Review: “With Love, Wherever You Are” by Dandi Daley Mackall

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Bonus trivia: That’s a photo of the real-life Helen and Frank on the cover!

This book review features a book that is as interesting as it is riveting because much of the story is based on the true-life events of a couple who met, married, and served in Europe during WWII. The book, With Love, Wherever You Are, by Dandi Daley Mackall, is a recent release from Tyndale House.

About the BookEveryone knows that war romances never last . . .
After a whirlwind romance and wedding, Helen Eberhart Daley, an army nurse, and Lieutenant Frank Daley, M.D. are sent to the front lines of Europe with only letters to connect them for months at a time.

Surrounded by danger and desperately wounded patients, they soon find that only the war seems real—and their marriage more and more like a distant dream. If they make it through the war, will their marriage survive?

Based on the incredible true love story, With Love, Wherever You Are is an adult novel from beloved children’s author Dandi Daley Mackall.Review

“Based on a true story”, “WWII era”, and “letters” were all I needed to know I really wanted to read this novel. With flowing style, intriguing settings around the US and the war theater of Europe, and a love story that transcends all kinds of obstacles, this book kept me hooked late into the night.

For starters, this book is based on the real life love story of the author’s parents. While some elements and characters were understandably fictionalized for heightened story tension, the personalities of Frank and Helen clearly shine through as observed by Dandi, their daughter. Fast forwarding to the end and the author’s note section, readers learn what parts of the story are identical to the real-life situation– and those were the most incredibly interesting elements of the story!

I was impressed with the contrasting humor and wit of the relationship between Frank and Helen compared to the dramatic responsibilities, convictions, and events depicted in the book. To quote an author friend, I felt like I was reading the script of a Cary Grant movie sometimes! These personalities really come out in the real-life letters, notes, telegrams, etc. included all throughout the novel—they were a treat!

The pain and destruction of World War II was not shied away from, yet a lens of eternal hope was applied to the gravity of loss experienced by the world. In the middle of it all, this beautiful romance and subsequent relationship was formed, tested by fire, and proved a lasting legacy for Dandi and a story of inspiration to me. It reminded me of the individual sacrifice many men and women have made for their countries. It made me all the more thankful for the generations, past and present, who have held strong to liberty and freedom. Veterans, I thank you.

If you are a fan of history, WWII/military fiction, (slightly) epistolary novels, or romance, I highly recommend this book.

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

What is your favorite book with letters or your favorite WWII novel?

 

Review: “Paper Hearts” by Courtney Walsh

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What better way to celebrate the week of Valentine’s than with a little review of a book that’s romance-y and cute with genuineness and heart behind it (and on it)? I thought so. I’m talking about a book that’s been on my radar and TBR shelf for way too long: Paper Hearts by Courtney Walsh.

About the Book

Abigail Pressman would never have guessed that love notes penned on paper hearts by an anonymous couple could restore her belief in love. As a business owner in a quaint town at the base of the Rockies, she’s poured everything into dreams of expansion . . . and resisting the matchmaking efforts of the Valentine Volunteers, who gather in her store to continue Loves Park’s tradition of stamping mail with the city’s romantic postmark.

When Abigail is unwillingly drafted into the Volunteers, she encounters the paper hearts, a distraction that couldn’t come at a worse time. A hard-to-read doctor has become Abigail’s new landlord, and he’s threatening to end her lease to expand his practice.

As she fights a growing attraction to this handsome man crushing her dreams, Abigail is inspired to string the hearts in her store, sparking a citywide infatuation with the artsy trend. But when a new batch of hearts reaches the Volunteers, it appears something tragic has happened to the couple. Will uncovering their story confirm Abigail’s doubts about love, or could it rescue her dreams . . . and her heart?

Review

This book is adorable. When I first heard about it, it was aptly compared to You’ve Got Mail, so I picked up a copy. It totally reflects that relationship predicament and has a small element like the show Signed, Sealed, Delivered’s dead letter office (if you can imagine it as a mismatched group of lady matchmakers – the Valentine Volunteers). But it’s deeper than a light rom-com. It’s a story of forgiveness, dreams, and love.

Paper Hearts has all the ingredients for an ideal inspirational contemporary romance: a quaint setting, meddling neighbor types, an “are-we-professional-enemies-or-am-I-attracted-to-you” relationship, a single dad trying to reinvent himself, a young woman’s journey to settle into a new dream, a sweet and meaningful romance, and themes of unconditional love and forgiveness.

