Friday, December 18, 2015

My Review: Until the Dawn

I'm going to be honest and admit that I really don't care for this cover.  The colors, her dress, the drive the estate on the lower half - none of them are my particular cup of tea.  It's not one I would pick randomly off the shelf, had I not known the author.  That being said, the back cover is gorgeous!  Which, unfortunately, I can't show you.  But just know that it is.

A volunteer for the newly established Weather Bureau, Sophie van Riijn needs access to the highest spot in her village to report the most accurate readings. Fascinated by Dierenpark, an abandoned mansion high atop a windswept cliff in the Hudson River Valley, Sophie knows no better option despite a lack of permission from the absent owners.

The first Vandermark to return to the area in sixty years, Quentin intends to put an end to the shadowy rumors about the property that has brought nothing but trouble upon his family. Ready to tear down the mansion, he is furious to discover a local woman has been trespassing on his land.

Instantly at odds, Quentin and Sophie find common ground when she is the only one who can reach his troubled son. There’s a light within Sophie that Quentin has never known, and a small spark of the hope that left him years ago begins to grow. But when the secrets of Dierenpark and the Vandermark family history are no longer content to stay in the past, will tragedy triumph or can their tenuous hope prevail?

About the Author:
Elizabeth Camden is a research librarian at a small college in central Florida. Her novels have won the coveted RITA and Christy Awards. She has published several articles for academic publications and is the author of four nonfiction history books. Her ongoing fascination with history and love of literature have led her to write inspirational fiction. Elizabeth lives with her husband near Orlando, Florida.

My Review:  3.5 stars
I really wish websites offered half-star ratings. Because 3 stars doesn’t do it justice, but I feel 4 is stretching my enjoyment a bit. So 3.5 would be my rating of choice. That being said, I did enjoy this book and found it quite engrossing, but there were a couple things that bothered me about it, as well, hence the indecision.

I personally adore historical fiction and Elizabeth Camden is by far one of my favorite authors in the genre. She’s known for unique characters and stories set in unusual places. Her books are always rich in historical detail and I find them entirely engrossing. I love her writing style and how she brings the characters to life within the pages of her stories. Who else could make me so thoroughly love an embittered man determined to destroy his ancestor’s home? I was pulled into the story from the first page and didn’t want to put it down, but then, something changed about half way through. I’m not sure I can even pinpoint the difference, but the story seemed to change drastically and while I still wanted to find out the ending, I found myself losing interest in the characters. Sections of the story felt contrived, as though maybe the author didn’t know where to go next and simply added an odd twist. The ending was also rather abrupt, though I’ve noticed that trend in a couple of her previous books, so I really can’t fuss too much.

I really loved Sophie, with her happiness and sunshine. She was determined to be kind and gracious, even when someone (Quentin in particular) was incredibly rude. Her joy and grace worked to balance Quentin’s bad temper and surly attitude, and seeing him through her eyes allowed me to like this otherwise unlikable man. He also worked to balance Sophie’s “Sally sunshine” demeanor so that the book wasn’t too sugary sweet. Though some may not like Quentin’s character, I found him interesting. He’s had many trials to overcome and rather than turning to faith, he’s turned to science to explain away everything or even to heal him. He battles almost constant pain and depression as a result of it. While he’s not the most lovable person to begin with, knowing his perspective helped me to understand why he was acting and reacting with such a force of temper. I enjoyed seeing his transformation as he learned to let go of his bitterness and embrace happiness again.

I’m going to be honest, the main issue I had with this story was the spiritual concepts displayed. Though some have called it “preachy,” I’m actually going to say the opposite. There is much talk of curses, magic, and Quentin’s grandfather searching for “transcendence.” Quentin himself scoffs at the idea of any god for much of the story. He firmly believes everything can be explained by science. We have several differing views, obviously, but though Sophie is the Christian in the midst of this, she really doesn’t share her perspective very often. It really bothered me that they compared Dierenpark to the Garden of Eden, but even that wasn’t my main problem. When something couldn’t be explained by science, it was almost always brushed off as magic or as simply beyond our understanding. It didn’t point to God. And there are several times when Quentin is considering God and feels as though there is a presence of “something - or someone” written exactly like that every time. I understood that he was still considering the idea of a Creator God, but the author never flat out says that it’s God and it drove me crazy! I didn’t appreciate her alluding to Him, without ever being straightforward about it. I believe doing that left the book with a murky sense of spirituality.

Overall opinion: This book is well written with excellent characters and great historical depth. If you ignore the somewhat murky spirituality and the abrupt shift in the middle of the book, it’s really a very interesting story.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher for my honest review, which I have given. I was not required to write a positive review and all opinions expressed are my own.

You know, I really wanted to love this book . . . I started into it so incredibly excited.  One of my favorite authors has a new book releasing?  "Yes!!"  I fell in love with her writing when I first discovered The Lady of Bolton Hill and have been an avid fan ever since.  I don't know if perhaps her writing is changing, or if my perspective and what I desire in a book has shifted.  Either way, I'm still hoping to read her next book, which releases in June, I think.  I hope you enjoyed my review and will consider stopping by again!
As always, if you'd like to look into the book further, perhaps read some other opinions, links are below.  Enjoy your day!


