Monday, November 4, 2019

Ladies of Intrigue by Michelle Griep

Ladies of Intrigue by Michelle Griep


Let’s begin with the summary of this compilation:

The Gentleman Smuggler’s Lady
Cornish Coast, 1815
When a prim and proper governess returns to England from abroad, she expects to comfort her dying father—not fall in love with a smuggler. Will Helen Fletcher keep Isaac Seaton’s unusual secret?

The Doctor’s Woman
Dakota Territory, 1862
Emmy Nelson, daughter of a missionary doctor, and Dr. James Clark, city doctor aspiring to teach, find themselves working side by side at Fort Snelling during the Dakota Uprising. That is when the real clash of ideals begins.

A House of Secrets
St. Paul, Minnesota, 1890
Ladies Aide Chairman, Amanda Carston resolves to clean up St. Paul’s ramshackle housing, starting with the worst of the worst: a “haunted” house that’s secretly owned by her beau—a home that’s his only means of helping brothel girls escape from the hands of the city’s most infamous madam.

And now, my review:

The description may not be clear because it doesn't include previous publishing dates, but these are all repackaged books, so you may have read them in the past. I've noticed this pattern—repackaging older novellas into one volume, but not telling readers. That said, thankfully I hadn’t read any of these stories, so it was a good way to learn about her writing.

Full disclosure, I only read the first two in this novella collection. I found myself growing weary of the voice—the fact that there were a lot of overly told emotional reactions without the opportunity for readers to feel them along with the characters. Repeated melodramatic descriptions of cries “tearing from her throat,” etc. (cliché; melodrama; telling) There were POV issues as well. I noticed these issues in a more recent novel I read by this author, so I may not read more of her work for a while.

On the positive side, there were moments of strong, insightful prose. Some relatable conflicts—will the hero choose the future or the past? If he chooses vengeance, he is choosing to focus his energy on the past. If he chooses his future, he can focus ahead. Those are choices everyone must make.

I write and prefer reading contemporary romance, but sometimes it's fun to immerse myself in a historical world of formality and different customs. That's what I was hoping for with this collection. Though these stories didn't appeal to me, perhaps other readers will enjoy the escape these stories offer.

Wednesday, October 16, 2019

Unscripted by Davis Bunn

Unscripted by Davis Bunn

Let’s begin with the summary:

Young line producer Danny Byrd is well-known in Hollywood for being someone who gets things done on time and under budget. But when his reputation takes a beating after his partner—and former best friend—makes off with their investors' money, Danny has but one chance to redeem himself and restore his ruined career.

LA lawyer Megan Pierce has sacrificed years of her life proving herself to her impossible bosses only to find herself disgusted at their snobbery and their specious business practices. When an opportunity to actually make a difference comes her way, she knows she has to grab it—even though she's not entirely clear what "it" is.

Danny and Megan are each other's best hope for redemption. What they never could have imagined was that they might also be each other's best hope for love.

And now, my review:

I’ve read several of Davis’s books. He has a simplistic writing voice, but his insights aren’t simplistic. Several times his prose caused me to hit “highlight” in my Kindle.

One such relatable and poignant moment is when he describes the experience of his characters as younger boys going to the movies. There, they escape into story and “let their wretched pasts belong to other people.” Throughout the novel, Davis goes behind the scenes into filmmaking. Here—he goes even deeper behind the scenes and gives us the power of storytelling to transport viewers.

I enjoyed the filmmaking backdrop.

Overall, the story slowly unfolds as we learn who the characters are and what has happened to them. Once I had enough facts, I had to research the characters by searching and rereading. When I did, the betrayal by the MC’s best friend (see summary) didn’t feel developed enough. I couldn’t feel the main character’s loss or hurt. We were told about it, at a surface level, but it didn’t resonate. Perhaps that was due to the way the story unfolded and the fact we’re kept at a bit of a distance in the narrative. Deeper POV would have helped.

That said, I’d hesitate to add more words to this 368-page story. Unfortunately, the middle bogged down with a lot of secret-keeping from the reader. It was hard to follow and lost my interest.

There is a hint of romance in the summary, which is fitting since the love story doesn’t develop very far within the first 50 percent of the story.

I was surprised to read in the summary (which I did not review before reading the book) that the MC is young. He doesn’t strike me as a young man, but rather someone in his 40s or older. Unsure why that is. Maybe deeper POV would have helped?

Readers looking for a deeper understanding of  Hollywood productions may enjoy this novel. That was one of the elements that most drew me, and one that kept me reading. I also enjoyed revisiting characters from his earlier novels as they made appearances here.

Disclaimer: I received an ebook copy in exchange for my honest opinions.

