The three most important parts of a book are: a well constructed plot, compelling characters, and a satisfying conclusion.

Thursday, February 27, 2014

THE UNWITTING: A Novel By Ellen Feldman

The Unwitting by Ellen FeldmanPublisher:  Spiegel & Grau
Expected Release Date:  May 6, 2014
Pages:  304
Genre:  Historical Fiction

Book Description:  In CIA parlance, those who knew were “witting.” Everyone else was among the “unwitting.”   
On a bright November day in 1963, President Kennedy is shot. That same day, Nell Benjamin receives a phone call with news about her husband, the influential young editor of a literary magazine. As the nation mourns its public loss, Nell has her private grief to reckon with, as well as a revelation about Charlie that turns her understanding of her marriage on its head, along with the world she thought she knew.
With the Cold War looming ominously over the lives of American citizens in a battle of the Free World against the Communist powers, the blurry lines between what is true, what is good, and what is right tangle with issues of loyalty and love. As the truths Nell discovers about her beloved husband upend the narrative of her life, she must question her own allegiance: to her career as a journalist, to her country, but most of all to the people she loves.
Set in the literary Manhattan of the 1950s, at a journal much like the Paris Review, The Unwitting evokes a bygone era of burgeoning sexual awareness and intrigue and an exuberance of ideas that had the power to change the world. Resonant, illuminating, and utterly absorbing, The Unwitting is about the lies we tell, the secrets we keep, and the power of love in the face of both.

Wanda's Thoughts:  The Unwitting is a story of a complex and turbulent marriage during the Cold War. The storyline is layered with secrets and tangled truths, with themes of love, lies, betrayal, and deception.

This is an interesting period in US history, but I found the book to be disappointing. The historical facts were shallow with poorly constructed characters that lacked depth - I never felt connected to any of them. The storyline felt disjointed, and the plot was confusing at times. It never captured my excitement. I wanted to put this one down, almost from the beginning. 

A few positive comments - 
* Perfect title - Definition of "Unwitting" - not knowing, unaware. The title is certainly fitting for the storyline.
* There were some unexpected twists and turns throughout the book. 
* Satisfying conclusion - perhaps the best part of the book.

Unfortunately, this book was just lukewarm, and not one I would recommend. 2.5 Stars
I received a complimentary copy of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. The opinions shared are my own.

Ellen FeldmanAbout the Author:  Ellen Feldman, a 2009 Guggenheim fellow, is the author of Scottsboro, The Boy Who Loved Anne Frank, and Lucy. She writes both fiction and social history, and has published articles on the history of divorce, plastic surgery, Halloween, the Normandie, and many other topics, as well as numerous book reviews. She has also lectured extensively around the country and in Germany and England, and is a sought-after speaker to reading groups both in person and by telephone.
She grew up in northern New Jersey and attended Bryn Mawr College, from which she holds a B.A. and an M.A. in modern history. After further graduate studies in history at Columbia University, she worked for a New York publishing house.
She lives in New York City and East Hampton, New York, with her husband and Cairn terrier named Lucy.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

HEAVEN & HELL: Are They Real? By Christopher D Hudson

Heaven and Hell by Christopher D. HudsonPublisher:  Thomas Nelson
Release Date:  February 11, 2014
Pages:  277

Reviewed by Wanda and WC

Book Description:  It can be said that the words "heaven" and "hell" are thrown around flippantly these days. It seems they have become part of our vernacular without much thought or concern about what they really mean.

The reality of heaven and hell is a hotly-debated topic spurring countless conversations, books, and sermons. It's fashionable to have an opinion about the reality of heaven and hell, but what does the Bible really say? "Heaven and Hell: Are They Real?" discusses what Scripture really says about these mysterious places, giving you real, solid, reliable information. The book includes scripture quotes that capture the current interest in the reality of heaven and hell, while offering readings on heaven and hell. Also included are quotes and insights from trusted authors including Billy Graham, Randy Alcorn, C.S. Lewis, and more. For the curious reader looking for more information on heaven and hell, "Heaven and Hell: Are they Real?" is the perfect choice.

