An Extraordinary Union by Alyssa Cole

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️💫 4.5 stars

The Civil War is raging. Ellen “Elle” Burns, once a slave along with her parents, is a free negro living in the North. She’s chosen to relinquish that freedom to become an undercover spy for the Loyal League, Union supporters, posing as a mute slave girl in a confederate Senator’s home in Richmond, VA. The Loyal League’s mission is to help destroy the Confederacy. Elle’s assignment in Senator Caffrey’s home is to use her eidetic (photographic) memory to expose secessionists’ secrets. Elle is hopeful that her efforts will contribute to the end of slavery in the south. It’s risky business, but “anything for the Union,” she continually recites in her mind to dispel the hatred she has working as a slave under a cruel and exacting mistress, the Senator’s daughter, Susie. Susie is intent on vexing her daily—spewing racial epithets and making derogatory comments and accusatory statements that undermine Elle’s true character and nature. The condescension is almost beyond what she can bear. And with no way to defend herself, the mental pain inflicted is agonizing. Repressing her abhorrence for the oppression and denigration she’s experiencing, along with fellow slaves working in the Senator’s household, is excruciatingly difficult for Elle since she is highly intelligent and in reality, free. If that weren’t enough, Senator McCaffrey has got a new friend, Malcolm McCall, a confederate soldier who makes recurring visits to the Senator’s home. Initially terrified that Malcolm’s kindness towards Elle is a ploy to have his way with her, a common practice, Elle soon learns that McCall is also an undercover spy, working for Mr. Allan Pinkerton’s secret service, also Union supporters. The two must act wisely so as not to blow each others cover. This proves to be more difficult for Malcolm as he is almost immediately besotted by Elle’s beauty and her unique abilities as an undercover spy.

At first Elle views the Scotsman much the same as any other white man, an oppressor of her people, especially since his disguise consists of a grey confederate uniform, a stark reminder of the subjugation and brutality that her people endure by men who look like him. But his continued good-naturedness towards her gradually chips away her gruff, reticent exterior and before long she begins to fall for the man who can’t resist her. But they can’t allow their feelings for one another to supersede their mission. And there’s another problem. The senator’s daughter is continually making advances at Malcolm and wondering why he isn’t reciprocating. She’s becoming enraged and desperate because of his rejection, but Malcolm can’t bring himself to betray Elle, not even for the cause. The dejected woman’s actions culminate in an unthinkable act that threatens to ruin their mission. Can Malcolm and Elle do whatever it takes in support of the Union, exposing the secessionists and relaying vital information back to the Capital before it’s too late, or will their love prove to be a hindrance to the cause they’ve both been so committed to?
This book was suspenseful, educational, thought provoking, and poignant. The blatant racism was difficult to stomach. I had to continue to remind myself that this was the norm in those days, but I couldn’t help thinking about the prejudice and racism that still exists today.

I was rooting for Malcolm and Elle. Their forbidden love was difficult for me to envision because of the time period. They were well aware of the challenges it would cause, and the obstacles they faced seemed insurmountable. Their tenacious spirits and determination to fulfill their mission while preserving their secret relationship was inspiring.

Overall I enjoyed this book. There was lots of action and tense scenes that engaged me. I liked the idea of a romance between Malcolm and Elle, but I would have appreciated a more wholesome approach to it. Their scenes together were mostly lustful in nature, and that was disappointing to me since I prefer reading tender, wholesome romances. I skipped over the racy stuff. I guess I expected a more mellow romance with this one. Aside from that, a very good read.

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Review: The Innkeeper of Ivy Hill

The Innkeeper of Ivy Hill
The Innkeeper of Ivy Hill by Julie Klassen
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ When I need a little Regency indulgence to feed my Anglophilic yearnings, I can count on complete satisfaction with a Julie Klassen book. Atmospheric in its descriptions of English village life and the goings-on of its people, The Innkeeper of Ivy Hill captures the very essence of Regency era living. And now about the book…

Jane Bell’s husband John died and left her The Bell, a coaching Inn that she has no interest in running. Complicating matters, Jane learns that The Bell is saddled with debt which leaves her more eager to dispense with it. Her mother-in-law, Thora Bell, an austere woman who has never cared much for Jane in her estimation, was originally landlady of The Bell (or The Angel as it was then called), it being her family’s establishment. However, due to marital entitlement laws and such during that time, which ultimately curtailed a woman’s financial freedom, it eventually became the property of her husband, then her son, and now her daughter-in-law, Jane. Thora Bell has returned to the Inn to assess matters and to stay on and help out, she hopes. When the book opens it’s been about a year since John’s death and The Bell has fallen into neglect, an exorbitant loan is due, and because of the subpar service, mediocre accommodations, and its neglected state, The Bell is no longer profitable. Jane can sell at a loss, allow her brother-in-law Patrick, who also resides at The Bell, to assume the place along with the debt, or she can proceed at trying to salvage the Inn herself. Feeling defeated, she’s leaning towards options 1 and 2. But when one of her employs makes a dramatic statement causing her to reconsider her original inclinations, Jane realizes that more is at stake than her ability to pursue and secure her own livelihood. The Bell must be salvaged, and what’s clear is that for the most benefit to be achieved she should be the one to take charge of it.

