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

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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. 

Goodreads | Amazon

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.

Review: “My Heart Belongs in the Blue Ridge: Laurel’s Dream” by Pepper Basham

The stories that are most impactful, to me, tend to have a setting that is as much a character and a dynamic part of the story. Author Pepper Basham is skilled in writing romances in many time periods, but most impressive is her ability to weave a culture through characterization and a vivid setting. As she claims, her Blue Ridge heritage of family and storytelling have clearly influenced her latest novel and its exposure of a culture at a time when the modern age was just having an impact on mountainous communities. All of this combines with a delicate love story to make My Heart Belongs in the Blue Ridge: Laurel’s Dream one of my favorites of the year!

About the Book

Journey into the Blue Ridge Mountains of 1918 where Laurel McAdams endures the challenges of a hard life while dreaming things can eventually improve. But trouble arrives in the form of an outsider. Having failed his British father again, Jonathan Taylor joins his uncle’s missionary endeavors as a teacher in a two-room schoolhouse. Laurel feels compelled to protect the tenderhearted teacher from the harsh realities of Appalachian life, even while his stories of life outside the mountains pull at Laurel’s imagination. Faced with angry parents over teaching methods, Laurel’s father’s drunken rages, and bad news from England, will Jonathan leave and never return, or will he stay and let love bloom?

Goodreads | Amazon

Review

Though mountain life might seem simple on the surface, it is anything but that for Laurel, her family, and her neighbors. While she dreams of an education and better opportunity for her own generation and beloved siblings, she grapples with a people and a culture dear to her yet challenging and wary of anything new.

Jonathan is the embodiment of such a challenge to her life. Through an unlikely friendship, he and Laurel learn just how similar their ambitions for betterment and common goals can help the community that ‘s increasingly dear to Jonathan. Through it all, a sweet romance becomes possible for them, if only her dreams and both of their family’s issues don’t stand in the way.

Pepper is known for writing a-ma-zing romances and relationships, and Laurel and Jonathan set the bar even higher. Theirs has the most tender and innocent friendship beginning ❤ of all of Pepper’s stories. (And I’ve read them all!!!) I think it’s the Britallachian combination of cultures paired with Pepper’s prose-like development of an enchanting setting that makes this story stand out.

Tender and sweet, Laurel’s Dream is an enlightening tale of family, hope, and ties of friendship that transcend culture. This story of camaraderie and romance is as breathtaking as an Appalachian autumn – and equally as colorful with its immersive setting and mountain folk. The sense of faith and understanding that God knows – and orchestrates – our dreams in ways we cannot imagine is a comfort as the last pages of this story are tied up with hope.

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

Best of 2018: Historical Books

Welcome to my annual “best-of” celebration! I’m changing it up a bit and separating the categories of my yearly best-of lists over a few days. All of this is to celebrate their distinction and spend a few more days talking about all the wonderful entertainment of 2018.

Day 1. Best of 2018: Novellas

Day 2. Best of 2018: Historical Books

Day 3. Best of 2018: Contemporary Books

Day 4. Goodbye 2018 & Looking Ahead

Today is all about HISTORICAL BOOKS. While I dearly love historical fiction, I have read less of it this year. At any rate, these are the favorites from my list!

The rules: sometimes I have to make boundaries for myself when it comes to talking about books because we would all be here a long time if were able to ramble on. SO, I’m sticking to my format of last year and choosing to share 3 things that describe each of these stories along with a link to Goodreads and my review. In no particular order…

Best of 2018: Historical Books

Murder at the Flamingo by Rachel McMillan | Review

Jazz. Grace. Friendship

Impossible Saints by Clarissa Harwood | Review

Suffrage. Romance. Purpose.

Sons of Blackbird Mountain by Joanne Bischof | Review

Brotherhood. Atmospheric. Poignant.

The Lacemaker by Laura Frantz | Review

Liberty. Honor. Love.

The Matrimonial Advertisement by Mimi Matthews | Review

Arrangements. Mystery. Forgiveness

A Heart Revealed by Josi S. Kilpack | Review

Worth. Growth. Kindness.

My Heart Belongs in the Blue Ridge by Pepper Basham | Review coming in January!

Family. Tenderness. Hope.

Your turn! What were your favorite historical reads of 2018? Have you read any of these?

Mini Review: “The Matrimonial Advertisement” by Mimi Matthews

Happy Monday!!!! Today I’m sharing a little review of a Victorian historical romance I devoured over the weekend. (MANY thanks to my author friend Rachel McMillan for always introducing me to lovely stories.) This one is for fans of Jane Eyre and the like, complete with a mansion in disrepair, horse rides on the beach, rainy nights, and mysteries surrounding the past of the hero and the present situation of the heroine.

