27 Oct 2018

Olivia Twist by Lorie Langdon Review

March 6th 2018, Blink YA
337 Pages, Print, Ebook and Audio 

Genre: Historical Fiction/Young Adult 
Setting: Victorian London (1850s)

Olivia Brownlow is no damsel in distress. Born in a workhouse and raised as a boy among thieving London street gangs, she is as tough and cunning as they come. When she is taken in by her uncle after a caper gone wrong, her life goes from fighting and stealing on the streets to lavish dinners and soirees as a debutante in high society. But she can’t seem to escape her past … or forget the teeming slums where children just like her still scrabble to survive.

Jack MacCarron rose from his place in London’s East End to become the adopted “nephew” of a society matron. Little does society know that MacCarron is a false name for a boy once known among London gangs as the Artful Dodger, and that he and his “aunt” are robbing them blind every chance they get.

When Jack encounters Olivia Brownlow in places he least expects, his curiosity is piqued. Why is a society girl helping a bunch of homeless orphan thieves? Even more intriguing, why does she remind him so much of someone he once knew? Jack finds himself wondering if going legit and risking it all might be worth it for love.

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐

A gender-bending retelling of Oliver Twist with Oliver a girl called Olivia was a clever idea.
I don't object to changing the gender of Oliver, or the way the story picks up a few years after the novel ends, with Oliver aged about 9. Here (s)he is 18, and still struggling to find her place in the world. Society and her Uncle want her to be a proper Lady, but she is more interested in helping street orphans whilst dressed as a boy.

There was just something about this book I could not get on with. I don't know, maybe I never connected with the characters, or felt that Olivia's spunkiness was a bit of a cliche. Characters like her have just been done before- a lot.
I may not be the only one who ended up feeling sorry for the other young man, Max, who ended up as the spare side of the love triangle plot-line also featuring Olivia and none other that the Artful Dodger. He was a victim of the 'marriage of convenience' trope and I don't know, I think the way things ended up with him was very cliched and predictable as well.

Perhaps even displaying quite a lot of selfishness on the part of Olivia, after some frankly disgraceful behaviour. I'm sorry but I feel that concern for the poor and disadvantaged did not entirely justify the way she treated Max, simply because he did not share her passion for the cause.

Also, I found myself a little overwhelmed with the 'extra' characters. Apparently, Olivia has at least two cousins. Yeah, where did all these extra relatives come from, and the stuff about her parents. Maybe its just that I have a very fixed idea about Oliver's parents from in my head, and seeing that changed kind of jarred me.

Finally. I do wonder whether the novel The Legend of Sleepy Hollow by Washington Irving was really so popular and well-known in Victorian London that literally almost everyone recognized allusions to it, or names of characters almost straight away. Indeed, it seemed to be one of the only books they read: wasn't there any other popular Literature at that time?

The language was also at times an odd and awkward mixture of British slang and- something else. Maybe modern slang or American English, but I'm pretty sure the word 'kids' still meant baby goats to people in Victorian Britain, and was not yet a widely used slang term for children.

Really, there was nothing at all wrong with this story, I'm sure many people would love it, and its an ideal YA read. There's adventure, humour, and a hint of love, and a very well written theme of redemption.
It was was not a favourite of mine, and I don't know, I just sort of hope it does not entirely replace the original Oliver Twist for young readers.

22 Oct 2018

Historical Saturday #5- The Charitable Middle Ages

Many of the Medieval novels I have read in the last few years feature mean-spirited noble characters who not only have no mind for the poor and disadvantaged in society, but are positively against doing anything to help them.
In the first chapter of Dina Sleiman's Chivalrous (Bethany House, 2015) for instance, we are told that the heroine Gwendolyn's father would not approve of her giving money to beggars and poor children because he believed that social order and status were ordained by God, like most of his contemporaries.

In A Daring Sacrifice by Jody Hedlund (Zondervan, 2016), the sister and steward of the absurdly wealthy protagonist Colin are appalled by his suggestion of giving peasants gifts for the religious festival of Michaelmas (the feast of the Archangel Michael, celebrated 29th September). 

These two examples reflect a common theme in Christian Fiction novels- that is is usually only the sweet, moral, compassionate goodies who show any regard for their fellow men or to the poor. Most of the other characters- usually cast as nobles or of high status, are indifferent at best. Very often, noble characters are cast as corrupt, greedy, selfish and shallow to contrast them with the 'good' characters of the hero/heroine who have to reform them with their good Christian morality, or foil their wickedness.

