A Lady Unrivaled

In A Lady Unrivaled by Roseanna M. White, Lady Ella Myerston is quick to laugh and always sees the bright side of life. But danger has come to her brother and sister-in-law and their friends. Ella is determined to help, even as the others want to shelter her and keep her from danger.

Lord Cayton, the cousin of one of the Myerston’s friends, had been a cad in his youth. He had led one woman on but then married another for her fortune. Then his wife died in childbirth, leaving him with a beloved baby daughter, Addie. Regret over his past and a desire to do the best for his daughter lead him to Bible study with his cousin, Lord Stafford. Cayton becomes a changed man, but he has trouble convincing everyone except Stafford. And he doesn’t trust himself, doesn’t feel he deserves another chance at love after breaking the hearts of two women.

Now some past associates have come back to lure him into their scheme–the very scheme that threatens Ella’s family, and now her.

The merry Lady Ella and the moody Lord Cayton become unlikely allies in the effort to remove this threat once and for all. They are surprised both by unsuspected betrayals and unforeseen friendships.

In a secondary plot line, Kira Belova is a “kept woman,” a Russian ballerina who became the mistress of a wealthy mogul, Andrei Varennikov. She feels secure, until Andrei announces his plans to marry a princess. He sends Kira to England in disguise as a maid to get information about some missing diamonds. She and her mistress end up guests in Cayton’s home. Kira begins to question her life and choices and must decide whom to trust and whom to help.

This book is the third and last of the Ladies of the Manor series. The author deftly combines suspense, intrigue, humor, faith, and sweetness. This book was a satisfying end to the series and a reminder that we all need to receive and extend grace.

The Reluctant Duchess

The Reluctant Duchess is the second in Roseanna M. White’s Ladies of the Manor series.

Brice Myerston, the duke of Nottingham, was a side character in the series’ first book, The Lost Heiress. He was one of England’s most sought-after eligible bachelors, which he handled by being a notorious flirt to fend off serious advances from young ladies and their mothers. But he also had a close walk with God and uncanny sense of the right thing to do.

He finds himself in a knotty dilemma, though. His family has made their annual visit to Scotland to visit his mother’s family home not long after the death of his father. There, the Scottish laird, who has no use for Englishmen and has avoided the Myerstons all this time, asks the family to dinner. While there, the earl of Lochaber tries to set a trap for Brice to wed the earl’s daughter, Rowena. Brice steadfastly refuses at first. But then he realizes this is no title-seeking or money-grubbing ploy. Rowena is in serious trouble. Brice feels the Lord’s direction to protect her, and the only way to do that seems to be to marry her and take her back to England.

Rowena’s father has become harsh and distant since the death of her mother. Her fiance, Malcolm Kinnaird, seemed loving and kind at first. But his true colors came out when he forced himself on Rowena and became as controlling and as harsh as her father. Rowena hates that her father has set a trap for Brice, but she accepts his offer as the only way to escape.

But Rowena trembles at the thought of being a duchess in English society. And her fears come true when no one accepts her except Brice’s family and two of his closest friends. Rowena has been beaten down mentally and physically and has no confidence. She recoils from Brice physically and emotionally.

In addition to trying to discern how to help his new wife, Brice has another problem on his hands. He had offered to take and hide the rare treasure that had caused his friends, the Staffords, so much trouble (in the first book). But, though the main troublemaker had been killed, other dangerous pursuers are not giving up. And one of them is trying to entice Rowena into a false friendship.

This book had a bit of a rough start for me, with Rowena facing off against Malcolm, the knowledge that He had abused her, and a lot of yelling. In The Lost Heiress, even the villains had an air of gentility. In this book, even the Scottish nobility were quite rough around the edges.

But once I got into the story, I enjoyed it. Brice and Rowena had much to learn to trust each other, and each made many mistakes along the way.

The whole hidden treasures story line was as intriguing as any suspense novel. Besides the enemies Brice knows of, he discovers new unseen ones.

I think this could be read as a stand-alone story, but it’s a much richer experience to read both of them.

