Sunday, October 1, 2017

Book Review: Miss Kopp's Midnight Confessions by Amy Stewart (Kopp Sisters #3, 2017)

Original Summary

Deputy sheriff Constance Kopp is outraged to see young women brought into the Hackensack jail over dubious charges of waywardness, incorrigibility, and moral depravity. The strong-willed, patriotic Edna Heustis, who left home to work in a munitions factory, certainly doesn’t belong behind bars. And sixteen-year-old runaway Minnie Davis, with few prospects and fewer friends, shouldn’t be publicly shamed and packed off to a state-run reformatory. But such were the laws—and morals—of 1916.

Constance uses her authority as deputy sheriff, and occasionally exceeds it, to investigate and defend these women when no one else will. But it's her sister Fleurette who puts Constance's beliefs to the test and forces her to reckon with her own ideas of how a young woman should and shouldn't behave.

Against the backdrop of World War I, and drawn once again from the true story of the Kopp sisters, Miss Kopp’s Midnight Confessions is a spirited, page-turning story that will delight fans of historical fiction and lighthearted detective fiction alike.

My Thoughts

Where do I start? I must have been too excited, too hopeful, so when Miss Kopp's Midnight Confessions let me down, it really let me down. I loved Girl Waits with Gun and Lady Cop Makes Trouble, but this one? It just fell . . . flat. Horribly, boringly flat. It took me roughly 2 weeks to read this cover to cover, when the others took me 3 days, at the most.

Breaking down the problems: too many vignettes of those girls who have given "midnight confessions" to Constance, no genuine mystery for Constance to be involved in other than trying to keep immoral girls out of being sent to prison (which I get, but still, this is a bit of a historical mystery series so more please), and finally the political figures were too stereotypical of the parties in question according to how the opposite party views them. For example, Constance and Sheriff Heath are democrats so they're all for social reform and the Republican figures are characterized as heartless wolves who want anyone with a "social disease" behind bars. No bias at all, there.

It probably didn't help that I was about ready to wring Norma Kopp's neck. She's been annoying in each book with her staid ways. She's an ISTJ gone horribly wrong because no one ever bothered to try and stand up to her so now she rules her family with an iron hand "for their own good." And Constance hasn't got the guts to stand up to her sister in any sort of scenario that matters. For a lady cop, she's pathetic when it comes to wrenching back some of the power her sister is hoarding.

And as for Fleurette, run, girl, run. Norma will lock you up in your room and throw away the key if you stay any longer. And Constance stands up for you only so far. Of the 3 sisters, I like Fleurette the most. She stands a chance of perhaps living a normal life if she's able to make a go of it. I think owning a dress shop would suit her perfectly, give her respectability, and a lovely income. So that's my vote and prayer for Fleurette for the next book in the series. Not that she would be an actress, but that she would fulfill one of her incredible talents as a seamstress.

Then you have the vignettes. Minnie drove me crazy because she's a bit narcissistic and is willing to do anything to obtain pretty things and a nice lifestyle. I didn't mind Edna because she at least had a purpose for wanting to be on her own, and pretty noble one, wanting to serve her country during a time of war. I just felt that there were too many points of view just thrown at the reader. While I agree that locking wayward girls away until they're a certain age is ridiculous; I also didn't care for being thwacked upside the head by the idea that nobody should be held accountable for their behavior.

So, while I didn't hate Miss Kopp's Midnight Confessions, too much of it didn't work. It's the only one in the series that has disappointed me so far. I'm hoping the next in the series (if they continue), will have an actual plot for me to follow and won't just spend the entire book wandering in circles. Give me a murderer or a thief, please!

Friday, September 22, 2017

Mini Book Review: A Thing of Beauty by Lisa Samson (2015)

Former child star Fiona Hume deserted the movie biz a decade ago--right after she left rehab. She landed in Baltimore, bought a dilapidated old mansion downtown, and hatched dreams of restoring it into a masterpiece, complete with a studio for herself. She would disappear from public view and live an artist’s life.

That was the plan.

My Thoughts

This is one of those books that I gulped down so fast that now I can almost remember nothing about it. I hate it when I do that. I do know that I loved reading it because it felt like it had a depth to the writing and story that I don't find that often.

But now I feel guilty that I can remember so very little, sort of like Lucy in Narnia when she read the story in the book of spells on that one island and then, once she had finished, couldn't re-read it because the book wouldn't let her, and then she could only remember vague images and snatches of the story. Just know that I loved it!

