Sunday, January 31, 2016

The Lost Tudor Princess: The Life of Lady Margaret Douglas by Alison Weir: A Book Review

The Lost Tudor Princess: The Life of Lady Margaret Douglas
Author: Alison Weir
Genre: Nonfiction, History, Biography
Publisher: Ballantine Books
Release Date: January 12, 2016
Pages: 576
Source: Netgalley/Publisher in exchange for an honest review.
Synopsis: From New York Times bestselling author and acclaimed historian Alison Weir comes the first biography of Margaret Douglas, the beautiful, cunning niece of Henry VIII of England who used her sharp intelligence and covert power to influence the succession after the death of Elizabeth I.

     Royal Tudor blood ran in her veins. Her mother was a queen, her father an earl, and she herself was the granddaughter, niece, cousin, and grandmother of monarchs. Lady Margaret Douglas, Countess of Lennox, was an important figure in Tudor England, yet today, while her contemporaries—Anne Boleyn, Mary, Queen of Scots, Elizabeth I—have achieved celebrity status, she is largely forgotten. 

     Margaret’s life was steeped in intrigue, drama, and tragedy—from her auspicious birth in 1530 to her parents’ bitter divorce, from her ill-fated love affairs to her appointment as lady-in-waiting for four of Henry’s six wives. In an age when women were expected to stay out of the political arena, alluring and tempestuous Margaret helped orchestrate one of the most notorious marriages of the sixteenth century: that of her son Lord Darnley to Mary, Queen of Scots. Margaret defiantly warred with two queens—Mary, and Elizabeth of England—and was instrumental in securing the Stuart ascension to the throne of England for her grandson, James VI.

     The life of Margaret Douglas spans five reigns and provides many missing links between the Tudor and Stuart dynasties. Drawing on decades of research and myriad original sources—including many of Margaret’s surviving letters—Alison Weir brings this captivating character out of the shadows and presents a strong, capable woman who operated effectively and fearlessly at the very highest levels of power.

      My Review: Margaret Douglas, the Countess of Lennox, was the daughter of Queen Margaret Tudor and the Earl of Lennox. She is the granddaughter of Henry VII, the niece of Henry VIII, cousin of Mary I and Elizabeth I. She was also the mother-in-law of Mary, Queen of Scots, and the grandmother of James I. At one point, she was the heiress to the English throne.

     Despite Margaret’s colorful and prestigious history, she is often overlooked by the more famous historical figures in the Tudor family. Indeed, I really did not know anything about her, except that she was the mother of Lord Darnley, the husband of Mary, the Queen of Scots. However, Alison Weir’s biography attempts to bring this forgotten woman to light. This was a surprising read. Not only did she lead a dramatic life, but she was a primary witness for the scandal and drama of the Tudor court.

     As King Henry VIII’s niece, Margaret served as a lady-in-waiting to four of his wives. She ended up incurring her uncle’s wrath twice by having romances with two men related to two of her uncle’s wives, Anne Boleyn and Katherine Howard. One angered her uncle so much that he imprisoned her in the Tower. She eventually married the Earl of Lennox. Her son, Lord Darnley, married Mary, Queen of Scots.

     Overall, this biography shows us that Margaret Douglas was an important figure in Tudor history. Her story is full of tragedy, but she has accomplished much. It is through her hard efforts that put James I on the English throne. While the biography can be dry at times and written like a textbook, it tells a story of court intrigue, murder, treachery, and danger that will keep the reader interested. Margaret Douglas’s story needs to be told so that she will no longer be forgotten, but to give her the recognition she deserves.

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

The Void of Muirwood (The Covenant of Muirwood #3) by Jeff Wheeler: A Book Review

The Void of Muirwood (Covenant of Muirwood #3)
Author: Jeff Wheeler
Genre: YA, Fantasy
Publisher: 47North
Release Date: 2015
Pages: 432
Source: Netgalley/Publisher in exchange for an honest review.
Synopsis: When banished Princess Maia is captured by her father and threatened with execution, it appears that all is lost…until the people rise in rebellion against their king. Suddenly, the cast-aside royal finds herself crowned the first Queen of Comoros. But enemies appear on all sides as her father’s conniving supporters assemble a new army against the fledgling ruler. While Maia struggles to keep the peace within her own walls, she rushes to form historical alliances with her neighboring kingdoms against an impending invasion of the ruthless Naestors—led by the cruel Corriveaux—who will destroy anyone Maia loves in order to ruin her kingdom and prevent the mastons from regaining power.

     Realizing that Muirwood Abbey is once again her only hope for survival, Maia gathers her people there for protection. When she discovers an adversary greater than she’s ever known, she must use all the magic, strength, and wisdom gained from her life’s trials to prevent the Void that would bring destruction to herself, her true love, and the entire kingdom.

     My Review: The Void of Muirwood is the thrilling conclusion to The Covenant of Muirwood trilogy. Maia’s evil father has died, leaving Maia as the only heir of Comoros. Maia must face the task of ruling her kingdom. She must appoint worthy people to serve her so she can bring peace to the kingdom. However, there are people in her country who do not see her as the true ruler and begin to rebel. Yet, while the country begins fighting each other, they face a bigger threat that will intends to destroy them all. Can Maia save her kingdom and restore peace and prosperity to her lands?

     Maia has never been trained to rule as queen. Yet, she makes wise decisions. She appoints people whom she trusts and who have the interests of the kingdom to serve her.  As queen, Maia is thrust into obstacles and hard decisions that she must make alone. She must rely on her instincts and let them show her the way. She must also learn to forgive her enemies and bestow them mercy. She strives to rule with truth and goodness. However, she is not perfect. She does not trust people easily, she is prone to jealousy, and sometimes has a thirst for vengeance. Yet, she is relatable because she wants to do what is right.

     Overall, this book is about friendship, love, trust, mercy, choices, and forgiveness. The message of the story is to forgive those who have done you wrong. The story was fast-paced and full of adventure. The characters were likeable and the villains were complex and interesting. This book is a fantasy, however it is inspired by the life of an actual historical figure, Mary Tudor, the first female ruler of England. Thus, this book is full of court intrigue, suspense, danger, and action. I found that this book was a nice conclusion to the series. I recommend this book to anyone interested in Mary Tudor, warring kingdoms, and high epic fantasy.

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

The Ciphers of Muirwood (Covenant of Muirwood #2) by Jeff Wheeler: A Book Review

The Ciphers of Muirwood (Covenant of Muirwood #2)
Author: Jeff Wheeler
Genre: YA, Fantasy
Publisher: 47North
Release Date: 2015
Pages: 400
Source: Netgalley/Publisher in exchange for an honest review.
Synopsis: From the moment she was banished by her father, the king, Princess Maia journeyed to seek sanctuary at Muirwood Abbey, the epicenter of magic and good in the land. Now safe for the first time since her cruel abandonment, Maia must foster uneasy friendships with other girls training to be Ciphers: women who learn to read and engrave tomes of ancient power, despite the laws forbidding them to do so.