I listened to the audiobook, wonderfully read by Liz Pearce. I thought she did a great job with the different accents, which added a lot to the story.

As always, Roseanna did not write a fluff piece with this novel. She leads her characters to an understanding of their need and God’s abundant grace in an organic and not a preachy way.

The Lost Heiress

In The Lost Heiress by Roseanna M. White, set in the Edwardian era, Brook Eden grew up as the ward of Prince Grimaldi in Monaco. But the circumstances of her real family are a mystery. When Brook was a young child, she and her mother were in a carriage accident. An opera singer came to their aid, and Brook’s mother asked the woman to take Brook, a packet of letters, and her necklace before she died.

Brook friend, Justin, thinks he has discovered her real family and makes the arrangement for Brook to meet them in Yorkshire, England. Brook’s father, Lord Whitby, and his sister know right away Brook is his lost daughter. It takes the rest of the family and the servants longer to accept her.

This happened fairly early in the story, leaving me to wonder where the conflict was going to come into the plot.

Well, there’s plenty of conflict. A distant cousin, Lord Pratt, is a predator who sets his sights on Brook as the heiress of the Whitby estate. He bribes a servant to spy on Brook and bring him information. Justin’s father dies, leaving him as the new Duke of Stafford. His responsibilities necessitate his traveling to his family’s holdings in other countries, leaving Brook vulnerable to Pratt’s machinations. Justin begins to feel more for Brook than friendship but doesn’t want to seem like he is only interested now that she is an heiress. He decides to wait. But when he returns, he and Brook clash instead of resuming their easy friendship. Unbeknownst to either of them, someone has been preventing their letters from reaching each other. Other suitors appear to have made inroads into Brook’s affections. And no one realizes the danger Brook is in from a possession she doesn’t even know she has until a near-fatal attack and a stunning betrayal opens their eyes.

Several of the main characters are Christians and learn to deal with broken dreams, new and uncomfortable circumstances, trust in God when He doesn’t seem to be near, and finding forgiveness.

In the author’s notes, Roseanna said she wrote the first version of this story when she was twelve, finishing it at thirteen! After nineteen years, nine books, and many rewrites, it was finally published as the first in the Ladies of the Manor series.

A story about a lost heiress finding her true home might seem like a fluff read. But I have found no fluff in Roseanna’s books. She brings so much depth into her characters’ personalities and struggle. I enjoyed this book very much and have already started the sequel.

To Treasure an Heiress

In Roseanna M. White’s novel, To Treasure an Heiress, Beth Tremayne loved exploration and adventure. She lived in the Isles of Scilly in the early 1900s and traveled to all of them in her sloop. She found some old letters and a map in her grandfather’s house that indicated a legendary pirate king had lived on her island, Tresco, and had left a fortune somewhere in the vicinity. That was fuel to Beth’s adventure-loving heart.

Beth had a trinket box, given to her by her mother, which had King Rupert’s seal on the top. Beth sent the box to the father of her friend at finishing school who was an expert in antiquities. Her friend’s father, Lord Scofield, authenticated the box—but then sold it! Worse yet, both Lord Scofield and his buyer, Lord Sheridan, were intrigued by the thought that more items connected to King Rupert might be on the islands. Scofield was interested mainly in the purported treasure, but Sheridan was a descendant of Rupert and interested in artifacts.

Worst of all, Sheridan had actually come to Tresco. Beth’s efforts to shield her family from the repercussions of her search had failed miserably. Her grandmother urged her to forgive and to work together with the family, and even Sheridan, to find Rupert’s treasure. But Scofield is looking as well and isn’t above using less than honorable means.

A secondary story line involves Beth’s former governess, Senara, who had been dismissed from her most recent job due to indiscretions. Senara had fallen in love with a man who had misled her, and now she feels tarnished and ashamed. A new friend helps her see that with God’s forgiveness, she can be forgiven and made new.

