Tag Archives: Bethany House

Audiobook Review: High as the Heavens by Kate Breslin

Title: High as the Heavens
Author: Kate Breslin
Print Publisher: Bethany House
Audio Publisher: Oasis Audio
Narrator: Renee Ertl
Published: June 2017
Genre: Historical Romance
Length: 12 hours, 41 minutes. Unabridged.

About the Book: (from the publisher’s Web site)

A British nurse in WWI German-occupied Brussels, Evelyn Marche spends her days at the hospital and her nights working at a café . . . or so it seems. Eve’s most carefully guarded secret is that she also spends her nights carrying out dangerous missions as a spy for a Belgian resistance group.

When a plane crashes as she’s en route to a rendezvous, Eve is the first to reach the downed plane and is shocked to recognize the badly injured pilot as British RFC Captain Simon Forrester. She risks her life to conceal him from the Germans, but as the secrets between them grow and the danger mounts, can they still hope to make it out of Belgium alive?

My Thoughts on the Book:

This is a story historical romance fans will love. It is set in German-occupied Brussels during World War I and incorporates vivid cultural and historical details. It’s particularly cool that its characters are based loosely on actual historical figures (see the author’s note in the book for details).

The plot features espionage, danger, and intrigue alongside the emotional joys and uncertainties of a chance at reclaiming lost love. The characters, while at times larger than life, are struggling with relatable issues like guilt, mistrust, and fear.

Despite the promising premise, the start of the story dragged a bit for me, under the weight of a little more exposition early on than I would have liked. Fortunately, I stuck with it, because once the action and romance kicked up a notch, I was hooked.

The character development was well done and the action and romance plotlines brought readers along to a satisfying conclusion. Recommended to adult fans of historical romance and suspense. Because of the difficult things Eve and other characters have to go through in the story, I’d recommend parents preview the book to determine if they feel it’s appropriate for their teenage readers.

Specific to the Audio Edition:

The wide range of Nationalities represented in this book could have lent itself well to voicing characters with a variety of different accents. While the narrator did not take full advantage of this opportunity, she did distinguish between character voices, to the extent that I was never in doubt about which character was speaking. The reading was clear and pleasant listening, with emotions well reflected in the performance. Overall, the audio edition makes for an enjoyable listening experience.

I borrowed this audiobook from my local library via Hoopla. I was not expected to write a review, but I wanted to share.

Quick Links: About the Audiobook | Audio Sample | Author’s Site

Book Review: Undaunted Hope by Jody Hedlund

Title: Undaunted Hope
Author: Jody Hedlund
Publisher: Bethany House
Published: January 2016
Series: Beacons of Hope, Book 3
Genre: Historical Romance

About the Book: (from the publisher’s Web site)

1871, Eagle Harbor, Michigan. In a Town Mired in Darkness, She May Shine the Light They Need.

Running from the mistakes of her past, Tessa Taylor heads to the uppermost reaches of Michigan, planning to serve as the new teacher to the children of miners. She quickly learns the town had requested a male teacher, but Percival Updegraff, superintendent and chief mine clerk, says she can stay through winter since it’s too late to replace her. Tessa can’t help but thank him and say she is in his debt.

Determined to make herself irreplaceable once spring thaw arrives, Tessa throws herself into her work, and soon two students have decided Miss Taylor is the right match for their grieving father. At the same time, charming assistant lightkeeper Alex Bjorklund makes his interest known, surprising Tessa, who has never had men fight for her hand before. But not all is well as she feels that someone is tracking her every move, and she may not be able to escape the trap that has been laid for her.

My Thoughts:

I’ve enjoyed all the titles I’ve read in this romantic series centered around lighthouses and their keepers. This one is no exception. In fact, this one features particularly great banter between Tessa and Alex. And yet, I’ve got some catching up to do. Somehow, I’ve fallen 2 books behind in the series! Which means all the more fun still ahead for me. :)

Tessa and Alex’s story took me a bit longer to get through than some of the earlier ones in this series that I simply couldn’t put down. In part, I blame my busier schedule with a full time job, kids, and commute. But, even in the time I had with the book, I don’t think I got quite as drawn into the story as I did the earlier ones. I think it may have had to do with the love triangle, and the immature behavior it brought out in the hero and his brother. That aspect annoyed me and detracted from what I thought was an otherwise excellent story.

