30 Dec 2018

My Year in Books: 2018

I've nearly finished the final book in my 2018 Goodreads reading challenge. 98 Books! I am so going to be setting that number lower for next year. I almost did not make it, and relied a lot on Audiobooks, I must say. Yeah, I cheated. 

So I'm rounding up the year with some of my favourite reads for this year. Not all of these titles were actually released this year, as I have been wading into my Kindle backlog and I have lots of older books on my shelves. So without further ado here are some of my favourites divided by genre. 

Historical Fiction 

  From Ancient Rome to Edwardian Britain, there have been so many great historical novels and novellas I have read this year. 

Ancient Rome:  This novel is a few years old now, but well worth the read. I'm working through my Kindle backlist as this was one of the first titles of it. 

Its about a young British Boy who is kidnapped following a rebellion in Britannia, and becomes a slave to a Roman Centurion. 

Running away from his master, he meets a Jewish exile, and converts to Christianity, and from thereon follows a story about the growth of the Church and the challenges faced by Christians in First Century Rome. 

I don't read many novels set in this period, but its starting to grow on me, alongside Biblical Fiction. 

28 Dec 2018

First Line Fridays: Death at Thorburn Hall by Julianna Deering

Welcome the the last First Line Friday post of 2018! Today I am going to be featuring a book that was actually published about in late 2017. I've only just got around to reading it now, as its been setting on by Kindle from Netgalley for a while. 

Death at Thorburn Hall is the sixth and so fat the last title in American author Julianna Deering's series called the Drew Fathering Mysteries. The series is set in Britain in the 1930s, and features a minor nobleman and his American girlfriend and later fiance, Madelaine. 

Drew Farthering arrives in idyllic Scotland for the 1935 British Open at Muirfield hoping for a relaxing holiday, but he soon finds a mystery on his hands. Lord Rainsby, his host at Thorburn Hall, fears his business partner may be embezzling and asks Drew to quietly investigate. Before Drew can uncover anything, Rainsby is killed in a suspicious riding accident.

Thorburn Hall is filled with guests, and as Drew continues to dig, he realizes that each might have had a motive to put Rainsby out of the way. Together with Madeline and Nick, he must sort through shady business dealings, international intrigue, and family tensions to find a killer who always seems to be one step ahead.

I've made a little graphic for today's first line, which works because its quite long. 

Happy (soon be be) New Year to you all. 

As Always, don't forget to comment with your own first line, or click the graphic to see what others are reading.


21 Dec 2018

First Line Fridays 45: Christmas Books

Its nearly that time of the year again! Only 4 days until Christmas: and yup, I seem to have managed to have caught a head cold/flu. Yeuch. Let's hope I'm over that soon. 

Today my theme is not so much books I'm going to receive for Christmas, but festive themed books. I just finished reading The Christmas Candle by Max Lucado yesterday. After having seen the movie a couple of times, I thought reading the book was a good idea.
Imagine a Victorian England village in the Cotswolds where very little out of the ordinary ever happens . . . except at Christmas time.
This year, Edward Haddington, a lowly candle maker, is visited by a mysterious angel. That angel silently imparts a precious gift—a gift that’s bungled and subsequently lost. The candle maker and his wife, Bea, struggle to find the gift.
And when they do, they have to make a difficult choice. Who among their community is most in need of a Christmas miracle?

“I just think it odd that Oxford would assign its top student to a village like Gladstone,” Edward Haddington said to his wife, Bea. "

Today I am reading another book that sort of ties in with the season. Its about King Wencelas: you know the one from the popular Christmas carol. It seems he was a real person, a King of Bohemia (the modern day Czech republic) in the 10th century.

Immersed in the historical background of the tenth century, this true tale of Good King Wenceslaus, as told by his faithful servant Poidevin, brings the reader into the Dark Ages.

 Fear grips the land of Bohemia as the faithful face betrayal and persecution under the reign of the pagan Duchess Dragomira. 

As she struggles for power with the rightful heir, Prince Vaclav, her foes forge alliances in secret despite the risk of discovery. Who will survive?

