My Review – The Thorn Healer

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about-the-book-2

Jessica Ross’ scars run much deeper than the wounds of war. Determined to escape the ghosts of her past and the German influence on her nightmares, she returns home to the sleepy Appalachian town of Hot Springs, NC, only to find the renowned Mountain Park Hotel has been converted into a ‘prison’ for displaced Germans. To Jessica’s dismay, her grandparents have befriended one of the treacherous internees.

August Reinhold has not only found kinship with Jessica’s grandparents but as they share their granddaughter’s letters from the Front, he discovers a surprising bond drawing him toward the independent and beautiful woman. Displaced by a war and a painful history, he finds Hot Springs and the intriguing Jessica Ross a tempting place to start over. Determined to scale the heights of her bitterness and show her the power of love, August faces more than just Jessica’s resistance but a more devious design to harm the civilian sailors housed in Hot Springs.

Will August’s tender pursuit bring Jessica the healing and hope she needs, or will bitterness force her into the hands of a “true” enemy waiting to destroy much more than her heart?

Why This Book:

Well, if you have read either of my reviews for the first two books in this series, you’ll know exactly why I wanted to read and review The Thorn Healer, the third installment in the Penned in Time series by the talented Pepper D. Basham.

Opening Line:

Wounded soldiers returned from war as heroes. Wounded nurses returned as old maids.

First Impressions:

I’ll be honest. While I love the opening line, the beginning of this book didn’t wow me nearly as much as the openings for the first two books did. I just didn’t feel hooked by the first chapter. That’s not to say the writing was dull by any means. It simply didn’t invoke the compulsion to turn pages which I have come to expect from a Pepper Basham novel.

Nevertheless, I kept reading because 1) the story truly was an interesting one and 2) I knew Pepper wouldn’t let me down. Sure enough, by the fifth chapter I was having trouble making myself put the book down to sleep at night.book-quotes-thorn-healer-empty-hand

Characters:

Jessica Ross has been a star on the sidelines in each of the first two books and it is wonderful to see her take center stage in this book. She is, of course, a well-rounded and compelling character who truly engages your heart as she struggles to overcome the wounds, both physical and emotional, which have followed her home from the war.

August Reinhold is a character new to the series. He is German and an internee in a camp in Jessica’s hometown nestled within the Blue Ridge Mountains. How he handles the challenges he faces as a German stuck in America during the first World War can’t help but endear him to the reader and you find yourself rooting for him.

Additional characters include:

Dr. and Mrs. Carter – Jessica’s grandparents

Cliff Carter – Jessica’s cousin and a guard at the camp

Eliza Larson – war widow, mother of 7-year-old Jude Larson, & pregnant

Jasper Little – a wounded newcomer who arrives in town with anger to spare

As well as several other townspeople who all add to the story in their own way. Including some important characters which I won’t name here or it would give away surprises. No one character blends into another. They each stand out as unique and authentic.

For those of you who have enjoyed the previous two books in the Penned In Time series, you’ll be pleased to know that some of the characters from those books make an appearance in this one and you do get updates on their lives.book-quotes-thorn-healer-steadfast

Emotional Engagement & Pacing of the Story:

Once this story got ahold of your heart, it didn’t let go. It made me laugh out loud, audibly gasp, and even cry. Real. Tears. I can’t remember the last time I actually cried over a book. Choked up? Sure. But I don’t remember actually crying. This book made me cry. I had to wipe my face because my tears were going to drip on my Kindle. And I loved it! I was crying because I was so wrapped up in what the characters were going through. It was so real.

Elements I especially liked/disliked:

This book had several elements which served as an introduction to the unique culture of the Blue Ridge Mountains during the first World War. I enjoyed feeling like a visitor with a backstage pass in the small, remote town of Hot Springs. The elements of history introduced by the author, whether Blue Ridge, World War, or medically related,  all felt very well researched and authentic.

The elements of history introduced by the author, whether Blue Ridge, World War, or medically related,  all felt very well researched and authentic.

Themes:

The primary themes are prejudice, forgiveness, and the cost of hate.

book-quotes-thorn-healer-thoughts-write-lettersEnding (mild spoiler):

If the idea that this book made me cry has you worried, do not fear. This book has the happy ending requisite of its genre. And it is perfect. I am completely satisfied with how the book ended. And yeah. I closed the book with a smile on my face.