Tessa’s challenge to bring education to the kids and to the miners despite numerous obstacles, the need to set things right in the coal mining town with the cruel and controlling boss, as well as the main characters’ past hurts and fears to be overcome contribute to the story’s appeal and keep it interesting. But the relationship between Tessa and Alex is the crowning jewel of the story. They seem so well matched, and I love their witty repartee.

Fans of historical romance with suspense interwoven will want to read this story for sure. And yes, I’m looking forward to checking out the next two books in this series… when time allows.

Thank you to the publisher for providing a complimentary copy of this book through NetGalley for review purposes.

Quick Links: About the Book | About the Series | Author’s Site

Audiobook Review: From This Moment by Elizabeth Camden

Title: From This Moment
Author: Elizabeth Camden
Print Publisher: Bethany House
Audio Publisher: Tantor Audio
Narrator: Justine Eyre
Published: June 2016
Genre(s): Historical Romance, Christian Fiction.
Length: 9 hours, 56 minutes. Unabridged.

About the Book: (from the publisher’s Web site)

Stella West’s artistic talent made her the toast of London, but when her beloved sister dies under mysterious circumstances she abandons everything and heads for Boston. With single-minded determination she fights to pierce the ring of secrecy surrounding her sister’s death. Upon meeting Romulus White, a publisher with connections into every important power circle in the city, she quickly realizes he could be a valuable ally in navigating Boston society.

Romulus has been pursuing Stella for years to create art for his magazine. Her luminous illustrations are the missing piece he needs to propel his magazine to the forefront of the industry, and he will stop at nothing to get her on board.

Sparks fly the instant they join forces, but Romulus is unsettled by the unwelcome attraction he feels toward Stella, fearing she might be the one woman who could disrupt his hard-won independence. He may have finally met his match in Stella, but is helping her solve the mystery of her sister’s death worth the risk to his publishing empire?

My Thoughts on the Book:

Romance, history, suspense, and mystery – what’s not to love? I’m a big fan of Elizabeth Camden’s novels, and From This Moment delivers on the features I’ve come to look for. We’ve got a strong heroine with a goal, an intriguing hero with whom to team up, and a plotline filled with suspense and danger. Oh, and romance, of course. :)

Stella and Romulus are believably flawed characters, and clash with each other in a big way at times, which can make for some fascinating moments. They both learn some valuable lessons and change over the course of the story. Meanwhile, Clyde and Evelyn’s subplot brings a great deal of substance to the book, as they work to repair a broken relationship. And the historical context of the Boston subway’s construction makes for a vivid backdrop, with intriguing details that made me curious to learn more. And I think my favorite part of the story is how the ending plays out, but I don’t want to spoil that for you!

Specific to the Audio Edition:

I have mixed feelings about the audio performance for this book. I liked the characters’ voices – how they were differentiated, and how the voices fit the characters. I also appreciated the emotion portrayed in Justine Eyre’s performance, which I found to be spot on. What I found distracting, was a persistent quirk in the reading style, most noticeable in some of the narrative portions in between character dialogue. There seemed to be an extra vowel sound attached to the end of the last word of each sentence as if for added emphasis. I still enjoyed listening to the book, and while I wouldn’t go out of my way to seek out this narrator’s work, I also wouldn’t let it stop me from listening to a book I was interesting in.

The book itself I highly recommend. The audiobook I recommend with the caveat that you’d do well to sample a brief passage before purchasing. Actually, I think that’s a good idea before purchasing any audiobook, as the things that bother one person may go completely unnoticed by another, and vice versa.

I borrowed this audiobook from my local library via Hoopla. I was not expected to write a review, but wanted to share how much I enjoyed the story.

