Book Review: The Thorn Bearer by Pepper Basham

The Thorn BearerTHE THORN BEARER by Pepper Basham

I’ve said it before, and I’ll probably say it many more times in my reviews to come: one of the best things about being involved in the publishing industry is the opportunity to discover aspiring and upcoming authors. Last year at the ACFW conference in St. Louis, MO, I happened to see out of the corner of my eye an aspiring author sign a book contract. Aside from this scenario making my heart sing for joy in witnessing such a special moment, Pepper Basham’s signing with Vinspire Publishing caught my attention for another reason: the people who surrounded her were unabashedly energetic over her good fortune that I knew this author must have writing skills worthy of such enthusiasm. If these women could exhibit enough good cheer to garner glances from everyone else in the room, the world was surely about to find itself a new favorite author. Fast forward seven months, and I am right along with the rest of the Alley Cats; The Thorn Bearer deserves every cheer, hug, squeal, high five, and clap ever given to it—and more.

Set at the beginning of World War One, The Thorn Bearer begins with the sinking of the Lusistania and ends after the harrowing experiences of nurses treating soldiers who have battled along the front lines of the European theater. Despite the horrific nature of this great war, World War One is usually overlooked in fiction in favor of its later counterpart; the sinking of the Lusitania, on the other hand, is usually pushed aside in favor of its sister ship’s sink a few years earlier. I applaud Basham for choosing subjects and time different from the norm because it made for a truly exciting reading experience. I gained a deep appreciation of the fears those on the Lusitania felt during the sinking of the ship; for the confusion experienced during a time of war; for the horrors of watching mangled soldiers walk through hospital doors; and the pain of past hurts from family members. The storyline of The Thorn Bearer grabbed me enough, but her beautiful writing, deep characterizations, and emphasis on faith bring this novel to a level of excellency that I believe will have publishers soon clamoring after Basham for forthcoming books.

The Thorn Bearer’s story-lines are set around relationships that for most of the novel thrive upon discord. Whether between parents and children; siblings; friends; or romantic partners, Basham successfully drives The Thorn Bearer with challenges of misunderstandings and emotional upheaval. She weaves in lessons of faith with beautiful renderings of forgiveness and love as her characters learn to move on from the pain of the past. All of the characters learn the true meaning of friendship as the dynamics of relationships alter to fit their new roles in life. Parents and children discover new-found respect for each as individuals and within their families, while siblings realize the connections of shared histories and relationships can strengthen each other just as much as pull them apart. I enjoyed Basham’s weaving of friendships throughout The Thorn Bearer because my own friendships are ones I work hard cultivate in my own life. The relationships between the female characters—one a friendship and one between sisters—are beautifully portrayed as Basham develops the love between the women through revelations made with honesty, firmness, and love. These relationships are ones that all readers—but especially women—can learn from and enjoy at the same time.

Basham’s debut novel is first and foremost a romance. Ashleigh and Sam, The Thorn Bearer’s main characters, are deliciously romantic as they navigate circumstances and challenges that impede their relationship and draw them closer together. This storyline excels at the push and pull of romance while increasing tension just enough to make it impossible to put The Thorn Bearer down. In another writing technique that showcases her talent, Basham writes characters and scenes that are romantic—sizzling with love and all the emotions that come along with it—and beautifully tasteful at the same time. I thoroughly enjoyed the romantic scenes in this novel and appreciated Basham writing them in a way that treats her adult readers with maturity.

With the maturity that Basham gives her readers in this novel comes an expectation that readers will take that maturation to all aspects of The Thorn Bearer. Basham’s novel takes on a heavy topic that tastefully discusses the rights and wrongs of numerous relationships. It is a testament to this author’s skillful writing that the term itself is never used but readers will still be able to tell what topic Basham’s main character experiences as a child. To balance this heaviness, The Thorn Bearer is filled with witty dialog and delightful scenarios that demonstrate genuine friendship and romance.

I currently own an electronic copy of The Thorn Bearer but love this book so much that I hope to soon have a physical copy for my bookshelf. Basham’s novel is my favorite of 2015, and I expect it to remain so for the rest of the year. I cannot recommend this book enough—go get yourself a copy!


ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Pepper BashamPepper Basham is an author of Blue Ridge Romances peppered with grace and humor. She works as a speech pathologist by day who spends her time enjoying life, learning to write, and laughing often. Pepper lives with her pastor husband and give children in the Blue Ridge Mountains.

Find Pepper online:

Facebook: Pepper D. Basham

Twitter: @pepperbasham

Website: pepperbasham.com

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Book Review: The Huntress of Thornbeck Forest by Melanie Dickerson

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The Huntress of Thornbeck Forest by Melanie Dickerson

In the forests of a medieval land, a poacher and a forester face a battle of right and wrong when the lives of the poor, lives of orphaned children, and their own hearts are at stake. Odette Menkels lives a comfortable life as a well-off daughter, but life was not always that simple: as a child, Odette lived on the streets, unwanted and scraping for food. Her experience as an orphan child motivates her to take care of those children on Thornbeck’s streets, so she spends her nights hidden in the forests poaching deer to feed the poor and hungry. Odette’s heart is in the right place; however, when she shares a connection with the handsome forester during the Midsummer festival, suddenly her poaching becomes much more than a righteous way to take care of others. As a forester, Jorgen is bound by law to take down whomever is killing and selling the Margrave of Thornbeck’s deer. He does not know Odette is the poacher—and nor would ever believe the most beautiful lady in Thornbeck capable of such destruction. As he struggles to find the poacher, however, Jorgen begins to realize there is more to a person than just appearance. In a battle where neither adversary truly wins what they want, neither Odette nor Jorgen benefit if they give up their cause. During a time when law-breaking was met with the fiercest of consequences, Odette and Jorgen must find a way to do good for others and still uphold their values.

Melanie Dickerson’s novels have long been on my to-read list, so when I heard that her first adult fairy-tale retelling would be published in 2015, I jumped at the chance to review the novel. The Huntress of Thornbeck Forest, a retelling mixture of Swan Lake and Robin Hood, features a cast of characters and a story that bring medieval times in Germany to life. I was not sure what to expect of a fairy-tale telling for an adult: would Dickerson feature a magical creature? Would The Huntress of Thornbeck Forest feature romance as its main element? Fairy tales are stories usually told for children and feature some magical creature, but what I found in this retelling is that Dickerson wrote a truly honest account of life with references to fairy-tales of the past and lessons taken from moral and faith-based elements. I enjoyed this mixture of fairy tales, faith, and life, and believe that The Huntress of Thornbeck Forest is the perfect read for adults who love the magic of childhood years and the possibility of living those stories as life goes on.

Odette Menkels and Jorgen Hartman are two complex characters that support The Huntress of Thornbeck Forest almost entirely. With a few supporting characters that tie in elements of the story, Odette and Jorgen are the heart of this character-driven novel because their moral dilemmas deliver lessons that readers will draw from long after the last page of The Huntress of Thornbeck Forest. Dickerson’s novel brings to light questions of opportunity with right versus wrong. What are we to do, for example, when we know a certain is wrong but the outstanding ending of not doing something harms anyways? If the opportunity to do better requires a person to do wrong in the immediate time, do we still take that action? Dickerson also questions the amount of responsibility people have towards the less fortunate, ending the novel with an answer pleasing to The Huntress of Thornbeck Forest but leaving readers to understand that there is no clear-cut answer to this question.

Matters of faith aptly cover numerous questions and actions in this novel. Jorgen struggles with anger and resentment towards people and circumstances in his past, but Dickerson ties in forgiveness in a way that does not condone wrongs but still allows Jorgen to move forward. Loyalty is a strong theme throughout The Huntress of Thornbeck Forest, one that delivers in many ways as the characters find out that neither love nor rules cannot—and should not—drive loyalty to another person.

The Huntress of Thornbeck Forest is Dickerson’s first adult fairy-tale retelling, but I certainly hope she will have more coming in the future. I enjoyed a fairy-tale retelling for adults that keeps the maturity of a reading level for that age range but still kept the magic of the stories I loved so much as a child.

RATING: 4/5 stars


ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

2528780Melanie Dickerson is an award-winning author who earned her bachelor’s degree in special education from The University of Alabama. She has taught in Georgia, Tennessee, Germany and the Eastern European country of Ukraine. A member of American Christian Fiction Writers (ACFW) and Romance Writers of America (RWA), she now spends her time writing and taking care of her husband and two daughters near Huntsville, Alabama.
  

