Category Archives: 2012 Review

Against The Tide by Elizabeth Camden



Against The Tide by Elizabeth Camden
Christian Historical Fiction
Bethany House, October 2012
Paperback 362 pages
Review copy provided by publisher, thank you!
Burton Book Review Rating:4.5 stars

Love and Lives are Threatened in Camden’s Latest Offering

As a child, Lydia Pallas became all too familiar with uncertainty when it came to the future. Now, she’s finally carved out a perfect life for herself–a life of stability and order with no changes, surprises, or chaos of any kind. She adores her apartment overlooking the bustling Boston Harbor, and her skill with languages has landed her a secure position as a translator for the U.S. Navy.

However, it is her talent for translation that brings her into contact with Alexander Banebridge, or “Bane,” a man who equally attracts and aggravates her. When Bane hires Lydia to translate a seemingly innocuous collection of European documents, she hesitantly agrees, only to discover she is in over her head.

Just as Bane’s charm begins to win her over, Lydia learns he is driven by a secret campaign against some of the most dangerous criminals on the East Coast, compelled by his faith and his past. Bane forbids any involvement on Lydia’s part, but when the criminals gain the upper hand, it is Lydia on whom he must depend.

Against the Tide by Elizabeth Camden quickly draws you into its story of a young girl orphaned, abandoned, maltreated but still manages to hold her own in the busy town of Boston. Though described as quirks, Lydia’s insecurities are justifiably tangible, and her strong character is easily likable. What’s not to love about a young lady who can interpret many languages? It was a man’s world in the US Navy circa 1891, but Lydia’s strengths cannot be overlooked during crucial times of naval development. Her boss, Admiral Fontaine, has women keening for him left and right and luckily for Lydia he is willing to vouch for her. (I can see Darcy material in him).

But even he is not perfect, and that’s where Bane steps in. With the Adonis as his moniker, he sweeps Lydia off her feet as she throws caution to the wind to help Bane’s attempts at thwarting a vicious opium dealer known as The Professor. Very ominous tones illuminate this suspenseful plot as we still hope that somehow Lydia can find a knight in shining armor and finally care for her. I loved the plot lines, and the faith questions as they meandered through the intense journey of love, hope, betrayal and vindication. I can only imagine that I would have enjoyed the story even more (hardly possible) if I had the time to read the previous book by Elizabeth Camden (The Lady of Bolton Hill) which also included Bane, but it is certainly going on my to be read pile!

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Filed under #histnov, 2012 Releases, 2012 Review, Christian Fiction, Elizabeth Camden

Double Review and Double Giveaway! Belonging by Robin Lee Hatcher | Betrayal by Robin Lee Hatcher

Belonging by Robin Lee Hatcher

Synopsis:
“Leaving behind her bitter past, Felicia Kristoffersen seeks to make a brighter future for herself as a teacher in Frenchman’s Bluff, Idaho. But in this tiny high desert town, she can’t afford to fail. And not everyone is happy she’s here to begin with. Award-winning novelist Robin Lee Hatcher weaves a historical romance that asks the question: Can faith triumph over life’s harshest storms?”

Betrayal by Robin Lee Hatcher

Synopsis:
“The latest historical romance from award-winning author Robin Lee Hatcher, Betrayal will take you to the high desert of western Wyoming, through the crags of the Rocky Mountains, and into the hearts of two people learning to trust God’s love no matter the circumstances.” 

See the the end of my double review for your Exclusive Email Subscribers Only giveaway of these two titles to one lucky winner!

These two books in the Where the Heart Lives series feature siblings who were put on orphan trains in the late 1800’s and ultimately separated. The first novel Belonging features Felicia, a young lady who was finally offered a chance of freedom while becoming a teacher, and she is finally away from the foster family that think she is a piece of property.

Still tugging at her heartstrings is the question of what happened to her younger sister and her older brother once they were separated as children. However, before she can settle into the safe schoolmarm life and make queries about her siblings, a mean-spirited old woman becomes Felicia’s worst enemy. Where Felicia has excelled with her school children and making new friends for herself, Mrs. Summerville snatches all the happiness away and threatens Felicia’s way of life. Single dad Colin will desperately try to save her, but Felicia has to stop running away first.

I enjoyed the novel and the writing, and was especially pleased to see that the next in the series will focus on Felicia’s brother, Hugh. The novel is somewhat brief at 277 pages, and as such it seems we are just falling in love with the characters when the novel is actually over. There are some intriguing side stories and supporting characters that rounds out what happens to be a well written Christian romance with a fabulous western historical setting.

