First Impressions by Debra White Smith

Disclaimer: First Impressions, by Debra White Smith, was provided by Bethany House. I received a free copy from the publisher. No review, positive or otherwise, was required—all opinions are my own.

In an attempt to get to know the people of London, Texas—the small town that lawyer Eddi Boswick now class home—she tries out for a local theater group’s production of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. She’s thrilled to get the role of lively Elizabeth Bennet…until she meets the arrogant—and eligible—rancher playing her leading man. Dave Davidson chose London, Texas, as the perfect place to live under the radar. Here, no one knows his past, and he can live a quiet, peaceful life with his elderly aunt, who also happens to own the local theater. Dave doesn’t even tryout for the play, but suddenly he is thrust into the role of Mr. Darcy and forced to spend the entire summer with Eddi, who clearly despises him. Sparks fly every time Eddi and Dave meet, whether on the stage or off. But when Eddi discovers Dave’s secret, she has to admit there might be more to him than she thought. Maybe even enough to change her mind…and win her heart.

My rating: 3/5

I was excited when I found out this book was a Pride & Prejudice retelling. I figured I would enjoy it even if it turned out like many of the other mediocre romances I’ve read. I did get a bit of a scare when I reached the second chapter and had a “who thought this way of writing was a good idea?” moment when Smith described a tornado as a “beast,” a “devil,” a “demon,” a “gyrating monster,” a “funnel,” a “ghastly specter,” and, my personal favorite, a “capricious adolescent,” all in the span of three pages. Trust me…I almost stopped reading then and there.

However, I shouldered on, and I’m glad I did. Smith manages to keep a lot of the main characterization of Elizabeth Bennet and Fitzwilliam Darcy and transfers them to her modern characters, Eddi and Dave. I don’t think she quite understands Darcy, but at least her presentation was better than the 2005 Kiera Knightley “shy romantic soul” movie interpretation. A lot of the same issues were addressed, at least in terms of their relationship, and in that regard I quite enjoyed it.

My main quibble was simply the shape of the retelling itself, especially how Smith chose to reinterpret some of the elements. It’s difficult to retell a Regency novel in a modern world, so I can say that Smith did a good job trying to find an equal equivalent to things that happen in the book (though none have done it better than “The Lizzie Bennet Diaries,” in my opinion). I do think she takes it a bit too far, though, especially in terms of Linda, this story’s Lydia. The Lydia of Pride & Prejudice is naïve and silly, but not worldly. I suppose the closest modern interpretation would be a sort of wild party girl, as is portrayed here, but I still think Smith could have done something a little better than what she does with the Lydia plotline. And I get that Christian novels love redemption stories, but redeeming Wickham (or this story’s Wickham, anyway) was too much. I did like the changing of Georgiana to a boy, though, and the way Smith modernized that event.

Some of the other elements were a little all over the place, such as the Chari/Charlotte and and Conner/Mr. Collins plotline, which seemed thrown in purely for the sake of the retelling as opposed to the plot. To be honest, they could have been cut out completely with nothing lost at all. I also was thrown by the early Catharine de Bourge/Davidson’s aunt scene, and I felt the effect was ruined because of it.

Basically, I enjoyed the main plotline of First Impressions, the barebones Pride & Prejudice romance retelling, but I had more serious problems with the writing and the side characters, as well as some of the ways Smith chose to retell and reinterpret the original. I liked it, but if I want a good Pride & Prejudice retelling, this won’t be the book I turn to.

Warnings: None.

Genre: Christian, Realistic

You can buy this here: https://amzn.to/2Ir5jHJ

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Joey by Jennifer Marshall Bleakley

Disclaimer: Joey, by Jennifer Marshall Bleakley, was provided by Tyndale. I received a free copy from the publisher. No review, positive or otherwise, was required—all opinions are my own.

