Review: Freedom’s Ring – Heidi Chiavaroli

Heidi Chiavaroli. Freedom’s Ring. Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, 2017.

Lately, several authors have written particularly impressive novels based on surprisingly recent events.  With the length and intensity of the publication process, I find their perspective on contemporary life to be worth exploring, just as much as their views of similar themes set in other historical periods.

In Freedom’s Ring, Annie David finds herself the victim of the Boston Marathon bombing.  While Annie escaped with few injuries, she feels guilty for placing her family members in danger, including her niece who lost a limb in the blast.  However, Annie clings to the memories and ring of her rescuer, who remains a mystery until she happens across his contact information several years later while visiting her niece.  In rediscovering one another, Annie and Brad are determined to piece together the mysterious history of his ring and the hope and strength that it inspires.  Their historical research brings them to the story of Liberty Caldwell, a young women who encounters love, loss, and hope in the period before the American Revolution.  In discovering the unexpected origins of the ring, Annie also finds the strength to overcome her own fears and once again run the race of her life.

Bridging historical and contemporary periods, Ms. Chiavaroli offers a thought-provoking perspective on faith, as it unites her characters across time and place.  Freedom’s Ring serves as a fascinating debut for this new and compelling author.

Overall, I found Freedom’s Ring to be quite an interesting read.  While several aspects of the novel’s plotline may seem familiar to readers of the genre, Ms. Chiavaroli adds elements and details that certainly present a fresh perspective on these themes.  Particularly, her inclusion of the Boston Marathon bombing and the viewpoints of survivors adds to the uniqueness of the novel.  Freedom’s Ring does include some plot points that may be considered inappropriate for some younger readers (sexual assault, war/military battles, and PTSD).  However, Ms. Chiavaroli does not include any graphic details, as she focuses the novel on Christian themes.  Additionally, readers who enjoy learning about the work of historians and genealogists may find this novel to be particularly interesting, based on the main characters’ research throughout the story.  While I found many aspects of their research journey to be delightfully convenient and simple, I appreciated Ms. Chiavaroli’s inclusion of this process as a significant component of her novel.

Fans of Christian fiction that includes both contemporary and historical timelines will likely enjoy reading Freedom’s Ring.  Additionally, those with a particular interest in the Revolutionary War and the Freedom Trail area will also find this story to be a worthwhile read.

Special thanks to NetGalley and Tyndale House Publishers for an advanced copy of Freedom’s Ring!

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Review: The Promise of Breeze Hill – Pam Hillman

Pam Hillman. The Promise of Breeze Hill. Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, 2017.

I always enjoy trying new author, new series, and stories that explore new places and historical periods.  Fortunately, Pam Hillman’s latest release fits all of these criteria.

The Promise of Breeze Hill begins Ms. Hillman’s Natchez Trace series, set in Natchez, Mississippi, in the late eighteenth century.  Connor O’Shea intends to indenture himself and his skills as a carpenter to bring his brothers to America from Ireland.  Without the necessary skilled labor to rebuild her father’s plantation, Isabella Bartholomew purchases Connor’s indenture, counting on a successful harvest to provide the necessary funds to carry out her side of the agreement.  Together, Isabella and Connor work toward rebuilding Breeze Hill Plantation in the face of an unknown threat that has led to the loss of Isabella’s brother, the destruction of part of the plantation house, and left her father severely injured.  As the threats continue, Isabella must choose between marrying a wealthy neighbor or following her heart, as she hopes that one path may lead to the peace and reassurance that she has been looking for all of along.

Set in the late eighteenth century, The Promise of Breeze Hill offers a fascinating plot unique to its location and period.  Ms. Hillman presents a compelling beginning to her Natchez Trace series.

Overall, I quite enjoyed reading The Promise of Breeze Hill.  Although I am otherwise unfamiliar with Ms. Hillman’s work, this story set itself apart from many other concepts frequently found in the historical Christian fiction genre.  I would have liked to see a little more context, possibly in the form of an author’s note at the beginning of the book, to explain more about the place and period of the book, as I could see quite a few readers being completely unfamiliar with this setting.  However, readers will find that it is well worth reading the book, especially to learn about the mixture of cultures and influences in the Netchez area during the late eighteenth century.  Additionally, I really enjoyed seeing a significant Christian component in this novel.  In general, I thought the book (at least in its ARC form) would have benefited from some additional editing, but I’m sure that a significant amount of those errors would have been fixed by the time of the novel’s official release.  Based on the unique storyline and characters of this novel, I am looking forward to seeing where Ms. Hillman takes this series next.

