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.

The Ration Card by Eric K. Augspurger

Every so often, I’m privileged to review a book written by someone I know. Sometimes it’s someone I’ve just become friends with recently; sometimes it’s someone I’ve known a long time. On this occasion, I get to present a WWII novel written by someone I’ve known over 20 years (wow, now I feel old. Thanks, Eric).

The Ration Card Front Cover (Tin Whiskers Books)

The Ration Card Front Cover (Tin Whiskers Publisher)

THE PLOT: Josephine Troyer is like many other young war brides. She and her husband, Al, quickly married between high school graduation and his enlistment in the marines. Jo grew up in an orphanage and has been living with Al’s parents while he’s fighting in the Pacific, but she starts to feel the need to contribute something to the war effort. One day, Jo shocks her in-laws by announcing her intention to apply for a job at the local factory as so many other women are doing.

Even though the work is strenuous and dirty, Jo finds satisfaction in being useful. She makes new friends at the plant, including Roz, a woman of Japanese descent, and Pete, a man who isn’t fighting because of a prior injury. As Jo becomes more independent, she begins to wonder if she’ll be the same person Al married when he comes home.

MY TWO CENTS: If you read this blog, you know that historical fiction is my favorite genre, although WWII isn’t my usual pick. But this is a perfect example of why historical fiction appeals to me so much: you can learn details about the time period while connecting with characters that make you care about their story.

This story is very much about Jo’s journey from a teenage girl to a young woman reaching her potential. She begins by feeling helpless while her husband is fighting the war and wanting to do anything to contribute to his safety. After she begins the job, though, and becomes good at it, she starts to become proud of her work. She’s excited to earn her own money and even buy a car, which adds to her independence.

The plot’s tension comes from her evolving relationships with others, especially Pete. While Jo gets along well with her in-laws, they don’t entirely approve of her new-found independence, and her mother-in-law especially begins to become suspicious of her friendship with Pete. In the meantime, Jo naturally matures through events such as supervising her crew, dressing up (including fake stockings) and going out with the girls, enjoying baseball games with Roz and Pete, and dealing with rationing. Jo also faces her share of heartache. The novel brings up something often glossed over in American history: the treatment of Japanese-Americans during WWII.

While there is definitely romance in this book, it is not primarily a romance. All the romance is very clean. While the romance plays a part in Jo’s growth, Pete’s character also grows and changes through his relationship with Jo. Even Jo’s mother-in-law, Pearl, changes over time. Although this is primarily Jo’s story, the growth of other characters add to the richness of the realism already experienced through the setting details.

BOTTOM LINE: A lovely coming-of-age story with fabulous period details of the WWII home front. I enjoyed it a great deal and am very much looking forward to the book about Roz, But for the Blood I Bear.

TEACUP RATING: Five out of five teacups.

ON SALE DATE: The Ration Card is available now in hardcover and eformats. (Please note that the hardcover version includes samples of the Blooming Grove newspaper, which give even more details about events of the time. These do not appear in the eformats.) Eformats can only be purchased through www.tinwhiskersbooks.com; hardcovers can be purchased there or through Amazon.

FIRST CHAPTER SAMPLE: You can read the first chapter and view a sample of the Blooming Grove Review in PDF format here.

Note: Review is based on a copy gifted to the reviewer by the author.

The Last Chance Christmas Ball (Anthology)

If Christmas seems far away, think again! It’s that time of year when Christmas romance stories start getting released. And anyone who reads romance probably knows of the Word Wenchesa group of romance authors who all blog together. This group of ladies (listed below) have written a very interesting anthology of separate Christmas stories that are all interconnected, which I’m sure was no easy feat. Some take place at the “Last Chance Christmas Ball,” so-called because a lot confirmed singles are in the mix. Some stories take place on the way to the ball, and some shortly after.

Last Chance Christmas Ball Front Cover (Kensington)

Last Chance Christmas Ball Front Cover (Kensington)

THE PLOTS (by story):

“My True Love Hath My Heart” by Joanna Bourne: A jeweler from Antwerp is masquerading as a maid to find a stolen jewel, with the unexpected help of her former lover…a nobleman who works for the foreign office.

“A Scottish Carol” by Susan King: A doctor finds out his prize pupil is his old flame in disguise, and they reconnect while snowed-in over the holiday.

“Christmas Larks” by Patricia Rice: An ill nobleman is cared for by his childhood friend, whom he doesn’t know has inherited his house. She doesn’t know how to tell him that his home will soon be an orphanage.

“In the Bleak Midwinter” by Mary Jo Putney: An injured soldier’s childhood sweetheart makes a last attempt to pull him out of seclusion.

“Old Flames Dance” by Cara Elliott: A couple previously kept apart by their families get a second chance at their romance when the widowed lady returns from India.

