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: A Name Unknown – Roseanna White

Roseanna M. White. A Name Unknown. Minneapolis, MN: Bethany House Publishers, 2017.

Reading a new series is always a risk.  Even for a much-loved author, a new series offers an entirely different set of characters, settings, and situations that may be more or less appealing than their other stories.  However, I also find it to be a great opportunity to see an author’s growth as a writer.

Ms. White releases the first novel of her new Shadows Over England series with A Name Unknown.  In the months before World War I, Peter Holstein faces suspicion due to his German heritage.  As the British monarchy considers changing their family name to something less German, Peter must also prove his loyalty to England.  In an effort to justify his land holdings and citizenship, he hires Rosemary Gresham to find the family documents in his chaotic and disorderly library.  Unbeknownst to Peter, Rosemary arrives on his doorstep with ulterior motives.  She has been hired as a known thief to masquerade as a librarian to determine Peter’s allegiance to either England or Germany.  As Peter and Rosemary work together to find the family’s history, Peter’s activities behind locked doors raise suspicion.  However, the truth of his past and present activities may just be the key to his and Rosemary’s future.

A Name Unknown offers an intriguing storyline with a combination of romance, suspense, and humor that will delight fans of Christian historical fiction.  Rosemary, Peter, and the story’s other characters provide a fascinating perspective of the months leading up to the start of World War I.

Overall, I really enjoyed reading A Name Unknown!  While I had somewhat mixed feelings about Ms. White’s previous Ladies of the Manor series, this new release presents a significantly stronger example of her writing.  The concept behind this new series appears to be much more intriguing, capturing the imagination of the reader from the very beginning of the novel.  Additionally, A Name Unknown reveals a significant improvement from Ms. White’s previous series in terms of the quality of her historical research and ability to incorporate these details into the storyl.  With a strong plot, cast of characters, historical basis, and an unexpected sense of humor, this book serves as the whole package, presenting a new high for Ms. White’s work.  I look forward to seeing how she continues to build out this new series and her future novels, based on the level of excellence found in A Name Unknown.

Fans of Ms. White’s previous novels, including those found in her Ladies of the Manor, will definitely want to read A Name Unknown.  Additionally, readers who enjoy historical Christian fiction with a touch of mystery and intrigue will also find this novel to be well worth trying.

Ms. White continues the Shadows Over England series with her release of A Song Unheard in January 2018!

Special thanks to NetGalley and Bethany House Publishers for an advanced copy of A Name Unknown!

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Review: Close to You – Kara Isaac

Kara Isaac. Close to You. New York, NY: Howard Books, 2016.

I had the opportunity to read Kara Isaac’s latest release, Can’t Help Falling, as an advanced copy from the publisher.  If you’ve already read my review, you probably figured out that I thought it was quite brilliant and absolutely hilarious!  With a little help from my local library, I finally had the chance to read her debut novel, Close to You. :)

Allison Shire’s life as an academic fell apart the day that her husband’s wife walked into the middle of her lecture.  With a Ph.D. in English, Allison has left the university world and run home to piece together her life again, becoming a guide for luxury tours of New Zealand.  On one of her last tours, Allison’s group includes Jackson Gregory, a failed businessman with his own share of relationship challenges.  After his girlfriend ran off with his trade secrets and his biggest competition, Jackson is desperate to please his wealthy great-uncle on a zany trip to New Zealand, even if it means three weeks of Tolkien references that he does not understand.  Together, Allison and Jackson discover the true meaning of second chances and seeing through one another to their true selves, against some of the craziest odds ever conceived in fiction or real life.

Ms. Isaac brings the fantastic landscape of New Zealand to life in her debut novel, Close to You.  Fans of Tolkien and the latest film series will be absolutely thrilled with Ms. Isaac’s depiction of his literary works and the behind-the-scenes life of those who call the film sets home.

Overall, I was absolutely delighted with Close to You!  Melissa Tagg, Becky Wade, and several other notable Christian authors highly recommended this novel.  With the added benefit of having read Ms. Isaac’s sophomore work, Can’t Help Falling, I was eager to see what she would do with a story set in her native New Zealand.  She certainly did not disappoint!  With an incredible eye for detail and comedic timing, Ms. Isaac offers a fun and fascinating tale filled with excellent and complex characters.   Additionally, she presents a unique and engaging storyline that will keep readers absolutely riveted.

Fans of Ms. Isaac’s most recent release, Can’t Help Falling, will definitely want to read Close to You.  Additionally, readers who enjoy the light and funny style of Christian novels by Melissa Tagg and Becky Wade should highly consider trying Ms. Isaac’s novels.  Likewise, fans of Katherine Reay’s literary-inspired Christian fiction will want to take a look at Ms. Isaac’s novels.  Readers who are interested in Tolkien may also want to read this book, although (I can attest) a deep knowledge of these subjects are not required to thoroughly enjoy this novel.

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Review: A Portrait of Emily Price – Katherine Reay

Katherine Reay. A Portrait of Emily Price. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 2016.

Katherine Reay’s novels are always unique and enjoyable, as they interconnect classic literature with fascinating stories and characters.  Her most recent novel, A Portrait of Emily Price, is no exception!

Ms. Reay’s newest novel, A Portrait of Emily Price, follows the adventures of the title character as she travels to Atlanta for her job as an insurance restoration specialist.  Along the way, she meets Ben Vassallo, an Italian chef determined to revitalize his aunt and uncle’s restaurant.  Ben and Emily bond over his project, even as they both realize that they must soon return to their respective homes.  They instead decide to marry and travel to Ben’s hometown in Italy.  Although Emily has made a name for herself due to ability to “fix” nearly anything, she soon discovers that the challenges Ben faces at home cannot be easily mended.  While historic buildings and works of art may be able to be restored, Emily realizes that the impending death of her father-in-law will open new wounds, even as he attempts to resolve family disputes in his last days.  Emily’s attempts to help are met with disdain, particularly by her mother-in-law.  When she is given the chance to return home to the United States, she must choose between her old life and the foreign land that has captured her heart.

A Portrait of Emily Price reaches across volumes of classical literature to explore the growth of a compelling set of fascinating characters.  The title character makes her mark in a new country, even as her husband’s family teaches her lessons of faith and restoration.

Overall, I really enjoyed reading A Portrait of Emily Price.  Ms. Reay masterfully captures the spirit of classic authors, while writing a captivating story that serves as fascinating literature in its own right.  Readers will be absolutely riveted by Emily’s world of history and art restoration, while Ben’s Italian family and home serve as an intriguing and unforgettable backdrop for the novel’s events.  Within an expertly-written book, Ms. Reay’s descriptions of the art and the artistic process of her characters stand out as some of the most enthralling depictions in the novel.  Even as this year’s selection of novels winds to a close, Ms. Reay’s novel holds a unique place in the Christian contemporary fiction genre, standing out even among the fiction genre at large.

Fans of Ms. Reay’s previous works will definitely want to read A Portrait of Emily Price.  Additionally, readers who particularly enjoy classical literature will find the integration of countless references within Ms. Reay’s stories to be well worth the read.

Special thanks to NetGalley and Thomas Nelson for the advanced copy of A Portrait of Emily Price!

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