The Most Beautiful Woman in Florence by Alyssa Palombo


Simonetta Cattaneo knows she is beautiful. She has been told so all her life. So, when Marco Vespucci shows interest in marrying her she knows that is part of it, but she also finds in him a man who is not turned off by her love of literature and learning. She happily agrees to marry the handsome young man, and she and her parents move to his hometown of Florence until the wedding.

Marco is friends with Lorenzo de Medici, a wealthy and powerful man who entertains artists, philosophers, and poets. It is at one of his parties that Simonetta meets the painter Sandro Botticelli, where he asks that she pose for him.

The two form a close bond as she sits for his painting, leading to an intimate relationship and her likeness being capture in Botticelli’s famous painting, The Birth of Venus.

I can’t pinpoint exactly what it is about Palombo’s writing that draws me in and refuses to let go. There’s something about it that can take the happenings of everyday life and make it feel magical, yet very, very real. She writes characters in such a way that even in the middle of their worst flaws you can’t quite hate them. Her descriptions are just enough to help you see everything in your mind, and so well done that you see quite vividly.

Like her first novel, The Violinist of Venice, I couldn’t put this one down. There were mixed feelings of wanting to get to the end to see how it all turned out, yet not wanting it to end.

As for content, there are a couple of instances with harsh language, and the love scenes in this one are more descriptive than The Violinist of Venice, but they are not drawn out and do not dominate the novel.

Ms. Palombo knows how to tell a story that will keep the pages turning, and I look forward to her future novels.

1) Overall Plot = 5
2) Characters = 5
3) Flow/Pace of the story = 5
4) Is the story easy to follow? = 5
5) Overall Enjoyability = 5

Average of score 5 out of 5

Where to buy the book: Amazon | B&N

The Pursuit of Pearls by Jane Thynne


Germany is on the brink of war, and actress turned spy Clara Vine must decide if she will stay in Germany as it grows more dangerous, or return to England.

She is shocked when Lottie Franke is murdered. Lottie was an aspiring costume designer who apprenticed at Clara’s film studio, and a student at the prestigious Faith and Beauty school, which trains girls to one day be the wives of top Nazi members. Clara begins to find clues that Lottie’s death could be tied to those in the highest ranks of the Reich.

This is the fourth book in the Clara Vine series.

There’s not too much I can say about this one. I have the same issues with this one that I had with The Scent of Secrets: too much scene setting and unnecessary detail. This one, however, was also a lot slower. I was able to finish Scent of Secrets with some interest in the outcome, but I wasn’t able to make it past the quarter mark in this one. I don’t think I’ll be reading any more books in this series.

1) Overall Plot = 2
2) Characters = 4
3) Flow/Pace of the story = 1
4) Is the story easy to follow? = 4
5) Overall Enjoyability = 1

Average score of 2.4 out of 5

Where to buy the book: Amazon | B&N

The Scent of Secrets by Jane Thynne


It’s 1938. Germany has become a police state. The citizens are under constant scrutiny. Jews must be home by curfew and are no longer allowed to hold many jobs.

Clara Vine is an actress, half-German, half-English. Her career allows her to travel in and out of Germany with a little more freedom. Both of these things make her an ideal spy for England.

Her new assignment is to get close to Eva Braun, Hitler’s girlfriend, and find out everything she can about Hitler’s plans. The problem is that Braun is kept hidden, and under almost constant guard.

First things first, this is book three in the Clara Vine series. I didn’t realize that until after I started reading, though I didn’t feel like I was missing any important information as I read. I bought this one, thinking it was the first in the series, after I bought “The Pursuit of Pearls” which I thought was a stand-alone novel at the time. The back cover led me to believe that “Scent of Secrets” is the first in the series, but it’s not.

That being said, the novel it ok. The plot keeps you on your toes, and I enjoyed the characterizations for the most part. My biggest issue was the constant scene-setting. Clara walks into a room and we get a long, detailed description of colors, furniture, people, etc. There also seemed to be a lot of unnecessary historical detail. The novel was obviously amazingly researched, but these things really took me out of the story and slowed the pace.

The subplot with Rosa felt a little overdone for me, but the main plot kept me intrigued enough to finish.

The best parts were when the characters were interacting. The dialogue was crisp and kept me turning pages.

If I hadn’t already purchased “The Pursuit of Pearls” I may not read any more Clara Vine novels, but I’m going to give it a shot.

1) Overall Plot = 3.5
2) Characters = 4
3) Flow/Pace of the story = 3
4) Is the story easy to follow? = 4
5) Overall Enjoyability = 3

Average score of 3.5 out of 5

Where to buy the book: Amazon | B&N

My Fair Gentleman by Nancy Campbell Allen


Jack Elliot grew up at sea, doing what he could to provide for his mother and sister after the death of his father. His fortune takes a turn when his grandfather, an Earl, names Jack as his heir. The problem? Jack must give up his dream of one day captaining his own ship and impress the aristocracy. If he fails, his mother and sister will be stuck in poverty.

