Wednesday, June 21, 2017

The Revolt by Douglas Bond

P&R Publishing, June 13th 2016, 197 Pages
Print and Ebook 
In his short career as a battle secretary, Hugh West’all has come close to death many times. But when he leaves the war behind to enter the hallowed halls of Oxford, he meets John of Wycliffe and soon embarks on a mission even more exciting—and perhaps just as dangerous.

Using his scribe’s quill to translate the Bible into English, the language of the common people, Hugh begins to understand the beauty of the gospel as never before. But he and his friends are up against the corrupt monolith of the medieval church, and it will stop at nothing to crush Wycliffe’s work.


 It's an unfortunate fact that there is not a single novel about Wycliffe in the Christian Fiction genre written by a British author (unless you count G.A.Henty). It's high time that there was one because this novel was in some sense, everything I feared it would be (but hoped it would not). I fear that Americans are, sometimes, inclined to interpret every event in European history through the lens of American History.
I understand, it's natural, but it's also fraught with problems. Distinct comparisons to the American Revolutionary War. Readers might say 'what's wrong with that, it’s about the Peasant's Revolt?'. The problem is that Peasant's Revolt was not like that. Many of the people involved in it were not, in fact, peasants, or at least not villeins. Certainly not the poorest of the poor, but those of some wealth who had something to lose from taxation. Nor were they anti-monarchist republicans. They professed loyalty to the King.

That’s my main problem, it’s that fundamental misunderstanding of late Medieval English history and society that underpins books like this. Admittedly, many of the details about Wycliffe and his fictional clerk, Hugh Westall interesting, but it would have been better if this story was just about him and Wycliffe. A lot of the content involving the peasant protagonist Willard was, I felt, largely unnecessary.
As another reviewer mentioned, much of this book is just about Will and his family being subjected to 'social injustice' of various kinds, so that he became a cardboard cut-out. Always angry, always the victim, only exists to create conflict or make a point.

There were also various historical errors or inaccuracies in the story. Probably the worst one was when Oxford was described as a ‘village’. Oxford is not a village, it is a city, it has been since the 12th century. Medieval English people did not eat or grow corn (what Americans would call maize) because it had not been introduced to Europe yet, and pottage was not always made from peas. It could be made from anything, the word just referred to any dish made in a single pot. The reference towards the beginning about Willard and his family eating disgusting mush several days old from is taken from a children’s rhyme ‘Pease pottage hot, pease pottage cold, pease pottage in the pot, nine days old’.

I doubt it. No sensible peasant woman cooked so much pottage that it would last nine days. It would mean she taken more than her fair share of fresh ingredients, and was wasting them. I suspect the detail was added just to show how horrible and unfair the lives of peasants were. As was the mention of peasants being forbidden from bearing arms, which made no sense at all, as there was a law that young boys had to train with a longbow every weekend.

Towards the end of the story, I felt the violence of the Peasant’s Revolt is underplayed, and the supposed ‘justice’ of the cause overstated. No mention was made of the killings or the fact that after the ‘heroic’ peasant mob stormed the Tower of London (which peasants were not locked up in), they dragged the Archbishop of Canterbury Simon Sudbury, out into the street and hacked his head off, and he was only one of many who were killed. Most of the figures of the established church are vilified as evil and corrupt (because there had to be bad guys), especially friars, who apparently loved nothing more than to go around raping women. All very stereotypical.

By all means, authors should write about Wycliffe and his furthering the Gospel, but I think they need to be more faithful to the historical facts and more careful about the moral lessons they seek to convey. One of the potentially worrying messages in this was that violent political insurrection could be ‘in the will of God’, and consistent with the Gospel- provided of course that it was against perceived ‘oppressors’.

I requested a PDF of this book from the publisher via Netgalley. I was not required to write a positive review and all opinions expressed are my own.

Sunday, June 18, 2017

High as the Heavens by Kate Breslin: New Release

Bethany House, June 6th 2017, 400 Pages
Print, ebook and audio

In 1917, Evelyn Marche is just one of many women who has been widowed by the war. A British nurse trapped in German-occupied Brussels, she spends her days working at a hospital and her nights as a waitress in her aunt and uncle's café. Eve also has a carefully guarded secret keeping her in constant danger: She's a spy working for a Belgian resistance group in league with the British Secret Service.

