Book Review: The Reluctant Duchess by Roseanna M. White

The Reluctant Duchess

The Reluctant Duchess  (Ladies of the Manor #2)     

Author: Roseanna M. White

Publisher: Bethany House

Published: April 2016

ABOUT THE BOOK:

A RIVETING EDWARDIAN SERIES SET AMONG BRITAIN’S HIGH SOCIETY

Lady Rowena Kinnaird may be the heiress to a Highland earldom, but she has never felt good enough–not for her father, not for the man she thought she’d marry, not for God. But after a shocking attack, she’s willing to be forever an outcast if it means escaping Loch Morar.

Brice Myerston, the Duke of Nottingham, has found himself in possession of a rare treasure his enemies are prepared to kill for. While Brice has never been one to shy away from manor-born ladies, the last thing he needs is the distraction of Lady Rowena, who finds herself in a desperate situation. But when Rowena’s father tries to trap Brice into marrying his daughter, Brice makes a surprising decision.

Rowena wanted to escape the Highlands, but she’s reluctant to marry a notorious flirt. And when she learns that Brice is mixed up in questionable business with a stolen treasure, she fears she’s about to end up directly in the path of everything she was trying to avoid.

AMAZON | GOODREADS | BARNES & NOBLE


REVIEW:

Anyone who walks into a Barnes and Noble or surfs Amazon for more than a minute could state that there is no shortage of books in Western civilization. Whether in print or e-format, numerous genres and authors abound with stories fantastical and beautiful enough to whisk you into whatever world you wish to visit. Having many choices, however, requires readers to open new books with open minds. After all, a loaded to-be-read list often means favorites; and favorites, reader friends, equals favoritism.

With that key word in mind, I opened The Reluctant Duchess knowing the second book in the Ladies of the Manor series had a tough predecessor to follow. You see, The Lost Heiress, book one of the Edwardian-set series, is my favorite book of all time (aside from Pride and Prejudice, of course). How could I possibly ensure that Roseanna White’s sophomore novel was given a fair chance as my new favorite book?

It turns out that I need not have worried myself about whether I could remain unbiased while reading The Reluctant Duchess. While The Lost Heiress still remains my favorite book, White’s first and sophomore novels in this series are so different that it’s impossible to compare them purely on the merits of enjoyment. I love both of these books and for vastly opposing reasons–and that, reader friends, is one of the many reasons this series is special.

The Ladies of the Manor series introduces readers to numerous characters and places throughout its novels. The idiosyncrasies and traits of both characters and settings offer unique perspectives on historical stories that open up the lives of people whose worlds are so different–but also so similar–to our own. The Reluctant Duchess is a story filled with the horror and pain of abuse; the steadfastness and protection of a relationship; and the faith and trust in something bigger than ourselves. Unlike the first book in the series, I found that White’s second novel moved slowly, much as the relationship between main characters Brice and Rowena evolved, letting me savor the processes both go through to become the Godly man and women each other deserve. (Take care to note that although I said the story moved slowly, that does mean the story read slowly–two very different things.)

With the steady pace of The Reluctant Duchess, I found I was better able to know Brice and Rowena. Whereas The Lost Heiress had me quickly turning pages to uncover the story, with The Reluctant Duchess I was much more invested in the unique outcomes for each character. This story was less driven by the plot of the Fire Eyes diamonds (although that plot still exists) and much more dependent upon what would happen with White’s hero and heroine.

I enjoyed The Reluctant Duchess very much and am so, so excited for White’s third book in the series. A Lady Unrivaled will be released this fall from Bethany House. September 13th can’t come soon enough!

Rating: 4.5 stars

 


ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Roseanna WhiteRoseanna M. White pens her novels beneath her Betsy Ross flag, with her Jane Austen action figure watching over her. When not writing fiction, she’s homeschooling her two children, editing and designing, and pretending her house will clean itself. Roseanna has a slew of historical novels available, ranging from biblical fiction to American-set romances to her new British series. She lives with her family in West Virginia. Learn more at www.RoseannaMWhite.com and connect with her on Facebook and Twitter.

 
Disclaimer: I received a free copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for my honest review.

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Book Review: Like Never Before by Melissa Tagg

Like Never BeforeLike Never Before (Walker Family #2) 

Maple Valley became Amelia Bentley’s haven after her heart and her dreams of a family were shattered. But her new life as a newspaper editor is shaken when the small-town paper is in danger of closing. Her one hope: A lead on an intriguing story that just might impress the new publisher…if only she new who he was.

