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.

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 Oswui: King of Kings by Edoardo Albert. 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.

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.

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...

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.
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