With her fledgling horse ranch, Hope Reins, in dire financial trouble, the last thing Kim Tschirret needed was one more problem. But when she met Joey, a former prizewinning jumper who had been abandoned, neglected, and malnourished to the point of blindness, she saw in him the same God-given potential she saw in every abused and abandoned child her ministry was created to serve. So, despite the challenges that would come with caring for a blind and wounded horse, Kim took a leap of faith and brought Joey home to Hope Reins. But as Joey struggled to adapt to his new surroundings, trainers, and pasture-mate, the staff’s confidence began to falter. Could Joey learn to trust again-to connect with the children who needed him so badly? What if they couldn’t take care of Joey? And how much longer could they afford to try?

My rating: 2/5

I was excited to receive and read Joey because, let’s face it, horse books were my favorite type of books growing up, and even today I still get excited to read one. And it seemed intriguing–a blind horse? Horse-centered therapy? Count me in!

However, I rated this book low for a reason, though it didn’t have anything to do with the horses. In fact, the horses were the best part of the book, though admittedly it did confuse me a bit when the first part of the book focused more on Speckles than on Joey. But I enjoyed reading about the training and the innovative ways the trainers helped Joey overcome his blindness. The interaction of the horses and the children was sweet; Bleakley definitely shows how an animal-centered therapy works, as well as its effectiveness overall.

So, it wasn’t the horses that I had a problem. It was the rest of the book–the humans, basically, and the overly preachy and sentimental tone. I had an incredibly difficult time telling the three main characters apart (Kim, Sarah, and Lauren), as their voices all sounded the same. I soon learned to differentiate by various traits always brought up–Lauren and her knee, Sarah and her inner monologues about her inadequacies. However, what also confused me was the voice of the characters. I initially thought Sarah was a teenager until she brought up a husband, which really threw me for a loop. Her voice just sounded like something more akin to a teenager’s than an adult’s to me. There was also a random romance thrown in with her that came out of nowhere; I understand that this is more nonfiction, but at least hint that she’s getting into a relationship with the vet before suddenly mentioning them holding hands when they rarely appear “on page” with each other and exchange conversation. Lauren also sounded younger, but she mentions a husband and kids earlier on so it was easier to adjust.

I also didn’t much like the sentimental, preachy tone of the book, and this is definitely more reflective of my personality than of anything really wrong with the book itself. I hate preachiness, especially extended preachiness that sounds scripted, and I’m not fond of sentimentality. If a grief scene stretches for longer than a paragraph, I already think it’s overdone. I recognize the sadness of the book, and what losing horses means to the people who work at Hope Reins, but I’d prefer not to linger on one particular scene for pages at a time.

I really didn’t like the tone or the confusing characters who blended into one another, but the book is focused on the horses, and the horses really do shine. This is a great advertisement for Hope Reins, if nothing else.

Warnings: None.

Genre: Christian, Realistic

You can buy this here:  https://amzn.to/2KuCE20

Things I Never Told You by Beth K. Vogt

Disclaimer: Things I Never Told You, by Beth K. Vogt, was provided by Tyndale. I received a free copy from the publisher. No review, positive or otherwise, was required—all opinions are my own.

It’s been ten years since Payton Thatcher’s twin sister died in an accident, forcing the entire family to cope in whatever ways they could. Now a lone twin, Payton reinvents herself as a partner in a successful part-planning business and is doing just fine—as long as she manages to hold her memories and her family at arm’s length. But with the announcement of her middle sister Jillian’s engagement, Payton’s party-planning skills are called into action. Which means working alongside Johann, her opinionated oldest sister, who always seems ready for a fight. They can only hope a wedding might be just the occasion to heal the resentment and jealousy that divides them…until a frightening diagnosis threatens Jillian’s plans for the future. As old wounds reopen and the family faces the possibility of yet another tragedy, the Thatchers must decide if they will pull together or be driven apart for good.

My rating: 2/5

Maybe I’ve read too many young adult suspense novels, but when I read the summary of Things I Never Told You, I expected something much darker than what I actually got. The title, so reminiscent of popular YA titles, didn’t help. In fact, since I went into the book expecting deep, dark secrets to be revealed, the actual revelation of the “things I never told” seemed cheapened. But I’m getting a little ahead of myself.