As Maia tries to judge whom to trust, she makes a shocking discovery: her destiny is to open the Apse Veil and release trapped spirits from her world. Then she learns that her father is coming to Muirwood Abbey to celebrate the Whitsunday festival—and Maia’s estranged husband, whom she was forced to abandon, will join him. Torn between deadly political machinations and unstoppable spiritual forces, Maia must channel unknown powers within herself to save her friends, the abbey, and the entire kingdom of Muirwood.
  
     My Review: The Ciphers of Muirwood picks up where The Banished of Muirwood left off. Maia is at Muirwood Abbey training to be a maston. She is destined to fulfill the prophecy of opening the Apse Veil and  release the spirits of the dead. One day, she encounters a few problems during her training. Her evil father is coming to Muirwood Abbey seeking to destroy it. Also, her husband has found her and seeks to take her back to his kingdom. Can Maia save Muirwood Abbey from being destroyed and fulfill her destiny?

Maia has grown more mature since the first book in the series. She is more responsible and has to make wise decisions. She learns to trust in her own instincts. She is also patient. Maia has done some mean things in her past, and she must atone for her actions. She must also learn to forgive others, especially those who were mean to her. Above all, she must forgive herself. Thus, Maia is a likable heroine that anyone can relate to. She has made some mistakes in the past, but she learns from them. She is always seeking to do the right thing.

Overall, this story is about friendship, love, trust, choice, and forgiveness. The message of this book is to believe in yourself. The story is slow-paced, for it focuses on the development of the characters. I found the world-building was more extensive than in the first book. The setting of the abbey is very lush. While this book is a fantasy, it is was loosely inspired by actual history, especially the story of Henry VIII and his first three wives. There are twists and turns in this book. The Ciphers of Muirwood is full of political intrigue, action, and suspense. It ends in a cliff-hanger and I am definitely excited to read the third and final book in this series. I recommend novel to anyone interested in English history, Game of Thrones, and suspense fantasy.

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Monday, January 25, 2016

The Confessions of X by Suzanne M. Wolfe: A Book Review

The Confessions of X
Author: Suzanne M. Wolfe
Genre: Historical Fiction, Romance
Publisher: Thomas Nelson
Release Date: January 26, 2016
Pages: 304
Source: Netgalley/Publisher in exchange for an honest review.
Synopsis: Before he became a father of the Christian Church, Augustine of Hippo loved a woman whose name has been lost to history. This is her story.

     She met Augustine in Carthage when she was seventeen. She was the poor daughter of a mosaic-layer; he was a promising student and heir to a fortune. His brilliance and passion intoxicated her, but his social class would be forever beyond her reach. She became his concubine, and by the time he was forced to leave her, she was thirty years old and the mother of his son. And his Confessions show us that he never forgot her. She was the only woman he ever loved.

     In a society in which classes rarely mingle on equal terms, and an unwed mother can lose her son to the burgeoning career of her ambitious lover, this anonymous woman was a first-hand witness to Augustine’s anguished spiritual journey from secretive religious cultist to the celebrated Bishop of Hippo.

     Giving voice to one of history’s most mysterious women, The Confessions of X tells the story of Augustine of Hippo’s nameless lover, their relationship before his famous conversion, and her life after his rise to fame. A tale of womanhood, faith, and class at the end of antiquity, The Confessions of X is more than historical fiction . . . it is a timeless story of love and loss in the shadow of a theological giant.

     My Review: If you’ve read The Confessions of St. Augustine, you will know that it is a story of redemption. His autobiography is highly reminiscent of the parable “The Prodigal Son.” In it, he was lost and strayed far from God and created many sins. Eventually, he found God and changed his way of life. One of these sins was that he took a concubine and remained with her for fifteen years, giving her a son out of wedlock. In The Confessions of X, Augustine’s concubine tells their relationship in her own words. Throughout her novel, she searches for her happiness.

     The protagonist in this story is nameless. Despite her anonymity, she seems to be utterly real. She is the daughter of a mosaic-layer and comes from a poor social class. Her father abandons her, leaving her in the care of her aunt and uncle. When she is a teenager, she meets the young, passionate, and charismatic man, Augustine. She falls passionately in love with him, and runs away to be with him. Because she is of a lower social class than he is, they cannot marry. Still, they live together anyway and have a son. Augustine has a teaching job in Milan. However, because he has a concubine, he cannot advance in his career. In order to give him the job he desperately wants, the protagonist decides to leave him. With her absence, Augustine finds himself free to give his life to God and change his ways.

     The protagonist is really strong. She has suffered much unhappiness in her life. Yet, she finds a way to cope and to go on living. She is very selfless, for she is willing to give up her love for Augustine just so he can be happy. Throughout the novel, she is always seeking her faith. She is constantly asking questions about life. She also asks questions about who she is and what she wants.

     Overall, this novel is about love, courage, choices, sacrifice, loss, and forgiveness. It is about a woman’s quest to find her identity and her happiness. This novel is beautifully written, and the characters are very human. I like how we get to meet some of the saints in this book. I felt that the era had come alive. I recommend this book to anyone interested in St. Augustine’s life, and to those who want to read an emotional, tragic, love story that will impact them after the final page has been read.

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Louise's Chance: A 1940s Spy Thriller Set in Wartime Washington (A Louise Pearlie Mystery) by Sarah R. Shaber: A Book Review

Louise's Chance: A 1940s Spy Thriller Set in Wartime Washington (A Louise Pearlie Mystery)
Author: Sarah R. Shaber
Genre: Historical Fiction, Mystery, Thriller
Publisher: Severn House
Release Date: 2015
Pages: 192
Source: Netgalley/Publisher in exchange for an honest review.
Synopsis: 1940s, Washington DC. Government girl Louise gets her big chance, when she is tasked with recruiting German POWs for a secret mission inside Nazi Germany

     Government girl Louise Pearlie has a new job inside the OSS – the Office of Strategic Services: recruiting German prisoners-of-war for a secret mission inside Nazi Germany. It’s a big chance for her, and Louise hopes she can finally escape her filing and typing duties. With the job comes two new colleagues: Alice Osborne, a propaganda expert, and Merle Ellison, a forger from Texas who just happens to speak fluent German.

      But when the three arrive at Fort Meade camp, to interview the first German POWs to arrive there, their mission is beset by complications. Only one of the prisoners speaks English, the army officer in charge of the camp is an alcoholic and two prisoners disappeared on the ship bringing the Germans to the states. Were their deaths suicide? Officially, yes. But Louise can’t help but have her doubts . . .

     My Review: Louise is a spy, and she has been given the task to recruit German prisoners of war to go on a secret mission in Nazi Germany. When she arrives at the POW camp, she finds that her mission is complicated when they discover two POWs were murdered on the ship to America. This means that the murderer is still roaming inside the camp. Can they find the killer and bring him to justice? Most of all, can they recruit the best POWs for their secret mission?

     Louise is good at keeping secrets. Indeed, upon meeting her, it seems that she has some secrets up her sleeves. Yet, she is hard-working and is really good at her job. She is observant and pays attention to the slightest details that most people miss. She is caring and likes to help her friends. However she is stubborn. She can also be very judgmental and sometimes her emotions clouds her reasoning. When she is clouded by her prejudices, she relies on her friends to help her see reason.

