Book Review -From Sand and Ash

SUMMARY

When young Angelo’s mother dies, his father sends him to live with his grandparents in Italy who are employed by a wealthy Jewish businessman. Still grieving, Angelo is befriended by the precocious daughter of the house, Eva Roselli. Eva and Angelo grow up together much like a brother and sister, but they both know the feelings between them run deeper. However, Angelo is determined to be a priest and Eva is set on a path to be an accomplished violinist, so despite occasionally betraying their feelings for one another, they each pursue their chosen vocations.

Everything changes when WWII breaks out and Italy allies itself with Germany. Angelo’s duty to God and the priesthood are challenged by his mission to keep not only his beloved Eva safe, but also their shared loved ones. Things only become more complicated when they both get involved in the Italian underground working to save and rescue Italy’s Jewish population.

REVIEW

I recently read and reviewed my first book by Amy Harmon and was blown away. I didn’t expect that she could write another story I would love even better, but she has done so with From Sand and Ash. Honestly, no words I could give you would do justice to the beauty and poignancy of Eva and Angelo’s story. I have read other WWII stories, but none quite like this one. The setting in Italy and the perspective of the war from the Italian perspective is unique. Particularly since many Italians were not in favor of the war and were dragged into it by bad leadership. Also, the fact that Italy surrendered to the Allies in 1943 which then made their former ally Germany, their new enemy, gives an interesting twist to the story. Even though they expected to be liberated, they experienced the opposite as the Germans moved in, occupied the country and then began oppressing and torturing the Italian people. War stories can become a little too dark for me sometimes, but Harmon does a great job of balancing the horror with hope.

I also loved the uniqueness of Eva and Angelo’s inter-faith relationship. Harmon took an unlikely handicapped man, ordained to be a priest and turned him into a romantic hero. Not only that, but the usual dynamic is turned upside down, because Eva and her family are wealthy Jews with Angelo’s Catholic family acting as both employees and surrogate family. I liked how Eva acted as the aggressor many times, fighting for their love to have a chance, with Angelo taking the path of strong resistance and self-sacrifice.

This is such a beautiful story not only of romantic love and denial between a couple of different faiths, but also of the depths and strength of the human spirit in times of extreme fear, chaos and horror. Sometimes, the agony of the world can seem overwhelming and it is hard to know what to do, when every action seems so small. But From Sand and Ash demonstrates that although we cannot save the whole world, we do what we can to offer hope, to save one at a time. Every life matters and the sacrifices that Eva and Angelo make for their loved ones and strangers shows the depths of their courage and the true cost of love.

Though very religious types might find things to quibble with in this book, I thought the author did an excellent job of weaving in the history and meaning of both the Jewish and Catholic faiths without becoming preachy.  I learned new things about both faiths that I had never known before. It is particularly interesting, that according to the author’s notes, the survival rate of Italian Jews was 80 percent, thanks to the work and sacrifice of Italian citizens and the Catholic church who hid and protected them. Contrast that with the 80 percent mortality rate of other European Jews.

CONCLUSION

I feel so inadequate in reviewing this story that so seriously impacted me. Even the title has unsuspected depths and meanings which I am still meditating over.

My big takeaway from this story is the power and diversity of love. The love of family for which we willingly sacrifice, the love of life and righteousness that forces us to act on behalf of others even at great risk to self and the purity of love which motivates self-sacrifice and denial and also overcomes enormous differences and great evil. I believe this is a story that I will have to read multiple times to experience and to learn its’ total depth and impact. And I won’t mind that one bit.

From Sand and Ash is available on Amazon. Don’t forget to check out the author’s inspiration board on Pinterest for images relating to this story.

Book Review -A Moonbow Night

SUMMARY

Tempe Tucker is still reeling from a devastating event which led to the death of her fiance and the crippling of her brother. Thanks to a separate incident her father is wanted for the murder of a land surveyor and remains in hiding.

Into this fractured life walks Sion Morgan, another land surveyor from the same company as the man her father murdered. He arrives with his crew at the Tucker family’s Moonbow Inn along the banks of the Cumberland river, in the Indian territory of Kentucke.