 Illustration of Woman giving money to poor
As in my other Historical Saturday posts, I intend to explore the historical reality behind this depiction.
So just what did Medieval people think about charity? It may come as a surprise to learn that they held it it such importance, and high regard, that it became a bastion of society and culture throughout
the High and Later Middle Ages (the late eleventh century onwards).
It was widely believed that charity was the duty of all professing Christians and miserliness was not only a fault, but a sin.
In The Divine Comedy, a famous Allegory written by the 13th century Italian poet Dante, misers were destined to roll heavy weights around in the fourth chamber of hell.

Charity took many forms, but one of the most important was generosity and almsgiving. It was common, in castles and great houses for leftover food to be given to the poor and beggars and the gate, and for Lords to host a meal each year for their workers. Kings, and other great Lords even had almoners, officials whose job it was to distribute alms -which usually took the form of gifts of food, money and occasionally clothing to the poor on his behalf.
Over time, it became traditional for alms to be distributed to the poor on special occasions such as the Coronation of the King or Queen, weddings, christenings, or religious festivals.
It is thought that the origins of some modern Hallow'een traditions may actually lie in the Middle Ages, when 'soul cakes'- small buns made with dried fruits and spices were given to the poor and needy who it was hoped, would pray for the souls of the dead relatives of the givers believed to be in Purgatory.

The Almshouses Hospital of St Cross, Winchester, UK
There were also almshouses, some of which survive in Europe today. These were something like the fore-runners of modern Social housing, which were created to house small numbers of poor people for free, or for a much reduced rate of rent.
Often, they were attached to a church or other religious foundation, where, once, again, residents were supposed to pray for the souls of benefactors and their families.
One surviving example is The Hospital of St Cross, located just outside the city of Winchester, in England. It was established in 1136 to support 13 men too frail to work, who came to be known as 'brothers' although they were not monks. Many of the buildings are still intact, and home to 25 'poor brothers' today.

13th Century Spanish Illustration of Hospital
Hospitals also have their origins in the Middle Ages. Originally, they were places where the sick, elderly, infirm, poor or occasionally people with Leprosy were supposed to be taken care of, or where something like hostelries where Pilgrims could stay overnight.
Ever heard of the Knights Hospitaller? The Crusading Order who existed alongside the more famous Templars. The former established many Hospitals in the Holy Land, and other areas where they established themselves.
They were also known as the Knights of St John, and give their names to a Medical charity which is still in existence today: St John's Ambulance. Do you know that the logo of the organization is in fact the Cross of the Knights Hospitaller?

Another Medieval Illustration showing alms-giving to the poor
So in reality, Sir Colin's family members and servants would probably have been more shocked by him not giving gifts to the poor to fulfill his charitable obligations as a good Lord should. They'd have been more horrified that he had not done it before - and if Gwen's father really disapproved of her giving money, he certainly would not have said so in public, for fear of being considered a miser.

The mistake I think we are making is assuming that it was Protestants or Evangelicals who invented the concept of charity after the Reformation.

The truth is that we have a lot of preconceived ideas about the pre-Reformation church. We assume that it was so corrupt and morally bankrupt that it and the nobility had almost all the money, nobody else had any, and they spent the best part of 1000 odd years just repressing the poor. The truth is not so simple, but perhaps a little more encouraging.

19 Oct 2018

First Line Fridays 40: Fool Me Twice by Philippa Jane Keyworth

I'm back again after a week hiatus. I've been doing a fair deal of reading, but also been a little busy and other the weather the last few days, and it turns out I have contracted Hand, Foot and Mouth disease from my infant nephew. Sounds nasty, but its not too severe and hopefully I will get over it soon.

Today I am going to share a book which has just recently come out in audio. Its a Regency written by a British author. Her previous two books were tremendous fun, and this one looks to be as well.

In the gaming hells of eighteenth century London, orphan Caro Worth is leading a double life. By day she plays a proper gentlewoman on the lookout for a wealthy husband. By night she plays the infamous Angelica, her fictional half-sister with a talent for cards and an ability to finance the life her respectable self has built.
An introduction to a rich Marquis brings marriage and security within Caro’s grasp…until the arrival of the unpredictable and totally ineligible Mr. Tobias Felton.

