Wednesday, August 26, 2015

New for 2015- A Lady of Esteem- Kristi Ann Hunter

 
A Hawthorne House Novella 
Bethany House, 7th July 2015, 
Kindle Edition, 159 Pages
Miss Amelia Stalwood may live in London at her absent guardian's townhouse, but she's never actually met any nobility, and instead of aristocrats, her closest friends are servants. Quite by happenstance, she's introduced to the Hawthorne family and their close family friend, Anthony, the reformed marquis of Raeburn.
They welcome her into their world, but just as she's beginning to gain some confidence and even suspect she may have caught Anthony's eye, she's blindsided by an unexpected twist in her situation accompanied by nasty rumors. Will she lose her reputation when the world that has only just accepted her turns its back on her, or will she rest in the support of the friends who've become like family and the man who's shared his faith and captured her heart?

A Lady of Esteem is an e-only novella that gives an exciting introduction to Kristi Ann Hunter's new Regency romance series about the aristocratic Hawthorne family! Includes an extended excerpt of Kristi's debut full-length novel, A Noble Masquerade.
          ________________________________________________________________________

  I have had somewhat mixed experiences with Christian Regencies. Some have been overly mushy on the Romantic side, or implausible and silly. Others have been downright gross, with uncessary rape scene or other objectionable content, and so riddled with Americanisms that its almost impossible to take the characters seriously.

Others have been good, faithful to the style and setting and generally satisfying. This was one. Its really just a sweet, fun little story, though it does have a more serious side with the underlying message. Yet this was not delivered in a heavy-handed way.
Instead, there's plenty of good humour and a decent story about a lovable social misfit who falls for a formerly rakish Marquis (with a little help from his friends), and thier choices and challenges along the way.

The names are credible for the setting (Regency stories that have names which are clearly made up to outlandish do get to me), and the American author's knowledge of British geography and social customs seems solid. I did spot a few Americanisms (a reference to 'stepping out onto the sidewalk' amongst them- we call it the pavement), but these were not too jarring, as the characters otherwise seemed delighfully but not stereotypically British- and that's coming from a Brit.

The Romance was also well handled. Fairly light without being too mushy, sickly sweet, or just resulting in really inapproporate behaviour- for the most part. There was some kissing, but even that was not overdone.

Altogether, its a great introduction to this author. I look forward to reading her full Length novel, A Noble Masquerade. Its also free on Amazon- so well worth the effort.

Saturday, August 22, 2015

The Heart of Arcrea- Nicole Sager


The Arcrean Conquest # 1
350 Pages, September 2012

“He who discovers the heart of Arcrea and joins the hands of the seven regions will be king.”

Set during a forgotten age of kings and queens, knights and nobles, wise-men and warlords, The Heart of Arcrea follows the story of Druet the blacksmith, who, hoping to free his father from an unjust imprisonment, sets out on a quest that will solve an ancient riddle and crown a man as Arcrea’s first king.
A host of memorable characters join Druet on his mission of justice, but opposition quickly rises to test their level of commitment and their faith in God. Will the dangerous wilds of Arcrea and her seven oppressive lords succeed in bringing an end to Druet’s quest and crush forever the kingdom’s hopes for a just king?
What is this heart of Arcrea and where is it to be found? “You must discover it for yourself.”
__________________________________________________ 




I had heard quite a lot about this author’s books, and seen that they were popular before I decided to request to borrow a copy of her first one on a Kindle Lending site. As the story goes, it certainly delivers a clean, godly fantasy story free of objectionable elements that carried important messages about salvation and the Christian life. Even if it takes a while to ‘get into’ there is enough excitement to keep the reader interested, and for the story to stick in the mind after they have finished reading it.

As that sort of heroic fantasy in which the characters have to engage in a perilous quest or journey, it isn’t bad. There are certainly some lovable, unforgettable and unique characters, plenty of friendship, loyalty and even a smattering of romance- as well as a few- interesting made up creatures for the characters to Battle. I would certainly consider other works by this author, but, this one was not a favourite. Perhaps I will enjoy her later ones better if I come to read them.

When it comes to the negatives, other reviewers have mentioned some editorial slip-ups and a few typos. I had two or three major issues. One is that whilst authors have a lot more freedom to create their own imaginative worlds in fantasy- I do not believe good fantasy should be entirely removed from reality as far as the basic realities of human nature are concerned. So, I really felt that Druet, the protagonist was far too perfect. Yes, sometimes he despaired of his mission- but that seemed to be his only fault. Dare I say that he also sometimes appeared annoyingly self-righteous and sanctimonious? I understand that he deplored injustice, and set of on his quest to bring just rule to the land- but it seemed to me that it was he and his friends who were the ones that ultimately decided and defined what this ‘justice’ entailed. Seemingly, anything that did not fit into their ideas of something akin to modern, democratic egalitarianism.

One could be forgiven for being surprised that he even approved of the notion of having a King. There were also areas in which his idealism seemed hypocritical. For instance, he believed that peasants should not be oppressed or subjected to unfair taxes- yet condemned the practice of paying and housing soldiers in castles- giving them ‘the best food and accommodation’ as ‘coddling’ and ‘bribery’ to keep them loyal. So, were their masters just meant to let their soldiers freeze and starve- and not pay their retainers who often had families of their own to support- simply because they were not ‘peasants’?
Not to mention that he and his comrades also seemed to be nigh on invincible.
Druet himself was able to recover from serious injuries that bought him to the point of death more than once- with the help of some healers and a flower possessing miraculous healing properties. One could question why healers with years of experience had to rely on said plant, instead of making best use of their expertise and whatever other substances and natural remedies they might have had to hand with similar properties is anyone’s guess.

The second major issue I had was the way in which all but one of the ‘nobles’ were cast as the villains and universally evil, greedy, corrupt, self-serving and tyrannical. Yet they seemed evil for no other reason that they were noble. As though being born to the noble classes somehow made a person inherently bad, and predisposed them to all of the negative traits above- whereas all of the peasants seemed inherently good, honourable, chivalrous, smart, strong and loyal- as well as possessed of an uncanny ability to defeat trained soldiers.

OK, I understand that Americans don’t like nobles, or the idea of a hereditary aristocracy- but depictions like this get to me. I have seen it in other novels directed at people of certain races and nationalities (often the English), and I still deplore is as na├»ve, hateful, prejudiced and inaccurate.
The scripture teaches us that all humans are inherently sinful- and (whilst I appreciate the author was not seeking to make any kind of theological statement) hence it is not something which is determined by class or race. Peasants in the past could be just as corrupt, greedy and violent as any money-grabbing or tyrannical Lord- and I think this should be put across.
At one point it even seemed to be implied that nobles and their followers were somehow excluded from God's plan apparently because of their supposed inherent wickedness, when all commoners, even non-believers, were seemingly not. A theologically troubling notion if I do have it correct.

Perhaps I may be accused of going into too much detail, or being too pedantic about a work of fantasy but I do believe these issues are worthy of note. As stated above, this novel did have its plus points, and I would certainly be interested enough to read more by this author- but I’m not sure I’d want to shell out the nearly £5 that Amazon UK charges for the privilege. I would recommend it, but it’s not a favourite- a little too much social prejudice for my liking.

Saturday, August 15, 2015

New for 2015- The Curiosity Keeper- Sarah Ladd

 
The Curiosty Keeper- Treasures of Surrey Novel #1
Thomas Nelson, July 7th 2015, 337 Pages

“It is not just a ruby, as you say. It is large as a quail’s egg, still untouched and unpolished. And it is rumored to either bless or curse whomever possesses it.”