The story is told from multiple points of view: Payton, the focus character, in first person, and Jillian and Zach in third person. I got used to the switching from first to third after a while, but initially it was really jarring. I also wondered why Vogt even bothered with first person if she wanted to use multiple viewpoints; the first person didn’t contribute much to Payton’s character and it seems pointless to utilize if you’re just going to switch to third when you want to convey other characters’ thoughts. The point of first person is that you don’t get the other character’s thoughts.

The story mainly focuses on Payton and the “things she’s never told” regarding the death of her sister (which, contrary to my thoughts, aren’t dark at all, merely the sort of thing you might expect after a traumatic event), though focus is also spent on her relationship with her family, especially her sisters, and her sister’s battle with breast cancer. The characters are all right—perhaps too pointedly flawed, or maybe too pointedly focused on their own inadequacies. If reading this book was supposed to make me feel as if I could relate to the characters and overcome similar thoughts, then Vogt didn’t really succeed. Eventually, all I wanted was for the self-pity and self-deprecation to stop.

I did like how Vogt handled the Thatcher’s lack of faith, and I liked that she didn’t create any sort of conversion scene that are usually so cheesy and overdone. I did think she dropped the ball in terms of Jillian, though. Jillian, I felt, needed the comfort that Payton received from thinking about God just as much, if not more, than Payton. She spends the whole book focusing on happy, positive thoughts that I thought for sure Vogt would connect it to the joy of Christianity. Unfortunately, that never happens, and instead Jillian’s happiness is tied to material things. A missed opportunity, and one that may have proved more powerful than Payton’s story.

Though I expected a dark, thriller-like reveal to the story, and the reveal of what Payton was actually hiding seem cheap in comparison, I did like a few aspects of Things I Never Told You. The family dynamic was interesting, and though I felt there were lots of missed opportunities, the way the book ended was realistic. The take on breast cancer was respectful, but just as shocking and sad as it would be in real life. However, the viewpoint was jarring and poorly executed, the title is too reminiscent of YA novels (and thus juvenile for an adult book), the characters spent too long wallowing in their own perceived flaws, and a beautiful opportunity for Jillian to see where true joy lies is completely set aside in favor of furthering a romantic plotline. It’s an average take on sorrow, buried secrets, and guilt, but is nowhere close to memorable or inspiring.

Warnings: None.

Genre: Christian, Realistic

You can buy this here: https://amzn.to/2F5wiSZ

A Most Noble Heir by Susan Anne Mason

Disclaimer: A Most Noble Heir, by Susan Anne Mason, was provided by Bethany House. I received a free copy from the publisher. No review, positive or otherwise, was required—all opinions are my own.

When stable hand Nolan Price learns from his dying mother that he is actually the son of the Earl of Stainsby, his plans for a future with kitchen maid Hannah Burnham are shattered. Once he is officially acknowledged as the earl’s heir, Nolan will be forbidden to marry beneath his station. Unwilling to give up the girl he loves, he devises a plan to elope—believing once their marriage is sanctioned by God that Lord Stainsby will be forced to accept their union. However, as Nolan struggles to learn the ways of the aristocracy, he finds himself caught between his dreams for tomorrow ad his father’s demanding expectations. Forces work to keep the couple apart at every turn, and a solution to remain together seems farther and farther away. With Nolan’s new life pulling him irrevocably away from Hannah, it seems only a miracle will bring them back together.

My rating: 2/5

A Most Noble Heir (titles like these need to disappear. Overused and unoriginal) is an interesting historical romance. It doesn’t do a whole lot to improve on old tropes, but at least the premise is interesting. Plus, it’s refreshing to read a book where the romantic interests marry at the beginning of the book. Even though Nolan and Hannah go over a lot of familiar ground in terms of romantic tropes, the way it’s framed makes it appear as if it’s fresh and new. I would have preferred actually fresh and new, but it was a pleasanter romance to read since they got married early on. I just wish there had been a bit less convenience in terms of Hannah’s station and slightly more tension (Nolan always thinks about the class divide between them and how it will affect their social standing, but it is never voiced nor noticed by anyone else, making his worries seem pointless. Plus, Iris showing up means that the point is moot—not that anyone actually seemed to care).