Saturday, October 5, 2019

The Heart of a Vicar by Sarah M. Eden


The Heart of a Vicar by Sarah M. Eden

This author is one of my favorites. She’s a gifted storyteller with a strong voice.

Let’s begin with the summary:

Young love is all too fleeting, as Harold Jonquil painfully discovered years ago when Sarah Sarvol, the niece of a neighboring landowner, captured his heart. After an idyllic few weeks in the throes of blossoming love, reality intervened. They could have no future. Following their disastrous parting, Harold attempted to push aside thoughts of love and regret, but Sarah has never left his heart. Now, years later, he has achieved his lifelong aspiration of becoming the local vicar. However, the role proves more difficult than he imagined. He feels hollow and uninspired—until the most important person in his past returns, challenging him as no one ever has.

When Sarah’s ailing uncle summons her back to the family estate in England, there is only one person from her past she is reluctant to see again: Harold Jonquil, the only man who has ever claimed her heart. But when she comes face-to-face with her former beau, she hardly recognizes the aloof and dull man before her. She is determined to help Harold rediscover the passion he once felt toward his chosen profession. Soon, despite their exasperation with each other, they cannot deny the stirring of feelings long buried—but is it too late for second chances?

And now, my review:

I love revisiting these characters and have enjoyed the other books in this series that I’ve had a chance to read. One element I don’t see in Sarah’s work is melodrama or an overly sentimental writing voice. She writes historicals (genre), but without elements that keep readers at a distance from her characters’ true emotions. You feel along with them, and you aren’t bombarded with clichés and overly dramatic emotional descriptions. I believe there can be deep emotions in fiction, but as a reader, I value when the author presents them in a way that allows readers to feel them. Sarah’s work does that.

Her vicar character is such an interesting hero. He doesn’t see his value. He isn’t even sure about who he is. While’s he’s trying to be what he thinks he’s supposed to be, he’s failing and suffering. His coping mechanism for all the rejection and searching in his life is climbing. Loved this trait. He’s also an introvert who becomes overwhelmed by people. So many of his traits were relatable.

He’s noble, but like an eagle, he can’t see his own strength.

One element I thought was conspicuously absent, especially for a vicar, was a God aspect. It would have been very satisfying to see God brought into this vicar’s character arc and have him find his way via a true relationship with God. Instead, he is told to have faith in himself. That was unfortunate. There was a passage about peace in the church building and about helping people, but nothing about Jesus, the Prince of Peace. Perhaps this was a publisher’s choice or perhaps this was in keeping with Anglican vicars during that era—a distance from the God they seemed to serve.

The heroine only wants to belong. She is an outcast in her own home. But the Jonquils make her feel welcome. I loved their involvement in this story, how they brought warmth and hope to a despairing situation.

People around the hero, including himself, condemned things about him that weren’t condemnable. How often do we do that? Play the part we think we should, condemn the things/people God does not? Harold’s growth arc was interesting to watch, including how people around him treated him differently when he began to see himself differently.

Highly recommended!

Thursday, August 15, 2019

The Noble Guardian by Michelle Griep

The Noble Guardian by Michelle Griep

Oh, I love this cover! Couldn’t resist this one.

Let’s begin with the summary:

A Cross-Country Trip through Regency England Brings Intrigue, Rogues, and High Adventure

The must-read conclusion to Michelle Griep’s Bow Street Runners Trilogy: Life couldn’t be better for Abigail Gilbert—but it’s been a long time in coming. Having lived with a family who hated her, it’s finally her time for love. Abby sets off on a journey across England to marry one of the most prestigious gentlemen in the land—until highwaymen upset her plans and threaten her life.

Horse patrol captain Samuel Thatcher arrives just in time to save Abby. But she’s simply another victim in a job he’s come to despise. Tired of the dark side of humanity, he intends to buy land and retire.

Abby pleads with him to escort her for the rest of her journey. He refuses—until she offers him something he desperately needs to achieve his goal. . .money. Delivering her safely will give him more than enough to buy property.

So begins an impossible trek for the cynical lawman and the proper lady. Each will be indelibly changed by the time they reach her betrothed, if they don’t kill one another first—or fall in love.

And now, my review:

This story made me laugh aloud at some places. Because this is a Christian novel, no cussing is allowed. So the hero has some inventive expletives to share, and they are hilarious. Well done. Overall, the author’s humor is fun throughout.

That said about swearing, there were a few places where the prose seemed to take the Lord’s name in vain, which made me cringe. Like: “Lord, but his bones ached.” Or “Oh God, if I’d known.” These instances didn’t read as prayers. There were also phrases in the ARC (advanced reader copy) that seemed far too modern, like “crying jag” and “kicking back.”


