31 Dec 2012

An Interview with Julie Klassen author of 'The Tutor's Daughter'

Below are and answers to some interview questions I posed to Julie Klassen after reading a Netgalley Copy of her New Novel 'The Tutor's Daughter', due to be released tomorrow. My Review of the book may be seen here.

Most Christian Historical novels that I know of are set in America, what made you choose to set ‘The Tutor’s Daughter’ and some of your other novels in Britain or England?

Yes, all of my novels have been set in England so far, with The Tutor’s Daughter being set specifically in Cornwall. I have been fascinated with England ever since I read The Secret Garden and Jane Eyre as a girl. I’m not sure why the setting appealed to me so much, but to this day I am captivated by the rich history, delicious accents, and beauty of the country. My husband and I have been able to visit England twice now and hope to return soon. I jokingly say the real reason I’m writing is to justify my long-held desire to travel to England!

I have been told that Christian Historical novels set outside America do not tend to be so popular or sell so well. Did you find this to this to be the case with yours? 

True. I was advised early on that if I wanted to sell more books, I should set them in western America in the late 1800s—a very popular setting for Christian fiction. But I’m a big believer in writing the kinds of novels your yourself love to read. So that’s what I do. And I’m deeply thankful that sales have been good and many readers are enjoying travelling to early 19th century England with me through my books.

Parts of the Tutor’s Daughter seem to reflect Jane Eyre and other classics; did these consciously influence your writing? 

As I mentioned, I was introduced to Jane Eyre at a young age. My 6th grade teacher read the book to us aloud over several weeks with real emotion and even mascara-tears. She (and the book) certainly made an impression on me. My third book, The Silent Governess, was more directly influenced by Jane Eyre than this one. But everything we take in influences us and effects our writing, whether we realize it or not. That’s why I always encourage young writers to make sure they are reading well-written, worthwhile books.

Are any of the characters in ‘The Tutor’s Daughter’ based on any characters we might recognise from the classics? 

I wouldn’t say “based on,” but I can think of several characters in my books that have been  influenced or inspired by characters I’ve met in the pages of Jane Austen, Charles Dickens, George Eliot, Elizabeth Gaskell and others. In this book, I would say Emma Smallwood reflects some qualities of sensible, stoic Elinor Dashwood from Sense & Sensibility. And perhaps Phillip Weston has a few things in common with mild-mannered, conflicted Edward Ferrars.

Most of your novels seems to be set on the 1800s or the ‘regency’ period (though it should be called Victorians), is this era of particular interest to you and why? 

[[Note fyi only: Most writers agree that the Victorian era began in 1837 with Queen Victoria’s reign. The Regency period is the time when the Prince Regent ruled (1811-1820), though some extend it through his reign as king after his father died. In any case, here’s my answer:]]

I am specifically drawn to the Regency era (1811-1820) because that was when Jane Austen’s novels, which I enjoy and admire, were published (though written somewhat earlier). I think Regency novels are a great fit for the inspirational market in particular, because they are set at a time when people, by and large, valued virtue, revered God and church, and endeavored to follow the rules of polite society—things less common today. It was a time when chivalry was alive and well. Physical contact between unmarried ladies and gentlemen was limited to the chaste touching of hands during a courtly dance at a grand ball. I find it a very romantic time, as do many I’m happy to say!

I confess to knowing very little about this period (the Medieval Era is my speciality), but it seems your research has been very extensive. Can you tell me more about that?

Yes, I have had to do a lot of research, but I enjoy it. Some is online, but much of it is through old books. For this novel, I found several new sources (beyond the pile of books I already own about life and education in Regency England), including excerpts of Cornish newspapers from the time, accounts of shipwrecks, etc.  

                A few years ago, while I was researching The Silent Governess, I came across information about private tutors. Public schools as we know them didn’t exist in those days. Parents often hired educated university graduates without fortunes to live with them and tutor their sons, as governesses did for girls. Or, they might send their sons to live with a learned man to be educated in his home. (Jane Austen’s own father took in pupils, so Jane grew up with male boarders sharing her house and her father’s time. Perhaps that’s why Edward Ferrars, in Sense and Sensibility, had been sent away to be educated by a clergyman--and there became secretly engaged to the clergyman’s niece, Miss Lucy Steele).
                And lastly, I’ve been able to do some research on location (my favorite sort!) during our trips to England.

If you could give one piece of advice or word of encouragement to an aspiring author of novels in this genre, what would it be? 