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Monday, December 7, 2015

My Review: One Enchanted Christmas

How gorgeous is this cover?!  Now, I may be just a teeny-tiny bit biased, because yes, I love the color blue, and lights.  Lights look great and it's just so pretty!  I love it!  I want to visit and sit on the bench (which plays a pretty big part in the story) and just enjoy the peace.  The setting looks peaceful, to me. 

Last December, mystery author Maren Grant had the most perfect night of her life. On a glimmering winter evening, she got to watch the photo shoot for her very first book and ended up on a magical date with the cover model himself—Colin Renwycke.

Fast forward one year. This December, with a looming deadline, restless spirit and her creative spark long since gone, Maren is desperate to get unstuck. And she can’t get Colin out of her head…or his year-old open invitation to spend a couple weeks writing at his family’s farm.

Drew Renwycke never planned to come home and take over the Renwycke family farm. But he’s spent too many years watching his siblings unravel, including his brother, Colin, after one terrible family mistake. If moving to Maple Valley, Iowa, renovating an old farmhouse and switching careers is what it takes to put the Renwycke family back together, he’ll do it.

But his simple plan upends when a scrappy author lands on his doorstep. And she just might be the key to coaxing his brother home. But what if he wants her all to himself? Drew will have to choose between his Christmas wish and the enchantment of a holiday romance that just might be the happy ending they all long for.


About the Author:
Melissa Tagg is a former reporter, current nonprofit grant writer and total Iowa girl. She writes romantic comedies in the banter-filled style of her favorite 1930s and 40s classic films. When she's not writing she can be found hanging out with the coolest family ever, watching old movies, and daydreaming about her next book. Melissa loves connecting with readers at and on Facebook and Instagram.

My Review: 5 stars
I have two confessions: I’m not a novella person. Or a Christmas person, actually. But, I absolutely adore Ms. Tagg’s writing, so I was super excited to read this book! I was also SO ready to revisit Maple Valley! I fell in love with the town in her first novella, Three Little Words, that gave me the first glimpse of this completely charming little town. Then From the Start completely sold me on it. So a chance to revisit such a delightful place while also getting to read more of Melissa’s stories? Sign me up!

What to say about this lovely story? Well, first off, I love the her writing style! The descriptions are so unique, but so completely appropriate and give life to words on a page. And the details she continues to include just add even more depth to the town and the characters therein. I also really liked the narrative style to the story. It was quirky and funny, but so completely Melissa. It allowed the book to span a decent amount of time without the story feeling rushed or forced. It also allowed her to fill in gaps quickly, keeping it at novella length.

Maren and Drew are such compelling characters and I really enjoyed their story. Both of them are trying to figure where they belong, while fighting insecurities and questions about if the path they’ve chosen is the right one. I can definitely relate to them and I had to love how audacious Maren was in finally stepping out and chasing the question of “what if?” She made me want to follow in her footsteps, especially if they led me to Maple Valley, too.

Drew is the serious one, who feels as though the whole world rests on his shoulders, or at least the responsibility of his family. I think he wants to fix everything that’s wrong and maybe the past, while he’s at it. But everything he’s trying just keeps coming back at him. He wants to help, but doesn’t know what to do next. I could also very much relate to this and I’m sure many others probably can, as well. I enjoyed watching Maren pull him out of his shell and really get to know him. He needed someone to help shoulder his burdens and she was the perfect person to do that.

Honestly, I can’t think of a single thing I didn’t like about the story. Which, if you typically read my reviews, you’ll know that’s rather uncommon. I’m a nitpicker, but not this time. Melissa has done an excellent job with this book and I can’t wait for her next one! Though the word “novella” generally leads me to think a light story without much depth, Melissa delivers so much beyond that expectation. This story has depth, a seriousness behind the light moments that made me stop and think more than once. And despite my being a bit of a Scrooge, I adored this Christmas story!

I received an advanced copy of this book from the author for my honest review, which I have given. I was not required to write a positive review and have not been compensated for it in any way. All opinions expressed are my own.

*I'm going to tack on to the end here that I loved the sweetly old fashioned feel of the story.  I don't know if that's what Melissa was aiming for, but I loved it nonetheless.

And that's it!  Thank you so much for stopping by!  I hope you enjoyed my review and will come again soon!  This is definitely a Christmas novella that I recommend and right now, it's only $0.99* so if you need a treat and a break from all of the hustle and bustle of Christmas, this is a great way to spend a few hours.  As always, if you're interested, purchase links are below.
In case I'm not back on here before then, I hope you have a very blessed and joy-filled Christmas!

*I think the sale ends December 12.  You'll want to double check the price, in case I'm mistaken.


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Thursday, December 3, 2015

My Review: The Wedding Chapel

This is a lovely cover and I found it very intriguing when the author first announced it on her Facebook page. I still find it lovely, though after reading the book, I'm seeing it in a slightly different light. 

