Saturday, July 16, 2016

Review: Learning to Ride by Erin Knightley

Learning to Ride (Sunnybell #1)
By: Erin Knightley
Publisher: BookShots


When an unexpected chance at promotion sent Madeline Harper to sleepy Sunnybell, Texas, to oversee the successful completion of her company's latest merger, the farthest thing from her mind was becoming involved with a local. Sunnybell was just a stop on her way up the corporate ladder, and one she intended to make the most of -- but she didn't count on a cowboy with a smoldering gaze making her forget every one of her rules of engagement. And when her anonymous hook-up turns out to be Tanner Callen, local celebrity, she becomes more determined than ever to sever the connection. After all, for a city girl like herself a relationship with a thrill-seeking country boy is a recipe for heartache. But Madeline is about to discover that when it comes to matters of the heart, her best-laid plans may be the only thing standing between her and happiness.

Having read (and loved) several of Erin Knightley's historical romance novellas, I was excited to see how she fared with her first contemporary release. For those looking to discover new authors, James Patterson's BookShots are the perfect vehicle -- short, fast reads that are priced to sell. Learning to Ride is basically a Hallmark made-for-TV movie waiting to happen (sans Madeline and Tanner's initial spicy hookup of course). I've always liked that Knightley's historicals fell in the "sweet" end of the historical romance spectrum -- passionate, yes, but not explicit. And while this is certainly tame by the standards of many romance releases, the hook-up conceit felt awkward. Knightley seems to be in uncharted territory here, and it shows, however she is quickly in her element as Tanner and Madeline are forced to navigate the fallout of their initial meeting, as their undeniable chemistry wars with their disparate life goals and worldviews.

While Learning to Ride is your typical opposites attract romance, it underscores an issue I often have with this type of story, whether in books or on film, and that is the idea that a woman with a career either isn't happy or doesn't have anything resembling a healthy work/life balance. All too often it is the woman who gives up the career or the lifestyle FOR LOVE and I ask you, where is the equity in that? Now I realize that I am completely overthinking Knightley's storyline here, and Tanner and Madeline are perfectly likeable characters...but the tropes of their romance frustrated me. City = bad, country = good, etc. -- for once I would LOVE to read a story that flips these tropes on their ear and gives us a romance where the devil-may-care, nominally employed man gives it all up to move to the city for his career-driven woman.

In fairness, Tanner is willing to compromise with Madeline on the city versus country issue, but it ends up being essentially lip service as it isn't necessary for their relationship to progress. Both Tanner and Madeline are perfectly nice characters, and their interactions possess some of the hallmarks that I've come to expect from Knightley's writing -- well drawn, multi-faceted individuals sketched with warmth and humor on the page. Although the storyline is symptomatic of some of my general frustrations with romance tropes (particularly in a contemporary context), this was an engaging summer read -- and should Hallmark or Lifetime ever elect to make this story into a film, I would watch the heck out of that (which I fully realize is a double standard as regards my toleration of certain tropes in text versus film). Make it happen, networks! Now I'm off to read more historical romance, wherein discussions of a woman's career goals would be anachronism at its finest.

About the book:

She never wanted to love a cowboy. . . .

Rodeo king Tanner Callen doesn't want to be tied down. When he sees Madeline Harper at a local honky-tonk and everything about her screams New York, he brings out every trick in his playbook to take her home. But soon he learns that he doesn't just want her for a night and, instead, hopes for forever. . . .

BookShots Flames

  • Original romances presented by JAMES PATTERSON
  • Novels you can devour in a few hours
  • Impossible to stop reading

Sunday, July 10, 2016

Review: I Dreamed I Married Perry Mason by Susan Kandel

I Dreamed I Married Perry Mason (A Cece Caruso Mystery #1)
By: Susan Kandel
Publisher: Harper Collins


Cece Caruso, vintage clothing fashionista and lover of classic mysteries, should be in her element facing the looming deadline to turn in her sixth manuscript -- a biography of Erle Stanley Gardner, lawyer, author, and mostly famously, the creator of Perry Mason. But her subject eludes her, and in search of inspiration to bring the object of her latest tome to life, she seeks inspiration from the "hard case" letters in his archives -- the incarcerated seeking his help. One case catches her eye -- Joe Albucco, convicted of killing his wife Jean on the night of their first anniversary. He claims he's innocent, and according to notations in Gardner's files, he remembered the inmate's name, but never followed through. If she can solve the case, the Gardner-related anecdote could be an inspired finish to her book. But unearthing the truth behind the decades-old murder case uncovers a web of conspiracy that threatens to make Cece's first investigative effort her last.

