Sunday, July 26, 2015

A quartet of southern love stories -- Among the Fair Magnolias

Among the Fair Magnolias is a collection of four love stories by four different authors set in the South in the decade following the Civil War.  Even though the stories share a common time period, the authors' writing styles, the settings, and the characters are quite different in these four enjoyable stories.

I was drawn to the novella collection when I saw that Tamera Alexander had written Savannah Derby's story.  Savannah was an "old friend" from To Win Her Favor and had a story that needed to be told.  In her typical style, Tamera (who appears to be a proper southern belle herself) told a beautiful tale of love and faith that was my favorite of the four.

Shelley Gray is the other author that I was familiar with before reading this book.  Russell's return home was a very fitting addition to her Heart of a Hero series, bringing some of the characters full circle to where their lives seemed to fall apart, while learning important lessons about their own feelings. 

Elizabeth Musser's story dealt with some of the most difficult and ugliest parts of this time period and did so with a great deal of class.  Some of the twists and turns in this story certainly helped keep the interest level up.

Dorothy Love wrote a story of well-to-do southerners forced to make difficult decisions with far-reaching consequences.  This story did not draw me in as much as the others in the collection did.

Fans of good historical fiction should enjoy Among the Fair Magnolias.  I am not always a fan of short novellas, usually preferring the opportunity to see stories develop over the span of a longer book.  But I found these stories to be well paced, even with the limitations of 80-90 pages each.

Thanks to Litfuse Publicity Group for providing a copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

See what other readers think about Among the Fair Magnolias here.

About the Book:

In the most turbulent decade of our nation’s history, four Southern women—destinies forged by birth, hearts steeled by war—face near impossible choices on their journeys in life . . . and in love.
To Mend a Dream by Tamera Alexander
Savannah Darby would do almost anything to revisit her family home. So when new owner, Aidan Bedford, a Boston attorney and former Union soldier, seeks to redecorate the house for his fiancée, Savannah jumps at the opportunity. But the clock is ticking. Can she find the
box her father supposedly hid there during the war before her assignment is completed? And before she sees yet another battle lost on the home front. This time, one of the heart.

An Outlaw’s Heart by Shelley Gray
When Russell Champion returns to Fort Worth, he’s determined to begin a new life. But when he arrives at his mother’s homestead, he discovers she’s very ill, and the woman he loved is still as beautiful and sweet as he remembered. With time running out, Russell must come to terms with both his future and his past.

A Heart So True by Dorothy Love
Abigail knows all too well what is expected of her: to marry her distant cousin Charles and take her place in society. But her heart belongs to another. A terrible incident forces Abby to choose between love and duty.
Love Beyond Limits by Elizabeth Musser
Emily has a secret: She’s in love with one of the freedmen on her family’s plantation. Meanwhile, another man declares his love for her. Emily realizes some things are not as they seem and secrets must be kept in order to keep those she loves safe.

About the Authors:

Tamera Alexander is the best-selling author of numerous books including “A Lasting Impression” and “The Inheritance.” Tamera is a two-time Christy Award winner, two-time RITA winner, and a recipient of the prestigious Library Journal Award.

A native of west Tennessee, Dorothy Love makes her home in the Texas hill country with her husband and their golden retriever. An award-winning author of numerous young adult novels, Dorothy made her adult debut with the Hickory Ridge novels.

Shelley Gray is the author of The Heart of a Hero series. Her Amish novel (written as Shelley Shepard Gray), “The Protector,” recently made the New York Times best seller list.

Elizabeth Musser, a native of Atlanta, Georgia now living in France, is a novelist who writes what she calls ‘entertainment with a soul.’ For over 25 years, Elizabeth and her husband, Paul, have been involved in mission work with International Teams.

Here is a video where you can get a little background information and learn a few "fun facts" about the authors of these stories.

Find out more about Alexander, Gray, Love, Musser at

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Sweet romance -- I Hope You Dance

I Hope You Dance is a sweet, fairy-tale type story that is Robin Lee Hatcher's contribution to the Year of Weddings novella collection.

