First Line Friday # 29: “Becoming Mrs. Lewis”

It’s time for a new edition of First Line Fridays hosted by the Hoarding Books blog!

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I’m sharing a first line of a book that has been on my TBR all year! Becoming Mrs. Lewis by Patti Callahan — based on the real-life relationship between C. S. Lewis and Joy Davidman. A couple weeks ago, it was announced as a finalist for the Christy Awards! (YAY and congrats, Patti!)

I hope to read this book soon as I’ve only heard GREAT THINGS (mostly from Rachel McMillan who tells me what to read).

1926

Bronx, New York

From the very beginning it was the Great Lion who brought us together.

Your turn! What’s your first line?

Mini Review: “The Viscount and the Vicar’s Daughter” by Mimi Matthews

I’m over here reading my way through Mimi Matthew’s backlist of books and LOVING IT! She writes historically accurate Victorian fiction like no other.

About the Book

A WORLD-WEARY RAKE

After years of unbridled debauchery, Tristan Sinclair, Viscount St. Ashton has hit proverbial rock bottom. Seeking to escape his melancholy, he takes refuge at one of Victorian society’s most notorious house parties. As the Christmas season approaches, he prepares to settle in for a month of heavy drinking…until an unexpected encounter changes his plans—and threatens his heart.

A PRIM VICAR’S DAUGHTER

Valentine March is not the drab little spinster she appears to be. When her new job as a lady’s companion lands her smack in the middle of Yorkshire with England’s most infamous rake, she resolves to keep her head down and her eyes fixed firmly on her future—a future which most definitely does not include a sinfully handsome viscount.

A MATCH MADE IN SCANDAL

A friendship is impossible. An affair out of the question. But when one reckless act binds them together, will two star-crossed souls discover there’s more to each other than meets the eye? Or will revelations from the past end their fragile romance before it begins?

Goodreads | Amazon

Review

The Viscount and the Vicar’s Daughter has the makings of a scandalous romance but what is found between its pages is a sweet romance and story of friendship. Tristan and Valentine have an unconventional beginning, but as their identities tie them together and more is revealed about their characters, an intriguing story of romance and second chances unfolds. Mimi’s subtle style of weaving all story elements together shines through in this novel, particularly where Valentine’s surprising history is concerned.

And oh, the themes of this story! How a person cannot be forced to change — it must be a personal choice. How faith in someone can encourage and uplift. How forgiveness, second chances, and love are all possibilities, no matter the negativity of circumstances. I also really loved the inclusion of Bible verses as a particular element and how they conversationally figure into the dynamic between Tristan and Valentine.

I was particularly happy to read this novel as it was hinted to as a distant and early-planned connection to her latest story, The Work of Art, in her draft of Art if it were to have been a Victorian piece. Alas, The Work of Art was rewritten for the Regency Era and it is a GEM of a story! But I had no qualms imaging Tristan’s story as a later-set version of Captain Arthur Heywood’s brother. (I hope all of these ramblings/gushings make sense!)

If you haven’t indulged in a Mimi Matthews novel yet, what are you waiting for?!

Content note: this novel is a clean romance but has a few mild expletives (all era appropriate) throughout.

Review: “The Gryphon Heist” by James R. Hannibal

Brace yourself for my thoughts on a new thrilling novel of espionage I’d recommend to any fans of military fiction or suspense! I anticipate The Gryphon Heist is the start of a new remarkable series from author James R. Hannibal.

About the Book

Talia Inger is a rookie CIA case officer assigned not to the Moscow desk as she had hoped but to the forgotten backwaters of Eastern Europe–a department only known as “Other.” When she is tasked with helping a young, charming Moldovan executive secure his designs for a revolutionary defense technology, she figures she’ll be back in DC within a few days. But that’s before she knows where the designs are stored–and who’s after them. With her shady civilian partner, Adam Tyler, Talia takes a deep dive into a world where only criminal minds and unlikely strategies will keep the Gryphon, a high-altitude data vault, hovering in the mesosphere.

Even Tyler is more than he seems, and Talia begins to wonder: Is he helping her? Or using her access to CIA resources to pull off an epic heist for his own dark purposes?

In this Ocean’s Eleven-meets-Mission Impossible thriller, former tactical deception officer and stealth pilot James R. Hannibal offers you a nonstop thrill ride through the most daring heist ever conceived. 

Goodreads | Amazon

Review

The Gryphon Heist is an action-packed thriller of a novel! One that should require a seatbelt warning 😊. The synopsis aptly references Ocean’s 11 meeting Mission: Impossible, and I must agree. I’d also add a comparison to the high stakes, globe-trotting, and gadgetry of a James Bond film with a few more espionage and psychology elements.

