Review: “Fawkes” by Nadine Brandes

Social media can be really neat. I first heard of this book way before its official release through the author’s Instagram account. The idea of a young adult (YA) novel with a little fantasy and a little true history caught my attention. Add to that an eye-catching cover, and I was hooked. Fawkes by Nadine Brandes is all that you could want in such a story :).

About the Book

FawkesThomas Fawkes is turning to stone, and the only cure to the Stone Plague is to join his father’s plot to assassinate the king of England.

Silent wars leave the most carnage. The wars that are never declared, but are carried out in dark alleys with masks and hidden knives. Wars where color power alters the natural rhythm of 17th century London. And when the king calls for peace, no one listens until he finally calls for death.

But what if death finds him first?

Keepers think the Igniters caused the plague. Igniters think the Keepers did. But all Thomas knows is that the Stone Plague infecting his eye is spreading. And if he doesn’t do something soon, he’ll be a lifeless statue. So when his Keeper father, Guy Fawkes, invites him to join the Gunpowder Plot—claiming it will put an end to the plague—Thomas is in.

The plan: use 36 barrels of gunpowder to blow up the Igniter King.

The problem: Doing so will destroy the family of the girl Thomas loves. But backing out of the plot will send his father and the other plotters to the gallows. To save one, Thomas will lose the other.

No matter Thomas’s choice, one thing is clear: once the decision is made and the color masks have been put on, there’s no turning back.

Goodreads | Amazon

Review

Fawkes by Nadine Brandes explores the era of early 1600s England just before the failed “gunpowder plot”. But, the son of the infamous Guy Fawkes is the main character – Thomas. The added innovative use of magic to portray faith and beliefs adds a hint of fantasy to the story and makes for an allegorical tale of truth.

The twists in this story and the variations on the real-life historical account make for an exciting and intriguing time. On the surface, this story is an adventure and coming-of-age tale. But, upon closer consideration, its revelations and lessons depict the challenge of faith and the importance of choice, freedom, and surrender.

The characters and setting are all equally vivid. I especially loved Emma and the way Brandes used her character to show selfless love and teach Thomas so much about life and about himself. Through Thomas’s eyes, readers see the contrast between beliefs and blind allegiance, and the consequences of choices that have far-reaching effects. His story is one that will stick in my mind as an example of surrender and seeing beyond the surface of a person to the heart.

Thank you to Thomas Nelson and BookLook Bloggers program for the review copy. This is my honest review.

Advertisements
Book Gush: “Murder at the Flamingo” by Rachel McMillan (+ Giveaway!)

Book Gush: “Murder at the Flamingo” by Rachel McMillan (+ Giveaway!)

This blog post title is in honor of a beloved author whose own book gushes have added new favorites to my own shelf. Today, I’m absolutely GUSHING over Rachel McMillan’s historical mystery and romance release, Murder at the Flamingo, with a review, interview with Rachel, BOOK RECOMMENDATIONS FROM HER, and a GIVEAWAY!

Read on for more awesome bookish stuff!

About the Book

“Maybe it was time to land straight in the middle of the adventure…”

Murder at the Flamingo by Rachel McMillanHamish DeLuca has spent most of his life trying to hide the anxiety that appears at the most inopportune times — including during his first real court case as a new lawyer. Determined to rise above his father’s expectations, Hamish runs away to Boston where his cousin, Luca Valari, is opening a fashionable nightclub in Scollay Square. When he meets his cousin’s “right hand man” Reggie, Hamish wonders if his dreams for a more normal life might be at hand. 

Regina “Reggie” Van Buren, heir to a New Haven fortune, has fled fine china, small talk, and the man her parents expect her to marry. Determined to make a life as the self-sufficient city girl she’s seen in her favorite Jean Arthur and Katharine Hepburn pictures, Reggie runs away to Boston, where she finds an easy secretarial job with the suave Luca Valari. But as she and Hamish work together in Luca’s glittering world, they discover a darker side to the smashing Flamingo night club.

When a corpse is discovered at the Flamingo, Reggie and Hamish quickly learn there is a vast chasm between the haves and the have-nots in 1937 Boston—and that there’s an underworld that feeds on them both. As Hamish is forced to choose between his conscience and loyalty to his beloved cousin, the unlikely sleuthing duo work to expose a murder before the darkness destroys everything they’ve worked to build.

