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: An Uncommon Protector – Shelley Shepard Gray

Shelley Shepard Gray. An Uncommon Protector. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2017.

After a busy couple of weeks of cold weather and too much to do, I was absolutely thrilled to curl up with a good book, particularly Shelley Shepard Gray’s latest release.

Shelley Shepard Gray continues her Lone Star Hero’s Love Story series with An Uncommon Protector.  After losing her parents and brother, Laurel Tracey finds herself running the family ranch by herself.  Under the intense pressure of operating the ranch and securing it against squatters, Laurel turns to an unlikely source for help, a former soldier who has been held prisoner in the local jail.  In return for his keep, Thomas Baker becomes Laurel’s sole source of help on the ranch.  However, even the presence of a capable man on the ranch does not lessen the external threats to Laurel and her property.  Turning to the men of his unit, Thomas is determined to protect Laurel from those who are trying to steal her ranch from her.

First introduced in The Loyal Heart, a small group of Confederate soldiers continue to readjust to civilian life while coping with their memories of the war in An Uncommon Protector.  Ms. Gray’s approachable writing style and intriguing characters will delight fans of heart-warming historical Christian fiction.

Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed reading An Uncommon Protector.  While Ms. Gray steers away from developing an overly complex plot, she writes a novel that encapsulates what makes Christian fiction so great: likeable characters, a positive and hopeful message, and a storyline that takes the reader on a relaxing and enjoyable adventure.  In the midst of an insane week, this is the type of story that makes me want to pick up a book, as a form of relaxation and escape.  An Uncommon Protector remains true to historical details, while feeling universal to the nature of modern-day challenges in people’s lives.  After reading the first two novels in Ms. Gray’s Lone Star Hero’s Love story series, I am eager to see where she takes this series next and which characters she explores further.

Fans of Ms. Gray’s other historical Christian fiction novels 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 light writing style makes this a particularly good read for those readers who oftentimes enjoy Christian novellas.

Special thanks to NetGalley and Zondervan for the advanced copy of An Uncommon Protector!

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Review: A Note Yet Unsung – Tamera Alexander

Tamera Alexander. A Note Yet Unsung. Minneapolis, MN: Bethany House Publishers, 2017.

The last time that I featured one of Tamera Alexander’s magnificent books was back in 2015!  I am absolutely delighted to see that she will be releasing two books during 2017, with A Note Yet Unsung completing her Belmont Mansion series this winter.

In A Note Yet Unsung, Rebekah Carrington returns to her hometown of Nashville, Tennessee, after spending years training as an instrumental musician in Europe.  However, only two orchestras in the United States have begun accepting women as members, with Nashville holding firm to the opinion that women do not belong among its male instrumentalists.  The city’s new conductor, Nathaniel Tate Whitcomb, has grander projects to complete than prove that women belong in his orchestra.  Instead, he must finish his symphony before the opera hall’s inaugural performance.  With time running out, he turns to the one musician in the city that has ever truly impressed him, Rebekah.  Together, Tate and Rebekah must create a musical masterpiece before time runs out and the city discovers the master violinist playing backstage is actually a woman.

Ms. Alexander brings her own level of brilliance to this fascinating tale of musical genius at work.  Rebekah and Tate will capture readers’ imaginations, as their struggle to fulfill their dreams meets with inevitable challenges.

Overall, I was absolutely thrilled with A Note Yet Unsung!  As a trained musician, I felt that Ms. Alexander remained true to the nature of musicians’ temperaments and approach to their art.  Simultaneously, she creates a compelling historical story that will reach the hearts of readers who enjoy great Christian fiction.  As the final novel in Ms. Alexander’s Belmont Mansion series, A Note Yet Unsung offers a fascinating conclusion to an overarching storyline including Adelicia Acklen Cheatham, the ever-memorable owner of the Belmont Mansion and famed Nashville-area philanthropist.  Altogether, the novel offers a fascinating plot with well-developed characters who face enormous challenges to their dreams.  Ms. Alexander remains true to the period, while writing a satisfying conclusion to the story and the series.

Fans of Ms. Alexander’s previous historical novels, especially those in the Belmont Mansion series, will definitely want to read A Note Yet Unsung!  Readers who enjoy great historical Christian fiction, especially those set in the American South and those that take place during the mid- to late-nineteenth century.  Additionally, I would highly recommend this novel to readers who enjoy stories that focus on characters who are highly-trained classical musicians, particularly in a historical setting.

Special thanks to NetGalley and Bethany House for the advanced copy of A Note Yet Unsung!

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Review: Waves of Mercy – Lynn Austin

Lynn Austin. Waves of Mercy. Minneapolis, MN: Bethany House Publishers, 2016.

