Tuesday, August 18, 2020

Book Review & Giveaway: The Gentleman Spy by Erica Vetsch

He only wanted a duchess for a day―but she's determined to make it a marriage for life.

When his father and older brother suddenly pass away, the new Duke of Haverly is saddled with a title he never expected to bear. To thwart the plans of his scheming family, the duke impulsively marries a wallflower. After all, she's meek and mild; it should be easy to sequester her in the country and get on with his life―as a secret agent for the Crown.

But his bride has other ideas. She's determined to take her place not only as his duchess but as his wife. As a duchess, she can use her position to help the lowest of society―the women forced into prostitution because they have no skills or hope. Her endeavors are not met favorably in society, nor by her husband who wishes she'd remain in the background as he ordered.

Can the duke succeed in relegating her to the sidelines of his life? When his secrets are threatened with exposure, will his new wife be an asset or a liability?




The Gentleman Spy
is the second title in the Serendipity & Secrets series by Erica Vetsch. The narrative picks up shortly after the conclusion of events seen in The Lost Lieutenant, which I enjoyed and reviewed recently. The titular character of this subsequent volume, Marcus Haverly does have a moderate role in the previous work, and events from Lieutenant are referred to on multiple occasions. Similarly, characters such as the aforementioned Lieutenant Evan Eldridge, his wife and other returning characters make appearances in The Gentleman Spy. All this is to say that although this second title is somewhat stand-alone, readers will likely enjoy it more if they take the time to read The Lost Lieutenant first. 

Although the title of the novel seems to indicate that the main focus will be on Marcus Haverly, in my opinion, a greater amount of time is actually spent with his bride, Charlotte Tiptree. Although her parents brought her up in a way that kept her highly sheltered, she has a strong desire for education and reading, becoming somewhat of a closeted bluestocking, as her parents frowned upon much of her intellectual pursuits. Charlotte’s desire for education is tied to her yearning for significance, which unexpectedly leads her into charitable work with women trapped in the sex trafficking industry. This shady world of secrets and crime has surprising ties to Marcus’ work as a secret agent, and their worlds collide as events transpire which threaten to dismantle his carefully compartmentalized life. 

My feelings about The Gentleman Spy are a bit conflicted. I enjoyed Charlotte’s plotline, as I liked her character and appreciated her quest to liberate streetwalking women, as well as her drive to achieve true intimacy with a man who married her on a whim. At the same time, with the espionage-tinged title, I had hoped for a bit more “cloak and dagger” content from Marcus’ side of the story. I’m not sure how that would have been accomplished, but perhaps there could have been a flashback to his earlier days as a spy-in-training, or a bit more of an explanation as to how he developed his alter ego, the secretive “Hawk”. I think a more apt title for the novel would have been The Gentleman Spy’s Wife, but that’s a bit of a mouthful. 

That caveat aside, this second title in the Serendipity & Secrets series was an enjoyable one, with intrigue, romance, interesting characters, and an explosive final act that was quite the page-turner. As a part of the Christian fiction genre, the content of The Gentleman Spy is quite modest, with no colorful language, and the romantic scenes are kept to a “sweet” level. The faith of the main characters does come into play several times throughout the story, but it is not mentioned on every page. There is a death of a character that is very dramatic, but it is warranted, given the circumstances. The prostitutes in the story also experience abuse, but the reader is given details of the after-effects, the physical and emotional wounds that the women must endure. As such, perhaps the appropriate audience for the novel would be mid-teenage on up. 

The character development of Marcus reminds me of the booklet story My Heart, Christ's Home by Robert B Munger, wherein the subject of the tale exhibits a compartmentalization of his faith, allowing Christ into some corners of his "home", yet keeping him from others. Marcus has similar lessons to learn in The Gentleman Spy, as his relationship to God and his relationship with his spouse really can't be as "locked away" as he would like them to be. 

Erica Vetsch has again brought to her readers a charming tale of Regency society, love, adventure and faith. With likable (and despicable) characters, well-researched historical writing and thoughtful plotting, The Gentleman Spy is a fine follow-up to its predecessor. I am pleased that a third volume, The Indebted Earl, is in the works for the near future. I look forward to re-entering the world of Serendipity & Secrets, and expect to enjoy the next title as I have the first two in the series.