I really enjoyed the development of Nolan’s relationship with his father, though I wish it had been less jerky in terms of pace. Since we never actually see Nolan’s “aristocracy lessons,” the only glimpses of him with his father we get are when they are fighting, so the reader has to fill in the gaps for himself. However, I really enjoyed the scenes from Edward’s point of view (Nolan is a bit of a bland character), and they did a much better job of showing the development of the father-son relationship than Nolan’s did.

Nolan is a bland, forgettable character (and hardly noble, as the title suggests), but Hannah is secretly my kindred spirit. Her struggles in the novel, especially the ones revealed closer to the end of the book in regard to her own perception of herself, are similar to things I have felt in the past, and having those addressed in the book helped me just as they helped Hannah. She’s a bland character, too, when I look past the parts in the book that really connected me to her (the only non-bland characters are Edward and Iris, and Iris goes too far in the other direction), but she’s definitely a character I’ll remember.

A Most Noble Heir does strive to reinvent old tropes, and ends up doing it somewhat, but there’s still too much reliance on cliché, predictable romantic tropes. The characters are bland and boring, except for Edward and moments from Hannah, and many of the concerns that drive the tension of the plot seem flimsy and weak when compared with what Mason has shown us. It’s an intriguing premise, but it falls on its face one too many times.

Warnings: None.

Genre: Christian, Historical Fiction

You can buy this here: https://amzn.to/2GguZ8h

Keturah by Lisa T. Bergren

Disclaimer: Keturah, by Lisa T. Bergren, was provided by Bethany House. I received a free copy from the publisher. No review, positive or otherwise, was required—all opinions are my own.

In 1772 England, Lady Keturah Banning Tomlinson and her sisters find themselves the heiresses of their father’s estates and know they have one option: Go to the West Indies to save what is left of their heritage. Although it flies against all the conventions, they’re determined to make their own way in the world. But once they arrive in the Caribbean, conventions are the least of their concerns. On the infamous island of Nevis, the sisters discover the legacy of the legendary sugar barons has vastly declined—and that’s just the start of what their eyes are opened to in this harsh and unfamiliar world. Keturah never intends to put herself at the mercy of a man again, but every man on the island seems to be trying to win her hand and, with it, the ownership of her plantation. She could desperately use an ally, but even an unexpected reunion with a childhood friends leaves her questioning his motives. To keep her family together and save the plantation that is her last change at providing for them, can Keturah ever surrender her stubbornness and guarded heart to God and find the healing and love awaiting her?

Rating: 3/5

I’m going to spend most of this review talking about the historical aspect of Keturah and my thoughts on Bergren’s presentation, and less time talking about what I normally talk about (plot, romance, and characterization). To me, the historical setting was the most interesting part of the book.

Keturah is unique in that it’s one of the first historical fiction I’ve read in a while where the main character is involved, in some way, in plantations and slavery. Commonly, historical fiction (especially of the YA and middle grade variety that I read) set in the South during the Civil War or before all have main characters that eschew slavery, even those that live in the South. It’s almost as if authors believe that they are condoning slavery if their main characters own slaves, so instead they have their protagonists be vehemently against it. There’s nothing wrong about that, obviously, but it stretches the bonds of historical setting a little bit to have a Southern protagonist be so opposed to slavery (obviously there were people in the South who opposed slavery, but since the majority supported it, it makes logical, historical sense that the average person would also support it).

Bergren, however, does not shy away from the topic at all. Keturah keeps slaves and buys slaves, and though she treats them well enough, they’re still slaves. Keturah herself has some unpleasant moments where she clearly views herself as superior, especially in regards to Mitilda, the housekeeper of her father’s estate (there’s other factors influencing her behavior and thoughts towards Mitilda, but it’s still a little shocking how quickly her mind turns to race and class in that moment). Yet, she’s disturbed at the sight of a slave market and is quick to want justice when her slaves are terrorized by the neighbors. She’s abhorred at the violence towards and ill treatment of slaves, yet owns slaves herself.

