23 June 2016

Review: A Haven on Orchard Lane by Lawana Blackwell

Definitely Lives Up To Expectations

Amazon Description

Much-Loved Lawana Blackwell Delivers Another Charming Victorian-Era Tale

In difficult circumstances, Charlotte Ward, once a famed stage actress, tries to restart her career--only to experience disaster. Against her better judgment, her estranged daughter, Rosalind, comes to her mother's rescue and moves her to a quiet English coastal village.

Charlotte is grateful to get to know Rosalind after years apart. As one who has regrets about her own romantic past, it's a joy for Charlotte to see love blossom for her daughter. For Rosalind, however, it's time away from teaching--and now she must care for the mother who wasn't there for her. And what could be more complicated than romance?

Together, mother and daughter discover that healing is best accomplished when they focus less on themselves and more on the needs of others.

My Review

It’s been years since I read a Lawana Blackwell novel, but I loved her Gresham Chronicles and am thrilled to report that Orchard Lane in Stilwell, Devon, has all the charm of Gresham, and the characters are just as engaging.

Charlotte has been successful professionally, but has not made good choices in terms of relationships. Despite these hardships, she has retained her Christian faith and the desire to reunite with her one child, daughter Rosalind.

Rosalind had a difficult upbringing but has finally found her place as a teacher in a famed school for girls, and doesn’t care for this forced reunion with her estranged mother. But both women come to appreciate the attributes of the other, and to reach out to those around them.

Lawana Blackwell has never written “typical” romances. She always has a combination of older and younger characters (although, as one character takes great pleasure in pointing out, even twenty-seven-year-old daughter Rosalind is rather too old to attract male attention. Blackwell also shows characters who prefer to live out their Christian faith rather than merely talking about it. Her heroines show grace and kindness despite the hardships they’ve overcome, and it’s great to read.

If there is an overall theme to A Haven on Orchard Lane, it’s marry in haste, repent at leisure, as so many of the marriage relationships are sour and controlling, a result of marrying for the wrong reasons. Or perhaps the theme is marry for character and love, not money and title—as seems to be the common factor in the sour relationships.

I hope this is the beginning of a new series—I'd like to read more about the inhabitants of Stilwell. Recommended for historical romance fans.

Thanks to Bethany House and NetGalley for providing an ebook for review.

21 June 2016

Author Interview: Angela Breidenbach

A beautifully spun story about the power of second chances. ~ Amazon Reviewer
I loved The Bitterroot Bride! The part where she compares church 
to riding a trot made me laugh out loud.  ~A. Chatman

About the book:

No one knows the real Emmalee Warren, just what they want from the infamous prostitute. Men are coming out of the woodwork to stake a claim on the miner's widow. They wanted her body before. Now they want her money. Hiring a lawyer, Richard Lewis, to save her from financial ruin might let her start over where no one knows Miss Ellie. Becoming an unknown is the only way to freedom…or is it? Can she leave her past and build a new future?


Chat with Angela:

Ques: We heard there was something special that happened to you while writing your fourth book in the historical romance series, Montana Beginnings. What was special about the Bitterroot Bride heroine for you?
Angela: Writing Miss Emmie learning to read became an amazing experience. Though I’d learned to read at four, I didn’t understand how to connect and read people until well into my adulthood. So while Miss Emmie became proficient in reading, I became proficient in relationships. She’d eat up every book she could get her hands on and studied with intensity. I did the same thing, but about relational topics.

Ques: When did you realize the parallel character arc had so much in common with your real life?

Angela: About halfway through the first draft an epiphany happened. I stopped, took a day or so to really think about my personal experience, then began an intentional focus on writing the emotional parallel.

Ques: What do you hope Bitterroot Bride does for readers?

Angela: I hope this story is both entertaining and encouraging. I’d like readers to absorb the idea that like Miss Emmie and me, if you have the desire to learn something then you can. Age doesn’t matter.

Ques: Can you tell us the titles and a little about the Montana Beginnings series?

Angela: All four titles are set in Helena, MT from 1889 – 1895. It’s right when we became a state, but mining couldn’t support us forever. The Debutante Queen introduces us to Calista who steals an orphan off the street to protect her from a cruel master. Eleven Pipers Piping brings forward the newsies, newspaper boys and orphan train leftovers, into Mirielle’s classroom. Then in Taking the Plunge, Delphina takes us back to the iconic Broadwater Natatorium as a swim instructress. Then Emmalee enters the scene as we find out how Montana chose her state flower. Each of these lovely Victorian ladies finds her true love while carving out a meaningful life in Montana’s frontier. 


About Angela:
Angela Breidenbach is a bestselling author and host of Grace Under Pressure Radio on iTunes. Angela is the Christian Author Network's president. And yes, she's half of the comedy duo, Muse and Writer, on social media.
Connect Here:
Twitter/Instagram/Pinterest: @AngBreidenbach

17 June 2016

Featured Novel: The Babel Conspiracy by Sylvia Bambola

The Babel Conspiracy by Sylvia Bambola, was the first book I've read from this author. It will not be my last… it is very well written and at times, you won't want to put it down. Looking forward to reading more of this talented author! 

~P. McGuire

The Babel Conspiracy 
by Sylvia Bambola

About the Book:

The Babel Conspiracy is a tale of intrigue and love. Two women engineers struggle to develop the world’s first nuclear-powered aircraft amid ever intensifying global terrorism and muddled personal lives. Trisha Callahan has an abiding faith in God, and “those roots of middy blouses and pleated skirts, prayer books and incense-filled churches went deep.” This faith is tested when she finds herself in love with a married man. Audra Shields sees herself as a modern Lady Chatterley, “liberated but not forsaking breeding, intellect, or femininity.” When she becomes involved with a dangerous stranger, she begins to question her lifestyle. 

Both women try sorting out their personal problems while racing the clock to finish a project fraught with sabotage and murder. And who’s behind it all? When the Department of Homeland Security and the Mossad finally figure it out, the answer surprises everyone.


What readers are saying:
“It has been quite a long time since I have read a book such as this one, one so pertinent to today's landscape of life. The author has written an excellent novel that could have been pulled from tomorrow's headlines - from both political and scientific advancement points of view. . . . I highly recommend this book for those who love intrigue, suspense, fiction, and a little bit of romance. The book is well paced, has plenty of action, and good character development.” Rachel Helms

“The Babel Conspiracy by Sylvia Bambola is a very thought provoking novel about the way that things could be in the U.S. in the near future. We need to humble ourselves before the Lord and pray for America in these perilous times. The characters were well developed and the story shows God's love and redemption.” Linda Rainey

About the Sylvia Bambola:

Sylvia Bambola is the award winning author of eight novels, including Rebekah’s Treasure (2015 CSPA Book of the Year/Christian Historical Fiction) and The Salt Covenants (2015 Reader’s Favorite

Bronze Medal Winner/Christian Historical Fiction). A resident of Florida, she teaches women’s Bible studies and has two grown children.

Where to find Sylvia:

16 June 2016

Review: The Ringmaster’s Wife by Kristy Cambron

Solid with Flashes of Brilliance

The Ringmaster’s Wife centres around two couples: the fictional Colin Keary and Lady Rosamund Easling, and the real-life John Ringling (of Ringling Brothers circus, which even I’ve heard of) and his wife, Mable (of which nothing much is known except the odd spelling of her name). John is definitely the minor character of the four, but his circus isn’t—the ever-moving, ever-changing circus.

The four main characters meant I did find The Ringmaster’s Wife a little difficult to get into. It started in 1929, then moved back to 1926, then to when Mable was twelve, then to when she was in her late teens (and had changed her name, so I did have to flick backwards and forwards a bit to confirm Armilda was Mable. Because, you know, that didn’t exactly jump out as being obvious. At least not to me. Overall, it wasn’t so much split timeline (as were Kirsty Cambron’s previous novels) as it was all over the place.

My other problem was with some of the writing. Don’t get me wrong: some of the writing was brilliant, lines like:
But time had wings
“How do you even know I’ll fit in?”
“You could never fit in, Rose. You were made to stand out.”
But some of the writing was lacklusture at best, and goes against every modern writing rule at worst (well, goes against all James Scott Bell and Margie Lawson’s writing rules, with dialogue tags like he noted, he stated, he reasoned, she questioned, she tossed out. I almost tossed the dummy at that one, to break another writing ‘rule’ and use a cliché. I’m not sure whether they would have bothered a reader who wasn’t also a freelance fiction editor, but they certainly bothered me).