Want to read the first two chapters of The Lost Lieutenant?
Get the PDF here!



 


About the Author

Erica Vetsch is a New York Times best-selling and ACFW Carol Award–winning author. She is a transplanted Kansan now living in Minnesota with her husband, who she claims is both her total opposite and soul mate.   

Vetsch loves Jesus, history, romance, and sports. When she’s not writing fiction, she’s planning her next trip to a history museum and cheering on her Kansas Jayhawks and New Zealand All Blacks. A self-described history geek, she has been planning her first research trip to England.

Connect with Erica Vetsch

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Facebook 

Instagram 

Pinterest

Goodreads

Publisher





SERENDIPITY & SECRETS GIVEAWAY!!

Kregel Publications is offering an excellent prize pack! Not only does the winner receive the first two books in the Serendipity & Secrets series, but lots of fun swag as well!   See the widget below to enter. Contest ends today, August 18th. 







Friday, August 7, 2020

Book Review & Giveaway: The Lost Lieutenant by Erica Vetsch

He's doing what he can to save the Prince Regent's life . . . but can he save his new marriage as well?

Evan Eldridge never meant to be a war hero--he just wanted to fight Napoleon for the future of his country. And he certainly didn't think that saving the life of a peer would mean being made the Earl of Whitelock. But when the life you save is dear to the Prince Regent, things can change in a hurry.

Now Evan has a new title, a manor house in shambles, and a stranger for a bride, all thrust upon him by a grateful ruler. What he doesn't have are all his memories. Traumatized as a result of his wounds and bravery on the battlefield, Evan knows there's something he can't quite remember. It's important, dangerous--and if he doesn't recall it in time, will jeopardize not only his marriage but someone's very life.

Readers who enjoy Julie Klassen, Carolyn Miller, and Kristi Ann Hunter will love diving into this brand-new Regency series filled with suspense, aristocratic struggles, and a firm foundation of faith.

 


In advance of my upcoming review of The Gentleman Spy by Erica Vetsch, I thought I’d read the preceding novel in her Serendipity & Secrets series, The Lost Lieutenant. Set in Regency-era England, with a cast of characters that would have been quite at home in a novel by Jane Austen, Georgette Heyer or Julie Klassen, The Lost Lieutenant was a fine introduction into a new series. The novel’s main character, Lieutenant Evan Eldridge is a brave and honorable man, willing to defend the honor of his country, as well as his family. (I had in mind characters such as Ross Poldark, Jamie Fraser or Horatio Hornblower.) As he struggles with post-war PTSD, he is thrust into a marriage relationship with a woman he hardly knows. Likewise, his new bride Diana Seaton carries emotional scars of her own, having lived with a temperamental, uncaring and sometimes violent father. Due to the whims of the Prince Regent, she finds herself wedded to a virtual stranger and protecting several secrets for the sake of someone she loves. This leads to much surreptitious, tension-building choices on her part. Like her new husband Evan, Diana is a woman of Christian faith and has no inherent desire to deceive, but due to villainous forces in her life, she feels compelled to share half-truths and commit lies of omission. As Evan and Diana try to make the best of their situation, pressure builds as they attempt to navigate the many demands of the Prince Regent as well as deal with other antagonistic forces.

The Lost Lieutenant was a fast, enjoyable read. As a novel in the Christian fiction genre, conservative readers can rest assured that the content fits well for the category. Author Erica Vetsch is able to convey peril, excitement and romance without copious amounts of gratuitous material. I can say that there are numerous careful references to marital relations, so perhaps the book would be appropriate for older teens on up, but it’s very chaste compared to what most see in movies and television programs these days. And while it’s not pervasive, the Christian faith of the main characters is referred to enough to make it clear what their beliefs are, but I would not say that the main goal of The Lost Lieutenant is to evangelize. The faith of the characters is living and active, but the main focus of the narrative is the plot and character development.   

