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Apr 27, 2014

Ember Island by Kimberley Freeman

Sunday, April 27, 2014
Another fantastic novel from Kimberly Freeman!

Ember Island by Kimberley Freeman
Simon and Schuster; April 15, 2014
Paperback 448 pages
Review copy provided by publisher in exchange for this review
Burton Book Review Rating: 4.5 Stars

A riveting story of secrets and scandal
1890: Orphaned as a small child, Tilly Kirkland found a loving, safe home with her grandfather in Dorset. But nineteenth-century England is an unforgiving place for a young woman with limited means and as her grandfather's health fails, it seems perfect timing that she meets Jasper Dellafore. Yet her new husband is not all he seems. Alone in the Channel Islands, Tilly finds her dream of a loving marriage is turning into a nightmare.
2012: Bestselling novelist Nina Jones is struggling with writer's block and her disappointing personal life. Nothing is quite working. After a storm damages Starwater, her house on Ember Island, she decides to stay for a while and oversee the repairs: it s a perfect excuse to leave her problems behind her on the mainland. Then Nina discovers diary pages hidden in the walls of the old home. And a mystery unravels that she is determined to solve. Though the two women are separated by years, Starwater House will alter the course of both their lives. Nina will find that secrets never stay buried and Tilly learns that what matters most is trusting your heart.
Previous reviews of Kimberley Freeman's novels:
Wildflower Hill
Lighthouse Bay

This newest novel by Kimberley Freeman has a bit of a Bronte/du Maurier gothic flair to it with the story line that features Tilly and a strange new husband in England's Channel Islands. And even though throughout the novel Tilly comes off as a crossover of a psycho whiny but lovely young lady, we get to fast forward to present day with Nina's story as she is struggling while writing her next novel while vacationing in an ancestral cottage in Australia.

When Tilly runs away from a disastrous life she finds herself acting as a companion and teacher to a very intelligent pre-teen lady who turns out to be our other main character's great grandmother. When Nina comes across the writings of this young lady she is inspired and longs to find more of what she has written. Tilly's effect on the young lady is profound and is quite a story of which you will just have to see for yourself. I'll give you a hing: It involves escape plans, prisoners, fire, death, nightmares, betrayal and love.

The settings were wonderfully portrayed with strong character development throughout, with the very strong supporting cast that created a fast moving narrative. I really enjoy the fluid writing style of the author, and she doesn't disappoint with Ember Island. With her novels she has always been able to cleverly intertwine the past and the present, and when the characters do switch back and forth I am never unnerved. There is a feel of epic-saga story quality, and with this one the gothic touch that I alluded to earlier is rather thrilling. Very well done and I highly recommend all of her novels. This one is definitely going to be mentioned in my best of 2014 list.

Apr 22, 2014

A Beauty So Rare by Tamera Alexander

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

This inspiring historical will make your mouth water!

A Beauty So Rare by Tamera Alexander
Bethany House Publishers
Paperback 484 pages
NetGalley eBook provided by publisher in exchange for this review
Burton Book Review Rating:4.5 Stars
Other Tamera Alexander novels reviewed here:
To Whisper Her Name
A Lasting Impression

From the USA Today bestselling author of To Whisper Her Name and A Lasting Impression comes a moving historical novel about a bold young woman drawn to a group of people forgotten by Nashville society--and to the one man with whom she has no business falling in love.

Eleanor Braddock, a spinster--plain, practical, no stunning Southern beauty--has long since dismissed any hope of marriage. But when a dying soldier whispers his final words, she believes her life can still have meaning and determines to find his widow. But this compassionate deed takes a harsh turn, and Eleanor finds herself dependent upon the richest woman in America and the most despised woman in Nashville--her aunt, Adelicia Acklen, mistress of Belmont Mansion. A clandestine act of kindness leads Eleanor to an unlikely path for her life--building a home for destitute widows and children from the Civil War. And while Eleanor knows her own heart, she also knows her aunt will never approve.

Gerhard Marcus Gottfried, Archduke of the House of Habsburg and fourth in line to the Austrian throne, arrives in Nashville in search of a life he determines, instead of one determined for him. Collaborating with botanist Luther Burbank, Marcus seeks to combine his own passion for nature with his expertise in architecture. But his plans to incorporate natural beauty into the design of the widow's and children's home run contrary to the wishes of practical, frugal Eleanor, who sees his ideas as costly nonsense.

Yet as the construction project continues, Marcus and Eleanor find common ground--and a love neither of them expected. But Marcus is not the man Adelicia has chosen for Eleanor to marry, and even if he were, someone who knows Marcus's secrets is about to reveal them all.