Dismayed by Felton’s persistent appearances, shocking frankness, and enigmatic green eyes, Caro watches helplessly as he comes closer than anyone to guessing her secret, but when complete and utter ruin threatens, she finds that Felton’s suspicions just might become her salvation.
As the walls she has built to protect herself crumble down around her, Caro learns that no matter how careful your plans, life and love have a habit of falling quite spectacularly out of control!

The First Line reads: 

"Are you always so demanding?" asked Lord Avers, smiling saucily and flashing his white teeth as he gave up a card to the player beside him.

That's My First Line for this week. Don't forget to click the Meme and see what everyone else is reading. 


17 Oct 2018

Robin Hood's Dawn by Olivia Lougueville and J.C. Plummer

Robin Hood Trilogy# 1 
Angevin World Publishing, 432 Pages 
January 13th 2018, Print and Ebook 
Genre: Historical Fiction
Setting: Medieval (12th Century France/England)
 England, 1154-1194
A kingdom under assault.
A conspiracy born of anarchy.
A hero standing against tyranny.

Falsely convicted of a shocking crime, Robin Fitzooth, the Earl of Huntingdon, finds refuge in Sherwood Forest and becomes Robin Hood.

Leading a band of men against the injustices of a malevolent sheriff and his henchmen, Robin begins to unravel a web of treachery threatening the English royal family.

As shadowy forces gather to destroy the future of a nation, Robin faces deceit, betrayal, and the ravages of war as he defends his king, his country, his people, and the woman he loves from a conspiracy so diabolical, so unexpected, that the course of history hangs in the balance.

From the mists of an ancient woodland, to lavish royal courts teeming with intrigue, to the exotic shores of the Holy Land - Robin Hood leads the fight in a battle between good and evil, justice and tyranny, the future and the past.

Part one of an exciting three-part retelling of the Robin Hood legend!

 My Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐

I don't usually read Robin Hood retellings, and I think to be honest all the girl Robin Hood type stories have put me off. But I requested this one late last year, and only just got around to reading it now.

This novel was solidly based in history: there are even family trees and a glossary at the end. This was one of its strengths as I think it made many of the recognizable characters and events we're used to from other Robin Hood stories more plausible. And there are certainly scenes and events readers will recognize, some resembling movies or TV versions of the story.

It also gave an authenticity to some of the smaller details like Robin and Marian's betrothal; and the early years of the reign of Richard the Lionheart.
The prologue also sets up a very interesting background for the characters, and especially for the actions of the Sheriff.

The characters were all pretty well-developed, including Robin and Marian, who goes from an innocent and naive girl to an assertive young woman- but by the end of the story is turning into something darker, but I don't want to give away the ending.
Guy of Gisborne may have been one of the best developed characters. I've long been sympathetic to him other Robin Hood stories, and I cannot help feeling a little sorry for him here. Yes he's delusional and violent, but the Sheriff seems to exercise a certain kind of psychological control over him.

My friends and followers might wish to note that this is a general market title: NOT inspirational fiction which I often review.
Religion does play a role in the character's lives, as a reflection of the time. The characters go to Mass, attend church and refer to religious rules and beliefs, but there is swearing and a couple of sex references. Nothing is graphic, but one scene did get a little descriptive. There was more emphasis on flowery language about emotions than anything else though, thankfully.

Its interesting that there was no Friar Tuck among Robin's merry men, until right at the end when a character called Tuck is introduced. He's a Knight Templar, so that raises some great possibilities for the next story.
I cannot wait for Robin Hood's Widow, and hope that the authors can find a publisher for it soon. 

I'd heartily recommend this one to any historical fiction lover who wants a story that is not too dark or intense, but is very accurate. Its a nice change from the typical Romances, which some Robin Hood re-tellings and a lot of Medieval Fiction seems to be.

I reviewed this book of my own volition, requesting the PDF from Angevin World Publishing on Netgalley. I was not required to write a positive review an all opinions expressed are my own.

8 Oct 2018

A Tale of Two Hearts, Once Upon a Dickens Christmas by Michelle Griep

Once Upon A Dickens Christmas #2 
192 Pages, 1st Sept 2018, Shiloh Run Press
Print, ebook and Audio 
Genre: Historical Romance 
Setting: Victorian London, Countryside 

London, 1853: Innkeeper’s daughter Mina Scott will do anything to escape the drudgery of her life, for there’s nothing more mundane than serving customers day after day. Every minute she can, she reads and dreams of someday becoming a real lady—and catch the eye of William Barlow, a frequent guest at the inn.

