Saturday, January 10, 2015

A Heart Revealed: A Proper Romance book review

A Heart Revealed

A Heart Revealed

Amber Marie Sterlington, the Rage of the Season in Regency-era London, has her pick of men, and she knows what she wants most in a husband: a title and a fortune. Why would she ever marry for something as fickle as love? And why would she ever look twice at Thomas Richards, a third son of a country lord?

But when Amber’s social standing is threatened, the character of her future husband becomes far more important than his position. After a public humiliation, she finds herself exiled to Yorkshire. Alone except for her maid, Amber is faced with a future she never expected in a circumstance far below what she has known all her life. Humbled and lonely, Amber begins to wonder if isolation is for the best. Who could ever love her now?

My Review: 10/10
Warning: reading later in the day will lead to poor decision making, such as pulling an all nighter, because you just cannot put this book down. Clear your schedule and start early!

This. Book. Ahhhh *insert happy sigh*

I have never read Ms. Kilpack's work before, though I have read every book in the Proper Romance series. I hope she continues to write regency fiction like this because I want more!

This wonderful, wonderful book featured something all too rare: a heroine who is honestly flawed. For a decent portion of the book Amber Marie Sterlington is downright ugly. She is selfish, greedy, vain, dishonest, and manipulative. But she acts the perfect lady. When we're honest with ourselves, how many of us can relate to her? We all have less than flattering aspects of ourselves that we hide from the public. If you don't think so, than you probably have even more in common with our leading lady because she has also deluded herself into frequently thinking she's the victim.

Despite that, I was absolutely horrified by what happened to her. I didn't like her, but I wouldn't wish what she went through on anyone. Her humiliation, struggles and concerns were legitimate. I ached with her.

But as other characters commented, her beautiful, humbled heart was worth what she lost and more. It really was such a beautiful transformation to witness.

And I loved the references to faith.

I do wish there had been a little more interaction between Thomas and Amber, but I understand why there wasn't. I guess I was just left really wanting more.

On a side note: according to the back of the book, Fenton will be getting his own story! Hurrah!

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Esther: Royal Beauty book review

Esther (A Dangerous Beauty Novel Book #1): Royal Beauty

Esther (A Dangerous Beauty Novel Book #1): Royal Beauty 

When an ambitious tyrant threatens genocide against the Jews, an inexperienced young queen must take a stand for her people.

When Xerxes, king of Persia, issues a call for beautiful young women, Hadassah, a Jewish orphan living in Susa, is forcibly taken to the palace of the pagan ruler. After months of preparation, the girl known to the Persians as Esther wins the king's heart and a queen's crown. But because her situation is uncertain, she keeps her ethnic identity a secret until she learns that an evil and ambitious man has won the king's permission to exterminate all Jews--young and old, powerful and helpless. Purposely violating an ancient Persian law, she risks her life in order to save her people...and bind her husband's heart.

My Review: 6/10

When I finished reading this book, I felt... confused. I'm familiar with being bored with a book, being obsessed and savoring a book, being angry or disillusioned with a book, being critical and a million other expectations and resultant reactions. I was confused after finishing Esther because I felt none of these things.

Let me start by saying, I have only read the New Testament and Genesis. While I've heard many other famous Bible stories at small groups, bible studies and church, this is not one of them. I've heard of Esther, that she was one of the few female books in the Bible and showed  that women are not overlooked in God's plan. I've heard her referred to as a courageous queen. But that is all. So I had zero preconceived notions about her.


The book was kind of slow moving for a while and didn't really seem to say much, just driving in the fact that Esther did not identify with her fellow Jews. And that she was obsessed with beauty but also somehow in denial of her own.

Things didn't really get suspenseful until Haman's arrival. That is resolved quickly enough and at that point, you're pretty much at the end of the book, where you're given a kind of vague, yet somehow loaded, epilogue.

The abrupt ending without resolution in some key areas (did she ever have kids? I think not, but it didn't really definitively say. What was her continued relationship like with the future king, her stepson, Artaxerxes, as he grew older? Actually, what was her relationship like with husband after all the drama was Haman was over? Was she back in favor? Was she interesting again? Did things ever change?) left me reeling. Given that Ms. Hunt was working with Biblical record of real people, I guess she couldn't determine these things, and I respect that, but she made me care about these people and I felt like the story was just starting to get interesting when it stopped.

