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.

Monday, April 10, 2017

Shine Like the Dawn by Carrie Turansky

February 21st 2017, 321 Pages
Waterbrook Multnomah, Print Ebook and Audio 

In a quiet corner of northern Edwardian England, Margaret Lounsbury diligently works in her grandmother's millinery shop, making hats and caring for her young sister. Several years earlier, a terrible event shattered their idyllic family life and their future prospects. Maggie is resilient and will do what she must to protect her sister Violet. Still, the loss of her parents weighs heavily on her heart as she begins to wonder if what happened that day on the lake . . . might not have been an accident. 

 When wealthy inventor and industrialist William Harcourt dies, his son and Maggie's estranged childhood friend, Nathaniel, returns from his time in the Royal Navy and inherits his father's vast estate, Morningside Manor. He also assumes partial control of his father's engineering company and the duty of repaying an old debt to the Lounsbury family. But years of separation between Nate and Maggie have taken a toll, and Maggie struggles to trust her old friend. 

Can Maggie let go of the resentment that keeps her from forgiving Nate-and reconciling with God? Will the search for the truth about her parents' death draw the two friends closer or leave them both with broken hearts?

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Shine Like the Dawn was probably by second favourite Carrie Turansky Novel (I think I enjoyed A Refuge at Highland Hall a little more). Providing a slow, placed and gentle read evocative of the time period- the opening decade of the 20th century, with hints of mystery and Romance.
It reminded of some of the classics, but also in some ways of the famous Northumberland author Catherine Cookson’s stories, but with less emotional angst. There was one scene near the end that seemed like a direct borrowing from one in Elizabeth Gaskell’s North and South, which was unfortunate as the book was original enough not to need that.

The characters well-drawn and even the antagonist, Nate’s stepmother changed towards the end to become more sympathetic and human. I like the idea of the Protagonists who had known each other since childhood, being thrown together again by unfortunate circumstances, and having to overcome their pride and wrongful assumptions about one another in the years that had kept them apart.

The inspirational themes were well woven into the story, with characters such as the local vicar and Maggie’s grandmothers providing much guidance and insight without seeming too preachy and out of place. Some historical details were also well-used to create conflict and drama, as well as a background for the characters.

One complaint was that whilst the often rugged and wild landscape of Northumberland came to play in the story, there was one way in which a sense of place was lacking. That was in the prominent accent and dialect spoken by those who live in the Region. This could have been represented with the working class characters using terms like 'Da' for Dad, or terms of endearment like 'pet' and 'love', which are common in the area.
The narrator of the audio version did a good job colouring the characters with a Northumbrian lilt, which was lacking in the text itself.

Aside from that though, the novel was an enjoyable light read. A follow up would be nice, perhaps featuring one of the supporting characters from this novel.

I requested this title from via the Blogging for Books programme. I was not required to write a positive review and all opinions expressed are my own.

Thursday, April 06, 2017

The Reluctant Guardian by Susanne Dietze


February 1st 2017, 288 Pages 
Love Inspired Historical, Print and Ebook

When Gemma Lyfeld inadvertently interrupts a dangerous smuggling operation in her English village, she's rescued by a mysterious Scottish spy. Now with criminals after her and her hopes for an expected marriage proposal recently dashed, she will make her society debut in London. But not without the man tasked with protecting her…

Covert government agent Tavin Knox must keep Gemma safe from the criminals who think she can identify them—a mission he never wanted. But as he escorts her and her rascally nephews around London, the lovely English lass proves braver than he ever imagined. Suddenly, the spy who works alone has one Season to become the family man he never dreamed he'd be.
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Susanne Dietze’s first novel was also by first read from Love Inspired. I have had, mixed experiences, to say the least with many Christian Regencies. This one I did enjoy, with the witty banter between the characters, and the original plotline involving a smuggling racket, and an innocuous red cloak in the wrong place and time.
In some Regencies and Historical Novels there is little or no sense of place or period. You can look at maps all you like, but to me it felt like the author might have visited some of the places involved in the story, and it was fascinating to find out that one of the most important details was based on real events.

There was, I think, some danger with a Regency story involving a spy/smuggling plot for the protagonists to seem like ‘stock’ characters very much like those from other books just with different names. I did not find that here. Jemma and Tavin were both hurting people, struggling with mistakes from their past, but Jemma embraced forgiveness to make her a stronger person. Her love and devotion to her Nephews and remaining family (despite this being used to control her), was probably the defining point of her character. I think she became stronger as the story progressed, realizing she did not depend on the suitor who jilted her for her happiness. I did appreciate her romantic love of castles and ancient buildings, as well as her relationship with her friend Frances, would now be called a ‘nerd’ for her interest in Roman artefacts. Guilty on both counts.

Tavin was not too stereotypically Scottish, in fact he tried to hide his accent to fit it, and I think his reactions and responses were realistic in the first part of the novel. There was no insta-love between him and Gemma, which meant it didn’t get too fluffy or corny, except towards the end.
The spiritual content was handled well, with the messages about forgiving oneself, and redemption, and I did not feel it came over as too preachy.

My only complaint, which applies to a lot of books honestly, was with the accents. It seems to me that some American authors use the same accent for all lower British characters, regardless of time and location. An accent that usually involves frequent use of the word ‘Ye’ from Hampshire to Orkney. I think I picked up a couple of Americanisms here and there, but nothing too egregious.

I received an Ebook version of this title at my request, from the author. I was not required to write a positive one and all opinions expressed are my own.
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