~

The second novel in the series, Betrayal, features Hugh Brennan running from his past and grasping for a future. He has his faith by his side and in his heart, and that is all he has. When he happens upon Julia Grace’s small ranch, he gets himself a job till he can move on safely with his lame horse. Of course, this being a romance, we know that Hugh and Julia will find a way into each other’s hearts. Along the way, there are threats and doubts to cast aspersions on the best of plans, but staying strong and true to one’s heart can bring wonders. I loved this story with the bit of suspense threaded throughout as the villain Charlie Prescott is determined to get Julia’s land, and the icing on the cake was the promising ending that brings us back to the story of the siblings. I am looking forward to book three which focuses on the younger sister Diana, and we are even treated to an excerpt of Diana’s story!

Are you ready for your own chance to win these first two novels in the Where The Heart Lives series? If you love a sweet mix of romance, God and that whimsical western touch, this is the series for you!

I’ve got two brand new paperbacks ready to mail to one lucky email subscriber in the USA! It’s a quickie giveaway, and  it’s open until Thursday the 13th when I’ll pick a winner around lunchtime. Make sure you are an email subscriber, and leave me a comment with the email address you subscribe with so I can double check. I’ll email the winner on Thursday afternoon, and I’ll need the winner’s mailing address by Friday morning so I can mail your books out. Good luck!

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Filed under #histnov, 2012 Releases, 2012 Review, Christian Fiction, Robin Lee Hatcher

Two Destinies by Elizabeth Musser

Compelling tear jerker conclusion to a fantastic story!

Two Destinies by Elizabeth Musser (Secrets of the Cross Book #3)
David C Cook September 2012
Inspirational Fiction/romance
Review copy from several publisher sources 😉 Thank you
Burton Book Review Rating:Favorite of Epic Favorites!


The Secrets of the Cross Trilogy by acclaimed author Elizabeth Musser, already a European bestseller, concludes with the American debut of Two Destinies, a story of forbidden love, passionate faith, danger, and intrigue. 
Now 1994, France faces unrest and rising poverty while neighbor Algeria is in the midst of a blood civil war. Risléne Namani, a French woman born to Algerian parents, converts to Christianity and falls in love with Eric Hoffmann, a Christian, committing the unpardonable sin in the eyes of her Muslim family. Eric must find a way to rescue her—from a forced marriage in Algeria, or even death. A powerful, relevant tale of social struggle, heartache, cultural conflict, and faith put to the ultimate test.

Read my previous review of books one and two

What a fabulous series (dabs eyes that it’s over). There is so much packed into this, from multiple religious issues and faith questions, to the bonds of family through love, loss, grief, the promise of hope. And as this is book three in the trilogy, you absolutely MUST read the first two books in the series. The story flows fluidly from one novel to the next, there will not be an explanation of the character’s or Algerian histories as it is assumed you have read the first two novels.

As expected with the descriptive names of previous titles of Two Crosses and Two Testaments in this Secrets of the Cross series, it is heavily centered around God and Allah and how the author’s characters perceive Him. There is an abundance of tension that leads to warfare, and the next generation is still dealing with this in Two Destinies. Risléne is from a strict Muslim family, but has secretly converted to the Protestant faith and finds herself in love with Eric. Eric is the grown son of the previous characters of the prior books; there is quite a jump in the time line, but it still flows effortlessly as the story continues to enthrall Musser’s fans. When Risléne’s family discovers her ultimate deception and her family betrayal, they lead her through the dangerous areas of France just to keep her away from the Protestants. And now Eric MUST find her, or she will be married off to a Muslim and gone forever. Ophélie is back, and Samuel Cebrian, and even though there was a jump in time from book two to book three, we easily slide back into the frame of minds of all of these wonderful characters. But the story focuses on Ophélie and Sam, and Risléne and Eric as they try and discover their destinies.

Concurrent stories bleed through, some snippets from earlier unresolved story lines, and some new ones that keep us hoping there has to be something better for all of these many unforgettable characters. I would love to add some gushy mushy professional sounding critical statement about why you should read these books, but then again, given the religion-related content which includes terrorism, extremists, Islam and Christianity, I know that these novels may not be the first choice for you. If you are at all interested in learning of religious conflict while being captivated by a powerful web of characters who are fighting on multiple fronts, this is the trilogy for you.

