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

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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.

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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.

 

Review: “Lady Jayne Disappears” by Joanna Davidson Politano

Lady Jayne Disappears by Joanna Davidson Politano is an exciting and complex debut. I’ve been anticipating this book for a LONG time! In fact, I added it to my TBR “shelf” way early in the year. The premise of a young lady in Victorian England secretly writing under a pen name while trying to solve a mystery connected to her own family just sounded so intriguing! And, it was.

About the Book

Lady Jayne Disappears

When Aurelie Harcourt’s father dies in debtor’s prison, he leaves her just two things: his wealthy family, whom she has never met, and his famous pen name, Nathaniel Droll. Her new family greets her with apathy and even resentment. Only the quiet houseguest, Silas Rotherham, welcomes her company.

When Aurelie decides to complete her father’s unfinished serial novel, writing the family into the story as unflattering characters, she must keep her identity as Nathaniel Droll hidden while searching for the truth about her mother’s disappearance–and perhaps even her father’s death.

Author Joanna Davidson Politano’s stunning debut set in Victorian England will delight readers with its highly original plot, lush setting, vibrant characters, and reluctant romance.

Review

The one word that sums up the feeling of this story: ALLURING. From start to finish, I was impressed by the character growth, vibrancy of setting, and well-told mystery arc.

While Aurelie’s naivete was frustrating at times (to me, the reader), it truly is an asset to the story. It both excuses her innocence when it comes to her almost nonexistent knowledge of society norms and justifies her experience and manner when she’s faced with the realistic plight of common people whom society deems inferior. These seemingly contradictory facets of her character made me like her all the more — and, they are what drew the hero of the story to recognize her unique and compassionate nature.

My two favorite aspects of this story were the romance and the wonderfully deep love of literature acknowledged by the characters and observed by the reader ;). The romance cannot be commented on *no spoilers here* past saying it is as sweet as I hoped it would be and as surprising at times with its tenderness and depth. The book and story love, however, are wonderful bookworm tendencies for the people of that time AND a nod to story in itself. It’s delightful.

Victorian society is the perfect backdrop for the many twists, secrets, and mystery of Lady Jayne Disappears. All this combine with the romance to form a Dickensian-like tale of belonging and purpose. It’s a treat for lovers of historical romance and drama! I eagerly look forward to whatever Joanne pens next.

Thank you to Revell publishers and Netgalley for a complimentary copy of this novel. This is my honest review.

Review: “Many Sparrows” by Lori Benton

My copy of Many Sparrows

In my experience with the world of richly written historical fiction, Lori Benton is a master storyteller. Her stories never cease to leave me speechless for days and touch my spirit with their truths and dynamic characters. Her latest standalone release, Many Sparrows, is another such work of art. Combining cultures and a unique piece of real history (Dunmore’s War), it explores a mother’s heart, her longing for peace, and her journey to forgiveness.

About the Book

Either she and her children would emerge from that wilderness together, or none of them would…

Many SparrowsIn 1774, the Ohio-Kentucky frontier pulses with rising tension and brutal conflicts as Colonists push westward and encroach upon Native American territories. The young Inglesby family is making the perilous journey west when an accident sends Philip back to Redstone Fort for help, forcing him to leave his pregnant wife Clare and their four-year old son Jacob on a remote mountain trail.
When Philip does not return and Jacob disappears from the wagon under the cover of darkness, Clare awakens the next morning to find herself utterly alone, in labor and wondering how she can to recover her son…especially when her second child is moments away from being born.

Clare will face the greatest fight of her life, as she struggles to reclaim her son from the Shawnee Indians now holding him captive. But with the battle lines sharply drawn, Jacob’s life might not be the only one at stake. When frontiersman Jeremiah Ring comes to her aid, can the stranger convince Clare that recovering her son will require the very thing her anguished heart is unwilling to do—be still, wait and let God fight this battle for them?

Goodreads | Amazon

Lori’s Website | Facebook | Instagram 

Review

Many Sparrows is a stunning masterpiece of a story, chronicling the challenge and patience of trust and the importance of forgiveness. The truths and wisdom found between these pages, presented in story, are timeless. With her typical historical research and attention to detail, Lori Benton portrays the contrasts of cultures and tumultuous era in this novel with great care. The Shawnee culture is impactfully presented, touching a personal part of Clare she would rather protect from vulnerability and a growing care for their well being.

20170906_002043Like scars are stronger after healing, so too is Clare by story’s end. Permanently changed, sometimes through pain, but stronger as a result of her trials. The beauty of Clare and Jeremiah’s journey outshines the struggles, pointing to the God who knows all and intends good things for His children, even when circumstances appears as though any resolution will bring pain.