Tamera Alexander's newest Belmont Mansion novel will delight her fans with new characters set against the familiar backdrop of the famous home of Adelicia Acklen. Eleanor is Adelicia's niece is new to the area and determined to make her own way in spite of how that would look to her aunt's society friends. Eleanor is a free-spirit who enjoys helping others and making good use of her time without regard to her looks or what sense of decorum her aunt thinks she should emanate.

The love interest in the story is Marcus Gottfried who is hiding his identity as heir to the Hapsburg throne. He is handsome, strong, independent and down-to-earth - and perfect for Eleanor. Aunt Adelicia of course has other plans for Eleanor, and plans to marry her off to some stodgy banker. The romance is faint emotion that runs throughout the novel, and as with Tamera's other novels the story is a clean Christian historical.

This compelling novel is a long one so that you truly have a chance to marvel at the flowing writing style of Tamera and become enchanted with the characters and the setting of a post-Civil War America. Eleanor's work with the poor of Nashville was a major inspirational theme that becomes a passion for both the character of Eleanor and the reader. And even though this is part of a series, you can read it as a stand alone - especially because Aunt Adelicia seems a lot different this time around!

There are interesting posts on Tamera's site this month in honor of the book's release; everything from recipes to dressmaking and photo shoots. One of the charming scenes in A Beauty So Rare is where Eleanor tried, tried, and tried again to make a streudel for Marcus (though it still was not as good as mutter's streudel!)

Just in time for spring, and even Mother's Day, here's a yummy recipe to try that Tamera posted on her site:

3/4 cup butter at room temp (1 1/2 sticks)
1/2 cup powdered sugar*
1/3 tsp vanilla
1 1/2 cups flour (sifted)

Preheat oven to 325 degrees, then spray a smaller (8-9 inch) cast-iron skillet very lightly with non-stick cooking spray. You don't need that much spray. Trust me, the butter in the recipe will take care of that.

Cream the butter until light and fluffy. Add the powdered sugar, then the vanilla. Next, work in the flour. You can either mix the flour in with an electric mixer, or you can get into the 1860s way of doing things and knead the dough on an unfloured surface until it's nice and smooth. Press the dough into the iron skillet (or you can use a pretty shortbread pan too). Bake for 30-35 minutes until golden brown. Cool for about 10-15 minutes then flip the pan over onto a wooden cutting board. Cut the shortbread into pieces while still warm. It "sets up" as it cools. Or serve it warm. Serves 10-12. And it really does. This stuff is rich and delicious. Hope you enjoy.
Find more recipes here.

Edited to add that A Beauty So Rare was a 2015 Christy Award finalist. Congrats, Tamera!

Apr 16, 2014

Island of Doves (Review and Giveaway) by Kelly O'Connor McNees

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Unforgettable storytelling
Island of Doves by Kelly O'Connor McNees
Berkley Trade, April 2014
Paperback, 384 pages
Review copy provided by the publisher
Burton Book Review Rating:4.5 Stars

(Read my review of McNee's debut novel, The Lost Summer of Louisa May Alcott)

Vivid and enthralling, Island of the Doves tells the story of a courageous woman who is desperate for freedom and of those who will risk everything to help her….

Susannah Fraser lives in one of Buffalo’s finest mansions, but her monstrous husband makes the home a terrible prison. When a local nun offers to help her escape, Susannah boards a steamship headed for Mackinac Island and a chance at freedom.

Magdelaine Fonteneau has seen her share of tragedy—a husband murdered before her eyes, two sisters lost—and she sees offering Susannah refuge in her island home as atonement for her many regrets. This act of kindness changes Susannah in ways she never could have imagined as she finds solace in the company of others who carry their own secrets and scars. Only together can they untangle their pasts—and find a future bright with the promise of new life.

The heroine Susannah Fraser is a strong woman who seemed doomed to her fate with an abusive husband until a complete stranger helps to spirit her away to Mackinac Island. It is there that her new protector Magdelaine seeks renewal and forgiveness for her past hurts, and we watch the two women form a bond that is heartfelt and true. Remembering the past and discovering the characters the reader is treated to a bit of a mystery, along with drama and a tender romance. With several supporting characters that weave together in an epic/saga type of way, several themes will play a part until it all comes together in a glorious finish.

Island of Doves was a fantastic story that involves sadness, grief, loss but ultimately gives us a longed for happy ending that the characters deserve. They will stay with you long afterwards, as you will fall in love with the courageous women of the odd little place of Mackinac Island who survive unhealthy relationships. The writing style of Kelly O'Connor McNees is enchanting and leaves no stone unturned while handling delicate emotions in a realistic manner. Very well done and highly recommended.