     Overall, the story is fast-paced and the mystery is predictable. The story was filled with likable characters. The setting, which is mostly set in an American POW camp, is very intriguing. I thought it was beautifully written like any other WWII military novel. This novel was heavily researched and I liked the historical details in the novel. While it did not have all that much pulse-pounding action in the novel, there was a lot of suspenseful build-up. I recommend this novel to anyone that loves WWII novels, and for those who are interested in historical mysteries that feature a female sleuth.

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

The Determined Heart: The Tale of Mary Shelley and Her Frankenstein by Antoinette May: A Book Review

The Determined Heart: The Tale of Mary Shelley and Her Frankenstein
Author: Antoinette May
Genre: Historical Fiction
Publisher: Lake Union Publishing
Release Date: 2015
Pages: 412
Source: Netgalley/Publisher in exchange for an honest review.
Synopsis: The Determined Heart reveals the life of Mary Shelley in a story of love and obsession, betrayal and redemption.

     The daughter of political philosopher William Godwin and feminist Mary Wollstonecraft, Mary Shelley had an unconventional childhood populated with the most talented and eccentric personalities of the time. After losing her mother at an early age, she finds herself in constant conflict with a resentful stepmother and a jealous stepsister. When she meets the Romantic poet Percy Bysshe Shelley, she falls deeply in love, and they elope with disastrous consequences. Soon she finds herself destitute and embroiled in a torturous love triangle as Percy takes Mary’s stepsister as a lover. Over the next several years, Mary struggles to write while she and Percy face ostracism, constant debt, and the heartbreaking deaths of three children. Ultimately, she achieves great acclaim for Frankenstein, but at what cost?

     My Review: The Determined Heart is about the life of Mary Shelley. Mary is the daughter of two famous literary writers, William Godwin, a philosopher, and Mary Wollstonecraft, who wrote A Vindication of The Rights of Woman. Mary meets a married man and poet named Percy Bysshe Shelley. Soon they run away with Mary’s stepsister, Claire. Eventually, Mary becomes the author of Frankenstein. This historical novel chronicles Mary’s tortuous relationship with Percy as well as her tragedies and triumphs, along with how she was inspired to write Frankenstein.

     After reading a biography of Mary Shelley, I learned that her life was full of drama and scandal. I was glad that there was a historical fiction novel based upon on her life because I knew she was a fascinating subject. Mary Shelley is portrayed as a sympathetic figure and often vulnerable. She is romantic and dreams of a world that is free of societal norms and where women have equal rights. When she meets Percy Shelley, she realizes that he shares her ideals.They fall in love and Mary sacrifices everything to be with him--her father and her reputation just to be with Shelley. 

     Yet, Mary is not really happy. She is snubbed from society by having an affair with a married man, and Percy ignores her. He has an affair with Mary’s stepsister, Claire, and he even persuades his best friend to have an affair with Mary. This is because he believed in the idea of free love where he did not have to conform to society. While Mary loves him, she finds that she is trapped. With her father disowning her, and her reputation tarnished, she has no choice but to stick with Shelley. She is forced to live in debt and put up with her husband’s infidelities. She also yearns to be a writer, but she has no ideas in mind until one day she is inspired to write Frankenstein.

     Overall, I felt this novel to be an in-depth psyche of Mary Shelley. This book chronicles the ups and downs of a struggling writer. It is about two people who try to break away from the rules of society. I thought the novel was beautifully-written and the characters were fleshed out and very human. The Determined Heart tells the tale of a strong woman who faced tragedy and obstacles as well as her accomplishments. I recommend this book to anyone interested in Romantic poets, Frankenstein, and Mary Shelley.

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars


Saturday, January 23, 2016

Ophelia's Muse by Rita Cameron: A Book Review

Ophelia’s Muse
Author: Rita Cameron
Genre: Historical Fiction
Publisher: Kensington
Release Date: 2015
Pages: 416
Source: Netgalley/Publisher in exchange for an honest review.
Synopsis: "I'll never want to draw anyone else but you. You are my muse. Without you there is no art in me." 

     With her pale, luminous skin and cloud of copper-colored hair, nineteen-year-old Lizzie Siddal looks nothing like the rosy-cheeked ideal of Victorian beauty. Working in a London milliner's shop, Lizzie stitches elegant bonnets destined for wealthier young women, until a chance meeting brings her to the attention of painter and poet Dante Gabriel Rossetti. Enchanted both by her ethereal appearance and her artistic ambitions--quite out of place for a shop girl--Rossetti draws her into his glittering world of salons and bohemian soirees. 

     Lizzie begins to sit for some of the most celebrated members of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, posing for John Everett Millais as Shakespeare's Ophelia, for William Holman Hunt--and especially for Rossetti, who immortalizes her in countless paintings as his namesake's beloved Beatrice. The passionate visions Rossetti creates on canvas are echoed in their intense affair. But while Lizzie strives to establish herself as a painter and poet in her own right, betrayal, illness, and addiction leave her struggling to save her marriage and her sense of self. 

     Rita Cameron weaves historical figures and vivid details into a complex, unconventional love story, giving voice to one of the most influential yet overlooked figures of a fascinating era--a woman who is both artist and inspiration, long gazed upon, but until now, never fully seen.

     My Review: Ophelia’s Muse details the life of Elizabeth Siddal. She was the model for some of the Pre-Raphaelites Brotherhood. Some of whom have immortalized her are William Deverell, John Millais, who used her for his famous painting, Ophelia, and her husband, Dante Gabriel Rossetti. She was also a painter in own right. One of her notable works is her self-portrait. In Ophelia’s Muse, we see that Elizabeth’s life was just as tragic as the subject whom she modeled, Ophelia.

     Lizzie comes from a London middle class family. She works as a milliner in Mrs. Tozer’s shop. One day, she is noticed by William Deverell, and he painted her as Viola. While sitting for Deverell’s painting, she meets Dante Rossetti. Upon seeing her, he becomes immediately infatuated. She becomes his muse and the model for his paintings. Soon, Rossetti and Lizzie embark on a passionate and tempestuous affair. However, these star-crossed lovers would take a downward step into tragedy while ultimately creating masterpieces.

     Lizzie is a tragic heroine. She yearns to be a proper woman in society. She wants to marry a respectable gentleman. She also has an interest in art and poetry. However, when she meets Rossetti, he awakens a passion of adventure and chivalrous tales of romance. Even though Lizzie insists they marry, Rossetti is reluctant to love her. He believes that if he settles down with her, he may grow tired of her, and no longer would he feel inspired to paint her. Yet, Lizzie has an unwavering love for him. She gives up everything; her job, family, reputation, happiness, and eventually her life for him. 

     I really did not like Rossetti. He was a bad boyfriend and husband. He was selfish, spoiled, and immature. He did not care for Lizzie unless it suited his needs. He ignores and shuns her, instead focusing on his paintings. He makes empty promises of marriage, lies to her constantly, and dominates her. He does not care for her well-being. It is not until Lizzie is almost at death’s door that he reluctantly marries her. After their marriage, he goes back to ignoring her until her tragic death.

