Worthy of Legend

Worthy of Legend is the third installment in Roseanna M. White’s Secrets of the Isles trilogy. The first was The Nature of a Lady; the second was To Treasure an Heiress.

The Secrets of the Isles involves two different groups in search of legendary pirate treasure. One loves “the hunt” and the thrill of archeological finds. The other wants the fame and fortune of such discoveries and employs underhanded means in the race to discover treasure.

Lady Emily Scofield is good friends with the people in the first group. But her father and brother are the primary instigators in the bad group.

Emily has lived her entire life in the background of her brother, Nigel. Nigel was her father’s favorite, and his misdeeds were excused away. Emily is expected to desert her friends and show loyalty to her family. But she can’t.

Instead of writing off her family completely, though, she tries to show love to them. Her friends fear she’ll be taken advantage of again.

Bram Sinclair, Earl of Telford, is the brother of the heroine in the first book. He has had an interest in the King Arthur legends since childhood. As he and his friends piece together clues to the artifact that both groups are pursuing, he realizes what they are looking for might be related to King Arthur. They try to keep this information secret from the other group.

As Bram and Emily’s group works together, Bram is concerned for Emily. He recognizes her conflict with her family and her lack of confidence and self-esteem from having been dismissed and overlooked for so many years. As he tries to encourage her, he discovers a true treasure in her character and heart.

A secondary plot line involves Emily’s maid, Thomasina, who has, unknown to Emily, been violated by Nigel. When a young man from the islands becomes interested in Tommie, she feels he would not be if he knew what had happened to her.

A couple of my favorite quotes from the book:

And if she lost everything all over again . . . well then, she’d just have to trust that the Lord could do more with her shattered than He could with her as she was now, barely holding together. That He meant her to be a mosaic instead of a whole.

Your worth, Thomasina, rests on no one else’s opinion of you. It doesn’t rest even on you. It rests in the Lord. He sees your heart, your soul. And that is all the approval any of us needs.

Bram and Emily were background characters in the previous books, and I enjoyed getting to know them better. I also loved the humorous bantering between Bram and his friend, Sheridan.

I especially liked the fact that these books were in a place I had never heard of, the Isles of Scilly. Now I feel I know the isles and the people on them. And the time frame of the early 1900s isn’t one we see often in historical fiction.

I enjoyed these stories very much and am going to miss these characters.

Bringing Maggie Home

In Bringing Maggie Home by Kim Vogel Sawyer, Hazel DeFord was ten years old when her mother asked her to take her three-year-old sister, Maggie, to the blackberry thicket to pick berries for a cobbler. Hazel set Maggie down for just a moment while she chased a snake away from a baby bunnies’ nest. When Hazel came back, Maggie was gone. None of the volunteers could find a trace of Maggie besides her hair ribbon, shoe, and favorite doll.

Hazel felt incredibly guilty for leaving Maggie unguarded, especially while witnessing the downward spiral Maggie’s disappearance caused in her family. She resolved to be as good as possible so as not to cause them any more trouble.

When Hazel grew up and had her own family, she never told her daughter, Diane, about Maggie. She felt Diane would never be secure with her if she felt she couldn’t trust Hazel to take care of her.

But Diane resented and rebelled against Hazel’s perfectionism and over-protectiveness. Hazel’s concerns came across as controlling to Diane.

But Diane’s daughter, Meghan, loves her grandmother and spends several weeks with her every summer. Now grown and a cold-case detective, Meghan has survived a car crash with a severely broken ankle. She decides to go to her grandmother’s to recuperate and work on some photo albums for Hazel’s upcoming 80th birthday.

Jealous, Diane, decides to come, too, without being invited or letting anyone know. Meghan is wearied playing peacemaker between the two women.

Then an accidental discovery of a shoe box of old photos leads Hazel to tell her daughter and granddaughter the truth.

Meghan and her partner at work, Sean, decide to see if they can uncover any information about Maggie’s disappearance. With the case being 70 years older, older than any case cracked by their agency, solving it is a long shot. But they resolve to try.