I thoroughly enjoyed the personalities in the story. Evan and Diana were very likable, as were their friends and military associates. On more than one occasion I was laughing out loud at some of the moments. Scenes of romance were touching and realistic, certainly not of the bodice-ripping type, but delectable all the same. The antagonists in The Lost Lieutenant were distasteful enough for me to dislike them, without being so over-the-top as to be mustache-twirling. Although their ultimate fates seemed a bit predictable, I did enjoy the literary ride that Mrs. Vetsch took her readers on to arrive at the conclusion. Her depiction of Evan’s PTSD symptoms and Diana’s pre-marriage domestic struggles felt sincere and authentic as well.

The Lost Lieutenant, while very much tied up with a tidy, neat bow by the end of the tale, was an enjoyable gift to readers of Erica Vetsch. I found it easy to disregard other entertainment options during the days I was reading it. The fact that there are more books to come in this world that Vetsch has created is a pleasant thought. I look forward to diving into the next book, The Gentleman Spy. Look for that review on The Calico Critic on August 18th.


Want to read the first two chapters of The Lost Lieutenant?  
Get the PDF here!

 


About the Author

Erica Vetsch is a New York Times best-selling and ACFW Carol Award–winning author. She is a transplanted Kansan now living in Minnesota with her husband, who she claims is both her total opposite and soul mate.   

Vetsch loves Jesus, history, romance, and sports. When she’s not writing fiction, she’s planning her next trip to a history museum and cheering on her Kansas Jayhawks and New Zealand All Blacks. A self-described history geek, she has been planning her first research trip to England.

Connect with Erica Vetsch

Author Website 

Facebook 

Instagram 

Pinterest

Goodreads

Publisher





SERENDIPITY & SECRETS GIVEAWAY!!

Kregel Publications is offering an excellent prize pack! Not only does the winner receive the first two books in the Serendipity & Secrets series, but lots of fun swag as well!   See the widget below to enter.  Also, at the time of this post's publication, The Lost Lieutenant is on sale for $4.99 on Kindle. See the affiliate link below the giveaway widget, and start the series today!









Tuesday, August 4, 2020

Book Review and Excerpt: The Day Lincoln Lost by Charles Rosenberg

An inventive historical thriller that reimagines the tumultuous presidential election of 1860, capturing the people desperately trying to hold the nation together – and those trying to crack it apart.


Abby Kelley Foster arrived in Springfield, Illinois with the fate of the nation on her mind. Her fame as an abolitionist speaker had spread west and she knew that her first speech in the city would make headlines. One of the residents reading those headlines would be none other than the likely next President of the United States.

Abraham Lincoln, lawyer and presidential candidate, knew his chances of winning were good. All he had to do was stay above the fray of the slavery debate and appear the voice of compromise until the people cast their votes. The last thing he needed was a fiery abolitionist appearing in town. When her speech sparks violence, leading to her arrest and a high-profile trial, he suspects that his political rivals have conspired against him.

President James Buchanan is one such rival. As his term ends and his political power crumbles, he gathers his advisors at the White House to make one last move that might derail Lincoln’s campaign, steal the election, and throw America into chaos.

A fascinating historical novel and fast-paced political thriller of a nation on the cusp of civil war, The Day Lincoln Lost offers an unexpected window into one of the most consequential elections in our country’s history.



Alternative retellings are a staple of my reading habits, usually in the form of Austenesque fiction. In the case of the novel The Day Lincoln Lost by Charles Rosenberg, I was drawn to the notion of a new history of the election of 1860, the fate of Abraham Lincoln, and by association, the fate of the United States. The inclusion of abolitionist Abby Kelley Foster was also a strong draw. 

