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.

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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: 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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Review: Whispers in the Reading Room – Shelley Gray

Shelley Gray. Whispers in the Reading Room. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2015.

It’s almost Christmas! While I’ve been busy with Christmas concerts at church, decorating the house, and the many random activities that seem to land in December, I’ve also been inundated by some rather spectacular books this month!

The third book in Shelley Gray’s Chicago World’s Fair Mystery series, Whispers in the Reading Room takes place in the city of Chicago in the months following the Columbian Exposition. Lydia Bancroft loves her job as a librarian, even as the rest of her privileged world has fallen apart following her father’s death. Her mother hopes that Lydia’s engagement to a wealthy man will offer a way out of their reduced circumstances. However, Lydia finds herself being physically abused by her fiancé in public. Fortunately, the mysterious patron of Lydia’s library comes to her rescue. Sebastian Marks has made a name for himself in Chicago as the owner of an infamous saloon and gambling club. His time at Lydia’s reading room has remained his sanctuary from the otherwise unsavory world from which he has garnered his wealth. While he never anticipated befriending the librarian, Sebastian and his staff find themselves intimately involved in her life. When a murder at his club makes Sebastian a suspect, Lydia’s cultured life also comes under public suspicion.

Before Whispers in the Reading Room, I had only read Ms. Gray’s entry in Among the Fair Magnolias, a compilation of novellas by several other Christian authors whom I am much more familiar with from their novels. Overall, I was quite impressed with her writing and story development in this book. Although I am relatively unfamiliar with the other novels in the series (Secrets of Sloane House and Deception on Sable Hill), I found Whispers in the Reading Room to be quite accessible as an independent work. The nature of Ms. Gray’s characters and historical storyline felt somewhat similar to those developed by Elizabeth Camden and Deeanne Gist. In comparison to their works, I would have like to see more emphasis on historical research and details in this novel that would have furthered the overall story, particularly in connecting it more firmly to the World’s Fair. However, Ms. Gray produced an intriguing novel that will likely result in me reading the other works in the series.

Fans of Ms. Gray’s historical fiction works, especially her novels in the Chicago World’s Fair Mystery series, will definitely enjoy Whispers in the Reading Room. Additionally, readers who enjoy historical fiction with mystery/suspense elements will find this to be an intriguing book. In comparison to the other works in the series, Whispers in the Reading Room may not be of as much interest to readers looking for books related to the Chicago World’s Fair. While many novels have been recently released on this topic, this book had few historical details to convincingly place it within that category. However, Ms. Gray’s characters and writing style made it a decent selection within the Christian historical fiction genre.

Special thanks to The Fiction Guild for the promotional copy of Whispers in the Reading Room!

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Review: Among the Fair Magnolias – Alexander, Gray, Love, and Musser

Tamara Alexander, Shelley Gray, Dorothy Love, and Elizabeth Musser. Among the Fair Magnolias: Four Southern Love Stories. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 2015.

Sometimes I find new books by tracking my favorite authors or series of books. Other times, I simply fall in love with a book’s cover and can’t wait to read it. For authors Tamara Alexander, Shelley Gray, Dorothy Love, and Elizabeth Musser, their latest compilation of novellas in Among the Fair Magnolias has all of the above, making it a must read this month!

Among the Fair Magnolias brings together some of Christian fiction’s great authors, who contribute stories that depict the American South during the period around the Civil War. Through four diverse love stories, they bring the period to life and show the undeterred nature of America’s women in the face of some of life’s greatest challenges.

Ms. Love’s “Heart So True” tells the story of Abigail Clayton as she faces the choice between following her father’s wishes for a spouse or finally marrying the man who has captured her heart. With a pleasant storyline and a wonderful sense of place, “Heart So True” builds on characters introduced in Carolina Gold, while highlighting Ms. Love’s storytelling ability in what is certainly my favorite piece so far by this author.

“To Mend a Dream” by Ms. Alexander continues the story of a secondary character first introduced in To Win Her Favor. Susannah Darby lost her family’s home after the Civil War and finds herself having to redecorate the house as part of a commission for her work as a seamstress. When Northerner Aidan Bedford encounters Susannah admiring his newly-acquired land, his view of the future suddenly changes. “To Mend a Dream” is a sweet and poignant story that showcases Ms. Alexander’s flair for characters and historical detail.

Ms. Musser’s “Love Beyond Limits” offers a surprising, but well-placed, addition to Among the Fair Magnolias. Having grown up on her father’s plantation, Emily Derracott pushes cultural norms in the South with her insistence on educating her family’s former slaves. When her father insists that she marry a long-time neighbor, Emily must choose between her politics and social convention in a reconstructed South. Ms. Musser builds upon historical themes and characters similar to those found in Ms. Alexander’s novels. However, this story contained several historical details that did not necessarily fit with the period.

Lastly, “An Outlaw’s Heart” by Ms. Gray takes readers to post-Civil War Texas, where the effects of the war continue to touch the lives of one small town. Russell Champion returns to his hometown after spending the last seven years running from his past. When he finally revisits his mother and the girl he left behind, Russell must choose between leaving again or finding a new life with those he loves. Through the use of a different writing style, Ms. Gray’s story offers the greatest deviation from the rest of the collection. However, the ultimate themes of renewal, choices, and overcoming obstacles tie this story to the rest of the book.

Overall, I was quite thrilled with Among the Fair Magnolias. Fans who enjoy any of the authors’ novels and other stories will definitely appreciate the book, as it offers many connections with characters, settings, and storylines first depicted in the authors’ other works. Additionally, those readers who enjoy Southern-inspired Christian fiction will also appreciate the compilation. In general, I thought the stories fit fairly well together. The book reminded me of compilations of L.M. Montgomery’s wonderfully sweet and inspiring short story collections, with a slight change in geography. At several points, the stories in Among the Fair Magnolias shared similar themes and premises to examples of Ms. Montgomery’s work, which I found to be absolutely delightful.

Special thanks to BookLook Bloggers for the advanced copy of Among the Fair Magnolias!

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