The Pelican Bride by Beth White (Gulf Coast Chronicles #1)

pelican brideIt is an age of exploration where men, out of greed or naked courage, fought for their own destinies and their women helped shape  a civilized community out of the marshes. Southern native Beth White is no stranger to the historical genre but she enters new territory with The Pelican Bride, the first in a series of romantic adventure novels set in eighteenth century French Louisiana.

Huguenots in flight, Geneviève Gaillain and her sister Aimée, escape France and journey to the New World where they’ve each agreed to marry a settler. As both girls wade through the murky waters of finding a good spouse and surviving the difficulties of Colonial life, the secrets they brought with them may drown the community.

Following the fates of the “Pelican Brides” of 1704, we discover with them the joys and disappointments of matrimony, and the faith and courage that is a lifeline in the midst of brutality and tragedy. In other words, this is not your typical mail order bride story. With a fast-paced plot full of dynamic characters inspired by the real settlers of the Gulf Coast (and a liberal dose of artistic license), White has fashioned a richly layered and engrossing tale.


This review first appeared in the August 2014 issue of Historical Novel Review. I received a copy of the book for the purposes of a fair review.

 

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A Match of Wits by Jen Turano (Ladies of Distinction #4)

The Specs:

A MATCH OF WITS (Ladies of Distinction, Bk 4) by Jen Turano, Bethany House, 2014, $14.99, pb, 348pp, 9780764211270

match of witsThe Wild West had better watch out when Agatha Watson comes to town! Cooling her heels after a hot story earned her more than a few enemies, the last thing Agatha expected to uncover in the Colorado territory was Zayne Beckett, the man who broke her heart two years ago. Zayne is in no condition to be left on his own and since Agatha always knows best, she’s determined to bring Zayne with her back to New York, whether he likes it or not. But her time away hasn’t made her any less of a target and Zayne thinks he’s man enough to keep Agatha out of danger, but he didn’t count on risking his heart in the process.

Turano’s knack for comic timing shines in her latest book and many of the borderline absurd situations Agatha finds herself in are laugh-out-loud funny, especially if they involve a certain P-I-G named Matilda. In many ways, this feels like a series finale because we finally see how Agatha Watson and Zayne Beckett get together, but Turano keeps her options open with a new generation of irrepressible heroines waiting in the wings, who will be, perhaps, future leaders in the Progressive Era.


This review first appeared in the November 2014 issue of Historical Novel Review. I received a copy of the book for the purposes of a fair review.

Truth Be Told by Carol Cox

The Specs:

TRUTH BE TOLD
Carol Cox, Bethany House, 2014, $14.99, pb, 350pp, 9780764209574


truth be toldArizona Territory, 1893. Amelia Wagner loved the summers spent alongside her father, working at his newspaper business in Granite Springs, dedicated to bringing truth to light as the masthead states. So when it’s Amelia’s turn to take over the business, it comes natural to her to pick up her father’s investigation into the Great Western Investment Company. Befriended by Benjamin Stone, one of Great Western’s newest employees, has Amelia found an advantageously placed ally or are Benjamin’s attentions just a distraction? Because something is going on in Granite Springs and someone doesn’t want Amelia to learn the whole story.

Cox returns to her beloved Old West with another inspirational romance. Like her other novels, this one packs a lot of warmth, a dose of adventure, and humor, but the crisis is a bit too pitch perfect (real phrase?) for the genre – once you’re there, you know how it all plays out. With the investigative element in the plot, fans of Trouble in Store and Love in Disguise may also enjoy this latest offering by Carol Cox.

This review first appeared in the November 2014 issue of Historical Novel Review. I received a copy of the book for the purposes of a fair review.

Blackmoore by Julianne Donaldson (A Proper Romance #2)

blackmooreKate Worthington is a beautiful, intelligent young woman with a natural empathy for birds, understanding the frustration of their cages and the longing and heartache of their song. She has become an amateur ornithologist with the help of her childhood friend Sylvia Delafield, and Sylvia’s brother, Henry. Each summer, the Delafields travel to their country manor, Blackmoore, and return with such stories as to inspire an unflagging fascination in Kate to see the world. Kate is willing to make a devil’s bargain to travel but discovers that her friendship with the Delafields may soon change forever. If Kate is to find her own freedom, she must learn to follow her heart and accept that some secrets are meant to be told.