I appreciate the way Courtney builds the backstory of Abigail and Jacob (the new doctor/landlord) slowly. The reader sees both characters react to the present and in turn learns a little more about their pasts and major events influencing them. As I got to “know them” better, I was rooting for them to share their insecurities and secrets with one another because I knew they had much in common AND because I was dying to know the whole story behind a certain secret.

The real “paper heart” portion of the story happens a little ways in, but it is worth the wait. Like the endearing cast of characters and charming small town setting, the romantic tradition of the hearts will pull at your hear and remind you to never take your loved ones for granted.

Review: “You’re The One That I Want” by Susan May Warren

You’re the One that I Want by Susan May Warren is the sixth and final book in the Christiansen Family series, a contemporary drama and romance focused on the family of its namesake from Minnesota lake country. It’s a dramatic conclusion that draws together conflicts introduced in former books. While it’s not necessary to read the previous books to have an understanding of the history of these characters, it is recommended for a richer experience of the story arc.

You're the One that I Want.jpgHave I mentioned how much I love that the series titles are all songs? And fitting ones, too! They are worked into the story with little hints and mentions. Often, they are tied to a specific faith theme, too. So, they work on both a romantic and spiritual level! 🙂

The entire series has hinted at the tension between Owen Christiansen and the rest of his family, particularly with his brother, Casper. This story chronicles a parallel with the parable of the prodigal son and explores the emotions and jealously the other brother experienced. While Owen’s personal mistakes threaten Casper’s future happiness, Casper’s own choices propel him into a different conflict with the law.

Owen Christiansen finds himself adrift both emotionally and physically after a stint on a crabbing boat. While he hoped to advance his work relationship with the no-nonsense captain’s daughter, “Scotty” McFlynn, to something of a more personal and romantic nature, his rash decisions come back to haunt him when his brother Casper shows up to wrangle him home. Complicating the situation further, Scotty’s new position with the Anchorage police force inserts her in the middle of the brothers when Casper’s link to a crime is revealed.

While Owen had already contemplated the humbling act of returning home after an injury ended his NHL career, he never anticipated the circumstances that would bring him back to his family’s door. Nor did he expect a police escort in the form of the woman he’s come to care for. But proving himself to Scotty becomes even more of a challenge as her emotional wall and jaded past come to light. Perhaps the refuge of the Christiansen family is just what Scotty needs to heal and learn the power of love.

Susan has a knack for pushing a character to his or her limits, be it physically or emotionally, to test their character and response. And readers experience the ride with them. This story opens with the cold of the Bering Sea; book 5, with Amelia and the intrigue of foreign lands; book 4, with Casper and the adventure of treasure hunting. This story could have been a predictable, brown-paper-package type conclusion to the series, but it goes far beyond the expected in with suspense and surprises.

You're the One that I WantThe family camaraderie of this series is present once again. In particular, the banter between the brothers, Owen and Casper, is unforgettable with scenes of humor and a bluntness reserved for family. These brothers. I think I could read a whole book called “Confrontations Conversations with Owen and Casper”. They know just which buttons to push and how to get beneath each other’s skin, infuriating one another and spurring one another to consider their present situations with unsolicited advice.

This story conveys the importance of not giving up. Not giving up on faith, on a pursuit of purpose, on God’s plan and presence, or on family and its strength. It takes the prodigal son returning to a new level. It shows the viewpoints of both brothers, the bitterness on one side and repentance on the other, with a reconciliation found in grace and the support of family. The contemporary example of Owen makes the story of the prodigal more relatable by showing how all have fallen short of God’s standards, and many run from grace while God is waiting with open arms.

A version of this review also appears on FamilyFiction.com/reviews.

Reviews of previous books in this series

Book 1, Take a Chance on Me

Book 2, It Had to Be You

Book 3, When I Fall In Love

Book 4, Always on My Mind

Book 5, The Wonder of You

 

Read-Along Fun: Price of Privilege Series

This is an impromptu announcement-slash-invitation for the Price of Privilege series by Jessica Dotta read-along starting July 1.

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Due to the epicness of this series, Cassie, Jamie, and I have decided to reread it and discuss (it’ll be more like fangirling, analyzing, and swooning) via Twitter with the hashtag #POPral

If you’d like to join in, we would LOVE to have you!!! And, if it’s your first time reading it, please let us know, because spoilers are a real possibility.