Quick Links: About the Book | About the Audiobook | Author’s Site | About the Narrator

Audiobook Review: Against the Tide by Elizabeth Camden

Title: Against the Tide
Author: Elizabeth Camden
Narrator: Barbara Rosenblat
Audio Publisher: Recorded Books
Print Publisher: Bethany House
Audio Length: 11 hours, 29 minutes; Unabridged
Publication Date: October 2012
Genre(s): Historical Romance, Inspirational Fiction

About the Book (from print publisher, Bethany House):

After a childhood rampant with uncertainty, Lydia Pallas has carved out a perfect life for herself. She spends her days within sight of the bustling Boston Harbor, where her skill with languages has landed her an enviable position as a translator for the U.S. Navy.

Lydia’s talents bring her to the attention of Alexander Banebridge, a mysterious man in need of a translator. Driven by a campaign to end the opium trade, Bane is coolly analytical and relentless in his quest. He cannot afford to fall for Lydia and must fight the bittersweet love growing between them.

When Bane’s enemies gain the upper hand, he is forced to turn to Lydia for help. Determined to prove her worth, Lydia soon discovers that carrying out Bane’s mission will test her wits and her courage to the very limits.

When forces conspire against them from without and within, can their love survive?

Thoughts on the Story:

Against the Tide initially caught my attention because of all the recognition and awards it received. This book won a RITA Award, a Christy Award, AND a Daphne de Maurier Award. Talk about some impressive credentials! Then I saw that the audio edition was narrated by an incredibly popular multi-award-winning narrator, and I knew this was an audiobook I couldn’t pass up.

So, now that I’ve read it, do I think the story lives up to its reputation? Yes, most definitely.

Both lead characters are wonderfully complex, and the storyline is compelling and thought provoking. Plus, if I can borrow what Lydia says of Bane (page 173):

“Everyone ought to have a brilliant, glorious rascal in their life just once, right?”

At first, I wasn’t quite sure what to make of Bane. Could this “rascal” be trusted? Why did the admiral call him dangerous? Was he really a worthy hero? I’m guessing if I’d read The Lady of Bolton Hill first, in which Bane also appears, I might have understood him better from the outset. (At this point, I have not yet read The Lady of Bolton Hill and only recently learned of the connection. Anyone who has read it want to weigh in here?) As it was, I got to know him, and like him, a little at a time, just as Lydia does. Which was a lot of fun. J

The romance is sweet, the suspense page-turning, and the historical aspects engaging. There’s an Author’s Note at the end detailing some of the factual historical information included, and I’ve got to say, the history surrounding medications like Mrs. Winslow’s Soothing Syrup was pretty shocking. It makes me appreciate some of the regulations in place now all the more.

Possibly one of the most interesting aspects of this book was the discussion on law vs morals. I’ll let Bane and Lydia speak for themselves in this quoted passage (from Chapter 10, page 97):

Lydia’s jaw dropped. “Is this kind of thing legal?”

“Cleaning offices? Of course it is.”

“But you are suggesting looking at records on people’s desks, in their files.”

He pierced her with that blue gaze, assessing her. “Lydia, sometimes there is a difference between things that are legal and things that are moral. I’m looking for smugglers, that’s all. Most of the opium in the market is being brought in by a smuggler working in the Boston Custom House. Trying to find him is a worthy goal.”

I think this book would be an excellent choice for a book discussion group. It comes complete with an eight question discussion guide, covering this and other thought provoking topics that could make for a fascinating group discussion. Whether you’re looking for a book to discuss or just a good read, if you enjoy history, romance, and suspense in a thought-provoking book with complex characters, then this book would be a great choice. Highly recommended.

Thoughts on the Audio Edition:

I consider myself a fan of Barbara Rosenblat’s work, and I think it’s safe to say I’m not the only one. This prolific and popular narrator has been recognized with 6 Audie Awards and 40 Earphone Awards, among other honors which include being named one of AudioFile’s “Golden Voices” and a “Voice of the 20th Century.” Her skill with accents and her impressive vocal range made the voices of individual characters realistic and immediately recognizable. And her portrayal of the characters’ emotions brought them to life in a vivid and compelling way. It was a pleasure to hear this award winning Inspirational story paired with a narrator of Barbara Rosenblat’s caliber. Whether you already love audiobooks or are interested in giving them a try, you can’t go wrong with this one.

