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Isle of Hope: Unfailing Love (Volume 1) Paperback – October 15, 2015
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About the Author
Julie Lessman is an award-winning author whose tagline of "Passion With a Purpose" not only underscores her intense passion for God and romance, but her staunch advocacy for sexual purity before marriage as well. A lover of all things Irish, she enjoys reading what she writes -- close-knit Irish family sagas as well as both historical and contemporary religious and inspirational romance for the sweet and Christian markets. Author of The Daughters of Boston, Winds of Change, and Heart of San Francisco series with Revell Publishing, Julie was named American Christian Fiction Writers 2009 Debut Author of the Year and has garnered 17 Romance Writers of America and other awards. Voted #1 Romance Author of the year in Family Fiction magazine's 2012 and 2011 Readers Choice Awards, Julie was also named on Booklist's 2010 Top 10 Inspirational Fiction and Borders Best Fiction list. Her latest novel, Surprised by Love, appeared on Family Fiction magazine's list of Top Ten Novels of 2014, and her independent novel A Light in the Window is an International Digital Awards winner, a 2013 Readers' Crown Award winner, and a 2013 Book Buyers Best Award winner. Julie has also written a self-help workbook for writers entitled Romance-ology 101: Writing Romantic Tension for the Sweet and Inspirational Markets. You can contact Julie and read excerpts from her books at www.julielessman.com, or through Facebook, Twitter, Google Plus, or Pinterest, as well as sign up for her newsletter. Check out Julie's group blog, The Seekers, Writers Digest 2013, 2014, and 2015 "Best 101 Websites for Writers," and Julie's own personal blog, Journal Jots, voted blog of the month in the Readers' Choice poll of Book Fun Magazine.
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Eighteen year-old "wild child" Lacey Carmichael is kicked out of the house by her heart-surgeon father, Ben - numerous hearts are broken when she flees to California with a friend. Eight years later, Lacey has become a woman of faith; though she returns home to Isle of Hope, Georgia to be the maid of honor in her cousin Nicki Phillips' wedding - her greater purpose is to reconcile with her estranged father and the two people she deserted without explanation: previous seminary-bound boyfriend Jack O'Bryen, and her best friend Cathleen (Cat) O'Bryen, Jack's sister.
However, the tables have turned: Jack, heart-broken by Lacey, and bitter over his pastor father Adam's affair with Lacey's mother, Karen - has turned away from God. Known as man about town "Doctor Swoon" by all the nurses, he is a pediatrician at Memorial Hospital. Lacey's guilt, low self-esteem, and the bitterness with which she is met - present huge obstacles in restoring relationships with two dysfunctional families. Numerous uncovered secrets, by both families, cause additional wounds which can only be mended by a God of hope and love.
When I write a Christian Fiction book review, my prayer is always that it will honor both God and the book itself - there is no author whose work I love, and am inspired by, more than that of Julie Lessman. The passion and emotion with which she writes put her work in a lofty category of it's own; I'm always amazed at the number of beautiful characters and stories she is able to weave within the pages of each book. I read 'Isle of Hope' twice - the first time deeply touched and inspired, the second time even more so.
I related to the warmth and realism of it's characters and their stories on a deep level - storing them in the recesses of my heart; identifying with some of their trials, re: my own younger life, made me love them even more. As with Julie's other books - God is the key around which the characters revolve; the humor from some characters, along with antics of adorable children, balancing the drama and angst. Scattered amongst my reading moments of tears, smiles, and joy - were some of anger and shock, replaced by the inspiration and redemption of the characters through a loving God of hope and forgiveness.
Even though Christian Historical Fiction is generally my favorite book genre, and I loved each of Julie's 10 books and 2 novellas in that genre - I feel 'Isle of Hope', her first Christian Contemporary Fiction, is her best work yet. I joyfully await book 2 of the series and the opportunity it will provide to reconnect with some beautiful, inspiring literary friends.
The characters have depth, are well-drawn, and inhabit their modern coastal Georgia isle so naturally they made me long for a beach vacation.
The dramatic plot turns in Isle of Hope call to mind a soap opera (as they often do in Julie Lessman’s historical novels), which is less a criticism and more a testament to the author’s savvy given the enduring popularity of soaps (and perhaps a nod to her well-known love of Gone With the Wind). The novel includes perhaps the best one-sentence chapter-ending cliffhanger I’ve ever read.
The faith element is organic to the story, but is more extensive than in most inspirational romances or women’s fiction as multiple characters’ arcs echo the themes of forgiveness, (re)conversion, and redemption. I highlighted several passages that struck a chord – something I typically don’t do. By showing the natural consequences of selfish actions, the narrative deftly demonstrates how no sin is truly private, and its repercussions affect many people besides the perpetrator.
Some beautiful, tender, heart-melting moments of grief and sorrow are interwoven with the painful longing and simmering passion you’d expect.
A little tightening to reduce thematic repetition and some of the analogies would only make this good novel even better. As it is, it’s an engaging story of love, forgiveness, healing, and rebirth that left me looking forward to the next book the series.
I have never read a novel by Julie Lessman that I didn’t absolutely love until now. Every one of these characters, and there are way too many, are carrying a ton of baggage and hurt. Then, they keep being brash, unyielding, and butting heads with each other, even to the ones they love. They tease to the point of doing things the other one hates just to prove they can. The book started off with beautiful descriptions, showing Lessman’s talent as a writer, but they soon became heavy-handed and bogged the story down, which, at 522 pages, is much too long. The first half should have been cut some, because it didn’t become a page-turner until the second half. Although two couples end up happily, the third’s relationship is left hanging, and by their descriptions, the following books in the series is about someone else entirely. This book is good and certainly worth reading, but I didn’t love it.