     The relationship between Elizabeth and Rossetti was definitely unhealthy. While they helped each other to bring out their best art, they were not really suited to each other. They both had different goals. Rossetti was career-driven. He had no intention of settling down. Marriage life did not appeal to him. He viewed marriage as a trap and he wanted his freedom as a bachelor. As a woman in the Victorian era, Lizzie felt pressure from society to marry. She wanted Rossetti to marry her, have children, and to become an artist and a poet. Rossetti put Lizzie on a pedestal and saw an ideal vision of her beauty. He never really saw the true Lizzie. Lizzie wanted Rossetti to see her as a real woman and paint her as she is. Thus, the two of them were doomed from the start.

     Overall, this story is about a woman’s pursuit to find happiness, love, and security. It  is beautifully written, and the characters are very flawed. I liked how the author depicts Victorian society and how society greatly impacted the characters. Ophelia’s Muse is a haunting, lyrical, and tragic tale that is reminiscent of Shakespeare. I recommend this story to anyone interested in in Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood and to fans of Rodin’s Lover.

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Friday, January 22, 2016

Lady of The Imperial City by Laura Kitchell: A Book Review

Lady of The Imperial City
Author: Laura Kitchell
Genre: Historical Fiction
Publisher: CreateSpace
Release Date: 2015
Pages: 293
Source: Netgalley/Publisher in exchange for an honest review.
Synopsis: Love isn’t forbidden to Lady Kirei as long as it’s with a proper gentleman of Kyō and she doesn’t mind sharing him with his wife. Her provincial upbringing makes her socially unacceptable as a true wife, yet as a lady by birth and a court favorite, her position makes it impossible for her to seek a match below her station. She’s trapped. 

     When a nobleman of similar provincial upbringing arrives in town and becomes an instant favorite of the emperor, he is sent to Lady Kirei for tutoring on city ways. Lord Yūkan is smitten, but she’s not a conquest to be won. She’s a woman of substance and worth, and she’s off limits. 

     Despite his unrefined manners, Lord Yūkan’s aristocratic bloodline shows through his fine taste and quick mind. It doesn’t hurt that he’s handsome, too. As he begins to touch her heart, Lady Kirei is ever mindful that they can’t commit, especially when her uncle schemes to make her a consort to a prince. 

     Will her family’s honor relegate her to the shadow-life of a consort, or can love find a way? 

     My Review: Kirei is living with her aristocratic uncle in the city of Kyo. However, because she was born and raised in the country, she cannot have an advantageous marriage. Her most prosperous future is to be the concubine to a prince. One day, Yukan, a country relative and a distant relative to the empress, arrives in Kyo. Yet, his manners are so unrefined for the city people that he is a laughing stock. The emperor appoints Kirei to teach him the refined manners of aristocratic elite. While tutoring him, they soon fall in love. Can they find a way to be together or must Kirei resign herself to her fate as the prince’s concubine?

     Kirei is very lively. She is educated and observant in the behavior of the aristocratic society. She is feisty and headstrong. She does not want the life of what society dictates to her. She is attracted to Yukan because she can relate to his situation. He is a fish out of the water. While she laughs at him, she also feels sorry for him. Even though Yukan is often looked down upon by other members of society, he is very clever. He is hard-working and seriously strives to be a refined aristocrat. Thus, Kirei and Yukan make a good pair because both of them have a lot in common. Both of them are outsiders to society.

     Overall, this book is about friendship, love, choices, and happiness. The story is very slow-moving, but I thought it was a good character story. I liked how the relationship between Yukon and Kirei has progressed naturally and slowly. I found the author’s writing to be very beautiful. The author did a great job in describing the Japanese aristocratic society. Even though this novel was set in medieval Japan, it reminded me of Jane Austen and other Regency novels. I recommend this book to those interested Japanese history and to anyone who is looking for a light, sweet, love story that is not set in Europe.

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Chivalrous (Valiant Hearts Series #2) by Dina L. Sleiman: A Book Review

Chivalrous (Valiant Hearts Series #2)
Author: Dina L. Sleiman
Genre: YA, Historical Fiction, Christian
Publisher: Bethany House
Release Date: 2015
Pages: 368
Source: Netgalley/Publisher in exchange for an honest review.
Synopsis: With Her Future In Jeopardy, This Unforgettable Heroine Won't Go Down
Without a Fight!

     Strong and adventurous Gwendolyn Barnes longs to be a knight like her chivalrous brothers, but her parents view her only as a marriage pawn. When her domineering father makes plans to see her wed to a brutish man, Gwendolyn must fight for her future. 

     She's surprised, however, for that clash to include a handsome, good-hearted newcomer. Allen of Ellsworth arrives in Edendale searching for his place in the world, but he finds in Gwendolyn the most unexpected of women. 

     Tournaments, intrigue, and battles--along with twists and turns aplenty--await these two as they struggle to find love, identity, and their true destinies.

     My Review: Gwendolyn longs for adventures and to be a knight in shining armor. However, because she is a baron’s daughter, she must marry for the good of her family. She must play her part as a noblewoman by doing embroidery and playing a pipe. One day, she decides to defy her parents and fight in the tournament herself. Her opponent is Sir Allen. Soon, Sir Allen captures her heart, and the two of them must brave all obstacles to be together.

     Gwendolyn is a fun character. She is a skilled fighter. She is romantic and loves to hear tales of adventures. She yearns for freedom, and wants to control her own life. She is also stubborn and and strong-willed. Gwendolyn really reminded me a lot of the character, Merida, in the Disney movie, Brave. I also like that at first, she was not very religious. Yet, over time she has a strong relationship with God. It is God, who gives her strength, comfort, and love that she desperately seeks when she is encountered in rough situations.

     I also liked Sir Allen. He is a man of virtue. He studies the scriptures everyday. He is also blessed with good fortune because of his good heart. During the tournament, he forfeits his competition to save a little boy. Because of his heroic deed, the duke grants him a place on the council. However, after the duke’s death the council chose him to marry the duchess and to be the new duke. Allen is blinded by ambition and greed. Allen becomes lost and blind, and he must find his way and listen to his heart.

     Overall, this book is about friendship, choices, hope, and love. The message of the book is to trust in God’s love and to follow your heart. The story is fast-paced and filled with interesting characters. It is filled with action, adventure, and romance. I like how the story also has some aspects to King Arthur. While the novel is part of a series, it is a standalone. I am definitely going to read the first novel in the series, and I am looking forward to the series. I recommend this book to fans of Melanie Dickerson, Tamara Leigh, and Jody Hedlund.