Bestselling author Julianne Donaldson delivers another passionate Regency-era romance, full of sizzling tension and unconsummated love (earning it the term of a “proper” romance). Blackmoore is similar to her previous work (Edenbrooke) in that both feature strong heroines who travel to country estates and find love. Blackmoore stands out for its Brontë-like atmosphere and haunting landscapes. The windswept moors, ocean-battered cliffs, and dark and mysterious passages of Blackmoore are a perfect backdrop for a Gothic-inspired romance. Fans of Little Women and Northanger Abbey will enjoy the focus on the changing nature of friendship and importance of family connections.


This review first appeared in the February 2014 issue of the Historical Novel Review. I was provided with a copy of the book for the purpose of a review.

 

Attempting Elizabeth by Jessica Grey

grey_attempting-elizabeth

Kelsey Edmundson has had her own encounter with a Mr. Wickham in her love life, so she rejects the idea of a quickie rebound, especially if it’s Ricky, her best friend’s boyfriend’s friend, or that hottie Aussie bartender at the club, Mark Barnes. Turning to her favorite Austen novel, Pride and Prejudice, to drown her sorrows, Kelsey gets sucked into the fictional world of Pride and Prejudice, just not as Lizzy. Will dallying inside one of the world’s greatest love stories help her rewrite her own? Continue reading

In The Shadow of Jezebel by Mesu Andrews (Treasures of His Love #4)

jezebelPrincess Jehosheba was reared to be a Queen of Destiny, following in the footsteps of her domineering mother, Athaliah, Queen of Judah, and tyrannical grandmother, Jizebaal, mother of the King of Israel. Living in the shadow of these powerful women, Jehosheba fears their manipulative ploys to establish a stronger king on the throne and their iron-fisted control over her future destiny. In a ploy to increase the worship and dominance of Baal Melkart, Jehosheba, a priestess of Baal, is ordered to marry and seduce the high priest of Yahweh. Continue reading

With Autumn’s Return by Amanda Cabot (Westward Winds #3)

autumn's return_cabotElizabeth Harding is newly arrived to Cheyenne and the town’s first lady doctor. Although attracted to the handsome attorney who shares her office building, Elizabeth is solely focused on establishing her medical practice. An unfriendly welcome from some of Cheyenne’s residents reveals that the frontier town is not as forward-thinking as she’d hoped. Elizabeth will have to take unconventional measures to change people’s minds about women and medicine, if she can do so without destroying her reputation in the process. Continue reading

Murder at the Breakers by Alyssa Maxwell (Gilded Newport Mysteries #1)

murder_at_the_breakersEmma Cross, a society reporter and poorer Vanderbilt relation, borders on respectability with her re-styled gowns and a summer cottage inherited from a forward-thinking aunt. It is 1895 and Alice and Cornelius Vanderbilt II are re-opening their summer cottage, The Breakers.

When one of Cornelius’ business associates is murdered and Emma’s brother is arrested, everyone but Emma ignores the possibility of another suspect within the hundreds of guests. Emma winnows down the choices in this rousing who-dunnit, the first of a new series by debut author, Alyssa Maxwell.

Maxwell, a history lover who married into an old Newport family, recreates the dynamic relationships within the Vanderbilt household. The cobblestone streets and beach mansions of Newport become the setting for family intrigues and murder. A subplot introduces Emma’s potential romantic partners if they can match her independence and sense of adventure which frequently get her intro trouble.

Emma must grow into getting out of scrapes on her own if the series reader is to believe in her plausibility as an independent detective. Emma’s investigation will keep you guessing who is responsible for the Murder on the Breakers, all the way to its clever, semi-comical ending.


This review first appeared in the May 2014 issue of The Historical Novel Society. A copy of the book was provided for the purpose of a review.

 

The Thinking Woman’s Guide to Real Magic by Emily Croy Barker

thinking-womans-guide

Nora Fischer’s dissertation is stalled and her boyfriend is about to marry another woman. During a miserable weekend at a friend’s wedding, Nora wanders off and walks through a portal into a different world where she’s transformed from a drab grad student into a stunning beauty. Before long, she has a set of glamorous new friends and her romance with gorgeous, masterful Raclin is heating up. It’s almost too good to be true.

