Friday, June 23, 2017

Wings of the Wind (Out from Egypt #3) by Connilyn Cossette book review

Wings of the Wind (Out from Egypt #3)

 Wings of the Wind (Out from Egypt #3)

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Alanah, a Canaanite, is no stranger to fighting and survival. When her family is killed in battle with the Hebrews, she disguises herself and sneaks onto the battlefield to avenge her family. The one thing she never counted on was surviving.
Tobiah, a Hebrew warrior, is shocked to find an unconscious, wounded woman among the Canaanite casualties. Compelled to bring her to a Hebrew healer back at their camp, he is soon confronted with a truth he can’t ignore: the only way to protect this enemy is to marry her.
Unused to being weak and vulnerable, Alanah submits to the marriage—for now. As she comes to know and respect Tobiah and his people, however, she begins to second-guess her plans of escape. But when her past has painfully unanticipated consequences, the tentative peace she’s found with Tobiah, the Hebrews, and Yahweh is shaken to the core. Can Alanah’s fierce heart and strength withstand the ensuing threats to her life and all she’s come to love?





My Review: 7.5/10

 I really enjoyed this book.

The character's and their unfamiliar names were a little difficult to keep track of, and their seemed to be some existing stories that, being new to this series, I couldn't fully appreciate. But this novel stood alone well enough.

Exodus really came to life for me in the pages of this novel. I appreciated how difficult subjects were dealt with (like God's seemingly harsh rebukes, and why the Canaanites were marked for destruction, etc).

The only thing I didn't really like was the connection to Rahab. While the connection was not impossible, I love that piece of the Bible as it is. I love the way Rahab seemed like one grain of sand lost in an ocean of people, who did not know God, whose life would not recommend her as worthy or set apart. But God always knew her and loved her and sent a rescue mission in to save her. It also always gave me a tiny bit of hope in a situation that's hard to understand: the concept that an entire city full of people would be so far gone that they were condemned to destruction, that there would be nothing worth saving in them. That's hard to swallow. But plucking Rahab out in the midst of complete devastation sent a message to me that if anything, if anyone, was salvagable, they would not be overlooked or forgotten. God would deliver them no matter what. I liked that there was no other reason or connection that we know of, that Rahab had no other motivation than faith.

And I think that this story would have been stronger without that tie.

I look forward to reading the previous books in this series, as well as future books by this author.

Monday, June 5, 2017

With You Always (Orphan Train #1) by Jody Hedlund book review


With You Always (Orphan Train, #1)

With You Always (Orphan Train #1)

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A Riveting Look at the Orphan Train from Historical Novelist Jody Hedlund

When a financial crisis in 1850s New York leaves three orphaned sisters nearly destitute, the oldest, Elise Neumann, knows she must take action. She's had experience as a seamstress, and the New York Children's Aid Society has established a special service: placing out seamstresses and trade girls. Even though Elise doesn't want to leave her sisters for a job in Illinois, she realizes this may be their last chance.

The son of one of New York City's wealthiest entrepreneurs, Thornton Quincy faces a dilemma. His father is dying, and in order to decide which of his sons will inherit everything, he is requiring them to do two things in six months: build a sustainable town along the Illinois Central Railroad, and get married. Thornton is tired of standing in his twin brother's shadow and is determined to win his father's challenge. He doesn't plan on meeting a feisty young woman on his way west, though.



My Review: 6/10

It's been awhile since my feelings have been so mixed over a story.

Elise was annoying with her superior self-righteous attitude... and yet I liked that. I liked that she wasn't presented as perfect or right.

I liked that Fanny, who was immediately set up as Archnemsis, was not one dimensional and that there was resolution with her. Honestly, I would have been more interested in and moved by her story.

I liked the way faith was woven into the story.

I loved the advice to work among the people and how that changed and improved the plans.

And though I felt like some major threads were left loose and hanging, I felt like it added strength to the story and message of relying on God. And on futher thought, those are probably wrapped up in books 2 and 3.

While there was a lot to interest and enjoy, it seemed like there were equal things to detract from the story.