Many readers know this genre well. My advice would be to do your research or you’ll hear about it later. You will make some (hopefully minor) mistakes. We all do. But do all you can not to yank the reader from the time and place--the story world--you’ve created.

Thanks for the interview—great questions!

23 Dec 2012

Review of 'The Fairest Beauty' by Melanie Dickerson

The Fairest Beauty by Melanie Dickerson ★★★☆☆
"A daring rescue. A difficult choice. Sophie desperately wants to get away from her stepmother's jealousy, and believes escape is her only chance to be happy. Then a young man named Gabe arrives from Hagenheim Castle, claiming she is betrothed to his older brother, and everything twists upside down. This could be Sophie's one chance at freedom---but can she trust another person to keep her safe?
Gabe defied his parents Rose and Wilhelm by going to find Sophie, and now he believes they had a right to worry: the girl's inner and outer beauty has enchanted him. Though romance is impossible---she is his brother's future wife, and Gabe himself is betrothed to someone else---he promises himself he will see the mission through, no matter what. When the pair flee to the Cottage of the Seven, they find help---but also find their feelings for each other have grown. Now both must not only protect each other from the dangers around them---they must also protect their hearts."
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Opinion: `The Fairest Beauty `was a good and original retelling of the Snow White stories, which stood out from the crowd of some of the recent dramatic adaptations of recent times. Melanie Dickerson seems to have a knack for cleverly transferring fairy tales into a real historical background, in this case Germany in the early 1400s, and whilst removing the more fantastical elements (magic, fairy godmothers) retaining the basic elements of stories as well as their charm.
The Christian themes in this novel seemed to be well presented, especially that of forgiveness and reconciliation which could be seen to fit the story well.

There are some interesting and well-drawn characters, Gabehart the hero being my favourite. He seemed to be something of a lovable rogue at first. Impetuous and determined to prove himself, perhaps even with a slightly rebellious streak which caused him to defy his family to go and save Sophie, he nevertheless seemed rather an endearing character.
Then there was of course Sophie (Snow White). Sophie's life is endangered by the Duchess Ermengard's murderously egotistical rage, and has to be rescued by Gabe, but she is not shrinking violet and seems sufficiently spunky and independent to please most people.
This said, she was not my favourite character, although she had her moments, she seemed a little too passive sometimes. She and Gabe's developing love, whilst also sweet did seem a little predictable in its culmination, with the possibility of Sophie marrying Gabe's brother to whom she was betrothed seeming very unlikely. Of course she would fall for the dashing hero who saved her.

Not to forget Duchess Ermangard herself- the archetypal fairy-tale baddie of the Wicked Stepmother. She was indeed an egotistical megalomaniac, as could be expected, yet I found her to be rather a disappointment. Rather like Tilda Swinton's White Witch in `The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe' movie, she just did not seem to very threatening or menacing, as much as she was meant to be so.
As another reviewee pointed out she seemed to 'lack motivation' her her cruelty. If Sophie herself and almost everyone else believed her to be a servant, and the Duke's daughter that she really was to be dead how could she be that much of a treat to the Duchess? It would be much more plausible if, as in the original story, Sophie and everyone else knew exactly who she was.
Finally, `The Seven' who were not seven dwarves, (though one match the description) but seven men with what we would now call learning and physical disabilities. Each was unique, but not all seemed to be developed, though that may have been because some played a more prominent role, whilst others seemed to be very much minor characters.

Moving onto the story itself. It is sweet and charming, and in some places engaging, yet it somehow reminds me of a children's drama or movie that could be corny and unrealistic in places. For instance, it was supposed to be almost impossible to escape from Hohendorf Castle, the Duchesses' dominion, and the characters state that few have ever done so.
Yet no fewer than three characters are literally able to walk (or ride) out in a short space of time.
Sophie and Gabe's pursuit by the Duchess soldiers through a forest provided some excitement, but also would not be out of place in a movie. Though unlike in some of these, not all the arrows loosed by the bad guys miss, and Gabe does get wounded.
The novel also seemed to lag a little towards the middle and the end, though this was the part in which Gabe and Sophie love developed.

