Saturday, May 13, 2017

New Release: The Noble Servant by Melanie Dickerson


Medieval Fairytale #3
336 Pages, May 9th 2017, Thomas Nelson
Print, ebook and audio

She lost everything to the scheme of an evil servant.
But she might just gain what she’s always wanted . . . if she makes it in time.

The impossible was happening. She, Magdalen of Mallin, was to marry the Duke of Wolfberg. Magdalen had dreamed about receiving a proposal ever since she met the duke two years ago. Such a marriage was the only way she could save her people from starvation. But why would a handsome, wealthy duke want to marry her, a poor baron’s daughter? It seemed too good to be true.
On the journey to Wolfberg Castle, Magdalen’s servant forces her to trade places and become her servant, threatening not only Magdalen’s life, but the lives of those she holds dear. Stripped of her identity and title in Wolfberg, where no one knows her, Magdalen is sentenced to tend geese while she watches her former handmaiden gain all Magdalen had ever dreamed of.

When a handsome shepherd befriends her, Magdalen begins to suspect he carries secrets of his own. Together, Magdalen and the shepherd uncover a sinister plot against Wolfberg and the duke. But with no resources, will they be able to find the answers, the hiding places, and the forces they need in time to save both Mallin and Wolfberg?

New York Times bestselling author Melanie Dickerson beautifully re-imagines The Goose Girl by the Brothers Grimm into a medieval tale of adventure, loss, and love.
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I did not, truly know what to expect from this book, especially since I’m not familiar with the fairy-tale it was based on. I have seen from the reviews that it has received a somewhat mixed reception, and in some ways, I can understand why.

It was a sweet story, with some which made some good use of historical details, I liked the parts about education and literacy, which defy some common misconceptions about the period: Medieval people did read the Bible. I also liked seeing the character of Magdelen again, who I liked from the last book in the trilogy ‘The Beautiful Pretender’. In a way though, I think that book was better. It’s like too much effort was put into making her a well-rounded and flawed character, and the shortcomings were inserted in to make her seem less perfect. Steffan started out as interesting, and I did like him throughout the novel, but his actions as responses did not always come across as authentic for a 21-year-old man of his background and period.

The whole style of this one just came over as too simplistic. Like it was written for teenagers, when its marketed at adults. Yes, there was plenty of adventure, but maybe that’s not enough to satisfy an adult audience. The writing was very much telling instead of showing, and very repetitive in places (continually saying that X will happen because of Y, and repeating feeling and emotions).

The villain was almost cartoonish: as such his actions seemed predictable yet unintelligent and badly thought out and the usual condemnation of arranged marriage/marriages of convenience as evil, immoral, and a source of inevitable misery got on my nerves. Tell that to Edward I of England, Edward III, Henry VII, Richard II and all the other Kings of England who had happy and long-lasting arranged marriages, or to William Marshall, Earl of Pembroke, who was happily married for many years, despite his wife being 30 years his junior. Sometimes, there really does have to be more to a marriage then insta-love, and some people did make the best of things.

Finally, a real negative point for me, (and I apologise if this seems pedantic), was the mention of potatoes in 14th century Germany in what is now the author's 10th novel set in Medieval Europe.
It clearly was not just a mistake or oversight: the context was characters eating filled rolls with potato in them, and their presence was mentioned 3 times in a paragraph, along with how much the characters liked them. Potatoes are from the Americas, and were not introduced to Europe until at least the 16th century.

To me this detail, along with some of the observations above, suggest perhaps a hint of carelessness in some of this author’s recent works, or transitioning to a more mature writing style for an older audience, I don't know.
I will certainly keep reading her works in future, and this one was worth keeping as an addition to the series, but it was a little disappointing. I would recommend for younger readers, but for adults who has just discovered this author, I think some of her earlier books would be a better starting point.

I requested a copy of this book from the Publisher for review, and purchased the audiobook of my own volition. I was not required to write a positive one and all opinions expressed are my own.

Thursday, May 11, 2017

A Lady in Disguise by Sandra Byrd

Daughters of Hampshire #3 
384 Pages, March 21st 2017, Howard Books
Print, ebook and audio 

In this intriguing novel of romance, mystery, and clever disguise set in Victorian England, a young woman investigates the murder of her own father.