*SPOILERS*

My biggest issue was with the train ride romance. Though little came of it, I thought Elise was beyond stupid to have dallied with a man at all. Her only remaining family was left in a very unstable situation in a dangerous area and facing starvation and violence. Elise's position with the Children's Aid Society was their only hope at this point, and she's going to risk her reputation (the only thing that got her this job) to wander off on multiple rendez-vous with a man she barely knows?! 99 to one, a strange man luring her off to hidden places would have attempted to seduce her at the very least, if not harm her or force himself upon her. I didn't find these instances charming or romantic, but dangerously naive fantasies.

I was annoyed by the way they both tried to deny their attraction and pass it off as friendship. In what world would anyone sincerely interpret things that way?

I didn't think Elise's sacrificial choice at the end was realistic or relatable. I think any normal woman would have done the opposite- would have desperately wanted to marry the super wealthy "land developer" which would provide immediate rescue to the people she loves most in the world. The sacrifice to potentially not get to work as a cook or live where she wanted would have seemed a better trade off for safety and provision for her family, not to mention being with the man she loved.

I wish Reinhold had been left out of the story entirely. I felt bad for him being used and thought his conceding defeat and wishing them the best was unnatural. I have never known anyone who, in the midst of rejection, loss, jealousy, hurt and broken plans, calmly states that they know the couple was right for each other, but just didn't want to face it, and then goes on to help them be together. That kind of acceptance usually happens after some time to process and move on.

Was I the only one who felt bad for Rosalind? This girl was all but engaged, planning their December wedding while her beau is playing with fire, constantly putting himself in the path of temptation, pursuing, flirting, and kissing another woman. She was betrayed and publicly humiliated. The only good thing I can say about the situation was that thankfully this girl was not portrayed as having any major character defects, as if that would justify their actions.

While I am invested enough in the supporting character to want to read the following books and get the full resolution, I would be careful who I recommend this book to- adults who are not likely to mistake wreckless liasons and infedility as romance, but will appreciate other aspects of the story.

Saturday, May 20, 2017

Heart on the Line (Ladies of Harper’s Station #2) by Karen Witemeyer book review


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Heart on the Line (Ladies of Harper’s Station #2)

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Grace Mallory is tired of running, of hiding. But when an old friend sends an after-hours telegraph transmission warning Grace that the man who has hunted her for nearly a year has discovered her location, she fears she has no choice. She can't let the villain she believes responsible for her father's death release his wrath in Harper's Station, the town that has sheltered her and blessed her with the dearest friends she's ever known.

Amos Bledsoe prefers bicycles to horses and private conversations over the telegraph wire to social gatherings with young ladies who see him as nothing more than an oddity. His telegraph companion, the mysterious Miss G, listens eagerly to his ramblings every night and delights him with tales all her own. For months, their friendship--dare he believe, courtship?--has fed his hope that he has finally found the woman God intended for him. Yet when he takes the next step to meet her in person, he discovers her life is in peril, and Amos must decide if he can shed the cocoon of his quiet nature to become the hero Grace requires.






My Review: 5/10

I found this to be a fairy enjoyable, light read, which was appreciated to break up some of the heavier stuff I was reading.

I liked that Amos' character was the not the typical hero in build or demeanor, that he was insecure about it and that Grace acknowledged these things and wasn't instantly set on him (though it did happen pretty quickly). Their method of communicating was unique and very sweet.

I liked Helen's side story and thought her match was fitting. However, I didn't find the insta-love/protection/physicality etc at all believable for a woman of her background.

The lower rating has more to do with the suspension of belief I had to employ to be able to get into the story.

*SPOILERS*

For me, it was simple. Grace had two options. Take the books directly to Whitmore or go into hiding.  I didn't really understand why she seemed to choose the latter option, since she would never be safe until the target (documents) was removed from her back. Who wants to live like that? But she fled, ending up in a females colony.

The story picks up with her a few months later where she has done absolutely nothing to hide her identity: she has altered her appearance in no way, has not changed her name or even her occupation. She made it incredibly easy to trace her. But if that weren't enough, she left her location with a friend before she left, giving explicit instructions to give up her whereabouts if anyone was threatened. What?! Your last remaining family member was gunned down in cold blood. You don't give anyone else information that would PUT them in danger. And why would you need to? It's not like you'll be keeping penpals while on the run. The whole premise made no sense to me.