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars




Thursday, January 21, 2016

Named of The Dragon by Susanna Kearsley: A Book Review

Named of The Dragon
Author: Susanna Kearsley
Genre: Mystery, Suspense, Paranormal
Publisher: Sourcebooks Landmark
Release Date: 2015
Pages: 322
Source: Netgalley/Publisher in exchange for an honest review.
Synopsis: SOMEWHERE IN THE HEART OF LEGEND 
     LIES THE KEY TO HER TERRIFYING DREAMS
     The charm of spending the Christmas holidays in South Wales, with its crumbling castles and ancient myths, seems the perfect distraction from the nightmares that have plagued literary agent Lyn Ravenshaw since the loss of her baby five years ago.
     Instead, she meets an emotionally fragile young widow who's convinced that Lyn's recurring dreams have drawn her to Castle Farm for an important purpose--and she's running out of time.
     With the help of a reclusive, brooding playwright, Lyn begins to untangle the mystery and is pulled into a world of Celtic legends, dangerous prophecies, and a child destined for greatness.

     My Review: Lyn, a literary agent, decides to spend the Christmas holidays with her best friend and client, Bridget, in the town of Angle. She hopes that during her stay she will get to convince Bridget’s boyfriend and famous author, James, to be her client. While there, she meets a young widow, who fervently believes that a dragon is trying to take her child away from her. Lyn  agrees to help protect her child. Soon she is thrust into Celtic Mythology and Arthurian Legends, and soon learns that the infant that she has vowed to protect is destined for greatness.

     Lyn is an emotionally distraught woman. She has lost her child, and still suffers from it. She uses her work as a way of coping. She is drawn to the young widow because she relates to her situation. I found her to be clever and observant. However, I found her to be a passive character. She lets people walk all over her and does not make many decisions. I found her to be a flat character because there was not any growth development in her character. She stayed the same throughout the novel.

     Overall, this story is about a woman’s journey to heal. The story is very slow-paced, and there are no twists until the end. I found the mystery aspect to be disappointing. I wanted the whodunit  epic to be a part of the Celtic mythology as the book hinted on throughout the story. Sadly, it had nothing to do with the prophecies and was very misleading. The whodunit was very passive in itself, rushed, and filled with gaping plot holes, so that it seemed to be the author’s rough draft instead of the final copy. The characters were one-dimensional and boring. The only character I liked was Bridget, and I wished she was the protagonist in the story. However, I did like the setting of the novel. It seemed like the perfect place for where legends were created and a gothic mystery. I also like the historical and mythological aspects in the novel. If you like old castle settings, and Welsh and Arthurian legends, then you may like this book. However, this is clearly not Mrs. Kearsley's best work.

Rating: 2 ½ out of 5 stars

The Courtesan by Alexandra Curry: A Book Review

The Courtesan: A Novel 
Author: Alexandra Curry
Genre: Historical Fiction
Publisher: Dutton
Release Date: 2015
Pages: 384
Source: Netgalley/Publisher in exchange for an honest review.
Synopsis: A timeless novel of one woman who bridged two worlds in a tumultuous era of East meets West

      The Courtesan is an astonishing tale inspired by the real life of a woman who lived and loved in the extraordinary twilight decades of the Qing dynasty. To this day, Sai Jinhua is a legend in her native land of China, and this is her story, told the way it might have been.

     The year is 1881. Seven-year-old Jinhua is left an orphan, alone and unprotected after her mandarin father’s summary execution for the crime of speaking the truth. For seven silver coins, she is sold to a brothel-keeper and subjected to the worst of human nature. Will the private ritual that is her father’s legacy and the wise friendship of the crippled brothel maid be enough to sustain her? 

     When an elegant but troubled scholar takes Jinhua as his concubine, she enters the close world of his jealous first wife. Yet it is Jinhua who accompanies him--as Emissary to the foreign devil nations of Prussia, Austro-Hungary, and Russia--on an exotic journey to Vienna. As he struggles to play his part in China's early, blundering diplomatic engagement with the western world, Jinhua’s eyes and heart are opened to the irresistible possibilities of a place that is mesmerizing and strange, where she will struggle against the constraints of tradition and her husband’s authority and seek to find “Great Love.”

      Sai Jinhua is an altered woman when she returns to a changed and changing China, where a dangerous clash of cultures pits East against West. The moment arrives when Jinhua’s western sympathies will threaten not only her own survival, but the survival of those who are most dear to her. 

     A book that shines a small light on the large history of China’s relationship with the West, The Courtesan is a novel that distills, with the economy of a poem, a woman’s journey of untold miles to discern what is real and abiding.

     My Review: The Courtesan is based on the life of Sia Jinhua. She is known as a national hero of China. During the Boxer’s Rebellion, she saved many Chinese from being beheaded. Many books have been written about her, and television shows have featured her. This book chronicles her life and tells the story of a young girl who is lost and must find her way in the world.

     When Jinhua was seven, her father was beheaded, leaving her an orphan. Her father’s wife, who regards Jinhua as a thorn in her sight, sells her into prostitution to get rid of her. Years later, she becomes a concubine to an emissary to the government. When the emissary is on a mission to Austria, he takes Jinhua with him. There she is fascinated by the cultural differences. When the emissary has to make a short trip to a diplomatic mission in Russia, Jinhua starts to explore the city on her own. On one of her outings, she meets a count and falls in love with him.

     Jinhua’s story is very sad. Her life is very unhappy. The only person that truly loved her was her father, and throughout her life she deeply mourns him. She copes through the trials in her life by telling stories and pretending that her father is with her. She is also a very strong woman because she is determined to fight for her own happiness. She has dreams and is persistent in making them come true.

     Overall, this story is about a girl’s journey to find love and happiness. This story takes place in mostly in the character’s head, and I would have liked more dialogue. This story was an emotional read, and I felt for Jinhua as she goes through her pain and her triumphs. I did like how we get to meet a few famous people, particularly Empress Elisabeth of Austria. I thought the writing was beautiful, and I loved how the author depicted the differences between China and Austria. I recommend this book to anyone interested in Chinese history and for fans of Memoirs of a Geisha.

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

A Spy's Devotion (The Regency Spies of London Series #1) by Melanie Dickerson: A Book Review

A Spy’s Devotion (The Regency Spies of London Series #1)
Author: Melanie Dickerson
Genre: Historical Fiction, Romance, Christian
Publisher: Waterfall Press
Release Date: February 9, 2016
Pages: 322
Source: Netgalley/Publisher in exchange for an honest review.
Synopsis: In England’s Regency era, manners and elegance reign in public life—but behind closed doors treason and deception thrive. Nicholas Langdon is no stranger to reserved civility or bloody barbarity. After suffering a battlefield injury, the wealthy, well-connected British officer returns home to heal—and to fulfill a dying soldier’s last wish by delivering his coded diary.

     At the home of the Wilherns, one of England’s most powerful families, Langdon attends a lavish ball where he meets their beautiful and intelligent ward, Julia Grey. Determined to maintain propriety, he keeps his distance—until the diary is stolen and all clues lead to Julia’s guardian. As Langdon traces an evil plot that could be the nation’s undoing, he grows ever more intrigued by the lovely young woman. And when Julia realizes that England—and the man she is falling in love with—need her help, she finds herself caught in the fray. Will the two succumb to their attraction while fighting to save their country?