Overall, the Fairest Beauty is a worthwhile read, and I think would certainly appeal to teenage girls, but also in some ways to adults too, though maybe not universally.
It was original, imaginative and enjoyable enough, though I felt rather corny, predictable and implausible in places.
As with a previous novel read by the author , I also felt that the writing style of this one seemed a little too simplistic with a few too many coincidences or easy resolutions. This said, as an adult reading a novel aimed at children, it is possible my expectations were too high, and the writing style was intended to appeal to a younger audience.
Christianity/Morality: Aside from some characters referring to the Duchess Ermengard dabbling in Black Magic, and Sophie and Gabe's relationship blossoming when she was still betrothed to Gabe's brother, there was little objectionable in the book.
This said, Sophie and Gabe did kiss and embrace, though nothing that was actually immoral actually conspired between them when the betrothal still stood- although by the standards of the time such behavior might well have been regarded as such.

History: Some other terms the character's used also seemed a little too modern. In one passage Sophie thought that the Seven playing their instruments looked like a 'band'- exactly how would a fifteenth century person know what a boyband looked like when no such thing existed? There was also talk of Gabe having 'taken' an arrow, as one would 'take' a bullet today. Bows were not the same as guns, and I am not sure Medieval people would have spoken in such terms 
Towards the end of the novel Gabe turned down the offer of getting his own land, and even the title of a Duke because he was more interested in pursuing a career as a Master Stonemason. It seemed very implausible that the son of a nobleman would done such a thing  in order to take up a profession  which would likely have been seen as 'beneath' them. 
I received an advance copy of this book free from the Publisher in return for a review. I was not required to write a positive one.

6 Dec 2012

Review of 'The Tutor's Daughter'by Julie Klassen

The Tutor's Daughter by Julie Klassen ★★★★☆
"Emma Smallwood, determined to help her widowed father regain his spirits when his academy fails, agrees to travel with him to the distant Cornwall coast, to the cliff-top manor of a baronet and his four sons. But after they arrive and begin teaching the younger boys, mysterious things begin to happen and danger mounts. Who does Emma hear playing the pianoforte, only to find the music room empty? Who sneaks into her room at night? Who rips a page from her journal, only to return it with a chilling illustration?

The baronet's older sons, Phillip and Henry, wrestle with problems--and secrets--of their own. They both remember Emma Smallwood from their days at her father's academy. She had been an awkward, studious girl. But now one of them finds himself unexpectedly drawn to her.
When the suspicious acts escalate, can the clever tutor's daughter figure out which brother to blame...and which brother to trust with her heart?"
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This is the first Christian Historical Novel I have read set in this period, and the first by this author, so it was really something of a new experience for me. Overall, it was very good, and though it is a modern novel, it really seems to have the 'feel' of the classics. There definitely seem to be shades of Jane Eyre, with the mysterious nocturnal visitor, the family secret, and the forbidden wing of the house, and perhaps also even some resemblance to Pride & Prejudice, with Emma Smallwood ‘The Tutor’s Daughter’  and Henry Weston having to overcome their preconceptions about one another, to allow their blossoming love to emerge.

It did take me a while to ‘get into’ the novel, as it seemed to be a little slow and repetitive at first, with descriptions of Emma’s daily routine, and the actions built around it. It does get better about a quarter to a third of the way through, with the ‘family secret’ becoming more prominent and the characters apparently starting to come into their own. The major Characters like Emma, her father and the two Weston brothers seemed well developed and believable, enough, though others seemed a little lacking, such as the younger brothers.

I would also say that the American author has done very well in creating a believable British setting and characters, whose attitudes and values largely seem to reflect those of their time. One of my pet hates is historical novels set in Britain in which the characters are too 'Americanized', but that did not seem to be a problem here. 

The Christian elements of the story seemed to be well done, and the necessity of repentance and forgiveness was conveyed. This said, the word itself is not actually used, and Emma’s conversion did not necessarily seem to be presented clearly enough.
The historical elements seemed well researched, though I am not very familiar with this period, so I would likely not be able to spot any inaccuracies very easily. I only wish I had been able to read this book on Kindle so that I could look up the definitions of unfamiliar terms more easily.

The only other complaint I really had was with some of the romantic content, which could seem annoying, distracting or inappropriate.. Emma and Henry's affirmation of their love in the storm scene seemed particularly out of place, it just did not seem the time or the place for them to be worrying about Romance, and sometimes the expressions of Romantic feelings, or some of the characters remarks and comments did not necessarily seem to fit it with what would have been seen  as appropriate according to the social conventions of the upper classes in this period. 

'The Tutor's Daughter' is Due for release on January 1st in America, but we Brits have to wait until February.

Thanks to Netgalley and Bethany House for allowing me to have an electronic copy of this book. I was under no obligation to write a positive review. 

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