Then she starts a friendship/romance with a man she's never seen over the telegram wire. Wreckless. Dangerous.

Then when the Pinkerton agent shows up in town, everyone accepts him and walks on eggshells around him. Amos' arrival was suspicious and required lockup until his story and intent could be verified and voted on. Dunbar shows up the next day or so and the reaction is completely different. Despite the fact that he could be a crooked agent. What? Lock him up until you can verify his identity AND intent, just like Amos! After a day or two, they could have definitely found cause for suspicion to keep him locked up. And Grace could have fled again. But then I guess we wouldn't have a story.

And why didn't Helen question Lee as soon as he was lucid? Full name (nicknames from friends don't count)? Occupation? Who sent you? Who shot you? We have a murderer on his way to town, stop flirting and get answers! 

For me, the tenor of the story that should have been present under the circumstances (deep loss and grief, fear, and danger) did not fit at all with the casual, lighthearted actions (cycling lessons, strolling about town with a beau, etc).

Friday, May 12, 2017

The Lady of the Lakes: The True Love Story of Sir Walter Scott (Historical Proper Romance) by Josi S. Kilpack book review


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The Lady of the Lakes: The True Love Story of Sir Walter Scott (Historical Proper Romance)

by
 
One is his first love.
The other is his best love.
Which will be Walter’s true love?

Walter Scott has three passions: Scotland, poetry, and Mina Stuart. Though she is young and they are from different stations in society, Walter is certain their love is meant to be. For years, he has courted her through love letters. She is the sunshine of his soul.

Though Mina shares Walter’s love of literature and romantic temperament, it’s hard for her to know if she truly loves him or if she has only been dazzled by his flattery. When she meets the handsome and charming William Forbes, her heart is challenged. Who will she choose?

But as every poet knows, “the course of true love never did run smooth,” and on a windy morning in the lake country, Walter meets Charlotte.

At twenty-six, Charlotte Carpenter believes she will never find love. After all, she is a Catholic-born Frenchwoman living in London with a family history shadowed by scandal. Though quiet, practical, and determined to live a life of independence, her heart longs for someone to love her and a place to call home.

Passion and promises collide as Walter, Mina, and Charlotte must each decide the course for their futures. What are they each willing to risk to find love and be loved in return?




My Review: 10/10

By this point, I am very familiar with Ms. Kilpack's work. Yet every time I amazed by just how good her stories are. And I have no idea how she turns them out so quickly and yet the quality never drops.

This was a very unconventional love story, which made it all the sweeter.

*SPOILERS* I appreciated the characterization and that, despite Walter's feelings, Mina was not made out to be a monster- just a young girl who hadn't known her own heart yet. I thought her struggles were very realistic and relatable. And I loved Charlotte. I loved the parallel stories. I loved how they were imperfect.

The only thing I had any issue with was the broom closet scene. I just thought there was no way that would happen. Despite Mrs. Nicholson's advice, I don't think she would condone Walter pulling Charlotte into a dark broom closet for a makeout session during intermission. And then to tap on the door and say "You've got an hour." WHAT?!

That small bit aside, this book was phenomenal. And I lOVED all the historical notes at the end. Highly recommend.

Monday, May 8, 2017

A Fine Gentleman (The Jonquil Brothers #4) by Sarah M. Eden book review

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A Fine Gentleman (The Jonquil Brothers #4)

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London barrister Jason Jonquil has spent his entire life working to establish his identity as a gentleman, a man of refinement like his father and brothers. But when fiery Spanish beauty Mariposa Thornton walks into his office, he finds himself losing his grasp on his dignified character. The woman is infuriating, pushing him to the limit of his legendary patience. However, her case seems simple enough—a small matter of inheritance. Or so he believes.

Once a well-born lady, Mariposa fought to survive the brutalities of Napoleon’s war on Spain. She braved horrific perils and undertook dangerous missions on behalf of those fighting against the invading French army. But her greatest battle still lies ahead: after being separated from her family, Mariposa sets in motion a plan to reunite with her loved ones in England. To avoid drawing the attention of the French, Mariposa dons a carefully crafted persona to conceal her true purpose. As Jason and Mariposa are drawn together by the case, they come to know the people beneath the masks they both wear.