The Day Lincoln Lost opens strongly, if not heart wrenchingly, as is evidenced in Chapter One, offered below this review. With modern American society once again in the midst of social upheaval over race issues, the injustices that have been perpetuated over the generations are at the forefront of my mind. This made the plight of twelve year-old escaped slave Lucy Battelle that much more riveting, as I was rooting for her liberation and for the failure of her vile pursuers. I very much enjoyed the characters that Rosenberg brings to the story, in particular the aforementioned Lincoln and Foster, but also investigator Annabelle Carter and newspaper journalist Clarence Artemis. Annabelle is on a quest to find Lucy in order to help her, and Clarence searches for the girl as well, in order to gain exclusive information to bolster his fledgling newspaper. I loved Abby Kelley Foster’s spirit, with her unquenchable desire to promote the Abolitionist cause. Abraham Lincoln’s perspective was interesting, as he did not approve of slavery, but as a presidential candidate, did not want to come out too strongly against it, lest he alienate a large portion of the electorate and lose their votes. The balancing act that he was required to achieve must have been so difficult. Assuming that the general facts Rosenberg shares with his readers are true (aside from the reworked narrative), it makes me appreciate our former president even more. 

Approximately halfway into the novel, the story shifts to the courtroom. Foster is on trial, accused to inciting a mob that not only allowed Lucy Battelle to escape, but also led to the death of her so-called owner. Mrs. Foster had merely been giving a motivational speech one evening, but the charges against her indicated that her words encouraged the mob’s illegal actions (a charge I found to be dubious at best). A large portion of the book then remained in the courtroom, and my interest level began to drop precipitously. Rosenberg clearly knows the ins and outs of the legal world (his pedigree is very impressive), and his readers are given quite a bit of the procedures and the strategies involved in trying a case such as this one in the 19th century. While I know that much of what was covered in the courtroom was necessary to show why the jury came to the decision that they did, I found this large portion of the book to be tedious and dry. Any time the text returned to actions outside the courtroom (such as with Annabelle and/or Clarence), my interest perked up again. The same can also be said for the story after conclusion of the trial. Not long after the verdict was rendered, the election of 1860 is held. I will withhold the particulars of what happens during that period, but I felt that the plot was mired down in electoral law, vote counting and Constitutional procedures. By the conclusion of the book, I was relieved that it was over.

Author Charles Rosenberg is very talented, and has the capacity to keep this reader interested. When focused on narrative and not legal/electoral procedures, he writes very well. He could stand some improvement in the area of romantic storytelling, but that was not the main focus of this work. I give my hearty approval to the first half of The Day Lincoln Lost. It was very enjoyable. The book as a whole has little to no colorful language, any romantic content is very chaste, and the most difficult material is in the area of the slave trade, which was at times hard to read, but I feel was important to include. Unfortunately, the second half of the novel lost my interest. I wouldn’t call my review a “non-endorsement”, but would say that those who enjoy large amounts of legal content would certainly find The Day Lincoln Lost interesting. If legal procedure is not to your taste, you may want to look elsewhere for literary diversion.  




Book Excerpt:  Chapter One of The Day Lincoln Lost

Kentucky

Early August, 1860

Lucy Battelle’s birthday was tomorrow. She would be twelve. Or at least that was what her mother told her. Lucy knew the date might not be exact, because Riverview Plantation didn’t keep close track of when slaves were born. Or when they died, for that matter. They came, they worked and they went to their heavenly reward. Unless, of course, they were sold off to somewhere else.

There had been a lot of selling-off of late. The Old Master, her mother told her, had at least known how to run a plantation. And while their food may have been wretched at times, there had always been enough. But the Old Master had died years before Lucy was born. His eldest son, Ezekiel Goshorn, had inherited Riverview.

Ezekiel was cruel, and he had an eye for young black women, although he stayed away from those who had not yet developed. Lucy has seen him looking at her of late, though. She was thin, and very tall for her age—someone had told her she looked like a young tree—and when she looked at herself naked, she could tell that her breasts were beginning to come. “You are pretty,” her mother said, which sent a chill through her.

Whatever his sexual practices, Goshorn had no head for either tobacco farming or business, and Riverview was visibly suffering for it, and not only for a shortage of food. Lucy could see that the big house was in bad need of painting and other repairs, and the dock on the river, which allowed their crop to be sent to market, looked worse and worse every year. By now it was half-falling-down. Slaves could supply the labor to repair things, of course, but apparently Goshorn couldn’t afford the materials.

Last year, a blight had damaged almost half the tobacco crop. Goshorn had begun to sell his slaves south to make ends meet.

