Monday, November 28, 2016

No Peace with the Dawn: A Novel take on WWI

By Michelle Ule 


No Peace with the DAwn  No Peace with the Dawn is an interesting and different take on a World War I novel.

 (Note: I have written an unpublished WWI novel).

Split between the homeland of Utah and the battlefields of France following the US involvement the last 18 months of the war No Peace with the Dawn examines how the war infringes on the lives of several characters.

Centering on a group of students at the Agricultural College in Logan, Utah, the book tells their stories and how their LDS faith played a role.

We have musicians who enlist in the band, agriculture workers who elect to stay home, Swiss immigrants continually suspected of being German, a suffragette who can fix and driver her own Model T, a Native American who is not considered a citizen in Utah and an earnest man who becomes a soldier.

The story got confusing with all these characters and improved once we settled down on three different groups: the Swiss woman Trudi struggling to prove her patriotism in Utah, the Native American Joseph who forges a friendship in France with a fellow scout from Utah, and the feisty Clara who travels to France with the YMCA where she ultimately drives an ambulance--all the while watching for her earnest soldier boyfriend Reed.

All three of these arenas are interesting and shed light on different war experiences which I appreciated.

Historical Detail

Authors E. B. Wheeler, an historian in Utah, and Colonel Jeffrey Bateman, who teaches military history at Utah State University, have done an excellent job of conveying the background of the war.

Bateman's description of the US Marine Corps' battle at Belleau Wood was masterful and had me on the edge of my seat.

Georges Scott's La Brigade Marine Americane Au...
Georges Scott's Marine Brigade Belleau Wood
 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
The authors touch on all the major stories linked to the US involvement during WWI from rationing, suspicion of anyone speaking German (I didn't realize teaching German was outlawed in Utah schools during the war).

They include the Spanish influenza that killed 20 million people, the seemingly needless deaths of soldiers before they ever traveled overseas and the prejudice against Mormon people and Native Americans.

 There were items in this story I didn't know after three years of studying and writing about WWI.

While I had family living in Utah during this time period, I had never heard the stories of how the LDS church bodies banded together to serve their soldiers.

I didn't realize some of the prejudice soldiers brought with them from other parts of the country when they trained in Utah.

There was much to like, particularly in the second half, about this book though the writing was uneven.

I'm not sure if it was the complexity of the story or the fact we followed the lives of too many characters, but No Peace with the Dawn would have benefited from narrowing its focus.

Nevertheless, the novel provides a new slant on a great war that has been covered from many different angles.

We're in the middle of the centenary observances of a war that bears reexamination.

World War I novels are an excellent means to learn the grim history from a personal point of view.

Tweetables

No Peace with the Dawn and WWI: an LDS point of view. Click to Tweet 

 A novel angle on WWI: No Peace with the Dawn. Click to Tweet 

 Michelle Ule is the bestselling author of five novella collections and an outlier Navy SEAL novel. Watch for her biography of Mrs.Oswald Chambers (Baker) in October 2017. You can read more about Oswald and Biddy Chambers, along with a variety of her WWI blog posts at www.michelleule.com 

Thursday, November 10, 2016

Review: The Autumn Throne

Elizabeth Chadwick
The Autumn Throne (Eleanor of Aquitaine Series, Book 3)
By Elizabeth Chadwick
Sourcebooks Landmark, October 2016

About the Book

The son she loved. The betrayal she faced. The legend she became. The stunning conclusion to the Eleanor of Aquitaine trilogy.

Imprisoned by her husband. Separated from her children. If King Henry II thought these things would push his queen into submission, he was wrong. Eleanor of Aquitaine refused to give into his tyranny. Freed by his death, she became dowager Queen of England. But the competition for land and power that Henry bred among his sons had grown into a dangerous rivalry that Eleanor must skillfully control.

Eleanor would need every ounce of courage and fortitude as she crossed the Alps in winter to bring her son Richard his bride, ransom him from imprisonment, and deal with his brother John’s treachery. Her indomitable spirit would be tested to its limits as she attempted to keep the peace between her warring sons, fend off enemies, and negotiate a magnificent future for a chosen granddaughter.