The other thing which bothered me was describing Lady Rosamund’s mother as a courtesan aka high-class prostitute. I think the implication was meant to be that she sold herself to the highest bidder in marriage. But that wasn’t how it read to me—and I suspect that’s how other non-American readers or readers of British historical fiction or Regency romance will read it as I did. Words have meaning, and it's important to use the right word.

But that’s not to say I didn’t enjoy The Ringmaster’s Wife. I did. I enjoyed this historical detail, especially in regard to the circus—even though the circus was very un-politically correct from today’s standards in that it had animals and (horror!) dancing bears. But I also saw what a big deal the circus would have been for people in small-town 1920’s America, people who didn’t have television or the movies, people who would otherwise never see an elephant or a bear or a lion (although I don’t really see the attraction of the bearded lady or the tattooed man). And it was good to see that—it was original, and it was well done.

The underlying theme of The Ringmaster’s Wife was going behind the mask in the search for self (or perhaps the search for the person God meant us to be). This was mostly played out by the character of Lady Rosamund aka The English Rose, but it was also important for Mabel and for Colin. It’s a timeless theme, one that resonates as much today as in 1929.

Thanks to Thomas Nelson and NetGalley for providing a free ebook for review. You can find out more about Kristy Cambron at her website, and you can read the introduction to The Ringmaster's Wife below:

14 June 2016

Review: The Daughter of Highland Hall by Carrie Turansky

Christian Fiction that's Actually Christian

Miss Katherine Ramsey is in London for her first Season, and her aunt and sponsor has high hopes that she’ll make a brilliant marriage. But the longer Kate spends moving in the ‘right’ circles, the more she questions the way things are done—particularly the emphasis on marrying for position rather than affection, let alone marrying for love.

I didn’t like Katherine at first—she seemed stupid and immature, but I suspect that was exactly the point. She was young, and she had led a sheltered life, and she had never had cause to question the standards she’d been raised with. And while we can laugh at the shallowness of society in Edwardian London, we only have to watch a few minutes of ‘reality’ television to see those same standards are alive and well in modern America and other countries.

Jonathan Foster is training to be a doctor so he can return to India, where he was raised as the child of missionaries. But his calling doesn’t seem as clear any more—London is also teeming with sick people too poor to afford a doctor. And London has the beautiful Miss Ramsey, who Jon is attracted to despite her lack of faith.

This highlights one of the things I liked best about The Daughter of Highland Hall: the genuine faith of the Foster family and William Ramsey (Kate’s guardian). You’d think Christian fiction would be full of characters (Christian or not) wrestling with aspects of their faith, but that is rarely the case. The Daughter of Highland Hall is a welcome exception, and while the first half of the story was somewhat slow, the second half more than made up for it, as we watched characters grow in their faith and share it with others. I especially liked this speech from Lydia, Kate’s lady’s maid:
“He knows what happened, and it breaks His heart. But all you need to do is confess it to Him and ask forgiveness. That wipes the slate clean.”

She goes on to talk about how our circumstances don’t necessarily change when we become Christians—we still have the same baggage as before, the same results of our sin—but Jesus will carry that for us. It’s a welcome message of redemption and grace, and while I don’t want to go back to a time when every Christian novel had a preachy come-to-Jesus moment, it’s good to see novels where such scenes flow naturally out of the story.

The Daughter of Highland Hall is the sequel to The Governess of Highland Hall, but can easily be read as a standalone novel (it’s so long since I read the first that I can’t remember any of the details). But there were similarities in both stories: both had a bit of an Upstairs Downstairs or Downton Abbey feel, in that while the main plot was about the gentry, several significant characters were middle or working class.

I enjoyed The Governess of Highland Hall, and I had been apprehensive about reading The Daughter of Highland Hall (which is why it’s taken me so long!). But I was pleased to find this was as good as the first in the series. Now to find the third . . .

Thanks to WaterBrook Multnomah for providing a free ebook for review. You can find out more about Carrie Turansky at her website, and you can read the beginning of The Daughter of Highland Hall below: