Top Ten Tuesday: 10 Novels with the Most Unique Settings

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

Top Ten Tuesday at The Green Mockingbird

The official prompt is: Top Ten Of The Most Unique Books I’ve Read or a variation on “unique books”. This one was a little harder to decide on because what think is unique might not be to you. So, I’ve settled on unique settings because that’s a pretty concrete story element we might agree on.

Some of these are highly unique because of their geographical setting and some are more so because of the combination of setting + era. In no particular order……

Top Ten Tuesday 10 book cover graphic for unique settings.jpg

10 Novels with the Most Unique Settings


1. The Lady and the Lionheart
by Joanne Bischof

Setting: a circus in Victorian-era Virginia. Lions (and their amazing trainer) and elephants all traveling by wagon, oh my! (No surprise it’s on another TTT list. I could talk about this book all day.)


2. The Red Door Inn by Liz Johnson

Setting: A little bed-and-breakfast inn in modern Prince Edward Island, Canada. The first of two contemporary stories on my list this week, the setting is charming and picturesque while it makes its way into the heart of the heroine.


3. The Thorn Healer
by Pepper Basham

Setting: Hot Springs, NC that hosts a post-WWI German refugee camp. It’s a cultural wake-up call for the heroine as she learns to overcome prejudices in her little Appalachian community.


4. The Brontë Plot
by Katherine Reay

Setting: a good part comprises a literary tour of England, complete with London and a visit to the Brontës’ hometown, Haworth. This is the second contemporary story on the list!


5. The Measure of a Lady
by Deeanne Gist

Setting: Gold Rush San Francisco, CA (mid 1800s) with all its roughness and rugged coastal beauty — this is a place the heroine does not want to be, but the people there inexplicably draw her in…


6. The Captive Imposter
by Dawn Crandall

Setting: a wealthy family’s hotel in the mountains of Maine during the Gilded Age (early 1900s).


7. The Sentinels of Andersonville
by Tracy Groot

Setting: Andersonville prison in Andersonville, GA during the Civil War. This prison held Yankees, including one of the main characters.


8. Duchess
by Susan May Warren

Setting: the “Golden Age” of Hollywood, CA, in the 1930s then Europe during crucial parts of political unrest just before WWII.


9. Saving Amelie
by Cathy Gohlke

Setting: a little village in hostile Germany during WWII.


10. A Moonbow Night
by Laura Frantz

Setting: a family lodge and way station of sorts in the wilderness of the Kentucky frontier in the mid-1700s. Think Daniel Boone!

What is one of the most unique settings you’ve read about? Did you participate in TTT this week? Share your thoughts in the comments!

Top Ten Tuesday: 10 Favorite Jane Austen-Esque Romances

Happy Valentine’s Day!!!! What better way to celebrate the day than with a blog post all about classic love stories??? Today I’m tweaking a Top Ten Tuesday topic to fit JANE AUSTEN-like stories. Read on for more awesomeness.

top-ten-tuesday-ausen-esque-graphic

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

The official topic this week is “Top Ten Favorite Romance Tropes/Types”. I’m bending this a little for a list of favorite Jane Austen-Esque romances, whether they be inspired or adapted from Austen’s works or have similar elements as her well-loved classics.

10 Favorite Austen-Esque Romances

Influenced and inspired by Austen’s heroines

Dear Mr. KnightleyLizzy and Jane by Katherine Reay1. Dear Mr. Knightley by Katherine Reay

2. Lizzy & Jane by Katherine Reay

Both of these novels by Reay are influenced by Jane’s characters in general. And, they each pay homage to her stories (as well as other classics) in their own way. Dear Mr. Knightley features a fresh epistolary take on a romance and a coming-of-age story. Lizzy & Jane weaves a tale of sisters, their struggles, and a fitting chance at love (with some Persuasion-like moments <3).

