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Historical fiction and Biblical fiction, reviewing since 2008

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Mar 12, 2012

Review: A Parliament of Spies: A Mystery by Cassandra Clark

A Parliament of Spies: A Mystery by Cassandra Clark
Minotaur Books, January 31, 2012
320p hb $25.99
ISBN 0312595743
Review copy provided by the publisher via HNR, thank you!
Review originally written for Historical Novels Review Magazine
Burton Book Review Rating:Three stars

All the danger and intrigue of 14th-century England spring to life in this "compelling" (Publishers Weekly) series about the brave, incorruptible Abbess of Meaux.
Abbess Hildegard may consider herself  “just a nun with no useful skills or connections,” yet her loyalty and intelligence have brought her to the attention of King Richard II himself—not the safest place to be, when the king has enemies on all sides. As Hildegard wrestles with her role as a spy in the parliament that is hastily gathering at Westminster, Cassandra Clark shows us the human side of history, giving readers new reason to follow Publishers Weekly’s rallying cry: “Medievalists rejoice!”

This fourth installment featuring Abbess Hildegard is a historical mystery set against the tumultuous times during the reign of Richard II in the 14th century. The Abbess of Meaux series focuses on Hildegard and some of her loyal friends as they try to uncover various treasonous and murderous plots. The mistrust between the barons and the King are emphasized as Hildegard investigates the mysterious deaths that occur around Archbishop Neville’s retinue. The Archbishop trusts Hildegard with secrets and relics as she progresses through England looking over her shoulder for her husband who was once declared dead.

While there certainly could be interesting history to Hildegard’s character, newcomers to the series are left wondering who exactly she is. While one would believe the term “abbess” as referring to a devout person, the actions of Hildegard do not represent the trait although her thoughts portray her doubts of faith. The dramatic times of unrest in which Henry Bolingbroke made a name for himself were downplayed enough to make the entire story appear dull and lackluster, as the connections of the commoners and the nobles very slowly unraveled. The tone of the book suggests well researched material, but the lack of empathy for the characters makes it a tedious read and the generalization of the politics and characters did not live up to the story’s full potential. The novel is best suited for those readers who have introduced themselves to Hildegard with one of the previous works by Cassandra Clark, with a prerequisite of knowledge of the political machinations among the factions surrounding Richard II’s courtiers.

Mar 5, 2012

Review: Blue Skies Tomorrow by Sarah Sundin (Wings of Glory Book #3)

Can be read as a stand-alone, makes me want to read the others!
Blue Skies Tomorrow by Sarah Sundin (Wings of Glory Book #3)
Revell, August 2011
427 pages, paperback
Review copy provided by the publisher via HNR, thank you!
Review originally posted in Historical Novels Review Magazine
Burton Book Review Rating:3.5 stars
Lt. Raymond Novak prefers the pulpit to the cockpit, but at least his stateside job training B-17 pilots allows him the luxury of a personal life. As he courts Helen Carlisle, a young war widow and mother who conceals her pain under a frenzy of volunteer work, the sparks of their romance set a fire that flings them both into peril. After Ray leaves to fly a combat mission at the peak of the air war over Europe, Helen takes a job in a dangerous munitions yard and confronts an even graver menace in her own home. Will they find the courage to face their challenges? And can their young love survive until blue skies return?

Filled with daring and romance, Blue Skies Tomorrow will capture readers' hearts.
Helen Carlisle is almost the merry widow, until secrets of her heroic husband who died in WWII start coming back to haunt her. Helen was always happiest doing volunteer work, yet she worked for a paycheck which became commandeered by her in-laws. Wanting to leave the stressful situation behind, Helen strives to better herself and her situation. Ray Novak, older brother to the Novak brothers featured in previous Wings of Glory books, is happiest being a pastor. With a war going on, Ray feels obligated to face his fears of combat and signs on for combat duty where things take a drastic turn.

What could have been a wonderful relationship developing between Helen and Ray becomes close to impossible given all the obstacles that continually worked against each of them. As a woman in the forties, Helen faced issues of the times such as the plights of women and black people, while Ray ended up fighting for his life in his enemy's hands. Sundin's writing is fluent and natural, with a story of many facets that is entertaining and emotive. World War II enthusiasts would learn a bit from Ray's experiences, while the romantic reader will enjoy the journey of Helen and Ray. Enjoyable enough to make me want to look up the first two novels in the series.

