Wednesday, September 7, 2016

The Body Under the Bridge (A Father Gilbert Mystery) by Paul McCusker (2016)

This is one of those times when I didn't realize how much I missed something until it was given back to me.

I love Father Gilbert. And like most fans of the Focus on the Family radio series, Dead Air is my favorite episode, in all of its spine-tingling glory. So I'm thrilled to find that The Body Under the Bridge bears a strong connection to that episode, in fact, happening before it if we're going in a chronological order. Or after it if you don't care that at this point Father Gilbert has yet to solve the case of the girl who went missing in the Soho district and was the tipping point to him leaving the force and joining the church. Either way, doesn't matter, it's a great tie-in.

The regular cast of characters is ready and in place for this first in, I hope, a series of Father Gilbert Mysteries. From Mrs. Mayhew to Mr. Urquhart, this book is like visiting old friends that I haven't seen in a very long time. And of course, a small section of my heart has always been in love with Father Gilbert, enough to not care that he's on the written page and not spinning around in my ears wearing the voice of Adrian Plass. Although if Adrian were to ever agree to narrate this book series, I wouldn't argue. Hmm, Adrian?

There are some complaints that this is a very Catholic novel, that it's very dark, that it has evil supernatural elements, etc. Yes, all of that is true. However, never is evil greater than good, and at the grand climax where I could hardly breathe or put the book down for fear of Father Gilbert's life, God was there, and He worked miracles, the same as always. The tradition of the Anglican church is insightful and intrigues me immensely, and I find it's far wiser to be aware of supernatural evil than live in a fantasy world where it doesn't exist. So long as we remember Who's ultimately in control then we're all right.

Great job, Paul McCusker, and thank you, from the bottom of my heart for resurrecting a character that I have loved since the series first burst upon the airwaves when I was a teenager.

Friday, July 22, 2016

Five Magic Spindles Book Announcement + Giveaway!!

This is sort of a post in two parts.

One, my friend Rachel of Hamlette's Soliloquy is now a published author!

She was 1 of 5 winners to a contest for Sleeping Beauty retellings called Five Magic Spindles, and it's no wonder she won because she wrote a western! Who would ever think to do that other than her?! Which, naturally, I am uber excited to read because I love westerns and I cannot even fathom how a western Sleeping Beauty would be told. So, yay, and congratulations to Rachel. I'm so happy for her!

Support her by buying Five Magic Spindles on Amazon Kindle HERE or a physical paperback HERE!

You can also like her author's Facebook page HERE and don't forget to mark Five Magic Spindles as to-read on your Goodreads account HERE!

Two, she is hosting a giveaway for the book's release! Go HERE for the giveaway!

She's giving away 5 handmade bookmarks that she created for each of the 5 stories. I encourage you to head on over to her blog to participate, but also to give the novella collection a try, especially if you love fairy tales.

And because I'm most excited over her story release, here's a picture of the bookmark she made. Isn't it gorgeous!?

It's always exciting to know someone when they're experiencing something so life-altering. You might not think it life-altering, but to be published is a dream for all writers. Very few attain it via the mainstream method, but here Rachel is, with her story in black and white, having won a writer's contest. That's pretty incredible.

I can guarantee everyone a review of the Five Magic Spindles as soon as I get a chance to read it!

Saturday, July 16, 2016

Book Review: The Wood's Edge (The Path Finders #1, 2015) by Lori Benton

Fort William Henry, Lake George, New York, 1757

When Reginald Aubrey holds the cooling body of his hour old infant son in his arms he is left with a choice. He can either tell his unconscious wife that their son has died or he can kidnap a boy from a set of newborn twins born within minutes of his own son. The twins' mother is a white woman who had been captured as a small child by a tribe of American Indians and raised Oneida. Her children are half white/half Indian, except that one boy has pale eyes, pale skin, and blonde hair, just like his mother. What Reginald Aubrey decided that day set in motion a chain of events that he could never have anticipated. A stolen son who can hardly look at without feeling shame, a rescued baby girl a few months older than that son who he grows to love more fiercely than the boy who is supposed to be of his own blood, and the desperate vengeance felt by the Oneida family who is missing one of their own, who they call He-is-Taken.

Given enough time, a person's perception of something can change. I started reading The Wood's Edge sometime in the fall last year, but the timing wasn't right. I couldn't focus on the book with any level of credible enjoyment so I did the wisest thing I could do under the circumstances; I sent it back to the library unread and figured I would try again later. Today is later, and fortunately for me, I loved every moment of The Wood's Edge. Having already read Ms. Benton's debut novel, Burning Sky, and her subsequent novel The Pursuit of Tamsen Littlejohn I knew to expect high quality. However, I really didn't think anything could come close to my love for Burning Sky, but The Wood's Edge sneaked in there and stole my heart, not quite topping her debut novel, but coming close.

What is it about Lori Benton's books? Maybe it's that she reads 5 gazillion history books to get the setting right. Or it could just be that she knows all the right thing to do in all the right ways to squeeze her characters just right. She develops her characters, forces the reader to love them, and then puts through the rigorous pain that is daily life. Lies and deceit have consequences. Not everything ends up rosily perfect. And because I, as the reader, fear for these characters that I love by chapter 4, I can't put the book down, even when terror takes hold that something TERRIBLE is going to happen.

Or it could be something as basic as I love American Indian literary characters. When they're done right. Which they are when Lori Benton gets her hands on them. The Oneida Indian family won me over: Good Voice the grieving mother, Stone Thrower the vengeful father, and Two Hawks the lonely twin of William, the stolen son who they named He-is-Taken. I was invested in Good Voice's pain from the very beginning and since Two Hawks is a major player in the story, he won my heart from the time he was a small child. He is both courageous and merciful and learns to put forgiveness ahead of vengeance.

Then of course, there's the cameo appearance of Joseph Tames-His-Horse who I LOVED in Burning Sky. Seriously, I loved him, and so meeting a teenage Tames-His-Horse and seeing his conversion to Christianity and finding out how he came by his Christian name, Joseph, is amazing. I love that she included him in The Wood's Edge, love, love, love it.

Then you have the Aubrey family with poor Reginald denying himself joy because the guilt of what he's done and the fear of retribution eats away at him every day. Lydia, the girl who was 14-years-old when the reader met her and whose teenage crush on Reginald is endearing, as well as her loyalty to the little infant girl he saved from the massacre at Fort William Henry. One child come by honestly and the other stolen. And dear Anna, who loves her Papa Reginald so very much, but finds her heart tripping over the Indian boy who looks so very like William, who she calls brother. As Anna and Two Hawks grow up together, him visiting her for news of William (because the Oneida family does discover his whereabouts), Two Hawks and Anna find affection that blossoms into love. Now THAT is what I call romantic.

One interesting part of the story is that we don't know William all that well. He's in England for school through much of this book, and when he returns he's a man fully grown with his own ideas about colonial uprisings and rebellions. It's tempting to dislike him because he seems brainwashed by the British, but at the same time his relationship with his father was never solid because of Reginald's guilt over how he obtained William. Being the 1st book in a series, The Wood's Edge does not tie up William's story neatly; that will have to wait for A Flight of Arrows, book 2.

I've been trying to find a good word for my feelings regarding Lori Benton's work, and it isn't easy. Her work is spiritually fulfilling in a way that a lot of Christian fiction lacks. She manages to share the gospel without really quoting the Bible verbatim or being too preachy, yet her conversion scenes are some of the most poignant I've ever read. These are real people coming to know a Savior who is also my Savior. I understand their feelings, their concerns, and the overwhelming joy in their Creator. It's beautiful imagery, and the way Ms. Benton describes it, those conversion scenes are straight out of reality.