" DARKNESS GRIPPED BOHEMIA, an evil born of fear: Fear of the goddess Morana and her demand for human sacrifice; fear of the nomadic Magyars who had destroyed Moravia on our eastern border; and fear of the mighty Germanic army to the west"

So that's two First Lines from Me today, and I am not too far off reaching my target for this year's Goodreads Challenge 

Now its your turn: Click the Meme to see what other members are reading, and comment with your own First Line


20 Dec 2018

Mark of the Raven by Morgan L. Busse

Ravenwood Saga #1 
352 Pages, November 6th 2018 Bethany House 
Print, Ebook and Audio 

Genre: Fantasy and Speculative 
Setting: Invented World/Country of the Seven Realms 

Lady Selene is the heir to the Great House of Ravenwood and the secret family gift of dreamwalking. As a dreamwalker, she can enter a person's dreams and manipulate their greatest fears or desires. For the last hundred years, the Ravenwood women have used their gift of dreaming for hire to gather information or to assassinate.

As she discovers her family's dark secret, Selene is torn between upholding her family's legacy--a legacy that supports her people--or seeking the true reason behind her family's gift.

Her dilemma comes to a head when she is tasked with assassinating the one man who can bring peace to the nations, but who will also bring about the downfall of her own house.

One path holds glory and power, and will solidify her position as Lady of Ravenwood. The other path holds shame and execution. Which will she choose? And is she willing to pay the price for the path chosen?

My Rating: ⭐⭐⭐

Mark of the Raven is the first novel in a new fantasy series from author Morgan L. Busse. I believe she has written other books, but this is the first one to be picked up by Bethany House. Overall, I enjoyed it more than I expected it to. The concept was good and well executed and the world building quite believable. I would not all the setting wholly Medieval, as there were modern elements (tea trays etc) but they don’t seem intrusive or anachronistic. They just kind of work as part of the invented world.

There were faint resemblances to other stories including Patrick W Carr’s Darkwater Trilogy which involves different houses or families having different ‘gifts’, and even Game of Thrones with a clan of dragon riders (a wyvern was according to mythology a two-legged dragon) and a house the symbol of a raven. Yet there was enough originality in the story and characters for this story to work on its own. Despite a few clichĂ©s- leather trousers for example or characters drinking tea out of iron mugs. Yeah iron a conductor of heat, so, burning hazard there.

Also, the characters were interesting. Again, it’s easy in some fantasy stories for the characters to get ‘lost’ in the complexities of the story or the action, or just be killed off too quickly. It was possible to identify with Selene’s moral struggles and angst about her purpose the destiny in life, her care for her family was tangible, and I was found myself rooting for her throughout.

My only real complaint was that things got a little repetitive in a few places. I think the history of what had happened to House Ravenwood only needed to be mentioned a couple of times, not over and over again. Also, the way that characters kept mulling over their actions, thoughts and feelings, often with the same decisions and conclusions became repetitive.

I certainly recommend this novel to lovers of clean fantasy with an inspirational flavour set in unique and imaginative worlds, and I look forward to the story continuing in the next book.

I requested this title from the publisher via Netgalley. I was not required to write a positive review and all opinions expressed are my own.

14 Dec 2018

First Line Fridays #44: Wayfarer by Janalyn Voigt

I published a review last week, so no FLF post, and I have been out in London most of today. Sitting here writing this at 7:30 in the evening.

I've decided to include the sequel to the Fantasy novel I included later on the year. I'm also currently listening to Mark of the Raven by Morgan L. Busse audiobook. Going for a bit of a fantasy tangent at the moment. 

When Kai returns with the supposed DawnKing, Lof Shraen Elcon cannot trust that the Elder youth truly is the prophesied deliverer. Driven to prove himself, Elcon banishes the boy and embarks on a peace-keeping campaign into the Elder lands, where he falls in love with an Elder princess betrothed to another. 
Sometimes the deliverance of a nation comes only through the humility of one. 
Declaring his love would shame the nations, but Elcon is torn. As war approaches, Elcon's choices lead him on a journey of discovery that will either settle the lands or leave them mired in conflict. Can his kingdom ever be united, or will the consequences of his decisions forever tear asunder the fabric of Faeraven?

I'm going to share the first line from Chapter 13, which I'm onto now. 

"Hiding her surprise, Aewen backed into her outer chamber to allow her father entrance".