Features include:
Readings on heaven and hell Questions for digging deeper Additional content from trusted contemporary and ancient scholars Scripture from the NIV.

Wanda's Review:  Heaven and Hell: Are They Real? - A thought provoking book written in a clear and simple way, while providing answers to questions for us to ponder. It certainly captured my attention, and had me wanting to read more. 

Part 1 - Heaven
Will heaven be boring? - When we experience the fulfillment of heaven and see God as he truly is, it will be an endless reservoir of fascination - the greatest fun-filled adventure we've ever known. 

Will we have physical bodies in heaven? - We will never be all that God intended until out body and spirit are joined in resurrection - a new creation of the perfected body and perfected soul. 

Will we be busy in heaven? - We will find deep satisfaction in serving God. The more we know him, the more there will be to know. Our activities in heaven will be enjoyable and fulfilling as we enjoy God and he enjoys us. We will learn, grow, and develop, and it will be an exhilarating experience that will never come to an end. 

Will there be animals in heaven? - There doesn't seem to be a conclusive answer to this question - I can only hope so.

Where is heaven? - Heaven is a dimension where time and distance are not obstacles. Heaven is more than a state of mind - it is an actual place where God dwells, and where we can finally find complete peace. It is beyond our imagination and comprehension. 

Part 2 - Hell 
How can someone purposely choose to go to hell? - If you have rejected salvation, God can refuse to show mercy on you. At death you are at the end of your journey, and the road to destruction has been chosen. 

How can I avoid going to hell? - Christians can not get to heaven just by doing good works. John 14:16 - I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. 

This book provides Scriptures that enable us to see life with an eternal perspective. There is an added question, or two, to sum up up each chapter - For Further Thought. These questions help us to delve deeper into the written chapter while creating our own conclusions. 

We all have the power to choose heaven or hell. God allows us to decide whether on not to accept the eternal gift through his son, Jesus, by opening up our hearts and committing our lives to him. For those who choose our true home in heaven, the dark sorrows of the earth will be erased and changed to the joys of heaven, and our hearts will be filled with God's enduring presence. Heaven will be the perfect place to spend eternity! A great and inspiring read! 4.5 Stars

I received a complimentary book from BookSneeze to read and give an honest review. All opinions shared are my own and I was not required to give a positive review.

WC's Review:  If Heaven does not exist then it is plausible to reason that Hell does not as well. Reasonable men and women must think that both do resonate, for what is the purpose of living this life that is infinitesimally short but seems insufferably long?

Most pressing of all issues discussed in this succinct book for many readers is whether their favorite pet accompanies them to Heaven. We all hope so, as Billy Graham imagined that a loving God would not consider leaving Fido behind, as much or more so than a beloved spouse.

Universalism, the belief that all go to Heaven, is widely debated and the arguments for it seem appealing. The significance of the existence of Hell diminishes the gift of Heaven, as contributors argue. Nihilism, another tenet, implies those of us who don't measure up to God criteria, simply cease to exist. And salvation, the acceptance of the Lord Jesus Christ as the person of your existence, is passionately asserted.

Fascinating as well are the descriptions of both places of eternal residence. A particular favorite is that Heaven may well be similar to the Garden of Eden, much larger and more beautiful than the original between the Tigris and Euphrates.

Surely all of us ponder what becomes of us after we die. 

 About the Author:  The American Bible Society was established in 1816 with a mission to make the Bible available to every person in a language and format each can understand and afford so all people may experience its life-changing message.

Friday, February 21, 2014

NOBLE CAUSE: A Novel of Love and War By Jessica James

Noble Cause by Jessica JamesPublisher:  Amazon Digital Services (Kindle Revised Edition)
Release Date: January 14, 2014
Original Publication Date:  March 2011
Genre: Historical Fiction - Civil War
Pages:  384

Book Description:  Author's Note: This novel is a new version of Shades of Gray with a Happily-Ever-After ending.