There’s clearly a difference between Keturah and her neighbors, as she neither harms her slaves nor, in general, views them as “other.” She hires a free black man (who himself owns slaves—something that’s historically accurate) as her overseer, despite the island’s censure of the act. Her actions are clearly true to history (Frederick Douglass was taught to read by the wife of the person who bought him; there were slave owners who were kind to their slaves), and I was fascinated by Bergren’s decision to frame it this way.

It did bother me, however, that despite the strength of Keturah’s Christianity, especially towards the end, there was never a moment when Keturah even thought about the idea of freeing her slaves. Obviously, in terms of setting, that wouldn’t have worked very well. Yet all she does is think about how she should be nicer to Mitilda. I’m not going to argue the fact that Christians owned slaves, and excused it with (terrible) interpretations of Scripture, but it galled me that Bergren would try and show that being a good Christian (or being a good person) means simply that you’re nice to slaves that you own, with no thoughts about freedom, equality, or equity.

The historical setting of Keturah is fascinating, and might be incredibly divisive due to the main character’s ties with slavery. As for the rest of it, the pacing dragged a lot in places (they were at sea way too long), the romance was average, and Keturah was a mediocre protagonist. The merits of discussion for this book, though, are golden.

Warnings: Some violence, death, slavery, leering, very subtle hints at domestic abuse and possibly rape.

Genre: Christian, Historical Fiction

You can buy this here: http://amzn.to/2DAhUkA  

Phoebe’s Light by Suzanne Woods Fisher

Disclaimer: Phoebe’s Light, by Suzanne Woods Fisher, was provided by Revell. I received a free copy from the publisher. No review, positive or otherwise, was required—all opinions are my own.

Phoebe Starbuck has always taken care of her father—worrying enough for both of them, as he chases one whim after another. Now, for the first time, she’s doing what she wants to do: marrying Captain Phineas Foulger and sailing far away from Nantucket. As she leaves on her grand adventure, she takes two gifts from her father, but desires only one: her great-grandmother’s journal. The second gift? A “minder” in the form of cooper Matthew Mitchell (sic), a man she loathes. Phoebe soon discovers that life at sea is no easier than life on land. Lonely, seasick, and disillusioned, she turns the pages of Great Mary’s journal and finds a secret that carries repercussions for everyone aboard the ship, especially the captain and the cooper.

My rating: 4/5 

I wasn’t fond of the first book I read of Fisher’s, Anna’s Crossing, but to my pleasant surprise, Phoebe’s Light was a unique, interesting read. It tells two stories concurrently, that of Phoebe’s in 1767 and that of Mary’s in 1658 (through to 1661). The book gives much historical information about the founding of Nantucket, whaling, and the early history and beliefs of Quakers.

Mary’s story read a lot like a Dear America novel, which is perhaps why I was drawn to it over Phoebe’s story. It’s not that Phoebe’s story was uninteresting, it’s just that Mary’s did a much better job of drawing me in. It’s also the much more historical of the two, as it depicts the first settlers to Nantucket, their struggles, and their interaction with the natives on the island. I also appreciated Mary’s struggles and romantic plights more than I did Phoebe’s.

Phoebe’s story was also good, though again, I didn’t like it as much as Mary’s. I liked its uniqueness of plot, and while the romance was a little conventional, Fisher dealt with it in a very good way. There’s a tad too much time of Phoebe being sick at sea, but otherwise I thought the pacing was good, the mystery compelling, and the characterization well-developed.

My only major complaint is that Fisher falls into the same sort of pickle that Christian authors fall into when they’re trying to portray a complicated romance situation. I’ll try not to be too spoilery here, but, basically Phoebe’s situation makes it hard for Fisher to deliver the sort of “pure and innocent” vibe that a lot of Christian authors put on their female protagonists, so in order to keep that vibe, Fisher finagles and excuses and puts plot armor all over Phoebe so that by the end of the book, she still has that vibe. Fisher does it more realistically than some, but I think that sort of machination overall isn’t realistic, or true to what a lot of people experience today.