This book is total Ruth catnip: a vintage clothing and mystery loving sleuth? I am so in. The first installment of the Cece Caruso mysteries is an appealing mix of chick lit sensibilities sprinkled with classic mystery trivia, this time focusing on the classic pulp era that birthed Perry Mason. It's clear that Kandel loves her subject matter, as she peppers the narrative with facts and trivia from Erle Stanley Gardner's life and career. I loved the brief historical overview, as while I'm familiar with Perry Mason thanks to cable television re-runs, I knew next to nothing about the creator of the classic sleuth.

Cece possesses a likeable voice, and I really liked the focus on a more mature heroine (she's thirty-nine) with an appreciation for classic mysteries that rivals my own. While her running commentary is often slyly humorous, its occasional lack of focus left me skim-reading rather than wholly focused and absorbed by the prose. However, much is forgiven thanks to Cece's passion for vintage fashion and her affinity for classic novels and film...hers is a unique and fascinating career, one that is at once both wish fulfillment and the perfect vehicle around which to craft a quirky set of light mysteries.

I Dreamed I Married Perry Mason is a fun and diverting, if unevenly paced mystery offering. I really enjoyed the general mystery -- I love stories that involve decades of dark family secrets, ha! -- and the series concept has a lot of potential. I just wish more care had been taken with the pacing and plotting of the investigation. There is a lot of set up regarding the crime's history, exploring potential perpetrators and their motives, while the ultimate resolution takes all of two or three pages. But if, like me, you are looking for a frothy, mindlessly entertaining diversion, this cozy chick lit flavored mystery may be the perfect solution. I'm not in a rush to continue following Cece's adventures, but I enjoyed this offering enough to add book two to my Amazon wishlist...and as it has a Nancy Drew theme, at some point I expect I won't be able to resist it!

About the book:

I Dreamed I Married Perry Mason is the debut novel in a hip, sexy, smart and, yes, cozy mystery series with a great hook. Think Sex and the City collides with Murder, She Wrote.

All that writer Cece Caruso really wants to do is complete her biography of mystery legend Erle Stanley Gardner, find a vintage 1970s Ossie Clark gown to add to her collection, and fix the doorknob on her picturesque West Hollywood bungalow. Then a chance visit with a prison inmate who knew Gardner lands her right in the middle of a 40–year–old murder and another case where the blood is still warm. In fact, Cece finds the body. This brings her into irresistible contact with her inner personal sleuth and shows how crime and greed can reverberate through several generations of a single family.

Saturday, July 9, 2016

Review: The Perfect Weapon by Delilah Dawson

The Perfect Weapon (Journey to Star Wars: The Force Awakens)
By: Delilah Dawson
Publisher: Del Rey


When mercenary Bazine Netal is hired by an anonymous client to retrieve a package in possession of an ex-stormtrooper, she expected a quick in-and-out mission with the promise of a sizeable award that would provide her covert lifestyle with a much-needed fresh infusion of funds. What she didn't count on was her teacher and mentor , the spycraft teacher Kloda, saddling her with a protege in need of training. Relationships are liabilities a woman in her position learned long ago to avoid, and with a competitor named Narglatch also on the hunt for the stormtrooper's case, on this mission she can afford no distractions. But as the mission goes south, betrayal comes from a quarter she never expected...a mistake that may just cost her her life.

This is an entertaining little glimpse into one of the most intriguing background characters who made an all-too-brief but impactful appearance in The Force Awakens. Dawson gives us the backstory of the coldly beautiful, detached bounty hunter responsible for alerting the First Order to the presence of BB-8 at Maz Katana's home on Takodana. Here, Dawson positions Bazine as something of a female counterpart to another legendary Star Wars fan favorite bounty hunter, Boba Fett -- she's as intriguing and lethal as Fett, only with better fashion sense.

I wish Dawson had been allowed to develop this story into a full length novel. As it is, The Perfect Weapon is an entertaining slice of female-centric Star Wars action. I was reminded of the K.W. Jeter trilogy The Bounty Hunter Wars, original Expanded Universe tales that explored Boba Fett's actions between Episodes IV and VI. In the right hands this is a character with promise, refreshing removed from the machinations of the Force and surprisingly likeable given her lethal background.

While the plot and characterizations are a little thin, given the story's brief length, and the stormtrooper's case is a MacGuffin of the most wildly improbably sort, frustratingly important and maddeningly unexplained, I still enjoyed this brief introduction to one of the newest and most colorful characters in the Star Wars universe. I'd love to read more about Bazine, and I hope Dawson one day gets the chance to revisit this character and universe, as there is a lot of unexplored potential here and she shows a promising facility in constructing an engaging story within the Star Wars parameters. With Rey as the centerpoint of the new trilogy, it seems only fitting that a new female bounty hunter should capture the imagination of fans, and Bazine is a character whose further adventures I'd love to see explored either on film or the page.

About the book:

Journey to Star Wars: The Force Awakens with this exclusive ebook short story set shortly before the events of the film, featuring a quick-witted mercenary who takes big risks for bigger rewards—and now faces the challenge that will take her to the edge.
There are plenty of mercenaries, spies, and guns for hire in the galaxy. But probably none as dangerous and determined as Bazine Netal. A master of disguise—and lethal with a blade, a blaster, or bare handed—she learned from the best. Now it’s her turn to be the teacher—even if schooling an eager but inexperienced recruit in the tricks of her trade is the last thing she wants to do. But it’s the only way to score the ship she needs to pull off her latest job.
An anonymous client has hired Bazine to track down an ex-stormtrooper and recover the mysterious package he’s safeguarding. Payment for the mission promises to be astronomical, but the obstacles facing Bazine will prove to be formidable. And though her eager new sidekick has cyber skills crucial to the mission, only Bazine’s razor-sharp talents will mean the difference between success or failure—and life or death.

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Review: Pros and Cons by Janet Evanovich and Lee Goldberg

Pros and Cons (Fox & O'Hare #0.50)
By: Janet Evanovich and Lee Goldberg
Publisher: Bantam


Pros and Cons is the second e-book novella to introduce the unlikely crime-fighting duo of Special Agent Kate O'Hare and Nick Fox, incorrigible con man. Set three years after The Shell Game, where Kate first encountered Nick, both the biggest break of her career and her biggest obsession, this short story gives a bit more insight into Kate's character. Sure, she's something of a walking chick lit cliche, from her junk food habit to her complete lack of personal style, but she's dedicated to her job and not above appreciating the Nick's flair for the dramatic...or his devilish charm and good looks. While the central con here is -- if possible -- even more ridiculously over-the-top, it encapsulates what I like most about this series -- the fact that it doesn't take itself too seriously at all. These stories are pure and simple entertainment from start  to finish, sprinkled with good-natured (often cheesy) humor and a flair for the theatrical. These stories are sheer fun, the perfect escapist antidote to summer's mind-numbing heat!

About the book:

Janet Evanovich and Lee Goldberg have teamed up for a dynamic new series featuring an FBI agent who’s on the hunt—and a master con artist who’s enjoying the chase. The con is on in this eBook original short story that’s a triumphant prequel to The Heist.

FBI special agent Kate O’Hare has made it her mission to nail international con artist Nicolas Fox. When she discovers his plot to plunder a venture capitalist’s twentieth-story Chicago penthouse of all its cash and treasures while the self-proclaimed “King of Hostile Takeovers” is getting married, Kate is 85 percent—okay maybe 92 percent—sure that she’s finally going to bag Nick Fox.

