Sunday, August 20, 2017

Audiobook Review - Bread of Angels by Tessa Afshar

July 14th 2017, Recorded Books

Purple. The foundation of an influential trade in a Roman world dominated by men. One woman rises up to take the reins of success in an incredible journey of courage, grit, and friendship. And along the way, she changes the world.

But before she was Lydia, the seller of purple, she was simply a merchant's daughter who loved three things: her father, her ancestral home, and making dye. Then unbearable betrayal robs her of nearly everything.

With only her father's secret formulas left, Lydia flees to Philippi and struggles to establish her business on her own. Determination and serendipitous acquaintances--along with her father's precious dye--help her become one of the city's preeminent merchants. But fear lingers in every shadow, until Lydia meets the apostle Paul and hears his message of hope, becoming his first European convert. Still, Lydia can't outrun her secrets forever, and when past and present collide, she must either stand firm and trust in her fledgling faith or succumb to the fear that has ruled her life.
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I forgot to download my copy of this book from NetGalley before it was Archived, so purchased the audiobook.

It was a sweet story, which really brought to life a minor figure mentioned in the book of Acts and her world. Rich in details that can help shed light on the people the New Testament called the 'God Fearers': Gentiles who believed in the One God but never formally converted to Judaism. There were some excellent and well drawn-characters, and the themes were woven well into the story. I'd like to do some more research into the creation of purple dye at this time because it seems very much like how it was done in Medieval Europe (combining Woad with Madder instead of using cochineal snails).
Lydia was a woman much wronged, and in the grip of fear for much of her life. Fear of not being good enough, fear of betrayal and losing the business and reputation she'd worked so hard to build up. The story had plenty of drama and even a hint of Romance.

A couple of modern Americanisms like 'store' and 'I will write you' stood out, but they didn't detract from the story. Its' one of those stories which are reasonably faithful and authentic in the historical setting, but not so much so that it bogged the reader down, making for a relatively light, easy read.

Why the lower rating? Just a matter of personal taste. I still don't really care very much for Biblical Fiction, and I just didn't find this book as immersive as some others. I'm certainly going to be listening to the Audiobook of 'Land of Silence' soon and would look for more by this author.

Friday, August 18, 2017

First Line Fridays #5 - The Message in a Bottle Romance Collection


Finally progress! Bread of Angels audiobook done, and Oswui: King of Kings finished.  I've finally made a start on a book I requested from NetGalley way back in January. I have not included the author in the title because it's one of those collections of short stories by multiple authors. 
I have to confess: I requested it mostly for the first story: The Distant Tide by Heather Day Gilbert, a Viking Romance because her previous full-length Viking Era novel Forest Child won me over.

So currently I am working through the first of five novellas in the collection: it's enjoyable- but...  Yes, there is a but: I am concerned about the Historical details in the story. It's set in Ireland in 1170, something I did not realize: I thought it was set in the 9th century. 
Vikings would be fine in the 9th century, but not in the 12th after what historians refer to as 'The Viking Age' ended. There were no more raids on England after 1066, and in Ireland, they stopped even earlier as the Vikings started to settle down, develop a more stable economy and become Christianized. 

Also, the heroine and her family live in the inevitable castle- but there's only one problem with that: Castles were brought to Ireland by the Normans, the same people who introduced them to England after their famous victory at the Battle of Hastings. Hence, an Irish royal family at the time the Normans came to conquer Ireland a century or so later would not have been living in a big old stone castle. 
 So yes, it's a nice story; but it really should have been set a century or so earlier. I think it's a general problem with a lot of Fiction: that knowledge of the Middle Ages is rather limited, and the expectations of audiences mean that things like castles and Vikings can be dropped into just about any Medieval story, regardless of the historical context. Hollywood has been doing something similar for 50 years, so perhaps they are partly to blame.

I'm going to finish the story as a truly believe Mrs. Gilbert is a wonderful author, and read the others in the collection (it's extremely rare for me to ever give up on a novel), but historical accuracy is important to me.


The first line from the Prologue (which introduces the Message in the Bottle which gives its title to the collection) reads: 

Ballyfir Monastery, The North of Ireland, 
834 AD 

Flames lapped at the monk's robes.  


I apologize if this week's posts reads like a prolonged history lesson. I'll wrap up by wishing everyone a happy Friday from little old England. 

