Monday, August 28, 2017

An Inconvenient Beauty

Now that each of his siblings is happily married, Griffith-- the Duke of Riverton-- decides it's finally time for him to settle down as well.  Approaching the courting process with all the planning, reasoning, and control with which approaches everything, Griffith comes to the conclusion that Frederica St. Claire is his most rational choice for a bride.  Unfortunately, Miss St. Claire constantly pushes Griffith toward her extraordinarily beautiful and popular cousin, Isabella Breckenridge.  Despite their mutual attraction, Griffith and Isabella have reservations about pursuing a relationship with one another.  Will Griffith allow himself to follow his heart this time, or will Isabella's secrets keep them apart forever?

Kristi Ann Hunter's An Inconvenient Beauty brings her Hawthorne House series to a masterful conclusion.  It's no secret I've been anxiously awaiting this latest installment, and have devoured each of its three predecessors.  I might go so far as to say that the series gets better and better with each addition.  Full of interesting historical detail, excellently crafted characters, complex plot lines, and yet another swoon-worthy love story, Hunter's latest is practically perfect.  Most impressive is her talent in composing a truly engaging set of individual stories.  While I definitely binge-read the prior books in the series in preparation for this release, it wouldn't have been necessary.  Hunter manages to tell a complete story in each novel, while artfully bringing back older characters in a way that isn't confusing, distracting, or unnecessary.  Again, you don't have to read the whole series to enjoy this particular novel... but you should anyway.  I'm honestly sad to see such an excellently written series come to an end, and look forward to whatever project comes next!

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

Monday, August 21, 2017

12 Days at Bleakly Manor

Left at the altar and told that her fiancĂ© has absconded with her family's fortune, Clara Chapman finds herself heartbroken, penniless, and living with an ailing aunt.  When a mysterious invitation arrives promising her 1000 pounds to spend the 12 days of Christmas at an unfamiliar Bleakly Manor, Clara feels she has no choice but to accept.  

Unjustly accused and imprisoned for stealing the Chapmans' money, Benjamin Lane is offered his freedom if he also spends the same 12 days at Bleakly.  As Ben and Clara come face-to-face again at the mysterious country home, they must decide if they can forgive one another for the schemes and misunderstandings that have separated them.  When the master of the house never appears, servants continue to leave, and other house guests continually injure themselves in freak accidents, will Clara and Ben even be able to survive 12 days?  

Michelle Griep takes reader on an intriguing adventure in 12 Days and Bleakly Manor.  Clara and Ben are both well-developed and believable protagonists, and the host of secondary characters in the story are equally entertaining.  I particularly enjoyed Griep's depictions of Christmas traditions and celebrations in the mid-19th Century.  The story's conclusion was equal parts lovely and satisfying, and I enjoyed every single page.  I anxiously await the next installment in the Once Upon an Dickens Christmas series.  

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

Monday, August 14, 2017

Loving Luther

Left at a convent by her father as a small child, Katharina von Bora knows little about life outside cloistered walls.  Though she takes her vows and maintains dear friendships, a part of Katharina still chafes under the strict way of life she has chosen.  When the writings of Martin Luther begin finding their way into the convent walls, though, Kat begins to look at her life-- and her faith-- in a much different way.  With the help of Luther and his friends, Katharina a group of fellow nuns escape the convent to embark on a new adventure.  Without a family to support her, Kat must live in the homes of Luther's friends and supporters while the reformer himself tries to find a husband for her.  Will Katharina learn to navigate life outside a religious order?  Will she trade one life of service for another, or dare to risk her heart for a chance at love and a family?  

Allison Pittman tells a compelling story of both love and faith in Loving Luther.  Rather than focusing on Martin and Katharina as a couple, like Luther and Katharina, Pittman simply tells Katharina's story... and what what in intriguing story it is!  From a fascinating look into life inside 16th century convents, to the dangers and details of the Reformation and its leaders, I couldn't put the book down.  As a proud protestant, I've always loved this era or church history, but I also appreciated Pittman's tact in not maligning our Catholic brothers and sisters.  I loved than women of deep, abiding faith existed both inside and outside convent walls.  As with all of Pittman's works, this one was excellently researched, superbly written, rich in historical detail, and full of compelling characters.  

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

Monday, August 7, 2017

All That Makes Life Bright

Despite her sister's concerns, Harriet Beecher doesn't question that her married life with Calvin Stowe will be full of happiness, family, independence and literary opportunities.  Just two months into their marriage, though, Harriet finds herself overwhelmed with household responsibilities she detests, pregnant, and having to bid her new husband farewell as he embarks on a long European trip.  Between Calvin's high domestic expectations of Harriet and his tendency to compare her to his first, beloved wife, Harriet begins to wonder is she is capable of being the wife Calvin needs, as well as the woman she needs herself to be.  After months apart, the addition of children to their family, and constant financial struggles, will Harriet and Calvin remember how to cherish one another despite their extreme temperamental differences?

Josi S. Kilpack tells yet another gut-wrenchingly beautiful story based on the life of acclaimed author Harriet Beecher Stowe in All That Makes Life Bright.  Words cannot express how much I adored this book.  Kilpack does a flawless job alternately portraying both Calvin and Harriet in realistic and sympathetic ways.  Neither one is always in the right, and thus the novel perfectly exemplifies the daily struggles of the early years of marriage.  Are Calvin's expectations reasonable, or overbearing?  Both.  Is Harriet a wife and mother, or an author?  Both.  Every stay-at-home mother will shed a tear reading of Harriet's struggles to find an identity outside that of a cook/housekeeper/nanny... as well as the accompanying guilt associated with those feelings.  It's as if Kilpack had read my own diary.  Perfection.  Absolute perfection.

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