Monday, June 26, 2017

It's Our Blog Birthday!

Eleven Years!

It's hard to believe but Novel PASTimes is 11 years old today! Back then we were known as Favorite PASTimes. Novelist and Editor Ann Tatlock was our first guest! Over the years we've changed the focus of the blog from author interviews to book reviews and articles on historical topics.

What's Up Next?

Honestly I don't know. I (Cindy Thomson) started the blog because of my love of reading and writing historical fiction. At times running his blog has been challenging. Volunteers have been generous with their time but frankly all novelists must give their own personal writing priority. So things have at times not gotten done. Not because we don't love the genre and appreciate our readers, but because we're human. Giveaways became difficult. Winners would fail to respond. Authors would fail to follow up...and it all took time. Time that many of the contributors to this blog were having trouble finding.

There were good times, though, and I like to think that we've introduced readers to some authors they might not have otherwise discovered.

We have some ideas for this blog. We'd like to try something creative by allowing the very characters from the stories speak here on Novel PASTimes. But we need new volunteers and probably a new blog platform, so if we do that, it may take a few months. Or, we might not do it at all. This blog might go away from lack of reader interest.

That would make me sad, but 11 years is a long life for a blog! I'm proud of all we've done here. I'm grateful to our many blog contributors. The current ones appear in the sidebar on the left hand side.

Kathy Rouser, one of our long time contributors to this blog, wrote this on our first blog birthday:

God’s Word, His story, records for us, from the account in
Genesis onward, real people whose passions and desires were like
our own. Though their dress and culture were vastly different
from ours, we can learn from their mistakes and their victories,
from the wise and foolish, alike.
This is the essence of great historical fiction. It gives us a chance to not only be entertained, but to identify with people not unlike ourselves, but for the passage of time, and learn from the effects of their choices or the character built from overcoming their obstacles. Perhaps some of today's historical fiction will become a unique legacy for generations to come, as our lives are still touched by the great literature of yesteryear. 

Don't Go Away Yet!

We do have some reviews and some articles coming up this summer, so be sure and stick around for those. After the summer? I'm still not sure.

Grab a historical novel or three and enjoy the summer! Comment below and let us know what you're reading!

The Other Einstein

By Michelle Ule

Image resultI picked up The Other Einstein because, like so many, I'd always had an affection for the quirky Albert Einstein

This historical novel has changed my opinion. As a biographer, I recognize it is not biography. I realize the author, Marie Benedict, has taken liberties with the known facts to craft a story. 

She did a fine job.

Atomic Physics

I don't understand atomic physics, but I'm married to and the mother of people who do.

 You don't need to know anything either to appreciate this well-written novel of pre-World War I life in Serbia, Switzerland and a few points in between.

 Benedict admitted the science daunted her at first, but after working on the project, she was able to explain just what Mileva "Mitza" Maric Einstein and Albert explored, seemingly together.

Some people believe she had nothing to do with the infamous EMC-squared theory of relativity.

 But even my nuclear engineer husband knew Albert was not a strong mathematician.

"Of course his wife helped." Mitza was known for her math skills at the time.

(She was the only woman, and one of only six students, in the upper level science courses where she met Albert.)

What's the deal, Albert?

Image result for albert einsteinAlbert Einstein himself is presented as an intense, frequently late, happy and brilliant scientist who pursued the Serbian national. 

Mitza fell in love as well, and as always, those chapters were the most enjoyable in the book. 

As their relationship took a deeper and therefore more intense turn, tension arose between the familiar story of a woman's desire for academic and career success and a similar man. 

It brought back many uncomfortable memories from not just my life, but from the lives of young women I know today. 

This one was just played out 100 years ago in a different and far more elevated setting.

I couldn't bear what happened in the end, but I'm hoping Benedict wrote truth within the setting of her novel. 

The pioneering female scientists of 100 years ago are worth reading about--think Marie Curie as well. 
I recommend this one as an intro to the world. 


Did Mrs. Albert Einstein help write the theory of relativity? Click to Tweet 

The Other Einstein exposes historical and scientific truth--or not? Click to Tweet

Michelle Ule is a bestselling novelist whose work has appeared in a number of Barbour Collections. 

