An Adorable Romance: “Heart on the Line” by Karen Witemeyer

Heart on the Line (Ladies of Harper’s Station, #2)

This story was just an adorable story right away, and continues to be! The idea of a telegraph romance is so–again–adorable, and the appeal of a ‘nerdy’ and unique love interest–a shy one at that–is undeniable. If you want a feel-good story that has a wonderful blend of action, drama, danger, and all-around cuteness in its love story, then look no further! Witemeyer has created a beautiful tale, and outdone herself. Please consider Heart on the Line as your next happy read, because it’s worth it!

Note: I received this book from Bethany House Publishers specifically to review it. 

 

 

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“Egypt’s Sister”: The Gladiator for Females

Image result for egypts sister book

(Note the beautiful cover! It was honestly this cover that played a large part in my election to choose this book! 😉 )

If you’ve heard of Russell Crowe’s Gladiator, then you are most likely familiar with its premise–as well as the satisfying redemption, action, and glory that come along with it, and a great deal of masculinity to boot. The film can certainly be enjoyable for female viewers–I myself being one!–but it’s not exactly known for its female characters, but instead for the broken and determined protagonist, a noble soldier who is betrayed by his Emperor, sold into slavery, and whose family is murdered. He makes his way through the world of the gladiators, fighting battle after battle with revenge on his mind, and finally manages to become the Emperor’s champion, bringing opportunities for both fame and revenge as he comes face-to-face with his nemesis. “Egypt’s Sister” by Angela Hunt is that same tale of redemption and revenge–but with Cleopatra as the lead enemy, and far more forgiveness, religious focus, and female fortitude.

 

This stems from the fact that, in this story, the heroine Chava is a beautiful tutor’s daughter in Egypt–who is also the best friend of Urbi, later to be known as Cleopatra. After a fight over a certain kind of worship–Urbi wants Chava to come to her new temple, but Chava’s Hebrew beliefs do not allow her to participate in idol worship–Urbi not only casts her best friend out, but also imprisons her and her elderly father–and throws them both into slavery. Chava is separated from her father and sent across the sea amidst horrifying conditions, and–after attracting the attention of several men who help her along the way, due to her beauty–gradually moves from the ownership of a Roman farmer to a Roman noble in the city on Palatine Hill itself. Chava does a remarkable job of keeping her distance, while still be unoffensive and potentially attainable to these men; in her heart, she has only a religious focus (and a similarly-minded man back home in Egypt who waits for her), and she also demonstrates creative thinking and resourcefulness when she takes it upon herself to learn midwifery. As her skills in that field expand and her role in the noble family’s household increases, Chava hears bits and pieces of what is going on back in Egypt with her old friend, who is now a mother and Queen of Egypt amidst great controversies and challenges. Eventually, Chava is sent back to Egypt as an emissary to the very same best friend who betrayed her, a reunion (and a surprise one, at that, at least on Cleopatra’s behalf) that the reader awaits with excited breath.

 

Overall, this story is a great one: it’s a story of a girl’s maturity into womanhood, a friendship’s ascension to sisterhood and the depths of enmity and back, a story of Chava’s desire for responses to her insightful prayers, a girl’s clever and calm observations of her world and acumen regarding the struggles surrounding it, and overall the use of faith and one’s own individual skills in re-attaining freedom, hope, peace, love, and home. This is a great read, and one that I truly enjoyed. You don’t have to be religious to enjoy this book; the charming and immensely admirable girl heroine and the historical events (as well as the look into Cleopatra’s life and status, not as a queen but as a girl and a person) is fascinating in and of itself, perhaps unsurprisingly. I will definitely be reading this again, and recommending it to my friends–religious or otherwise–for an insightful look into a momentous time in history and the personal lives of normal people that are naturally juxtaposed with it.

 

Note: I was asked by Bethany House Publishers to review this book in exchange for receiving it. 

“The Chapel Car Bride”: A Sweet Tale of Love and Longing

Note: I received this book from Bethany House Publishers to review it. 🙂

This book offers a unique perspective on something that I had never considered before: a woman’s role on a chapel car.  (I actually had never heard of a “chapel car”, either, so this book was a particularly pleasant surprise!)

The religious aspect of this book might be a negative for some readers, but I did not find that to be the case while reading it. There is a lot of religious relevance to the story, historically and plot-wise, so it’s a necessity in the book–and, as Judith Miller continues with her obvious success–it is clear that I am not the only one who does not necessarily find the “religious” in a religious romance book to be an obstacle. You do not have to be religious to enjoy this story!

As far as plot and characters go, the tale is very enjoyable. It’s more than just an instant he-meets-her-and-the-wedding-is-booked story; the two protagonists face a variety of obstacles, both minor and more serious. The heroine is reliable, hard-working, and (in my opinion) relatively realistic. Her struggle to be obedient and pious despite her own human urges, opinions, and ideas really spoke to me. Hope Irvine is trying to be a dutiful daughter to her father (the preacher on the chapel car), but she does struggle with that goal sometimes–and that made me love her. Her relationship with her father was also special and well-written, as was her relationship with Luke Hughes. Overall I was immensely intrigued by this book’s heroine, pleased with the story’s overall tone and pacing, and very happy with Judith Miller’s most recent work!

 

 

Book Review: Where Hope Prevails (Return to the Canadian West)

 

Image from Amazon.com

Note: I received this book for free, specifically to review it.

I’ve read a lot of romantic historical fiction novels–and by a lot, I mean a lot. Some have certainly been better than others, and there’s one theme that has always been a reliable source of good books in my experience: the frontier. In frontier stories, women are often overcoming obstacles, coming into contact with people of different backgrounds, developing more appreciation for the environment, adjusting their Eastern ways, and–of course–falling in love. When I speak of frontier books, I’ve usually always meant the American Old West, which is why I was really excited to finally read a book about the Canadian West!

I know that you’re not supposed to ‘read a book by its cover’, but I totally did. The cover of Where Hope Prevails, by Janette Oke and Laurel Oke Logan, is beautiful. It was also immediately apparent from looking at the heroine’s bundle of textbooks that she was in the academic world within the frontier–another dichotomy that I find fascinating. I was a little nervous when I learned that it was a sequel to a previous book, but that didn’t end up being a problem at all (especially with a lovely letter at the beginning of the story to cleverly ‘summarize’ the past book’s events for the reader)!

The book’s plot has a nice progression, although it was a much longer story than I expected, and there is plenty of interesting information to be learned about Canada for those of us who are fairly ignorant regarding its geography. For me, this book was particularly intriguing in that it focused on a time period when electricity, telephones, and automobiles were already in existence–I had only ever read frontier romances that involved the 1800’s, so reading about Oreos in this book was quite a surprise!

The ‘authentic’ dialogue of the book is the only historically accurate change that I really found disconcerting; it took me quite a while to adjust to reading the Coal Valley citizens’ dialogue, and even more time to adjust to reading Frank’s Italian version. However, the styles of speech were not illegible; instead, they were just a little inconvenient–and they help highlight the differences between Beth and the Coal Valley people, so I don’t regret their presence in the text.

The heroine of this novel is an admirable one in many ways–and, occasionally, a comical one too (Exhibit A: her struggles to fall asleep in her new home without company). Perhaps the most endearing quality about her is her flawed nature; Beth makes many mistakes in this novel, most of them involving her own self-centered tendencies and her irrational resentment of the other schoolteacher. These behaviors may not be admirable in and of themselves, but they do make her relatable. After all, even though we readers might not like to admit it, we’ve been a little self-centered on occasion–and many of us have indeed experienced that strangely immediate dislike of someone who has actually done nothing unkind to us. That kind of illogical and intrinsic dislike is very, very hard to get rid of, and I really appreciated how much that struggle was demonstrated in this story. Beth tries to overcome her anger, and fails–multiple times. Those failures, to me, made her one of the most normal and human heroines that I have ever come across.