     My Review: Julia is the poor relation to the Wilherns, who took her in when her parents died. Even though she is beautiful and captures the attentions of many men, she has little prospect of marrying well. The only future she has is to be a governess. Yet, one day she meets Nicholas Langdon at a ball. He is handsome and has good connections. Little does she know that her encounter with him would change her life. For Nicholas is a spy who suspects Julia’s uncle to be guilty of treason. He asks Julia to help him keep an eye on her uncle. Can Julia betray her family or will she risk everything, including her family, to save her country?

     As a fan of Mrs. Dickerson’s fairy tale retellings, I was interested in reading her first book that was not based on fairy tales. This novel did not disappoint, and the story is reminiscent of Jane Austen. I thought Mrs. Dickerson was accurate in depicting the society of the elite during the Regency era. I also loved the vivid descriptions of the setting of Regency England such as the balls, the bustling city of London, and the English countryside.

     Julia is a likable character. She is selfless, kind, and clever. At first, she is very obedient and timid. She likes to be in the background at a party. She also does any command that her guardians tell her. Yet over time, she becomes more confident. She begins to be more social at the parties. She also becomes more stubborn and headstrong. She starts to stand up to her guardians and chooses to fight for her own happiness.

     I also like Nicholas Langdon. He is very reserved and distant. As the novel progresses, we learn more about him. He is a man who was once wounded by his past. Yet, when he meets Julia, he slowly starts to heal. He is also a man of good character and takes an interest in caring for the poor. He is very clever and is willing to risk his life for his country. I thought that Nicholas and Julia made a good pairing because they had a lot in common. 

     Overall, this book is about friendship, love, sacrifice, and hope. The message of the story is about trusting in God’s love. The beginning of the novel is slow-paced, which focused on the development of the characters. Once the characters are established, the novel gradually increases its speed. This book also has elements of mystery, action, and suspense. I also loved the ending. It was nicely wrapped up and ended happily, much like her fairy tale retellings. A Spy’s Devotion was a great start in a new series, and I hope we get to meet Julia and Nicholas again in a future novel! This novel is perfect for fans of historical romance with a powerful Christian message, fun characters, and an intriguing plot.

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Monday, January 18, 2016

The Golden Braid (Hagenheim Series #6) by Melanie Dickerson: A Book Review

The Golden Braid (Hagenheim Series #6)
Author: Melanie Dickerson
Genre: YA, Historical Fiction, Christian
Publisher: Thomas Nelson
Release Date: 2015
Pages: 318
Source: Netgalley/Publisher in exchange for an honest review.
Synopsis: The one who needs rescuing isn’t always the one in the tower.

     Rapunzel can throw a knife better than any man. She paints beautiful flowering vines on the walls of her plaster houses. She sings so sweetly she can coax even a beast to sleep. But there are two things she is afraid her mother might never allow her to do: learn to read and marry.

     Fiercely devoted to Rapunzel, her mother is suspicious of every man who so much as looks at her daughter and warns her that no man can be trusted. After a young village farmer asks for Rapunzel’s hand in marriage, Mother decides to move them once again—this time, to the large city of Hagenheim.

     The journey proves treacherous, and after being rescued by a knight—Sir Gerek—Rapunzel in turn rescues him farther down the road. As a result, Sir Gerek agrees to repay his debt to Rapunzel by teaching her to read. Could there be more to this knight than his arrogance and desire to marry for riches and position?

     As Rapunzel acclimates to life in a new city, she uncovers a mystery that will forever change her life. In this Rapunzel story unlike any other, a world of secrets and treachery is about to be revealed after seventeen years of lies. How will Rapunzel finally take control of her own destiny? And who will prove faithful to a lowly peasant girl with no one to turn to?

     My Review: For years, Rapunzel’s mother has been protecting her from the attention of men. Never has she allowed any of them to approach Rapunzel in fear that they may take her away. When a young farmer asks for Rapunzel’s hand in marriage, she makes Rapunzel turn him down. Then she packs her belongings and decides to move to Hagenheim, where Rapunzel’s mother believes she will be safe from any suitors who come to their door. Along the way to Hagenheim, they are attacked by robbers and are saved by Sir Gerek, Duke Wilhelm’s bravest knight. Their chance encounter displeases Rapunzel’s mother and she strives to keep Rapunzel away from him at all cost. Yet, when they are at Hagenheim, Rapunzel years to leave her mother’s nest and make her own way in the world. Can Rapunzel get her own way or will her overbearing mother prevent her from getting her hopes and dreams?

     Rapunzel is a sympathetic character. She loves her mother, yet at the same time she wants to be more independent and wants to make choices for her own life. At first she is naive and believes everything her mother tells her. Later, she begins to question what her mother says. She gradually begins to think for herself and not rely strictly on her mother’s word. Therefore, Rapunzel is forced to make the hard choice to become her own person or to stay the same.

     Sir Gerek is an interesting character. In the beginning, he seemed to be arrogant. He ignores Rapunzel because she is a peasant and dreams of marrying a wealthy heiress. However, his arrogance is a facade because deep down he is emotionally distraught. He has a turbulent past that haunts him. Yet, when he meets Rapunzel, he is forced to come to terms with his past. He is also forced to make the decision to marry for love or for money.

     The villain was also a complex character. Rapunzel’s mother made many cruel decisions on how to treat Rapunzel, but she was not inherently evil. She had an obsessive love for Rapunzel. She had nothing in her life except Rapunzel. Rapunzel was her whole world, and she would be utterly lost and distraught without her. She was not willing to let her go because she did not want to be alone. She was a woman who refused to believe that Rapunzel was a grown woman and to admit that change was staring her in the face. She would do anything in her power to keep things to remain the same and keep Rapunzel by her side even if she had to resort to evil actions.

    Overall, this book is about friendship, family, love, choices, acceptance, and forgiveness. The story is fast-paced and action-packed. The story is set in the same time frame as The Princess Spy. I liked how it retold the story of the previous novel, but from Rapunzel’s perspective because it gave some surprising details of what the servants were doing when the castle of Hagenheim was attacked. It was like a Downton Abbey’s version of The Princess Spy. I recommend this book to anyone who is looking for a fun read with characters you may be familiar with only from fairy tales. However, Mrs. Dickerson takes them from fantasy into realism and we always get an interesting perspective.

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars


The Princess Spy (Hagenheim Series #5) by Melanie Dickerson: A Book Review

The Princess Spy (Hagenheim Series #5)
Author: Melanie Dickerson
Genre: YA, Historical Fiction, Christian
Publisher: Zondervan
Release Date: 2014
Pages: 300
Source: Personal Collection
Synopsis: Margaretha has always been a romantic, and hopes her newest suitor, Lord Claybrook, is destined to be her one true love. But then an injured man is brought to Hagenheim Castle, claiming to be an English lord who was attacked by Claybrook and left for dead. And only Margaretha—one of the few who speaks his language—understands the wild story.

     Margaretha finds herself unable to pass Colin’s message along to her father, the duke, and convinces herself “Lord Colin” is just an addled stranger. Then Colin retrieves an heirloom she lost in a well, and asks her to spy on Claybrook as repayment. Margaretha knows she could never be a spy—not only is she unable to keep anything secret, she’s sure Colin is completely wrong about her potential betrothed. Though when Margaretha overhears Claybrook one day, she discovers her romantic notions may have been clouding her judgment about not only Colin but Claybrook as well. It is up to her to save her father and Hagenheim itself from Claybrook’s wicked plot.
      