He makes us with great worth. Creates us that way intrinsically. Our sins, our bad choices, perhaps they coat us like mud. But the mud cannot take away the value He instilled in us. Mud does not make a pearl any less valuable. If it did, they why would Jesus have deemed us worthy of the sacrifice of His life? Because He loves us, as does the Father. Because we are valuable. And the blood of Christ, when it washes us clean, fully restores us to what He created us to be. A pearl cannot be stained. No matter how many centuries it sits in mud, wash it in a bit of water and it’s gleaming again.

This book is a sequel to The Nature of a Lady, which I enjoyed last year. I think this book could be read alone, but it’s richer together with the first. I normally wouldn’t be attracted to a book about chasing pirate treasure, but I have loved everything I have read of Roseanna’s. She manages to bring out deeper levels of meaning for her characters. Parts of the story are touching and sweet; some are even funny.

I didn’t like Lord Sheridan at all in the first book, and when this one hinted at a romance between him and Beth, I didn’t think it would work. But he grew on me in this story.

I found the resolution just a bit anti-climactic. But all in all, I found this a lovely story.

I listened to the audiobook, nicely read by Liz Pearce.

Something Good

The tagline for Vanessa Miller’s novel, Something Good, is “Three Women. Two Mistakes. One Surprising Friendship That Changes Everything.”

Alexis Marshall seemingly has it all: a good husband, family, home, and a generous source of income. She appreciates her husband’s rescuing her from an unstable home life. But it’s a strain living up to his standard of perfectionism.

Then the unthinkable happens. While fumbling to respond to a text while driving, Alexis loses control. The resulting accident leaves a young man paralyzed.

Alexis is consumed with guilt and wants to do something to help the young man. But her husband is about to make a lucrative deal selling the tech company he built. If it becomes public that Alexis caused an accident, the sale would be in jeopardy.

Marquita Lewis is a mouthy teenager who doesn’t understand why she can’t keep a job. She’s determined not to live in shelters as her mom did. She wants better for her baby son. When she loses her latest job, she decides maybe it’s time to confront the baby’s father.

Trish Robinson’s life was turned upside-down when her son, Jon-Jon, was paralyzed. He was in college on a football scholarship with a good chance of going pro. But that potential bright future is gone now. He is so depressed, he’s not even trying in his physical therapy sessions.

Trish’s husband, Dwayne, is enraged at the woman who caused the accident and feels she should be doing more. Trish thinks they should forgive and forget and move on. She’s doing all she can to help Jon-Jon, and now Dwayne is pressuring her to get a job. But how can she leave Jon-Jon alone when he can’t take care of himself?

Trish prays for something good to come from all their trials. But the answer comes in a surprising way.

It was enjoyable to read of friendships that crossed so many differences–race, economic status, personality. etc. It was difficult and took time, but the characters learned and grew through their interactions.

And it was especially refreshing to see a Christian fiction book that was all-out Christian. I know some stories call for subtlety, but some are so subtle that it’s not clear who the characters have faith in or what kind of faith they have. I’m thankful Vanessa created her characters to express their faith in natural and believable ways. Even though the faith element is clear, it’s not heavy-handed.

A couple of sub-plots deal with mental illness in a couple of the families.

My favorite quote from the book: “Sometimes our greatest tragedies become the greatest gifts we can give back to the world” (p. 298, Kindle version).

I had not heard of Vanessa Miller before seeing this book on a Kindle sale, but I am glad I did. I enjoyed this book quite a lot.

The Paris Dressmaker

The Paris Dressmaker by Kristi Cambron is a tale of two women in WWII Paris.

Lila de Laurent is a dressmaker and budding designer for Chanel. But the salon closed its doors as Nazis took over Paris. Working odd jobs for a while, Lila is surprised by a call from an old friend from Chanel who has become a collaborator with the Germans. She needs a gown for a party and knows Lila’s style. At first Lila is repulsed, but then decides this opportunity affords her the chance to pick up information for La Resistance.

As Lila flees from danger one night, she runs into the man she once loved, whom she thought was dead. But whose side is he on now? Can she trust him with her secrets?

