Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Review: A Lady of Hidden Intent by Tracie Peterson

Book Cover and Synopsis:
A life of privilege becomes only a distant memory when Catherine Newbury's father is falsely imprisoned and she is whisked away from her home in England to America. Forced to disguise her past and create a completely new life, Catherine takes on a servant's last name and carves out a tenuous future for herself as a seamstress. Soon her dress designs are sought throughout Philadelphia.

When the dashing Carter Danby accompanies his mother and sister for a design consultation, Catherine suddenly encounters her past face-to-face. Is Carter's avid interest in her genuine...or does he, as she suspects, recognize her as the young lady he met while touring England? She cannot deny the attraction, but admitting her true identity may jeopardize her father's only hope for freedom. Will Catherine be forced to sacrifice her dreams of love?

My Thoughts:
I didn't really know what to expect from this book, not having read the synopsis beforehand. I simply jumped in and started reading because it was second in the series... but I was pleasantly surprised to find myself immediately sucked into the events of the story!

Catherine's story is one of riches to rags; her whole world is changed when her wealthy father is falsely accused of criminal activity, leaving her no choice but to flee the country and change her name for fear of being discovered, innocent though she is. This type of scenario generally dictates the heroine will end up working as a servant or housemaid, so I found it refreshing that Catherine ended up as a seamstress instead. And not just any seamstress, but an accomplished one, so much so that she actually gained notoriety and fame under her assumed name. She is a likable character, and though her world has been forever changed and she is often over-worked, she manages to keep a mostly hopeful outlook on life as she dreams of the day when her father's name might be cleared and she can be reunited with him.

While I liked Catherine, I have to admit that I *loved* Carter! He is just an absolute doll. I loved how even though Catherine acted standoff-ish towards him, he still continued to pursue her, even being quite persistent at times! He orchestrated clever ways to spend time with her, which was quite a feat considering they live in completely different social classes. When Catherine was vague in her conversation, Carter didn't let it deter him, often giving her a playful or flirtatious remark in response. This could make him sound like a cad, but that's far from the truth; he never acted inappropriately, he was just very honest about his intentions towards her. Sadly, Carter's family was a total mess, behaving in unlawful and immoral ways, but it was really cool to see how he strived to live a godly life even while still living under his parents' roof. He is just a gem of a character, and if I could rip him out of the pages into reality, I think I just might do so! 

If there's one thing I wasn't crazy about, I'd have to say it was the character of Lydia. I was annoyed by the fact that she couldn't be content with the good situation she had; she insisted on letting her jealousy of Catherine's talents get the better of her, causing trouble for everyone in the process. Of course all stories do need an antagonist to stir up conflict, and Lydia obviously fit the role well. All things considered, she was really no more than a minor annoyance, but I just thought I'd include her to round out my review, instead of it being a total gush-fest for the story. :)

This is the second book in the Ladies of Liberty series, but it could easily act as a standalone; there is nothing that ties this book to the previous one aside from a short appearance by a minor character from the first book. I highly highly recommend this novel, especially if you are a fan of historicals. It's quite enjoyable, and one of the best historicals I've read in quite a while.

My Rating: 5 stars

Monday, March 18, 2013

Review: A Lady of High Regard by Tracie Peterson

Book Cover and Synopsis:
Born into affluence, Mia Stanley is a winsome socialite with a knack for matchmaking. She's also a writer for Godey's Lady's Book magazine, much to the disdain of her family--and their society friends. A proper young lady of her social standing isn't meant to labor in such a way, but Mia has always had a way with words...

When her writing draws her into the world of downtrodden seamen's wives on Philadelphia's docks, Mia uncovers a scheme that puts her in harm's way. But her heart ends up on the line as well.... Has her determination to always make a match driven away the one man whose esteem she covets?

My Thoughts:
This novel gives an interesting glimpse into the different opinions held by 19th century society for working women, at a time when most people weren't sure if they should applaud or shun the idea.

I do have to admit that it took a few chapters for me to get used to the style of dialogue that is used. I don't know if this is actually how people in the 19th century talked or not, but it's quite formal compared to what our modern conversations generally are. However, after a few chapters I found I had adjusted well enough to focus more on the story than on the somewhat stiff way people go about conversing.

Mia has a heart for the needy, and her position as a writer for a popular magazine gives her ample information and opportunity to help those who are less fortunate. Mia is bold and crafty in her efforts to help the poor, particularly the seaman's wives, who suffer many injustices while society turns a blind eye. Though her intents are noble, Mia's actions often end up putting her in harm's way, and I couldn't help but think she was rather foolhardy in her disregard for safety. The issue of the seaman's wives, though terribly sad, unfortunately did get a bit old for me after while. It seemed that the same things just kept getting rehashed, particularly whenever Mia would explain the situation to a new person.

Garrett and Mia have been life-long neighbors and best friends, but fairly early in the story they both start to notice a shift in their feelings towards the other. This was fun to watch, but I quickly wished they would just get on with it and admit their feelings for each other. Granted, it wasn't for lack of trying; whenever one or the other would start to approach the subject of their feelings, they would always get interrupted and be unable to continue. It would be okay if it was just once, maybe twice, but ultimately it ended up growing rather tiresome as it continued to happen time and time again.

