Tuesday, January 24, 2017

The Mark of the King by Jocelyn Green

The Mark of the King

After the death of her client, midwife Julianne Chevalier is imprisoned and branded, marking her as a criminal beyond redemption. Hoping to reunite with her brother, a soldier, she trades her life sentence for exile to the fledgling French colony of Louisiana. The price of her transport, however, is a forced marriage to a fellow convict.

New Orleans is nothing like Julianne expects. The settlement is steeped in mud and mosquitoes, and there is no news of her brother, Benjamin. When tragedy strikes, she turns to military officer Marc-Paul Girard for help, but does he know more about her brother than he will admit?
(excerpt from back of book)

The Mark of the King  is one of those books that stays with a reader. Although I was unfamiliar with Green prior to this, I was easily impressed at her writing style with its passionate inclusion of well researched history, its intriguing drama through realistic looks at early colony life, and her strength in writing out the turmoil of her characters lives.

I love it when an author's passion for her subject carries over to the reader and, I confess, this reader finished the book eager to learn more about a period and place in history of which I know shockingly little. Green's inclusion of historical events as well as her recommendations for further reading show her own investment into the stories which inspired the characters of Julianne and Marc-Paul.

I was also struck by her honesty when it came to writing pain. Green makes little attempt to gloss over the circumstances her characters would have encountered in early New Orleans including famine, disease, loss, attacks, weather events, and division within the settlements. As the readers main eyes and ears, Julianne seemed especially prone to the experiences of these losses which make them all the more relatable for readers.
That said, I found Julianne a sympathetic character at times but not relatable. With little exploration of the colony outside Julianne's, whose social circle was notably small due to events within the narrative, it felt like everything negative was being heaped upon her head while life continued on for the rest. While this would probably have been an accurate feeling should the character have been real it did get hard to read at times amidst the constant crisis.  (I should note I like my clean happy endings so my opinion is slightly biased ;) )

Even with this in mind The Mark of the King still provides an overall gripping novel that provides an interesting introduction to early French colonial life in Louisana.
4 out of 5 stars

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

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Good Good Father by Chris Tomlin and Pat Barrett

Some songs really click with their audience and in 2016, Chris Tomlin's "Good, Good Father" did just that reaching number 1 on the charts. However, the song spends the majority of the song affirming God's role as a good father rather than explaining the aspects that make this true.

In the book Good, Good Father Tomlin and Barrett  use dreamy illustrations, strong rhyming sentence structure, and a wonderfully age appropriate story to help teach our little ones what aspects truly make God a good father.

Overall, I was really pleased with the construction of the book. It's durable  board book pages are perfect for its intended audience to hold, turn, and interact with. The story itself is easy to  read with a strong rhyming structure that helps make children's stories so much easier to read (be it the first, third, or tenth time in a row). The narrative also was intentional in its drawing on a wide variety of examples to help children start to see just how vast the nature of this good father is.

My only concern is that some younger children may be  confused as to why their own fathers don't live up to the image formed by the book as it not explicitly stated that the book is talking about God and that no human father can be all these things all the time. My own son was a bit confused due to his age and comprehension.

4 out of 5 stars

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher through the BookLook Bloggers <http://booklookbloggers.com> book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 <http://www.access.gpo.gov/nara/cfr/waisidx_03/16cfr255_03.html> : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.

Thursday, January 19, 2017

The Innkeeper of Ivy Hill by Julie Klassen

The Innkeeper of Ivy Hill

The lifeblood of the village of Ivy Hill is its coaching inn, The Bell. When the innkeeper dies suddenly, his genteel wife, Jane Bell, becomes the reluctant landlady. Jane has no idea how to manage a business, but with the town’s livelihood at stake and a large loan due, she must quickly find a way to save the inn.

Despite their strained relationship, Jane turns to her resentful mother-in-law, Thora, for help. Formerly mistress of The Bell, Thora is struggling to overcome her losses and find purpose for the future. As she works with Jane, two men from her past vie for her attention, but Thora has promised herself never to marry again. Will one of them convince her to embrace a second chance at love?
(excerpt from back of book)

My least favourite part of Julie Klassen's writing is that it took me so long to discover it. Hands down, Klassen has quickly risen to become my favourite historical fiction author and I've yet to be disappointed by her work. 

The Innkeeper of Ivy Hill promised to be interesting from the get go as it marks Klassen's first foray into the realm of a serial. I was a little concerned that by spreading her scope and characters further she would lose some of the charm and satisfaction within her stories but, if book 1 is any indication, Klassen's writing is just as polished within a series as in her excellent stand alones.

With Ivy Hill, there was a definite sense of world building. 
While Jane was the central figure due to her role of import within the Inn, there was an underlying feel that her personal story would come into greater evidence  as the series progresses. 
That said, Thora's story line was a wonderful alternative to give readers a more rounded out tale and a strong plot to follow amidst all  the other set ups that will be further teased out in book 2 (and there are certainly a number to choose from).