Ivy Carlisle has been tasked with teaching Jack the ways of high society. Good manners and etiquette are a must, and Ivy wonders if she can turn the sailor into anything resembling a gentleman.

Working closely together, the two begin to bond, and the attraction grows, but there’s danger in the air. Ivy hides a secret, and Jack’s life is being threatened.

This is truly a proper romance. The characters are well drawn, and the story flows well. This clean, Regency romance offers a cute tale with a bit of action and mystery. It kept the pages turning and made for a light, easy read.

1) Overall Plot = 4.5
2) Characters = 4
3) Flow/Pace of the story = 5
4) Is the story easy to follow? = 5
5) Overall Enjoyability = 4

Average score of 4.5 out of 5

Where to buy the book: Amazon | B&N

Creation of Character

I’m ready to get to know my characters!

If you’ve been around my blog long enough then you probably know that I think great characters can save a weak book. If I can latch on to a character, I’m more likely to follow through to the end. That’s why getting the characters right in my novel is so important to me. This is part of the reason I decided to step back and really dive into the creation of my story (or pre-writing processes) before I write any more of my novel.

The more I study the craft, the more I realize how important this pre-writing time is, even for someone who has always considered herself a pantser.

As I work on creating my characters, I’ll be using several resources:

Characters, Emotion, & Viewpoint by Nancy Kress – This book I plan to read in full, before any of the others, since it’s all about character. Viewpoint has been a source of angst for me, so I can’t wait to see what’s in here. I’ve already skimmed through, and it looks like lots of valuable information inside, along with exercises (some of which seem a little scary, if I’m being honest). I’m starting this one tonight.

Writer’s Guide to Character Traits by Linda N. Edelstein, PH.D. – This book is one I will probably use throughout my writing as reference, but I think it will be a helpful tool in the pre-write process as well. This one breaks down personality types, traits, disorders, and more, giving example behaviors and characters. Like the book by Kress, this one also has some exercises to guide you to use the information in writing.

How to Write Science Fiction and Fantasy by Orson Scott Card – Card’s book is important, since the novel I am writing is in the fantasy genre. Chapter 3 is set aside for Story Construction, which begins with character information. This book will be useful to me later on as well when I get into world building, but for now I’ll be focusing on character.

Writing the Breakout Novel (Workbook) by Donald Maass – It’s a workbook, so there are exercises galore! Part 1 is devoted to character development, broken into multiple sections.

Story Trumps Structure by Steven James – I’m looking forward to reading this one in full when I start world building and working out the details of my story, but there is also a section on characterization that I want to read before then.

The Dance of Character and Plot by DiAnn Mills – I just ordered this over the weekend after watching DiAnn speak about writing. I share her belief that characters and plot are inseparable, and that a character’s choices must drive the story forward. I’m really looking forward to reading this, and I plan to do so right after I’m done with Kress’s book.

Are you writing? Are you working on your characters or are you beyond that point now? Do you like creating characters or is it the worst part of writing for you? Tell me struggles and victories.

The Truth of the Cross by R. C. Sproul


Was the death of Jesus on the cross necessary? Was it the only way for people to return to God? The answer is “yes,” and R. C. Sproul explains why.

Using scripture from both the Old and New Testaments, Sproul shows how our fallen human condition leaves us separated from God, what happened to Jesus on the cross, and why it was absolutely necessary for our salvation.

The thing I like about R. C. Sproul is that he simplifies even the most complex theological ideas without talking down to his audience. He doesn’t leave theological terms out of the discussion, but he explains them as needed for the average reader. This little book is by no means an in-depth look at the work of the cross, but it is packed with information for a foundational understanding of the atonement. I suggest every professing Christian read this book.

1) Is it understandable = 5
2) Presentation of Information = 5
3) Quality of Writing = 5
4) Overall Enjoyability = 5

Average score of 5 out of 5

For a limited time (which may be over soon since today is Easter Sunday) Reformation Trust, through Ligonier Ministries, is offering free e-book copies of this book. Click here to check out their blog post with links to download you free copy.

Where to buy the book: CBD | Amazon | B&N

The White Russian by Vanora Bennett


It is 1937. Evie is given an opportunity to study in Europe, funded by her Grandmother, whom she doesn’t know. Her strained relationship with her mother, and her new sense of freedom, send her to Paris to reconnect with her Grandmother, but tragedy strikes, and her Grandmother falls ill and passes away, leaving Evie with a scribbled note she must decipher.

I’ll say up front that I did not finish this book. I got about 130 pages in before I decided to stop. I started skimming through it well before that. There was one chapter just before I stopped that caught my attention and made me read word for word, feeling sympathy for the character in the scene (not Evie), but the next chapter was back to skimming.

Nothing interesting happens in the first 100 pages. It’s mostly backstory, atmosphere, and scenery. I wasn’t able to form a connection to any of the characters, which makes it hard to want to see what happens to them next.

I just didn’t connect with this story. It wasn’t for me at all. If you love Russian history, or stories with the feel of The Great Gatsby, this might be for you.