Pride & Prejudice-like banter between heroine and hero

271385783. Told You So by Kristen Heitzmann

If ever there was a contemporary story to rival the tension, misconceptions, witty dialogue, and ardent love story of Elizabeth and Darcy, Told You So would be it. You need to meet Devin and Grace.

love-lace-and-minor-alterations-by-v-joy-palmer4. Love, Lace, and Minor Alterations by V. Joy Palmer

Similar in many ways to Pride & Prejudice, Love, Lace, and Minor Alterations is a light story with humor and wit fitting for its Austen similarities (and some sarcasm thrown in for good measure). The protagonists of this story contend with their own pride in several ways to overcome shortcomings and find happily-ever-after.

With Every Breath5. With Every Breath by Elizabeth Camden

The push-and-pull of rivalry and opposite personalities is brightly displayed in With Every Breath. And what a frustratingly fun historical romance/drama it is!

 

A “Regency Era” setting

_240_360_Book.1051.cover6. The Headmistress of Rosemere by Sarah E. Ladd

1816 England. Winter on the moors. Secrets. A spinster finding love. Inheritances, gambling debts, and a girls’ school. What more could you want in a novel?

the-tutors-daughter7. The Tutor’s Daughter by Julie Klassen

A bit of mystery and romance combine in this story set in Cornwall, England. (Random BBC Period Drama fangirl moment: for a location visual, watch “Poldark”!!!!!)

Like Northanger Abbey

The Covered Deep8. The Covered Deep by Brandy Vallance

Bianca is the Victorian Era equivalent of Catherine Morland. Combine her fascination with gothic literature and heros with her propensity for dramatics, and her learning journey paralells Austen’s heroine in many ways. And I think Paul’s gentlemanly, wise manner complements Bianca just as Henry Tilney does Catherine.

Like Emma

The Thorn Bearer9. The Thorn Bearer by Pepper D. Basham

I say this story is like Emma because the romance blooms from a strong foundation of friendship. The joy of it all is watching the characters grow and change for the better through the story, partially because of their friendship; much like Knightley encourages Emma to be a better version of herself. And the romance!! 🙂

Ensemble-like, influential cast

HesitantHeiress10. The Hesitant Heiress by Dawn Crandall

While there are many reasons to love Dawn Crandall’s historical romances, one reason I enjoyed The Hesitant Heiress was its cast of characters. The broad personalities featured are always interesting and influential to the story. I think having the lens of a singular POV (the heroine’s, Amaryllis) adds dramatic suspense to the story and slants the view of all of the characters in a way similar to Austen’s understanding interpretation of family, friends, and even “villain” personalities.

 

~bonus: 3 upcoming releases~

second-impressionsSecond Impressions by Pepper Basham, releasing March 2017

This novella promises to deliver a modern Austen-Esque story in setting (Bath, England), humor, and romance. It releases as part of a novella collection titled Love at First Laugh and in July as a standalone. I’m excited to see how Pepper tackles modern England (and just what a bonnet has to do with it all 🙂 )!

jane-of-austinJane of Austin: A Novel of Sweet Tea and Sensibility by Hillary Manton Lodge, releasing June 13th

This is a modern adaptation of Sense & Sensibility set in the south. I’m already in love with the artsy cover. AND Hillary is writing it, so I know there will be recipes (!!!!). I can’t wait!

 

the-austen-escapeThe Austen Escape by Katherine Reay, releasing November 2017

Reay’s literary-infused stories are always awesome (see above gushing). This one will be Austen and a best friends’ TRIP! Plus, the cover is adorable.

 

 

Your turn!!! Have you read any of these on my list? What are your favorite Jane Austen-Esque romances??? Or what are your favorite romance types???