The Innkeeper of Ivy Hill’s pace is like a walk through pristine English gardens on a balmy Spring day, parasol in hands and a companion by your side. At times an unexpected gust of wind sends you hastening for shelter from the impending storm. So many enthralling elements within this book. The entrepreneurial spirit that existed during a time when women weren’t highly considered, relative to matters of business, was inspiring. I loved Jane’s gumption as she sought advice from experienced businessmen, merchants and friends. Her commitment to transform The Bell into an establishment reminiscent of its former glory and reputation showed her strength when faced with what appeared to be insurmountable odds. I loved the growth of her character. I appreciated how Jane refused to adopt the old ways of doing things; ways that her mother-in-law approved of, but instead opted to pursue more innovative techniques to improve the Inn’s appeal. The transformation of the relationship between Thora and Jane was endearing. In fact, so many of the characters were three-dimensional that I felt particularly interested in the thoughts, motivations and actions of most of them. I cared about them – from the potboy to the magistrate. There was mention of stately as well as stubborn old horses, lovely manor homes, thriving hotel establishments, the Royal Mail service, female businesswomen, love interests and much more. A plot fully fleshed out and an absolute joy to savor.

In conclusion, I can’t say enough about how much I enjoyed this book. I anxiously await book 2 in the series which I believe will be out in December, 2017. The characters are not easily forgotten, and I’m eager to learn of their eventualities. The Innkeeper of Ivy Hill is outstanding! Most highly recommended.

If you’d like to know about the setting for The Innkeeper of Ivy Hill, as well as the characters and other research relating to the book, Julie Klassen has a website exclusively for that purpose. It’s Talesfromivyhill.com, and it’s definitely worth viewing. Beautiful photos, videos, a map of Ivy Hill and lots more.

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Review: A Haven on Orchard Lane

A Haven on Orchard Lane
A Haven on Orchard Lane by Lawana Blackwell
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ This is my first book by Lawana Blackwell and she’s been added to my list of favorite authors. I was beaming with pleasure while reading A Haven on Orchard Lane. What a delightful historic tale it was, filled with characters of substance that I could envision so clearly; and beautiful, refreshing dialogue that made this book the epitome of comfort and warmth. To be honest, I had taken a break from historic novels because I was growing weary of the same plot lines and scenarios. This book has caused me to regain faith in the genre. The story was unique and unlike any other book I’ve read in this category, with writing that spoke to my heart and nourished my soul. I was always ready to pick up where I’d left off. Now a little of what it was about….
Mrs. Charlotte Fosberry was a highly respected actress in her former days. Now at 50, she’s no longer on stage, but married to Lord Fosberry who did not marry her for love. Presuming she possessed more wealth than was the case, he confessed his true motives for marrying her and has grown critical and mentally abusive to Charlotte; making off-color comments about her weight and such. She desperately needs a way out and it comes by way of a theater part that she is called upon to play. Knowing that Lord Fosberry won’t allow her to just walk away from their marriage, Charlotte must devise a scheme to make her exit. Things don’t turn out the way she expects regarding her big break on stage, and she finds herself at the mercy of her estranged daughter, Rosalind, who Charlotte did not raise. Forgiveness is the order of the day, and Rosalind will learn almost immediately that her mother isn’t the person she’s made her out to be. In fact, Charlotte has much to contribute to many secondary characters by way of wisdom, and even theatrical experience. There’s a little mystery and intrigue in the story, a love triangle and ultimately the most wonderfully fulfilling ending.
Ms. Blackwell does Christian Fiction right. There are a few brief scriptural references to bible passages and characters, and a mention here and there of the folks making their way to worship services. But happily it wasn’t a lesson in Christianity or didactic in any way (I attend my own worship services for that). Oftentimes when reading a Christian Fiction novel I find that the author’s views don’t align with my personal beliefs and ultimately upset my delicate sensibilities related to religion. Because of this I find it difficult to review these preachy books objectively. This was not so with A Haven on Orchard Lane. What little I didn’t agree with wasn’t enough to affect my enjoyment of the book. It was mainly just solid story-telling without profanity, violence or graphic sexual scenes. What I personally expect from a Christian Fiction novel. I loved it!! HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.

