Tuesday, August 18, 2015

A Noble Masquerade (Hawthorne House #1) book review

A Noble Masquerade (Hawthorne House, #1)

A Noble Masquerade (Hawthorne House #1)

Lady Miranda Hawthorne acts every inch the lady, but inside she longs to be bold and carefree. Entering her fourth Season and approaching spinsterhood in the eyes of society, she pours her innermost feelings out not in a diary but in letters to her brother's old school friend, a duke--with no intention of ever sending these private thoughts to a man she's heard stories about but never met. Meanwhile, she also finds herself intrigued by Marlow, her brother's new valet, and although she may wish to break free of the strictures that bind her, falling in love with a servant is more of a rebellion than she planned.

When Marlow accidentally discovers and mails one of the letters to her unwitting confidant, Miranda is beyond mortified. And even more shocked when the duke returns her note with one of his own that initiates a courtship-by-mail. Insecurity about her lack of suitors shifts into confusion at her growing feelings for two men--one she's never met but whose words deeply resonate with her heart, and one she has come to depend on but whose behavior is more and more suspicious. When it becomes apparent state secrets are at risk and Marlow is right in the thick of the conflict, one thing is certain: Miranda's heart is far from all that's at risk for the Hawthornes and those they love.

My Review: 9/10

I fell in love with this book and its characters.

And like any lasting love, it was not insta-love. In fact, I almost put it down and labeled it DNF. Thank God for persistance and a sense of obligation. It was the narrator's voice- not first person, yet infused with personality, and one that I was almost ready to dismiss as ditzy. Miranda, starting her story briefly as a child, seemed silly and immature to me. Marlow's story was set up in an unnecessarily confusing way. I thought I could see where it was going, but it was presented in a way that I felt like I -should- know what was going on, but I wasn't 100% confident that I did. As I had little to draw me in to either of their stories, I was just about to write it off when something changed.

What happened? Marlow, the valet/spy, stumbles upon a journal-like entry of Miranda's. His discovery and attitude threw doubt (albeit, ever so slightly, but just enough to keep me turning pages) on my understanding of the current plot outline. I just wanted to see what would happen next.

When "next" turned out to be mailing those private thoughts and then openly admitting it to Miranda, I was hooked. This guy was not who I thought he was going to be. And how was she going to deal with the consequences of what he did?!

After that I really began to appreciate the distinct character voices and frequent, intelligent humor. Especially as Marlow was a little cocky, a little rough around the edges, and you knew just enough to understand why. I loved that he didn't always do what was "right." Sometimes he was mischievous or an instigator. Realistic and entertaining, for sure. Just the way the book was written was enjoyable. For example: *very small spoiler*

"He glared at Ryland. 'Find yourself another lackey. I won't do it.' Time stretched on, the clicking of the mantel clock the only sound as the two men stared at each other. -Chapter 25- 'My lady, Mr. McCrae has arrived.'"

Maybe that's the kind of thing that you have to read up to, to appreciate, but I burst out laughing. And that's rare for me with books.

Neither was built up as the epitome of feminine or masculine perfection. There wasn't a bizarre immediate obsession. At one point, Marlow thinks, understandably, that Miranda is trying to casually fish for information as if she's considering marriage to him, the valet. His thoughts are natural. But before the bad taste could settle in my mouth, her true train of thought was revealed and both Marlow and I felt a bit the idiot for going there. I appreciated what I perceived as a set up and set down for my presumptions by the author. In fact, Miranda really teeters back and forth between her options, including embracing being single, and isn't entirely sure what she wants until the end. And that was well done too. It was in line with her character. Her objections and doubts were understandable, not just the product of trying to make the plot more suspenseful.

I thought the undertones of faith were perfectly done. It's not preachy or pushy, but natural; mentions of God are casual enough that you get an idea of the character's upbringing and faith without having to be told. Miranda turns to prayer when she's at the end of her rope. God doesn't necessarily speak to her or provide divine intervention, but He fills her with calm and clears her mind, allowing her to face her circumstances. Things like that.

I think the biggest compliment I can pay this book is that it reminded me a lot, in style and quality, of Regina Jennings' work. I can't wait to get my hands on another of this author's books!

Friday, August 14, 2015

Not By Sight book review

Not by Sight

Not by Sight

Gripping Sophomore Novel from a Rising Historical Romance Talent

With Britain caught up in WWI, Jack Benningham, heir to the Earl of Stonebrooke, has declared himself a conscientious objector. Instead, he secretly works for the Crown by tracking down German spies on British soil, his wild reputation and society status serving as a foolproof cover.

