historical romance

Review: The Fire by John A. Heldt

by Casee Marie on October 1, 2013 · 1 comment

in Fiction, Reviews

Recently graduated from college, twenty-two year-old Kevin Johnson is visiting the small town of Wallace, Idaho with his family when he stumbles across a hidden diary and a cache of early 20th century gold coins in his late grandfather’s home. Kevin’s plans for a quiet summer change drastically when he discovers that the home’s old wood shed is a portal to the 1900s and the treasure was hidden away by his great-great-grandfather Asa Johnson, ancestral patriarch and apparent time-traveler. As Kevin experiments with this newfound contradiction to his years of scientific teachings, he can’t deny the reality that he’s somehow managed to set foot in Wallace circa 1910. Before he can retreat to the familiar mayhem of the twenty-first century, Kevin crosses paths with local schoolteacher Sarah Thompson and finds that he’s unable to stop thinking about the beautiful woman who lived over a century before him. Determined to find her again, Kevin puts his trust in the time portal’s consistency and travels back and forth between the centuries. But as he integrates himself in Sarah’s life and the lives of Wallace’s 20th century inhabitants, he starts to wonder if time travel is more dangerous than it first appeared. There’s the miserable Preston Pierce, a mean-spirited banker and the most powerful man in town, who’s taken an interest in taking Kevin down. Then there’s beautiful young Sadie Hawkins, a down-on-her-luck orphan who might be willing to challenge Kevin’s attachment to Sarah. Hovering ominously over his complicated escapade into the past is history itself and the knowledge that Wallace in 1910 was the victim of one of the greatest, most destructive wildfires known to man. As Kevin balances his friends and enemies in a remarkable new time he’ll have to decide how much of history he can rewrite, and what the consequences will be if he tries.

The Fire, the fourth book in author John A. Heldt’s Northwest Passage series, boasts all of the imagination and charm of its predecessors. Heldt’s approach to this series has been impressive. Rather than following a more predictable format, his novels have alternated to feature two different families and their time traveling adventures – that of Joel Smith in The Mine and Shelly Preston in The Journey. I’ve enjoyed each of the four novels in this series immensely, but The Journey struck me with its emotional power and daring. Being its sequel, The Fire carried the same emotional pull with yet more warmth and sentiment. Here again Heldt shows his ability to not only tell stories of heartwarming friendships and romances, but of strength during incredible struggle and endurance after tragedy. What has become another hallmark for me in this series is the near guarantee of a strong cast rendered in crystal clarity through Heldt’s engaging storytelling. The Fire achieves that beautifully, with perhaps some of my favorite characters in the series making their debuts. Not only are we met with a smart, effervescent female character in beautiful schoolteacher Sarah, but also in the resourceful orphan Sadie. One is confident and self-assured while the other is plagued by the weight of her own crippling self-doubt, but strength alights in both women that carries them off the page and into the hearts of their readers. Additional characters like Irish newspaperman Andy O’Connell and wealthy widow Maude Duvalier bring an extra dose of warmth and wit, while other more villainous folks carry just the right amount of drama. Meanwhile, the hero of the story and center of its love triangle, time traveler Kevin, is immensely likable and charismatic as he finds his footing over a century in the past.

Much as the Northwest Passage books stand on their own, seeing their stories intertwine as almost the entire cast made appearances in The Fire was very entertaining, and pure fun. Read alone or as part of the series, The Fire is a welcome addition to a dependable and imaginative collection of novels. It’s a story that will delight readers in the magic of the world – in several eras – and bring them to both laughter and tears with its inspiring illustration of man’s timeless qualities: love, courage, and devotion.

Title: The Fire (Northwest Passage #4)
Author: John A. Heldt
Genre: sci-fi, romance
Publisher: John A. Heldt
Available Formats: e-book
Release date: August 31, 2013
Source: John A. heldt (c/o)
Buy the book: Kindle
Connect with the author: Website/Blog | Facebook | Twitter | Goodreads | Shelfari

