Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Toward the Sea of Freedom

Star-crossed lovers, Michael and Kathleen, plan to flee the famine and poverty of 19th century Ireland to start anew and raise their unborn child in far away America.  Fate, however, has other plans, and the pair find themselves separated by prison bars, an ocean, and Kathleen’s marriage to another.  When both of their separate adventures lead them to New Zealand, will their young love of decades ago prove strong enough to allow them to start over, or will they have found true love elsewhere? 

The historical portions of the novel are captivating, authentic and accurate.  From the plight of Irish tenant farmers and trials of exiled prison laborers in Australia, to the unique personalities found in the whaling villages, sheep farms, native tribes, vineyards and gold-mining camps of New Zealand, Lark takes her readers on a vivd adventure.  

Unfortunately, not a single one of the main characters make the adventure worthwhile.  While readers can easily grow tired of overly-perfect characters, the three main characters in this case were mostly irredeemable.  Kathleen may be beautiful, but she is weak, pliable, and usually frustrating.  Lizzie, while endowed with an entertaining amount of gumption, is fickle, aloof, and often vulgar.  Worst by far is Michael— and inconstant degenerate without much intelligence or any shred of self-control, and a complete failure as a romantic lead.  

As the extremely long story comes to a close, and the reader sees the solution to the complicated love triangle is finally close at hand, one cannot help but wonder if any of them deserve any sort of a happy ending.  Many of the secondary characters— namely Peter Burton and Claire Edmunds— provided a bit of spark and likability, but dealing with the others felt like drudgery.  What had the potential to be an epic love story with an enchanting backdrop, ends up as an unsatisfying waste of time.  

I received this book free from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

Monday, December 21, 2015

A Worthy Heart

 A Worthy Heart continues the story of the O’Leary family of Long Island, New York.  This second installment of the Courage to Dream series follows Maggie and Gabe Montogmery as they arrive in New York from Ireland, Adam O’Leary upon his release from prison as he attempts to rebuild his life, and Aurora Hastings as she overcomes a broken engagement and finds the courage to pursue her dream of nursing.  Will each of these characters manage to let go of their past disappointments and mistakes in order to fully embrace the future God has in store for them? 

Without having read the first book of the series— Irish Meadows— it took several chapters to grasp who each of the four main characters were, and how they related to one another.  That said, Mason did an admirable job filling the reader in on each back-story without rehashing her entire previous novel.  Unfortunately, most of the main characters, namely Gabe and Aurora, still felt one-dimensional.  Gabe is a strapping Irish fireman, and Aurora an heiress with an overbearing father, but their characters never truly evolve past these basic types.  Gabe rescues Aurora a time or two, and they are clearly attracted to one another, which is apparently sufficient reason to get engaged by the end of the book.  This lack of character development caused this particular love story to fall flat.  

The one redeeming exception, however, was Adam O’Leary.  Witnessing his struggle to understand his own failures, forgive his hurtful father, and finally accept the blessings God has put in his life made for a compelling story.  While his love interest— Maggie— could have used a bit more depth, her fiery personality and dedication to her loved ones made this story-line the most entertaining of the novel.  

I received this book free from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Saturday, December 19, 2015

Luther and Katharina

In the year 1523, Martin Luther’s writings and reform are sweeping through Germany, and even seeping into the most regulated and protected monasteries and convents.  When nun Katharina von Bora reads his words, she begins to dream of a life full of love, family and freedom outside the abbey walls.  She and several fellow nuns escape the Marienthron convent, and eventually find themselves under the care of Martin Luther himself.  As the other nuns gradually return to their families or marry, will Katharina be able to fully embrace Luther’s messages of freedom and equality and let go of her ingrained notions of wealth and nobility?  Will Martin Luther finally learn to trust God’s plan for his life and the Reformation, and allow himself to love? 

In this historical novel, Jody Hedlund excellently blends romantic fiction with compelling historical drama.  She shows the reader just how corrupt the church of the 16th century had become, and how necessary the Reformation was.  She also highlights the unique plight of women having virtually no control over their lives whether inside or outside abbey walls. 

Both Katharina and Luther are complex, believable characters who struggle to find contentment and overcome their pride.  While Hedlund clearly— though understandably— glosses over some of Martin Luther’s more controversial attitudes and tendencies (anti-semitism, foul language, etc.), she shows his passion, temper, and zeal for the Church.  Similarly, the reader slowly sees Katharina’s pride break down as she learns to fully embrace Luther’s teachings, and the love he offers despite his lack of money or title.  

A fascinating backdrop full of actual historical events, relatable characters, and a passionate love story make for an enjoyable and thought-provoking read.   

I received a free copy of Luther and Katharina from Blogging for Books in exchange form my honest review. 

Monday, November 30, 2015

Until the Dawn

This much-awaited novel from Elizabeth Camden most assuredly kept me entertained and engrossed over a long, snowy holiday weekend.

I love the diversity of settings and time periods Camden chooses for each of her novels, and this one is no exception.  Set in a mysterious, and long-deserted ancestral home overlooking the Hudson River Valley in the early 1900s, Camden sweeps her readers through a story of healing, redemption, and hope.

While I loved the story's main characters, Sophie van Riijn and Quentin Vandermark, their development through the story left something to be desired.  As in most romantic novels, the reader assumes from page one that these two will fall in love and live happily ever after.  As the story progresses, we learn plenty about these complex and well-developed characters individually, and why they act the way they do, but I somehow seemed to miss the development of their relationship.  The reader knows that they spend time together on a regular basis, but I would have enjoyed seeing them interact one-on-one with more regularity.

That said, I adored delving into the mysterious Dierenpark and its history.  Camden masterfully prompts her readers to ponder the nature of faith, the importance of hope, and the healing nature of love and forgiveness.

The Painter's Daughter

As a devoted Julie Klassen fan, I must say this newest novel did not disappoint!

This book has everything I've come to love about Klassen's books in particular, and in Regency fiction in general.  A complicated love story, a swoon-worthy leading man, a fascinating cultural and geographical backdrop, and some good old-fashioned suspense.  While it lacks some of the gothic mystery often found in Kalssen's earlier works, the old house in which the Overtree's live provides several fun plot twists.

I particularly liked the complexities of many of the characters.  Wesley, while inconstant and irresponsible, is a redeemable and believable antagonist.  Sophie's perceived lack of physical beauty and talent leads her to fall victim to such a charming young man, and accurately shows the ethical dangers many young women face.  Stephen Overtree-- the scarred, yet dashing Captain Wentworth-esq romantic lead-- exudes just the right amount of masculinity and tenderness.

As usual, Klassen pays homage to the great Jane Austen, with references to several young characters reading Sense and Sensibility, and a wonderful allusion to Pride and Prejudice's Lady Catherine de Bourgh, "If I had ever learnt, I should have been a great proficient."  

Austen and Klassen fans rejoice, this is another hit!