Blinded by patriotism and concern for her brother on the front lines, wealthy suffragette Grace Mabry will do whatever it takes to assist her country's cause. When she sneaks into a posh London masquerade ball to hand out white feathers of cowardice, she never imagines the chain of events she'll set off when she hands a feather to Jack.

And neither of them could anticipate the extent of the danger and betrayal that follows them--or the faith they'll need to maintain hope.

My Review: 6/10 stars

Just a quick shoutout to Bethany House, who always does such a beautiful job on their covers. 

Admittedly my first impression left me apprehensive; there is intense attraction at first sight. That's fine, but the fact that our heroine is described as an "exotic beauty" who makes him forget everything going on around him, and our hero is stunning with his classic good looks... it's just a turn off for me. Why does every historical love match have to be based on looks? Or if it's not, then they fall in love for other reasons, but thankfully, both characters just happen to be gorgeous. One of my favorite things about Pride and Prejudice is that Darcy is not impressed by Elizabeth's reputed beauty. Eventually his opinion of her looks changes, but over time, and in correlation to the growth of his love of her intelligence and spirit.

Thankfully, Grace was more than her looks and her progressive heart. She was a woman of strong faith who had learned or been taught to be sensitive to whispers from the Holy Spirit, stopping herself in her tracks of impulsive human nature, choosing to act in compassion and mercy rather than retaliation and vindication. That is really hard to do, especially in the moment. I thought many of the examples were really well done.

Grace's personal struggles and challenges to her faith seemed pretty minor compared to the other characters', but I loved that one of her problems was not practicing what she preached:

"Returning to her own bed, and the guilt about Jack still weighing on her, Grace's smile faded. No sin is greater than his mercy. Why couldn't she take her own advice?"

I just loved that moment, that awareness, that honesty. It is so much easier to discern where others are struggling and simply tell them where they're wrong. It is so much harder to put that knowledge into practice in our own lives.

The plot was fast paced and the history embedded in the pages was transportive. But for me there were two major issues that detracted from an otherwise great story:

*minor spoilers*

First, Grace wins everyone over and easily solves their complex problems. Totally unrealistic and not a good standard to set if you ask me. I don't believe that everyone would offer up their secrets and struggles so readily, because frankly, any resistance they initially put up was half-hearted at best. And even though, at the end of the book, there seems to be some setbacks with Grace's provided solutions, even those are almost immediately resolved with new-and-improved remedies. It was just too easy. I can't relate to a character that every single person likes and who has a ready answer to everyone's problems. In fact, I would be the one to dislike them on those facets of their personality alone. If everyone likes you, something's wrong. ("For am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God? Or am I trying to please man? If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ." Galatians 1:10 ESV) It would make me suspicious to say the least.

Secondly, and more importantly, I had a big problem with the romance. This setup was really not okay. Grace may not have been promised to someone, but she was cultivating a relationship with an engaged man. I don't care that neither party really wanted it. Until they ended that engagement, they were bound. And they had no business pursuing other people in the meantime. As Jack had no pretenses to moral obligation or faith, his behavior was not really surprising. It was Grace I took issue with, Grace who knew better. I was really surprised that the laws of propriety were not an issue in 1917 and she was able to chauffer Jack every day for three hours, unchaperoned. And what was she doing having a private dinner with an engaged man, especially after a friend called her out? She did not guard her heart or keep things professional at all. She acted like she had no control over her heart or her actions, when the Bible teaches us that both are governed by our choices.

What is worse is that I felt like this book perpetuates a lot of the lies women tell themselves when they begin an affair: "I just couldn't help it, he's the one." False. You could help it. And he is not yours, actually, but hers. "The marriage is basically over." False. It's not over until the papers are signed and they've moved out. "You don't understand, his girlfriend/fiancee/wife..." False. There is no act that justifies cheating. "They're not in love anymore." False. Love is a choice. And you don't know how she feels or what he's telling her.

Grace ignores the wise counsel of another Christian woman and openly acknowledges that she's giving in to temptation with a man bound to another. People make mistakes. My problem was that their whole relationship was wrong and it was not acknowledged as a sinful mistake, it was not used as a lesson to demonstrate the deceitful nature of the heart, or to warn others, no it was touted as a romantic love story with a happy ending. God can bring beauty out of ashes. But it certainly was concerning to me that this book seemed to promote setting fire to integrity and fidelity.

Oh, and it was a very minor thing, but Grace is always inwardly lamenting that whatever she did would aid the war, and the sooner the war was won, the sooner Colin could come home. Pretty much those words exactly. Over and over, like a chant, a never ending mantra. That may be a realistic aspect of her character, but it was annoying for me, as the reader.

In the end, this wasn't the book for me and I wouldn't feel good about recommending it. However, I have hope for future novels by this author.