I admit when I was offered the first two for review I was dismayed at the hugeness of the ugly galley things I had received, but once I dug in I was hooked by the theme of  love for God and the brutality of opposing terrorist forces. Book one, book two, and now book three which takes us generations through the sixties and nineties relays a story that should be heard. The author has opened up a whole new world for me which includes harkis, pied-noirs, and the turmoil of these characters – life and death – and the fact that this is based on the reality for these people…it’s just heavy stuff that I am so glad to have learned about in this compelling fictional telling. Powerful stuff, and a passionate story that I will never forget and will re-read when I get my own hard copies of the series. I’ve already added several other titles from Elizabeth Musser’s work to my personal library based on the fantasticness of this Secrets of the Cross trilogy. Thank you to Mrs. Musser for  providing me with such an amazing reading experience.

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Filed under 2012 Releases, 2012 Review, Best of 2012, Christian Fiction, Elizabeth Musser

At Every Turn by Anne Mateer

At Every Turn
Impetuous, naive Ally races to redemption…


At Every Turn by Anne Mateer
Bethany House, September 2012
Paperback 320 pages
Christian Historical Fiction
Review copy provided via the publisher, thank you!
Burton Book Review Rating:three stars

She’s off to the races!
Caught up in a whirlwind of religious enthusiasm, Alyce Benson impetuously pledges three thousand dollars to mission work in Africa. Now she just has to find a way to get the money. Alyce harbors a secret passion for speed and automobiles, and she’s spent many an afternoon driving around the rustic track in the field behind her home. When she discovers that her father’s company has sponsored a racing car that will compete in several upcoming events–races in which the driver will be paid and could win as much as five thousand dollars in prize money–she conspires with her father’s mechanic, Webster, to train and compete. But when her friends cast aspersions on Webster’s past, she realizes she may have trusted the wrong person with her secret. Will Alyce come up with the money in time, or will she have to choose between her hasty promise and the man who holds a piece of her heart?

The synopsis for this second novel by Anne Mateer uses the word ‘impetuous’ to describe our main protagonist, and that is exactly how I pictured her throughout the novel. She was so impetuous that I never really got to empathize with her at all, and it wasn’t until the last third of the novel that I began to feel comfortable with the story.

The entire plot line follows Ally as she is trying to raise $3,000 in 1916 to do offer to missionaries for their use in the Gold Coast of Africa. That was a huge sum that she pledged at a church meeting, but she thought her wealthy daddy would give her the money. Turns out Daddy doesn’t have the same faith that Ally does so she is forced to do some fund raising by herself. She decides to race cars for the prize money (under disguise), and along the way she finds it difficult to hang on to her funds to begin with. The two romance angles are just waiting to collide, and throughout the novel the reader can guess what will happen with each new turn.. and it always felt like there was another predictable shoe to drop which simply made for uncomfortable reading.

The first novel by Anne Mateer, Wings of A Dream, also featured a strong-willed protagonist, but she didn’t seem as naive as Ally did. I just could not condone some of the silly actions of Ally, and anticipating each twist in the story dulled the adventure for me. The first person narration didn’t help endear me to Ally either, but the secondary characters helped round out the otherwise predictable story. I loved Webster Little, and Ally’s grandmother, and the faith theme was very evident and sends a very good message about letting God lead the way instead of always doing it your own way. I am one of those readers that has to relate to the hero/heroine in order to fully appreciate the story, but this time I really just wanted to throttle Ally! The author’s writing style in itself holds merit, but I would love to see her next story being told in third person.

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Filed under #histnov, 2012 Releases, 2012 Review, Bethany House, Christian Fiction

(Giveaway!) No Safe Harbor (Edge of Freedom #1) by Elizabeth Ludwig

Naive Irish lass goes to New York and lands right in the middle of Irish political fanatics!

No Safe Harbor (Edge of Freedom #1) by Elizabeth Ludwig
Bethany House, October 2012
Paperback 352 pages
Review copy provided for Free from LitFuse, in exchange for this review
Burton Book Review Rating:

The Thrill of Romantic Suspense Meets the Romance of 1800s America
Lured by a handful of scribbled words across a faded letter, Cara Hamilton sets off from 1896 Ireland on a quest to find the brother she’d thought dead. Her search lands her in America, amidst a houseful of strangers and one man who claims to be a friend–Rourke Walsh.