When the truth of Mariposa’s quest is revealed, the couple is pulled into a mystery that will test the limits of their courage—and expose the true desire of their hearts.




My Review: 7/10
 
Mariposa's character had me laughing out loud which is something I always appreciate. The plot was predictable, but I'm a sucker for stories of war torn families being reunited, so I cannot help but be affected. The dialogue was frequently too sickly sweet for my taste, but this was not unexpected as I have read many books by this author. If that's your style or it doesn't interfere with your enjoyment of a story, I would recommend this book to you. And though I felt that the story dragged on a bit at times, I appreciated the ending, Philip's advice, Mari's new beginning, and being visited by loved characters from other novels. Very enjoyable read.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Someday, Someday, Maybe by Lauren Graham book review

Someday, Someday, Maybe Someday, Someday, Maybe

 
A charming and laugh-out-loud novel by Lauren Graham, beloved star of Parenthood and Gilmore Girls, about an aspiring actress trying to make it in mid-nineties New York City.

Franny Banks is a struggling actress in New York City, with just six months left of the three-year deadline she gave herself to succeed. But so far, all she has to show for her efforts is a single line in an ad for ugly Christmas sweaters and a degrading waitressing job. She lives in Brooklyn with two roommates - Jane, her best friend from college, and Dan, a sci-fi writer, who is very definitely not boyfriend material - and is struggling with her feelings for a suspiciously charming guy in her acting class, all while trying to find a hair-product cocktail that actually works.

Meanwhile, she dreams of doing "important" work, but only ever seems to get auditions for dishwashing liquid and peanut butter commercials. It's hard to tell if she'll run out of time or money first, but either way, failure would mean facing the fact that she has absolutely no skills to make it in the real world. Her father wants her to come home and teach, her agent won't call her back, and her classmate Penelope, who seems supportive, might just turn out to be her toughest competition yet.

Someday, Someday, Maybe is a funny and charming debut about finding yourself, finding love, and, most difficult of all, finding an acting job.



My Review: 7.5/10

I'm not sure what I was expecting with this book. Something a little wistful and light. Or maybe I had no expectations at all. And I may not have read it if Lauren Graham herself had not narrated it.

I'm not sure I've ever read more realistic or relatable dialogue. Franny is not stupid or naive or blind. She makes the choices and mistakes that she makes because of a willful desire to be something that fits in with the things, the life, that she wants for herself. She wants to be someone who dates this guy or works for that agency, who takes these roles and fits in this particular lifestyle, as if getting what she wants will get her there, ultimately making her happy. This seems, to me, human nature (and error) at it's finest. Chasing the things we think we want while determinedly dismissing or refusing the things we need, the things that, if we really understood ourselves, we'd want, the things we'd thrive with.

And despite Franny's lessons and growth on her journey, the book isn't heavy. There was intelligent humor and an easy way about the narration that draws you in, as if you're hearing some personal anecdotes from a close friend. Becoming invested in Franny is effortless.

I loved the circular plot, the way things that ultimately propelled her forward happened early on, rather than in her present. It was refreshing.

It was such an enjoyable read. I really hope Lauren Graham continues writing stories.
 


Monday, February 20, 2017

The Mark of the King by Jocelyn Green book review


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The Mark of the King

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Sweeping Historical Fiction Set at the Edge of the Continent
After being imprisoned and branded for the death of her client, twenty-five-year-old midwife Julianne Chevalier trades her life sentence for exile to the fledgling 1720s French colony of Louisiana, where she hopes to be reunited with her brother, serving there as a soldier. To make the journey, though, women must be married, and Julianne is forced to wed a fellow convict.
When they arrive in New Orleans, there is no news of Benjamin, Julianne's brother, and searching for answers proves dangerous. What is behind the mystery, and does military officer Marc-Paul Girard know more than he is letting on?
With her dreams of a new life shattered, Julianne must find her way in this dangerous, rugged land, despite never being able to escape the king's mark on her shoulder that brands her a criminal beyond redemption.