I'm honestly excited to see where Klassen is going to take this series considering all the wonderful ways she's built the story up. The teasings of character like Locke, Rachel, Sir Timothy, Drake, and Mercy provided a wonderful crew that feel like they need an entire village (and series) to contain them.  While Klassen was careful not to overstep a book, she was equally careful not to cripple a character's personality and interest in favour of separating story.  

The central story lines of this particular book revolving around the Inn, Jane's widowhood, and Thora were all satisfyingly well thought out and I adore how Klassen captures the essence of her era capturing issues that would have faced the characters personally and culturally. 

5 out of 5 stars (and a reader eager  for book 2!)

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

Sunday, January 15, 2017

A Moonbow Night by Laura Frantz

Image result for a moonbow night by Laura Frantz

After fleeing Virginia, Temperance Tucker and her family established an inn along the Shawnee River. It's a welcome way station for settlers and frontiersmen traveling through the wild Cumberland region of Kentucke--men like Sion Morgan, a Virginia surveyor who arrives at the inn with his crew, looking for an experienced guide. 
Though he balks when Tempe is appointed to lead his team through the wilderness, it isn't long before Sion must admit that her abilities may outmatch his own. But can the tenuous tie they are forming survive the dangers waiting just around the bend? 
With her signature sweeping style and ability to bring the distant past to vivid life, Laura Frantz beckons you to join her in a land of Indian ambushes, conflicting loyalties, and a tentative love that meanders like a cool mountain stream.
(excerpt from back of book)

A Moonbow Night reminds me of the  landscape it takes place in, you never know what the next bend may bring. Laura Frantz is a skilled storyteller, weaving together her characters and their worlds like the pieces  of  a  tapestry. Every story unfolds just as she intends without anything being revealed before its time. Considering how often historical books can fall into a predictable outline the way Frantz was able to tease out a story, allowing characters and readers alike to live within the not knowing was  refreshing and kept me on the edge of each page.

Franz also excelled at breathing life into her main characters, giving them the highs, lows, and quandaries  one would expect to see in believable characters. The slow glimpses into the inner working of Sion and Tempe seemed less like revealing a character and more like getting to know someone.

That said, I do think one of the main weaknesses  of A Moonbow Night is that the same care and concern developed for the central characters (or annoyance in the case of one) didn't necessarily translate into the same care for the rest of the cast. Aside from Nate and Cornelius I would be hard pressed to name the other men on the team or what their motivations were.  This lack of development made some of the scenes at base camp feel less impactful as I wasn't as invested in those characters.  

For anyone who loves historical fiction and desires a strong plot with mystery, solid characters, and lots of heart I would strongly recommend giving Laura Frantz a try.

4 out of 5 stars.

I received this book as part of the Revell Reads book tour in exchange for my honest opinion.

Sunday, January 8, 2017

For the Record by Regina Jennings

For the Record

Betsy Huckabee has big-city dreams, but nobody outside of tiny Pine Gap, Missouri, seems interested in the articles she writes for her uncle’s newspaper. Her hopes for independence may be crushed, until the best idea she’s ever had comes riding into town.

Deputy Joel Puckett didn’t want to leave Texas, but unfair circumstances have made moving to Pine Gap his only shot at keeping a badge. Worse, this small town has big problems, and masked marauders have become too comfortable taking justice into their own hands. He needs to make clear that he’s the law in this town–and that job is made more difficult with a nosy reporter who seems to follow him everywhere he goes.
(excerpt from back of book)

For the Record was my third foray into Regina Jennings creative workings and, hands down, my favorite to date!

I adored Betsy's character. Her imagination, her stubborn streak, her fierce loyalty and dreams all equally balanced with her very believable flaws to present the most human of Jennings heroines yet. With her personality leaping off the page, I was curious how Jennings would pair up (because let's be honest in this genre someone is going to get paired up) such a vibrant character while not overshadowing the other.  But while Betsy draws in a readers heart as she chases her dreams Joel draws in the sense of mystery and urgency as  he seeks to tame Pine Gap and his aching past.

Together these characters made a formidable pairing that kept me hooked for hours.

One thing I appreciate about Jennings is her environment, to set herself apart from her contemporaries I find Jennings has a real ability to insert humour that is accessible  to the reader and would still have been appreciated by  the locale. The treasure trove of Pine Gap humour and mountain quirks easily transports readers into the charm or danger depending on the scene that would be expected of the mountain town and had me longing for a few days walking the forest trails myself. Jennings, at their best, has the ability to infuse charm into her worlds and the people within them and that is what makes the characters come to life.

With such strong characters and setting, the story itself was a lovely post-holiday read that wasn't  hard to follow but still gives lots of enjoyment as readers find out the truth behind the standoffish deputy and walk with Betsy as she wrestles what  cost her dreams are worth. For the Record has strong biblical messages and a satisfying resolution to each  story line Jennings introduces.

4 out of 5 stars

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