Goodreads | Amazon

Review

With Rachel McMillan’s distinct historical voice and attention to detail, she paints a vivid historical mystery with a hint of romance against the backdrop of a brilliant 1930s Boston scene. In her distinct way, she makes the setting a secondary character of its own, vocal and important in its culture and story role. With a fabulous puzzle solved and room for more adventures to come, the city comes to life as the characters grapple with loyalty, independence, anxiety, and purpose.

IMG_20180708_200945.jpgHamish and Reggie are endearing, quirky, enigmatic, and just plain lovable. Even secondary characters like Luca (whom you will dislike/love/want to hug all at once!) and Nate (and his wonderful candidness!) are sure to be favorites and promise to be even more essential in stories to come. And I just want to hang out with Reggie and watch films of the time!

Fans of McMillan’s previous Herringford & Watts series will be ecstatic to learn of the “next” generation (Hamish is a DeLuca, after all) and see tiny nods to the previous series and a familiar name or two!

Let’s stop right here and talk about Hamish. He is SUCH a product of his parents! But, he is his own kind of special, quirky, and important. Through his unique viewpoint, Rachel McMillan illustrates the challenges of mental illness — namely anxiety and panic — in a normalizing and emphatic way. This makes him wonderfully relatable — even for a reader with no personal experience with such challenges (like myself). I applaud her for using characterization to subtly bring awareness and empathy to the forefront in a way that adds so much to the story.

IMG_20180708_200938.jpgI could talk all day about more wonderful elements of this story — lemon cannolis, bicycles, jazz, picture shows, DANCES, light bulbs, classic literature, and an implied message of grace. Instead, I hope you choose to discover for yourself all the intricacies and fun of this little mystery.

I cannot wait to see where these beloved characters will take me next!

MANY thanks to Thomas Nelson for the review copy.

Interview with the Author

Pick one: lemon sandwich or lemon cannoli?

AHHH this is so hard. I am going to say cannoli.

What’s next for this set of characters?

Murder in the City of LibertyMurder in the City of Liberty releases next May and it finds Hamish and Reggie two years after they open Van Buren and DeLuca investigations/legal consulting/Winchester Molloy listening, in 1940.  There are two major forces in this book: the first is a black baseball player and fastest base stealer in the Boston farm leagues who becomes the target of a series of horrible pranks that eventually lead to murder.  The second is a growing racism (specifically anti-Semitism) which aligns with the conflict in Europe (for which Hamish’s home country is already fighting).  Very much like The White Feather Murders, I wanted explore the lack of social justice and the rampant prejudice heightened during war time.  On a personal front, Reggie and Hamish are doing a very poor job of being “just friends.”  And Nate gets a little bit of romance of his own!

Murder at the Flamingo incorporates a character with panic and anxiety when mental illness was taboo for the era. And, you have started a related hashtag #FictionForEmpowerment. Tell us more about that!

Yes! It is something that I have lived with my entire life and I thought this was the perfect time to talk about it through a fictional lens: so all of the symptoms and challenges I ascribe to Hamish are things I have struggled with since childhood.  Mental illness is very much like any other illness —except it is invisible.  So while, not unlike someone with cancer or diabetes, I have to see a doctor regularly and use medicinal treatment to live a full life, it is not something that is completely easy for everyone to understand. In Hamish DeLuca’s time, there were still rather primitive ideas about it and studies that found patients being doled all manner of horrible mercury pills (that ravaged the system), being locked in sanitariums or exposed to shock treatment. Because of Hamish’s visible symptoms, these are things that are very real threat to him.  I wanted to show that a character who suffers from this illness still has adventures and tries to get the girl: even though he had a steeper hill to climb in terms of acceptance than we do nowadays, he still is just a human being.  At heart, this series works to normalize mental illness without hopefully ever being slated as “issue” fiction. (For Herringford and Watts readers of The White Feather Murders, you will recognize that Hamish comes by his right hand tremor genetically. Something his father had since the end of A Lesson in Love and Murder).

Who was your favorite character to write?

I loved writing all of them. Just like in Herringford and Watts: they all mean so much to me.  I gave Reggie all my quips and one-liners so I loved doing that! My breakaway character in this was Nate. I always wanted to feature someone who could map the intricacies of the North End neighbourhood for them but I loved writing him so much that he ended up getting a much larger role than in the first outline. To the extent that he is a huge part of the central mystery in book 2. But my favourite character to write was Hamish! I looove all of my characters but I don’t know if I will ever feel as close to any of them as I do Hamish. I suppose it is because I am using him (as mentioned above) to speak to something very personal and challenging to me.

