Monday, January 25, 2016

Review: "Undaunted Hope" by Jody Hedlund

In Undaunted Hope, Tessa must face many challenges as a new teacher in Eagle Harbor, a mining town in northern Michigan, in 1871. Classified as historical fiction, there's a wonderful author's note at the end of the book speaking to what parts were historical. Tessa and the school house she works at are modeled off a school teacher's diary from the time period.

The antagonist, Percival Updegraff, is the chief mine clerk who takes advantage of his position of power to rule the town, limiting supplies, punishing protesters with longer work hours, and even raping the miners' wives. He is also unfortunately based off a real person.

Though most people in the town are afraid to speak against Updegraff, Tessa and the two lighthouse keepers are employed by the state, not the mine, and therefore find themselves locked in a constant battle trying to end Updegraff's tyrannical reign.

The lighthouse keepers, brothers Michael and Alex Bjorklund, have their own little battle going on as well, as they've both taken a fancy to Tessa. But with Updegraff's strict rules that married women can't teach, Tessa struggles with how to maintain a pure reputation and keep her distance from the two men.

Haunted by her past growing up in a lighthouse, Tessa's also convinced that she'll have nothing to do with one ever again - not after she saw the dangers firsthand.

Undaunted Hope is, as the title suggests, a story of hope and personal growth. Tessa's character is determined to live a Godly life and be a blessing to those in her new community. She goes out of her way to hold after school spelling classes to prepare for a spelling bee, and even an evening class for adults, all without extra compensation. The story definitely has a dark side with death, rape, and hints of murder, but through it all the characters place their faith in God and trust in him. This novel is the third book in the Beacons of Hope series, but the first one I've read, which didn't hurt my enjoyment of the book.

It was a very fast and captivating read, and the historical detail was exceptionally well-done. As I said, the author's note at the end did a fabulous job of putting the entire story in perspective.

FTC Disclosure: I received this book for free from Bethany House for this review.  The opinion in this review is unbiased and reflects my honest judgment of the product.

Saturday, January 23, 2016

Review: "Whispers in the Reading Room" by Shelley Gray

"I would never stop you from reading whatever you like. I like that you are smart, Lydia. That is one of the things I admire about you."
"You are the first person who has told me anything of the sort." 

Another excellent installment in Shelley Gray's Chicago World's Fair Mysteries series, Whispers in the Reading Room delivers a fast-paced historical fiction/romance/mystery that succeeds on every level.

Lydia works at the library because she's passionate about books, but it also has the side benefit of the meager pay check that helps her support her mother and maintain a facade of wealth enough to find herself a suitor. She's prepared to marry a man she doesn't love, a man who isn't quite the man he appears, just to give her mother the comfortable lifestyle they shared when her father was alive.

She's resigned to her fate, but can't help but notice the handsome gentleman Sebastian Marks who frequents her library. Their shared love of reading, paired with a shared distaste for Lydia's fiance, Avondale, soon bring the two together in a way that neither was prepared for.

But Sebastian Marks has his secrets, too. Lydia has to come to terms with the face that he's a notorious club owner - a club full of illegal gambling. Absolutely no place for a lady, still she insists on visiting in an attempt to better know Mr. Marks. When a gentleman is murdered on the steps of the club, the recent violence streak in the area suddenly gets the police's attention. From Deception on Sable Hill, detectives Sean Ryan and Owen Howard are back - and this time Lydia and Sebastian are high on the list of suspects.

Lydia has an intense need to provide for her mother at any cost from the beginning, but as her character grows throughout the novel, she finally is making her own choices as an independent women. It's interesting to watch the women in this novel rebel against the standards of their time. They won't put up with a man trying to "own" them. Even Sebastian isn't everything a gentleman "should" be - he wants Lydia to experience the world, not shelter her.

The mystery is a good one, though it's not really at the forefront until much later in the book, though there are clips of newspaper articles throughout that let the reader know trouble is brewing. When the resolution finally comes, it feels too quick, but the journey there is full of suspense and intrigue. Definitely worth reading this one, as well as the second book in the series, Deception on Sable Hill. Now I need to go back and read the first one, since I haven't had the chance yet!

FTC Disclosure: I received this book for free from Book Look for this review.  The opinion in this review is unbiased and reflects my honest judgment of the product.

Sunday, January 10, 2016

Review: "At Love's Bidding" by Regina Jennings

At Love's Bidding is the second in Regina Jennings' Ozark Mountains series. Though I've read one of her other books, Caught in the Middle, I hadn't read the first of this series, A Most Inconvenient Marriage. From what I can tell, there is little that you miss out on by starting with the second book. The main characters are different, though the setting remains the same and there is some character carry-over.

In At Love's Bidding, the Wimplegate family owns an auction house in Boston where an important painting is mistakenly sold. In order to appease the upset owner, Miranda Wimplegate and her grandfather promise to get it returned. Upon checking the records and seeing that the buyer had used a fake name, Miranda and her grandfather follow the only clue they have to Missouri, where the painting was to be shipped. Figuring that it must be headed to the only auction house in town, grandfather buys it sight-unseen. Unprepared, they discover when the arrive that what they have purchased is a livestock auction - nothing like the fine arts they were used to dealing in.

Dealing with her grandfathers progressing memory problems, searching for the missing painting, and learning to run a completely new type of auction, Miranda doesn't expect to become distracted by the livestock auction's manager. They're stubborn to admit their love because of the two very different worlds they come from.

When strangers appear in town, Miranda and her grandfather know their time is running short to recover the painting before someone else finds it. The future of their Boston auction house rests in the balance.

Fitting in to societal norms was a key theme, and familiar, as it was similar in that way to Caught in the Middle. Though slow-moving at times and a fanciful premise, overall it was an interesting and heartwarming story of love, compassion, and a little bit of mystery. Miranda has a lot of character growth from a timid girl who won't stand up for herself to a woman ready to take charge of her life. It happens at a reasonable pace and through specific situations where she is able to prove herself (scaring away a bully, standing up to her grandfather when he's being unreasonable, etc.).Other memorable characters, including young Betsy, who always speaks her mind and is always hanging around, add depth to the story. It's not just a romance, it's about all types of love and compassion, from Miranda teaching the street children in her spare time to helping her grandfather in his declining health instead of getting frustrated with him to of course her relationship with Wyatt and learning to follow her heart.

FTC Disclosure: I received this book for free from Book Look for this review.  The opinion in this review is unbiased and reflects my honest judgment of the product.