     My Review: The Princess Spy is a retelling of The Frog Prince. Margaretha is being pursued by Lord Claybrook, a dashing English nobleman. He seems like a good man and it appears that Margaretha has found her true love at last. However, an injured man named Colin ends up at Hagenheim and warns Margaretha that Lord Claybrook is not who he seems to be. Because of Colin’s warning about Lord Claybrook, she overhears Claybrook’s plans to kill her father and brother, and plots to take over Hagenheim. Can Margaretha save her family before it is too late?

     I didn’t really like Margaretha in The Captive Maiden. She seemed to be a bit of an airhead. However, in The Princess Spy, she really grew on me and became a likeable character. She is very energetic and has a bubbly personality. She is also mature and clever. I love that she is very stubborn and is willing to do anything to rescue her family. I also love how strong she is and that she can fight and take care of herself. I also like that her love interest is Colin, who is the descendant of Annabel and Ranulf in The Merchant’s Daughter. I liked the interactions between Colin and Margaretha, for it is very amusing because they are very alike. Both of them are very strong-willed and have their own ideas about how they should solve the situation. Yet, they are a good pair because they have to make hard choices and must rely on each other to solve them.

     Overall, this story is about friendship, family, courage, love, trust, hope, and choices. The message of the book is to trust in God. I liked how this book was connected to all of the other books in the series. All the characters were really fun, and the villain was very interesting. This story was very fast-paced and action-packed. This book also had a lot of intrigue. In fact, I was hooked from the very first page because it opens with a murder and the hero seeking revenge. All of Mrs. Dickerson’s books are standalones, and it is not necessary to have read other books in the series. However, I find it is helpful to begin with the oldest novel, The Healer’s Apprentice, and read them chronologically. Many characters reoccur in other stories, and when they do show up, one is more familiar with them and how they affect the overall world in her novels. It is fun to see the threads come together over time and follow the storylines of some characters across several years. I recommend this book to lovers of fairy tales, their retellings, and anybody who wishes to read a fun series that is Christian-based.

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Sunday, January 17, 2016

Jane Austen: A Biography by Brian Wilks: A Book Review

Jane Austen: A Biography
Author: Brian Wilks
Genre: Nonfiction, History, Biography
Publisher: Endeavour Press
Release Date: 2015
Pages: 144
Source: Netgalley/Publisher in exchange for an honest review
Synopsis: Jane Austen, one of the best-loved novelists of the English language, is unique in that her approach to art is without complication. 

     She never attempted to exceed the limitations of her capabilities or of that with which she was familiar, but wrote of ordinary people engaged in familiar pursuits and doing ordinary things. 

     Born the daughter of a country parson, Jane lived what many consider to have been a quiet and uneventful life. Yet in this book, Brian Wilks shows how rewarding a study of this deceptively quiet life can be. 

     Jane was a member of a remarkable family, and her story is one of her close involvement with its members. Personal relationships and their portrayal are the keynote of her art and they are also the key to understanding her life. 

     The successful novelist who, while being asked to dedicate a novel to the Prince Regent wrote to advise her ten year old niece on good “Auntship”, would have preferred to be remembered as an aunt rather than as a famous writer, and the glimpses of her life and family we have in her letters abound with the same wit, liveliness and shrewd observation that are found in her novels. 

     Yet there is also a wider dimension to her life. She lived at one of the most formative periods of English and European history, the time of the French Revolution and the Napoleonic Wars abroad, and of social unrest and upheaval at home. 

     If these events find but a dim echo in Jane’s novels, it is not because she was unaware of them. Through her wide family circle she had first-hand contact with many of the social and political currents of her day: she had two brothers who became admirals and who fought in the Napoleonic Wars, an aunt who narrowly escaped hanging for an offence she did not commit, and a cousin whose husband met his death at the guillotine. 

     These incidents are as much a part of her life as the drawing-room at Chawton where she wrote most of her novels. 

     My Review: Jane Austen is one of my favorite authors of all time. Yet, no matter how many times I have read her books and watched movies and tv adaptations of her novels, I did not know much about her. The only time I have come close to knowing about Jane Austen is Becoming Jane starring Anne hathaway. When I chanced upon Brian Wilks’s biography of Jane Austen, I decided that it was time to learn some facts about my favorite author. This biography highlights her writing career along with her personal life.

     One of the most surprising things that I learned in this novel was that Jane Austen had a dramatic life. I assumed because she lived in the country and was a spinster that her life was probably very uneventful. However, I was very wrong. Jane Austen suffered many tragedies, tribulations, and successes. Jane Austen was also a gossip, which was evidenced in many of her writings. There were other interesting facts about Jane Austen. She had a handicapped brother, and that she was writing when she was only twelve years old.

     Overall, this was a good introduction to Jane Austen for those who do not know much about her personal life. I thought that the author gave quick summaries of Jane Austen’s personal life that I wanted him to discuss in more detail. I also thought that the writing was very dry. Yet, I did find this biography to be heavily researched because he included a lot of primary sources. While I believe that this is a good biography, I do not think it will satisfy the likes of die-hard Jane Austen’s fans who know everything about her life. However, for those like me, who only know a few generalities of her life, and can only infer insight through her writings, I think you will find this biography to be enlightening. 

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars 



Saturday, January 16, 2016

The Captive Maiden (Hagenheim Series #4) by Melanie Dickerson: A Book Review

The Captive Maiden (Hagenheim Series #4)
Author: Melanie Dickerson
Genre: YA, Historical Fiction, Christian
Publisher: Zondervan
Release Date: 2013
Pages: 204
Source: Personal Collection
Synopsis: Happily Ever After …Or Happily Nevermore?

     Gisela’s childhood was filled with laughter and visits from nobles such as the duke and his young son. But since her father’s death, each day has been filled with nothing but servitude to her stepmother. So when Gisela learns the duke’s son, Valten—the boy she has daydreamed about for years—is throwing a ball in hopes of finding a wife, she vows to find a way to attend, even if it’s only for a taste of a life she’ll never have. To her surprise, she catches Valten’s eye. Though he is rough around the edges, Gisela finds Valten has completely captured her heart. But other forces are bent on keeping the two from falling further in love, putting Gisela in more danger than she ever imagined.

     My Review: The Captive Maiden is not only a retelling of Cinderella, but it is also the sequel to The Fairest Maiden. This time we get to find out what has happened to Valten after Sophie jilted him for his brother Gabe. When Valten, the son of the Duke of Hagenheim, participates in a tournament thrown by his father, many young ladies are enchanted by his charisma. Then, Valten’s father decides to hold a ball in Valten’s honor. Meanwhile, we are introduced to the heroine, Gisela. Gisela has been cruelly treated by her stepmother and stepsisters. She dreams of a better life with a true love. Gisela wants nothing more than to attend the Duke of Hagenheim’s ball so she can catch a glimpse of Valten, whom she’s had a crush on for ten years. At the tournament, she manages to catch Valten’s eye, and the two of them embark on a forbidden romance. Can the two of them be together when there are evil forces that are plotting to keep the couple apart?

