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.

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: 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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The Secret of Pembrooke Park by Julie Klassen

IMG_3823-0 ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ My synopsis:  When a reversal in financial circumstances causes Abigail Foster’s family to sell their cherished family home in London’s trendy Grosvenor Square, and remove to the dilapidated and foreboding Pembrooke Park in Berkshire, a manor house that has stood uninhabited for 18 years, Abigail wonders what the future holds for herself and her family. But as mysterious and sinister occurances associated with the old house come to light, her once somewhat optimistic view of residing at Pembrooke Park begins to change.

REVIEW:  When the book unfolds we find Abigail Foster and her family getting ready to attend a going-away party that their long-time neighbors and friends are hosting for their son Gilbert, who’s leaving for a year to study abroad. Abigail has formed an attachment beyond friendship to Gilbert, and expects a proposal upon his return; but as the night progresses Abigail witnesses Gilbert with her younger sister Louisa engrossed in a tête-à-tête. Gilbert appears interested in Louisa and Abigail is crushed. To make matters worse, during dinner Gilbert’s father addresses Mr. Foster, alluding to financial woes involving one of the Fosters’ recent investments.  This painful development further saddens poor Abby, especially since she feels principally responsible for her family’s financial predicament.

When the worst is realized and the Fosters are forced to retrench, they are concerned about where they will take up residence. Fortunately their situation is remedied when a distant but undisclosed relative conditionally offers them the use of their vast, uninhabited, decrepit manor house, Pembrooke Park.  When they agree to the stipulations, Abigail and her father head to Pembrooke Park to assist the servants with readying it for habitation. Things seem to be looking up for the Fosters until Abigail begins receiving cryptic torn-out journal entries and letters from an anonymous source, warnings from neighbors of treasure hunters, mysterious visitors around the estate, footsteps in the house at night, and other unexplained phenomena. Although these are unexpected challenges, Abby is determined to stay at Pembrooke Park, and the local curate, William Chapman, is quickly becoming an incentive to remain. Is he the man she thinks he is or is he possibly seeking the hidden treasure rumored to be in her new home?  Can the servants be trusted?  The neighbors? Are the journal entries and missives she receives, seemingly chronicling her goings on inside the house, proof that someone is watching her?

MY FEELINGS: Extraordinary!! I found this book to be a cleverly crafted story, somewhat of an amalgam of several of Jane Austen’s brilliant novels, and at times reminiscent of Charlotte Bronté’s Jane Eyre. For me this was by far a good thing as I am an admirer of both authors.  Reading The Secret of Pembrooke Park was like consuming the most decadent dessert, each layer richer and more succulent than the one before it. This regency period, semi-gothic, historical romance and inspirational fiction novel (whew), involving an old manor house, family secrets, obscure identities, hidden rooms and lost treasure engrossed me from beginning to end. And although this book is considered Christian Fiction which I appreciate for the lack of profanity, explicit sexual content, vulgar language and wanton violence, I don’t necessarily appreciate an influx of scriptural references, heavy doses of doctrine or preachiness. Klassen did a superb job at balancing scriptural content. Whereas there was mention made regarding things of a theological nature, it fit in with the plot and did not supersede the storyline. I will admit I was apprehensive when I saw the size of the book, 456 pages, which is normally a bit lengthy for my taste.  However, I found it was surprisingly well sequenced and fluently paced to the degree that it kept me fully absorbed and in eager expectation of the next reading opportunity.  In fact, it was actually hard to put down, and I read it in about the same time it ordinarily takes for me to read a book about half its size.

If you relish the masterful storytelling of authors like Jane Austen and Charlotte Bronté, then I expect you will find The Secret of Pembrooke Park a thoroughly enriching experience. I absolutely LOVED it!!

Thank you Laurel Ann Natress of Austenprose for a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review which I have given. Thank you Bethany House and Julie Klassen for providing this publication for my enjoyment.

QUICK FACTS:

• Title: The Secret of Pembrooke Park
• Author: Julie Klassen
• Tour Dates: February 16 – March 02, 2015
• Genre: Regency Romance/Gothic Romance/ Historical Fiction/Austenesque/Inspirational Fiction
• Publisher: Bethany House Publishers (December 02, 2014)
• Trade paperback ISBN: 978-0764210716
• eBook ISBN: 9781441264824
• Audio: B00QXKRDZ6
• Video Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-X4nLZlzBSQ&feature=youtu.be

IMG_3819AUTHOR BIO:

Julie Klassen loves all things Jane—Jane Eyre and Jane Austen. A graduate of the University of Illinois, Julie worked in publishing for sixteen years and now writes full time. Three of her books have won the Christy Award for Historical Romance. She has also been a finalist in the Romance Writers of America’s RITA Awards. Julie and her husband have two sons and live in St. Paul, Minnesota. Learn more about Julie and her books at her website, follow her on Twitter, and visit her on Facebook and Goodreads.