Siri Mitchell continues earning her place on my Must Read list, as "Flirtation Walk" is both thought-provoking and thoroughly entertaining.

Lucinda Pennyworth has been raised by her con man father and has been very well-trained to get people to do what she wants them to do. When her father's death leaves her alone in the world, Lucinda decides to see if her mother's long-estranged family will take her in. Her uncle is a professor at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, and Lucinda has never known people who are so good and proper. Suddenly her plans of finding a man to marry seem petty and shallow, and Lucinda finds herself contemplating right, wrong, consequences, and God's role in this world.

It's the beginning of Seth Westcott's last year as a cadet, and he has earned his place of honor at the top of his class. With less than a year until his graduation and likely placement within the Corps of Engineers, his goals seem within reach. He begins to rethink things when tragedy strikes his family in Nebraska and the Army won't let him out of class long enough to take care of his orphaned sister, who confesses through a letter that their family inheritance had been swindled away from her. Seth decides that if the Army won't give him leave to pursue justice for his sister, he'll have to find a way to be placed in the cavalry so he will be sent out west where he can protect his sister and keep an eye out for the scoundrel who stole their money.

The only problem with Seth's plan is that cavalry placements go to those who don't qualify for other more skilled positions in the Army. Thankfully for Seth, he's friends with some of the men holding that now-coveted place at the bottom of the class, otherwise known as Immortals, and they are more than willing to help him learn how to not study, rack up demerits, and go on exploits that flirt with the line of dismissal from West Point. But Seth can't quite let himself turn completely into a dissolute disappointment. He struck me very much as an ISTJ, which I am quite familiar with as that is my own personality type. Picturing myself trying to willfully break rules when it's not in my programming made Seth's attempts all the more humorous because I could well imagine his personal struggle.

Seth and Lucinda are drawn to each other even as their lives seem to be headed in opposite directions: Lucinda as a reformed con man's assistant and Seth as an Immortal-in-training. I found both sides of this story to be extremely well-written, and I was thrilled with Mitchell's return to using alternate first-person points of view, as she does such a good job with that. I couldn't stop talking about how much I enjoyed this book while I was reading it, and I would highly recommend it to all historical fiction fans.

I received my copy of the book from the publisher in exchange for this honest review. All opinions are my own.
Like a Flower in Bloom


Siri Mitchell brings us the delightful story of Charlotte, a young woman whose eccentric upbringing in the mid-19th century makes her stand apart from society. Raised by her botanist father who suffered from severe depression after the death of her mother, Charlotte has spent the years faithfully assisting her father in his work and making sure he made it through each day. She's an accomplished illustrator and has even written books and articles which were published under his name. All of that changes when her uncle insists that 22-year-old Charlotte needs to stop being a social recluse and find herself a husband. When one of her father's correspondents shows up and is taken on as a new assistant, Charlotte decides to go along with her uncle's scheme for only as long as it takes her father to realize that he can't possibly carry on without her.

Having absolutely no social skills or understanding of the rules of polite society, Charlotte only knows the straightforward ways of science. Her father's new assistant, Mr. Trimble, tries to help educate her on ways to dress and behave, but Charlotte doesn't want anything to do with the man who has stolen her place. Thankfully Charlotte quickly falls into friendship with Miss Templeton, a caring and gregarious young woman who takes Charlotte under her wing. I was glad to find Miss Templeton a trustworthy companion, as it would have been easy for someone with a less kind motivation to take advantage of Charlotte's naivete.

While Charlotte finds early success in attracting the attentions of not one but two eligible men, she's consternated that Mr. Trimble is so ably filling her place at her father's side. Rather than making her making her father realize what he's missing, Mr. Trimble is actually improving their household. While he is very kind and encouraging her towards her, Charlotte is sure she can never be friends with this upstart usurper who is clearly keeping secrets of his own.

