Monday, May 21, 2012

A Love Forbidden - Kathleen Morgan

"A Love Forbidden" is the second in the Heart of the Rockies series by Kathleen Morgan.  Morgan is an experienced writer, and you may recognize her name from some of her earlier series, such as These Highland Hills or Brides of Culdee Creek.
This particular series is one you can jump into mid-stream and never know you missed the first book.  I didn't have the opportunity to read book one, "A Heart Divided," and didn't realize it until just now.  I love it when an author does such a good job of including back story that, as a reader, we don't feel left out!
In "A Love Forbidden," the main character, Shiloh Wainwright, decides to go into Colorado Territory to educate the Ute Indian children.  The book is set during the time the U.S. government was hustling American Indians out of their native homes and into reservations.  Battles ensue, and tension is high.  Meanwhile, Shiloh comes back into contact with Jesse, a man she met many years ago when he worked at her parents' ranch.  As half-Ute, half-white, Jesse doesn't easily fit in and their relationship promises to be rocky right from the beginning.  It gets much more difficult when the Utes attack the American fort, massacring the agency employees and taking the women hostage.  Shiloh is one of those women.  As was common at that time, as a captive she was about to be taken as an unwilling "wife" of one of the Indian warriors.  In the nick of time, Jesse steps in and takes her as a wife instead.  At this point, the story really begins for me.  As a married couple, they must work through many issues, including that during a battle he chooses to fight with the Indians against the white man, which is Shiloh's people.  Other issues include the fact that Shiloh feels a great need for a church wedding, while Jesse feels that the Ute way of taking a wife is perfectly acceptable and refuses to a wedding white-style.
Unbeknownst to me, the book is based on a true story.  I appreciated the author writing the story as if it were entirely fictional, then clarifying in the end which points were factual.  This allowed me to dive into the story without constantly second-guessing which parts were fact versus fiction.
I highly recommend this book, and by extension, the first book "A Heart Divided," which I haven't yet had a chance to read.  I was able to do some research and saw the plot for "A Heart Divided" looked very exciting.
This book was a complimentary copy from the publisher in exchange for an objective review.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

The Pursuit of Lucy Banning - Olivia Newport

Olivia Newport is an exciting new author for Revell, and "The Pursuit of Lucy Banning" is her debut novel.  The book is set in 1892 Chicago and is very grounded historically.  Eighteen ninety-two was a very busy time for Chicago.  Chicago hosted the Chicago World's Fair the following year, which influenced art and architecture for decades to come.  During this time, capitalist giants such as Marshall Fields, George Pullman, William Wallace Kimball, and John J. Glessner lived on Prairie Avenue, which is the street the author chose her main character to live on.  I was continually amazed at how much factual information kept popping up.  I soon understood why 1892 was the beginning of the Gilded Age of Chicago.  I believe this age has been very overlooked by many authors as potential reading material (with the exception of Judith Miller's "Postcards from Pullman" series).  I was hooked!  My only hope is that the author plans to write more books set during this timeframe, possibly a series?
The author did quite a lot of research, but you still feel like you are reading a fictional novel for entertainment.  I loved the storyline, and it just keeps getting better as you move along.  She introduces new plot material every so often, which builds on the existing story.  This keeps you interested and moving along.  I got more attached to the story and characters with every chapter.
The basis of the plot is that Lucy Banning is engaged to her longtime friend and respected citizen, Daniel.  However, when she meets someone else, she realizes she doesn't love Daniel and can't follow through with the engagement.  This causes great upset between the families.  She also chooses to attend art classes at a local university, which is very modern for young ladies at that time.  Her family does not accept that choice.  Drama is introduced with malicious acts begin to take place in retribution for her choice to break her engagement.  A second plot, and very important piece of the book, focuses on the house maid, Charlotte, who has brought a tiny baby with her to her job and hides it in her closet for fear that she will be dismissed if anyone learns of the infant.  This can't last long, and we follow Charlotte closely through the book.  Lucy's work with the local orphanage is very rewarding for her, but her family and friends don't agree that it's fitting for her station. 
The book is aptly named, and as I read it I felt empowered to make choices that were right for me in the short and long term.  Lucy shows great strength of character, and it was enjoyable to read.  There were a couple very late nights for me, because I couldn't put the book down!
Sometimes the author actually reads the book reviews published by the bloggers.  If this is the case here, my comment to the author is this... after finishing the book, I am so eager to read the second of this series.  I do hope this will become a series, because Charlotte's story has a lot of telling left to do.  A girl this sweet deserves a happy ending, don't you think?  Since she is so conveniently serving in a mansion on Prairie Avenue, this gives her immediate access to one of the most eligible bachelors in town -- Leo Banning.  Can you write that story, please?
This was a complimentary copy given to me by the publisher in exchange for an objective review.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

The Messenger - Siri Mitchell

Hannah Sunderland, a Quaker, becomes a spy against her will during the Revolutionary War so that she can regularly visit her brother in prison.  She forms a tentative relationship with Jeremiah Jones who helps procure her prison visitor's pass, but in exchange he requires that she deliver illegal information to one of the prisoners.  Their relationship gets stronger, but meanwhile Hannah's relationship with her Quaker family disintegrates.  She struggles through her religious peacemaker beliefs, because she feels compelled to help her brother in his fight against the British.  Her secret life begins to wear on her, and she must come to a resolution soon. 
The book is told narrator-style in a subdued, serious way.  It volleys in first person between Hannah and Jeremiah's perspectives.  I would compare it to journal entries from both characters.  In the author's notes, there was so much good information about which parts of the story were based on historical facts. 
After reading the author's note, I began to research some of the real-life characters of the story.  I loved Google-ing the drawings of the costumes worn for the general's ball.
My critique of this book is that the emotional connection between the two main characters was lacking.  I couldn't construe much of a romantic story, and they seemed unlikely friends right up until the near end.  There wasn't much drama in the book until the end, but what was there was very good.
I have read several of Siri Mitchell's books, and I will continue to do so.  Of those that I have read, my favorites are "She Walks in Beauty," and "A Heart Most Worthy."  Both of those have very clever plots and are rewarding to read.  "She Walks in Beauty" is similar in style to a Jane Austen novel, and it is well-loved by many.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Don't Panic - Quick, Easy, and Delicious Meals for Your Family

Let me introduce you to my new favorite cookbook!  The "Don't Panic" cookbook is now a staple I keep inside my minivan for spur of the moment grocery runs.  The recipes are very family-oriented.  Meaning, yours kids and your husband are going to love them.  The ingredients are moderately priced.  The recipes are delicious, and you can serve them to guests.  Many of these dishes refrigerate well and can be reheated for great leftovers.  I want to share with you my favorite recipe in the book (so far!), Baked Ziti, found on page 99.  Don't skip the goat cheese -- in my opinion that is what really gives it that restaurant quality taste!

Four Cheese Baked Ziti
Yield: 6 servings

3 cups marinara sauce
2 cups shredded mozzarella, divided
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
1/4 cup crumbled goat cheese
3/4 cup shredded white cheddar cheese (regular or sharp)
1 t. salt
12 oz ziti or penne pasta
3 T. olive oil
1/2 t. pepper
1/2 t. dried basil (or 1 T. fresh basil, chopped)
1/2 lb. Italian sausage (pork, turkey, or chicken), cooked

Directions:
  1. Preheat oven to 350ยบ.  In a medium saucepan, bring marinara sauce to a simmer and keep heated.  In a medium bowl, mix together 1 cup of mozzarella and the remaining cheeses.  Set aside. 
  2. In a large pot, cook pasta in salted, boiling water until al dente (approx. 9-11 minutes).  Drain, return hot pasta to pot and toss with olive oil, pepper, basil, and remained 1 cup of mozzarella.  Pour the heated marinara sauce over pasta and mix together (if using sausage, add with sauce). 
  3. Pour pasta into 8 x 8 baking dish.  Top with blended cheeses.  Bake in oven for 15 minutes or until cheese is melted and slightly bubbly.  Serve with hot garlic bread.