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: 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: Lady Jayne Disappears – Joanna Davidson Politano

Joanna Davidson Politano. Lady Jayne Disappears. Grand Rapids, MI: Revell, 2017.

Oftentimes, I find myself reading and reviewing books in a very different order from the finalized order that I post them.  Some books are unexpectedly disappointing, while others are surprisingly remarkable.  This debut novel is definitely one of the most impressive releases of the last several months and I am very excited to share it with all of you.

In Victorian England, most relatives of wealthy families and famous fathers live in large, luxurious homes.  Instead, Aurelie Harcourt grew up in debtor’s prison alongside her father, who the rest of England knows as the mysterious and highly-successful serial author, Nathaniel Droll.  After her father dies, Aurelie goes to live with her father’s remaining family members at the large estate that Nathaniel Droll made famous in his novels.  She decides to finish writing her father’s last serial novel about her mother’s disappearance by discovering what actually happened at the estate around the time of her own birth.  With the help of a secretive houseguest, Silas Rotherham, Aurelie soon finds that Lady Jayne’s disappearance may just be the beginning of the family’s many secrets, including those surrounding the unexpected truth of Nathaniel Droll’s demise.

Ms. Politano marks her debut with a delightful story set in Victorian England.  With complex characters, fascinating twists and turns, and a mysterious plot, readers of Christian historical fiction will definitely enjoy reading Lady Jayne Disappears.

Overall, I could not say enough good things about Lady Jayne Disappears.  From the publisher’s summary, I expected this novel to be quite dark and mysterious, leaning away from what I normally read.  Instead, the mystery at the heart of the novel was quite accessible and absolutely riveting, without falling into the suspense category.  Additionally, Ms. Politano presents rich historical details and complex characters that feel perfectly natural in their Victorian England setting.  Readers familiar with Charles Dickens’ literary works may also find some unexpected connections in this story, as Ms. Politano presents a unique look at the life of those living in debtor’s prison.  The contrast of Aurelie’s previous life and wealthy family offers a fascinating perspective on the period, while illustrating the power of serial novels and their authors to bridge this gap.  After reading this novel and the sneak preview of Ms. Politano’s next book, I cannot wait to see what she releases next!

Fans of great historical fiction, Christian or otherwise, should definitely add Lady Jayne Disappears to their must-read pile!  Those with a particular interest in Victorian England and great writers of that time will also find this story to be well worth reading.

Special thanks to NetGalley and Revell for the advanced copy of Lady Jayne Disappears!

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Review: Christmas at Carnton – Tamera Alexander

Tamera Alexander. Christmas at Carnton: A Novella. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 2017.

Christmas stories start being released by publishers during the fall months, to the delight of readers eager for a new story from their favorite authors.  With an advanced copy of Tamera Alexander’s newest Christmas story, I actually ended up reading this book in July!  In spite of the holiday emphasis of the story, I found it to be enjoyable and appropriate for any time of the year.

In Christmas at Carnton: A Novella, Ms. Alexander launches her newest series set at the Carnton Plantation in Franklin, Tennessee.  The story occurs during the Civil War years, when the family is preparing for a Women’s Relief Society auction intended to benefit the Confederate soldiers.  Aletta Prescott recently lost her husband, as well as her job.  Desperate for a place to live for herself and her young son, she accepts a job cooking for the Women’s Relief Society’s auction and other Christmas season events at Carnton.  While there, she befriends Captain Jake Winton, who has been assigned to help with the auction during his recovery.  Aletta and Jake soon discover that their losses may have changed their lives, but God provides hope and restoration for them both during a season of war.

Fans of Ms. Alexander’s previous works will be thrilled with Christmas at Carnton as the start of her newest series, featuring yet another Southern plantation.  With connections to the families featured in her previous series, Ms. Alexander makes a seamless transition to the family and location of the Carnton Plantation.

Overall, I really enjoyed reading Christmas at Carnton!  Ms. Alexander’s stories have been improving steadily throughout her career, so I find it fascinating to see her development of a new series.  As a novella, Christmas at Carnton is quite a bit shorter than a standard novel, but the length fits the structure of this particular story.  Set during the Civil War, the novella seems slightly similar to other historical fiction works based around the same period.  However, readers interested in the forthcoming books of Ms. Alexander’s series will find the story worthwhile, as it introduces characters and settings relevant to future works that will be released.  Personally, I also found Ms. Alexander’s focus on the Women’s Relief Society’s efforts to be particularly interesting and enjoyable.

Fans of Ms. Alexander’s previous works will definitely want to read Christmas at Carnton.  Additionally, those with an interest in historical Christian fiction works set during the Civil War will also enjoy this Christmas-themed story.

Ms. Alexander’s first full-length novel of this series will be released in the fall of 2018!

Special thanks to NetGalley and Thomas Nelson for the advanced copy of Christmas at Carnton!

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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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