Despite her brother’s warning, Cara decides to trust Rourke and reveals the truth about her purpose in America. But he is not who he claims to be, and as rumors begin to circulate about an underground group of dangerous revolutionaries, Cara’s desperation grows. Her questions lead her ever closer to her brother, but they also bring her closer to destruction as Rourke’s true intentions come to light.

Read an Excerpt
Purchase the book

The setting of an Irish girl leaving for New York in l896 is full of promise and adventure in this historical romantic suspense, and did not disappoint. The political maneuverings of Ireland was always behind the scenes as Cara was trying to discover the fate of her twin brother, Eoghan. One thing that struck me as ‘convenient’ was how each and every person that Cara bumped into during her first trip in New York were all somehow related to the disappearance of her brother or those seeking revenge, but pushing that nagging thought aside I really did enjoy this story.

Cara meets Rourke, who is the sexy heroic love interest, but he turns out to be on the bad guys’ side. Rourke and Cara do not trust each other, yet of course they still fall in love, so the romance comes in as they discover each other and develop their trust in each other; and the suspense comes in as we try to figure our where Cara’s brother is and when is he going to be able to come out of hiding. There is a fabulous climatic scene as it all comes to a head, and I was perched on the edge of my seat throughout.

The setting is of a boardinghouse with a few intriguing women, and one in particular turns out to be another bad guy (Cara has really bad luck in NYC!) and things get dicey when it hits the fan. All in all, a well done story of intrigue that has me wondering what’s next in the Edge of Freedom series. Although the book is from a Christian fiction publisher, the Christian theme is very light in the main scheme of things, allowing No Safe Harbor to be easily recommended to those who would enjoy an entertaining romance infused with intrigue.

And, I am super thrilled to read about what’s next for Elizabeth Ludwig’s Edge of Freedom series, coming August 2013, Dark Road Home by Elizabeth Ludwig:

August 2013Ana Kavanagh’s only memories of home are of fire and pain. As a girl she was the only survivor of a terrible blaze, and years later she still struggles with her anger at God for letting it happen.
At a nearby parish she meets and finds a kindred spirit in Eoghan Hamilton, who is struggling with his own anger–his sister, Cara, betrayed him by falling in love with one of his enemies. Cast aside by everyone, Eoghan longs to rejoin the Fenians, a shadowy organization pushing for change back in Ireland. But gaining their trust requires doing some favors–all of which seem to lead back to Ana. Who is she and who is searching for her? As dark secrets from Ana’s past begin to come to light, Eoghan must choose which road to follow–and where to finally place his trust.

I scored an extra copy of NO SAFE HARBOR somehow.. so who wants it?
I warned you in October I’d have a subscriber-only giveaway so here it is!!
A quickie giveaway open to my MailChimp Subscribers in the USA, and I’ll choose a random winner from the most awesome comments you leave me.. must be a follower, and an email subscriber and you must leave me your Email Address. And I’d probably give preferential treatment to those who brag about this awesome review on Facebook, twitter etc. =) Thanks!!

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Filed under #histnov, 19th century, 2012 Releases, 2012 Review, Bethany House, Christian Fiction, Elizabeth Ludwig, New York

A Necessary Deception by Laurie Alice Eakes

 Magnificent blend of a Regency romance and the intriguing mystery with plausible Christian themes!

A Necessary Deception by Laurie Alice Eakes
The Daughters of Bainbridge House #1
Revell, October 2011
Book is of my personal collection
Burton Book Review Rating:LOVED this!

When young widow Lady Lydia Gale helps a French prisoner obtain parole, she never dreamed he would turn up in her parlor. But just as the London Season is getting under way, there he is, along with a few other questionable personages. While she should be focused on helping her headstrong younger sister prepare for her entrance at her debutante ba ll.Readers will enjoy being drawn into this world of elegance and intrigue, balls and masquerades. Author Laurie Alice Eakes whisks readers through the drawing rooms of London amid the sound of rustling gowns on this exciting quest to let the past stay in the past and let love guide the future.

A Necessary Deception is book one of the Daughters of Bainbridge series and I wanted to read this before I read book two, Flight of Fancy, which I will review for the Historical Novel Society. I am so glad I had this one to read, it was so much fun and a pleasurable read that I gulped down in a day or two. I had read one of the author’s previous works as well, and her writing is smooth, flawless and captivating.

