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.

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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.

 

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December (& 2017) Happenings

Wow. It’s time to say goodbye to December and goodbye to another year. This makes me all kinds of nostalgic! There’s just something bright about a year beginning in all its possibility and newness. But first, I’m taking one last look at 2017 and the month of December with the usual rundown and some fun yearly favorites.

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on the bookshelf

New on the bookshelf this December: One Christmas in Winter by Bell Renshaw, Desert Duet by Debra E. Marvin, A Log Cabin Christmas Collection by various authors, The Saturday Night Supper Club by Carla Laureano, A Sweethaven Christmas by Courtney Walsh, A Song Unheard by Roseanna M. White, Troubled Waters by Susan May Warren, Bespoke: A Tiny Christmas Tale by Amanda Dykes, and both A Season to Love and A New Shade of Summer by Nicole Deese.

on the blog

Ordinary SnowflakesDecember popular posts:

  1. Best of 2017
  2. First Line Fridays # 7: Ordinary Snowflakes
  3. First Line Fridays #8 Special Christmas Edition: The Story of the Other Wise Man
  4. The Joy of Christmas Book Tag
  5. Favorite Quotes from “Persuasion” by Jane Austen

The Esther ParadigmjpgDecember popular reviews:

  1. The Esther Paradigm by Sarah Monzon (plus author interview)
  2. I’ll Be Yours by Jenny B. Jones
  3. A Cliché Christmas by Nicole Deese

textgram_1488839984.png2017’s most popular posts & reviews:

  1. I’ll Be Yours by Jenny B. Jones
  2. How-To: Solar Dyed Yarn Project (With Kool-Aid!)
  3. 4 Reasons to Read Inspirational Fiction
  4. Best of 2017
  5. Favorite Quotes from “Persuasion” by Jane Austen
  6. Top Ten Tuesday:  Top 10 Books on my Winter TBR
  7. Top Ten Tuesday: 10 Favorite Jane Austen-Esque Romances
  8. Top Ten Tuesday: 10 Books with Bookish Heroines (and Heroes!)
  9. Book Spotlight & Author Interview: My Unexpected Hope by Tammy L. Gray
  10. The Butterfly and the Violin by Kristy Cambron

in the kitchen

December was a month for baking, both on the job (cupcakes galore!) and for family. My favorite new recipe I tried was, yet again, from a “Bake From Scratch” magazine. It was the Spiced Coconut Oil Cake with Bourbon Glaze. I’m always on the lookout for easily-adaptable dairy free recipes, and this one was simple! (I substituted coconut almond milk with a tad of vinegar for the buttermilk.)

on the screen

Murder on the Orient Express

Murder on the Orient Express was a cinematic masterpiece. The costumes, cinematography, script, and even the little moments I found humorous all work to portray the era and gripping story line perfectly.

The Lady EveThe Lady Eve — sometimes a little silly, this is still the classic era of film at its best. Barbara Stanwycke is as glamorous as ever, and Henry Fonda plays the rare comedic relief piece as his world is turned upside down by “Eve” and her schemes. My favorite scene involves HIS father looking for his breakfast!

around the web

My year in books on Goodreads 

So many best-of book lists! Kara, Rissi, Becky, and Beth‘s to name a few.

THE INSPYs ARE OPEN! Check out Rel’s post with all the details. The INSPYs are annual blogger/reader nominated-and-judged inspirational fiction awards, given in several categories. Go vote for your favorite books now!

2018 plans

So far, my 2018 to-do list is short. Besides a few work-related plans, I’m going to be participating in the Mansfield Park Read-Along Amber is hosting starting January 3rd! (PS you’re invited to join!)

And, I’ll be eagerly awaiting the next SSD installment in February, as just announced here. Signed, Sealed, Delivered: The Road Less Traveled. The steady story and character development of these movies is always my fav!

Thank you for being my blog readers and friends in 2017. Now, time to ask for your feedback!!! What would you like to see from me on the blog? More reviews? More guest authors? More bookish (or non-bookish) discussions? Movie reviews? I’ve been toying with that last idea for a while… 

Review: “A Cliché Christmas” by Nicole Deese


Though Christmas is already past, this is still the time of year to enjoy reading festive stories. One I just finished — and was quite blown away by — was A Cliché Christmas by Nicole Deese. I had the privilege of interviewing Nicole earlier this year, but I had not previously read a story of hers until now. That will be remedied in the near future. Before I made it half way through this story, I added the next 2 books in the “Love in Lenox” series to my virtual shelf! 2018 TBR, here I come!

About the Book

A Cliche ChristmasWriting happy endings is easy. Living one is the hard part.

Georgia Cole—known in Hollywood as the “Holiday Goddess”—has made a name for herself writing heartwarming screenplays chock-full of Christmas clichés, but she has yet to experience the true magic of the season. So, when her eccentric grandmother volunteers her to direct a pageant at Georgia’s hometown community theater, she is less than thrilled. To make matters worse, she’ll be working alongside Weston James, her childhood crush and the one man she has tried desperately to forget.