Clare and Jeremiah are exposed at heart-level on the page, emotionally relatable despite their seeming distance in history. I loved seeing their bond of friendship grow as their separate stories entwine and parallel each other in many ways. My heart broke along with Clare’s, and soared with Jeremiah’s words of wisdom and steady support. I was amused by Wildcat and humored by Jacob. Most of all, Rain Crow spurred a response of compassion and emotion that caught me off guard more than once (just like it did Clare) with its depth and desire for healing.

To delve deeper into the themes and twists of this novel would take away from the the way this plot beautifully unfolds, so I will end by saying read it! While it is heart-wrenching at times, its portrayal of a world on the cusp of great change (just before the American Revolution) is touching in its authenticity and relevance.

For fans of: Laura Frantz, Jocelyn Green, Native American culture, late 1700s American frontier stories, adventure, and romance.

Thank you to WaterBrook for providing a complimentary ARC of this novel. This is my honest review.

Top Ten Tuesday: True History in Fiction

It’s another Top Ten Tuesday, hosted by  The Broke and the Bookish

Top Ten Tuesday at The Green Mockingbird

Today’s topic is a “Back to School” Freebie! I’m taking a suggested idea of Books to Complement a History Lesson and turning it into a list of true history in fiction. I enjoy historical fiction — especially when I’m learning something new through story. I am allowing myself to go a *little* over 10 books (I’m listing 18 books in total). I hope you find a new era or event you’re interested in learning more about!

Wait, that’s a true story? True History in Fiction

Luther and Katharina by Jody Hedlund

Luther and Katharina by Jody Hedlund

1520s The early Protestant Reformation and the true-life romance between the prominent protestant reformation starter Martin Luther and former Catholic nun Katharina von Bora.

The Sound of Diamonds

The “Steadfast Love” series by Rachelle Rea Cobb

The Sound of Diamonds | The Sound of Silver | The Sound of Emeralds

1566 A Catholic girl’s changing perspective in Protestant Reformation-Era England.

the-mark-of-the-king-by-jocelyn-green

The Mark of the King by Jocelyn Green

1719-22 Early French settlement of New Orleans and the Louisiana area.

Woods Edge

The “Pathfinders” duology by Lori Benton

The Wood’s Edge | A Flight of Arrows

1757-1777 New York settlement and Native American involvement in Revolutionary War.

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A Moonbow Night by Laura Frantz

1777 Kentucky wilderness during the early American frontier– plus a little of Daniel Boone’s personal influence on its settlement.

The Pursuit of Tamsen Littlejohn by Lori Benton

The Pursuit of Tamsen Littlejohn by Lori Benton

1787 The “State of Franklin” dispute in the Appalachians and western North Carolina.

With You Always by Jody Hedlund

With You Always by Jody Hedlund

1857 The “orphan train” era, including working conditions and an inside look at poverty in immigrant communities of NYC.

Sentinels-of-Andersonville

The Sentinels of Andersonville by Tracy Groot

1864 Andersonville prison in Georgia and its conditions toward the end of the Civil War.

The Thorn Bearer

The “Penned in Time” series by Pepper D. Basham

The Thorn Bearer | The Thorn Keeper | The Thorn Healer

1910s WWI England and post-war America, including the sinking of the RMS Lusitania, events on the England homefront, and a German internment camp in the Appalachians.

High as the Heavens

High as the Heavens by Kate Breslin

1917 WWI Belgium, with secret spy networks and methods (the heroine was inspired by 3 different real women).

maggie bright

Maggie Bright by Tracy Groot

1940 England and Dunkirk, France during the WWII evacuation event.

The Butterfly and the Violin by Kristy Cambron

The Butterfly and the Violin by Kristy Cambron

1940s WWII Auschwitz and the role of Jewish musicians/artists in concentration camps.

With Love, Wherever You Are

With Love, Wherever You Are by Dandi Daley Mackall

1941-45 America and Europe, late WWII conditions from a nurse and doctor’s perspectives. Fun fact: The couple in this story is based on the real-life parents of the author and includes much of their real-life correspondence during the war.

As always, thank you for reading!

What did you pick for this back-to-school week? Have you read any of the books on my list? What is your favorite era/setting for historical fiction? Do share in the comments!

Review: “A Name Unknown” by Roseanna M. White

A Name UnknownOh my goodness! You know that moment when you finish a special book and want to immediately read it again, cover-to-cover? A Name Unknown by Roseanna M. White is one of those! It’s that good. It’s a beautiful story of discovery and the importance of truth with twists and a subtle and poignant romance. I’m happily reviewing it today, so read on for the bookish talk!

About the Book

Edwardian Romance and History Gains a Twist of Suspense

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

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

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

Review

This is truly a book for book lovers (and history lovers!). The added bonus is that the most bookish character is the hero (ahem, books=the way to my heart). The stacks and volumes and discussions of fiction are just one of the many things to love about this story! I have so many quotes highlighted.

