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.

Review of “The Bride of Ivy Green” (Tales from Ivy Hill #3) by Julie Klassen

Klassen, Julie. The Bride of Ivy Green. Bloomington, MN: Bethany House, 2018.

Paperback | $15.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-0764218170 | 444 pages | Christian Fiction/Regency Romance

5 stars

Sometimes you just need a comfort read, and this was one of those times, with some stressful real life stuff going on, and feeling agitated with some of the other things I attempted to pick up for various reasons. So, I finally decided to soak into Julie Klassen’s most recent book and the conclusion of her Tales from Ivy Hill series, The Bride of Ivy Green.

And I received just the comfort and escape I craved. Despite it being over a year since I’ve spent time with these characters and I did find myself a bit fuzzy on some of the details of the last two books, I quickly was able to engross myself in their lives again. And I remembered why I looked forward to this one, because Mercy was a character I had rooted for since the beginning, and I was excited to see how she would overcome some of the obstacles in her way.

And she did so beautifully, especially in the face of an incredibly antagonistic sister-in-law, who along with her brother, played a major role in destroying the livelihood she had been so proud of in the last two books. And to see her become fulfilled again not just professionally, but also romantically was beautiful.

And Klassen once again crafts a love triangle that is so endearing in the fact that the characters are all such good people, or if they have made mistakes in the past, are working to atone for them. As with the prior books in the series, I had a feeling about who I wanted Mercy to end up with, but I could also see the merits in her other love interest as well.

And I loved the focus on reunited families in this book as well. Jane, for one, is on the verge of marrying Gabriel Locke, when she is reunited with her father, and it was great to see how things played out with the secrets of his other life coming out. And given his involvement in India and having formed a whole other life there, I appreciated that Klassen did her research, and wrote what (to my perspective at least) feels like well-rounded portrayals of Indian people and the complex relationship they had with England at the time.

There was also another instance of reunited family which was foreshadowed from the first book, coming to fruition with a story arc around a new arrival in Ivy Hill. I enjoyed seeing it play out, trying to figure out this newcomer’s connection to it all, although admittedly I would have figured it out a little faster if I had more recently read the other books and had the other puzzle pieces fresh in my mind.

This was a great conclusion to the series, concluding all the most relevant plot threads, but still leaving me feeling sad to leave them behind. And it definitely filled the void I was feeling for something that was heartwarming, but also featured a dash of intrigue. I would enthusiastically recommend this to other Regency and period piece fans, especially if you happy to love some of the works Klassen has compared this to, like Cranford,. Larkrise to Candleford, or Thrush Green.

Review of “Brentwood’s Ward” (Bow Street Runners #1) by Michelle Griep

Griep, Michelle. Brentwood’s Ward. Uhrichville, OH: Shiloh Run Press, 2015.

Paperback | $13.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-978-1630586799 | 314 pages | Christian Fiction/Regency Romance

3 stars

I won Brentwood’s Ward and the next book in the series, The Innkeeper’s Daughter, in a giveaway from the author around the time of the latter book’s release, and I was excited, as I had just read one of her novellas at the time and Julie Klassen, my gateway author to Christian historical fiction, has long recommended her highly. So, I was a bit disappointed to find that I wasn’t a bit more wowed by this.

I didn’t hate the book. It’s well-paced and fairly original, focusing on Bow Street Runners, and while I’ve seen those before on occasion in historicals, I haven’t seen it nearly enough. And Brentwood is definitely the better of the two main characters in the book. I loved that, in addition to the action-oriented stuff that comes with the profession, Brentwood has concern for taking care of his ailing sister, which motivates him to take on the assignment as Emily’s guardian.

I didn’t really know what to think about Emily. I could kind of empathize with her situation to an extent, but I also found her a bit too spoiled, and while there were moments over the course of the story that led her to grow on me, I never fully warmed up to her.

But I think my real issue was the fact that the romance wasn’t well executed. I didn’t really get the sense, particularly on Brentwood’s end, that he fell in love with her, especially when he declares it out-of-the-blue without convincing romantic buildup. There’s some semblance of tension there, but I didn’t get a real sense that there was a ton of chemistry, and the feelings didn’t feel super genuine. And while the suspense plot was developed reasonably well throughout, towards the end, I found my investment flagging, especially when I started to see it wrapping up a little too easily.

I will definitely be reading the next book to give this author a second chance and decide then if it’s worth it to continue with the forthcoming final (?) book in the series. But I did see this book did get a lot of positive praise from other readers, so I would still recommend it to those who like similar authors like Julie Klassen and Sarah E. Ladd.

Review of “Resist” (Remake #2) by Ilima Todd

Todd, Ilima. Resist. Salt Lake City: Shadow Mountain, 2016.

Hardcover | $17.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-1629721040 | 347 pages | YA Science Fiction–Dystopian

4 stars

I enjoyed Resist marginally more than Remake, and a large part of that was due to the shift in protagonist. I had nothing against Nine as a heroine, but I felt Theron stole the show, and I was glad to hear that the Ilima Todd felt the same. He has a lot of spirit in him, and I like him finding something that is worth fighting for, and how it helps him grow as a person.

I also liked that, because of this change in protagonist, the story definitely felt more like what I had come to expect from my prior forays into the YA dystopian genre, while still feeling uniquely its own. There were some hints about the villain and their intentions in the prior book, and I enjoyed seeing it come to fruition in a dark and twisted way.