Audiobook Review: On This Foundation by Lynn Austin

Title: On This Foundation
Author: Lynn Austin
Print Publisher: Bethany House
Audio Publisher: Recorded Books
Narrator: Suzanne Toren
Published: October 2015
Series: The Restoration Chronicles, Book 3
Genre: Biblical fiction, Christian fiction
Length: 14 hours, 7 minutes

About the Book: (from the publisher’s Web site)

Stone by Stone, the Wall Will Rise Once More Around God’s City

When news reaches him that Jerusalem’s wall is shattered and its gates burned with fire, a distraught Nehemiah seeks God’s guidance in fasting and prayer. Granted an unexpected leave from his duty as cupbearer to the Persian king Artaxerxes, Nehemiah sets out for Jerusalem to rebuild the city wall–never anticipating all the dangers that await him on his arrival.

The leaders of the surrounding nations become his fierce enemies, plotting to assassinate him and stop the wall’s reconstruction forever. A drought, meanwhile, has left the country impoverished, with many families resorting to selling their children as bondservants just to keep from starving.

Capturing the rebuilding of the wall through the eyes of a number of characters, On This Foundation is the powerful conclusion to The Restoration Chronicles. This exploration of faith in the midst of oppression offers hope that, in spite of appearances, the gracious hand of God is upon those who believe.

My Thoughts on the Book:

This book, and in fact the whole Restoration Chronicles series, is a fabulous example of Biblical fiction at its finest. If you haven’t read the other titles in this series yet, you may want to check out my reviews of Return to Me and Keepers of the Covenant as well.

On This Foundation tells the story of the rebuilding of Jerusalem’s wall in the time of Nehemiah. As with the first two books in the series, this one focuses on a handful of viewpoints – some prominent historical characters and some purely fictional – that bring the story home on a very personal and emotional level, while presenting a balanced look at social and political issues of the day. Along the way the characters face problems and learn timeless lessons that are just as applicable today as they were all those centuries ago.

A favorite quote from the book is a bit of advice Nehemiah offers those working on rebuilding the wall, despite threat of imminent attacks: “The way to replace fear with faith is to pray.” (Disc 8, Track 2, or Page 270) I know I could stand to remind myself of that bit of wisdom every now and then.

While Nehemiah’s story was central to the plot, and he was presented with an interesting backstory, challenges, and flaws to overcome, I felt it was some of the other characters that were most engaging and likeable. Chana, Malkijah, Nava, and Shimon each had a fascinating and unique perspective to share, with challenges of their own, and the overall story was so much deeper and richer because of that. I was particularly impressed by the way the author was able to present both sides of a divisive social issue (the rich vs the poor) through her choice of characters. And I was pleased with the way those issues were resolved without anyone being cast as the Bad Guy.

Historical details and vivid descriptions bring the Biblical account to life in what feels an almost immersive experience. I enjoyed delving into the nitty-gritty details of the work involved in rebuilding the wall as well as feeding the laborers and travelling from the surrounding areas to volunteer. The dangers of attackers, the crushing weight of the stones, and the potential for scorpion stings and other hazards puts the project in a whole new light.

This series is highly recommended for fans of Biblical fiction and anyone curious to experience the genre.

Specific to the Audio Edition:

It’s been nearly a year since I listened to the audiobook edition of Return to Me (first in this series, written and narrated by the same author and narrator), but as I dove into this novel, I was reminded of just how much I enjoyed listening to the earlier one. Suzanne Toren’s reading gives the text a dignified feel that seems quite appropriate to the genre. There’s a musicality and comfortable cadence to her voice that I enjoy, which is a very good thing, considering each audiobook clocks in at over 14 hours’ listening time! The narrator also has an impressive level of comfort with unfamiliar words, phrases, and names that might have tripped me up, had I been reading the text. Overall, a great listening experience.

Thank you to Recorded Books for providing a complimentary copy of the audiobook for review purposes.

Quick Links: About the Audiobook | About the Series | Author’s Site

Book Review: Cold Shot by Dani Pettrey

Title: Cold Shot
Author: Dani Pettrey
Publisher: Bethany House
Published: February 2016
Series: Chesapeake Valor, Book 1
Genre: Romantic Suspense

About the Book: (from the publisher’s Web site)

Four Best Friends.

And Then One Went Missing . . .

