Saturday, April 27, 2013

Review: To Win Her Heart by Karen Witemeyer

Book Cover and Synopsis:
Having completed his sentence for the unintentional crime that derailed his youthful plans for fame and fortune, Levi Grant looks to start over in the town of Spencer, Texas. Spencer needs a blacksmith, a trade he learned at his father's knee, and he needs a place where no one knows his past. But small towns leave little room for secrets...

Eden Spencer has sworn off men, choosing instead to devote her time to the lending library she runs. When a mountain-sized stranger walks through her door and asks to borrow a book, she steels herself against the attraction he provokes. His halting speech and hesitant manner leave her doubting his intelligence. Yet as the mysteries of the town's new blacksmith unfold, Eden discovers hidden depths in him that tempt her heart.

Levi's renewed commitment to his faith leads Eden to believe she's finally found a man of honor and integrity, a man worthy of her love. But when the truth about his prodigal past comes to light, can this tarnished hero find a way to win back the librarian's affections?

My Thoughts:
Levi's halting speech leaves most people with the impression that he's simple-minded, but you know what they say: Never judge a book by its cover. Eden, the town librarian, initially dismisses Levi as a common and uninteresting blacksmith, but as their interactions become more frequent Eden begins to question her first assumption. Though he doesn't say much, Levi's use of extravagant words in place of simpler ones gives a glimpse of a highly educated man, which tugs at Eden's growing curiosity. She finds herself inexplicably drawn to him, wanting to unravel the secrets he holds...

For me, Levi came as a complete shock. Normally novels with big hulking men as the hero aren't really my thing, but I came to really like and appreciate Levi. He's big and strong, but his speech impediment is a continual trial for him, leaving him somewhat vulnerable. I was very intrigued by the way he's able to handle it by using a creative approach, all the while keeping a mostly good attitude despite his frustration. His past is rough, but the grace of God has redeemed him--completely changed him--yet sadly most people aren't near as forgiving when they discover the sins his past holds. It's heart-wrenching to see how people's behavior towards him shifts when they discover his past, but at the same time it makes you take a good look at yourself, wondering how you would react in a similar situation. The answer just might surprise you.

Karen Witemeyer's novels have a way of surprising me, but in a good way! I've read most of her books and enjoyed them, but every time I pick up one of her books I am surprised anew by just how GOOD of an author she really is. She comes up with the most unique situations and trials for her characters to go through, and honestly, it's just downright entertaining story-telling. The art of historical romance is perfected in her novels. I very much enjoyed "To Win Her Heart", and I highly recommend it, along with the rest of her books, as well!

My Rating: 5 stars

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Review: Undeniably Yours by Becky Wade

Book Cover and Synopsis:
When Meg Cole's father dies unexpectedly, she becomes the majority shareholder of his oil company and the single inheritor of his fortune. Though Meg is soft-spoken and tenderhearted--more interested in art than in oil--she's forced to return home to Texas and to Whispering Creek Ranch to take up the reins of her father's empire.

The last thing she has the patience or the sanity to deal with? Her father's thoroughbred racehorse farm. She gives its manager, Bo Porter, six months to close the place down.

Bo's determined to resent the woman who's decided to rob him of his dream. But instead of anger, Meg evokes within him a profound desire to protect. The more time he spends with her, the more he longs to overcome every obstacle that separates them--her wealth, his unworthiness, her family's outrage--and earn the right to love her.

But just when Meg begins to realize that Bo might be the one thing on the ranch worth keeping, their fragile bond is viciously broken by a force from Meg's past. Can their love--and their belief that God can work through every circumstance--survive?

My Thoughts:
You might think Meg has it all, having recently inherited her father's share of a multi-million-dollar company. But money and status aren't everything. The scars and mistakes from Meg's past have left her emotionally damaged, living in fear of many things and often verging on panic attacks. This could make her sound like a rather irritating character, but that is simply not the case. I actually found her emotional state quite interesting, and I was easily able to sympathize with her fears. As the story progresses she slowly begins to make progress, and it's extremely encouraging to watch as she heals and grows, gradually escaping from her shell of fear.

Bo is just about the perfect romance novel hero. Everything he does is for Meg's benefit, even before their feelings are realized. Upon their initial meeting, Bo immediately discerns Meg's emotional state and determines to be a much-needed friend and ally to her, despite the cruel fact that she is closing down the horse farm he manages. Time after time he is there for her, no matter what the circumstances. They are worlds apart in status, yet Bo can't help but care for her. And though he doesn't realize it, Bo has a calmness about him that comforts Meg's wounded heart, a tranquility that always manages to draw her back to him.

Something I really liked was how the two main characters didn't wait until the last chapter or page to admit their feelings.... though their relationship develops sweetly and very gradually, there is still about a quarter of the book remaining when they confess to having feelings! It was really nice to see past this point, instead of the book ending immediately after the "I care for you" scene, as many books seem to do. Bravo!! ;)

Becky Wade is a unique voice in the Christian fiction genre, her writing has a modern quality that is very realistic for our times. Her characters are real--just like anyone you might know--with imperfect pasts, and a variety of 21st century difficulties and concerns. Through their troubles they try to look to God for wisdom and strength, and it's extremely encouraging to see them succeed and overcome their problems. I whole-heartedly recommend Undeniably Yours; pick it up, I think you'll be glad you did!