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Book Review: Fairer Than Morning by Rosslyn Elliott (Saddler's Legacy #1)

Official Summary

On a small farm in 19th-century Ohio, young Ann Miller is pursued by the gallant Eli Bowen, son of a prominent family. Eli is the suitor of Ann's dreams. Like her, he enjoys poetry and beautiful things and soon, he will move to the city to become a doctor.

Ann travels to Pittsburgh, accompanying her father on business. There she meets Will Hanby, a saddle-maker's apprentice. Will has spent years eking out an existence under a cruel master and his spirit is nearly broken. But Ann's compassion lights a long-dark part of his soul. Through his encounters with Ann's father, a master saddler, Will discovers new hope and courage in the midst of tremendous adversity.

When the Millers must return to Ohio and their ministry there, Will resolves to find them, at any cost. If Will can make it back to Ann, will she be waiting?

My Thoughts

Rosslyn Elliott's name first crossed my radar about 5 years ago while I was working at the library and in charge of organizing the Christian fiction section. I remember being impressed with the quality of her cover design (I was a bit of a sap over pretty covers at that point). I wanted to read her work, but made the mistake of picking up Sweeter than Birdsong first. I'm not sure how I missed that it was the 2nd in a series, but somehow I did, and it just did not hold my attention.

God works miracles, no matter how small. As my family prepped for our latest family vacation, I hopped out my local library's collection of ebooks and checked out at least a dozen for the trip; determined to give myself a decent selection because I never know what will appeal to me when. Fairer Than Morning happened to be one of my choices and on the flight back home from one of the longest layovers of my life, I decided to start reading it.

Life has intervened a time or two which is why it's taken me a good couple of weeks to finish it, but one thing I do know is that Rosslyn Elliott impressed me. I didn't realize until the afterword that her book was based off the real lives of William Hanby and Ann Miller, but that little tidbit of information only made me love their story all the more.

Fairer Than Morning is beautiful. Not quite perfect in execution, or at least what I consider perfection, but still quite beautiful. And even though I've included the summary, know that the story is much deeper than the summary implies. I loved how faith really was a natural part of the character's lives. Preaching wasn't a part of the story, the Lord just wove His way in and out of the tale. That's my favorite element of faith-filled storytelling. It should feel natural, and Rosslyn Elliott captured that authentic feeling for me.

Will and Ann were both likeable and yet flawed in ways that I can relate to. I loved Will. Watching him grow from a teenager to a young adult, overcoming the hardships of being apprenticed to a brute, and discovering the Lord was amazing. I also appreciated his struggles with lust and vengeance. Both of those are very human feelings, very tied to our fleshly desires. Will wasn't perfect, just like Ann wasn't perfect. She had her fair share of petty moments, of weakness, of blindness towards beauty and intellect. But she also came to a profound understanding of who she wanted to be as a woman and what type of man she would be suited to marry. And it turned out that neither of the romantic heroes she had been considering were actually suited to the steady life of service her heart desired. It's not that I disliked Eli or Allan. But neither of them were of a nature to give back, to love others, and to protect the weak. Will's nature developed into a man who cannot simply stand by and watch a wrong being done without standing against it. Ann loved that in him and so do I.

Like I said, there were a few elements that didn't quite work for me. A few sappy, soap-operaesque moments that cropped up from time to time. But the real meat of the story, the progression in faith and knowledge of God and the maturing of a young man to adulthood, all of those elements stood strong and firm. So, bravo, Rosslyn, for your authentic story. I'm not sure when I'll get to the 2nd book in the series, but it is now on my list to be read.

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Book Review: A Great Catch by Lorna Seilstad (2011, Lake Manawa Summers #2)

Official Summary

When twenty-two year old Emily Graham’s meddlesome aunts and grandmother take it upon themselves to find her a husband among the Lake Manawa resort guests, the spunky, slightly clumsy suffragette is determined to politely decline each and every suitor. Busy working in the suffrage movement, she has neither the time nor the need for a man in her life. The “cause” God has called her to is much too important.

Carter Stockton, a recent college graduate and a pitcher for the Manawa Owls, intends to enjoy every minute of the summer at Lake Manawa before he is forced into the straight-laced, dawn-to-dusk business world of his stern father. He has no plans for romance until Emily crashes into his life at a roller skating rink.

When subterfuge and distrust interfere with their budding romance, will the pitcher strike out completely? Or will the suffragette find strength in her faith and cast her vote for a love that might costs her dreams?

My Thoughts

While I enjoyed A Great Catch to some extent, it didn't live quite up to my expectations. For one thing, I didn't even remember Emily Graham from Making Waves, so I had no connection to her. I'm sure she was in that book; she must have been too vanilla of a character for me to notice.