Overall Rating:

4 out of 5 stars

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

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My Review – From A Distance

My Review: From A Distance by Tamera Alexander at KathleenDenly.com

Having recently joined the Christian Fiction Devourers group on Goodreads, I was excited to discover that one of their choices for the Book of the Month Read Along was a Tamera Alexander novel. I’d had her on my list of new-to-me authors I want to try for a while, so I Googled the book title and discovered this book trailer:

After a trailer like that, how could I NOT read the book? So of course, I added it to my “Currently Reading” shelf, picked up a (FREE!) copy through Kindle Unlimited and started reading.

Opening Line:

“Elizabeth Garrett Westbrook stepped closer to the cliff’s edge, not the least intimidated by the chasm’s vast plunge.”

First Impressions:

The very first paragraph tells us so much about the main character:  her name, age, dreams, determination, courage… and that her time is limited.  In the first chapter, we learn that Elizabeth is a strong woman facing a life-threatening illness, yet she doesn’t let that stop her or even slow her down.  She dreams of becoming the first female staff photographer and journalist at the Washington Daily Chronicle, and she won’t let illness, the treacherous Rocky Mountains, or her father’s disapproval get in her way. However, we also see that her determination is balanced with heart in the way she treats the “Negro” man she has hired to assist her and in how she views the wildlife around her.

When we first meet Daniel Ranslett in Chapter Three, we learn that he is a patient tracker, a skilled hunter with a conscience, and a man of his word. We also learn that he is haunted by his past and still wrestles with the guilt of old choices. He prefers to keep to himself, but his reluctance is no match for Elizabeth’s determination once she learns he has the experience she needs to accomplish part of her goals.

Characters:

In addition to Elizabeth and Daniel, Tamera introduces us to a variety of well-developed characters including:

  • Josiah – a former slave, kind & competent employee, and loyal friend;
  • Sheriff James McPherson – whose current friendship with Daniel has been complicated and strained by past events;
  • Rachel Boyd – sister to the sheriff, mother, and recent widow;
  • The Tucker family – struggling to provide for their large brood, including  a young son with a severe illness;
  • Drayton Turner the local newspaper man;
  • Carnes the coroner;
  • Mr. Zachary manager of the local land and title office;
  • and too many more to list.

Despite the size of the cast in this story, Tamera has managed to give each character such a unique depth, and introduced them so skillfully, that there was never a moment where I lost track of who was who. Each character is as real and rich as the next.

Emotional Engagement & Pacing of the Story:

This is not an edge of your seat, flip the pages as fast as you can, style of story. However, Tamera has created just enough tension that you are always reluctant to set this book down. As I’ve already said, the characters are so real and their emotions so deeply felt by the reader that you cannot help but be pulled into their world and their struggles. You want to know what will happen next and whether or not each character will achieve their goals.

Elements I especially liked/disliked:

Something that sets this novel apart is its handling of the racial issues present in 1875 Colorado Territory. I appreciated how Tamera managed to portray this in a way that felt real, yet not garish. It was neither overdone for the sake of drama nor underplayed for the sake of current (2016) political views. I think it’s important to remember the shameful parts of our history as well as the moments of which we are proud. It’s how we learn and a reminder never to go back.

Themes:

The primary themes are accepting forgiveness and learning to adjust when your dreams don’t turn out to be what you imagined they were.

Ending:

I found the ending of this book mostly satisfying. I felt the romance was resolved a bit too subtly for my taste, but this is a nitpicky personal opinion. In regard to length, I would, perhaps, have liked just another page or two more to enjoy the afterglow of resolution, but this is more a sign of having enjoyed the book than a complaint against it. There is no hint of a cliffhanger. The romance plot and all the side plots are nicely concluded.

Overall Rating:

4.5 out of 5 stars

My Review: A Heartwarming Thanksgiving

Post Title Image - My Review: A Heartwarming Thanksgiving - A Collection of Short Stories by Harlequin Heartwarming Authors. Review by Kathleen Denly. Book Cover shows fall leaves around a lantern holding a lit candle, surrounded by small pumpkins and fall berries.