Problem is, first Kate has to convince her boss, building security, and maybe even herself, that wedding planner Merrill Stubing is actually Nicolas Fox. Second, she has to figure out how to corner and capture him without disrupting the event of the year. And third, what’s going to happen once O’Hare finally gets her hands on Fox? It’s going take a pro to catch a con before the fireworks over Lake Michigan go off.

Review: The Shell Game by Janet Evanovich and Lee Goldberg

The Shell Game (Fox & O'Hare #0.25)
By: Janet Evanovich and Lee Goldberg
Publisher: Bantam


When I decided to read The Heist by Evanovich and Goldberg, I didn't realize that Nick Fox and Kate O'Hare's first adventure was preceded by a few prequel e-book only novellas. The Shell Game is a breezy, entertaining, fast-paced introduction to the adversarial relationship at the center of this series, between a suave, elegant, likeable trickster and the by-the-book FBI agent determined to take him down. The plot is thin, but as a fan of caper stories and films I'm not really here for an intricately plotted mystery; rather, I want breezy banter and outlandish adventure -- and on that score, Evanovich and Goldberg deliver. This is a thoroughly entertaining read that does a fantastic job of introducing Nick and Kate and the professional rivalry that makes them the unlikeliest of crime-solvers. The perfect lunch break-length read, The Shell Game is a diverting introduction to Fox and O'Hare's entertaining shenanigans, a world thanks to its novelty (at least to date) I'll happily revisit.

About the book:

It was love at first con. Find out how FBI Special Agent Kate O’Hare and con artist Nicolas Fox first met in this exclusive eBook original short story! 

Con man Nick Fox is after Garson Klepper’s golden Peruvian relics. For Fox, convincing Klepper to hire him as security for the relocation of the relics to the Getty museum in L.A. was easy. Problem is, Fox wasn’t planning on Klepper also enlisting the help of the FBI. Fox also wasn’t planning on being paired up with rookie special agent Kate O’Hare. She’s smart, she’s tenacious, and when she’s conned, she holds a grudge. Life for Fox and O’Hare will never be the same again.

The Shell Game is a prequel to the riveting series from Janet Evanovich and Lee Goldberg.

Monday, July 4, 2016

Review: Love's Awakening by Laura Frantz

Love's Awakening (The Ballantyne Legacy #2)
By: Laura Frantz
Publisher: Revell
ISBN: 978-0-8007-2042-1


Elinor "Ellie" Ballantyne, just twenty years old and the jewel of her father's heart, flees finishing school and the matchmaking mamas of Philadelphia society, hungry for home and purpose. She is determined to shed some measure of her sheltered upbringing and embrace the Ballantyne steel of her heritage, vowing to make her own way in the world. But much has changed in her absence, and Ellie is ill-prepared for the simmering tensions between the pro-slavery and abolitionist movement, nor the depth of her family's involvement in the latter. However, the greatest danger may hail from the most unexpected quarter -- losing her heart to the son of the enemy -- the engmatic, and wholly unsuitable, Jack Turlock.

The rivalry between the Ballantynes and unscrupulous, whiskey-making Turlocks hails from Silas Ballantyne's early days in Pittsburgh, becoming further embittered when Isabel O'Hara, daughter of Silas's one-time friend and mentor, marries into the Turlock clan in a fit of pique when Silas chose Eden as his bride. And from that point, the die was cast: the Ballantynes respectable and virtuous, the Turlocks and their famed hell-raising ever a thorn in their -- and all respectable society's -- side.

Jack would like nothing more than to shed his family's unsavory reputation and start afresh. But ever aware of what he's seen and done, he was resigned to the burden of his familial heritage of violence and deceit, until a chance encounter with Ellie awakens feelings he'd long thought buried. Ellie's innocence and guileless acceptance of him as he is awakens in Jack the audacity to hope for a finer, better life. When his father and brother's plans threaten to destroy everything Ellie holds dear, Jack is left with a choice: the life he was raised to or faith in the God the Ballantynes claim and His promise of redemption.

