The Secret of Pembrooke Park by Julie Klassen

Abigail Foster, having pinned her hopes on a man who has fallen for her younger sister, realizes that her lack of dowry and the family’s financial ruin means she will probably end up a spinster. Focusing her attentions on managing her family’s finances, she is stunned when a mysterious solicitor arrives to offer the use of a distant manor at a shockingly affordable price. The imposing Pembrooke Park, however, has remained closed up for nearly two decades. When Abigail and her father travel to see the manor, they are both surprised to find it entombed as it was abruptly left, even the teacups crusted with tea on the tables and the clothes hanging in the wardrobes. Despite its appearance, neither Abigail nor her father can deny the generous offer, leaving Abigail in charge of fixing up the home whilst her family remains in Town for the season. The manor has attracted the attention of treasure seekers, however, in search of a rumored hidden room with riches. Abigail’s life becomes much more interesting as she unravels the secrets hidden in the home and meets the curious villagers, uncertain if all that she discovers will be worth the danger in the end.

This novel is full of intrigue and history, a perfect blend of complexity and interest that makes it impossible to put down! Julie Klassen is one of the best fiction authors, and picking a favorite of hers is difficult when each is so well written, but this particular book most definitely tops my list. The main characters are likeable and mysterious. Abigail has her flaws, certainly, as most people do, but she is strong, courageous, kind, and caring. The plot is wonderfully intricate, creating a story that is by no means predictable or boring. Ms. Klassen writes beautifully, her words, sentences, and storyline bringing her characters to life and allowing the reader to easily envision the creative scenes. A perfect blend of mystery, character development, deep Christian themes, and interesting history make this novel dearly loved and most certainly recommended! I truly cannot stress enough the pure enjoyment of this novel!

I received a copy of this book from Bethany House Publishers in exchange for an honest review.

The Christmas Cat by Melody Carlson

Garrison Brown returns to Vancouver after nearly a decade serving as a missionary in Uganda, unsure how to fulfill his dream of starting a halfway house for young boys with no money and no job. As he attempts to fit into American culture again, he receives word that his grandmother has passed away. In her final will, she desires for Garrison to find perfect homes for her six beloved cats, giving him very specific instructions to ensure the cats each are placed in the ideal environment. At first Garrison finds the rules frustrating, but her instructions give him time to stay at his childhood home and reconnect with the friendly neighbors who knew his grandmother. As each cat touches a family in a unique way, Garrison, despite his severe cat allergies, finds himself drawn to one furry creature. Now he must decide if perhaps his future dreams are changing this Christmas season.

Short and simple, The Christmas Cat is a quick read and the narrative moves along at a pleasant pace. The instructions from Garrison’s grandmother are a tad too quirky, creating a story that is a bit odd to read. Indeed, some of the requirements are completely bizarre and unrealistic, making the book rather ridiculous at times. Many of the characters have enjoyable personalities, but Cara’s disrespect is unnerving and creates too much tension for a believable romantic relationship. However, the overall story is sweet in its own way, and lovers of animals are sure to appreciate the personalities of the cats. The book is not hard to get through but its lack of sustenance makes it one that will be easily forgotten after it is read. Perhaps suited for those who want a simple afternoon read that will put them in the Christmas spirit.

I received a copy of this book from Revell Publishing in exchange for an honest review.

Surprised by Love by Julie Lessman

Megan McClare returns to San Francisco from a year abroad in Paris with a new wardrobe, a new attitude, and a renewed desire to help the less fortunate in her hometown through either law or medicine. Excited to have secured an internship at the district attorney’s office, Megan is dismayed when she discovers she has to work alongside Devin Caldwell, an old classmate who consistently mocked her at school but with whom she was hopelessly enamored. She is, however, thrilled to once again be near her best friend, Bram Hughes, a dear man who has always looked upon Megan as a younger sister and supported her through Devin’s merciless taunts. However, Bram quickly realizes that Megan is no longer the “little sister” he has always viewed her as and he discovers that he is attracted to Megan’s inward and outward beauty. But Bram also knows that he is not the only one who appreciates Megan’s transformation, and he must carefully navigate his friendship with Megan or risk losing her altogether to the last person he expected to be his competition.