This novel features the eldest of the three Bainbridge sisters, Lydia, who is still wearing widow’s weeds after three years. She is chaperoning her sisters in Regency London and finds herself smack in the middle of the political intrigues of the time as she helps a Frenchman out of the goodness of her heart. The man was an associate of her late husband’s and she feels she owes him a debt even if her actions would portray her as a traitor to England. France and England seem to always be at odds, and the people of this book display their hatred for each other quite well. I loved the intrigues, and the blooming of romance between the two.

There was a lot going on in this inspirational romance, and the plot summary would be long indeed if I spelled it out for you. But let me cut that short by saying this is a great story for those who enjoy some Christian thoughts intermixed with their historical romances.. an entertaining Regency that has me tempted to rush right into book two which features another of the Bainbridge sisters. Laurie Alice Eakes is moving up on my fave authors list.

I do want to add that while some of the recent Christian Historical Fiction I have reviewed here have been light on the Christian factor, this one wrapped itself around it quite a bit. Even though I loved it and appreciated it, there are some readers who do not like the Christian nuances and if that describes yourself then you may not enjoy this read.

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Filed under #histnov, 2011 Releases, 2012 Review, Christian Fiction, Laurie Alice Eakes

The Ride of Her Life by Lorna Seilstad

The Ride of Her Life
A sweet romance with a roller coaster setting!
The Ride of Her Life (Manawa Summers #3) by Lorna Seilstad
Historical Inspirational Romance
Revell, May 1, 2012 
ISBN 9780800734473

Review copy provided by the publisher via HNR, thank you!
Review originally posted in Historical Novels Review Magazine, November 2012
Burton Book Review Rating:3.5 Stars

The only man pragmatic Lilly Hart needs in her life is a six year old. Widowed two years ago, Lilly leaves the shelter of her intrusive in-laws’ home to stand on her own and provide for her young son by working for the summer as a cook at Lake Manawa. However, her in-laws find that life utterly unsuitable for their grandson, and when a row ensues, a handsome stranger–who designs roller coasters, of all things–intercedes on her behalf. Still, Lilly is not about to get involved with any man, especially this cocky (though charismatic) gentleman. Little does she know she is about to begin the ride of her life. Filled with delightful characters and the romance of summer, The Ride of Her Life is another supremely entertaining story from the witty Lorna Seilstad. Readers will laugh out loud and sigh contentedly as they spend the summer of 1906 in Lake Manawa.

It’s early 1900’s and Lilly Hart is struggling as a widowed mother in a small town of Iowa. Her in-laws are resorting to treachery to gain custody of her young son Levi, but thankfully Lilly has a friend in roller coaster builder Nick if only she would stop being too stubborn to accept his help. Lilly is determined to save enough money from her waitressing job to buy a house in Lake Manawa so that she can provide a stable home for Levi, but at what cost?
Her powerful father-in-law applies pressure from all angles against Lilly which includes harming Nick’s upcoming roller coaster debut, putting lives in danger as well as Nick’s livelihood. Throughout the story the reader knows what Lilly must do, and who she should and should not trust, which makes Lilly’s stubbornness tougher to tolerate as it slows the story down. The light hearted and fun spirited romance is rounded out with the suspense from the father-in-law’s shady dealings, and both Nick and Levi make extremely lovable characters.
The inspirational theme is quietly laced throughout as both Nick and Lilly work through the questions of their faith and how God fits in their lives, making this a breezy-sweet romance novel. Even though this is book three in the Lake Manawa series, it can be read as a stand alone; however to attain the best reading experience the series should be read in order since there are recurring characters throughout the novels.

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Filed under 2012 Releases, 2012 Review, Christian Fiction, Historical Romance, Revell

An Heiress At Heart by Jennifer Delamere

An unexpected pleasurable Victorian romance!
An Heiress At Heart by Jennifer Delamere
Forever Hachette Books October 30, 2012
Paperback 432 pages
Review copy provided via the author for review for the Romantic Historical Fiction Lovers website
Burton Book Review Rating:4 stars!

A New BeginningA youthful indiscretion has cost Lizzie Poole more than just her honor. After five years living in exile, she’s finally returning home, but she’s still living a secret life. Her best friend, Ria’s dying wish was for Lizzie to assume her identity, return to London, and make amends that Ria herself would never live to make. Bearing a striking resemblance to her friend, and harboring more secrets than ever before, Lizzie embarks on a journey that tempts her reckless heart once again . . .

