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Hello, readers! I have changed blogging platforms and you can now find me over at ReviewsByErin. You can expect the same reviews and recommendations over at the new location. Hope you'll join us! 



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"The Midwife" by Jennifer Worth




I was first introduced to Jennifer Worth's story through BBC's popular series "Call the Midwife." With Season 6 due to begin airing in the U.S. this weekend, I figured it was a good time to read the memoir that started it all.

Worth, or Jenny Lee as she was known then, was in her early twenties when she began working as a midwife in London's poverty-stricken East End in the 1950s. While her status as a nurse kept her safe from harm, she had an up close and personal view of the hardships and necessities of life in the slums, where many families still lived in condemned tenements with only one outhouse for an entire building. Men worked at the docks, and women raised their babies and held homes together as best they could.

Many of the stories from this novel were translated into the first season of the BBC show, so I remembered a number of them, as well as how they turned out, but that did not hamper my enjoyment of the memoir at all. In fact, I would say a highlight was how well Worth's tales and her descriptions of her friends and coworkers had come alive through the series. I thought Sister Juilenne, Sister Monica Joan, and Chummy were especially well-cast for the adaptation.

While serving in the East End, Worth lived at Nonnatus House, a convent run by Anglican nuns who were dedicated to the nursing profession. As a non-religious woman herself, Worth was puzzled by the devotion that these women had to God, to each other, and sometimes even to their patients. Through living and working alongside them, Worth begins to feel a desire to know more of God herself.

Important Note: The content of this book is for mature readers only. It contains many graphic descriptions of birth and the birth process, as well as nauseating details about the housing conditions of the poor. There is a lengthy, heartbreaking, and horrifying story of a fifteen-year-old girl forced into prostitution. Language is used which readers may find inappropriate. Use discretion in deciding upon this or any other reading material.






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"A Fragile Hope" by Cynthia Ruchti




Josiah Chamberlain is a noted marriage author and speaker, and he is overjoyed to be finishing another manuscript that will hopefully bless thousands of couples. His own marriage seems on solid ground - or so he thought up until the day Karin decided to leave him. Josiah's devastation is compounded by the fact that she can't offer him any answers, because on her way out of town she was involved in a terrible accident and now lies unconscious and unresponsive in a hospital bed.

Caught off guard by the fact that she felt a separation was necessary and the medical crisis which shifts everything about his daily activities, Josiah is confused and heartbroken. How can he work at rebuilding their relationship when Karin can't wake up? Even if she does, he doesn't know if she even wants to be married anymore. There are so many more questions than there are answers.

With gripping writing, Cynthia Ruchti takes us alongside Josiah during his agonizing watch over Karin. Hope, love, uncertainty, determination, and fear quiver in his heart, taking their turn dominating his emotions the way the clock dominates the brief moments each hour he can spend at Karin's bedside. Everything he thought he knew about marriage is thrown out or tested, and no matter how his agent presses him to continue with his scheduled events and upcoming deadlines, Josiah's well is empty.

This character-driven book was hard to put down. I found Josiah and Karin's story touching and heart-stirring. How can one hope when the outcome of hope is so in doubt? Josiah can't even find voice for his deepest fears, yet he finds strength to persevere one dark moment at a time, wanting to know yet terrified to know the state of his wife's heart should she be able to communicate again.

I would recommend this novel for all who are in a dark night of their own. Often our own hopes seem uncertain and cloudy, whether or not life-threatening situations are involved. Cynthia does such an excellent job of showing how God can meet us in those moments.

I received my copy of this book from the author. All opinions in this review are my own.



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Having read all of Kristy Cambron's previous releases, I thought I knew what I was in for with this Jazz Age, Houdini-inspired novel. I was wrong. The story broke the mold of her former novels, and through its dark and mysterious tone what shone through most brightly was light and hope.