My Review: 10/10
This book was phenomenal. I had never heard of Ms. Jocelyn Green before now, so I thought she was a new author. I have never been so glad to be mistaken! I cannot wait to get my hands on her other works. But first, The Mark of the King:

This novel was a perfect blend of history, faith in action, spiritual growth, realistic relationships (friends, family, romance), with a little mystery and suspense thrown in. The characters had so much depth and were challenged to be more than their circumstances or emotions. It was inspiring. It was very interesting to see how people changed based on their choices. It made me think about how we take so much for granted- even our character. What don't know what we're capable of unless we've dealt with some of these issues- famine, war, loss, etc. It gave me a greater appreciation for shades of gray, understanding how people can start down dark paths, and grew my compassion.

Ms. Green did not gloss over the hard stuff, painting everything rosy and easy to put to rights like so many do. It was downright painful to read at times and there was more than one scene that had me so affected that I had to wait a while before being able to continue. While those are not the kind of things that usually draw me to a book, it really is a testimony to how realistic the characters are and how emotionally invested you become in their lives. It's good to be so touched sometimes. Necessary even.

The story changes perspective a lot and I was impressed with how convincing each point of view was; whether it was our protagonist (25 year old female), a native child, or a man, it was believably written and so smoothly done that it didn't halt the story at all.

I loved the rich historical details. It simultaneously gave me a glimpse into history in a way I've never experienced before, and also made me aware of how little I can imagine what colonizing our country was like.

The themes of forgiveness, loving your enemy, and prayer was wonderful. They were woven into the story naturally and simply, so that the messages were powerful and convicting, and didn't seem showy, preachy or out of place.

I loved that this was from a French perspective, which is rare among the historical fiction I read. I wish I could go into particulars, but so much happens in this story, that saying anything specific would probably be a spoiler. I can't recommend this book enough.

Monday, February 13, 2017

The Beautiful Pretender (A Medieval Fairy Tale #2) by Melanie Dickerson book review


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The Beautiful Pretender (A Medieval Fairy Tale #2)

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What happens when a margrave realizes he’s fallen in love with a servant?

The Margrave of Thornbeck has to find a bride, fast. He invites ten noble-born ladies from around the country to be his guests at Thornbeck Castle for two weeks, a time to test these ladies and reveal their true character.

Avelina is only responsible for two things: making sure her deception goes undetected and avoiding being selected as the margrave’s bride. Since the latter seems unlikely, she concentrates on not getting caught. No one must know she is merely a maidservant, sent by the Earl of Plimmwald to stand in for his daughter, Dorothea.

Despite Avelina’s best attempts at diverting attention from herself, the margrave has taken notice. And try as she might, she can’t deny her own growing feelings. But something else is afoot in the castle. Something sinister that could have far worse—far deadlier—consequences. Will Avelina be able to stop the evil plot? And at what cost?



My Review: 5/10

*Please forgive any misspelling of character names; I listened to the audiobook version and could find NO mention of secondary characters anywhere on the internet.*

This story started with an interesting premise: Lady's maid must impersonate her mistress at a Margrave's ball, being friendly enough to secure an alliance with the Margrave but not so friendly as to win his hand. Fail at the first mission and the Margrave (rumored to be deadly violent) will likely kill her. Fail at the second mission and her people and their lands will be subjected to a foreign threat. Fail at the last mission and her secret will be exposed and both she AND her people will likely be destroyed. Sounds like a great story, right? In theory.

It started out okay, though Avelina did not act like a servant- stealing from her Lady's plate the moment her back was turned. Irma was even less believable as Avelina's lady's maid. She had an incredibly loose and sharp tongue considering that she was facing equal punishment if they were discovered.

Things were fine until Avelina's intelligence started slipping in order to further the suspense. All of a sudden she is in denial, to the point of delusion, regarding the Margrave's interest and has no idea how to rebuff his attention. And despite Fronica being set up as her arch-nemesis/daughter of evil, Avelina complacently walks into her traps.

The romance lacked any depth (constant fixation on looks/attraction and damsel-in-distress/hero worship) and the dialogue was so saccharine that I was embarassed when there was a chance anyone would overhear- particularly my husband.

