Review: Lady Maybe – Julie Klassen

Julie Klassen. Lady Maybe. New York, NY: Berkley Books, 2015.

Do you ever find yourself picking up a book simply because you recognize the author? It’s one of the ways that I look for upcoming books in the library, online, or while searching publishers’ websites. Earlier this year, Julie Klassen announced a new partnership with a non-Christian publisher, in addition to her works through Bethany House. This month’s new release, Lady Maybe, is her first book released with Berkley Books (Penguin Random House).

Lady Maybe takes place in Regency-era England, where a knighted gentleman, his wife, and her companion set off on a journey together. When tragedy strikes and they become separated, one of the ladies loses her memory of the entire event. After being rescued by a neighboring doctor and his son, the travelers attempt to piece together the truth behind their accident, in order to figure out the truth about their location and circumstances. In a case of mistaken identity, one of the travelers must choose between accepting their new circumstances or facing the truth that could damage her reputation forever, while the others must face the consequences of long-held secrets.

Filled with twists and turns until the very end, Lady Maybe introduces acclaimed Christian author Julie Klassen to a new, broader audience, who will fall in love with her exceptional storytelling and intriguing characters. The novel brings together a fascinating cast, who discover the power of forgiveness and the dangerous consequences of their secrets.

Overall, I was pleasantly surprised at how much I enjoyed reading Lady Maybe. Typically, I solely read fiction released by Christian publishers. However, I was willing to take a chance on a book by Julie Klassen, a well-established author known for her Christian Regency-era romances. The novel contains some themes that would normally not be found in most Christian fiction, particularly adultery and some physically-romantic scenes (although nothing that would be considered graphic). It actually reminded me of several themes utilized in Ms. Klassen’s debut novel, Lady of Milkweed Manor, particularly an out-of-wedlock pregnancy. Personally, these themes made that novel my least favorite out of her works. Within the format of a non-Christian publisher, I was rather impressed at the novel’s relative cleanliness in terms of content. I also appreciated the inclusion of some Christian references, which made for a much stronger story and character development that resulted in a satisfying, if not unexpected, conclusion.

Readers who enjoy Ms. Klassen’s other works may find it worthwhile to try Lady Maybe. Fans who appreciate historical fiction that integrates eras and themes from the works of Jane Austen and the Bronte sisters may also enjoy this novel. As a cross-over attempt between Christian and non-Christian publishers, I think it will generate interest from both groups of readers. In general, Ms. Klassen’s strong writing and intriguing characters carried the novel, even though it felt denser than her other books and had some themes that may not appeal to her typical Christian audience.

Julie Klassen’s next novel, The Painter’s Daughter, will be released by Bethany House Publishers in December 2015.

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BONUS! Review: A Lady of Esteem – Kristi Ann Hunter

Kristi Ann Hunter. A Lady of Esteem. Minneapolis, MN: Bethany House Publishers, 2015. Ebook.

It’s always a challenge to decide on buying a book from a new author. Sometimes, it’s definitely worth the risk. Other times, the end result is rather disappointing or just not your style of book. Lately, I’ve noticed a surprising number of authors (especially through Bethany Publishing House), who have started writing novellas that kick off new series. In the case of Kristi Ann Hunter, her brand-new e-novella, A Lady of Esteem, is now available for free through Amazon, ChristianBook.com, and other websites where e-books are sold. :)

Kristi Ann Hunter, a debut author through Bethany House, released A Lady of Esteem as an e-novella at the beginning of July 2015 to introduce her Regency-era series, Hawthorne House. A Lady of Esteem features Miss Amelia Stalwood, a ward of a reclusive nobleman. Living in London since childhood, Amelia spent the previous ten years befriending the servants of her household and the surrounding neighborhood. Through a series of amusing events, Amelia meets Anthony Pendleton, the Marquis of Raebourne, a former rogue and close friend of the Hawthorne siblings. Together, Anthony and the Hawthornes introduce Amelia to London’s aristocratic society. When rumors begin to swirl regarding Anthony’s past and Amelia’s circumstances, they soon discover new-found strength through their faith and friendships with the Hawthorne family.

A Lady of Esteem sets the stage for an intriguing new Regency series by Kristi Ann Hunter. With a style reminiscent of books by Lori Wick and Julie Klassen, the novella offers a light story and endearing characters that readers will be thrilled to delve further into throughout the upcoming Hawthorne House series.

Overall, I was rather impressed with Ms. Hunter’s debut novella. Throughout the work, she develops an accessible story with a clear Christian focus. I am looking forward to seeing how Ms. Hunter continues to build upon the storyline and characters first introduced in A Lady of Esteem, especially after reading the preview chapters for her upcoming novel, A Noble Masquerade (September 2015). While the main characters of A Lady of Esteem were interesting, I could definitely tell that the author’s thought and attention focus primarily on the Hawthorne siblings (Griffith, Duke of Riverton; Miranda; Trent; and Georgina). The novella does a good job of setting up the series (especially after reading the introductory chapters of A Noble Masquerade, which directly references events from the novella). However, the full novel will be easily understood and enjoyed by those who do not read A Lady of Esteem, which is currently only available in e-book format.

