‘Irish Meadows’ by Susan Anne Mason

im samSTORY: Irish immigrant James O’Leary has spent his life building Irish Meadows into a thriving horse farm and is not about to let hard economic times threaten its success. He intends for his daughters to marry prosperous men–ones who will secure the family’s rightful place in society, and at the same time, guarantee the future of Irish Meadows. Both girls, however, have different visions for their futures.

Brianna and Colleen O’Leary know their father expects them to marry well. Yet despite his wishes, Brianna, the quieter sister, dreams of attending college. Vivacious Colleen, meanwhile, is happy to marry–as long as her father’s choice meets her exacting standards. When stable hand Gilbert Whelan returns from college and distant family member Rylan Montgomery stops in on his way to the seminary in Boston, the two men quickly complicate everyone’s plans. It will take every ounce of courage for both sisters to follow their hearts. And even if they do, will they inevitably find their dreams too distant to reach?

REVIEW: Long Island, New York – 1911

Gilbert (Gil) Whelan’s mother had been the housekeeper at the O’Leary family mansion, Irish Meadows. The O’Leary family loved Gil so much and thought of him as a son so when his mother passed away, he continued to live with them until he went away to college.  After graduation, he returned to the mansion to continue working with the racehorses that he loved and trained.

Brianna O’Leary has just graduated from high school and has matured into a beautiful young woman. She loves the horses but yearns to continue her education and go to college.  She and Gil have always been close and the spark is still there when he returns to Irish Meadows.

Older sister, Colleen, is a beautiful young woman with no real ambition.  She is jealous of the attraction between her sister and Gil as she wants him for herself.  She tends to be a mean spirited young woman constantly causing friction.

Rylan Montgomery is a distant cousin to Mrs. O’Leary and has just arrived from Ireland to study to be a priest at St. Rita’s church.  One of the things he busies himself with is helping out at the local orphanage.

When Colleen angered her father yet again, she was ordered to help at the orphanage with Rylan.  She soon found that she loved the work and the children too.  Her togetherness with Rylan helps her to find her true self and they both find something else as well.

Brianna and Gil love each other but he wants to establish himself before asking her to marry him.  He wants to prove to Mr. O’Leary that he worthy of his daughter and wants to save enough money to buy land and start his own horse farm.  Yet, Brianna still wants to attend college.  How can they resolve their differences and still stay together?

We see how the stress of achieving certain goals for each of the characters upsets their feelings for the ones they love.

This is a really good story that shows the growth and maturity of the characters as they find out what is truly important in life.  I thoroughly enjoyed reading it and know that others will as well.

Connie for b2b

Complimentary copy provided by the publisher

‘Love Unexpected’ by Jody Hedlund

lu jhSTORY: A Perfect Blend of History and Romance, with a Whisper of Mystery

All she’s ever wanted was a home. But stranded at Presque Isle port after their steamboat sank, Emma Chambers and her brother, Ryan, couldn’t be farther away from security. While Ryan at least can find work, Emma can’t even find a place to stay. An unlikely solution arises when the lighthouse keeper, who recently lost his wife and is struggling to raise his young son, arrives in town. A traveling preacher believes they might be the answer to each others’ problems, and after a hasty marriage, Emma is headed back to the lighthouse with this handsome but quiet stranger.

But nothing in her wandering life has prepared her for suddenly being asked to raise a child and keep a house. Struggling at every turn, Emma also suspects Patrick may be keeping something hidden from her. In town she hears whispers about strange circumstances surrounding his previous wife’s death, and it seems as though Emma’s answered prayer for a home and family may actually be something much more dangerous.

REVIEW: 1859 – Michigan

Emma Chambers and her brother Ryan Chambers are from Ireland and heading into Michigan when their ship is taken over by pirates and burned.  They are able to grab and barrel and swim to shore at Presque Isle.  Emma made it only with the help of the lighthouse keeper, Patrick Garraty.  Having no money, Ryan was able to find work chopping wood.

Patrick Garraty had just buried his wife leaving him to care for 2-year-old Josiah.  As Emma needs work to care for herself, it was suggested by the traveling minister that Emma marry Patrick and live with him at the lighthouse so she could care for Josiah. That would enable Patrick to do his job at night and get some sleep during the day. With no other recourse, Emma and Patrick agree.

Emma has a difficult time learning to cook and is very busy trying to clean the dirty house and care for Josiah and his 2-year-old temper tantrums.  She and Patrick learn to become friends but there is nothing physical in their marriage.  Patrick and his first wife had no love between them as she was a mean woman who found Patrick offensive. Thus, he was in no hurry to consummate his second marriage.

Patrick has a past that he is working to hide.  Although he has sinned a lot, he has found God and has become a very religious man.  As Emma gets to know Patrick better and she talks to his first wife’s cousin, she learns that he does have a past but not exactly what it involves.  However, she sees that he is a good man is not going to turn her back on him.

The plot is a good one but for me, the story seemed to drag a bit which became wearying.  However, I’m sure others may find it perfect for them.