Now, facing memories of a lonely childhood and the humiliation of her last onstage performance, seven years earlier, Georgia is on the verge of a complete mistletoe meltdown. As Weston attempts to thaw the frozen walls around her heart, Georgia endeavors to let go of her fears and give love a second chance. If she does, will she finally believe that Christmas can be more than a cliché? 

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Review

Don’t let the title fool you. Yes, this book includes a few clichés, but it is unexpectedly deeper. It is a beautiful story of belonging with characters that have great dimension. And oh, the chemistry!!!! It reminds me of the spark-filled romance dynamic Kristen Heitzmann accomplishes, which is a top-notch compliment.

Weston and Georgia’s shared childhood memories and history work to strengthen their characters and solidify the constant pull between them. Add to that a building anticipation of something that the reader knows will test their newfound banter and friendship, and we have the makings of a sturdy story with a few surprises.

From laugh out loud moments, swoony interludes in the snow, to emotionally touching (especially when little Savannah is involved) and meaningful conversations, A Cliché Christmas is anything but commonplace and predictable. It is a story of forgiveness as much as it is of trusting the unconditional things in life; like the support of family, professed love, and the best unconditional gift given at Christmas: the love of a newborn Savior.

 

Mini Review: “With No Reservations” by Laurie Tomlinson

One of my favorite things about this book blogging community is when a trusted blogger friend highly recommends or gushes over a book that sounds like my cup of tea. After a seeing a few good reviews, Carrie’s totally convinced me. Food + blogging + a clean and sweet romance? I’m in!

About the book: There can be more than comfort in food… 

What could well-known and wealthy Graham Cooper Jr. have in common with a blogger like Sloane Bradley, a woman with secrets she’s kept firmly out of the public eye? That is, besides a love of food. Sloane still can’t believe Cooper’s the chef at the restaurant she’s been assigned to promote. But she’s boiling to prove to him that her “little blog” can put his place on the map. She can also fall head over heels for the guy, who has secrets of his own, it turns out…except for one thing. She can’t get past the post-traumatic stress disorder that keeps her walled up in her home studio.


My thoughts:
With No Reservations was a super sweet romance! I especially identified with the food appreciation, restaurant atmosphere, and blogger processes depicted within the story. But, this couple! Oh, I love it when a story shows two people making each other better versions of themselves by story’s end, not just the sparks of attraction and romance. And the turns the story took to get to the happy end were unexpectedly deep and emotionally engaging —- exploring the depths of grief and its lasting and varied impact on life. I will definitely be interested in whatever Laurie writes next!

Review: “The Austen Escape” by Katherine Reay

Review: “The Austen Escape” by Katherine Reay

With each novel, Katherine Reay proves her craft and place on my all time favorite authors shelf. Her stories explore so much depth within the relationships of her main character(s), more than just a story of romance, friendship, or family alone. They portray real people with struggles and insecurities and, most importantly, a season of growth. Her main character is ALWAYS greatly changed between chapter 1 and “the end”, and I’ve often found the same is true of myself, the reader, as I’m subtly changed, encouraged, and influenced by Katherine’s story.

Of course, reading this story along with some #bookbesties and chatting on Twitter via #TAERAL was super FUN, too!!!! (Click on the hashtag to see our gushing thoughts, quotes, and general observations as we read.) Thanks to everyone who joined! More Katherine Reay/Austen-fun is coming on the blog soon.

About the Book

the-austen-escapeAfter years of following her best friend’s lead, Mary Davies finds a whimsical trip back to Austen’s Regency England paves the way towards a new future.

Mary Davies lives and works in Austin, Texas, as an industrial engineer. She has an orderly and productive life, a job and colleagues that she enjoys—particularly a certain adorable, intelligent, and hilarious consultant. But something is missing for Mary. When her estranged and emotionally fragile childhood friend Isabel Dwyer offers Mary a two-week stay in a gorgeous manor house in Bath, Mary reluctantly agrees to come along, in hopes that the holiday will shake up her quiet life in just the right ways. But Mary gets more than she bargained for when Isabel loses her memory and fully believes that she lives in Regency England. Mary becomes dependent on a household of strangers to take care of Isabel until she wakes up.

With Mary in charge and surrounded by new friends, Isabel rests and enjoys the leisure of a Regency lady. But life gets even more complicated when Mary makes the discovery that her life and Isabel’s have intersected in more ways that she knew, and she finds herself caught between who Isabel was, who she seems to be, and the man who stands between them. Outings are undertaken, misunderstandings play out, and dancing ensues as this triangle works out their lives and hearts among a company of clever, well-informed people who have a great deal of conversation.