The religious, exclusionary undertones remain, and it is still a bit disconcerting, but I do still try to give Todd some benefit of the doubt in this regard, given that it is about the idea of giving people choices at the heart of this, and that Freedom isn’t truly freedom.

And while the romance did take a backseat in this one to an extent, it was still present, and still incredibly awkward. Theron spends a good portion of the book dealing with his unrequited feelings for Nine, and the fact that’s she’s with someone else, and while he does interact with Pua from relatively early in the book, it doesn’t feel natural that he would choose her so suddenly. And while I do like that Theron is at least given a father figure in Catcher, emphasizing the family element that Todd seems to be pushing in this book, I’m once again disappointed that there’s no way for a guy and girl who are both unattached to be just friends or like family, especially since one of the things Theron discovers over the course of the book is the different kinds of love. I guess it’s done relatively well in terms of the evolution of his feelings for Nine, but I still did not get him moving onto Pua almost instantly.

On the whole, I’m not sure I’ll be continuing with the series if book three ever does come out, although I do plan on read Todd’s new release, to see how it compares, and it was the impetus for picking up Todd’s work in the first place.

Review of “Remake” (Remake #1) by Ilima Todd (Conflicted Review)

Todd, Ilima. Remake. Salt Lake City: Shadow Mountain, 2014.

Hardcover | $17.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-1609079246 | 296 pages | YA Science Fiction–Dystopian

3-ish stars

I first heard about Ilima Todd when I heard about her latest release with Shadow Mountain’s Proper Romance line, A Song for the Stars, and was excited to hear about an author born and raised in Hawaii and influenced by her heritage, even though she no longer lives here. And after winning an audio copy of her first book, Remake. from the author, I decided to check it out (although I primarily relied on the physical copy, as that’s my preference).

This book has a compelling concept, but I do feel it’s obvious that Todd comes from a religiously entrenched perspective when it comes to how she handles some of the tough topics in this book. One of the immediately obvious ones is LGBTQ+ issues, namely transgender people and their identity. I like the idea of being able to make choices about who you want to be in theory, but there’s an inherent problem in the very first lines of the book, “Male or female?…How can I decide which to be for the rest of my life? It’s so…permanent.” (5) While I cannot speak from a perspective of authority as a trans person, I do feel that this statement and much of the rhetoric of the book diminsh the concept of gender identity, especially by excluding the idea that it may not be completely binary.

Yet, even with some of these red flags, I still felt the intent carried through in some ways, especially in terms of establishing that freedom and equality aren’t really either of those things, especially when people are stripped not only of things that make them unique, like defining physical characteristics, but they are bred in a manner that is pretty much mechanical, and without love or a family. And while there is some heavy bias toward a more traditional family unit here, I don’t mind it that much, given that we are seeing it from the perspective of someone who hasn’t had a family before, and I do feel like she is given the right to make an informed choice, at least in this matter.

As for one of my more trivial complaints, I found the romance incredibly tepid, and despite knowing it was impossible, felt Nine had a lot more chemistry with Theron than she did with Kai, in part because there was a lot of history conveyed in her friendship with Theron. With Kai, she meets him, and he’s kind of rude to her, and over time things develop, and I didn’t see anything in him to really like, especially since he was one of the characters who was really strong in preaching some of the religious messages. It also just seems like authors, especially in YA, can’t seem to get two unrelated characters of the opposite sex together without there being some sparks. I think it would have been much more rewarding, given the focus on finding a family unit, for him to be like a brother to her and for the story to focus on how much the entire family makes her feel wanted.

Despite finding this book really odd and problematic in places, I do plan to read the sequel, in part because it’s about Theron, and he’s the character I was most interested in by the end of the book, and I’m also curious to see what else Todd can do in this world and system she created.

Review of “The Governess of Penwythe Hall” (The Cornwall Novels #1) by Sarah E. Ladd

Ladd, Sarah E. The Governess of Penwythe Hall. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2019.

Paperback | $15.99 USD | $15.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-0785223160 | 352 pages | Christian Fiction/Regency Romance

3 stars

I received an ARC from the author/publisher in exchange for an honest review.

I have very mixed feelings on The Governess of Penwythe Hall. On the one hand, I feel like there is a lot of potential here, some of which it lives up to…and some of which it does not.

And most of the potential that lives up to what I anticipated is in the character development, particularly Jac’s. While his relationships with both Delia and the children do feel at times very much in the vein of the standard governess trope, I feel like Ladd makes it enough of her own with the slight changes to the narrative. I like that Jac is facing financial issues that also impact the children’s future, and he actually finds a creative solution to them that I don’t think I’ve seen before, and, even if the bonding between him and his nephews and nieces, along with Delia becoming necessary in a way that goes beyond the professional, does run a little to the cliche, it is still rather heartwarming.

One thing I didn’t feel properly was fleshed out was Delia and her past, not to mention that the turn of events all felt more convenient for the sake of plot than anything else. I did like the tender moments she has with her own family, but I think the prologue built up some big conflict, and the stakes were further raised later in the book, but it ended up feeling anticlimactic. And the fact that of course it involved smuggling was a bit annoying, especially when it was another thing that didn’t feel like it had a lot of resonance. While I know it’s historically accurate with this location, it just didn’t have the same resonance that she imbued in some of her prior books, like her previous standalone, about the Luddite riots.

Given that this is the first in a planned series, I do hope that the next book is better and follows in the vein of her other series in varying the concepts she chooses to focus on. That being said, I do feel like this book could work for some people, especially those who are looking for a light, sweet historical romance that still has good character development.