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All Things Hidden, by Tracie Peterson and Kimberley Woodhouse

Full confession: I was going to give All Things Hidden by Tracie Peterson and Kimberley Woodhouse a 5 on Amazon because it is everything a historical fiction book should be. But then I read the true story of Kimberley’s experience as a mom, fighting to help her daughter Kayla battle a rare illness, and now I wish I could give this book at 10. Holy Toledo! How does Kimberley Woodhouse find time to write? Wow. I am seriously impressed.

Don’t let the cover fool you; All Things Hidden is not necessarily a historical romance. It’s told from multiple points of view including a mix of genders. It’s also a “clean read”, meaning I’ll be saving it for my own teenage daughter someday. I’d have to destroy the cover to get my son to read it.  😉

It’s not just the quality writing that makes All Things Hidden a good book. There is an exceptional amount of historical detail in the pages too. Peterson and Woodhouse tell the story of Gwyn Hillerman and her father Harold who are (at first) the only medical personnel in the Matanuska Valley, Alaska Territory, circa 1935. The Hillermans are fictional characters in a real life adventure story. As part of the New Deal, FDR sent 200 families to homestead the valley. The families got 40 acres, a house, a $300 loan, and a commitment to live in Alaska for 30 years. (More information here.)

What I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE about All Things Hidden, is that the authors clearly spell out which characters in the book are historical, and which are fictional. They also share links to find more information about the Matanuska Colonization project. I felt like I learned a lot while I was being entertained.

P.S. I received a free copy of this book from Bethany House in exchange for my honest opinions and review.

Prepared for a Purpose, by Anotoinette Tuff

I seriously have got chills. I just finished reading  Prepared for a Purpose: The Inspiring True Story of How One Woman Saved an Atlanta School Under Siege. I read it start to finish in one day. That’s how good it was.

This book is by Antoinette Tuff with Alex Tresniowski. It tells the true story of how Antoinette interacted with a mentally disabled gunman at Ronald E. McNair Discovery Learning Academy in Atlanta, Georgia, and talked him out of going on a shooting rampage.

I used to be a public school teacher and I send my son to public schools every day. So believe me, when I was reading this book, I paid attention.

But the story of the tragedy averted is only one half of this book. The other is the autobiography of Antoinette herself; how she grew up in the home of a single parent,  spent time being homeless, lived on food stamps, had a baby out of wedlock, got married, suffered divorce, and raised two of the darn finest kids you’ll ever meet.

That second half of the book is equally as inspiring as the first.

Prepared for a Purpose is published by Bethany House and has a strong Christian frame. I liked that about it, but was also a little bit sad because it means the book would be unsuitable for school districts to pass around for their employees to read. I think anyone who worked in a school would benefit from reading Antoinette’s story of cool thinking during lock down.

A final point is this book was also written by Alex Tresniowski. This is a guess, I’m assuming it was Tresniowski’s decision to structure the book the way he did. The mix of McNair and biography is brilliant, fast passed, and kept me turning pages as fast as possible. Nicely done!

P.S. I received a free copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for my honest opinions and review.

An Elegant Solution, by Paul Robertson

Murder, mystery, and math? That’s the premise behind An Elegant Solution by Paul Robertson which delves into the history of Leonhard Euler and the Bernoulli family in Basel, Switzerland.

This book was a complex and challenging read. It took me about eighty pages to really get into it, but once I had mastered the premise, I was hooked. Then later when I was looking up the real-life history on Wikipedia, I felt like I was reading about people I actually knew.

Robertson writes in a poetic, lyrical style. The back of the book says “History Suspense” but I wouldn’t describe it as genre. I found it to be more akin to a literary novel. For example, There’s a Faustian theme that I didn’t quite grasp until the end, that completely blew me away.

Part of what made An Elegant Solution so challenging is Robertson’s excellent use of world building. It’s almost like reading a fantasy book by Tolkien because Euler’s world was entirely different than our own. There were different customs, traditions, educational systems, and diction. After reading this book, I feel like I’ve got a good grasp on what life was like in 1700s Basel.

If you’re looking for a good beach novel, this isn’t it. But if you have the fortitude to handle James Michener, than you might really like Paul Robertson.

P.S. I received a free copy of this book from Bethany House in exchange for my honest opinions and review.

A Talent for Trouble, by Jen Turano

I just finished up the frothy and highly entertaining historical romance A Talent for Trouble, by Jen Turano. Like it’s predecessor, A Most Peculiar Circumstance, this book follows the adventures of a twentyish socialite living in turn-of-the century New York. This time it’s Felicia Murdock who gets entangled with a former opium trafficker.