This is the tale of Colonel Alexander Hunter, a dauntless and daring Confederate cavalry officer, who, with his band of intrepid outcasts, becomes a legend in the rolling hills of northern Virginia. Inspired by love of country and guided by a sense of duty and honor, Hunter must make a desperate choice when he discovers the woman he promised his dying brother he would protect is the Union spy he vowed to his men he would destroy. Readers will discover the fine line between friends and enemies when the paths of these two tenacious foes cross by the fates of war and their destinies become entwined forever.

Wanda's Thoughts:  A forbidden, but captivating romance blooms between a Confederate cavalry officer and a women who was deeply dedicated to the North as a Union spy. Multiple points of view are drawn as the author brings to life a unique aspect of the Civil War - a perspective of both sides, North and South. 

Captain Alexander Hunter, a confederate officer, is a man the North feared. He kept the Federal army on constant alert and in a continuous state of panic. In battle Hunter had no equal, being the epitome of force and strength. Hunter found Andrea to be the most unpredictable, infuriating woman he'd ever known and her courage amazed him. 

Andrea Evans's (aka-Andrew Sinclair) earlier years were filled with pampered elegance, but the aristocratic child of the South was gone, and along with it her loyalty. Now Andrea's whole heart and soul were entrenched in a war that had no end in sight. And now, disguised as Andrew Sinclair, a Union spy, she was sent into the heart of the confederacy, away from Union defenses. Andrea had a defiant spirit, and vengeance was part of her being, but she carried a lot of hurt inside. She was within the Confederate lines for the purpose of securing information, and she would be arrested as a Union spy. 

Both Hunter and Andrea were stubborn, fearless, and fiercely independent as any two people could be. They were both fighting for what they believed in, and the story unfolds as they struggle to overcome a myriad of obstacles.

The author was able to bring history to life with meticulous detail. The complex characters, with their vivid personalities and riveting dialogue, made it a story you'll not soon forget. This book has it all - a complicated plot, compelling characters, and a satisfying conclusion. 

My only negative comment - at times the scenes were too drawn out, making the book rather long, but the tempo really picks up in the second half of the book. 

Noble Cause is powerful and piercingly real and I highly recommend.  4.5 Stars 
Jessica James

The Author: Jessica James is a history buff and historical fiction author who resides in Gettysburg, Pa. 

Her latest novel, Above and Beyond, hit #1 on the Amazon bestseller list in the Christian historical fiction category on its first day of release. It was also a finalist in the Fiction/Religious category in the 2012 USA BEST BOOK AWARDS CONTEST.

Her last novel, Noble Cause, won the coveted John Esten Cooke Award for Southern Fiction as well as the 2011 Indie Next Generation contest in the Best Regional Fiction category. The novel was also a Finalist in both the Romance and Historical Fiction categories.

Most recently, Noble Cause was announced as a bronze winner in Foreword Magazine's Book of the Year Award contest in the Romance category.

She is featured in the book "50 Great Writers You Should Be Reading," released in 2010.

The MidWest Book Review says Noble Cause "is a riveting piece of historical fiction, very much highly recommended reading." 

Originally published as Shades of Gray, Noble Cause gives romance readers the highly-anticipated happily-ever-after ending they requested.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

TO TRY MEN'S SOULS: (George Washington #1) By Newt Gingrich, William R Forstchen, Albert A Hanser

To Try Men's Souls by Newt GingrichPublisher:  Thomas Dunne Books
Release Date:  October 2009
Pages:  354

Reviewed By WC

Book Description:  After two bestselling series examining the Civil War and WWII, Newt Gingrich and William R. Forstchen have turned their sharp eye for detail on the Revolutionary War. Their story follows three men with three very different roles to play in history: General George Washington, Thomas Paine, and Jonathan Van Dorn, a private in Washington’s army.

The action focuses on one of the most iconic events in American history: Washington cross - ing the Delaware. Unlike the bold, courageous General in Emanuel Leutze’s painting, Washington is full of doubt on the night of December 25, 1776. After five months of defeat, morale is dangerously low. Each morning muster shows that hundreds have deserted in the night.

While Washington prepares his weary troops for the attack on Trenton, Thomas Paine is in Philadelphia, overseeing the printing of his newest pamphlet, The Crisis.