The story just dragged on and on, growing more far-fetched and melodramatic, with the characters losing dimension, as the pages turned:

*spoilers*
The whole plot of the story centered around the Earl of Plimmwald needing the Margrave's support to fend off Geitbart's invasion. Yet the Margrave is not able to fend off an attack from Geitbart himself. He has no spies and limited forces so that he ends up imprisoned in his own dungeon. Sure.

The Margrave is quickly put off by Fronica's behavior, has no interest in her and suspects her of evil deeds. Yet he never sends her home. Nope, he just continues to put up with her.

Avelina is so shocked by Fronica's villainous confession that she leans back against the railing, which breaks, almost sending her plummeting to her death. When she is saved she has conveniently forgotten Fronica's confession/plans and makes no mention her of likely role in the near death experience.

In the end, the Margrave realizes he hasn't been using his cane and must not need it anymore. Either their loved conquered all, including physical limitations, or he never thought to try walking without his cane before.

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen book review


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Water for Elephants

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Orphaned, penniless, Jacob Jankowski jumps a freight train in the dark, and in that instant, transforms his future.

By morning, he's landed a job with the Flying Squadron of the Benzini Brothers Most Spectacular Show on Earth. By nightfall, he's in love.

In an America made colourless by prohibition and the Depression, the circus is a refuge of sequins and sensuality. But behind the glamour lies a darker world, where both animals and men are dispensable. Where falling in love is the most dangerous act of all...




My Review: 5/10

The story itself was excellent and the characters fiercely human. The blurbs describe the book as gritty, sensual and romantic. I couldn't disagree more. That's like saying that a man who crudely propositions a woman is flirting. The sexual content was rated X for sure. The author almost seems to fixate on incidents and revel in them. They did absolutely nothing to further or deepen the storyline and, because events happened so many times throughout the novel, I cannot, in good conscience, recommend this book to anyone.

I was particularly disturbed by the threeway/rape scene. Because that's what it was. He was so drunk he was not able to consent. He had no control over any part of his body. And he passed out not knowing what had been done or if he was still a virgin. Putting a fleeting thought in his mind that he was "definitely interested" did not make it okay and perpetuates rape culture. I can only imagine how people would have reacted if the genders were reversed: if the author had been a man and this scene had been about a woman with two men who help themselves because "they love them at this age." Disgusting.

This was one of those rare times when the movie is better than the book. The movie follows the plot of the novel very closely. Even some of the raunchier aspects are present, as they relate to the story, but not in enough detail to distract from the plot or make the audience uncomfortable.

Friday, February 3, 2017

The Vicar's Daughter by Josi S. Kilpack book review


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The Vicar's Daughter 

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Cassie, the youngest of six daughters in the Wilton family, is bold, bright, and ready to enter society. There's only one problem: her older sister Lenora, whose extreme shyness prevents her from attending many social events. Lenora is now entering her third season, and since their father has decreed that only one Wilton girl can be out at a time, Cassie has no choice except to wait her turn.

Evan Glenside, a soft-spoken, East London clerk, has just been named his great-uncle's heir and, though he is eager to learn all that will be required of him, he struggles to feel accepted in a new town and in his new position.

A chance meeting between Evan and Lenora promises to change everything, but when Lenora proves too shy to pursue the relationship, Cassie begins to write Mr. Glenside letters in the name of her sister. Her good intentions lead to disaster when Cassie realizes she is falling in love with Evan. But then Evan begins to court Lenora, thinking she is the author of the letters.

As secrets are revealed, the hearts of Cassie, Evan, and Lenora are tested. Will the final letter sent by the vicar's daughter be able to reunite the sisters as well as unite Evan with his true love?




My Review: 10/10
True to form, Ms. Kilpack's latest novel was phenomenal and I could not put it down.

The writing was so good, the characters so vibrant, that I felt everything, every good and bad thing, all the way to my toes. Despite being confident of how it would end, I felt all the suspense, all the pain of human flaws, the embarassment, the guilt, the regret, the hope, and the sacrifice.

If you want to feel the full range of human emotion, I highly recommend this book. If you want to see the full beauty of God at work, knitting something beautiful from ashes, I recommend it even more. From relating to the best and worst of people, to getting to witness forgiveness and restoration, I cannot say enough good things about this book.