Anyway, I think I've rambled on long enough. All of the characters in this book felt realistic; even the ones I didn't fully like, I still understood their perspective. Ms. Benton's prose is still top of the line, flowing with beautiful imagery that just sucks the reader so far into the story it's like you're there. If you haven't read any of Lori Benton's books before, The Wood's Edge is a terrific place to start. Enjoy! ❤

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Jane Eyre Read-Along: Thoughts on Chapters 1-10

I'm a little slow on the uptake with my friend's Jane Eyre read-along, but what else is new! *winks*

Anyway, prepare to be shocked, but this is the first time that I've read Jane Eyre. Not the first time that I've tried to read it, mind, but the first time that I'm actually determined to get all the way through, front to back, without yielding to irritation and tossing it back on the bookshelf.

Irritation, you ask?

Why, yes, because I've never actually liked Mr. Rochester in the novel. I love him (Timothy Dalton and Toby Stephens) in film adaptations, but for some reason he always manages to irk me when he's in print. However, I haven't gotten that far in the novel yet this time around so I'm still hopeful that I'll appreciate and/or understand him better now that I'm older. Maybe my age and the timing just wasn't right before, who knows.

It's sort of funny attempting to read it yet again because I can't tell you how many times I've gotten this far in the novel. It's at least 3 or 4 times, so I know Jane's experience at Gateshead and her time at Lowood rather intimately. Enough to be familiar with the character design of young Jane and her dear little friend, Helen Burns, and enough to intensely dislike, and yet also pity, her aunt Mrs. Reed.

When I say pity, what do I mean?

Individuals like Mrs. Reed lack so much self-awareness. They've intensely deceived themselves into believing a certain thing about themselves and others until it becomes true in their own minds. Her dislike of Jane is born out of a comparison between Jane's introspective nature and the self-absorbed natures of her own children. Instead of facing the deficiencies in her parenting of her little brood, Mrs. Reed instead focuses on Jane, making statements like, "Jane, I don't like cavillers or questioners; besides, there is something truly forbidding in a child taking up her elders in that manner. Be seated somewhere; and until you can speak pleasantly, remain silent." (ch 1)

Mrs. Reed tricked her own mind into thinking Jane was questioning authority, when in fact, all Jane wanted to know was what she had done. The mind is truly a funny thing and when given too much free reign and kept so little in check, terrible circumstances like the raising of little Jane Eyre can occur. I'm sure in her own way, Mrs. Reed even imagined that she had done as her husband requested, taking Jane into her home and making her a part of the family when in fact, Jane was considered even less than a servant for she served no purpose and was of no help.

Such is the sad case of poor, mistreated, passionate Jane Eyre while she resides at Gateshead under the iron fist of her aunt.

At least until Mrs. Reed cannot stand the child's present any longer and sends the indignant and infuriated Jane Eyre away to school, but what a school.

Lowood is a terrible place during Jane's first year.

The children are given little nourishment, thin garments in bitter cold, and forced exercise outdoors in the dead of winter. It is not the fault of Miss Temple, the headmistress, who does what she can with the little she is given, but rather the fault of the pious Mr. Brocklehurst who, while being a deadly curmudgeon, is also the unfortunate parish's minister and the benefactor of Lowood school.

Can anyone tell me why so many ministers are portrayed in such an unflattering light?

Surely, in all of England, there was one kindly, compassionate, and Godly minister of the gospel while the great classics were being penned. I must give Miss Charlotte Bronte her due; she is able to pen a most despicable man who, either through design or carelessness, single-handedly permits disease to rampage through Lowood, wiping out a goodly portion of its students in a single season.

And so, alas for poor Helen Burns, the little girl who was a few years older than Jane and who served as a spiritual guide for Jane's bitterly passionate nature. Helen succumbs to consumption (tuberculosis) during this same season, but not before imparting so many jewels of wisdom to young Jane that the nuggets remain make an everlasting impact on Jane's young psyche.

It is with Helen that I must pause, for it is Helen's paragraphs and chapters that have struck me as profoundly important during this particular "re-read" of Jane Eyre's first 10 chapters.

Of Helen, Jane says, "I never tired of Helen Burns; nor ever ceased to cherish for her a sentiment of attachment, as strong, tender, and respectful as any that ever animated my heart." (ch 9) For Helen "was qualified to give those who enjoyed the privilege of her converse a taste of far higher things." (ch 9)

To hear Helen tell of herself, she was a terribly flawed person who could rarely please her teachers and deserved every recrimination and correction that she received, particularly at the hand of Miss Scatcherd, one of the teachers. Helen never held an act of cruelty against the person who performed it. Still a child, Helen's spiritual development is so far advanced as to be that of a 90-year-old woman.

However, Helen still admits to Jane, "I am, as Miss Scatcherd said, slatternly; I seldom put, and never keep, things in order; I am careless; I forget rules; I read when I should learn my lessons; I have no method; and sometimes I say, like you, I cannot bear to be subjected to systematic arrangements."(ch 6)

Today we would simply say that Helen's personality type prevented her from being quite as her teachers would like, but Helen would never allow for such an excuse. She confesses and owns her flaws instead of passing them off as an element of something as obscure as a "personality type." Helen is, in her small way, a reminder that personality type should never be an excuse to not embark upon self-improvement.

When Jane rails and rants against the injustices committed against her person by Mrs. Reed, Helen firmly chastises her, saying, "What a singularly deep impression her injustice seems to have made on your heart! No ill usage so brands its record on my feelings . . . Life appears to me too short to be spent in nursing animosity or registering wrongs." (ch 6)

I won't go into detail, but let me just say the reading of chapter 6 was timely to a situation in my own life. Helen Burns's words impacted my thoughts and actions in a way that nothing else seemed capable of doing. Authenticity glitters in her severity, her gentleness, and her faults.

After Helen's death and the deaths of so many of the other children due to disease from malnutrition and improper clothing, Lowood Institution improves, and Jane settles into her life as a student with renewed vigor. Now that she has comfortable clothing and a full stomach, her studies delight her, which inevitably leads to a mature Jane in chapter 10 who is read and determined to take on the world.

Why the sudden change when she had been a contented teacher for 2 years?

Jane, like many introverts, found comfort in the familiar, particularly the familiar of working side by side with Miss Temple. Only when Miss Temple married a gentleman of her acquaintance and left did Jane begin to chafe at the idea of remaining at Lowood for the rest of her days.

She advertises herself in the local paper as a governess/tutor, and is contacted by a Mrs. Fairfax of Thornfield. One thing lead to another as it usually does, and Jane turns in her notice. The end of chapter sees her reunited with a servant from Gateshead named Bessie who was kind and cruel to her by varying degrees. And now Jane is heading off to parts unknown, ready for a new adventure.

So passes the first 10 chapters of Charlotte Bronte's Jane Eyre.

Should you wish to join in the read-along, please visit Hamlette's blog by clicking on the picture below. At this point, she is 13 chapters into the novel. ❤

Jane Eyre Read-Along

Sunday, June 5, 2016

Book Review: Fearless by Cornelia Funke

Fearless by Cornelia Funke
Mirrorworld #2

My Rating

When Jacob Reckless first found his way through the mirror in his father's study to a different world, it was the best thing that could have ever happened to him. Becoming a renowned treasure hunter and literally growing up behind the mirror, no longer the little boy who first found his way but a confidant young man. But after the events of Reckless, the first novel in the Mirrorworld series, Jacob is left battered and with a curse growing on the skin over his heart. Jacob's one and only thought in Reckless was to keep his younger brother, Will, safe after Will followed him through the mirror and ends up growing a skin of stone, evolving into a promised protector of a Goyl King (a society of beings created out of stone). The involvement of the Dark Fairy, the Goyl King's mistress, and the hatred her sister the Red Fairy bore Jacob for abandoning her, all combined in a curse that will be Jacob's death sentence. Unless he can find a way to undo it as he undid the stone skin that had stolen Will from him.