My Review

Ms. Chadwick presents her final novel in the Alienor (Eleanor) of Aquitaine series. Alienor, estranged from her husband Henry II after backing their sons in their rebellion against their father, is now a prisoner, kept against her will at the Palace of Sarem. Henry tries to force her to retire from public life and become a nun, but Alienor is not quite ready to give up on public life. As their sons continue to chafe under their father’s restrictions, Alienor plays mediator, soothing wounded pride and encouraging reconciliation, mostly to no avail. As their eldest son and heir Henry and second son Geoffrey die, Henry and Alienor face a future with only two sons out of their ten living children, a harsh reminder of how quickly life can change.

When Henry himself dies quite suddenly, Alienor’s life shifts again, now seemingly full of possibility with her favorite son Richard at the throne, until Richard’s crusading and John’s betrayals consume her remaining years. Even into her 80s, however, Alienor is not allowed to slip away to a quiet retirement. When one of her grandsons, Arthur, Count of Brittany, lays siege to the castle of Mirabeau and threatens to take her captive, the elderly woman proves she has plenty of fight still in her, outmaneuvering even the youngest and most ambitious of her adversaries.

Ms. Chadwick brings Alienor’s story full circle, and we see her in the autumn of her life. With her most bitter rivals now dead, she is poised to take on the coveted role of elder stateswoman until the upheaval of Richard and John’s struggles, as well as the death of most of her remaining children, cast a shadow over her last years. Bittersweet and lacking the fireworks of her clashes with Henry, Alienor must resign herself to the sadness of outliving most of her children and of seeing long-cherished hopes turn to dust. As the title suggests, this is Alienor at her most poignant, reflecting on her dreams and experiences, and what might have been, while giving it her all, even as she enters her eighth decade of life—a fitting tribute for one of history’s most heroic and well-loved queens.

Wednesday, November 09, 2016

Review: Hearts Tightly Knit

Hearts Tightly Knit 
by Jodie Wolfe
April, 2018 

About the Book:

Orphaned at age ten, Ellie Stafford and her twin sister Mae made a vow—to stick together and never marry. Now in their mid-twenties, they are bucking convention in Calder Springs, Texas, as women with respectable occupations who can take care of themselves. Ellie works at the Good Fixin's Diner and spends her evenings knitting garments for The Children's Aid Society. When a handsome local rancher shows up searching for a cook, she's hardly tempted, despite his good looks. Luke Rogers owns a spread just outside of Calder Springs. It was running as smooth as cattle going through a chute until his cook up and marries and high-tails it back east. With no cook and a bunkhouse full of ranch hands ready to revolt, he persuades Ellie to temporarily fill in until he can hire someone else. He should have known better than to get tangled up with another woman.

My Review:


Hearts Tightly Knit by Jodie Wolfe is a sweet and satisfying romance read. Ellie and her sister, Mae, are twins who have vowed not to marry, but to always stay together. Ellie is content working at the local diner and knitting in her spare time, so when handsome cowboy, Luke Rogers, comes along  looking for a cook to appease his ranch hands, Ellie isn’t interested. But Luke isn’t willing to give up too easily.

What starts out as an agreement, to help Luke out with the evening meal, promises to be more than two stubborn people bargained for. Ellie is faced with a decision she never thought she’d have to make. 

The plot of Hearts Tightly Knit runs smoothly and Ms. Wolfe’s characters are likable and have good depth. The author brings her well-written novella to a heart melting conclusion which avid romance readers will love. Don’t miss Hearts Tightly Knit! I look forward to reading Ms. Wolfe’s next novella, the recently released, Love in the Seams. 

Thursday, November 03, 2016

Review: The Winter Crown

Elizabeth ChadwickThe Winter Crown (Eleanor of Aquitaine Series, Book 2)
By Elizabeth Chadwick
Sourcebooks Landmark, September 2014

About the Book

As Queen of England, Eleanor has a new cast of enemies―including the king.