Novella Feature: Love’s Reward (The Most Eligible Bachelor Romance Collection) by Susanne Dietze

The Most Eligible Bachelor CollectionLove’s Reward (The Most Eligible Bachelor Romance Collection) by Susanne Dietze

Daniel Blair is by all means a successful businessman—to everyone except his father. Making his living as an architect, he spends his days designing homes and buildings all over southern California. Despite his success, however, he cannot seem to earn the respect of his father, a Congressman who hopes Daniel will follow in his footsteps. As the deadline to win a prestigious architectural competition looms closer, this most eligible bachelor finds himself at the center of a different kind of race: one in which the ladies come after him. With the pressure to win both his father’s approval and prestige for his business impending upon him, Daniel will have to find a way to give all his cares to God and win the heart of the one lady who truly matters.

Upon reading the front cover copy for The Most Eligible Bachelor Romance Collection, I was not sure what to think about Love’s Reward with the exception of one statement: the heroine would be materialistic. I did not expect to like Josie Price, and I assumed the novella would comprise section after section of the interactions between the hero and his various amours. While Love’s Reward does include interactions between Daniel Blair and the women competing for his affections, this novella is so much more than a simple romance—and I love it (and Josie Price) for that exact reason. Love’s Reward is a novella rich with romance, as well as thick with lessons of life, faith, friendship, and family. It does not seem possible to pack all of these elements into forty-three pages, but Susanne Dietze has written a novella that is sure to delight readers who love deep historical stories.

Josie Price and Daniel Blair are two characters who immediately jump off the page as individuals and as a romantic pairing. Josie’s zeal for women’s advocacy and her quirks of both tomboyish and ladylike behaviors keep her interesting and appealing. Daniel is one of the most swoon-worthy heroes that I have come across in CBA literature: handsome, kind, generous, a faithful friend, and a man after God’s heart, Daniel has just about all the characteristics any female could want in a man. The two of them make a sparkling pair because they both genuinely care about doing good and right in the world around them. Josie and Daniel are funny, witty, and bring about the best in each other.

More than anything else in Love’s Reward, I enjoyed Dietze’s incorporation of faith, family, and friendship into her characters lives. Josie and Daniel are fierce friends, and Dietze brings other aspects of friendship into her story through instances in which Daniel and Josie have the opportunity to extend their hands to others. As the novella progresses, Dietze drew her characters into their faiths by beautifully demonstrating various ways of handling past hurts. I had not heard of Susanne Dietze before reading Love’s Reward, but with strong writing and themes she has drawn me into her circle of readers. I will most certainly look for her future books and novellas.

Rating: 4 stars

Find Love’s Reward and eight other novellas in The Most Eligible Bachelor Romance Collection from these sites: Amazon, Christian Book Distributors, and Barnes and Noble 


ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

7834895Susanne Dietze began writing love stories in high school, casting her friends in the starring roles. Today, she writes in the hope that her historical romances will encourage and entertain others. Married to a pastor and the mom of two, Susanne loves fancy-schmancy tea parties, travel, and curling up on the couch with a costume drama and a plate of nachos.

Find Suzanne at the following social media sites: Facebook, Twitter, PintrestGoodreads, Amazon

Novella Feature: A Bride for a Bargain (The Most Eligible Bachelor Collection) by Amanda Barratt

The past few months I have been blessed to be the recipient of numerous books either from contest wins or authors who graciously allow me to review their books. After a few of these such instances, I noticed a common theme running through the books that came in my mail: many of them were either single novellas or novellas as part of a larger collection. As I have so many books to read and review–but could not fathom the idea of passing up any of these stories–I decided to work a feature into my website; thus, Novella Feature was born! Each novella that I read–either as stand alone or part of a collection–will be reviewed on A Way With Words. Novellas are popular with readers but generally do not garner as much attention as full-length novels. I hope to change that situation by featuring what I find to be enjoyable in the novellas I have given to read and review. From the Love Inspired line (Harlequin) to collections featuring brides and grooms, to stories of Southern charm, surely one of these novellas will fit your reading preferences. Enjoy!