Now Jacob and his faithful friend Fox, a shape shifter, are racing against time to find a cure for Jacob's curse. The moth growing over his heart is stealing back the Dark Fairy's name that Jacob uttered in the first novel, every bite removing a letter from the name. With the final bite, the moth will tear itself free from Jacob's skin, sealing his fate and killing him. The blood of a Djinn from the North does him no good. Nor did any other remedy that he concocts. Until he learns of a crossbow that belonged to the wicked King Guismond who was also a Witch Slayer and a Warlock (A title earned only by those who drink the blood of witches. It gives you power, but also drives you mad). Legend has it that a bolt from the crossbow will not only kill the commander you aim for, but will also destroy the entirety of the commander's armed forces too. One bolt can bring down thousands. But it also has healing properties, for rumor also says that Guismond fired it at his dying son and instead of death, the son came back to life. Jacob has Fox, both woman and vixen, who loves him deeply. Could the crossbow work? It is his last hope.

But nothing is ever easy. To find the crossbow, Jacob must first find the hand, the heart, and the head of Guismond himself. Only when these pieces are rejoined to his body will Guismond's bewitched castle reappear in the place where it has been invisible for so many hundreds of years, concealing the crossbow. Nothing is ever as easy as it seems, whether Jacob and Fox are contending with contemptuous young princes, or Jacob's rescuing Fox from the mansion of an ancient Bluebeard, to say nothing of the Bastard, an onyx and malachite Goyl who is also a treasure hunter and is chasing after the crossbow himself. Time is running out for Jacob and the moth continues to bite his heart one letter at a time.

Oh my goodness. Some books are so hard to describe to others because they are just completely unique. Nothing else is like the Mirrorworld series. At least nothing that I've encountered so far. Cornelia Funke's name is likely familiar to those of you who've read the Inkworld novels, which are at least as brilliant as this series. I know that Inkworld has more readers than Mirrorworld, but that's okay. These books aren't written for children or even really teenagers. Jacob is in his twenties. Not a child and he doesn't have the same angst as a teen, which is probably why I love him so much. Magical realism that isn't YA fiction. How awesome is that?

I love how in Fearless, Jacob and Fox are dancing around being in love. They're building towards something beautiful. Technically, Fox is much younger than Jacob. She was a little girl when he saved her life when she was in fox form, but shape-shifters age so very faster than humans and so she's caught up with him. She has the mind and body of an adult now, probably a young woman in her early twenties, and her heart that belonged to Jacob as a child to a protector, now belongs to him as a woman. She loves Jacob through his weaknesses, though his sins, and she always welcomes him back. She's loved him, really, for years, but only now is Jacob realizing his feelings towards her have evolved. Mirrorworld has just that hint of romance, enough to satisfy, but not so overwhelming that it steals the story.

Remember how the Inkworld was just scary enough without being too scary? Well, Mirrorworld is that other level of scary. It's Cornelia Funke's way of upping her game, of taking fairy tales and making them her own, like the Tailor with his snapping scissors and his love of human skin in Reckless and like the Bluebeard and his collection of women in this novel. It's a scary world to be in, but I don't mind a little fear now and then. Our own world is scary in different way, in its unpredictability and its politics and its so very mundane lifestyle. So I use the Mirrorworld series to escape from the doldrums of real life, hopping into a world of magical realism to escape for just a few hours. I understand why Jacob found the Mirrorworld so much more compelling than his own.
 Like him, I would have gone through the mirror and found it hard to come back.

I've owned the 3rd book in the series, The Golden Yarn, for quite a while, and even tried to read it, but it had been so long since I read Fearless that I was hopelessly lost. So now I'm well prepped for my foray into the 3rd novel by re-reading Fearless. Here's to a new adventure! ❤

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Book Review: Under the Dragon's Tail (Murdoch Mystery) by Maureen Jennings

Under the Dragon's Tail by Maureen Jennings
A Detective Murdoch Mystery #2

My Rating

❤ Official Synopsis ❤

Desperate women, rich and poor, come to her in need of help - and discretion. Dolly Merishaw is a midwife and an abortionist in Victorian Toronto, but although she keeps quiet about her clients' condition, her contempt and greed leaves them resentful and angry. So it comes as no surprise when this malicious woman is murdered. What is a shock, though, is that a week later a young boy is found dead in Dolly's squalid kitchen. Now, Detective Murdoch isn't sure if he's hunting one murderer - or two.

❤ My Thoughts ❤

My complaints of language and sexual innuendo of the first novel, Except the Dying, are still prevalent in the 2nd book in the Murdoch Mysteries.

However, I feel the plot was tighter, the characterization better, and I experienced a definite softening in my opinion of this very different Murdoch than the television version I'm accustomed to watching.

In fact, there is much to like about Detective William Murdoch. He's not fragile or naive, but he does his best to live life as uprightly as he can manage. He's undergoing sexual temptations right now, but instead of seeking out the wrong kind of female companionship, he's joined a dance class. It allows him to be near attractive, virtuous young women in the hopes that he may develop a relationship. He's all about constancy (or he wouldn't be mourning his deceased fiance this long) and so he's not going to indulge in a casual fling even when he's suffering serious sexual repression. Watch him go against character and succumb to temptation in the 3rd novel.

The mystery itself intrigued me, mostly because I suspect a great deal of readers might take offense at the "preposterous" notion that a midwife/abortionist might attempt to take advantage of any wealthy women who required her services. Imagine!? Murdoch comes up against so many tight-lipped liars in Under the Dragon's Tail that I'm impressed his head didn't spin. Was the killer this woman or that one? Was the killer the midwife's own poor, abused daughter, Lily? What of the little boys living under her roof, how are they involved? And what of the man whose chapters are so fleeting but tie into the story later in an AHAH moment of great clarity.

This is a complex story with many facets to it. Things I'd almost forgotten because they were mentioned only once suddenly became relevant at the end of the book, and I loved those moments when I suddenly understood who was who and what was what and where everyone stood.

Despite the language and promiscuity and sexual slang, I'm not scared off from the series yet. I read this one in about 24 hours simply because I could not put it down. And I've already got book 3 ready and raring to go. I've heard it's better than its predecessors so we'll see if it lives up to the praise!

Monday, May 16, 2016

Book Review: Except the Dying (Murdoch Mystery) by Maureen Jennings

Except the Dying by Maureen Jennings
A Detective Murdoch Mystery #1

My Rating

❤ Official Synopsis ❤

In the cold Toronto winter of 1895, the unclad body of a servant girl is found frozen in a deserted laneway. The young victim was pregnant when she died. Was her death an attempt to cover up a scandal in one of the city's influential families? Detective William Murdoch quickly finds out that more than one person connected with the girl's simple life has something to hide.

❤ My Thoughts ❤

It's a bit of a shock going into this book thinking it'll be all charming and quaint like Canada's television series starring Yannick Bisson. In reality, there is nothing charming or quaint about this book series. It's gritty, it's hard, it possesses a great deal of language and sexual innuendo, and there is not a single character who is wholly likeable or lovable, not even Detective William Murdoch although he's probably more realistic as a flawed human being. Still, I love the Murdoch of the tv series who is so socially awkward and endearing while still being a brilliant detective. Much to love there. And don't get me started on his senior officer, Inspector Thomas Brackenreid. The man is boorishly entertaining in the tv series and an absolute bloody terror and bigot in the book series. Thank goodness they gave him that overhaul in the television program. And where, I'd like to know, is Dr. Ogden, the female pathologist that Murdoch has a crush on?! I did like the elderly couple who Murdoch lives with as their boarder. They're gentle and compassionate . . . except towards Methodists. Apparently there's some bad blood between Methodists and Catholics, of which Murdoch happens to be one.

