Friday, September 22, 2017

First Line Friday #9: The Hour Before Dawn

After a short break, I'm back to First Line Fridays this week. Life is still busy, but my plans to catch up on my Reading Challenge are going well after the Summer hiatus. Today I'm featuring the second in a series of sequels to a trilogy of tales that were first written 20 years ago.  The original Hawk and Dove Trilogy by British author Penelope Wilcock was a set of 3 short stories centred around a monastery in Yorkshire in the late 1300s.  

Forget Cadfael, the Hawk and Dove is not a mystery series, but focused instead on specific characters: brothers of the fictional St Alcuin's monastery, using their lives and struggles to convey spiritual lessons. The first three stories entitled The Hawk and the Dove, The Wounds of God and The Long Fall placed particular emphasis on Abbot Peregrine, who took on the name Columba when be become a monk. His name was the source of the series title: Columba is the name of a Saint, but also means 'Dove', Peregrine means Hawk and is the name of a breed of falcon.
Fast forward to 2011 when a set of three sequels to the original trilogy was published by Crossway Books following the characters of the first series under the leadership of a new Abbott. A few years later, the series was taken on by British based publisher Lion Fiction, and three more titles were added taking the total up to 9. 

I read the original trilogy back in 2014 and requested the three sequels from the Publisher more than a year ago. The first one (or the fourth book in the series), I read back in March before joining this group, and I'm just getting around to The Hour Before Dawn now. 
Judging from some of the reviews, this title proved to be one of the most controversial in the series because it explores the impact of psychological and emotional trauma through the rape of one of the characters (the sister of one of the monks).
Now, I for one dislike the inclusion of content such as rape scenes in stories just for the sake of it, or just to crank up the drama: but nor do I shy away from books which explore difficult subjects. Readers will be able to read my opinion when I write the review.

The first line reads:

Brother Thomas thought he had never heard a monk shout so loud. 

Remember to check out what the other members of this group are reading on their own websites. Until next time, have a great weekend and happy reading, with love from England.

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

The Space Between Words by Michele Phoenix

Thomas Nelson, Sept 5th, 2017, 336 Pages
Print, ebook, and audio 

"There were seconds, when I woke, when the world felt unshrouded. Then memory returned."
When Jessica regains consciousness in a French hospital on the day after the Paris attacks, all she can think of is fleeing the site of the horror she survived. But Patrick, the steadfast friend who hasn’t left her side, urges her to reconsider her decision. Worn down by his insistence, she reluctantly agrees to follow through with the trip they’d planned before the tragedy.
“The pages found you,” Patrick whispered.
“Now you need to figure out what they’re trying to say.”
During a stop at a country flea market, Jessica finds a faded document concealed in an antique. As new friends help her to translate the archaic French, they uncover the story of Adeline Baillard, a young woman who lived centuries before—her faith condemned, her life endangered, her community decimated by the Huguenot persecution.
“I write for our descendants, for those who will not understand the cost of our survival.”
Determined to learn the Baillard family’s fate, Jessica retraces their flight from France to England, spurred on by a need she doesn’t understand.
Could this stranger who lived three hundred years before hold the key to Jessica’s survival?

I know, I always say that I don’t like and don’t tend to read contemporary fiction. But ‘timeslip’ novels aren’t quite the same, right? They’re partly historical. Besides, since reading Catching the Wind by Melanie Dobson I have come to rather like them.

I know some people have complained that the historical aspects of this work are in the background. Only a small part of it relates the actual story of the Huguenot Bayard family in 17th century France. I did not find that to be a problem myself and liked how their story became interwoven with that of Jessica, and her search for truth and healing with all that had happened to her.

People looking for a lot of genealogical information and the history of the French Protestants will, therefore, be disappointed. I enjoyed the human drama the development of the characters, as well as the blossoming romance that accompanied the historical details. As well as the characters ‘tracking down’ the members of the historical family.

Personally, I also think there was meant to be a connection in the way that the 17th-century French peasant girl and the modern American protagonists in their response to violence, evil and intolerance, and the worst actions of human beings. All in all, it was just a well told, tightly plotted story about faith, endurance, and survival during terrible trauma and adversity which I enjoyed.

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

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

New Release: A Dangerous Engagement by Melanie Dickerson

Regency Spies of London #3
Septemeber 12th 2017, Waterfall Press, 306 Pages
Print, Ebook and Audio
Just as merchant’s daughter Felicity Mayson is spurned once again because of her meager dowry, she receives an unexpected invitation to Lady Blackstone’s country home. Being introduced to the wealthy Oliver Ratley is an admitted delight, as is his rather heedless yet inviting proposal of marriage. Only when another of Lady Blackstone’s handsome guests catches Felicity’s attention does she realize that nothing is what it seems at Doverton Hall.

Government agent Philip McDowell is infiltrating a group of cutthroat revolutionaries led by none other than Lady Blackstone and Ratley. Their devious plot is to overthrow the monarchy, and their unwitting pawn is Felicity. Now Philip needs Felicity’s help in discovering the rebels’ secrets—by asking her to maintain cover as Ratley’s innocent bride-to-be.

Philip is duty bound. Felicity is game. Together they’re risking their lives—and gambling their hearts—to undo a traitorous conspiracy before their dangerous masquerade is exposed

Despite some weaknesses, A Dangerous Engagement was probably my favourite book in the Regency Spies of London trilogy. The writing style could be very repetitive, and the constant complaints about society’s expectations regarding marriage and rules imposed on women, which have been common to all the heroines of the series, were grating. I don’t like feeling that I’m being hit over the head with moral themes or modern judgments.
However, I liked the plot and the premise of this story, and it kept me interested to the end. I loved the hero Phillip, a younger son trying to find his place in the world who went into espionage to try to prove himself. Aside from the weaknesses outlined above, I did like the heroine Felicity as well, and her spinster Aunt who came into her own towards the end was a wonderful supporting character.

The tension and mystery in the story were very well-written, not dependent on a lot of action, but more on the situation and underlying sense of danger. There was murder, intrigue and a dangerous group of political revolutionaries following an unlikely female mastermind. I must confess to having smiled when the characters referred to their planned violent revolution as a ‘glorious revolution’. The Glorious Revolution is the name given to bloodless coup in 1688 in which the Catholic King James II was ousted by parliament in favour of his Protestant daughter Mary, and her Dutch husband William of Orange.

The ending built up the tension and danger well, my only complaint was the treatment of the romance, which became a little corny, with the characters falling in love based on looks. This bothers me because the female characters in books by this author will frequently complain if men are only interested in them for their looks, money, childbearing ability or political influence. But it’s OK for them to base attraction on such superficialities. I was glad that Philip and Felicity’s relationship developed to be more than just that by the end though to be based on character and mutual beliefs.

Altogether, I found this a satisfactory conclusion to the series and an authentic Regency novel. I requested the e-book from NetGalley for review and obtained the audiobook of my own volition. I was not required to write a positive review and all opinions expressed are my own.
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