Tag Archives: Historical Fiction

Summer Reading List Reviewed

I like to take the summer off from doing book reviews so I can read whatever I want. Granted, many of the books I review are books I want to read anyway, but it’s nice to be able to read without a deadline looming over me or the constant questions in the back of my mind as I read (What do I like (or not) about this book? Why?) That said, I can’t resist posting about what I did read (I did a bunch of mini-reviews last summer, too).

This summer I read quite a few books, though not as many as I would’ve liked. I did stay on track to read 24 books in 2013. I got sidetracked by crocheting. Usually that’s a cool-weather hobby, but it carried over into summer this year. Instead of reading my Kindle the other night, I made a cover for it.

Kindle-Cover-1

 That’s only one example. I’ve just had an insatiable need to create pretty things.

Anyway, here’s what I read (mostly in the order I read them in):

Stretch Marks

Stretch Marks: A Novel by Kimberly Stuart
This one wasn’t exactly a summer read—I read it in May when we were on our way home from Ohio. It was a quick, enjoyable read about a twenty-something girl who finds herself navigating a rocky relationship with her mother in the midst of an unplanned pregnancy. Of course there was some romance thrown in—with someone other than her live-in boyfriend who doesn’t “believe in marriage.”

redeeming love

Redeeming Love by Francine Rivers
This book ruined all other Christian fiction for me. Seriously—if this book supposedly changed the direction of Christian publishing, why on earth is there so much crap out there? No offense to Christian fiction authors (especially the good ones), but why aren’t more Christian books this good? Even after I finished it, this gold-rush era retelling of Gomer and Hosea haunted me for a good part of the summer. It wasn’t just a good story—it showed me the depth of love and forgiveness God has for us despite our near-constant rebellion. This is a must read. Seriously—stop reading my blog and go read it. Now.

Stopping Words that Hurt

Stopping Words that Hurt by Dr. Michael Sedler
I broke my no-book-reviews-in-the-summer rule for this one. Not because of the writing (it’s not awful, but not fantastic, either), but because of the subject—how to stop what Sedler calls “evil reports” (what you’d probably call gossip). It was a problem I was struggling with, and I wanted to know what to do. This was a great resource. You can read the whole review here.

A Heart DeceivedA Heart Deceived by Michelle Griep
Miri Brayden, who depends on her brother for support while also hiding the fact that he’s losing his mind, takes in Ethan Goodwin, a man she doesn’t know is running from the law, and life takes some unexpected turns. This was one of the best books I’ve read in a few years.

The Subversive Copyeditor

The Subversive Copyeditor by Carol Fisher Saller
Rather than focus on only the nuts and bolts of copyediting, Saller, who edits the monthly Q & A  for Chicago University Press, focuses on the relationships by addressing the most common conflicts copyeditors encounter while editing. She also offers some great practical “best practices” when it comes to managing email, tracking projects, and making changes to a draft. That said, I was reading the Kindle edition of the book and was surprised by the mistakes and bad formatting—extra spaces, words run together, misplaced side bars, and typos. A little disappointing for a book about editing . . .

No Safe Harbor

No Safe Harbor by Elizabeth Ludwig
I read this book thinking it would would be a great cure for my “book hangover” when I finished reading A Heart Deceived. The main character, Cara Hamilton, an Irish girl with no other family keeping her in Ireland, moves to New York in an effort to find her brother, whom she believed dead until he sent her a letter. But when she arrives, he’s nowhere to be found and she has to find a job and a place to live. Unbeknownst to her, she’s not the only one looking for her brother and the others searching for him plan to use her and do whatever it takes to find him. It was a good story, but I felt like there was something not quite right about the story. I still haven’t been able to put my finger on it.

The Total Money Makeover

The Total Money Makeover by Dave Ramsey
This book got me excited about attacking our student loans and car payment with “gazelle intensity,” as Dave Ramsey calls it. The Total Money Makeover is Dave Ramsey’s step-by-step plan for getting rid of debt and building wealth. My favorite part was the numerous testimonies from people who have followed his plan and experienced real life change—what an inspiration to follow through! I’m sure I’ll post more about the process as we continue to pay down our loans and plan for the future.