A committed clergyman, Geoffrey Somerville’s world is upended when he suddenly inherits the title of Lord Somerville. Now he’s invited to every ball and sought after by the matchmaking mothers of London society. Yet the only woman to capture his heart is the one he cannot have: his brother’s young widow, Ria. Duty demands he deny his feelings, but his heart longs for the mysterious beauty. With both their futures at stake, will Lizzie be able to keep up her façade? Or will she find the strength to share her secret and put her faith in true love?

The premise of impersonating another person in An Heiress at Heart was intriguing, and it was superbly handled in the storytelling. Where lots of events and questionable traits of one person versus another would cause issues with a believable storyline, it was worked in beautifully in the novel. Lizzie was impersonating an already deceased Ria in order to discover Lizzie’s heritage, and she managed to fool almost everyone. Of course, she falls in love with Ria’s brother-in-law, which was a taboo thing to do in Victorian England.
The villain Freddie Hightower was really a fabulous character despite his wicked ways, and he put me on edge whenever he was in the picture. And even though Lizzie was deceiving the Thornborough family, we could easily forgive her as she really did belong there and cared for the family very much.
The time period was also portrayed thoroughly with historic details, loaded with a great mix of characters that this love story – sprinkled with a bit of suspense – was a pleasant surprise. There were many tiny threads throughout this story that put together this intriguing quilt of a novel, and I don’t want to give off any plot spoilers by exposing those colorful threads. The only teeny complaint I had was that I had wished it moved along a bit faster. The one major clue that Lizzie was supposed to be looking for was not looked for until three quarters of the way through the novel.
There were Christian/biblical references throughout the novel as Lizzie and Geoffrey struggled with their forbidden love for each other and as they questioned their own actions. It was a very sweet love affair which makes this read absolutely perfect for lovers of the Regency or Victorian eras, as well as readers who enjoy Christian historical romances.
Visit the author at http://www.jenniferdelamere.com/ 

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Filed under #histnov, 2012 Releases, 2012 Review, Christian Fiction

To Whisper Her Name by Tamera Alexander

To Whisper Her Name
Post Civil War South has a lot to learn from sexy Ridley Cooper

To Whisper Her Name (Belle Meade Plantation) by Tamera Alexander 
Zondervan October 23, 2012
Paperback 480 pages
Review copy provided by the publisher, thank you!
Burton Book Review Rating:4.5 stars

Olivia Aberdeen, destitute widow of a murdered carpetbagger, gratefully accepts an invitation from “Aunt” Elizabeth Harding, mistress of Belle Meade Plantation and the dearest friend of Olivia’s late mother. Expecting to be the Harding’s housekeeper, Olivia is disillusioned once again when she learns the real reason why Elizabeth’s husband, Confederate General William Giles Harding, agreed to her coming. Caring for an ill Aunt Elizabeth, Olivia is caught off guard by her feelings for Ridley Adam Cooper, a southern-born son who—unbeknownst to her and everyone else—fought for the Union. Determined to learn “the gift” that Belle Meade’s head horse trainer, Bob Green, possesses, Ridley is a man desperate to end the war still raging inside him while harboring secrets that threaten his life. As Ridley seeks to make peace within himself for “betraying” the South he loved, Olivia is determined to never be betrayed again…

Set within the remarkable history of Nashville’s historic Belle Meade Plantation, comes a story about enslavement and freedom, arrogance and humility, and the power of love to heal even the deepest of wounds.

I loved Tamera Alexander’s last novel, A Lasting Impression, and was all set to pre-order this on Kindle when I was offered a review hard copy. Definitely jumped on that one, as I now have all of Tamera’s books. Her writing is smooth and subtle.. never pretentious or overly dramatic, it’s just like a perfectly relaxing read. This one is about Olivia and Ridley as they each are struggling to imagine their futures, when their lives are beginning to rebound after the American Civil War. They meet each other at the Belle Meade Plantation, the stud farm owned by the Confederate General Harding, and circumstances draw these two together that make the reader tingle with anticipation.

Ridley Cooper’s dream is to head west.. and yet he finds himself with a job at the prestigious stud farm at the same time that Olivia does. Olivia has nowhere else to go, and even as she is supposed to be a grieving widow she finds herself drawn to Ridley. Neither one of these two have any idea that cupid is at work here, as they have their own harsh reality to deal with. Olivia’s dead husband was a scoundrel, and no one wants to have anything to do with her now. Elizabeth Harding opens her home to Olivia, but she still faces many obstacles in society.