Connie for b2b

‘Beloved’ by Robin Lee Hatcher

b rlhSTORY: Diana Brennan came west on the orphan train and was given a home with a loving couple who cherished and spoiled her. At 17, she fell hard for Tyson Applegate, the son of a wealthy mine owner. After a whirlwind courtship and marriage, Tyson took off for adventures around the world, including fighting with the Rough Riders in Cuba. Receiving no word of him for seven years, Diana is ready to move past the old pain and marry again, just as soon as Tyson is declared legally dead.

But when Tyson returns, supposedly a changed man, he wants to reunite with his wife and run for the senate. While Diana suspects the election is his real reason for wanting her by his side, she agrees to maintain his home and to campaign with him, but when it is over, win or lose, she wants her freedom.

He agrees with one condition–she must give him a chance to change her mind about him.

REVIEW: At age six, Diana Brennan was sent west with her brother and sister after their parents passed away.  Luckily, Diana was adopted by a loving couple, Mr. and Mrs. Fisher. Diana later met and married the charismatic and wealthy Tyson Applegate. While Tyson had his own inheritance, his father still tried to control his life as he always had.  When he’d had enough, Tyson simply left for several years touring the world and fighting with the Rough Riders.

Diane was devastated that she never heard from him. While she mourned for many years, she finally decided that he had probably died fighting.  Just as he was about to be declared dead and her engagement to Brook Calhoun was to the announced, Tyson came back into her life.  Wanting to make amends with Diana and his family he offered her a proposal.  He had decided that he wanted to run for the Senate but he needed her to act as his wife for six months so he could win the election.  His hope was that he could win back her love.  But if he was unsuccessful, he would give her freedom and a divorce.

The story is told in flashbacks when Diana was a child and when Tyson was off on his travels.  During his time away, he was unfaithful to her but while he apologized for his indiscretions, his remorse never rang true to me.  He said he found God when he met a young man who was a true believer.  While Diana does her best to be by his side as they meet and entertain people who would be helpful to his Senate run, Diana is torn whether he truly is repenting for his past or whether he simply wants her with him to give him credibility for his political ambitions.

I liked parts of this book but I admit that flashbacks in a book are not my favorite as it can become a bit confusing.  The plot is good but I had a hard time becoming enthralled with the story.  However, I’m sure there are others who will love it.  Do give it a try to remember that this is just my opinion.

Connie for b2b

Complimentary copy received from Goodreads as part of their First Reads program

‘True Sisters’ by Sandra Dallas

ts sdSTORY: In 1856, Mormon converts, encouraged by Brigham Young himself, and outfitted with two-wheeled handcarts, set out on foot from Iowa City to Salt Lake City, the promised land. The Martin Handcart Company, a ragtag group of weary families headed for Zion, is the last to leave on this 1,300-mile journey. Three companies that left earlier in the year have completed their trek successfully, but for the Martin Company the trip proves disastrous. True Sisters tells the story of four women from the British Isles traveling in this group. Four women whose lives will become inextricably linked as they endure unimaginable hardships, each one testing the boundaries of her faith and learning the true meaning of survival and friendship along the way.

There’s Nannie, who is traveling with her sister and brother-in-law after being abandoned on her wedding day.

There’s Louisa, who’s married to an overbearing church leader who she believes speaks for God.

There’s Jessie, who’s traveling with her brothers, each one of them dreaming of the farm they will have in Zion.

And finally, there’s Anne, who hasn’t converted to Mormonism but who has no choice but to follow her husband since he has sold everything to make the trek to Utah.

REVIEW: It was extremely well written and kept my interest all the way through it. The story takes place in 1856 and is based on the true story of newly converted Mormons from England. It follows them on their journey by ship across the Atlantic to the U.S. and by pushing their belongs via handcarts from Iowa 1,300 miles to Salt Lake City, Utah. The deplorable conditions, bad weather, lack of food, clothing and medical care tests their faith to the extreme.

Their amazing strength and determination to reach their Zion is described by the author and the characters committed to their goal. I admit that I had mixed feelings reading this book. A part of me wondered why on Earth anyone would put themselves through this while another part of me admired their unfailing determination. I do hope that readers read this book for what I think is the reason is was written which is to portray especially the strength of women in this journey.

I am not a Mormon and do not necessarily support their religion, however, I feel that everyone has a right to worship in their own way.

Connie for b2b

I was lucky enough to win an ARC of this book from Bookreporter.com.

‘The Heiress’s Homecoming’ by Regina Scott

THIC RSSTORY: Terms of the Will

To keep her cherished childhood home, Samantha Everard must marry by her twenty-fifth birthday. Yet she refuses to marry on a whim, not even to save her fortune. When she returns to Dallsten Manor to say goodbye, the last person she expects to see is her handsome, disapproving neighbor William Wentworth, Earl of Kendrick.

