19 Sept 2016

Beneath Outstretched Arms by Venessa Knizley

Walk With Me #1
April 22nd 2016, 216 Pages, Selah Press

The year is 1348—and the Black Plague has reached England. Forced to leave her betrothed behind, Lady Velena Ambrose arrives at her father’s countryside castle, grief stricken—and burdened with fears. She embraces her seclusion, but she is not to remain alone.

Though suffering great loss, Esquire Tristan Challener arrives at the castle, able to find comfort in the Bible that a friar has secretly placed in his satchel.
Velena desperately needs the book that Tristan keeps safely hidden in his room, but is it wise for her to find companionship with a man who is not her betrothed? Will darkness make its abode in her forever, or will she finally be set free to see that God is good, and that there is rest to be had, beneath His mighty outstretched arms?

Beneath Outstretched Arms is the first of four books to be released in this compelling new medieval series, Walk With Me.

I did not know what to expect when I purchased this book. It had good reviews, and many may know I’m a sucker for good Medieval Fiction (unless other reviewers or a search flag up serious issues that would put me off). For the most part, I was pleasantly surprised. It presented a realistic and evocative account of a family caught up in the middle of the Black Death. We cannot, and I hope never will, have to imagine what it would be like to face such terrible circumstances, it is no wonder they though the world was ending.

The heroine Velena’ and her fellows’ hopelessness and despair were well written and entirely understandable. It was on this basis that the story was built. I agree with another reviewer who said there are very few well- written and authentic Christian Medieval novels. Most are silly, whimsical, or depend on shocking violence and torture to keep the audience interested. This was not one of them.
There was romance, but it’s not silly or mushy, in fact both parties expect to marry other people and so keep their contact within certain boundaries. Rather, the story is an account of the converging lives of a number of young people, and their choices and decisions. The main ones are Tristan and Velena, but there are other supporting characters who may well play an important role in future books, including some of the household knights and staff. There is also an element of family drama, with the strained relationship with the Uncle’s side of the family.

I appreciated the way that Velena was shown to be close to her father, who is presented as a strong ruler, yet also tender and loving to his family. All too often in stories like this, fathers are presented as draconian brutes who want to force their hapless daughters into unwanted marriages. The age old cliché, which I think dehumanizes our Medieval forbears by simply making them props to represent the prejudices of the modern world.
One could also tell that the author had done her homework on the setting, with the descriptions of life in a castle, and certain customs or details about social life. Usually, it was authentic and plausible. The only problem I had was with some of the language, which was riddled with some modern Americanisms and several uses of the word ‘Okay’. I don’t believe these are present in the paperback version, and I think it was a genuine mistake which is not used in future versions. That said, the British characters’ tendency for complaining about the weather was spot on, as were some of the phrases they used- and there were no references to non-indigenous flora and fauna like potatoes. A common mistake in a lot of Medieval stories.

There was a genuine and Gospel message in the story, which is entirely commendable. The only problem I had was that it came from the incorrect assumption that Medieval people did not read the Bible, and were totally ignorant of its content and teaching. This was not the case, Psalters (small books containing the Psalms) were popular in the Late Middle Ages amongst the Laity, and most people would have been familiar with the odd Bible story and Psalm. What is more, any vernacular rendition of the Bible in the fourteenth century would not have been the same as the versions we know today- they would have been based on the Latin Vulgate, and would have contained he Apocryphal books like Judith and Maccabees.
I suppose, with any novel like this, there has to be some balance between historical accuracy, and sharing the teachings of modern orthodox Christianity, which is going to result in the former falling by the wayside. It’s not a big deal, and not something I would lower the rating for, but it’s something I do feel warranted a mention.

Overall though, I heartily recommend this book, and will shortly be making my way through the second one which continues the story. It is a shame that more books like this don't get snapped up by the larger and well-known publishing houses, they deserve to be better known and advertised.