Goodreads | AmazonReview

Like Katherine Reay’s previous stories, The Austen Escape is full of literary references and general Jane Austen fun (like traveling to Bath and dressing in period-appropriate clothes!). It is not a retelling but candidly acknowledges the similarities between the characters and Austen’s own, like Mary’s friend Isabel sharing qualities with Isabella of Northanger Abbey, comparing Mary to Catherine of the same, and nods to all of Austen’s other works, too. Because of all the references, I think The Austen Escape would be best enjoyed by someone familiar with Austen’s works or main characters (if only through movie adaptation form).

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I could talk about so many elements of this story and why I connected with it, but I will simply state that it is a story of the intricacies of life: how friendship, work, dreams, relationship, family, and even hobbies are interconnected and form the identity of a person. These little things make up the big picture and determine how a person responds when faced with challenges. For Mary, she experiences a season of growth because of challenges to her comfort zone and what she believes to be true about the people around her. A few eye-opening events (and timely encouraging relationships — I’m talking about Nathan and his swoony Austen nerdiness here) spur her to recognize the beauty and opportunity right in front of her.

Jane Austen wrote about people and their need to connect on some level – from friendship to family camaraderie to romantic relationships. Katherine Reay captures the same drive in her characters, using the same timeless lens of connection, to show a heart-level story of individuality and friendship.

More little things I loved about The Austen Escape:

  • Nathan <3, a fitting hero
  • The juxtaposition of modern and old elements: Mary’s work vs the frill and formality of Austen’ s world
  • How neither Jane Austen, HER characters, nor Mary quite “fit in” with the expectations of their environments
  • Red velvet cupcakes, sticky toffee pudding, bubble gum
  • Nicknames and what they reveal
  • Absolutely ENDEARING secondary characters like Gertrude, Moira, Grant, and Clara
  • Little wire animals and skittle contraptions
  • All the love for books and music
  • All the Jane Austen talk — especially when Persuasion is hinted

Thank you to the author and publisher, Thomas Nelson, for the complimentary review copy of this novel. This is my honest review.

Review: The Mountain Between Us by Charles Martin + Movie Thoughts

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Review: The Mountain Between Us is so much more than a story of survival. It’s a story of steadfast hope, sacrifice, and commitment.

This is very much Ben’s journey because it is told in his 1st person POV. Through his eyes, the reader learns of his past (through audio dictations to his wife that read like letters) and experiences firsthand how this sudden test of extreme circumstances challenges him and brings out his admirable determination to succeed. Ashley’s character growth and tenacity is never shortchanged, though, as her spunk, humor, and optimism are easy to love and see.

I am once again impressed with Charles Martin’s emotional prose and ability to maintain tension both in circumstance (stranded in the wild) and heart (Ben has an enigmatic side) until the last few pages. The heart-journey is much deeper than the snow Ben and Ashley find themselves in. And WHAT A TWIST!!!!!! This book is one I would highly recommend to fans of contemporary drama, action/survival stories, or even emotional romantic dramas in the style of Nicholas Sparks.

Movie thoughts: Clearly I loved the book —- highly recommended. The movie was good, just not the straight book-to-movie adaptation I had hoped for (as typical with book-to-movie changes). A few key things were changed —- most I could understand for the film medium and time’s sake, except for a couple key moments. It was beautiful visually and well-acted (I always love Kate Winslet). BUT, there were a couple things that happened which altered the portrayal of Ben, his history, and even altered his character’s integrity that disappointed me. THE GOOD NEWS? Check out this recent response from author Charles Martin in his newsletter concerning the changes and his minimal role in the process. I agree and am encouraged by his response. If the movie is spurring the popularity of the book and the message of HOPE it contains, I’m very happy!

Cookbook Review: Holiday Cookies by Elisabet der Nederlanden

Ya’ll, Christmas, baking, and books are three of my very favorite things. When they all combine in the wonder of a fabulous cookbook, I’m a very happy person. Holiday Cookies

Holiday Cookies: Showstopping Recipes to Sweeten the Season by Elisabet der Nederlanden is a TREAT of a cookbook. Its simple layout and photos are eye-catching to say the least, and the recipes are easy to follow and promise all sorts of yummy holiday times. I should know. I’ve tested FIVE recipes already!!! Just to make sure. Quality control and all.

Each recipe I have made has been perfect to a “T” — the measurements, baking times, and consistency of the results. I’m happily going into the Christmas season with this book in hand, planning to try the oatmeal crisps with chocolate next!

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What I’ve tried so far, from top left: Italian Pignoli Cookies, Peanut Butter-Chocolate Crunch Squares, Espresso Thins, Chocolate-Peanut Butter Brownie Sandwich Cookies, Thumbprints with Spicy Plum Jam.

Thank you to Blogging for Books and Ten Speed Press for the complimentary review copy. This is my honest review.