And Jonathan Van Dorn is about to bring the war to his own doorstep. In the heat of battle, he must decide between staying loyal to the cause and sparing his brother who has joined up with the British. Through the thoughts and private fears of these three men, Gingrich and Forstchen illu minate the darkest days of the Revolution. With detailed research and an incredible depth of military insight, this novel provides a rare and personal perspective of the men who fought for, and founded the United States of America.

WC's Review:  George Washington was truly a God inspired man. "To Try Men's Souls" details the trials and tribulations of the leader of the Continental Army during its escape from New York to Pennsylvania and across the Delaware to encamp at McConkey's Ferry. Washington's resolve and spirit to attack the Hessians soldiers at Trenton on Christmas Day are beyond comprehension.

This excellent historical fiction account of the year 1776 features iconoclastic personality Thomas Paine, the rapscallion author of The Crisis, the pamphlet that served to further spur the effort for independence, and the writing of this account, no doubt; Henry Knox, brilliant artillerist and former book store owner, Jersey patriots Jonathan Van Dorn and Peter Wellesley, and the ever present Billy Lee, Washington's faithful servant, contribute to the mind-boggling effort to restore faith in the Revolution.

Gingrich and co-author William R Forstchen possess the foresight to write history as it truly was, obviously realizing that today's politically correct history texts largely ignore the unsurpassed contributions of the father of our country and his fellow patriots.

We all would do well to remember him. A must read, especially for those who inexplicably forgot that Washington was a true leader of men. Where are they today?

We also would do well to reread The Crisis, which folks had no trouble comprehending in 1776.
Newt GingrichAbout the Author: Newt Gingrich - Newton Leroy "Newt" Gingrich (born Newton Leroy McPherson) is an American politician who served as the Speaker of the United States House of Representatives from 1995 to 1999. In 1995, Time magazine selected him as the Person of the Year for his role in leading the Republican Revolution in the House, ending 40 years of the Democratic Party being in the majority. During his tenure as Speaker, he represented the public face of the Republican opposition to Bill Clinton.

A college history professor, political leader, and author, Gingrich twice ran unsuccessfully for the House before winning a seat in the election of November 1978. He was re-elected ten times, and his activism as a member of the House's Republican minority eventually enabled him to succeed Dick Cheney as House Minority Whip in 1989. As a co-author of the 1994 Contract with America, Gingrich was in the forefront of the Republican Party's dramatic success in that year's Congressional elections and subsequently was elected Speaker of the House. Gingrich's leadership in Congress was marked by opposition to many of the policies of the Clinton Administration. Shortly after the 1998 elections, when Republicans lost five seats in the House, Gingrich announced his resignation from his House seat and as Speaker.

Since resigning his seat, Gingrich has maintained a career as a political analyst and consultant. He continues to write works related to government and other subjects, such as historical fiction. Recently, he founded the conservative 527 group American Solutions for Winning the Future.

Monday, February 17, 2014

COMPASS: The Study Bible for Navigating Your Life By Ecclesia Bible Society

Compass by Ecclesia Bible SocietyPublisher:  Thomas Nelson
Release Date:  February 4, 2014
Pages:  1664

About Compass:  "Compass "is about helping you find the answers you're looking for in the pages of the Scriptures and allowing that truth navigate your life. Packed with Bible-reading helps and using an energizing, new Bible translation, "Compass" is a Bible designed with you in mind. Do you want to start reading and applying the Bible to your life, but aren't quite sure where to start? Let "Compass "point you in the right direction.

Wanda's Thoughts:  Classic stories of the Bible, both Old and New Testament, are told in a contemporary language - a very readable version. The Compass will encourage you to delve deep into the Scripture verses and do it in a simple, but challenging way. It is definitely suitable for all audiences, young and old, and will help bring wisdom into your devotional life. 

In addition to the 66 books of the Bible, the Compass will provide you with:
* Screenplay format - identifies dialogue - the speaker is indicated and dialogue indented. (I can especially see younger people using this.)