And speaking of religion, because I'm going to do so, it was fascinating to read a book where the lead character is Catholic. It grows tiresome after awhile to read protestant fiction with a severely negative bent against Catholics. So I enjoyed Murdoch being Catholic (just like he is in the tv series). I know very little about Catholicism on the whole, but don't have a negative view of Catholics so the harsh bigotry against Murdoch and other Catholics within the book surprised me. I don't know why it did, though, since I know protestants and Catholics have a long, unhealthy hatred of one another.

So, obviously, this is not a Christian novel. There is unpleasant talk of murder, of sex, of an aroused dog, of prostitutes, and there are plenty of nasty slang terms flying around for various parts of the anatomy. There's even mention of *gasp* homosexuality. I don't usually like that much "stuff" in the books that I read and I do think Ms. Jennings went overboard quite a bit, which is why I'm only rating the book 3 stars. Negative content should not be added to a novel simply for the sake of shock value, whether it's secular fiction or not.

That said, I still enjoyed Except the Dying . . . immensely. I finished it in only a few days because I couldn't put it down. In some ways it reminded me of the originality of Ellis Peters' Brother Cadfael books that I love so dearly. I've already begun reading book 2 in the series. And I've done a fair job separating the books from the tv series, which took a bit of doing. But I'm growing to like Ms. Jennings' Murdoch even though I'll never love him as much as I do the Murdoch in the tv series.Ah well, life isn't always perfect.

Friday, May 13, 2016

Book Review: Lead Me Home (2016) by Amy Sorrells

❤ Official Synopsis ❤

Amid open fields and empty pews, small towns can crush big dreams.Abandoned by his no-good father and forced to grow up too soon, Noble Burden has set his dreams aside to run the family farm. Meanwhile, James Horton, the pastor of the local church, questions his own calling as he prepares to close the doors for good.As a severe storm rolls through, threatening their community and very livelihood, both men fear losing what they care about most . . . and reconsider where they truly belong.

My feelings about this book are complicated. Lead Me Home will really only appeal to readership that wants Bible verses quoted every chapter, enjoys a passive writing style with little dialogue, and has personally experienced the death pangs of a small town church as the people leave for greener pastures. I don't fit into any of these categories and so I really had nothing to keep me reading, although I did keep reading.

To be fair, I liked all of the lead characters. Grief has a funny way of manifesting itself sometimes so I empathized with Pastor Horton's daughter, Shelby, as she makes a few poor life choices after her mother's death. Pastor Horton was likeable, Noble Burden was likeable too, although his name made me groan, especially when the character succumbed to a "noble burden" rather than following his own dreams and building a life outside of owning a small-town dairy farm.

And really, that's the whole gist of my issue with the book. Change isn't always negative. The dairy farm is killing the Burden family slowly. A change of pace would suit them. But when it comes down to it, Noble does the "noble" thing and turns down an offer to pursue his music in Nashville. That was ridiculous, but his decision to stay with the dairy farm was portrayed as pious. No, it would have served his family much better if he'd up and moved them all to a new town for a fresh start.

In the end, Amy Sorrell's writing style and storytelling format just isn't for me. I could almost compare her work a tiny bit to Lisa Wingate's style except that I feel Ms. Wingate's books have a better pacing. Or you could compare her work to Billy Coffey except that I find Coffey's books charming. Lead Me Home was just too churchy, if you get what I mean. If a highly churchified novel is what you're looking for then you'll love Lead Me Home.

* I received a free copy of Lead Me Home from Tyndale Publishers in exchange for an honest review, which I have given.

Thursday, May 5, 2016

Book Review: The Reluctant Duchess by Roseanna M. White

The Reluctant Duchess by Roseanna M. White
Ladies of the Manor #2
Bethany House Publishers

My Rating

❤ Official Synopsis ❤

Lady Rowena Kinnaird may be the heiress to a Highland earldom, but she has never felt good enough—not for her father, not for the man she thought she’d marry, not for God. But after a shocking attack, she’s willing to be forever an outcast if it means escaping Loch Morar and the men who have jeopardized her life.

Brice Myerston, the Duke of Nottingham, has suddenly found himself in possession of a rare treasure his enemies are prepared to kill for. While Brice has never been one to shy away from manor-born ladies, the last thing he needs is the distraction of his neighbor, Lady Rowena, who finds herself in a desperate situation. But when the moody Earl of Lochabar tries to trap Brice into marrying Rowena, Brice finds he’s not as opposed to the idea as he expected to be.

Rowena wanted to escape the Highlands, but she’s reluctant to resort to marrying a notorious flirt just to gain his English home. And when she learns that Brice is mixed up in some kind of questionable business with a stolen treasure, she ’fears she’s about to end up directly in the path of everything she was trying to avoid.

❤ My Thoughts ❤

I already liked Brice in The Lost Heiress so I couldn't imagine that changing from one book to the next. I was right, I still like him. Brice is just one of those affable Edwardian men, almost better suited in nature to the early 1930s, sort of like Bertie Wooster. However, while the parts of the story that focus on him are somewhat lighthearted, the parts with the heroine. Rowena, are not. So if talk of rape and physical abuse disturb you, keep that in mind before reading Ms. White's latest novel.

Having just recently uncovered Scottish ancestry, I appreciated the time spent in Scotland and was somewhat disappointed that it didn't last longer. The Highlands were so intriguing, even with the rough and tumble people, and I almost wish we could have spent longer in them. However, it was not meant to be, and that turned out alright in the end because it meant reuniting with Brook and Justin back in England.

Even though the summary is a bit vague on the subject, Brice and Rowena do marry. He's literally know her less than 48 hours when they tie the knot and she's so panicked because of the attack she suffered that he has no intention of consummating anything. What I like about Brice is that he seems to verbally hear God's voice. When he met Rowena, God told him to "protect her." And instead of balking at the idea of marrying a Highlander, a woman whose clothes are outmoded and her manners so timid, he married her instead. Yes, I'm making him seem like some white knight, but really, Brice's marriage to Rowena happened out of his immense compassion for her pain and from his desire to keep her safe. I admire a man like that.

The two grow in their relationship with one another. Rowena discovers that she is of value and worth and that she has much to offer the world around her. And Brice learns that flippancy in his relational interactions leads to great harm because people never know when to take him seriously or not. See, even a strong Christian man like Brice has his weak points. In the end, of course, they fall deeply in love, a love made even stronger by the admirable restraint and patience that Brice exhibited towards his broken young bride.

I do feel the plot in this one is slightly more convoluted than in the first novel, and some aspects of it felt almost like a complete repeat of its predecessor, such as the maid who falls in love with another servant, etc. When Stella Abbott, longtime childhood friend to Brice and his sister Ella, first came on the scene I was hopeful that she didn't appear to be stereotypically in love with Brice. Well, that didn't last. I rather wish Stella had been left out of the story completely since it felt like she bogged it down and her vengeful chapters really didn't quite fit in with the rest of the book.I'm not sure why Stella didn't fully work for me . . . not something I can put my finger on. But it wasn't really enough to dampen by enjoyment of the novel on the whole.

On the whole, I thoroughly enjoyed this second edition to the Ladies of the Manor trilogy. A third and final book will be published likely sometime within 2017, this time following the story of Brice's sister, Ella, who I like but don't know all that well and am curious to see who in the world would be a decent match for her. Possibly Geoffrey Abbott, dreaded Stella's brother, and a minister to boot.

* I received this book free from Bethany House Publishers in exchange for an honest review.