There was a lot of melodrama in this novel. I’ve seen this in a few historicals lately. It was overwhelming at times. I ended up skimming now and then. The heroine struck me as immature, indecisive, and foolish. It was difficult to respect her because she seemed incapable of wisdom. She could be strong and brave, but her foolishness nearly canceled out those good traits. There were contrived elements in the plot, and there was a bit too much gore in some scenes.

The author did a good job with male characterization. Her hero is a “man of intention” and easily respected.

I think with less overstated emotions and descriptions, and with fewer contrived scenarios, plus a competent heroine, this book would have appealed to me more.

Monday, August 12, 2019

Daisies and Devotion by Josie S. Kilpack

Daisies and Devotion by Josi S. Kilpack



Josie S. Kilpack is an author to watch. I enjoy her work!

Let’s begin with the summary:

Timothy Mayfield is ready to marry for love, but, since his personal finances are thinner than he’d like, he knows he’ll also need to find a wife with wealth. After receiving an unexpected inheritance, Timothy’s circumstances change, and he is free to pursue his “perfect woman”—one with blonde hair, blue eyes, a light laugh, arched eyebrows, elegant fingers, and a dazzling smile, among nearly twenty other characteristics.

Maryann Morrington doesn’t match anything on Timothy’s list—except for wealth. An heiress in her own right, she is tired of men pursuing her only for her money. But at nearly twenty-two years old, and not a particularly stunning beauty, she can’t be as picky as her friend Timothy is.

The two friends end up playing matchmaker for each other. Timothy will find a decent gentleman for Maryann, and Maryann will prove to Timothy that his “perfect woman” doesn’t exist.

Until Miss Shaw comes to London.

Now, with Timothy’s heart captivated by the blonde, blue-eyed beauty, Maryann must decide if she should risk her heart and reveal her true feelings for her friend, or if she should settle for someone else. It’s an up-and-down game of “he loves me, he loves me not” with both hearts and friendship on the line.

And now, my review:

This is book two in the Mayfield Family series by this author.

From the very beginning, Timothy is out to find love. He has no idea how to go about it and ends up muddling a dear friendship in his pursuits. He has a picture in mind of what he wants in a wife, but he’s in for some surprises along his journey. This proved that what we want sometimes changes over time, and it helps to be open.We may be chasing the "wrong" thing when all along what we need and truly want is right in front of us.

Our heroine, Marianne, is a mature, competent character, much more attuned to life and love than Timothy. She’s likable, but her one flaw keeps her from full acceptance in society—her laugh. I thought this was an interesting trait to highlight. And as I read, I wondered why she didn’t work on her laugh, which I interpreted to sound like a bark. Haven’t we all had traits we needed to rework in order for them to be more “palatable” in public? The author’s point is “take me or leave me,” and I respected that too. There was also a mirror in this aspect: Timothy is looking for the perfect mate; Marianne is imperfect. Aren't we all?

Overall, there was a lot to like in this novel. Josi’s writing is enjoyable to read; I always look for her books as they come out.

Recommended!

Saturday, August 10, 2019

Loving Lieutenant Lancaster by Sarah M. Eden

Loving Lieutenant Lancaster by Sarah M. Eden


Sarah M. Eden is one of my favorite authors. She writes Regency romance, and she is truly gifted.

Let’s begin with the summary:

Orphaned as a child, Arabella Hampton was the unwanted and unloved charge of a cruel aunt and neglectful uncle. The only light in her young life was the kindness of the Jonquil family, and she clung to the childish dream of someday living with them at Lampton Park. Now, years later, that opportunity is presented to Arabella in a most unexpected way: she is to be the lady's companion to the dowager countess. As she takes up residence at the estate, the young woman soon finds that life at the Park is far more complicated than she imagined. The lines of her position are blurred, and she is neither family nor servant. So when the countess plans a grand house party, Arabella is content to hide in the shadows. But one gentleman sees her there.

Lieutenant Linus Lancaster has retired from the navy and is not looking for love, especially when he finds himself entangled in his sisters' scheme to trap him into finding a wife at a house party at Lampton Park. Yet amid the festivities, he's impossibly drawn to the dowager's quiet companion, Arabella. Their regard for each other is undeniable, but they are haunted by their pasts. Can the two find a way to bridge their two worlds?

And now, my review:

I love revisiting these characters! Though I couldn’t find an official series titles, this book includes members of the Lancaster family and the Jonquil family, as do several of Sarah’s earlier and subsequent books. Such a delight to enjoy them once again. 

Just beginning one of Sarah’s novels, you know you’re in good hands. She is an expert in weaving a tale set in Regency England, giving us the norms of the day while helping us relate with the characters’ humanity. I love her prose and her pacing. 