After the mysterious death of her father, Miss Gillian Young takes a new job as the principal costume designer at the renowned Drury Lane Theatre Royal. But while she remembers her father as a kind, well-respected man of the Police Force, clues she uncovers indicate he’d been living a double life: a haunting photograph of a young woman; train stubs for secret trips just before his death; and a receipt for a large sum of money. Are these items evidence of her father’s guilty secrets? His longtime police partner thinks so.

Then Gillian meets the dashing Viscount Thomas Lockwood. Their attraction is instant and inescapable. As their romantic involvement grows, Gillian begins to suspect even Lockwood’s motives. Does Lord Lockwood truly love her? Or is his interest a front for the desire to own her newly inherited property? And what should she make of her friend’s suggestion that Lockwood or men like him were involved in the murder of her father?

Soon Gillian is convinced that her father has left evidence somewhere that can prove his innocence and reveal the guilty party. But someone wants to stop her from discovering it. The closer she comes to uncovering it, the more menacing her opposition grows. With her life on the line, Gillian takes on an ingenious disguise and takes on the role of a lifetime to reveal the true killer—before it’s too late both for her and for those that she loves.

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I’ve read and enjoyed the last two instalments in the Daughters of Hampshire series, by Sandra Byrd, an author who I discovered relatively recently. Although the books are part of a trilogy, and set in the same geographical region, they can be read as standalone titles, as the characters bear no relation to one another, and do not appear in successive books, as they do in some series.
As with the others, A Lady in Disguise was a Victorian Romance with hints of a Gothic Thriller. Mist of Midnight was excellent, Bride of a Distant Isle was very good if a little far-fetched in places, but in my opinion, this one was the best of them all.

Meticulously researched, with a strong sense of period and of place, and cleverly interwoven historical details, including the early days of the now world famous organization known as the Salvation Army, the early Metropolitan Police force, and even references to the embryonic women’s suffrage movement. The details also allowed to the faith elements to be bought into the story, in a realistic manner which fitted the period, and did not come over as too preachy. Even the events of the last chapter, which some people might object to, were acceptable, when is some other novels like this they come across as cheating.

Some readers may wish to be forewarned that this novel does have rather a dark tone at times, and handles some very difficult and controversial issues including human trafficking, child prostitution and police corruption. I felt that these were dealt with sensitively, without the whole thing taking on a seedy or sleazy tone. Whilst this is categorized as Romance, I felt the romantic elements were often the in background, with the plot and activities of the character being given more prominence, and the protagonists remaining true to their character. Hence, the romance did not come over as simpering, mushy or fluffy as some romances do.

Finally, some American authors have trouble pulling off a British setting, but Sandra Byrd does it magnificently (helped in no small part by some British Beta readers). My only complaints were the rather odd name that the heroine Gillian used for her mother Mamma (which sounded like it was somewhere between the American Momma, and the archaic British Mama), and couple of scenes which bordered on the improbable.
Other than that, though, this was a wonderful read, meriting a Five-star rating which I rarely give. Recommended for any lover of Victorian Historical and Clean Fiction, and Romance.

I requested a copy of this book from the Published Howard Books, via Netgalley. I was not required to write a positive review and all opinions expressed are my own. 

Friday, May 05, 2017

Pilate's Daughter by Fiona Veitch Smith

Endeavour Press, February 13th 2017
Print and Ebook, 281 Pages  


                  
The Year is AD 28:
In Roman-occupied Judea, Claudia Lucretia Pilate, daughter of the governor Pontius Pilate, is not happy with her father’s choice of husband for her – the handsome Roman Tribune Marcus Gaius Sejanus, who has been assigned the task of ridding Palestine of the troublesome Zealots.
Lover of Greek myths and culture, Claudia has ideals of finding a partner of her own and she unwittingly falls in love with Judah ben Hillel, a young Jewish Zealot, who has been instructed by his kinsmen to kidnap and kill her.

Meanwhile, Marcus has fallen in love himself with a beautiful slave-girl, Nebela, whose mother is the local soothsayer. Despite their different ranks in society, Nebela is determined that she, and not Claudia, shall marry Marcus, and with her mother’s help she weaves an intricate plot to try and get her way.

