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Monday, May 21, 2018

The Theory of Happily Ever After by Kristin Billerbeck

My favorite part of this book is the quotes at the beginning of each chapter from the book Science of Bliss written by our fictional main character, Dr. Margaret K. Maguire, a scientist who studies happiness. It is surprising that someone who had personally experienced so little happiness could possess so much knowledge of it. From childhood Margaret, who goes by Maggie, had worked to please her parents, to keep them happy. This resulted in very little true happiness for her, and landed, her caught in an engagement with a man who made her feel unworthy and whom she desperately tried to make happy, well at least until he broke their engagement to marry an aerial dancer/trapeze artist. Whisked away from a two-month Hallmark movie and gelato binge and onto a singles cruise by her two best friends, who neglected to mention that she would be required to give a talk on happiness to a ship full of happiness seekers, Maggie is on a search of her own to discover personal happiness. What could go wrong? You will have to read The Theory of Happily Ever After to find out. Kristn Billerbeck deals with serious issues in a lighthearted manner without making light of them.

     I will admit that as a sixty-year-old grandmother who has been happily married for almost forty years, I may not be in the best demographic group for this book. I think I would have appreciated it more in my twenties or even my thirties. I do thank Revell Publishing for providing me with a copy of The Theory of Happily Ever After in exchange for an honest review. I received no monetary compensation for providing the review and was not obligated to provide a positive review.

Thursday, May 10, 2018

The Illusionist’s Apprentice by Kristy Cambron – A Book Review

The Illusionist's Apprentice    Kristy Cambron

     Kristy Cambron excels as a writer of historical fiction. In The Illusionist’s Apprentice, she shows that she is equally adept at writing suspense. Having combined these two genre, Cambron takes us into the mysterious world of Wren Lockhart, a fictional vaudevillian illusionist who once assisted the great Harry Houdini, and FBI agent, Elliot Matthews. The story is set in the mid-1920s while the reader is also given peeks into Lockhart’s childhood of the early 1900s. While Wren created illusions on stage, the illusions that were created in her childhood had the greatest impact on her life. Cambron shows us how faith in the work of Christ over the grave and the power of forgiveness defeated those childhood illusions, allowing Wren to walk, or fly, in freedom.
     Fictional Wren, like her true-life mentor, Harry Houdini, did not fall prey to the resurgence in spiritualism of the post-war 1920s. Rather they made it their mission to debunk spiritualists who set about taking advantage of the grief imposed on so many by The Great War. Wren stressed that she performed illusions, not magic, and expected that same honesty in her fellow showmen and women. While she demanded that transparency, Wren kept her personal life and struggles hidden from view.
     Elliot Matthews came to Wren for assistance with a murder case involving a suspect from the world of the vaudeville illusionists. His original intent was not to uncover her personal secrets, but being drawn to her fed his desire to know the person behind the stage persona, a desire to gain her trust, to be allowed in the back stage of her life; desires that would eventually save her life and life of someone very dear to her.
     The hardest part of reading Cambron’s novels is extricating oneself from them afterward. One doesn’t simply visit her characters and settings, one lives with and in them. Come, be transported.

Tuesday, May 1, 2018

The Backcountry Brides Collection - A Review

The Backcountry Brides Collection: Eight 18th Century Women Seek Love on Colonial America's Frontier by [Couch, Angela K, Marvin, Debra E, McNear, Shannon, Meyer, Gabrielle, Pagels, Carrie Fancett, Taylor, Jennifer Hudson, Thomas, Pegg, Weimer, Denise]   

     This collection of short stories contains eight love stories, written by eight authors, set in the eighteenth century on the colonial American frontier. Many of the stories contain some element of women and families coping with love and life during military conflict. Each story deals with the challenges of frontier life. Some themes included are: the changing role of women, life after abuse, prejudice, the importance of intestinal fortitude, and sacrificing for patriotism. The stories are well-told, and given the length of each story, the characters are well-developed. If I were rating each story individually I would have given seven of the stories four or five stars, while one would have received a three-star rating. While I have no knowledge of the authors’ plans, most of the stories will likely have readers hoping that the authors will consider using these short stories as prequels to upcoming novels. I thank NetGalley and Barbour Publishing for providing me with an advance copy of The Backcountry Brides Collection in exchange for an honest review. I received no monetary compensation.    

Together Forever by Jody Hedlund – A Book Review

Together Forever (Orphan Train Book #2) by [Hedlund, Jody]      Jody Hedlund

     While Together Forever tells the story of the hardships of the children on the orphan trains (a term that became widely used after the fact) that took the orphaned, abandoned or homeless children from crowded Eastern cities to homes largely in the Midwest, it also tells the story of those agents who accompanied them. While today’s adoption process includes many safe guards to assure children are placed in an appropriate environment, agents accompanying the trains had to rely on brief first impressions and the opinion of those serving on local committees as to the suitability of these placements. Jody Hedlund successfully develops her readers’ empathy for all those involved.

     Through this story Hedlund explores the themes of having the courage it takes to love when getting hurt is a likely outcome and trusting God to restore one’s joy. She also explores the prison that can be created by one’s insecurities and the path to freedom. I truly appreciate stories, such as Together Forever, that tackle deep themes within an interesting storyline.

     Marianne Neumann is very young to be a Children’s Aid Society agent but was able to secure the position by having her influential brother-in-law pull some strings. The position not only allows her some measure of financial independence, but it is critical in the search for her younger sister. Andrew Brady has come to be an agent after fleeing the memories of his life in the south. A former teacher, Andrew is well trained for supervising the children and youth on the trip west. Events along the way will tax both his skills and Marianne’s tender heart.

     I thank NetGalley and Bethany House for providing me with an advanced copy of Together Forever in exchange for my honest opinion. I received no monetary compensation. I will look forward to reading more books by this author in the future.

Monday, April 30, 2018

The Ringmaster's Wife by Kristy Cambron - A Book Review

The Ringmaster's Wife by [Cambron, Kristy]   KCambron_seated

     Kristy Cambron provides us a wonderful glimpse into the backstory of circus life. In contrast to today’s view filtered through the words of animal rights activists and reports of charlatans among the circus community, Cambron shows us a group of people who cared deeply for one another and for the animals in their care. While not all relationships are perfect (why would a circus be any different than any other social group), we see a family-like unit form among the nomadic circus management and employees.

     The Ringmaster’s Wife is a story of transitions: transitions from what might be considered the ordinary to the extraordinary, from hiding behind masks and costumes to stepping out in the light, from self-doubt to self-assurance, and from self-centeredness to putting others first. Historical and fictional characters mingle together in this book, each taking root in the reader’s heart. Characters that live on long after the book is finished is Cambron’s trademark. As a matter of fact, I had difficulty getting into this book at first because my mind was still deep within her book A Sparrow in Terezin.

     While this book looks through a different lens than the popular film, The Greatest Showman, the close-knit relationships among those living the circus life and the theme of finding oneself is held in common. I would imagine fans of each will enjoy the other.  

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

A Sparrow in Terezin by Kristy Cambron - A Book Review

A Sparrow in Terezin (A Hidden Masterpiece Novel Book 2) by [Cambron, Kristy]    Kristy Cambron

     A Sparrow in Terezin is the second book in Kristy Cambron’s Hidden Masterpiece series. It is just as wonderful as The Butterfly and the Violin, the first book in the series. Both novels are time split between current times and the Holocaust, and both are well developed with an intricate plot. I was much less familiar with the ghetto of Terezin than the death camp of Auschwitz, and was unaware that of the 15,000 children believed to have gone through Terezin, less than 100 ultimately survived the Holocaust. The passing of time, never makes the numbers associated with this time and these events in history less staggering.
     Sera James and William Hanover’s lives once again revolve around the history and mystery of art, and leads them back to a very special friend in Paris. This time their future as a married couple hangs in the balance. Their story intersects with that of Kaja Makovsky whose life in Prague, Paris and Terezin is told with a poignancy that will touch and hold the hearts of readers. Kaja’s courage, loyalty and dedication are memorable and inspiring. It is through her story that readers are guided to ponder God’s timing, and the peace and strength He provides as we weather life’s storms.
     I most highly recommend this book, this series, and this author to those who want to read fiction with depth. A lighthearted read, this is not. Rather it is a story that will stay with you long after the last page is turned.  

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

The Weaver's Daughter by Sarah E. Ladd - A Book Review

The Weaver's Daughter: A Regency Romance Novel by [Ladd, Sarah E.]     Sarah E. Ladd

     I read a lot of historical fiction, but I cannot remember reading anything prior to The Weaver’s Daughter about the conflict of weavers and mill owners during the Industrial Revolution. While Ladd does not refer to the group of weavers in this book as Luddites, they use similar tactics, destroying textile machinery in an effort to protect their craft and their livelihood. Change is difficult, especially when change threatens one’s way of life. Not everyone views progress in the same way. Ladd does a very good job of placing readers in the emotionally charged conflict that divided communities and families. While one will likely not condone the weavers’ methods, it is still possible to understand why they felt driven to such lengths. With our acceptance of the constantly changing technology of the 21st century, Ladd reminds us of the birth pains of what are now eagerly anticipated improvements in technology and manufacturing.
     Kate Dearborne is the daughter of one of the leading men of Amberdale’s cloth industry. While her brother has chosen to go to work for a local mill owner, Kate remains loyal to her father and his peers. That is, until she meets Henry Stockton, grandson of the Stockton Mill, and until the weavers cross a line into violent protests. Then Kate is forced into making very difficult decisions about loyalty and right and wrong. Henry too must make difficult choices between preserving his grandfather’s legacy and the right treatment of those working under his authority. He also must choose between his childhood sweetheart and the bold Miss Dearborne. The Weaver’s Daughter helps the reader to explore moral dilemmas, something we are often called to do in today’s landscape.
       I highly recommend The Weaver’s Daughter as an entertaining and thought provoking read. I received a complimentary copy of this book from Thomas Nelson through NetGalley. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.