I think both books are really fun, tame reading for high school girls on up. I appreciate the message of female empowerment that Jen Turano so skillfully captures.

I do still have a nagging wish that the books were more historically accurate. In A Talent for Trouble, the heroine Felicia Murdock does a lot of things that would get her kicked out of high society faster than you could say “The Age of Innocence”. But I did like the plotline surrounding the opium trade.

I would LOVE for Jen Turano to include some tidbits of the historical research she did to write her books on her website Jen Turano.com. That would make my day!

P.S. I got a free copy of this book from Bethany House in exchange for my honest opinions and review.

Chasing Hope, by Kathryn Cushman

This past week I read a book which I absolutely love called Chasing Hope by Kathryn Cushman.  It’s a very clean read for teens or adults, and one that would make for a great mother-daughter book club from church.

The hook is:  After being diagnosed with a debilitating illness, college senior Sabrina thinks her competitive running days are over.  Then Sabrina meets Brandy, a running prodigy with a troubled past who really needs help.

Okay, now I’m totally veering away from a normal book review here, but the debilitating illness Sabrina has is something that my cousin-in-laws deals with.  I don’t want to name it, because that would be a spoiler.

But my cousin-in-law has been tremendously helped by sticking to a vegan diet.  He’s even been able to go off of a lot of his meds! There are even research studies proving that  veganism helps this particular disease.

So when I was reading “Chasing Hope” and came across scenes where Sabrina was eating pizza, I kept wanting to shake the book and tell her about my cousin!  “There’s still hope!  There’s still hope!”

P.S. I received a free copy of this book from Bethany House in exchange for my honest opinions and review.

Stranded, by Dani Pettrey

Alaska, cruise ships, and a missing journalist?  You’ve got my attention! That’s the hook to Stranded  by Dani Pettrey.  I stayed up late last night to start and finish it because this book is a very fun read, especially since I went on my own cruise to Alaska this summer.  See pictures here!

Stranded is the latest book in Pettrrey’s Alaska Courage series.  (I had previously read and reviewed Shattered.)  What I had failed to fully appreciate about  Shattered is the clever way the author utilizes a Plot A and Plot B storyline to hook readers into buying the next book.

In Shattered the Plot A  couple was Piper and Landon.  The Plot B couple was Darcy and Gage.  In  Stranded  Darcy and Gage get promoted to the Plot A couple.  Kayden and Jake become the Plot B couple.

Of course, now I want to find out what happens to Kayden and Jake too, so I will definitely be reading Pettrey’s next book!

P.S. I received this book for free from Bethany House in exchange for my honest opinion an review.

Rules of Murder by Julianna Deering

Rules of Murder (A Drew Farthering Mystery) by Julianna Deering is a highly entertaining mystery set in 1930’s England.  It feels like you are reading a film noir movie, from the golden age of Hollywood.

I won’t describe any of the plot because there’s too much risk of giving clues away. But I will say that one thing I especially appreciated about this book was how clever it was.

I’m not a mystery buff so I didn’t understand at first, but Derering was playing around with Father Knox’s Decalogue, the “Ten Commandments for Mystery writers“, the entire book.  She intentionally broke as many rules as possible, just for sport.

Now that I know that, it makes me want to read the book again, start to finish, so I can look for the broken Decalogue.  Very cool!

P.S. I received a free copy of this book from Bethany House in exchange for my honest opinion and review.

Sweet Mercy, by Ann Tatlock

Looking for a tame book for your teenager?  “Sweet Mercy” by Ann Tatlock would definitely fit the bill.  It’s a gentle coming of age book set in the Prohibition era.  FYI: this books is published by Bethany House, so there is a religious element going throughout the book.

The main character, Eve, is very self-righteous.  When she comes to help out at her uncle’s Lodge in Ohio, she thinks she knows everything. But pretty soon Eve starts learning that world isn’t black and white, and that there are lots of gray areas that are difficult to navigate.  Sometimes the right path, isn’t so easy to discern.

The only thing that bugged me about the book (spoiler alert!) is that at the end, Eve gives up her dream of going to college to become a pastor’s wife.

In my opinion Christian authors need to be very careful about the message they send to young girls, especially with this whole “Quiverfull Movement” out there.  Why did Ann Tatlock have to throw that zinger in there at the end?

It wouldn’t have changed the story at all to have allowed Eve to go to college; it would have made the narrative stronger.  It probably also helps pastors out a lot to have an educated spouse.

But college issues aside, this is still a great book.

P.S. I received a free copy of this book from Bethany House in exchange for my honest opinions and review.