Thank you Bethany House for a free copy of this book. I have not received any payment for my honest opinions about it.

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Review: Yours Forevermore, Darcy

Yours Forevermore, Darcy
Yours Forevermore, Darcy by KaraLynne Mackrory
My rating: 4.5 of 5 stars

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️💫 4.5 stars. A great read!!  Mr. Darcy is befuddled. Miss Elizabeth Bennet has refused his proposal of marriage, administering a stern rebuke along with it. Downtrodden and dejected, Darcy confides his situation to his cousin Anne who reveals to him that his proposal, while sincere, lacked tact and therefore exuded an air of impudence, resulting in Miss Bennet’s rejection. While acknowledging his goodness, she nevertheless recommends that Darcy take steps to improve his character.  In her estimation he interferes unnecessarily in the affairs of others, an impertinent gesture on his part, namely with regard to dissuading his friend Mr. Bingley from courting Elizabeth Bennet’s sister Jane, another factor contributing to Miss Bennet’s refusing him. Reflecting on the matter Darcy concludes that Anne is correct in her estimation, but it appears too late to reverse the outcome. Elizabeth’s bad opinion of Darcy is sealed and his dreams of betrothal to the lady are ruined. Or are they?  Darcy is incredulous, and as such he is anxious to quit Rosings Park immediately to avoid any further encounters with Elizabeth, preferring instead to placate himself by writing letters to his beloved which he never intends to mail.  But when Mr. Collins louses up Miss Bennet’s travel plans, placing Darcy in the awkward position to offer assistance, will the debacle give way to new opportunities for them?  Or perhaps will future encounters shed light on Darcy’s true character, improving his ill-fated lot with Miss Elizabeth?
KaraLynne Mackrory has a gift for writing Regency romance and she delivers it with ease in the most eloquent way. This is the second book I’ve read by this author and I truly enjoyed it. Those who’ve enjoyed Pride and Prejudice, and retellings thereof, will very likely appreciate Yours Forevermore, Darcy. Definitely a recommended read.
Thank you Meryton Press for a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review which I have given.

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Review: Sprig Muslin

Sprig Muslin
Sprig Muslin by Georgette Heyer

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ THIS WAS AN AUDIOBOOK. Sprig Muslin is a delightful Regency era tale that begins with Sir Gareth Ludlow, a widow who lost his beloved wife Clarissa to a tragic accident. Convinced that he will never truly love again, he sets out to marry an amiable and respectable long-time friend, Hester Theale, whom his sister regards as old (at 29) and insipid. En route to propose marriage to Hester, Sir Gareth encounters a young woman unchaperoned at an Inn, Miss Amanda “Smith”, a feisty, pretty and high-spirited girl of about 16 who puts him in mind of his young niece.  Determined not to allow this spunky but innocent, gentile young lady to fend for herself in a public Inn without an escort, he takes on the role of guardian with the intention of delivering her back to the safety of her grandfather, who Amanda is running away from since he will not permit her to marry her beloved Neal.  Amanda’s age and Neal’s station in life being a major factor in his decision. Reluctantly Amanda accompanies Sir Gareth until she realizes his scheme to return her to her grandfather. From this point a series of blunders, falsehoods and unbelievable situations take the story in directions that excite, shock and ultimately leave you in such a satisfied state of mind that you will no doubt long remember it for many days, weeks or even months to come.  This was my first Georgette Heyer book and I am hooked. There was wit, charm and characters of great depth that regaled me from beginning to end.  A masterful writer of the Regency period, I will be looking forward to reading more of her books in the future.
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Review: A Noble Masquerade

A Noble Masquerade
A Noble Masquerade by Kristi Ann Hunter
My rating: 4.5 of 5 stars

Lady Miranda Hawthorne, sister of Griffith Hawthorne, Duke of Riverton, fears that she will never secure a suitable marriage mate and as a consequence will be relegated to a life of spinsterhood. Her younger and decidedly prettier sister, Georgina, is about to embark on her first Season, while Miranda is heading to her fourth. Miranda has survived her mother’s harrowing “lady lessons” over the years by writing letters which she never intends to mail to her brother’s friend the Duke of Marshington, who Griffith always spoke of when corresponding with Miranda while he was away at school. Affectionately known as Marsh, the Duke was more than a friend, he was Griffith’s protector, and his character appealed to Miranda. The letters she wrote and kept hidden away provided an escape. She could pour out her heart and release the anguish, discouragement and discontent she endured to a man who she had come to know and respect through Griffith’s missives; ever careful not to mail the letters, which would be committing the ultimate breach in the rules of etiquette, that of writing to a man of whom she has no family relation. Her brother Griffith is home now and he has brought a most interesting new valet, Marlow, to replace old Herbert. While Miranda has practically accepted her fate as a future doting aunt, and not wife and mother, she begins to admit to herself that Marlow is quite captivating indeed. But there’s a niggling feeling that something is amiss, and when she finds out the truth about this mysterious man all of the lady lessons involving rules of gentility, propriety and decorum will be tossed to the wind.