Friday, August 11, 2017

First Line Fridays #4 - Bread of Angels by Tessa Afshar




Reading progress has been slow this week: so slow in fact that I am still reading two of the books featured in previous posts. Life happens.
So, this week I am sharing the first line of an Audiobook that I am currently working through. I forget to download the Ebook version of this title from NetGalley but thankfully had a backup with the Audible version.

Biblical Fiction is not normally my thing, but I have recently started to get over my aversion to it. This is in fact only the second book I have listened to in the genre, a fictionalized account of the life of Lydia of Thyatira, a woman mentioned briefly in the Book of Acts, as one of the first Europeans converted by the Apostle Paul in the Macedonian city of Philippi. 


The first line from the Preface Reads:

"I have never served as a soldier, yet I have a strange sense that most of my life I have stared down the blade of a sword, the face of my adversary haunting me" 

Friday, August 04, 2017

First Line Fridays #3: Murder on the Moor by Julianna Deering


Greetings again from little old England for my latest FLF post.
Is it really that time of the week? Gosh. Finished one novel, still getting through another and behind on my Goodreads Reading Challenge this year, but I will catch up- eventually. I hope. The Kregel Blog Tour for The Captivating Lady Charlotte which I featured last week ends today, thankfully my post went up on Wednesday and that can be ticked off the list.  I've also created my own little graphic, as you can see above.

So this week I am listing a book I am about to start, instead of one I am actually reading (I tend to read two Fiction books at once) by American author Julianna Deering.
The genre combines two of my great loves, History, and Mysteries as part of a Murder Mystery series set in England in the 1930s. A setting evocative of Agatha Christie and Dorothy Sayers, complete with a charming aristocratic sleuth. In this installment, our hero and his friends end up running into a mystery in a hunting expedition on the Yorkshire Moors.

Murder on the Moor: Drew Fathering Mysteries #5



So without further ado here's our first Line:
"And I sank down where I stood, and hid my face against the ground. I lay still a while: the night swept over the hill and over me and died moaning in the distance; the rain fell fast, wetting me afresh to the skin.' ” 
At Farthering Place, nestled in the Hampshire countryside, the rain also fell fast, drumming against the windowpanes, joining the wind and the thunder to make the cold October night even more forbidding."

I know, I know it's actually two lines, but I chose another because the first line is, in fact, a quote from another book. Hopefully, my review will be up soon, until next time, have a great week.

Want to join in the book fun? Visit the other members to look at their books, or comment with the first line of your own current read. 

 
And this week a new member: Nicole at The Christian Fiction Girl

Wednesday, August 02, 2017

The Captivating Lady Charlotte by Carolyn Miller: Kregel Blog Tour

Regency Brides: A Legacy of Grace #2
Kregel Publications, 27th June 2017, 310 Pages
Print and Ebook
       
        Her heart is her own--but her hand in marriage is another matter

Lady Charlotte Featherington is destined for great things on the marriage market. After all, as the beautiful daughter of a marquess, she should have her pick of the eligible nobility hen she debuts. She, however, has love at the top of her list of marriageable attributes. And her romantic heart falls hard for one particularly dashing, attentive suitor. Sadly for Charlotte, her noble father intends her betrothed to be someone far more dull.

William Hartwell may be a duke, but he knows he was Charlotte's father's pick, not the young lady's own choice. And the captivating Lady Charlotte does not strike him as a woman who will be wooed by his wealth or title. While she has captured his heart, he has no idea how to win hers in return--and the betrayal and scandal his first wife put him through makes it difficult for him to believe that love can ever be trusted. His only hope is that Charlotte's sense of responsibility will win out over her romantic notions.

Can a widowed duke and a romantically inclined lady negotiate a future and discover love beyond duty? Will they be able to find healing and hope from the legacy of grace? Poignant and charming, this is another beautifully written, clean and wholesome Regency romance from Carolyn Miller.
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The second title in the Regency Brides series was a wonderful continuation, complementing the first book. This was once again a wonderfully well-told story with realistic characters and evocative scenery. Although the arranged marriage to between hurting and seemingly unsuited characters is a formula which has been used before (rather often), I did not come across as tired or cliched in this novel.
In fact, I loved the character of William, Duke of Hartington, the quiet and rather reclusive character judged by society, who really had so much to offer, and was a much better person than he seemed. Certainly, a lesson about not judging by appearances to be learned there.