* resources for personal and communal study
* brief essays and commentaries that explain difficult passages
* suggestions on how to read the Bible with greater clarity
* a plan for reading the entire Bible in 3 years
* strategies for engaging the story of Scripture during Advent, Lent, and Easter

Also included - 
* 40 day Retreat with Jesus
* 365 days through the whole Bible
* topical guide to the notes
* topical guide to the Scriptures'
* maps
* index to in-text maps

The only thing I found the Compass to be lacking is the need for annotations for the Scripture verses. I use The Life Application Study Bible - NIV - for this reason, but in many ways the Compass has so much more. I'll be using it as a companion to my Bible. The compass is truly a road map to God's promises. 4.5 Stars

Quote - from Chris Seay, President of Ecclesia Bible Society - "As you engage in this story, you may experience a strange feeling that may be best described as a vague sense that you are being followed or pursued."

I received a complimentary copy of this book from BookSneeze in exchange for an honest review. All opinions shared are my own and I was not required to give a positive review.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

COMFORT AND JOY by Kristin Hannah

Comfort & Joy by Kristin HannahPublisher:  Ballantine Books
Released:  2006
Pages:  272

Book Description:  Joy Candellaro once loved Christmas more than any other time of the year. Now, as the holiday approaches, she is at a crossroads in her life; recently divorced and alone, she can’t summon the old enthusiasm for celebrating. So without telling anyone, she buys a ticket and boards a plane bound for the beautiful Pacific Northwest. When an unexpected detour takes her deep into the woods of the Olympic rainforest, Joy makes a bold decision to leave her ordinary life behind--to just walk away--and thus begins an adventure unlike any she could have imagined.

In the small town of Rain Valley, six-year-old Bobby O’Shea is facing his first Christmas without a mother. Unable to handle the loss, Bobby has closed himself off from the world, talking only to his invisible best friend. His father Daniel is beside himself, desperate to help his son cope. Yet when the little boy meets Joy, these two unlikely souls form a deep and powerful bond. In helping Bobby and Daniel heal, Joy finds herself again.

But not everything is as it seems in quiet Rain Valley, and in an instant, Joy’s world is ripped apart, and her heart is broken. On a magical Christmas Eve, a night of impossible dreams and unexpected chances, Joy must find the courage to believe in a love--and a family--that can’t possibly exist, and go in search of what she wants . . . and the new life only she can find.

Wanda's Thoughts:  Comfort and Joy is a mystical tale that will warm your heart and give you hope. A story with sadness, tragedy, and hope, that involves a dream that seemed to be flawed and tattered, but a dream that had the promise of reality. Truly beautiful and magical. 5 Stars.
Kristin HannahThe Author - Kristin Hannah Kristin Hannah is the New York Times bestselling author of eighteen novels, including the blockbuster Firefly Lane and Night Road. She is a former lawyer turned writer and is the mother of one son. She lives in the Pacific Northwest and Hawaii with her husband.

Saturday, February 15, 2014

THE PRESIDENT'S LADIES: Jane Wyman and Nancy Davis by Bernard F Dick

Product Details
Publisher:  University of Press of Mississippi
Expected Release Date:  April 8, 2014
Pages:  272

About the Book:  Ronald Reagan, a former actor and one of America's most popular presidents, married not one but two Hollywood actresses. This book is three biographies in one, discovering fascinating connections among Jane Wyman (1917-2007), Ronald Reagan (1911-2004), and Nancy Davis (b. 1921).
Jane Wyman, who married Reagan in 1940 and divorced him seven years later, knew an early life of privation. She gravitated to the movies and made her debut at fifteen as an unbilled member of the chorus, then toiled as an extra for four years until she finally received billing. She proved herself as a dramatic actress in The Lost Weekend, and the following year, she was nominated for an Oscar forThe Yearling and soon won for her performance in Johnny Belinda, in which she did not speak a single line. Other Oscar nominations followed, along with a Golden Globe for her portrayal of Angela Channing in Falcon Crest.
Conversely, Nancy Davis led a relatively charmed life, the daughter of an actress and the stepdaughter of a neurosurgeon. Surrounded by her mother's friends--Walter Huston, Spencer Tracy, Katharine Hepburn, Lillian Gish, and Alla Nazimova, her godmother--Davis started in the theater, then moved on to Hollywood, where she enjoyed modest success, and finally began working in television. When she married Reagan in 1952, she unwittingly married into politics, eventually leaving acting to concentrate on being the wife of the governor of California, and then the wife of the president of the United States. In her way, Davis played her greatest role as Reagan's friend, confidante, and adviser in life and in politics.
This book considers three actors who left an indelible mark on both popular and political culture for more than fifty years.