Eleanor has more than fulfilled her duty as Queen of England. She has given her husband, Henry II, heirs to the throne and has proven herself as a mother and ruler. But Eleanor needs more than to be a bearer of children and a deputy; she needs command of the throne. As her children grow older, and her relationship with Henry suffers from scandal and infidelity, Eleanor realizes the power she seeks won’t be given willingly. She must take it for herself. But even a queen must face the consequences of treason...

In this long-anticipated second novel in the Eleanor of Aquitaine trilogy, bestselling author Elizabeth Chadwick evokes a royal marriage where love and hatred are intertwined, and the battle over power is fought not with swords, but deception.

My Review

The second in Elizabeth Chadwick’s Eleanor of Aquitaine series, The Winter Crown follows Aleinor from the early days of her marriage to England’s Henry II through the births of their many children to the brink of rebellion. Aleinor completes her wifely and queenly duty by producing the many sons and daughters necessary to fulfill Henry’s dynastic ambitions. She is pleased with her unique role of raising the next generation, but still she yearns for more. She longs for an equal, co-ruling partnership with her tempestuous husband, an opportunity to freely govern her own lands without interference, and a chance to make her own decisions.

Henry, however, has other ideas, which include his opinions and no one else’s. Aleinor’s ideas are usually ignored by her husband, who spends more time visiting his vast domains and finding carnal pleasure elsewhere than returning home to his wife and the new children that are regularly born. Aleinor realizes that she has been placed on the sidelines, that her role in Henry’s life has been assigned, and that there is little she can do to change that. Her frustration grows as Henry reigns his lands and his family with an iron fist.

The real tragedy for Henry is that Aleinor has a wealth of experience and skills that would soften his rough edges and help him in the long run. For instance, the more perceptive and diplomatic Aleinor foresees her husband’s difficulties with Thomas Becket, the son of a merchant, whom Henry raises to the positions of chancellor and Archbishop of Canterbury, but Aleinor’s warnings go unheeded, much to Henry’s peril. Aleinor’s vexation over Henry’s boorish behavior multiplies when Henry’s need for absolute control keeps his children relegated to the sidelines too, never giving the boys an opportunity to spread their wings and grow into the next line of rulers. As the boys reach adulthood, this problem only grows and the boys seek their mother’s help to force their father’s hand. Meanwhile, Henry’s adulterous relationship with Rosamund Clifford reminds Aleinor of what little respect Henry has for her, both as a queen and as a woman.

Readers get a deep sense of Aleinor’s frustrations, the shackles holding her back, and her dreams for a more fulfilling life. Her relationship with her husband is compared to a “tinder fire”, where the blaze is full but there is no glowing core to sustain it. The image of a lioness in a cage seems to best capture Aleinor’s angst, and it is easy to sympathize with the treatment she receives when you catch glimpses of all that she is capable of achieving. Her dissatisfaction only gains momentum over the course of the novel, culminating in her oldest boys (particularly her favorite Richard, the future Richard I of England), who bristle under their father’s restrictive authority.

Chadwick’s narrative flows seamlessly. The battles between Henry and Becket don’t dominate the narrative, as they have in other tellings, which helps keep the story racing forward. Even if this is a tale you already know, you’ll enjoy this colorful telling with its emphasis on Aleinor’s development from compliant bride, to scorned woman, to a lioness ready to take back what is rightfully hers. I look forward to the third book.

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Review: The Summer Queen


Elizabeth Chadwick
The Summer Queen (Eleanor of Aquitaine Series, Book 1)
By Elizabeth Chadwick
Sourcebooks Landmark, July 2014

About the Book

New York Times bestselling author Elizabeth Chadwick brings Eleanor of Aquitaine to life with breathtaking historical detail in the first volume of this stunning new trilogy.

Eleanor of Aquitaine, the legendary 12th century queen of France and later of England, is one of the most powerful and irrepressible women in medieval history, and her story of romance, scandal and political intrigue has fascinated readers for centuries. Young Eleanor (or Alienor as she was known) has everything to look forward to as the heiress to the wealthy Aquitaine. But when her beloved father William X suddenly dies, childhood is over. Sent to Paris and forced to marry Prince Louis VII of France, she barely adjusts before another death catapults them to king and queen. At the age of just 13, Eleanor must leave everything behind and learn to navigate the complex and vivacious French court. Faced with great scandals, trials, fraught relationships, and forbidden love at every turn, Eleanor finally sees what her future could hold if she could just seize the moment.