While I like to stay current with favorite authors, it has been such a treat to lose myself in each successive installment of The Ballantyne Legacy without that pesky year-long wait between releases. Though the much-loved Silas and Eden are absent for half the novel, their presence is ever felt, underscoring Frantz's thesis of the heritage of faith, inherited through generations.

The Jack and Ellie relationship is not only one of my favorite tropes in romantic fiction -- adversaries to lovers -- but it is a gorgeously-wrought exploration of inheritance and choice. Colored with shades of Romeo and Juliet's warring families, Jack and Ellie's blossoming attraction is, at first blush, nought but an impossible dream. Separated by a gulf of familial rivalry and distrust, political ideologies, and most crucially, faith, here Frantz sketches a love story all the more memorable because of the transformative power of faith at its heart.

Love's Awakening has a two-fold meaning -- Jack and Ellie, certainly, but also the agape love of one human being to another regardless of race or creed. The sacrificial love those who claim Christ are called to live each day is woven throughout each page, as Frantz places her characters in the eye of the storm brewing over slavery. The Ballantynes and Jack participate in the early skirmishes between pro-slavers and abolitionists in Pennsylvania of the 1820's seeds of the great conflict to come later in the century that would rend the nation in two. As Jack quickly discovers, the Ballantynes' abolitionist efforts are a call to action, a study in the cost, danger, and rewards of putting faith in action.

Frantz has always delivered emotionally intense novels. Her heart-stopping romances are a hallmark of her work, as is her unparalleled ability to bring the past to life on the page, all on display here. But in Love's Awakening, in the final oact of Ellie and Jack's story she delivers her most action-packed epic yet. It is no exaggeration to say that my heart was racing as I breathlessly turned the pages, eager to see the finale unfold in all its high stakes, cinematic grandeur.

Like it's predecessor, Love's Awakening is a story of inheritance, both for good and ill. The Ballantyne Legacy is an unflinchingly honest study of faith and choice and the power of both to resound through future generations. A stunning romance, suspense, and heartbreak -- this is Frantz at her finest. I cannot wait to discover what's in store for the final Ballantyne installment!

About the book:

In the spring of 1822, Ellie Ballantyne leaves finishing school and returns to the family home in Pittsburgh only to find that her parents are away on a long journey and her siblings don't seem to want her to stay. Determined to stand her ground and find her place in the world, Ellie fills her time by opening a day school for young ladies.

But when one of her students turns out to be an incorrigible young member of the Turlock family, Ellie knows she must walk a fine line. Slaveholders and whiskey magnates, the Turlocks are envious of the powerful Ballantynes and suspicious of their abolitionist leanings. As Ellie becomes increasingly entangled with the rival clan -- particularly the handsome Jack Turlock, she finds herself falling in love with an impossible future. Will she betray her family and side with the enemy?

Masterful storyteller Laura Frantz continues to unfold the stirring saga of the Ballantyne family in this majestic tale of love and loyalty. This is the Ballantyne Legacy.

Note: This review was originally published August 2015.

Saturday, July 2, 2016

Review: The Heist by Janet Evanovich and Lee Goldberg

The Heist (Fox & O'Hare #1)
By: Janet Evanovich and Lee Goldberg
Publisher: Bantam
ISBN: 978-0-345-54305-9


Nicolas Fox has long been the bane of Kate O'Hare's life -- until she arranges to have him hit by a bus, leading to his arrest and -- at long last -- the end of his infamous career as a con man and thief. Post-Fox, she's forced to resign herself to a much less interesting (or challenging) professional career investigating the likes of serial copyright violations, until the unthinkable happens, and Fox escapes his FBI handlers en route to his arraignment. Although she's officially sidelined from rejoining the investigation by her boss, Kate can't let her nemesis go. She goes off the grid, determined to bring Fox to justice, only to be confronted with the most extraordinary offer of her career. Her bosses assign her to work as Nick's handler in a series of off-the-books operations, going after criminals the Bureau can't touch in an official capacity.