In the slave quarter, not a lot was really known about being sold south, except that it was much hotter there, the crop was harder-to-work cotton instead of tobacco and those who went didn’t come back. Ever.

Several months earlier, two of Lucy’s slightly older friends had been sold, and she had watched them manacled and put in the back of a wagon, along with six others. Her friends were sobbing as the wagon moved away. Lucy was dry-eyed because then and there she had decided to escape.

Others had tried to escape before her, of course, but most had been caught and brought back. When they arrived back, usually dragged along in chains by slave catchers, Goshorn—or one of his five sons—had whipped each of them near to death. A few had actually died, but most had been nursed back to at least some semblance of health by the other slaves.

Lucy began to volunteer to help tend to them—to feed them, put grease on their wounds, hold their hands while they moaned and carry away the waste from their bodies. Most of all, though, she had listened to their stories—especially to what had worked and what had failed.

One thing she had learned was that they used hounds to pursue you, and that the hounds smelled any clothes you left behind to track you. One man told her that another man who had buried his one pair of extra pants in the woods before he left—not hard to do because slaves had so little—had not been found by the dogs.

Still another man said a runaway needed to take a blanket because as you went north, it got colder, especially at night, even in the summer. And you needed to find a pair of boots that would fit you. Lucy had tried on her mother’s boots—the ones she used in the winter—and they fit. Her mother would find another pair, she was sure.

The hard thing was the Underground Railroad. They had all heard about it. They had even heard the masters damning it. Lucy had long understood that it wasn’t actually underground and wasn’t even a railroad. It was just people, white and black, who helped you escape—who fed you, hid you in safe houses and moved you, sometimes by night, sometimes under a load of hay or whatever they had that would cover you.

The problem was you couldn’t always tell which ones were real railroaders and which ones were slave catchers posing as railroaders. The slaves who came back weren’t much help about how to tell the difference because most had guessed wrong. Lucy wasn’t too worried about it. She had not only the optimism of youth, but a secret that she thought would surely help her.

Tonight was the night. Over the past few days she had dug a deep hole in the woods where she could bury her tiny stash of things that might carry her smell. For weeks before that, she had foraged and dug for mushrooms in the woods, and so no one seemed to pay much mind to her foraging and digging earlier that day. As she left, she planned to take the now-too-small shift she had secretly saved from last year’s allotment—her only extra piece of clothing—along with her shoes and bury them in the hole. That way the dogs could not take her smell from anything left behind. She would take the blanket she slept in with her.

She had also saved up small pieces of smoked meat so that she had enough—she hoped—to sustain her for a few days until she could locate the Railroad. She dropped the meat into a small cloth bag and hung it from a string tied around her waist, hidden under her shift.

Her mother had long ago fallen asleep, and the moon had set. Even better, it was cloudy and there was no starlight. Lucy put on her mother’s boots, stepped outside the cabin and looked toward the woods.

As she started to move, Ezekiel Goshorn appeared in front of her, seemingly out of nowhere, along with two of his sons and said, “Going somewhere, Lucy?”

“I’m just standing here.”

“Hold out your arms.”

“Why?”

“Hold out your arms!”

She hesitated but finally did as he asked, and one of his sons, the one called Amasa, clamped a pair of manacles around her wrists. “We’ve been watching you dig in the woods,” he said. “Planning a trip perhaps?”

Lucy didn’t answer.

“Well, we have a little trip to St. Louis planned for you instead.”

As Ezekiel pushed her along, she turned to see if her mother had been awakened by the noise. If she had, she hadn’t come out of the cabin. Probably afraid. Lucy had been only four the first time she’d seen Ezekiel Goshorn flog her mother, and that was not the last time she’d been forced to stand there and hear her scream.




About the Author

Charles Rosenberg is the author of the legal thriller Death on a High Floor and its sequels. The credited legal consultant to the TV shows LA Law, Boston Legal, The Practice, and The Paper Chase, he was also one of two on-air legal analysts for E! Television’s coverage of the O.J. Simpson criminal and civil trials. He teaches as an adjunct law professor at Loyola Law School and has also taught at UCLA, Pepperdine and Southwestern law schools. He practices law in the Los Angeles area.


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