Ridley was a Union soldier, not someone to be welcomed in a Confederate General’s business, so he is forced to hide that fact. As a reader, we know that secrets of such importance will rear their head in a bad way, bringing heartache and threatening the potential romance. Meanwhile, we get to know both Ridley and Olivia’s characters and we watch them grow and become closer as they adapt to their new surroundings. Ridley and Olivia are both likable, and they seem to bring a new life to the plantation with their presence. I loved how the author based her novel on such an inspiring setting, and I really loved the overall tone and the romance angle. The relationships between the two protagonists with the servants (freed slaves) was commendable and heartwarming. I recommend this newest Tamera Alexander to anyone who appreciates a realistic historical romance, and especially to horse lovers!

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Filed under #histnov, 2012 Releases, 2012 Review, Tamera Alexander

Here Be Dragons by Sharon Kay Penman

by Sharon Kay Penman
Here Be Dragons (The Welsh Princes Trilogy #1) by Sharon Kay Penman
Originally published by Holt 1985, Ballantine paperback shown
Paperback 704 pages
Review book is from personal collection
Burton Book Review Rating:4.5 Stars



Thirteenth-century Wales is a divided country, ever at the mercy of England’s ruthless, power-hungry King John. Then Llewelyn, Prince of North Wales, secures an uneasy truce with England by marrying the English king’s beloved, illegitimate daughter, Joanna. Reluctant to wed her father’s bitter enemy, Joanna slowly grows to love her charismatic and courageous husband who dreams of uniting Wales. But as John’s attentions turn again and again to subduing Wales–and Llewelyn–Joanna must decide to which of these powerful men she owes her loyalty and love.
A sweeping novel of power and passion, loyalty and lives, this is the book that began the trilogy that includes FALLS THE SHADOW and THE RECKONING

Most medieval historical fiction readers immediately recognize Sharon Kay Penman as one of the leading writers of our times. She has had a following for the last twenty years in the genre, and much of what I can say here has been said before so I will attempt brevity. Knowing that Here Be Dragons was book one in the Welsh trilogy, I had assumed it would be something close to Edith Pargeter’s Welsh novels, which I had once attempted but was bored to tears. Turns out, this novel is really more focused on Joanna who was the illegitimate daughter of the ruthless King John. Even though the narration shifts around from character to character, it mainly follows Joanna’s life as she grows from poverty to being recognized as daughter of the English king and then married to a much-respected Welsh prince.
There are many characters in the novel who appear or are mentioned, the aging Eleanor of Aquitaine, her assumed gay son Richard the Lionheart, the people behind the forces that do battle between Wales and England, and there are even some French politics thrown in for an all encompassing look at the 13th century. Most surprisingly, it is through Joanna’s view of her father that we can sense a bit of a humanized King John, who is often seen as a murderous and diabolical king. This portrayal of King John was entertaining and appreciated, and the love Joanna bore for her father was often at odds with her husband Llewellyn’s desires for his own kingdom. It felt as if the main theme was the marriage of Joanna and Llewelyn, and their desires, which might put some readers off as it begins to feel like a romance novel.
Eventually, Joanna gives children to Llewelyn, and so the politics of Wales becomes a heavy topic in the book, as Llewelyn’s first born son from another marriage is threatened by any male heirs that Joanna gives his father. We cannot but wait for Davydd and Gruffydd to come to arms against each other in the name of Wales, but first Davydd must grow up. There were characters that I had no problems despising, from Gruffydd and his wife Senena, to Maude de Braose who ended up eating her words. 😉
Joanna’s character is easily likable, until she commits a sin so grievous that I had an issue with even continuing the book. It is no fault of Penman’s writing for the reality of Joanna’s betrayal, but somehow because of this act and the ebbing of the book’s flow, it wound up that the book’s ending had little dramatic emphasis for me. I hate the saying, ‘it fell flat’, but it seems that in the end, it did fall flat for me as I fell out of love with Joanna. However, for the first 600 pages I was enthralled. I was hoping that we would see some resolution to the ultimate fight of Llewelyn’s sons, but that didn’t happen either. So it is with this question that I look forward to book two, Falls the Shadow.
See more of my thoughts (and others) at HF-Connection for the Fall Read Along.


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Filed under #histnov, 2012 Review, King John, Sharon Kay Penman