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.

Review of “Midnight on the River Grey” by Abigail Wilson

Wilson, Abigail. Midnight on the River Grey. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2019.

Paperback | $15.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-0785224129 | 323 pages | Christian Fiction/Regency Romance

4 stars

I was excited to get around to Midnight on the River Grey, given that I really enjoyed Abigail Wilson’s debut novel. And while I enjoyed this one marginally less than the first, I still found it a pretty solid read overall.

The characters took a bit longer to grow on me this time around, especially Rebecca, since I wasn’t really sure what to think of her. But she and Lewis endeared themselves to me over the course of the book, as both let their walls come down. Lewis admittedly took a bit less time for me to get attached to, which is funny, as we’re never in his head, but despite the doubts sowed by other characters, he is always presented in his interactions with Rebecca as a good person who is trying to do the best he can.

As a heroine, Rebecca was much more immature than Wilson’s prior book’s naive heroine, and while her motivations for not wanting to marry had interesting, due to a perception of inherited madness, the reveal of the true source of her mother’s madness further highlights this. I mean, I know it was common for women to be kept somewhat ignorant in that period, but even the way the reveal was addressed suggested that she should have known. Nevertheless, I still admired her for her bravery and determination to solve the murders.

On that note, kudos to Wilson for a well-crafted mystery with an ending that I did not see coming. Like her previous effort, she had me suspecting everyone, and when the answers were revealed, my jaw dropped at the unexpected nature of it, yet how it all made sense with the clues planted earlier in the book.

This was a delightfully fast-paced and suspenseful read, only further cementing Abigail Wilson as one of my new favorite authors. And I once again recommend this to fans of romantic historical mysteries.

Review of “In the Shadow of Croft Towers” by Abigail Wilson

Wilson, Abigail. In the Shadow of Croft Towers. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2019.

Paperback | $15.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-0785223665 | 324 pages | Christian Fiction/Regency Romance

5 stars

I bought In the Shadow of Croft Towers on a whim after seeing an ad for it on Facebook, and looking to try another new Christian Regency author…although of course, it did inevitably end up sitting on my TBR shelf a bit longer than I am proud of, something which I now regret. Abigail Wilson crafts a strong Christian Regency mystery that could easily rival her read-alike authors, Julie Klassen and Sarah E. Ladd (the latter of whom also provided a blurb for the book, describing it as “mysterious and wonderfully atmospheric…full of danger, intrigue, and secrets.”

And that pretty much sums up this book to a tee. Wilson perfectly captures the landscape of the mysterious Croft Towers, making it come to life as a character in its own right, rife with many secrets. And as the back cover blurb suggests, there is a sense of unease throughout, as I was left feeling incredibly unsure of who to trust as I (and Sybil) encountered them, although there were some I became attached to as she did, and began to root for. And while the villains have done bad things, I like that they aren’t cardboard cutout bad, and that there is a way to kind of see things from their perspective to an extent, even if their actions are morally wrong.

Sybil also has a great character arc that fits both with the context of the period and her circumstances and the conventions of the semi-Gothic narrative, starting more naive and then growing more brave over time as revelations are uncovered, and she’s faced with some pivotal choices.

This was an enjoyable debut historical, and I am excited to pick up her next one in just a few more days to see what she does next. And as I mentioned prior, I would recommend this to Julie Klassen and Sarah E. Ladd fans looking for another solid read-alike, or to romantic Regency mystery fans.

Review of “The Memory House” by Rachel Hauck

Hauck, Rachel. The Memory House. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2019.

Paperback | $15.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-0310250965 | 374 pages | Christian Fiction/Historical Fiction

5 stars

The Memory House is another poignant dual timeline novel from Rachel Hauck, and I loved the exploration of grief and the differing reactions to the tragic loss of a loved one explored through the interwoven narratives, whether it be memory loss or holding onto memories, both of which prevent the person from moving forward and growing.