I recently happened upon the opportunity to review A Heartwarming Thanksgiving – a collection of 13 short stories from Harlequin Heartwarming authors. Unfamiliar with this particular line of Harlequin books, I looked them up and found this description:

You’ve got to have heart…. Harlequin Heartwarming celebrates wholesome, heartfelt relationships imbued with the traditional values so important to you: home, family, community and love.

Four new Harlequin Heartwarming titles are available each month!

While my first preference is for Christian writing, I have thoroughly enjoyed many nonChristian novels in the past. (For more on my reviewing requirements, see the My Book Reviews page.) I also enjoy anthologies which are perfect for this busy time of year. So I signed up to receive a free digital copy of the book in exchange for my honest review. 

Note, I said honest review.

The truth is I did not have a good first impression of this book. Snow Day Baby, by Amy Vastine, has an interesting premise – friends from high school reunite on a snowy day at the airport when she goes into labor and he, now a doctor, delivers the baby right there with the world watching – however the first few pages left me already annoyed.

In the space of three pages the hero, Dr. Scott Spencer, worries three separate times, at length, about how his coworkers and boss will feel about him changing jobs. (He’s leaving to go to an interview.) By the third time I was thinking to myself, “We get it already. He’s feeling guilty about changing jobs. Move on.” However, I kept reading and found the next scene where the heroine (Sheridan Colfax), her mother, and sister are preparing to leave for the airport to be more engaging. I liked the dynamics between these characters and it gave me hope for the rest of the story.

Later, I enjoyed the interplay between Scott and Sheridan which drew me further into the story… until the editor somehow missed the fact that “Scott” suddenly became “Dylan” for one sentence in a scene at the food court and I was completely thrown out of the story by trying to figure out who Dylan was.

I do understand that even the best editors can miss something now and again, so once I figured out it was a mistake, I let it go and kept reading. Sadly, it was only a sign of things to come. I can’t remember a single one of the 13 short stories that didn’t have some glaring error (or several) such as this one (I couldn’t believe it when a second story had a name switched). Unfortunately, this inhibited my enjoyment of the better-written stories. And there are some good ones in there.

While I cannot honestly say that I bought into all of the love stories presented in this collection (a few left me wondering what one character saw in the other or that they didn’t understand each other at all), there were some that beautifully reflected the true and abiding love I look for in a romance. Once such story was The Firefighter’s Promise by Kate James.

The Firefighter’s Promise follows Jaqueline Warren who prefers to be called “Jax” and Ryan Hudson, one of the firefighters called to the scene when Jax is thrown from her motorcycle near the start of the story. Due to her troubled past Jax prefers to be left alone, but Ryan is drawn to Jax and winds up visiting her in the hospital. Without giving too much away, author Kate James manages to grow the relationship between these two characters in a way that seems authentic and touches the heart. This story alone is worth buying the collection, which is currently selling on Amazon for $4.99 (not an affiliate link) and bears a 5-star rating after 10 customer reviews (most of whom would apparently disagree with my review of the collection as a whole).

Another story I found particularly moving was Autumn at Jasper Lake by Carol Ross. In this story, a soldier recently returned from war seeks solitude in a remote Alaskan lakeside neighborhood where there is plenty of space between the houses but neighbors think nothing of walking right in with no more than a perfunctory knock to announce their presence. Needless to say the soldier doesn’t entirely find the solitude he is seeking, but of course, it works out to his benefit. The romance which develops between the hero and his neighbor – with a troubled past of her own – is sweet and believable. Another win for this collection.

The Sweetheart Tree by Rula Sinara is another story which makes the purchase of this collection worthwhile. The main characters, Austin Shale and Serena Myss, were high school sweethearts ripped apart by tragedy three years prior.  When an old oak is threatened with destruction, it brings environmental activist Serena back to town and policeman Austin is called in to remove her from the property. A series of plausible plot twists reveals that the true obstacle to their happily-ever-after is not a lack of love, but an abundance of guilt, grief, and fear. Perhaps it’s my personal connection to the heart of this story, but this one actually had me choking up and blinking back tears. I rooted for these two all the way to the satisfying end. 