It’s not all books, though. It’s the Cornish culture, the impending WWI European uproar, a thief-with-a-secret-mission, hidden identities and family secrets, absolutely delightful supporting characters, witty conversations, a spunky and fiercely independent heroine, and the steadfast, quiet hero that encourages her faith and shatters her assumptions.

As Rosemary says, Peter is just “so blasted nice”! He is an exemplary man of integrity, though he knows his goodness is not innate but is a result of Christ shining through him. He lives out these truths and shows this lifestyle to Rosemary, a person whose bitterness and skepticism is understandably deeply rooted and in need of his kind encouragement. Her journey is one of discovering the power and importance of truth — and the freely offered gift of God’s love. She’s a hoot!

Back to Peter, now. He is a very determined person. He doesn’t react to pressure or various trying situations like he could, and that’s why he’s such a likable hero. Especially when he could react to a major revelation of Rosemary’s with anger or by retreating, instead his fierce determination reveals his integrity and commitment to live out his faith.

The love story between Rosemary and Peter is wonderfully slow, subtle, and thoughtful, a realistic pace they both need. I was a little bit impatient, of course, but when their emotions and actions *finally* grew into a romance, I found it WELL WORTH THE WAIT. It’s simply beautiful.

Words play an important role in this story, both in defining identity and truth. I really loved how it illustrates the way a name can hold weight or influence, yet is ultimately a result of choices and actions. Important choices of honesty, patriotism, and extending grace are all a part of this wonderful story. I am so, SO glad this book is the start of a series (the “Shadows Over England” series)….. that means MORE of Rosemary’s ragtag “family” (plus more Peter, I hope) and more of this fascinating era in Europe.

Thank you to Bethany House Publishers for the complimentary review copy. This is my honest review.

If you’re interested in learning more about the author or series, check out this awesome interview with Roseanna over at Just Commonly.

 

 

 

Review: High As the Heavens by Kate Breslin

High as the Heavens is an absolutely beautiful and riveting story of perseverance, hope, and mercy against the backdrop of WWI Belgium. Author Kate Breslin is now a new favorite and I must read her other novels soon!About the Book

High as the HeavensIn 1917, Evelyn Marche is just one of many women who has been widowed by the war. A British nurse trapped in German-occupied Brussels, she spends her days working at a hospital and her nights as a waitress in her aunt and uncle’s café. Eve also has a carefully guarded secret keeping her in constant danger: She’s a spy working for a Belgian resistance group in league with the British Secret Service. 

When a British plane crashes in Brussels Park, Eve is the first to reach the downed plane and is shocked to discover she recognizes the badly injured pilot. British RFC Captain Simon Forrester is now a prisoner of war, and Eve knows he could be shot as a spy at any time. She risks her own life to hide him from the Germans, but as the danger mounts and the secrets between them grow, their chance of survival looks grim. And even if they do make it out alive, the truth of what lies between them may be more than any love can overcome.

Review

This novel has all the appeal of –and promise to be– a classic in its genre: a vivid sense of place; plot elements inspired by real life events and people; relatable and complex characters; a romance that surprises and leaves you breathless with its strength; and, secrets, danger, and espionage (oh my!).

Drawing on the logistical complexities and melting pot of nationalities involved in The Great War, the suspenseful storyline keeps a steady pace with twists and makes the reader question just who to trust or believe. I have a new respect for Red Cross personnel who worked behind enemy lines, and citizens who risked so much while participating in underground communcations networks like La Dame Blanche. The espionage storyline alone had me nervous for Eve, Simon, and several other people who worked with them!

Side note: a few flashbacks take place closer to the beginning of the story and serve as the perfect tool to establish Eve and Simon’s personalities with a sense of normalcy (before the war changed so much). And, they also shed light on the relationship dynamic between the two of them. 🙂

Ok, now to talk about my favorite part of High as the Heavens: the romantic tension!!!! To say all I want to would give away an early surprise or two, so I’ll just have to tell you that Eve and Simon have a history. A close one. His literal crash back into her life is way more complicated than the synopsis hints. Because of this, they are both challenged with trust and the secrets they each harbor. This further complicates the way they must prioritize loyalties to family and country, but especially to each other. In their frustrating circumstance, the strength of the romance between the two of them is delightfully uncovered and shines a light on an overarching theme of hope. And oh, how their soul-deep connection is beautifully penned by Kate! I especially appreciated how Simon’s role embodied the characteristics of love — its patience, mercy, and edurance.

If you are a fan of history, WWI, romance, or even suspense, I say you should read this novel ASAP! Even if historical fiction is not your normal genre. If you want a second opinion, check out my author friend Rachel McMillan’s gushing review that convinced me to pick it up in the first place ;).

Thank you to Bethany House Publishers for the complimentary review copy of this novel. This is my honest review.