Beyond that, Phoebe’s Light lifted Fisher up in my eyes as an author. It was a compelling story, with an even more compelling “story-within-a-story,” the characters were good and well-developed, and it is one of the more unique books I’ve read from Revell.

Warnings: Some violence, death.

Genre: Christian, Historical Fiction

You can buy this here: http://amzn.to/2F6uePs

Hearts Entwined: A Novella Collection

Disclaimer: Hearts Entwined was provided by Bethany House. I received a free copy from the publisher. No review, positive or otherwise, was required—all opinions are my own.

My rating: 3/5 

Hearts Entwined is a collection of four short stories/novellas by four different authors—hence why there’s no blurb or authors up top like usual. The four stories are all from each author’s “universes,” as it were, and I was familiar with two of the four. For this review, I’m going to tackle each story separately and give a little mini-review of each, starting with the story I liked the most and ending with the one I liked the least.

“Bound and Determined” by Regina Jennings:

To be honest, I think I liked this one and “Tied and True” about equally, but “Bound and Determined” had camels in it, which is wacky and memorable and probably my favorite part of the story. Bradley Willis—the brother of the protagonist of Holding the Fort—has to escort a retired officer, his daughter, and his herd of camels to Texas. I wish the romance had been less love at first sight (I am so sick of that trope in these historical romances), but the addition of the camels was great and I liked that I was familiar with the setting and some of the characters already.

“Tied and True” by Melissa Jagears:

“Tied and True” is part of the Teaville Moral Society series, of which I’ve read two books, so, just like with Jennings’s story, the familiarity of the characters and the setting helped me enjoy the story more (this story actually takes place during A Love So True). I really enjoy the “I love you, but I can’t pursue you” trope, probably because it’s a refreshing trope to read after all the usual, same-old same-old romances (like the one in “Bound and Determined”). It’s a bit too moralizing in places, and Marianne is the wrong type of naively perfect, the kind that makes you turn your head and go, “Would that really have worked out for you?”, but the story is enjoyable and it’s a nice addition to the Teaville series if you’re invested in those.

“The Love Knot” by Karen Witemeyer:

“The Love Knot” was a bit of an odd one. It uses the other overused trope common to these historical romances, the “we broke up a long time ago and now we meet again, reminisce, and then almost immediately get back together” trope. The setting is interesting, and so is the plot device that brings Claire and Pieter back together, but my unfamiliarity with the characters and the series led to lots of confusing moments for me. There’s also a lot of soul-searching and moralizing that could have been done more subtly, in my opinion.

“The Tangled Ties that Bind” by Mary Connealy:

This was my least favorite story, and not just because I think the title is terrible. Connealy is found of writing in sentence fragments, which is one of my biggest writing pet peeves. The plot also was incredibly chaotic—it utilizes the same sort of trope as Witemeyer’s, but the plot ping-pongs between romance and some sort of doctor procedural story, with a whole bunch of girl power preaching thrown in at the end. Connealy is definitely the weakest writer of the four, in my opinion, and it showed in her fragment-laden story and her melodramatic dialogue. 

Warnings: None.

Genre: Christian, Historical Fiction

You can buy this here: http://amzn.to/2HjRt5Y

Love Thy Body by Nancy Pearcey

Disclaimer: Love Thy Body, by Nancy Pearcey, was provided by Baker Books. I received a free copy from the publisher. No review, positive or otherwise, was required—all opinions are my own.

In Love Thy Body, Nancy R. Pearcey goes beyond politically correct slogans with a riveting exposé of the dehumanizing worldview behind [transgenderism, homosexuality, abortion] and other watershed moral issues. Pearcey turns the tables on the media boilerplate that portrays Christianity as harsh and hateful. A former agnostic, she makes a surprising case that Christianity sustains the dignity of the body and accords with science and biology. Throughout, she entrances readers with compassionate stories of people wrestling with hard questions in their own lives—their pain, their struggles, their triumphs.