     Gisela is very kind and clever. However, she is a scared girl and does not stand up for herself. She relies on others to save her. Over the course of the novel, she gradually changes. She develops into a strong, capable, and confident young woman who can stand up to others. I also like her relationship with Valten. He is shy and yearns for glory. Yet, he too changes in the novel. He becomes more confident and is able to express his feelings. He also realizes that there are more important things in life than getting attention and recognition. Thus, both Gisela and Valten grow in the novel, and both of them work to save one another.

     Overall, this novel is about strength, courage, friendship, family, love, faith, and hope. The message of the book is to trust in God. The new characters were likable, and it was great to reacquaint ourselves with characters from the previous novels. I loved the historical details in this book, and my favorite scenes were the tournament. I also thought this novel was very fast-paced, for it is filled with action and adventure. However, because the pacing was faster, I wished that the ball scene was a little bit longer. I wanted more dance scenes with Gisela and Valten. Nevertheless, it was still a satisfying read, for there were a lot of romantic scenes. I recommend this book to anyone who looking to read a light and sweet fairytale that still teaches us an important message of God’s love for us. Melanie Dickerson is one of the best authors I have read that takes fairy tales, re-tells them in a realistic sense, and promotes her Christian values and beliefs. Her novels have not disappointed me yet, and this one continues the string of enjoyable reads.

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars



Friday, January 15, 2016

Murder in The Merchant's Hall : An Elizabethan Spy Thriller by Kathy Lynn Emerson: A Book Review

Murder in The Merchant’s Hall: An Elizabethan Spy Thriller
Author: Kathy Lynn Emerson
Genre: Historical Fiction, Thriller, Mystery
Publisher: Severn House
Release Date: 2015
Pages: 256
Source: Netgalley/Publisher in exchange for an honest review.
Synopsis: The intriguing new mystery featuring Tudor sleuth, Mistress Rosamond Jaffrey.

    When Lina Walkenden is found clutching a bloody knife over the dead body of her brother-in-law and guardian, there’s only one person she can turn to for help: her childhood friend Rosamond Jaffrey. Rosamond vows to do all she can to prove Lina’s innocence, but when it transpires Lina was being forced into a marriage against her will and was instead besotted by her fiance’s charming yet unscrupulous nephew, her motives for murder seem overwhelming.

    In desperation, Rosamond seeks out the help of the Queen’s spymaster himself, Sir Francis Walsingham – but when she overhears a conversation at the French Embassy, it seems Lina’s plight is irrelevant in the face of potential treason. Rosamond must do all she can to save her friend – and keep herself and her family safe from a desperate killer.

     My Review: Lina seems to be guilty of murder when she is standing over her dead brother-in-law’s body clutching a bloody knife in her hand. Knowing that the punishment of the crime is to be burned at the stake, Lina has no one to turn to but her childhood friend, Rosamond Jaffrey. Rosamond vows to find out who the real killer is, yet as she investigates, the more guilty Lina seems to be. Can Rosamond determine if Lina is the true culprit of the crime?

    Rosamond is a young married woman who was once a spy for Elizabeth. She is smart and resilient, and very strong-willed. She likes to do as she pleases. However, she is stubborn and does not give up and is very persistent, especially when Lina’s fate seems bleak. She also keeps secrets from her husband. I also like her relationship with her husband, Rob. While both of them have secrets, they help each other out. Rosamond depends on Rob for help, and Rob is always there for her. Therefore, their relationship is very sweet.

    Overall, this story is about friendship, love, family, and trust. I did find the pacing of the novel to be very slow at times, and I thought that the mystery was predictable. However, I liked the characters, for they were fun, and I thought the novel was very well-written. I liked how the author described the setting of Elizabethan London. Like with most mystery series, this book can be read as a stand alone. I did not read the first book in the series, but I was not lost. The author gave me a lot of background into the characters. I recommend this book to anyone interested in historical mysteries set in the Tudor era.

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

The Fairest Beauty (Hagenheim Series #3) by Melanie Dickerson: A Book Review

The Fairest Beauty (Hagenheim Series #3)
Author: Melanie Dickerson
Genre: YA, Historical Fiction, Christian 
Publisher: Zondervan
Release Date: 2013
Pages: 334
Source: Personal Collection
Synopsis: Sophie has long wished to get away from her stepmother’s jealous anger, and believes escape is her only chance to be happy. Then a young man named Gabe arrives from Hagenheim Castle, claiming she is betrothed to his older brother, and everything twists upside down. This could be her chance at freedom—but can she trust another person to keep her safe?

     Gabe knows he defied his parents Rose and Wilhelm by going to find Sophie, and now he believes they had a right to worry: the orphan girl has stolen his heart. Though romance is impossible—she is his brother’s future wife, and Gabe himself is betrothed to someone else—he promises to himself he will keep her safe, no matter what.

     When the pair are forced to run to the Cottage of the Seven, they find help—but also find their feelings for each other have grown. Can they find a way to protect Sophie while also safeguarding their hearts?

     My Review: During her infancy, Sophie has been betrothed to Rose and Wilhelm’s son, Valten. However, Sophie’s stepmother has faked Sophie’s death and forced Sophie to be a scullery maid. Years later, an old woman who has worked under Sophie’s household, tells Duke Wilhelm’s family that Sophie is alive and that she is cruelly treated by her stepmother. Valten, Sophie’s betrothed, must rescue her. However, Valten had just broken his leg. His younger brother, Gabe, who has been jealous of Valten because he has all the attention, decides to rescue Sophie so he can have all of the glory and attention shine on him should he be successful. When Gabe and Sophie meet, they soon fall for each other. Can the two be together, even though they are both betrothed to another?

     The Fairest Beauty is not only a fairy tale retelling of Snow White, but it is also a sequel to The Healer’s Apprentice. So, a Snow White fairy tale that centers on the children of the main couple Wilhelm and Rose is a perfect combination! It was a delight to revisit the old characters in the first novel along with being introduced to new, exciting, likable, and interesting characters.

     Sophie is a naive and kind young girl. Yet she is also clever and observant. She is also tough, strong, and can take care of herself, particularly during the apple scene between her and her stepmother. Thus, Sophie is definitely not a damsel-in-distress. Gabe at first is jealous of his brother, not really responsible, and loves to have fun. Yet, over time he grows to be mature and responsible. He is willing to put aside his love of glory and to do what is right. Thus, Sophie and Gabe make a great pair.

     Overall, this book was a very fun read. The tale was faster-paced than Mrs. Dickerson's previous novels. It is filled with romance and faith. The message of the book is that no matter how many obstacles you have, trust in God and he will help you with your problems. All the characters were interesting and the villain was very complex. This book was filled with action and adventure. I recommend this book to anyone who is looking for a light, fairy tale retelling with a powerful Christian message.

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

This is the official book trailer to The Fairest Beauty: