13 Dec 2013

'A Bride for Keeps' Melissa Jagears

A Bride for Keeps Melissa Jagears 
Bethany House, 1st October 2013
332 Pages

I was interested in this book more because of the author than the genre or period setting which is frankly not my favourite. This is one reason for the perhaps slightly lower-than-otherwise rating. Nothing personal at all, it’s just that late 19th century America is not a setting that that I really go in for, it’s not familiar to me and doesn’t have the same attraction as others. Hence, I’m at something of a loss to understand some of the terms used for everyday items by the characters. Though I could have looked them up….

That said, A Bride for Keeps was a good story which I enjoyed. Given the common setting and the book being romantic fiction, at could have been all too easy for it to fall into the trap of being ‘more of the same’ alongside a lot of other such novels out there. Yet on the whole, I was impressed. It could be a cliched in places, but not overly so in my opinion, nor did it seem to be crammed full of ‘fluffy’ romance, addressing instead some deeper issues such as the basis of Christian marriage, and the characters’ inner struggles.Yes, the happy ending was inevitable, but the process was quite interesting and worthwhile.
It may be worth mentioning as content advistory that this issues include Julia having been possibly raped (and another man attempting to do so). Though this did not seem to be put across in a graphic way, it may be upsetting or unsuitable for younger audiences such as teens.

There is a gospel presentation of sorts, which some people might regard as ‘preaching’, but to me it didn’t come as self-righteous or pompous, nor the characters discussing spiritual matters as so many platitudes. Rather, their faith seemed more real, and their lessons drawn from life experience.

All in all, I think the author has done a good job of taking what were, at the simplest level, some fairly basic and oft-used devices, like a hurting protagonist with issues, and a marriage of convenience, and made from them a memorable and quite engaging story that seemed to rather stand out from the crowd. I would happily recommend, and am personally interested in reading the prequel novella Love by the Letter. 

Thanks to Netgalley for providing me with a free copy of this book in exchange for a review. All opinions expressed are my own and I was not required to write a positive one.

5 Dec 2013

God's Daughter by Heather Day Gilbert

God's Daughter, Heather Day Gilbert
Vikings of the New World Saga Book One 
November 1st 2013  

Heather Day Gilbert very kindly sent me an advance reader’s copy of her book in exchange for a review- and I was glad to have it. Books set in the Medieval Era are by far my favourite, though the Vikings aren’t my favourite people (as a staunch supported of King Alfred who fought them in England).
God’s Daughter covered some interesting subject matter (and period) that doesn’t seem to receive much attention in Christian Fiction - the Viking settlement of North America circa the year 1000. As a Medievalist I consider it a rich and fascinating era, with many stories that deserve to be told.

Personally I for one had never heard of Gudrid or her story, so it was interesting and original. The setting seems to present to be generally realistic and well researched representation of the Icelandic Vikings, their culture and world.
The historical complaints  were few. One was the that the characters’ language sometimes semed rather too modern with terms like ‘smart’  and I’m not sure if Vikings at the turn of the 11th century would have referred to America as ‘The New World’.
Gudrid’s position on slavery and some of her views on other subjects did not seem to be entirely ‘of her time’. That and one of the main male characters walking around in tight leather pants- more like a modern Biker, or extra from an 80s TV dramas than an 11th century Viking.

I sometimes found it a little hard to keep track of all the characters, and sometimes keep up with the story. The book was written in the first person, from Gudrid’s viewpoint, which did seem to go ‘off track’ at times, reminiscing or musing upon some other incident on subject in the middle of a narrative about something else. Then again, most humans seem to do that upon occasion, so perhaps it things more credible.

The Christian aspects were fairly prominent, given that Gudrid was a convert to Christianity, having once been a Pagan Priestess. Her understanding and grasp of some Christian teaching and precepts was somewhat limited, and some of her ideas and actions questionable at times (though she seemed to have the basics right), such as considering it acceptable to take part in some pagan rituals, or just taking for granted that professing Christians who had engaged in sexual immorality could go to heaven.
Perhaps this was unsurprising given the historical context. She did not after all have the access to the Bible in her own language, did not know much Latin, and had little ‘moral support’ in the words of the author. I must practice what I preach and not judge the past by modern standards as well!

Unlike most books in the genre; God’s Daughter was not a romance. Gudrid was already married, though she did struggle with her feelings for other men. On several occasions she would end up ‘bumping into’ one of the two main protagonists who fancied her (which became rather predictable) when she went off on her own, or she would go to meet them on her own for some business or other, which would lead to kissing (or almost kissing).
This was perhaps one of the most infuriating and potentially objectionable aspects of the story.

I’m have serious doubts that such behavior would have been acceptable in that particular society or time period- especially for the wife of a chief. I know the best of us faces temptation, but wasn’t always entirely comfortable with Gudrid’s attitude towards her husband, other men or indeed her behavior which verged to the downright wanton once or twice-though she was never actually unfaithful, and there is resolution at the end.

Overall, God’s Daughter is a good debut, I personally might have like liked a little less kissing, and Vikings who seemed a less- American. People who are ‘into’ the Vikings will probably like it, and I think it would appeal to fans of historical and Medieval fiction more generally, and who are seeking something different from the usual diet of Regencies and stories set in 18-20th century America served up in the Christian Fiction genre.
I would be interested in reading more by this author, and especially the next in the series Forest Child.
Author Biography from Smashwords.com: "Heather writes character-driven novels that go beyond the vows, capturing the triumphs and heartaches unique to married couples. A graduate of Bob Jones University, she's been married to her sweet Yankee husband for over sixteen years. After ten years of homeschooling and six years of writing, she really doesn't have many hobbies. Born and raised in the West Virginia mountains, she believes that bittersweet, generational stories are in her blood."

Readers may visit her blog, her website and her Facebook page at the links provided here.
 Want to Buy the Book? Click on link below

29 Oct 2013

Veil of Pearls by Marylu Tyndall

Barbour Books, July 1st 2012
320 Pages 
 "It is 1811, and the prosperous port city of Charleston is bustling with plantation owners, slaves and immigrants. Immigrants such as the raven-haired Adalia Winston. But Adalia has a secret: her light skin belies that she is part black and a runaway slave from Barbados. Skilled in herbal remedies, Adalia finds employment with a local doctor and settles into her quiet life, thankful for her freedom but still fearful that her owner will find her.

Born into one of Charleston's prominent families, Morgan Rutledge is handsome, bored—and enamored of the beautiful Adalia, who spurns his advances. Morgan's persistence, however, finally wins, and Adalia is swept into the glamorous world of Charleston high society.

But Adalia's new life comes at a high price—that of denying her heritage and her zeal for God. How far is she willing to go to win the heart of the man she loves? And when her secret is revealed, will that love be enough, or will the truth ruin Morgan and send Adalia back into slavery?

Veil of Pearls was my first read by Marylu Tyndall, and sadly I couldn’t really get on with it for the most part. Yes, it had a sound and challenging Christian theme about slavery, both spiritual and physical, but I found that in many ways the story was lacking. It seemed very clichéd (and at times a little predictable), and I think I for one could never really warm to Adalia’s character.

Even though her whole life in Charleston was based on essentially a lie, she just came across as very self-righteous and sanctimonious, especially in her treatment of Morgan when she believed him to be dishonest, or the way she seemed to respond to every difficult situation they faced with platitudes.

Whilst her condemnation of racial prejudice and slavery might have been commendable, she was incredibly prejudiced herself towards the upper classes in society, which seemed like rank hypocrisy. Admittedly her prejudice could be seen as arising from her circumstances and background, I did not think it was ever really challenged or questioned.

Quite the contrary, the almost universal depiction of the upper classes as arrogant, lazy, pampered fops, and the men as lechers, alongside that claim that such behaviour was ‘expected’ of their class seemed to me to be a reflection perhaps of the opinion and viewpoint of the author, and not just of the characters.
Perhaps it is a view common to Americans, I don’t know, but I for one find it difficult to believe that there would not have been any ‘bad eggs’ amongst the lower classes in any society, or any good Christians amongst the upper classes and gentry.
Also, I didn’t think that Morgan’s father expecting him to learn how to run his family’s plantation, and his demanding this as conditional to accepting Morgan’s request to marry Adalia was unreasonable.
Why shouldn’t he expect his son to learn how to run the estate? Just because Morgan found it boring or taxing because he wanted to be a sailor did not make it bad or evil. Really he could be seen as the selfish and immature one in that scenario.

