Tag Archives: Bethany House

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.)

Audiobook Review: Full Steam Ahead by Karen Witemeyer

Title: Full Steam Ahead
Author: Karen Witemeyer
Narrator: Carine Montbertrand
Audio Publisher: Recorded Books
Print Publisher: Bethany House
Series: Full Steam Ahead, Book 1
Genre: Historical Romance
Published: 2014

Book Description (from the Baker Publishing Group’s Website):

When love simmers between a reclusive scientist and a wealthy debutante, will they abandon ship or is it full steam ahead?

Nicole Renard returns home to Galveston, Texas, to find her father deathly ill. Though she loves him, Nicole’s father has always focused on what she’s not. Not male. Not married. Not able to run Renard Shipping.

Vowing to find a suitable husband to give her father the heir he desires before it’s too late, Nicole sets out with the Renard family’s greatest treasure as her dowry: the highly coveted Lafitte Dagger. But her father’s rivals come after the dagger, forcing a change in Nicole’s plans.

After a boiler explosion aboard the Louisiana nearly took his life, Darius Thornton has been a man obsessed. He will do anything to stop even one more steamship disaster. Even if it means letting a female secretary into his secluded world.

Nicole is determined not to let her odd employer scare her off with his explosive experiments, yet when respect and mutual attraction grow between them, a new fear arises. How can she acquire an heir for her father when her heart belongs to another? And when her father’s rivals discover her hiding place, will she have to choose between that love and her family’s legacy?

My review:

Karen Witemeyer’s latest novel, Full Steam Ahead, takes her signature blend of witty romance, faith, and history from the ranches of earlier books into the world of the steamboat.  Specifically, to an 1800’s Texas plantation where a reclusive scientist performs explosive experiments designed to improve the safety of steam engines, and thereby prevent future casualties.

I find the history of technology and scientific advances to be pretty fascinating, so I thoroughly enjoyed that aspect of this story.  It certainly didn’t hurt that the author incorporated those details in a vivid, and at times explosive way that complements the story well.  And yes, I do mean “explosive” literally.  😉

Nicole and Darius make great romantic leads.  They’re both intelligent and highly motivated characters with interesting backgrounds that just happen to make them perfect for each other… even if they don’t see it at first.  But their chemistry… wow.  I loved watching their romance develop, and particularly the way they impact each other’s faith journeys.

But that’s not all.  Witemeyer also provides some thoroughly charming and entertaining secondary characters.  Not to mention a pair of villains out to steal a treasured family heirloom who season the story with just the right dash of suspense, leading up to an exciting conclusion with a bit of an unexpected but surprisingly satisfying twist.  Definitely worth the read.

Specific to the audio edition:

I must confess that when I read a couple of reviews by listeners who described the narrator’s voice as “old sounding” I was a bit concerned about whether this would be an audiobook I could recommend.  It is, after all, a book about young people.  Would the voices work?  I re-read the book’s description, listened to the audio sample, and decided to take a chance on reviewing it.  I’m happy to say I was not disappointed.

Carine Montbertrand’s performance perfectly captures the wry humor of the novel, and gives life to the characters’ voices and emotions.  Her use of lovely French accents comes in handy for the voices of some of the secondary characters, as well as names of French origin.  Both male and female voices sound authentic and entirely appropriate for their ages.

At times, I did detect a slight gravelly quality to the narrator’s voice, primarily at moments when her voice dipped into the lower registers during passages of narrative description, but I found this didn’t bother me at all, and even seemed to disappear into the background as I grew accustomed to her reading style and got lost in the story.

Overall, I found the listening experience to be a very pleasant one, and I am happy to recommend it.  Thank you to Recorded Books for providing me with a copy of this audiobook for review purposes.

Book Review: Beyond All Dreams by Elizabeth Camden

Title: Beyond All Dreams
Author: Elizabeth Camden
Publisher: Bethany House
Genre(s): Historical Romance, Christian Fiction
Published: January 2015

About the Book (from the Publisher):

Anna O’Brien leads a predictable and quiet life as a map librarian at the illustrious Library of Congress until she stumbles across the baffling mystery of a ship disappeared at sea. Thwarted in her attempts to uncover information, her determination outweighs her shyness and she turns to a dashing congressman for help.