In fact, the heroine Charlotte learns and matures throughout the series: many of the important passages about the nature of love were deservedly highlighted in the Kindle edition many times. They are profound words to think upon. I could argue that learning about what love really meant was the central theme of this book, and was something both the characters had to do. Again, as with the last book, the faith elements worked well in the story- except, it must be said, in one or two passages.
Readers of the prequel will enjoy seeing the return of characters from it, especially Charlotte’s cousin Lavinia and her husband Nicholas, and their formidable Aunt Patience. They weren’t just cameos with walk on roles either but had important parts to play alongside the hero and heroine, and even got their own minor storyline. I don’t want to give anything away but will say that this story does not shy away from exploring difficult subjects.

However, towards the end of the book, I felt something started to give. Perhaps it was that the story of Charlotte and William’s developing relationship was drawn out too long, but they both started to exhibit some very annoying, dare I say, immature behaviour. Taking offense at the most trivial things, sulking, and flitting from one emotion to another. Something that could have been resolved quite easily by their just talking things out, and believing each other, which neither had any reason not to do by that point. I got rather tired of Charlotte agonizing over her changeable feelings, and then William turned around and started acting like a brat too. One of those moments when you just want to knock the characters’ heads together.
The ending was also a little far-fetched and melodramatic for my liking. It was resolved and wrapped up yes, but could have been better. Overall though, I did enjoy this story and thoroughly recommend it for lovers of clean Regencies.

I requested this title from the Publisher, Kregel. I was not required to write a positive review and all opinions expressed are my own.

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For the rest of this week, both titles in Carolyn Miller's series are on sale on Kindle for $3 for the pair. Click the pictures to visit Amazon and take advantage of this great deal, which is available internationally.

https://www.amazon.com/Elusive-Miss-Ellison-Regency-Brides-ebook/dp/B01NBTFSWChttps://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B06Y191D82/ref=series_rw_dp_sw



Sunday, July 30, 2017

New Release: A Name Unknown by Roseanna M. White

Shadows Over England #1
Bethany House, July 4th 2017, 428 Pages
Print, Ebook and Audio

Edwardian Romance and History Gains a Twist of Suspense

Rosemary Gresham has no family beyond the band of former urchins that helped her survive as a girl in the mean streets of London. Grown now, they concentrate on stealing high-value items and have learned how to blend into upper-class society. But when Rosemary must determine whether a certain wealthy gentleman is loyal to Britain or to Germany, she is in for the challenge of a lifetime. How does one steal a family's history, their very name?

Peter Holstein, given his family's German blood, writes his popular series of adventure novels under a pen name. With European politics boiling and his own neighbors suspicious of him, Peter debates whether it might be best to change his name for good. When Rosemary shows up at his door pretending to be a historian and offering to help him trace his family history, his question might be answered.

But as the two work together and Rosemary sees his gracious reaction to his neighbors' scornful attacks, she wonders if her assignment is going down the wrong path. Is it too late to help him prove that he's more than his name?
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 I wasn’t sure what to expect from this book, but I enjoyed the last series, and the premise of this book sounded very interesting. I’m happy to say that it delivered in almost every way. Rosemary, and the eccentric recluse (who of course turns out to be the author of adventure novels), Peter Holstein were both wonderful, well-drawn characters with realistic flaws and strengths. Londoners are known for being rough tough and often brash, and I think Rosemary’s character portrayed this very well.

I also found the historical background and details interesting with Peter’s German ancestry and connections, and the parts about Rosemary’s life in London. The landscape and landmarks of Cornwall were also well-used in the story, not just dropped in, but used as the basis and backdrop for various scenes. There were times when immersed in the audio version I was almost able to forget that this was written by an American, it came across as so natural. Always a good thing with British Fiction I think.

Almost. There were only a few bloopers in the story, but sadly, they stood out. One was the characters calling the King’s son and heir ‘The Prince of England’, or ‘The Crown Prince of England’. The heir to the British throne is called the Prince of Wales. This has been the official title for the last 700 years, and pretty much everyone in Britain ought to know that. Also, Rosemary describes her unofficial guardian and adoptive father as a ‘Barkeeper’. I’ve never heard of the person who runs a pub being called that before. They’re usually called a Landlord, and there is a difference between a pub and a bar in Britain.

