The Fairest Beauty by Melanie Dickerson

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From the book: “Sophie has long wished to get away from her stepmother’s jealous anger, and believes escape is her only chance to be happy. Then a young man named Gabe arrives from Hagenheim Castle, claiming she is betrothed to his older brother, and everything twists upside down. This could be her chance at freedom—but can she trust another person to keep her safe?

“Gabe knows he defied his parents Rose and Wilhelm by going to find Sophie, and now he believes they had a right to worry: the orphan girl has stolen his heart. Though romance is impossible—she is his brother’s future wife, and Gabe himself is betrothed to someone else—he promises to himself he will keep her safe, no matter what.

“When the pair are forced to run to the Cottage of the Seven, they find help—but also find their feelings for each other have grown. Can they find a way to protect Sophie while also safeguarding their hearts?”

This was a sweetly-told story, perfect for young ladies. Dickerson managed to stir together a lovely blend of not too much Disney and not too much Grimm. Sweet, but not saccharine; adventurous, but not dark, The Fairest Beauty is a wonderful retelling of the classic fairy tale. And it’s a story that I would gladly share with my god-daughter (and god-son, although he might think it was too “girly” 🙂 ), since it teaches some marvelous lessons about self-control and dependence on God.

If you’re a fan of fairy tales, check out Melanie Dickerson’s reimagined versions. They are pleasant reads, filled with the hope and goodness of God.

Firstborn by Tosca Lee

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From the publisher: “From New York Times bestselling author Tosca Lee comes the much-anticipated, fast-paced sequel to The Progeny about the powerful descendants of the most notorious female serial killer of all time.

“All at once, she remembers. The memories Audra had erased have returned. And now she knows why she did it.

“Now she must find her archenemy, the Historian, and put an end to the centuries old Progeny/Scion war once and for all. But first she has to rescue Luka, who is being held prisoner by the Scions, all while on the run from the law and struggling with her growing powers and their painful side effects.

“But when a bitter betrayal stalls her plans, Audra doesn’t know who to trust. With the help of a heretic monk, her Progeny friends, and the hacker, Jester, Audra fights to defeat the Scions and find a way to save other Progeny in the process. The final confrontation with her surprising nemesis will put her powers to the ultimate test.”

Seriously, I have been waiting (rather impatiently, I might add) more than a year for this sequel to Tosca Lee’s first book in the Descendants of the House of Bathory series (The Progeny, which I reviewed last year). And I actually had to force myself to put the book down and go out into the real world (although the whole time, my mind was flashing back to the story, wondering how it would all work out in the end)!

For me, the final book in a series is often a bit of a downer — it means that I don’t get to live with those characters anymore and, honestly, it hardly ever turns out the way I wanted it to. Not so with Firstborn. While I’m sad that I won’t get to experience life on the run with Audra for the first time ever again, I was totally satisfied with the conclusion of her story. The fast-paced plot twisted and flipped just as much as the first book in the series keeping my attention riveted (especially when I should have been paying attention to other things…). And even though I managed to kind of figure out some of the surprises beforehand, Tosca Lee wrote them in such a marvelous way that I still found myself gasping and smiling as I read.

Do yourself a favor — pick up a copy of Firstborn (and The Progeny, if you have not read it yet. And if you haven’t, what are you waiting for??). Firstborn is available for pre-order now and releases May 2.

Many thanks to Howard Books and NetGalley for the copy of this novel. I was not required to give a positive review. All opinions are my very own!! 🙂

The Shadow Land by Elizabeth Kostova

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From the publisher: “From the #1 bestselling author of The Historian comes an engrossing novel that spans the past and the present—and unearths the dark secrets of Bulgaria, a beautiful and haunted country.

“A young American woman, Alexandra Boyd, has traveled to Sofia, Bulgaria, hoping that life abroad will salve the wounds left by the loss of her beloved brother. Soon after arriving in this elegant East European city, however, she helps an elderly couple into a taxi—and realizes too late that she has accidentally kept one of their bags. Inside she finds an ornately carved wooden box engraved with a name: Stoyan Lazarov. Raising the hinged lid, she discovers that she is holding an urn filled with human ashes.

“As Alexandra sets out to locate the family and return this precious item, she will first have to uncover the secrets of a talented musician who was shattered by oppression—and she will find out all too quickly that this knowledge is fraught with its own danger.”