Wanda's Thoughts:  Too much information! This turned out to be more of a filmography than the biographies of three very interesting individuals. There were endless details on film roles - movies made by Wyatt, Reagan, and Davis. The author did a wonderful job putting their movie careers into perspective, but I didn't need the endless details of other films being made at the same time - too much! There is some interesting information revealed about their personal lives, but then the author veered off in another direction - usually about more films. 

Some interesting information ---

Reagan was Jane's third husband, she was his first wife and Nancy was his second. To the press, Jane and Reagan, known as "Jane and Ronnie," were the perfect couple. Wyman won an Oscar and a Golden Globe. Reagan never earned an Oscar nomination, never truly a star, but went on to much greater fame. Nancy became known as "the puppet master pulling Reagan's strings."

Jane Wyman - Hardened by a childhood of desertion, Jane developed the will to succeed. As a Hollywood star, she vowed to let nothing stand in her way, and nothing did, including her husbands. Unfortunately, marriage was not Jane's strong suit - there were five in all. Jane was never able to be a politician's wife. She felt inferior to her politically savvy husband. Politics were Reagan's forte, but certainly not Jane's. They had two children - Maureen, born one year after the marriage, and Michael, an adopted son. Jane was too immersed in her career, and being a mother was not a good role for her.

Ronald Reagan - After graduation from college as a sociology major, Reagan was not able to find a job and developed a movie career, but never became a great screen icon. He was a natural politician and was destined for something higher. After a failed marriage to Jane, he married the perfect wife for his political career, Nancy Davis. He became governor of California in 1966 and then on to be the 40th president of the United States in 1980.

Nancy Davis - Born Anne Francis Robbins, but she became known to movie goers, in the 1950s, as Nancy Davis. She continued in the movie industry until 1957, but she was not meant for stardom. After marrying Reagan, she took on his vision of himself as presidential material, and they begin their journey to the White House. They had two children, Patti and Ron.

I was hoping for more insight into the personal lives of these three individuals, but this was revealed in very small doses in the book. If you're a movie buff, the book might appeal to you. I wavered between a rating of 2-3, finally deciding on 2.5 stars. This book failed to captivate me.

I received an ARC from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. All opinions shared are my own. 

About the Author:  Bernard F. Dick is professor emeritus of communication and English at Fairleigh Dickinson University and is the author of Forever Mame: The Life of Rosalind RussellClaudette Colbert: She Walked in BeautyHollywood Madonna: Loretta Young (all published by University Press of Mississippi); and several other books.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

THE SHACK: Where Tragedy Confronts Eternity By Wm Paul Young, Wayne Jacobsen, Brad Cummings

The Shack by Wm. Paul YoungPublisher:  Windblown Media
Release Date:  2007
Pages:  252

Reviewed by WC

About the Book:  Mackenzie Allen Philips' youngest daughter, Missy, has been abducted during a family vacation, and evidence that she may have been brutally murdered is found in an abandoned shack deep in the Oregon wilderness. Four years later in the midst of his "Great Sadness," Mack receives a suspicious note, apparently from God, inviting him back to that shack for a weekend.

Against his better judgment he arrives at the shack on a wintry afternoon and walks back into his darkest nightmare. What he finds there will change Mack's world forever.

In a world where religion seems to grow increasingly irrelevant The Shackwrestles with the timeless question, "Where is God in a world so filled with unspeakable pain?" The answers Mack gets will astound you and perhaps transform you as much as it did him. You'll want everyone you know to read this book!

WC's Review:  To receive the full attention of God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit in a beautifully appointed log cabin situated in a perfect paradise adorned with exquisite flora and fauna for two days is beyond words, even better than treading eternally on pathways constantly lined with gold. 

