(Sort of) Review of "An Uncommon Woman" by Laura Frantz

Frantz, Laura. An Uncommon Woman. Grand Rapids, MI: Revell, 2020.

Paperback | $15.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-0800734954 | 377 pages | Historical Romance/Christian Fiction

I received a complimentary copy as a part of the Revell Reads Blog Tour Program, in exchange for an honest review.

That said, this won’t be much of a review, as while one of the conditions of the program is posting a review, I didn’t have to finish the book. And I made the mistake of requesting thi book out of excitement to read more by the author, without reading the blurb, even when I received the book in the mail. It was only when I finally picked it up to read that alarm bells started going off, what with the recent resurgence of discussion around proper representation of diverse voices in romance novels due to the RWA scandal, and the lingering memory of some unfortunate titles in the “inspirational” category receiving mainstream attention.

I suspect Frantz had good intent, having flipped to the back of the book and looked at her author’s note. But it is a bit disconcerting to see her perspective is primarily a scholarly one, so it comes off as another white author wanting to write about something “exotic, but not too exotic,” a problem that has plagued romance for a long time. This holds a lot of weight when you consider the fact that her hero and a supporting character both are essentially white people who were “captured” and lived among the “Indians,” with the plot set to see the heroine captured as well (I didn’t get that far…and I got almost two hundred pages in).

And the plot and characters were so lacking in…really…anything, which made the issues I had with the rep stand out even more. The one positive I guess is that she mastered the time period language, but when it’s juxtaposed with “time period accurate” everything else, it just falls super flat.

In short, don’t recommend. But like some of the other problematic Christian romances (or really any Christian romances, this seems to be the sort of book that appeals very specifically to their target demographic.

Review of "The Thief of Lanwyn Manor" (The Cornwall Novels #2) by Sarah E. Ladd

Ladd, Sarah E. The Thief of Lanwyn Manor. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2020.

EBook | $8.99 USD ($15.99 USD Print) | ISBN-13: 978-0785223269 | 352 pages | Christian Fiction/Regency Romance

I received an ARC of this book through Netgalley to read in exchange for a fair review.

The Thief of Lanwyn Manor is the second in Sarah E. Ladd’s latest series, the Cornwall novels, but, as is typical of the author’s style, while there are small connections you appreciate if you read in order, the stories completely stand alone and the characters of book one have almost nothing to do with this book.

And admittedly, I’m kind of glad, as while that first book was ok, it was one of her weaker efforts, and very cliche, while this one is more of a return to form. The constant is that the setting of Cornwall remains beautifully realized, and the story feels atmospheric, while exploring a different nefarious deed that hasn’t been treaded to the point where it’s become a stereotype.

Isaac in particular is great, with his concern for those working in the mine he and his family own. Ladd’s books have slowly begun to focus more on the issues of the working class in this period (an aspect I also loved in her previous stand alone book, The Weaver’s Daughter), and she does so in a way that left me feeling enlightened and reflecting on the issues in comparison to today.

I really enjoyed the romantic tension in this one, especially as Julia grows closer to Isaac, in spite of his brother initially seeming like a more ideal suitor. This also leads to great character development between the brothers as well, especially given Matthew has a connection to the things going on.

There is a mystery, but while Ladd’s build-up is fantastic, as noted with the development of setting in terms of Gothic atmosphere, the reveal is a little underwhelming and predictable, and now that I’ve grown as a reader, I can recognize that as a flaw in many of her books, where it’s less “aha!” when you put the pieces together, and more “but of course it is.”

This is not my favorite Sarah Ladd title, but I still enjoyed it for the most part. I recommend it to people looking for a sweet read that also has a thread of suspense.

Review of "Misleading Miss Verity" (Regency Brides: Daughters of Aynsley #3) by Carolyn Miller

Miller, Carolyn. Misleading Miss Verity. Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 2019.

Paperback | $15.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-0825445910 | 342 pages | Christian Fiction/Regency Romance

5 stars

Misleading Miss Verity is a bittersweet goodbye to Carolyn Miller’s Regency Brides world, as it seems she’s going in a new direction with her next book. And as such, I’m glad this is a good book to send the series off on.