On a historical level I also had a number of problems with this work-I only spotted one major inaccuracy, the reference to a ‘Victorian’ item of furniture in 1811, before Victoria came to the throne, but there may have been others as some have mentioned. I don’t know much about slavery, or the legal technicalities of this period, but I don’t think I found it entirely plausible that a woman who was three-quarters white could be kept as a slave, or even that Sir Walter could have had a legal title to her, as she was freeborn, and he essentially kidnapped her rather than buying her legally.

Finally, there was the historical setting itself- shortly before the war of 1812, and the blame for causing it was laid squarely on the shoulders of the wicked British. Perhaps this is to be expected in a novel written by an American, but I have an issue with this, and the way that no mention was made of the actions of the American government, nor their role in starting the war- such as the ambition to invade Canada.
As far as I know, Impressment seems to have essentially just an excuse and the war was not all the fault of the British. Nor am I convinced that the blaming of the British is simply representing the view of people at the time as I don’t think everyone in America would have been ignorant of the actions of their leaders.

Overall, Veil of Pearls was not a book I enjoyed, or would particularly recommend. I understand where the author might have been coming from with the theme, but perhaps there was too much clichéd romantic mush, typecasting, prejudice and nationalistic Brit-bashing for my liking.

Thanks to Netgalley for allowing me to have a free copy for review. All opinions expressed are my own.

24 Oct 2013

The Peculiar Princess by Christina Graham Parker, Audiobook

June 2012 Astraea Press
"Lexy Newberry knows she's adopted, but someone forgot to mention her birth parents are sixteenth-century monarchs who sent her to the future to escape certain slaughter. Now Lexy is back in the past, charged with reclaiming her homeland. She's not the normal storybook princess, but Lord Lukas Reynard, the nobleman enlisted to help her, isn't a charming prince either.

As her feelings for Lukas grow, she becomes torn between the place she knows in the future and the place she was born to rule in the past. If she leaves the sixteenth century, she may lose a love she only dreamed of. If she stays, she may lose her life. For Lukas has a secret so shocking, it could topple the hopes of Dresdonia and shatter her heart." 

The Peculiar Princess was a time travel novel with a difference- that being that instead of just landing the in past the protagonist was bought back for a reason, albeit from the unlikely setting of a theme park. This concept seemed to work and there was some degree of dramatic tension but the story just seemed a little- slow to get off the ground perhaps. 
This was another audiobook listen, and the narrator wasn’t the best in the world. A little bit monotone, though this didn’t bother me as much as with some other reviewers. Her British accent was not good, sometimes not at all. 

Also, it seemed to be somewhat lacking in any real sense of period. Of course it was set in the late 1500s, and Lexy kept reminding us of how different things were ‘back then’, and some period details, but I wouldn’t regard the representation of period especially accurate. One personal historical nit-pick was the British Lukas calling trousers ‘pants’. I know Americans do this, and the author had to make in understandable for them, but most British people don’t use that term, and almost certainly wouldn’t have done in the 1500s. 

Though I understand the beginning of a story is necessary for introducing and developing the characters, this did happen, but to me it seems as though I spent most of the time  expecting something ‘big’ to happen, a final climax with Sevron. This came, but not until right at the end. Before that there was development in Lexy and Lukas’ relationship but things did seem to drag a little. 

The salvation message seemed sound and not watered down, and the theme of redemption and forgiveness, including forgiveness of oneself seemed to be addressed well, giving some emotional depth to the tale. That said not everything seemed entirely plausible or credible. For instance the conclusion did not seem entirely satisfying or well done for a long-anticipated battle scene. With no irreverence intended its outcome seemed terribly clichéd. Perhaps some of the incidents or resolutions of events were just a little too easy, for instance with the characters suddenly changes of heart.

Overall The Peculiar Princess was generally a satisfactory read (or rather listen) though perhaps not one I would rush to come to a second time.

29 Sept 2013

To Birmingham Castle by Alicia Willis

To Birmingham Castle 
Comrades of Honor Series Book 1
June 2012, 480 Pages 

One could perhaps call To Birmingham Castle  a ‘coming of age’ tale recounting the exploits, challenges and adventures of Robert Fitzhassaltine and the young men who come to be his squires on their journey to manhood, and eventually knighthood (for the latter anyway)learning about courage, honour, loyalty and even finding love along the way.
 There were some interesting historical details, especially regarding weapons, armour and fighting techniques, and occasional French or Latin phrase demonstrates the author’s research in these areas.
 That said, there were some inaccuracies and errors which may have been due to deficiencies in the secondary sources themselves, rather than anything else.

That said there were a few references which I stood out for me as an English person like knights coming from cities or towns which would have been relatively small and insignificant at this time- including Birmingham.

The one major issue I had was the writing style, which I could really not get in with. Essentially it was written in the style of the Victorian novels of Howard Pyle and G Henty with much of the dialogue pseudo-Middle English in style. So the characters will say things like ‘verily, methinks thou art right, beausire’.

It’s not just the archaic language that I had the problem with, (I have read actual Middle English- though not for a prolonged period). There was the way in which the book was written, which seemed a very narrative style telling rather than showing. I personally found it hard-going and slow some of the time, or perhaps rather simplistic or repetitive in style.
 I perhaps prefer my characters more complex than some of the ones here were, some of whom seemed altogether too perfect,  and some of the scenarios just seemed rather implausible. Like the way in which a miscreant was able to get into the castle apparently easily and kidnap the Lord’s daughters (who could do nothing but scream) and make off with them by the hand into the forest, or the characters seeming to recover from even relatively serious injuries incredibly quickly.

When the author did ‘show’ the character’s emotions it was almost always in some descriptive passage such as ‘fear and concern mingling in his eyes’ or ‘his whole mien portrayed his feelings of combined expectation and anxiety’. Without meaning to be personal or over-critical, could the author not have used some other way to describe the characters feelings or body language, and is it even possible for people to portray such a range of emotions with only their eyes?

Altogether, To Birmingham Castle is generally a satisfying ‘old style’ adventure tale, with a sound (and not theologically dubious) Christian theme. I think I was genuinely able to engage with it in parts. I could I think have given a higher rating had the writing style been different, especially considering the book was pushing 460 pages.
I would be interested in reading the second book in the series and might be interesting to see how the character of Nathanial the page of Sir Robert who seemed to do little but cry in this book, develops.

24 Sept 2013

Rules of Murder Julianna Deering- Audiobook

 Rules of Murder Julianna Deering 
Drew Fathering Mysteries 1
August 1 2013, 336 Pages

Having read two of the author's previous titles (part of a Medieval trilogy) , and as a fan of Marple, Poirot and other classic mysteries I was excited about Rules of Murder the first of a new series by the author. In some ways it didn’t disappoint, with the 1930s setting, details and the aristocratic protagonist reminiscent of the above. Simon Vance, narrator of the audiobook version of this title which I listened did well as (An)drew Fathering, although his American accent, and other regional linguistic variations were not always so convincing. That said, Vance has narrated a number of other titles, so his style of reading and voice was not boring or  monotonous and good enough to keep the listener engaged for eight and a half hours.

Drew and Madeleine’s characters were interesting enough, and the notion of them using and works of a 30s mystery writer to guide them in their amateur sleuthing. Yet those of us not familiar with the works of ‘Father Knox’ might find these references obscure. Books set in Britain by American authors can sometimes have their pitfalls, such as stereotyping, and a lack of understanding for cultural or linguistic differences. I think the author pulled it off well for the most part, with the exception perhaps of some of the characters like Inspector Birdsong, who seemed like a stereotypical Londoner (at least his accent in the audiobook made him seem like this) reminiscent of Inspector Japp of Poirot, and only a few notable Americanisms in the character’s speech. 

The main issue I had with this story was its complexity. I understand that in a good whodunit it should not be easy to guess the perpetrator, but in this there seemed perhaps to be too many false starts, twists and turns, possible murderers, suspects or red herrings, and sometimes the story just seemed a little hard to follow. Perhaps this was due to the fact that it took me some time to listen to the story, and there was sometimes a gap of several days before resuming it, but though I grasped the basic thread of the story it could seem a little hard to keep up. 

Also the later crimes themselves perhaps seemed a little unnecessary, and when the story was concluded there was a particularly gruesome detail which I found off-putting. The Christian content was not always prominent, and consisted mostly of Madeleine discussing spiritual matters with Drew whose religion was mostly ‘cultural’.  There was no real gospel message per-se, but the underlying Christian theme was there, and the notion of how Madeleine’s faith helped her deal with some of the pain her character experienced. 