When a British plane crashes in Brussels Park, Eve is the first to reach the downed plane and is shocked to discover she recognizes the badly injured pilot. British RFC Captain Simon Forrester is now a prisoner of war, and Eve knows he could be shot as a spy at any time. She risks her own life to hide him from the Germans, but as the danger mounts and the secrets between them grow, their chance of survival looks grim. And even if they do make it out alive, the truth of what lies between them may be more than any love can overcome

I read Kate Breslin’s last book set during the First World War Not by Sight, and though it was good on some level I just wasn’t keen on it. I think this latest one was a considerable improvement, with stronger characters and just a better plot. The other one was about spying, and this one about espionage and an Underground resistance movement, but it was just more credible and not so predictable. I didn’t guess who the double agent was at all, which is always a good thing.

It was also great that this was a non-traditional Romance, with flawed but sympathetic characters who had a genuine connection and motive behind their actions. I also liked the way this novel ‘wore’ the historical details well. They didn’t overtake the story on the one side or seem contrived on the other. Rather, it evoked the period and world in which the characters were operating, a harsh and war-torn one which changed people forever. The world in which they had to bend the normal rules to survive. In that context, it would be easy to vilify all Germans, but I appreciated the more nuanced depiction of some of them

My only complaints were that towards the Middle it did drag a bit, and some parts became a little repetitive, with Eve constantly going over something that had happened to her before and its impact. I don’t feel the reader needs to be constantly reminded of event manner mentioned above, they’ll usually get it quite quickly. The characterization and climax were strong enough to make up for that, however. Except for one part, which although typical in Christian Fiction might come over as a little corny and contrived to those who are not used to the genre.
Also, there were the inevitable Americanisms used by the supposedly Belgian and British characters ‘closet’ (Brits would say cupboard), ‘apartment’ instead of flat, ‘fall’ instead of Autumn, and Eve talking about what she wanted to do after ‘College’, which is what Brits call University. This did make some passages rather jarring, and one towards the beginning annoyingly vague, where the characters referred to ‘Oxford High School’ and Eve training as a nurse at ‘The London Hospital. Yeah, which London Hospital? I mean, there are quite a lot of Hospitals in London, and there are a lot of girl’s schools in Oxford. The names were so obviously made up, which was a shame when other such details were much more precise. I don’t feel there were as many Americanisms as there were in the author’s last book, and the attention to detail was greater, but there was still some room for improvement.

Overall though, this was a wonderful book, full of excitement, action, and high emotion (it even jerked a tear from me a couple of times) but interwoven with a satisfying message about finding grace and peace.

I requested an e-book edition of this title for review and purchased the audiobook of my own volition. I was not required to write a positive review, and all opinions expressed are my own.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

The Hardest Thing to Do by Penelope Wilcock

The Hawk and the Dove Series #4 
Lion Fiction, Sept 27th 2015, 256 Pages 
(First Published 2011, Crossway Books) 

The first of three sequels to the celebrated The Hawk and the Dove trilogy takes place one year after the end of the third book, in the early fourteenth century. A peaceful monastery is enjoying its new abbot, who is taking the place of Father Peregrine, when an old enemy arrives seeking refuge. Reluctantly taking in Prior William, the upended community must address old fears and bitterness while warily seeking reconciliation. But can they really trust Prior William?

In her fourth book in the series, Penelope Wilcock wrestles with the difficulties of forgiveness and the cautions of building trust. Taking the form of journal entries, her story will delight the imaginations of readers captivated by a time and place far distant from our current world. Her timeless themes, however, will challenge our prejudices today as we, along with her characters, are forced to ask ourselves, “What is the hardest thing to do?”

It's been over two years since I finished the original Hawk and Dove Trilogy, three short books set in and around a Monastery in 14th century Yorkshire, exploring the lives of its inhabitants, and the spiritual resonances of their choices, actions, and behaviour. This picks up a couple of years after the Trilogy ended, with the death of the much loved Abbot Columba. A new Abbot had been appointed, formerly one of the brothers of the Abbey named John, who had to trek halfway across England to St Alcuin's from Cambridge.

The brothers were going about their lives, preparing for his arrival when they hear the news that a nearby Augustinian Monastery (an order based largely in England named after Augustine of Canterbury) has been burned to the ground, and all its members reportedly killed. The Abbot was William de Bulmer, a man noted for his arrogance and an almost pharisaical obsession with order and rules. Those who had read the former series may remember that the second book involved a confrontation between the two men, in which William showed contempt for the disabled Abbot Columba. It is a slight that many of the brothers of St Alcuin's had not forgotten or forgiven.
So when William de Bulmer arrives on their doorstep, shortly after their new Abbot, tensions are running high.