Readers who enjoy Regency-era inspirational stories will want to try Ms. Hunter’s new series, including A Lady of Esteem. Those who read novels by Julie Klassen and similar Christian authors will particularly enjoy this new series and author. Her writing style, storyline, and themes are rather light in comparison to Ms. Klassen and are similar to the Regency-era stories of Lori Wick. However, this novella will be appealing to a broad audience of readers who look for that style among their favorite Christian fiction works.

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Review: The Wonder of You – Susan May Warren

Susan May Warren. The Wonder of You. Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., 2015.

Please note: This review may contain some borderline spoilers, depending on if you have read any of the books in Susan May Warren’s Christiansen Family series.  Thanks!

I’m always amazed at the annual progression of how people view books. During the winter, people want to curl up with a book where it’s warm. In spring, they read where it’s dry. Over the summer months, you’ll find people taking books along on vacation, whether relaxing in a hammock or a spot on the beach. Somehow the fall encapsulates books in the season of heading back to school and learning new information out of tomes in libraries. No matter when a new book arrives, it somehow stands out as a highlight of my year, especially when it arrives with Susan May Warren’s name on the cover.

In the fifth novel of Ms. Warren’s much-loved Christiansen Family series, The Wonder of You finally tells the story of the youngest daughter of John and Ingrid Christiansen. Amelia left Deep Haven behind after high school to pursue her dream of becoming a talented photographer through a study abroad program in Prague. While there, she meets Roark St. John, who becomes her dependable companion on her adventures throughout Europe. However, a misunderstanding sends Amelia back to the arms of her family, where she struggles to find the courage to once again pursue her dreams. When Roark follows Amelia to Deep Haven, he encounters a world far removed from his family’s global hotel empire. Suddenly, lumberjack contests, homey coffee shops, and an ever-hovering family become his new normal. In a small-town battle for Amelia’s heart, Roark takes a look at his own heart and his relationship with a God of second chances, who may not have given up on him after all.

In a breathtaking tale of God’s calling for his children, The Wonder of You brings together the Christiansen family and friends as they face life’s many challenges. The novel intertwines Amelia and Roark’s relationship and adventures from Prague with the continued legacy of the Christiansens, including subplots involving Max Sharp and Grace Christiansen (When I Fall in Love) and Jensen and Claire Atwood (Take a Chance on Me).

Overall, I loved reading The Wonder of You and would definitely rank it among the best novels of the summer! In the novel, Ms. Warren exemplifies what makes her one of the best among today’s Christian fiction authors, creating an engaging and realistic story that draws in readers and wraps them in the warmth of God’s love. The author’s characters, especially the Christiansen family, and the town of Deep Haven have become some of her greatest accomplishments of her career, as readers will quickly feel at home in Ms. Warren’s depictions of her home state of Minnesota. The Wonder of You stands out, along with It Had to Be You and When I Fall in Love, as equally strong highlights of the series. In comparison, Always on My Mind felt like a necessary part of the series, but relied heavily on the other novels for the engaging storyline and character introductions. I am particularly curious to see where Ms. Warren takes the series with its finale, You’re the One that I Want (Spring 2016), as she finally tells the story of the Christiansen’s prodigal son, Owen.

Readers who have previously enjoyed Ms. Warren’s earlier novels, especially the Christiansen Family and Deep Haven series, will particularly want to read The Wonder of You. Readers who have not read When I Fall in Love and Always on My Mind should read those books prior to The Wonder of You to best understand and appreciate the story and character development of the novel.

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Review: Among the Fair Magnolias – Alexander, Gray, Love, and Musser

Tamara Alexander, Shelley Gray, Dorothy Love, and Elizabeth Musser. Among the Fair Magnolias: Four Southern Love Stories. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 2015.

Sometimes I find new books by tracking my favorite authors or series of books. Other times, I simply fall in love with a book’s cover and can’t wait to read it. For authors Tamara Alexander, Shelley Gray, Dorothy Love, and Elizabeth Musser, their latest compilation of novellas in Among the Fair Magnolias has all of the above, making it a must read this month!

Among the Fair Magnolias brings together some of Christian fiction’s great authors, who contribute stories that depict the American South during the period around the Civil War. Through four diverse love stories, they bring the period to life and show the undeterred nature of America’s women in the face of some of life’s greatest challenges.

Ms. Love’s “Heart So True” tells the story of Abigail Clayton as she faces the choice between following her father’s wishes for a spouse or finally marrying the man who has captured her heart. With a pleasant storyline and a wonderful sense of place, “Heart So True” builds on characters introduced in Carolina Gold, while highlighting Ms. Love’s storytelling ability in what is certainly my favorite piece so far by this author.