1) Overall Plot = 2
2) Characters = 3
3) Flow/Pace of the story = 1
4) Is the story easy to follow? = 5
5) Overall Enjoyability = 2

Average score of 2.6 out of 5

Where to buy the book: Amazon | B&N

Finding the Groove


Finding my writing groove has been hard. I’m what’s known as a pantser. I write by the seat of my pants. No outline. That’s how I’ve always done it, and enjoy doing it.

The thing is that I was writing for me and a few friends; little stories, usually around 20,000 words, sometimes much shorter. There were no subplots. There weren’t a lot of characters. Maybe five at the most that weren’t just extras or bit players, and only one was my POV character.

Writing a novel is different, and I realized that soon after I started. I’m going to need subplots. I’m going to have a larger word count, so I will need more action and character growth. All of this, somehow, has to come from my brain.

I’ve been digging into studying the craft far more than I ever did before. I know now that I am ready to take this task seriously, but I still struggle.

I struggle with structure more than anything. Finding my main character (I just figured that out tonight), picking a historical timeframe to model my fantasy world after, and making the story flow as my thoughts all come together. I’ve realized that I can’t do this as a pantser. Not completely. Not this first novel. The problem for me is that I know I’m not an outliner. I want to write, not outline. I want the story to flow naturally as I continue to learn my characters and watch them grow. I don’t want to be tied to an outline.

The key for me is to find the happy medium. After hearing the processes and methods of several published authors, I’ve learned that the happy medium does exist. That’s where I am now in my process. I’m doing basic outlining while I create characters and build my world. This means coming up with the basic structure and a few key incidents or problems that the characters will face. This gives me the structure to work out any foreseeable issues with the plot, yet gives me the freedom to make changes. This is important, because I’ve already changed aspects of the story (both large and small) and I don’t even have much written. I just keep tweaking it in my head as things come to me.

I have a long way to go. I have lots of research to do, and lots of world building. I’ve chosen a story that will be daunting for my first novel, but it’s the story I want to tell. I’ve decided not to write another word until I’ve done my research and done my basic outlining/plotting process.

Are you a writer? Are you a pantser or an outliner? What makes it work for you? Leave a message in the comments.

The Illusionist’s Apprentice by Kristy Cambron


Can a person truly bury the past? Wren Lockhart has spent most of her life trying to do just that. On the vaudeville stages of Boston in the early 1900’s, training under master illusionist Harry Houdini, she has created a new life for herself.

But when the act of one of Houdini’s rivals goes terribly wrong, Wren’s secrets are in danger of being brought to light. FBI Agent Elliot Matthews enlists her help, and though she wants to refuse, he already knows more about her than she is comfortable with, including her real name.

This is the second novel I’ve read by Kristy Cambron, and I enjoyed this one just as much as the first. The characters are intriguing and help to draw you into the world. The story itself is brilliantly unfolded through flashbacks and revelations through the novel.

There is a great balance of suspense and romance, as well as action and quiet. The full scope of humanity, from its lowest to its highest, is on display here as characters exhibit both virtues and flaws.

When you read for hours, yet it feels as if it has only been minutes, you know a book is well-written. That’s what we have here.

1) Overall Plot = 5
2) Characters = 5
3) Flow/Pace of the story = 5
4) Is the story easy to follow? = 5
5) Overall Enjoyability = 5

Average score of 5 out of 5

I received a complimentary copy of this book from BookLook in return for an honest review.

Where to buy the book: CBD | Amazon | B&N

A Lady in Disguise by Sandra Byrd


After burying her father, Miss Gillian Young discovers his death may not have been an accident as she had been led to believe. Instead of answers, clues bring more questions as it looks like her father, a well-respected police officer, may have been involved in serious crimes.

When Gillian meets the charming Viscount Thomas Lockwood, the attraction is instant, but are his advances genuine? Could he be interested in her newly inherited property? Could he have been involved in her father’s death?

Not knowing who she can trust, Gillian must use a disguise to investigate on her own to try to prove her father’s innocence.

This is 3 out of 3 for me! I have loved each novel in the Daughters of Hampshire series.

The mystery and suspense will keep you on the edge of your seat, and the keep the pages turning. This novel in particular touches a hard subject with grace and care, woven perfectly into Gillian’s story. Sandra Byrd gives some interesting insight into her research in the Author’s Notes.

I love that we know no more than the main character knows. We can only trust or distrust based on what she sees, and, as with all good suspense, that can be misleading at times.

The characters are excellently drawn, including the supporting characters. You feel for them, and want them to succeed. Lord Lockwood truly is charming, and I fell for him maybe as hard as Gillian did. I blame it on Byrd’s use of Henry V dialogue. In fact, my one wish would have been more interaction between Gillian and Thomas.

Romance, mystery, danger… it’s all in this novel. It won’t disappoint.

1) Overall Plot = 5
2) Characters = 5
3) Flow/Pace of the story = 5
4) Is the story easy to follow? = 5
5) Overall Enjoyability = 5

Average score of 5 out of 5

Where to buy the book: CBD | Amazon | B&N