Fans of Ms. Hillman’s previous works will likely enjoy reading The Promise of Breeze Hill.  Additionally, readers who appreciate unique examples of historical Christian fiction will find this story to be well worth reading.

Special thanks to NetGalley and Tyndale House Publishers for an advanced copy of The Promise of Breeze Hill!

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Review: To Wager Her Heart – Tamera Alexander

Tamera Alexander. To Wager Her Heart. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2017.

When I was young, my dad would take the family to various museums and other locations to see trains.  They always seemed immense and captivating, especially to a tiny kid.  Even now, I have an odd fascination with trains and found this novel’s inclusion of detailed descriptions of nineteenth-century railroads to be an odd highlight of the story. :)

To Wager Her Heart, the third book of Ms. Alexander’s Belle Meade Plantation series, returns readers to post-Civil War Nashville, Tennessee.  Alexandra Jamison escapes an arranged marriage, forcing her to look elsewhere for a job to support herself.  With teaching skills acquired from her deceased fiancé, Alexandra finds a position as a teacher at Fisk University, a freedmen’s university in Nashville.  Unfortunately, the position comes with few perks and a tiny salary, resulting in her accepting a tutoring position with Sylas Rutledge.  Originally from Colorado, Sy readily admits that Southern manners leave him perplexed.  With a chance of a lifetime to partner on a venture with General William Giles Harding of Belle Meade Plantation, Sy must impress the General and Nashville society to ensure the success of his Northeast Line Railroad.  Sharing unorthodox opinions about education and society, Sy and Alexandra soon find themselves risking everything to stand up for their beliefs.  However, a tragic train accident that connects them may be the one thing keeping them apart.

Ms. Alexander returns for the final volume of her fascinating Belle Meade Plantation series.  Fans of her work will applaud her development of this story, as it bridges intriguing historical events and people found in the region’s history.

Overall, I really enjoyed reading To Wager Her Heart!  Ms. Alexander expertly develops her characters, drawing in the reader from the very first chapter.  The novel includes an unexpected thread focused on the Fisk University Jubilee Singers and their attempts to save the university from insolvency.  While music, education, and railroads seem like an odd combination within a story, Ms. Alexander somehow makes it a perfect fit!  The level of research to pull together such diverse topics, while developing a wonderful sense of place throughout the novel is exceptionally impressive.  Additionally, this novel shows Ms. Alexander’s further growth as a writer, as this and her last several books have started to have an even smoother writing style, better pacing, and tighter storylines.  While I have always enjoyed Ms. Alexander’s novels, I am looking forward to her future work even more as a result of this growth.

Fans of Ms. Alexander’s previous novels, especially those in the Belle Meade Plantation series, will definitely want to read To Wager Her Heart!  Likewise, readers who appreciate great Christian historical fiction with a focus on the post-Civil War era South will also find this novel to be well worth reading.

Ms. Alexander kicks off a new series with her release of Christmas at Carnton: A Novella this October!

Special thanks to NetGalley and Zondervan for the advanced copy of To Wager Her Heart!

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Review: The Writing Desk – Rachel Hauck

Rachel Hauck. The Writing Desk. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2017.

Following a bit of advice from one of the Christian authors that I regularly review, I upgraded my Kindle to better handle its near constant use.  As I’ve discovered over the last several months, reading paperback books can be fairly tricky with a newborn, but an e-book reader works great one-handed!  The Writing Desk happened to be the first novel that I read with my new e-book reader and I can honestly say that the technology has significantly improved from what it was four or five years ago.