And this is one of the rare times where I found the contemporary arc as compelling as the past one, if not more so. While I have not faced loss in the same way Beck has, I could empathize with her struggles and how her mind essentially shut out memories of that time due to her grief, and I found it poignant how this grief manifested in her present life, with her choosing a career as a police officer in the NYPD. I also loved how there were some parallels and contradictions with her childhood friend and love interest Bruno’s life, as he faces some discoveries about the fate of his own father.

It juxtaposes very well with Everleigh and Don’s story, and how she is holding onto the memory of her late husband, even as she’s developing feelings for someone else, and I also love the reveal of the blood ties between the two women, which is at the center of why Everleigh left the house to her, along with the deeper spiritual connection.

This a deeply emotional book, one that deals with the struggle to move on after a monumental loss. I would recommend it to readers of deep, introspective multi-generational novels.

Review of “When You Are Near” (Brookstone Brides #1) by Tracie Peterson

Peterson, Tracie. When You Are Near. Bloomington, MN: Bethany House, 2019.

Paperback | $15.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-0764219023 | 311 pages | Christian Fiction/Historical Romance

3 stars

I received a copy of When You Are Near in a Goodreads giveaway a while ago, and am just getting around to reading it to prepare to read book two, which recently came out. And while this is my first Tracie Peterson book, I’m reasonably impressed enough to read more from her.

The concept of this series as a whole is fun, surrounding a traveling Wild West Extravaganza with a cast of women performers. And I think it made the most of this concept, while also exploring the characters’ inner struggles, both with faith and and with life in general.

However, it does suffer from “first-in-series” syndrome, where it’s doing double duty of setting up the roles protagonists in future books will play, while also working to juggle that with the romance between Lizzy and Wesley (and by extension the love triangle including them and Jason). In fact, despite them appearing to be the focus on the book, I didn’t find either of them to be all that compelling. I found their respective struggles relatable enough on a surface level, but in comparison to Ella, who was dealing with a father and fiancee trying to force her into a marriage which is detestable to her and the fact that they might be up to some nefarious deeds, they paled by comparison.

But Ella’s storyline, and the connected mystery element were incredibly well-done, and I found the way it was resolved to be the most satisfying part of the book, even if the her father and fiancee are so cartoonishly irredeemable. And Mary, who is also somewhat connected to the mystery is one of my other favorite characters, giving me hope that there is some potential in continuing with the series.

This was a somewhat short, fun read, although I did feel like the length did it a disservice in terms of all the things it tried to accomplish. But I think it shows a lot of promise, and given what I’ve heard about Peterson’s standing as a respected and top selling Christian fiction author, I would recommend this to other fans of the genre who haven’t tried her work yet, as I feel (at leas at the moment) that this is a solid entry point, in spite of its shortcomings.

Review of “A Hero for Miss Hatherleigh” (Regency Brides: Daughters of Aynsley #1) by Carolyn Miller

Miller, Carolyn. A Hero for Miss Hatherleigh. Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 2019.

Paperback | $15.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-0825445897 | 316 pages | Christian Fiction/Regency Romance

4 stars

A Hero for Miss Hatherleigh is a great start to Carolyn Miller’s latest Regency Brides sub-series. And while it’s not my favorite of Miller’s books, it has all the hallmarks of her work, including rich period detail and examination of deeper issues in a historical context.

Caroline and Gideon are both interesting characters. I really enjoyed the exploration of Gideon’s love and science and how he negotiated that alongside his faith, a topic which Miller noted she had in mind when working on the book. And while Caroline was a bit less interesting to me at first, I was somewhat moved by her spiritual growth.

One of my favorite aspects, however, was the subplot around Emma and domestic violence. It’s handled delicately although I did kind of want it to be resolved a bit differently to give her her own story sometime down the road with the person she ended up with, although I understand that it might not work with Miller’s series as outlined, and delaying it to the next one (if another spinoff is in the pipeline once this one finishes) might not work for other reasons.

This is a heartwarming Regency romance, and one that I would recommend to all Regency fans.