Languishing in jail is John the Baptist, having prepared the way for the coming of the Messiah. Regarded by the Romans as a madman, John’s fate will be decided by the whims of the women in Herod’s household.
Word on the street is that a Jewish prophet from Galilee has been causing unrest, drawing huge crowds to hear him speak and watch him perform wonders and healings.

Claudia’s father, Pontius, becomes a key player in the final destiny of the prophet, and despite warnings from his wife after her vivid dreams, he is swept along by expectations of the Jewish leaders to uphold the local traditions and finds himself in a dangerously compromising situation.
As the last days of Jesus are played out in Jerusalem, the future happiness of Claudia and Judah becomes ever more thwarted and the outcome played out in a wider arena than they ever imagined.

A tale of star-crossed lovers, Pilate’s Daughter brings to the fore many lesser-known characters from the gospel accounts of Jesus, who mingle with fictional characters against the historical backdrop of Roman life in Palestine.
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The first part of this story was probably the best, with the parts about the Pilate family and their move to Judea, and Claudia’s (Pilate’s daughter’s) attempts to educate herself. After the first few chapters, however, I felt it degenerated to the level of a TV or modern Hollywood ‘Biblical’ drama. 
In a way, it’s one of those books that seems to have a bit of an identity crisis. The character’s outlook was way too modern for it to feel truly historical, and there were far too many sex scenes for it to be accepted in the mainstream Christian market, though I understand this was not the author’s intended audience.

The characters, including the main ones, seemed became ‘stock’ characters, with the pretty girl trapped in an unwanted marriage falling for the handsome rake trope, and there was a lot of telling instead of showing.
In the end, most of them came across as a bit vapid and shallow, even in their brushes with the supernatural or biblical figures. It’s like they were trying too hard to maintain a modern, sceptical objective worldview, which did not fit in with the period. On the plus side, some of the settings were well described, but I did not feel ‘transported’ back to the period with this novel.

I requested a copy of this book from the Publisher via Netgalley for review. I was not required to write a positive one and all opinions expressed are my own

Sunday, April 23, 2017

New Release: For Love and Honor by Jody Hedlund

An Uncertain Choice #3, 
Zondervan, March 7th 2017, 
Print, Ebook and Audio 
Lady Sabine is harboring a skin blemish, one, that if revealed, could cause her to be branded as a witch, put her life in danger, and damage her chances of making a good marriage. After all, what nobleman would want to marry a woman so flawed?

Sir Bennet is returning home to protect his family from an imminent attack by neighboring lords who seek repayment of debts. Without fortune or means to pay those debts, Sir Bennet realizes his only option is to make a marriage match with a wealthy noblewoman. As a man of honor, he loathes the idea of courting a woman for her money, but with time running out for his family’s safety, what other choice does he have?

As Lady Sabine and Sir Bennet are thrust together under dangerous circumstances, will they both be able to learn to trust each other enough to share their deepest secrets? Or will those secrets ultimately lead to their demise?

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I shall humbly admit, the first two thirds of this book were an improvement on the last two, without all the silly, historically inaccurate rubbish that marred the two previous titles, and the disturbing obsession with torture. It was actually rather enjoyable with some of the banter between the two main characters, Sir Bennett and Lady Sabine. I would even go as far as to say that some of the details were quite credible, with Sabine’s interest in reading and some of the works mentioned. There were the usual problems with Americanisms though, and the mention of certain animals that would not have been found anywhere in Medieval Britain (or a fictional country based on it) such as mink and vultures. 

Then things went rapidly downhill, when someone accused Sabine of being a ‘witch’ because of a birth mark, and in scenes reminiscent of Monty Python or Blackadder, wanted to grab her and burn her straight away, then and there. But that’s correct, cos’ those Medieval people were all so superstitious and ignorant that they would think anyone who was ‘different’ was a Devil worshipper? 
 No. Witchcraft was a religious offense, and in most of Europe, a person could only be tried and convicted by a church court under Canon Law. Trial oy Ordeal was banned on the orders of the Pope in 1215, and the real paranoia about witchcraft did not start until the sixteenth century, reaching its height in the seventeenth. The sort of things that happened to Sabine would fit into a seventeenth century setting under the Puritans, or in Salem Massachusetts, they don’t belong in the fourteenth century. 