There were a few books on my list that I didn’t get to—The Book Thief by Markus Zusak and Developmental Editing by Scott Norton, but I’ll get there eventually.

A Noble Groom by Jody Hedlund

Annalisa Werner needs a new husband if she’s going to save her farm and provide for her daughter, but the situation seems hopeless when the groom her father sent for doesn’t arrive when expected. Then Carl Richards, the man who’s been given food and shelter in exchange for helping Annalisa do the farm work, falls for her and things get tricky. Not only is Carl the son of the German nobleman her family has sworn to hate, he’s hiding from the law—and Annalisa and her family have no idea.

I’ve always enjoyed Jody Hedlund’s stories.  The Doctor’s Lady  was a good read, and  Unending Devotion  was even better. But this one might be my favorite of Hedlund’s books so far (I haven’t read  The Preacher’s Bride  yet, but it is on my Kindle). I know I’m just repeating what I said when I reviewed  Unending Devotion, but Hedlund creates characters with complex histories, goals, and personalities. That almost always makes for a good story.

I loved the setting of the story (near Lake Huron in Michigan’s thumb), the tension created by the potential loss of the farm, and the realistic look at Annalisa’s family obligations and unhappy marriage with her late husband.

That said, A Noble Groom  might be the most risqué historical Christian novel I’ve read. There was certainly nothing inappropriate, but there were a few passages that shocked me with their descriptions of internal struggles—like when Carl was watching Annalisa stand in the rain with her dress soaked through. It took me by surprise because so many books in the Christian market completely ignore the fact that their characters even have physical bodies. It was a nice change from those books, which I find unrealistic, but with the detail it includes, it’s the first historical Christian fiction I would not recommend for younger teenagers.

*I received a copy of this book from Bethany House Publishers in exchange for my review. My opinion of this book is my own and was not influenced by the publisher or the author.

Unrivaled by Siri Mitchell

To be honest, I was pretty disappointed with Unrivaled. It was a decent story, but I’ve really enjoyed several other Siri Mitchell books, and this one was a bit of a let down. The premise was promising—a young woman returns from Europe, bound and determined to save her father’s declining candy company from the competition’s underhanded business practices, and a young man just in from Chicago starts life over by working with his long-absent father to stomp out their candy-making competition.

But the story just didn’t deliver. It wasn’t a page-turner. The plot was predictable—not only the romantic storyline, but also the fate of the two candy companies. And the characters felt inconsistent. For example, Charlie is really hard on his father for walking out on their family, leaving Charlie to take care of his mother and sisters. But after Charlie leaves for St. Louis, their well-being is only mentioned once­­—he sends part of his paychecks to them, but he doesn’t seem concerned. This and other inconsistencies make it hard to like the characters.

Also, several story threads were left untied. It bothered me how easily Charlie got off after being arrested for a murder he didn’t commit. Everyone seemed convinced he did it—it was even printed in the papers—but “Honest Andy” was able to bail him out of jail and send him off with no difficulty. It felt like it should’ve been a little more complicated than that, especially if people in St. Louis (where he was headed) were reading about him in the newspaper.

I finished the last chapter of Unrivaled feeling like I’d just finished reading a decent second draft—like a little more polishing and one more draft would make the story really shine. If you’re looking for great historical fiction, try one of Siri Mitchell’s other books.

*I received a copy of this book from Bethany House Publishers in exchange for my review. My opinion of this book is my own and was not influenced by the publisher or the author.

The Tutor’s Daughter by Julie Klassen

Tutor's-DaughterAfter Emma Smallwood and her father send off their school’s last student, Emma secures her father a position tutoring two of the Weston brothers in their own home on a seaside cliff in Cornwall. Though she knows it’s necessary, Emma is less than excited to tag along. She remembers the older Weston boys, who attended her father’s school years before—Phillip, who had been a close friend, and Henry, who had been especially fond of playing tricks on her.

When the Smallwoods arrive, the Weston family seems to be hiding something. And Henry and Phillip aren’t the same boys Emma knew growing up. When strange things start happening, Emma doesn’t know who to trust.

The relational tension and Weston family secrets drew me in to the story. Not knowing who to trust kept me turning the pages. And Klassen provided just enough details to keep me guessing.