Our story opens at a cemetery on New Year's Eve in 1926, just a few months after Harry Houdini's death. Another illusionist has declared that he will raise a man named Victor Peale from the dead, and the cemetery is full of media representatives and curious onlookers. Also in the crowd is FBI Agent Elliot Matthews, sent to keep an eye on everything. In a grand show, it does appear that Victor Peale, dead twenty years, rises from his grave -- and promptly keels over again, dead and gone for good. Agent Matthews controls the situation and begins an investigation that will take him deep into vaudeville's captivation with illusion and spiritualism.

In the crowd that day Elliot had noticed one Wren Lockhart, a former apprentice of Houdini who is an illusionist in her own right. When he discovers a link between Victor Peale and Wren, he must convince the isolated and guarded woman to share what she knows, even though it means digging deep into a past she wants to keep hidden.

Wren's troubled family background and years of living the vaudeville circuit have left her excellent at projecting her aloof and intimidating demeanor. She doesn't want to get involved with the FBI, but she also doesn't want frauds and tricksters deceiving the public into thinking raising the dead is a thing one can do. She was with Houdini as he debunked such people in the past, and she grudgingly agrees to help Elliot for the sake of her mentor and to keep the authorities from prying more than they have to.

While Wren took me by surprise as a character, seeming at first too hard to get to know, I soon began to relate to her more than ever anticipated. Despite pushing people away, inside there was a woman who had been hurt and yet was brave and strong. This story was partially about Wren discovering how to overcome and live unafraid. A lot of it was her choice. "It was her choice how she lived, whether she'd carry the burden of bitterness... or allow truth to soothe the gaping wounds between them." (Page 196)

Some of my favorite quotes were about heroes. The theme of being a hero was strong in the second half of the novel, which also resonated with me. From Chapter 18: "Our mother used to say that a hero doesn't always have to slay a dragon to save the day. Sometimes he just walks through the fire alongside you, and that's enough." And from page 287: "If there was no darkness, there would be no opportunity for light to overcome it. This is the time for heroes to rise, okay?"

This story was not what I expected. It was more, and it will stay with me for a long time.


I review for BookLook Bloggers

I received my copy of this book from the publisher. All opinions in this review are my own.



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Regency stories always catch my eye, as I've been a fan of Jane Austen since I was 13. This is the debut novel of an Australian author, with more works soon to follow in her Legacy of Grace series.

Miss Lavinia Ellison lost her mother as a young child, and having been raised by her reverend father and society-spurning aunt, is more interested in helping her poor neighbors than trying to find a mate. The new Lord Hawkesbury arrives to settle in to his country estate, and while some local lasses hope to catch his eye, the only thing Lavinia desires is that their paths never cross again.

When I picked up this book I was hoping to find something I would truly enjoy, but I was put off very early on. Miss Ellison is meant to come across as refreshingly spirited and candid, but to me she appeared contentious and even mean. She didn't care if her words hurt people, which seemed at odds with the fact that she was supposed to have such a big heart. I finally began understanding her character about 200 pages in to the story, but that's when the plot began going the way of the trope and it became difficult to read once again.

From my point of view, the author did a good job with the spiritual side of the story, with imperfect characters who come to know more of God in a natural way and begin seeking to grow in Him. I think I personally would have enjoyed the novel more if perhaps the characters hadn't been quite so imperfect at the start.

I received my copy of the book from LitFuse Publicity. All opinions in this review are my own. If you would like to read what other people are saying about "The Elusive Miss Ellison," click here.


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The Elusive Miss Ellison Carolyn Miller




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"Celia's House" by D.E. Stevenson




I've heard of Scottish author D.E. Stevenson, but receiving "Celia's House" for Christmas was the first time I was able to read her for myself. In a style that reminded me strongly of Lucy Maud Montgomery, this is the story of a Scottish estate and its residents from 1905 until the middle of World War II.

