Review: Full Steam Ahead by Karen Witemeyer

FSA_witemeyerFULL STEAM AHEAD
Karen Witemeyer
Bethany House Publishers
Publication Date: June 3, 2014

From the back cover:

Nicole Renard returns home to Galveston, Texas, to find her father deathly ill. Though she loves him, Nicole’s father has always focused on what she’s not. Not male. Not married. Not able to run Renard Shipping.

Vowing to find a suitable husband to give her father the heir he desires before it’s too late, Nicole sets out with the Renard family’s greatest treasure as her dowry: the highly coveted Lafitte Dagger. But her father’s rivals come after the dagger, forcing a change in Nicole’s plans.

After a boiler explosion aboard the Louisiana nearly took his life, Darius Thornton has been a man obsessed. He will do anything to stop even one more steamship disaster. Even if it means letting a female secretary into his secluded world.

Nicole is determined not to let her odd employer scare her off with his explosive experiments, yet when respect and mutual attraction grow between them, a new fear arises. How can she acquire an heir for her father when her heart belongs to another? And when her father’s rivals discover her hiding place, will she have to choose between that love and her family’s legacy?

Karen Witemeyer is an author I love to read when stress is getting me down. She has a way of making farcical comedy absolutely charming, endearing and so much fun. Throw in some romance, a little bit of intrigue and jeopardy, and a perfect happy-ever-after, and you’ve got the perfect book to help you forget about life’s troubles for a while.

FULL STEAM AHEAD features hero Darius Thornton, an eccentric scientist driven to find a solution to steamship boiler disasters after having witnessed their devastation first hand, and heroine Nicole Renard, a dagger-wielding mathematics genius desperate to earn her dying father’s favor by finding an heir who can take over the family shipping business. From the moment these two meet, readers are treated to witty banter, romantic sparks, and gentle truths that make for a fast-paced story that is almost impossible to put down.

While I found the intrigue surrounding the Lafitte Dagger to be a little bit far fetched and over-the-top, the power in this book lies in the fact that I honestly don’t care that it’s wholly unbelievable. It’s just too much fun. And somehow Karen Witemeyer manages to beautifully blend all this comedic goodness with heartfelt themes of learning to let go. My favorite part was when she talked about God being the potter and us being His clay. It’s a wonderful moment in the story as well as for the readers.

I loved FULL STEAM AHEAD and recommend it to anyone who enjoys romantic comedy with a great historical twist. I can’t wait to see what Karen Witemeyer will bring to her readers next!

Review: Here to Stay by Melissa Tagg

HTS_melissataggHERE TO STAY (WHERE LOVE BEGINS #2)
Melissa Tagg
Bethany House Publishers
Publication Date: May 6, 2014

From the back cover:

Blake Hunziker has played nomad for five years and landed in his fair share of trouble too. But now he’s finally returning to his hometown–the Lake Michigan tourist town of Whisper Shore. Counting on a not-so-warm welcome, he’s surprised at not only a positive reception but also a job offer. Determined to settle down and prove himself responsible, he agrees to the catch that comes with the job offer–coordinating the annual Christmas festival–even though he has no idea how he’ll pull it off.

Autumn Kingsley, inn owner and experienced organizer of the Christmas festival, has always dreamed of traveling the world. Now she has a job opportunity in Paris and a surprise potential investor coming to town who just might take on her family’s inn and finally leave her free to go. The only problem is that she has just two weeks to whip the inn into shape.

Their families have a long history of not getting along, but when Blake comes to Autumn for help with the festival, she actually agrees…in exchange for his help with the repairs to her inn. They may have struck a simple deal, but complications are quick to pile on when the guy who’s had enough of running away and the woman who can’t wait to leave join forces.

MADE TO LAST was one of my favorite inspirational fiction reads from last year, so I was very excited to get the chance to review Melissa Tagg’s sophomore novel, HERE TO STAY.

HERE TO STAY picks up Blake’s story where MADE TO LAST ended–with Blake deciding it was time to stop running. He returns home to Whisper Shore, hoping to find a purpose for his restless heart. Instead, he finds forgiveness and a second chance. Autumn Kinglsey has been trying to get out of Whisper Shore for years, and now, with a job offer in Paris, she finally has the chance to fulfill her dreams. But sometimes, dreams have a way of changing, and you find that what you once wanted is no longer appealing.

Melissa Tagg writes a warm, heartfelt, funny story reminiscent of classic romantic comedies. Not only is her style super engaging and easy to read, but her characters ooze charm and her inspiring words of hope tug at the heartstrings. I loved the entire sentiment of this book–that sometimes, God opens doors you weren’t expecting or sends you in a different direction altogether. Sometimes you’re so focused on the end goal, you miss all the little opportunities in between and fail to appreciate all you have right in front of you.

