Review: “Murder in the City of Liberty” by Rachel McMillan

Hamish in Italy! He visited the country of his “heritage” with me.

How many words are too many words for a book review!? Because I have a LOT to say about Rachel McMillan’s latest historical novel, Murder in the City of Liberty. I always have a lot to say about Rachel’s stories 😉 I highly recommend reading the previous book in this series (Murder at the Flamingo) for the best reading experience!

About the Book

Hamish DeLuca and Regina “Reggie” Van Buren have a new case–and this one brings the war in Europe dangerously close to home.

Determined to make a life for herself, Regina “Reggie” Van Buren bid goodbye to fine china and the man her parents expected her to marry and escaped to Boston. What she never expected to discover was that an unknown talent for sleuthing would develop into a business partnership with the handsome, yet shy, Hamish DeLuca.

Their latest case arrives when Errol Parker, the leading base stealer in the Boston farm leagues, hires Hamish and Reggie to investigate what the Boston police shove off as a series of harmless pranks. Errol believes these are hate crimes linked to the outbreak of war in Europe, and he’s afraid for his life. Hamish and Reggie quickly find themselves in the midst of an escalating series of crimes that seem to link Boston to Hamish’s hometown of Toronto.

When an act of violence hits too close to home, Hamish is driven to a decision that may sever him from Reggie forever . . . even more than her engagement to wealthy architect Vaughan Vanderlaan.

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Review

Murder in the City of Liberty whisks you away on a mystery and adventure that’s really about the characters and friendships. Loyalty, romance, relationships and their ties to the past, grace, and social justice are all themes displayed in an immersive setting of Boston with its cobblestones and steeples. I feel like I could map Boston from the descriptions Hamish and Nate give!

Rachel McMillan writes stories for the romantic at heart. I’m not referring to “love stories”, though a hefty dose of starry eyes, dancing, and the delights of attraction are all found in the pages of this story. I’m referring to the slight idealist slant of her stories with characters to root for and eventual happy endings. A balance of realism is always present, too, portrayed through the realities of the era and their parallels to today’s social and cultural challenges. HOPE is always present.

I ❤ Reggie’s comebacks!

You probably know I’m here for the romance. Especially this slow-building, delicious connection and camaraderie between Hamish and Reggie. I thought I wanted Reggie to have an “Aha!” moment, but I was wrong. What Rachel gives readers is a gradual recognition where Reggie’s concerned, the sparks finally making sense with just how intertwined Hamish is with her daily life and happiness. And with her “journal of independence”. It is perfect!

Within the romantic aspect of the story, the truth of how Reggie is changing and realizing her path in life is magnificent. I really like how she reconciles her past with her identity, embracing how her choices were not in vain but a part of herself, part of what makes her tick and what determines the life she is meant to choose.

Let’s talk about two of the secondary characters: Nate and Luca. They couldn’t be more different, but both have a deep and meaningful connection with Hamish. Both are catalysts for Hamish’s growth. I have liked Nate from the very beginning, but this story makes him one of my very favorite secondary characters who gets to steal the scene more than once! I appreciated the way he reminds Hamish that patience is required for change. And I liked how a particular thing surprised Nate near the end 🙂

And Luca. He brings the theme of loyalty to the forefront. It’s funny how he shapes, defines, even dictates the progression of the story yet he’s hardly “present” on the page. Only a strongly written character can have that kind of presence through a story, to be both likable and disruptive at the same time.

The brave thing Rachel McMillan is doing with these characters is shining a light on mental illness and bringing awareness through the HERO of the story. In this second book, we often see Hamish through the lens of his closest circle, showing both their familiarity with him and the grace they extend as they embrace each other’s imperfections. The maturing in this is twofold: growing Hamish as a person and McMillan’s story style and presentation developing alongside.

I could go on and on about this story, how it incorporates current events of its era, how it handles prejudice and war, how it shows the fallacy and strength of human nature. Wit, baseball, cannolis, smart banter, nods to classic films, end-of-the-world-kisses, and blue eyes are just the icing on top of this one-of-a-kind adventure that I’m sure to love even more upon rereading!

Review of book 1: Murder at the Flamingo

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

Review: “Far Side of the Sea” by Kate Breslin

I LOVE when I learn something from fiction. And, when that’s combined with a riveting story, I’m a happy reader. Kate Breslin NEVER disappoints in this respect. Her latest novel, Far Side of the Sea, takes the reader on a European quest during WWI, complete with spies, tricks, pigeons, and a sweet friendship-to-romance story.