There is so much that I loved about this story. Charlotte's social awkwardness and the way she always said exactly what she thought kept me entertained and amused. The passion that Charlotte and her father had towards botany was educational and did not override the story narrative. The setting and some of the situations Charlotte found herself in reminded me of Elizabeth Gaskell's Cranford stories, which is a wonderful association for this British literature fan. The novel was richly layered and had me in stitches as I hoped for a good outcome for Charlotte and her friends. I'd recommend this book for anyone who enjoys historical fiction and especially stories set in Victorian England.

I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for this honest review. All opinions are my own.
2014 was a great year for reading! I'm thankful to have had the ability to read so many good books this year. Now I get to present my favorites to you and hope you'll check some of them out for yourself! Click on any title to read my full review.

Historical Fiction

Love Comes Calling

Love Comes Calling by Siri Mitchell

In a zany series of capers, Ellis Eton tries to trade identities with one friend and save the life of another. Ellis makes an endearing heroine because she has a good heart but she's also terribly scatterbrained. This one is an amusing and charming read!


Young Adult Fiction

Fairest Beauty

The Fairest Beauty by Melanie Dickerson

This year I read more young adult books than I have since I was a young adult myself, and while a number of them were good, I am still resonating with the spiritual truths and character growth found in "The Fairest Beauty." This was a lovely retelling of the classic Snow White fairytale.


Speculative Fiction

Awakening

Awakening by Tracy Higley

Museum worker Kallie Andreas suffers from amnesia, and she is given the opportunity of a lifetime when she's offered to lead a team in quest of finding a crucial artifact. As her journey takes her to Egypt, Italy, and the Greek isle of Santorini, Kallie discovers much about herself, her past, and our amazing God.


Contemporary Fiction

All My Belongings

All My Belongings by Cynthia Ruchti

Becca Morrow is trying to get a fresh start on life by changing her name and moving half-way across the country to escape the notoriety of her father's high-profile murder trial. While she's running from her past, her new friend Isaac is seeking his in the form of searching for his biological parents. The themes and lessons in this book were beautiful and insightful, and the wonderful balance of storytelling elements makes this one you can't put down.


Non-Fiction

Hardest Peace

The Hardest Peace by Kara Tippetts

Kara Tippetts is a pastor's wife and mother of four young children who has received a terrible diagnosis: terminal cancer. As her life on this earth fades away, Kara encourages all of us to trust God as the Author of our story, let His grace fill our lives, and love well those around us. Find the beauty in the heartbreak. This is an amazing book with applications for you no matter your life circumstances.


Classic Literature

Rilla of Ingleside

Rilla of Ingleside by Lucy Maud Montgomery

The final book in the Anne of Green Gables series is a coming-of-age tale set during the anxious days of World War I. Anne's daughter Rilla is one of my favorite literary characters ever written. She grows from a dreamy young girl into a mature and strong woman whose heart beats for the needs of others. Every emotion is written in such a way that you feel you're on the journey, too.
Love Comes Calling


This book was such a delight! I've been a Siri Mitchell fan for several years, but my favorites of her historicals tend to be ones on the more serious side, such as "The Messenger" or "Love's Pursuit". "Love Comes Calling" stars a heroine who reminded me very much of Amelia Bedelia, because even with the best intentions she ends up in one scrape after another, with no idea how she got there or how to fix it!

Ellis Eton feels like she has been a disappointment her whole life. All she hears from her parents, friends, and professors is "Oh, Ellis." Expectations are so high for the daughter of one of Boston's elite in the Prohibition Era, but Ellis just can't measure up. She longs to run away and be an actress in Hollywood, and she knows she'd be a good one because she's been putting on an act for years trying to hide her real scatterbrained self. As soon as she can save up for a ticket to California, which is awfully hard because she enjoys spending money, Ellis plans to make an escape.

All of her problems seem solved when her friend Janie has a family emergency and asks Ellis to pose at her job for two weeks. Surely pretending to be a switchboard operator at a phone company would be easier than the economics class she just flunked! If only Ellis can remember everything she needs to, and not draw attention from any of the supervisors, then at the end of two weeks she'll have the funds needed to head to Hollywood.