Camille Iverness can take care of herself. She’s done so since the day her mother abandoned the family and left Camille to run their shabby curiosity shop on Blinkett Street. But when a violent betrayal leaves her injured with no place to hide, Camille has no choice but to accept help from the mysterious stranger who came to her aid.

Jonathan Gilchrist never wanted to inherit Kettering Hall. As a second son, he was content working as a village apothecary. But when his brother’s death made him heir just as his father’s foolish decisions put the estate at risk, only the sale of a priceless possession—a ruby called the Bevoy—can save the family from ruin. But the gem has disappeared. And all trails lead to Iverness Curiosity Shop—and the beautiful shop girl who may or may not be the answer to his questions.

Curious circumstance throws them together, and an intricate dance of need and suspicion leads the couple from the seedy backwaters of London to the elite neighborhoods of the wealthy to the lush, green Surrey countryside—all in the pursuit of a blood-red gem that collectors will sacrifice anything to possess.

Caught at the intersection of blessings and curses, greed and deceit, two determined souls must unite to protect what they hold dear. But when a passion that shines far brighter than any gem is ignited, each will have to decide how much they are willing to risk for their future, love, and happiness.
                     _________________________________________________________________

I really enjoyed Sarah Ladd’s debut ‘Whispers on the Moors’ Trilogy, so this first book a new series was greatly anticipated. I heard good things, saw good reviews, liked the author anyway, and appreciate Regency Fiction perhaps a little more than I used to.

 The Curiosity Keeper was not by any means a bad novel. It has most of the elements known and loved in Regency Fiction- alongside a measure of mystery and intrigue- yet- and this is purely my personal opinion- I couldn’t really like it in the way I did The Heiress of Winterwood, The Headmistress of Rosemere by the same author.

It’s hard to pin down what this story seemed to be lacking for me- but dare I say, it just seemed rather dull and a little predictable. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t go in for stories that rely entirely on action at the expense a solid plot, or good characterisation- but despite some exiting scenes, it just seemed to trudge along- and I was able to guess (correctly) the location of the Ruby everyone was looking for quite early on.
 Also, I don’t think I ever really found myself connecting with the major characters.

Yes, Johnathon was your typical Regency hero- dashing and handsome, who wanted to make his own way in life but had a strong sense of duty and honour- yes Camille was strong and beautiful yet vulnerable, but again, there just seemed to be something lacking. Maybe its that her actions did not always seem consistent with her personality, or that the characters, whilst pleasant enough, seemed a bit like 'stock' characters, typical of the genre.

This is a worthwhile read, and I would certainly have no trouble recommending. The lack of the sort of silly, mushy romance that gets on my nerves could certainly be counted as a plus. It just isn’t a favourite, nor do I think the author’s best.

I received this book free from Thomas Nelson via Booklook Bloggers for review. I was not required to write a positive one and all opinions expressed here are my own.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Christian Fiction by Century- Part 1- Rome to Conquest

I'm rather taking my cue from Rosanne E Lortz here, who a few years ago made a list of Historical Fiction by Century. So I'm adapting it for Christian Fiction by century, specifically focused on the Medieval period (though I might do a post-Medieval List its likely to be quite full), starting at the time when many historians regard the Medieval period to have begun- with the collapse of the Western Roman Empire in the fifth and sixth centuries A.D.
Readers are welcome to suggest titles to add to the list, so without further ado......

Early Medieval Period (sometimes referred to as 'The Dark Ages', a term which some Medievalists including myself do not like, and so I have not used).

AD 410-499- The Fifth Century

Brigid of Ireland- Cindy Thompson 
Print and Kindle Edition 

In 5th-century pagan-dominated Ireland, Brigid is born a slave to her own father and is separated from her mother. Desperately seeking love and acceptance, Brigid becomes a believer in Christ. Knowing how the Irish people cling to superstitions and fears, can Brigid overcome them?
Will her hatred for her father and a scheming evil sorcerer destroy her faith? Set in the era of St. Patrick, this fantasy-filled novel will captivate readers as Brigid must choose between God's will and the desire to save her family.