I immediately sympathized with the heroine. Her circumstances, through no fault of her own, are difficult. She’s faced so much rejection that she doesn’t often try to hope. She’s used to hiding. It’s her fatal flaw—that outdated coping mechanism that she’ll need to abandon to live her new life.

I loved how welcoming the family was. Though the heroine had doubts about how wanted she was in her new home, they were kind and hospitable. I rooted for Arabella to overcome her past fears and see that her future didn’t have to be defined by shadowy corners and a downcast gaze.

The hero is also used to living outside the limelight. He’s a navy man, so he’s used to hiding his grief. He still grieves the loss of his brother and he’s uncertain what his life should be now that he’s no longer part of the navy. I rooted for him to find his new purpose and to find love.

Sarah had me laughing out loud several times as I read this novel. Her sense of humor, along with her prose and characterization, are her trademark.

Highly recommended!

Saturday, June 22, 2019

The Pages of Her Life by James L. Rubart

The Pages of Her Life

I love reading books set in the PNW. Such a beautiful place. 

Here’s the summary of Jim Rubart's latest book, The Pages of Her Life:

How do you stand up for yourself when it means losing everything?

Allison Moore is making it. Barely. The Seattle architecture firm she started with her best friend is struggling, but at least they’re free from the games played by the corporate world. She’s gotten over her divorce. And while her dad’s recent passing is tough, their relationship had never been easy.

Then the bomb drops. Her dad was living a secret life and left her mom in massive debt.

As Allison scrambles to help her mom find a way out, she’s given a journal, anonymously, during a visit to her favorite coffee shop. The pressure to rescue her mom mounts, and Allison pours her fears and heartache into the journal.

But then the unexplainable happens. The words in the journal, her words, begin to disappear. And new ones fill the empty spaces—words that force her to look at everything she knows about herself in a new light.

Ignoring those words could cost her everything . . . but so could embracing them.

Here’s my review:

The story started out a little slow. But knowing Jim’s work, I trusted he was laying a foundation for a strong story. He was. 

The main theme was standing up for one’s self, written from a female point of view. (We’ll get to POV in a bit. 😊) I loved this topic for fiction because readers follow a character trying to discern who’s on her side and where she needs to set boundaries. So often, we’re taught to comply, but the further we go in life, the more we realize we need to set boundaries and be as objective as possible as we test everything. We shouldn't be afraid to deeply inspect the motives of those around us. We tend to ignore warnings just to “keep the peace.” That pattern will lead to trouble, eventually, in my experience. 

The antagonist isn’t one you’d expect, and isn’t that so fitting? Those who “talk the talk” do not always have a changed heart. Neither do they want the best for those around them. The story will challenge preconceptions on several fronts, and I liked this aspect. I kept asking myself, “What is the author trying to say?” This thoughtful approach to Jim's books is needed, and I think this is partly what makes his work so popular. You are an active participant in the ride, like with The Shack. Constantly asking yourself what you believe, how you’d react to the situations, wondering about the author's message, trying to solve the dilemmas all while asking yourself moral questions. Those elements are hallmarks of this genre.

There may be minor spoilers in the next paragraph. Read with caution:

Let’s talk about POV. The author’s note reads something like: If you liked the female POV, thank my wife. If you didn’t, blame me. Overall, I thought the female POV was very strong. (Thanks, Darci!) But there was one rather large flaw. (Sorry, Jim.) A woman is very concerned for her personal safety—always. Early in the story, the protagonist heads off on a jog up a solitary mountain trail (love the setting!) and doesn’t bring a dog or a weapon. (We think; we aren’t told she carries self-protection until much later.) By the descriptions, I pictured the author running the same route, sharing his experienceenjoying the solitude, the challenge, the beauty. Not worrying about being assaulted because he was running alone. That’s not how women think. Women cannot presume safety anywhere, especially not on an uninhabited trail on a mountainside with no security and plenty of seclusion. She wouldn't close her eyes for ten minutes while on the mountaintop. She wouldn’t chase a male through the woods, not even for answers, and she’d want a shower after returning, not a mug of hot tea. 

One of my favorite aspects of this novel was the call to write in a journal. I have totes filled with journals dating back decades. I loved the premise of God answering the main character!

The protagonist was rather weak much of the time. This was probably due to the need to draw a contrast and build the character change arc. Still, she frustrated me at times. Open your eyes! Be discerning and assertive! There are other areas where she is strong, which is true of most of us—strengths and weaknesses, not always in balance. She goes after her dreams. She makes tough decisionsleaving the known for the unknown. I rooted for her to have victory in all the areas of her life, while analyzing my own life.

I highly recommend this book, especially if you like to really think about your current read.