In college, Griffin McCray and his three best friends had their lives planned out. Griffin and Luke Gallagher would join the Baltimore Police Department, Declan Grey would head to the FBI, and Parker Mitchell would study to become a crime scene analyst. But then Luke vanished before graduation and their world–and friendships–crumbled.

Now years later, Griffin has left the police and his friendships behind. Still trying to forget a case that went bad when he was a SWAT team sniper, he’s living a quiet life as a park ranger at Gettysburg. Quiet until skeletal remains are uncovered near Little Round Top–and they aren’t Civil War-era.

Griffin just wants the case to go away, but charming forensic anthropologist Finley Scott discovers evidence pointing to the work of an expert sniper. When FBI agent Declan Grey steps in to take over the case, past and present collide. Griffin soon realizes he’ll need to confront some of the darkest days of his life if he–and those he cares about–are going to escape a downward spiral of crime, danger, and murder.

My Thoughts:

Cold Shot introduces readers to a new romantic suspense series from author Dani Pettrey. I was particularly excited to dive in when I learned the series is set in the Chesapeake Bay area – my neck of the woods! Once I started reading, the likeable cast of characters and intriguing mystery drew me in, and the suspense kept me on the edge of my seat straight on through to the last page. And yes, references to paddleboats at Baltimore’s Inner Harbor and beach fries in Ocean City brought back fond memories for me. :)

This first book in the Chesapeake Valor series focuses primarily on forensic anthropologist Finley and former sniper turned park ranger Griffin. Finley and Griffin both have some significant issues from the past that they need to work through, but they work quite well together once they find themselves working on the same case.

A number of secondary characters – Declan, Parker, Kate, and Avery – work with Griffin and Finley throughout the book, and it’s neat to see the changing dynamics among the group of Griffin’s friends from the past as the story progresses. They each make interesting characters in their own right, and I look forward to getting to know them better over the course of future books in the series. I’m particularly curious about Kate, who was introduced as “Part bloodhound, part ninja.” I’m also looking forward to exploring some of the mysteries from the characters’ collective past that have already been introduced in this book.

There was a good mix of investigation, danger, and romance. The mystery kept me guessing throughout and surprised me in the end. Plot twists and turns, plus some truly frightening moments faced by the characters kept the suspense high, and kept me fully engaged right up to the end.

Faith plays a significant role in the characters’ lives, which is reflected in the story, as characters turn to God in prayer, sometimes right there on the page. Thematically, the story takes a look at forgiveness of oneself and of others, as well as God’s grace.

Overall, an enjoyable fast-paced story, with a cast of characters I look forward to meeting again in future books. Recommended to fans of romantic suspense. In particular, fans of the television show Bones, may enjoy the characters’ expertise and approach to solving this case.

Thank you to the publisher for providing a complimentary copy of the book for review purposes.

Quick Links: About the Book | About the Series | Author’s Site

Book Review: Keepers of the Covenant by Lynn Austin

Title: Keepers of the Covenant
Author: Lynn Austin
Published: October 2014 by Bethany House
Genre: Biblical Fiction
Series: The Restoration Chronicles, Book 2

About the Book (publisher’s description):

In Their Darkest Hour, Where Would Hope Be Found?

In one life-changing moment, the lives of the exiles in Babylon are thrown into despair when a decree from the king’s palace calls for the annihilation of every Jewish man, woman, and child throughout the empire in less than one year.

Ezra, a quiet but brilliant scholar, soon finds himself called upon to become the leader of his people. Forced to rally an army when all his training has been in the Torah, he struggles to bring hope in a time of utter despair, when dreams of the future–of family and love–seem impossible.

In Keepers of the Covenant, acclaimed novelist Lynn Austin weaves together the struggles and stories of both Jews and Gentiles, creating a tapestry of faith and doubt, love and loss. Here, the Old Testament comes to life, demonstrating the everlasting hope displayed in God’s unwavering love for His people.

My Thoughts on the Book:

This epic tale of Biblical fiction has so much to offer the reader. The story takes place in multiple locations in and near Babylon and Jerusalem, with several sets of characters and a variety of viewpoints whose stories intersect over the course of the book. And there are many valuable lessons the characters learn along the way, many of which are applicable in our own time period as well.