(all my historic novel reviews)

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Book Review: The Lost Heiress by Roseanna M. White

The Lost Heiress by Roseanna M. White
Ladies of the Manor #1
Bethany House Publishers

My Rating

❤ Official Synopsis ❤

Brook Eden has never known where she truly belongs. Though raised in the palace of Monaco, she’s British by birth and was brought to the Grimaldis under suspicious circumstances as a babe. When Brook’s friend Justin uncovers the fact that Brook is likely a missing heiress from Yorkshire, Brook leaves the sun of the Mediterranean to travel to the moors of the North Sea to the estate of her supposed family.

The mystery of her mother’s death haunts her, and though her father is quick to accept her, the rest of the family and the servants of Whitby Park are not. Only when Brook’s life is threatened do they draw close—but their loyalty may come too late to save Brook from the same threat that led to tragedy for her mother.

As heir to a dukedom, Justin is no stranger to balancing responsibilities. When the matters of his estate force him far from Brook, the distance between them reveals that what began as friendship has grown into something much more. But how can their very different loyalties and responsibilities ever come together?

❤ My Thoughts ❤

If you love Downton Abbey, you'll likely love this book, placed in 1910, right at the beginning (well a little bit before) the first season of Downton. And unlike a few other Edwardian novels I've read and didn't like, The Lost Heiress really fit the era in every way possible. It sold me being an Edwardian novel.

Books like these are the sole reason why I continue wading through Christian fiction. Every once in a while I stumble across a true gem and The Lost Heiress is one of those rare stones, an amusing comparison considering the important role jewelry plays in this novel. I would have never found and so thoroughly enjoyed The Lost Heiress had I given up on Christian fiction, as I occasionally consider doing. This book has renewed my faith in the genre.

To be completely fair, I was first attracted by the cover. It's truly a lovely cover, n'est-ce pas? Pardon the use of French, but that is another tidbit that drew me, Brook's exotic upbringing and her diverse use of French and Monagesque (the language of Monaco, which is very like French apparently). The international flavor gave Brook a unique tone and really drew me deeper into the story, helping me emotionally invest in this young lady on the cover who's trying to find her place in her new family without compromising her own identity.

Brook delighted me. She is spunky without arrogance. Spirited without careless cruelty. She is a young woman who knows her own mind, her likes and dislikes, and not will compromise on the things that are truly important. But she is also a woman who respects the wishes and concerns of others and apologizes when she has made a mistake. She does not stand on false pride, but prays for forgiveness from her Heavenly Father and puts a change of behavior into effect. Exactly as a young, spirited Christian woman should.

As for Justin, he won me right from the start. I think it was his willingness to teach his Brooklet how to drive, albeit he suffered a little terror to, that made me like him. He taught her to use guns, to fence, to ride horses, to drive cars. He didn't like a little thing like her being a woman hold him or her back from developing Brook's strengths. He helped make her so individualistic, yet also awoke in her a love for God that he carefully nurtured. Justin, for all his faults in doubting Brook's romantic love for him, really brought out the best in Brook. I would have loved him just for that, but I could not resist loving him for himself as well. 

Brook's maid, Deirdre, is one of those characters you either love or hate. I ended up empathizing with her plight quite strongly, and was relieved to see a positive change in her attitude. She really ended up being quite the little heroine and I loved her side story with Hiram. They were just too adorable for words. As for the villain, Pratt, lots of hating going on there. What a despicable man, quite convincing and very terrifying.

Faith plays a very large role in The Lost Heiress and while the cynic in me realizes the impossibility that everyone Brook met would be a Christian in reality, I still couldn't help liking the sincerity of faith. It didn't really preach, but was simply an aspect of her life and the lives of the other believers around her. Still, it was quite convenient for her long-lost father, her newfound friend Brice Mysterston, and her maid Deirdre to all make it a habit of praying to God and acting on faith. The convenience did amuse me a bit, but I liked Brice so very much that I didn't really mind, which is a good thing because the next book in the series, The Reluctant Duchess, is partially his story. Yay!

As historic Christian romance goes, the actual romance itself is fairly mild, a vast improvement over heroes and heroines who can't keep their minds off lustful thoughts (yes, you'll even find that in Christian fiction, a fact that troubles me). The romance felt natural, passionate of course, but also chaste, which makes it 5 stars for me.

For my own reading habits, I consider The Lost Heiress to be easily on par with such excellent novels as Prelude for a Lord, Burning Sky, and The Memoir of Johnny Devine, as well as the delicious Drew Farthering Mysteries by Julianna Deering (reviews found under her last name on THIS page). There is a bit of a similarity plotwise to Lisa Bergren's Grand Tour series (Grave Consquences and Glamorous Illusions), but for whatever reason I liked The Lost Heiress a bit better. Now it is time to start the 2nd book in the series, The Reluctant Duchess, which I recently received in the mail from Bethany House. I suspect I'll love it just as much as The Lost Heiress.

(all my historic novel reviews)

Sunday, April 24, 2016

Book Review: Miriam by Mesu Andrews

 Miriam by Mesu Andrews
(Treasures of the Nile #2)
Waterbrook Multnomah

My Rating

❤ Official Synopsis ❤

The Hebrews call me prophetess, the Egyptians a seer.
But I am neither. I am simply a watcher of Israel
and the messenger of El Shaddai.
When He speaks to me in dreams, I interpret. When He whispers a melody, I sing.

At eighty-six, Miriam had devoted her entire life to loving El Shaddai and serving His people as both midwife and messenger. Yet when her brother Moses returns to Egypt from exile, he brings a disruptive message. God has a new name – Yahweh – and has declared a radical deliverance for the Israelites.

 Miriam and her beloved family face an impossible choice: cling to familiar bondage or embrace uncharted freedom at an unimaginable cost. Even if the Hebrews survive the plagues set to turn the Nile to blood and unleash a maelstrom of frogs and locusts, can they weather the resulting fury of the Pharaoh?

Enter an exotic land where a cruel Pharaoh reigns, pagan priests wield black arts, and the Israelites cry out to a God they only think they know.

❤ My Thoughts ❤

It's refreshing to read a novel where the heroine is over 80-years-old. You just don't find that anymore.

Miriam is my first attempt at reading a Mesu Andrews novel and I must say that I'm impressed with the quality of her writing style. Solid prose, tight technique, perhaps a little long and wandering on the plot at times, but otherwise a very stable novelist in the realm of biblical fiction. It is a little bit of a struggle to follow the honorifics of the era: abba and ima, saba and savta, doda and dohd. One person will call Amram Abba while another will call him Saba, and that simply means one person calls him father and the other calls him grandfather. It took some getting used to and there were times when I almost, very nearly, got confused, just as an FYI to future readers.

The character development was mostly tight and concise. I loved Miriam from the very beginning, although I did feel as thought perhaps she had a little more power than she would have held in reality? Especially when it came to pushing and prodding Moses, who I also liked. Her take on Aaron was interesting, that he was something of a submissive husband whose strong-willed wife Elishiba ran roughshod over him. That was different. Loved Hoshea, the son of Nun. If you know your Scripture, you know who he becomes, christened a different name by Moses. Eleazer, Miriam's nephew and one of the leading characters (the slave commander to Price Ram, Ramesses' second Firstborn) intrigued me, more so because I hadn't read the first book in the series so I didn't know his backstory of belief to unbelief and then back again. He's a solid, male character who I rather wish had been respected more by the females in his life.

Speaking of which . . . the female characters. I don't like it, but I know that a lot of readers don't seem to mind the lack of feminine gentility in heroines nowadays. Taliah, one of the lead female characters who eventually marries Eleazer, is just such a woman. I highly doubt that a female would have been entrusted with the education of male students, on the one hand. And on the other, it irked me how Miriam was always correcting Eleazer for upsetting Taliah but never, ever corrected or chastised Taliah for her bad manners and distasteful temper. She was little better than a spoiled child and everyone was remarking things like, "Awwwww, how high-spirited she is, how intellectual and smart." And the miscommunication between Eleazer and Taliah was too much, far too much. Make of it what you will, Miriam has one of those heroines that is becoming painfully more prevalent in Christian fiction. This isn't even a romance novel and there she is.