There were other enjoyable stories in the collection which I could mention here, but for the sake of brevity I will stop with these.

NOTES FOR THE CHRISTIAN AUDIENCE:

Please be aware that these stories are not written for the Christian audience and thus do not necessarily reflect Christian morals. (Though one character does say a quick silent prayer.) That said, as a Christian author myself, I feel compelled to point out some of the issues in these stories which might make some Christian readers uncomfortable:

  • In at least two stories there are hints at premarital sex having occurred prior to the start of the story with no implication that this is either wrong or unusual.
  • There is discussion of divorce in a way that makes it seem perfectly acceptable and normal, though still painful.
  • Lying is deemed acceptable under certain circumstances, possibly even admirable.
  • Some of the relationships seem entirely based on physical attraction (although nothing more than kissing – some on the neck – happens in story present-time).

Again, I’m not saying all Christians would have an issue with the above. I’m simply noting these for those who would.

I find it difficult to rate a collection of this size and variety. Were I to rate the stories individually I would be forced to break my policy of never reviewing a story that I cannot honestly give at least 3 stars to. However, I believe some of the stories in this book, such as The Firefighter’s Promise and The Sweetheart Tree, are deserving of 4.5 stars (losing half a star for editing) and thus deserving of a review and your reading time.  Therefore I am refraining from rating this book at all.

Instead, I would ask that if you read this collection yourself, please come back and let me know how YOU would rate it by commenting below.

And from my family to yours, I wish you a very

HAPPY THANKSGIVING!

The Thorn Keeper

Thorn Keeper Review Image

If you read my review of The Thorn Bearer, you know that I first learned of Pepper Basham through RachaelReadsFiction‘s Instagram and Blog posts. I was inspired by Rachael’s enthusiasm and commented on her post. As a result, I was blessed to win (no strings attached) an Digital Advanced Reader’s Copy of The Thorn Keeper, scheduled to release on February 28th.

In The Thorn Bearer we followed the story of Ashleigh Dougall and were introduced to her sister, Catherine Dougall. The Thorn Keeper moves Catherine to center stage where we watch her transform into a new creature in Christ and learn how to lean on Him through all the hurdles and turns that life throws at her.  The skill with which Pepper grows Catherine from a self-absorbed, social-ladder-climbing, destructively selfish young woman, into an others-focused, humbly grateful, aid-to-the-poor-and-downtrodden, generous young woman, is something to be truly admired.

As with her first book, the characters in this book are all so richly written they feel real and true. Of course her descriptions again leave you feeling you’ve truly spent time in the nineteenth century town of Edensbury and witnessed the effects of the first World War, the struggles of adapting to changing societal rules, and the ability of just one person to profoundly affect the lives of those around her.

Although there is one plot twist near the end which happens to be a particular pet peeve of mine, Pepper used it in such an organic way and handled the ramifications with such finesse, I couldn’t work up my usual annoyance. Well done, Pepper.

I only have two negative comments which are so nitpicky they almost aren’t worth mentioning, but in the interest of balance, I will tell you that there was one moment where I rolled my eyes a tad over the wording choice of one of the characters. I felt it was a bit too flowery and not something someone would actually say. Secondly, I found the spiritual side of things to be just a touch more heavy handed (or maybe just a couple sentences too lengthy) than I would like during some brief sections of the novel. For the most part, however, it was still very organic and nicely done.

Having said that, I have to confess that I lost several hours of sleep over this book, owing to the fact that I couldn’t make myself put it down! I kept thinking, “I’ll go to sleep after I figure out ____” but by then there would be another question I just had to find the answer to and the next thing I know it’s 4 in the morning!!!

Although I did receive this book for free, had I purchased it I would feel completely satisfied that it was well worth my time and money. I highly recommend this to anyone interested in a Christian Historical Romantic Adventure. Additionally, I would recommend this to anyone who is a fan of Downton Abbey as I thought to myself a few times that this novel felt a bit like someone had picked out many of the best points of the first two or three seasons and combined them together into a wonderful new creation.

I give this book 4.5 out of 5 stars.