She is writing nonfiction in 2017--and essay for Discovery House's Utmost Ongoing (August), and as the biographer of Mrs. Oswald Chambers (Baker, October). 

You can learn more about her at 

Thursday, June 01, 2017

Review: Deposed

David Barbaree
By David Barbaree
Zaffre Publishing, May 2017

About the Book

More gripping than Game of Thrones and more ruthless than House of Cards—this a stunning new thriller of power, treachery and revenge.

In a darkened cell, a brutally deposed dictator lies crippled—deprived of his power, his freedom—and his eyes. On the edge of utter despair, his only companion is the young boy who brings him his meagre rations, a mere child who fears his own shadow. But to one who has held and lost the highest power, one thing alone is crystal clear: Even emperors were mere children once.

Ten years later, the new ruler’s son watches uneasily over his father’s empire. Wherever he looks rebellion is festering, and those closest to him have turned traitor once before. To this city in crisis comes a hugely wealthy senator from the very edge of the empire, a young and angry ward at his heels. He is witty but inscrutable, generous with his time and money to a leader in desperate need of a friend—and he wears a bandage over his blinded eyes.

The fallen emperor’s name is Nero. But this isn’t his story.

My Review

I really enjoyed this book. I found the wit and innuendos used by the author added another layer of depth to the characterization of Nero and the story overall. It contained a lot of intrigue as well as historical facts. The time period skipped around so on occasion I had to flip back and check which decade I was reading about. But that didn’t take away from the story. It also alternated points of view depending on which character’s perspective you were in at the time. I appreciated the author making that clear at the beginning of each segment.

The style of writing was very readable, but not overly simple. The author has a way with words and with dialog that makes you forget at times that you are reading. I ended up kind of liking Nero’s character by the story’s end. That was not something I expected to happen. Nero changed a lot because of his humble circumstances and figured out that what is most important in life is the people you care about and the legacy you leave behind. His relationship with Marcus changed him into a softer-hearted man because over time he became a father figure to Marcus.

I liked how the characters were the same historical characters as in several other books I’ve read about ancient Rome (by Kate Quinn.) The details came back to me as I read, and it felt like I was spending time with old friends. The cultish part of the story (regarding the “dark arts” practiced by the Germanic people) was sick, yet fascinating. I have read about some of these barbaric practices in other books so I know the cult did exist. I can’t begin to imagine the horror of watching human sacrifices to the pagan god.

I read this book pretty quickly. Normally I don’t plow through a story like I did with this one, but I kept finding myself wanting to pick it up and find out what happens next. Deposed contained intrigue and brutality that were coupled with the politics of the time period. I loved how Nero managed to work his way back into the lives of some of the very people who sought to depose/kill him in the first place. The fact that he was a cripple due to blindness made him virtually unrecognizable to many.

For lovers of ancient Roman history, this book is for you. I just ignored some of the words that didn’t fit the time period (like some f-bombs) as they managed to pull me out of the setting. Other than that small criticism, this book exceeded my expectations. It doesn’t read like a debut novel. I would read another book by this author.

Michelle Szymanoski
Michelle Sutton author - Healing Hearts

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Review: Catching the Wind

Melanie Dobson
Catching the Wind 
By Melanie Dobson
Tyndale, May, 2017

About the Book

What happened to Brigitte Berthold?

That question has haunted Daniel Knight since he was thirteen, when he and eleven-year-old Brigitte escaped the Gestapo agents who arrested both their parents. They survived a harrowing journey from Germany to England, only to be separated upon their arrival. Daniel vowed to find Brigitte after the war, a promise he has fought to fulfill for more than seventy years.

Now a wealthy old man, Daniel’s final hope in finding Brigitte rests with Quenby Vaughn, an American journalist working in London. He believes Quenby’s tenacity to find missing people and her personal investment in a related WWII espionage story will help her succeed where previous investigators have failed. Though Quenby is wrestling her own demons—and wary at the idea of teaming up with Daniel’s lawyer, Lucas Hough--the lure of Brigitte’s story is too much to resist. Together, Quenby and Lucas delve deep into the past, following a trail of deception, sacrifice, and healing that could change all of their futures.

