Thursday, July 12, 2018

The Romanov Empress

In The Romanov Empress, C.W. Gortner allows Maria Feodorovna-- the mother of the last Russian Tsar-- to tell her own fascinating life story.  From a humble childhood in Denmark, to an adolescence as a princess, then finally as the daughter-in-law, wife, and mother of Russia's last three emperors, Minnie's life story is undeniably worth telling.  Gortner does an admirable job melding tumultuous historical events and detail with vivid portrayals of historical figures.  Given the complexity of Russian politics and the length of time the novel covers, I was amazed at Gortner's ability to keep the plot straightforward and relatable.  The insider's view of the slow decline of the Russian monarchy and its ultimately gruesome demise was nothing less than fascinating.  I couldn't put the book down and finished it in a weekend.

I received a free copy from the publisher.  No review, positive or otherwise, was required—all opinions are my own. 

Monday, June 4, 2018

The Masterpiece

Roman Velasco has a thriving career as an artist and a beautiful mansion outside Los Angeles, but still feels like the defiant foster-child he used to be.  No one can even last as his personal assistant for more than a few weeks.  Sent by a temp. agency and desperate for a way to support herself and her young son, Grace Moore agrees to give the job a try.  Grace manages to not only get Roman's business affairs in better order, but begins to inspire and encourage him in ways he didn't know were possible.  Still recovering from her failed marriage, Grace does her best to ward off Roman's advances but finds it more and more difficult as she learns more about the fascinating artist and his past.  Knowing he doesn't share her faith, Grace must fight an uphill battle to keep her heart safe.  Will Roman learn to love in the selfless way Grace deserves?  Will Grace ever have the courage to risk her heart again?

Francine Rivers will not disappoint her avid fans in The Masterpiece.  While contemporary literature has never been my favorite, Rivers does it well.  Both Grace and Roman were believable, real, round, dynamic characters that I loved getting to know.  With her typical talent, Rivers also manages to weave complex moral and ethical dilemmas into a fast-paced plot.  I couldn't put this one down, and remain a devoted fan.

Monday, May 28, 2018

Pelican Point

Just out of the Army and on his way to work at a private practice with a colleague in the midwest, doctor Ben Garrison never expected to inherit a lighthouse in Hope Harbor.  Eager to sell the landmark and move on with his life, Ben comes to the attention of local newspaper editor Marci Weber.  Determined to save the Pelican Point lighthouse, Marci starts a campaign to do just that.  Can she convince Ben to go along with her plan?  As the two spend more time together and sparks begin to fly, can either of them learn to love again?  Will Hope Harbor truly be a place of healing for Ben, or just a layover on the way to the rest of his life?

Irene Hannon takes readers back to the lovely Hope Harbor in Pelican Point.  While I love Hannon's writing and adore her characterization skills, this isn't my favorite of her Hope Harbor series thus far. It honestly seemed like a rewrite of Sea Rose Lane: local boy comes home for a quick trip... meets a girl... falls in love... must decide if he wants to stay forever.  There was very little suspense, and everything just fell into place a little too predictably this time.  I did, however, enjoy this story's sub-plot immensely.  I'm still a devoted fan, and will continue to look forward to more Hope Harbor installments even though this one missed the mark a bit.

I received a free copy from the publisher.  No review, positive or otherwise, was required—all opinions are my own. 

Monday, May 21, 2018

The Heart's Appeal

Michael Stephenson has worked his entire adult life to regain his family's social status after his father lost the family's money and respectability years ago.  His continued success as a barrister and a noble marriage will finish the job, and give his sister the security she deserves.  With a lucrative and high-profile case in the works, and permission to court an eligible lady, Michael seems unstoppable-- until aspiring doctor Julia Bernay saves his life.  Julia will stop at nothing to become a doctor-- but she needs to pass a Latin exam to officially enroll in medical school.  For saving Micheal's life, she requests he tutor her in Latin.  Sparks fly between the two, but several obstacles stand in the way as well.  Can Julia forgive Michael for working on a case that would shut down the medical program for female doctors?  Will Michael decide that true love is worth more than social standing?

Jennifer Delamere shows readers an interesting glimpse of the medical and legal fields in England in The Heart's Appeal.  The second book in her London Beginnings series, this installment stands well on its own.  While the plot itself was interesting, and I like Michael's character, I couldn't bring myself to enjoy Julia.  What Delamere surely meant to be endearing, I found obnoxious.  I applaud the attempt at creating a strong female lead, but it came off as pandering rather than inspiring.  Again, Michael's personal struggles and dilemmas were believable, but Julia's seemed contrived and overblown.  Delamere's writing was decent and the plot moves quickly.  Without Julia's pushy petulance, I would have enjoyed the novel much more.