Mack knows he has to return to the scene of his daughter's murder in a rundown blood-stained shack, where he is transformed and led to behold purity. Hosted by the Trinity in an effort to assuage the hurt the abduction of his Missy has caused, Mack is awe struck by Papa, Jesus, and Saraya, all who answer his heart felt questions with love.

Living with the "great sadness," Mack struggles to ease his heart, for he blames himself for his daughter's untimely death, as does Missy's older sister Kate.

All of us concerned about our relationship with God, his son Jesus, and the mysterious Holy Ghost will find this book in the least entertaining, more so revealing, and at the utmost life changing.  5 Stars

Wm. Paul YoungWm Paul Young - William Paul Young was the eldest of four, born May 11, 1955, in Grande Prairie, Alberta, Canada, but the majority of his first decade was lived with his missionary parents in the highlands of Netherlands New Guinea (West Papua), among the Dani, a technologically stone age tribal people. These became his family and as the first white child and outsider who ever spoke their language, he was granted unusual access into their culture and community. By the time he was six, he was flown away to a boarding school.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014


The Dancing Master by Julie KlassenGenre: Historical Christian Fiction - Regency Era
Publisher:  Bethany House Publishers
Release Date:  January 7, 2014
Pages:  424

About the Book:  Leaving London, dancing master Alec Valcourt moves his mother and sister to remote Devonshire--but is stunned to discover that dancing is prohibited! He finds an unlikely ally in Miss Julia Midwinter, but her questions about his past are becoming harder to evade. Together, can they bring new life to this quiet village--and heal long-kept-secret scars?

Wanda's Thoughts:  I eagerly await for all of Julie Klassen's new books - she never disappoints, but I must say this was not one of my favorites. There is an entourage of characters, making the plot lengthy, with stretches where not much is happening and unfortunately I lost interest in spots. 

That being said - there is much to like about this book. There is a richness in the writing with so much historical detail, which I absolutely soaked up. The author certainly has a writing flair for the Regency era, setting an ambience that is somewhat similar to Jane Austen. A bit of romance is included, that is decent and modest, and there are, just ever so slight, religious overtones. It is a story of family secrets, romance, uncertainties, scandal, forgiveness and grace. 

Nineteen year old Julia Midwinter was headstrong, manipulative, and very outspoken. She would one day be heiress to Buckleigh Manor. Julia's father never wanted a young girl in his domain and her mother seemed to find her charitable organizations more important than Julia. Julia is filled with restlessness and anger and has no interest in becoming the matriarch of Buckleigh Manor. Alex Vancourt was forbidden, but that only made him more interesting to Julia. 

Alec Vancourt is a dancing and fencing master and carrying secrets from the past. He was well spoken and educated from a young age by his grandfather. Alec was forewarned to have little to do, as possible, with Julia. He was told that Julia was not his social equal and Julia was destined for greater things. And the story unfolds ---

The well developed characters are cleverly crafted with genuine personalities. Julia was hard to like, but I found her to be quite interesting with her feistiness and desire for adventure. There were a few hidden secrets and surprises revealed throughout, and secondary characters that certainly added interest. The storyline had a satisfying, but rather predictable and lukewarm conclusion. The book still had many redeeming qualities and I found it to be a light and enjoyable read. You can't go wrong with a Julie Klassen book. 4 stars.

AuthorJulie Klassen
Julie Klassen loves all things Jane—Jane Eyre and Jane Austen. She has been an advertising manager, fiction editor, and now works as a full-time novelist. Her 3rd book, The Silent Governess, won the Christy Award for Historical Romance, and was also a finalist in the Minnesota Book Awards, ForeWord ReviewsBook of the Year Awards, and the RITA Awards. Her latest books, The Maid of Fairbourne Halland The Girl in the Gatehouse, have also won Christy Awards. Julie is a graduate of the University of Illinois. She and her husband have two sons and live near St. Paul, Minnesota.