16 Sept 2016

New for 2016: Ben Hur by Carol Wallace

July 19th 2016, 432 Pages
Print, Audiobook and Audio
Tyndale House (US), Lion Fiction (UK)

As one of the bestselling stories of all time, Lew Wallace's Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ has captivated and enthralled millions around the world--both in print and on the big screen. Now Lew's great-great-granddaughter has taken the old-fashioned prose of this classic novel and breathed new life into it for today's audience.

Coming to theaters in August 2016 as Ben-Hur, a major motion picture from MGM and Paramount studios, the story follows Judah Ben-Hur, a Jewish nobleman whose childhood friend Messala betrays him. Accused of trying to murder the new Roman governor in Jerusalem, Judah is sentenced to the galley ships and vows to seek revenge against the Romans and Messala. But a chance encounter with a carpenter from Nazareth sets Judah on a different path.

Rediscover the intrigue, romance, and tragedy in this thrilling adventure.

Also included: the inspiring story-behind-the-story of Lew Wallace--Indiana lawyer, author, and Civil War general.

This review begins with an important note. I have not read the original version of Ben Hur, by Lew Wallace, nor have I yet seen the movie adaptation of this one, although I hope to soon. So, I cannot compare this to the original, only remark upon the book itself on its own terms.

Those familiar (as I am) with the old 1950s adaptation starring Charlon Heston from Television repeats each year will be familiar with the basic storyline. This version is, according to the author’s note, updated for our own time by the author’s great-granddaughter. I had never realized how much research went into the original- and how much the author got right (though there may have been a couple of minor errors- I’m sure there were no Lombards in the 1st century).

This version has enough of everything to please the modern reader, action, romance, intrigue, a great injustice to be righted, the iconic chariot race, and all of the original enigmatic characters. I have read a couple of Victorian/ Classic novels in my time, so some of the detailed descriptions of settings are lost in this version, and it’s up to readers familiar with the original to decide which they prefer.

For the more general reader, I would say this was a great introduction to the Classic story of revenge and redemption through The Christ, who is constantly in the background of the story, and of how people of the period may have responded to the coming of The Messiah. That I believe, was what Mr Wallace originally intended to explore in the work.

I received an e-book edition of this title from the Publisher Tyndale House, for the purposes of writing a review. I was not required to write a positive one and all opinions expressed are my own.

4 Sept 2016

Revell Reads Blog Tour- To Follow Her Heart, Rebecca DeMarino

 Southold Chronicles #3
352 Pages, July 19th 2016, Revell
Print and Ebook

I did enjoy this story, but like a lot it wasn’t a favourite. The first half was better, with fair amount of tension and drama, after that it started getting rather repetitive and just felt drawn out with the constant angst and uncertainty over Patience and Jeremy’s courtship. 

The details about everyday life were interesting on one level (and I’m a sucker for social history at the best of times), but again, after a while they did become something of a drag. This was probably due to the somewhat repetitive nature of the story. I found myself skimming a number of parts with fast Text to Speech. I was interested in some of the details about Native American customs and way of life, and some of the historical details.  Readers should be mindful that as the author’s note says, this book does not have such a solid founding in the history of the family as the others. 

I liked Jeremy Horton, but I don’t think I ever warmed to Patience very much. Her faith in Jeremy was touching, and their relationship seemed genuine. Although, her attitude and behaviour at the end of the story seemed very selfish and bratty. As for the language- well it was interesting. The sea captain Harry was meant to be born and raised in London, but had one of those odd, Ham accents that all lower class British characters seem to have in books like this saying ‘Ye’ and ‘Aye’, regardless of where they are from. It sounds vaguely like something out of Yorkshire, but not really like any accent anywhere in the British Isles.

 I was also unsure about the ages of the characters. The Epilogue states Barnabas’ age at death, which would mean he was in his 60s when the story was set, and so Jeremy could not have been far off that, but it seemed to be made out that he way younger. I may have that wrong though.
Despite the niggles though, this was a worthwhile read and a good ending to the trilogy which wraps up everything for the characters, and a good reimagining of the early history of the region. I personally just don’t really care that much for stories set in the Colonial Era. 

I signed up for the blog tour of this book, and so received a free e-book edition for the purposes of review. I was not required to write a positive one and all opinions expressed are my own.
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