Don't Forget to clock the Meme and See what Everyone else is reading or comment with your own first line. 


9 Dec 2018

The Making of Mrs Hale by Carolyn Miller

Regency Brides: A Promise of Hope #3
November 27th 2018, 336 Pages, Kregel Publications 
Print and Audio 

Marry in haste, repent in leisure--Mrs. Hale is about to find out how painful that repentance can truly be.

Julia Hale ran off to be married in Gretna Green, following romance instead of common sense. But her tale isn't turning into a happily ever after. Her new husband is gone and she doesn't know where--or if he's ever coming back. Julia has no option but to head home to the family she betrayed by eloping and to hope they'll forgive her. Especially now that she might be carrying a baby from her brief marriage.

Carolyn Miller's clean and wholesome Regency romances continue with The Making of Mrs. Hale, following familiar characters as they learn how restoration can occur by finding hope and healing through a deep relationship with God. Full of rich historical details and witty banter, this series continues to draw in fans of Jane Austen, Sarah Ladd, and Julie Klassen

 Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐

The Making of Mrs Hale is Carolyn Miller's sixth book, the conclusion of her second trilogy set in Regency Britain.
It follows Julia Hale, the sister of a nobleman who disappeared in the first book with a friend of her brother known as Major Thomas Hale. Thomas was known to be a rake and knowing her family would disapprove of her marrying a commoner with no title or lands and such a reputation. 

Eighteen months later, Julia reappears having been apparently abandoned by her husband on the doorstep of one of her friends. What’s more, she has a baby in tow. Here the story begins, and it’s not a typical Regency. The protagonists are already married: but their relationship is fractured through separation, secrets, betrayal and emotional trauma. 

There are many other Regency stories which involve rakish characters making right, and this could have following that formula, but does not. At least, not slavishly. Julia’s family apparently hate Thomas for what he did to her (or what they believe he did), but she struggles to love and trust him, despite the wishes of her overbearing mother and over-protective brother.
Above all, it’s a story of reconciliation: of husband and wife, family, friends, and ultimately reconciliation with God. 

There is also a strong element of danger and intrigue in this story, with a possible plot against Thomas by a corrupt army officer and a secret mission gone wrong. This provided a lot of interesting details about the 19th century military and some government offices. It also was a good way of incorporating characters from the earlier books into the story but might be a little confusing for those who have not read them.
Above all there was a very strong emphasis on the spiritual maturity of the characters, and a very strong salvation message. Some might say it’s a little heavy-handed and modern. Perhaps, but I did not find it so off-putting, and sort of appropriate in the context of the story. 
There was a great deal of grace involved, and Thomas’s reasons for hesitating and doubting in his faith were credible.

I did feel a few incidents were implausible or not properly accounted for: like how did Julia manage to travel all the way from Edinburgh to London in such dire straits and with no money? Overall though, it was a lovely conclusion to the story. 

Thanks to Kregel for inviting me to read this book via Netgalley. I was not required to write a positive review and all opinions expressed are my own.

7 Dec 2018

Loving Luther by Allison Pittman

September 1st 2017, 417 Pages, Tyndale House 
Print and E-book 

 Genre: Historical Fiction
 Setting: Germany, Early 1500s
In the dark of night, Katharina von Bora says the bravest good-bye a six-year-old can muster and walks away as the heavy convent gate closes behind her.

Though the cold walls offer no comfort, Katharina soon finds herself calling the convent her home. God, her father. This, her life. She takes her vows--a choice more practical than pious--but in time, a seed of discontent is planted by the smuggled writings of a rebellious excommunicated priest named Martin Luther. Their message? That Katharina is subject to God, and no one else. Could the Lord truly desire more for her than this life of servitude?

In her first true step of faith, Katharina leaves the only life she has ever known. But the freedom she has craved comes with a price, and she finds she has traded one life of isolation for another. Without the security of the convent walls or a family of her own, Katharina must trust in both the God who saved her and the man who paved a way for rescue. Luther's friends are quick to offer shelter, but Katharina longs for all Luther has promised: a home, a husband, perhaps even the chance to fall in love.

My Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐


This was my second novel about Martin Luther and the woman who eventually became his wife, Katherina von Bora. I think I preferred his one overall, is it stuck closer to the facts, whereas the other was much more of a romance novel, and was way too dramatized with unnecessary rape and torture scenes.

I have not read anything by Allison Pittman before, but I would consider more of her work. I liked her detailed descriptions of landscape and the environment inhabited by the characters which helped bring parts of the story to life.

This focuses not so much on the Romance, but more on Katherina's life. She does not even escape the Abbey to which she was sent as a child until about one third of the way through. It is slow moving in places, and lags a little towards the end, but generally a worthwhile read.

I requested a copy of this title from Tyndale House via Netgalley a long while ago. I was not required to write a positive review and all opinions expressed are my own.

30 Nov 2018

First Line Fridays 43# The Making of Mrs Hale

I've not posted in 3 weeks. Only just realized that, and its pretty shameful. So finally returned with the final title in Carolyn Miller's Regency Brides: A Promise of Hope Trilogy. I hope I'm not too late for the Kregel Blog Tour, as I have not started the book yet but intend to soon. 

So far I've read, and basically loved all 5 of Australian author Carolyn Miller's previous novels, so I can't see this one being an exception.

Marry in haste, repent in leisure--Mrs. Hale is about to find out how painful that repentance can truly be.

Julia Hale ran off to be married in Gretna Green, following romance instead of common sense. But her tale isn't turning into a happily ever after. Her new husband is gone and she doesn't know where--or if he's ever coming back. Julia has no option but to head home to the family she betrayed by eloping and to hope they'll forgive her. Especially now that she might be carrying a baby from her brief marriage.

Carolyn Miller's clean and wholesome Regency romances continue with The Making of Mrs. Hale, following familiar characters as they learn how restoration can occur by finding hope and healing through a deep relationship with God. Full of rich historical details and witty banter, this series continues to draw in fans of Jane Austen, Sarah Ladd, and Julie Klassen.

 I've made a Meme for today's first line. So here it is. I could not find any Free Regency related backgrounds, so I used one related to the Battle of Waterloo, because Julia Hale's husband is a soldier. Even though the Battle happened a few years before this novel is set.


So that's my contribution for this week. Don't forget to Click the Meme to see what others are reading. 
Or Comment and Share your own first Line. 


24 Nov 2018

Becoming Mrs Lewis by Patti Callahan

432 Pages, October 2nd 2018, Thomas Nelson
Print, Ebook and Audio*

In a most improbable friendship, she found love. In a world where women were silenced, she found her voice.

From New York Times bestselling author Patti Callahan comes an exquisite novel of Joy Davidman, the woman C. S. Lewis called “my whole world.” When poet and writer Joy Davidman began writing letters to C. S. Lewis—known as Jack—she was looking for spiritual answers, not love. Love, after all, wasn’t holding together her crumbling marriage. 
Everything about New Yorker Joy seemed ill-matched for an Oxford don and the beloved writer of Narnia, yet their minds bonded over their letters. Embarking on the adventure of her life, Joy traveled from America to England and back again, facing heartbreak and poverty, discovering friendship and faith, and against all odds, finding a love that even the threat of death couldn’t destroy.

In this masterful exploration of one of the greatest love stories of modern times, we meet a brilliant writer, a fiercely independent mother, and a passionate woman who changed the life of this respected author and inspired books that still enchant us and change us. Joy lived at a time when women weren’t meant to have a voice—and yet her love for Jack gave them both voices they didn’t know they had.

At once a fascinating historical novel and a glimpse into a writer’s life, Becoming Mrs. Lewis is above all a love story—a love of literature and ideas and a love between a husband and wife that, in the end, was not impossible at all.
*Ebook and audio versions of this title are currently unavailable in Europe.

 My Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐

As a pretty much lifelong Lewis fan who's watched the movie Shadowlands , I knew I'd request this one once it became available.

I loved this as a vivid, realistic and emotional account of Lewis life with Joy Davidman, the American poet and writer of Jewish heritage he ended up marrying.
Since its written from her perspective there is a lot about her life before she met him. I never really knew Joy was a well-known and successful author in her own right.

Like many other Joy wrote to Lewis at the time of her own conversion. Lewis' radio talks and popular books made many who had not met him consider him a spiritual mentor, even though he openly said he was not a theologian.
Such was the case with Joy Davidman at the hardest time in her life, when her marriage was crumbling due to her husband's alcoholism and she was searching for truth.

