Archives: Review

Review: Autumn Brides

Once a month I review a book – usually fiction, sometimes non-fiction. Grab your favorite hot beverage (mine’s a mocha), and let’s talk books!

Are you a fan of seasonal novels? I’ve become a sucker for Christmas fiction the last couple of years. And when I spied a novella collection celebrating my favorite season, fall, I could resist as much as I can a comfy sweater and a day of pumpkin carving.

This month, like a big ol’ pile of leaves, we jump into Autumn Brides (Zondervan, 2015), by Kathryn Springer, Katie, Ganshert, and Beth K. Vogt. You get three novellas in one volume.

Autumn BridesFrom the cover:

Happily ever after begins today. The honor of your presence is requested at three autumn weddings . . .

A September Bride by Kathryn Springer

When Annie moves to Red Leaf, she’s ready to call the little town home, but Deputy Jesse Kent can’t believe his mother has handed the keys to her bookshop over to a woman she met on the internet. Jesse has seen his mother taken advantage of before, and he decides to keep a close eye on this Annie Price. But when a close eye turns into a historical wedding reenactment with Jesse and Annie as the couple, make-believe nuptials quickly give way to real-life emotions.

An October Bride by Katie Ganshert

No one but Jake and Emma know the true reason they’re getting married—so Emma’s dying father can walk her down the aisle. While Jake and Emma plan an autumn wedding together, it becomes clear that their agreement has a few complications—the biggest being their true feelings for each other.

A November Bride by Beth K. Vogt

Having celebrated the big 3–0 by ending a relationship, Sadie is tired of romantic relationships-by-text. The only man she knows willing to put down his iPhone and have face-to-face conversations with her is Erik. It’s time to put a 21st-century twist on the Sadie Hawkins’ tradition of a woman going after her man. But when he realizes he’s fallen for her, can Erik convince Sadie his just-for-fun dates were the prelude to “’til death do us part”?

Rating: 4 mochas out of 5 for the set

You might like this if you like: Seasonal fiction, contemporary romances, Hallmark movies, Runaway Bride

I liked:

A September Bride – Kathryn Springer’s story evoked the charm of small-town America. The fictional burg of Red Leaf beckons the reader like a cozy throw blanket. I wanted to step into the pages and stroll past the quaint businesses and chat with the locals. The writing style is top-notch and tight.

An October Bride – Confession: When I realized the premise included terminal illness, I was tempted to skip it. My day job deals with this topic, so it didn’t seem to fit the bill for escapism fiction. But this story won the 2015 Carol Award in the novella category, so I decided to give it a try. I’m glad I did.

Ganshert deftly balances a weighty topic with a lighter tone that engages. The characters prove likable and believable. And the setting–a big draw in any fiction I choose–showcases the glory of fall.

A November Bride – The characters pop off the page. Sadie and Erik made me grin and were just plain fun to watch. This friendship-to-love tale weaves backstory into the fabric in a way that adds more depth than most novellas.

I wasn’t crazy about: Once or twice, potentially major plot points get resolved too easily. I chalk this up to the limitations of the novella format, but it did irk to a mild degree. And the authors made a few of the secondary characters too interesting! I want to see the brother and best friend pair from An October Bride get their own story.

The Bottom Line:  Want a cozy read for a crisp autumn day? Autumn Brides steps up to the plate. I recommend with no reservations.

Questions for you: Do you ever indulge in seasonal novellas, or do you stick with full-length novels?



Re-viewing Review: Daughters of Fortune

Note: This month I revisit a series I first featured a few years ago. I’ve reread the series, and it holds up over time, I’m happy to say. I’m struck again by Warren’s masterful descriptions and epic story lines.  Enjoy! – Alison

Once a month I review a book – usually fiction, sometimes non-fiction. Grab your favorite hot beverage (mine’s a mocha), and let’s talk books!

Do you create your own destiny through your choices, or is there no escape from what your life is meant to be? Can mistakes be redeemed?

Heiress-coverThis month I review an award-winning trilogy: Daughters of Fortune series (Summerside Press), by Susan May Warren: Heiress – Book One, Baroness – Book Two, and Duchess – Book Three.

Rating: 4-1/2 mochas out of 5 for the series

You might like this if you like: Downton Abbey, The Great Gatsby, The Natural, Kate & Leopold, Swing Kids or anything else about Europe iBaronesscovelrgn World War II.

Summary: The only trouble with reviewing a series is sharing a flavor of the books without spoiling anything! Here’s a try. This family saga sweeps you into New York’s turn-of-the-century Gilded Age and criss-crosses continents through the end of World War II.

In Heiress, sisters Esme and Jinx want different things from their privileged upbringing: Jinx dreams of love and significance through wealth, but Esme wants to leave it all for the call of the West. Life’s twisting surprises – shaped by their choices – catches each off guard.

Baroness follows cousins Lilly and Rosie from flapper-filled Paris to barnstorming shows across the U.S. plains, and unexpected places in between. Both strong-willed young women are determined to carve out their own lives, but will love throw them a curveball?

Duchess rounds out the trilogy with the glamour of Hollywood on the precipice of the Great Depression. Rosie’s world crumbles but a new opportunity in Europe appears, though it’s not all that it seems.

I liked: HistoricDuchess-250x381al fiction works when I feel transported into the storyworld – a world based on reality but not too bogged down in detail as to be distracting. This series delivers in spades. The research necessary to pull this off must have proved monumental to Susan May Warren. She weaves it into the storylines so masterfully that it comes across as effortless. I felt fully immersed into these settings: the opulence of the Gilded Age, the rush of adrenaline while performing atop a biplane, the intrigue amid Europe during World War II, among others.

The same can be said for the characters. Stories of the rich and glamorous don’t  interest me, normally. These characters captured me and made me care. The reader gets to know them as fully developed people.  I care what happens to shallow Jinx and misguided Rosie, for instance. The break between each book was agonizing!

The stories themselves don’t disappoint. Each book follows multiple, intricate storylines than go way beyond the scope of my paltry descriptions. That’s the most frustrating part of creating this review: Knowing that each story encompasses so much more than I can highlight. I’d be overjoyed if any of my readers take on this series so that we can talk about it!

I wasn’t crazy about: If I sound like I’m gushing about this series, I am. But we both know that no story is perfect. Two things prick my memory here. First, a couple of storylines allude to and describe (with restraint) sinful choices. A touch of violence could be disturbing for some. These elements are not glorified and logical consequences, though buffered with God’s grace, follow – sometimes for generations.

Speaking of God’s grace, one would have to be blind not to see it saturating each character’s life. A few scenes mention God specifically. That said, I would’ve liked more.

The Bottom Line:  Few novels these days stick with me for very long. This series stands out after at least two years and remains my favorite of Susan May Warren’s stories. Read it if you want to get lost in a sweeping, multi-generational saga riding a roller coaster of emotions. I love series that follow families because we see how choices – good and bad – affect others over time. And with all three published, you can binge-read without the agony of cliffhangers.

Questions for you: Which historical eras do you like, and which don’t interest you? Do you think your upbringing always determines your future?  Any feedback on the format of this review?

Links of interest:

Susan May Warren

New York Gilded Age Homes on Pinterest

Barnstorming Site

Lindbergh Arrives in Paris (1927): YouTube

1940s Films

Sad Review Week

As you may know, I post a review the second Monday of each month. Anne of Green Gables (both books and the TV miniseries) starred in this month’s review, and I began writing the post early last week.

Millions of readers and fans of the miniseries have loved Anne, Diana, Marilla, Gilbert and all the rest for over a century. I started rereading the books recently. They’re even better now than when my dear friend, Courtney, introduced me to the miniseries and books back in the 80s.

But late last week came shocking news: The iconic Gilbert Blythe actor, Jonathan Crombie, died unexpectedly of a brain hemorrhage last week. It’s so sad for his family, friends, and Anne fans the world over.

So, I’ll suspend the usual review format this week in remembrance of Mr. Crombie. Thanks for the memories.

Related link: Jonathan Crombie


Review: George Washington’s Secret Six

Once a month I offer a review– usually fiction, sometimes non-fiction, sometimes movies/TV. Grab your favorite hot beverage (mine’s a mocha), and let’s talk!

Let’s talk spies…again. Specifically, George Washington’s Secret Six: The Spy Ring that Saved the American Revolution.  (Brian Kilmeade and Don Yeager, Sentinel Trade, revised 2014)


Rating: 4-3/4 mochas out of 5

What it’s about: This non-fiction bestseller offers its account of the true-to-life Culper spy ring. General Washington needed crucial intelligence about the King’s army during the American Revolution. The authors walk–at times gallop–the reader through the enlistment of the ring, including spymaster Benjamin Tallmadge. Tallmadge and the spy ring handpick unlikely spies from the sleepy villages of Long Island to the heart of the British stronghold of Manhattan itself. Their collective covert work helps turn the tide of the revolution; the title doesn’t lie.