The Most Eligible Bachelor CollectionA Bride for a Bargain by Amanda Barratt

Publisher: Barbour

Collection: The Most Eligible Bachelor

Publishing date: May 2015

Synopsis: Wealthy tycoon, Geoffrey Buchanan is tired of being hunted by women. So when he hires a down on her luck factory girl to pose as his fiancée during a posh house party, he expects nothing more than a business transaction. He doesn’t intend for sweet and stubborn Ada McClane to invade his life and win his heart so completely. But sometimes what we bargain for, and what we truly need, are two completely different things.

REVIEW:

There were many aspects to The Most Eligible Bachelor that first caught my attention upon finding the collection on Goodreads: a beautiful cover, an enticing title, stories from authors that I had not yet read but had heard many good things about. I had every reason already to want to read this novella collection, but in all honesty, the most significant factor that drew me to The Most Eligible Bachelor was the novella written by Ms. Amanda Barratt. While I did not actually meet this young author in person at the ACFW conference last fall, the positive remarks I heard about her writing immediately sparked my interest–enough that eight months later I remembered her and knew enough that I wanted to read her work.

The instinct that told me to hang on for this author’s work was correct: with a writing style that belies her youthful age, a plot that cleverly twists the typical historical romance, and characters with both spunk and charm, A Bride for a Bargain is one novella that I truly wished was longer than its ninety pages. I read this novella in less than three hours–and while I raced through it because I literally did not want to put the book down, the story was over far sooner than I wished. I love A Bride for a Bargain and will definitely re-read this novella in the future.

Barratt’s first published story is one, on the outset, that could come across as typical Christian historical fiction; however, beyond the wealthy bachelor and poor heroine trope, this novella takes on a life of its own. Ada McClane, the heroine, is much more than the common leading lady: while she strives to take care of her ill younger sibling, much like many heroines, Ada has the independence, spunk, wit, and intelligence that could easily carry A Bride for a Bargain all on its own. I found Ada particularly endearing because she was able to hold both her independent streak and her desire for femininity all at once. Barratt blended these characteristics so well that I easily imagined Ada as the type of woman all females would have found inspirational in this time period. Geoffrey Buchanan, Ada’s hero and foil, is the perfect opposite to Barratt’s heroine. Strong and silent where Ada is at times open and opinionated, Geoffrey is the wounded hero that becomes open to love–and subsequently makes all women–fictional or real–fall for him. He is the romantic that all women long for, with his tender and kind-hearted gestures, willingness to let Ada come into her own, and protective nature.

A Bride for a Bargain also shines with its themes of self-reliance and God’s faithfulness. With a wisdom that, again, supersedes her years, Barratt demonstrates that age is not an indicator of how well a person knows God. As her characters find in this first novella, often times it is simply blind faith in God that helps people get their trials and challenges. Ada McClane’s circumstances show the best of sibling relationships, and this heroine’s simple but profound statements of faith will surely resonate with readers as Ada teaches Geoffrey about God’s love. Barratt’s key word in her title–bargain–is brought up in numerous ways: what people bargain for in love, in their faith, in their circumstances, and in their relationships. By the end of A Bride for a Bargain readers will understand that bargains are best left aside because is the one who has our lives in His hands.

I would love to read more about Ada and Geoffrey, but since that will most likely remain a wish, I am content to eagerly await Barratt’s next novella, The Substitute Wife, coming this summer from Barbour’s Most Convenient Bride collection.

RATING: 5/5 stars


ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Amanda BarrattAmanda Barratt is a historical romance author with two novellas soon to be published. The first “A Bride for a Bargain,” will release May, 2015 as part of Barbour’s “The Most Eligible Bachelor Romance Collection.” The second, “The Substitute Wife,” will debut in July, 2015 as part of “The Convenient Bride Collection,” also by Barbour. She has won several awards for her work and enjoys writing about eras such as Regency and Victorian England, and the Gilded Age.

A member of American Christian Fiction Writers, she is represented by Rachel Kent, of Books and Such Literary Agency. She lives in northern Michigan with her family, where she reads way too many old books, watches period dramas to come up with new plot-lines, and dreams of taking a trip to England.

Find Amanda at the following places online:

Web: http://www.amandabarratt.net

Facebook: Amanda M. Barratt

Twitter: @amandambarratt