About the Book

In spring 1918, Lieutenant Colin Mabry, a British soldier working with MI8 after suffering injuries on the front, receives a message by carrier pigeon. It is from Jewel Reyer, the woman he once loved and who saved his life–a woman he believed to be dead. Traveling to France to answer her urgent summons, he desperately hopes this mission will ease his guilt and restore the courage he lost on the battlefield.

Colin is stunned, however, to discover the message came from Jewel’s half sister, Johanna. Johanna, who works at a dovecote for French Army Intelligence, found Jewel’s diary and believes her sister is alive in the custody of a German agent. With spies everywhere, Colin is skeptical of Johanna, but as they travel across France and Spain, a tentative trust begins to grow between them.

When their pursuit leads them straight into the midst of a treacherous plot, danger and deception turn their search for answers into a battle for their lives 

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Review

Far Side of the Sea is an absolutely riveting tale of history, adventure, and romance. Set against the backdrop of WWI, Colin’s story begins as a tentative journey for honor and grows more complex and layered as intrigue and danger heighten. When he meets the “other” Reyer sister, Johanna, his life is turned on end and their quest becomes an urgent and noble one — one that takes them across Europe!

Kate Breslin pens the most vivid character personalities (even side characters we meet)! Colin’s intelligence and seriousness are perfectly matched with Johanna’s wits and fortitude, making them a couple to cheer for – and one whose friendship holds more than a few surprises.

I also loved learning more about history and the use of carrier pigeons in WWI. It was such a daring and interesting tactic! I was delighted by Breslin’s extensive author’s note that shed more light on the historical facts of the story. I love to learn through fiction 🙂

Along with the action of this novel, the characters themselves grow and change through their experiences. I was rooting for Colin to heal and realize his value, something Johanna helps him to see. Likewise, Johanna experiences the beginnings of faith and the peace in knowing she is never truly alone as a child of God.

This novel is definitely on my list of favorite WWI stories! I was delighted with the glimpses of familiar characters from Breslin’s novel Not by Sight. I am eager for whatever era or story Kate writes about next (and I’m hoping we see Marcus again? 😉 ).

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

Mini Review: “Not By Sight” by Kate Breslin

I really like it when authors connect stories or characters in more than one standalone book. This allows for more depth of story and sometimes revisiting beloved characters even though books might not be a series. With the recent release of Kate Breslin’s Far Side of the Sea, I knew I wanted to read Not By Sight first because it introduces the Mabry family. Now you know what I’m reading next 🙂

Not By Sight

About the book: With Britain caught up in WWI, Jack Benningham, heir to the Earl of Stonebrooke, has declared himself a conscientious objector. Instead, he secretly works for the Crown by tracking down German spies on British soil, his wild reputation and society status serving as a foolproof cover.

Blinded by patriotism and concern for her brother on the front lines, wealthy suffragette Grace Mabry will do whatever it takes to assist her country’s cause. When she sneaks into a posh London masquerade ball to hand out white feathers of cowardice, she never imagines the chain of events she’ll set off when she hands a feather to Jack. 

And neither of them could anticipate the extent of the danger and betrayal that follows them–or the faith they’ll need to maintain hope.

Goodreads | Amazon

My thoughts: Not By Sight is a layered, enchanting WWI tale of intrigue and patriotism all wrapped up in a love story that touches on the importance of faith and the strength of the truth. I LOVED the Beauty & The Beast elements, which made the story somewhat of a retelling. Jack’s prickly nature and Grace’s fortitude make their growing (unlikely) friendship one that underscores the overarching sacrificial themes of the story. I also liked the role of the secondary characters in showing the importance of encouragement and friendship.

Review: “Between Two Shores” by Jocelyn Green

Today I’m sharing my thoughts on Jocelyn Green’s latest historical fiction novel, Between Two Shores. Jocelyn has quickly joined my list of favorite historical authors who pen stories with similar detail, depth, and time periods like Laura Frantz and Lori Benton.

About the Book

The daughter of a Mohawk mother and French father in 1759 Montreal, Catherine Duval finds it is easier to remain neutral in a world that is tearing itself apart. Content to trade with both the French and the British, Catherine is pulled into the fray against her wishes when her British ex-fiance, Samuel Crane, is taken prisoner by her father. Samuel asks her to help him escape, claiming he has information that could help end the war.