You might like this if you like: American Revolution history, spy thrillers, the AMC TV series Turn, or Siri Mitchell’s novel The Messenger.

What I liked: Off the bat, the reader understands that the authors researched the stories to the nth degree. That helps the reader settle back and enjoy the read. True, even history can be vulnerable to the storytelling itch of authors, but the reader finds admissions of historical uncertainties when the authors can’t claim something as gospel.

That said, the story of the Culper ring fascinates those even remotely familiar with the American Revolution. We learn of heroes like Abraham Woodhull and Robert Townsend (Culper Sr. and Culper Jr., respectively), who risked and suffered in the shadows to fulfill their missions. We see a faint verbal portrait of the anonymous Agent 355, a female spy who acted with courage in the face of the horrors of war. It’s an insider’s view of the revolution that gives more life and dimension than we all had time to learn in school.

I’m not crazy about: In our secret schools for writers (okay, they’re not so secret), there’s a certain way to write non-fiction/history in long form, like this book. You’ve gotta make it read like a novel. We’re taught to take the elements of fiction storytelling and apply it this scenario: characterization, setting, plot, theme, etc. Tell the truth, but make it an interesting read. Shhh, don’t tell or they’ll kick me out of the writers’ schools. The authors did this well, overall. However, a spot or two suffered from some forced tension that felt thin. …But not enough to prove traitorous.

The bottom line: “I’m telling you, you’ll love it.” I have a particular friend who shall, like Agent 355, remain nameless. Whenever I recommend a movie, she narrows her eyes and shoots me a sideways look and half-smile. I lost her confidence in my recommendations when I tried to sell her on Napoleon Dynamite and Nacho Libre. But let the record show: she liked Nacho Libre, and now she even likes my “usual” at our local coffee house.

So, if she is coming around to the genius of my tastes, I can say with conviction (I cannot tell a lie) that I think my fellow history-lovers will enjoy Secret Six.

What about you? Do you enjoy books like these? Do you think you would’ve stepped up to the plate as a Culper spy?

Related Links:

Washington spy letter on display

TV series White Collar’s tribute to the Culper ring  – It’s on Netflix currently.

Book Review: The Yuletide Angel

Once a month I review a book – usually fiction, sometimes non-fiction. Grab your favorite hot beverage (mine’s a mocha), and let’s talk reading!

What if the only time you find your voice–your calling–is under the cover of night? And what if you suspect you’re not alone? This month I review Sandra Ardoin‘s new Christmas novella, The Yuletide Angel. True, it’s not Christmastime yet, but you might go ahead and add this to your To Be Read pile for next month.

Yuletide Angel

Rating: 4 mochas out of 5

You might like this if you like: Christmas fiction, the Victorian area

What it’s about (from the back cover): “It’s Christmastime in 1890s Meadowmead, and someone is venturing out at night to leave packages at the homes of the needy. Dubbed The Yuletide Angel, no one knows the identity of this mysterious benefactor.

No one, except Hugh Barnes, a confirmed bachelor who finds himself drawn to the outwardly shy but inwardly bold Violet Madison, a young woman who risks her safety to help others.

When Violet confesses her fear of eviction from her childhood home, Hugh longs to rescue her. His good intentions are thwarted, however, when Hugh’s estranged brother shows up in town … and in Violet’s company.

But Violet faces an even bigger threat. A phantom figure lurks in the shadows, prepared to clip the wings of The Yuletide Angel.”

What I liked: I love this time of year for fiction. Christmas novellas like this scratch a holiday itch. It’s perfect for curling up with hot chocolate, a blanket, and a flaming fireplace for an evening. Violet and Hugh’s story leaves the reader satisfied by a sweet story. Make no mistake: it’s not all fluff and cotton candy. Ardoin threads spiritual truth throughout.

I wasn’t crazy about: The level of tension. I expected more from a couple of aspects of the story. It’s a mild complaint, though. Christmas fiction needs only a pinch of suspense to make me happy.

The bottom line: The Yuletide Angel fits the bill for a cozy Christmastime read.

What about you? Do you like to read anything special during the holidays?