This is the central conflict of the story and the reason for the title 'The Hardest Thing to Do'- reaching out and accepting a man deservedly despised and hated. However, it also applies to the resentment, hardships and inner demons which all the monks have to is wrestling with. Could Brother Thomas, the close friend, and confidante of Abbot Columba overcome his hatred and bitterness to accept a man in need, instead of stirring up dissent amongst his brothers?
What of William be Bulmer himself? Would his presence bring indelible divisions to St Alcuin's, and what made him so closed to love and compassion for his fellow men. Could he overcome his pride and arrogance to embrace the refuge he so urgently needed?

I did not agree with everything in the book or all the interpretations of scripture that were presented, but this book proved to be a moving and thought- provoking study of moral and spiritual matters, in which many of the characters were forced to examine themselves and change their own lives. Through ordinary men and women, they are relatable to our own lives.
This book and the series it is part of have been described as a modern-day parable, which won't be according to everyone's taste, but I rather liked this method and style. The author has also provided a useful Glossary and chart of the canonical Hours which were observed in Medieval Monasteries.

I don't think everything in it was Historically accurate, a lot of the language was too modern, but the details about life in a Monastery, and how each of the brothers had a role and purpose were well written. I understand the next one deals with some very hard and controversial issues, but I do look forward to reading the next few books.

I requested a copy of this book from the Publisher, Lion Fiction. I was not required to write a positive review, and I did not receive any financial compensation. All opinions expressed are my own.

Thursday, June 08, 2017

The Mark of the King by Jocelyn Green

January 3rd 2017, Bethany House, 416 Pages 
Print and Ebook 

After being imprisoned and branded for the death of her client, twenty-five-year-old midwife Julianne Chevalier trades her life sentence for exile to the fledgling 1720s French colony of Louisiana, where she hopes to be reunited with her brother, serving there as a soldier. To make the journey, though, women must be married, and Julianne is forced to wed a fellow convict.

When they arrive in New Orleans, there is no news of Benjamin, Julianne's brother, and searching for answers proves dangerous. What is behind the mystery, and does military officer Marc-Paul Girard know more than he is letting on?

With her dreams of a new life shattered, Julianne must find her way in this dangerous, rugged land, despite never being able to escape the king's mark on her shoulder that brands her a criminal beyond redemption

I read very little fiction set in America during the Colonial period, as I don’t really relate to the period or the setting, and I’m not familiar with the history. My decision to read this book was based largely on positive endorsements and recommendations from friends on social media, and generally, it didn’t disappoint.

The story was good and made good use of the historical details about some little-known events. The main characters were realistic and developed although some of the villains were a little like caricatures. I did the like the way the author described environment and region. For someone who’s never been to New Orleans or near the Gulf of Mexico that was helpful. I loved the hero Marc-Paul's faithful little pug, and I think I warmed to him more than Julianne’s husband Simon earlier in the book, whom I found smugly arrogant.

There were a few things I didn’t quite agree with. I understand this novel is meant to be about Grace overcoming injustice, legalism, and hatred, but I don’t think this message was always delivered accurately. For instance, when the hero, a commander in the colony started questioning his strict adherence to the law, the passages that were cited related to the Old Testament Torah, not the legal codes of modern European states.
Grace does not equal anarchy or licensed lawlessness, as there are just as many passages in the Bible that talk about being subject to rulers and the Law of the Land. As such, I think it’s necessary to strike a balance in Fiction.

Some incidents and details also didn’t ring true. How on earth did the hero know that the villain tried to rape his wife when he wasn’t there at the time, and none of the witnesses were present? He didn’t tell him, and she didn’t mention it from what I can recall. I also agree that some scenes did strike me as a little too melodramatic. I understand that a load of people transplanted to the wilds of Louisiana, struggling to eke out a living were going to be on the rough side, but a heavily pregnant woman being publicly flogged, to the point that it causes a miscarriage? Really? In England, even in the pre-modern period, pregnant women were usually spared the worst penalties, including capital punishment.

The ending, whilst it lined up with natural phenomena and events common to the region, did fall a little on the side of far-fetched, but it kept me reading, and the story was pretty solid and well-written overall. Although I got a copy from Netgalley, this title went on sale on Kindle a few months later, and I purchased it. I would certainly keep it on there to read again when I’m in the mood.

I requested a copy of this title to read and review. I was not required to write a positive one and all opinions expressed are my own

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

New Release: A Stranger at Fellsworth by Sarah E. Ladd

Treasures of Surrey #3 
Thomas Nelson, 336 Pages, May 16th 2017 
Print, Ebook and Audio

Could losing everything be the best thing to happen to Annabelle Thorley?

In the fallout of her deceased father’s financial ruin, Annabelle’s prospects are looking bleak. Her fiancĂ© has called off their betrothal, and now she remains at the mercy of her controlling and often cruel brother. Annabelle soon faces the fact that her only hope for a better life is to do the unthinkable and run away to Fellsworth, the home of her long-estranged aunt and uncle, where a teaching position awaits her. Working for a wage for the first time in her life forces Annabelle to adapt to often unpleasant situations as friendships and roles she’s taken for granted are called into question.

Owen Locke is unswerving in his commitments. As a widower and father, he is fiercely protective of his only daughter. As an industrious gamekeeper, he is intent on keeping poachers at bay even though his ambition has always been to eventually purchase land that he can call his own. When a chance encounter introduces him to the lovely Annabelle Thorley, his steady life is shaken. For the first time since his wife’s tragic death, Owen begins to dream of a second chance at love.

As Owen and Annabelle grow closer, ominous forces threaten the peace they thought they’d found. Poachers, mysterious strangers, and murderers converge at Fellsworth, forcing Annabelle and Owen to a test of fortitude and bravery to stop the shadow of the past from ruining their hopes for the future.

The third and final instalment in Sarah Ladd’s Treasures of Surrey series was a fun and enjoyable read. It some ways, it reminded me of some of her previous books, particularly The Headmistress of Rosemere (because it involves a girl’s boarding school) and A Lady at Willowgrove Hall (which also involved the protagonist running away).

The characters were interesting, I especially liked the hero Owen Locke, who I think cropped up in the last book somewhere. A gamekeeper and single father afraid of loving again after a tragedy, who is nonetheless a man of honour, and Annabelle’s Aunt and Uncle. The caring if slightly eccentric headmaster and his wife. The love story was well written without being too mushy, as were the faith elements. They came across as natural to the story, conveyed in the lives and experiences of the characters, and not too preachy but appropriate for the time.

The synopsis however, I think exaggerates the element of danger, mystery and intrigue. Something does happen, there is mention of a gang of poachers in the local forest, but it’s not as central to the story as Annabel and Owen’s relationship except at the end, where it serves as a foil. I think another reviewer mentioned that whilst this is a good story, it’s not especially memorable, nor as atmospheric as the last book, which featured some wonderful evocative descriptions of the landscape and setting.
I also agree that the antagonists weren’t as well written as other characters. They were rather predictable and some of thier actions seemed a little far fetched.

A few Americanisms in the story were also a source of some annoyance. I’m not sure school attendees were called students in 19th century Britain. Wouldn’t it have been pupils? A girl being bullied saying the other children were being ‘mean’ to her for not being ‘smart’ just doesn’t sound right. It’s not in the same league as Jane Eyre- can modern fiction ever be? This novel is however a great choice for those seeking a light, clean read that isn’t too taxing and was a good conclusion to the series.

I requested an ebook version of this title from the Publisher for review, and purchased the audiobook of my own volition. I was not required to write a positive one an all opinions expressed are my own.

Saturday, May 13, 2017

New Release: The Noble Servant by Melanie Dickerson

Medieval Fairytale #3
336 Pages, May 9th 2017, Thomas Nelson
Print, ebook and audio

She lost everything to the scheme of an evil servant.
But she might just gain what she’s always wanted . . . if she makes it in time.

The impossible was happening. She, Magdalen of Mallin, was to marry the Duke of Wolfberg. Magdalen had dreamed about receiving a proposal ever since she met the duke two years ago. Such a marriage was the only way she could save her people from starvation. But why would a handsome, wealthy duke want to marry her, a poor baron’s daughter? It seemed too good to be true.
On the journey to Wolfberg Castle, Magdalen’s servant forces her to trade places and become her servant, threatening not only Magdalen’s life, but the lives of those she holds dear. Stripped of her identity and title in Wolfberg, where no one knows her, Magdalen is sentenced to tend geese while she watches her former handmaiden gain all Magdalen had ever dreamed of.

When a handsome shepherd befriends her, Magdalen begins to suspect he carries secrets of his own. Together, Magdalen and the shepherd uncover a sinister plot against Wolfberg and the duke. But with no resources, will they be able to find the answers, the hiding places, and the forces they need in time to save both Mallin and Wolfberg?

New York Times bestselling author Melanie Dickerson beautifully re-imagines The Goose Girl by the Brothers Grimm into a medieval tale of adventure, loss, and love.

I did not, truly know what to expect from this book, especially since I’m not familiar with the fairy-tale it was based on. I have seen from the reviews that it has received a somewhat mixed reception, and in some ways, I can understand why.