Then the elegant veneer shatters. Nora’s new fantasy world turns darker, a fairy tale gone incredibly wrong. Making it here will take skills Nora never learned in graduate school. Her only real ally—and a reluctant one at that—is the magician Aruendiel, a grim, reclusive figure with a biting tongue and a shrouded past. And it will take her becoming Aruendiel’s student—and learning magic herself—to survive. When a passage home finally opens, Nora must weigh her “real life” against the dangerous power of love and magic.

Book 27 of this year’s Goodreads challenge led me to the world of Orsland, a world created (discovered?) by Emily Croy Barker, Harvard graduate and executive editor of The American Lawyer.  Maybe I’m just old-fashioned but I would not have expected a lush, epic fantasy from a Harvard grad.  I’m delighted to be proven wrong.

This book is divided into four parts. Part 1 is of course our introduction to Nora as she stumbles from her ordinary world (a wedding in the mountains) to the special world (Orsland) where she keeps company with beautiful people who are more than they seem. Part 2, Nora has met the magician Aruendiel and is now trying to learn “skills to survive” as the synopsis suggests. Cooking, cleaning, helping the housekeeper. Part 2 drags on forever.

Part 3 is where Nora finally starts to get to learn how to magic (yay!) and we learn the rules of magic in this world.  There is a big turning point between Parts 3 and 4 which I guess I would call the 75% marker.  Nora’s goals shift and things get much more complicated, leading up to the climax.

Barker has stated that she’s working on a sequel so things don’t exactly get resolved and there’s new characters and problems that are introduced way too late in the first book to expect it all to be wrapped up in a pretty bow.

For its overall length, I was a bit thrown about where the plot points would be found.  I understand (and agree) with some criticisms on Goodreads that the book is too long.  It’s not that there’s too many ideas crammed into one place per se.  Rather, there’s a lot of filler with all that cooking/cleaning that I wish could have been condensed.

It’s almost as if the passage of time is happening in real-time.  There are some moments that feel like months are passing — a barren vastness — and others that I wish Barker had prolonged.

One thing that I especially enjoyed about Nora was her understanding (and use) of poetry.  There are a few lines from the book on the author’s website — with citations — but I wish I’d had the foresight to underline/highlight each verse throughout the book to look it up later.  There are so many wonderful bits and pieces in there!

There’s also this interesting geography I want to know more about which the author references on her website with maps. Link: Maps

I really hope that in the sequel that we get more of a feel for the landscape.

If you read between the lines, it’s pretty clear what is going to happen in the next book but I won’t give away spoilers!!  I hope that the seeds Barker has planted will grow into a sequel, but perhaps not one quite so long.


April 2014 Status

Total Abandoned Titles:

(1) A Talent For Trouble by Jen Turano (226pp read)

Total Books Finished: 10

Total Page Count: 2,311 (and growing!)

The Edge of the Earth by Christina Schwarz

schwarz_edgeJourney to the wilds of California’s Big Sur region, where secrets are hidden in the dense fog at The Edge of the Earth, the newest book by New York Times bestselling author Schwarz. The stars of this book are the setting and its inhabitants: the isolated Point Lucia Lighthouse, where young, naive socialite Gertrude “Trudy” Swann and her new husband Oskar run away to work and study in 1898. The Crawley family, austere Henry and formidable Mrs. Crawley, and her brother, Archie Johnston, jointly keep up the lighthouse. The Crawley children, Mary, Edward, Nicholas and Jane (who opens and closes the story), are constantly underfoot, and their tales of a “mermaid” quickly reinforce the need for Trudy to take up the role as the lighthouse’s sole teacher. Trudy’s life changes irrevocably when she discovers the secrets of the light station in the caverns below.

The atmospheric Big Sur is a departure from the Midwestern locales of Drowning Ruth andSo Long at the Fair and far more isolated than Los Angeles is in All is Vanity. The oppressive fog that envelops the lighthouse’s rocky outcropping obscures the wilderness beyond, creating an atmosphere that feels as cold, isolating and as removed from civilization as young Trudy comes to experience firsthand. Schwarz harnesses this setting, hides a few family secrets, and slowly unveils them with a steady amount of suspense, but the pacing could be quicker. The juxtaposition of innocence and corruption is telling and may be off-putting to readers who prefer lighter fare. Fans of Schwarz’s previous novels will quickly recognize her signature approach of delving into the human spirit as Trudy and Oskar take divergent paths to achieving the desires of their hearts.

This review first appeared in the August 2013 issue of Historical Novel Review. I was provided with a copy of this book for the purposes of a review.