Loyalty is a BIG subject in this book, much of it revolving around Hamish’s cousin, Luca. What is the message you want readers to take away from their dynamic?

I think that when you read the book you see most people’s loyalty to Luca differs from Hamish’s. While so many speak to loyalty to Luca it is with the expectation that he can do something for them in return. Their loyalty anticipates a symbiotic relationship.  The spiritual themes in the book are deftly hidden but I really used Hamish’s loyalty intentionally to show a measure of grace. A few times in the book when asked by Luca where he gets his unfailing loyalty (even as Luca uses him or lets him down), Hamish has no other answer than “Your Luca.” Hamish’s loyalty is a result of his blind love for his cousin with no expectation of return on that investment. In that sense, writing aspects of this book was really heartbreaking for me. Hamish is a good kid with a great heart who just wants to spend time with his cousin and realizes that he doesn’t truly know Luca at all.  So loyalty without expectation of anything in return is one of the ways in which I tried to explore the themes of grace in the novel.

Rachel’s book recommendation fun!

OK, any #FictionForEmpowerment recommendations?

I would say The Rosie Project by Graham Simsion would be one that immediately comes to mind.  I just finished a book called the The Lost for Words Bookshop by Stephanie Butland and while it is never overtly expressed, it is clear the heroine suffers from PTSD. Charles Todd’s Ian Rutledge mysteries feature a detective late of the war who definitely suffers from anxiety and panic.  Finally, and though this is not intentional,  I view The Blue Castle by LM Montgomery to be a study in anxiety and panic.  Valancy Stirling’s undiagnosed heart condition is very much a representation of typical symptoms of panic attacks: from the initial recognition and through the onslaught. Also, her waking up at 3 a.m. consistently is another symptom. Because LM Montgomery was a life long sufferer, I always find this a perfect unintentional example of anxiety and panic disorder.

Which “McMillan” book should a reader start with?

Love in Three Quarter TimeIf you really just want to get to know my heart and nature, Love in Three Quarter Time. Man! This is a hard question.  In the Herringford and Watts series my personal favourite is A Lesson in Love and Murder. I think it does the best job of giving a well-rounded view of the four central characters (plus Benny) and their relationships and interactions. But, I am hoping a lot of people start with Flamingo. You get better with each book, I had a wonderful editor with this, it is a story close to my heart and I am proud (as much as I can be proud knowing that there is always a million things I would have done better) of the final product.

A book for someone new to the Christian fiction genre?

Try Katherine Reay. Any of her books. They’re literary-infused and filled with romance and also exceptionally written. Any spiritual truths are expressed in a subtle way.  My friend Allison Pittman has a new one coming out next year called The Seamstress (Tyndale, 2019) and it is a fictional spinoff of A Tale of Two Cities set during the reign of Marie Antoinette and it pursues spiritual truths within a truly beautiful historical setting.

A book for people who love YOUR historical mystery/romance series?

Price of PrivilegeI loooove so many books. If you truly want to get to know me and what makes my heart tick and mind gallop, I highly recommend The Price of Privilege series by Jessica Dotta. I am not going to put myself on the Dotta level in terms of comparative storytelling because she is a master.  I also am strongly influenced by Anna Lee Huber (Lady Darby series), Deanna Raybourn, Rhys Bowen (Molly Murphy) and Elizabeth Peters (Amelia Peabody).  I would say reading them has infused my passion for writing mysteries with heavy romance.

A book out of your comfort zone that you really loved?

I try super hard to read as much as I can in as many genres as I can.  Still, science fiction seems to be the one genre that I have the hardest trouble sinking into. But I loooved The Martian by Andy Weir. It is so funny. It has such an arresting narrator. I think it goes to prove that I can love anything if the voice is great.

A small time/indie published book?

JL Spohr’s The Realm Series (it begins with Heirs and Spares). Please read it.  Also, Masque by W.R. Gingell (if you have a beauty and the beast thing going, I will totally read your book).

And last but not least, a romance? (with a Rachel Catnip hero?)