Smart, witty, suspenseful, intriguing, illustrative, endearing and inspiring are all words that readily come to mind when describing A Noble Masquerade, a delightfully charming read. There was sufficient historical knowledge and verbiage to keep me stimulated and informed about the time period, but not to the point where a dictionary was constantly needed. And although this book is labeled inspirational fiction, it is not at all preachy or oversaturated with scriptural texts. I prefer this sort of mild christian fiction because I don’t have to be concerned about gratuitous violence, sex or foul language. I can safely enjoy the story without those distasteful elements. Also, I become highly perturbed when scriptures are misapplied or spiritual anecdotes seem to be thrown in for good measure, without any real basis for them. This was not the case with A Noble Masquerade. In fact I was only subtly reminded of its Christian aspects throughout reading, which was a plus for me.

In conclusion, Kristi Ann Hunter’s prose was a welcoming diversion to the pressures of everyday life and consumed me until forced to abandon it until the next opportune reading time. A great book that’s highly recommended. In fact, I was so pleased by it I immediately visited her website and then downloaded a novella that she’s written based on a couple who were secondary characters in A Noble Masquerade.

Thank you Bethany House Publishers for a copy of this lovely book in exchange for an honest review which I have given.

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Review: Bluebells in the Mourning

Bluebells in the Mourning Bluebells in the Mourning by KaraLynne Mackrory
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ A Pride and Prejudice continuation, this book was astounding!!  Seriously, I was blown away by the lyrical prose that captured the very essence of a Jane Austen inspired fiction novel.  What a pleasant surprise from this new to me author, KaraLynne Mackrory.  I requested this book on the back cover summary alone and cannot believe how utterly engaging and phenomenal it was. The story opens shortly after Elizabeth becomes privy to Mr. Darcy’s foiling of Mr. Bingley’s attempts to form an attachment to her sister Jane. Elizabeth is furious that Darcy would be the cause of her sister’s distress at losing Bingley and thus she despises Darcy. Mr. Darcy is unaware that Lizzy knows what he has done, forbidding his friend Bingley to form an attachment to Jane.  All the while Darcy has since fallen in love with Elizabeth, unbeknownst to her, and is on his way to her to profess his undying love. Meanwhile, the Bennett family suffers a tragic loss when their youngest daughter, Lydia, dies from an accident. This new development thwarts Darcy’s plan to propose to Elizabeth. Instead he offers to convey Elizabeth and her best friend Charlotte’s sister, Maria, back to Longbourn to grieve with Lizzy’s family. Darcy offers accommodations at his home, Darcy House, to Elizabeth and Maria rather than the Inn that they are prepared to stay in on their way back home, and Elizabeth reluctantly acquiesces.  While determined to remain wrathful towards Darcy her attitude begins to change when she observes his manners while at Darcy House. His care and concern for his guests, his tender affection for his sister Giorgiana, and the warm familiarity that exists even amongst his servants towards him causes Lizzy to re-think his character.  And oh is he handsome!! Mr. and Mrs. Bennett’s backstory is revealed and we’re enlightened as to how the flame in their marriage died down to a mere flicker. I love how the author orchestrated this. A tired and distressed Fanny Bennet opens up to her daughter Elizabeth about her past with Mr. Bennet, and the poignancy of that revelation was both moving and deeply affecting. I could feel Mrs. Bennet’s sorrow and pain over the sustained tragedies she’d endured and I developed a profound respect for her.  Of course I won’t give away the details, but I believe you will come away with the same impression yourself if you read this delightful book.  The chase is on for the dastardly and elusive Wickham, and this lends an air of intrigue and suspense that enhances the story.  Mr. Darcy is determined once and for all to know if Wickham was in any way involved in the death of Lydia Bennet. Oh how I admire Mr. Darcy. His charm and gallantry shines throughout Bluebells, and he is portrayed as the perfect gentleman—swoon worthy and without blemish.  Anyone who loves Jane Austen’s works or Pride and Prejudice inspired books should read Bluebells in the Mourning. I recommend it highly. I will be looking for more books by KaraLynne Mackrory.  Thank you, Meryton Press for a review copy of this book in exchange for an honest review which I have given.

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