Review: “Whispers in the Reading Room” by Shelley Gray

Today’s review features a recent historical suspense/romance release from Shelley Gray: Whispers in the Reading Room. If you are intrigued by the Gilded age, the World’s fair in Chicago, or just a good old suspense with a bit of wit, this book might be for you!

_225_350_Book.1763.coverAbout the book: Lydia’s job at the library is her world—until a mysterious patron catches her eye . . . and perhaps her heart.

Just months after the closure of the Chicago World’s Fair, librarian Lydia Bancroft finds herself fascinated by a mysterious dark-haired and dark-eyed patron. He has never given her his name; he actually never speaks to a single person. All she knows about him is that he loves books as much as she does.

Only when he rescues her in the lobby of the Hartman Hotel does she discover that his name is Sebastian Marks. She also discovers that he lives at the top of the prestigious hotel and that most everyone in Chicago is intrigued by him.

Lydia and Sebastian form a fragile friendship, but when she discovers that Mr. Marks isn’t merely a very wealthy gentleman, but also the proprietor of an infamous saloon and gambling club, she is shocked.

Lydia insists on visiting the club one fateful night and suddenly is a suspect to a murder. She must determine who she can trust, who is innocent, and if Sebastian Marks—the man so many people fear—is actually everything her heart believes him to be.

My thoughts: This book was quite entertaining with a swift-moving plot and vivid characters, though not quite a favorite in the genre. The witty dialogue was fun, and I really enjoyed the bit of dry humor thrown in (especially concerning Sebastian’s logical/analytical personality vs. some very emotional women). It also had a good cast of secondary characters that added perspective.

Sebastian was interestingly portrayed as a nontypical hero – what with his unfortunate upbringing and choice of business. This was unexpected and a nice departure from the norm. While he was still likable and properly effected by circumstances in the story, I would have liked just a little more of a transformation from his character arc. This would be my only complaint with the story.

I think my favorite things about this book were the setting and bookish elements. It was neat to see a lesser-known side of Gilded-age Chicago. And, the glimpses of a library and comparisons of life to literature were fun –especially for a book lover! It was interesting to see how Lydia’s love of books was portrayed in a way that encouraged her character to come out of her shell.

Thank you to Zondervan, BookLook, and the Fiction Guild for a complimentary review copy of this book.

Review: “The Wedding Chapel” by Rachel Hauck

Rachel Hauck has the ability to pen stories that are both sweet and gritty, dealing with real life in a way that illuminates the thread of the Divine in all of our lives. Her latest novel, The Wedding Chapel, is one such example. Read on for my review.

*click here to see my review of Rachel’s previous novel, How to Catch a Prince*

About the book: An old, forgotten chapel holds the key to love and forgiveness.

The Wedding Chapel by Rachel HauckRetired hall-of-fame football coach Jimmy Westbrook never imagined anything would come of his labor of love—building a wedding chapel for Collette Greer, the woman he fell in love with in 1949. But now a realtor wants the land the chapel sits on, and he sees no reason to hang onto the past.

Photographer Taylor Branson is trying to make a life for herself in New York. Leaving her hometown of Heart’s Bend, Tennessee, she put a lot of things behind her, including her family’s string of failed marriages. When she falls head-over-heels for Jack Gillingham, a top ad man, their whirlwind romance and elopement leave her with doubts. Jack, while genuine in his love for Taylor, can never seem to find the right way to show her he really cares.

When a post-mortem letter from Taylor’s Granny Peg shows up, along with an old photo, she is driven to uncover family secrets and the secret to her own happiness, starting with an assignment to photograph an unknown, obscure wedding chapel back in Heart’s Bend.

Taylor begins a mission to convince Jimmy that the chapel is worth saving—and that forgiveness and healing might happen within the chapel’s walls . . . for both of them.

My thoughts: With subtlety and beauty, this story paints a picture of how God requires our surrender, to be wholly dependent on Him, in order to bless us. Jack’s transformation stood out to me the most, possibly because his backstory was unfortunate and tough to overcome. I was rooting for him to embrace his path.

Just so you know, I’m not typically a fan of a book with as many as 4 main characters (with corresponding viewpoints), but Rachel’s skills make the story cohesive, even with occasional flashbacks to Colette and Jimmy’s early relationship. It follows these characters as all 4 experience a drastic shift in perspective, learn lessons of personal worth, and realize how much family matters.

I appreciated how Rachel timed flashbacks in this story to explain how the characters’ past shaped their current life, and how their choices had a lasting impact. I think Rachel did wonderfully in choosing which moments to flash back to and which to just explain in passing. The subtle hint of suspense regarding a certain secret one of the characters held on to was well staged, too.

This is a poignant story of love, faith, second chances, and recognizing the blessings in front of you. I am glad this title will find a place on my shelf because it is one of those I think will reveal deeper emotions and lessons with every re-read!

Thank you to Rachel Hauck for the opportunity to be a part of her “tribe”, Zondervan, & NetGalley for the review copies.


Review: “To Win Her Favor” by Tamera Alexander

Today’s book I’m reviewing is from one of my favorite historical authors, Tamera Alexander. I have liked every book of hers I’ve read, especially A Beauty So Rare (and I’ve read almost all of them!). She never fails to deliver a fascinating story, full of historical details and endearing characters. Her latest novel, To Win Her Favor, is no exception. Set in Nashville in the tumultuous aftermath of the Civil War, this story explores many themes and subjects unique to that era.To Win Her Favor Banner

Book SummaryA gifted rider in a world where ladies never race, Maggie Linden is determined that her horse will become a champion. But the one man who could help her has vowed to stay away from thoroughbred racing forever.

An Irishman far from home, Cullen McGrath left a once prosperous life in England because of a horse racing scandal that nearly ruined him. He’s come to Nashville for a fresh start, hoping to buy land and begin farming, all while determined to stay as far away from thoroughbred racing as possible. But starting over proves harder than he’d wagered, especially when Maggie Linden’s father makes him an offer he shouldn’t accept yet cannot possibly refuse.

Maggie is certain that her mare, Bourbon Belle, can take the top purse in the inaugural Peyton Stakes, the richest race ever run in America. Maggie only needs the chance to prove it. To give her that chance—and to save Linden Downs from being sold to the highest bidder—Maggie’s father, aging, yet wily as ever, makes a barter. His agreement includes one tiny, troublesome detail—Maggie must marry a man she’s never met. A man she never would have chosen for herself.

I could talk about the many beautiful layers of this book for a long time. I will *try* to restrain myself, though, so you can finish my review then find a copy for yourself 🙂

The relationship between Cullen and Maggie was developed perfectly, with some very swoon-y moments. Tamera has taken a familiar plot concept, a “marriage of convenience”, and relayed it with unexpected variations and a few twists. One example of this is Maggie’s father — he gave his blessing for their marriage, and his support is a firm starting point for their relationship.To Win Her Favor

These characters quickly worked their way into my heart: Margaret, her father Gilbert Linden, Cullen, and several of the supporting characters. Margaret and Cullen both had bright personalities. Cullen was bold, straightforward, gentle with Maggie, and not afraid to stand for what was right. Maggie was sweet, considerate, and very capable of handling tough situations. It was great to see how the two of them strengthened and learned from each other. They were a beautiful example of the closeness God intends between a husband and wife.

This book is a great picture of the south in the aftermath of the Civil War. And, a new perspective on early thoroughbred breeding, training, and racing. I wouldn’t say that horsemanship was the central plot, though. “Life” was. Through the challenges Cullen faced as an immigrant and the ramifications of the Civil War, a secondary story was intertwined, dealing with prejudices of the time. I applaud Tamera for approaching this subject in such a way. At times, stereotypes are confronted in a manner both delicate and brutally realistic. It shows the cost and consequences of war – both for families of the south and for former slaves – from a fresh perspective. One character in particular really grows from the encouragement of another to open her eyes to the reality around her.

I believe the spiritual message of the book is this: sometimes God puts us through trials so we will seek Him. And sometimes He uses people and circumstances to teach us about our purposes or shed light on an opportunity right in front of us. He also guides us through times when we try to run from Him and make our own way.