This story, like many of her books, is rich in character growth. While it was hard to know what to expect from Verity, given her peripheral role as a side character in her sisters’ books, I liked her emotional journey toward growing in faith in God in a way that didn’t feel forced. I also like that she’s independent minded, and despite initial difficulties, finds someone who respects that.

I also enjoyed seeing Anthony adjusting to his new role of laird of Dungally. I thought it was great to see him apply his desire to help people and undo the legacy of carlessness sowed by the previous laird. I love that he was just a good person, and while there was some misleading going on, it was with good intent.

Like all the Regency Brides books, there is a great sense of place, particularly when the characters are in Scotland. She immerses the reader in the scenery, language, and customs, so it feels like you’re there. She also presents something a little bit closer to her home, with some scenes in New South Wales at the beginning, and I think it’s fascinating to see a writer depict the history of their homeland in one of their books.

This is a great book, and I recommend it to fans of inspirational historical romance.

Review of "A Pursuit of Home" (Haven Manor #3) by Kristi Ann Hunter

Hunter, Kristi Ann. A Pursuit of Home. Bloomington, MN: Bethany House, 2019.

Paperback | $14.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-0764230776 | 380 pages | Christian Fiction/Regency Romance

3 stars

A Pursuit of Home, the final book in Kristi Ann Hunter’s Haven Manor series, feels like such a different book tonally to the other two, and, while part of that could be due to its centering on the character of Jess, who appeared in Hunter’s first book in her prior series, which had an espionage/mystery thread to it, and this book sees a reunion between her and the protagonists of that book, it resulted in the story feeling a bit odd.

A major facet to my diminished interest in this book is the fact that Jess wasn’t a character who made an impact on me the same way she did for others, and when Hunter mentioned bringing her back for this one, I scratched my head. To be fair, you don’t have to have read that previous book to understand it, as the backstory is conveyed well here, but while I find myself usually sympathizing with most heroines, I just found Jess hard to connect with.

Derek is better, in that I at least found him interesting in terms of his scholarly pursuits, and his somewhat awkward personality. I also really enjoyed getting his unique thought process, viewing things as art, including his attraction to Jess.

The plot feels a little all over the place, as while there is a decent amount of intrigue, I found my interest flagging in a way I’ve never felt before with one of her previous books (even the conclusion to her previous series, which I also found uneven). A lot of it just seemed a little half-baked, with too many elements in play at once.

This a case of an author having a lot of great ideas, but stumbling a little trying to bring them all together. There’s elements of a good story in here, and for many it may have worked better, so as always, your mileage may vary. I think if you read Hunter’s previous work, especially if you happen to be a Jess fan, you’ll probably love getting deeper insight into her character and seeing her find her HEA.

Review of "The Bridge to Belle Island" by Julie Klassen

Klassen, Julie. The Bridge to Belle Island. Bloomington, MN: Bethany House, 2019.

Paperback | $15.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-0764218194 | 394 pages | Regency Romance/Christian Fiction

5 stars

A new Julie Klassen book is pretty much always a delight, and The Bridge to Belle Island is no exception. Klassen once again blends the elements of period-drama romance in the vein of Jane Austen with the semi-Gothic mystery of the Brontes, with characters I loved from the first pages and a compelling plot that kept me guessing.

Klassen touches on some tough issues in this one, a common theme for her books, this time featuring a heroine with anxiety as a result of grief and fear as the result of several family deaths. I could relate to Isabelle’s sense of feeling secure in her life on Belle Island, fearing the consequences of venturing out as others in her family did. And while she does eventually venture out and face her fears, it’s merely a small step in what is implied to be a long process of reacquainting herself with the world, with the power of her faith and the support of those close to her.

I liked Benjamin’s journey as a character as well, reconciling pleasing his mentor who he feels he’s disappointed recently and the father with whom he’s never seen eye-to-eye. I love his growth to finding out who is more worthy of his trust and respect, in spite of the difficulties.

I found the mystery compelling, especially as there is much more focus on that plot, with the development of the romance feeling secondary at times. While she typically creates heroes and heroines who don’t have any reason to be suspects in the murder, I love her use of misdirection that even had me suspecting Isabelle at one point, along with everyone else. And when the true reason the clues suggested she could be involved were revealed, I was completely shocked, as well as saddened, with how it played into her anxiety issues. And the reveal of the killer was a clever twist I did not see coming, although, in hindsight, it was set up so well.