My Review

Lately it seems I rarely finish a book because I tend to get bored with the story. I finished this one, so that tells me something. I wasn’t bored. Nor was I on the edge of my seat. The author wasn’t trying to create anxiety, but it was more like a tender longing and a deep need to understand the past and find healing in it. She did a great job showing the fear of abandonment and the wariness when it came to trusting anyone. I was intrigued with the story. It gave me a warm feeling in my heart rather than an anxious one. While nothing scary happened, it captured my heart anyway.

There is just something about Melanie’s writing and characters that pulls me in. I have yet to come across a pathetic or annoying character in any of her books, and I have read plenty of them. Eleven so far (to be exact) and I have enjoyed them all. They are often quite different. It’s not so much the subject matter that captures me (though I love WWII era fiction) but the author’s voice that compels me to keep reading.  The first book I have ever read by Melanie was Together for Good and from that point forward I have been hooked. She never has tension in a story or a plot that feels contrived. Regardless of how far from my own experience the characters’ experience tends to be, they always manage to speak to me and make me think about my life and my decisions. And like the author, her books have a sweet and calming tone to them despite how deep the story goes. None of her novels are fluffy and fake. All of them will pull you in. At least for me, that’s how it is.

This book slips between the past and the present day. Both eras intrigued me and while a bit more was in the present day, at least a third of the book contained historical chapters. I tend to prefer the historical chapters but in this book I liked them the same. I felt some of the angst and fear that Brigitte had when she couldn’t find her friend and was taken in by a man and woman who didn’t like her and only used her for her knowledge of the German language. It was interesting how the twists and turns through her life caused her to develop a strong desire to help abandoned children feel loved. I also loved how the main character resisted feeling anything for the man in the story because she didn’t want to get close to anyone lest they hurt her again. Well done!

I give this story five stars because of its pull on me and my desire to finish it. I don’t want to give any spoilers, which is why some of this review is a bit vague. Discovering things is half the fun of reading a good book so it ruins it for me if someone tells me the plot in the review.

Michelle Szymanoski
Michelle Sutton author—Healing Hearts

Monday, May 22, 2017

Redeeming Grace and the Book of Ruth

By Michelle Ule 

I happened to pick up Jill Eileen Smith's Redeeming Grace: Ruth's Story, the same day I reached the book of Ruth in my Bible reading.

It made for an interesting companion as I examined the Scriptures and saw them written into dialogue in the historical novel!

Smith is an accomplished historian of ancient Biblical times and Redeeming Grace is an excellent example of how a novelist can bring insight into a well known tale.


While the book of Ruth is only four chapters long, Smith filled in the story with a plausible reason why Naomi and Elimelech traveled to Moab during a famine.

She presented a sad tale of Israelites who set aside their religious beliefs and married Moabite women and became part of the culture.

With scrupulous attention to research, Smith taught me a lot about the Moabites' religious beliefs. In so doing, she provided an explanation for the seeming hatred some felt for Ruth in the Biblical account.

As in any historical fiction, it's interesting to see the universal desires of the heart played out in a time long past.

I appreciated, too, her thoughts on Boaz and why he behaved the way he did.

Finally, I began to understand, too, elements of the Israelite worship at Shiloh, long before Jerusalem became the city of God.


As always with historical fiction, the reader must rely on the author's research.

I know Smith spends a lot of time reading anything she can get her hands on about the times and place she writes.

Redeeming Grace rang true to me.


Embroidering a plausible tale of the Bible's book of Ruth. Click to Tweet 

Backstory and insight into the book of Ruth: Redeeming Grace. Click to Tweet

Bestselling historical novelist Michelle Ule is the biographer of Mrs. Oswald Chambers, coming from Baker Books in October 2017.

For more about her and her writing--and to investigate the stories
behind the writing of the biography--visit her website at

Monday, April 24, 2017

Luther and Katharina: a Novel of Love and Rebellion

By Michelle Ule 

 Jody Hedlund's Luther and Katharina: a Novel of Love and Rebellion, won the 2016 Christy award for best historical fiction.

 As a Lutheran, I read the book with interest--curious about what she could show me concerning the founder of my church.

 Hedlund did not disappoint, fashioning a romantic, sensual tale of a man who rarely seemed that way to me!

