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! 

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 !

My Review – The Thorn Healer

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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?

TWEETABLES:

Once this story got ahold of your heart, it didn’t let go.#bookreview – Click to Tweet!

Check out this #bookreview of The Thorn Healer! – 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 !

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

Top Ten MUST READ Historical Romance Novels for 2017

Top 10 Historical Romance Novels KathleenDenly.com

At the beginning of this month, I shared with you the Top Ten Best Historical Romance Novels I read during the year 2016. Today, I share with you my Top Ten MUST READ Historical Romance Novels for 2017.

1. Currency of the Heart by Loree LoughCurrency of the Heart by Loree Lough

Well, really it’s Healing of the Heart that I feel I MUST READ, but once I realized it was book #3 in the Secrets of Sterling Stree series, I knew I needed to start with book one. I’m kind of persnickety that way. So really, this entry represents three books, but if I listed out each book in the series I’d only have 7 spaces left and, well, how could I possibly fit my list into that?

Also, with Reading Is My SuperPower giving this kind of review for book #2, Guardians of the Heart, how can I resist reading them all?

“A sweet heartfelt romance that reminds us of the importance of forgiveness – of other people and especially of ourselves. With true, likable characters and a plot brimming with all the great elements of a story, Guardians of the Heart will gently refresh your soul.”

2. Stealing Jake by Pam HillmanStealing Jake by Pam Hillman

Speaking of Reading Is My SuperPower:  Carrie listed Stealing Jake by Pam Hillman as one of the Best Historical Books of 2015. I have yet to read anything by Pam Hillman and I am always looking for new authors to add to my shelf. Add to that a setting of late 1800s Illinois and this comment by Carrie:

“If you like books by Melissa Jagears or Mary Connealy, then you need to read Stealing Jake.  Trust me, it will steal your heart.”

I mean, hello. Have you seen my Top Ten Historical Romance Novels of 2016 list? This clearly needed to be on my MUST READ list.

3. The Bride Bargain by Kelly Eileen HakeThe Bride Bargain by Kelly Eileen Hake

This is Kelly Eileen Hake’s debut novel which always intrigues me. Plus I just love the premise of this book and want to see where the author takes it. Not to mention this rave review by Laura Hilton in Christian Bookworm Reviews:

“A huge family feud that includes many of the townspeople, an ornery ox, a sweet young lady, and multiple storylines combine to make this a book that I couldn’t put down. The historical details are accurate, down to names of hoax “medicines” available at the time, harvest activities, and social gatherings. The story was hilariously funny and serious by turns, and is a hit by Kelly Eileen Hake. I’m recommending this book to everyone who loves historical fiction.”

4. Bittersweet by Cathy Marie HakeBittersweet by Cathy Marie Hake

I thoroughly enjoyed Letter Perfect, the first in Cathy Marie Hake’s California Historical Series and am eager to find time to move the second book from my “To Read” shelf to my “Read” shelf.

5. Stuck Together by Mary ConnealyStuck Together by Mary Connealy

Another entry which is really representative of a series I want to read. Having already read and enjoyed the first book in Connealy’s Trouble in Texas series, I happily look forward to reading the last two books in the coming months.

6. The Lassoed by Marriage Romance Collection: 9 Historical Romances Begin After Saying “I Do”The Lassoed by Marriage Romance Collection

I love a well-written collection of historical romance novellas. They fit just perfectly on those days when I *know* better than to start something that’s going to keep me up long enough to see the dawn. You know the books I’m talking about. The wonderful thing about novellas is no matter how compelling the read, their inherent brevity ensures that I get at least a little sleep the night before an important event.

7. The Thorn Healer by Pepper D. BashamThe Thorn Healer by Pepper D Basham

The first two books in this trilogy made my list of Top Ten Historical Romance from 2016. (Just realized I actually read them in the fall of 2015 for the first time, but I loved them so much I read them again in 2016 so they still count!) I have been eagerly awaiting the release of The Thorn Healer from the moment I closed The Thorn Keeper. You can be sure I’ll be posting a review of this one once I’ve read it.

UPDATE: You can now read my full review of The Thorn Healer HERE.

8. The Captive Heart by Michelle GriepThe Captive Heart by Michelle Griep

This is another author new to me, but the premise intrigues me and the reviews I’ve read have convinced me I need to give this book a try. I especially appreciated the review by Leah at GoodBooksForTheJourney.com in which she included this intriguing detail:

” It also included a story line that illustrated how the division between England and the settlers affected the American Indian tribes.”

That’s an angle I haven’t read before.

9. Love’s Story by Dianne Christner and Strong as the Redwood by Kristin BillerbeckLove's Story by Dianne Christner with Bonus Story of Strong as the Redwood by Kristin Billerbeck

This is a two for one deal! Both books come together and both are set in the historical northern California redwoods! Hopefully, you’ve noticed by now that I’m a sucker for California history.

10. At Love’s Bidding by Regina JenningsAt Love's Bidding by Regina Jennings

Okay, you’ve caught me. This is yet another entry representing an entire series. The first book, A Most Inconvenient Marriage, made my list of Top Ten Historical Romance from 2016. So it only makes sense that I plan to read the rest of the series.

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!)