 

Top Ten Tuesday: Top 11 Best Books of 2016

Top Ten Tuesday: Top 11 Best Books of 2016

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

Top Ten Tuesday at The Green Mockingbird

It’s that time of year again! Time for my “favorites” post of 2016, AND just in time for the same #TTT topic. This year’s list was difficult to compile, to say the least. I’ve read a whopping total of 61 books this year (at press time), a few being rereads and some novellas. I was determined to limit my list somewhat this year, so we have 11 novels plus a couple “bonus” novellas. Surprisingly, all of the novels are 2016 releases, but the novellas range from 2014-2016. Most of these authors are familiar favorites and always “must-reads”, so it’s no surprise to me that my favorites stem from this group.

Now, on to the books!!!

Top Ten Best Books of 2016

Historical Fiction

A Flight of Arrowsthe-lady-and-the-lionheartThe Thorn Keeperthe-cautious-maidenThe Sound of Emeralds

1. A Flight of Arrows by Lori Benton

A riveting, fascinating conclusion to her “Pathfinders” duology.

2. The Lady and the Lionheart by Joanne Bischof

Seriously now one of my all-time favorite books! Go read it. Achingly sweet and heart-wrenching in the best way.

3. The Thorn Keeper by Pepper D. Basham

Really, the whole “Penned in Time” series is amazing, but this one is my favorite for several reasons…. one of them having to do with Christmas 😉

4. The Cautious Maiden by Dawn Crandall

Another great story from Dawn, this one uniquely uses only the heroine’s first person POV.

5. The Sound of Emeralds by Rachelle Rea Cobb

A fantastic conclusion to Rachelle’s debut series, this brings the characters full circle with some amazing surprises. #TeamDirk

Contemporary Fiction

Together at the Table by Hillary Manton LodgeLike Never Before by Melissa TaggYou're the One that I WantTold You Twice by Kristen Heitzmanna-portrait-of-emily-pricewhere-two-hearts-meet

6. Together at the Table by Hillary Manton Lodge

Ahh! This one made me hungry, laugh, and cry. Oh, and try out a new recipe or two I discovered while reading.

7. Like Never Before by Melissa Tagg

Definitely my favorite of the Walker family series so far! The cover alone should be enough to convince you of the adorableness that is Loganand Amelia, but the emotional depth is what gets me with all of Melissa’s stories.

8. You’re the One That I Want by Susan May Warren

While I’ve loved each book in the Christiansen family series, this one, being the last, made so many pieces fall in place. It drew everything together with a huge thread of grace, and that’s why I loved it.

9. Told You Twice by Kristen Heitzmann

Unexpected and fresh, Kristen is not afraid to depict life in both raw and redemptive manners through storytelling.

10. A Portrait of Emily Price by Katherine Reay

Another one that made me hungry! Ha! Katherine always surprises me with the direction and vast changes she leads her characters through. This one was pleasantly amazing.

11. Where Two Hearts Meet by Liz Johnson

One of the sweetest contemporary love stories I’ve read in a long time… and I’m not even talking about the cinnamon rolls and muffins! This one is just “good” for your heart.

Bonus! Favorite Novellas

playing-with-firethis-quiet-skya-night-like-no-other

Playing With Fire by Susan May Warren

The two main characters’ mutual complex history combined with a current-day crazy action/suspense situation made this my favorite of the Montana Fire trilogy.

This Quiet Sky by  Joanne Bischof

Poignant and beautiful, this goes beyond typical coming-of-age story expectations and tore into my heart unexpectedly.

A Night Like No Other by Kristin Vayden

I think this one will be a Christmas season reread every year now for its genuine and Biblical portrayal of Mary and Joseph’s experiences.

Your turn!!! What are your favorite books from 2016? Did you read any of my favorites? Share your thoughts in the comments!

Review: “A Portrait of Emily Price” by Katherine Reay

a-portrait-of-emily-price

Once again, author Katherine Reay has penned a contemporary novel with a complexity of skill not many in the genre can achieve with her newest release, A Portrait of Emily Price. And what a picture its pages holds! I would describe this as a family drama with a whirlwind (though always realistic) romance and a story of finding oneself in the middle of life’s chaos and joy. With a hint of whimsy, the story always stays realistic in a humidity-and-wavy-hairdo, too-much-espresso sort of way. And, in true Reay style, included literary references and nods to classic literature throughout (making this #booknerd very happy!)

About the Book

Art restorer Emily Price has never encountered anything she can’t fix—until she meets Ben, an Italian chef, who seems just right. But when Emily follows Ben home to Italy, she learns that his family is another matter . . .

a-portrait-of-emily-priceEmily Price—fix-it girl extraordinaire and would-be artist—dreams of having a gallery show of her own. There is no time for distractions, especially not the ultimate distraction of falling in love.

But Chef Benito Vassallo’s relentless pursuit proves hard to resist. Visiting from Italy, Ben works to breathe new life into his aunt and uncle’s faded restaurant, Piccollo. Soon after their first meeting, he works to win Emily as well—inviting her into his world and into his heart.

Emily astonishes everyone when she accepts Ben’s proposal and follows him home. But instead of allowing the land, culture, and people of Monterello to transform her, Emily interferes with everyone and everything around her, alienating Ben’s tightly knit family. Only Ben’s father, Lucio, gives Emily the understanding she needs to lay down her guard. Soon, Emily’s life and art begin to blossom, and Italy’s beauty and rhythm take hold of her spirit.

Yet when she unearths long-buried family secrets, Emily wonders if she really fits into Ben’s world. Will the joys of Italy become just a memory, or will Emily share in the freedom and grace that her life with Ben has shown her are possible?

Review

I was fortunate to read this one along with some awesome blogger friends and discuss it on Twitter along the way. You can find our discussions and major fangirling by viewing the hashtag #PofEPRAL

Reay’s style is romantic in many ways, from Emily’s observations, place descriptions, to the overall feel of the story. Not rosy and idealistic, by any means, but sweet in its outlook — the storytelling is cleverly as much about what happens “between the lines” as what’s directly told. Like the family history, the nostalgia, the courtship between Emily and Ben, and the food!

The characters are strong in the sense that their personalities are so established you can almost sense their reactions as much as read them. When Ben and Emily finally make it to Italy, you can feel the tension and belonging of home in how the scenes play out. And the supporting characters!!!!!! I loved them all, the brother, sister, parents, friends, aunts and uncles. It was fun to put the big picture together as the story progressed of how they are each integral, whether in a small or big way, to Ben and Emily’s lives. Connected, if you will, to their story, to influence, encourage, and sometimes pass on valuable wisdom.

Another way the characters are firmly established is through setting and culture. For instance, the “accents” of Ben and his family are expressed specifically, conveying notes on inflection so well it made me feel like I was listening to them. And, the descriptions of all of the different places, from the little Italian restaurant in Atlanta to the sunflower fields and Lucio’s library in Italy and everything in between practically, made me feel immersed in the culture. This book is a true example of the power of written words on a page!

The relationship between Emily and Ben is shown just enough – it’s not overly focused on the romance aspect (though there are plenty of those moments that show just how romantic Ben can be <3) but instead tells just enough you see their closeness and camaraderie. I think it’s safe to say the reader falls in love with Ben, too, from the first chapter’s description (as Rissi quotes here):

Random side note: interestingly, eyes go on to play an important means of communication and meaning in the story.

I could go on further about the intricacies of this story and how it pushes you to think deeply about the impact your choices have on those around you; or even its gentle reminder to seize the moment and find happiness in the little moments of everyday life. But I’ll leave you with the important stuff it showcases: truth, joy, and love (of all kinds…. romance, friendship, family/sibling/parent, even love of your work). With a style only Reay can achieve, this story is polished and engrossing with vivid, heartful characters.

Thank you to Thomas Nelson and Booklook for the complimentary review copy. This is my honest review.

Top Ten Tuesday: 10 Books Set Outside the U.S.

