Wednesday, March 27, 2019

The Bride of Ivy Green by Julie Klassen


Julie Klassen has long enchanted readers with her ability to weave research, drama, and romance into enthralling tales of Regency-era England. However, the Tales from Ivy Hill marks Klassen's first foray into a full series. 

While I have a few frustrations with the ending of The Bride of Ivy Green, overall, I am thrilled Klassen has stretched her talents into  forum that allows for the full fleshing out of her locations and characters.

The Bride of Ivy Green fills the final spot in the Tales from Ivy Hill series. I had the pleasure of reading book 1 when it was released but somehow missed book 2's arrival. This is definitely a series that benefits from a thorough and chronological reading. There were definitely moments that were unnecessarily jarring due to missing a third of the story with book 2.

As for its own plot, Th Bride of Ivy Green  seeks to see the stories of Jane Bell and Mercy Grove move to their newest conclusion while welcoming in the mysterious dressmaker Madame Victorine.

Honestly I loved how Klassen pushes these two characters in this series. Jane's fear of miscarriage is so real and the questions it brings into her relationship with Mr. Locke felt very natural concerning a topic and loss many still feel uncomfortable acknowledging. To see her arc of reconciliation within her family and her acceptance of herself was relatable, heartbreaking, and utterly sweet as she finds her peace.

Mercy's struggle felt very much in line with a Klassen novel as she seeks to find her way in life and with her heart. That said, it was no less satisfying to see Mercy wrestle through her new realities as life in Ivy Hill continued to change around her. Mercy has such a strength as a character as she sets her own path away from her family and leans into her faith. (and, slight spoiler, to see how her quiet service is met by the  rallying of the town women was such a series highlight for me).

That leads me to two noticeable differences in this novel. 

I found the faith content was much lighter in this novel vs others by Klassen in this era. While faith is still present it's in much more quiet moments.

Additionally, some of the stories felt as though they could easily continue on into a new novel What did Mr. Drake's decision mean for Mercy at the conclusion? How did Mrs Shabner get on with her new apprentice? This could be considered a strength of the series as a whole, however, Klassen has fashioned such a sweet little village and formed such stories and relationships that naturally flow out of it it almost seems off to say goodbye to Ivy Hill.

4 out of 5 stars

"Book has been provided courtesy of Baker Publishing Group and Graf-Martin Communications, Inc."

Monday, March 18, 2019

When Life Doesn't Match Your Dreams by Jill Eileen Smith

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I loved the premise of this book, the idea of looking into the lives of Old Testament women who can feel somewhat overlooked. Unfortunately, I found this book to have a serious identity crisis. 

Jill Eileen Smith has a long history as a fiction writer and her skill at crafting a story is evident with the way she can form a sentence and pull readers in. However, it felt like this non-fiction book ran more into fiction than not. I understand the value of putting ourselves into another's shoes, another's perspective but the constant speculation and additions to biblical text often felt out of place in this type of book, especially when some of the speculation ran into controversial theology (the story of Adah's almost daughter in law for example). 

The non-fiction section of each chapter also left me wanting more. I felt confused as to the goal as there wasn't more than a cursory awareness of psych or trauma leaving many heart and mind motivations feeling glossed over and oversimplified. At the same time, it felt like the scriptural analysis was also rushed in an attempt to fit in the fictional and situational based examples.  

In the end, I felt like, although bearing a strong concept, this book was trying to be too many things and not finding its footing in any.

2.5 out of 5 stars

I received this book as part of the Revell Reads Tour.

Saturday, March 16, 2019

A Tender Hope by Amanda Cabot


There's something sad about the third book in a trilogy. Thanks to Amanda Cabot's work  A Tender Hope   feels a little bit like saying goodbye to old friends with the characters and town of Cimarron Creek.

While A Tender Hope functions as a stand alone, filled with the romance and criminal mystery that has woven through our time in Cimarron Creek,  Cabot has crafted a trilogy that stands stronger together. Cabot isn't afraid to plan long-term and a good portion of A Tender Hope's satisfaction comes from the resolution of plots begun in A Stolen Heart.