Ok, maybe I ended up talking about this a little more than I planned. But it was so good! Please, if you haven’t read anything by Tamera Alexander, you should. Go to her website to see the her latest releases or to find other ways to connect with her through social media. For more info on To Win Her Favor (and to read an excerpt!), visit this page.

A sincere thank you to Tamera Alexander, Zondervan, and NetGalley for providing me with a copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

Review: “How to Catch a Prince” by Rachel Hauck

“It’s not easy to catch a prince, even harder to keep one.”- Corina Del Rey in How to Catch a Prince

Those words, uttered by the main character in Rachel Hauck’s latest novel in the “Royal Weddings” series, perfectly set up the story of wealthy socialite Corina Del Rey and Prince Stephen of Brighton kingdom. This book is a wonderful modern fairy tale whose message is this: love is a choice, and requires selfless sacrifice.


How to Catch a Prince by Rachel Hauck Click to visit Rachel’s website!

I’m so happy to be a part of Rachel Hauck’s team for reviewing this recent release! Without further ado, here’s a summary of the book and my thoughts.

Book Summary: Prince Stephen came to America to escape responsibility. But what he found complicates his life more than ever.

Corina Del Rey is happy with her life in Melbourne, Florida. She spends her days engrossed in her career as a journalist and has her sights set on climbing the corporate ladder if for no other reason, to distract herself from her dissolving family. But when she is confronted with the past she fought so hard to put behind her, she struggles to make sense of her future.

Prince Stephen of Brighton Kingdom has moved on since the tragic death of his buddies in Afghanistan. A star professional rugby player, he has no intention of looking over his shoulder at what could’ve been.

But when a notice arrives in the mail requiring his and his wife’s appearance before the courts to dissolve their marriage, he must deal with the questions rumbling around in his heart. He thought his marriage had been annulled long ago, but his memories of Corina Del Rey remain close. Does he still love her? Can he even find her? Above all, can he tell her the truth about that fateful night in Afghanistan seven years ago? If he does, he might really lose her forever.

This book has a rare premise – the hero and heroine are already married at the start of the story. The challenge to the characters comes when this is unexpectedly discovered (that they are still secretly married), and they are faced with a possible annulment and external circumstances that reunite them publicly.

Corina’s family has not been the same since her twin brother was killed during war time. Still searching for the truth of what happened, she corners Stephen to help her learn the truth. What she doesn’t know, however, is that Stephen knows more than he’s saying about the events that killed her brother and caused Stephen to run from their marriage. Stephen is still running from the past and has stopped trusting God.

Both of these characters undergo transformations as a result of their experiences and the call of God through this story. Rachel Hauck has used beautiful and endearing secondary characters to speak wisdom to the characters and show them what life lived for God looks like (sometimes it’s intimidating, requiring the faith to step out in love, or requiring a selfless attitude).

The setting of this story in a fictitious Brighton Kingdom is picturesque, modern, and realistic at the same time. It is most definitely a modern fairy tale, with a few mysterious – maybe “magical”? – characters. These characters instead have a hinted Divine origin and purpose, with an unearthly knowledge of the past and Corina and Stephen’s current circumstances. I thought they were a clever way to encourage Corina.

At the heart of this story is a wonderful message of a relationship centered on Christ. With His sacrifice, He makes us worthy of love, gives us value beyond our abilities. In so many ways, Rachel weaves Corina’s and Stephen’s past together to teach them lessons of sacrifice, worth, and forgiveness.

One more thing I loved about these characters is that they realized they were royal or famous by the world’s standards, but they were still called to serve and love others through their positions.

I’m so glad I was able to read this last book in the series! It stands alone, though, as a complete story. (Confession: I’ve not read the other two in the series yet, but I can’t wait to!) A big thank-you to Rachel for inviting me to be on her team! I’ll leave you with one more quote from the book:

“Your worth is not determined by who you are or what you do, even what you don’t do. It’s determined by the work of your Savior.” – Archbishop Caldwell in How to Catch a Prince

Thank you to Rachel Hauck and to Zondervan for the ebook copy in exchange for my honest review.