It was a sweet story, with some which made some good use of historical details, I liked the parts about education and literacy, which defy some common misconceptions about the period: Medieval people did read the Bible. I also liked seeing the character of Magdelen again, who I liked from the last book in the trilogy ‘The Beautiful Pretender’. In a way though, I think that book was better. It’s like too much effort was put into making her a well-rounded and flawed character, and the shortcomings were inserted in to make her seem less perfect. Steffan started out as interesting, and I did like him throughout the novel, but his actions as responses did not always come across as authentic for a 21-year-old man of his background and period.

The whole style of this one just came over as too simplistic. Like it was written for teenagers, when its marketed at adults. Yes, there was plenty of adventure, but maybe that’s not enough to satisfy an adult audience. The writing was very much telling instead of showing, and very repetitive in places (continually saying that X will happen because of Y, and repeating feeling and emotions).

The villain was almost cartoonish: as such his actions seemed predictable yet unintelligent and badly thought out and the usual condemnation of arranged marriage/marriages of convenience as evil, immoral, and a source of inevitable misery got on my nerves. Tell that to Edward I of England, Edward III, Henry VII, Richard II and all the other Kings of England who had happy and long-lasting arranged marriages, or to William Marshall, Earl of Pembroke, who was happily married for many years, despite his wife being 30 years his junior. Sometimes, there really does have to be more to a marriage then insta-love, and some people did make the best of things.

Finally, a real negative point for me, (and I apologise if this seems pedantic), was the mention of potatoes in 14th century Germany in what is now the author's 10th novel set in Medieval Europe.
It clearly was not just a mistake or oversight: the context was characters eating filled rolls with potato in them, and their presence was mentioned 3 times in a paragraph, along with how much the characters liked them. Potatoes are from the Americas, and were not introduced to Europe until at least the 16th century.

To me this detail, along with some of the observations above, suggest perhaps a hint of carelessness in some of this author’s recent works, or transitioning to a more mature writing style for an older audience, I don't know.
I will certainly keep reading her works in future, and this one was worth keeping as an addition to the series, but it was a little disappointing. I would recommend for younger readers, but for adults who has just discovered this author, I think some of her earlier books would be a better starting point.

I requested a copy of this book from the Publisher for review, and purchased the audiobook of my own volition. I was not required to write a positive one and all opinions expressed are my own.

Thursday, May 11, 2017

A Lady in Disguise by Sandra Byrd

Daughters of Hampshire #3 
384 Pages, March 21st 2017, Howard Books
Print, ebook and audio 

In this intriguing novel of romance, mystery, and clever disguise set in Victorian England, a young woman investigates the murder of her own father.

After the mysterious death of her father, Miss Gillian Young takes a new job as the principal costume designer at the renowned Drury Lane Theatre Royal. But while she remembers her father as a kind, well-respected man of the Police Force, clues she uncovers indicate he’d been living a double life: a haunting photograph of a young woman; train stubs for secret trips just before his death; and a receipt for a large sum of money. Are these items evidence of her father’s guilty secrets? His longtime police partner thinks so.

Then Gillian meets the dashing Viscount Thomas Lockwood. Their attraction is instant and inescapable. As their romantic involvement grows, Gillian begins to suspect even Lockwood’s motives. Does Lord Lockwood truly love her? Or is his interest a front for the desire to own her newly inherited property? And what should she make of her friend’s suggestion that Lockwood or men like him were involved in the murder of her father?

Soon Gillian is convinced that her father has left evidence somewhere that can prove his innocence and reveal the guilty party. But someone wants to stop her from discovering it. The closer she comes to uncovering it, the more menacing her opposition grows. With her life on the line, Gillian takes on an ingenious disguise and takes on the role of a lifetime to reveal the true killer—before it’s too late both for her and for those that she loves.

I’ve read and enjoyed the last two instalments in the Daughters of Hampshire series, by Sandra Byrd, an author who I discovered relatively recently. Although the books are part of a trilogy, and set in the same geographical region, they can be read as standalone titles, as the characters bear no relation to one another, and do not appear in successive books, as they do in some series.
As with the others, A Lady in Disguise was a Victorian Romance with hints of a Gothic Thriller. Mist of Midnight was excellent, Bride of a Distant Isle was very good if a little far-fetched in places, but in my opinion, this one was the best of them all.