Peace appeals to Catherine, but helping the man who broke her heart does not. She delays . . . until attempts on Samuel’s life convince her he’s in mortal danger. Against her better judgment she helps him flee by river, using knowledge of the landscape to creep ever closer to freedom. Their time together rekindles feelings she thought long buried, and danger seems to hound their every mile. She’s risked becoming a traitor by choosing a side, but will the decision cost her even more than she anticipated?

Goodreads | Amazon

Review

Between Two Shores is a riveting and powerful story of restoration, belonging, and courage. Jocelyn Green once again portrays atmosphere and culture in a manner both immersive and informative. In this case, the setting and intriguing facets of what we call the French and Indian War unfold from the perspective of Catherine Duval, a French-Mohawk trader caught in the middle.

The attention to historical detail and vivid characters come to life through a riveting story that surmounts both external dangers and the inner growth and emotional turmoil of Catherine. While the story is told from her singular perspective, the depth of each character’s personality was stunning and constant. This storytelling method impressed me with the way it allowed a slow unfolding of some details (like Samuel and his heart) and an immediate sympathy concerning other characters (like Catherine’s father and siblings).

While this is most definitely a historical fiction piece, a hint of a romantic thread is referenced near the beginning of the story through a series of flashback chapters. For my romance-loving heart, this was satisfying AND important to the deeper themes of the story. Green takes this relationship and goes beyond the draw of romantic love and portrays a more meaningful, yet changing, nature of love: true love is selfless in the face of pain or unknown consequences. And it never fails, even while human imperfections remain.

The action and history in Between Two Shores are fascinating, but the relational transformation and themes are the most significant. Catherine learns her place in the world and where she stands with her siblings (and her father) through the decisions she must make and their consequences. Most importantly, she finds her place as a child of God and knows the forgiveness and grace extended to her — actions she must reciprocate and pass on.

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

Review + Book Tour: “Daughters of Northern Shores” by Joanne Bischof

On Tour with Prism Book Tours

About the Book

Daughters of Northern Shores (Blackbird Mountain #2) By Joanne Bischof

Christian Historical Romance from Thomas Nelson publishers

“The Norgaard brothers and their families will steal your heart.” —Catherine West, author of Where Hope Begins

Heartache and regret, boldness and sacrifice. What will restoration cost the beloved Norgaard family?

Aven Norgaard understands courage. Orphaned within an Irish workhouse, then widowed at just nineteen, she voyaged to America where she was wooed and wed by Thor Norgaard, a Deaf man in rural Appalachia. That the Lord saw her along the winding journey and that Aven now carries Thor’s child are blessings beyond measure. Yet while Thor holds her heart, it is his younger brother and rival who haunts her memories. Haakon—whose selfish choices shattered her trust in him.

Having fled the farm after trying to take Aven as his own, Haakon sails on the North Atlantic ice trade where his soul is plagued with regrets that distance cannot heal. Not even the beautiful Norwegian woman he’s pursued can ease the torment. When the winds bear him home after four years away, Haakon finds the family on the brink of tragedy. A decades-old feud with the neighboring farm has wrenched them into the fiercest confrontation on Blackbird Mountain since the Civil War. Haakon’s cunning and strength hold the power to seal many fates, including Thor’s which is already at stake through a grave illness brought to him as the first prick of warfare.

Now Haakon faces the hardest choice of his life. One that shapes a battlefield where pride must be broken enough to be restored, and where a prodigal son may finally know the healing peace of surrender and the boundless gift of forgiveness. And when it comes to the woman he left behind in Norway, he just might discover that while his heart belongs to a daughter of the north, she’s been awaiting him on shores more distant than the land he’s fighting for.

From Christy Award–winning author Joanne Bischof comes Daughters of Northern Shores: the highly anticipated sequel to her moving novel Sons of Blackbird Mountain.

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Review

I have come to expect a story from the pen of Joanne Bischof to be one that slices straight to the heart with its truth and tenderness. Daughters of Northern Shores is no exception. With its return of beloved characters and a message of trust at its center, it is one I will cherish upon recalling (and REREADING!).

With a balance of poignancy and vivid life, the story unfolds as one tentatively hopeful yet confronting pain, broken trust, trials, and jealousies of life. The rift left unsettled at the end of Sons of Blackbird Mountain is brought to light with Haakon’s wanderings and, eventually, steps to mend it. And oh, what a heart-trial that is!!! His prodigal journey is aided with wisdom from beloved women and the hesitant restoration of his brotherly relationships.