However, Taliah aside, I'm still rating Miriam 5 stars because I appreciate the quality of her writing, the obvious depths of research that went into the novel, and her ability to transport the reader to the time of the Israelites in Egypt. Her dialogue fit, the setting fit, everything mixed together well. It hardly mattered that I found the romance, both romances actually, to be of little importance and no furtherance to the plot because the story itself, otherwise, was so good.

Now I would love to see a novel about Hoshea the way that Mesu Andrews has written him, new name and all, because I think that would be a story definitely worth reading.

Disclaimer: I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Jane Eyre read-along coming on May 29th!

My friend Hamlette at The Edge of the Precipice loves her read-alongs and this one promises to be lots of fun!

Having never read Jane Eyre, I've always been curious how the book is when compared to the film adaptations that I love so much, mainly the Toby Stephens and Timothy Dalton versions. So this will be an enlightening experience, I'm sure.

I may not post my thoughts on the individual chapters here, but will on her blog. And I will definitely post a final review here. I encourage you, if you love Jane Eyre or want to read it for the first time in a group setting, come and join her read-along on this page.

In my mind I just know that I'll be comparing Jane Eyre with my thoughts on Wuthering Heights and The Tenant of Wildfell Hall. The latter I really need to re-read one of these days and actually write a review of it since it's one of my favorite classics of all time!

So come join us!

Saturday, April 16, 2016

Book Review: Hard Winter at Broken Arrow Crossing by Stephen Bly

Hard Winter at Broken Arrow Crossing by Stephen Bly
Stuart Brannon Series #1
Crossway Books (1991)
Reprint Greenbriar Book Company (2012)

My Rating

❤ The Carissa Synopsis ❤

Stuart Brannon is in mourning and has been ever since his wife Lisa died in childbirth along with their tiny stillborn son. When a friend of his, Charley Imhoff, asks Brannon to join him at his gold claim in the Colorado Rockies, Brannon jumps at the opportunity to do something, anything. But now here he is, floundering through feet of snow and stumbling into a ripe fix of circumstances that won't thaw out until spring. Broken Arrow Crossing, a way station of sorts between civilization and the gold fields in Colorado, houses Everett Davis (also a friend of Charley's) who also happens to be back shot, a pregnant and abused Indian girl named Elizabeth, an Irish family by the name of Mulroney, an Englishman named Fletcher, and the Frenchman, Trudeaux. Brannon faces down his own fears, the evils that one man can do to another, and western justice, all before the first flowers bloom.

❤ My Thoughts ❤

I'd lived in Colorado roughly 3 months before discovering Stephen Bly at my local library. I was 14-years-old at the time and there was nothing more adventuresome or engaging than this series. But the best thing about Stephen Bly's work is that it stands the test of time. Re-reading the series, it's as good today as I remember it when I was 14, although I'm happy to see those reprint covers. A lot of readers (and I'm guilty of it too) judge a book by its cover so these beautiful reprints should help.

Stephen Bly was blessed with a talent for telling stories. He didn't force them, didn't write according to an established heroine-must-meet-hero-before-chapter-three mentality. In fact, there is no romance in this series for Stuart Brannon. He's a man still deeply in love with his deceased wife. Instead the stories possess a natural flow. With his minimalist writing style, Stephen Bly told in 10 words what others would tell in 25. One sentence can have the reader in helpless giggles or fighting back tears. My favorite set of lines is so simple yet so telling, "Before the sun was above the treetops, Mulroney, Fletcher and Brannon hiked out of the clearing and into the trees. A small pair of snowshoes were strapped to Stuart Brannon's back." So much is said in these two sentences that encompass both intense fear and intense hope all at the same time. His writing style is beautiful, weaving a tale of the Old West so vivid that you can see the images galloping across the page.

This one, the introduction to Stuart Brannon, is brilliant in that it covers the topics of grief and anger at God without preaching at you. Brannon's wandering, trying to make sense of the injustice of the universe, believing in prayer, but not really in answered prayer, is all indicative of questions humanity has asked since forever. He comes face to face with himself, as a man, as a husband, as a father, and how he feels about God. Why does he do the right thing when so many others do the wrong thing? What makes his stance of protecting the helpless right? It's a great journey and he grows a lot in that single winter he spends at Broken Arrow Crossing. At one point, Brannon has a conversation with a couple of other characters about Lisa being A Stander, meaning she'll stick by you through anything. What Brannon didn't realize is that he's A Stander too.

This book is fraught with peril. The American West was awash with nasty gunslingers, maybe not like you see it in the movies, but if you have a gold rush, guess what? Evil men will flock to it! In this case, Brannon must defend the rights of himself and all of the others under his care, for the entire cabin and barn full of people at Broken Arrow Crossing are in his care, whether he wanted it that way or not. I love, have always loved, the respect that Stuart Brannon shows to others. Elizabeth gives birth to her "little warrior" Littlefoot, and Brannon protects her. It doesn't matter to him that she's an Indian. She's a lady and while he's there, nobody will treat her any differently because SHE IS A LADY.

Like a said, not a romance. Hard Winter at Broken Arrow Crossing is one of those old-fashioned westerns about a man who's good to the very core of his being. He's lost so much, but he's still a good man. That's a man you can love.

Monday, April 11, 2016

Classics Club Review: Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte (1847)

Read for The Classics Club  ❤

Ahhhh, the foolishness of back cover synopses' writers. My personal copy of Wuthering Heights describes the story as "one of the most unforgettable romances of all time." No. I tell you . . . no. This story is not, never was intended to be, never will be, a romance. Rather, it is a warning, a bell clamoring in your head to warn you away from making the myriad poor choices made by the characters in this story.

The story is this . . . Mr. Earnshaw returns from a trip to Liverpool with a dark-headed, evil-eyed little boy in tow that he names Heathcliff. The child had been abandoned and the man couldn't leave him to fend for himself (which is possibly the only kindness ever genuinely performed in the story). Heathcliff grows up beside Earnshaw's own children, Hindley and Catherine, and, despite his wildness, develops an attachment to Catherine and she to him. Bad news. Obsession, ravenous passion, and complete disregard for the wants and wishes of others ensue, leaving despair in its wake.

Catherine, while loving Heathcliff, is also fond of her neighbor, Edgar Linton, an attractive young boy only a little older than herself. Affection grows, and when Heathcliff runs away in his teens after hearing Catherine say it would "degrade" her to marry him as much as she loves him for she is him, Catherine marries Edgar. Three years pass. Heathcliff returns, bitterness raging that Catherine has married. So, in his rage, he woos Edgar Linton's younger sister Isabella, winning her heart though I have no idea how since he is so boorish. Isabella and Heathcliff elope and literally on her wedding night Isabella realizes the terrible mistake she has made and yearns to return home to Thrushcross Grange. Catherine's health declines rapidly and Heathcliff's desperate yearning for her grows until he visits her one night, her last night on earth. She manages to give birth to a daughter, who will be named Cathy, but dies in the effort. Heathcliff's cruelty expands and Isabella escapes him, giving birth to her own child, a sickly little boy she names Linton.

Heathcliff, in his menacing hatred, determines to ruin the happiness of all their offspring. When Isabella passes, little Linton comes back into his own care. Heathcliff's ultimate goal is unhappiness for those he hates and vengeance by obtaining the Linton land and inheritance through a marriage between his son, Linton and young Cathy. Begin cycle all over again.