Feb 28, 2012

Review: Wings of A Dream by Anne Mateer

Wings of A Dream by Anne Mateer
Bethany House, September 2011
Ppbk 319 pages
ISBN 0764209035
Review copy provided by the publisher via HNR, thank you!
Review originally written for Historical Novels Review Magazine
Burton Book Review Rating:Fabulous read!

Rebekah Hendricks dreams of a life far beyond her family's farm in Oklahoma, and when dashing aviator Arthur Samson promised adventure in the big city, she is quick to believe he's the man she's meant to marry. While she waits for the Great War to end and Arthur to return to her so they can pursue all their plans, her mother's sister falls ill. Rebekah seizes the opportunity to travel to Texas to care for Aunt Adabelle, seeing this chance to be closer to Arthur's training camp as God's approval of her plans.

But the Spanish flu epidemic changes everything. Faced with her aunt's death, Arthur's indecisiveness, and four children who have no one else to care for them, Rebeka is torn between the desire to escape the type of life she's always led and the unexpected love that just might change the dream of her heart.

This impressive debut novel is an inspiring and descriptive story with a heroine who manages to captivate from the start. Rebekah takes a short trip to Texas to help her ailing aunt, where immediately she is thrust into the lives of four young lovable children as the Spanish flu epidemic takes a hold of the small community. She cares for the children and becomes instantly devoted to them as she is the sole caretaker for them while their father Frank is away during World War I, known as the Great War at that time. Told in first person, we experience Rebekah’s fears and dreams, making the story more endearing and powerful as death and faith intertwine.

Rebekah enjoys her life with the children for the time being, but has always told herself there were more options for her. She clings to the dream of the unknown, and shuns the everyday life she is unknowingly carved out for. When Frank finally comes home to claim his spot as head of household, Rebekah has to choose which path is best for her. Could it be impetuous Arthur, or the kindly Sheriff, who always knows when Rebekah needs a helping hand, or should she just go on back home to her parents in Oklahoma? I really enjoyed this Christian historical and the supporting cast of characters. I especially enjoyed it when I recognized the scenery, as it was set in East Texas where I live.

Feb 23, 2012

Review: To Have and To Hold by Tracie Peterson and Judith Miller (Bridal Veil Island Book #1)

To Have and To Hold by Tracie Peterson and Judith Miller (Bridal Veil Island Book #1)
Bethany House Publishers, September 2011
Christian Fiction/Historical Romance
Ppbk 352 pages
ISBN 0764208861
Review copy provided by the publisher via HNR, thank you!
Review originally posted for Historical Novels Review Magazine, February 2012
Burton Book Review Rating:Three and a Half Stars

When Audrey Cunningham's father proposes that they move to Bridal Veil Island, where he grew up, she agrees, thinking this will help keep him sober and close to God. But they arrive to find wealthy investors buying up land to build a grand resort on the secluded island—and they want the Cunninghams' acreage.

Contractor Marshall Graham can't imagine why the former drinking buddy of his deceased father would beckon him to Bridal Veil Island. And when Boyd Cunningham asks him to watch over Audrey, Marshall is even more confused. He has no desire to be saddled with caring for this fiery young woman who is openly hostile toward him. But when Audrey seems to be falling for another man—one who has two little girls Audrey adores—Marshall realizes she holds more of his heart than he realized. Which man will Audrey choose? And can she hold on to her ancestral property in the face of overwhelming odds?

A popular writing duo returns to historical romance with this formulaic novel focusing on faith, tragedy and hopeful triumph. After conquering alcoholism, Boyd has found God but not in time to save his ancestral home. He faces hard times while his daughter Audrey feels the burden of his mistakes during her struggle to secure her own future.

Struggling with her faith in God, Audrey is forced to deal with her family's changing circumstances of both financial hardship and the loss of loved ones. Bridal Veil Island is to become a resort town, and Audrey has to help see this plan come to fruition. As host to contractors and investors, forcing a Southern welcome so soon after the Northern Aggression is hard on Audrey’s family. When Marshall Graham arrives at Bridal Veil Island, Audrey is quick to judge and oblivious to Marshall's admirable qualities.

What is left for Audrey when the construction is over is up to her, but will she be able to see past her resentfulness and skepticism? Written in a slow fashion with a few twists, the reader follows along as Audrey battles obstacles and interacts with shady characters; those who don’t love Audrey’s stubbornness won’t love the novel. Audrey could come off as unreasonably righteous and stereotypical while she tried to determine what path to take, and as the main protagonist this was difficult to ignore. Aunt Thora and her shotgun was an amusing element, and I wouldn't mind hearing more of her own story. I would be interested to see what comes next in the Bridal Veil series.