Following his arrest by the persistent (and alluring) Kate O'Hare, Nick unspools the biggest con of his life, trading jail time for five years' probation as an off-the-books FBI asset. With Kate's grudging consent to their unorthodox partnership, the two are assigned to bring down Derek Griffin, a notoriously corrupt investment banker who absconded with millions from his clients. But in order to find Derek, he first has to assemble a crew of rookies to help sell his audacious plan, and convince Kate that maybe, just maybe, running a con could be just as much fun as chasing the con artist.

When I stumbled upon this title a few weeks ago I couldn't resist the premise -- polar opposites on each side of the law working together to crack criminal cases in exotic locales around the world? I am SO IN. Fans of White Collar (may it rest in peace) will easily find a home within these pages, and Evanovich and Greenberg spin a breezy tale of audacious cons, exotic locales, and a dash of sizzling romantic tension. The Heist isn't a deep or profound read by any stretch of the imagination, but it is just the type of breezy, over-the-top, ridiculously fun caper that my heat-fatigued brain craved (summer is not, and never has been, my friend).

Kate is something of a walking cliche in that she is capable at her job but consumed by it, with zero work/life balance and completely oblivious to her appeal as a potential romantic partner. While in that respect she is a complete, one-note chick lit cliche, it's refreshing to see a female lead who is a capable professional with a great familial support system. In fact, Kate's father Jake, is a highlight of the novel, a retiree and former special ops veteran who gleefully serves as Kate's unofficial back-up while overseas performing unsanctioned extraordinary rendition missions. I love the fact that -- at least initially -- he's more excited and supportive of Kate's dangerous new line of work than she is herself.

A concept novel like this something of a con itself, and it only works if the characters involved can sell the over-the-top storyline. Therein lies the book's greatest success, as -- led by Nick -- the motley crew that assembles to take down Derek Griffin is deliciously humorous and engaging, gleefully owning their less-than-legal behavior. Nick's new team is a band of modern day Robin Hoods, and while Kate is far from a damsel-in-distress, she fills the Marian slot nicely, particularly in how she comes to enjoy working alongside Nick instead of chasing him, embracing the dance of the con rather than seeking to live within the rules she's always sought to uphold.

The Heist is a fun, breezy read, great for a few hours of summer escapism. I adore heist stories, everything from White Collar to Ally Carter's Heist Society novels. Nick and Kate's relationship and playful banter are reminiscent of other unlikely partners in crime, from Nick and Nora Charles to The Scarecrow and Mrs. King. This is the type of globe-trotting adventure I can't help but devour, and while it can be a little cheesy and very silly, I'll definitely read the subsequent installments in this series. If they live up to the precedent set in this volume, Fox and O'Hare's future adventures promise to be the perfect recipe for a bit of welcome escapism.

About the book:

Nicolas Fox is an international con man, famous for running elaborate sams on very rich and powerful people. He knows that the FBI has been hot on his trail for years -- particularly FBI Special Agent Kate O'Hare. But just when it seems that Fox has been captured for good, he pulls off his greatest con of all: He convinces the FBI to offer him a job, working side by side with O'Hare.

Their first assignment takes them to the streets of Berlin, the California desert, and remote Indonesian islands as they team up to catch Derek Griffin, a corrupt investment banker charged with stealing millions from his clients. Finding Griffin on his private island is going to test O'Hare's patience and Fox's skill. High-speed chases, pirates, and Toberlone bars are all in a day's work...if O'Hare and Fox don't kill each other first.

Friday, July 1, 2016

Review: Love's Reckoning by Laura Frantz

Love's Reckoning (The Ballantyne Legacy #1)
By: Laura Frantz
Publisher: Revell
ISBN: 978-0-8007-2041-4


Eden Lee longs to make a fresh start in Philadelphia, to escape her father Liege's temper and her sister Elspeth's selfish machinations. Her fiery hair and family reputation mask a quiet spirit that hungers after God, desiring nothing more than the freedom to exercise her fledgling faith freely. But before she can make good on her dream of escape, her blacksmith father's new apprentice arrives, setting into motion plans of marriage and familial expectations that threaten to derail Eden's closely guarded dreams.