I loved this book. I wasn’t sure I would at first, because Hazel’s and Diane’s bickering made me tense. Then I realized the problem was mainly Diane. Hazel’s issues were easier to understand and sympathize with. And Diane’s responses were understandable to an extent. But her bitterness and selfishness got to be a bit much. Still, I felt things would turn a corner at some point, so I persevered. I’m glad I did.

The point of view shifts from each of the women at different times in their lives, and occasionally to Sean’s viewpoint as well. I didn’t feel that the changing viewpoints, timelines, or locations were hard to keep up with at all.

I’ve often said that I appreciate Christian fiction that is unapologetically Christian. I know sometimes the message needs to be subtle, but sometimes subtlety turns into vagueness. It’s good to see an author getting down to the spiritual needs in a story without becoming preachy or beating people over the head with truth. I thought Kim did a great job both with the story and the spiritual issues underneath them.

I didn’t know, when I started this book, that it had a sequel: Unveiling the Past. I will probably be reading or listening to that some time soon.

I listened to the audiobook, nicely read by Barbara McCulloh. Unfortunately, the audiobook didn’t contain any back matter, so I am not sure whether any of the story was based on anything in real life.

The Italian Ballerina

The Italian Ballerina by Kristy Cambron is one of those books that makes you want to put everything aside and just read.

Delaney Coleman has just returned home to help her parents after the death of her grandfather. She learns that they’ve received notices from a family in Italy saying they have a claim to something of her grandfather’s. Delaney’s mom has ignored the messages, but Delaney looks into the claim.

She speaks to Matteo, who says that Delaney’s grandfather owned a small ivory suitcase printed with cherries on the outside. He claims that the suitcase belongs to his grandmother, and she’d like to have it back. His family offers to fly Delaney and the suitcase to Rome.

Intrigued and confused, and as a writer “between pens,” as she puts it, Delaney decides to accept the offer. In Rome, Delaney meets Calla, Matteo’s grandmother. Calla can’t speak English, but she gazes at Delaney and says, “Salvatore.” Delaney and Matteo work together to learn the connection between their grandparents.

Scenes switch back to Delaney’s grandfather’s time before and during WWII. Court Coleman had gotten himself into trouble and pushed away Penelope, the girl he loved. Roped into helping Penn’s father at their orchard in order to pay off his debts, Court begins to settle down and wonder if he might have a chance with Penn again. But then America enters WWII, and Court is sent to Italy as a medic.

One day as his unit is on a reconnaissance mission, Court and his commanding officer, AJ, are stranded while a Nazi troupe is rounding up Jews. They are horrified to watch the Nazis shoot a couple in cold blood and leave their daughter in the streets. Against orders, Court rescues the girl and is injured in the process.

He wakes up in an Italian hospital. He finds that he is in a quarantine ward, where a mysterious, deadly illness called Syndrome K is running rampant.

Except—Syndrome K is a made-up illness, created to keep the Nazis away from the ward while the doctors and Catholic priests who own the hospital hide and send out Jews.

A British ballerina named Julia and her partner are stranded at the hospital as well while he heals from a gunshot wound in his leg. She helps Court and A. J. and the little girl with them, as well as the doctors in the ward.

Unfortunately, the audiobook I listened to did not include the author’s information about what parts of the story were true, and our library system didn’t have a copy.. But the part about Syndrome K was real, as detailed here.

There are many strands nicely woven together in this novel, many developing relationships, and the unfolding mystery of the connection between Matteo’s and Delaney’s grandparents. The Amazon description says, “Based on true accounts of the invented Syndrome K sickness, The Italian Ballerina journeys from the Allied storming of the beaches at Salerno to the London ballet stage and the war-torn streets of World War II Rome, exploring the sometimes heart-wrenching choices we must make to find faith and forgiveness, and how saving a single life can impact countless others.”

I’ve gotten used to time-slip novels that go back and forth between history and present day. Kristy has written a few with three timelines. The only problem was that the scenes flashing back to Court’s earlier life weren’t in chronological order. The first scenes were in Italy during WWII–then there’s a scene at Penn’s family’s orchard before the war. The same thing happens with Julia’s timeline. The format made it a little confusing and jarring, although it only took a sentence or two to get reoriented. I had to train myself to listen for the date and location listed at the beginning of each chapter, which is a little harder to do with an audiobook.