Will is certain the scandalous Everard family is nothing but trouble. He shouldn’t care about Samantha’s predicament, but her feistiness and kindheartedness intrigue him—as does her refusal to wed. He wants to help, especially when he perceives the threat that surrounds her. Soon his greatest wish is to persuade Samantha that her true home is with him.

REVIEW: Lady Samantha Everard is quickly approaching her 25th birthday.  According to the instructions for the inheritance of her home Dallsten Manor, she has to marry by her then or lose her home.  She refuses to do so and has decided to visit the Manor one last time as she is ready to let the fortune go.

Her neighbor William Wentworth, the Earl of Kendrick, does not understand why she would choose to lose her home.  His teenage son, Jamie, was a childhood friend of Samantha and now fancies himself in love with her and wants to marry her.  William and his wife married when they were teenagers.  Sadly, she passed away giving birth to Jamie.  Since then, he has had no desire to remarry.

Intrigued by Samantha and her independent ways, William wants to get to know her better.  However, danger lurks.  Someone does not want Samantha to inherit and suddenly she starts being attacked.  Who is this person that wants to see her dead and why?  How does Samantha handle Jamie’s teenage love for her in addition to the growing attraction between her and William?

This was a great plot with intriguing twists that really keeps the reader’s interest.  It is a Christian novel as well.

Connie for b2b

*Book provided by my local Library

‘A Duke’s Promise’ by Jamie Carie

ADP JCSTORY: From the Land of Fire and Ice back to England’s shores, Alexandria Featherstone finds herself the new Duchess of St. Easton. Her husband has promised a wedding trip to take them to the place where her imperiled parents were last seen — Italy and the marble caves of Carrara — but a powerful Italian duke plots against Alex and her treasure-hunting parents.

Hoping to save them, Alex and Gabriel travel to Italy by balloon. Fraught with danger on all sides and pressured by Gabriel’s affliction to the breaking point, they must learn to work and fight together. The mysterious key is within their grasp, but they have yet to recognize it. This journey will require steadfast faith in God and each other — a risk that will win them everything they want or lose them everything they have.

REVIEW: This is the third and last book in the Forgotten Castles series; book one, ‘The Guardian Duke’ and book two, ‘The Forgiven Duke’ must be read before you read this third installment. None of the books are stand alone, unless you read the first one which ends in a cliffhanger.

I liked the first one very much, then I was very disappointed in the second one, and that disappointment extended to this third book as well.

I did find the character of Gabriel Ravenwood, Duke of St Easton well written and three-dimensional, but the heroine, Alexandria, I found to be only two-dimensional and not much likable.

Plot wise I found the first book somewhat believable and inspirational, while the second and the third I thought just too far-fetched and despite action, intrigue and lukewarm romance, I found it totally unbelievable.

These three books should have never offered to the readers as a series, but as one book. I believe it would have read better and wouldn’t feel forced and rushed.

I honestly wouldn’t recommend it or the series.

Melanie for b2b

*Book provided by publisher through NetGalley.

‘The Heiress of Winterwood’ by Sarah Ladd

THOW SLSTORY: Amelia Barrett, heiress to an estate nestled in the English moors, defies family expectations and promises to raise her dying friend’s baby. She’ll risk everything to keep her word—even to the point of proposing to the child’s father—a sea captain she’s never met.

When the child vanishes with little more than an ominous ransom note hinting to her whereabouts, Amelia and Graham are driven to test the boundaries of their love for this little one.

Amelia’s detailed plans would normally see her through any trial, but now, desperate and shaken, she’s forced to examine her soul and face her one weakness: pride.

Graham’s strength and self-control have served him well and earned him much respect, but chasing perfection has kept him a prisoner of his own discipline. And away from the family he has sworn to love and protect.

Both must learn to accept God’s sovereignty and relinquish control so they can grasp the future He has for planned for them.

REVIEW: Amelia Barrett is a young woman who lost her parents at an early age and was raised by her uncle at the estate known as Winterwood Manor.

The novel opens with Amelia caring for the orphaned baby of her friend Katherine, who passed away right after the birth of baby Lucy.  Amelia has come to love Lucy as her own and wants to raise her at Winterwood.  

In order to not lose the estate, Amelia gets betrothed to Edward Littleton to make sure she would keep her inheritance. Sadly, Edward Littleton has told her that when they marry, Lucy can’t be living at Winterwood and Amelia realizes that he’s only after her money.  

Captain Graham Sterling, Lucy’s father, is returning to his brother’s home, Eastmore Hall, which adjoins Winterwood and while looking forward to finally meeting his daughter, he’s still grieving the loss of his wife.  

As Amelia finally meets Captain Sterling, she proposes that they wed so she can keep Lucy at Winterwood and keep the estate. However, Mr. Littleton is not letting her and the wealth of the estate go without a fight.

When Lucy disappears and a ransom note arrives, Amelia and Graham face frightening events in their fight to get her back. 

This is a lovely novel with religious undertones.  I understand it is the author’s début novel and I applaud her talent for writing a book that will keep the reader’s interest from the first page until the last.  I look forward to more of her novels.

Connie Fischer for b2b