Silas Ballantyne has plans of his own to head west once his apprenticeship is finished, dreams he is determined shall not be thwarted by his contentious master or his tempting daughters. However, Silas finds himself irresistibly drawn to Eden's sweet spirit in defiance of Liege and Elspeth's determination to ensnare the talented blacksmith in a web of deceit. As love blossoms between Silas and Eden, fostered by whispered stairwell meetings and exchanged scraps of scripture, the long-latent embers of jealousy between Liege's daughters ignite. When all they hold dear is threatened, Silas and Eden are forced to decide if their faith and love is enough to withstand the heartache that would see their hoped-for future destroyed,

It has been far too long since I've lost myself within the pages of a Laura Frantz novel. Reading Love's Reckoning was akin to water falling on dry land, a balm to my soul sorely in need of Frantz's craftsmanship and heart. The first installment in a multi-generational family epic, Love's Reckoning is replete with Frantz's trademarks: carefully-crafted characters, a heart-rending love story, and a nearly tactile sense of time and a nearly tactile sense of time and place. Within these pages, late 18th-century Pennsylvania springs to life with color and depth. If a novel is her canvas, Frantz paints with the skill of a master.

Here Frantz blends shades of the Cinderella story with a familial and romance dynamic reminiscent of the biblical saga of Jacob, Esau, Rachel, and Laban. Eden is a classic Cinderella figure, the family drudge who still maintains her sweet spirit. In less capable hands, seeing the abuse she endures at the hands of family members could have made her seem weak. But instead, Eden is an intricately wrought portrait of one who chooses again and again the sacrifice of kindness and belief with no expectation of reward (much like the recent live-action version of Cinderella). 

While Silas is cast in the role of prince/redeemer, both he and Eden's character arcs are colored with shades of Jacob's story (with Elspeth cast alternately as Esau and Leah, in the most extreme forms of that character archetype). Their journey is a fight for an inheritance beyond what the eye can see -- a twin legacy of earthly and spiritual favor. Theirs is a story of lives the enemy to all believers would see destroyed (John 10:10), of potential unrealized and dreams unfulfilled. But in the pain of circumstance, those dreams, once surrendered and yielded to the God who first planted them within their hearts, blossom into a gorgeously wrought illustration of redemptive promise (Joel 2:25).

For those who crave realism in inspirational fiction or wonder if it even exists, they need look no further than here for one such example. While Love's Reckoning is everything I crave in historical romance -- research, depth, passion -- within these pages lies a tale of emotional abuse, a physical assault, and shattered dreams. Frantz never exploits the very real heartache her characters endure, but within the framework of their circumstances sketch a story of hope and redemption with compassion and sensitivity. 

Authors like Frantz are why I believe so strongly in the possibility of inspirational fiction. This is a wildly entertaining tale, yes, epic in its scope and intimate in its emotional reckoning, a sweeping saga in every sense that term implies. But more than that, Silas and Eden's story is one of hope and a faith at times no bigger than a grain of mustard seed, and the ability of that faith in action to transform and redeem the most broken among us.

About the book:

On a bitter December day in 1784, Silas Ballantyne arrives at the door of blacksmith Liege Lee in York County, Pennsylvania. Silas is determined to finish his apprenticeship quickly and move west. But because he is a fast worker and a superb craftsman, Liege endeavors to keep in in Lancaster by appealing to an old tradition: the apprentice shall marry one of his master's beautiful daughters.

Eden is as gentle and fresh as Elspeth is high-spirited and cunning. But are they truly who they appear to be? In a house laced with secrets, each sister seeks to secure her future. Which one will claim Silas's heart -- and will he agree to Liege's arrangement?

In this sweeping family saga, one man's choices in love and work, in friends and enemies, set the stage for generations to come, This is the Ballantyne Legacy.

Note: This review was originally published August 2015.