We’ll get to Talia and Tyler in a moment, but first I want to talk about the cast of characters! The supporting characters are some of the most vivid and memorable I can recall from an ensemble cast in the vein of Ronie Kendig or Susan May Warren. I enjoyed getting to know their quirks and skillsets! Hannibal’s style balances such a large cast admirably, complete with accents I could “hear” through the succinct phrasing.

Even with all the action, the story is deep and layered.  Talia is a compelling heroine whose emotions and personal journey to grace are handled extremely well and realistically. The secrets and twists she deals with unfold in surprising ways, and Tyler plays a significant role as an enigmatic leader in all of it. I couldn’t predict ANYTHING about the finally-revealed villain or real plot behind the subterfuge. The end is intriguing, to say the least, and I anticipate another surprising and high stakes story with the sequel releasing early next year!

Thank you to Revell for the review copy. This is my honest review.

Review: “The Spice King” by Elizabeth Camden

One thing I always love about Elizabeth Camden’s novels are her intelligent heroines who illuminate aspects of women’s roles in society during the setting’s era. In her latest novel, The Spice King, a tenacious botanist is finding her place in 1900 Washington, DC. There happens to a hero to this story, too, as evidenced by the handsome cover….

About the Book

Gray Delacroix has dedicated his life to building his very successful global spice empire, but it has come at a cost. Resolved to salvage his family before it spirals out of control, he returns to his ancestral home to save his brother and sister before it’s too late.

As a junior botanist for the Smithsonian, Annabelle Larkin has been charged with the impossible task of gaining access to the notoriously private Delacroix plant collection. If she fails, she will be out of a job and the family farm in Kansas will go under. She has no idea that in gaining entrance to the Delacroix world, she will unwittingly step into a web of dangerous political intrigue far beyond her experience.

Unable to deny her attraction to the reclusive business tycoon, Annabelle will be forced to choose between her heart and loyalty to her country. Can Gray and Annabelle find a way through the storm of scandal without destroying the family Gray is fighting to save?

Goodreads | Amazon

Review

The Spice King is an intelligent historical romance!
Things I loved about this novel:

  • the tenacious heroine! She’s capable and wonderfully feminine, yet she still proves her ability and right to work in an environment history traditionally viewed as a place for men. And she loves her sister so much!
  • a brooding and fiercely loyal hero, whose facade begins to melt when he sees the potential for a dream for companionship and family unrealized (both in a romantic way and the relationships restored with his siblings)
  • political intrigue and secrets! Historically accurate WASHINGTON and the White House!
  • themes truth, loyalty, patriotism, trust
  • I enjoyed learning new things about exotic spices & foods we take for granted today!
  • the friendship and rapport between Gray and Annabelle. It’s a dynamic and subtle relationship. He is attracted to her intelligence and she greatly respects him!
  • Gray’s relationship with his siblings! I’m excited about more to come… and hopefully some answers to the twists of the story.
  • THE SWOONY COVER. I’M IN LOVE. And the hero very much matches the cover, so extra points for matchy accuracy!
  • the romance-that’s-way-smart. The romance is central to the story, yes, but even more so is the simple mature friendship that develops between Gray and Annabelle. Camden doesn’t dwell on the physical dynamic between them, that’s done well and subtly just so the reader senses the attraction. The appeal in their romance is more about camaraderie, intelligence, a recognition that each compliments the other, and a mutual respect. This elevates the story to a higher level, I think!

I am excited for the rest of this “Hope and Glory” series! I know we will see more of Gray and Annabelle.

Thanks to Bethany House for the review copy. This is my honest review.

Audiobook Review: “Wedded to War” by Jocelyn Green

Wedded to War is a fascinating, layered, and quite serious look at the front lines of women’s foray into nursing during the beginning of the Civil War. Jocelyn Green has written an epic story that encompasses many true-life historical figures and accurate events that serve as characters in themselves as heroines Charlotte Waverly, Ruby O’Flannery, and others work as part of the Sanitary Commission to aid, nurse, and manage the ghastly aftermath of war in their very own country. As Charlotte finds her purpose in showing compassion and grace to everyone around her, she also matures over the timeline of the story into a capable woman of character. The hint of a romance between Charlotte and the hero was happily fitting and complimentary to her role, and I was delighted to learn that the couple is based on a real historical couple! Ruby, too, is a compelling heroine. I wondered, at times, how the twisting and sad threads of her story were going to work into the whole, but like the theme of the novel, all of it works toward the surprising good and satisfying end to the story.