“A Season for Marriage” by Nicola Cornick: A couple who married after being caught in a “compromising” position (he was comforting her) attempt to put their marriage on the right track despite misunderstandings.

“Miss Finch and the Angel” by Jo Beverly: A flirtatious nobleman takes an interest in their hostess’s mousey companion, who has a checkered past.

“Mistletoe Kisses” by Anne Gracie: A young lady preparing to leave her home to its new owner enjoys one last Christmas before becoming a teacher at a girl’s seminary. She is joined by a brother and sister whose carriage is wrecked on the way to the ball.

MY TWO CENTS: These short romances are believable because most of the characters already knew each other pre-story. While the majority of the couples are becoming reacquainted, there are only a few “love at first sight” that proceed without too much relationship development. The stories are also pretty clean, with either no sex or very little description.

I’m familiar with a few of these authors, and a couple are even on my auto-buy list. I would not say these stories are my favorite of their work, but there is a certain joyfulness about them. Most of the characters feel that they’ve missed their chances at love with a particular person, or a happy family life, or a home. It’s nice to see wishes come true in a Christmasy way.

For most anthologies, I’d recommend reading the stories very gradually. In this book, however, the stories are all connected, so you’re better off reading them all together at one time. For example, the ball is thrown by the good-hearted Lady Holly, who is celebrating her 50th ball. She links all the characters together. The characters are mentioned in one another’s stories, and sometimes play a more major part. (For instance, three of the stories focus on three siblings as the main characters.)

BOTTOM LINE: If you’re in the mood for short Christmas romances, this is your book. If anthologies aren’t your thing and you like more relationship development than what you find in a short story, skip it.

TEACUP RATING: Three-and-a-half to four out of five teacups. Some stories are more enjoyable than others, but all are fairly uplifting in the Christmas theme.

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.

Married to a Perfect Stranger by Jane Ashford

I’d never read a Jane Ashford book, and the premise sounded interesting…two “normal” people readjusting to marriage after a prolonged separation. But I think I wanted it to be more interesting than it actually turned out to be.

Married to a Perfect Stranger Front Cover (Sourcebooks)

Married to a Perfect Stranger Front Cover (Sourcebooks)

THE PLOT: John and Mary were more or less bullied into an “acceptable” marriage by their overwhelming, managing families. Then John goes on a business voyage to China and is gone for 180months. Mary settles into managing her own life and becomes self-sufficient. John comes home, expecting a meek, submissive wife, and is surprised with someone who reminds him unpleasantly of their mothers. They have to come to terms with their marriage and possibly find happiness while overcoming obstacles such as John’s work nemesis. Although Mary is a talented portrait artist, putting her on the spot at a ball results in her insulting her hostess, who just happens to be Lady Castlereagh. This causes more problems for John at work, just when he is hoping to move up to greater importance.

MY TWO CENTS: First let me say that this is almost a clean romance. It’s not QUITE as clean as a Christian romance, but there are no detailed descriptions of intimacy. If that’s something you’re looking for in a romance, then check out this book. If you prefer romance that borders on erotica, this probably isn’t the pick for you.

Second, while I really liked the idea of two “normal” people solidifying their relationship, I felt like something was missing. Their romance was cute, but I didn’t feel a connection really building between them. It seemed like I couldn’t get involved with the characters; they were too standoffish to me, the reader, as well as each other.

BOTTOM LINE: I wanted to like this book much more than I did. It was a pleasant read, but I don’t know that I’m running to pick up more Jane Ashford.

TEACUP RATING: Three out of five teacups.

ON SALE DATE: The book will be on sale in paperback and eformats on March 3, 2015.

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

The Secret of Pembrooke Park by Julie Klassen

The first Julie Klassen novel I read was The Dancing Master, reviewed here. I liked it well enough to want to read more Klassen, and The Secret of Pembrooke Park was a great follow-up.

Secret of Pembrooke Park Front Cover (Baker Publishing Group)

Secret of Pembrooke Park Front Cover (Baker Publishing Group)

THE PLOT: When the Foster family loses almost all their money, Mr. Foster blames his oldest daughter, Abigail. Abigail had recommended that her father invest in her uncle’s banking firm, which has failed. To make up for it, Abigail has her family use her dowry to fund a season for her younger sister, Louisa…even though Louisa seems to have stolen the affections of Abigail’s childhood friend and crush, Gilbert. In the meantime, the Fosters are offered a temporary home at abandoned Pembrooke Park on the condition that they fix the place up. While Louisa and her mother stay in London, Abigail and her father travel to Pembrooke.

Abigail finds that intrigue abounds at Pembrooke. Why was it so hastily abandoned? What happened to the former owners? Who is leasing it to the Fosters? Is there really a secret treasure room? Who is sending Abigail anonymous diary passages? What does the local parson William Chapman and his family know about the secrets? Why does William’s sister choose to be almost a recluse? And does Abigail really want Gilbert back once he grows disenchanted with her sister, or has she developed real love for William?