REMEMBER:

The Thorn Keeper releases February 28, 2016, but you can preorder your copy now! 😀

(I am not in any way being compensated for my review or recommendation. I won the D.A.R.C. just by commenting on Rachael’s post and I was under no obligation to post a review, let alone required to post a positive one. All opinions are my own and 100% sincere. This is just a truly great book!)

My Review: The Thorn Bearer

Thorn Bearer Review Image

I discovered The Thorn Bearer by Pepper Basham via an Instagram post by RachaelReadsFiction. I followed the link to her blog where she was so enthusiastic about The Thorn Bearer and its upcoming sequel, The Thorn Keeper, that I was compelled to add The Thorn Bearer to my TBR list.

The Story

English born, American raised, nurse Ashleigh has plans to return to her home country and serve in a hospital treating wounded soldiers in war ravaged England. Already harboring a soul-crushing secret, she suffers personal loss and heartbreaking betrayal before setting off across the Atlantic on the doomed Lusitania.

Much to her consternation, she is joined on this journey by her best friend, Sam Miller, who is traveling to England to reunite with his fiancé, Ashleigh’s sister.  “As they travel across the Atlantic, neither is prepared for the life-altering and heart-breaking journey of their friendship.”

When Ashleigh’s secret is thrown into the light, she is forced to deal with the aftermath and struggles to find her hope in God.

The Experience

Most of you will be familiar with the famous poem about God carrying us through our darkest times. As the reader, I could truly see this happening for Ashleigh. The spiritual aspect of this novel is completely organic and seamlessly woven into the story. Wonderfully written, this book has an almost poetic feel to it. The characters are so rich and the setting so real you’ll question whether you’ve actually lived through these significant events in history.

Having said that, I do feel compelled to issue one warning:  If you have a history of abuse, please be aware this book may contain triggers for you.

Whether you’re looking for a true love story, a strong character arc, a page-turning plot, a taste of history, spiritual encouragement, or a sensory feast, The Thorn Bearer has what you’re looking for.  I highly recommend this book!

I give this book 5 out of 5 stars!

As if reading a fantastic book isn’t awesome enough, I was blessed to win an Advance Reading Copy of the upcoming sequel, The Thorn Keeper! Come back soon to read my review!

My Review: Walls for the Wind

My Review Walls for the Wind

Scrolling through my Twitter feed a few weeks ago, I stumbled across a tweet about Alethea Williams’ historical fiction novel, Walls for the Wind. I immediately purchased it:

Walls for the Wind

In Walls for the Wind, Kit Calhoun is an orphan struggling to find her role as a young woman. She has recently returned to volunteer in the New York orphanage where she grew up and life – or perhaps just the reverend in charge of the orphanage – throws Kit many curve balls as she struggles to find a purpose and a path for her life. Increasingly entangled through obligation and love with the lives of those around her, her decisions only become more difficult as the story progresses. Eventually winding up in the notorious Hell on Wheels with other lives depending on her, Kit faces hardship, tragedy, and heartache. Will she ever see her dreams come true or will they be forever crushed by the reality of life in this new frontier?

(Keep reading for my full review or scroll to the bottom for the bullet points.)

I admit I have a weakness for orphan train stories since those were the stories which first turned me on to historical fiction as a child.  So that premise alone was enough to peak my interest and get me excited to read this story.

That said, my first impression of this book was not a good one. First, the book does not have a Table of Contents of any kind, let alone a clickable one. As someone with experience formatting digital books, I know how simple it is to format a book to include this and I find it frustrating when a book is missing this helpful feature.

Then I came to the prologue. Normally a fan of prologues, I wish this one had been left out. It was one of those prologues that gives you a peak at something that happens near the end of the novel. When done well, these can work to help keep a reader going through some slower first chapters needed to set up a story. In this case, there were too many characters and not enough background information for me as a reader to fully understand what was going on and how I should feel about it. As a result, the prologue left me confused and frustrated.

Still that premise teased me into giving the first chapter a try anyway and I’m glad that I did. I absolutely love the way it began:

New York City, December 1866

          The woman crouched on the floor. Clutching a bloody rag in one hand, she held a big-eyed, trembling little girl with the other.