My Rating: 5 stars

Thanks to the publisher (Bethany House) for providing me with this e-book for review via NetGalley.    

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Review: Sketchy Behavior by Erynn Mangum

Book Cover and Synopsis:
Drawing conclusions or drafting disaster? 

Other than harboring a somewhat obsessive fondness for Crispix and completely swearing-off boys after a bad date (don't ask), sixteen-year-old Kate Carter is about as ordinary as they come, except for her two notable talents: art and sarcasm. 

After an introduction to forensic sketching in her elective art class, Kate discovers a third and most unexpected gift---criminal profiling. Her photo-quality sketch helps the police catch a wanted murderer and earns her celebrity status in South Woodhaven Falls. But when that murderer appears to be using his friends to exact revenge, Kate goes from local hero to possible target. Will she manage to survive? Will life ever be normal again? And will local news anchor Ted Deffle ever stop sending her flowers?

My Thoughts:
Sketchy Behavior covers more sober topics than Erynn Mangum's past novels have, but despite the serious situations the story is still infused with the traditional Erynn Mangum charm that I've come to love. Yes, the plot does revolve around various aspects of crime and the fear of criminals at large, but it's done in a rather lighthearted way so there's really no chance of being dragged down by the seriousness.... But there is a definite chance of being entertained!

Kate has a unique and humorous way of looking at things, and the first person writing puts you right inside her head, where you can see all of the amusing thoughts that run amuck in her mind. Unfortunately due to her circumstances she doesn't have many opportunities to actually say any of these thoughts out loud.... Still, some of her views are quite amusing, and several times I was helpless to keep the grin off my face!

There's one thing that struck me as rather odd, but I'm going to have to be fairly vague so as not to give spoilers. ;) Towards the end of the book there is a large twist involving one of the main characters, and the facts that are revealed struck me as quite out of character for this person. Yes, from a writing standpoint it was a great out-of-the-blue twist, but I was disappointed that there wasn't an explanation as to why this person did what they did, or what their motivation was. I wish one more chapter had been included to give a little more closure with this character's storyline, instead of leaving me hanging with a "what on earth!?" feeling.

While it's not my favorite of Erynn Mangum's works, I did enjoy the story overall. (Some of the scenes were so vivid that I began thinking this could make a really fun and amusing movie! Hint, hint, producers!!) Anyway, at this point I don't think there are plans for a sequel novel, but if there were, I would certainly pick it up so I could continue following Kate's adventures. She's got some extreme artistic talent that has the potential to put her in interesting situations, and I'd be quite curious to see what becomes of her as she graduates high school and starts off on her own.

My Rating: 4 stars

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Review: A Lady of Secret Devotion by Tracie Peterson

Book Cover and Synopsis:
Eager to ease the financial burdens of her family, Cassandra Stover is thrilled when she is hired to be a companion to Mrs. Jameston, a wealthy society woman. Cassie finds herself living a life she'd never imagined-and growing close to the elderly woman who treats her like a daughter.

Her new position is tarnished only by Mrs. Jameston's son. As Sebastian's resentment and cruelty toward his mother mount, Cassie begins to harbor concerns for her employer's safety--and ultimately her own. When Sebastian is suspected of fraud, insurance investigator Mark Langford solicits Cassie's help to uncover the truth. But what begins as a game of pretense is quickly complicated by matters of the heart.

My Thoughts:
Novels that have the hero and heroine "dating" under false pretenses are fairly common, but this one stands out from the crowd for two reasons: It takes place in the 19th century (whereas most often times this plot plays out in modern novels), and the relationship pretense is actually part of an elaborate scheme to take down a criminal.

I quite enjoyed Cassie's character; her responses to the circumstances around her are genuine and realistic. It's interesting to see her reactions to suddenly being treated as a lady of means after gaining employment as the companion to a wealthy widow, having spent most of her life as the daughter of a laundress. Cassie feels that her new job is a blessing she never could have dreamed of, but she doesn't realize that her new position will entangle her in her employer's family drama in unimaginable ways.

Mark is also a very likeable character. As an insurance investigator his goal is to acquire information about his suspects, one of whom is the son of Cassie's employer. A chance meeting brings Mark and Cassie together, and Mark seizes the opportunity to gather information, enlisting Cassie's help in the matter. But as things progress, Mark starts to struggle with balancing his affection for Cassie, and the danger that his need for information puts her in. Likewise, Cassie struggles with her feelings for Mark, unsure if she should even admit to having feelings after having originally agreed to the "fake" courtship.

Just imagining being in Cassie's shoes, living under the same roof with such an evil-natured man (her employer's son) and being unable to talk of it with anyone except for a single outside contact...I simply don't think I could do it! But I'm certainly glad that Cassie was written as a strong enough character to be able to handle the situation, because I really enjoyed reading about it. This is one I can highly recommend!

My Rating: 5 stars