Review: The House on Foster Hill – Jaime Jo Wright

Jaime Jo Wright. The House on Foster Hill. Minneapolis, MN: Bethany House Publishers, 2017.

I’m not the person to watch scary movies, but I oftentimes enjoy reading Christian fiction with mystery or suspense elements.  Somehow, these authors typically make the genre more accessible and I’m generally fine reading these stories.

In The House on Foster Hill, Kaine Prescott returns to her ancestral family’s hometown in Wisconsin to leave behind her tragic past in California.  She hopes by restoring a historical estate, she can finally grieve and recover from the murder of her husband and the impact that event had on her life.  She fears that her past career helping abused women had finally caught up with her in California.  Unfortunately, the house has its own past and is in terrible condition when Kaine arrives.  Ivy Thorpe had her own encounters in the house on Foster Hill a century before.  An unknown woman is found murdered on the property and it takes Ivy and a group of townspeople to solve the mystery of what happened within the house.  Placing their own lives at risk across the years, Kaine and Ivy discover the house’s secrets and find their lives will never be the same.

Bridging two periods within the town, The House on Foster Hill presents a high-stakes mystery that will delight fans of this genre of stories.  Ms. Wright’s debut novel offers plenty of suspense that ties together generations of people from a small Wisconsin town.

Overall, I thought The House on Foster Hill offered a different kind of story from what I typically read.  In seeing other reviews about the book, I was expecting an easy five-start review on my end.  However, I had several issues with the novel.  In reading the Kindle version, I expected the book to end at many different points, but I was rarely anywhere near the end of the book.  It could have used some significant editing, particularly in its plot development, even though the writing style of the author was pretty good.  Some of the characters were stronger than others, with Ivy Thorpe coming across as one of the best-developed in the novel.  Also, I was rather disappointed to see minimal historical detail in the historical sections of the book.  I would much prefer to see a stronger plot that is exclusively contemporary or historical, as very few authors can successfully pull off both within a single novel.  Lastly, I found this book to be much creepier than almost any other Christian mystery/suspense novel that I have previously read.  While I could see other readers really enjoying that aspect of the story, I found it somewhat off-putting and it made it a struggle to actually finish the book.

Fans of high-stakes mystery and suspense novels may find The House on Foster Hill to be worth reading.  While the book does have Christian elements, readers who identify more closely with other forms of Christian fiction (contemporary or historical) may find this book to be creepier than they prefer for light reading.

Special thanks to NetGalley and Bethany House Publishers for the advanced copy of The House on Foster Hill!

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Review: Where We Belong – Lynn Austin

Lynn Austin. Where We Belong. Minneapolis, MN: Bethany House Publishers, 2017.

With the holiday season already upon us, I can’t help but think of what great books I would recommend from the past year.  Fortunately, Lynn Austin’s most recent release would definitely make the list!

In Where We Belong, Rebecca and Flora Hawes find themselves in the Sinai Desert on the hunt for Biblical manuscripts.  However, a sandstorm and other unexpected events delay through journey, providing them the time and opportunity to reflect back on their lifetimes and the situations that led them to this point.  As unorthodox Victorian women, Rebecca and Flora have clung to their faith and family, even as they have chosen lives dedicated to scholarly efforts and philanthropic ventures that significantly impact their hometown of Chicago.  They have also brought along their young butler and ladies’ maid, both of whom have been saved from tragic circumstances by the sisters.  Together, their band of unlikely travelers eventually reach their destination and make incredible discoveries along the way.

Ms. Austin writes a compelling tale of two sisters and their faith-filled journey of Biblical discovery.  Based on a true story, Ms. Austin’s fictionalized version of the sisters’ adventures will become a much-beloved novel by fans and new readers alike.

Overall, I absolutely loved reading Where We Belong!  While I was a bit unsure about the concept initially, Ms. Austin’s writing pulled me in from the first few pages.  Rebecca and Flora’s accomplishments as independent women are incredibly impressive, while their faith shines throughout the story.  I particularly appreciated Ms. Austin’s focus on their work as Biblical scholars, who travelled to the historical sites and made their own share of discoveries that impacted the historical evidence of Biblical texts.  The novel is told from the perspective of the two sisters, as well as their two young servants, who experience their own faith journey from their first encounters with the Hawes sisters.  The story has something for everyone, with plenty of adventure, romance, drama, and conflict to keep the reader interested.  Personally, I found elements of Where We Belong to remind me of some of Ms. Austin’s earliest stories, bringing to mind the reasons why I consistently read her books to this day.

Fans of Ms. Austin’s previous works will definitely want to read Where We Belong!  Additionally, those readers with an interest in Biblical history and archaeology, as well as fans of books like The Case for Christ, will find this novel to be well worth the time.

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Review: The Space Between Words – Michele Phoenix

Michele Phoenix. The Space Between Words. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 2017.

With the encouragement and prompting of some of the publishers that I regularly read and review, I find myself exploring new authors and storylines that I would not be as likely to discover on my own.  While some novels are more successful than others, I always enjoy finding the unexpected in these stories.

In The Space Between Words, Jessica finds herself in the midst of the Paris attacks.  As an American in a Parisian hospital, she struggles to grasp the horror of her experience, even as the French medical professionals try to help her understand the situation.  Her friend, Patrick, helps her to cope through the early days of her recovery as he encourages her to pursue their planned journey to the southern part of France for an antiquing trip.  A chance encounter and an antique box of old documents soon set Jessica on a new journey.  Translating the archaic French, Jessica discovers the story of the persecuted Huguenots and their faith-filled community.  With the help of new-found friends, she pursues the Huguenot family’s story from France to England, in the hope of discovering the reason for their hope in the face of suffering.

