Sunday, February 26, 2017

Reviewer's Bookshelf: "The Elusive Miss Ellison" by Carolyn Miller

Book Summary: That's the firm opinion of not-so-meek minister's daughter Lavinia Ellison. So even though all the other villagers of St. Hampton Heath are swooning over the newly returned seventh Earl of Hawkesbury, she is not impressed. If a man won't take his responsibilities seriously and help those who are supposed to be able to depend on him, he deserves no respect from her. In Lavinia's pretty, gray eyes, Nicholas Stamford is just as arrogant and reckless as his brother--who stole the most important person in Livvie's world.

Nicholas is weighed down by his own guilt and responsibility, by the pain his careless brother caused, and by the legacy of war he's just left. This quick visit home to St. Hampton Heath will be just long enough to ease a small part of that burden. Asking him to bother with the lives of the villagers when there's already a bailiff on the job is simply too much to expect.

That is, until the hoydenish, intelligent, and very opinionated Miss Ellison challenges him to see past his pain and pride. With her angelic voice in his head, he may even be beginning to care. But his isn't the only heart that needs to change.

These two lonely hearts may each have something the other needs. But with society's opposition, ancestral obligations, and a shocking family secret, there may be too many obstacles in their way.

My thoughts...My first impression was of the cover, which I thought was beautiful. The combination of the title and the cover art made this book very appealing. This is the first book I've read by Carolyn Miller, so I wasn't sure what to expect from her writing. This book follows a similar storyline with a lot of Christian fiction I've read lately, which is similar to a Pride and Prejudice-type plot. Every author approaches this familiar storyline in a different way, and these are my impressions of Carolyn Miller's:

Lavinia (Livvie) Ellison is the outspoken female heroine, not one to follow or care about all the typical rules of society, and yet she's very compassionate towards the people of the area. She tends the sick and takes food to the unfortunate. She also holds the Earl of Hawkesbury responsible for taking care of the people that have been neglected. The Earl initially comes across as a little haughty, but deep down he has a heart that seeks to do what is right. There was definite growth in the story for both characters, as they see areas of pride and a need to surrender every aspect of their lives to God. There is a strong spiritual element as the way to become a Christian is presented as well as spiritual growth among the characters. The pace is moderate, with some mild plot twists and conflict resolution. There is a very clean romantic element that builds throughout the story. All of these parts come together to create a well thought out story.

For my personal taste, the pace of the novel was a little slow. I struggled to get the "tingles" while Livvie and Nicholas interacted. While I know that they displayed the proper etiquette for ladies and gentlemen of that era, I wanted to get into the heads of the characters a little more about how they felt about each other...understand their chemistry. Several times in the story, Livvie is complemented on her wit...but I had trouble connecting with that, too.

While I had my issues, if you like a proper English novel with the elements I mentioned above, you'll like this novel.

**I received a free copy of this novel and appreciate the opportunity to give an honest review, which I did.**

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Reviewer's bookshelf: "The Viscount's Proposal" by Melanie Dickerson

Book Summary (Amazon): Leorah Langdon has no patience for Regency society’s shallow hypocrisy and unnecessary rules, especially for women. She’s determined to defy convention by marrying for grand passion instead of settling for a loveless union like her parents—or wedding a stuffy, pompous gentleman like Edward, the Viscount Withinghall. But when a chance meeting in the countryside leads to Leorah and Withinghall being discovered in his overturned carriage—alone and after dark—the ensuing gossip may force them together.
Withinghall has his reasons for clinging to propriety; his father perished in a duel with his mistress’s husband, and Edward must avoid scandal himself if he wants to become prime minister. He certainly has no time for a reckless hoyden like Miss Langdon. But soon the two discover that Withinghall’s coach “accident” was no such thing: the vehicle was sabotaged.
Can the culprit be brought to justice? Strong-willed Leorah and duty-driven Withinghall will have to work together if they have any hope of saving her reputation, his political career—and his life.

My thoughts... Many readers my recognize Melanie Dickerson by her Young Adult fairytale retellings, but her Regency spy series is equally enjoyable. In this second book in the series, Leorah and the Viscount have been, literally, thrown together in an unexpected way and have to navigate through what is expected of them and what they feel.
    This story reminded me so much of Pride and Prejudice, which is a long time favorite. Edward has the appearance of being very prideful and withdrawn, while Leorah is passionate about life. I loved Leorah's spunk. She wouldn't just "settle" for any man, even if the match was a advantageous one. Edward, the Viscount, masked his true feelings to most people, mainly as a result of hardships in his past. Both characters went through transformations as they began to think more of each other than themselves.
    Melanie Dickerson does a great job at writing novels set in England, and I've really enjoyed her Regency series so far. There are elements of mystery, some danger, and a steady pace to the plot that kept me from wanting to put it down. This novel is also very clean, but I loved that it still has the beautiful romantic tension that kept it fun. Personally, I can never get enough of the broody male character. They always have lots of layers to peel back, which make them interesting. I love how Melanie balanced that with Leorah's character, which added lightheartedness and humor to the story. Here are a few of my favorite lines:
"Calling him a pirate was a compliment, and one he didn't deserve, for it indicated there was some passion beneath that cold fa├žade."
"You have every right to be free, Miss Langdon. No one is denying you that. But freedom is only valuable if you can use your freedom wisely."
    If you love a Pride and Prejudice-style story that has Christian faith woven through it, you will love this! I would definitely recommend it!

