20 Apr 2015

Rest Not in Peace- Mel Starr

The Chronicles of Hugh de Singleton # 6
October 2013, Monarch/Kregel
254 Pages   
Master Hugh is asked to provide a sleeping potion for Sir Henry Burley, a friend and guest of Lord Gilbert at Bampton Castle. Sir Henry, (with his wife, a daughter by a first wife, two knights, two squires, and assorted servants), has outstayed his welcome at Bampton Castle.
The next morning after Master Hugh provides the potion, Sir Henry is found dead, eyes open, in his bed. Master Hugh, the target of the wife's wrath, is asked by Lord Gilbert to determine the cause of death ...

Rest Not in Peace was one of the better instalments in the Hugh de Singleton series. There were lots of twists and turns, suspects and motives, and the culprit was not immediately obvious. Sometimes I did get a little confused between the characters, and perhaps a tad lost, trying to remember who was who and what was what, but it was a generally believable and plausible mystery. 
The next book in the series, which I read after this one, contained what I thought to be a major flaw in the information given to the reader, but I did not spot any such thing here.

Admittedly, Hugh was never the sharpest knife the drawer, and could have followed the lead he did to solve the mystery more quickly, but then there would be no story. Another reviewer remarked that it seemed rushed at the end- I am inclined to agree, as if the author was pushed to wrap things up.
Also, there were a few loose ends, but then I think all mystery and detective stories have these upon occasion. I found the religious content satisfying as well- although Hughs some of Hughs actions do not always sit well with his convictions, when there could be other ways of getting the information he needs.

The historical information was, as usual interesting, with the details about surgery- though most of it was focused on food in this one. I really should have made more use of the glossary, but with the PDF version it was not easy to keep flitting back and forth. Good for fans of Medieval and clean mysteries.

I received a PDF version of this book from the publisher, via Netgalley for review. I was not required to write a negative one and all opinions expressed are my own.

15 Apr 2015

New for 2015- The Baron of Godsmere- Tamara Leigh

The Feud: Book 1
Kindle Edition, 409 Pages 
13th February 2015 

England, 1308. Three noblemen secretly gather to ally against their treacherous lord. But though each is elevated to a baron in his own right and given a portion of his lord’s lands, jealousy and reprisals lead to a twenty-five year feud, pitting family against family, passing father to son.

England, 1333. The chink in Baron Boursier’s armor is his fondness for a lovely face. When it costs him half his sight and brands him as one who abuses women, he vows to never again be “blinded” by beauty. Thus, given the choice between forfeiting his lands and wedding one of his enemies to end their feud, he chooses as his betrothed the lady said to be plain of face, rejecting the lady rumored to be most fair.

On the eve of the deadline to honor the king’s decree of marriage, the fair Elianor of Emberly takes matters into her own hands. Determined none will suffer marriage to the man better known as The Boursier, she sets in motion her plan to imprison him long enough to ensure his barony is forfeited. But when all goes awry and her wrathful enemy compels her to wed him to save his lands, she discovers he is either much changed or much maligned. And the real enemy is one who lurks in their midst. One bent on keeping the feud burning.

NOTE: BARON OF GODSMERE is a romance wrapped in an inspirational message true to the time period often referred to as “The Age of Faith.” Due to an integral part of the plot—that of a woman whose past causes her to fear even a husband’s intimacy—it is not tied up with a bow too sweetly pretty to untie. Hence, due to the hero’s efforts to court his lady, this romance is more a “Clean Read” than an “Inspirational Read.”

This novel was- in a sense, fairly typical of the Genre in terms of the central love story between protagonists who initially cannot stand each other. The plotline of the feuding between three noble families was interesting and original, but overall I was disappointed, as the story could have been so much better.

My main issue was that I considered a lot of the major details to be implausible and historically inaccurate. I have said many times before (and may say many times the future) that forced marriage was illegal under church law from about the 1100s onwards, yet it is a central feature of so many Medieval Romances.
This book was no exception. In the scene when the marriage ceremony takes place and the priest asks Elianor if she willingly makes her vows.

Bayard responds for her by saying ‘She has no choice’. No! That would be like announcing in the public square that your marriage was invalid and illegal- the church clearly taught and enforced the rule that both parties had to give their free consent for a marriage to be considered valid. Considering that the validity of the marriage was so important to the story, this just seemed totally illogical.
If you wanted to make sure it was valid and above board- why the goodness would you give people reasonable cause for declaring it illegal by very foolishly not allowing the bride to say the very thing that rendered it so?

