Saturday, August 31, 2013

The Governess of Highland Hall


The Governess of Highland Hall
Carrie Turansky
Multnomah Books

Missionary Julia Foster loves working alongside her parents, ministering and caring for young girls in India. But when the family must return to England due to illness, she readily accepts the burden for her parents' financial support. Taking on a job at Highland Hall as governess, she quickly finds that teaching her four privileged, ill-mannered charges at a grand estate is more challenging than expected, and she isn't sure what to make of the estate's preoccupied master, Sir William Ramsey.

Widowed and left to care for his two young children and his deceased cousin Randolph's two teenage girls, William is consumed with saving the estate from the financial ruin. The last thing he needs is any distraction coming from the kindhearted-yet-determined governess who seems to be quietly transforming his household with her persuasive personality, vibrant prayer life, and strong faith.

The book description of The Governess of Highland Hall is almost misleading: yes, it is about Julia, but it's also about Sir William's sister, Sarah; the maid, Ann; the downstairs help; and a host of secondary characters. In fact, the large cast of characters was probably my favorite aspect of the novel. However, aside from that, I kept feeling as though every plot and character of the book was somehow familiar to me. The Governess of Highland Hall really does lack originality. From the plotting housekeeper to the spoiled nieces to the scheming American heiress to the pious governess who falls in love with the master of the house, it all felt as though it had already been done before, many times over. Another problem I had was that the ending seemed a bit too contrived and easily solved.

Many reviewers have compared this book to Downton Abbey- in fact, every review I read did. I don't mind books that remind me of something else, but I do think The Governess of Highland Hall could have been a tad more original. However, it was a sweet, clean, well-written Christian romance, and despite its flaws, I enjoyed it much more than I originally thought I would.

Rating: 7 1/2

I received this book for free from the publisher in exchange for my honest review.


Harvest of Gold

Harvest of Gold  -     
        By: Tessa Afshar

Harvest of Gold
Tessa Afshar
Rover North


The scribe Sarah married Darius, and at times she feels as if she has married the Persian aristocracy, too. There is another point she did not count on in her marriage-Sarah has grown to love her husband. She has wealth, property, honor, and power, but her husband's love still seems unattainable.

Although his mother was an Israelite, Darius remains skeptical that his Jewish wife is the right choice for him, particularly when she conspires with her cousin Nehemiah to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem. Ordered to assist in the effort, the couple begins a journey to the homeland of his mother's people. Will the road filled with danger, conflict, and surprising memories, help Darius to see the hand of God at work in his life-and even in his marriage?

I came into this novel with rather high expectations, because I really enjoyed the previous book, Harvest of Rubies. However, though this book did have its high points, I can't say I liked it quite as much.

First of all, this book really was a bit too mushy for my tastes (yeah, so the main characters were married, but that didn't really make me less uncomfortable. I skimmed some parts). It took me a while to get into this book. The author's writing style is very direct- her plotlines and characters are very good, but there isn't a lot of "pleasure of the language" itself that makes books such as the classics stand out. Sometimes I felt it was a little too straightforward with "such-and-such did this" or "so-and-so did that" with rather boring sentences. However, as the book went on and I got more into the plot, this didn't bother me so much. My favorite part was in the last half, where Darius really starts to change and grow in his faith. So don't get me wrong: I did like Harvest of Gold; it just wasn't my favorite.

Rating: 7

I received this book for free from the publisher in exchange for my honest review.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

The Tale of Mally Biddle


The Tale of Mally Biddle
M.L. LeGette
Smashwords

When Mally Biddle agreed to spy upon the King of Lenzar and his overbearing knights she knew she was heading into danger. She didn't know she'd find a family unlike any other.

Posing as a servant in Bosc Castle, Mally serves tea and restocks the fires for the most dangerous men in the kingdom. Her goal is to learn the truth of what happened sixteen years ago, when the infant princess met her death ... a death that has more questions than answers. 

Along her search for the truth, Mally meets the energized Lita Stump, the strict and matriarchal Meriyal Boyd, and the opinionated Archibald Diggleby. Then of course there are the knights: Sir Leon Gibbs who is slicker than a greased hog, Adrian Bayard, hot tempered and violent, and the worst of the lot: Sir Illius Molick, Captain of the Knights. And then there is Maud, a mysterious woman who just might know everything...