Kostova’s third novel, The Shadow Land, is another epic tale of Eastern Europe. I remember reading Kostova’s The Historian years ago when it first came out. I know that a number of people were less than thrilled by that book, but I, on the other hand, found myself enjoying the intricate details, the weaving of storylines, the whole drama. The Shadow Land employs many of the same techniques – multiple stories from the present and the past intertwining to create a heart-wrenching saga of love, loss, pain, and secrets with that one golden thread of hope woven throughout. And rather than having the plot driven by smarmy sex scenes and foul language, The Shadow Land is moved along by mystery, history, wonder, and hope.

While I enjoyed the story, I do admit that there were times when I wondered just how much more Alexandra and Bobby could stumble into and if the drama would ever come to a conclusion. There were moments when I thought that plausibility was stretched beyond its reach (as when Alexandra happened to find an English-speaking cab driver willing to drive well outside the city for very little money), but Kostova somehow managed to make everything that happened make sense (when we get to know Bobby and his history better, we can maybe understand why he was willing to help Alexandra). And in amongst the plot twists and long car rides, she embroidered in some desperately beautiful images and stitches of wisdom to keep me reading on.

This was definitely not a one-sitting book for me. In fact, it took me quite a while to get through it. But I’m glad that I did. I feel like I grew alongside Alexandra in this book. It gave me both a new respect for the survivors of the Communist regimes in Eastern Europe and a broken heart for all they endured at the hands of those who were in power. Worth the read.

Many thanks to Ballantine Books and NetGalley for the copy of this book. I was not required to give a positive review. All opinions are my very own! 🙂

Tainted by Morgan L. Busse

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What Happens When Your Soul Dies?

From the publisher: “Kat Bloodmayne is one of the first women chosen to attend the Tower Academy of Sciences. But she carries a secret: she can twist the natural laws of life. She has no idea where this ability came from, only that every time she loses control and unleashes this power, it kills a part of her soul. If she doesn’t find a cure soon, her soul will die and she will become something else entirely.

“After a devastating personal loss, Stephen Grey leaves the World City Police Force to become a bounty hunter. He believes in justice and will stop at nothing to ensure criminals are caught and locked up. However, when Kat Bloodmayne shows up in his office seeking his help, his world is turned upside down.

“Together they search World City and beyond for a doctor who can cure Kat. But what they discover on the way goes beyond science and into the dark sphere of magic.”

So, this was my first foray into the steampunk sub-genre, and I’m sure glad I started with this one! What made the book great was that the steampunk elements did not overwhelm the story, did not hijack the tale as I assumed they would. Instead of steampunk practically being a character in its own right, the elements enhanced the plot in (most often) subtle ways. And the story was awesome – it began with a fascinating premise (“What happens when your soul dies?”) and grew into a powerful tale of love, loss, trust, and truth.

Morgan Busse is a marvelous writer. She must be if she’s made me want to be a steampunk fan 😉 If you’ve never tried steampunk, start here. If you are a huge fan of the genre, Tainted is also for you. I highly recommend it. Book two, Awakened, is supposed to be released sometime this Spring, and I’m very excited to grab a copy and see what happens in the next part of the adventure. 🙂

**Special Note: I received a copy of this book (along with many others) as a winner of the Christian Book Box, sponsored by authors Charles Franklin and Mandy Fender. If you head over to their websites (just click  on their names), you can enter to win your own book box and be blessed with a plethora of books by Christian authors and other goodies. I got the box last November and am still being blessed by it 🙂 **

London Calling by Sara Sheridan

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From the publisher:

In the years following World War II, former Secret Service employee Mirabelle Bevan has found a refuge in the quiet coastal town of Brighton. But she can’t seem to resist an attraction to danger and a thirst for justice . . .

“1952: Eighteen-year-old debutante Rose Bellamy Gore was last seen outside a Soho jazz club in the company of a saxophone player named Lindon Claremont. Now her mysterious disappearance is front-page news in the London tabloids.

“When Lindon turns up the next day in Brighton, desperately seeking help, Mirabelle counsels him to cooperate with the authorities. After the local police take the musician into custody and ship him off to Scotland Yard, Mirabelle and her best friend, Vesta Churchill, hop a train to London in search of the truth.

“As they scour smoky jazz clubs searching for clues to the deb’s disappearance, they descend into a sinister underworld where the price of admission can be one’s life. Mirabelle will need to draw on her espionage skills to improvise her way out of a disappearing act of her own . . .”

I read the first Mirabelle Bevan Mystery last year (Brighton Belle – find my review here) and thoroughly enjoyed it. Mirabelle’s second adventure, London Calling, was just as wonderful. Sheridan does a marvelous job of evoking the romance and risk of the Jazz Age in London. And her characters thrive in it. Mirabelle is such an intelligently crafted heroine – full of wit and chutzpa – someone a quiet soul like me can look up to. And it was a pleasure to get to know Vesta (another strong female character in her own right) and hear her story more in this adventure.

