Friday, October 24, 2014

The Secret of Pembrooke Park book review

The Secret of Pembrooke Park

The Secret of Pembrooke Park

Julie Klassen Is the Top Name in Inspirational regency Romance

Abigail Foster fears she will end up a spinster, especially as she has little dowry to improve her charms and the one man she thought might marry her--a longtime friend--has fallen for her younger, prettier sister.
When financial problems force her family to sell their London home, a strange solicitor arrives with an astounding offer: the use of a distant manor house abandoned for eighteen years. The Fosters journey to imposing Pembrooke Park and are startled to find it entombed as it was abruptly left: tea cups encrusted with dry tea, moth-eaten clothes in wardrobes, a doll's house left mid-play . . .

The handsome local curate welcomes them, but though he and his family seem to know something about the manor's past, the only information they offer Abigail is a warning: Beware trespassers who may be drawn by rumors that Pembrooke contains a secret room filled with treasure.

Hoping to improve her family's financial situation, Abigail surreptitiously searches for the hidden room, but the arrival of anonymous letters addressed to her, with clues about the room and the past, bring discoveries even more startling. As secrets come to light, will Abigail find the treasure and love she seeks...or very real danger?

My Review: 5/10
I had mixed feelings about this book. I really liked the setting, the nods to Jane Austen, and the mystery in general. The plot was very well done; I was very invested in unraveling it, and had no suspicions or theories as to true motives of any of the characters.

However, a lot of William's and Abigail's actions didn't sit well with me. I'm not an authority on 19th century propriety by any means, unless a solid love of Jane Austen's work and a tendency to immerse myself in regency period novels makes me an expert. But I just couldn't see a devoted man of the cloth or a well-bred lady doing the things that they did. I mean, Lydia Bennet would, but she brought shame down on anyone with a teaspoon's worth of sense. Frequently inviting a man into your bedchamber, being alone with said man in said bedchamber, coming upon a half naked man and then staying to chat, the super forward flirtatious remarks, the sensuous lingering touches- these are all commonplace and accepted today, but 200 years ago? Not so much. Definitely not without consequences. I was frequently disappointed in both of them. How often William risked her reputation. If he really cared for her and/or if he had integrity, he wouldn't have trifled with her, but would have taken the utmost care to treat her like a lady and preserve her good name.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

A Most Inconvenient Marriage book review

A Most Inconvenient Marriage

A Most Inconvenient Marriage

A Marriage of Convenience Turns Most Inconvenient in this Historical Charmer

Having fled a difficult home life, Civil War nurse Abigail Stuart feels like her only friend in the world is sweet but gravely wounded patient Jeremiah Calhoun. Fearing he won't survive, the Confederate soldier's last wish is that Abigail look after his sickly sister at home. Marry him, return to his horse farm, and it'll be hers.

Left with few choices, Abigail takes him up on his offer and moves to Missouri after his death, but just as the family learns to accept her, the real Jeremiah Calhoun appears--puzzled to find a confounding woman posing as his wife. Jeremiah is determined to have his life back to how it was before the war, but his own wounds limit what he can do on his own. Still not fully convinced Abigail isn't duping him, he's left with no choice but to let the woman stay and help--not admitting to himself she may provide the healing his entire family needs.

 My Review: 10/10

I have been waiting for what feels like an eternity for this book, and Ms. Jennings did not disappoint; her excellence is as consistent as ever. This novel has it all- history, romance, Christian and moral elements, adventure, personal growth, humor, everything.

I loved every moment of this book.

I was frequently bursting out laughing over the shenanigans and antics that the Huckabee kids got into. I will admit that I don’t usually like children as supporting characters in this genre. They rarely are depicted realistically, but rather portrayed as little angels that highlight the heroine’s maternal instincts thus making the hero fall madly in love with her. Please. I have kids; you can’t pull the wool over my eyes. I love them more than my own life, but they bring out the worst in me as often as they bring out the best in me. Anyway, Ms. Jennings writes life into her characters of all ages. Josiah and Betsy were adorable and hysterical and innocent and mischievous and real. And I loved Abigail’s playful spirit. Oh, the piecrust. And Betsy’s “kitten!” I haven’t laughed like that in quite a while.

I loved that Abigail notes on a few occasions that Jeremiah is not classically handsome, and certainly not the most handsome man she’d ever laid eyes on. Her reflections on his appearance change naturally as her respect and admiration for him grows. I respected her for that.