At the end of the book, all I could think was, "What was the point?" I don't think I've ever read a book and not known, by the end of it, what the author was driving at. In fact, in this genre, I'm used to knowing pretty much exactly what to expect.  What was the purpose of this story? Was it her relationship with her husband? Was it learning to accept and embrace (assumed) barrenness? Was it her personal relationship with God? Was it her throwing off a cloak of vanity and opening herself to God's plans for her? Was it simply to save a people she had never really considered -hers- before? Was it to overcome the evil of Haman (judging by my Kindle, this particular part only occupied about 5% of her story)? All of these things were touched on for a short time, never becoming the focal point of the story.

I wonder if I would have had a totally different reading experience if I was already familiar with Esther's story and/or had read it in the Bible. If nothing else, this book is prompting me to do just that.

Friday, January 2, 2015

Love Unexpected book review

Love Unexpected (Beacons of Hope, #1)

Love Unexpected 

A Perfect Blend of History and Romance, with a Whisper of Mystery

All she's ever wanted was a home. But stranded at Presque Isle port after their steamboat sank, Emma Chambers and her brother, Ryan, couldn't be farther away from security. While Ryan at least can find work, Emma can't even find a place to stay. An unlikely solution arises when the lighthouse keeper, who recently lost his wife and is struggling to raise his young son, arrives in town. A traveling preacher believes they might be the answer to each others' problems, and after a hasty marriage, Emma is headed back to the lighthouse with this handsome but quiet stranger.

But nothing in her wandering life has prepared her for suddenly being asked to raise a child and keep a house. Struggling at every turn, Emma also suspects Patrick may be keeping something hidden from her. In town she hears whispers about strange circumstances surrounding his previous wife's death, and it seems as though Emma's answered prayer for a home and family may actually be something much more dangerous.

My Review: 6.5/10
Many books in this genre follow a courtship culminating in the wedding night. I enjoy those stories too, but it always strikes me that it is so hard to find a lovestory about an already legitimately married couple. At least in historical fiction like this. I wonder if it's sending the message that the romance is only exciting in the beginning or that once you're in love, you're always in love and your story is kind of over. I don't believe in either of these statements and wish I could find stories out there that showed real struggles in married couples, the beauty of falling in love over (and over and over) again with the same person but for new reasons, determining to love someone when they're not being loveable, etc. And while this (and a handful of similar book I've read) is slightly different because the two main characters marry in the beginning of the book, it's still pretty much the same, because it's a marriage in name only, with the story really being about their courtship still, once again culminating in the night that it becomes a full marriage. A little different, but still essentially the same, and not the story I'm seeking. But that's not really the author's fault. Back to Love Unexpected.

As always, Ms. Hedlund infuses her stories with interesting history that really transports you back in time. I always love her author's notes at the end of her books. I enjoyed the brother/sister themes and the pirates. I loved Ryan's character and hope to see a lot more of him possibly in another book in the series.

I don't usually like the portrayal of children in books like these (in fact, I always mention that) and I try to avoid them when I can. But apart from some grating language ("Me go," "Me want" etc) and a couple of unbelievable moments (I don't believe that a two year old, particularly one raised in this household, would know anything about pirates or "bad guys,") things were fairly realistic. I found myself chuckling appreciatively at Emma's second guessing her parenting choices and their effectiveness.

I'm not a fan of self doubt and insecurity running rampant in relationships, even with good reason. But I felt like it was somewhat atoned for by Patrick's declaration of his accepting God's forgiveness.

I loved, LOVED the message of hope being secure in God alone; that placing hopes in people, things, relationships, homes, etc, would only lead to disappointment.

I think the thing that really kept me from connecting with this book and loving it the way I've loved some of Ms. Hedlund's previous stories, was some inconsistency of Emma's character. She mentions early on that her own father had a rather unsavory past (possibly even murder, maybe? I can't remember, and one of the problems with ebooks is that it's not so easy to flip back and check) and that she turned a blind eye to his doings. She seemed to feel guilt over this. Patrick's past was made clear enough early on and I thought Emma would be uniquely suited to forgive a man with this kind of history. I thought with her own regret, that she would be a perfect match to encourage Patrick to seek a second chance through God, the way she would have wanted her father to, and perhaps the way she wished she had encouraged him to. But Emma seemed to completely forget about her own place in such sins and really struggled with Patrick's revelations. I was disappointed in her too. And unlike Patrick, I didn't feel like her apology and attempts to stand up for him after the fact were good enough. Though I was relieved to see her finally recognize Bertie's behavior for what it was.

Despite that, I would recommend this book; fans of this genre and fans of this author will not be disappointed.