High as the HeavensACK so hard! Just one! I can’t do just one. I really super duper fell in love with an Eva Ibbotson book I read for the first time this year called The Morning Gift.  I have a bit of a thing for Marriage of Convenience stories and this is one.  Quinn is totally a Rachel catnip hero.  Courtney, you know that I think Isaac Dalry in The Price of Privilege series is one of the all-time greatest heroes! Total catnip.  I have a huge thing some of Lynn Austin’s heroes. I think she writes the best kissing scenes of all time and I just love her books to death. So James McGrath in Fire by Night is an all time favourite. I like super intelligent heroes.   Who are just a little different. Or crafted by Katie Breslin. SIMON IN High as the HeavensI am looking at you!!!!!I am also looking at you, you adorable Pimpernel-Phantom of the Opera hybrid Jack Benningham in Not by Sight. Lately, a favourite was Jacobus in The Reckoning at Gossamer Pond by Jaime Jo Wright.  Also, if your hero is a scrappy reporter, I am definitely there for that. I read Anna Blankman’s duology Prisoner of Night and Fog and Conspiracy of Blood and Smoke recently and the hero, Daniel, is a Jewish reporter in Nazi-laden Germany pre-WWII. His ambition to bring truth and light to a world that is against him is marvelous.

Oh Rachel! Thank you for taking the time to answer my questions and give us all new books to add to the TBR!!!! I know I need to read a few more of these. YES to all things Price of Privilege!!!

About the Author

Rachel McMillanRachel McMillan is a keen history enthusiast and a lifelong bibliophile. When not writing or reading, she can most often be found drinking tea and watching British miniseries. Rachel lives in bustling Toronto, where she works in educational publishing and pursues her passion for art, literature, music, and theater.

Rachel’s Book Blog | Website | Goodreads | Twitter 

Instagram | Facebook | Pinterest

 

Giveaway

Love in Three Quarter TimeRachel has graciously offered a giveaway copy of a kindle ebook of Love in Three Quarter Time. Follow the instructions on the Rafflecopter form to enter! Giveaway ends 7/21/18 12:00am. Open internationally. Entrants will have 1 week to respond to email contact to claim prize. Void where prohibited.

Enter the Rafflecopter giveaway here!

 

Review: “Sons of Blackbird Mountain” by Joanne Bischof

IMG_20180627_121649_091.jpg

I’m not really sure how to introduce this book and story, other than to say it left me speechless and in awe of its beauty for several weeks. Getting to read an early copy of Sons of Blackbird Mountain was a privilege I apparently needed to form a coherent review! I highly recommend this story AND author — I hope you readers get to enjoy a Joanne Bischof story soon!

About the Book

Sons of Blackbird MountainWhen Aven Norgaard leaves Norway to serve as housekeeper to her late husband’s cousins in Appalachia, she expects lads in need of care, not three grown men—each in need of a wife and bound by a powerful brotherhood. As the men carve out a living by brewing artisan liquor, young Haakon’s pursuit tempts Aven’s lonely spirit . . . but it is his deaf brother, Thor, whose silent strength shows her the depths of real love.

Unable to speak to any woman, Thor Norgaard never anticipates Aven will befriend him, let alone treat him as her safe harbor. Though hard cider is their livelihood and his greatest talent, he fights his way to sobriety with Haakon’s help, defying the bottle for Aven’s hand—only to face a battle of the heart that tests even the strongest bonds of brotherhood.

Goodreads | Amazon

Review

Sons of Blackbird Mountain is an achingly beautiful story of brotherhood and romance. The quiet strength and vibrancy of the characters, especially the main viewpoints of Thor and Aven, combine with an atmospheric setting and compelling era to create a story that resonates deeply within the human heart. It is riveting, atmospheric, with a complexity of characters (especially the themes of brotherhood) — and that doesn’t begin to describe it!

Thor’s perspective is an experience in itself. With great care, Joanne has portrayed his world and experiences as a deaf individual in a nearly-tangible way. Even noting nuances and things he does differently (makes noises walking through woods, breathing patterns, realizes he doesn’t understand letter sounds, so many things). I loved that Thor’s character proves he is a man only limited in audible speech, not in emotion or presence or other capabilities. His heart, even in the middle of major personal obstacles, is on display.

I can’t help but mentally compare him to Joanne’s other A-MA-ZING and forever favorite hero Charlie Lionheart (from The Lady and the Lionheart) Thor starts out the antithesis of Charlie in so many ways, yet their similarities by story’s end are wonderful. Both are strong, selflessly sacrificing and desiring to be a help to those around them. Both love with abandon.