Feb 14, 2012

Review: The Last Storyteller by Frank Delaney

The Last Storyteller by Frank Delaney
Random House, February 7, 2012
400 pages, Hardcover
Review copy provided by the publisher, thank you!
Burton Book Review Rating:Fabulous prose
In the trilogy’s conclusion (following THE MATCHMAKER OF KENMARE and VENETIA KELLY’S TRAVELING SHOW), the path to true happiness does not run smoothly for Ben: lost love Venetia is now married to a brutal but popular man, and Ben finds himself entangled with an IRA gun-runner against the backdrop of their campaign along the Irish Border.
The 1950s was a period in which Ireland was impoverished—financially, emotionally, and intellectually—and national survival was no sure thing. It was an era of Irish history that laid the groundwork for the nation's current outlook—and as Ben fights to recapture his halcyon days with Venetia, he must finally reconcile his violent, flawed past with his hopes for the future.

Brimming with fascinating historical intrigue and legendary love, The Last Storyteller is an unforgettable novel as richly textured and inspiring as Ireland itself.

There is something about the prose of Frank Delaney that makes me feel like a dunce. It flows so effortlessly, but spews intelligence with a simple phrase. Dripping with wisdom. And I hate how some authors get lauded with the overused phrases of 'lyrical prose' or something like that.. but here it is warranted again. Frank Delaney writes with passion, and his gift with words is unlike any other I have known. Granted, there are times I am wondering what the third layer is to some of his words, as it takes me awhile to catch up, but this series about Ben MacCarthy and the storytelling of Ireland has me sold on Frank Delaney (in case you hadn't noticed).

Where I would say:
"The sun came out. They kissed."

Frank would say:
"A lemon-colored light from the watery sun ran like a child across the bogland. Somewhere in that calm after the storm, Jimmy Bermingham leaned across and kissed Elma Sloane, and she made no move away."

(Frank and I are indeed on an imaginary first name basis because I said so, and I managed to snag an autographed copy. I feel extra special, even though I am sure there were fifty being speed autographed, but no matter.. because you will feel extra special too if you win one in the giveaway!)

Ben MacCarthy is the traveling Irishman scouring the countryside for stories and storytellers, and his lost wife. There are several books featuring Ben, one was Venetia Kelly's Traveling Show, which I hadn't read yet, and the last was The Matchmaker of Kenmare which I read and thus fell in love with Ireland and Frank (review).. and which is why I jumped at the chance to read this next installment, The Last Storyteller. There are a myriad of things going on here with stories in a myth of a story, but the magic of it all is the first person narrative of Ben MacCarthy. And since there is a bit of a plot line to the three books that ties them all together, I don't want to spoil much for you because I know you are going to go out and get all of the books as soon as you are done reading this review. (You can read more about all of his books on Frank's site.) Although I had jumped right into the series with The Matchmaker of Kenmare, I would definitely recommend reading one of the previous books before starting with this newest book The Last Storyteller. The way this narrative is put together is really Ben coining a memoir of sorts to his children and as he describes the things that are occurring around him, the reader is slowly peeling off layers of the character of Ben, and there would be a lot more appreciation of Ben if you could see what he went through during the previous novels.

Ben grows throughout the novels, and this installment is the fruition of all the stories combined and how he translates the lessons learned from his treasures of folklore. After twenty-five years of being haunted by his wife's disappearance, with the cause and reaction being a slowly unfurling theme throughout all of these novels, the reader is finally gifted with a stunning masterpiece of a conclusion.

One of Frank's storytellers teaches us that a story's form must have the three A's: Appetite, Authority, and Address. Give the listeners appetite for the story. Storyteller must have authority over the story in all ways. And address the listener as the listener becomes the slave to the story. (Mildly put.) Frank Delaney has captured that with his story of Ben MacCarthy, but in a much more eloquent way.

Powerful, emotive, and full of Irish grit, The Last Storyteller weaves the lives of the Irish unlike any tale, as the narrator pulls us in and out of story after story as we get a sense of the land of the Irish that isn't just whimsical leprechauns and glittery rainbows. Poverty, politics, violence, love and desperation are just some of the components, with the reality of human indignities at the forefront. I've enjoyed this so much I have already bought Delaney's earlier work, simply titled Ireland.

Are you ready for some fabulous folklore? If you think you would enjoy some old fashioned stories of Ireland, you can enter the giveaway for an autographed copy of The Last Storyteller. Enter here by leaving a comment with your email address, or find the specific giveaway post on Facebook under the page for Burton Book Review and 'like' it there. Open to the USA only, and I'll close the giveaway when I remember to =)