The compassion, understanding and patient insights from a man halfway across the world drew her in. Lewis and Joy were kindred spirits, even if they seemed so different in lifestyle, background and temperament.
I appreciated the way the novel described their unfolding relationship, growing from a friendship which blooming from a mutual love of Literature, Mythology and the written word as well as a shared faith which as is once said 'crept up on them' unexpectedly. 

This is a warts and all perspective of the lives of the central figures. By turn ran and honest, and 'naked'. Everything is laid bare, and I meant everything: including mentions ofpre-marital and extra-marital affairs and liaisons engaged in by Joy and others.
The downside to this is that there were times when her character came over as: for lack of a better word a- a man eater. 
There were times when I felt her yearning for Lewis to express his love in a physical way became a little overbearing. I understand she yearned for love, but had problems understanding that there was more to emotional and romantic fulfillment than sex. Or rather had learn that during her time with Lewis.

The description of him as a man devoted to Classical virtue, including the Medieval concept of platonic love or courtly love was one I found fascinating.
Overall this was novel was intense. Full of raw emotion, love, hope and heartbreak, which ends in a sad but hopeful note. 
To refer to death as the time until 'I cling to the Great Lion, bury my face in his mane, and fall to my knees in surrender' was poignant and beautiful.

I think all fans of the work of Lewis will like this book, notwithstanding some of the content warnings. It will certainly make me appreciate more the woman who had such an influence on Lewis later work. 

I requested a copy of this book from Thomas Nelson via BookLook Bloggers. I was not required to write a positive review and all opinions expressed are my own.


17 Nov 2018

An Hour Unspent by Roseanna M. White

Shadows Over England #3
413 Pages, Bethany House, Sept 4th 2018
Print, Ebook and Audio 

Setting: London and France, 1915 
Once London’s top thief, Barclay Pearce has turned his back on his life of crime and now uses his skills for a nation at war. But not until he rescues a clockmaker’s daughter from a mugging does he begin to wonder what his future might hold.

Evelina Manning has constantly fought for independence but she certainly never meant for it to inspire her fiancĂ© to end the engagement and enlist in the army. When the intriguing man who saved her returns to the Manning residence to study clockwork repair with her father, she can’t help being interested. But she soon learns that nothing with Barclay Pearce is as simple as it seems.

As 1915 England plunges ever deeper into war, the work of an ingenious clockmaker may give England an unbeatable military edge—and Germany realizes it as well. Evelina’s father soon finds his whole family in danger—and it may just take a reformed thief to steal the time they need to escape it.

 My Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐

Ever wondered about Barclay Peirce? The enigmatic big brother/father figure to the gang of London Thieves who form the bases of this trilogy. An Hour Unspent is his story. Barclay is a former thief and reformed criminal with a big heart, who took in street children and orphan's like himself. His self-sacrificial and giving nature really comes across in this story. Despite his background he wants to do what's right in the best way he can.

Now working with the 'Admiralty' really the Secret Service, Barclay is given an assignment to work with an Austrian born clock-maker, but the first person he meets is his daughter Evelina who he runs into when she's about to be mugged. Barclay finds ‘Lina fascinating for her inner strength and caring nature, although she only finds herself attracted to him on the rebound from a failed engagement.

Both Barclay and Evalina struggle to find their place in the world. Evalina believes she can neither love nor be loved. She puts her efforts into the Suffragette cause to fill the void of what she believes is her loveless life.
Barclay cares for his adoptive ‘family’ but in this we find out that he is in some sense compensating for losing contact with his birth brother
 Barclay and Eve’s relationship develops and simmers slowly, without insta-love or too many mushy scenes.

As with the other books in this series, the historical backdrop is strong, and Mrs White has a great way of working history into the story. This was set in 1916, by which time WWI was underway, and Britain is threatened by Zeppelin raids. The detail is wonderful: not just the historical detail, but also smaller details about London streets and boroughs and which ones were considered richer and more upper class, and there was even a smattering of Cockney Rhyming Slang.
I also liked how Barclays work with the clockmaker was made to tie up perfectly with some other details from the period: like the invention of Rolex wristwatches and early aeroplane technology. The author even managed to work in a reference to little known battle.