Things change dramatically on the first day at work, when Ellis accidentally stays on the line after transferring a call and overhears two Irish men discussing her friend Griffin Phillips. They said that if Griff didn't cooperate with what they wanted, they were planning to take him "out of the picture." Griff is the star of the Harvard football team and he is spending the summer working at the commissioner's office investigating Boston's unscrupulous mayor. Greatly disturbed at what she believes to be a plot to murder her friend, Ellis begins an investigation to save his life. It's a little tricky, though, because she's certain Griff wants to pin her with his fraternity pin, and she doesn't want to have any regrets when she leaves. Oh well, she'll just be careful not to spend too much time with him, even as she tries to spend extra time with him to protect him from unknown bad guys.

Ellis is stepping into more danger than she knows as she tries to track down the Irish callers. Still using Janie's identity, she's whisked into the underground world of speakeasies, police officers who look the other way, and all kinds of double standards. What really is right and wrong? If there is a law, shouldn't it be upheld and enforced? Meanwhile her days are running short to save Griff before she leaves for Hollywood.

One of my favorite things about this book was Griff's love for Ellis. Having known her for all his life, he has a very mature love for her, the kind born out of friendship. He knows her limitations and he loves her exactly the way she is. Ellis was a comical and endearing character, and I feared that she'd come to harm in her quest to protect Griff. I can't tell you how this ends, but I can tell you that I enjoyed every page, and highly encourage you to check out all of Mitchell's releases. This one earned its place among my favorite of her novels!

I received my copy from the publisher in exchange for this honest review. All opinions are my own.
Unrivaled2

Any new Siri Mitchell release goes straight to my wish list. I was so excited to have the chance to review "Unrivaled," especially since it is set in St. Louis in 1910 and was about rival candy makers. How fun does that sound?

Upon her return from a long tour of Europe, Lucy Kendall is dismayed to find her father in poor health and her mother intent on selling their candy factory. Her dreams of coming home to take the unconventional place of running the business alongside her father are crushed. Determined that all they need is a new candy to bring the market back to their favor, Lucy sets to experimenting in the kitchen even as her mother is reintroducing her to society, intent on helping Lucy catch a suitable suitor.

Charlie Clarke is summoned to St. Louis by a long-estranged father. Now the successful businessman, Mr. Clarke wants to make up for his years of absense by training Charlie in the ways of the candy business. Charlie has had a hard upbringing in Chicago's south side, having to take care of his mother and sisters in whatever way possible. Charlie feels ridiculously out of place in the upper crust of St. Louis society... about as out of place as the lovely Miss Kendall. Lucy and Charlie strike up a friendship without knowing that it is his father that is about to put her father out of business. When the identities of their families are discovered, Lucy turns the tables and tries everything she can think of to disrupt Standard Manufacturing and promote City Confectionary. But Standard always seems to have a response before her actions even fall into place. Who is spying on Lucy and sharing her schemes with the enemy?

Determined beyond anything else to save City Confectionary, Lucy finds herself being courted by one of the most eligible bachelors in town. Marriage to Alfred Arthur would be the perfect solution to everything. Everything except her renegade heart.

For some reason, I didn't enjoy this book as much as I was hoping to. Lucy was just not a very nice person. While the fact that Charlie's past and Lucy's propensity towards sabotage were part of the theme that we can never measure up and need God's grace, I thought the spiritual follow-through was very poor. It seemed like the characters were still trying to be good enough on their own by the end. It would have been nice to see a better resolution on this, or to have characters in the first place whom I could more fully get behind. I felt this a rare miss for Mitchell, and already anticipate her upcoming 2014 release!

I received my copy of the book from the publisher in exchange for this honest review. All opinions are my own.
Having fallen in love with Siri Mitchell's historical fiction, I decided to try her 2005 release, which is set in contemporary France. Getting a different and earlier view of a favorite author can be interesting, so I dove in not knowing what to expect, and ready to assess this one on its own merit.