While Haakon seeks his place on Blackbird Mountain, Thor and Aven contend with fears and joys of their own. Again, Joanne Bischof handles subjects such as Thor’s Deafness, prejudice, and even childbirth with a delicate and reverent approach, honest when necessary and revelatory in manner with others. Reading this story is like witnessing the lives of the Norgaard family, being a part of their sorrows and sharing in their hope – most importantly, their trust in a Savior to see them through even the hardest of battles.

Daughters of Northern shores is a novel to treasure and one to make you think of the impact just one person can have. It is an encouraging story that reminds the reader to hope when there is no clear path ahead. And, to hold family and friends dear, always extending grace.

Thank you to Prism Book Tours and Netgalley for the review copy. This is my honest review.

Other Books in the Series:

Sons of Blackbird Mountain (Blackbird Mountain #1) by Joanne Bischof

From the bestselling award-winning author of The Lady and the Lionheart

“Beloved author Joanne Bischof doesn’t disappoint with her latest beautifully written, heartrending tale . . . a quick favorite for historical romance readers.” —Elizabeth Byler Younts, author of The Solace of Water

A Tale of Family, Brotherhood, and the Healing Power of Love

After the tragic death of her husband, Aven Norgaard is beckoned to give up her life in Norway to become a housekeeper in the rugged hills of Nineteenth-Century Appalachia. Upon arrival, she finds herself in the home of her late husband’s cousins—three brothers who make a living by brewing hard cider on their three-hundred acre farm. Yet even as a stranger in a foreign land, Aven has hope to build a new life in this tight-knit family.

But her unassuming beauty disrupts the bond between the brothers. The youngest two both desire her hand, and Aven is caught in the middle, unsure where—and whether—to offer her affection. While Haakon is bold and passionate, it is Thor who casts the greatest spell upon her. Though Deaf, mute, and dependent on hard drink to cope with his silent pain, Thor possesses a sobering strength.

As autumn ushers in the apple harvest, the rift between Thor and Haakon deepens and Aven faces a choice that risks hearts. Will two brothers’ longing for her quiet spirit tear apart a family? Can she find a tender belonging in this remote, rugged, and unfamiliar world?

A haunting tale of struggle and redemption, Sons of Blackbird Mountain is a portrait of grace in a world where the broken may find new life through the healing mercy of love.

Praise for Sons of Blackbird Mountain:

“Sons of Blackbird Mountain is a quiet gem of a historical romance. Refreshingly real and honest in its depiction of flawed but lovable individuals, it introduces characters readers will want to meet again.” – CBA Market

“. . . the novel provides an interesting glimpse of the time period and some complex social issues among neighbors in an area still recovering from the Civil War.” – Historical Novels Review

“VERDICT Christy- and Carol Award-winning author Bischof (The Lady and the Lionheart) creates endearing characters and a heartwarming story line in this unforgettable novel about the power of family, love, and the true meaning of home. Fans of Kristy Cambron, Julie Klassen, and Susan Meissner will love this one.” – Library Journal

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About the Author


Picture courtesy of https://joannebischof.com.

Joanne Bischof is an ACFW Carol Award and ECPA Christy Award-winning author. She writes deeply layered fiction that tugs at the heartstrings. She was honored to receive the San Diego Christian Writers Guild Novel of the Year Award in 2014 and in 2015 was named Author of the Year by the Mount Hermon conference. Joanne’s 2016 novel, The Lady and the Lionheart, received an extraordinary 5 Star TOP PICK! from RT Book Reviews, among other critical acclaim. She lives in the mountains of Southern California with her three children.

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Review: “Bear No Malice” by Clarissa Harwood

Review: “Bear No Malice” by Clarissa Harwood

Last year, a favorite author’s praise prompted me to branch out and read a general fiction title, Impossible Saints. It ended up being one of my favorite reads of the year, and one I revisited recently as its sequel, of sorts, just released!

Bear No Malice by Clarissa Harwood is more like a companion novel whose timeline matches events of Impossible Saints. It focuses on a minor character from book 1 whose role was nearly that of a villain. I really loved this shift in perspective and how it introduces the idea that we all have unique perceptions of our actions and of others. Enough about my thoughts for the moment, here’s more book info and my wordy review!

About the Book

Beaten and left for dead in the English countryside, clergyman and reformer Tom Cross is rescued and nursed back to health by Miranda and Simon Thorne, reclusive siblings who seem to have as many secrets as he does. Tom has spent years helping the downtrodden in London while lying to everyone he meets, but now he’s forced to slow down and confront his unexamined life.