Sandrine Paquet’s husband is a French soldier, and she lives with her son and mother-in-law. The place where she works is taken over by the Nazis, who demand that the employees catalog and crate art work the Nazis have stolen from French Jews. The German captain, von Hiller, has taken an interest in her. To refuse his attention outright would be fatal, but she takes pains to be cooperative while keeping him at a distance so things don’t get too personal. Neighbors misunderstand, however, and accuse her of being a collaborator. What they don’t know is that she and her boss are working for La Resistance as well, right under the Nazi’s noses. Though their shop doesn’t deal with textiles, one of the items that came to them was a beautiful blush Chanel gown. In a few moments alone, Sandrine searches the gown and finds a cryptic note initialed LDL sewn in the hemline.

Kristy Cambron is one of the best storytellers around. She weaves historic and personal details into the lives of these two women with suspense, pathos, and a touch of humor. The faith element is subtle but vital.

I miss the days of linear stories that start at the beginning and unfold until the end. But that’s not the fashion these days. The scenes alternate between the two women at different times in their lives, before and during the war. It was a little hard to keep up with at first until I learned to pay attention to the dates at the beginning of each chapter.

The author’s afterword shares which elements were historical and which were fiction, something I love to see in historical novels.

The Kindle version of this book is free with Amazon prime membership at the moment, and I got the audiobook at a 2-books-for-one-credit sale. With the Whispersync function, it was nice to delve into whichever one worked best for me in a given situation and pick up where I left off in the other.

Kristy has written another winner, in my opinion.

Once Upon a Wardrobe

In Once Upon a Wardrobe by Patti Callahan, Megs Devonshire is a college student at Oxford in the 1950s. Her 8-year-old brother, George, has a heart condition and is not expected to live long.

George has become enamored with The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe by C. S. Lewis. George wonders often if Narnia is a real place. If not, where did it come from? When he learns that the author of the book is a professor at Megs’ school, George begs her to ask Lewis about Narnia for him.

Megs demurs. First, she explains to George, Oxford is made up of different colleges, and Lewis doesn’t teach at the one she attends. Plus, Megs studies math and physics and is not much for stories. She prefers logic and black and white answers. Of course Narnia is just a figment of the author’s imagination, she insists.

But George keeps asking, and Megs loves him. So she finds a way to meet Mr. Lewis.

Lewis is very hospitable. But he doesn’t answer Megs’ question directly. Instead, he tells her a series of stories about his life over several visits.

George enjoys the stories. But Megs is frustrated that she can’t get a straight answer. And their mother wonders if George is spending too much time thinking about an imaginary world.

There are three levels, or threads, to this story. One is Megs and George and their family. One is Lewis’ biography. And another is Megs’ learning the value of stories. Having read On Stories by Lewis, I recognized a lot of his points in this novel. He’s not saying that the world doesn’t need logic and math and facts. Rather, “Reason is how we get to the truth, but imagination is how we find meaning” (p. 52).

The middle section of the book seemed a little formulaic. Megs’ point of view is written in the first person. She’d visit Lewis and come back with a story for George. As she begins to tell it, the point of view switches to George’s, but in the third person. Then, as if the scene is unfolding in George’s imagination, a section of Lewis’ story is told in the third person.

In the final third or so of the book, the action picked up and there were no more switches, so it was easier to get caught up in the story.

The scenes with C. S. and his brother, Warnie, made me feel like I was there in their room with the fireplace going, listening in. Callahan had studied Lewis’ life for her first book, Becoming Mrs. Lewis, and I am not surprised another book about him grew from all that research. The details shared showed a familiarity with Lewis’ home and school without overpowering the story.

Callahan writes in her note after the story that she wasn’t interested in “ascribing logic, facts, and theory to the world of Narnia,” as that has been done by so many others. But she wanted to explore how Narnia changes readers and how, as Lewis said, “Sometimes fairy stories may say best what needs to be said.”

I’ve read many biographies of Lewis, so most of his story was familiar to me. There were parts that surprised me, though. For instance, I knew he took some children from London into his home during the Blitz, but I had never heard anything about them until this book. It also occurred to me that, though I had read much about Lewis, I had never read his book about himself: Surprised by Joy. I’d seen that book quoted in anything else I’d read about him, so I thought I knew it. But I should read it some time.