I also didn’t agree with the vilification of King Edward III for using the noble families as ‘pawns’ by forcing them to marry- at one point the characters even equated him with the murdering villain for doing so. Seriously? Arranging marriages to put an end to a feud as tantamount to murder?
Medieval Kings had to keep the nobility in check, those who did not usually came to a very bad end.  Such an attutude suggested a very modern, individualistic outlook on the part of the characters.

Furthermore, the King could not technically force anyone to marry- he could encourage them, even pressurize them into marrying the person he wanted, but he could not make them if they were against it. To do so would be openly defying the church, and few Kings would have dared to do such a thing.
Also, the simple fact is that there exists evidence of noblewomen who did refuse to marry the person the King wanted, and subsequently chose thier own partners.

Their circumstances also seemed a little- extreme- I notice that many of the female protagonists in Mrs Leigh’s medieval stories seem to be the victim of some kind of abuse- whether at the hands of a spouse or relative. I understand that there must be drama, and tension in the background of the characters to make things more interesting, but does it have to be made out that rape and domestic violence were simply normal and acceptable at this time and there was nothing any woman could do?

There was some good characterisation, the story did seem to improve about halfway through from the characters initial preoccupation with avoiding or having sex (though this still persisted to some degree). Yet t I am almost incline to think this would have been better as fantasy- i.e. not set in a real country or time period but an invented one, rather than historical fiction.
It was readable and enjoyable some level, and I found myself flitting over the non-graphic bedroom scenes. It should be stated that nothing was described in detail- but the characters just seemed to preoccupied with sex – with it consuming much of their time, thought and conversation in some parts of the book- and I really did not want to read about it.

Too many clichés and inaccuracies, a little hard to follow at times, and the changes of heart with some of the characters seemed too quick and easy. It seemed like one moment Bayard’s ex hates him, and the next she is asking for forgiveness- yet it did not seem genuine- more self-serving. Another reviewer has said that the books in the Age of Faith series by the same author seemed too melodramatic, and I am inclined to agree in this case.
Far too much ill-circumstance thrown at the characters before they could get their happy ending. What's wrong with a little more of the ordinary difficulties and challeges posed by everyday life?

There was a meaningful Christian theme about forgiveness and overcoming bitterness and mistrust, but, this story was really not my cup of tea, and I fear the message did not redeem to shortcomings of the story entirely.

I loaned a copy of this book for free and by personal request. I was not given a copy and was not required to write a review.

10 Apr 2015

Fairy Tale Romance Collection- Melanie Dickerson

Zondervan, April 7th 2015 
Kindle and Epub
Five of bestselling author Melanie Dickerson's popular YA fairytale retelling novels now available as a bind-up.
Romance, intrigue, and danger abound in this bind-up of five of Melanie Dickerson's fairy-tale retellings presented in realistic historical settings. Includes The Healer's Apprentice, The Merchant's Daughter, The Fairest Beauty, The Captive Maiden, and The Princess Spy.
The Healer's Apprentice: Rose has been appointed as a healer's apprentice at Hagenheim Castle, and when Lord Hamlin, the future duke, is injured, Rose tends to him. As she works to heal his wound, she begins to fall in love, and wonders if he feels the same. But Lord Hamlin is betrothed to a mysterious young woman in hiding. As Rose's life spins toward confusion, she must take the first steps on a journey to discover her own destiny.

The Merchant's Daughter: Annabel is trapped in indentured servitude to Lord Ranulf, a recluse who is rumored to be both terrifying and beastly. She soon finds he is not beastly after all, and becomes involved in a situation that could place Ranulf's future, and possibly his heart, in her hands.

The Fairest Beauty: Sophie desperately wants to get away from her stepmother's jealousy, and receives her chance when Gabe arrives from Hagenheim Castle, claiming she is betrothed to his older brother, and that he has come to rescue her. Though romance is impossible--she is his brother's future wife, and Gabe himself is betrothed to someone else--the pair flee to the Cottage of the Seven to find help. Before long both must not only protect each other from the dangers around them, they must also protect their hearts.

The Captive Maiden: When Gisela learns the duke's son, Valten--the boy she has daydreamed about for years--is throwing a ball in hopes of finding a wife, she vows to find a way to attend, even if it's only for a taste of a life she'll never have. To her surprise, she catches Valten's eye. Though he is rough around the edges, Gisela finds Valten has completely captured her heart. But other forces are bent on keeping the two from falling further in love, putting Gisela in more danger than she ever imagined.

The Princess Spy: Margaretha has always been a romantic, and hopes her newest suitor, Lord Claybrook, is destined to be her one true love. But then an injured man is brought to Hagenheim Castle, claiming to be an English lord who was attacked by Claybrook and left for dead. And only Margaretha--one of the few who speaks his language--understands the wild story. It is up to her to save her father, Colin, and Hagenheim itself from Claybrook's wicked plot.

The collection of all of Melanie Dickerson's fairy tale Romances (published by Zondervan) in one volume is useful and welcome. They could be ranked a something of a family saga, as four feature members of the same family in the retellings of Sleeping Beauty, Snow White, Cinderella, and The Frog Prince, and the last draws together the family from the second book, a Beauty and the Beast retelling.
I have reviewed each of the novels individually elsewhere on this blog, so will not do so again here. Aimed a a Young Adult audience, the stories are sometimes rather cliched and predictable, with the odd eye roll inducing moment, occasionally the romance is overly mushy, the characters not always consistent in thier behaviour, and sometimes the villains are one dimensional. There is the occasional historical inaccuracy (sometimes more than occasionally), and some scenes and situations can be cheesy and implausible....

So, yes, the books are not perfect- but- they are I would argue, a good deal more wholesome than some of the fairytale adaptations to be seen on television and the big screen.
Melanie Dickerson's stories tend to strip the stories of the magical content, and place them in a realistic historical setting (except for the evil magician in the first story, and the evil Stepmother in the third), which is an almost undoubted benefit, given the ambigious depiction of magic in much of the mainstream media with 'good' witches/wizards and fairy-godmothers, and characters relying on them.

Those seeking timeless tales of Romance and Adventure which are edifying, generally have a more sound moral compass and meaningful Christian messages for the younger generation would do well to choose these. I for one would like to pass them on to my niece when she is a little older, as an alternative to Harry Potter and many other modern day fairy stories.....

I recieved a free copy of this book from the Published via Booklookbloggers for review. I was not required required to write a positive one and all opinions expressed are my own.
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About the Authors

Melanie Dickerson is the author of The Healer's Apprentice, a Christy Award finalist and winner of the National Reader's Choice Award for Best First Book. Melanie earned a bachelor's degree in special education from the University of Alabama and has been a teacher and a missionary. She lives with her husband and two daughters in Huntsville, Alabama.

6 Apr 2015

Mama Maggie- Marty Makary and Ellen Vaughn

 Kindle Edition, 212 Pages 
Thomas Nelson, March 2015 

From marketing maven to angel of the garbage district—the inspiring authorized biography of Maggie Gobran, the “Mother Teresa of Egypt.”
Since 1997, Maggie Gobran and her organization Stephen’s Children have been changing lives in Cairo’s notorious zabala, or garbage slums. Her innovative, transformational work has garnered worldwide fame and multiple Nobel Prize nominations, but her full story has remained untold—until now.
Bestselling authors Martin Makary and Ellen Vaughn chronicle Mama Maggie’s surprising pilgrimage from privileged child to stylish businesswoman to college professor pondering God’s call to change. She answered that call by becoming the modest figure in white who daily navigates piles of stinking trash, bringing hope to the poorest of the poor. Smart and savvy, as tough as she is tender, Maggie Gobran is utterly surrendered to her mission to the “garbage people” who captured her heart.
At her request, the book also spotlights the people she serves—the men, women, and children who prove every day what a little bit of help and a lot of love can do.

This book told the inspirational and fascinating story of the work of Mama Maggie, described by some as Egypt’s version of Mother Teresa. It must be said, that I am no fan of the latter, but I do think that the work of this Egyptian Lady and his ministry is comparable with those of some of the great Christian Charitable founders of the past, like William Booth and Dr Barnardo.

The devotion and self-sacrifice of Maggie and many of her co-workers, who chose to forego lucrative careers, or give of themselves and their time to help the people who dwell in Egypt’s slums is challenging and touching. I found myself highlighting a number of passages, highlighting the emptiness of chasing riches and success, and being distracted by worldly concerns.

I did have a few concerns about some passages, which seemed to suggest that Stephen’s Children does not attempt to convert or preach the Gospel to non-Christians, focusing on positive thinking, self-worth and telling everyone they are children of God. We are all God’s creation, but the scripture seems to be quite clear its designation that only those who are believers in Christ are God’s children.

It seemed that many Copts, although identified as Christians, had not even heard of Jesus and knew nothing about Christianity. For these, the work of the ministry does seem to be genuinely transforming people’s lives, including those with harrowing stories of abuse and drug addiction, by bringing them to the Lord, and it does seem as though Maggie is a true believer.

Altogether, a worthwhile and truly inspirational read, even if the writing style is not the best. Recommended.
I recieved this book free from Thomas Nelson via Booklookbloggers for review. I was not required to write a positive one and all opinions expressed are my own.