Does it get much better than that? Already I can sense the danger and I have so many questions that I have to keep reading for answers. Chapter One did not disappoint. By the end I was completely sold and knew that I would be finishing this book.

Williams’ characters in this book are a bit of a mixed bag for me. Some, like Kit, Patrick, Thomas, and Connie were well-developed and felt real. Others like “the gambler” and his “business partner” fell a bit flat for me.

The gambler certainly seemed mentally ill and I appreciated the well-thought out background provided for his character, but other characters referred to him as “crazy” in the clinically insane sense yet I never quite got that extreme  impression from his own thoughts. Perhaps I’m being too picky in his case – expecting too much. I’m on the fence with him. If you read the book (and ultimately I do recommend it) let me know what you think of him. Does he seem completely crazy to you?

My least favorite character was Maud, the gambler’s business partner. Her complicated relationship with the gambler was skillfully shown, but her limited role in the story left me with the impression that she was invented solely for the purpose of delivering key information to a main character. I wish she had been utilized more in the story.

One of the things I look for in any novel is the development of the main character over the course of the story. This Williams did very well. The Kit Calhoun we meet in Chapter One is not the Kit we say farewell to at the books’ end. Without giving too much away, I will say that at the start of the book, Kit has the feel of a youth thrown into the deep end of the pool trying to learn how to swim while people on the sidelines keeping throwing suggestions at her and she waffles from one method to another, latching on to any suggestion offered with little thought of her own. By the end of the story, she has matured into a confident young woman able to think beyond the teachings of her youth and the voices of those around her – capable of making her own decisions.

Perhaps my favorite character was Patrick. He appealed to me for several reasons, the first being his willingness to suffer inconvenience and even to suffer personal harm for the sake of doing what was right. Throughout the story he places the needs and wants of others above his own – a trait I very much admire – yet ironically it is what he does for himself that makes me like him the most. Again, without giving too much away, there comes a point where he is faced with a situation where many heroes would typically relent and change course, but knowing he is in the right, this hero stays the course in a way that is not selfish, but calmly confident, all while not giving up hope of yet winning the heroine.

The ending, while not dissatisfying, could have been done better. I felt Kit’s intelligence and previous actions demonstrated that she should have put two and two together, yet she doesn’t. This would be acceptable if there were some extenuating circumstance for her lack of logic (a head cold, a compelling distraction, etc.), but there was not. Then she has a change of heart which was expected but abrupt and left me wondering, “Why now?” Worst of all, however, was a scene where Kit & Patrick openly discuss, before an audience of strangers, a secret Kit has been hiding for chapters. I found this completely implausible and frustrating. I wanted to shout at them, “Go in the other room!” Yet by then I was so engaged with the characters, that I was able to look past this and enjoy the positive things the ending had to offer.

This novel tackles some very controversial topics and covers a significant amount of historical ground – two things which could easily sink the attempts of many authors, but Williams has risen to the challenge admirably. She does not balk in the face of the harsh realities of life in the nineteenth century and provides her readers with refreshingly vivid details where other authors have often shied away, hiding behind vague and minimalist descriptions or euphemisms. Her knowledgeable sprinkling of historical facts throughout the story leave the reader feeling they’ve not only experienced a bit of what life may have been like at that time, but also that they’ve learned something along the way.

Overall, I enjoyed reading Walls for the Wind and would recommend it to anyone interested in historical fiction, with this caveat: please be aware that victims of trauma may find triggers within this story.

As a foster parent, I am particularly sensitive to these issues which are an unfortunate byproduct of handling such delicate subjects. It is good and right that these topics not be kept in the shadows, but I also believe in forewarning readers so that they may make an informed decision.

The Bullet Points:

  • Skip the prologue and start with Chapter 1
  • Not all the characters fully met my expectations but they still engaged my emotions, which is what I really want from them anyway.
  • The ending isn’t perfect, but it still satisfies and I’m glad to have read it.
  • The book stands out in its willingness to vividly tackle sensitive and controversial subjects.
  • The historical aspects are presented with authority and feel organic, even essential, to the story.
  • Trauma victims should beware of possible triggers.
  • Recommended for readers of historical fiction.

I give this book 3.5 out of 5 stars.