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The Passion of the Purple Plumeria marks the tenth novel in Lauren Willig’s Pink Carnation series, documenting the lives and loves of British spies in Napoleonic Europe under the valiant eye of Eloise Kelly, a modern-day American of whose dissertation such spies are the subject. Living temporarily with her boyfriend Colin in his English country house, Selwick Hall, Eloise’s journey through the archives of history and the world of the Pink Carnation bring her to the story of the elusive spy’s second-in-command, Gwendolyn Meadows. Valiantly rigid and masterfully standoffish, Gwen has maintained for herself a life of adventure and independence within the league of the Pink Carnation, brandishing a parasol with a hidden blade and defying a life of commonplace domesticity – just as she had dreamed of doing over the four decades of her life. When the Pink Carnation’s young sister goes missing from her school with a classmate, Gwen is quick on the girls’ trail. With her is the missing classmate’s father, Colonel William Reid, a former member of the East India Company’s army. Recently returned from India, William is determined to reconnect with the daughter he sent away a decade before, but when the trail of the missing girls begins to lead in different directions, Gwen and William will have to work together to unravel the mystery. Complicating matters is the new alliance forming between Napoleon and an Ottoman Sultan, and the rumor of a hoard of jewels gone missing from India. As Gwen battles the feelings blossoming for William beneath her chilled, prickly exterior, she must keep an eye on the enemy and, as always, be on the watch for the welfare of her charge, the young and mysterious Pink Carnation.

The Passion of the Purple Plumeria combines countless subjects and genres into one delightful novel; its love story compliments its mystery, and its historic story melds wonderfully into the contemporary interludes. With so many different elements to take in, the reader might expect to be consumed by one over the others, but Willig handles all of her material with such aplomb that each scene offers its own enjoyable energy. I relished that the book’s love story followed a middle-aged hero and heroine, something altogether a bit uncommon in the genre; the relationship between Gwen and William was temperamental and heartwarming, with a certain poignancy brought on by the weight of the lives they had lived separately, each with their own secrets and scars. Gwen was a feisty character and one who occasionally veered into the territory of being somewhat of a challenge; her icy exterior felt, at times, frozen solid, but she had a special, irrepressible inner fire that kept me rooting for her even in her moments of stubbornness and folly. She felt like a truly unique, perhaps somewhat unlikely heroine, and that itself might be her greatest triumph. She was vastly entertaining, and her haughty airs combined with William’s roguish sarcasm made for witty dialogue and memorable chemistry.

Although it’s done through the device of fiction, The Passion of the Purple Plumeria had the invigorating feeling of a particularly exciting history lesson. Willig’s attention to detail set the stage for a truly absorbing story, and her lively prose was pure fun to read. I loved the narrative’s quick wit and expansive sensibility, both in the present-day and historic scenes. They each took on their own unique appearances under the sureness of a reliably entertaining tone. Smart and utterly charming, The Passion of the Purple Plumeria is the sort of escapism that keeps historical fiction readers coming back for more.

Title: The Passion of the Purple Plumeria (Pink Carnation #10)
Author: Lauren Willig
Genre: historical fiction, romance, mystery
Publisher: NAL
Release date: August 6, 2013
Source: Penguin Group (C/O)
Buy the book: Amazon | Kindle | Barnes & Noble
Connect with the author: Website | Facebook | Goodreads

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Review: The Show by John A. Heldt

by Casee Marie on May 21, 2013

in Fiction, Reviews

In 1941 Seattle, young Grace Vandenberg’s life was turned upside down when she discovered that her boyfriend Joel had time-traveled his way into her life directly from the year 2000. Convinced that their futures couldn’t be aligned, Joel left her to return to his century, but Grace, refusing to give up on the power of love, is determined to follow him. In a mind-boggling new era of cell phones and computers Grace settles into a blissful life with Joel, but her now perfect world is shaken anew when a trip to a newly-restored historic theater sends her all the way back to the year 1918. As she witnesses her teenage parents’ first meetings and falls in love with a handsome Army captain, Grace must make sense of the life she’s stumbled into and come to terms with the cold truth: she may never see Joel or the new millennium ever again.

In The Show, the direct sequel to his debut The Mine and the third in his Northwest Passage series, John A. Heldt proves himself once again as a masterful storyteller. He has, for the third time, woven heart-stirring romance, beautifully detailed history, and the ever-complex device of time-travel into what may be his most satisfying novel so far. While The Show is a perfect compliment to is predecessor, it stands handsomely on its own and offers new insights on yet different topics of life: love, loss, motherhood, and family. Grace was a stellar supporting character in The Mine and it’s a delight to see her take center stage here. She blossoms into a very strong, capable heroine with a passion that the reader will instantly appreciate. Plucky and resilient, she illuminates the power of the female spirit as a wife, mother, daughter, and friend. She is supported by a highly memorable cast from the earliest part of the 20th century: sassy twins Lucy and Edith, compassionate Uncle Alistair, and the kind, charismatic Captain Walker, among many others. Against the believably rendered backdrop of 1918 their story cocoons the reader easily as it unfolds.