Luke Callahan was one of the nation’s most powerful congressmen before his promising career was shadowed in scandal. Eager to share in a new cause and intrigued by a winsome librarian, he joins forces with Anna to solve the mystery of the lost ship. Opposites in every way, Anna and Luke are unexpectedly drawn to each other despite the strict rules forbidding Anna from any romantic entanglements with members of Congress.

From the gilded halls of the Capitol where powerful men shape the future of the nation, to the scholarly archives of the nation’s finest library, Anna and Luke are soon embroiled in secrets much bigger and more perilous than they ever imagined. Is bringing the truth to light worth risking all they’ve ever dreamed for their futures?

My Thoughts:

For a while now, I’ve been wanting to try a book by Elizabeth Camden.  After all the wonderful things I’ve heard about her previous books, not to mention the awards they’ve won (Christy Award, RITA, etc), I was already excited to see she had a new title coming out.  But when I saw that this one features a librarian as heroine, I knew I had to read it.  After all, I’m a librarian too, and who doesn’t like reading books about characters you share something in common with?

Beyond All Dreams turned out to be right up my alley.  I enjoy a nice sigh-worthy romance as much as the next gal, and this one definitely fits the bill.  But there was more to this one.  In fact, the elements that really stood out for me were the depth of characterization and the exploration of deeper themes throughout the story.  Not to mention some fascinating glimpses into the history of the Library of Congress as well as the start of the Spanish-American War.

Both Anna and Luke faced difficult childhoods in different ways, and I found it interesting to see how their childhood experiences as well as their reactions to those experiences shaped the people they grew up to become.  It was also fascinating to see how their differences complemented each other, allowing them each to have a significant positive impact on the other.  They definitely made a great team, and it was fun watching them working together toward achieving their dreams.

Forgiveness and trust play huge thematic roles in the story, taking on significance in a number of relationships both past and present.  Then there’s an exploration of the differences between love, friendship, and infatuation.  In fact, this book raises all kinds of interesting questions on a variety of topics that would make it really well suited to discussion within a book group.  And yes, the book does include discussion questions for that purpose.

I can definitely see why Elizabeth Camden’s books have become so popular!  I know I’m looking forward to reading more from this author.  And I would not hesitate to recommend Beyond All Dreams to fans of inspirational romance and historical fiction.

Thank you to publisher Bethany House for providing me with a free electronic copy for review purposes.

See Also: Karen Collier Guest Contributing at Edgy Inspirational Romance

See also

If you follow the Edgy Inspirational Romance {and occasionally YA} blog, aka “EIR” you may have seen an announcement a couple of weeks ago that introduced me to readers as a new guest contributor to the blog. And if you missed it, feel free to hop on over there now for a few biographical details about me that you may not have known.

Here’s the link: Introducing Karen Collier! New EIR Guest Contributor

Go ahead.  It’s okay.  I don’t mind  waiting a bit for you to get back.

[Karen steals a moment to read a few pages of a novel on her Droid’s Kindle app. Either that or she attempts to quell whatever chaos is being wrought by her toddler and pre-schooler.]

Okay, back?  Cool.  Me too.

I’m super excited about contributing over at EIR, partly because of all the authors, reviewers, and fans of Christian romance I’m getting to virtually “meet” and “hang out with” in the process.  And partly because EIR is such a fun and entertaining read, it’s frankly an honor to be asked to join in the fun.

So why did I wait so long to mention it?  Because I wanted to wait until my first guest post went live so I could share it with you.  That first post went live this morning, so without further ado, here it is:

My review of Short-Straw Bride by Karen Witemeyer.  (Hint: I loved the story’s blend of light humor with tender romantic moments, and I’m happy to recommend it.)

In case you were wondering, I do plan to continue blogging right here at KarenCollier.com on a more or less weekly basis as well as making regular guest contributions to the EIR blog.

Thinking about following EIR, so as not to miss any of my posts there?  Great!  If you haven’t already met, I’d love to introduce you to co-bloggers Serena and Joy, and to Megan who’s also joining in as a new guest contributor.  And if you’re curious what EIR means by “Edgy,” be sure to check out their post entitled “What is Edgy Christian Romance?”

So tell me, do you prefer your Christian fiction edgy or sweet?  Are you a fan of romance or do you have another favorite genre?  Please leave a comment, subscribe, or connect.  I’d love to hear from you.