As second in the series, Keepers of the Covenant continues Austin’s retelling of the Jewish return from exile in Babylon that began with Return to Me. While the two stories follow chronologically, they’re not overly dependent on each other, so either could be read as a standalone (though I did enjoy seeing a few of the characters make a second appearance). This book picks up in the time of Queen Esther and tells the story of Ezra, a Torah scholar turned leader.

What I enjoyed most about this book, was that it gave me a greater appreciation for and understanding of Jewish history, and showed a consistency between certain aspects of the Old and New Covenants that hadn’t seemed quite so clear before. I loved the way the different story threads wove together to create a picture of God’s plan to save both Jew and Gentile.

Much as I liked Ezra, Reuben, Amina, and Hodaya, I think my favorite character was Devorah, Ezra’s wife. She was portrayed as a strong and intelligent woman, a trusted advisor to Ezra, and a voice for grace, balancing her husband’s focus on law, and I found her particularly relatable and likeable.

I’d like to end my review by sharing a couple of quotes from the book that I found particularly compelling. From page 240:

“It was easy to rise up in faith and heroism when we faced a clear-cut enemy. It’s much harder to resist the enemy of gradualism and assimilation, much harder to maintain a passion for God when we’re bogged down in the daily routine of life.”

And from page 471:

“If things ever look hopeless to you, remember how the Holy One answered our prayers. Don’t ever forget to call on Him in your time of need.”

Great advice, right? This is such a vivid and inspiring book! Highly recommended.

Thank you to Bethany House for providing a paperback copy free of charge.

Audiobook Review: Tried and True by Mary Connealy

Title: Tried & True
Author: Mary Connealy
Narrator: Barbara McCulloh
Series: Wild at Heart, Book 1
Print Publisher: Bethany House
Audio Publisher: Recorded Books
Published: September 2014

About the Book (from the publisher’s web site):

Saddle up for a wildly fun ride with the Wilde sisters!

Kylie Wilde is the youngest sister–and the most civilized. Her older sisters might be happy dressing in trousers and posing as men, but Kylie has grown her hair long and wears skirts every chance she gets. It’s a risk–they are homesteading using the special exemptions they earned serving in the Civil War as “boys”–but Kylie plans to make the most of the years before she can sell her property and return to the luxuries of life back East.

Local land agent Aaron Masterson is fascinated with Kylie from the moment her long hair falls from her cap. But now that he knows her secret, can he in good conscience defraud the U.S. government? And when someone tries to force Kylie off her land, does he have any hope of convincing her that marrying him and settling on the frontier is the better option for her future?

My Thoughts on the Book:

Tried and True is a fun and lighthearted romp of a story.  If you enjoy inspirational romantic comedy, then you’re going to love this first book in the Wild at Heart series by Mary Connealy.  Our lovely heroine Kylie may have taken up arms to serve her country in the Civil War and then claimed her own homestead out West, all under the pretext of being a boy, but she’s counting down the days until she can leave all that behind for the life she really wants.  One that includes feminine attire, tea parties, and the comforts of “civilized” life back east.

Over the course of the book, Kylie and her “brothers” (read: sisters) wind up in one outrageous situation after another, each described in just the right manner to bring out the humor inherent in the situation.  The opening scene does a great job setting the tone for the book.  We meet Kylie as she attempts to patch a loose shingle on her roof, under threat of an approaching rainstorm, using an improvised “ladder” assembled from a hodgepodge of furniture including a rocking chair.

Throughout the book, there’s a touch of suspense, a healthy dose of sweet romantic moments, and some obstacles and lessons to be learned on the path toward happily ever after for the hero and heroine, but it’s definitely the humor that takes center stage in this book.  And I have to say, the humor is very well done.  I found myself chuckling time and again at something somebody did or said, or the droll way a situation was described.  (Which made for a lovely change of pace from a few much more serious books I read shortly before this one.)  Highly recommended for when you’re in the mood for something fun!