I decided to try this book because it seemed like the type of story I would like, yet it was a little different from what I normally pick up to read. Though I quickly figured out the princess’s identity from the very beginning, that didn’t make the rest of the plot less enjoyable. It had a wide variety of characters, and the little hint of romance took a different (but pleasant) direction from the way I had originally thought it would take. (Don’t worry, though: this is NOT in any way a romance book) It did have a scattering of language here and there (the rating gets a little bit of a hit here because of that), but on the whole, it was pretty clean, and despite being called a fantasy, there wasn't any witchcraft or magic (there is a scene with a woman and her Tarot cards, but it's short and they are interrupted before she tells fortunes or anything). The Tale of Mally Biddle, while not being a spectacular piece of YA fiction, was nevertheless entertaining.

Objectionable content. There were a few uses of the word D***m, as well as one or two uses of the word b*****d.

Rating: 7


I received this book for free from netgalley.com in exchange for my honest review.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Rules of Murder

Rules of Murder, Drew Farthering Mystery Series #1   -     
        By: Julianna Deering

Rules of Murder
Julianna Deering
Bethany House Publishers

I was so excited when I discovered this book: it sounded just like a combination of Jeeves and Wooster and an Agatha Christie mystery! Rules of Murder intentionally breaks all the "rules" of mystery writing- a fact its own characters seem completely aware of.

This book was just, despite the murder theme, really fun. True, sometimes it seemed that the author was trying almost a little too hard to get into the 1930s British vernacular, but this was mostly near the beginning, and the book eventually won me over. The romance between Drew and Madeline developed fast; however, I did appreciate the fact that despite the flippant culture and time period, the were serious about their relationship. I do think that the setting did influence me on their relationship: most of the time I don't care for "whirlwind" type relationships, but with the rest of the book, it just seemed to fit. And of course, the fact that I really did like the characters- Drew especially- helped.

This book did have a little more objectionable content than most Christian fiction (at least in the genres I usually read)- there's plenty of murder, and talk of the "wild" side of the age (though nothing explicit.) That's why the rating is lowered a bit- although it is certainly much cleaner than secular fiction. I really can't wait for the next book in the series- I can only assume it will be just as fun a ride as Rules of Murder has been.

Rating: 9

I received this book for free from netgalley.com in exchange for my honest review.

Monday, August 12, 2013

A Bride For All Seasons


A Bride For All Seasons
Margaret Brownley, Debra Clopton, Robin Lee Hatcher, and Mary Connealy
Thomas Nelson

I’ve come to the conclusion that I’m just not a fan of novella collections- at least, not when they are romances. The romance aspect just ends up feeling way to shallow, because there is so little time to give the characters a well-done relationship. The stories themselves weren’t terrible; I didn’t find them memorable, but I didn’t feel like it was a complete waste of time (although I admit I would have much rather been reading something else). And I will admit the concept behind each of the novellas was interesting: it’s a about a mail order bride service that “tweaks” it’s clients letters so they sound more desirable- which causes a lot of problems and misunderstandings once the bride and groom finally meet! Out of the four stories, I probably liked the second (An Ever After Summer) and fourth (Winter Wedding Bells) the best; I found they had the more likable and distinctive characters. I thought the first and third stories were on the boring side.

I was familiar with three of these four authors. I've never liked Margaret Brownley's books, so I wasn't surprised that her story, And Then Came Spring, wasn't to my liking. However, I have read and enjoyed one or two of Robin Lee Hatcher's book in the past, so I was surprised that Autumn's Angel was one of my least favorites. I'd never read anything by Debra Clopton before, but I found An Ever After Summer enjoyable- I really liked the sweet main character, Ellie. My favorite story was probably Winter Wedding Bells. I've read a few of Mary Connealy's books before, and though she does know how to make a girl laugh, her books have never really made me a fan, but this story I ended up liking the best. My biggest problem with the stories were the romances themselves- there wasn't really anything inappropriate, but cliched descriptions about handsome, rugged cowboys, or pretty Eastern girls just felt so overdone that I couldn't take it completely seriously, even if the storylines themselves were cute at times.

Overall, A Bride For All Seasons isn't something I'd spend money on. As I mentioned, it's not that the stories are so horrible, it's just that there's a lot better stuff out there to read.

Rating: 5

I received this book for free from booksneeze.com in exchange for my honest review.

Friday, August 9, 2013

Harvest of Rubies

Harvest of Rubies  -     
        By: Tessa Afshar

Harvest of Rubies
Tessa Afshar
River North

At first, I thought this book might be a little tedious- it began with a bit of backstory, and though it wasn't exactly boring, I must admit I wasn't expecting much. However, as the book went on, I really got hooked- if I had to leave the book for a moment, I was eager to get back to it!

