Thursday, July 30, 2020

Stay with Me by Becky Wade


Stay with Me by Becky Wade

Let’s begin with the summary:

A mysterious letter alluding to a secret in her parents' past brings Genevieve Woodward back to her Blue Ridge Mountains hometown, but she's also in need of a break from a high-profile career that has left her dangerously burned out and concealing a powerful secret of her own. When she wakes inside an unfamiliar cottage to find the confused owner staring down at her, she can no longer ignore the fact that she needs help.  

Sam Turner has embraced his sorrow and his identity as an outsider. The solitary, disciplined life he lives on his historic farm is the life he's chosen for himself. The last thing he wants is to rent his cottage to a woman as troubled as she is talkative. Yet, he can't force himself to turn her away right when she needs him most. 

As Genevieve researches her family's history and her and Sam's emotions deepen, they will have to let go of the façades and loneliness they've clung to and allow light to illuminate every hidden truth.  

And now, my review:

Our heroine has misplaced God in her life. She’s a celebrity among Christians, so her personal relationship with Him matters. So does her idolatry. What a great conflict.

Our hero is in hiding, of sorts. He’s avoiding dealing with a painful issue from the past, and yet trouble finds him.

This story had multiple layers. Our heroine survived a catastrophe as a child, along with a few others. So she has seen God work a miracle in her life—at close range. We visit the other players in that crisis on and off as the novel progresses. I liked this aspect.

Becky injects humor into insightful prose, which kept me busy highlighting various sections. Her descriptions help readers feel, taste, hear, experience what her characters do. So well done.

One element I felt could have used more umph was the heroine’s devotional time. She did not strike me as a student of Scriptures, but her career would demand it, ongoing. (More on this in a bit.)

Relatable, though, were the heroine’s doubts about God’s personal care of her. She keeps a sizeable secret from the world—one that could destroy her career if news got out. Because of her failure, she questions whether God is still with her, still cares, will still help her. Who hasn’t felt like that?

However, the lack of spiritual maturity did lead me to doubt her career’s apparent success. If she really doesn’t know God deeply, isn’t a student of Scripture, how could she carry out the career she’s in? Instead, she struck me as an interior decorator, or designer, without the substance she’d need to lead others. Unfortunately, her career element wasn’t believable. Especially, when we see her choice for music that will cheer her up.

I enjoyed the therapy thread. And the therapist was zany enough to bring a few chuckles.

Oh, the romance! Becky is exceptional at keeping the narrative clean but digging deep to give us a delightful romance. We feel the characters’ chemistry for each other. She gives us outstanding why-nots that keep the characters apart.

The other thread that engages readers the entire story relates with the heroine’s family of origin. This element surprised me, but again, it was engaging. You’ll have to read the story to see what I mean.

While I read this book, I interacted with a few folks in a reader’s group online. All of us loved this story. Very enjoyable! I'm looking forward to the next book in this series and hoping we learn more about the kids who survived that catastrophe.

Highly recommended!

Thursday, July 16, 2020

A Gilded Lady by Elizabeth Camden

A Gilded Lady

This is book two in the Hope of Glory series, following The Spice King.

Let’s begin with the summary:

Caroline Delacroix is at the pinnacle of Washington high society in her role as secretary to the first lady of the United States. But beneath the façade of her beauty, glamorous wardrobe, and dazzling personality, she's hiding a terrible secret. If she cannot untangle a web of foreign espionage, her brother will face execution for treason.

Nathaniel Trask is the newly appointed head of the president's Secret Service team. He is immediately suspicious of Caroline despite his overwhelming attraction to her quick wit and undeniable charm. Desperate to keep the president protected, Nathaniel must battle to keep his focus fully on his job as the threat to the president rises.

Amid the glamorous pageantry of Gilded Age Washington, DC, Caroline and Nathaniel will face adventure, danger, and heartbreak in a race against time that will span the continent and the depth of human emotion.

And now, my review:

I’ll begin with a list of what I enjoyed: cleverly written, well researched, fun, at times humorous, insightful, engaging plot throughout the novel. Loved the historic aspect. Original occupation for a heroine—the first lady’s secretary. Enjoyed the romance and the time setting—the Gilded Age.

The novel included a delightful, built-in conflict, pitting the hero and heroine against each other as they aimed for goals at cross purposes. We wonder if they'll be able to work together.

A favorite quote: “I read Ecclesiastes, it brought comfort. We can’t control the seasons in our lives, only how we respond to them. God planted eternity in our hearts, a longing to find meaning in the world.” (page 204). So true and relatable.

Loved how strong the heroine was and how she encouraged those around her. I agree with the novel’s summary: she has a dazzling personality, fitting of her designation as a gilded lady in the Gilded Age. At one point, she encouraged her boss, the first lady, with words readers could take to heart: “You are a woman of strength and valor, like Deborah from the Bible, defending her people. Today you will be just as strong…” (page 240)

Our heroine is pulled in several directions. She longs to help her brother Luke, but though she has influence with the president of the United States, she struggles to accomplish her goals. She came alive on the page—a very well-developed character. Her work was fascinating as she lived in the White House during McKinley’s presidency.

Our hero is stuffy and stuck, but he doesn’t see it. He hides behind his sober demeanor. He’ll need help overcoming his weaknesses and fears. He’s exceptionally competent in his work—a well-drawn character, right down to the details. He’s also a great judge of character, which was one of his best strengths. He’s loyal and fully commits to his work.

Their romance was enjoyable to witness. They made a great team professionally as well.

I really enjoyed this book and can’t wait to read Luke’s story in The Prince of Spies, due out in February of 2021. I highly recommend this series.

Suggestion: read the books in order. You won’t be too lost if you read them as stand-alones, but I suggest they be read in order.

Wednesday, July 1, 2020

Set the Stars Alight by Amanda Dykes

Set the Stars Alight by Amanda Dykes

Let’s begin with the summary:

Lucy Clairmont's family treasured the magic of the past, and her childhood fascination with stories of the high seas led her to become a marine archaeologist. But when tragedy strikes, it's Dashel, an American forensic astronomer, and his knowledge of the stars that may help her unearth the truth behind the puzzle she’s discovered in her family home.

Two hundred years earlier, the seeds of love are sown between a boy and a girl who spend their days playing in a secret sea cave, while the privileged young son of the estate looks on, wishing to join. As the children grow and war leads to unthinkable heartbreak, a story of love, betrayal, sacrifice, and redemption unfolds, held secret by the passage of time.

As Lucy and Dash journey to a mysterious old estate on the East Sussex coast, their search leads them to a community of souls and a long-hidden tale that may hold the answers—and the healing—they so desperately seek.

And now, my review:

I liked the story’s sometimes rich language and occasional resonance. Unfortunately, the book came up in my TBR pile just after a loss and since the story is heavy with loss in the opening 8 percent, I set the book aside. But that wasn't the only reason I decided to move on.

I found omniscient POV. The characters were difficult to connect to. The split-time story includes both past and present storylines, which I generally enjoy. Unfortunately, the contemporary storyline held on to a historical voice, which seemed odd. There were several instances of “began to” and repeated verb phrases like “were coming” or “been studying.” Those are small things, but they flagged for me in their repetition.

Overall the first part of the story was hard to follow; as I didn’t read on, I don’t know if it becomes easier. Also, since I read the ARC, it’s possible some of those issues were reworked during the rewrite stage.

Though this novel wasn’t for me, I wish the publisher and author all the best.