Aside from that though, I loved this story and how the faith elements were worked into it. The whole matter of Rosemary and her siblings being professional thieves might be a bit of an issue, that one hopes can be overcome or addressed. I understand in the next story, it's more related to espionage as a necessary evil. I look forward to reading Willa the violin prodigy’s story in it.

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

Friday, July 28, 2017

First Line Fridays #2- The Captivating Lady Charlotte by Carolyn Miller

Back again for my second First Line Friday post.
For those unfamiliar, it involves sharing the first line of the book that we are currently reading. Its a fun way of sharing our love of books with our friend in the blogosphere, and connecting with other readers and Bloggers. 

Today I am sharing the second book in newbie Australian author Carolyn Miller's second book,  The Captivating Lady Charlotte, part of the trilogy Regency Brides: A Legacy of Grace
As you've guessed its a Regency, following a young debutante Lady Charlotte Featherington, a beautiful, charming and popular Earl's Daughter enjoying her first season. She also just happens to be the newfound cousin of the heroine from the last book The Elusive Miss Ellison.
Meanwhile William, Duke of Hartington is newly widowed, and still reeling from his wife's betrayal. He's quiet, brooding, and above all doesn't believe he could ever trust women again. 

I loved the way the first book incorporated witty dialogue with complex, memorable characters, and a touch of mystery and this one looks to be just as good. I aim to finish it for next week, for the Kregel Blog Tour which starts on the 31st. 


The first line: 

St. James Palace London, April 1814

"The room glimmered with a thousand points of sparkling light, the bright glow from the enormous crystal-dropped chandelier glinting off heavy beaded gowns, ornate mirrors, and the desperation shining in dozens of pairs of eyes." 


Want to join in the book fun? Visit the other members to look at their books, or comment with the first line of your own current read. 


Thursday, July 20, 2017

New Release: Egypt's Sister by Angela Hunt


The Silent Years #1 
July 4th 2017, Bethany House, 379 Pages
Ebook, Print and Audio
Five decades before the birth of Christ, Chava, daughter of the royal tutor, grows up with Urbi, a princess in Alexandria's royal palace. When Urbi becomes Queen Cleopatra, Chava vows to be a faithful friend no matter what--but after she and Cleopatra have an argument, she finds herself imprisoned and sold into slavery.

Torn from her family, her community, and her elevated place in Alexandrian society, Chava finds herself cast off and alone in Rome. Forced to learn difficult lessons, she struggles to trust a promise HaShem has given her. After experiencing the best and worst of Roman society, Chava must choose between love and honor, between her own desires and God's will for her life.
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I had a few reservations before picking this book on Netgalley, mainly due to an older book I read by this author years ago which really wasn't great. I did, however, enjoy the movie adaptation of her more recent work 'Risen' and the subject was interesting- and isn't that cover just beautiful!

My final feelings on the book were decidedly mixed. There were definitely shades of Ben-Hur in the plot, with the story of a Jewish girl name Chava from a privileged background remaining faithful to her God and her principles when her whole world was turned on its head, and in the midst of terrible adversities including being sold into slavery. That part of the story was genuinely well-told, emotional and exciting, albeit a little bit repetitive in a couple of places.
Chava, grew a lot in the course of the story, and though I rooted for her, I'm not sure I ever totally warmed to her. I won't say she was perfect but close to it.

The religious message was also touching and delivered authentically without being preachy. I thought it was well handled, as since of course the novel is set a few decades Before Christ, it does not fit into the traditional remit of 'Biblical Fiction'. Judaism, not Christianity is the faith of the faithful, and of course, no New Testament existed so they drew guidance, encouragement, and peace from what they had whether that was the Old Testament Scriptures or the works of the Great Philosophers of old.

However, I had a number of issues. Whilst many details well-researched and authentic, others were not. Obvious Americanisms coming from the mouths of first century BC Alexandrians were just--- no. Chava talking about traveling several 'blocks' to the city docks was almost too much. (For goodness sake, stop it with everyone in the Ancient and Medieval world measuring distance in 'blocks'! I'm sure readers can grasp miles and yards). There were other glaring historical errors, one that stood out for me was the mention of raw sewage flowing down the rat-infested streets of ancient Rome. All this in the city that was famous for its network of underground sewers, unique in the Classical world, and transporting this technology across the Empire.