Book 1: Born of Persuasion

Book 2: Mark of Distinction 

Book 3: Price of Privilege

 

 

Review: The Wonder of You by Susan May Warren

If it’s a new Susan May Warren novel, you can bet I’m going to get my hands on it somehow. She never fails to deliver a story that both encourages and entertains. Her latest, The Wonder of You, is the quality story I have come to expect from her– sweetly romantic, faith-driven, family-centered, adventurous, with a few moments that had me chuckling (specifically, a little story about a fort 🙂 ). Plus, this story is the most recent in her “Christiansen Family” series, and it focuses on the youngest sibling, Amelia.The Wonder of You Quote

Summary: Mortified after her year abroad is cut short, Amelia Christiansen returns to Deep Haven, certain she isn’t brave enough to embrace the adventures she’s dreamed of. The last thing she expects is for the man who broke her heart to cross the Atlantic and beg forgiveness.

Heir to a European hotel dynasty, Roark St. John has trekked from one exotic locale to another, haunted by tragedy and the expectations that accompany his last name. Amelia is the first woman to give him a reason to stop running. He’ll do anything for a second chance—even contend with Amelia’s old flame, who is intent on sending Roark packing.

While one surprise after another leaves Amelia reeling, Roark’s continued presence only highlights the questions pursuing her. Like him, is she running from the life God has called her to? Could finding her place mean leaving home behind?

My thoughts: Amelia is very easy to relate to, I think. She’s the baby sister of the family, wanting prove her independence and just a little intimidated with life at the same time. She wanted adventure and to see the world, but after a not-so-successful photography trip abroad (read: heartbreak), she’s back in her hometown trying to figure out where she belongs.

The Wonder of You by Susan May WarrenClearly, Roark and Amelia draw strength from each other, and could depend on each other. It’s beautiful how he sees her, as herself with all her insecurities, and loves her just as she is. Together, they are stronger. But, with her long-time boyfriend Seth still in the picture, Amelia has to figure out her own heart. Seth is familiar and comfortable, while Roark is new and cultured. (While this was almost a love-triangle situation, it never felt unrealistic or predictable).

Roark is a complex character. He seems like the perfect guy from the outside, but carries the weight of guilt and mistakes, with a little bitterness toward God. He wants to start fresh and prove his love to Amelia, but lying to her about his identity is not the best choice. It was one of those “I want to throw your own book at you” type situations. But by the end, thankfully, no one was harmed by my book throwing.

I loved catching up with Grace (Amelia’s sister) and Max as a minor secondary story! He still doubts himself and it’s not good for their relationship. Max’s struggle is with choosing life–you can’t let fear control you because you can’t know what the future holds. I like how Susan revisited these characters and renewed some of the same struggles from their story in When I Fall In Love. They are just the sweetest couple. Their storyline really shows how doubt can be unrelenting and not so simple (or fairy-tale-like) in overcoming.

Both Amelia and Roark’s journeys in this story prove how God uses His love to draw us to Him – to trust in His plan, His strength, and His capabilities to redeem, guide, and bless us. I really loved how Susan used other characters to offer words of wisdom to Amelia and Roark at different times. This story continued the theme of grace woven into each character’s life, and illustrated the importance of obeying God’s calling whenever and wherever it may take you.

After this one, I am even more excited to see what’s next in the last book in this series, You’re the One That I Want, Owen’s story. But I will be very sad to say goodbye to this family I’ve come to “know”! Thank you for reading!

Review: “Born of Persuasion” by Jessica Dotta

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Where should I even start with reviewing this book? Born of Persuasion is the first book in what has become one of my favorite series of all time. I’m not saying that lightly. I had the honor of reading book 2 in this series, Mark of Distinction, as a historical romance judge for the INSPY awards this year. Turns out Mark of Distinction WON the 2015 INSPY award in its category! *insert happy dance here* Now that the judging process is over, I am free to gush about and discuss all of the wonderful books I read.

First, here’s a synopsis of Born of Persuasion: The year is 1838, and seventeen-year-old Julia Elliston’s position has never been more fragile. Orphaned and unmarried in a time when women are legal property of their fathers, husbands, and guardians, she finds herself at the mercy of an anonymous guardian who plans to establish her as a servant in far-off Scotland.