After his biggest campaign success yet, widowed speechwriter Logan Walker now has the chance of a lifetime–a spot on a presidential campaign. But his plans are interrupted when he finds out he’s inherited his hometown newspaper. He travels home intent on selling the paper and spending some much-needed time with his young daughter before making the leap into national politics.

But instead of a quick sale and peaceful break from his hectic career, Logan finds himself helping Amelia chase her story. She’s scrappy, but wounded. He’s dependable, but lost. They may butt heads more than expected, but a series of leads on Maple Valley’s quirky unsolved mystery is just the start of the sparks that fly in the office and in their hearts.

REVIEW:

There are certain things I know will bring me smiles: purring kittens, Broadway musicals, Disney movies, Jane Austen adaptations, trips to Barnes and Nobles. The underlying theme of this list–the belief that love conquers all. (Well, maybe that Barnes and Nobles trip doesn’t quite fit that statement, but hey, this *is* my list…and I can find many “love conquers all” stories in B&N.)

And if I want one of those “love conquers all” stories that will make me smile, I know without any doubt that all I need to do is pull a Melissa Tagg novel off the shelf. That’s right, reader friends. Some stories make your heart flutter with the sweet delight of first love; others make your heart pound with the spice; and some make you swoon with the romance. Melissa’s novels have a little bit of all of that, ensuring that no matter what kind of love a reader longs for, they will find it amongst her witty dialog, punchy plots, and quirky characters.

Witty dialog, punchy plots, and quirky characters are enough to make a novel successful, but I fully believe that readers keep coming back for more of Melissa’s books because of the heart of the stories. Melissa crafts characters and storylines that speak to the  heartaches, joys, loves, and dramas that we all experience. Like Never Before demonstrates her natural ability to reach people on a heart-level through seemingly ordinary circumstances (in the book) but truly beautiful life lessons (woven into the story through her unique author voice).

I’ve long loved Melissa’s novels for all those reasons mentioned above, but in Like Never Before I noticed what first caught my attention last winter with her stand-alone novella: this author’s craft is strong, unique, and improved upon in each book she writes. Like Never Before stands out from Melissa’s preceding novels because of her use of wit in her dialog and prose, deep plot lines, and comedic timing. While Melissa’s novels are always funny, the wit and comedic timing in Like Never Before actually had me laughing out loud. She also deepened her story with a historical subplot that strengthened her character’s motivations and added a layer of complexity to her writing. These two elements alone tell me that Melissa is more than capable–and likely will–make a name for herself in a niche market of authors who can write complex contemporary romance novels.

Like Never Before is now one of my favorite novels ever. I am so excited to read Melissa’s future novels, including the next novel in the Walker Family Series (starring Beckett)!

Rating: 5 stars


About the Author: 

Melissa TaggMelissa Tagg is a former reporter, current nonprofit grant writer and total Iowa girl. She’s also a multi-published novelist, writing romantic comedies in the banter-filled style of her favorite 1930s and 40s classic films. Her latest book, Like Never Before, was named by Publishers Weekly to their spring 2016 “Religion and Spirituality” Top 10 list. When she’s not writing she can be found hanging out with the coolest family ever, watching old movies, and daydreaming about her next book. Melissa loves connecting with readers at http://www.melissatagg.com and on Facebook and Instagram.
Disclaimer: I received a free copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for my honest review.

Book Review: A Worthy Pursuit by Karen Witemeyer

a worthy pursuitA Worthy Pursuit by Karen Witemeyer (Bethany House, June 2015)

Stone Hammond is the best tracker in Texas. He never comes home empty-handed. So when a wealthy railroad investor hires him to find his abducted granddaughter, Stone eagerly accepts.

Charlotte Atherton, former headmistress of Sullivan’s Academy for Exceptional Youths, will do anything to keep her charges safe, especially the little girl entrusted to her care after her mother’s death. Charlotte promised Lily’s mother she’d keep the girl away from her unscrupulous grandfather, and nothing will stop Charlotte from fulfilling that pledge. Not even the handsome bounty hunter with surprisingly honest eyes who comes looking for them.

When the teacher he’s after produces documentation that shows she’s the little girl’s legal guardian, Stone must reevaluate everything he’s been led to believe. Is Miss Atherton villain or victim? She acts more like a loving mother than an abductress, and the children in her care clearly adore her. Should Stone break his perfect record?

Then a new danger threatens, and Charlotte is forced to trust the man sent to destroy her. Stone becomes determined to protect what he once sought to tear apart. Besides, he’s ready to start a new pursuit: winning Charlotte’s heart.