Meticulously researched, with a strong sense of period and of place, and cleverly interwoven historical details, including the early days of the now world famous organization known as the Salvation Army, the early Metropolitan Police force, and even references to the embryonic women’s suffrage movement. The details also allowed to the faith elements to be bought into the story, in a realistic manner which fitted the period, and did not come over as too preachy. Even the events of the last chapter, which some people might object to, were acceptable, when is some other novels like this they come across as cheating.

Some readers may wish to be forewarned that this novel does have rather a dark tone at times, and handles some very difficult and controversial issues including human trafficking, child prostitution and police corruption. I felt that these were dealt with sensitively, without the whole thing taking on a seedy or sleazy tone. Whilst this is categorized as Romance, I felt the romantic elements were often the in background, with the plot and activities of the character being given more prominence, and the protagonists remaining true to their character. Hence, the romance did not come over as simpering, mushy or fluffy as some romances do.

Finally, some American authors have trouble pulling off a British setting, but Sandra Byrd does it magnificently (helped in no small part by some British Beta readers). My only complaints were the rather odd name that the heroine Gillian used for her mother Mamma (which sounded like it was somewhere between the American Momma, and the archaic British Mama), and couple of scenes which bordered on the improbable.
Other than that, though, this was a wonderful read, meriting a Five-star rating which I rarely give. Recommended for any lover of Victorian Historical and Clean Fiction, and Romance.

I requested a copy of this book from the Published Howard Books, via Netgalley. I was not required to write a positive review and all opinions expressed are my own. 

Friday, May 05, 2017

Pilate's Daughter by Fiona Veitch Smith

Endeavour Press, February 13th 2017
Print and Ebook, 281 Pages  

The Year is AD 28:
In Roman-occupied Judea, Claudia Lucretia Pilate, daughter of the governor Pontius Pilate, is not happy with her father’s choice of husband for her – the handsome Roman Tribune Marcus Gaius Sejanus, who has been assigned the task of ridding Palestine of the troublesome Zealots.
Lover of Greek myths and culture, Claudia has ideals of finding a partner of her own and she unwittingly falls in love with Judah ben Hillel, a young Jewish Zealot, who has been instructed by his kinsmen to kidnap and kill her.

Meanwhile, Marcus has fallen in love himself with a beautiful slave-girl, Nebela, whose mother is the local soothsayer. Despite their different ranks in society, Nebela is determined that she, and not Claudia, shall marry Marcus, and with her mother’s help she weaves an intricate plot to try and get her way.

Languishing in jail is John the Baptist, having prepared the way for the coming of the Messiah. Regarded by the Romans as a madman, John’s fate will be decided by the whims of the women in Herod’s household.
Word on the street is that a Jewish prophet from Galilee has been causing unrest, drawing huge crowds to hear him speak and watch him perform wonders and healings.

Claudia’s father, Pontius, becomes a key player in the final destiny of the prophet, and despite warnings from his wife after her vivid dreams, he is swept along by expectations of the Jewish leaders to uphold the local traditions and finds himself in a dangerously compromising situation.
As the last days of Jesus are played out in Jerusalem, the future happiness of Claudia and Judah becomes ever more thwarted and the outcome played out in a wider arena than they ever imagined.

A tale of star-crossed lovers, Pilate’s Daughter brings to the fore many lesser-known characters from the gospel accounts of Jesus, who mingle with fictional characters against the historical backdrop of Roman life in Palestine.
The first part of this story was probably the best, with the parts about the Pilate family and their move to Judea, and Claudia’s (Pilate’s daughter’s) attempts to educate herself. After the first few chapters, however, I felt it degenerated to the level of a TV or modern Hollywood ‘Biblical’ drama. 
In a way, it’s one of those books that seems to have a bit of an identity crisis. The character’s outlook was way too modern for it to feel truly historical, and there were far too many sex scenes for it to be accepted in the mainstream Christian market, though I understand this was not the author’s intended audience.

The characters, including the main ones, seemed became ‘stock’ characters, with the pretty girl trapped in an unwanted marriage falling for the handsome rake trope, and there was a lot of telling instead of showing.
In the end, most of them came across as a bit vapid and shallow, even in their brushes with the supernatural or biblical figures. It’s like they were trying too hard to maintain a modern, sceptical objective worldview, which did not fit in with the period. On the plus side, some of the settings were well described, but I did not feel ‘transported’ back to the period with this novel.

I requested a copy of this book from the Publisher via Netgalley for review. I was not required to write a positive one and all opinions expressed are my own

Sunday, April 23, 2017

New Release: For Love and Honor by Jody Hedlund

An Uncertain Choice #3, 
Zondervan, March 7th 2017, 
Print, Ebook and Audio 
Lady Sabine is harboring a skin blemish, one, that if revealed, could cause her to be branded as a witch, put her life in danger, and damage her chances of making a good marriage. After all, what nobleman would want to marry a woman so flawed?