Miranda, a skilled artist, is haunted by her painful past and unable to imagine a future. Tom is a welcome distraction from her troubles, but she’s determined to relegate him to her fantasy world, sensing that any real relationship with him would be more trouble than it’s worth. Besides, she has sworn to remain devoted to someone she’s left behind.

When Tom returns to London, his life begins to unravel as he faces the consequences of both his affair with a married woman and his abusive childhood. When his secrets catch up with him and his reputation is destroyed, he realizes that Miranda is the only person he trusts with the truth. What he doesn’t realize is that even if she believes him and returns his feelings, he can’t free her from the shackles of her past.

Goodreads | Amazon

Review

Bear No Malice is literary fiction at its best, with a vivid historical setting and a story that unfolds with a delicate complexity. Its Dickens-like intricacy takes the reader on a journey right alongside Tom and Miranda as they grow through friendship and exhibit unconditional love (not just in romance but with friends, with family) through mistakes, forgiveness, and reconciliation.

At times, Bear No Malice made me laugh with its tiny bits of humor (the fish fork!) then wrenched my heart out, all in one chapter. Mostly it wrenched my heart out and put it back together one tiny piece at a time. The telling of the story is a TREAT with its brilliant pacing (just slow enough to leave you wanting more of Tom’s, and especially Miranda’s, backstories) and sloooow building romance. But oh, how it pays off and is exquisite! Sometimes, though, I would forget I was reading historical fiction because the characters are so relatable and the emotions raw.

Tom and Miranda are good for each other because he’s magnetic and opinionated and she’s quiet and steady, yet just as stubborn and steadfast. Their personalities complement and spur each other to grow beyond themselves. Part of the brilliance of Tom and Miranda is that I saw myself in their humanity. I am like Miranda in several ways, not that I have experienced anything like her journey, but that her character was so real on the page I could identify with her longings. Her sometimes-reserved, sometimes opinionated ways. And even Tom and his ultimate need for reconciliation, his desire to serve others. They exemplify flawed and grace-covered people.

Another wonderful thread of this novel is its message of grace. It is subtle yet still a beacon for the perceptive reader. The message of the Gospel is portrayed as inherent to the characters, a refreshing and beautiful inclusion for the general fiction market. Tom and Miranda experience things and make choices rarely found in the inspirational genre. This freedom and space to candidly explore such situations makes the story all the more powerful because this novel has such a message of grace and forgiveness, of peace and homecoming, at its heart. **now is a good time for me to mention the content of this novel. It’s clean, with very few mild expletives (I could count them on one hand)**

Beyond the character journey, this novel also draws attention to social issues of the era, such as poverty, penitentiary conditions (kinda like halfway houses of the time), and the evolving roles of women. All of this functions to shine a light on our modern ideas, standards, and complacency, in a positive manner. I believe its intent is for the reader to look around and take note of his or her own community and opportunities. 🙂 For me, it was encouraging.

Thanks to the publisher and Netgalley for the review copy. This is my honest review.

Check out my review of Clarissa Harwood’s previous book Impossible Saints

Mini Review: “A Bound Heart” by Laura Frantz

Reading a Laura Frantz book is always an experience, one to be savored with her lyrical prose, genuine characters, and heart-journey of a story. Her latest release, A Bound Heart, is as wonderful and poetic as I expected!

About the book: Though Magnus MacLeish and Lark MacDougall grew up on the same castle grounds, Magnus is now laird of the great house and the Isle of Kerrera. Lark is but the keeper of his bees and the woman he is hoping will provide a tincture that might help his ailing wife conceive and bear him an heir. But when his wife dies suddenly, Magnus and Lark find themselves caught up in a whirlwind of accusations, expelled from their beloved island, and sold as indentured servants across the Atlantic. Yet even when all hope seems dashed against the rocky coastline of the Virginia colony, it may be that in this New World the two of them could make a new beginning—together. 

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My thoughts: A Bound Heart is an intricately beautiful story of strength, faith, and romance, this sweeping tale stretches from the shores of Scotland to the wild risk and unknowns of Virginia (& beyond) during the height of the tobacco trade. Through it all, Lark and Magnus become increasingly beloved characters as they endeavor cling to their faith, navigate the changing world around them, and puzzle the inexplicable tie that binds them to one another. It was a joy to read this story and feel like a firsthand witness to the quiet strength of Magnus and the intelligent fortitude of Lark, experiencing all the ups and downs of their journeys, from the amusing antics of a wee child to a seafaring voyage full of danger to the wonder of fireflies.