In addition to that, I'm not fond of suffragette characters 90% of the time. There's a certain obnoxious quality to Emily that I just didn't appreciate. I'm also not much of a baseball fan and this entire book revolved around baseball and Emily bringing one of the Bloomer Girl baseball teams to Lake Manawa for a game. Now, I thought the Bloomer Girls was a fascinating bit of history, but it wasn't really enough to hold my attention. I found myself wanting to race through the book to the finish so I could start on the 3rd, which stars Lilly, Marguerite's maid, from Making Waves

Carter was too pushy with his intentions, another aspect that bored me. I guess I just wasn't sure why this story was needed when it felt much more important to tell Lilly's tale instead. And once again the reader had to contend with a heroine who wants to go her own way instead of God's way and has to be drawn back into the fold and reminded that God calls according to His purpose. I don't know, it just felt a tad cliched after having almost the exact same faith issue fed me in Making Waves.

Oh well, I guess you can't win them all. I guess I just loved Trip and Marguerite so much from Making Waves, that A Great Catch never stood a chance. It's not that the book was bad, and there's a good chance someone who loves suffragettes and/or baseball will love this book. It just didn't work for me.

Monday, August 21, 2017

Book Review: Making Waves by Lorna Seilstad (2010, Lake Manawa Summers #1)

Official Summary

When spunky Marguerite Westing discovers that her family will summer at Lake Manawa in 1895, she couldn't be more thrilled. It is the perfect way to escape her agonizingly boring suitor, Roger Gordon. It's also where she stumbles upon two new loves: sailing, and sailing instructor Trip Andrews. But this summer of fun turns to turmoil as her father's gambling problems threaten to ruin the family forever. Will free-spirited Marguerite marry Roger to save her father's name and fortune? Or will she follow her heart--even if it means abandoning the family she loves?

Author Lorna Seilstad's fresh and entertaining voice will whisk readers away to a breezy lakeside summer holiday. Full of sharp wit and blossoming romance, Making Waves is the first book in the LAKE MANAWA SUMMERS series.

My Thoughts

In a fit of positive boredom, I browsed through all the Christian fiction ebooks my library had to offer, desperate for something fun. And just happened to stumble across Making Waves. Thank you, Lord, for inspiring Lorna Seilstad to write! For gifting her with a hearty imagination, hilarious sense of humor, and the writing chops to bring a story together.

Making Waves is Lorna Seilstad's first novel, but you would never really guess it by the solidness of her storytelling. A majority of my issues with Christian fiction stems from its preaching to the choir, but Marguerite's faith felt natural, an extension of herself, probably because she spoke to God like you would speak to a friend. In that instance, the authoress reminds me a little of Stephen Bly. Stuart Brannon, Bly's first character, spent a goodly portion of his life conversing with God in a way that said the Lord was standing right next to him. Marguerite's relationship with Christ gave me the same feeling. That's what I like from my Christian fiction, and that's what Lorna Seilstad delivered.

If I were to make one mild remonstrance it's that the "villain" felt a little bit based off Cal Hockley, Rose's intended in Titanic. Abrupt mood changes, nice to mean, etc. Most people don't really swing to such extremes so it felt a bit melodramatic at times, but I loved the book so much that it really didn't matter.

One of the best things in the story was watching Marguerite realize that she couldn't lie any longer. Not to herself, not to Trip, not to Roger, and not to her family. The truth set her free in ways that lying would have never done. And God rewarded her and gave her the desires of her heart and healed her family in the bargain. The story itself is loads of fun, but it also shared a couple of important profound messages about trust and truth.

In the end Making Waves was the perfect way for me to combat boredom on a weekend. While it's wholeheartedly late Victorian, the story also delves into an area of the US that I never really experienced or even imagined. Who knew that the wealthy would go camping by Lake Manawa in order to escape the brutal heat of the summer? I learned some exciting tidbits of history and fell in love with Marguerite and Trip along the way.

Now I just have to fight back the urge to dive into the 2nd book in the series, A Great Catch. As much as I'd like to, I can't spend all my time just reading, no matter how tantalizing Lorna Seilstad makes the idea!

Saturday, August 19, 2017

Book Review: A Name Unknown by Roseanna M. White (2017)

Official Summary

Rosemary Gresham has no family beyond the band of former urchins that helped her survive as a girl in the mean streets of London. Grown now, they concentrate on stealing high-value items and have learned how to blend into upper-class society. But when Rosemary must determine whether a certain wealthy gentleman is loyal to Britain or to Germany, she is in for the challenge of a lifetime. How does one steal a family's history, their very name?