REVIEW:

A tumbleweed blows across dry land, a reddish-brown first swirling around a deserted town long-forgotten after two dueling cowboys fought outside the local tavern. Late 1800s Texas—a setting unlike any other, and one that is enjoyed by many readers of Christian fiction. Just not myself…at least until now.

I’ve never felt drawn to the 1800s Western genre like so many of my fellow readers are. This setting just did not appeal me; to be honest, imagining a story set in this time period still doesn’t make my heart beat in anticipation as it does when I find a new World War Two or Regency novel sitting on a shelf at Barnes and Noble. But before this month I had never read a Karen Witemeyer novel, and just as an unexpected dish can call us to new flavors or tastes, I have found that Witemeyer just might have made a Western fan of me yet after finishing A Worthy Pursuit. If the mark of a strong writer isn’t winning over fans to a new plot line or genre, I don’t know what else is.

A Worthy Pursuit contains elements of what I expected of a Western novel, such as gun-fights, ranchers, and dialect reminiscent of language spoken in John Wayne movies; however, there was much more to this novel than I expected of one set in 1800s Texas, such as a deep character growth, family drama, and a romance based on faith and trust. The elements of a Western-set novel that I imagined I would not care for—those gun-fights, cowboys, and dialect so far from own Mid-Atlantic lilt—bothered me very little because Witemeyer is a wordsmith who uses the deeper elements of point-of-view, metaphor, relationships, and character development to develop her stories. Instead of mentally correcting Stone Hammond every time he left off his “g’s”, I focused more on his motivations and character as he carried off his bounty-hunting duties. Witemeyer knows writing: dialect should be used few and far between, and only to enhance the scene. I did not drown in Texan language, and that alone immersed me into the story and impressed me with Witemeyer’s writing skills.

A Worthy Pursuit excelled in every level of what makes a great story: endearing and believable characters chase after dreams, battle insecurities and villains, and follow their faith through internal and external challenges. Charlotte and Stone—the heroine and hero, respectively—both grabbed my attention from the first few pages of the novel. I thoroughly enjoyed Charlotte’s journey from nervous schoolmarm to a woman in love. Her mama-bear protectiveness of her three children drove the story, and Witemeyer’s choice of background for her heroine was unique, believable, and compelling. Much to my surprise, I also found myself rooting for Stone much sooner and deeper than I expected. This bounty hunter turned my head towards a profession I never thought I would cheer on—hero or otherwise. Witemeyer’s decision to make her hero and heroine older than what is usually found in fiction also struck me as exceptional. Not only did the ages enhance the believability of the story, the ages also serve to connect Witemeyer’s characters with readers who are not the typical blonde-haired, blue-eyed beautiful heroes and heroines usually found on the covers of fiction novels.

From endearing children with unique capabilities to wizened and loving secondary characters, the cast of A Worthy Pursuit alone makes this novel worthwhile to read. A strong second to that statement—and one of my favorite aspects of the book—is the characters’ use of faith internally and with each other. Characters in A Worthy Pursuit frequently turn to their faith during times of joy and hardship. In internal dialog to themselves as they pray for peace and understanding, to discussions of God’s goodness when making decisions, Stone and Charlotte in particular demonstrate the daily conversations and prayers all Christians should emphasize in their daily lives.

RATING: 4 stars


ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

karen witemeyerChristy Award finalist and winner of both the ACFW Carol Award and HOLT Medallion, CBA bestselling author Karen Witemeyer writes Christian historical romance for Bethany House, believing the world needs more happily-ever-afters. She is an avid cross-stitcher and makes her home in Abilene, TX with her husband and three children.

Find Karen online at the following sites:

website                   Amazon

Facebook

Goodreads

 

Book Review: From the Start by Melissa Tagg

From the StartABOUT THE BOOK

Kate Walker used to believe in true love and happily ever after. While her own love life may have left her brokenhearted, it hasn’t kept her from churning out made-for-TV romance movie screenplays…until a major career slump and a longing to do something meaningful send her running back to her hometown of Maple Valley.

Permanently sidelined by an injury, former NFL quarterback Colton Greene is temporarily hiding out in a friend’s hometown to avoid the media and the reminders of all he’s lost. Maple Valley seems like the perfect place to learn how to adjust to normal life. The only trouble is he’s never really done normal before.

While Kate plays things safe and Colton is all about big risks and grand gestures, they both get what it’s like to desperately need direction in life. An unexpected project gives them both a chance to jumpstart their new lives, but old wounds and new dreams are hard to ignore. Starting over wasn’t part of the plan, but could it be the best thing that’s ever happened to them?