MY TWO CENTS: First, let me say that this author gets the very best covers. Love the appropriate clothes, and the colors are striking. LOVE IT.

Second, even though Julie Klassen is a Christian writer, I feel like the reader isn’t overwhelmed with Christian messages; there is an appropriate amount of religion for the time period. While there is more religion in this book than there was in The Dancing Master, that’s kind of a given since William is a parson. Non-Christians who are looking for a clean regency mystery/romance will still enjoy it. Klassen books might even appeal to a broader audience than traditional romances do. I think a lot of people still enjoy a simple romance that doesn’t border on erotica, and this fits the bill.

Finally, there is definitely a gothic element to this book, between the midnight creakings that disturb Abigail, the mysterious cloaked figure, and more than one fire. I would say this is more of a mystery than a romance, as evidenced by the book’s title.

BOTTOM LINE: A bit of gothic mystery, a bit of romance, and not too preachy for a Christian writer. If you’re a fan of Jane Austen, you’ll probably like this book regardless of your religious beliefs.

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

ON SALE DATE: The book will be on sale in eformats on November 25, 2014, and in paperback on December 2, 2014.

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

Pan’s Conquest by Aubrie Dionne

Pan’s Conquest Cover (Entangled Publishing, LLC)

Following my love of the Hades/Persephone story Seeds by M.M. Kin, I decided to pick up this story by an unfamiliar (to me) author. I thought another mythology retelling might be appealing. Really, though, all the two stories have in common is a mythological base…otherwise, Pan is completely different from Seeds. But that doesn’t mean I didn’t thoroughly enjoy it!

THE PLOT: Pan, the god of fertility, has been chasing Syrinx, a goddess of chastity, for aeons, but she always managed to escape him. Now Syrinx is living disguised as human florist Sylvia in the 21st century. (The gods can travel in time and space, sans TARDIS!) Pan finds out where she is and also disguises himself as a very attractive and rich human, Parker Thomas. What follows starts off as a game of cat-and-mouse, but quickly becomes more about Pan learning to truly love instead of just pursue.

MY TWO CENTS: I was SO pleasantly surprised with this book. I was afraid it might turn into erotica, and it didn’t at all…in contrast, it’s a VERY clean romance! It’s about novella length (about 200 e-pages), but it didn’t seem short at all. The author took her time building Pan’s character, having him learn and change. Rutherford and Kaye were great character additions. And hey, who doesn’t love characters who can conjure up Jaguars and perfect party clothes with a snap of their fingers? Wish fulfillment 101.

BOTTOM LINE: I thought the writing was very good. Love the double meaning of the title. Really enjoyed this as a short, easy read and hope the author does more mythology retellings. How about Syrinx’s sister, Saturnia? I think there’s some story there that needs exploring. Just sayin’.

TEACUP RATING: 4½ out of 5 teacups, and hoping for a second course.

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

The Dancing Master by Julie Klassen

Dancing Master

The Dancing Master Front Cover (Baker Publishing Group)

When I chose this book, I didn’t realize it was classified as “Christian Romance.” While there are some religious overtones, what it really means is that it’s a very, very clean romance. And that is just fine!

THE PLOT: Alec Valcourt has just moved to tiny little Beaworthy with his mother and sister to live with his uncle. As a dancing and fencing master, he plans to open an academy in his new home to support his family. Unfortunately, his uncle didn’t realize Alec is a dancing master or he might have warned him ahead of time: dancing is forbidden in Beaworthy by the town noblewoman, Amelia Midwinter. But when Amelia’s rebellious daughter, Julia, meets handsome Alec, sparks start flying…and headstrong Julia Midwinter is determined to dance.

MY TWO CENTS: This book is like a cross between the British show Cranford and the movie Footloose. (The original–I haven’t seen the remake.) The small town comes to life as we get to know all its residents…friends of Julia’s, the town bullies, the mysterious blacksmith, even the baker. There are some mysteries in both main characters’ pasts. Alec is hiding some shameful secret, and Julia’s family has their own skeletons. However, I didn’t think the story was predictable. You may THINK you’ve figured out what’s going on, and then…surprise! not so much.

BOTTOM LINE: Like I said, this is a very clean book. I think you get to see one or two kisses, although there are references to some extramarital and premarital shenanigans that might bother someone (not me). Despite its classification, I think even nonreligious people would enjoy this book. Although a character recommends that Julia turn to god in a time of misery, that seems pretty obvious for this time period in a small town. The beginning seems overlong, and the story doesn’t really go full steam until about halfway through. However, if you like Jane Austen, you will probably enjoy this.

TEACUP RATING: I give it between 3½ and 4 out of 5 teacups. Slightly lower than 4 teacups for the drawn-out front half, but I might be interested in reading another book by this author. And serious props for this cover…it’s gorgeous! Really draws you in.

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

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