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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Review: The Austen Escape – Katherine Reay

Katherine Reay. The Austen Escape. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 2017.

Lately, I’ve been watching my fair share of British television, whether in the form of recent releases or some older productions that have been from years past.  Some of the most amusing have involved putting modern-day people in historical situations, as they rarely have the basic knowledge to make it through a historical day.  Ms. Reay’s most recent novel takes a look at a very similar situation, with hysterical results. :)

Ms. Reay’s newest novel, The Austen Escape, features the friendship of Mary Davies and Isabel Dwyer.  Mary has her life together with a great job as an engineer at a start-up with excellent prospects.  Through her job, she has met a handsome consultant, who has turned into a trusted friend and possibly more.  However, Isabel soon cuts in on Mary’s life, when she springs a two-week trip to England as an emergency that could further strain or fix their friendship.  Isabel depends on the trip as an essential piece of her dissertation research on recreating Jane Austen’s literature, leaving Mary to cram in reading of all of Austen’s works.  Without Isabel’s scholarly knowledge of Austen’s world, Mary is left floundering through the early days of living on an historic estate with period-costumed guests.  When Isabel loses her memory and believes that she really lives in Austen’s Regency era, Mary must save the day with the help of the rest of the manor’s guests and a few surprise assistants from home.

The Austen Escape proves Ms. Reay’s brilliance at interweaving classic literature with modern-day situational humor.  Fans of PBS’s historical dramas and reality shows will find themselves eagerly delving into this delightful novel.

Overall, I really enjoyed reading The Austen Escape!  This novel stands out as my personal favorite novel by Ms. Reay, as she brings a wonderful sense of humor to this story.  Additionally, her characters offer a very different cast from her other books, as well as those found in similar works in the genre of contemporary Christian fiction and literary-inspired novels.  Mary and Isabel serve as just the beginning of a highly-layered cast of characters, with their own faults and accomplishments shown to great effect in this story of misunderstandings, escape, and second chances.  While other storylines in books and television shows have explored the concept of modern-day people living in a Regency Era or Austen-inspired environment, Ms. Reay’s rendition offers a new level of humor and wit to this unique setting.  Particularly, the novel’s contrasting of Mary and her engineering mind in a world of manners and social occasions offers great moments that readers will find absolutely charming.

Fans of Ms. Reay’s previous novels will definitely want to read The Austen Escape.  Likewise, readers who enjoy literature-inspired contemporary fiction or Christian fiction will find this book to be well worth tracking down.

Special thanks to NetGalley and Thomas Nelson for the advanced copy of The Austen Escape!

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Review: A Dangerous Legacy – Elizabeth Camden

Elizabeth Camden. A Dangerous Legacy. Minneapolis, MN: Bethany House Publishers, 2017.

Elizabeth Camden has taken a spot in my group of must-read authors from the release of her very first novel.  Her works consistently explore fascinating moments in history, with intriguing plots and complex characters.

In A Dangerous Legacy, Lucy Drake pursues justice for generations of her family, who have been plagued by an ongoing legal battle over her grandfather’s invention.  While her uncle’s family gains a fortune from over-pricing a water valve, Lucy hopes that one day the price will be lowered to allow it to be used to bring fresh water to the poor living in tenements.  Without a fortune to her name, Lucy works as a telegrapher for the Associated Press, where she puts her skills to the test to beat out the agency’s British rival.  Working only floors apart in a Manhattan skyscraper, the staff of the Associated Press and Reuters are constantly pitted against each other.  When Sir Colin Beckwith arrives at Reuters, he brings a particularly high-class approach to his work, even as it leads to conflict with Lucy’s work several floors away.  After Lucy and Colin learn each other’s secrets, they develop an alliance that just may place them both in more danger.  However, they may also be the key to unwinding a plot that could destroy the nation’s largest international undertaking.

Ms. Camden brings her particular flair to a story of international intrigue and charm.  Lucy and Colin’s exploits will delight readers, even as they reveal fascinating moments in the history of American politics and journalism.

Overall, I really enjoyed reading A Dangerous Legacy!  While I have appreciated some of Ms. Camden’s books more than others, this novel is definitely one of my favorite.  The setting of the novel and its focus on two famous news agencies at the beginning of the twentieth century offers a unique perspective on a topic that is not often explored in fictional works.  Likewise, the plot that Colin and Lucy uncover involves additional historical topics and situations that are lesser known in the genre.  I thought that Ms. Camden’s plot and development of this story were particularly well done, as they present an even pacing that will keep the reader captivated throughout the entire novel.   Likewise, I felt that the characters were among the top tier developed by Ms. Camden for her collection of novels.  After finishing A Dangerous Legacy, I was definitely left wanting to see what happens next with this particular set of characters, even though I would be equally excited to see what other unique concepts Ms. Camden explores in the future.

Fans of Ms. Camden will absolutely want to read A Dangerous Legacy.  Likewise, readers who enjoy expertly-researched historical fiction, even beyond the scope of Christian fiction, will definitely want to find a copy of this novel.

Special thanks to Bethany House Publishers for the advanced copy of A Dangerous Legacy!