And oh, what a time Aven has finding her place and her belonging in this new world and with these colorful people! Her story, when fully revealed, is poignant and sorrowful in itself, making her newfound circumstances all the more important for her presence and healing.

Books and stories can lend voices to those we normally would not hear, whether muted by society, history, or otherwise silenced. Author Joanne Bischof accomplishes this feat with a lyrical, immersive, and prose-like style that is never afraid to delve deep into matters of the the heart in all their joy and despair. In this case, a fictional tale brings to life the perspective of a deaf brother and a rootless young woman whose presence forever changes the lives of three brothers.

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

Review, Author Interview + Giveaway: “Amongst the Roses” by Meghan M. Gorecki

Today I’m SO excited because I get to host author (and friend) Meghan M. Gorecki with a review, interview, and GIVEAWAY of her recent historical romance release, Amongst the Roses. This is a rich story set against the backdrop of the Civil War and two families’ involvement in that conflict.

About the Book

Amongst The Roses

The War Between the States shakes Margaret Bryant out of her comfortable upper-class life when her father enlists in the Army of the Potomac. Despite being safely ensconced above the Mason-Dixon Line in Chambersburg, Pennsylvania, Margaret finds her strength tested by opposition from familiar faces and Confederate threats. Will she let a young man from a lesser station into her heart even as war rages ever nearer to the homefront?

Restless Connor Doyle sees the war as a way to escape from his family’s farm and his identity as a poor Irishman’s son. His brother, Adam, torn between duty to country and his family, enlists alongside Connor. Adam dares to hope in a future with Margaret when he begins a courtship correspondence from the war front. The two brothers make a vow to protect one another at all costs, but when faced with death and destruction from all sides—will they be able to uphold it?

The three bloodiest days in America’s history brings these three together at Gettysburg and tragedy’s cruelty threatens to tear two hearts apart—and bring two unlikely allies together.

Amazon | Goodreads

Review

Amongst the Roses transports the reader to the northern front during key conflicts of the Civil War, including its society-shaking start. With multiple viewpoints, it explores the home front and battlefields from multiple perspectives that lend a voice to more than mere characters, but to a tragic and heartbreaking time in history.

This novel explores themes of hope, family loyalty, and the provision of a Heavenly Father whose presence is constant even when He may seem silent. The intricacies of the relationships in this book are fascinating and relatable, even when they illustrate hard truths about sacrifice and consequences.

I’m eagerly looking forward to the next story in this series — especially because “the end” came much too soon (ahem, a little bit abruptly for Margaret, too). I hope the continuing story of the Bryants and Doyles will resolve my questions and bring a few things full circle for the families.

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

Interview with the Author

What is the inspiration behind your heroine, Margaret’s, personality?

Part Scarlett O’Hara, part Elinor Dashwood, part Meg March. 🙂

What theme or spiritual message do you want to communicate to readers with this story?

That God holds our hearts in the palm of His hand—and deeply cares for us, regardless of circumstances that may suggest He’s far away. That His perfect plan—and His loving heart—never change even when the winds of war and devastation swirl.

What was most challenging about setting a story in the Civil War era?

The fact that almost the entirety of Chambersburg was burnt to the ground in 1864. And not getting to visit every single battlefield my guy characters fought at.

Which character was your favorite to write?

Connor. 🙂 He’s a stinker, but his redemption arc (ongoing) was something special to get to build.

He IS a stinker! But I can already tell his growth will be worth it.

For fun: If you could live in any other time period in history, which would it be and why?

Oooh. Love this question. Much as I do love the Civil War—I need indoor plumbing. LOL So probably the 1940’s or 1950’s. All things vintage for this red lipstick loving author!

I can’t argue with you there!!! I would NOT want to fetch water or have to go outdoors to do other necessary things. 😉

What are you currently reading (or reading next!)?

I’m reading this powerful book by Jess Connolly called Dance, Stand, Run: The God-Inspired Moves of a Woman on Holy Ground. Absolutely phenomenal—and I’m only through Chapter Two!

Thank you, Meghan, for taking the time to answer my questions today!