Julie Klassen has written another winner, and one I recommend to fans of historical romance and mystery.

Review of "The Number of Love" (The Codebreakers #1)

White, Roseanna M. The Number of Love. Bloomington, MN: Bethany Houise, 2019.

Paperback | $15.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-0764231810 | 364 pages | Historical Romance–World War I/Christian Fiction

4 stars

Having loved meeting Margot in A Song Unheard, part of Roseanna M. White’s previous series, I was delighted that she was getting her own book with The Number of Love. And while Lukas and Willa, who I loved from that book, do feature as secondarary characters, this book works well as a stand-alone and entry point into White’s rich Edwardian/World War I world she’s built over the course of her books published with Bethany House.

As with the previous series, White’s research is impeccable, and she presents an aspect of the Great War that is not often written about in novels or discussed in the basic school history the average person likely got on the war, that being the role of the intelligence hub Room 40. It was a great direction to go in, particularly after dealing with aspects of espionage during the war in previous books, and I really enjoyed delving more into a little-discussed part of this major war.

I loved getting to know Margot more. The way she thought with numbers admittedly had me a little out of my depth (a further testament to White’s skill at getting into her characters’ heads, as she admits in the note at the end that she is much the opposite), but I enjoyed her independence and pragmatism, balanced out with compassion for her friends and family.

Drake is also a great character, and wonderful counterpart for Margot. I love when authors switch things up and have the heroines be more governed by logic over emotion, and the more emotional, smitten hero is the one trying to figure out how to appeal to the heroine, and ultimately, while it’s a slow burn, it’s really sweet.

This is another great book by Roseanna M. White, flush with history and romance, and with a dash of suspense. I recommend it to those looking for an engrossing World War I-set historical romance.

Review of "What Comes My Way" (Brookstone Brides #3) by Tracie Peterson

Peterson, Tracie. What Comes My Way. Bloomington, MN: Bethany House, 2019.

Paperback | $15.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-0764219047 | 295 pages | Christan Ficiton/Historican Romance

3

After finding the previous two Brookstone Brides books lacking, I waffled about picking up the last book, but ultimately decided I wouldn’t if only to get some closure for the mystery and because Ella and Phillip are by far the most interesting characters, she for her family’s nefarious connections and he for the obvious demons driving him toward drink.

And both were well done. I am particularly critical of how romance novels, both inspirational and secular, approach issues like trauma and the reformation of a character’s vices, so I like that Phillip’s issues not only were confronted in a realistic way, but it wasn’t a case where love was the only answer, but him taking time to really commit himself to getting better. And I love seeing those little moments of him bonding with Wes, especially after seeing Wes’ perspective of his fall into dissipation in the previous books.

And, for any of its other faults I will discuss momentarily, I feel satisfied in the way the mystery was wrapped up, and Ella’s role in it. I was also stunned to learn about the ways in which former slave owners continued to exploit the former enslaved even decades after they were meant to be freed, as explored by the revelation of Jefferson’s mistreatment of Mara, Ella’s former maid. It shouldn’t have surprised me, given what I do know about African American life in this time period, but I still found it outrageous.

But sadly, like its predecessors, it still was all over the place, also focusing on the previous couples and their next steps as they embark on their lives, which I didn’t mind too much at first, but I feel like they stole page time from Phillip and Ella, who don’t even spend time together once he leaves to recover. And despite the valid reasoning for it, I just didn’t see the long-term chemistry there, like I did with the other two couples, who at least spent time together over the course of the series, particularly the books meant to focus on them.

Ultimately, each of these books feels too short and too scattered, trying to do too much with too little page time. I’m sure Peterson fans and maybe some other Christian fiction readers will enjoy this, as this series has gotten consistently good reviews from people in that community. But while I haven’t completely written off Tracie Peterson, I feel this series as a whole just wasn’t for me.

Review of “You Belong With Me” (Restoring Heritage #1) by Tari Faris

Faris, Tari. You Belong With Me. Grand Rapids, MI: Revell, 2019.

Paperback | $14.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-0800736477 | 360 pages | Contemporary Romance/Christian Fiction

4 stars

I received a free copy in exchange for a review, as pat of the Revell Reads Blog Tour Program. All opinions are my own.