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

Top Ten Tuesday at The Green Mockingbird

Today’s topic sounded like a fun thing to talk about, especially for this native southerner. While I have traveled a bit within the US, I’ve never been out of the country. What better way to learn about another culture or experience another location (without actually going) than books? For today, let’s “pack” our suitcases and talk about books set outside the U.S. For fun, I’m splitting this list up into 2 types: books I’ve read and books on my TBR.

TTT 10 Books Set Outside the US

10 Books Set Outside the U.S.

Books I’ve Read

The Thorn Keeper by Pepper D. Basham

Derbyshire, England during WWII

The Red Door Inn by Liz Johnson

Prince Edward Island, Canada

The Sound of Diamonds by Rachelle Rea

Holland and England during the Protestant Reformation

Valley of Decision by Lynne Gentry

Carthage, Tunisia during the 3rd century

Maggie Bright by Tracy Groot

England and France during WWII

Soon-ish TBR

London Tides by Carla Laureano

London, England and probably a little Scotland because the hero is Scottish ❤

A Lesson in Love and Murder by Rachel McMillan

1910s Toronto, Canada (and Chicago). What could be next for these daring girls?

Edenbrooke by Julianne Donaldson

England (Bath and the countryside) during the Regency Era

A Portrait of Emily Price by Katherine Reay (!!!!)

Italy (and Atlanta). It’s by Katherine, so I KNOW it will be good.

Can’t Help Falling by Kara Isaac

Oxford, England. This was first added to my TBR solely because of the cover. Since then, reviews of Kara’s work have completely convinced me I need to read it!

 

What places do YOU like to visit through the pages of a book? What are some of your favorite books set outside the US? 

Review: “The Brontë Plot” by Katherine Reay

It’s really, really hard for me to describe my love for anything Katherine Reay writes. She is just amazing. If I had to narrow it down to one sentence, I’d say her stories, 3 for 3, are fresh, unexpected, real, and relational. Beyond that, even.

The Bronte Plot, books by Katherine Reay

She really has her own genre or style. She pays homage to classic literature and draws inspiration from those characters but definitely doesn’t retell those stories. Perhaps it’s that she understands the impact of story and her characters become subject to the lingering influence of classic literature. It’s clear Reay shares her own deep love of stories by her inclusion of them within hers. What’s the old quote that comes to mind, something like “first a reader, then a writer”?

Now, on to what this post is about. The brilliant Katherine Reay has recently released a new novel title The Brontë Plot. Read on for my review.

About the book: Lucy Alling makes a living selling rare books, often taking suspicious measures to reach her goals. When her unorthodox methods are discovered, Lucy’s secret ruins her relationship with her boss and her boyfriend James—leaving Lucy in a heap of hurt, and trouble. Something has to change; she has to change.

In a sudden turn of events, James’s wealthy grandmother Helen hires Lucy as a consultant for a London literary and antiques excursion. Lucy reluctantly agrees and soon discovers Helen holds secrets of her own. In fact, Helen understands Lucy’s predicament better than anyone else.

As the two travel across England, Lucy benefits from Helen’s wisdom, as Helen confronts the ghosts of her own past. Everything comes to a head at Haworth, home of the Brontë sisters, where Lucy is reminded of the sisters’ beloved heroines, who, with tenacity and resolution, endured—even in the midst of change.

Now Lucy must go back into her past in order to move forward. And while it may hold mistakes and regrets, she will prevail—if only she can step into the life that’s been waiting for her all along

My thoughts: Through the ups and downs of Lucy’s story, she finds herself isolated then unexpectedly accepted for who she is. She starts to see herself in the character of Edward Rochester. Hence, the parallels with Jane Eyre in title and character. Both (Lucy & Rochester) were only able to move on by going back, laying down past mistakes, accepting whatever consequences would come. Then, he got a triumphant ending. He found forgiveness and peace. Similarly, Lucy comes into her own by story’s end.

On a completely unrelated note, Reay uses fabulous words like quintessence, and gets away with it! (I have to give a shout-out to “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty” here.)