Whenever a woman asks me for a book recommendation, I always suggest Julie Klassen. No, she’s not a book (my husband and his family take everything literally, so I’ve been conditioned to deflect it before they can say anything), but she is a fantastic author, and I’ve loved every one of her six books.

My favorite thing about Julie’s writing is that she weaves suspense in with the romance. Let’s be honest—a lot of historical Christian romances are nothing but fluff and unrealistic mush. But Julie’s stories always have an element of mystery that goes beyond the romantic entanglements and makes them hard to put down.

*I received a copy of this book from Bethany House Publishers in exchange for my review. My opinion of this book is my own and was not influenced by the publisher or the author.

Free eBook

 DSCN8511

We’re visiting my family in Michigan, so I haven’t been posting much, but I saw that Unending Devotion is free right now for Kindle, so I thought I’d share. In case you missed it, I just reviewed it awhile ago, and it’s a great book.

Against the Tide by Elizabeth Camden

When Lydia Pallas, a translator for the US Navy, meets Alexander Banebridge, her neat, orderly life gets disrupted in ways she never expected. Before meeting “Bane,” Lydia is wrapped up in making money so she can purchase and stay in her home. After meeting him, she gets caught up in fighting for a cause and consequently, for her life.

When I started Against the Tide by Elizabeth Camden, I wasn’t sure I was going to like it, but before I knew it, I got sucked into the story. The characters are realistic, full of the little quirks that make you love them. Camden does a great job of revealing their personalities and helping you understand the whys behind their words and actions.

The plot of Against the Tide was surprisingly similar to Unending Devotion, the Jody Hedlund book I reviewed last week. Though I enjoyed them both, I felt this one had a more satisfying ending, perhaps because there was more at stake for Lydia and Bane. That said, I’d recommend either book if you’re looking for a page-turner.

*I received a copy of this book from Bethany House Publishers in exchange for my review. My opinion of this book is my own and was not influenced by the publisher or the author.

Unending Devotion by Jody Hedlund

http://assets.bakerpublishinggroup.com/processed/books/covers/listing/9780764208348.jpg?1354039505Lily Young arrives in Harrison, Michigan, in 1883, determined to find her sister no matter the cost. But on her first night in town, she bumps into Connell McCormick, the son of a local lumber baron, and her life takes a turn she never expected.

Unending Devotion was my second Jody Hedlund book, and it was even better than the first. (You can read my review of The Doctor’s Lady here.) Now that I’ve read two of her books, I can easily say that the greatest part of her stories are the characters. They’re so complex. So relatable. So human. So often, Christian fiction is full of characters that don’t seem quite right. They’re not realistic and you can’t quite figure out what makes them tick. But Hedlund creates believable characters. She’s honest about their flaws. And they become better versions of themselves by the end of her stories.

That said, you’ll fall in love with Lily, Connell, and the other characters in Unending Devotion. As a Michigander (at heart, if not by location), it made me sad to read about the history of my state as it relates to the lumber industry, but it made a great backdrop for Lily’s story and stubborn perseverance and passion to do what’s right.

I highly recommend this book. It’s one of the best historical Christian novels I’ve read this year. Hedlund is now right up there next to Julie Klassen on my list of must-read authors. (It doesn’t hurt her case that she’s a fellow Michigander who graduated from my alma mater . . . kinda.)

If you’re into writing fiction, she has a great blog full of tips and ideas.

*I received a copy of this book from Bethany House Publishers in exchange for my review. My opinion of this book is my own and was not influenced by the publisher or the author.

Short-Straw Bride by Karen Witemeyer

When Meredith Hayes overhears her suitor’s plot to burn down the Archer ranch, she knows she has to warn them. But when her attempt to help gets injured and ruins her reputation, Travis Archer accepts responsibility and makes her his bride. Will they ever have more than a marriage of convenience?

I really enjoyed Short-Straw Bride. Karen Witemeyer creates realistic, likable main characters and despicable villains. And the relational tension she creates is what kept me turning the page. It’s a sweet romance with a somewhat deeper plot that fills out the story and makes the characters even more endearing (or awful, depending on which character you’re referring to). It’s a great read for anyone who enjoys historical romances.

*I received a copy of this book from Bethany House Publishers in exchange for my review. My opinion of this book is my own and was not influenced by the publisher or the author.