Maire- Linda Windsor 
Fires of Gleannmara- Book 1

A fanciful, romantic tale of passion and faith that invites readers to the "God-graced mountains and plains" of Ireland. Maire, Gleannmara's warrior queen, finds her fierce heart is gentled when she takes a reformed mercenary -- a Christian, no less -- as hostage during a raid. At first she wonders what kind of God would make a fine warrior like Rowan of Emerys such a coward.
But as she comes to know Rowan and witnesses the force of his beliefs, she learns that meekness and humility to the one true God are stronger than any blade of steel. And in the process, Maire discovers the transforming power of love and faith.


The Pendragon Cycle & Patrick: Son of Ireland- Stephen Lawhead 

The Pendragon Cycle is a six book series based around the major figures and events of the Arthurian Legends and the early centuries of British Christianity. Of course, much of the content is bound to be mythical as its not certain Arthur ever existed. 

The latter is very heavily fictionalized account of Ireland's Patron saint that according to reviwers, even goes as far to to make out he was at one point a practicing Druid. I'm not convinced.




AD 500-599- The Sixth Century 

The House of Mercy- Alicia G. Ruggieri- Kindle Book


When a hailstorm ruins her father's crops, Bethan goes as a kitchen servant to Oxfield. There, she intends to work off her family's debt to Lord Drustan before returning to marry the fervent son of a local priest. Yet, in her first days at the old Roman fortress, Bethan meets two men who are very different from the priest's son, friends who have dark histories... and shrouded futures.

In his twenty years, Deoradhan has swallowed much of sorrow’s cup and found it bitter. Haunted by his father’s murder at the hands of one he trusted, distanced from the Roman God who betrayed him, burning to obtain his rightful throne in the rugged north, the young exile returns to Logress, where High King Arthur holds together a frail confederacy.  


Will Deoradhan stop at nothing to gain his rightful position? Is atonement possible for Calum after so many years? And what of those - including Bethan - whose lives have become interwoven with theirs?

Riona- Linda Windsor- Fires of Gleannmara- 2

 Kieran, the proud king of Gleannmara, great-grandson of Queen Maire and King Rowan, was once rejected by Riona of Dromin. But this time the willful lady will have no choice. Kieran promised his dying best friend, her brother, to protect Riona as her lord and husband. She must give up her absurd dedication to a fickle God who lets the good die while the vile go unpunished. Kieran's sword and lifelong love is all she will need.

Kieran is framed for murder. Suddenly the prideful king becomes a fugitive, fleeing for his life. His only hope? The faith and wit of a would-be nun, her prodigal band of homeless waifs--and the very God he has so fiercely denounced.

These unlikely cohorts are joined in an adventure of faith, hope, and love--an adventure that, for Kieran, can have only one end: acquittal...or death

AD 600- 699- Seventh Century 

Northumbrian Thrones Series- Edoardo Albert 

Edwin: High King of Britain 

In 604 AD, Edwin, the deposed king of Northumbria, seeks refuge at the court of King Raedwald of East Anglia. But Raedwald is urged to kill his guest by Aethelfrith, Edwin's usurper. As Edwin walks by the shore, alone and at bay, he is confronted by a mysterious figure--the missionary Paulinus-- who prophesies that he will become High King of Britain. It is a turning point.

 Through battles and astute political alliances Edwin rises to power, in the process marrying the Kentish princess Aethelburh. As part of the marriage contract the princess is allowed to retain her Christian faith. But, in these times, to be a king is not a recipe for a long life.

This turbulent and tormented period in British history sees the conversion of the Anglo-Saxon settlers who have forced their way on to British shores over previous centuries, arriving first to pillage, then to farm and trade--and to come to terms with the faith of the Celtic tribes they have driven out.