A lonely wedding chapel built as a tribute to lost love just might hold the long-awaited secret to hope and reconciliation.
For sixty years, the wedding chapel has stood silent and empty. Retired football hall-of-famer Jimmy "Coach" Westbrook built the chapel by hand, stone by stone, for his beautiful and beloved Collette Greer, whom he lost so many years ago. The chapel is a sanctuary for his memories, a monument to true love, and a testament to his survival of the deepest pain and loss.

Photographer Taylor Branson left her hometown of Heart’s Bend, Tennessee to make a new life for herself in New York. Taylor had lots to run away from, not least of all a family history of broken promises and broken dreams. Love catches Taylor off guard when she falls for Jack Forester, a successful advertising executive, and their whirlwind romance leads to an elopement – and then to second guesses. Jack, in spite of his very real love for Taylor, is battling his own demons and struggles to show her his true self and the depths of his love for her.

When Taylor takes a photography assignment in Heart’s Bend, she is thrown back into her own past and encounters family secrets buried deep beneath the sands of time. And when Taylor and Coach’s journeys collide, they each rediscover the heartbeat of their own dreams as they learn that the love they long to hold is well worth waiting for.\

About the Author:
Rachel Hauck is a USA Today bestselling author. Her book, The Wedding Dress, was named Inspirational Novel of the Year by Romantic Times and a RITA finalist. Her book Once Upon A Prince was a Christy Award finalist. Rachel lives in central Florida with her husband and two pets and writes from her ivory tower. Visit her online at, Facebook: rachelhauck, Twitter: @RachelHauck.

My Review: 4 stars
I’m so torn, writing this review! And there’s so much to say about this story! I’m a pretty big fan of Rachel’s books, especially since I loved her Royal Wedding series and I’m going to be honest - I loved this book! I really did! It pulled me in immediately and I read it in less than a day, staying up too late and stopping only occasionally to rejoin the “real world” for a short amount of time. I adored the characters and definitely enjoyed the dual romance, from 60 years past to present day. On the other side, which is leaving me torn, I found it a little . . . “odd,” I suppose is the word I’m looking for. I’ve only read her Royal Wedding series and this book so far and I’m definitely not making a blanket statement, but I’ve noticed a trend in her books that I’m not entirely comfortable with. Thus, the indecision!

As always, Rachel has done an excellent job with the details and may I just say that I adore how she describes things?! She draws me into the setting, until I can almost feel the sunshine, or see the view from Colette’s penthouse, or see the snow drifting down. It’s fantastic and a talent I would personally love to have. She brings the story to life in so many ways and I just love it! I also enjoy how she uses several different perspectives to tell the story, giving different opinions and views of the events. This is something I appreciate as a writer, because it gives the tale depth and allows me to make connections as I follow along and become drawn into the narrative. I really wish I could better describe it, because it’s one of the things I adore about her books. The characters just come to life on the page as she weaves their respective stories into a collective one.

I usually chat a bit about each character, but since there’s a dual relationship going on, and that would make this review super long (okay, longer than usual), I’m just going to say that I loved each character! Taylor and Jack have a lot to work out and they struggle with communication and letting go of past hurts. They both also have issues trusting the other person. They’re disillusioned by life in general and aren’t sure how to fix what’s wrong in their marriage and themselves. So a lot of their story focuses on communication and both learning to be vulnerable. I loved the realness (is that a word?) in their story. It’s not easy. Not “happily ever after.” It’s hard work. It’s pain, tears, anger, hurt, and all of those messy emotions that we sometimes gloss over. And I loved that! I loved reading a book that reminded me it’s okay to be a mess sometimes and that life doesn’t have to be perfect for you to love those all around you.

The other couple’s story takes place many years prior and it also focuses a bit on communication, but also betrayal and decades worth of heartache. It was undeniably the hardest to read and I can’t imagine Rachel writing it without tears rolling down her cheeks. I’m not one to cry at much of anything, but the painful reality shown in this story tempted me. It’s definitely a story of forgiveness and second chances. Some of which come a bit later in life than expected.

Now for the part I struggled with. I’ve already mentioned that I really appreciated the moral backbone of the story, the themes of forgiveness, second chances, communication, and learning to “love well.” But (and isn’t there almost always one?), I have to admit that the spiritual side of the story gave me pause and made me rather uncomfortable. I found that it didn’t line up with my personal beliefs and convictions and honestly, gave me a bit of pause as to whether I was going to finish the story or not. Obviously, I found myself too invested to put it down, but it does leave me indecisive as to whether I can truly recommend it.  

Overall impression: The Wedding Chapel is a wonderfully written novel that left me with much to think about and I loved being taken on a journey that tugged my heart and reminded me to “love well.”

I received an advanced copy of this book through NetGalley for my honest review, which I have given. I was not required to write a positive review and have not been compensated for it in any way. All opinions expressed are my own.

Thank you so much for taking the time to stop by and read my review!  I hope you enjoyed it!  Of course, this is simply my opinion, so if you'd like to view others, you can always find the book on the links below. 
I actually wrote this review probably around a week ago and I'm still not 100% certain that I could recommend it.  Many sites are now asking "Would you recommend this product to a friend?" and I wasn't sure what to say with this one.  If you've read it, I'd love to hear your thoughts and opinions!  Please share in the comments section!


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