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: 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 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: 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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