With two months to devise a better plan, Julia’s first choice to marry her childhood sweetheart is denied. But when a titled dowager offers to introduce Julia into society, a realm of possibilities opens. However, treachery and deception are as much a part of Victorian society as titles and decorum, and Julia quickly discovers her present is deeply entangled with her mother’s mysterious past. Before she knows what’s happening, Julia finds herself a pawn in a deadly game between two of the country’s most powerful men. With no laws to protect her, she must unravel the secrets on her own. But sometimes truth is elusive and knowledge is deadly.

Let’s see if I can coherently share my bubbling thoughts.

For any fans of the Victorian era, this series is perfection. It has the feel of a slightly gothic setting with deep, complex characters. Born of Persuasion is certainly a page-turner! The story is told from a first person narrative in the future, so it’s like Julia is telling her life story with additional insight. Her added hints at trials to come increase the mystery and foreshadowing of events through the story. Let’s just say it makes the reader anxious over what could happen next. And anxious over WHO to trust.

While this IS certainly a Christian fiction book, it is extremely different in the fact that the heroine is an atheist. But, she is so well written she is very likable and easy to identify with. I think her viewpoint is relevant to today because the spiritual struggles she faces are ones countless people battle with: belief in God, hypocritical people. and judgmental attitudes. Author Jessica Dotta stretches her spiritual journey and transformation over all three books in the series, so I won’t say more about it just yet.

It has been several weeks since I read this series, but it’s still something I can’t get over. It’s still fresh in my mind! Words cannot possibly convey the amazingness that is this series. Through it all, suspense and mystery are perfectly maintained. With unexpected MAJOR twists around every corner, there is never a dull moment. (Have I used enough CAPS in this review yet?) All I have left to say is you should read this soon.

Do you have a favorite book or series that is stuck in your mind and won’t let go? Are you a fan of Victorian intrigue? I’d love to hear your thoughts!

Review: “Maggie Bright” by Tracy Groot Blog Tour

After my overwhelming love of The Sentinels of Andersonville by Tracy Groot, I was very excited to get my hands on her latest book, Maggie Bright. While it was not as epic as Sentinels (I don’t think any book can top that in its genre!), it was very good!

maggie brightBook Summary: “England, 1940.” Clare Childs knew life would change when she unexpectedly inherited the “Maggie Bright”–a noble fifty-two-foot yacht. In fact, she’s counting on it. But the boat harbors secrets. When a stranger arrives, searching for documents hidden onboard, Clare is pulled into a Scotland Yard investigation that could shed light on Hitler’s darkest schemes and prompt America to action.Across the Channel, Hitler’s “Blitzkrieg” has the entire British army in retreat with little hope for rescue at the shallow beaches of Dunkirk. With time running out, Churchill recruits civilian watercraft to help. Hitler is attacking from land, air, and sea, and any boat that goes might not return. Yet Clare knows “Maggie Bright” must answer the call–piloted by an American who has refused to join the war effort until now and a detective with a very personal motive for exposing the truth.The fate of the war hinges on this rescue. While two men join the desperate fight, a nation prays for a miracle.

Tracy Groot skillfully writes vivid characters. From the first few pages of the book and glimpses of the characters, their unique personalities are established. Along with Clare, the story features American Murray Vance and Detective Inspector William Percy from Scotland Yard in England. While their story unfolds, a contrasting storyline of Private Jamie Elliot under siege, making his way to Dunkirk, France, immerses the reader in the action on the continent. The banter between the characters, particularly that of Clare and Detective William, was a fun and bright spot in the midst of drama.

The Maggie Bright brings these characters together – sometimes with surprising revelations – and unites them with a courageous purpose. I enjoyed seeing how the different characters realized they could contribute to the war efforts and make sacrifices, no matter their age or abilities.

Tracy confronted a unique subject within this story. And, featured the rescue at Dunkirk – an aspect of WWII I was previously unaware of.  Within this story, the importance of belief in bolstering courage and faith in the power of prayer were highlighted and central to the story. I look forward to whatever is next from Tracy – I will be reading it!

One thing I love about reading historical fiction is that, while being entertaining, it often sheds light on interesting historical events or persons. Do you have any favorite examples of books like this? Have you heard of the rescue at Dunkirk?

Thank you to Tyndale House Publishers for a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.