Unlike a lot of historical fiction- especially Biblical/ancient history fiction, I felt this book was a lighter read- not that it didn't have story depth, but in the fact that it wasn't bogged downed with lots of historical information or hard language.

It was a little romanc-y for me (mainly near the end) and there were a few scenes I skimmed over because of it. However, overall, I really enjoyed this book.

objectionable content: there are several kisses near the end (although it is between two married people, so it didn't bother me quite so much as it would have otherwise)

Rating: 8

I received this book for free from the publisher in exchange for my honest review.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Between the Lines


Between the Lines
Jodi Picoult & Samantha Van Leer
Simon and Shuster

Okay, so wow. When I discovered this book and found out what it was about, I seriously just gaped and wondered, why didn’t I think of that?! It’s a truly out-of-the-box story: it’s about a character in a book who falls in love with a reader of his story. Yes, it sounds strange…but it was also kind of cool, and I was a little jealous that I hadn’t come up with the idea myself. The book is a mix of the hero’s original story and then narration by both him and the heroine. On top of that, it has illustrations! It was such a novelty of a book it was hard not to enjoy it.

Of course, like any story (especially a non-Christian one) there were a few cons (in this book's case, several). Though from a secular perspective this book didn’t have anything too terrible in it (it’s not steamy or riddled with language or violence) from a Christian perspective there were several small things that added up: mainly, the heroine, Delilah’s, high school environment. (As a side note…who would name their child Delilah???) Also, there was kissing and, well…longing for kissing. *rolls eyes* Those elements were really annoying, especially in light of the fact that I really wanted to recommend this book because it was so quirky and original. As it is, I have qualms about recommending it at all because of my personal beliefs. However, though I probably would have done this book differently, I’m still giving it an 6, with the knowledge that if it hadn’t been for the objectionable content, it probably would have gotten a 7 or 8, just for pure originality.

There were some inconsistencies, and the ending was a little odd. However, I loved the way that the fairy tale Delilah was obsessed with was included, broken up by Prince Oliver's narration as well as Deliliah's. Yes, some will find the book too sappy for their tastes, and there were a few common YA cliches, but overall I enjoyed the story.

Rating: 6

Friday, August 2, 2013

Into the Whirlwind

Into the Whirlwind  -     
        By: Elizabeth Camden

Into the Whirlwind
Elizabeth Camden
Bethany House

After her father's death, Mollie Knox takes over his watchmaking company and uses her head for business to solidify the good name of the 57th Illinois Watch Company. Her future looks bright until the night her beloved city is destroyed in the legendary Great Chicago Fire. With her world crumbling around her, Molly must do whatever it takes to save her company in the aftermath of the devastating fire.


Zack Kazmarek is an influential attorney with powerful ties to the political, mercantile, and ethnic roots of Chicago. His only weakness is Mollie Knox, a woman who has always been just beyond his reach. However, all bets are off after the fire destroys Chicago, and Mollie is in desperate need of assistance. Just as Zack finally begins to pursue the woman he loves, competition arises in the form of a hero from her past who can provide the help she needs to rise from the ashes.

I'm fast becoming a fan of Elizabeth Camden's work, and Into the Whirlwind only strengthens that fact! The beginning of this novel was fast-paced, exciting, and totally drew me in.

As Mollie and Zach enter into a quick, whirlwind relationship as they have to depend upon each other through the great Chicago fire they are left to wonder if, after the fire has passed, will their relationship be able to weather their differences in the aftermath?

There were a few little things here and there that popped up that bothered me or I didn't care for (for instance, I noticed there was an over-use of a word or two). Though I wouldn't say the book dragged, the second part wasn't nearly as exciting as the first part, although there were some great scenes scattered throughout the entirety of the book.

Elizabeth Camden is one of the few authors who create really great, memorable heroes (most of the time in modern fiction, the heroes all kind of seem the same to me, and I don't find them very distinctive). However, I really liked Zach- although he was reminding me of someone, and for the life of me I couldn't figure out who until it dawned on me that his character reminded me of Mr. Thornton from North and South. Mollie, too, was an interesting character (and I loved her name:)

I also loved Zach's heritage, and this Polish girl had a serious craving for pierogis by the end of the book!!!

objectionable content: a man is killed; there are about 3 or 4 kisses (none overly mushy, though ;)

Rating: 9

I received a copy of this book for free from the publisher in exchange for my honest review.
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