Saturday, February 8, 2014

HOME BY MORNING By Alexis Harrington

Home by Morning by Alexis HarringtonPublisher:  Montlake Romance
Release Date:  December 2011
Pages:  329
Genre:  Historical Romance

About the Book:  October 1918: En route from New York to Seattle, Jessica Layton stops for a visit in her hometown of Powell Springs, Oregon, and comes face-to-face with Cole Braddock, her first and only love. Now, years later, Jessica is a highly accomplished clinical physician preparing for an exciting new job in Washington, and Cole is a successful horse breeder who is courting her sister Amy. Both are convinced they have moved beyond their youthful passion and the heartbreak it produced; nonetheless, they are grateful that Jessicas brief visit will leave little opportunity to rehash old wounds. But before Dr. Layton can leave town, Powell Springs is hit hard by the influenza epidemic ravaging the country. With no other doctors available, Jessica must remain in Oregon and tend to her friends and former neighbors. Her work brings her in constant contact with Cole, and with each passing day he finds it harder to convince himself that sweet-tempered Amy can fill his heart as Jessica once did. Set against the backdrop of World War I and the epidemic of 1918, Home by Morning is a compelling story of betrayal, heartbreak, and redemption.

Wanda's Thoughts:  1918 - Powell Springs, Oregon - Dr Jessica Layton had sworn never to return to Powell Springs, but she's traveling from New York to Seattle and stops off at her hometown for just a brief visit. Jessica was the daughter of the deceased physician of Powell Springs, and had left the small town years ago to study medicine in New York. She'd left behind the love of her life, Cole Braddock, the town's blacksmith, who is now involved with Amy, Jessica's sister. She would be here only for a few days and then on to Seattle where she had a research position waiting. Jessica knew she'd have to see Cole, but thought she'd be more prepared. 

Amy was very close to becoming Cole's fiancee. She seemed to be a wonderful woman - pretty, sweet tempered, charming, and she didn't try Cole's patience, as Jess had. Amy turns out to be a rather complex character. 

World War 1 was going on and most of the doctors and nurses had gone overseas. The town is waiting for Dr Pearson to arrive, but there is an influenza outbreak and they need a doctor now. The council asked Jessica to stay until Dr Pearson arrived. Jessica had no interest in practicing clinical medicine anymore, but agreed to stay on for a short time, delaying her trip to Seattle. And the story unfolds ---

Riley Braddock, an older brother of Cole's, had enlisted and was fighting in France. He'd left his wife, Susannah, behind to run the farm and hadn't seen her for 16 months. 

Dr Pearson appeared to be a presentable young graduate, but had a big ego and many prejudices. He was very condescending and insulting to Jessica. 

Other secondary characters - Emmaline, whose husband had run off and left her with two kids. She takes up prostitution to earn a living. Adam Jacobsen, the minister, who is rather hard to like, adds a few surprises in the storyline. 

The war scenes, taking place on the battlefields of France, were well done, but it was such a small part of the storyline - I was hoping for more. The main characters were interesting, but not exciting. There were many different layers built into the storyline - perhaps too many, with a predictable ending.  Home By Morning was a fast and easy read, and had a few surprises, but just lukewarm, and not one I would enthusiastically recommend. 3 stars.

The Author - Alexis Harrington
I've been a self-employed working novelist for the past twenty years. Of all the books I've written I've had just one foreign sale, and that was THE IRISH BRIDE, which was translated into Norwegian, where I understand it was a big hit.

I also make jewelry and I'm a fine needlework artist, specializing in embroidery, thread crochet, and sewing. I love to cook, read, entertain friends, decorate, and pursue various crafts.

I live in the Pacific Northwest near the Columbia River, still within 10 miles of my old high school. I have a Great Pyrenees dog, one cat, a finch, and three chickens who all seem to want to be in my small office while I'm trying to work (except the chickens, although they'd be thrilled to get into the house if I let them). Getting up to step around them is like maneuvering an obstacle course, but they are my children and so dear to me. My hours are kind of goofy--I'm just not a morning person and tend to be up late when the rest of the world is sleeping--and QUIET. No phones, faxes, distractions. Just the kids and me, candles burning, and the elevator music coming out of my CD player.

Before I made the leap to full-time writer, I spent about 12 years working for consulting civil engineers. Riprap, anyone? How about a nice detention pond?
Alexis HarringtonI