The Painter’s Daughter by Julie Klassen

This is the third book I’ve read by inspirational author Julie Klassen, following The Dancing Master (reviewed here) and The Secret of Pembrooke Park (reviewed here). I found this novel to be a little different in that it starts with the fallout of an affair between two characters…which seemed unusually risqué for the Christian writer. (Note that it is still very clean, though.)

The Painter's Daughter Front Cover (Bethany House)

The Painter’s Daughter Front Cover (Bethany House)

THE PLOT: Sophie Dupont helps her father with his painting but sells her own talent short. She is seduced by visiting artist Wesley Overtree, who one day leaves her a note saying “It was fun, but I’m off to Italy!” (I’m paraphrasing.) Unfortunately, Sophie had been working up the courage to tell Wesley she’s pregnant. Now she’s all alone, abandoned and ruined.

Along comes Wesley’s younger brother, Stephen, a captain in the army. He’s looking for his brother and isn’t surprised to find out that flighty Wesley has skipped off to Italy, leaving his estate duties to someone else. Stephen isn’t stupid and easily puts two and two together, realizing his brother has left Sophie in the lurch. Stephen believes he’s fated to die in battle, so he nobly offers to marry his brother’s lover to give their child a name. A desperate Sophie agrees, marries Stephen in name only, and heads off to the Overtree estate to be introduced to the family. The couple agrees to keep Sophie’s past and the baby’s true parentage from Stephen’s parents.

Stephen and Sophie begin to get to know each other and grow closer. Just when it seems like they make attempt a real marriage, Stephen must return to his troop, and Wesley returns.

MY TWO CENTS: In past reviews, I’ve remarked that while Klassen is a Christian writer, the references to God and praying were appropriately placed. In this book I felt like they were a little heavy-handed; much more plentiful and central to the plot than I’ve found in her other books. Maybe this is because of the nature of the content—an unwed mother, a soldier who believes he will die, a man who wants back the woman he abandoned. The prayers are sincere and not requests for wish fulfillment. Stephen and Sophie ask for guidance on making good decisions, not for everything to be magically fixed. While this may appeal more to Klassen’s core audience, it has less crossover appeal to non-religious readers.

I was a little uncomfortable with the plot because to me, Klassen’s books seem much more realistic than fun Regency romances. The reader knows that, unlike most romance novels, everything is not going to resolve perfectly. Stephen’s family have a hard time accepting his sudden marriage to a woman of lower social standing. You know it’s only going to get worse if they find out she switched brothers. And how will they treat their grandchild?

The relationship between Sophie and Stephen has a rocky road, and the story’s resolution isn’t a foregone conclusion. Will Sophie and Stephen end up together and happy? Will Wesley somehow redeem himself and claim his child? If so, where does that leave Stephen?

The secondary characters all add interest to the story, especially a former soldier who usually serves as Wesley’s companion and knows the truth; a mysterious neighbor; and Stephen’s innocent young sister. I think this one would benefit from a sequel as I’d like to see if one character attempt to make amends for his actions.

BOTTOM LINE: More religion-centered than the other Julie Klassen books I’ve read, and very thought-provoking. I would read a sequel.

TEACUP RATING: Three-and-a-half out of five teacups.

ON SALE DATE: The book is on sale in now hardcover, paperback, audio, and eformats.

Note: Review is based on an ARC provided by the publisher via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

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What Happens Under the Mistletoe (Anthology)

How did Christmas sneak up so fast? I can’t believe it’s almost here. But now is the time for Christmas-themed books! If you’re a romance reader, here’s another anthology from four popular authors.

What Happens Under the Mistletoe Front Cover (Pocket Books/Simon and Schuster)

What Happens Under the Mistletoe Front Cover (Pocket Books)

THE PLOTS (by story):

“The Heiress and the Hothead” by Sabrina Jeffries: Jeremy Keane’s sister Amanda, an American mill owner, butts heads with Lord Stephen Corry, a radical newspaper writer fighting against bad mill conditions in London.

“Twelve Kisses to Midnight” by Karen Hawkins: A Scottish duke is stranded in a snowstorm with a widow who is also his former fiancé.

“By Any Other Name” by Candace Camp: A young lady gets more than she bargained for when she dresses as a boy to search gambling clubs for her missing brother.

“Sweetest Regret” by Meredith Duran: A couple separated by misunderstanding and meddling find their way back to each other.

MY TWO CENTS: I read this mainly for the Sabrina Jeffries story, which is connected to the “Sinful Suitors” series (Amanda’s brother Jeremy’s story, The Art of Sinning, is reviewed here). I have read Candace Camp’s “Mad Morelands” series, but that’s all. I haven’t read any Karen Hawkins or Meredith Duran before this, but I may be interested in checking out some of their books after reading this anthology.

I was a little disappointed that Amanda only got a novella instead of her own book, but the story was well developed even though it was short. I felt like Amanda and Stephen got a sufficient amount of time, and probably better (in my opinion) to not spend too much time talking about the plight of mills in a Christmas story anyway. My one real disappointment with this book was the love scene. Everyone knows I LOVE Sabrina Jeffries, but this may have been the most ill-timed sex scene in history. I get it, I just don’t think it worked. (To say any more would be to introduce spoilers, so I won’t.)

The couple in Karen Hawkins’s story were likable enough, and their story was able to move quickly because they already knew each other well. I was very drawn to the supporting characters, enough that I’ll probably be checking out her “Princes of “Oxenburg” series.

Candace Camp provided a sweet story. Her heroine is spunky, and the hero is protective yet unorthodox. You can tell from the start they were made for each other.

Maybe not quite as much as the couple in Meredith Duran’s story, though. That poor couple, Georgie and Lucas, also knew each other previously and should have been married for years. But their own self-esteem issues and some meddling made each think the other had abandoned them. Thrown together at a house party, they have to wend their way through a tangled mess to the truth. I may have rooted hardest for this couple, who clearly belong together.

BOTTOM LINE: Mistletoe plays a role in all four stories, which are long enough to be fairly well developed. I may be hooked enough to check out the other series books connected to these stories.

TEACUP RATING: Four out of five teacups.

ON SALE DATE: Available now in paperback and eformats.

Note: Review is based on an ARC provided by the publisher via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

Murder in the Merchant’s Hall (Mistress Jaffrey Thriller #2) by Kathy Lynn Emerson

Murder in the Merchant’s Hall is the second book in Kathy Lynn Emerson’s new series, which is also connected to her “Face Down” mystery series. I enjoyed Book 1, Murder in the Queen’s Wardrobe, previously reviewed here. (This author also wrote the “Secrets of the Tudor Court” series as Kate Emerson. Book 6 in that series, Royal Inheritance, was reviewed here.)

***NOTE: This review contains spoilers for Book 1. ****

 

Murder in the Merchant's Hall Front Cover (Severn House Publishers)

Murder in the Merchant’s Hall Front Cover (Severn House Publishers)

THE PLOT: Having successfully brought her husband Rob home safely from Russia, Rosamond is trying to get back to normal life. Rob has returned to studies at Cambridge, and Rosamond has been released from the service of Walsingham. But then she receives an urgent summons from Lady Susanna Appleton and returns home to reconcile with her estranged stepmother. Rosamond learns what the summons was really about: her childhood friend Lina has been accused of murdering her brother-in-law, Hugo.

Hugo, a fabric merchant, had been trying to force Lina to marry a wealthy Italian silk merchant, Alessandro Portinari. A neighbor had warned Lina that Portinari had the “French pox,” so she was fighting with Hugo about the marriage the night she later found him stabbed to death. Lina’s sister, Isolde, found Lina standing over Hugo holding the knife, so she’s certain her sister is the murderer.

Adding to the drama is Portinari’s handsome nephew, Tomasso, who was also romancing Lina. But was his affection real or feigned? How does Portinari fit into the story? Why was Hugo insisting that the marriage take place? And why is Walsingham’s own henchmen warning Rosamond and Rob to stay away from the investigation?

MY TWO CENTS: I enjoyed this second book in the series even more than the first. The various factors in the case come to light slowly, leaving the reader to wonder what twists are coming next. In addition to the mystery is the growing relationship between Rosamond and her young husband. Rosamond married him when they were both 16 so she could take control of her inheritance, which left some bad feelings in the families. While Rob and Rosamond seem to enjoy “married life,” one wonders if eventually the friendship between them will become real love.

Rosamond acts for more like a liberated woman of the 21st century than someone living in 1585. She constantly protests Rob’s concern for her as trying to “control” her as any other husband would, or trying to “save” her when she’s perfectly capable of taking care of herself. While I applaud the independence, it’s eventually a bit off-putting and wearying to the reader that Ros SO often mistakes aggression for independence. Hopefully she will eventually learn that she can be independent and still have a real partnership with her husband.

As far as the mystery, it definitely kept me guessing. I was focusing on a different suspect entirely until close to the end.

BOTTOM LINE: An Elizabethan whodunit with some twists and turns and without an obvious conclusion. I’m very much enjoying these mysteries and plan to check out the “Face Down” mysteries that precede theme when I get the chance.

TEACUP RATING: Four out of five teacups.

ON SALE DATE: The book is on sale now in hardcover and eformats.

Note: Review is based on an ARC provided by the publisher via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

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