“To Mend a Dream” by Ms. Alexander continues the story of a secondary character first introduced in To Win Her Favor. Susannah Darby lost her family’s home after the Civil War and finds herself having to redecorate the house as part of a commission for her work as a seamstress. When Northerner Aidan Bedford encounters Susannah admiring his newly-acquired land, his view of the future suddenly changes. “To Mend a Dream” is a sweet and poignant story that showcases Ms. Alexander’s flair for characters and historical detail.

Ms. Musser’s “Love Beyond Limits” offers a surprising, but well-placed, addition to Among the Fair Magnolias. Having grown up on her father’s plantation, Emily Derracott pushes cultural norms in the South with her insistence on educating her family’s former slaves. When her father insists that she marry a long-time neighbor, Emily must choose between her politics and social convention in a reconstructed South. Ms. Musser builds upon historical themes and characters similar to those found in Ms. Alexander’s novels. However, this story contained several historical details that did not necessarily fit with the period.

Lastly, “An Outlaw’s Heart” by Ms. Gray takes readers to post-Civil War Texas, where the effects of the war continue to touch the lives of one small town. Russell Champion returns to his hometown after spending the last seven years running from his past. When he finally revisits his mother and the girl he left behind, Russell must choose between leaving again or finding a new life with those he loves. Through the use of a different writing style, Ms. Gray’s story offers the greatest deviation from the rest of the collection. However, the ultimate themes of renewal, choices, and overcoming obstacles tie this story to the rest of the book.

Overall, I was quite thrilled with Among the Fair Magnolias. Fans who enjoy any of the authors’ novels and other stories will definitely appreciate the book, as it offers many connections with characters, settings, and storylines first depicted in the authors’ other works. Additionally, those readers who enjoy Southern-inspired Christian fiction will also appreciate the compilation. In general, I thought the stories fit fairly well together. The book reminded me of compilations of L.M. Montgomery’s wonderfully sweet and inspiring short story collections, with a slight change in geography. At several points, the stories in Among the Fair Magnolias shared similar themes and premises to examples of Ms. Montgomery’s work, which I found to be absolutely delightful.

Special thanks to BookLook Bloggers for the advanced copy of Among the Fair Magnolias!

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Review: Irish Meadows – Susan Anne Mason

Susan Anne Mason. Irish Meadows. Minneapolis, MN: Bethany House Publishers, 2015.

It’s always exciting to receive a brand-new book from a publisher, especially when it’s a new author, too! While Susan Anne Mason has written other novels for the Christian market, Irish Meadows is her debut into historical fiction and the first novel in her Courage to Dream series.

Irish Meadows follows the O’Leary sisters, who grew up on their father’s horse farm on Long Island. Although they grew up together, Colleen and Brianna are very different. Colleen believes her beauty and charm will get her far in life, while Brianna has always dreamed of going to college. However, their greedy and manipulative father hopes to use them to ensure the prosperity of the farm and horses of Irish Meadows. When Gilbert Whelen, a surrogate brother of the O’Leary family, and Rylan Montgomery, a distant relative from Ireland, arrive at Irish Meadows, they further complicate the O’Leary family’s situation. With the farm’s ruin around the corner, the O’Leary sisters find themselves having to choose between pleasing their father and ensuring the farm’s success or taking a chance on a new life that they never imagined.

Fans of Tracie Peterson and Judith Miller will particularly enjoy Ms. Mason’s debut into the world of Christian historical fiction. Focusing on Irish Americans during the early 20th century, she offers a unique look into the first-generation Americans following the wave of Irish immigrants to the United States. Additionally, readers who enjoy books on the topic of horse breeding and racing may also enjoy Irish Meadows. In comparison to some recent novels on the topic (Tamara Alexander’s To Win Her Favor and Becky Wade’s A Love Like Ours, for example), Irish Meadows felt somewhat light on the details in regards to the horse farm. Instead, the novel more closely follows the relationships between the O’Leary family members, rather than serving as an in-depth look at a historical time period or location.

Overall, I thought that Irish Meadows was a strong debut for Ms. Mason into the historical fiction genre. She shares a similar style, pacing, and characters to those found in the novels of Tracie Peterson and Judith Miller, especially as found in their Lights of Lowell series. In general, the novel exemplifies what many readers expect as the stereotypical Christian historical novel, with a moderate to slightly slow pace, some historical detail, and periodic Christian/faith references. Ms. Mason concentrates her efforts around building an intriguing character-based storyline, which many readers will greatly enjoy. Personally, I am eager to see Ms. Mason’s growth as a writer, especially in terms of integrating further historical research and details that will bring her books to life within her chosen time period.

The second book of Ms. Mason’s Courage of Dreams series, A Worthy Heart, arrives in January 2016!

Special thanks to Bethany House Publishers for the advanced copy of Irish Meadows!

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