Aside from the resolution of stories including Bertha's family and the ever-changing love life of Nate Kenton, A Tender Hope centers upon the stories of Thea Michener and Ranger Guthrie who are both drawn to Cimarron Creek following the murder of Thea's husband. I really enjoyed Cabot attention to pacing and emotion within this main plot. Thea's grief reads so earnestly as she struggles to reconcile who Daniel was and what that means for her future. Guthrie's confusion on his own feelings also read true and made me chuckle that his moment of clarity came with a conversation with Nate.
It, like so many moments in the novel felt like the town and relationship were coming full circle.

Again, Cabot has built up her wonderful cast of characters. I appreciate how those introduced in early novels are not discarded but built further in later books. In a small town series throw away characters stand out like a sore thumb and Cabot really seems to strive to give each character their own purpose.

I did feel the pacing faltered slightly at the end where the climactic scenes took on more of a rushed tone. 

Cimarron Creek is not a fast paced, edge of your seat read. It's more like coming home to friends. I would definitely recommend taking the time to read all three, in order, so that one can fully appreciate the characters and town Cabot has crafted.

4 out of 5 stars.

I received this book as part of the Revell Reads Tour.

Friday, March 15, 2019

A Desperate Hope by Elizabeth Camden


Elizabeth Camden once again weaves her skill s researcher and storyteller to bring history to life through the fictional village of Duval Springs. Influenced by the real life towns and villages who were moved and relocated during the building of the Ashokan Reservoir, Camden explores themes such as community, belonging, love, and identity.

Once again I had the chance to learn through fiction (honestly one of my favourite parts of historical fiction). I had never heard of the Ashokan Reservoir or the towns that were moved in its construction. While Camden chose to construct her own fictional town for the purpose of this story, her skill as a storyteller allows Duval Springs/Highpoint to spring up as central characters in their own right. She captures so many small town quirks that naturally evolve in such close knit communities especially in a time that is so intertwined with grief and hope.

The central human story focuses on Alex Duval, mayor of Duval Spring and Eloise Drake.  Alex really stood out as a primary character, perhaps due to Duval Springs presence and Alex functioning as the living, visible "heart" of the town driving it into the future. Eloise was interesting as well, strongly written with two clear paths, I appreciated how she was able to see her own strengths as well as how both romantic options were people she had established knowledge and experience with.

Spiritually, Camden does weave faith into both Eloise and Alex's lives bringing faith up as an important factor on numerous occasions and being  an important factor on life changing decisions for both characters. Well never preachy, the characters faith is certainly not hidden.

A Desperate Hope is filled with hurting hearts, wild dreams, and irrepressible hope as Duval Springs and its inhabitants face their future in a landscape changing for progress.

4 out of 5 stars.

"Book has been provided courtesy of Baker Publishing Group and Graf-Martin Communications, Inc."

Saturday, March 9, 2019

The Curse of Misty Wayfair by Jaime Jo Wright

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Wright has done it again. The Curse of Misty Wayfair blends past and present to provide mystery and redemption in an edge of you seat read.

Jaime Jo Wright has quickly become my "must read" in the realm of historical fiction.  Her ability to weave past and present to provide a deep and engaging tale is unmatched. Here, Pleasant Valley, Misty Wayfair, and the Coyle Curse all function as  solid anchors weaving their way into the characters lives. Her ability to compare and contrast her main characters despite the decades helps make them real and relatable.

Honestly I was impressed with both Heidi and Thea's stories. Heidi's stands out for Wright's handling of sensitive matters such as mental illness and special needs. As a mom to two boys with autism, Emma especially stood out in Heidi's story and I appreciated how she was a unique character with strengths and weaknesses not a character of pity (honestly though Wright has some amazing secondary characters this time, Connie and Mrs. Amos  are additional highlights in the novel). I also appreciated how Heidi worked through her anxiety you can see Wright took the time to give her characters depth over stereotype.

Thea's story really emphasized the mystery aspect between the origins of Misty Wayfair's ghost, the Coyle Curse, and Thea's own origins. Wright gives readers plenty to sink their teeth into as the mysteries all come to a dangerous head for Thea.

As usual, Wright adds an additional layer through her characters search for meaning and identity, exploring how faith could function within their  lives. I appreciate how Wright doesn't shy away from her characters having mistakes or hurts in their  past in regards to faith but includes them alongside natural character progression and the eventual flushing out of each characters faith journey.

4.5 out of 5 stars.

"Book has been provided courtesy of Baker Publishing Group and Graf-Martin Communications, Inc."