As has been the case with the other books I’ve requested through Revell Reads, I was primarily drawn to You Belong With Me due to the promise of the blurb, with the idea of the book (and likely the series as well) about preserving the historic aspects of the small town of Heritage. And while I’m still fairly new to small-town contemporaries, this is one of the most interesting I have read thus far, given the restoration element. And while it’s not the only part of the book, I found it wasn’t the only part I enjoyed either.

Faris manages to include two romances running parallel with each other, giving them equal page time, so while the blurb did not indicate this, I was not bothered when it would divert from Hannah or Luke to focus on Hannah’s brother Thomas and his ex, Janie, who he still has feelings for. I loved the exploration into the complications that led to said breakup, which turn out to be somewhat heartbreaking, and the conversation where it all comes out that brought the two of them back together.

I found Hannah and Luke’s relationship building a little underwhelming by comparison, but I did like the arc that Luke went on to figure out who his biological parents were, and was incredibly excited when he found them.

This is a delightful, sweet small town contemporary, and given that it is a debut, I’m quite impressed to see where Tari Faris goes from here. I would recommend this to those who love contemporaries with a lot of heart, with just as much focus on family and community as there is on romance.

Review of “Underestimating Miss Cecilia” (Regency Brides: Daughters of Aynsley #2) by Carolyn Miller

Miller, Carolyn. Underestimating Miss Cecilia. Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 2019.

Paperback | $15.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-0825445903 | 340 pages | Christian Fiction/Regency Romance

3 stars

I found myself rather underwhelmed by Underestimating Miss Cecilia, in comparison to Carolyn Miller’s previous books, which were all solid. There are still some of the recognizable hallmarks of Miller’s previous books that made me enjoy them, in particular her interweaving of historical events to provide greater context for the era. In this case, I loved reading about a hero and heroine who are interested in being more active politically and pushing for social change, whether it be to help the poor throughout England or to stop the prejudice against marginalized groups like the gypsies.

And the setup for the characters wasn’t bad, especially Edward’s. I love when an author can convince me that the hero truly wants to turn over a new leaf and leave his wild ways behind, and that is what she did with Edward. And I loved seeing Cecilia come to harness her inner strength, where she used to be more passive and pining.

But despite it essentially being one of my favorite tropes, friends-to-lovers, I felt like the execution didn’t really work. It could be because I read another book that did the trope of unrequited love between friends so much better recently, so I’m a bit jaded, but I just didn’t believe the love between the two, especially when Edward, after taking her for granted for so long, notices her once something bad happens to her.

I still enjoyed this book for what it is, especially for Miller’s constant focus on building an authentic feeling Regency world. I recommend this book to fans of sweet, spiritually driven (but not overly preachy) Regency romances.

Review of “The Lacemaker” by Laura Frantz

Frantz, Laura. The Lacemaker. Grand Rapids, MI: Revell, 2018.

Paperback | $15.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-0800726638 | 413 pages | Christian Fiction/Historical Romance–Revolutionary War

5 stars

I had never read Laura Frantz before, but I purchased The Lacemaker a while ago due to my interest in more historicals set during the American Revolution, and now finding myself in the mood for the period again after having one of those “I don’t know what to read” moments, I finally picked it up.

And I’m impressed by Frantz’s style. She perfectly captures what I already knew was a tense period and brings it to life, giving me a deeper look at the tense, day-by-day conflicts between the Tories and Patriots, as it built up from a rebellion into all-out war.

This is seen through the eyes of the heroine, Liberty, the daughter of a Tory politician who ends up in the middle of it all. While she is never fully disdainful of the Patriot cause, I loved seeing her grow from being more trusting that the life her father has carved out for her is the best to becoming more disillusioned, leading her to the Patriots.

While the names (given at birth or adopted over the course of the story) for both hero and heroine are a little on the nose, with Noble, it is very appropriate. He is not only dedicated to the cause, providing a fresh lens to explore the side of the Patriots through, but I love his “noble” behavior toward Liberty throughout the book, leading me to fall in love with him just as Liberty did, swooning every time he referred to her as “anwylyd,” the Welsh term for “beloved.”

This book is so richly detailed, but it never feels overwhelming, with it being more about the characters’ growth and the growth of their love for each other first and foremost. It is a must-read for anyone who loves a great historical that sweeps you away, leaving you satisfied at completing a wonderful story, yet still yearning for more.