Julie Lessman is one of the best Christian fiction authors, so it is no surprise that Surprised by Love is a phenomenal read! Her characters are like beloved friends, where the reader feels connected to each one in a unique way, understanding their tears and rejoicing in their happiness. She flawlessly draws the reader into the emotional struggles and heartfelt desires of each character. This novel has a delightfully complex plot and reading such a rich story is similar to savoring a delicious chocolate mousse. The wittiness and banter among the characters provides a perfect touch of lighthearted humor between some of the deeper themes in the book. The plot is not always predictable and certain twists add to the suspense of the storyline. The romance is tastefully done and the historical content of the book is most interesting and flows seamlessly with the fascinating plot. Certainly reading the fist two books in this series provides additional background information about many of the characters, but considering those two are equally delightful, it should be no hardship. A most highly, highly recommended read!

I received a copy of this book from Revell Publishing in exchange for an honest review.

At Bluebonnet Lake by Amanda Cabot

Kate Sherwood is accustomed to a fast-paced, challenging career. So when her beloved grandmother decides they both need an extended vacation, she is not sure she is prepared for the slow pace of Dupree, Texas. Especially when after arriving, the resort that her grandmother claims is a special location is run-down, old, and in need of lots of work. Fortunately, things begin to get a bit more interesting when she meets the unofficial handyman of the resort, Greg. Greg may be charming, cute, and kind, but he is hiding a few secrets of his own and running from a several unresolved issues from his past. As the two spend more time together, they realize that their lives may have been very different, but the circumstances that brought them together only serve to allow them to better understand each other. Rainbow’s End Resort, despite its untidy appearance, may have a way of changing both of their lives for the better.

At Bluebonnet Lake is a sweet, simple Christian romance. Several characters may be endearing, but the storyline is rather predictable, leaving little suspense to the novel. The plot also moves very slowly as many portions of the book contain unnecessary explanations and drawn-out points. However, there are subtle Christian references and the author does a nice job of setting the stage for future books in the series as she introduces a few key characters. Overall, the story was nice but certainly not one that cannot be set aside for a more engaging book. Its themes and uncomplicated storyline make this book one that will be readable without much effort. This novel is recommended for those who enjoy Christian romances and would like a story that is simplistic and pleasant.

I received a copy of this book from Revell Publishing in exchange for an honest review.

Keepers of the Covenant by Lynn Austin

During a life-changing time in Jewish history, Ezra, an intelligent and shy scholar, is suddenly thrust into the role of leader of the Jewish exiles in Babylon. Unsure how to lead an army when his training is in reading scrolls, Ezra depends on God’s faithfulness to help his nation fight for their very lives. This struggle takes precedence over Ezra’s desire for family and love and his visions for his future. Meanwhile, other Jews and Gentiles similarly find their lives thrown into a world of hatred and revenge. Each character must learn to seek God’s will as they strive to survive in unusual circumstances that test their maturity and faith.

Once again, Lynn Austin uses the Old Testament to expertly weave together a story full of deep relationships, each character under Ms. Austin’s pen being brought to life in a new way.   She accurately and skillfully uses true facts from the Bible and adds her own creative depth to allow the reader to better understand the thoughts, feelings, and actions of individual characters. It is interesting to read the story of Esther from a different perspective and to see how God carried His people through a seemingly impossible situation. The story flows well as the author weaves together complex sentences telling of the difficulties the Jews faced during this time of the Old Testament. There are realistic struggles and moments of difficult growth for the characters, but the supremacy of God reigns true throughout the novel. Ms. Austin is truly extraordinary at penning emotionally gripping Biblical accounts and this newest series is no exception. A most highly recommended book!

I received a copy of this book from Bethany House Publishers in exchange for an honest review.

