Friday, October 31, 2014

Book Review of The Brickmaker's Bride by Judith Miller

This is the first time I've read Judith Miller and it was a delightful read. During my research for this book and blog I discovered that Ms. Miller loves history and traveling. That definitely rings true as this story is rich in detailed history and information. It was fun to read about the brick making process.

The Brickmaker's Bride is book 1 in a new series by Judith Miller titled Refined by Love. An excerpt is available from the publisher.

Cover ArtFirst things first - I love book covers. and this one was so intriguing to me. I found myself referring back to it several times as I read. The beautiful young woman on the front has a lifetime of stories written in her eyes and was a perfect match for the Heroine Laura Woodfield.

The story takes place beginning in 1868 as America is rebuilding after the war. Down in the Tygart Valley of West Virginia one family in particular is trying to recover after losing the patriarch of their family. Laura and her mother decide to sell the beloved business, a brick yard. Laura holds it incredibly dear to her heart as she spent many hours there as a child alongside her father. It is important to her that the yard be sold to the "right" people. However at the point the story begins there haven't been many buyers or offers at all. Except one ... Ewan McKay and his uncle Hugh Crothers, Irish immigrants.

The hero of the story, Ewan is an interesting character. He is grounded in his faith, loyal to his family and determined to work hard with honesty and integrity. A wonderfully created contradiction to his abrupt, rude and addicted Uncle; who happens to hold the decision making reins and the purse strings in their fickle partnership. Once the sale of the brickyard is agreed upon Ewan must immediately balance his self-centered relatives with the kind and generous Woodfield family. This tension makes for excellent story-telling. Miller creates many entertaining scenes both funny and bittersweet to showcase all that Ewan is juggling.

His noble motivation that moves him forward despite some drastic and crazy odds is the desire to bring his three younger sisters across the ocean to America to live with him. He is their only immediate family.

Laura agrees to help Ewan establish business contacts, set up records and workers all in the hopes to see her father's life work succeed beyond him. Ewan gratefully accepts but soon finds himself drawn to her in a manner other than business. The love story between these two characters is slow and steady - like burning a brick for a lifetime of sturdy strength. The romance is sweet and without blemish.

I want to address the plot point of Laura being courted by another gentleman, Winston Hawkins, but I feel unable to say my peace without adding spoilers. So, I will say this ... by the end of the book I can only congratulate Judith Miller for writing a great love story. At first I didn't agree with the two men - polar opposites with one completely and notably unworthy of the heroine. It seemed no competition. Yet the author added the twist of a secret that binds our heroine to follow a path she doesn't want to in regards to a marriage partner. This is the element of the story where the faith aspect felt the most real. By the end of the story we see how often we view our options and our opportunities through the lens of our weaknesses. Yet our loving Lord and Saviour sees our future days unencumbered by anything.

The side plot of Ewan's aunt, driven only by climbing the social ladder at the expense of every person around her is at times entertaining and also poignant. The damage that can be done to our relationships when our motives are not of God is astounding. Miller shines a light on the effects of materialism and greed through the lens of the aunt and uncle.

This is a solid story with enjoyable characters, deep and abiding faith woven through and a wonderfully gripping historical base. I definitely would recommend this to others.

Thanks to Bethany House for the opportunity to receive this book free of charge in exchange for my honest review. This thoughts are my own and I am not required to review it positively.

Opps! I forgot the back cover blurb. Sorry ;)

In the clay-rich hills of the newly founded state of West Virginia, two families tentatively come together to rebuild a war-torn brickmaking business.

Ewan McKay has immigrated to West Virginia with his aunt and uncle, promising to trade his skills in the clay business for financial help. Uncle Hugh purchases a brickmaking operation from a Civil War widow and her daughter, and it's Ewan's job to get the company up and running again.

Ewan seeks help from Laura, the former owner's daughter, and he quickly feels a connection with her, but she's being courted by another man--a lawyer with far more social clout and money than Ewan. Resolving that he'll make the brickworks enough of a success that he can become a partner in the business and be able to afford to bring his sisters over from Ireland, Ewan pours all his energy into the new job.

But when Hugh signs a bad business deal, all Ewan's hard work is put in jeopardy. As his hopes for the future crumble, Laura reveals something surprising. Can she help him save the brickworks, and will Ewan finally get a shot at winning her heart.

By the way, if this topic intrigues may I recommend the family, dove approved movie The Last Brickmaker in America.  Check out the trailer.

Friday, October 10, 2014

Book review of A Bride in Store by Melissa Jagears

Cover ArtAn historical romance with a western flair and a new up and coming author - what's not to like? That's how I felt when the book A Bride in Store arrived in my mail box. Only that feeling didn't survive to the last page for me. This was not a story I enjoyed. After reading many other reviews on line I see that I am in the minority though ... so please check around before making your own decision. An excerpt from the book is available on line by the publishers.

Melissa Jagears' second book, following her debut A Bride for Keeps continues on in the little western town of Salt Flatts, Kansas in 1881 with a new mail order bride arriving a tad too soon. Here is the Publisher's blurb:
Impatient to meet her intended groom and help him grow his general store, mail-order bride Eliza Cantrell sets out on her travels a week early. But her plan goes sadly awry when her train is held up by robbers who steal her dowry and Axel, her groom-to-be, isn't even in town when she finally arrives.
Axel's business partner, William Stanton, has no head for business and would much rather be a doctor. When his friend's mail-order bride arrives in town with no money and no groom in sight, he feels responsible and lets her help around the store--where she quickly proves she's much more adept at business than he ever will be.
The sparks that fly between Will and Eliza as they work together in close quarters are hard to ignore, but Eliza is meant for Axel and a future with the store, while Will is biding his time until he can afford medical school. However, their troubles are far from over when Axel finally returns, and soon both Will and Eliza must decide what they're willing to sacrifice to chase their dreams--or if God has a new dream in store for them both. 
Let's start with characters. This isn't a typical western in my mind. If you're looking for a cowboy or two this isn't the book for you. However our main male character of the story, Will Stanton does a very good job of playing the adorably sweet,and superb gentleman hero. He felt well-rounded and easy to like. The only thing he needed was a little more of a backbone.

Our female counterpart, Eliza Cantrell was not as endearing. She felt too spoiled, too selfish and too whiny to me. I understood as the book progressed that these were characteristics that she needed to work on and she did. However, I couldn't find that one character strength that drew me to like her. She did however, have the backbone our hero lacked.

The other characters in the story were well done. The author does a good job of not writing to the stereotypical quirks and traits. Her ensemble of characters were fun and interesting.

I did not read book one in this series, A Bride for Keeps, and I did not feel it affected my understanding of the characters. However there was one character, Jonesey, that I could not figure out why he was there - so maybe that was a carry-over from story one. Other than that I feel this book can be a stand alone.

The story premise was interesting and drew my attention from the back cover. However I found the story moved very slowly at times with not enough at stake for me. The tension needed to drive this story forward was weak and sometimes implausible.  I would have liked to see the characters do more and think less. There was too much "I think I should-- no I can't" inner dialogue going on. Both the main characters could have overcome most of the obstacles by having a little chat by the half way mark of the book.

Overall, I struggled to finish the book. If I didn't have to write this review I would've shelved the book. I liked the idea and the characters were fine, but the story had no draw and no excitement for me. I wouldn't recommend this book to a friend but I will give this author another read when she publishes again. As her own characters would attest ... everyone deserves another chance.

Thanks to Bethany House and the author for the opportunity to receive this book free of charge in exchange for my honest review.