It takes a special talent to juggle the many facets of The Show. Heldt continues to handle the element of time-travel well, always delivering it in a pleasingly realistic way, and he shows consistent ability with the depth of detail that is required when writing about different eras. Succeeding further yet with genuinely felt romance, myriad emotions, and profound life lessons, The Show easily finds its home in the reader’s heart with little intention of traveling away anytime soon.

Title: The Show
Author: John A. Heldt
Genre: Historical fiction, romance
Publisher: John A. Heldt
Available Formats: e-book
Release date: February 16, 2013
Provided by: John A. Heldt (c/o)
Buy the book: Kindle
Connect with the author: Website/Blog | Facebook | Goodreads | Shelfari

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Review: Defiant Heart by Marty Steere

by Casee Marie on April 12, 2013 · 2 comments

in Fiction, Reviews

After losing his parents and brother in a tragic accident, young Jon Meyer is left to start over in a small Indiana town. Under the guardianship of a grandmother he’d never before known, Jon’s new life begins at a high school filled with unfamiliar faces. As he struggles with the difficulties of being the new guy in a town unaccustomed to change Jon finds the troubled waters of his life disturbed anew when prejudice begins to take root: Jon is Jewish, and in 1941 under the shroud of World War II, very few people are inclined to make his association. Friendliest and most accepting is Mary Dalhgren, the amiable daughter of the town’s mayor. Mary is bold and intelligent, with a mind and spirit well beyond the simplicity of the town, and her connection with Jon is an instant one. As the two tentatively explore their feelings, they face obstacles in the shape of jealousy, bigotry, and even war. Mary’s father, misguided in his political aspirations, wants his daughter far away from the boy while high school basketball star Vernon King wants Mary on his arm – and no one else’s. When the tensions of prejudice reach a boiling point, a new tragedy tears Mary and Jon apart; and soon Jon finds himself in England fighting the Germans. As Jon and Mary both risk their lives, they share the hope of someday finding their way back to each other once and for all.

Defiant Heart, Marty Steere’s second novel, is a fascinating combination of history, romance, and the social extremes of the 1940s. The author has created a cast of characters that jump off the page, and he writes with a commendable attention to detail that carries the story to an even higher level. As I reflect on the story of Defiant Heart I find myself dividing it between two acts, the first following Jon and Mary’s budding relationship amid the prejudice of the town, and the second following Mary and Jon separately as they deal with the war and their loss of each other. Each act, as I’ll call them, is presented in wonderful clarity, with scenes that spark to life under the writer’s expertise before being woven together beautifully. Steere’s depictions of Jon’s struggles as an outsider – consequence of his Jewish faith, predominantly – were heartbreaking, but the truthfulness of the story leaves in the reader a deep sense of gratitude to the author. Steere is boldly willing to unearth the unpleasant realities of the flaws in America’s social landscape, and he does so with a great deal of grace and honesty. I love a good romance and the one between Jon and Mary was beautiful, certainly memorable, but where I really surprised myself was with the war scenes of the second act; the unsettling tension of Jon’s fight for survival, his eternal camaraderie with his fellow soldiers, and Steere’s stunning use of detail all combined for a substantial reading experience that had me riveted. It’s a testament to the author’s creations, Jon and Mary, that the reader is heart-bound in the scenes when they are apart as well as together.

For all that its story entails, Defiant Heart spares itself from being too heavy of a novel; it boasts no unnecessary bulk and reads in a way that relays plenty of detail without hampering the reader with too much information. It becomes a lovely volume that promises all manner of emotional attachment to its reader and entertains them without leaving them for a moment feeling daunted by the scope of the story; a winning combination, and it’s executed with great talent. Defiant Heart is a smart, tangible exploration of love, loss, and survival that will enfold its reader into its world and keep them tucked away until the very end.

Title: Defiant Heart
Author: Marty Steere
Genre: historical fiction
Publisher: Penfield Publications
Available Formats: e-book, paperback
Release date: April 16, 2013 (paperback) / April 5, 2013 (e-book)
Provided by: Marty Steere (c/o)
Buy the book: Kindle | Barnes & Noble
Connect with the author: Website | Goodreads

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