The first in this highly anticipated trilogy, The Summer Queen follows Eleanor through the Second Crusade to the end of her marriage to Louis VII. The author’s meticulous research (including delving into the Akashic records) portrays the Middle Ages and Eleanor with depth and vivid imagery unparalleled in historical fiction that will keep readers riveted and wanting more.

My Review

The first in Ms. Chadwick’s sweeping trilogy of Eleanor of Aquitaine (known as “Alienor”) begins when her father, Duke of Aquitaine, dies on a pilgrimage and 13 year old Alienor is ordered to wed Louis (eventually Louis VII) of France for her own protection and the continuation of her duchy. A second son who trained to be a monk until his older brother’s death forced him to the throne, Louis is ill-matched to handle the independent, driving force that is Alienor. Louis blames her for their inability to conceive a son, for her flamboyant style of dressing, and for her quick, decisive, and intuitive style of governing that is so different than his own.

After a miserable crusade to the Holy Lands, Louis and Alienor agree it’s better to have their marriage annulled. Leaving behind her two daughters Marie and Alix in Paris, Alienor strikes out on her own and takes a chance on a young upstart who aspires to the throne of England. Henry and Alienor form an instantaneous, almost innate bond. Both share a fiery determination to protect their vassals, expand their lands, and succeed. But there is a darker side of their relationship, too, with an ongoing jousting match to determine position. Henry is consumed with a restless ambition that marginally includes his wife. It is only when Henry is weakened by illness that he gives Alienor the respect and attention she so craves. Once again Alienor rails against her lot as a broodmare, yearning for a true partnership that neither of her husbands are willing to give.

Though this version of Alienor’s story isn’t significantly different than other published accounts, the strength of this book lies in Alienor’s relationships, her connection (of lack thereof) with her husband Louis, her rigid first mother-in-law Adelaide, her impetuous sister Petronilla, her paramour Geoffrey de Racon, and her imperious second mother-in-law the Empress Matilda. I was struck by how much Alienor’s life seemed to mirror that of the late Princess Diana. Their journeys from scared young bride to independent woman in control of her own destiny are eerily similar, though Alienor was granted a much longer life to complete her trek.

The only woman to be both a queen of France and a queen of England, Alienor is an eternally fascinating character, probably the first woman powerful and brave enough to write her own story, going against the tide of society, the church, and conventional wisdom. This book reveals a woman who comes into her own, grasping for her own destiny with both hands—a story that is rich and inspiring.

Monday, October 24, 2016

Or Give Me Death:Ann Rinaldi's Fine YA Historical Fiction



By Michelle Ule

I'm not sure when I first stumbled on an Ann Rinaldi's novel at the library, but it was a revelation.

I went looking for her work recently and picked up Or Give Me Death, a young adult novel about the family of Virginia's first governor Patrick Henry.

You know, the man who famously said, "Give me Liberty or Give Me Death," during the Revolutionary War.

The book is not a simple family story.

It is about his first family (six children by his first wife; 11 by his second), and how they struggled to deal with their mother's mental illness while Henry solved all the problems of a countryside preparing to fight the British.

Mental Illness and a Young Adult Novel?

I was surprised by the theme as I read this book and yet, aren't many young people struggling with mental health?

Don't many teenagers have parents who may have "issues?"

The strength of a young adult novel is that while it tackles challenging topics, it uses concepts that might be easier for a young person to understand and apply.

Told through the point of view of first the oldest child, 16 year-old Patsy, and then the second daughter, Anne, Or Give Me Death wrestles with family of origin troubles set against a world descending into war. Fascinating.

Research and Experience

Rinaldi wrote out of deep research and wisdom born of her age (She's in her eighties now; Or Give Me Death was published ten years ago).