Beth’s failures often cause her to turn to her Christian faith, which means that this book does discuss religion fairly often. However, although you should probably be aware of that focus before reading the novel, it is not necessary to be a religious–or, for that matter, Christian–reader to enjoy this book. The book’s general plot was not one that I had expected, which made for some enjoyable surprises, and it’s definitely a good book for a relaxing evening–maybe even an evening in the Canadian West!

The best part? Some of the beautiful descriptions that can be found in the novel. The way that the authors describe the wintry climate, the Canadian environment, and Beth’s emotions are all very unique and, at the same time, stunningly accurate; so, to Janette and Laurel, I say well done. 🙂

 

 

Book Review: Courageous By Dina L. Sleiman

Courageous

Note: I received this book for free, specifically to review it.

Another Note: I was immediately intrigued by this beautiful cover!

As a History major, I have certainly learned a thing or two about the Crusades. The basic gist? There were a lot of them, and they were–as Sleiman puts it– “messy”. Even during a class on the Crusades, it can be challenging to keep them all straight, and it becomes far more difficult when you’re not in class anymore. They seem to just combine into one jumble of violence, religious zeal, prejudice, and hardship (for people of all ages, not just men).

With that ‘jumble’ in mind, I was eager to educate myself again as I read Courageous. Sleiman does not disappoint: although there’s not exactly an enormous history lesson in the book, I learned a lot about the children’s crusades in particular–and from a variety of perspectives. The book’s plot focuses on Rosalind and Randel, two young people who are (in essence) the chaperones for a young visionary, Sapphira, and the other children who have been permitted to accompany her. On a quest to save several prisoners in the Holy Land, the group (bolstered by a small fighting force, in keeping with Sapphira’s noble status) leaves Northern Britannia to achieve their goal.

Sleiman in no way makes the journey easy. Several of the characters die, and the entire group faces a variety of struggles–including challenges against their faith. But one particular challenge manifests itself in the relationship between Rosalind and Randel: the ability to forgive oneself. Both Rosalind and Randel have committed sins that they punish themselves for–and both have, in turn, convinced themselves that they do not deserve love or marriage.

As the two characters find themselves getting closer to their religious convictions on the journey, they also find themselves getting closer to each other. A cliche, yes; however, while this burgeoning romantic relationship is one that is clearly outlined in the book’s description (and one that manifests itself early on in the story with a ‘fake’ relationship), the romance’s similarity to a typical modern romance-novel ends there. Sleiman artfully manages to weave together multiple characters’ perspectives, and introduces enough problems to ensure that Rosalind and Randel’s relationship actually takes a back-burner many times in the book. There’s also none of the passive-aggressive tension that most fictional couples experience; Rosalind and Randel are great friends from the start, and there are no arguments between them. Their friendship actually lasts throughout the novel, which is truly refreshing. The only obstacle to their happiness is each person’s respective guilt; in short, both Rosalind and Randel are convinced that they don’t deserve the relationship–and the reader is convinced that they could both use a little therapy.

The book’s main relationship is unique in that it is both subtle and consistently amicable; however, the other relationships are often less so, creating plenty of petty drama to entertain readers in between attacks. Sleiman has created an impressive roster of characters, and juggles them without any observable tension or hastiness in the story. She actually manages to add a bit of depth to almost every character–even those who only have a few lines–and also has the ability to aptly describe the perspectives of characters who are in very different situations and age ranges!

The plot has an excellent progression, introducing each theme–romance, drama, humor, and battles–at just the right time. As soon as you start wondering what’s going on with a certain character or how a certain relationship is faring, Sleiman brings it back–almost as if she had read your mind. The language is also a nice mix between modern language and traditional speech patterns (and Sleiman does recognize the intentional mix in her historical notes). One thing that particularly struck me about Courageous was the rich, vivid descriptions: with only a sentence or two, Sleiman often manages to describe a scene in a way that is both very unique and, somehow, dead-on in accuracy.

In addition, while the religious aspects of Sleiman’s story are virtually unavoidable, strong religious convictions don’t seem particularly necessary as a reader. You may not care much for organized religion–but you could probably still enjoy this book, particularly if you have any interest in the Crusades or the normal (as well as the abnormal) people who participated in them.