Frederique Farmer is the owner of an ancient chateau who has discovered a set of fifteenth century journals on her property. The historical significance has made her home of some distinction, but Frederique is very interested in the privacy of her quiet life. She does occasionally book guests to come and experience her home, and, as she is a graduate of Le Cordon Blue, lavishes them with exquisite dishes.

When she receives a request from an American author to stay at her chateau while researching and writing a book, Frederique unwillingly agrees. Cranwell has a reputation that proceeds him, and Frederique is skeptical that his recent conversion to Christianity can change years of party boy behavior. To her surprise, he makes a down to earth and interesting companion, and she agrees to let him stay longer than the month originally planned upon.

A bit of mystery is introduced about 80 pages into the story. Although I enjoyed this side of the novel, it did seem as though Freddie was a bit dense and not curious at all to unravel the strange happenings right from the beginning. There's truly only one person who could have been responsible for the strange happenings, so you can see the big reveal coming right from the start. This definitely could have been done better. At least it was only a side story and not the main attraction.

I thought the spiritual side of the novel was extremely well done. Freddie lives her secluded life trying to hide from God, while Cranwell has come to her home to try to grow in Christ. There are a number of really good conversations and character revelations while exploring this topic. The romance is approached in a shy and hesitant way, as Cranwell doesn't want to get involved with someone who isn't sure about her faith, and Freddie is reluctant to trust someone with his past. At the same time, there's undeniable chemistry that must be reckoned with as they share an entire winter in each other's company.

The story would have been better had it not included lengthy passages from the fifteenth century journal. Honestly, I started skimming those after a while. Mitchell is an excellent historical writer, clearly, but I personally didn't feel it added anything to the story. The relative information could have been worked into a handful of conversations, rather than taking up chapters and chapters. Other things that bothered me were detailed descriptions of every outfit worn and every dish cooked, as that seemed excessive and indulgent.

In the end, I can say I enjoyed it. I'd definitely recommend other Mitchell titles first, but for those less inclined to enjoy historicals, check this one out and be swept away to the French countryside. You'll find some new friends!
With "She Walks in Beauty," I've completed my reading of all of Mitchell's current historical releases. She really is a favorite! Now I'll have to wait until March for the newest one, which has a gorgeous cover and is set in my home state. Oh, the anticipation!

Clara Carter is the heroine of "She Walks in Beauty." She is a young lady with a love for learning. But this is New York City in the Gilded Age, and Clara's value is seemingly measured only by which eligible bachelor she can catch after her debut. There is only one bachelor deemed suitable by her family: the De Vries heir. Everything depends upon her ability to meet, charm, and secure Franklin De Vries before the season is over. 

The society scene goes against everything in Clara's nature, but she puts on a brave face and seeks to do what she must to please her family. She is blessed with a good friend in her neighbor Lizzie, but Lizzie is also out to capture the vaulted Mr. De Vries and this may prove more of a test than their relationship can handle. Clara's father and aunt do everything in their power to advance Clara's standing, but much of it will be up to Clara herself to form the alliance they demand of her.

I had grown quite accustomed to Mitchell's normal employment of more than one first-person narrator and found myself missing the lack it in this story. The tale unfolds only from Clara's view, and my own opinion is that it would have been better with a balancing voice because Clara was a little boring to me. She had a course that must be followed and although she was resistant, it was still mostly the path she took. The various small mysteries presented in the story seemed rather obvious to me as well. That is not to say that I didn't enjoy it or get totally hooked in. It was very well-written and well-researched and I was definitely drawn in. It just didn't have the emotionally resounding characters or depth usually present in Mitchell's works.