I received a free copy from the publisher.  No review, positive or otherwise, was required—all opinions are my own. 

Monday, May 14, 2018

A Most Noble Heir

On her deathbed, Nolan Price’s mother finally reveals her adopted son’s true parentage—he is the son of the Earl of Stainsby.  Afraid that his noble father will not allow him to marry kitchen maid Hannah Burnham, Nolan whisks Hannah away to elope.  The Earl soon officially acknowledges Nolan as his heir but does not accept his son’s marriage.  Can Nolan and Hannah’s relationship survive Nolan’s new position? Will Nolan be forced to choose between the wife he has always loved, or the father he’s always desired?  

Susan Ann Mason tells a beautifully gut-wrenching story in A Most Noble Heir.  I’ll admit to skepticism before reading the novel given that I did not particularly enjoy A Worthy Heart, but I was pleasantly surprised. While slightly predictable, the story is well-told and believable.  I appreciated that the various struggles and arguments between characters stemmed from real problems, not contrived misunderstandings with simple solutions. While Hannah was a bit unrealistically perfect, the rest of the characters were complex and well-developed. Perhaps A Worthy Heart was an aberration, and Mason deserves the adoring fans she has accumulated after all.  

I received a free copy from the publisher.  No review, positive or otherwise, was required—all opinions are my own. 

Monday, May 7, 2018

Storm Front

When they get news that team leader Chet King is missing after a tornado in Minnesota, former helicopter pilot Ty Remington and the rest of the PEAK team race to help with the search and rescue operation.  What Tye doesn’t expect in Minnesota was Brette Arnold—the girl he once loved and hasn’t been able to forget for the last year.  After surviving a year of chemotherapy for breast cancer, Brette joins a team of storm chasers, and lands directly in Ty’s path.  Brette acknowledges she has feelings for Tye, but decides that he deserves to love a woman who hasn’t been ravaged by cancer, and may not live a full life.  Will Tye be able to let go of his past mistakes and learn to trust himself again? Will Tye’s dedication to the rescue effort and to Brette’s best interest finally convince her to let someone else into her life?  

Susan May Warren continues her riveting Montana Rescue series in Storm Front.  While I had an easier time following the multitude of storylines in this installment because I skimmed the previous stories prior to opening Storm Front, I still struggled a bit.  With so many characters with so many backstories, keeping track of every one of them can be mentally exhausting.  That said, I have loved each of those characters and stories!  Warren is an excellent story-teller, and—like her other works—Storm Front is full of drama, intrigue, and adventure.  Having introduced both Brette and Ty previously, Warren wisely takes her time with subtle characterization and has no need beat the reader over the head.  Again, both characters were well-developed, sympathetic, and believable.  I’ve truly enjoyed the Montana Rescue series, but I’m ready to resolve the overarching mysteries and let the entire cast of characters enjoy a happy ending.  

 I received a free copy from the publisher.  No review, positive or otherwise, was required—all opinions are my own. 

Wednesday, May 2, 2018

7 Brides for 7 Texas Rangers

These seven correlated novellas from seven authors tell the story of a group of Texas Rangers hunting the elusive Markham gang.  While the authors did an excellent job weaving a cohesive narrative in this collection, I grew tired of it before I made it half-way through.  Yes, each story highlights different characters within a different plotline, but each story could also boil these plots down to the same basic elements: strong Ranger does not want to get married, meddling Ranger wife sets him up, Ranger meets strong-willed, spunky woman, spunky woman finds herself in danger, Ranger attempts to protect woman, woman—attempting to display her strength and independence—does something stupid that puts her in further danger, Ranger realizes he loves spunky woman, Ranger rescues woman, Ranger and woman get married.  While I typically appreciate strong female leads, this whole storyline felt contrived and even pandering.  Heavy-handed character development also grew tiresome. Characterization in novellas can be difficult, but I have seen it done well.  Again, I concede that romance writing tends to be somewhat predictable, but this collection went beyond even my threshold for toleration.  I forced myself to finish each story hoping that the next would improve.  It never did. If you’re looking for a fun novella collection, Calico and Cowboys and Regency Brides are much more satisfying and worth your time.  

 I received a free copy from the publisher.  No review, positive or otherwise, was required—all opinions are my own.