Peter Holstein, given his family's German blood, writes his popular series of adventure novels under a pen name. With European politics boiling and his own neighbors suspicious of him, Peter debates whether it might be best to change his name for good. When Rosemary shows up at his door pretending to be a historian and offering to help him trace his family history, his question might be answered. 

But as the two work together and Rosemary sees his gracious reaction to his neighbors' scornful attacks, she wonders if her assignment is going down the wrong path. Is it too late to help him prove that he's more than his name?

My Thoughts

Oh dear, dear, dear.

I don't know what happened.

Roseanna M. White is a lovely author and I absolute adored her Ladies of the Manor series. But something just missed the mark for me with A Name Unknown. It shouldn't have. I mean, this book has a library and a charming hero who is politeness personified.

But I felt like something was missing.

Entire scenes were skipped. I mean, if the hero and heroine are going on a trip to a magnificent castle, I want to go with them! I want to tour it with them and see what they see. Not be in the carriage with them heading to the castle and then find myself skipped ahead several hours as the heroine reminisces on how the castle was so awe-inspiring. 

Chunks of time were chopped. Weeks were lost. A chapter ends with the heroine realizing she needs to get back to the manor on her own and it's late at night. Then we're ahead at least a week at the start of the next chapter.

I honestly don't remember her other books having this time choppiness, but I could be wrong. I just felt like I was missing stuff. We had plenty of character growth, but not enough relational growth. Peter and Rosemary needed to spend loads of time together. I needed to see them go for walks, for rides, for drives into the country, and to see them walk through the bloody castle.

Rosemary's friendship with a local woman needed to be experienced and not just referenced back to after one of these leaps in time. Apparently she spent that time getting to know this young woman. I just didn't get to experience it with her, so I had no connection with their friendship.

As you can tell, the time leaps is my biggest complaint with this novel. If that had been fixed, then everything else would have fallen perfectly into place. As it is, I came out the other side disappointed and wishing that I'd waited for a copy from the library rather than shelling out $10 for a Kindle book that I will likely never read again. Oh well, live and learn. I'll still pick up her next book in the series, but my expectations are now significantly lower.

Saturday, June 17, 2017

Book Review: A Portrait of Emily Price by Katherine Reay (2016)

Some books got it and some books ain't got it. A Portrait of Emily Price by Katherine Reay is the latter.

It felt like I started reading one novel and ended up finishing a completely different one. There was no cohesive whole, just bits and pieces that never matched up together. I was expecting a story of an art restorer and ended up in a whirlwind romance where the heroine (and you wouldn't believe how easy it is to forget her name is Emily despite the title because of how few characters actually use her name) falls in love with an Italian chef and in two weeks has given up her Americanized life and moved to Tuscany so he can help run his family's restaurant.

This one really disappointed me. I was hoping for something poignant and genuine like in Lizzy & Jane or for something magical and literary like in The Bronte Plot. Instead, I'm following a heroine who magically transforms her art from mediocre to magnificent simply by moving to Italy. None of it matched, and if that wasn't disappointing enough, any important conversations and scenes that the reader should have been privy to were referred to instead of experienced. Emily mentions that she had this conversation or was sitting with this person or experiencing that thing, but we weren't there to experience it with her. It's the worse kind of telling instead of showing.

My usual complaint of Ms. Reay's books remains the same; there isn't enough faith in this story to make it anything other than a clean read instead of a Christian one. Ben and Emily fall in love in just two weeks and never once do they express their faith to one another. Ben could have been marrying an atheist for all he knew, which would have gone off real well in his devoutly Catholic family, I'm sure.

While I may not have been overly fond of Dear Mr. Knightley because I don't care for epistolary novels, I would happily give it a re-read before ever again picking up A Portrait of Emily Price. I know that Ms. Reay loves classic literature and tries to imbue her work with it. In this last novel, she failed. Sure, there's a couple of mentions of a book by James Joyce called A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, but I'm curious as to how many of her readers have picked up Joyce's tome? I know that I never have, but I have read Austen and Bronte. No more obscure reads, please, otherwise the magic of Ms. Reay as an anglophile may just fade.

The next book on her docket is The Austen Escape (releasing November 7, 2017) and I can only hope it's a vast improvement from A Portrait of Emily Price.

Book Review: Miss Kopp's Midnight Confessions by Amy Stewart (Kopp Sisters #3, 2017)

Original Summary Deputy sheriff Constance Kopp is outraged to see young women brought into the Hackensack jail over dubious charges ...