But other than that, I loved everything about this book. I wanted to race to see what happened, yet didn’t want it to end.

I listened to the audiobook, wonderfully read by Barrie Kreinik.

The Hatmaker’s Heart

In The Hatmaker’s Heart by Carla Stewart, Nell Marchwold is an apprentice designer at Oscar Fields Millinery in 1920 New York City. Nell loves to make hats that frame a woman’s face and bring out her best features.

But Nell speaks with a lisp when she’s flustered, so Mr. Fields has kept her in the background—until one of his best clients falls in love with Nell’s designs. The prestigious Mrs. Benchley wants to commission Nell to make hats for herself and her two daughters for an upcoming event.

Then another well-known designer wants to use Nell’s talents for a show he is putting together.

Mr. Fields allows Nell to work on these other projects, but under the auspices of his shop. He’s two-faced, promoting her in public but treating her like dirt in private.

When Nell and Mr. Fields have an opportunity to go to London, Nell seeks a chance to visit her grandmother and a childhood friend, Quentin. Nell realizes she loves Quentin, but he seems to have moved on. And Mr. Fields is not giving her much time to spend with other people.

It’s hard to imagine that Nell just keeps taking what Mr. Fields is dishing out. But then, she’s young and naive. A big part of her character development is becoming her own person, deciding what she truly wants, and developing the backbone to stand up for it. Nell’s grandmother’s counsel reminds her to seek the Lord and walk with Him.

The book’s setting was interesting with the details about hatmaking. I had done just a tiny bit of that when working for a florist friend part time years ago, but we mostly just decorated hat forms. We didn’t make them from scratch like they did in the 1920s. And I never would have suspected that hat designs could be such a cutthroat business. But I guess they were a big enough fashion item in the day for designers to compete for their sales and designs.

A friend recommended a counselor to Nell to deal with her stammer. I wondered if his methods were true to the times–concluding that the stammer was related to a childhood trauma, having Nell remember specific incidents and draw pictures of them.

Quentin didn’t seem terribly well developed as a character. Since he and Nell were apart for most of the book, we really didn’t get a feel for any chemistry between them. Plus he seemed to have abrupt changes of heart in a couple of places.

So, I have mixed responses to the book. But overall it’s a good story.

Enchanted Isle

In Enchanted Isle by Melanie Dobson, it’s 1958 and Jenny Winter doesn’t know what to do with herself. She dropped out of college because she wasn’t doing well in any subject. Her grandfather has someone from his company lined up for her to marry, but Jenny’s not sure that’s what she wants.

Her mother encourages Jenny to go to the Lake District in England for a couple of months. Jenny’s mom, Liz, had visited the area some twenty years earlier and had a friend who would be willing to let Jenny stay with her.

So Jenny flew to Lakeland. Though she wasn’t academic, she saw life through pictures and had a vivid imagination, Her mom had purchased a camera for Jenny’s upcoming 21st birthday, and Jenny is eager to try it out on the beautiful lakes and fells.

One place Jenny especially wants to visit is a theme park called the Enchanted Isle. Liz thinks it’s probably closed now, but Jenny wants to try to get in, just to see it and take pictures.

She finds that the park was indeed closed down, but not due to its age. An unsolved murder occurred there twenty years earlier. And the nice young man she just met, Adrian, has had a shadow hanging over his family because of it. His father had built the park with his business partner. But the business partner disappeared, and everyone thinks Adrian’s father killed him.

Jenny’s mother’s friend warns Jenny to stay away from Adrian, not only for his family’s history but for his own mistakes. But as Jenny gets to know him, she thinks he has been misjudged.

As Jenny uncovers the theme park’s history, she and Adrian discover that not everyone wants the park’s secrets revealed. And Jenny finds that even her mother didn’t tell her everything about her visit to Lakeland.

Another book I read recently mention the Lake District, so it was fun to find out more about the area.

The faith element of the story was natural and not preachy.

This was a sweet story, despite the murder mystery part of it. That part was handled well and with suspense. But I liked even better the themes of finding your own place in the world despite others’ expectations and not judging others, but getting to know their story.

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.

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.

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.