Oswald: Return of the King 

 The exiled family of King Aethelfrith of Northumbria arrive, after much hardship, on the island of Iona, where the monastery founded by St Columba has become a centre of worship and learning. Young Oswald becomes firm friends with a novice, Aidan. When Aidan professes his final vows, Oswald and his little brother Oswy are received into the church. As befits a young prince, Oswald learns to fight. 

However, Aidan's example attacts him and he is on the point of deciding to become a monk when news reaches Iona that his half brother, Eanfrith, has been killed by Cadwallon, the king who defeated Edwin. Oswald sails back to Northumbria and meets Cadwallon in battle, defeating and killing him. Oswald, now undisputed king of Northumbria, gives Aidan the island of Lindisfarne as his base. But Penda, the last great pagan king in England, is raising troops against him ...

Hild: Abbesss of Whitby- Jill Dalladay  
 
The dramatic story of a seventh-century evangelist
Chosen as Eostre s handmaid, Hild will serve the fertility goddess for a year before being wed. Her future is predictable until King Edwin claims her as kin and she learns that her father was murdered.
Her first love is given a command in Edwin s forces and vanishes from her life, wed to her sister. The court is baptized, ending the old religion and Hild s role. Life looks bleak. She can t stop wondering who killed her father.
Suspecting Edwin, she challenges him, only to be married off to safeguard his northern frontier. Struggling in a loveless marriage, she is intrigued by the Iona priests making pilgrimages to spread Christ s love. When home and family are lost in Oswy s sack of Edinburgh, she finds herself in enemy hands, but meets the charismatic Aidan.
Inspired and guided by him, she builds communities to live and teach Christ s love. She attracts followers. Even her old enemy, King Oswy, entrusts his child to her, gives her Whitby, and seeks her help to reconcile divisions in his kingdom.
She never ceases battling against old superstitions resurrected by storm, plague, and solar eclipse, but at last she receives a bishop s blessing from a man she trained herself.
The Forgotten Princess of Elmetia & The Last Princess of Meigen- Rachel A. James

Historical fiction based around the fall of the Kingdoms of Northern Britain in the seventh century. 

It is 616AD, and one fatal night the ancient Kingdom of Elmetia falls. Saxons kill the Elmetian King, and capture Princess Teagen. Teagen poses as a slave girl and works for the Saxons in the Kingdom of Deira, until she discovers her brother is alive. She finds a way to escape, and her path crosses with Ryce the Warrior.

Struggling with his past, and angry against the tyrant Saxon king, Ryce helps the princess in pursuit of her brother. But just as the connection between them intensifies, obstacles get in their way. The Saxon king now wants vengeance, and will stop at nothing to get it.

She must choose between love and duty...

A captivating tale of love and duty as the last princess of Meigen searches for her true purpose amidst conflict and betrayal.

It is 626AD, and the ancient Kingdom of Meigen is left vulnerable to neighboring Saxons. To unite the kingdoms and bring peace, Princess Alena must enter into a royal marital alliance. But when the handsome physician, Sherwin, befalls her, matters become complicated. Torn between obligations to her young son and country, she faces a difficult decision. Will Alena obey the king’s orders, or choose to follow her heart?


AD 700-799- Eighth Century

The Princess Adelina- Julie Sutter, Perry C. Coghlan III
From eighth-century Germany comes the stirring tale of Princess Adelina, a virtuous young woman determined to fulfill God's call on her life. The daughter of an Iona missionary to the German people, Adelina's world is turned upside-down when a young pagan ruler, Hedan of Thurginia, falls in love with her and takes her as his bride. As a wedding gift, Hedan promises Adelina that he will allow Christians within Thuringia to worship and evangelize freely, spreading the Gospel among his people. 
But Hedan's mother, Geila, hates both Adelina and Christianity, stopping at nothing to subvert her daughter-in-law and stamp out the fledgling German church. Based on a true story, this Esther-like tale recounts the deeds of courageous Adelina as she endures persecution, slander, exile, and the impending destruction of her people. Through it all, will Adelina remain faithful to her Heavenly King? Or will she fall away and leave the Culdee church to its fate?