William is a gentleman’s son, a charming but penniless rogue. However, his bachelor uncle will soon name an heir—either him or his scheming cousin. In an effort to secure the inheritance, William gives his uncle the impression he’s married, which works until he’s invited to bring his wife for a visit.

William asks Mina to be his pretend bride, only until his uncle names an heir on Christmas Day. Mina is flattered and frustrated by the offer, for she wants a true relationship with William. Yet, she agrees. . .then wishes she hadn’t. So does William. Deceiving the old man breaks both their hearts. When the truth is finally discovered, more than just money is lost. 

My Rating:⭐⭐⭐⭐


Its October, but I've just finished this delightful Christmas story. Actually, it could be read any time of the year, and the theme is no obstacle.
There's romance, with a pretended marriage and intrigue, with a nefarious plot hatched by the leading man's relatives. The characters are wonderful and so well-drawn, including the deliciously nasty villains Alice and Percy. Alice is so venomous, grasping, sly and shrewish. You just want to slap her or shake her, but she and her husband just make the more perfect villains to pit the heroes against. The duo are in every way worthy of Dickens.

Mina is that perfect combination of strong yet vulnerable and so in a way is Will. He needs Mina, but is afraid to admit his growing love and admiration for her, because of a previous heartbreak. Both characters make mistakes. I think there some important messages about integrity and honesty, as well as not striving for the unattainable and taking people as they are.
That deceit and pretense, even its done with good intent to help or protect someone else, does cause hurt.

Uncle Barlow is just perfect. No other explanation is needed. He ties the story together, and he's wonderful. Everyone needs an Uncle Barlow in their life, a kindly if eccentric old man who sees good in everyone and tries to give everyone a chance. Even better you can sit down and discuss literature with him: no wonder Mina loved him so much. Not that he suffers fools gladly, or takes well to being duped.
There's a great inner strength behind the facade of an absent minded old man. In fact, I would hazard Uncle Barlow is almost a Christ figure in this book, showing unconditional love, but speaking the truth and not blind to the faults of the characters, He requires but does not compel obedience, and shows the blend of justice and mercy perfectly.

I did however deduct one star for the few Americanisms, and the fact that I could not get on the with American narrator of the audio-book. Sorry, but her accents weren't great.

So overall this a lovely story full of grace and imbued with Spirit of Christmas, snow, and festive cheer. With the perfect setting in Victorian London and a nearby country manor.
The passages from Dickens at the start of each chapter are a perfect accompaniment to this feelgood romance, perfect for the holiday season. I might give it a re-read again when Christmas comes around, hunkered down in my jumper with a cup of tea and a nice mince pie.

I requested this title from Netgalley. I was not required to write a positive review and all opinions expressed are my own.

5 Oct 2018

First Line Fridays 39: A Tale of Two Hearts by Michelle Griep

Welcome to First Line Fridays, the reading group in which we share First Lines and our love of books. 
This week I am including the First Line from a book that I have recently finished reading (normally I feature books I am reading, or I'm about to read). 

London, 1853: Innkeeper’s daughter Mina Scott will do anything to escape the drudgery of her life, for there’s nothing more mundane than serving customers day after day. Every minute she can, she reads and dreams of someday becoming a real lady—and catch the eye of William Barlow, a frequent guest at the inn.

William is a gentleman’s son, a charming but penniless rogue. However, his bachelor uncle will soon name an heir—either him or his scheming cousin. In an effort to secure the inheritance, William gives his uncle the impression he’s married, which works until he’s invited to bring his wife for a visit.

William asks Mina to be his pretend bride, only until his uncle names an heir on Christmas Day. Mina is flattered and frustrated by the offer, for she wants a true relationship with William. Yet, she agrees. . .then wishes she hadn’t. So does William. Deceiving the old man breaks both their hearts. When the truth is finally discovered, more than just money is lost.

Can two hearts survive such deception?

Although its only October, I'm sharing the first line from the latest novel in Michelle Griep's Once Upon a Dickens Christmas series. I really, really enjoyed this book, and I will be getting my review up soon. Very occasionally, Amazon have cheap paperbacks of Barbour titles, so hopefully one day I can get this one in paperback. 

Each chapter begins with a short passage from some writing by Charles Dickens, so I am skipping that, and starting with the actual first line: 

"In the tiny back courtyard of the Golden Egg Inn, Mina Scott lowered her copy of David Copperfield to her lap and lifted her fact to the October sun."

Don't forget to click the meme to see what everyone else is reading, and comment with your own First Line


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