27 Feb 2018

The Lost Castle by Kristy Cambron

 The Lost Castle #1 
Thomas Nelson, February 6th 2018, 384 Pages
Ebook, Print and Audio
Ellie Carver arrives at her grandmother’s bedside expecting to find her silently slipping away. Instead, the beloved woman begins speaking. Of a secret past and castle ruins forgotten by time. Of a hidden chapel that served as a rendezvous for the French Resistance in World War II. Of lost love and deep regret . . .

Each piece that unlocks the story seems to unlock part of Ellie too—where she came from and who she is becoming. But her grandmother is quickly disappearing into the shadows of Alzheimer’s and Ellie must act fast if she wants to uncover the truth of her family’s history. Drawn by the mystery surrounding The Sleeping Beauty—a castle so named for Charles Perrault’s beloved fairy tale—Ellie embarks on a journey to France’s Loire Valley in hopes that she can unearth its secrets before time silences them forever.

Bridging the past to the present in three time periods—the French Revolution, World War II, and present day—The Lost Castle is a story of loves won and lost, of battles waged in the hearts of men, and of an enchanted castle that stood witness to it all, inspiring a legacy of faith through the generations.

My Thoughts:


A timeslip novel that features three consecutive time periods is- ambitious to say the least. Some people mentioned that they found the triple plot lines confusing and hard to follow. That wasn’t really an issue with me, perhaps because this wasn’t my first timeslip novel. Although, when the characters in one time and place started remembering something that had happened a few years or months before, it could get a bit much, since it effectively made three different places in time to five.

I thought the three stories were well told and worked well together in the end. I have some experience with Alzheimer’s, so could identify with Ellie’s fear of ‘losing’ her grandmother to the disease, and her desire to find out about her past before it was too late. I also liked the way that the castle itself was used as a character, in some sense: the brooding and mysterious building that was always close by, but hidden and inaccessible at the same time. I think though that whilst I liked most of the characters, I never warmed to Aveline: the seventeenth-century woman. Whilst it was possible to feel sorry for her at first, she came over as arrogant and dogmatic in the end.

There were two things that I really did not like about this novel though, in hindsight (nearly a week after finishing it). First off, the British and Irish character used a lot of Americanisms, which is common in books like this. In this instance, it wasn’t just jarring: it also didn’t ‘sound’ right.  Characters from 1940s England speaking an odd combination of British and American English just didn’t work for me. 

Secondly, I really did not agree with or like what felt like a sympathetic portrayal of the French Revolution. I understand some Americans think it was a good thing, but to do that, it’s necessary to ignore the terrible violence that took place during the Reign of Terror, when thousands of innocent people including women, clerics, and commoners were murdered.
I understand the events depicted in parts of the story set during the Revolution took place a couple of years before that, and they appealed to Aveline’s sense of justice, but I still didn’t like her attitude, and her and her rescuers’ na├»ve belief that all would be good and rosy for them as long a love and justice prevailed.

In spite of these complaints, though, I did enjoy this story overall, and I would consider reading some of the author's previous works.

I requested the eBook of this title from the publisher via Booklook Bloggers and purchased the audiobook of my own volition. I was not required to write a positive review and all opinions expressed are my own.

16 Feb 2018

First Line Fridays 22: From the Dark to the Dawn by Alicia Willis

Friday has come again! I am still reading one of the books I included a couple of weeks ago, and a title from NetGalley. I usually try to read at least one Print book and one Kindle book at once (often two), and since my new year's resolution is to try to finish all the unread books on my Kindle, I might as well plough into them. 

Turns out some books I have had on there for a long time: I mean a really long time, like two years or more. So I chose my next read by going backward chronologically, and looking for the oldest unread books and came up with the one I am featuring today. 

Indy author Alicia A. Willis (now Alicia Jones), writes in the style of the classical authors like G.A.Henty, who only puts a lot of research into her books, but also consults historians who specialize in the subjects and period she writes about. 

I have featured reviews of the titles in her Comrades of Honor Trilogy, set in 13th century England and France on this site.  From the Dark to the Dawn is a standalone title, which covers the very different territory of Ancient Rome.