Pre-order From the Start on Amazon!


REVIEW

When I first met Melissa Tagg at last year’s ACFW conference, I knew of very few contemporary Christian fiction authors, including our own writer of From the Start. It didn’t take me long to become interested in Tagg’s novels—I picked up both of her novels from the ACFW bookstore before the conference finished—so naturally I had to read her 2015 novel as soon as possible. If the one week it took me to read From the Start isn’t enough of an indicator of how much I liked this book, perhaps the following phrase will: I loved this book! Tagg’s From the Start is a charming story of faith, friendship, romance, and self-discovery that delivers heartfelt lessons sure to bring a smile to all readers. We are only a few months into 2015, but I am confident in putting From the Start onto my list of favorites for the year.

Tagg’s newest release is a novel reminiscent of the author herself. For all her quirky charm—including a curly-haired lopsided ponytail, love of puffy vests, and dangly bangle jewelry that pops with color—From the Start reads as if Tagg could star in the story alongside Kate Walker and Colton Greene. I don’t know if I have ever read a novel that put out a story so endearingly close to an author’s heart, and I loved From the Start for sharing so much of Tagg with me without compromising the integrity of the story. The Walkers hometown of Maple Valley, Iowa, for example, is hewn from the author’s love of her home state. I could easily visualize the quaint small town of Maple Valley and am looking forward to returning to this fictionalized but oh-so-real town for the rest of the Walker series.

The cast of characters in From the Start brings the story to life. Kate and Colton, alongside the rest of the Walker family, their circle of acquaintances, and Maple Valley’s community are so endearing that I did not want to put this novel down. With all of her down-to-earth charm, Kate could be any girl’s best friend; her relationships with Megan and Ava demonstrate that Tagg knows exactly the type of friendship most women yearn for. Colton is about handsome, wounded, driven, loyal, tender-hearted, and hard-working as any female would want her hero to be. On more than one occasion I found myself wishing for a real-life Colton Greene to show up on my doorstep. Tagg knows her heroes and heroines and contemporary Christian fiction is all the better for it.

Romance shines brightly Tagg’s third novel, from Colton and Kate, to the Walker parents, to the supporting characters whose own romances I cannot wait to read about in the following novels in the series. From the moment Kate and Colton enter the same room chemistry bounds off the page. With her trademark wit and humor, Tagg puts her leading characters through situations that show romantic comedy for all it should be in Christian fiction: appropriate for its demographic (i.e. in From the Start, clean but applicable to adults), sarcastic without any meanness, and quirky without being strange. I laughed aloud many times while reading this novel, which makes me want to pick up Tagg’s other novels to see what else she can possibly think of for her characters to get into. While laughter made Kate and Colton’s thrive, the passion between them is no laughing matter. Tagg created two characters whose chemistry thrives because they genuinely appreciate and care about one another. With another nod to appropriate text for both content and audience, Tagg put in scenes that respectfully balance passion with Christian principles.

Tagg’s lessons in From the Start, both faith-based and otherwise, are as approachable and poignant as all the other aspects of this story. Both Kate and Colton struggle with their careers throughout the book, and as they learn to let God take control of their lives instead of direct it themselves, readers will see that trusting in His plan always brings the best results. Tagg also takes readers on a wild ride of blind faith as a Kate’s demeanor changes throughout From the Start. Once passive and protective of her heart because of past hurts, Kate shows readers how to chase dreams as she gains confidence in herself and others. Those only a few of the heartfelt lessons of the novel, From the Start brims with takeaways and lines that are bound to fill Picmonkey messages and social media messages.

Female readers of all ages will love this contemporary Christian fiction novel. I heartily recommend From the Start for readers in the “new adult” age range because the situations and characters so perfectly resonate with those of us experiencing similar situations and emotions to those in the Walker clan.

RATING: 4/5 stars


ABOUT THE AUTHOR   

Melissa TaggMelissa Tagg, author of Made to Last and Here to Stay, is a former reporter and total Iowa girl. In addition to her homeless ministry day job, she is also the marketing/events coordinator for My Book Therapy, a craft and coaching community for writers. When she’s not writing, she can be found hanging out with the coolest family ever, watching old movies, and daydreaming about her next book. She’s passionate about humor, grace, and happy endings. Melissa blogs regularly and loves connecting with readers at http://www.melissatagg.com.

Website: melissatagg.com

Facebook: Author Melissa Tagg

Twitter: @Melissa_Tagg