As someone who lives in the great state of Michigan (I admit, I’m biased), I am always excited to find authors and books that are based in the state.  Fortunately, Michigan-based Christian author, Lynn Austin, just released a wonderful book that takes place in Holland, a unique town in western Michigan.

Waves of Mercy tells the story of two women, separated by generations, who experience the joys and pitfalls of their faith.  Anna Nicholson breaks up her engagement when her fiancé refused to allow her to attend a different church from their Chicago-based socialite crowd.  Anna and her mother retreat to Hotel Ottawa, allowing them the chance to step away from social expectations and, instead, enjoy Lake Michigan and the unique town of Holland.  At the hotel, Anna regularly encounters Derk Vander Veen, a young hotel worker who is studying for the ministry.  As he learns more about Anna’s newfound faith and fears, he is reminded of his elderly neighbor, Geesje de Jorge.  Geesje experienced her own challenges as a young woman immigrating from the Netherlands as part of the generation that established the town.  When Anna must choose between returning to her fiancé or pursuing a different path, Geesje’s story becomes a beacon of hope in an ocean of uncertainty.

Ms. Austin writes a compelling story of faith over the generations, while painting a gorgeous picture of the western Michigan landscape.  Fans of great Christian historical fiction will be absolutely thrilled with this riveting story and its exceptionally realistic characters.

Overall, I was absolutely fascinated by Waves of Mercy.  Ms. Austin masterfully develops a storyline that draws together the narratives of two very different generations through the universal experiences of growing faith and love.  As a huge fan of A Woman’s Place, I was very excited to see Ms. Austin once again combine the unique stories of such different characters, resulting in an incredible historical tale that functions independently of the classic romance plotlines.  In addition, Ms. Austin’s focus on her home state of Michigan incorporates incredible historical and local details that remind fellow Michiganders of home, while revealing its hidden treasures to a national audience.  Altogether, Waves of Mercy may be one of the year’s most impressive historical novels, as it sets itself apart in terms of historical research, compelling characters, and the exceptional quality of Ms. Austin’s writing.

Fans of Ms. Austin and her previous novels will absolutely want to read Waves of Mercy.  Likewise, readers who enjoy excellent Christian historical fiction should definitely read this novel, as well as Ms. Austin’s other works.

Special thanks to Bethany House Publishers for the advanced copy of Waves of Mercy!

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Review: The Loyal Heart – Shelley Shepard Gray

Shelley Shepard Gray. The Loyal Heart. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2016.

As a much-appreciated surprise, I received The Loyal Heart several months early, during a week that I really needed a great read to take my mind off of other things.  Trying a new book is exciting enough, but I can’t help but feel incredibly blessed with this particular piece of provision exactly when I needed it most. :)

Shelley Shepard Gray begins her newest series, A Lone Star Hero’s Love Story, with The Loyal Heart.  Near the end of the Civil War, a group of Confederate officers make a vow to look after one another.  After the death of Lt. Phillip Markham, his fellow officer Robert Truax is determined to fulfil his promise by checking in on Mrs. Miranda Markham.  Unfortunately, a cruel rumor has taken over the town of Galveston, Texas, claiming that Phillip was a traitor to the Confederacy.  In order to survive, Miranda has turned the family’s home into a boarding house, even as it opens her up to further scrutiny by the townsfolk.  Robert offers Miranda the assistance that she desperately needs to regain the will to live, while also helping her to discover the source of the rumors and threats.  Robert turns to his former military comrades to help in a battle for Miranda’s reputation and future, even as he finds himself yearning for a life that has always been out of reach in his former circumstances.

Ms. Gray offers a heart-warming story of redemption and hope in the midst of incredible life challenges.  The Loyal Heart starts off what has the potential to be an exciting new series in the genre.

Overall, I found myself completely caught up in the story of The Loyal Heart.  While Ms. Gray remains a relatively new author in my collection, I think she has done a masterful job with this novel.  Based on the fascinating characters and their development throughout the story, I am very eager to see how she continues this series.  The strong connection between the men of Robert and Phillip’s Confederate unit is particularly fascinating and they have incredible potential to serve as vital characters in Ms. Gray’s future novels.  The Loyal Heart also offers a rather unique take on the post-Civil War period, even as it retains elements that will feel comfortable and familiar to readers who regularly read the genre and other books that focus on the mid-nineteenth century.

Fans of Ms. Gray’s historical novels will definitely want to read The Loyal Heart.  Having only read her Chicago World’s Fair Mystery series, I actually enjoyed this novel even more and thought that it was a stronger book overall.  The themes and style of The Loyal Heart also have the potential to be appealing to a much broader audience than Ms. Gray’s more suspense-driven series.  Personally, I would be very comfortable recommending this book to my mother and grandmother, who both appreciate solid storylines, interesting characters, and an accessible writing style.

Special thanks to NetGalley and Zondervan the advanced copy of The Loyal Heart!

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