I adored every page of this book from the small town charm that’s brought to life with Ms. Tagg’s words, to the witty banter, the humorous mishaps, and the poignant moments, this entire book is a delight to read. I did not want it to end! In fact, I loved HERE TO STAY even more than I loved MADE TO LAST.

Melissa Tagg is now one of my must-read authors. I can’t wait to see what she writes next! Highly recommended!

 

 

 

 

 

Review: A Beauty So Rare by Tamera Alexander

ABSR_alexanderA BEAUTY SO RARE (BELMONT MANSION #2)
Tamera Alexander
Bethany House Publishers
Publication Date: March 25, 2014

From the back cover:

Plain, practical Eleanor Braddock knows she will never marry, but with a dying soldier’s last whisper, she believes her life can still have meaning and determines to find his widow. Impoverished and struggling to care for her ailing father, Eleanor arrives at Belmont Mansion, home of her aunt, Adelicia Acklen, the richest woman in America–and possibly the most demanding, as well. Adelicia insists on finding her niece a husband, but a simple act of kindness leads Eleanor down a far different path–building a home for destitute widows and fatherless children from the Civil War. While Eleanor knows her own heart, she also knows her aunt will never approve of this endeavor.

Archduke Marcus Gottfried has come to Nashville from Austria in search of a life he determines, instead of one determined for him. Hiding his royal heritage, Marcus longs to combine his passion for nature with his expertise in architecture, but his plans to incorporate natural beauty into the design of the widows’ and children’s home run contrary to Eleanor’s wishes. As work on the home draws them closer together, Marcus and Eleanor find common ground–and a love neither of them expects. But Marcus is not the man Adelicia has chosen for Eleanor, and even if he were, someone who knows his secrets is about to reveal them all.

Tamera Alexander is a powerhouse when it comes to writing inspirational historical fiction. Her attention to historical details, her vivid descriptions, and her heartfelt style of storytelling all cement her as one of my favorite authors. However, I do have to admit that when I received this one in the mail from Bethany House Publishers, my first thought was that it was a massive book I wasn’t sure I’d be able to get through!

Eleanor Braddock is a heroine you can’t help but admire. She’s desperate for a purpose in her life, with a capital “P”–and marriage will never be it. She loves her father and wants to care for him, but when his condition deteriorates too much, she must make the difficult decision to put him in an asylum. Still reeling from the after effects of the civil war, Eleanor decides to take her passion for cooking and turn it into a business by opening a cafe, but her Aunt will not hear of it and refuses to invest in Eleanor’s idea. She must learn that sometimes the plans we have for ourselves are not the plans God has for us.

Archduke Marcus Gottfried is hiding from both his past and his future. His love of nature and architecture lead him to Nashville and there, he begins to make a life for himself. One that is not supposed to include Eleanor, but the woman gets under his skin in a way no one else has, and soon he finds himself falling for her. But if he is to have a future with Eleanor, he must reconcile the hurts from his past.

Although I found the first half of the book to be slow moving, once the plans for the widow’s and children’s home really start taking off, so does the story, and at that point, I couldn’t put it down. I loved the way Tamera Alexander pens the difficult, heart-wrenching relationship Eleanor had with her father, as well as the friendships Eleanor cultivates with the widows around town. I also felt Ms. Alexander did an amazing job with the romance between Marcus and Eleanor. Their love story is delicate and graceful and full of beautiful layers.

I’m happy to recommend A BEAUTY SO RARE to those of you who love richly detailed historical novels with heart, hope and faith.

 

Review: What Once Was Lost by Kim Vogel Sawyer

WOWL_sawyerWHAT ONCE WAS LOST
Kim Vogel Sawyer
WaterBrook Press
Publication Date: September 17, 2013

From the back cover:

A woman meant to serve, a child in the dark, a man standing apart—can these three souls embrace a God with new plans for them?

On a small Kansas farm, Christina Willems lovingly shepherds a group of poor and displaced individuals who count on her leadership and have come to see the Brambleville Asylum for the Poor as their home. But when a fire breaks out in the kitchen leaving the house inhabitable, she must scramble to find shelter for all in her care, scattering her dear “family.”

With no other options, Christina is forced to approach Levi Jonnson, a reclusive mill owner, to take in a young blind boy named Tommy Kilgore. Levi agrees with reluctance but finds himself surprised by the bond that quickly grows between him and Tommy. As obstacles to repairing the farm pile up against Christina, she begins to question her leadership ability and wonders if she can fulfill the mission to which she’s dedicated her life. And when an old adversary challenges Christina, will she find an unlikely ally—or more—in the aloof Levi? Can Levi reconcile with the rejection that led to his hermit-like existence and open his heart and life to something more, especially a relationship with a loving God?