Also the description of slaves being transported in Tiny berths and conditions reminiscent of the transatlantic slave trade and terrible also didn't ring true. I mean seriously, why would the person who had supposedly paid over a year's wage one slave then keep her in conditions so bad it destroyed her beauty and nearly killed her only to sell her for a fraction of the price? It's this inconsistency in terms of research and accuracy that bothers me with a lot of Christian Fiction, in which minor details are correct, but major ones are allowed to slip.

I have also noticed in several of this author's books the tendency to idealize the culture in which her protagonists lived: but at the same time have historical people judge the world around them and its people according to modern expectations and standards, unattainable and unrealistic at the time. So there were some modern romantic ideas bandied about 'Why can't Cleopatra just marry whoever she wants because she loves them no matter who they are?' and 'Poor her, having to marry for duty/politics'.

Finally, I really did not buy the sympathetic depiction of Cleopatra as a type of victim who just wanted to do the best for her country: I think it's a naive depiction that does not take account of the savage realities of the ancient world and its politics.
This was a world in which most people were prepared to do literally anything to preserve power and survive, and few had qualms about murdering anyone they perceived as a threat or using their body to achieve their ends. Please don't try and tell me that a woman who killed her brother and sister, and famously had affairs with two Roman generals was somehow above such tactics or was more moral than others because she loved her country and made a good childhood friend.

I requested a copy of this title from Netgalley and listened on the Audiobook of my own volition. I was not required to write a positive review and all opinions expressed are my own.

Friday, July 14, 2017

First Line Fridays #1: Oswui King of Kings by Edoardo Albert

I've joined up to the First Line Fridays group and today is my first contribution, worthy of note at least. 
For those unfamiliar, it involves sharing the first line of the book that we are currently reading, alongside a picture and synopsis. Just a fun way of sharing our love of books with our friend in the blogosphere.

So, for my first contribution, I am sharing my current read by a British author, journalist, and archaeologist. It's the last in a trilogy of novels set in seventh-century Britain surrounding the lives and reigns of three early Anglo-Saxon Kings who converted to Christianity Through their patronage, Christianity came to be established in the Kingdoms that formed what is now England.

Oswui King of Kings: Northumbrian Thrones Trilogy #3 


Although it all sounds very dry, I've loved pretty much every minute so far. The seventh century was a fascinating period, on the edge of recorded history in which myth and fact merge, pagans and Christians co-existed, and historical rulers entered the realm of legend. A world of heroic and notorious warlords, priests, and Saints in which some people could be all at once. Saxons, Britons, Scots, Picts and Irish all inhabited the Isle of Britannia, often vying for power on the battlefield and in the halls and Kings.

 The first line reads:

"The column of riders rode through the water meadows that spread out from the broad river.
 Click the links to see more on the book and the other titles in the series.
https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/18643058-edwin


Want to join in the book fun? Visit the other members to look at their books, and if you want, comment with the first line of your own current read. 

Sunday, July 09, 2017

A Secret Courage by Tricia Goyer

London Chronicles #1
April 1st 2017, Harvest House Publishers, 304 Pages
Print and Ebook
A Mystery Brought Them Together. Will Secrets Destroy Their Love?

Dive into WWII history in this well-researched story of international intrigue, heartwarming romance, and profound courage.

American Emma Hanson is one of a dozen women sent to work in London as a cryptographer—decoding German secrets at the height of World War II. Her job as a member of the Women's Army Corps gives her a way to fight back against those who killed her brother. The only distraction she needs is a good book for the long nights of bombing that threaten her fragile peace.

Englishman William Brandt's mind is full of the secrets he knows and the spies he must keep tabs on to ensure the safety of the people and nation he loves. But there might just be room in his heart for a pretty WAC worker with a sweet spirit—and a curiosity that could threaten all his plans.

Emma's and William's paths cross in the aisle of a London bookstore as they reach for the same Agatha Christie novel. But such an innocent beginning could have deadly consequences...
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Although Tricia Goyer is the author of over 200 books, this was the first one of hers that I have read. Many of the others are Amish or American fiction, which doesn’t really appeal to me. This was also my first Christian novel set during the Second World War. Typically, I don’t tend to choose books set at the time, because I’m not very familiar with the period, and because a lot don’t really mention the British contribution to the war, normally just focusing on the American war effort, and American military personnel.