 She provides excellent insight into the lives of nuns and reformers in medieval Germany 500 years ago--a challenge from modern day America.

 I learned much about the reasons for Luther nailing those 95 theses to the Wittenberg door. I was horrified to discover the depravity that took place in convents.

Grounded in research into the time, Luther and Katharina spins the tale of two people who felt unloved by their families.

She provides an interesting twist and explanation into their historic behavior, though no one can really know for sure.

Hedlund makes other historical characters come to life in their conversations and actions. Who knew those reformers had such a sense of humor?

Other than the brilliant, though flawed, Martin Luther himself.


Little is known about Katharina. Only eight letters she wrote survive, according to her biographer Michelle DeRusha.

This provided Hedlund with ample opportunity to embroider her story.

Unfortunately, I found some of it a little of a stretch. In Luther and Katharina, we see rebellion in some of Katharina's behavior--which puts her into danger.

At least twice, Hedlund gives Martin Luther a type of superhero status--riding off into the countryside swinging a sword to save the day.

Given the man had health problems and was an ancient 40 at the time, such behavior struck me as out of place.

Even if it was romantic.

All the same, Luther and Katharina is a worthy investment of time. I learned a great deal and enjoyed it.

For a fuller examination of fact and fiction in the Luther romance, see my blog post: Mr. & Mrs. Luther in Fact and Fiction.


Rollicking romance featuring Martin Luther? Click to Tweet

The dramatic romance of Martin and Katharina Luther. Click to Tweet

Bestselling historical novelist Michelle Ule is the biographer of Mrs. Oswald Chambers, coming from Baker Books in October 2017. For more about her and her writing--and to investigate the stories
behind the writing of the biography--visit her website at

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Review: The Body in the Ice

A. J. MackenzieThe Body in the Ice (The Romney Marsh Mysteries)
By A. J. MacKenzie
Zaffre, April 20, 2017

About the Book

Christmas Day, Kent, 1796. On the frozen fields of Romney Marsh stands New Hall; silent, lifeless, deserted. In its grounds lies an unexpected Christmas offering: a corpse, frozen into the ice of a horse pond.

It falls to the Reverend Hardcastle, justice of the peace in St Mary in the Marsh, to investigate. But with the victim’s identity unknown, no murder weapon, and no known motive, it seems like an impossible task. Working along with his trusted friend, Amelia Chaytor and new arrival Captain Edward Austen, Hardcastle soon discovers there is more to the mystery than there first appeared. With the arrival of an American family torn apart by war and desperate to reclaim their ancestral home, a French spy returning to the scene of his crimes, ancient loyalties and new vengeance combine to make Hardcastle and Mrs Chaytor’s attempts to discover the secret of New Hall all the more dangerous.

The Body in the Ice, with its unique cast of characters, captivating amateur sleuths and a bitter family feud at its heart, is a twisting tale that vividly brings to life eighteenth-century Kent and draws readers into its pages.

My Review

I received a PDF of The Body in the Ice for review and thoroughly enjoyed the story. It releases today in both ebook and hardback editions.

The story’s setting has all the charm readers want in an 18th century English murder mystery. Romney Marsh, on the English coast directly across the Channel from France, is a hotbed of smuggling and French spies as one would expect at this period, which enhances the story’s dark feel and plot complications. The historical details of the period are nicely incorporated, and I appreciated the maps and diagrams at the front of the book that help the reader to envision the lay of the land. A complex network of relationships pulls readers into the story, but also conceals dangerous deceptions and intrigue.

The main character is Reverend Hardcastle, although I didn’t realize that at first. Because Chapter 1 is in Amelia Chaytor’s point of view, I expected her to be the main character and amateur sleuth and was initially disappointed when I realized that she’s for the most part peripheral to the action, at least in this volume. There were several instances of head hopping in the first few chapters as well, mainly to describe Mrs. Chaytor through others’ thoughts. Surprisingly, she remains somewhat enigmatic as what we learn about her is more often through the descriptions of others than through to her own actions and thoughts. In one instance she receives what I would think to be important information but neglects to tell Hardcastle, inexplicably waiting to inform him until he drops by her house days later. This is balanced later by a couple of well done scenes of heart-pounding action in which she acts with a deliberation and determination that live up to other characters’ estimation of her.