Humphrey Dunne was shocked when his elderly aunt named him to be the heir of her family estate. Dunnian is full of history and is a beautiful, charming place in which to raise his family. Aunt Celia has some strange stipulations to the arrangement, including that he must name one of his future daughters Celia and make sure she is the one to inherit the house after Humphrey. When Aunt Celia passes, Humphrey and his small but growing family are happily overwhelmed as they settle in to their new home.

Much of the story focuses on Humphrey's children as they grow. There's Mark, the eldest, who is tenderhearted and wants to become a doctor. There's Edith and Joyce, the oldest sisters who tend to be spoiled by their mother. The youngest two, Billy and Celia, are close pals who tend to get into their share of scrapes. Soon a cousin joins them, but Deb quickly becomes as close as any other sister and is a huge help with the general running of the household.

A good portion of this book borrows from Jane Austen's "Mansfield Park," which is about a cousin who grows up with her relatives, and the foibles and follies they fall into with their neighbors in their young adult years. If you've read Austen's story you can see a lot of the plot twists before they happen, although it isn't an exact mirror and it's fun to see it from another point of view. There are courtships and schemes and one big play-acting production that quite captivates the group for a while.

I would recommend this for fans of Austen, Montgomery, and other classic storytellers. It's a delightful character-driven tale, and covers some interesting parts of history, too. Originally published in 1943, this new edition is once again bringing attention to D.E. Stevenson's works.



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"The Mark of the King" by Jocelyn Green




This was my first novel by Jocelyn Green, but I was intrigued the moment I read its premise. A young midwife, after being falsely convicted for the death of a client, is able to have her prison sentence commuted if she will join a convoy of those going to help populate Louisiana in 1719. Leaving her native France and everything she knows in the hope that she might be able to find her brother who disappeared in Lousiana two years earlier, Julianne sets out on a lifelong journey which will be much more than she could have imagined.

From the very beginning, John Law and the Company of the Indies has more planned for the immigrants, who are mostly orphans and prisoners, than they were aware. Before they set sail, Julianne and the rest of the women are forced to choose husbands from among the men. The goal of the Company is to have as many French babies born in Louisiana as possible, bolstering the population and their claim on the colony. Julianne is wed to Simon, a kind man but also a firebrand willing to stand up to the oppression they find themselves under.

Life is hard during the journey and as they settle in to their new home. Julianne can't find anyone who knows anything about her brother, but she begs Simon to be on the lookout as he ventures farther from New Orleans with the employment he's found. Meanwhile Julianne tries to start up a midwifery practice and face the memories of the last birth she attended and all the pain that has stemmed from that day.

The loss in this book is heartbreaking and yet realistic. Everyone in the story faces so much grief and hurt as they try to forge a life in this untamed land. Green does an amazing job with the sights, sounds, and smells of eighteenth century Louisiana, as well as the range of emotions our characters experience. This is a thick book, but I never wanted to put it down. I will certainly be looking to read more stories from this author in the future!

I received my copy of the book from LitFuse Publicity. All opinions in this review are my own. If you would like to read what other people are saying about "The Mark of the King," click here.


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"Somebody Like You" by Beth K. Vogt




Stephen Ames became estranged from his identical twin brother when they were 18 years old, after half a dozen tumultuous years when they were lived in separate states following their parents' divorce. He wasn't happy that Sam decided to join the military instead of following through on their plans to go to college together, and then one thing led to another so that they stopped speaking to each other altogether.

When Sam is killed on deployment in Afghanistan, Stephen feels the weight of regret. Wanting to get to know more about his brother's final years, he seeks out Sam's widow to ask questions and try to make up for missing so many years. But there's one thing he didn't count on, and that was that Sam had never told Haley about Stephen!

Living day to day trying to adjust to widowhood and the idea of being a single mother to her unborn baby, Haley is so shocked to learn about her husband's identical twin that she pulls a gun on him the first time he shows up. There were many things that were not perfect about their marriage, including Sam's frequent deployments, but she never guessed that he would have held back such pertinent information about his childhood. At first Haley wants nothing to do with Stephen, as it's too hard and strange to see the mirror of her husband, but he persists in showing up, bringing gifts for the baby, and helping with projects around the house.

Haley is an independent, tough-it-out tomboy, but Stephen can see that underneath the strength there's a woman who really needs help making sense of this time of her life. As he begins to understand why his brother fell in love with her, he fears she'll never be able to look at him and see anything other than Sam and the shadows that marred their marriage.

This book was a little bit slow taking off, as the characters have a lot of walls around their hearts. As the plot draws you in and the walls start coming down, I found the story impossible to put down and ended up reading the last 150 pages in one sitting. The themes were deep and thoughtful, especially having an estrangement in my own family, and the story was well-written. I quite enjoy Beth. K Vogt's contemporary fiction.



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Best of 2016

Here are my favorite reads from 2016! I hope you'll check some of them out for yourself. Click on any title to read my full review.

Historical Fiction



Anchor in the Storm by Sarah Sundin

This World War II story focuses on a plucky female pharmacist and a Naval officer as they try to uncover a drug ring operating out of Boston Harbor.


Young Adult Fiction



The Silent Songbird by Melanie Dickerson

A captivating retelling of The Little Mermaid, Melanie Dickerson again proves her brilliance as a fairy tale writer.


Contemporary Fiction



Keep Holding On by Melissa Tagg

I loved the depth of the characters, and I really related to one of them in particular. I just love Melissa Tagg's stories!!


Non-Fiction

I've got to go with the autobiographies of two Olympians here! Weren't the Rio Olympics exciting??



Greater Than Gold by David Boudia

David's journey from an active tot to a world class diver, and how he found Jesus along the way.




Courage to Soar by Simone Biles

Leader of the Final Five and winner of five medals in Rio, this 4'9" gymnastics wonder shares her story from adoption to training to topping the podium.


Classic Literature



Mr. Harrison's Confessions by Elizabeth Gaskell

This short novel, from which part of the miniseries Cranford was drawn, is laugh-out-loud funny and encompasses the delights of a small English village.


Novella

This category has two winners as well, because I couldn't choose between these two delightful Christmas stories.




One Enchanted Eve by Melissa Tagg

If you enjoy competitive baking shows, you'll love this story of a down-on-her-luck baker and her quest to find one wow-worthy recipe to land her dream job.





Restoring Christmas by Cynthia Ruchti

All Alexis needs for Christmas is her home remodel to go well. When everything goes wrong it may be time to reevaluate the true meaning of Christmas.



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"The Ringmaster's Wife" by Kristy Cambron




This Jazz Age tale tells the story of Mable Ringling, wife of famous circus master John Ringling. From her humble upbringing as a dreamer in Ohio to being part of the greatest show on earth, Mable's life is testament to those who think big and have the courage to try something new.

Told alongisde is the journey of fictional character Lady Rosamund Easling, a gifted horsewoman who forsakes her homeland when she is about to be forced into a marriage to help her father's estate. Her beloved horse was being sold to the Ringling Brothers Circus, and Rosamund goes along to make sure Ingenue is properly settled. But circus manager Colin Keary hasn't merely been recruiting a good horse - he's out to inspire and captivate the woman he believes can be a star.

Rosamund agrees to join the circus, and is encouraged by her conversations with Mable Ringling. She is not warmly welcomed by the rest of the cast, and in fact soon begins receiving threats that suggest she should return to England. Rosamund battles to find her place amidst hostility and her own insecurities. She'd be happy to simply make it through the season and leave star billing for those who crave the spotlight.

While I enjoyed this story, I was a bit confused about the dual storylines. The portions focusing on Mable's life take place between 1885 and 1929, while Rosamund's story, interspersed with Mable's narrative, is set in a much more concentrated time period, mostly 1926 and 1927. It's not my favorite method of storytelling, although Cambron seems quite drawn to it, as all her releases have used it so far. Maybe she'll switch it up with her upcoming Harry Houdini book, but whether she does or not, I'm looking forward to reading it in 2017!



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