There were a couple of places the theology was a little wonky. I wasn’t sure whether these were from the author’s beliefs or a character’s.

But overall, this was a sweet and touching story.

I listened to most of the book via audiobook, read nicely by Fiona Hardingham. But I had also gotten the Kindle version on sale and looked up many sections there.

Shadowed by Grace: A Story of Monuments Men

In the novel Shadowed by Grace: A Story of Monuments Men by Cara Putman, Captain Rachel Justice is a photojournalist during WWII. Her mother is dying of tuberculosis, and Rachel takes an overseas assignment to Italy to try to find the father she never knew to see if he can help provide for her mother’s treatment. All Rachel has to go on is a sketchbook given by her father to her mother with the initials RMA on some of the pages. Her mother refuses to say any more about her father and does not want Rachel to find him.

Lieutenant Scott Lindstrom is an officer with the Monuments, Fine Arts, and Archives Division, and stationed in Naples. He had arts degrees from Harvard and was a curator of a museum in Philadelphia. But he felt he could use his expertise to do something meaningful, to save history, to salvage beauty and meaning to sustain people after the war. He says, “We are defined by what we love and respect” (p. 28, Kindle version).

The problem was, his superiors and many soldiers didn’t take his job seriously. When lives were at stake, what did art matter to them? He had trouble getting the men and resources he needed.

When he did get a chance to talk to local people who might know where art was hidden, they didn’t trust him. The Germans had said they’d protect art, too—but they stole or destroyed much of it.

And now he was assigned to babysit a woman photojournalist who shouldn’t be so close to the danger.

So Scott and Rachel get off to a rocky start. But as they get to know each other, they appreciate each other’s mission and characters.

When Rachel shows Scott the sketchbook, hoping his knowledge of art and Italy may help her identify the artist, she doesn’t say the artist is her father. Scott thinks he recognizes the early work of an artist friend and mentor in the sketches, but he’s suspicious about why Rachel would have such a prize.

Scott is a Christian. Rachel isn’t sure she believes or trusts God. Her own father’s disinterest in her colors her view of God.

There is historical fiction that contains a romance, and romances that occur in a historical setting. I prefer the former, but this story is the latter. Still, the peek into the Monuments Men work, art history, photojournalism, the problems women in the military faced, the refugee situations in Europe all made for an interesting story.

One thing that jarred me just a bit was a major betrayal in the story that seemed to blow over much more quickly and easily than I would have expected.

But all in all, this was an enjoyable book.

Cara shares some of the influences that went into the book in an afterword and in the video below.

Were you familiar with the “Monuments Men” and their work?

Just 18 Summers

Just 18 Summers by Michelle Cox and Rene Gutteridge is a novel that tells the story of four families.

Butch Browning’s wife, Jenny, has recently passed away, and Butch is in a fog. Jenny had taken care of so many things, especially their young daughter, Ava. Butch owns a construction company and feels the weight of responsibility much more than when he was just another worker. But at home, the most he can manage is pizza every night.

Beth is Butch’s sister, married with three children. Her oldest daughter is in college and her oldest son is heading there next fall. In the midst of distress over her emptying nest, her daughter throws the family a curve ball: she wants to quit college and get married . . . to the pizza delivery guy.

Tippy is Butch’s foreman, and he and his wife, Daphne, are expecting their first child. But Daphne has gone off the deep end in trying to do everything possible to protect their child: reading every book she can find, covering every corner with pool noodles, forbidding certain foods from their home, etc., etc. etc.Her obsession is affecting their marriage, and Tippy can’t fathom how they’ll cope when the baby actually comes.

Helen and Charles Buckley are Beth’s neighbors, and the wives of all these families attend the scrapbooking get-together that Jenny started and which currently meets at Helen’s home. Charles has an excellent job, and Helen is determined to provide their children the very best opportunities so they’ll never be deprived or embarrassed like she was growing up. But Charles’ business responsibilities keep him from being an active part of his children’s lives, and Helen’s driven and regimented schedule for her children misses their deepest needs.

