking no matter how many you have attended. Skipping that first meal due to a nervous stomach, though, can leave your stomach rumbling with embarrassing loudness halfway to lunch. You might also find that the provided lunch isn’t quite all you need to make it to the dinner hour. Do yourself a favor and pack a few high protein snacks to help you get through the day. And throw in some water while you’re at it. A well fed belly and hydrated mind will help keep you on your toes and increase your odds of remembering what you’re trying to learn.

BONUS FOR THE LADIES:  Feminine Hygiene Supplies

Not your time of the month? Doesn’t matter. We all know stress can do some seriously strange things to our body. The last thing you want is to spend an hour hiding in the bathroom waiting for the next woman to enter and praying she has supplies to spare. Just pack your own. Better safe than sorry.

What about you? What do you find essential to have in your conference bag? Let me know in the comments below!

 

First Line Friday – 3.3.17

first-line-friday-3Another week has come and gone, it’s time to get our Friday on! As always, I’m sharing the first line of a good book and I’m hoping you’ll share the first line of the book nearest you in exchange. So be sure to leave me a comment below before clicking over to visit my First Line Friday friends (links below).

Today I’m featuring, For Love or Loyalty by Jennifer Hudson Taylor. It’s the first book in The MacGregor Legacy series and I truly enjoyed its unique plot line.

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Here’s the first line:

A feeling of foreboding crawled over Malcolm MacGregor like a colony of insects picking at his skin.

Now it’s your turn! Grab the book nearest to you and leave a comment with the first line!

Then head on over and share your First Line with these friends:

Carrie @ Reading Is My Super Power
Rachel @ Bookworm Mama
Sydney @ Singing Librarian Books
Andi @ Radiant Light
Heather @ Encouraging Words from the Tea Queen
Sarah @ All the Book Blog Names are Taken
Robin @ Robin’s Nest
Katie @ Fiction Aficionado
Bree @ Bibliophile Reviews
Beth @ Faithfully Bookish
Amanda @ With A Joyful Noise