Skye Foster, a dance instructor and lover of horses, spends a lot of time thinking about her dream wedding.  All that's missing is the groom.  Grant Nichols has had enough of his large family and isn't sure marriage -- and especially children -- are even in his future.  He has moved to Kings Meadow for a fresh start after giving up his former less-than-ideal lifestyle.  When the upcoming wedding of common friends in the small town of Kings Meadow brings the two together, well . . . romance just has to happen.

This story is quite predictable; after all, it is in a collection of wedding novellas.  But the quick read is a pleasant way to spend an hour or so.  Fans of Robin Lee Hatcher's writing will find familiar faces from Kings Meadow, Idaho.

Anyone interested in a delightful, quick-to-read romance should enjoy I Hope You Dance.  As I understand it, this novella is currently available only in ebook form but should be published in a collection in hard copy form a little later.

Thanks to BookLook Bloggers for providing a copy of this novella in exchange for my honest review.

About the Book:

Meet the people who make it all happen—the planners, the photographers, the musicians who have helped orchestrate the perfect day for countless couples—as they find their own happy endings in the second Year of Weddings novella collection.

Can two left feet lead to one perfect romance?

Grant Nichols is a genius in the kitchen and a klutz on the dance floor. But his friend’s wedding is shaping up to be a shindig the likes of which Kings Meadow has never seen—including dancing. Lots of dancing. Then he learns that a local dance teacher, Skye Foster, is offering dance lessons for the wedding party. The first lesson is free, so what does he have to lose?

A former rodeo queen, Skye Foster teaches children ballet and tap during the day, but with the popularity of ballroom dancing and her own love of Country Swing, she’s been teaching adults in the evenings.

Grant comes from a family of ten siblings. He was the second oldest and believes he's had his fill of little rug rats. He’s happy with his bachelor state, despite the fact that he’s given up his ladies’ man lifestyle. Even he admits to his wilder nature and has been trying to clean up his act, with God's help.

Skye, on the other hand, loves being around kids. She would love to find the right guy and settle down to have half a dozen children of her own.

Grant and Skye are no match on paper. But when they step onto the dance floor, they create a melody all their own.

About the Author:

Robin Lee Hatcher is the bestselling author of 70 books. Her numerous awards include the Christy Award for Excellence in Christian Fiction, the RITA Award for Best Inspirational Romance, and the RWA Lifetime Achievement Award. Robin and her husband currently reside in Idaho. For more information, visit

Stay-up-late suspense -- Gone Without a Trace

About a year and a half ago, I read Patricia Bradley's debut novel and was impressed with a fantastic romantic suspense story.  Gone Without a Trace continues that series in just as great a fashion!  With plenty of action from beginning to end, lots of twists and turns and mystery -- seasoned with a significant dose of romance and faith -- this was a story I stayed up way too late to finish!

The characters are very relatable, people easy to get involved with and care about.  The tough decisions and life-threatening dilemmas that Livy, Alex, and the others face keep the pace moving fast.  And the "bad guys" are hard to pinpoint until it's nearly over.

A great read for fans of good romantic suspense.

Thanks to Revell for providing a copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

About the Book:

The past is repeating itself--and time is running out.
It's been more than two years since homicide detective Livy Reynolds's cousin disappeared from Logan Point. Unlike most people in her hometown, Livy has never believed that Robyn left voluntarily. When Dallas private investigator Alex Jennings contacts her concerning a senator's missing granddaughter who was last seen in Logan Point, Livy notices eerie similarities between the two disappearances. With self-doubt plaguing her and an almost instant dislike of the self-assured PI, she's finding this investigation an uphill battle. But with the prospect of finding her cousin on the horizon, she'll have to find a way to work with Alex--before it's too late.

Award-winning author Patricia Bradley keeps you on the edge of your seat with a case--and a relationship--that is anything but certain.

About the Author:

Patricia Bradley is the winner of a 2012 Daphne du Maurier Award and a 2012 Touched by Love Award and was also a finalist for the 2012 Genesis Award. The author of Shadows of the Past and A Promise to Protect, she is a member of American Christian Fiction Writers and Romance Writers of America. Bradley makes her home in Mississippi. Learn more at

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Even more mystery in Chicago's Gilded Age -- Deception on Sable Hill

Shelley Gray's Deception on Sable Hill continues her Chicago World's Fair Mystery series in grand style.  It picks up very shortly after the conclusion of Secrets of Sloane House (my review is here) with Eloisa Carstairs as one of the main characters.

The extravagance of the Gilded Age is once again important in this story, set against the backdrop of the closing days of Chicago's World's Fair.  Although there is evidence of some changes happening in society, Eloisa and Sean find themselves caught in the struggle of the times as well as right in the middle of a dangerous crime spree.  

Some of the characters from the first book play roles in this story, but Shelley also brings in several new ones as well.  Watching Eloisa search for who she wants to become as she tries to overcome major hurts makes for a very intriguing story.  A variety of other characters who find themselves at various points along society's changing class continuum keep the story and its mystery moving at a very enjoyable pace.

I highly recommend both books in this series as great reads.  I don't know whether there are more books to come in this series, but I would certainly enjoy reading them if there are.

Thanks to BookLook Bloggers for providing a copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

About the Book:

The World’s Fair has introduced many new ideas to Chicago society—but can two individuals from very different backgrounds find love together?

It’s mid-September 1893 and Eloisa Carstairs is the reigning debutant of Gilded Age Chicago society. To outsiders she appears to have it all. But Eloisa is living with a dark secret. Several months ago, she endured a horrible assault at the hands of Douglass Sloane, heir to one of Chicago’s wealthiest families. Fearing the loss of her reputation, Eloisa confided in only one friend. That is, until she meets Detective Sean Ryan at a high-society ball.

Sean is on the fringes of the Chicago elite. Born into a poor Irish family, becoming a policeman was his best chance to ensure security. Despite social boundaries, he is enamored with Eloisa Carstairs. Sean will do anything to keep her safe—even if he can never earn her affections.

Eloisa longs to feel normal again, but a killer is on the loose. In the last month, three debutants have been accosted by an assailant wielding a knife, and Eloisa fears for her safety at every event she attends. As the danger in the city increases, and as the romance between Eloisa and Sean blossoms, they both realize they want to be seen as more than how the world views them. But will they catch the killer before all their hopes come crashing down? 

About the Author:

Shelley Gray is the author of The Heart of a Hero series. Her Amish novel (written as Shelley Shepard Gray), The Protector, made the New York Times best seller list. A native of Texas, she earned her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in Colorado and taught school for ten years. She and her husband have two children and live in Southern Ohio.

Visit her website at 
Facebook: ShelleyShepardGray
Twitter: @ShelleySGray

A mystery set in the Gilded Age -- Secrets of Sloane House

I have enjoyed several Amish books by Shelley Shepard Gray.  But I think this series set in Chicago's high society in the Gilded Age (written under the name Shelley Gray) might be my favorites of her books so far.  Secrets of Sloane House, book one in the Chicago World's Fair Mystery series, grabbed my attention from the first page and held it to the very end.

Shelley's vivid descriptions transported me to a fascinating time in America's history, a time I had not read much about until fairly recently.  The drastic distinctions between the "haves" and the "have-nots" come through sharply and set the tone for the mystery and romance that are so engaging throughout. There is a host of well-developed characters throughout the story -- some who are easy to love and others you love to hate.

In the introductory pages of this book, it is described in the following terms:  "Downton Abbey comes to Chicago . . ."  I would imagine that fans of that series would definitely find themselves enjoying Shelley's story with its similar setting.  I would recommend this book to anyone looking for well-written Christian historical fiction.

Thanks to Shelley Gray and her publisher for providing a copy of Secrets of Sloane House some time ago.  It was a pleasure to read and review this great book!

About the Book:

Against the backdrop of the 1893 World’s Fair, a young woman finds employment with an illustrious Chicago family—a family who may guard the secret of her sister’s disappearance.

Sloane House is among the most gilded mansions of Gilded Age Chicago. Rosalind Perry, the new housemaid, pours the morning coffee before the hard gaze of her mistress.

“It’s simple, Rosalind,” she says. “I am Veronica Sloane, heiress to one of the country’s greatest fortunes. You are simply one in a long line of unsuitable maids.”