The thread of faith in this novel is less prominent, but still a constant presence, with a thread of drawing closer to God, that it is a constant effort. It explores themes of acceptance and mercy with characters who feel real.

Bear with me, because I am going to combine a Marvel reference with classic literature. This whole book is like the Captain America meme “I understood that reference.” Not overwhelming, like “there are so many literary references I don’t get it” – but like “oh, another reference I understand and that works perfectly here in this story!”. And if I can recognize these references, you can too. If you’re a fan of classic literature or contemporary fiction, please check out Katherine Reay soon.

*See my reviews of her previous novels: Dear Mr. Knightley and Lizzy & Jane*

Connect with Katherine on her website, Twitter, or Facebook.

Thank you to BookLook Bloggers, NetGalley, and Thomas Nelson for the complimentary review copy in exchange for my honest review.

Review: Lizzy and Jane by Katherine Reay

Lizzy and Jane was another excellent book by Katherine Reay! She has the uncanny ability to write deep characters in unique situations, delving into uncommon issues and insightful experiences. I’m sharing this review way later than I had intended. Like, 6 months late. Just because I waited forever to share it doesn’t mean I loved the book any less! It DID make my favorites list for 2014!

Lizzy’s character at first seems closed off and unfeeling, but as you get to know her, she makes her way into your emotions. You begin to identify with her struggles, her pain over the loss of her mother, her prejudices against her sister Jane for her unconcern when their mother died. Lizzy and Jane by Katherine ReayYou understand, though, Jane’s perspective, too.That their personalities are just opposite – but they have more in common than they realize.

Truly, Lizzy experiences many emotions and carries baggage and pain from the time her mother died. She holds it as a grudge against her sister, that she left Lizzy, even as Jane now goes through a horrible battle with cancer.

The literary references included in this book – especially to Austen and “food in classic literature” – are again fabulous and fun, like in her debut, Dear Mr. Knightley.

I liked witnessing Lizzy’s journey and her reaction to her sister’s situation. Lizzy finds purpose in serving others, helping them in some small way through their pain, because she can identify with some of their feelings.

A romance with Nick, a friend of Jane’s, is not exactly central to the story, but happens as Lizzy’s story with Jane unfolds – in the middle of pain, family, and everyday life. That’s why I loved it, and was drawn to how their relationship would conclude in the story. It realistically showed that life is not a fairy tale, but happiness can be found even in the struggles.

Overall, this was an engaging, thought-provoking story. It begs this question of the reader: Are you doing something to make a difference in people’s lives?

Thank you to BookLook Bloggers and Thomas Nelson for a copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

Book Summary: Lizzy and Jane never saw eye to eye. But when illness brings them together, they discover they may be more like Austen’s famous sisters after all.

Lizzy was only a teenager when her mother died of cancer. Shortly after, Lizzy fled from her home, her family, and her cherished nickname. After working tirelessly to hone her gift of creating magic in the kitchen, Elizabeth has climbed the culinary ladder to become the head chef of her own New York restaurant, Feast. But as her magic begins to elude her, Paul, Feast’s financial backer, brings in someone to share her responsibilities and her kitchen. So Elizabeth flees again.

In a desperate attempt to reconnect with her gift, Elizabeth returns home. But her plans are derailed when she learns that her estranged sister, Jane, is battling cancer. Elizabeth surprises everyone-including herself-when she decides to stay in Seattle and work to prepare healthy, sustaining meals for Jane as she undergoes chemotherapy. She also meets Nick and his winsome son, Matt, who, like Elizabeth, are trying to heal from the wounds of the past.

As she tends to Jane’s needs, Elizabeth’s powers begin to return to her, along with the family she left behind so long ago. Then Paul tries to entice her back to New York, and she is faced with a hard decision: stay and become Lizzy to her sister’s Jane, or return to New York and the life she worked so hard to create?