Wednesday, May 31, 2017

New Release: A Stranger at Fellsworth by Sarah E. Ladd

 
Treasures of Surrey #3 
Thomas Nelson, 336 Pages, May 16th 2017 
Print, Ebook and Audio

Could losing everything be the best thing to happen to Annabelle Thorley?

In the fallout of her deceased father’s financial ruin, Annabelle’s prospects are looking bleak. Her fiancĂ© has called off their betrothal, and now she remains at the mercy of her controlling and often cruel brother. Annabelle soon faces the fact that her only hope for a better life is to do the unthinkable and run away to Fellsworth, the home of her long-estranged aunt and uncle, where a teaching position awaits her. Working for a wage for the first time in her life forces Annabelle to adapt to often unpleasant situations as friendships and roles she’s taken for granted are called into question.

Owen Locke is unswerving in his commitments. As a widower and father, he is fiercely protective of his only daughter. As an industrious gamekeeper, he is intent on keeping poachers at bay even though his ambition has always been to eventually purchase land that he can call his own. When a chance encounter introduces him to the lovely Annabelle Thorley, his steady life is shaken. For the first time since his wife’s tragic death, Owen begins to dream of a second chance at love.

As Owen and Annabelle grow closer, ominous forces threaten the peace they thought they’d found. Poachers, mysterious strangers, and murderers converge at Fellsworth, forcing Annabelle and Owen to a test of fortitude and bravery to stop the shadow of the past from ruining their hopes for the future.
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The third and final instalment in Sarah Ladd’s Treasures of Surrey series was a fun and enjoyable read. It some ways, it reminded me of some of her previous books, particularly The Headmistress of Rosemere (because it involves a girl’s boarding school) and A Lady at Willowgrove Hall (which also involved the protagonist running away).

The characters were interesting, I especially liked the hero Owen Locke, who I think cropped up in the last book somewhere. A gamekeeper and single father afraid of loving again after a tragedy, who is nonetheless a man of honour, and Annabelle’s Aunt and Uncle. The caring if slightly eccentric headmaster and his wife. The love story was well written without being too mushy, as were the faith elements. They came across as natural to the story, conveyed in the lives and experiences of the characters, and not too preachy but appropriate for the time.

The synopsis however, I think exaggerates the element of danger, mystery and intrigue. Something does happen, there is mention of a gang of poachers in the local forest, but it’s not as central to the story as Annabel and Owen’s relationship except at the end, where it serves as a foil. I think another reviewer mentioned that whilst this is a good story, it’s not especially memorable, nor as atmospheric as the last book, which featured some wonderful evocative descriptions of the landscape and setting.
I also agree that the antagonists weren’t as well written as other characters. They were rather predictable and some of thier actions seemed a little far fetched.

A few Americanisms in the story were also a source of some annoyance. I’m not sure school attendees were called students in 19th century Britain. Wouldn’t it have been pupils? A girl being bullied saying the other children were being ‘mean’ to her for not being ‘smart’ just doesn’t sound right. It’s not in the same league as Jane Eyre- can modern fiction ever be? This novel is however a great choice for those seeking a light, clean read that isn’t too taxing and was a good conclusion to the series.

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

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

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