Back on the farm in Wisconsin, Rosalind’s plan had seemed logical: Move to Chicago. Get hired on at Sloane House. Discover what transpired while her sister worked as a maid there—and follow the clues to why she disappeared.

Now, as a live-in housemaid to the Sloanes, Rosalind realizes her plan had been woefully simple-minded.

She was ignorant of the hard, hidden life of a servant in a big, prominent house; of the divide between the Sloane family and the people who served them; and most of all, she had never imagined so many people could live in such proximity and keep such dark secrets.

Yet, while Sloane House is daunting, the streets of Chicago are downright dangerous. The World’s Fair has brought a new kind of crime to the city . . . and a lonely young woman is always at risk. But when Rosalind accepts the friendship of Reid Armstrong, the handsome young heir to a Chicago silver fortune, she becomes an accidental rival to Veronica Sloane.

As Rosalind continues to disguise her kinship to the missing maid—and struggles to appease her jealous mistress—she probes the dark secrets of Sloane House and comes ever closer to uncovering her sister’s mysterious fate. A fate that everyone in the house seems to know . . . but which no one dares to name.

About the Author:

Shelley Gray is the author of The Heart of a Hero series. Her Amish novel (written as Shelley Shepard Gray), The Protector, made the New York Times best seller list. A native of Texas, she earned her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in Colorado and taught school for ten years. She and her husband have two children and live in Southern Ohio.

Visit her website at
Facebook: ShelleyShepardGray
Twitter: @ShelleySGray

Sunday, July 5, 2015

A multi-layered beginning to a series -- Her Brother's Keeper

It has been a while since Beth Wiseman has started a new Amish series, but she certainly hasn't lost her touch.  Her new Amish Secrets series is off to a great start with Her Brother's Keeper.

This is a story with lots of layers and deals with some very difficult subjects -- like depression, mental illness and suicide.  Although those dark topics play prominent roles in the main plot, they are handled sensitively and balanced out with family, friendship, faith, and a healthy sprinkling of humor.

The characters that Beth so skillfully crafted definitely drive the story.  Charlotte/Mary and Hannah are two young ladies from very different backgrounds who are bound by a tragedy that neither of them understands and both want answers for.  Their relationship evolves through several stages throughout the story, as they each learn important lessons about themselves and about each other.

I highly recommend Her Brother's Keeper for fans of great Amish fiction.  For those who have not yet discovered the genre, this book -- with its mixture of Amish and Englisch worlds -- would be a great place to start.  I look forward to seeing what other secrets Beth Wiseman has to share in the rest of this series.

Thanks to Booklook Bloggers for providing a copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

About the Book:

Charlotte came to Amish country to find answers. What she never expected to find was peace.

Charlotte Dolinsky is not above playing dress-up and telling a few lies to find out what happened to her only brother. In fact, that is exactly what she’s come to Lancaster County to do. Now, calling herself Mary and slipping on a kapp, Charlotte will lie her way into the confidence of anyone who knows why Ethan had to die. Unless she gets found out first.

But when Charlotte befriends a quiet Amish man named Isaac Miller, she begins to rethink her motives. And with a little help from a friend back home, Charlotte might find out that love comes packaged in ways she couldn’t have foreseen.

Isaac’s been caring for his cancer-stricken father and sympathizing with his frustrated mother for three difficult years. And that means he hasn’t been dating. He believes Hannah King is the woman for him, but Hannah is still grieving the loss of her fiancĂ©, and Isaac has all he can handle on the farm. When Hannah’s family plays host to a woman named Mary, their new cousin shakes things up for all of them.

As Charlotte digs deeper into the mystery of Ethan’s death, she finds more than she’d bargained for in the community he once called home. But will she ever learn the truth? And what will the community—and her new family—do if they learn the truth about her?

About the Author:

Award-winning, bestselling author Beth Wiseman is best known for her Amish novels, including the Daughters of the Promise series and the Land of Canaan series. She has also written several successful contemporary novels, set primarily in her beloved Texas, including Need You Now and The House that Love Built. Both have received glowing reviews. Beth's The Promise is inspired by a true story.

Twitter: @bethwiseman
Facebook: Fans-of-Beth-Wiseman