 

About the Book:

The Matrimonial Advertisement.jpgShe Wanted Sanctuary… 

Helena Reynolds will do anything to escape her life in London, even if that means traveling to a remote cliffside estate on the North Devon coast and marrying a complete stranger. But Greyfriar’s Abbey isn’t the sort of refuge she imagined. And ex-army captain Justin Thornhill–though he may be tall, dark, and devastatingly handsome–is anything but a romantic hero.

He Needed Redemption… 

Justin has spent the last two decades making his fortune, settling scores, and suffering a prolonged period of torture in an Indian prison. Now, he needs someone to smooth the way for him with the villagers. Someone to manage his household–and warm his bed on occasion. What he needs, in short, is a wife and a matrimonial advertisement seems the perfect way to acquire one.

Their marriage was meant to be a business arrangement and nothing more. A dispassionate union free from the entanglements of love and affection. But when Helena’s past threatens, will Justin’s burgeoning feelings for his new bride compel him to come to her rescue? Or will dark secrets of his own force him to let her go?

 

My Thoughts:

A wonderfully atmospheric Victorian tale, this story presents a complicated marriage of convenience situation with absolutely endearing characters. This book was recommended to me as a “redemption” of the Rochester archetype — wherein Justin Thornhill exhibits a burdened past yet a presently noble hero without the deceptions of Bronte’s character. Helena, the heroine, brings a complex mystery to the situation that unfolds slowly and shines a light on a real-life historical issue of the time. While Justin and Helena navigate the dictates of the era, they grapple with lessons of worth, forgiveness, and even the capacity to love — all while the romantic tension is PALPABLE and wonderfully maintained through the story. I enjoyed this story from Mimi, a new-to-me-author, and I look forward to reading more of her work in the future!

Content note: this is overall a clean read, especially concerning the romance element, but it does have (very) mild expletives throughout.

Book Review: ” The Lacemaker” by Laura Frantz

My copy of The Lacemaker

Reading a Laura Frantz novel is like stepping back in time. I always learn something new about history or culture with each of her stories. Her 2018 novel, The Lacemaker, is set at the cusp of the American Revolution (one of my fav eras) in and around Williamsburg Virginia. I FINALLY read it – and I’m so glad I did, because it’s one of the very best of 2018, and one of my top 3 favorites of her novels.

About the Book

The Lacemaker by Laura FrantzWhen colonial Williamsburg explodes like a powder keg on the eve of the American Revolution, Lady Elisabeth “Liberty” Lawson is abandoned by her fiance and suspected of being a spy for the hated British. No one comes to her aid save the Patriot Noble Rynallt, a man with formidable enemies of his own. Liberty is left with a terrible choice. Will the Virginia belle turned lacemaker side with the radical revolutionaries, or stay true to her English roots? And at what cost?

Historical romance favorite Laura Frantz is back with a suspenseful story of love, betrayal, and new beginnings. With her meticulous eye for detail and her knack for creating living, breathing characters, Frantz continues to enchant historical fiction readers who long to feel they are a part of the story.

Goodreads | Amazon

Review

The Lacemaker is an absolutely gorgeous story — rich in history and detail, Laura Frantz continues to prove herself a master storyteller. The patriotic spirit of the American Revolution is captured in this story of love and belonging. The romance between Noble and Lady Elisabeth (Liberty) is everything sacred and precious, its nature reflecting the selfless love of a Savior. This is a book I will love even more upon rereads in the future!

The Lacemaker ElisabethThe beauty of The Lacemaker can be likened to an intricate design of lace itself, where the artistry is in the tiny workings and subtleties that make a grand design. The themes of truth, defending beliefs and loyalty, love, protection, finding a true home with the ones you love, even the joy that can be found during the most tumultuous times all work to make this a historical romance I will long remember and eagerly revisit.

And oh, the history! Noble and company rub elbows with big names leading up to the war, and it fits so naturally into the story and brings a sense of realism to both the story and the larger-than-life historical characters.

Lady Elisabeth, AKA Liberty, was a character I instantly liked and was invested in. Devoting her loyalty to one cause or the other (Tory or Patriot) was a decision that would determine her future. Though I wanted to encourage her to make a decision quickly, this was a journey in which she took her own time – making her own way, learning her own heart, and realizing the opportunity of love right in front of her very nose.

Noble lives up to his name, the effort of which is never a secret and the most endearing part of his character. The other endearing thing is when he speaks Welsh! 🙂 Noble makes the list of favorite heroes as an ideal. Noble is everything. Not because he is perfect, but because he strives to be the person his Savior, Liberty, and his country require. Basically I want to learn to speak Welsh now and eat Bara Brith all day.

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.