A Promise to Protect by Patricia Bradley

Leigh Somerall is back in her hometown, but only temporarily. After her rural residency program for her medical doctorate is finished, she is ready to move back to the East coast and work at the prestigious Johns Hopkins. But when a situation with her brother Tony throws Leigh into a spiral of dangerous circumstances, she finds herself unsure of her next steps. Acting sheriff Ben Logan, despite his misgivings, has offered to help Leigh’s family, forcing both of them to remember events from the past. And although Leigh attempts to avoid Ben and his desire to help her, she cannot seem to run away from him or the secrets she carries. Both Leigh and Ben must learn who to trust and where to turn before the perilous situations alter their lives forever.

A Promise to Protect is an interesting and complex contemporary suspense novel, its clever storyline full of twists and surprises. Secrets are constantly being revealed that are unexpected, creating a plot that is enjoyable to read. The characters may have flaws from their past, but their believable struggles make the story more realistic and allow the reader to better connect with each of them. The author’s writing style is a perfect balance of intricate sentences and complicated life choices that speak of real situations. The ending is most unexpected and the growth of the characters and their relationships with each other throughout the novel is truly exceptional. There are excellent themes to this novel and the story is exciting, deep, and suspenseful. It is highly recommended!

I received a copy of this book from Revell Publishing in exchange for an honest review.

Thunder by Bonnie S. Calhoun

Set in a futuristic society that resembles America after nuclear attacks and natural disasters, Thunder is an odd mix of fantasy and futuristic science fiction. Selah has always wished to prove herself as able and independent as her two older brothers. Excited for her eighteenth birthday, she sets out to demonstrate that she is worthy of the praise her father lavishes on her siblings. However, a series of events the day before her birthday turn her world upside down, disrupting everything she thought she knew about her past. She must learn to depend on a virtual stranger, Bodhi, and a young girl, Amaryllis, to figure out from where she came so she can determine her future.

It is very rare that I do not finish a book, but this particular novel was extremely hard to get into and after finally reaching the halfway point, I set it aside. I normally wish to give authors the benefit of the doubt, for I know that writing a book is a lot of work, and for which I applaud Bonnie S. Calhoun in completing that task. I also appreciate her attempt to create a creative plot and her imaginative effort to produce a unique story. However, this novel fell short in many, many ways. The style of writing is much too simplistic and more than once I had to make sure I did not pick up a book suited for young readers. In addition, the content is not pleasant; many times, the graphic details of certain scenes made me feel uncomfortable. This novel also attempts to convey a society that is most confusingly a mix between science fiction and some type of fantasy but it did not communicate that properly. Certain aspects of the futuristic society (such as their cars, homes, etc.) did not make any sense to me and I spent more time being frustrated at these details than enjoying the story. The strange telepathic nature of the characters is also creepy. In addition, the storyline is weak; Selah cries at every little thing and the romance between her and Bodhi is much too quick paced and borderline obnoxious. I did not find a character with which I connected at all and their interactions are more annoying than enjoyable. The dependence of Amaryllis on Selah is ridiculous after the child has survived three years alone in the wilderness (another illogical scenario). There is also no Christian aspect to this book; I would classify any of the “spiritual” aspects as being more in line with a New Age Religion. If I had to compare this novel to a food I would choose plain, white rice – there is no richness to the story or any character development that pulls the reader in and captures the reader’s attention. I do not recommend this book at all.

I received a copy of this book from Revell Publishing in exchange for an honest review.

Deceived by Irene Hannon

Since a tragic boating accident that took the lives of her husband and son three years ago, Kate Marshall has mourned their loss, relocated to a new city, and established a career as director of an organization geared towards helping battered women. However, a chance encounter in the mall one day suddenly throws her new life into a loop. Convinced she saw her deceased son, Kate turns to private investigator Connor Sullivan for help after the police brush aside her crazy story. As they dig further into the case, they both realize that this boating “accident” is not as innocent as it once seemed. And someone is equally determined to keep the events surrounding that day three years ago a secret, putting the lives of Kate and Connor in danger.