Also, the cast of secondary characters added a lot of depth and interest to the story, especially Barclays brothers and sisters. Rosemary and Willa, the protagonists from the last two stories return: but some of the younger children also come into their own including Lucy the half-Indian girl who doubles and a cook and an impromptu spy. Despite being rescued as a baby, Lucy apparently had some sense of her background with her love of spicy dishes.
The faith elements were also worked very well into this story without being preachy, and there were some wonderful messages about love, loyalty and family.

I only noticed one or two errors. One character refers to the ‘sidewalk’, which is an Americanism. Also, I’ve noticed with several stories like this the confusion between ‘pence’ which is supposed to be plural and ‘penny’ the singular form. ‘without a pence to my name’ just does not sound right. Even my computer wants to correct it as a grammar error,

An Hour Unspent was a worthwhile and truly worthy conclusion to the trilogy, although there is a hint that some characters may reappear in a new series that the author is working on. Even for someone who has only started reading novels set in this period recently (a couple of years ago), I would rank this series as one of my favourites.

I requested a paperback of this title from the publisher’s UK distributors and purchased the audiobook of my own volition. I was not required to write a positive review an all opinions expressed are my own.

9 Nov 2018

First Line Fridays 42# Road from the West by Rosanne E Lortz

I'm sharing another book from my Kindle backlist today. The Road from the West was the second novel by US Indy author Rosanne E Lortz. Her first book I Serve: A Novel of the Black Prince remains among my all-time favourites. 

You've heard of the Knights Templar, you've heard of Richard the Lionheart-now learn the story that started it all with the adventures of the First Crusade.
Haunted by guilt from the past and nightmares of the future, a young Norman named Tancred takes the cross and vows to be the first to free Jerusalem from the infidels. As he journeys to the Holy Land, he braves vast deserts, mortal famine, and the ever-present ambushes of the enemy Turks-but the greatest danger of all is deciding which of the Crusader lords to trust.

A mysterious seer prophesies that Tancred will find great love and great sorrow on his journey, but the second seems intent on claiming him before he can find the first. Intrigues and passions grow as every battle brings the Crusaders one step closer to Jerusalem. Not all are destined to survive the perilous road from the West.

The book was supposed to be the first in a series, entitled the Chronicles of Tancred. It follows a young Norman nobleman who would become a leader of the First Crusade, and later gained the title of Prince of Galilee. 
Now, in case you're wondering, he was part of a different group of Normans to the ones who conquered England under the command of Duke William in 1066. This group ended up conquering much of Southern Italy and established a Kingdom for themselves in Sicily in the early 11th century. Some of  them then joined the First Crusade and established themselves in the Holy Land and the Crusader Kingdoms in Syria and Lebanon. 

I'm just about two thirds of the way through Road from the West, and like Mrs Lortz first book, it bears mentioning that this is not a romance. Its serious Historical Fiction about real people, and their actions and motives. So there is intrigue, politics and a fear deal of violence because these were fighting men. 
There are romantic elements with some of the female characters, especially a young Greek woman called Alexandra, but its not central to the story. 

What I do like about the story is it explores the complex motives and different personalities of the men who took part in a historical event that would become infamous. People and history are not 'black and white' as movies and the mass media often make out, and that comes across here. 

I am sad about two things though: first of all this novel is now out of Print. I only have it on my Kindle because I purchased it about 3 years ago before it disappeared from Kindle and other ebook platforms. 
Second: There is no sequel. The title character had a fairly long and eventful life, and this novel was meant to be part of a trilogy. 
Although I know that the author was working on the the second book a few years back, I think it was never finished and I don't know if the series will ever be republished. 

Since then the talented Rosanne E Lortz has established her own Publishing company and has written three books in a Regency Suspense series, as well as being a wife and mom to three boys. 

So without further ado (because I have been rambling an awful lot), here is today's first line. 

"The stars changed their courses the day that Tancred the marquis tossed aside his sword and strode off the field of battle. It was not from fear, for he walked slowly, his back an easy target for enemy spears and arrows" 

Don't Forget to Click the Meme to see what others are reading, or comment with your own First Line. 

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