Wuthering Heights is a tale of obsession, of bitterness, of vengeance devouring a man alive who, knowing he is being devoured, heaps more burning coals upon his head by stoking the fire deliberately. I cannot even imagine what it would be like going into this book and thinking you were reading a romance. As it happens, I already knew that Wuthering Heights is a brutal, cruel book and expected nothing else from it.

One thing I hadn't fully anticipated, though, is how much I would come to dislike almost every single character within its pages. Possibly with the exception of Nelly, the housekeeper, although there are distinct moments where I didn't like her either, and she's the NARRATOR. But as for everyone else, there wasn't a single character to hold my empathy for any length of time. Catherine and Heathcliff are selfish, spoiled, petted children, even in their adulthood, and fully deserve one another's company. Edgar is weak and useless, and the same is said of Hindley Earnshaw or even of Nelly, the housekeeper, who should have done something, but didn't.

Children are abused and maligned in this story, treated as little more than a possession. Young Hareton Earnshaw, the son of Hindley Earnshaw, Catherine's brother, is raised by Heathcliff to be a brute and an idiot, with nothing done to improve or educate him. Heathcliff's son, Linton, is sour and peevish, working himself into illness so he can obtain what he wants, an ideal combination of the manipulative evil of his father and the spoiled sensitivities of his mother. Young Cathy is also spoiled, but in her at least, it is easy to realize that she never wishes to harm anyone, let alone her cousin Linton, and it grieves her when he is grieved.

These children are literally the most tragic of all the characters. When Hindley Earnshaw died, his son should have been saved from Heathcliff. But nobody even bothered to try. When Isabella Heathcliff dies and her son returns to her brother's house and Heathcliff demands him, Edgar just hands little Linton over to the man. He doesn't attempt fighting in court, or anything else, just a puny regret and "here's the lad" mentality. Heathcliff locks young Cathy up and forces her to marry Linton for revenge. He boxes her ears, hits any and all of the young people whenever he wishes, and is overall cruel and contemptible.

These children have no power, no rights, no reason to exist beyond how their adults can use them for their own means and ends. It is cruelty in the extreme and painful to read.

So, you might ask, why did I keep reading if the story is so morbid? Once I began Wuthering Heights, it was impossible to stop. It was like standing on a platform and watching two trains on a collision course and being unable to look away for morbid fascination. You only look away once the fire is extinguished and the bodies are carted away. Cold yes, but true in this case.

I've been trying to untangle my feelings regarding Heathcliff and Catherine. Oh, how I wish they had married. Then the destruction would have been limited only to themselves instead of expanding to encompass everyone around them. And yet, as much as I despise Heathcliff, I pity him too. What must it have been like to live so bitterly, so coldly? Young Cathy expresses pity for him, her cruel uncle, once, and Heathcliff responds with, "Keep you eft's fingers off; and move, or I'll kick you! I'd rather be hugged by a snake. How the devil can you dream of fawning on me? I detest you!"

The man is evil incarnate, but he was always so. Could salvation have ever found him? I don't know, but apart from young Cathy's one attempt, I don't think he ever encountered true, genuine compassion in the entirety of his life. He was always the wastrel, the foundling, belonging nowhere and to nobody. At least until Cathy came, but even that was not destined to be. So he is a tragic figure, but his brutality is impossible to overlook, making him the most unlikable character I have ever encountered in fiction.

Wuthering Heights is not the story of true love and redemption. It is not a romance no matter what certain readers might claim. There is nothing romantic in a story so ugly. Rather, it is the story of vengeance and wickedness. While I have no regrets in reading it, I do believe that once is plenty. You will never find a more depressing, melancholy, infuriating novel than Emily Bronte's Wuthering Heights, and it makes me ponder her home life, poor thing. It is brilliantly penned, I will grant her that, but light only comes into the story upon Heathcliff's death, at the very, very end, when joy is allowed back into the Heights and hope gains a foothold. He was like a cancer spreading its malignancy across the moors. Death was the only thing to rid the surviving characters of his hate.

Poor Heathcliff. He could have been so much more had he but tried.

Sunday, April 10, 2016

Author Meet-and-Greet with Laurie R. King

Thanks to a good friend of mine, I attended an author signing/Q&A/reading with Laurie R. King in Denver on Friday night!

For the uninformed, she writes the Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes mysteries, and I think she has another series too, but I'm not sure what it's called.

Now, I've never read her books, but thought the event sounded like fun and it was . . . just a terrific way to spend an evening with my friend! If you're ever in Denver and get a chance to go to the Tattered Cover bookstore on Colfax, it is AMAZING. I highly recommend it, just to wander through in awe!

But back to Ms. King. 

Here's a few fun facts about her in regards to her work.

She does not use an outline when she writes. In fact, the closest she ever got to an outline was little 3x5 inch notecards. That didn't last. She considers the difference in authors that are for or against outlines to be simply a matter of "organization" vs. "organic." I thought that to be a very congenial way to describe it.

However, she does write down plot points she must hit when she's working on her mysteries, just so she doesn't leave anything out.

She never writes about places that she hasn't visited herself (very wise, I think, and something I must remember with my own writing).

She does have a writing schedule, but it's usually no more than 1,500 words a day, sometimes as little as 600.

She knows that if she has writer's block than she's taken a wrong turn in the story somewhere and will re-read the book she's having trouble with until she finds the spot where she went wrong.

Her creativity flows in the way she sits. She wrote her stories longhand for the longest time until laptop computers actually became light enough to put on your lap. Then she could sit in the same position she was used to sitting in to write and her brain continued to work. Until laptops, if she tried to write on a computer, her brain blanked on her.

Her reason behind Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes was a wish to contrast and compare such incredible intellect side by side, 2 different people from different generations put together. When you think about it, that's really quite clever.

I found Ms. King to be utterly fascinating and very entertaining. She loves her work, enjoys her fans, and really has a deep respect for Sherlock Holmes, which I appreciate. I may not fully agree with her take on Dr. Watson, but is it really her take or how Mary Russell perceives him? Who knows?

And yes, I did stand in line to get her latest book, The Murder of Mary Russell signed. Not for me, but for someone else who I know is a fan and reads her books faithfully.

Here's a photo that Ms. King herself took from the podium and posted on Facebook and the little person circled in purple in the back on the left is, in fact, me. So exciting!

Now the biggest question is probably, do I want to read her work? Well, I started listening to The Beekeeper's Apprentice audio book at work on Friday before the event. So I'm not very far in. But I find it intriguing. While I am not really one for series in general, as most of you know, I may buckle down and try reading Ms. King's work. Or I may find that one book is plenty.

What I do know is that as an orator Laurie R. King is a pure delight. In fact, I bet taking a writing class from her would be a really entertaining and fun experience.

So there you have my weekend experience. I am now in love with the Tattered Cover bookstore and since my friend, Lindsay, is in love with it too and they have authors visit regularly, we might just make it a regular thing we do together. Now that would be awesome!

One last photo for the road, me meeting Laurie R. King. Proof positive that she signed a book for me! You didn't know my blonde hair was so long, eh?

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

On Reading Emily Bronte's Wuthering Heights

Wuthering Heights is quite a story. Whereas with Lorna Doone I struggled with every sentence, I hardly want to put Wuthering Heights down, it's so dark and moody and intriguing. I'm about to chapter 11 . . . Heathcliffe has just returned after being absent for 3 years to find Catherine married to Edgar Linton. Her exuberance over Heathcliffe's return has already raised some issues with her husband (can't imagine WHY!)

Having never seen a film version in its entirety other than the 1939 version starring Laurence Olivier and Merle Oberon, I'm sketchy on the details of the ending. The 1939 version skipped a great deal, resulting in a cleaned-up, nicer version of the story and of Heathcliffe. I know it doesn't end well in reality, that's just a given for this story, but it's interesting reading a classic where I'm not 100% sure of the plot twists.