Overall I would say this book is "okay"....while it did have some things that I liked, many of the major plot points just didn't interest me very much. I think if the story had been tightened up and shortened a bit, some of the redundancy could have been trimmed out and the story would be stronger as a whole. However, I did quite enjoy the other two books in the series, so ultimately I think this might just be one of those times when this particular book and I simply didn't click as well as I would've liked.

My Rating: 3 stars

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Review: Until We Reach Home by Lynn Austin

Book Cover and Synopsis:
Life in Sweden seems like an endless winter for three sisters after their mother's death and father's suicide. Elin feels the weight of responsibility for her sisters' welfare, and when circumstances become unbearable, she writes to her relatives in Chicago, pleading for help.

Joining sixteen million other immigrants who left their homelands for America between 1890 and 1920, Elin, Kirsten, and Sofia begin the long, difficult journey. Enduring the ocean voyage in steerage and detention on Ellis Island, their story is America's story. And in a journey fraught with hardships, each woman will come to understand her secret longings and the meaning of home.

My Thoughts:
I'm so glad I picked this one up; going in I had no idea how much I would enjoy it. The three sisters (Elin, Kirsten, and Sofia) are very close and have a deep love for one another, yet each one holds secrets they're afraid or too ashamed to share. These secrets ultimately lead them to leave their homeland behind in search of a new life in America. 

The point of view continually changes, going back and forth between the sisters. While all three sisters have a unique role and different ways of looking at things, Sophia is the one that stands out in my mind. Initially she greatly aggravated me with her pessimistic attitude, but once the sisters reached Ellis Island I was delighted to see an extreme change in Sophia's behavior, to the point that I found myself anticipating the chapters told from her perspective. She turned out to have a very good head on her shoulders, and the romance between her and the German immigrant she meets is simply beautiful. I never would've thought I'd enjoy a romance between two people who can't speak the same language, but I think it's actually one of the best I've ever read. It's very touching, and the way they used their Bibles to communicate was just *awesome*, there's no other word to describe it.

As I read, I felt as if I was going through the immigration process right along with the sisters. If I didn't know better, I'd think the author had actually gone through the process herself to be able to convey such details and vivid imagery. Something that really struck me was the hope all of the immigrants had for their futures in America, they looked upon our nation with such awe, so full of optimistic expectations. It's simply amazing to realize the depth of emotion, the hope these people had for their new lives in our country, and the hardships they endured just to get here.

Most of what I've mentioned happens in the first third of the book, as I don't want to give spoilers for the later parts of the story. Suffice it to say that the three sisters go through unexpected ups and downs, but as they learn to trust God in both the good times and bad, they find freedom from the haunting secrets in their past. The story tackles some tough subjects, but it's handled very well, leaving you with an impression of the difficult scenarios without giving too many details. This story of the three sisters' journey and search for a new beginning in life is truly amazing....I very much enjoyed it. Highly, highly recommended!

My Rating: 5 stars

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Review: Weathering Evan by Amanda Hamm

Book Cover and Synopsis:
Tammy Janeway is having some issues. Evan Knightly is at the root of all of them. Of course it’s not his fault that she has a massive crush on him. But she can’t even be sure he deserves her adoration. One minute he’s undeniably sweet and charming, the next he acts like a creep.

Tammy is tired of feeling like a nervous teenager in her professional life. She knows she’s making a fool of herself in front of the co-worker who is already dating Evan. She knows she can’t stop thinking about him and she knows she wants to. But the one thing she doesn’t know just might be the key to finding a fresh start.

My Thoughts:
Discovering new and different authors is one of the things I really like about my Kindle. There's several indie authors that I've discovered with it, and Amanda Hamm is one of them.

Tammy's job as a Customs Broker is well researched; beforehand I didn't even know the occupation existed, but now I feel that I know a fair amount about it. It's not a position I would seek out, however it was still interesting to learn about. Tammy's office is peppered with a typical quirky cast: incompetent boss, gossipy co-worker, and a "strictly business" co-worker.

Considering the title, I expected Evan to be present in the book more than he was, although for various plot reasons this wasn't really possible. As Tammy's crush on him grows, she finds herself alternating between trying to find ways to "bump" into him, and trying to avoid him. (Making a fool out of yourself due to your massive crush on a co-worker's boyfriend is never good!) It turns out the title has kind of a double meaning, which I won't give away, but I will say that never before has talking about the weather been so charming!

Occasionally some of Tammy's work scenes went on a bit long, but there were other times when I couldn't help but sympathize with her as she tried to placate incompetent and rude customers. (I think we've all experienced those scenarios!) I wish Evan could have been featured a bit more, but the scenes he did have were done well and used wisely.  

As for the ending...on one hand it seemed a bit abrupt, but on the other hand, it was rather sweet. I do wish there had been more story after the end scene, and ultimately I feel that's the mark of an enjoyable story, wanting more after it ends. :) I would recommended this if you're looking for something just a bit out of the norm. I enjoyed it! 

My Rating: 4 stars

For my regular readers, I just want to point out that Tammy and several other characters are Catholic. Tammy attends mass and a Catholic singles group, but the religion and beliefs are not discussed. I generally read Christian fiction, but I was not uncomfortable in the least with any of the content here.