Thursday, January 19, 2017

Review: The Memory of Us







The Memory of Us

by Camille Di Maio


Lake Union Publishing, May 2016

Julianne Westcott was living the kind of life that other Protestant girls in prewar Liverpool could only dream about: old money, silk ball gowns, and prominent young men lining up to escort her. But when she learns of a blind and deaf brother, institutionalized since birth, the illusion of her perfect life and family shatters around her.

While visiting her brother in secret, Julianne meets and befriends Kyle McCarthy, an Irish Catholic groundskeeper studying to become a priest. Caught between her family’s expectations, Kyle’s devotion to the Church, and the intense new feelings that the forbidden courtship has awakened in her, Julianne must make a choice: uphold the life she’s always known or follow the difficult path toward love.

But as war ripples through the world and the Blitz decimates England, a tragic accident forces Julianne to leave everything behind and forge a new life built on lies she’s told to protect the ones she loves. Now, after twenty years of hiding from her past, the truth finds her. Will she be brave enough to face it?

My Review

Juliann Westcott, the debutant daughter of a Liverpool shipping magnate, discovers a blind and deaf twin brother locked away in an institution. It’s at the institution that Juliann meets gardener Kyle McCarthy, an impoverished Irishman who is studying to be a priest. Despite her parents’ strong disapproval of Kyle’s social standing and religion, Juliann and Kyle fall in love and elope.

In London, Kyle takes on odd jobs, while Juliann studies to be a nurse, but after Kyle enlists to fight the Germans, the Blitz forces Juliann to return to Liverpool. While staying with a friend in a basement shelter, a German firebomb changes Juliann forever and she makes a choice that changes her life, and Kyle’s, forever. Then, 20 years later, at the bedside of a dying woman, nurse Juliann runs into priest Kyle again and must face the consequences of those long ago choices.

A classic rich girl-poor boy tale takes a slightly different turn amidst the rubble of a bombed out building. This is a tale of redemption, of forgiveness, and of reconciliation. Mostly, this is a tale of hope—that despite the worst that life and fear can unleash, there is still a chance for love to win. The predictability of the plot is easily forgiven in view of the sweetness of the ending.

I’m particularly proud to say that this author is not only a mega-selling real estate agent by day but also homeschools her four children—oh and writes novels too. She must be a superwoman! And I’m not usually one to gush over cover art, but this cover is lovely.


Thursday, January 12, 2017

Review: Secrets in the Mist

Anna Lee Huber

Secrets in the Mist

By Anna Lee Huber

Brightstone Media, October 2016


About the Book

England 1812. Since the death of her mother and brother, Ella Winterton’s life has been consumed by keeping her drunkard father out of trouble and the roof of their crumbling cottage over their heads. But even isolated deep in the Norfolk broads, Ella has never been afraid of the marshes surrounding her home, despite their being riddled with treacherous bogs and local smugglers. Until one night a man masquerading as a Lantern Man—a frightening figure of local legend—waylays her in the marshes near her home, and her world suddenly begins to spiral out of control.

Ella can tell that her friends and the local villagers are all hiding something terrible, something they refuse to share, and she can’t help but wonder if it has to do with the Lantern Man and his secret activities in the shadows of the seemingly quiet broads. But when  the authorities catch Ella’s father with smuggled brandy and levy a crippling fine, she is forced to turn to the stranger for help, despite her distrust and his alarming ability to kiss her senseless.

Now she must unravel a twisted trail of deception and secrets and uncover once and for all whether the Lantern Man is friend or foe. Or else risk being dragged down into the marshes, like the victims from the myth, and buried in a watery grave.

My Review

Anna Lee Huber, author of the wonderful Lady Darby mystery series, tries her hand at gothic mysteries in this volume 1 of the Gothic Myths Series. We meet Ella Winterton, who lives in Norfolk in the early 19th century with her widowed father, not long after the loss of her brother Erik in the Napoleonic Wars. Ella’s father has become a drunkard, and she must rely on her own wits to keep a roof over their heads. When she meets a mysterious stranger on the Broads—one of the famed “Lantern Men” from local lore—she’s initially frightened, and then intrigued. She knows that smugglers abound in this area of the country, but when her father is repeatedly fined for drinking smuggled brandy, Ella has few options and casts her lot with the smugglers in order to survive.

Dark, brooding, sinister, and with a sly plot twist at the end, this is a hugely satisfying Gothic novel à la Jane Eyre, perfect for cold, dark winter nights. Ella is brave, resourceful, and spirited. You will root for her to the last page. I’m anxious to see what’s in store for Ella in the next volume.


Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Review of Pages of Ireland

Cindy PagesIreland_frontonly300Pages of Ireland
Book #2, Daughter of Ireland

by Cindy Thomson

About the Book:

In sixth-century Ireland, books are rare treasures.

Aine, a young woman unwillingly pledged to marry, believes the book is a talisman with the power to change her circumstances. When she steals it from her betrothed’s clan, desperate to use it to help her mother’s impoverished people, events tumble out of control. She seeks help from Brigid, the woman who rescued her long ago, but doing so puts an entire monastery at risk as the king deploys his army to get the book back.

The formerly banished druid Ardan hopes the book can be traded for revenge, but a mysterious force curses him with a reoccurring mark in the shape of Brigid’s famous reed cross. Is it the power of a vengeful god or the command of the book that is causing his anguish?

While many seek to possess the book, it appears to choose who will hear its words. No one in Ireland will know the power of the words written on its pages if the book does not survive the battle. 

My Review:

by Tamera Lynn Kraft

Pages of Ireland is the second book in Cindy Thomson's Ireland Series. Set in the Middle Ages, she continues her tales of how Christianity took root in Ireland. This novel focuses upon Aine, the girl Brigid saved in the last novel Brigid of Ireland. Cindy weaves Ireland legend and folklore into stories about early saints and missionaries in a way no one else has. I enjoyed Pages of Ireland even more than her first book in the series. I highly recommend it.

Monday, December 26, 2016

The Imperial Wife: Catherine the Great

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By Michelle Ule

Catherine the Great comes alive in this fabulous historical and present day novel by Irina Reyn: The Imperial Wife.

As a long-time Russophile, I picked up this novel by Irina Reyn out of curiosity.

Catherine the Great has never been one of my favorites--she was a focused and ribald ruler during despotic times.

But Reyn's novel brought Catherine to life in a sympathetic fashion that made me consider her from a different angle. I liked it very much.

Past and Present in parallel

This is not a time travel story--it's a parallel tale of two women torn from their homeland and required to make gutsy decisions in a world that isn't quite their own.

Catherine's 18th century story mirrors that of Tanya's present day experience in the rarified Russian art world of New York City.

They're both confused in love, tantalized by beautiful works of art and the mind and responding to powerful forces.

I learned far more about the Russian oligarchs now dominating the international art market then I ever imagined.

Reyn has done an excellent job of conveying the high-stakes world in which both Catherine and Tanya risked everything for success.

And there's a fascinating twist--somewhere in the story--that caught me surprise and threw the whole book into a different realm of parable.

I loved it.

And I didn't put it all together until the final page.

Replica of Catherine II's wedding dress (1745) by MKhT school-studio 05 by shakko
This sash--the Order of St. Catherine,
plays a major role in the story.

Catherine the Great and Tanya 


Catherine comes off as a far more sympathetic character than I've ever given her credit.

Her young life had several disappointments that made her into the empress she became. (Which is where Reyn ends her story).

Reyn does a fine job of helping us see why Catherine made her choices.

We see what life was like in that long ago period when Peter the Great's grandson became the tsar and was not up to the task.

Catherine had to seize power for the sake of Russia--right?

In Tanya's case, she too, seized power of a different sort and may--or may not--have ruined her personal happiness as a result.

Her dealings with the Russian art world fascinated when they didn't appall.

I learned so very much in such an enjoyable fashion.

The Imperial Wife--does that refer to Catherine the Great or Tanya herself?--is a terrific historical novel.

Tweetables 

The Imperial Wife--Catherine the Great, art and NYC. Click to Tweet

Historical and present day fiction at its finest: The Imperial Wife. Click to Tweet

Best-selling novelist Michelle Ule writes historical fiction and now, a biography of Mrs. Oswald Chambers (Baker, October 2017). Find out more about her and her love of Russian history at
www.michelleule.com

Friday, December 16, 2016

Review-The Prophetess:Deborah's Story


The Prophetess: Deborah's Story (Daughters of the Promises Land, Book #2) 
by Jill Eileen Smith
Revell, January 2016

About the Story: 
Outspoken and fearless, Deborah has faith in God but struggles to see the potential her own life holds. As an Israelite woman, she'll marry, have a family, and seek to teach her children about Adonai--and those tasks seem to be more than enough to occupy her time. But God has another plan for her. Israel has been under the near constant terror of Canaan's armies for twenty years, and now God has called Deborah to deliver her people from this oppression. Will her family understand? Will her people even believe God's calling on her life? And can the menace of Canaan be stopped?

With her trademark impeccable research and her imaginative storytelling, Jill Eileen Smith brings to life the story of Israel's most powerful woman in a novel that is both intriguing and inspiring.


My Review: 
The Prophetess: Deborah's Story by Jill Eileen Smith, delivers the same depth of characterization I have come to expect from Ms. Smith’s previous novels. With this story of Deborah, she took the bare bones account in Judges, and built it into a realistic story. 

Deborah’s life, as well as the rest of Israel, has been affected by the evil oppression of the Canaanites. God gives her no easy task in a time when women were expected only to marry and bear children. 

The reader is given insight into the sufferings of Israel as they wandered from their God, as well a rich fictional account of the family lives of both Deborah and Jael, the possible tensions they may have faced, and the sacrifices they make in a challenging time. 

While the Israelite military leader is intent on defeating Sisera, he also fears him. God has a different plan, using an unlikely woman, and Deborah is the one who predicts the means of the evil Canaanite leader's fall. 

Deftly weaving fiction and biblical truth, Ms. Smith has again crafted a riveting story with wonderful historical detail.

I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.  





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.