 Decadent Rome, 61 Anno Domini. The masters of the universe have crushed the Iceni rebellion with an iron hand, slaughtering and enslaving her people.

For Philip, his existence as a captive means living to hatred. He despises his rich, young master, resenting his life of servitude and the wrestling feats Marcus forces him to perform. Bitterness engulfs his soul until he only lives for the day when he will crush the might of Rome.

Then Christianity enters the picture. Taught by a Jewish breadmaker to know the man called Christus, Philip begins the struggle to forgive and honor his master. But forgiveness is not easy towards one who lives for himself.

Marcus Virginius knows nothing but power and pleasure. Destined to a successful career serving Nero in the Praetorian Guard, he wants no part of Christianity. And he is determined to crush Philip’s newfound faith – no matter what it takes.

Join Philip and Marcus in their journey of redemption, faith, and forgiveness. Is love enough to conquer hate? And will the light of the gospel ever surmount the darkness of Rome?

Persecution abounds – will the two young men survive its terrors and live to experience the bright hope of a new dawn?

Yes, the Iceni revolt was the one led by the legendary British Queen, Boudicca. An interesting starting point for a Christian book. Have a great reading week, and don't forget to comment with your own first line, then see what everyone else is reading by clicking the link below. 


13 Feb 2018

Judah's Wife by Angela Hunt

The Silent Years #2 
384 Pages, Bethany House, 2nd January 2018
Print, Ebook, and audio

Seeking peace and safety after a hard childhood, Leah marries Judah, a strong and gentle man, and for the first time in her life Leah believes she can rest easily. But the land is ruled by Antiochus IV, descended from one of Alexander the Great's generals, and when he issues a decree that all Jews are to conform to Syrian laws upon pain of death, devout Jews risk everything to follow the law of Moses.

Judah's father resists the decree, igniting a war that will cost him his life. But before dying, he commands his son to pick up his sword and continue the fight--or bear responsibility for the obliteration of the land of Judah. Leah, who wants nothing but peace, struggles with her husband's decision--what kind of God would destroy the peace she has sought for so long?

The miraculous story of the courageous Maccabees is told through the eyes of Judah's wife, who learns that love requires courage . . . and sacrifice.

 My Review: ✩✩✩

This second novel set in what Christians generally refer to as the Inter-testamental period was interesting. The events of this book are recounted in 1 and 2 Maccabees, two books which are part of Old Testament Apocrypha. Writings which have been sadly ignored by many modern Western evangelicals. I know something about the Maccabees before reading this, novel, but not a lot.

The story is told from the perspective of Judah Maccabeus, the most famous of five sons, and his fictional wife Leah. It starts out as a traditional romance, with Leah seeing her arranged marriage as a way to escape her abusive father, but then struggling to find her place in her husband's family.
The situation then becomes more difficult when observant Jews like the Maccabees find themselves on the wrong side of the law, as the authorities try to force them to worship pagan gods. From about halfway through, there are a lot of battle scenes, and details recounting military campaigns so that the romance takes the back foot. I personally don't mind that, because I prefer straight out historical fiction with some romantic elements to fluffy romance, with some superficial 'history bits' thrown in.

However, in some places, the plot fell back to one of the usual tropes of the Romance genre: with misunderstanding keeping the characters from developing their relationship.
In this case, the 'misunderstanding' was that Leah believed that because her husband fought to defend their people, he would also become violent towards her like her father had been.
Thus, Leah started acting like a total brat and using emotional blackmail to try to force her husband to change and do what she wanted or provoke him into divorcing her.

Personally, I found that made it harder to sympathize with her when Judah had given no indication of having a violent nature and had never harmed her after years of marriage. Yet she still suspected that he would suddenly turn because of what happened in her childhood. As usual, the whole problem was resolved by talking (why couldn't they have done that earlier?), and prayer: which is not a problem, but is pretty typical in religious fiction.

The other thing which annoyed me was the Americanisms. I understand that publishers want to make books accessible to American audiences, but I think a woman living in a small Judean town over 2000 years ago talking about traveling several 'blocks' was almost too much.