About the Authors
Dr. Marty Makary is the New York Times best-selling author of Unaccountable: What Hospitals Won’t Tell You and How Transparency Can Revolutionize Health Care. As associate professor at Johns Hopkins University, Dr. Makary has written for The Wall Street Journal, Newsweek, and CNN.com, among others.

Ellen Vaughn is an award-winning author whose works include The Strand and Gideon's Torch, co-authored with Charles Colson. Former vice president of executive communications for Prison Fellowship, Vaughn has also served as a speech writer and fund-raising consultant. She and her husband, Lee, live in Virginia with their three children.

3 Apr 2015

Australasian Christian Writers: I, the Executioner.

Australasian Christian Writers: I, the Executioner.: I, the Executioner.     How would I have felt? If a Roman soldier was I Rostered for duty at Calvary Where Jesus the Naza...

2 Apr 2015

New for 2015- Dauntless- Dina Sleiman

Valiant Hearts Series # 1
March 3rd 2015, Bethany House, 368 Pages 
"Though once a baron's daughter, Lady Merry Ellison is willing to go to any lengths to protect the orphaned children of her former village. Dubbed "The Ghosts of Farthingale Forest," her band of followers soon become enemies of the throne when they hijack ill-gotten gold meant for the king.

Timothy Grey, ninth child of the Baron of Greyham, longs to perform some feat so legendary that he will rise from obscurity and earn a title of his own. When the Ghosts of Farthingale Forest are spotted in Wyndeshire, where he serves as assistant to the local earl, he might have found his chance. But when he comes face-to-face with the leader of the thieves, will he choose fame or love?

I was not sure I would make of this novel before I read it. Dance of the Dandelion, the author’s debut novel published a few years ago really was not my cup of tea, but this one sounded promising and I had heard good things about it. I have to say I was pleased with what I read. It is a well written, Robin Hood like story plenty of action, adventure and romance, with a strong female lead, and a host of memorable and lovable supporting characters. I warmed to Allen- who I believe is the hero of the next story, and sweet little Wrenny.
The girl in a traditionally male role in the medieval period had the potential to be problematic- yet I felt that Merry Ellison’s personality and characteristics were generally plausible and fitted in with the time period. There is evidence that women could use bows, and even on occasion led forces of soldiers into battle. She is strong, independent and a leader, but it not too militant or feministic. Nor is she confident in her abilities to the point of conceit- but worked with men and was prepared to accept help.

I also felt that Mrs Sleiman carried off the English setting well. Some novel in this genre written by Americans tend to be peopled by ostensibly British characters who just don’t cut the mustard, because they are very Americanized in their speech or attitudes. Or else some writers just display an obvious lack of knowledge for British culture or geography. Yet this Brit can confidently assert that this was not the case here.

The romance was clean without being overly mushy, and the plot was straightforward enough for the genre without being too predictable or simplistic. Generally, the story also seemed to be historically accurate and authentic- though I was a little concerned by the reference to the works of Terry Jones in the historical note, who is not considered the most accurate or reliable source by many historians.

I did spot a few issues, however. One was the frequent mention of ‘Divine Right of Kings’, a concept which was actually invented by the Stuart Kings in the 1600s and did not exist in the Middle - Ages.
I also felt that Merry’s religious doubts seemed rather too modern- and I do think the character who has ceased to believe in God because bad things happened to them is something of a cliché of the Christian Fiction genre.
Her beliefs about equality of the classes and monarchy also seemed to owe more to the modern age than the medieval age. Having a Medieval character who cares for the poor is one thing, but a medieval person expecting their fellows to espouse democratic and egalitarian ideals is a bit much.
Also, I did think the idea that nobles could just have criminals summarily hanged didn't seem wholly plausible- I thought that even peasants were supposed to have some sort of trial in the local courts that existed at that time,

Other reviewers also raised issue with what seemed to me mysticism in this story. This was only mentioned once, and did not seem to be a prominent part of the plot. However, there were references to a little girl who could see 'Sunshine Men' that turned out to be guardian angels, and these entities were later involved in a healing miracle.
This may have smacked of mysticism, which I strongly disapprove of, but I did not have much a problem with it myself, as it did not seem as though the characters wanted to see angels- although the miracle seemed to be 'on demand'.
Finally, parents may wish to note there are some passing references to a character having fathered an illegitimate child, and having inappropriate liaisons with serving girls.

Generally, I really enjoyed this story and would happily read again and share it with a teenage reader.
I received an electronic version of this book free from the publisher and Netgalley for review. I was not required to write a positive one and all opinions expressed are my own.

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