My rating: 5/5 

Love Thy Body is an extremely relevant, incredibly important look at the dominating cultural idea of the body and how society, while claiming to uplift it, has actually denigrated it to nothing more than matter: expendable, disposable, useless matter. Pearcey covers abortion, euthanasia, the hook-up culture, transgenderism, homosexuality, and marriage, and how this Gnostic view of the body is engrained in each of those topics.

The book is replete with personal stories, statistics, studies, defenders, opponents—basically, the research done was tremendous, and incredibly in-depth and detailed. Pearcey also interweaves Christian messages and doctrine and Scripture into each topic to serve as application at the end of each chapter—and it’s much needed, as the hope of those sections balance out the heavy feeling of despair that covering these topics may induce in the reader (and definitely induced in me!). Pearcey is not just pointing a finger and saying “This is what this idea means; this is what it will lead to,” but she’s also saying, “Here’s how we can help combat this idea, and here’s how we can defend and preserve a view that’s uplifting and holistic.”

This book is vitally important in understanding just how some of the views being touted in society are actually dehumanizing. At the same time, Pearcey cautions against falling back into a way of thinking that is rigidly stereotypical and constrained. She’s not afraid to criticize some of the things Christians have (over)emphasized in order to combat culture (which in turn has led to problems of its own), which shows a presence of fairness and objectivity that is important in a book that’s tackling such heavy issues as these. If you want to understand more about some of the most important cultural issues of today, and especially if you want to know the worldview behind these issues, Love Thy Body is exactly the book you need to read.

Warnings: None.

Genre: Christian

You can buy this here: http://amzn.to/2sbhAbR

Under a Cloudless Sky by Chris Fabry

Disclaimer: Under a Cloudless Sky, by Chris Fabry, was provided by Tyndale. I received a free copy from the publisher. No review, positive or otherwise, was required—all opinions are my own.

1933. In the mining town of Beulah Mountain, West Virginia, two young girls form an unbreakable bond against the lush Appalachian landscape, coal dust and old hymns filling their lungs and hearts. Despite the polarizing forces of their fathers—one a mine owner, one a disgruntled miner—Ruby and Bean thrive under the tender care of Bean’s mama, blissfully unaware of the rising conflict in town and the coming tragedy that will tear them apart forever. 2004. Hollis Beasley is taking his last stand. Neighbors up and down the hollow have sold their land to Coleman Coal and Energy, but Hollis is determined to hold on to his family legacy on Beulah Mountain. In his way is Buddy Coleman, an upstart mining executive who hopes to revitalize the dying town by increasing coal production and opening the Company Store Museum. He’ll pay homage to the past—even the massacre of 1933—while positioning the company for growth at all costs. What surprises them all is how their stories will intersect with a feisty octogenarian living hundreds of miles away. When Ruby Handley Freeman’s grown children threaten her independence, she takes a stand of her own and disappears, beginning a journey to face a decades-old secret that will change everything for her and those she meets.

My rating: 5/5 

Under a Cloudless Sky is a mesmerizing, gripping read, telling the story of Hollis Beasley and his efforts to preserve his land, and the story of Ruby Freeman, who’s faced with struggles from various angles. It’s also the story of Ruby’s daughter, Frances, and Hollis’s granddaughter, Charlotte, and those stories are intermingled with the 1933 story as we learn about young Ruby and her friend Bean in the days leading up to a significant tragedy.

Fabry is a fantastic storyteller, weaving together the various points-of-view and the two different time periods effortlessly. I never felt jarred or bothered by the back-and-forth, and the switching was done effectively, creating just the right amount of tension and curiosity. His characterization is amazing, as well; even the characters that are focused on for only a small amount of time are fleshed out and interesting, with the exception of Buddy Coleman.

I did figure out a majority of the plot before it was revealed in the book, but it was such an exciting moment for me when I did figure it out that it can hardly be considered a negative. I could hardly wait for the characters to confirm what I had discovered.

