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: 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: 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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Review: A Royal Christmas Wedding – Rachel Hauck

Rachel Hauck. A Royal Christmas Wedding. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2016.

Admittedly, the end of October seems rather early for a Christmas story.  However, several publishers are already releasing their Christmas books, well before I would think to buy them.  Fortunately, Rachel Hauck happens to be among my list of favorite authors, which makes any story of hers (Christmas or not) well worth reading!

In A Royal Christmas Wedding, Ms. Hauck returns for one last story featuring the characters of her acclaimed Royal Wedding Series.  First introduced in Once Upon a Prince, Avery Truitt has grown up from simply being the kid sister of the King of Brighton’s wife, Susanna.  Avery made a name for herself as a college volleyball star before an unfortunate injury forced her to the sidelines, just in time for her to find a career of her own after graduation.  In the wake of her husband’s death, Avery and Susanna’s mother wishes to travel with Avery to spend the Christmas season in Brighton.  Travelling back to Brighton means that Avery will inevitably encounter Prince Colin, the one man who broke her heart five years ago.  However, time has not left Prince Colin unchanged, as he finds himself regretting the loss of Avery, even as he has begun a successful career himself.  Both Avery and Colin must choose between continuing to pursue their current paths or finally coming back to each other, hopefully in time for a centuries-old Brighton tradition of the prince marrying on Christmas morning.

Fans of Ms. Hauck’s Royal Wedding books will be delighted with this Christmas-themed conclusion to her acclaimed series of novels.  While the novel brings together many characters introduced earlier in the series, it also serves as a worthwhile stand-alone Christmas story.

Overall, I was exceptionally pleased with A Royal Christmas Wedding!  Even as a shorter-form story (supposedly a novella), it offers a compelling and complete plot with a surprising amount of character development.  As indicated in the author’s acknowledgments, Ms. Hauck received countless requests for a satisfying conclusion to Avery and Colin’s story.  After reading A Royal Christmas Wedding, Ms. Hauck certainly fulfilled that request!  This book offers plenty of extra detail and development that will leave fans with many more of their questions answered, as well as a better sense of what happens to the various families in the years following the series.  Granted, I’m sure that any of Ms. Hauck’s readers would also be just as happy to hear of future novels in this vein.

Readers who particularly enjoyed Ms. Hauck’s Royal Wedding Series will definitely want to read A Royal Christmas Wedding.  Likewise, fans of great contemporary Christian fiction, especially with a Christmas emphasis will also find this to be a satisfying read.

Special thanks to BookLook Bloggers and Zondervan for the advanced copy of A Royal Christmas Wedding!

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Amazon – A Royal Christmas Wedding