I loved that Jeremiah didn’t know his own heart for most of the book. How accurate. How often do we convince ourselves that we want something, need something, deserve something, and plow on after it, trampling God’s opportunities in our path? Often we don’t even realize how wrong we were until we’ve gotten what we thought we wanted and it doesn’t satisfy. How grateful I am when He intervenes!

The plot was so well done. The suspense was never too extreme or outlandish. With about 80-90% of the book read, I considered the fact that this story might end in a very unexpected way. Books in the historical fiction/Christian romance department are often predictable. I mean, you know what the story is driving at and how it will likely end. But every so often an author blindsides you with an unexpected blow to take you through a different emotion or experience than the one you signed up for. Ms. Jennings had blindsided me before and I found myself wondering if the love story unfolding was really the story of people I hadn’t invested in.

The growth in some of the characters was natural and well paced, set off by realistic circumstances. I appreciated an honest portrayal of vices, virtues, pain, confusion, mistakes, and sacrifice.

I completely understood Abigail’s heart when it broke for rejection, yet rejoiced in the man that Jeremiah was. An impossible situation. But those seem to be God’s specialty. I cheered when Abigail decided she wouldn’t go down without a fight. But even more, I loved that ultimately it was neither what she did, nor what Jeremiah did, but what God did. From beginning to end, and every second in between, this was the very best kind of story.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

The Brickmaker's Bride book review

The Brickmaker's Bride (Refined by Love, #1)

The Brickmaker's  Bride 

Yearning for a fresh start, Ewan McKay travels with his aunt and uncle from northern Scotland to West Virginia, promising to trade his skills in the clay business for financial assistance from his uncle Hugh. Hugh purchases a brickmaking operation from a Civil War widow and her daughter, but it's Ewan who gets the business up and running again. Ewan seeks help from Laura, the former owner's daughter, and he feels a connection with her, but she's being courted by another man--a lawyer with far more social clout and money than Ewan. Besides, Ewan has resolved he'll focus on making the brickmaking operation enough of a success that he can become a partner in the business
and be able to afford to bring his sisters over from Scotland.

But when Hugh signs a bad business deal, all Ewan's hard work may come to naught. As his plans begin to crumble, Laura reveals something surprising. She and her mother may have a way to save the brickworks, and in turn Ewan may have another shot at winning Laura's heart.

My Review: 6/10
This was an enjoyable read. But I think it would have been refreshingly unique if a couple of things were different. I wished that Ewan's point of view wasn't included. It wasn't always believable (come on, no man would remark to himself that he "noticed a scent of Jasmine.") and it would have added some suspense to not be so confident of his feelings. That might have made Laura's uncertainties more believable.

But even more so, it would have been refreshing to have a poor Scots-Irishman with some pride, thinking he may have been poor, but he could be any man's equal. He could prove genteel, intelligent, hardworking, successful, without being born to priviledge. I just really don't like the self-pitying that's chalked up to rank and unfortunately for me, that seems to be the most popular mode of conflict in this genre. Come on, ladies! Give me a strong, confident, charming lead character!

Apart from that, there was so much to love about this book. I'm a Pittsburgh native, so despite the less than flattering commentary, I loved the history from beginning to end. I agreed with and appreciated many of the Christian themes. Some of the ones chosen were not the usual choices: waiting on God, not judging another person's faith/standing with God, honesty and integrity in every situation, God working all things- even suffering, loss, and death- for good, being disappointed in God's answers, and healing your relationship with God. So much truth in these pages.

Ewan was one of the most upright men after God's heart that I've seen depicted in print. I realize that he was human and made mistakes. But I felt that a couple of his inconsistencies should have been addressed as mistakes. He did enter into a deception with Kathleen, when providing her with information on the dinner party that she did not attend. Why didn't he just turn around and take her home? Yes he would have been late, but better to be late than assist Kathleen in compromising herself. And while he did not specifically instruct her to lie, I've learned that the state of the heart matters as much as the words themselves when it comes to God's standards. Just as being angry with someone is as severe in His eyes as murder, a deceitful heart and carefully worded omissions are equal to lies (Matthew 5:21-22). Ewan is careful not to technically utter a lie himself, but never seems to realize that a deceitful heart and following actions are still guilty of the sin.

I didn't like the kiss between Ewan and Laura. Despite their feelings, she was in a relationship with Winston. Harboring feelings for another man is bad enough and then you add in kissing. I lost some respect for them both.

Hugh's conversion was a little too abrupt for me, but I'm glad that it happened.

I look forward to checking out more books by this author.