One theme in this book is that parents have a relatively short time—just 18 summers–to form relationships with their children, make lasting memories, and be the primary influence to their children. It goes so fast. Though, of course, we still have a relationship and make memories even after our children leave home, we have the biggest hand in their training when they are young.

Another theme is that there is only so much parents can control. As children become old enough to make their own decisions, those decisions may not be in keeping with what the parents think best. As Daphne discovers, we can’t protect our children from every little thing. Though we seek God’s will and do our best, ultimately our children’s lives are in God’s hands.

The book illustrates both points with humor and poignancy.

Though Jenny seems to have been almost too good to be true, and though Ava seems more capable than a child her age would normally be, all the characters are realistic and enjoyable.

I don’t think I’ve ever read Rene before. And though this is my first book of Michelle’s as well, I enjoyed attending one of her workshops at a writer’s conference. That conference also held a “Lightning Learning” session–kind of like speed dating–where three or four attendees would go in groups to an author’s table, hear their words of wisdom for 5 minutes, then go on to another table when a bell rang. I remember Michelle’s table being particularly merry.

Michelle explains in notes at the back of the book that Just 18 Summers was originally a screen play written by herself, Marshall Younger, and Torry Martin, and they were seeking funding to make the movie. I don’t know if it was ever made—I couldn’t find any videos of it.

As I searched for Michelle’s web site, I discovered there is another Michelle Cox, also an author, who writes in a different genre. The Michelle Cox who co-wrote 18 Summers also writes devotional books based on the When Calls the Heart TV series.

Overall I thought this was a great, enjoyable book. Though it has a point to make, it’s not didactic or heavy-handed. Since my own children are “out of the nest,” I can “amen” the truths in this book.

Book Review: The Road Home

In Malissa Chapin’s debut novel, The Road Home, Cadence Audley has started a new life with a new name—for the second time. Her past has dogged her steps, but she’s determined to lead a quiet, peaceful life in Deercrest, Wisconsin. She’s found a good job as a barista with a great boss. Antique stores in the area fulfill her taste for vintage purchases.

On one such shopping trip, Cadence finds an old recipe box filled with hand-written recipes. Her coworker Googles the name written inside the box and found that the owner had lived in town. Thinking to return a valued heirloom, Cadence finds Fredonia, the middle-aged daughter of the recipe box owner. Fredonia had donated the recipe box in the first place and is not thrilled to see it again—or Cadence, for that matter. But, upon learning that Cadence likes antiques, Fredonia invites the younger woman to drive with her to Kentucky to help clean out her mother’s home.

Fredonia’s offer comes just in time, because Cadence’s past has caught up with her—again.

This is a split-time novel. The second timeline belongs to Ida Beale Evans, owner of the recipe box. She had been a banker’s daughter in Indiana when she married her sweetheart, Bud, and moved with him to his new pastorate in Kentucky. Though she enjoys life as a country preacher’s wife, she has one sorrow. Suddenly one night, her deepest desire is unexpectedly fulfilled—but to keep it will call for a lifetime of secrecy.

Though Ida is a Christian and Cadence is not, both women struggle with trusting that the truth will set them free. The truth seems like it will destroy them. But Cadence has come to the end of her road. Can she escape and start over yet again? Or must she face her past and its consequences, even though doing so means losing everything she holds dear? Can she trust the young preacher who tells her, “Your sin caused problems everywhere, but God is bigger than this. He’s big enough to help you live a new life” (Location 3415, Kindle version).

I enjoyed following the journey of both women and the truths they learned. I also enjoyed the sense of place in the book, especially the Kentucky sections. There was a nice mix of both funny and poignant moments in the story. Sprinkled throughout the book are recipes from Ida Beale’s box. It was fun to learn on Malissa’s blog what inspired the pink Cadillac road trip in the book and to peruse her Pinterest board for the people and items that inspired or contributed to the story.

As of this writing, the Kindle edition is $2.99, but a paperback version is also available.