I have long been a fan of Kim Vogel Sawyer for her ability to bring historical detail to life in her books. In WHAT ONCE WAS LOST, she writes about the prairies of Kansas and how one woman not only changes the lives of those she cares for but has her life changed in return.

Christina Willems inherited the Brambleville Asylum for the Poor after her father’s death and she takes her role as caretaker for her down-on-their-luck charges very seriously. When she loses the ability to house them, she must re-locate them, and although this is a painful process for her, she soon realizes that good can come out of bad.

This is especially true in the case of Tommy Kilgore, a young blind boy whom she has trouble placing. She finally convinces reclusive Levi Jonnson to temporarily shelter the boy, and though the two have a rocky start, Tommy begins to grow on Levi. And it is through this bond, that Christina and Levi’s relationship blossoms. As the two grow closer, they learn to let go of the past and embrace the future God has in store for them.

Though I found the book a little slower paced then some of Kim Vogel Sawyer’s other books, and therefore a little tougher to get through, ultimately I discovered that WHAT ONCE WAS LOST is a beautifully written story of overcoming obstacles and adversity through faith.

 

Review: Love Comes Calling by Siri Mitchell

lovecomescallingLOVE COMES CALLING
Siri Mitchell
Bethany House Publishers
Publication Date: March 4, 2014

From the back cover:

A girl with the best of intentions.
A heart set on Hollywood.
An empty pocketbook.

That’s all it takes for Ellis Eton to find herself working as a telephone operator for a look-alike friend. For Ellis, this job will provide not only acting practice but the funds to get her a start in the movies. She’s tired of always being a disappointment to her traditional Boston family, and though she can’t deny the way he makes her head spin, she knows she’s not good enough for Griffin Phillips, either. It’s simple: avoid Griff’s attentions, work, and get paid. But in typical Ellis fashion, her simple plan spirals out of control when she overhears a menacing phone call…with her very own Griff as the target.

I have been a huge fan of Siri Mitchell ever since 2008 when I first read A CONSTANT HEART. So many times an author’s books can start to feel cookie-cutterish after awhile, set in the same time period with characters who are built from the same mold, but this is never the case with Siri Mitchell’s books. Everything she writes is extremely unique and when I pick up when of her books, I know I’m in for an awesome read that fully immerses me in a time period while being well plotted, well written and well developed.

Siri Mitchell’s last book, THE MESSENGER, took us into the gritty world of the Revolutionary World, LOVE COMES CALLING puts us right into the roaring twenties, at the height of prohibition. These books are as different from each other as night and day, and yet they are both so wonderfully done. And that is the genius of Siri Mitchell’s writing.

I loved the fact that Ms. Mitchell tackled an ADHD main character with such grace and pluck. Ellis’s voice abounds from the page. She is is funny and endearing but also sympathetic and as she gets herself into scrape after scrape, we can’t help but feel for her struggle to be who everyone expects her to be.

I also loved that the mystery element to the book is kept light and humorous and yet it still manages to speak of deeper issues, like standing up for what’s right, and whether it’s possible to legislate morality as the government tried to do through prohibition. The romance between Ellis and Griff is sweet and funny, and though the faith element was a little more subtle than I would have liked, the story still managed to impart an inspiring message of accepting who God made you to be.

LOVE COMES CALLING is another wonderful tale by powerhouse author Siri Mitchell. Don’t miss it!

 

Review: Wildwood Creek by Lisa Wingate

wildwoodcreek WILDWOOD CREEK (MOSES LAKE BOOK #4)
Lisa Wingate
Bethany House Publishers
Publication Date: February 4, 2014

From the back cover:

Allie Kirkland has never been one to take wild risks. But when she’s offered a costuming assistant’s job on a docudrama in the hills near Moses Lake, she jumps at the chance. She’s always dreamed of following in her director-father’s footsteps, and the reenactment of the legendary frontier settlement of Wildwood is a first step. The family expectations will have to wait.

But in 1861, the real Wildwood held dangerous realities. Town founder Harland Delevan held helpless residents, including young Irish schoolteacher Bonnie Rose, in an iron grip. Mysterious disappearances led to myths and legends still retold in the folk songs of Chinquapin Peaks. Eventually, the entire site was found abandoned.

When strange connections surface between Allie and the teacher who disappeared over a century ago, everyone in Wildwood, including Allie’s handsome neighbor on the film set, Blake Fulton, seems to be hiding secrets, and Allie doesn’t know who she can trust. If she can’t find the answers in time, history may repeat itself . . . with the most unthinkable results.