AD 800-899- The Ninth Century

Rachelle McCalla- A Secret Princess & A Royal Marriage

Despite her protests, Princess Gisela, headstrong daughter of the Holy Roman Emperor Charlemagne, must enter into a diplomatic marriage. Yet en route to her wedding, her ship is attacked and she's gravely injured. Rescued by a renowned healer, King John of Lydia, Gisela recuperates at his Mediterranean castle. The handsome, widowed ruler soon has her reevaluating her beliefs on love and marriage…but only if King John could be her groom. Their love is forbidden, and duty requires him to deliver her to her betrothed. Unless they can find a way to join their hearts—and kingdoms—with love, faith and honor.
When Evelyn tended Prince Luke of Lydia's battle wounds, she had no idea whose life she was saving. Yet now the handsome warrior is determined to rescue her from King Garren's fortress. Evelyn may be Garren's granddaughter and a princess by right, but the vindictive king has forced her to pay off her father's debts as a servant. A shared faith deepens her bond with Luke, but revealing her true identity could tear them apart and bring war to two kingdoms. Only courage and trust will help them forge a royal union where two hearts reign as one..



AD 900- 999- The Tenth Century
The Miracle Thief- Iris Anthony *
Do you believe in miracles?

Sister Juliana does. She's seen miracles happen as she tends Saint Catherine's altar and guards her relic. Yet she doesn't quite dare to believe that even Saint Catherine could help her atone for her wicked past.
Anna does. And she so desperately needs one. In a time when a deformity is interpreted as evidence of a grievous sin, in a place where community is vital to existence, Anna has no family, no home, and no master.
Princess Gisele wants to. A miracle is the only thing that can save her from being given to a brutal, pagan chieftain in marriage.
For those who come in faith, saints offer the answer to almost any prayer. But other forces are plotting to steal Saint Catherine's relic, to bend the saint's power to their own use. Penitent, pilgrim, princess — all will be drawn into an epic struggle where only faith can survive. But in a quest for divine blessing, only the most ruthless of souls may win the prize.
* The Miracle Thief is technically a General Market book, and so not officially 'Christian' Fiction, but 'meets CBA standards' according to reviewer Iola Goulton.

AD 1000- 1066- Eleventh Century to the Norman Conquest

God's Daughter - Heather Day Gilbert 

 One Viking woman. One God. One legendary journey to the New World.

In the tenth century, when pagan holy women rule the Viking lands, Gudrid turns her back on her training as a seeress to embrace Christianity. Clinging to her faith, she joins her husband, Finn, on a voyage to North America.

But even as Gudrid faces down murderous crewmen, raging sickness, and hostile natives, she realizes her greatest enemy is herself--and the secrets she hides might just tear her marriage apart.

Almost five centuries before Columbus, Viking women sailed to North America with their husbands. God's Daughter, Book One in the Vikings of the New World Saga, offers an expansive yet intimate look into the world of Gudrid Thorbjarnardottir--daughter-in-law of Eirik the Red, and the first documented European woman to have a child in North America.

This novel is based heavily on the Icelandic Sagas

Undercurrent- Michelle Griep (Time-Travel story) 

Professor Cassie Larson leads a life her undergrad students hope to attain, until she tumbles into the North Sea and is sucked down into a swirling vortex...and a different century. Alarik, son of a Viking chieftain, is blamed for a murder he didn't commit-or did he? He can't remember. On the run, saving a half-drowned foreign woman wasn't in his plan. Ragnar is a converted pagan shunned by many but determined to prove his Cousin Alarik's innocence. He didn't count on falling in love with Cassie or the deadly presence of evil that threatens his village in Alarik's absence.



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