The research and work that went into this novel is obvious. I am in awe of what the real-life heroines who inspired this story did to sacrifice and serve in a time of war.

The audio presentation of this novel, in particular, is well-told and riveting. The narrator clearly and skillfully does different intonations and accents for the different characters, including Ruby’s Irish one!

THANK YOU to the author for the audiobook version of this novel for the purpose of a review. This is my honest review.

Wedded to War on Goodreads | Amazon | Audible

Reading for Janeites | Austen in August

Continuing the fun theme of “Austen in August”, I am sharing a list of books I would recommend to any fans of Jane Austen! For more Austen fun, check out the list of Austen-themed posts at The Book Rat.

Historical

A Heart Revealed by Josi S. Kilpack

Regency-era goodness! It’s an expertly crafted story of love and worth, drawing from the societal constraints to set up a unique situation for the heroine whose journey is even more life-changing than that of the Dashwood sisters at the start of Sense & Sensibility.

The Work of Art by Mimi Matthews

The Work of Art is a Regency masterpiece, pun intended! I can highly recommend it to fans of clean historical fiction, mystery, or stories in the vein of the classics (think Austen with a few more kissing scenes, of course).

Contemporary

The Printed Letter Bookshop by Katherine Reay

Really, any Katherine Reay novel is a wonderful read for an Austen fan. She has books that give nods to Austen characters, too! (Lizzy & Jane, Dear Mr. Knightley, The Austen Escape) The Printed Letter Bookshop, though, is a story for true book lovers and looks at little ways reading influences our lives.

Jane of Austin: A Novel of Sweet Tea and Sensiblity by Hillary Manton Lodge

A contemporary retelling of S&S, Jane of Austin paints a trio of sisters in Texas with a dogs, tea, and a swoony Callum (Colonel Brandon) character. It also shows fresh perspective and “what-ifs” with the “Marianne” character as the heroine.

Second Impressions and Jane By the Book by Pepper Basham

These two novellas take readers to Bath, England with endearing characters. These stories take on literary themes within themselves and tell sweet stories of romance!

The Secrets of Paper and Ink by Lindsay Harrel

Bookish characters, an idyllic setting (Cornwall!), a little mystery, and romance all combine admirably in this story of friendship and a bookstore.

More Austen fun!

Favorite Quotes from Persuasion by Jane Austen

Review: “Ever Faithful” by Karen Barnett

I have enjoyed all of the novels in Karen Barnett’s “Vintage National Parks” series for their wonderful natural settings and looks at life through varied park inhabitants – rangers, staff, tourists, guides, and artists. This series is more of a collection as each novel has told a unique, standalone story set in a different national park.

About the Book

Vibrant historic Yellowstone National Park comes to life in this romantic mystery about a man hiding the truth, braving the west to become something more–and the woman who must confront his deception.

A man who can’t read will never amount to anything–or so Nate Webber believes. But he takes a chance to help his family by signing up for the new Civilian Conservation Corps, skirting the truth about certain “requirements.” Nate exchanges the harsh Brooklyn streets for the wilds of Yellowstone National Park, curious if the Eden-like wonderland can transform him as well. 

Elsie Brookes was proud to grow up as a ranger’s daughter, but she longs for a future of her own. After four years serving as a maid in the park’s hotels, she still hasn’t saved enough money for her college tuition. A second job, teaching a crowd of rowdy men in the CCC camp, might be the answer, but when Elsie discovers Nate’s secret, it puts his job as camp foreman in jeopardy. Tutoring leads to friendship and romance, until a string of suspicious fires casts a dark shadow over their relationship. Can they find answers before all of their dreams go up in smoke?

Goodreads | Amazon

Review

The setting of Yellowstone comes alive in this “vintage” story of dreaming by Karen Barnett. A well-paced tale of friendship, strength, and a little adventure unfolds in a picturesque setting that makes me want to visit ! I thought it was an insightful and curious look at Depression era events and culture, too, with characters I want to be friends with! 

One small element of this story I really appreciate is the distinction between education as separate from wisdom and leadership abilities. One does not require the other. This is shown through a learning disability of one specific character. The way Karen Barnett presents this situation is considerate while it emphasizes the worth of this individual as a child of God.

I think Ever Faithful is a flowing, easy to read story. Character driven at its heart, it shows the journeys of Elsie and Nate as they experience a season of life with great changes and possibilities. The setting is vivid and wonderfully essential to bringing out the passion in the characters – Elsie’s desire to teach and Nate’s quest to prove himself. When their paths intersect, they develop a friendship that brings out the best in each other and shows them both their worth and God’s plan.

Thank you to the publisher for the review copy. This is my honest review.