The mystery was well-plotted and nicely-paced. This was one of those fabulous stories that I just had to know, so I stayed up way past my bedtime to see how Mirabelle figured it all out. If you enjoy a mystery, you’ll certainly like Mirabelle Bevan and her adventures. And, as with the first book, Brighton Belle, I think London Calling would make a terrific book club selection with tons of layers and history to keep your discussion flowing.

Grab your copy when London Calling releases on March 28, 2017.

Many thanks to Kensington Books and NetGalley for the copy of this book for review purposes. I was not required to write a positive review. All opinions are my very own! 🙂

Murder on the Moor by Julianna Deering

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From the back cover:

“The rolling mists that creep in over the Yorkshire moors hide a mystery as challenging as Drew has ever faced.

“At the urgent request of an old school friend, Drew and Madeline Farthering come to Bloodworth Park Lodge in the midst of the Yorkshire moors, a place as moody and mysterious as a Brontë hero. There have been several worrisome incidents around those lonesome rolling hills–property desecrated, fires started, sheep and cattle scattered. Worst of all, the vicar has been found dead on the steps of the church, a crime for which Drew can discern no motive at all.

“Few in the town of Bunting’s Nest seem like suspects, and Drew can’t keep his suspicions from falling on his friend’s new bride. Do her affections lie more with her husband’s money and estate, while her romantic interests stray to their fiery Welsh gamekeeper? As the danger grows ever closer, it’s up to Drew to look past his own prejudices, determine what’s really going on, and find the killer before it’s too late.”

I think I may have a bit of a crush on Drew Farthering…he’s charming, witty, intelligent, and imperfect. And I liked him even better in this novel than in the first in the series, because he was so misled by his own prejudices, so realistic, so like I can be at times! And the secondary character work in Murder on the Moor was also very well-handled — each character introduced had a well-fleshed history and was purposeful to the plot, not just window-dressing. Deering spun a good plot and wove it into a rather enjoyable mystery.

Murder on the Moor is the fifth book in Julianna Deering’s Drew Farthering Mysteries, and it’s the second one I’ve read (Book One, Rules for Murder, being the first one I read). While Murder on the Moor was an entirely charming read, I found myself wishing I hadn’t skipped the three books in between, since she references past cases and people that have affected the characters, making me feel a bit left out of the loop at times. Guess I’ll just have to find the time to go back and read the ones I missed! Otherwise, I thoroughly enjoyed this classic murder mystery.

Many thanks to Bethany House for the copy of this novel. I was not required to give a positive review. All opinions are my very own! 🙂

Some Small Magic by Billy Coffey

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From the book:

She whispers, “I’m supposed to take you home.”

“Not yet,” Abel says. “Please, just not yet.”

“All Abel wants is a little bit of magic in his life. Enough money so his mom doesn’t cry at night. Healing for his broken body. And maybe a few answers about his past.

“When Abel discovers letters to him from the dad he believed dead, he wonders if magic has come to the hills of Mattingly, Virginia, after all. But not everything is as it seems.

“With a lot of questions and a little bit of hope, Abel decides to run away to find the truth. But danger follows him from the moment he jumps his first boxcar, forcing Abel to rely upon his simpleminded friend Willie—a man wanted for murder who knows more about truth than most—and a beautiful young woman who was already on the train. From Appalachia to the Tennessee wilds and through the Carolina mountains, the name of a single small town beckons: Fairhope. That is where Abel believes his magic lays. But will it be the sort that will bring a broken boy healing? And is that the magic that will one day lead him home?”

If you’ve not yet read a Billy Coffey novel, you are seriously missing out. His novels are brimming with mystery, wonder, and even magic, strumming the readers’ heartstrings with lyrical prose and spiritual beauty. And Coffey’s latest, Some Small Magic, hits all the right notes: I laughed, I cried, I sat in shock, and my heart smiled (and more than once for all of them!).

Abel and Dumb Willie are characters that you desperately wish you could hug, just hold them and love them. Yet, at the same time, they are such amazing examples of strength and perseverance that you have to kind of sit back  in respect. They are the type of characters that make you rethink what you really believe about the people around you, and that is a relatively rare and tremendously awesome thing to find in a story.

With shades of such beautiful novels as Of Mice and Men and The Book Thief, Coffey’s Some Small Magic is a tale not to be missed, but to be savored and reread for years to come. It releases March 14, 2017, so be sure to grab your copy and curl up for a wonder-filled story of love, hope, and Some Small Magic.

Many thanks to Thomas Nelson and NetGalley for the chance to read this book early. I was not required to give a positive review. All opinions are my very own! 🙂