Specific to the Audiobook:

Barbara McCulloh was an excellent choice as narrator for Tried and True.  You can just tell she’s got a real sense of comedic timing that was perfectly in sync with the text of the book.  She paced her delivery wonderfully, speeding up or slowing down certain bits to give maximum impact to the witty asides sprinkled throughout the text, before returning to the casually comfortable reading pace of the majority of the narration.  Male, female, and female-pretending-to-be-male voices were rendered well, each character having his or her own distinct vocal qualities.  All-in-all, a stellar performance by a skilled narrator.

Thank you to Recorded Books for providing a complimentary copy of this audiobook for review purposes.

Book Review: Rebellious Heart by Jody Hedlund

Title: Rebellious Heart
Author: Jody Hedlund
Publisher: Bethany House
Series: Hearts of Faith
Genre(s): Historical Romance, Inspirational Fiction
Published: September 2013

About the Book (from Publisher, Bethany House):

Massachusetts, 1763

A Love That Would Shape History Forever

Because she’s a woman, higher learning was always closed to Susanna Smith. But her quick mind and quicker tongue never back down from a challenge. And she’s determined to marry well, so she’ll be able to continue her work with the less fortunate.

Growing up with little to his name, poor country lawyer Benjamin Ross dreams of impacting the world for the better. When introduced to the Smiths he’s taken by Susanna’s intelligence and independent spirit, but her parents refuse to see him as a suitor for their daughter.

When the life of a runaway indentured servant is threatened, Susanna is forced to choose between justice and mercy, and Ben becomes her unlikely advisor. But drawing closer to this man of principle and intellect lands her in a dangerous, secret world of rebellion and revolution against everything she once held dear.

My Thoughts on the Book:

What a great read!  This book explores the kinds of difficult decisions arising in situations where legality and morality may be at odds.  It resonates with themes of bravery and self-sacrifice.  And the romance is delightfully swoon-worthy.

Set in the time leading up to the American Revolution, the book takes John and Abigail Adams as the inspiration for its lead characters Benjamin Ross and Susanna Smith.  I appreciated the way the author’s note separated out which bits of character and plot were borrowed directly from the history books and which parts were fabricated or adjusted to suit the needs of this fictional story.

I liked the lead characters a lot.  Susanna and Ben are both smart, opinionated people driven to make a difference, and even though they don’t see completely eye to eye on a number of issues at first, they respect and appreciate each other’s insights.  I’ve got to say, I loved their quick-witted banter and thought they were such a great match for each other.  As a librarian and bibliophile, I rather enjoyed their literary flirtations and general love for reading.  Just to illustrate, here are a couple of quotes within a quote (page 150):

He grinned.  “I agree with Erasmus: ‘When I have a little money, I buy books; and if I have any left, I buy food and clothes.’”

She laughed softly.  “And I agree with Cicero: ‘A room without books is like a body without a soul.’”

As an aside, I asked my husband how he thought I should quote a quote within a quote when the original quote has already used both single and double quotation marks.  His response (and I quote): “My brain hurts.”  I opted just to indent the passage, because unlike in math where you can nest parentheses indefinitely, in literature too many layers of quotation marks just seem to get ugly.  Anybody have an opinion on this?  No?  Okay then.  I guess I’ll have to lay off the grammatical nerdiness and move along with the review….  😉

I think my favorite character, aside from the romantic leads, would have to be Grandmother Eve.  She’s a very perceptive and persuasive woman.  I love the way she encourages Susanna to value love over status and to find the bravery to do the right thing.  Plus she practices what she preaches, doing her part to stand up for what’s right.  In her own words (Page 275):

“Sometimes doing the right thing is perilous, darling.”  Grandmother Eve was already lowering the trapdoor.  “But you are brave, Susanna.  Braver than you know.”

Have you read this book yet?  Because it happens to be the subject of discussion in this month’s #HedlundChallenge2015 discussion, which is happening TODAY (2/24/15) at the Books and Beverages blog, so hop on over there to share your opinion.  Or tell me here.  That’d be cool too.  :)  For more about the Jody Hedlund Challenge and to find out what’s up for discussion next month, check out these posts.

Audiobook Review: Unending Devotion by Jody Hedlund

Title: Unending Devotion
Author: Jody Hedlund
Narrator: Julia Whelan
Print Publisher: Bethany House
Audio Publisher: Brilliance Audio
Series: Michigan Brides, Book 1
Genre: Historical Romance
Published: 2012

About the Book (from the Publisher):

Michigan, 1883. In Her Darkest Hours, Is He the Man She Needs?