*I received a free copy of this novel to honestly share my thoughts and opinions, which I did.*

Thursday, February 2, 2017

Reviewer's bookshelf: "A Note Yet Unsung" by Tamera Alexander

Book summary: A master violinist trained in Vienna, Rebekah Carrington manages to wheedle her way into an audition with the new maestro at the Nashville Philharmonic. But women are "far too fragile and frail" for the rigors of an orchestra, and Rebekah's hopes are swiftly dashed when the conductor--determined to leave his mark on the world of classical music--bows to public opinion. To make matters worse, Adelicia Cheatham, mistress of Belmont Mansion and Rebekah's new employer, agrees with him.

Nationally acclaimed conductor Nathaniel Tate Whitcomb is Nashville's youngest orchestra leader. And despite a reluctant muse and a strange buzzing and recurring pain in his head, he must finish composing his symphony before the grand opening of the city's new symphony hall. Even more pressing, he must finish it for the one who first inspired his love of music--his dying father. As Tate's ailment worsens, he knows Rebekah can help him finish his symphony. But how can he win back her trust when he's robbed her of her dream?

My thoughts...When I see that Tamera Alexander has a new book coming out, I get excited. I've been reading her books for several years now, and I've never been disappointed. She is truly a master storyteller. A Note Yet Unsung is another beautifully written novel, with a depth to the characters that I appreciate every time.

This is the third novel in the Belmont Mansion series, but could be read as a stand alone. Previous characters are mentioned and have small parts in this story, and, of course, Mrs. Adelicia Cheatham plays a key role as she is the mistress of Belmont. I absolutely loved Rebekah and Tate's story. Tate was particularly interesting, as he is obviously hiding something about himself from everyone. As who he is starts to unfold, for me the story truly began. His vulnerability, showing who is behind this ambitious conductor, binds he and Rebekah together. Rebekah is also hiding something from Tate and learns to trust him with her secret as he trusts her with his. A truly beautiful tale of conquering your fears and trusting God to use you right where you are. I would highly recommend this book!

**I received a free copy of this novel from the publisher via NetGalley in order to give an honest review.**

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Reviewer's Bookshelf: "Still Life" by Dani Pettrey

Book summary (Amazon): Blacklisted in the photography business over a controversial shot, Avery Tate answered an ad for a crime scene photographer. She expected to be laughed at, but crime scene analyst Parker Mitchell hired her outright--and changed her life. But six months ago, when her feelings for Parker became too strong, she left his employ to sort out her heart. 

Now, for the first time, Avery is facing the world that rejected her to attend the gallery opening of a photography exhibit and support her best friend, who modeled for the show. But the only image of her friend is a chilling photo of her posing as if dead--and the photographer insists he didn't take the shot. Worse, her friend can't be found. She immediately calls Parker for help. As Avery, Parker, and his friends in law enforcement dig into the mystery, they find themselves face-to-face with a relentless and deadly threat.

My thoughts...I'll admit, romantic suspense is not my typical genre. I'm more of a romantic historical fiction type girl, but Dani Pettrey's Alaskan Courage series sold me. When she began this new series with Cold Shot, once again I was drawn in by the twists, fast moving plot, suspense, and the connection between the characters. Still Life continues with the same elements.

Still Life's suspenseful side was pretty intense. It may be that I'm a little more sensitive to that aspect because it's been so long since I've read much suspense, but it was very well done. I was reading at night and got the shivers more than once! Avery's friend has been featured in a Black Dahlia-style shoot: models posing as if they were dead. Throw in a couple of shady characters, a few murder suspects, and our main characters' struggles with their past, and you've got all the elements of a great romantic suspense novel.

My only hang up, which I mentioned in my critique of Cold Shot, is the amount of characters to keep up with. There are a lot of people in Avery and Parker's "inner circle." Then you add the secondary characters who play a part in their investigation....let's just say I had to think a lot about who was who. You may have to have a reference sheet handy. Just sayin'. 

Overall, despite the long character list, this book represents the author and genre well. Not too creepy, but just enough to keep you on your toes and guessing about "whodunnit" til the end. The spiritual aspect of the novel was not an afterthought, either. The characters' need for Christ to overcome their past and resolve the issues in the present was a key part in the novel. Well done.

*I received a free copy of this novel from the publisher, via NetGalley, in order to give an honest review, which I did.*