A journalist, she began looking into history when her teenage son became a reenactor.

Or, as she liked to say, "Most mothers go to soccer or football games, but I went to wars.”

She began to participate herself, cooking meals over iron kettles and wearing costumes. (The things we do for our children!)

The historical experiences drove her to research and from there, story ideas formed.

As the author of 59 novels, Rinaldi prefers American history and often writes of the Revolutionary War and the Civil War periods.

Her protagonists are usually young women, often minority women, confronting difficult situations. Rinaldi allows the teenagers to experience doubt, fear, jealousy and uncertainty--just as modern young people do.

Wikipedia noted:
"In 2000, Wolf by the Ears was listed as one of the best novels of the preceding twenty-five years, and later of the last one hundred years."
Wolf by the Ears is the story of a Hemings slave in Thomas Jefferson's household who has to decide if she will remain enslaved or flee to freedom.
Not your standard YA fare.

Truth or Fiction?

I love how Rinaldi ends her books with a several-page section explaining what was true and what was her fictional embroidery.

In so doing, she demonstrates anew how there's nothing new under the sun and history has much to teach us.

Or Give me Death portrays a family's anguish with mental illness using the means available at the time to cope.

It was very insightful to this woman in 2016 America--whose ancestors lived in the neighborhood.

Tweetables

Ann Rinaldi portrays common YA problems in a Revolutionary household. Click to Tweet

Wolf by the Ears or O Give Me Death; YA historical fiction at its finest. Click to Tweet

Michelle Ule is the biographer of Mrs. Oswald Chambers and five historical novellas. You can learn more about her at www.michelleule.com.

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Review: As Death Draws Near


Anna Lee Huber
As Death Draws Near (A Lady Darby Mystery, Book 5)
By Anna Lee Huber
Berkley, July 2016

About the Book

July 1831. In the midst of their idyllic honeymoon in England’s Lake District, Kiera and Gage’s seclusion is soon interrupted by a missive from her new father-in-law. A deadly incident involving a distant relative of the Duke of Wellington has taken place at an abbey south of Dublin, Ireland, and he insists that Kiera and Gage look into the matter.

Intent on discovering what kind of monster could murder a woman of the cloth, the couple travel to Rathfarnham Abbey School. Soon a second nun is slain in broad daylight near a classroom full of young girls. With the sinful killer growing bolder, the mother superior would like to send the students home, but the growing civil unrest in Ireland would make the journey treacherous.

Before long, Kiera starts to suspect that some of the girls may be hiding a sinister secret. With the killer poised to strike yet again, Kiera and Gage must make haste and unmask the fiend, before their matrimonial bliss comes to an untimely end.

My Review

Kiera and Gage are newly married, but their relaxing honeymoon in the Lake District is rudely interrupted by Gage’s disapproving father. Lord Gage asks the newlyweds to journey to Ireland where a distant cousin of Lord Wellington’s, a novice at an abbey outside of Dublin, has recently been killed. With nothing to go on but the few facts in Lord Gage’s note, Kiera and Gage make their way to the abbey.

Once they arrive, Kiera and Gage get a sharp and sudden reminder that religious differences in Ireland are at a fever pitch and members of the English aristocracy are not welcomed with open arms. Many on both sides resort to violence and intimidation to settle the differences between the largely Catholic public and their English Protestant overlords. What a girl from a prominent, English Protestant family is now doing as a Catholic convert in an Irish abbey, Kiera and Gage can only guess. When another woman is murdered and tensions begin to boil over, however, Kiera and Gage must solve the murder before they need to fear for their own lives.

Readers get to experience Ireland through Kiera and Gage’s eyes, and it’s a welcome change of pace for these two now-familiar detectives. Kiera must reconcile her role as investigator with her newfound role of wife and, one day, mother. She also gains a fresh perspective on just how fraught the religious situation is in Ireland and how the Catholics she comes to know there are not the villains she was always told they were. This investigation proves to be a whole new playing field for both Kiera and Gage, and it’s a wonderful journey to see them work through this new phase of their lives as a team in both work and life.