After the resolution, Leah developed more to become less annoying, and the story improved. So it was a decent read overall which breaks from the typical HEA ending. Recommended for lovers of historical fiction which is lighter on the Romance side.

I requested an ARC from the Publisher via NetGalley and listened to the audiobook which I purchased of my own volition. I was not required to write a positive one, and all opinions expressed are my own.

9 Feb 2018

First Line Fridays 21: The Keeper of Her Heart by Stacy Henrie

I've been remiss and not posted for nearly 3 weeks, and now its February. On Friday (writing this Thursday night), I'm off to Devon: yes, that's Devon in England. I'm taking two books with me: well actually one book and a Kindle, and featuring one of the titles I hope to finish when I am there.      
I requested The Keeper of Her Heart months ago on Netgalley: its an Edwardian Historical romance, and above all, its nice and short. At 270 pages short enough to finish in a weekend (well, hopefully).

"Even at a young age, Ada Thorne knew that she would marry only for love, never money. So when she finds herself irrevocably drawn to Ned Henley, the lowly gamekeeper on a neighboring estate, she defies her parents and society by eloping with him to London to build a new life.

Without her family’s support, life in the city is far more difficult than the one of ease and privilege Ada has always known. She’ll find herself relentlessly tested in ways she never imagined—especially when Ned, answering the call of duty, enlists to serve his country in World War One.

Alone and near poverty with a child to raise, Ada’s resolve will be strained at every turn. And as she struggles to remain true to her convictions and live life on her own terms, Ada will embark on a journey of courage, faith, and love that will surpass even her own humble dreams "

Happy Friday and Happy reading this weekend!


5 Feb 2018

The Samurai's Heart by Walt Mussell

The Heart of the Samurai #1
Kindle Publishing, 287 Pages, July 18th 2017

Japan, 1587. Sen must find a husband to marry into her family’s swordsmith business. She seeks a Christian husband, though Christianity is banned.

Enter Nobuhiro. Third son of a high-level samurai, Nobuhiro fled his harsh father and apprenticed himself to a swordsmith. He yearns to prove his worth.

They seem an ideal match. But for Sen, the choice is faith or family. For Nobuhiro, choosing a Christian ends any reconciliation with his family. Can love be forged from the impossible?

My Review:

This book had the very unusual and interesting setting of sixteenth-century Japan. Only in the last few decades, it seems, has the story of Japanese Christianity in the early modern period come to the attention of the West. Many of these people were converted by Portuguese Catholic missionaries in the early sixteenth century. When, later in the century, Christianity was forbidden by the authorities many continued to practice their faith in secret: fictionalized versions of their stories are elaborated in novels such as Silence. Which has of course been made into a movie starring Liam Neeson and Andrew Garfield.

The Samurai’s Heart is the first book in a series by an American author married to a lady of Japanese extraction. It follows Sen, the daughter of a swordsmith and a Christian convert whose circumstances irrevocably change and she is forced to return to her family home. There she meets Nobuhiru, the young man whom her father has taken on as his apprentice because he has no son. Nobuhiru is the son of a Samurai, the elite warrior class of Japan, but is estranged from his family because of a physical disability which makes him partly lame in the leg.

Amidst danger from political intrigue, the two become friends but are reluctant to accept their respective families’ suggestions that should marry. Sen does not want to marry a man who does not share her faith, and whose father may be involved in the persecution of her fellow Christians, and Nobuhiru worries that an alliance with a Christian might result in his family disowning him, just when he is starting to rebuild bridges with them. Loyalties, friendship, and faith are tested when a dangerous conspiracy involving a rogue band of Samurai comes closer to home.

The list of names and glossary in the front were an essential addition to this book for readers like me who occasionally got bogged down remembering all the characters. Don't let that put you off though, as this book is well worth the effort, and the author has done a wonderful job of evoking another time and place far removed from what is familiar to most American and European readers. Which, apart from a few Americanisms I found very authentic and engrossing. 

I volunteered to read this book through the Kindle Scout Program and was not required to leave a review. All opinions expressed are my own.
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