Things that have already jumped out at me are:

1) Catherine is a spoiled brat and I dislike her intensely. There really is nothing nice to say about her AT ALL. She doesn't treat her husband right or her servants or just about anybody, even her father. The only person she ever treated right or appeared to genuinely love was Heathcliffe, but what a love! Passionate and obsessive and quite a bit terrifying.

2) Heathcliffe has no soft edges. There is nothing kindly or redeemable about him, making him very different from Mr. Rochester who, even though I have yet to read Jane Eyre, I've always liked in the film versions.

3) It's fascinating that the story is told from Ellen's perspective as a memory. It makes for a very intriguing narrative and it makes me wonder how truthful of a narrator she is since she isn't inside anyone else's head but her own. She could be an unreliable narrator of Heathcliffe and Catherine so it raises the question of whether they were like my above descriptions of them or if they weren't as bad as she made them out to be. How good was her memory and who kindly was she intending to be in her depiction of them to Mr. Lockwood?

So says Marlon Brando, one of my favorite actors of all time.

Have you read Wuthering Heights? If so, what are your thoughts on it?

I'm enjoying it, if enjoying is the right word, far more than I imagined possible. Not because I like the characters because I really don't, but because the story fascinates me. It torments and grieves the reader in countless ways.

My personal copy has a label on the back that says it is one of the most unforgettable romances of all time. I disagree. That would be like calling Romeo & Juliet a romance instead of a tragedy. Perhaps it could be a romantic tragedy, but for Wuthering Heights, Heathcliffe and Cathy are tearing themselves apart with this obsession that can't be quenched. There is nothing romantic in their inevitable demise, only sorrow. 

Favorite Quotes so Far

Saturday, April 2, 2016

Poetry Month Tag

Hamlette at The Edge of the Precipice is hosting this poetry month celebration so I figured I might as well start out with tag. Maybe I'll be inspired to read more poetry than I have for the last couple of years. I loved poetry in college!

What are some poems you like?

I love Goblin Market by Christina Rossetti. I also enjoy Tennyson's The Lady of Shalott.

What are some poems you dislike?

I'm not partial to any of Emily Dickinson's work, at least not at this point.

Are there any poets whose work you especially enjoy?  If so, who are they?

Shakespeare . . . always.

Do you write poetry?

I haven't in the last few years, but did write some when I was in college. They received good grades and I enjoyed writing them, but I don't make a habit of it, although I am considering a return to poetic writing.

Have you ever memorized a poem?

Yes, The Quality of Mercy by Shakespeare and then The Road Not Taken by Robert Frost. There were others I memorized in school, but those are long forgotten now. 

Do you prefer poetry that rhymes and had a strict meter, or free verse?  Or do you like both?

I'm partial to both, although sometimes I find free verse to be distracting . . . unless I'm writing it, which means I'm a bit biased. *winks*

Do you have any particular poetry movements you're fond of?  (Beat poets, Romanticism, Fireside poets, etc?)(If you haven't got any idea what I'm talking about, that's fine!  You can check out this list for more info, if you want to.)

When I read poetry, it's usually by one of the British romantics like Byron or Tennyson or Keats. I do also love Christina Rossetti and Elizabeth Barrett Browning, although I'm not sure where they fall in the list.

Sunday, March 27, 2016

Book Review: The Bronte Plot by Katherine Reay

The Bronte Plot by Katherine Reay
Thomas Nelson Publishers

My Rating

❤ Goodreads Synopsis ❤

Lucy Alling makes a living selling rare books, often taking suspicious measures to reach her goals. When her unorthodox methods are discovered, Lucy's secret ruins her relationship with her boss and her boyfriend James—leaving Lucy in a heap of hurt, and trouble. Something has to change; she has to change.

In a sudden turn of events, James's wealthy grandmother Helen hires Lucy as a consultant for a London literary and antiques excursion. Lucy reluctantly agrees and soon discovers Helen holds secrets of her own. In fact, Helen understands Lucy's predicament better than anyone else.

As the two travel across England, Lucy benefits from Helen's wisdom, as Helen confronts the ghosts of her own past. Everything comes to a head at Haworth, home of the Brontë sisters, where Lucy is reminded of the sisters' beloved heroines, who, with tenacity and resolution, endured—even in the midst of change.

Now Lucy must go back into her past in order to move forward. And while it may hold mistakes and regrets, she will prevail—if only she can step into the life that's been waiting for her all along.

❤ My Thoughts ❤

I've been faithfully reading Reay's books since her first publication, and that wasn't even all that long ago. And I'm never entirely sure if I love them or not. I think perhaps her work is more complex than mere love or dislike, or it could also be that she gets this close to perfection, but not quite. Or it might just be me, expecting something, anticipating something, that I'm just never going to find. It doesn't mean I don't like her work, find it entertaining, or read it quickly, because I do . . . on all three counts. It's just I always hope for something . . . different.

The best parts of The Bronte Plot involve Lucy and Helen's trip to England, which is pure delight. I love all the literary references (the ones I understand anyway) and love all the places the women visit that have a literary theme. Places I never knew about because I never anticipated I would ever have a chance to visit England. I hope to do that someday and so this novel actually gave me quite a few sight-seeing tips, places that need to be on the list for any lover of classic literature.

I love textures and colors and furniture so I also delighted in the antiquities aspect of the story. I could see and feel everything Lucy described and those descriptions warmed me. I adored the moments she spent in Haworth, where the Bronte sisters lived, where Lucy spent time redesigning the rooms of the inn where she was staying, helping the hostess rework the themes. It was a very selfless act on her part and I think I felt closest to her while she's in Haworth, struggling with her identity. I would have loved to be there, not with her per se, but experiencing what she experienced. Of course, I've always been a little bit of a loner so the idea of spending time alone on the moors appeals to me. A touch of romanticism, I expect.

Sid, Lucy's employer, is charming. I wish he'd been in more of the story in some ways, but also understand why he couldn't be. Still, I just loved him. Dillon, their driver in England, is adorable, and Bette, the hostess for their stay in Haworth, just warmed my heart. I love how Dillon calls her pure sunshine. Her gift is to make others feel welcome, to be a hostess, to love. I do believe that apart from Sid, Bette was my favorite character.

Now, for the reason I'm only going with 4 stars instead of 5. I fear the romance between Lucy and James, Helen's grandson, was a bit off-putting. Stories of self-discovery do not need to include a romance on top of everything else. The story would have been just as good, likely even better, had it been just about Lucy's soul-searching. As it was, the romance at the beginning felt rushed and harried. They meet, fall in love, and break up within the first 50 pages of the book, with far too much of their relationship developing off the page and being reference later as to having happened. It felt hurriedly squeezed in and just didn't work. And in that same vein, the ending fell too cookie-cutter perfect. Real life isn't like that. Mistakes have consequences and the consequences for Lucy were wrapped up with a tidy pink bow that just didn't feel real to me.

I also would have appreciated a bit more faith-based decision-making. Instead I seriously doubted whether anyone actually was a believer. They learned some moral lessons, yes, but nothing that pointed to an actual relationship with the Lord. The only real reference to faith of any kind if Helen's enjoyment of C.S. Lewis' theological works, which is good, but probably could have been expanded on for a little more depth.

Other than these few dislikes I mentioned, I found The Bronte Plot to be quite engaging . . . a nice distraction for a holiday weekend. Just make sure you're actually familiar with the Bronte sisters' works if you give this novel a try. I've only ever read The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, but I've seen several film adaptations of their work so I wasn't lost. Otherwise, my confusion would have been monumental. ❤

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 ...