Altogether Rules of Murder is generally an original and clean mystery story inhabited by some colourful characters and a pair of unlikely sleuths (though I’m not entirely sure if some of Drew and Madeleine’s public displays of affection would have been deemed acceptable for an unmarried or non-engaged couple of their social status at this time). I wouldn’t call it a ‘cosy’ mystery due to some issues towards the end, and which may be off-putting and render it not according to everyone’s taste.
Would I read the next book in the series? That may be an open question...

28 Aug 2013

Guest Post by Tamara Shoemaker

Another guest post by Tamara Shoemaker. Obvious really as I don't have any children of course. Thanks Tamara for agreeing to a guest post and sending me this. 

I always said I would never have an odd number of children. It would either be two or four, preferably four, most certainly not three.

Funny thing about decisions; they have a way of changing. I am the proud mother of three children, not two, and (according to my husband) most certainly not four.

I've admittedly resigned myself to the number three with somewhat poor grace. I protested the number all the way to the hospital doors as I dropped off my husband for his “snip-snip” surgery. I think I even remember a few tears shed.

As my children have grown, I've watched the family dynamics with a wary eye. Part of my reasoning behind the number four was that they could pair up for their play times. One could almost always have another one with which to team up without feeling left out. If two ganged up against someone else, the other one could pull the fourth one in on his side. (Of course, this is all speculation. My children would never be unkind to each other). ;)

With three, I've been concerned, because there are always two of them playing together, and there is always one that is left by themselves. Granted, it hasn't seemed like the end of the world. My oldest daughter and my son (the middle child) are best buds. They go everywhere together. They do everything together. My oldest daughter is the imaginative one in the bunch. She makes up scenarios, then she and my son have to act them out. They spend hours doing role play.

My youngest daughter stands in the living room in front of the couch with a book open in front of her. She spends scads of time “reading” aloud. I'm thrilled that she seems to have developed an exceptional interest in books, but I'm also concerned that she has little to no interaction with her sister and brother.

This past week, my daughter started Kindergarten, five days a week, all day. That left my son and my youngest daughter at home, and suddenly, they had to learn how to play together. The first day of school, both of them were bored stiff. They rolled around on the floor of the den, moaning about how tired they were, and was their older sister ever going to come back? There was nothing to do. It was so boring.

I sent them to their rooms and told them they could come out when they figured out how to be less bored. Or if they were still bored, they couldn't come out till they could figure out how to be quiet about their boredom.

That was the first week. The second week, I began to see a change. Where my oldest daughter up to that point had always been the ringleader in imaginative play, my son began to take the initiative. Instead of playing separately from his little sister, he invited her to come and play “house” or “camp” or “build” or “garden” with him. Today, I looked in our backyard and practically skipped in a circle at the sight that met my eyes.

They had taken the laundry basket, pulled it under one of the sheets I'd hung on the line, arranged the ends of the sheet over the basket, then climbed in the basket and played in their “tent.” This occupied their time for an entire hour. No fussing. No crying. No screaming. Can I get a hallelujah!?

My children teach me lessons every day. Sometimes I learn them. Sometimes I'm just plain stubborn. This one, I'm choosing to learn. How do I step up to fill the roles that need to be filled? If someone leaves a vacancy, and I'm not necessarily talking about a professional work-place, how can I work to fill in the gaps that need to be filled? If something needs to be done, do it. If someone needs a hug, hug them. If a letter needs to be written, write it. Mail it. If a phone call needs to be made, punch those numbers on that dial pad.

If that book needs to be written, write it. For years and years, I was a writer who did not write. What is a writer who does not write? Frustrated.

God's given us all talents. Some are flamboyant, awe-inducing, colorful. Some are behind-the-scenes, hidden, secret. But they are all talents, and they're all necessary to our character; the practice of our talent shapes us in to whom we were designed to be.

Stop waiting for the grass to grow. Take initiative.


Tamara Shoemaker is the author of the Shadows in the Nursery series, which includes the best-sellers Broken Crowns and Pretty Little Maids. She lives in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia with her husband and three young children. She writes fantasies and Christian thrillers between diaper changes and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.

Click the Link to see details of her latest book, pictured above here http://amzn.to/13Mnii1
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