Lily Young longs to find her lost sister or will die trying. Heedless of any danger, she searches logging camps and towns, posing as a photographer’s assistant. And then she arrives in Harrison, Michigan–and the sights of Connell McCormick.

Connell is determined to increase the fortune of his lumber-baron father and figures as long as he’s living an upright life, that’s what matters. But when Lily arrives in town she upends his world, forcing him to confront the truth that dangerous men have gained too much power while good men turn a blind eye.

Vexing but persuasive, Lily soon secures Connell’s help, drawing them ever closer to each other. Will standing for what’s right cost them both everything?

Thoughts on the Story:

I enjoyed this book.  A lot.  I’m glad I read it and I’m going to tell you what I loved about it.  But first, I need to get a little rant off my chest.  So here goes….

I liked Lily, honestly I did, but it drove me crazy the way she ignored offers of help and instead went off on well-meaning but foolhardy and poorly planned rescue attempts by herself.  I’m reminded of the kind of advice I have to give my 3- and 6-year old kids on occasion: Just because the window didn’t break the last time you threw something at it doesn’t mean you can keep throwing things at it and expect it never to break.  So yes, Lily, someone needs to do something quickly, but if you get yourself captured or killed in the process, then you’ll be in no position to accomplish anything for anyone.  Yes, I realize you’ve rescued other girls before and you feel passionately about this.  But that doesn’t make you invincible or negate the need to think things through ahead of time.

Okay, done ranting.  Now I can move on to the things I loved about this book.  Because I really did enjoy reading it.  Despite my occasional irritation with the heroine.  😉

The Northern Michigan lumber camps of the time period were vividly described right down to the last frosty detail.  The historical information included was pretty fascinating.  And the fact that the bad guy in this story and some of his actions were based on a real life person and real life circumstances was more than a little disturbing.  The storyline definitely makes an impression!

Lily’s selfless determination to help others in need was admirable.  And I found her love for her sister as demonstrated by the lengths she went to in searching for her touching.  I thought Connell was a great match for her, helping to temper her impulsiveness, even as she spurred him on to action rather than complacency.  At heart, he was a good guy, and very likeable.  And I was glad to see his character growth over time.

This story has its tragic moments, and some of the issues dealt with were challenging to read about.  But I absolutely loved the advice Connell’s mother, Mrs. McCormick, gave Lily, which I think makes a great take-away lesson.  Here’s just a snippet of their conversation from Chapter 25 (and as an aside, I wish I could share this snippet of the audiobook recording instead of just transcribing the text. As it is, you’ll just have to imagine a lilting brogue in Mrs. McCormick’s voice for the first and third lines here, okay?):

“As long as man lives and breathes there will always be sin in this world and consequently injustice.”

“But that doesn’t mean we should give up, sit back, and do nothing.”

“You’re right.  Nor can we fight against everything.  We must instead discover where God wants to use us.”

So true.  And I love the balanced and well-articulated way that idea is expressed.

Between the romance, the suspense, and the weighty issues dealt with, this book kept my attention riveted from beginning to end.  I’m glad I took the time to read… or technically (since I bought the audio edition), listen to it.

Thoughts on the Audio Performance:

I thought the narration was well done with a clear and articulate reading, and I would encourage audiobook readers to seek out the audio edition.  Despite a large cast of characters, narrator Julia Whelan manages to differentiate their voices well.  I particularly enjoyed the Old World brogue incorporated into the voices of Mr. and Mrs. McCormick.  Throughout the novel, each character’s voice was uniquely hers or his, yet consistent from scene to scene.  In many cases, the voice selected was so well matched to the character’s personality that the voice became inseparable from the character in my mind.  Quite the performance!

Have you read or listened to this book?  What did you think?  I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments section here, or over on the Bookshelves and Windows blog, where the first of the #HedlundChallenge2015 discussions is taking place today.  (And if you want to learn more about the challenge and consider reading along, check out what Jamie and Cassie had to say about it in their inaugural posts.  It looks like next month’s read will be Rebellious Heart over on the Books and Beverages blog.)