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Review: Love Held Captive – Shelley Shepard Gray

Shelley Shepard Gray. Love Held Captive. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2017.

Whenever I think of Christian fiction, I always describe it as being stories that one could easily share with a sister, mother, or grandmother.  It’s accessible, interesting, clean, and a pleasure to read.  This latest release definitely fits all of those characteristics!

Shelley Shepard Gray finishes her Lone Star Hero’s Love Story series with Love Held Captive.  Major Ethan Kelly and Captain Devin Monroe have gone out of their way to assist their fellow veterans in their time of need.  This time, they each finally find a woman who captures their attention.  Major Kelly discovers that Lizbeth crossed his path during the war, even as he hopes to help her with the unwanted attentions of a hotel patron.  Similarly, Julianne’s encounters with that same man during the war led to a great deal of pain and mental anguish.  Fortunately, she befriends Captain Monroe, who is determined to marry her in spite of her past.  As this band of veterans discovers that both Julianne and Lizbeth were mistreated at the hands of their former colonel, they seek to bring justice and healing to those involved.

Ms. Gray brings her signature style and much-loved characters to this final volume in the Lone Star Hero’s Love Story series.  Fans of her work will definitely appreciate this entertaining novel.

Overall, I really enjoyed reading Love Held Captive!  While I don’t typically read Ms. Gray’s Amish-themed stories, I have become quite a fan of her historical fiction works.  The Lone Star Hero’s Love Story series has been an absolute delight from start to finish, with Love Held Captive offering a satisfying conclusion for this set of characters.  I would really appreciate seeing her continue to write novels of this kind, as they are written in a style that would appeal to a great variety of readers, while being interesting and pleasant to read.  The brotherhood of former Confederate soldiers and their continued reliance on one another after the war was a relatively unique and fun concept that really worked with these novels.  However, I honestly expected there would be four novels in the series, instead of only three.  I would have been interested to have both Captain Monroe and Major Kelly have their own stories, but having a combined plot worked well, too.  After reading this series, I look forward to seeing what Ms. Gray writes next!

Fans of Ms. Gray’s other historical Christian fiction novels, including those in the Lone Star Hero’s Love story series, will definitely want to read An Uncommon Protector.  Likewise, readers who appreciate relatively light historical Christian fiction will also find this novel to be an appealing read.  Ms. Gray’s highly-accessible writing style makes this a particularly good read for those readers who oftentimes enjoy Christian novellas.

Special thanks to BookLook Bloggers and Zondervan for the advanced copy of Love Held Captive!

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Review: The Secret Life of Sarah Hollenbeck – Bethany Turner

Bethany Turner. The Secret Life of Sarah Hollenbeck. Grand Rapids, MI: Revell, 2017.

The fall book release season is already in full swing.  The next few months look to be filled with great novels by fan favorites and some interesting newcomers to the genre.

Ms. Turner makes her debut with The Secret Life of Sarah Hollenbeck.  After Sarah’s marriage with her high school sweetheart ends, she turns to her book club and newfound passion for writing to reestablish her life as an independent woman.  Her hobby soon leads her to become a bestselling author of a trilogy of very steamy romance novels.  However, a life-changing conversation with her best friend leads Sarah to become a Christian.  While attempting to acclimate herself to a new church, Sarah must also decide how to fulfill her contract with her publisher for another book in keeping with her old writing life, which has brought her great wealth and acclaim.  Fortunately, Sarah benefits from the knowledge and experience of her best friend, a young pastor, and others who come to support her on her journey from a lonely, divorced romance writer to a much-loved friend and Christian author.

Told almost entirely from Sarah’s perspective, The Secret Life of Sarah Hollenbeck brings a quirky situation to life.  Readers of contemporary Christian fiction will find this novel to be a unique addition to this fall’s releases.

Overall, I thought that The Secret Life of Sarah Hollenbeck offered a witty and unique perspective to the genre.  The concept of the book is really interesting, as it stands out from quite a few other novels in the field.  However, some aspects of the story come across as being more similar to a character analysis or case study than a well-rounded novel.  Most of the story is written from Sarah’s perspective, which leads many of the other characters to appear very one-dimensional.  Personally, I liked some of the secondary characters much more than the primary ones, even as they felt under-written in this particular story.  Also, I found the author to take up some interesting and unique themes, including what makes for a Christian relationship.  However, the amount of focus on the “sex” question became burdensome, even to the point of impacting the novel’s pacing and this reader’s general interest in the story.

Fans of contemporary Christian fiction may find The Secret Life of Sarah Hollenbeck to be worth checking out.  While I typically feel comfortable recommending Christian fiction to a broad audience of readers, I found the content and themes of this novel to be more appropriate to a more mature audience (at least high school, if not older).  In addition, some Christian readers may find the discussion of “sex” in Christian relationships to be outside the scope of appropriate content for novels by a Christian publisher.  I leave the determination of what is considered appropriate or not up to the individual reader, but I offer this information for general reference.

Special thanks to NetGalley and Revell for the advanced copy of The Secret Life of Sarah Hollenbeck!

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