The story did possess some wonderful twists towards the end, and as always, you never knew if the heroine was going to end up with the man who won her heart until the last minute. I would recommend this for any readers who enjoy learning about society and political issues from the late 1800's.
Sometimes when you reach the end of a book, you realize that the story you were reading was much deeper than you'd understood. It leaves you a little breathless, thankful to have read such a gift, and you know it's a story you'll be thinking about for a while. "Love's Pursuit" is one of those books.

There is more than one kind of evil in the world. There's the evil that everyone recognizes, the kind that wrecks lives out in the open. Then there's the insidious evil that masquerades as good and does much damage before it is discovered. Likewise, there is more than one kind of love. Love for your family. Romantic love. The love of God.

I identified with Susannah, our main character, right away. She struggles with knowing how to be herself because she was such a meek and good child that no one would ever guess that she was any different than that on the inside. I understand that completely. Being a good child means following the rules set out for you. Once you leave childhood it is such a different story. Unfortunately, Susannah did not have the options that young women have today. She wants to embrace the expectations to be a goodwife someday, and she wants to be a good Puritan. But there's a war within herself.

There are three men who are interested in winning Susannah's hand. There's John, the man she has dreamed of marrying. There's Simeon, a powerful young leader in their township. Then there's the Captain, a newcomer whose looks and beliefs fly in the faces of their religion. All are serious contenders as the plot progesses and it keeps things interesting.

In usual Siri Mitchell fashion, we have another first-person narrator, but this time it's someone you would least expect. Small-hope was abused and neglected as a child, and her only desire is to remain invisible. She's incredibly observant of those around her, though she does not wish to enter into relationship with them. She's a very different main character, but one that you come to cheer for.

This story is set in the 1640's in Massachusetts. The majority of the book revolves around the daily lives of the Puritans and how they coped with the threat of Indian attack. The depth of historical information is exactly what you'd expect from a Siri Mitchell novel. The plot is very much character-driven. The theme of salvation by works v. grace is skillfully woven into the story, not forced at all.

Susannah faces many challenges and changes  over the course of the book. You hope for her, you fall in love alongside her, you ache for her. Through the ups and the downs and the uncertainties, she discovers the Love which has the most power in her life. The Love that pursues each one of us still today. Some might not call this a happy story, but it's a story that each one of us can understand. Love's pursuit is upon us all, and may each reader turn and embrace Him more fully through the reading of this story.
The earl of Lytham wants nothing more than to please the Queen and earn a good place in her court. But in 1590, Queen Elizabeth is not a woman whose favor is easily granted. Deciding to marry in order to use the dowry for improvements on his property, Lytham hopes for nothing more than that his new wife is homely and will not divide his attention away from the queen. On his wedding day he meets his bride and is beyond dismayed that she is a beautiful young thing, too much like his treacherous first wife had been.

Marget is a timid young woman who has trained all her life to be married to a courtier. She can't understand why her husband is keeping his distance. After a disastrous introduction at court, Marget has never felt more alone in her life. When Lady de Winter begins coming to her with advice, can Marget trust the older woman, or is she out for her own gain?

This story took off at a gallop but became harder and harder to read as it progressed. The relationship between Marget and Lytham was very inconsistent, and heartache after heartache leaves a reader weary of hoping a good ending is forthcoming. Towards the end of the book there was also a lot of background information given when it seemed least necessary, and the timeline seemed to get fuzzy. This was Mitchell's first historical release and now I understand what people mean in saying she has improved since 2008. Her more recent releases, A Heart Most Worthy and The Messenger, were both fantastic. I'll certainly be continuing to check out Mitchell's other releases, as she has a gift that I appreciate as a fan of historical fiction!

Due to marital faithfulness being one of the main topics of this novel, I would not recommend this for young readers. Please check out the other titles linked above instead!
"The Messenger" is only the second novel by Siri Mitchell that I have read, but both books have completely captivated me and have launched the author onto my "must read" list. Mitchell has a wonderful way of transporting you to an obscure historical period and making it real and personal. Her gift is not to be missed by any fan of this genre!