Sir Bennet is returning home to protect his family from an imminent attack by neighboring lords who seek repayment of debts. Without fortune or means to pay those debts, Sir Bennet realizes his only option is to make a marriage match with a wealthy noblewoman. As a man of honor, he loathes the idea of courting a woman for her money, but with time running out for his family’s safety, what other choice does he have?

As Lady Sabine and Sir Bennet are thrust together under dangerous circumstances, will they both be able to learn to trust each other enough to share their deepest secrets? Or will those secrets ultimately lead to their demise?

I shall humbly admit, the first two thirds of this book were an improvement on the last two, without all the silly, historically inaccurate rubbish that marred the two previous titles, and the disturbing obsession with torture. It was actually rather enjoyable with some of the banter between the two main characters, Sir Bennett and Lady Sabine. I would even go as far as to say that some of the details were quite credible, with Sabine’s interest in reading and some of the works mentioned. There were the usual problems with Americanisms though, and the mention of certain animals that would not have been found anywhere in Medieval Britain (or a fictional country based on it) such as mink and vultures. 

Then things went rapidly downhill, when someone accused Sabine of being a ‘witch’ because of a birth mark, and in scenes reminiscent of Monty Python or Blackadder, wanted to grab her and burn her straight away, then and there. But that’s correct, cos’ those Medieval people were all so superstitious and ignorant that they would think anyone who was ‘different’ was a Devil worshipper? 
 No. Witchcraft was a religious offense, and in most of Europe, a person could only be tried and convicted by a church court under Canon Law. Trial oy Ordeal was banned on the orders of the Pope in 1215, and the real paranoia about witchcraft did not start until the sixteenth century, reaching its height in the seventeenth. The sort of things that happened to Sabine would fit into a seventeenth century setting under the Puritans, or in Salem Massachusetts, they don’t belong in the fourteenth century. 

Why do I even bother to mention this? Mostly because there are people who treat this series as accurate Historical Fiction, and have even recommended it for history courses. It’s not Historical Fiction- it’s not set in England just because some of the place names are the same. Other details do not fit in with an English setting at all- for instance there being a High King. This story is fantasy, and should be taken as such- not accurate history. There are far too many inaccuracies and inconsistencies for a Medieval English setting, not to mention the downright silliness of the characters. 

Seriously, what is the point of laying siege to a person’s home, and half destroying it because they owe you money, that’s not going to get it back- and Bennett’s resolve not to sell any of his treasures as equally absurd. What good is keeping hold of your treasured items going to do of you are going to be homeless. To be, honest, the fictional country that he characters inhabit must be the single worst-run state in Medieval History, with nobles constantly attacking and killing each other, every single forest and road crawling with bandits, and the central authorities only stepping in to ‘save the day’ when it’s almost too late.
Do people think Late Medieval England was actually like that? It was not. Nobles very rarely attacked each other, except during times of civil war, or on the borderlands with Scotland and Wales, which were notoriously lawless. Kings were supposed to maintain law and order, to keep the nobles in check, if they did not, they were failing to do their job.

It’s a shame, because this could have been a great love story, with a lot of positive messages about not judging by appearances. It could have been better executed without all the silliness about ‘witchcraft’ which was totally inaccurate, and could just been copied from some movie. I wish authors would take the trouble to do their research before writing Medieval Fiction to find out if the detials they want to include actually happened at that time, and if they are going to use a lot of artistic licence make it clear where they have done so. 

I requested an e-book version of this title from Zondervan via Booklook Bloggers for review. I was not required to write a positive one and all opinions expressed are my own.

Saturday, April 22, 2017

The Pattern Artist by Nancy Moser

Shiloh Run Press, 1st December 2016
305 Pages, Print and Ebook

Born into a life of hard work, English housemaid Annie Wood arrives in New York City in 1911 with her wealthy mistress. Wide-eyed with the possibilities America has to offer, Annie wonders if there’s more for her than a life of service. 