What an exciting read! Deceived is fast-paced from page one, the contemporary suspense novel keeping readers hooked as they frantically speed through chapters to find the answers the characters seek. Twists and unexpected events maintain an interesting plotline throughout the entire book. The strong character development is very well written and the romance in the novel is not forced at all, adding a pleasant side to the plot. As a noteworthy bonus, the author gives clues through two sides to the story, but does not reveal all the facts until the end. For those worried about the theme of the novel involving a young boy, rest assured that the details of this story are handled very well and no part makes the reader uncomfortable. This book is most highly recommended, as are many of Irene Hannon’s suspense novels!

I received a copy of this book from Revell Publishing in exchange for an honest review.

Playing by Heart by Anne Mateer

Lula Bowman has been struggling her entire adult life to prove that she is not the flighty teenager of which she was once accused. She accomplishes this through a highly competitive mathematics scholarship and stable graduate career. However, when her older sister Jewel calls with devastating news, Lula finds herself back in her small Oklahoma hometown, her past confronting her once again. Desperate to prove herself capable and support her sister, Lula reluctantly accepts a position at a local high school, not intending to stay more than a year before returning to her more serious pursuits. She hesitantly asks the young handsome Chet Vaughn to assist her with one of her duties—coaching the girls’ basketball team, a task Lula has no desire to perform and a subject she has absolutely no experience. Chet, meanwhile, is struggling with his own place in the community, as most young men, including his older brother, are proudly fighting overseas during World War I. But as Chet and Lula work together, both are drawn to the other as they realize sometimes God can change the greatest desires of their hearts.

Playing by Heart is a sweet romance story, the dreams of both Chet and Lula revealing a deeper character depth. A few plot points rankled this reader, such as Lula and Chet’s relationship as observed by the principle and Lula’s siblings’ obvious dislike for their own sister, but the ending of the novel redeemed the overall story. Also, Lula’s supposed “flightiness” is not so well told that the reader completely understands this part of Lula’s character. The writing style is slightly different as each chapter is a first-person account of the events from either the perspective of Lula or Chet. Although this allows the reader a greater glimpse into the minds of Chet and Lula, occasionally this created a choppy plot. The descriptions, conversations, and storyline, however, flowed well overall and made for a pleasant read. In addition, a few unpredictable events near the end of the book kept it interesting. This novel is recommended for readers of romance who enjoy a bit of history sprinkled throughout.

I received a copy of this book from Bethany House Publishers in exchange for an honest review.

Love’s Fortune by Laura Frantz

Rowena “Wren” Ballantyne enjoys her simple life in Kentucky, where she and her father work to create beauty through fashioning and playing violins. But when her father receives an unexpected letter from his family in Pennsylvania, she suddenly finds her world turned upside down. After she realizes her arduous journey to visit her relatives is a one-way trip, Wren is thrust into a lavish society with virtual strangers, her past life only a memory. She does not care much for the rules of the rich, however, and is drawn to the quiet, mysterious James Sackett, a steamship pilot of the Ballantyne’s shipping line and a long-time friend of her grandfather. James is able to serve as an escort and assist Wren is navigating the demands of high society, drawing their relationship closer together. But James is more than simply a pilot for the Ballantyne’s, and his other responsibilities may jeopardize their growing relationship.

Love’s Fortune is beautifully told. Laura Frantz possesses such a wonderfully rich and deep manner in which she writes that the words simply flow from the page in delicious phrases. Her descriptions are captivating and meaningful and her writing style is unique and enthralling. Wren is a gentle and sweet soul, willing to support her father’s need for family despite her desire to return to her comfortable and familiar home. She strives to form relationships with those around her in spite of the difficult society. James is a man of deep morals, willing to work for what he knows is right, despite the cost. The storyline is interesting and told at a pleasant pace. A few plot points felt frustrating, such as Wren’s father’s disregard for her feelings and James’s inability to appreciate Wren’s friendship. Overall, however, this novel is recommended for readers who enjoy a book with interesting history, good character depth and development, and fantastic writing style.

I received a copy of this book from Revell Publishing in exchange for an honest review.