This story opens in January 1778, during the British occupation of Philadelphia. It is the winter that General George Washington is encamped at Valley Forge. Our heroine is Hannah Sunderland, a woman with the faith of a Quaker but the heart of a colonial patriot. When her twin brother is captured and put into prison, Hannah is torn. The Quakers had declared that they would take no side in this revolution and that it was forbidden for any of their members to visit the traitors in jail.

But Hannah has a link to her twin. She feels the bone-chilling cold at night even though she has enough blankets. She feels his hunger despite having a sufficient table. She cannot do nothing. Even while her faith prohibits her from lying, Hannah is determined to find a way to see and aid Robert.

Jeremiah Jones was once a dashing young soldier and society man. The loss of his arm and all his dreams has left him feeling hopeless. One good thing about the occupation: the British troops don't care if their suppers are served by a one-armed tavern keeper. Determined not to let the war effort continue without some way to assist, Jeremiah is recruited to do something he can do: spy for General Washington. But passing messages to and from the prisoners is a dangerous task and he has no official reason for repeated visits the jail. No one would expect a Quaker lass, if only he could convince Hannah to help them.

This story is a masterpiece. You won't want to set it down and will enjoy every page. Things don't always go as expected but they are woven together beautifully. You aren't sure how it is going to end until the final page. Thumbs up to Siri Mitchell and Bethany House!

I received my copy from the publisher in exchange for this honest review.
My awards for books I most highly enjoyed in 2011. Please click on the title to read my original review.

Historical Fiction
A Heart Most Worthy by Siri Mitchell


Three girls in 1918 Boston. I couldn't put this book down!

Contemporary Fiction
When Sparrows Fall by Meg Moseley

This is a needed and relevant novel that asks gentle yet confronting questions about the darker side of Christian conservatism.


Classic Literature:
Persuasion by Jane Austen

I listened to this book on audio and even though I've read it multiple times, it's still a great one. :-)

Christian Living:
Fierce Beauty by Kim Meeder

This book impacted me so much that I was *this* close to leading a Bible study on it. The Lord led in another direction in the end, but I really benefited from this book and would recommend it to every Christian woman who wants to live as a victorious warrior for the Lord.
I remember when Siri Mitchell's historical fiction books were first hitting the market a few years ago. They sounded intriguing and I was interested. Fast forward a few years and I hadn't been able to get my hands on any of her books, until Bethany House offered to let me review "A Heart Most Worthy". I jumped at the opportunity and I was not disappointed!

The cover of this book is absolutely beautiful, front and back. The story revolves around three young ladies who work at Madame Fortier's dress shop in 1918 Boston. Each of these Italian girls are looked upon as undesirable members of society by the elite socialites they serve. Each one has her own story. One is headstrong, one is reserved, and one is not what she seems.

I could relate most to Annamaria, who as the oldest daughter in her family was expected to be there to solve problems and pick up the slack for others. She struggles with knowing how to have a life apart from what is expected of her, or if it is even right to have dreams of her own. My favorite of the threesome was Luciana, whose past is shrouded in mystery and haunted by danger. Rounding out the group is Julietta, who is determined to catch the eye of some well-off young man and raise herself from the tenement housing she's been raised in.

One of my first impressions of the book was how much I loved Siri Mitchell's "voice" in the narrative. It was very unique and engaging. I wasn't too pleased when the narrator turned out to be omniscient but the plot was strong enough to withstand such a weakness. ;-) I understand from the author's note that this was at the suggestion of her editors and not something she normally employs.

The plot is very thick and interwoven. There are many characters to juggle and I thought she did a superb job making each thread draw you in until there was no way you could put the book down because you had to know what happened next! I read the final 150 pages in one sitting, unable to rest until I knew how our girls survived the Spanish Influenza, the effects of WWI and anarchists in Boston, and their adventures into love and romance. I really enjoyed this story and definitely plan on reading more by Siri. A good historical is hard to beat and I'm happy to find another author to keep my eye on!

Thank you to Bethany House for my copy of the book.

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