Saturday, January 21, 2017

Newton and Polly by Jody Hedlund

September 20th 2016, 400 Pages
Print, Audio and Ebook 
Waterbrook Multnomah 
      Amazing grace! How sweet the sound
         that saved a wretch like me.
           I once was lost, but now am found…

Now remembered as the author of the world’s most famous hymn, in the mid-eighteenth century as England and France stand on the brink of war, John Newton is a young sailor wandering aimlessly through life. His only duty is to report to his ship and avoid disgracing his father—until the night he hears Polly Catlett’s enchanting voice, caroling. He’s immediately smitten and determined to win her affection.

An intense connection quickly forms between the two, but John’s reckless spirit and disregard for the Christian life are concerns for the responsible, devout Polly. When an ill-fated stop at a tavern leaves John imprisoned and bound, Polly must choose to either stand by his side or walk out of his life forever. Will she forfeit her future for the man she loves?

Step back through the pages of history, to uncover the true love story behind a song that continues to stir the hearts and ignite the faith of millions around the globe.
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This novel was a pleasant surprise, as I have been sorely disappointed by other novels by this author, especially her YA series. It had just amount of Romance blended with adventure, intrigue and historical detail. I was grateful that the Romance was not too overdone or mushy.
The friendly banter between Newton and Polly was quite well written, and she did not spend all her time pining when he was away. Unlike in other books I have read by the same author, there is no over-the-top violence, especially against women. I put that down to the fact that there was not so much of an emphasis on 'action' at the expense of storytelling.

Instead, it was a simple old fashioned good story about the love of two young people over the course of several years apart- a love which ultimately led to the salvation of a dissolute, selfish and bitter young man who went on to become author of the world's favourite hymn. Polly Catlitt did not come over as simpering or needy, even though she was deeply in love. She actually seemed like quite a sensible, practical lass most of the time. I knew a little of John Newton's background, but this really bought it to life in a vivid, imaginative way.

The historical detail was well used and accurate. Immersive without being too distracting, and of course there was a sound salvation message, as it’s about the journey to faith of John Newton (and to some extent Polly), presented realistically and sensitively. That said, his religious doubts did not come over as contrived or patronizing, as they do in some stories written by Christians.

If I had any complaints, I would say they were shortcomings common to many books like this- namely stories set in Britain or featuring British characters written by Americans who have never set foot in the British Isles. Sadly, Mrs Hedlund conflates England and Britain throughout the novel- in fact I don’t think the term Britain was ever used to refer to the entire UK which includes England, Scotland and Wales it was just (wrongly) called ‘England’.
Even in the historical note it’s said the slave trade was abolished ‘in England’- when it was Britain and throughout the British Empire. There were also numerous Americanisms like ‘fall’ instead of ‘Autumn’, and certain minor historical details that were incorrect about the Political system.

As much as I would like to see problems like that fixed, it did not detract from my enjoyment of the story. Recommended.

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

Saturday, January 14, 2017

Blog Tour and Giveaway- The Kill Fee by Fiona Veitch Smith

Poppy Denby Investigates #2 
Novemver 26th 2016, 320 Pages, Lion Fiction
Poppy Denby, Arts and Entertainment Editor at The Daily Globe, covers an exhibition of Russian Art, hosted by White Russian refugees, including members of the surviving exiled Romanov Royal family. 
There is an armed robbery, a guard is shot, and the largest Faberge Egg in the collection is stolen. The egg itself is valuable, but more so are the secrets it contains within - secrets that could threaten major political powers. Suspects are aplenty, including the former keeper of the Faberge Egg, a Russian Princess called Selena Romanova Yusopova.

The interim Bolshevik Russian ambassador, Vasili Safin inserts himself into the investigation, as he believes the egg - and the other treasures - should all be restored to the Russian people. Poppy, her editor Rollo, press photographer Daniel, and the other staff of the Globe are delighted to be once again in the middle of a sensational story. 
But, soon the investigation takes a dark turn when another body is found and an employee of the newspaper becomes a suspect...The race is on to find both the key and the egg - can they be found before the killer strikes again?

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The second and latest instalment in the Poppy Denby Investigates Series was an excellent historical mystery, with many complex interwoven threads. The historical background surrounding exiles of the Romanov royal family, and lost treasure was fascinating and worked very well. Alongside this there was love, drama and intrigue- even a secret tunnel.

However, I must say, I did not enjoy it as much as the last book The Jazz Files. I can’t put my finger on exactly what it was- perhaps it was the length of the novel. It just seemed to drag, carrying out plotlines and leads which could have been followed and resolved sooner. Also at times, things got a bit mudded, with so much going on and the timeframe becoming confusing with the switching viewpoints.

Also, whilst the characters were believable, and I did enjoy reading about those like Rollo the editor, Daniel and Ivan Molanov (who gets his own story and a great resolution), the depiction of some of them seemed inconsistent with their behaviour. My main issue was with some of Poppy’s attitudes. She came over in this story as one of those overbearingly militant Feminists one sees too often in fiction, who shoot their mouth off at men for simply wanting to protect them and keep them out of danger. Now, I believe in women’s rights and equality, but I don’t believe women should be stupid and recklessly put themselves in perilous situations just to prove how ‘strong’ they are.
Her attitude to her parents also did not seem consistent, as the last book gave the impression Poppy loved and was close to her parents, rather than resenting them for not being liberal enough.

Personally, I did feel there was certain pro-Bolshevik slant in the story. So maybe Tsar Nicholas II was a despot- but the people who replaced him were far worse. Stalin is estimated to have killed as many as 50 million people. Perhaps in 1920 their more tyrannical tendencies were not yet apparent, but most of the characters seemed to consider Stalin and Lenin to be quite likable, honourable chaps.

I would certainly be interested in the next instalment in this series (maybe Poppy well end up in Egypt after all), I just hope for a little less Political Correctness.

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

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