It must be said the premise and storyline of this book was great. It focused on a virtually unknown group whose job involved interpreting aerial reconnaissance photos. They played a major and vital role in certain aspects of the war, such as gathering intelligence on the Nazis secret weapon- which turned out to be the V2 rocket and its launch sites. Though I’m not entirely certain how successful that operation was, as many V2s fell on London and other areas in the last two years of the war.
Emma and her fellow WAF ladies were interesting and well-drawn characters, and Will was also intriguing, especially with the clever twist about him possibly being a double agent. National sympathies and motivations were also presented accurately in the story so that those wondering why Americans volunteered to fight in Europe might grow to understand their choice a little more.
My only complaints are the same as those raised by other reviewers- there were a lot of mistakes in terms of the language and other details, with British characters using quite conspicuous Americanisms.

Among them ‘sidewalk’ which British people still call ‘pavement’, and ‘kids’- although the term is common today, in the 1930s it would have been extremely unusual for a British person to be heard calling a child that. At another point Will mentioned ‘majoring in history at college’, - we would stay read or studied history at University, and finally Emma talked about her British mother taking cream in her tea. I don’t know any Brit who puts cream in tea, it’s disgusting. Milk is for tea, cream is for coffee, but there seems to be a lot of confusion over this in fiction.

Also, I did find the story a little confusing and unrealistic in some places (such as the opening sequence) perhaps that was because it was meant to be complicated, and it dragged a little here and there. I doubt there are many stories which don’t do this. Overall, I did enjoy the book and found the setting fascinating. It must, I suppose be rather difficult for an author of American Fiction to turn their hand to British fiction for the first time, and not all do it well. Mrs. Goyer has, but a little more research on the finer details might have made it even better.
I’m looking forward to the next installment, which I understand revolves around the Kinder transports. I just hope that the role of Nicholas Winton and other British men and women involved in that heroic effort to rescue Jewish children is not overshadowed by the novel’s American protagonists.

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

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Coming soon from Venessa Knizley

In two days, indy auhor Venessa Knizley's second Medieval novel is due to come out, the sequel to Beneath Outstretched Arms, which focuses on a Medieval English noble family and their household in the years during and after the outbreak of the Black Death in 1348. 

I was read an advance copy of A Little While Longer, although sadly I did not finish reading it because of time constraints. I will say it seemed like a very good read, and will be landing on my Kindle on Friday morning.
Pre-order your copy today: the prequel is FREE until July 1st


The worst of the Plague has ended, but who among the living can claim to have escaped the effects of its devastation?

Certainly not Lady Velena Abrose, who not only bears the scar of her mother’s death, but also lives with the uncertainty of her brother’s life.

Having remained sheltered for the last three years, Velena now finds herself thrust into a harsh season of change as her self-seeking uncle arrives at the castle with news that his eldest son has died—and with him, her arranged marriage.

Tristan wants to believe that the death of Velena’s betrothed means new-found freedom for their ever-deepening friendship, but in his heart, he knows differently. Plans are already being laid for Velena’s future, and chances are, they won’t include him.

A little while longer, and their friendship may be lost.

A Little While Longer is the second of four books to be released in this compelling new medieval series, Walk With Me.

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.

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 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
Oxford: A Beautuful Medieval City (not Village)
when Oxford was described as a ‘village’. Oxford is not a village, it is a city, it has been since the 12th century. 
Another error was that the dish Pottage was not always made from peas. It could be made from anything, the word just referred to any meal 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 pottae 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'd mean she was being wasteful. I suspect the detail was added just to show how horrible and unfair the lives of peasants were.

There were also issues of continuity. Starting with Crecy in 1346 and ending with the Peasant's Revolt of 1381, the book should have spanned some 35 years, and yet the characters who should have been at least 50 by the end did not seem to age, one was still attending University. The cat the others acquired just after the plague was still alive at the end, which would make it 30 years old.
No mention of any condensing of dates for the sake of the story in the historical note, which just made it sort of odd.

Towards the end of the story, I felt the violence of the Peasant’s Revolt was 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. I just hope readers won't base their knowledge of this period of history on this book.

By all means, authors should write about Wycliffe and his furthering the Gospel, but I think they need to be more careful about the moral lessons they seek to convey, because one that was conveyed here was that insurrection against perceived 'oppressors' could be in the will of God and consistent with some socio-political version of the Gospel.

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
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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?”
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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
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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.
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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.
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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.
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