The voice of the characters was great; the mechanics and the storytelling itself were gripping and artfully delivered; the entire book was difficult to put down. There were a few things here and there that I thought were amiss (the whole kidnapping bit in the middle of the book was odd and seemed to exist solely to flesh out Frances as a character), but overall, Under a Cloudless Sky was a worthwhile, thrilling read that made me excited for more of Fabry’s works.

You can find a Q & A with the author here.

Warnings: Suggestive themes, violence.

Genre: Christian, Realistic, Historical Fiction

You can buy this here: http://amzn.to/2FiFG62

Until We Find Home by Cathy Gohlke

Disclaimer: Until We Find Home, by Cathy Gohlke, was provided by Tyndale. I received a free copy from the publisher. No review, positive or otherwise, was required—all opinions are my own.

For American Claire Stewart, joining the French Resistance sounded as romantic as the storylines she hopes will one day grace the novels she wants to write. But when she find herself stranded on English shores with five French Jewish children she smuggled across the channel before Nazis stormed Paris, reality feels more akin to fear. With nowhere to go, Claire throws herself on the mercy of an estranged aunt, begging Lady Miranda Langford to take the children into her magnificent estate. Heavily weighted with grief of her own, Miranda reluctantly agrees…if Claire will stay to help. Though desperate to return to France and the man she loves, Claire has few options. But her tumultuous upbringing—spent in the refuge of novels with fictional friends—has ill prepared her for the daily dramas of raising children, or for the way David Campbell, a fellow American boarder, challenges her notions of love. Nor could she foresee how the threat of war will invade their quiet haven, threating all who have come to call Bluebell Wood home, the people who have become her family.

My rating: 3/5 

Until We Find Home has a lot of elements that I really enjoyed: a protagonist that I found interesting, two romances that ran gently underneath the main plot and weren’t too sensual, an interesting setting and conflict, and a good incorporation of Christian elements.

First, the protagonist. Claire had just enough flaws to make her interesting, and her slight anxiety over her faults wasn’t drawn out long enough to become annoying. Her development is believable, and by the end I was whole-heartedly cheering her on. Things didn’t go quite so far in certain areas as I was hoping, and I felt that there were definitely some areas where things were resolved too quickly (especially at the end, where something in particular was glossed over, which really needed its own scene or more explanation, I felt), but overall, Claire’s characterization was great.

The two romances were good, too. I’m glad that David didn’t become the typical male protagonist of Christian romance novels. In fact, he wasn’t around too much at all—this is very much a book much more focused on Claire’s (and Miranda’s) development than romance. I do wish he didn’t seem quite so perfect—there’s multiple times when the characters think, “He always knows exactly what to do and say!”—but his role makes sense, at least. Both of the romances in the book revolve around growth, which is nice.

I always enjoy a novel set during the time of World War II, so of course I enjoyed the setting and conflict of this book. I’m torn as to how I feel about Gohlke’s approach to Judaism in the book—it’s respectful and accurate, but Gohlke seemed unwilling to even try to broach some of the more major differences that would undoubtedly have arisen between Jewish and Christian people living in the same household. Beyond that, I loved the inclusion of C. S. Lewis in the book, and Gohlke gets his voice exactly correct.

The things I didn’t like about Until We Find Home are relatively minor, but overall reduced my rating of the novel. I thought the book was slightly too long and dragged in places. I thought much more could have been done with Claire and her mother, and especially her mother and Miranda. In addition, while the setting and conflict were good, I thought the final bit of tension at the end of the novel was almost too much—a little cartoonish and dramatic.

Until We Find Home has many things going for it: good character development, subtle romance, and an interesting setting. The Christian elements are also done well. However, I thought there were too many missed and wasted opportunities, and occasionally the book’s pace was too slow and the action too clunky.

You can find a Q&A with the author here.

Warnings: None.

Genre: Christian, Historical Fiction

You can buy this here: http://amzn.to/2DNa6xC