About the Author

Meghan M. Goreki

Meghan M. Gorecki is an author of inspirational fiction about what God can make beautiful from the ashes of history, and hearts. A lover and avid studier of people, times gone by, and fiction, she has been writing since childhood and now houses her books under Northern Belle Publishing. Coffee and red lipstick color her days as a redhead from a box, alongside her treasured tribe of family and friends in her beloved hometown of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

Facebook | Instagram | Twitter | Website

Giveaway

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Giveaway open 4/26/18 12am – 5/5/18 12am CT for (1) ebook copy of Amongst the Roses, ebook format of choice, provided by the author. Entrants must use a valid email address. Void where prohibited.

Review: “A Refuge Assured” by Jocelyn Green

Sometimes, stories will sweep you up into an era and a people that both fascinate and stir the heart with truth. This is all the more special when such a story exhibits historical facts and accuracy which are results of detailed research. Author Jocelyn Green’s latest historical novel, A Refuge Assured, is just such a story. Its characters are as vivid as the tumultuous time frame portrayed: the peak of the French Revolution colliding with post-revolution America. With it, Jocelyn has worked her way onto my list of all-time favorite authors! I highly recommend this historical novel (with a hint of romance) to fans of authors like Lori Benton and Laura Frantz.

About the Book

A Refuge AssuredLacemaker Vivienne Rivard never imagined her craft could threaten her life. Yet in revolutionary France, it is a death sentence when the nobility, and those associated with them, are forced to the guillotine. Vivienne flees to Philadelphia, but danger lurks in the French Quarter, as revolutionary sympathizers begin to suspect a young boy left in her care might be the Dauphin. Can the French settlement Asylum offer permanent refuge?

Militiaman Liam Delaney proudly served in the American Revolution, but now that the new government has imposed an oppressive tax that impacts his family, he barely recognizes the democracy he fought for. He wants only to cultivate his hard-won farm near Asylum, but he soon finds himself drawn into the escalating tension of the Whiskey Rebellion. When he meets a beautiful young Frenchwoman recently arrived from Paris, they are drawn together in surprising ways to fight for the peace and safety for which they long.

Goodreads | Amazon

Review

A Refuge Assured is an emotionally gripping and immersive story of a search for refuge and peace. With high emotions and multifaceted characters, Jocelyn Green knows how to pen a story that appeals to the heart and displays a bright hope. I felt like I was witness to revolutions and cries for liberty!

A Refuge Assured QuoteThe plights of Vivienne, and subsequently Liam, are attention-getting and full of natural ups and downs as they face challenges from their environments, political pressures, family stresses, and personal secrets that determine their paths. The added knowledge that so much REAL historical facts and events are portrayed in this story makes it all the more interesting!

What is true freedom? Is it rooted in a government, a cause, authority? Or, is it found as a child of the King, in His will and freedom to choose His path of forgiveness? These are just a few of the questions a reader might ponder when reading A Refuge Assured. This story is more than a narrative on history with relatable characters, it’s an experience of an era, vivid settings, and the hearts of human beings.

Thank you to the author and publisher, Bethany House, for the complimentary review copy of this book. This is my honest review.

Review: “A Song Unheard” by Roseanna M. White

20180117_142815.jpg

Last year, one of my very favorite historical romances was A Name Unknown by Roseanna M. White. I loved it SO MUCH! It’s still at the top of the list, but the second book in the series, A Song Unheard, impressed me as well. Comparing the two is like comparing apples and oranges because each one is unique and wonderful in its own way. Book 2 features another sister in the “family”, with a trip to Wales, violin music, and a mysterious mission…

About the Book

Willa Forsythe is both a violin prodigy and top-notch thief, which make her the perfect choice for a crucial task at the outset of World War I—to steal a cypher from a famous violinist currently in Wales. A Song Unheard by Roseanna M. White

Lukas De Wilde has enjoyed the life of fame he’s won—until now, when being recognized nearly gets him killed. Everyone wants the key to his father’s work as a cryptologist. And Lukas fears that his mother and sister, who have vanished in the wake of the German invasion of Belgium, will pay the price. The only light he finds is in meeting the intriguing Willa Forsythe.

But danger presses in from every side, and Willa knows what Lukas doesn’t—that she must betray him and find that cypher, or her own family will pay the price as surely as his has.

Amazon | Goodreads

Review

A Song Unheard is a novel for anyone who loves history or music. Set during the early days of WWI, it portrays a unique era, a slice of history, and the trials ordinary people endured. I liked that it showed multiple intertwining viewpoints– that of a spunky thief-turned-government aid practically working as a spy (Willa), a refugee estranged from his family and struggling to maintain his normal lifestyle (Lukas), and that of an intelligent young lady hiding her true identity in German-occupied Belgium (Margot).