Why do I even bother to mention this? Mostly because there are people who treat this series as accurate Historical Fiction, and have even recommended it for history courses. It’s not Historical Fiction- it’s not set in England just because some of the place names are the same. Other details do not fit in with an English setting at all- for instance there being a High King. This story is fantasy, and should be taken as such- not accurate history. There are far too many inaccuracies and inconsistencies for a Medieval English setting, not to mention the downright silliness of the characters. 

Seriously, what is the point of laying siege to a person’s home, and half destroying it because they owe you money, that’s not going to get it back- and Bennett’s resolve not to sell any of his treasures as equally absurd. What good is keeping hold of your treasured items going to do of you are going to be homeless. To be, honest, the fictional country that he characters inhabit must be the single worst-run state in Medieval History, with nobles constantly attacking and killing each other, every single forest and road crawling with bandits, and the central authorities only stepping in to ‘save the day’ when it’s almost too late.
Do people think Late Medieval England was actually like that? It was not. Nobles very rarely attacked each other, except during times of civil war, or on the borderlands with Scotland and Wales, which were notoriously lawless. Kings were supposed to maintain law and order, to keep the nobles in check, if they did not, they were failing to do their job.

It’s a shame, because this could have been a great love story, with a lot of positive messages about not judging by appearances. It could have been better executed without all the silliness about ‘witchcraft’ which was totally inaccurate, and could just been copied from some movie. I wish authors would take the trouble to do their research before writing Medieval Fiction to find out if the detials they want to include actually happened at that time, and if they are going to use a lot of artistic licence make it clear where they have done so. 

I requested an e-book version of this title from Zondervan via Booklook Bloggers for review. I was not required to write a positive one and all opinions expressed are my own.

Saturday, April 22, 2017

The Pattern Artist by Nancy Moser

Shiloh Run Press, 1st December 2016
305 Pages, Print and Ebook

Born into a life of hard work, English housemaid Annie Wood arrives in New York City in 1911 with her wealthy mistress. Wide-eyed with the possibilities America has to offer, Annie wonders if there’s more for her than a life of service. 

Annie chooses to risk everything, taps into courage she never knew she had, and goes off on her own, finding employment in the sewing department at Macy’s. While at Macy’s Annie catches the eye of a salesman at the Butterick Pattern Company. 
Through determination, hard work, and God’s leading, Annie discovers a hidden gift: she is a talented fashion designer—a pattern artist of the highest degree. As she runs from ghosts of the past and focuses on the future, Annie enters a creative world that takes her to the fashion houses of Paris and into a life of adventure, purpose, and love.

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A rags-to-riches story about a young woman from a humble background’s rise in the fashion industry in early 20th century New York- what could be better? Well, it depends on taste. I think this book would appeal to those who enjoyed TV series such as Mr Selfridge and The Paradise, which are both set in London department stores at about the same period. Personally, I just did not much care for this book (as I was not much interested in those series). 
The synopsis attracted me, but I think a lot of the time it failed to really grab my attention. Annie Wood never came across as authentically British, and I found the comparisons between American and British culture annoying, even condescending at times. 

Annie was meant to have been an extremely talented young woman whose meteoric rise resulted from this talent, but for all that, she often seemed to just drift along, rather passively, with her big breaks sort of falling into her lap courtesy of the Big American Dream. 
The historical details were interesting, especially with the incorporation of things which the author did not plan for, the use of description to recreate the setting was also well done. However, I found that in the execution, this book dragged. Perhaps, as other reviewers said, there was not enough character development. 
Most of them seemed a bit flat and bland, responding to situations it a rather insipid way. One of the most interesting was Danny, who would have done more, and made a very silly choice early on which resulted in an unsavoury turn of events. 

There seemed to be a lot of ‘telling’ instead of showing, and it became rather repetitive in places. In a way, I think the novel would, and did appeal more to those who could directly relate to main plotline- clothing and fashion design. I’m interested in fashion, but the history of it just doesn’t interest me that much, and I have not designed clothing from scratch. I would consider reading more by this author, and perhaps buying this book if I saw on offer. 

 I requested a PDF of this book from Netgalley for review. I was not required to write a positive one and all opinions expressed are my own.
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