Overall, I was very pleasantly surprised by this book. I had expected an overwrought love story, with a pretty predictable plot and just a smattering of historical information; instead, I was exposed to a companionable story that was exciting, well-written, and riddled with plot twists. Well done, Mrs. Sleiman; I’ll be looking into your other books, including the other two in this series!

VEEP Takes A Dark Turn

The satirical political comedy VEEP has gone DEEP–into darkness, that is. Fear not; this isn’t some metaphor for lousy ratings or poor writing. VEEP has always been awesome, and continues to be awesome. But be warned: if you’re heading straight into this show via Season 5, then you’re probably going to be a little unsettled.

Selina and her crew are just as witty and funny as ever–if not a little jaded–so finding the show’s trademark humor and style is still easy. However, in the third- and second-to-last episodes (C***Gate and Congressional Ball), Selina suddenly becomes a lot darker. And I’m not referring to a tan.

I’m hesitant to compare this show to House of Cards, because the comparison is pretty tired–but, in all honesty, Selina’s bitterly resolute (and yet, somehow, fragile) speech in her office about everyone “trying to get” her reminded me of no one more than Frank Underwood. If I was picking a scene to show at an awards ceremony, I would pick this one, because Julia Louis-Dreyfus is fantastic. She allows us to see Selina cracking, bit by bit, and even though Selina Meyer has definitely had some previous spin-outs, there’s something in Julia’s acting that makes it clear: this cracking is something deeper.

The artfully crafted scene in Selina’s office is from C***Gate, and the next episode (Congressional Ball) is subsequently like being hit over the head with a hammer. This episode features the most explicit sex scene yet in VEEP, as well as some very, very vividly detailed threats from Selina to a Congresswoman and a Congressman. Selina might have seemed disturbingly unstable in the previous episode, but she’s practically spitting with malice in this one*. That storm that was inside her? It’s coming out.

Overall, VEEP is still a fantastic show, and one that I love to watch. It retains its hilarity, and actually seems to be getting even funnier–but all viewers should prepare for Selina’s storm. Otherwise, starting at this season will probably be a bit of a shock. And, if you loved the show Numb3rs, then seeing Peter MacNicol play the increasingly foulmouthed Jeff Kane could be even more of a jolt.

As for the most recent episode, Camp David? This one was nowhere near as dark as the previous two. Perhaps we’re in the eye of the storm (yes, Hurricane Selina).

 

 

*her dress, of course, was lovely.

 

 

 

 

 

3 Truths from Amy Schumer

Photo from hbo.com

If you weren’t familiar with Amy Schumer a year or two ago, you probably are now. She’s become the kind of hot commodity that Jennifer Lawrence was (and continues to be) after the Hunger Games–and since the two are friends, the awesomeness has only increased!

Not all viewers (aka your parents) are comfortable with crude language in stand-up comedy, but even those women who prefer the more G-rated works of Ellen DeGeneres or Jim Gaffigan can see some accuracy in Schumer’s comments. Here are three points made by Amy in her recent HBO special that are particularly spot-on — whether or not we want to admit it.

  1. “Pretty girls love funny girls–and funny girls want nothing to do with pretty girls.” Yep. Girls with ‘great personalities’ only really seem to like one kind of beautiful girl: the beautiful girl who’s also really nice, and therefore one that everyone loves to hate but can’t actually HATE.
  2. Her opening lines on women’s underwear. Not going to put details here, but yes. I’ll just awkwardly look away now…
  3.  “Am I maybe…GORGEOUS?” I cannot speak for other girls, but come on. Practically every single book that we read or movie that we watch seems to feature a heroine who is actually beautiful and just doesn’t know it (here’s looking at you, Princess Mia), so of course we’re going to apply the same perspective to our own lives. We’ll find that “right haircut” someday, Amy. And then the world will know.

You may not be as good at swearing as Amy (and you may only be comfortable watching her videos alone with Ramen noodles), but hey: when it comes to cultural commentaries and women’s underwear, no girl can really deny that Amy Schumer knows what’s up.