Weaving together the past and present, Ms. Phoenix offers a compelling tale of faith and courage.  Her story goes beyond the terror of one day to explore what comes next in her characters’ lives.

Overall, I really enjoyed reading The Space Between Words.  While I am not familiar with Ms. Phoenix’s other works, I found this novel to be surprisingly accessible, with a good writing style and pacing that allows it to be easily read by a wide variety of readers.  She also manages to create a depiction of both the Paris attacks and Huguenot persecution that are both horrific and minimally graphic.  While I would be unlikely to hand this book to a relatively young reader, I didn’t have to worry too much about having nightmares from it myself, which I much appreciated.  The Huguenot/historical part of the story was absolutely fascinating, as was Jessica’s journey to discover more about the family involved in the making of her antique box.  With such a strong story of faith included in the historical components of the novel, the contemporary side of the plot felt much weaker in that regard.  Particularly, I found the end to have needed a bit more development, even as I was very happy to see such an emphasis on Christian faith included in a novel published by Thomas Nelson (which has not been the case in some of their more recent releases).

Fans of other Christian fiction works that split contemporary and historical timelines will likely enjoy reading The Space Between Words.  Additionally, those who have previously enjoyed Ms. Phoenix’s other works will definitely want to read this one, too.

Special thanks to The Fiction Guild and Thomas Nelson for the promotional copy of The Space Between Words!

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Review: Out of the Ordinary – Jen Turano

Jen Turano. Out of the Ordinary. Minneapolis, MN: Bethany House Publishers, 2017.

 Sometimes, I find myself needing a fun read.  These books are light and enjoyable, in spite of the craziness of my everyday life.  Jen Turano consistently provides this type of escape in her novels.

Out of the Ordinary continues Ms. Turano’s Apart from the Crowd series.  Gertrude Cadwalader has long established herself as one of the wallflowers (featured in earlier parts of the series), becoming good friends with the other characters of the series.  Along the way, her name has become tied to Harrison Sinclair, a particularly eccentric shipping magnate.  During her friends’ engagement party, Gertrude loses track of her long-time companion, the wealthy Mrs. Davenport.  With a proclivity toward stealing trinkets, Mrs. Davenport’s light-fingered ways soon land Gertrude in particular trouble with Harrison’s mother and sisters.  Gertrude and Harrison’s attempts to right the situation soon sets them on a trajectory that impacts more lives than their own.

Fans of Ms. Turano’s Apart from the Crowd will be delighted with this newest novel.  Gertrude and Harrison are particularly lighthearted and quirky characters that will leave readers tickled pink with their adventures.

Overall, I really enjoyed reading Out of the Ordinary.  The book never tries to be too serious, which makes for an excellent, light-hearted escape.  Added to that, Ms. Turano always makes sure to include Christian elements in her works.  With a quick pace and very accessible writing style, this novel would be appropriate for anyone, including relatively young readers of Christian historical fiction.  Ms. Turano focuses a surprising portion of the storyline on the engagement party that Gertrude and Harrison attend.  However, these events spur on the rest of the novel, which makes her decision to focus so much of the novel on the initial setting quite understandable.  Personally, I find myself wanting to know more about the characters and eagerly anticipate the next novel in the series.

Fans of Ms. Turano’s works, especially the Apart from the Crowd series, will definitely want to read Out of the Ordinary!  Additionally, readers who appreciate light-hearted and relatively humorous Christian historical fiction will also be thrilled with this particular book.

Special thanks to NetGalley and Bethany House Publishing for the advanced copy of Out of the Ordinary!

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Review: The Crooked Path – Irma Joubert

Irma Joubert. The Crooked Path. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 2017.

Thomas Nelson has now published three books by South African author, Irma Joubert.  Translated into English, these novels make up a trilogy about South Africa and the period around World War II.

The Crooked Path follows much of the life of Lettie, a South African girl.  Her friends (many of whom were introduced in Ms. Joubert’s previous novels) all seem prettier and overall better than Lettie, even as she finds her own form of accomplishment in becoming a doctor.  Even as a professional young woman, Lettie thinks of herself as second best, until she meets Marco.  Growing up in Italy, Marco became caught up in the tragic Holocaust events of World War II.  With severely damaged health, Marco relocates to South Africa for the climate and to be closer to his younger brother, the husband of one of Lettie’s childhood friends.  Together, Marco and Lettie make their way through life together, even as they encounter times of incredible challenges and hope.

Fans of Ms. Joubert’s previous works will be thrilled with this novel!  She brings South Africa to life through a diverse cast of characters and historical events.

Overall, I enjoyed reading The Crooked Path.  Ms. Joubert’s historical research is exceptionally impressive, as she interweaves major historical events with the lives of her characters.  Personally, I found the novel to be exceptionally similar to Child of the River, even as it overlapped many of the same characters and events.  I would have liked to see more structure to the plot, as the novel follows a series of events over the course of forty or so years in Lettie’s life, without the climatic buildup and resolution that one would expect from a fictional work.  While I personally enjoyed the novel, I could see some casual or slower-paced readers having some difficulty remaining interested in the story and characters.

Fans of Ms. Joubert’s previous releases, including The Girl from the Train and Child of the River, will want to try The Crooked Path.  Likewise, readers who enjoy Christian historical fiction, especially as related to the Second World War and the mid-twentieth century, may also want to check out this novel.

Special thanks to Thomas Nelson and NetGalley for the advanced copy of The Crooked Path!

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