In The Writing Desk, Tenley Roth comes from a long line of accomplished authors.  After losing her father, she writes an unexpected bestselling novel inspired by his life.  With an upcoming deadline for her sophomore novel, she soon finds herself facing a severe case of writer’s block.  Escaping her life in New York, Tenley travels to Florida to assist her mother through her cancer treatments.  While there, she meets Jonas Sullivan and his family, as well as finding some much-needed inspiration in the form of a writing desk in her mother’s library.  The desk’s owner was once an author herself.  Growing up in the Gilded Age, Birdie Shehorn was forced to choose between social success and love.  In the face of family disapproval, Birdie turns to her storytelling abilities, finding that God’s will for her life does not look like the typical romance story of her age.  Birdie and Tenley’s respective journeys as authors come together across time, as deceptions fall away in the face of truth.

Fans of Ms. Hauck’s previous contemporary novels, including The Wedding Dress and The Wedding Chapel, will be delighted with this newest release.  The Writing Desk continues Ms. Hauck’s style of intertwining stories from the past and present, even as they reveal timeless themes and challenges encountered by her characters.

Overall, I really enjoyed reading The Writing Desk!  While Ms. Hauck’s previous novels, specifically The Wedding Shop, The Wedding Chapel, and The Wedding Dress, have been well received, I honestly enjoyed The Writing Desk even more.  Both the contemporary and historical components of the story were absolutely riveting, with a tight writing style accessible to all readers.  Ms. Hauck is definitely in the top tier of authors that I review and this book was an absolute delight to read.  The Gilded Age storyline was well worth the effort and extra research that Ms. Hauck admits in the author’s note that she had to put into it.  That historical plotline was strong enough that she could have easily turned it into a stand-alone book.  However, it will definitely reach and be greatly appreciated by an even wider audience when combined with the contemporary storyline.

Readers who have previously enjoyed Ms. Hauck’s novels, especially The Wedding Shop, The Wedding Chapel, and The Wedding Dress, will be absolutely thrilled with The Writing Desk.  Likewise, fans of contemporary Christian fiction, especially by authors such as Susan May Warren, will also want to read this book.

Special thanks to BookLook Bloggers for the advanced copy of The Writing Desk!

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Review: Just Look Up – Courtney Walsh

Courtney Walsh. Just Look Up. Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, 2017.

Throughout her previous novels, Courtney Walsh expertly brings small towns to life.  Her characters jump off the page, while the towns themselves could easily be one’s next vacation spot.

In Just Look Up, Lane Kelley has made a name for herself as a Chicago-based interior designer.  Lane works tirelessly to achieve a much-deserved promotion, even as her colleagues know nothing about her personally.  When her brother ends up in a coma, Lane must travel back to her hometown and finally face her family after years of self-inflicted exile.  The town of Harbor Pointe, Michigan, offers little of the ideal escape for Lane, even as she encounters lifelong family friend, Ryan Brooks.  Ryan made his own escape via the military from a horrible family situation, but is excited to finally help the local area’s tourism through a business project of his own.  However, he needs Lane’s expertise in order to finish the project.  Together, Ryan and Lane must navigate their respective pasts in order to finally determine a way to build a future.

Ms. Walsh’s most recent novel points to the importance of looking up from one’s work and own problems to instead focus on other people and events beyond oneself.  Throughout much of the novel, Lane maintains a firm grip on her cell phone and work projects, even as she discovers that it negatively impacts her health and happiness.  As Ms. Walsh indicates in the author’s notes, the lessons of this novel are ones that many people encounter, including the author herself.

Overall, I rather enjoyed reading Just Look Up.  Personally, the novel was one of my favorites written by Ms. Walsh.  I really appreciated her contrast of Lane’s Chicago lifestyle with the quaint town of Harbor Pointe.  Additionally, the various characters were quite interesting and unique, fitting appropriately within their various settings.  In general, I wished to see more description of Lane’s interior design projects and process, as the “work” that she does makes up a significant component of the story.  Instead, these sections are glossed over, even as they may have offered some intriguing opportunities to build further dialogue and complexity among some of the main characters.  However, I realize that Ms. Walsh was probably attempting to keep a tighter focus on building her story.  I am curious to see if Ms. Walsh decides to continue to write stories based in and around Harbor Pointe or if her next novel will move in a different direction.

Fans of Ms. Walsh’s previous works, as well as other contemporary Christian fiction, will enjoy reading Just Look Up.

Special thanks to NetGalley and Tyndale House Publishers for an advanced copy of Just Look Up!

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