These minor objections were easy to overlook due to the story’s strength. I like that both Hardcastle and Amelia are dealing with personal issues that make them appealingly vulnerable. The secondary characters are nicely portrayed with realistic plights and motivations as well. The Body in the Ice is an intriguing murder mystery full of twists and turns that kept me turning pages, wondering what happens next.

According to Amazon, A. J. MacKenzie is the pseudonym of Marilyn Livingstone and Morgen Witzel, a married couple who’ve written more than 20 nonfiction and academic titles between them, including works on management, medieval economic history, and medieval warfare. Both The Body in the Ice and the previous volume The Body on the Doorstep (2016), are subtitled “A dark and compelling historical murder mystery.” The series name for book 1 is listed as A Hardcastle and Chaytor Mystery, however, so evidently the series name has changed to Romney Marsh Mysteries. Judging from The Body in the Ice, this series will appeal greatly to fans of both historical fiction and mysteries, and I highly recommend it. I’ll be looking forward to further installments.

J. M. Hochstetler

Thursday, April 06, 2017

Review: The Phantom Tree

The Phantom Tree
By Nicola Cornick
Harlequin UK, December 2016

About the Book

Browsing antiques shops in Wiltshire, Alison Bannister stumbles across a delicate old portrait supposedly of Anne Boleyn. Except Alison knows better. The woman is Mary Seymour, the daughter of Katherine Parr, who was taken to Wolf Hall in 1557 as an unwanted orphan and presumed dead after going missing as a child.

The painting is more than just a beautiful object from Alison’s past. It holds the key to her future, unlocking the mystery surrounding Mary’s disappearance and the enigma of Alison’s son. But Alison’s quest soon takes a dark and foreboding turn as a meeting place called the Phantom Tree harbours secrets in its shadows.

My Review

Alison Bannestre is born in 16th century England to a family distantly related to the famous Seymour clan. Her entire family dies of an illness, forcing her to the Seymour holding of Wolf Hall. There she meets another survivor, Mary Seymour, daughter of Thomas Seymour and the late queen Katherine Parr. Both girls are beholden to their cousin Edward Seymour as they are without family, money, or social standing. The girls are uneasy companions, Alison fiery and rebellious, while Mary is meek and introverted, but the two find common ground in their loneliness and outsider status.

Alison takes a lover and becomes pregnant. When her son, Arthur, is born, the baby is taken away from her, and she is to be married off to a well-to-do but abusive farmer. Mary, on the other hand, has magical powers, namely she sees past and future events and talks to a spirit guide, Darrell.

When an accident kills a Seymour servant, the girls are bundled off to an obscure Seymour relative at Middlecote House, except Alison will not go quietly. She jumps out of the coach, bent on finding her lost child. Before she goes, Alison asks Mary for a promise: Whatever happens to her, Mary must find out what happened to Arthur and find a way to get word to her. Mary reluctantly agrees before Alison runs off to a tavern, where she stumbles upon a portal to the future.

Now hundreds of years into the future, Alison is trapped, unable to return to the past to find Arthur and unable to find any word from Mary about her son. Alison reconnects with a former lover, Adam, and they make their way to Middlecote House, where a portrait of Mary Seymour holds clues that might show Alison the way back to her son. Alison has thrived in the future, living an independent lifestyle that the past never permitted her, but finding her son means returning to that restrictive past and leaving Adam behind. Can she decipher Mary’s clues? And if she does, will she choose her son over the freedom and love she has finally found?

I confess this book has all my favorite elements: Tudor history period, time travel, strong female characters, and a solid romantic arc. Ms. Cornick expertly contrasts the two women, with Alison’s tale being told in third person (which matches her more external challenges) and Mary’s tale told in first person (which matches her more internal conflicts). The two women are terribly different but find common ground as women have across the ages. Both women struggle and then evolve into their own, finding the love and purpose that is denied them at Wolf Hall. The travel from past to present is also fascinating, as Alison’s 16th century perspective contrasts sharply with modern life. In traveling to the future she gains much but loses some too.

Part coming of age, part bittersweet tale of love and loss, this one has many layers and they are all worth experiencing.