Annie chooses to risk everything, taps into courage she never knew she had, and goes off on her own, finding employment in the sewing department at Macy’s. While at Macy’s Annie catches the eye of a salesman at the Butterick Pattern Company. 
Through determination, hard work, and God’s leading, Annie discovers a hidden gift: she is a talented fashion designer—a pattern artist of the highest degree. As she runs from ghosts of the past and focuses on the future, Annie enters a creative world that takes her to the fashion houses of Paris and into a life of adventure, purpose, and love.
A rags-to-riches story about a young woman from a humble background’s rise in the fashion industry in early 20th century New York- what could be better? Well, it depends on taste. I think this book would appeal to those who enjoyed TV series such as Mr Selfridge and The Paradise, which are both set in London department stores at about the same period. Personally, I just did not much care for this book (as I was not much interested in those series). 
The synopsis attracted me, but I think a lot of the time it failed to really grab my attention. Annie Wood never came across as authentically British, and I found the comparisons between American and British culture annoying, even condescending at times. 

Annie was meant to have been an extremely talented young woman whose meteoric rise resulted from this talent, but for all that, she often seemed to just drift along, rather passively, with her big breaks sort of falling into her lap courtesy of the Big American Dream. 
The historical details were interesting, especially with the incorporation of things which the author did not plan for, the use of description to recreate the setting was also well done. However, I found that in the execution, this book dragged. Perhaps, as other reviewers said, there was not enough character development. 
Most of them seemed a bit flat and bland, responding to situations it a rather insipid way. One of the most interesting was Danny, who would have done more, and made a very silly choice early on which resulted in an unsavoury turn of events. 

There seemed to be a lot of ‘telling’ instead of showing, and it became rather repetitive in places. In a way, I think the novel would, and did appeal more to those who could directly relate to main plotline- clothing and fashion design. I’m interested in fashion, but the history of it just doesn’t interest me that much, and I have not designed clothing from scratch. I would consider reading more by this author, and perhaps buying this book if I saw on offer. 

 I requested a PDF of this book from Netgalley for review. I was not required to write a positive one and all opinions expressed are my own.

Monday, April 10, 2017

Shine Like the Dawn by Carrie Turansky

February 21st 2017, 321 Pages
Waterbrook Multnomah, Print Ebook and Audio 

In a quiet corner of northern Edwardian England, Margaret Lounsbury diligently works in her grandmother's millinery shop, making hats and caring for her young sister. Several years earlier, a terrible event shattered their idyllic family life and their future prospects. Maggie is resilient and will do what she must to protect her sister Violet. Still, the loss of her parents weighs heavily on her heart as she begins to wonder if what happened that day on the lake . . . might not have been an accident. 

 When wealthy inventor and industrialist William Harcourt dies, his son and Maggie's estranged childhood friend, Nathaniel, returns from his time in the Royal Navy and inherits his father's vast estate, Morningside Manor. He also assumes partial control of his father's engineering company and the duty of repaying an old debt to the Lounsbury family. But years of separation between Nate and Maggie have taken a toll, and Maggie struggles to trust her old friend. 

Can Maggie let go of the resentment that keeps her from forgiving Nate-and reconciling with God? Will the search for the truth about her parents' death draw the two friends closer or leave them both with broken hearts?
Shine Like the Dawn was probably by second favourite Carrie Turansky Novel (I think I enjoyed A Refuge at Highland Hall a little more). Providing a slow, placed and gentle read evocative of the time period- the opening decade of the 20th century, with hints of mystery and Romance.
It reminded of some of the classics, but also in some ways of the famous Northumberland author Catherine Cookson’s stories, but with less emotional angst. There was one scene near the end that seemed like a direct borrowing from one in Elizabeth Gaskell’s North and South, which was unfortunate as the book was original enough not to need that.

The characters well-drawn and even the antagonist, Nate’s stepmother changed towards the end to become more sympathetic and human. I like the idea of the Protagonists who had known each other since childhood, being thrown together again by unfortunate circumstances, and having to overcome their pride and wrongful assumptions about one another in the years that had kept them apart.

The inspirational themes were well woven into the story, with characters such as the local vicar and Maggie’s grandmothers providing much guidance and insight without seeming too preachy and out of place. Some historical details were also well-used to create conflict and drama, as well as a background for the characters.

One complaint was that whilst the often rugged and wild landscape of Northumberland came to play in the story, there was one way in which a sense of place was lacking. That was in the prominent accent and dialect spoken by those who live in the Region. This could have been represented with the working class characters using terms like 'Da' for Dad, or terms of endearment like 'pet' and 'love', which are common in the area.
The narrator of the audio version did a good job colouring the characters with a Northumbrian lilt, which was lacking in the text itself.

Aside from that though, the novel was an enjoyable light read. A follow up would be nice, perhaps featuring one of the supporting characters from this novel.

I requested this title from via the Blogging for Books programme. I was not required to write a positive review and all opinions expressed are my own.
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