In their own ways, they each learn important lessons of faith. What stands out to me the most is Willa’s realization that the loving FAMILY she has is wonderful, but that the love of a Heavenly Father can be all-encompassing and accepting far beyond any human connection she might seek.

These twisting perspectives all tell a seamless story with action, intrigue, and true acts of heroism. Interspersed with it all is a romance that grows naturally even while the characters themselves are often (comically) unaware of their deep connection.

And OH, the music!!! The music lover in me swooned a time or two while reading Lukas and Willa’s musical scenes. I have never read a story that incorporates the emotions and visceral feelings music can evoke in mere words and paragraphs. It was so vivid, I could almost hear Willa’s song in her heart. The journey of the characters could be likened to a song that has mournful minor strains and moments of pure joy. All of it works together to present a piece of art: in this case, a musical story that incorporates both historical suspense, romance, and faith.

Thank you to Bethany House Publishers and Netgalley for the opportunity to review a complimentary copy of this book. This is my honest review.

Review: “Impossible Saints” by Clarissa Harwood

When authors I love endorse or excessively talk about stories they love, I try to pay attention — even if a story is outside my “normal” reading scope (i.e. new authors, small publishers, different genres). When author Rachel McMillan gushed over Impossible Saints by Clarissa Harwood, a general market historical romance, I knew I wanted to see what all the fuss was about. And, I really liked it!

 

About the BookSet in England in 1907, Impossible Saints is a novel that burns as brightly as the suffrage movement it depicts, with the emotional resonance of Tracy Chevalier and Jennifer Robson. 
Impossible SaintsEscaping the constraints of life as a village schoolmistress, Lilia Brooke bursts into London and into Paul Harris’s orderly life, shattering his belief that women are gentle creatures who need protection. Lilia wants to change women’s lives by advocating for the vote, free unions, and contraception. Paul, an Anglican priest, has a big ambition of his own: to become the youngest dean of St. John’s Cathedral. Lilia doesn’t believe in God, but she’s attracted to Paul’s intellect, ethics, and dazzling smile.

As Lilia finds her calling in the militant Women’s Social and Political Union, Paul is increasingly driven to rise in the church. They can’t deny their attraction, but they know they don’t belong in each other’s worlds. Lilia would rather destroy property and serve time in prison than see her spirit destroyed and imprisoned by marriage to a clergyman, while Paul wants nothing more than to settle down and keep Lilia out of harm’s way. Paul and Lilia must reach their breaking points before they can decide whether their love is worth fighting for.

GoodreadsAmazon

ReviewImpossible Saints is a flowing, layered general fiction title with subtle Christian overtones, exploring themes of conviction, purpose, and challenges to preconceptions or societal norms. Its two characteristics that stand out the most are its depiction of an era both tumultuous and expectation-laden, a relevant parallel with today in some ways; and its endearing characters, with even the secondary characters taking on vibrant tones. Rachel McMillan was right in referencing both Grantchester (ITV) and the film Suffragette(2015) in her review. This book has similarities with both “visual” depictions, but its storyline is distinctly its own. I would say it is like Grantchester without the moral ambiguity or mystery meets Suffragette with all the wit and verbal banter of the classic Hollywood era.

Oh, the romance! What starts as believable camaraderie between reunited childhood friends grows into an authentic friendship with sparks of attraction. Before long, Paul and Lilia must face what their relationship must look like in the face of the women’s movement, church and societal expectations, and personal motives as it morphs into a romantic dynamic. The push-pull of their relationship really represents the importance of broadening perspective — that being inclusive and choosing to care for someone doesn’t mean you must compromise your identity or convictions.

For my blog readers who typically stick to clean inspirational fiction titles, I do want to mention a few things about this novel’s content. It is a *little* more candid and sensual when it comes to the romance verbiage, it depicts tobacco use, and has a few very mild expletives.

Impossible Saints is equally candid, and refreshingly so, when tackling issues such as women’s roles or the contrasts between ritual in the church vs. faith in action. I would have liked Lilia’s growth in receptiveness to Paul’s faith to have been a little more by story’s end, though I think the door is left open to her for deeper faith after “the end”. But maybe that’s my personal convictions shining through in my perception of her character. Overall, I thought it an authentic portrayal of the era and a beautiful story of romance.

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