I remember reading one Lisa Wingate book years ago and while I liked it, it wasn’t all that memorable. (Case in point, I can’t even remember which book it was.) However, the synopsis for WILDWOOD CREEK sounded intriguing and mysterious, so I decided to give her novels another try.

All Allie Kirkland has ever wanted is to follow in her father’s film-making footsteps, but her mother and step-father’s repeated attempts to brand her as a failure have left her feeling hollow and unsure of her future. Landing a job on a super-secretive docudrama out in the middle of nowhere seems like an answer to prayer — a way to save the money she needs for her tuition while getting her foot in the door in the world of film. But nothing is as it seems in Moses Lake and Allie is drawn into a past she can’t shake. As past and present weave together, Allie must discover God’s plan in her life and trust in who He has made her to be.

With WILDWOOD CREEK, Lisa Wingate has penned an engrossing dual point-of-view tale. Rich characters and an eerie history compliment each other beautifully to make for a unique page turner. Though the elements of romance are light and the Christian message super subtle, WILDWOOD CREEK manages to be both uplifting and sweetly romantic while still maintaining the mystery at the forefront.

Lisa Wingate weaves Bonnie Rose’s and Allie’s stories together so seamlessly and brilliantly that you can’t help wanting to know more, and if I found one downfall of the story, this is it. Because Ms. Wingate makes each point of view so interesting, there’s almost enough story for two separate books, and I found myself really wanting more of Bonnie Rose’s side of the tale. I was left with so many unanswered questions, and maybe that was the way the author intended it, but I’m a demanding reader and wanted those questions answered!

Still, I’m extremely glad I gave Lisa Wingate’s books another try. This one was a winner and although it is listed as the fourth book in the series, it is entirely stand alone.

For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”
-Jeremiah 29:11

Review: A Talent for Trouble by Jen Turano

talentfortroubleA TALENT FOR TROUBLE (Ladies of Distinction, Book#3)
Jen Turano
Bethany House Publishers
Publication Date: October 1, 2013

From the back cover:

Miss Felicia Murdock firmly believed her destiny was to become a minister’s wife. When the minister on whom she had set her sights marries another lady, Felicia is forced to take a close look at her life and comes to a few uncomfortable conclusions. Determined that something needs to change–and soon–Felicia discovers she is finally ready to spread her wings and embrace life the way she’s always wanted.

Grayson Sumner–or Lord Sefton, as he’s officially known–has had more than enough of spreading his wings and only hopes to settle into the life of a normal, respectable New York gentleman. Prompted by some well-meaning friends to lift the spirits of the disappointed-in-love Miss Murdock, he is surprised to encounter a young lady who seems to have become quite adventurous and quite determined to get herself into all sorts of troublesome situations.

Intent on remaining independent, Felicia is reluctant to accept Grayson’s help, especially as she finds herself developing feelings for him. However, just as Grayson decides he’s had quite enough of her antics, his past comes back to haunt him and his presence in her life has endangered Felicia. Will Grayson and Felicia decide they want to spend the rest of their lives keeping one another out of trouble?

This was my second Jen Turano read (the first being A CHANGE OF FORTUNE) and I am quickly beginning to realize that her trademark sparkling wit and energizing dialogue will shine through no matter what she writes.

Felicia is a quirky, independent character who is forever getting herself into trouble (hence the title!). As the story opens, she is mourning the preacher’s marriage to another woman. Felicia had been in love with the preacher for some time and had hoped that she would be the one joining him at the altar, but as she watches him recite his vows to another woman, she realizes that she has spent so much time turning herself into the woman she thought he would want her to be, that she doesn’t even recognize herself anymore.

What follows is a journey to self-discovery, filled with mischief and adventure, and the insufferable Lord Sefton…who somehow becomes a whole lot less insufferable to Felicia as the story progresses. Lord Sefton (Grayson Sumner) is riddled with guilt over both the way he abandoned his sister Eliza and the things he has seen and done while away. He no longer believes in happy-ever-afters, nor does he believe he deserves love. All he wants is to see that his daughter is well taken care of, and do what he can to redeem himself (though he is certain he’ll never get to that point).

While Felicia learns to listen to what God wants her to be, rather than what others expect her to be, Grayson learns that no one is beyond redemption. God’s grace is sufficient for even the most irredeemable, and that lesson gives him the courage to believe in a life with Felicia.

With intrigue and zany anecdotes, Jen Turano excels at romantic comedy, bringing both laughs and a poignant lesson to every story. I look forward to her next book!