Morgan is in need of an experienced guide to lead his crew through uncharted territory and Tempe has the knowledge and skills to do so.  Initially, she refuses, but at her father’s insistence Tempe is soon leading this group of men into the wilderness to chart the land, create maps for future settlers and also lead them away from her father.

However, the eastern states are at war with Britain for their freedom and Kentucke is still a dangerous place for white settlers and surveyors whom the Indians deem as a threat to their way of life. The Indians are determined to wipe out not only the few white settlements that have survived, but also the men charting the land who make it possible and enticing for settlers to continue to brave the potential dangers in exchange for land of their own.

Tempe and Sion find themselves in the middle of this conflict and will need all of their bravery and skills to not only complete their job, but also to survive. They must also both come to terms with past traumas and decide whether or not trusting each other is worth the potential pain they may experience.

REVIEW

I don’t know if words can do justice to this intricate and detailed story. Laura Frantz has been a must read historical fiction author for me since her debut novel The Frontiersman’s Daughter. Frantz is a Kentucky native and many of her books are set in her home state. A Moonbow Night is no exception.

Although this story is filled with danger and moments of action, it is surprisingly slow moving. This is actually a good thing as it gives Frantz time to develop the setting, history and characters of early day Kentucky making it all come alive. It is obvious that the author has done in depth research of daily life during this time period and she weaves these details in seamlessly allowing the reader to live and breath a way of life lost to time.

A Moonbow Night is not just a book, but a portal to another world, to the days where the American frontier is still new and untamed, claimed only by nature, animals and the Native Americans. It gives a good understanding of the challenges white settlers faced as they moved West as well as the shifting political issues and attitudes which affected both these settlers and the Indians who were rightly afraid of losing their own way of life.

Although I tend to prefer a little more romance in my historical fiction and Frantz generally delivers, in A Moonbow Night, the romance of Sion and Tempe takes a back seat to their own unresolved traumas and the practicalities of their daily tasks. That’s not to say there is no romance at all, it is just not the main point.

If you are a fan of historical fiction or films like The Last of the Mohicans, then you will most likely love A Moonbow Night. The tale does tend to move at an unhurried pace, but you will be rewarded with the rich experience of the early American frontier.

This book is the author’s latest release but is currently available at Amazon for a greatly discounted price. I encourage you to buy the book here.

Also, check out the author’s Pinterest page for images and inspiration for A Moonbow Night.

 

Author Spotlight -Helen Argers

One of the many things I want to use my website for is to introduce you to authors and films which are not often celebrated, but which deserve to be.  That is why you will find that I am not always writing about the newest releases or the most popular author.  A good story can be found in unlikely even obscure places and I would hate for you to miss out on such hidden treasure.

Today I want to spotlight Helen Argers, author of historical romance stories. Helen has ten titles to her name two of which were written under the name Helen Archery. The majority of her books were published in the nineties with seven of them being published in the smaller mass paperback form. These paperbacks are all set in Regency England.

Helen Argers also published three titles in hardback, one of which, The Gilded Lily, is actually available in ebook form. These three books are longer and as such have more intricate and detailed plots.

I have read and own every one of her stories and love them. In fact, I often re-read them.  Her heroines are independent and fit the mold of early feminists while still remaining true to the time in which they live. One of the common themes in these books is the discovery of their own inner strength and also the taming of the hero by the heroine, which I have to admit, I kind of like. The banter and battle between the sexes is definitely a highlight of these books. There have been times I have literally laughed out loud when reading. I also appreciate that Argers stories are culturally and historically correct as well as being clean reads.

Helen Argers is one of those authors who make it hard for me to pick a favorite among her titles. I just can’t, because they are all so engaging and interesting. I am very sad that she is no longer writing new books. Argers books are a bit harder to track down, but definitely worth the effort. Apart from The Gilded Lily which I have mentioned can be purchased for Kindle here, many of her titles are available at online re-salers such as Amazon, eBay and Half.com. You can also occasionally find them in used book stores.

If you like historical novels set in Regency England with strong yet feminine and sassy heroines then I encourage you to check out Helen Argers books. Believe me, it will be worth your effort.

 

Book Review -The Mutual Admiration Society

The Mutual Admiration Society Synopsis

When eleven year old Theresa “Tessie” Finley watches her father drown, she determines to redeem herself and to honor her father’s memory by becoming the emotional caretaker and guardian of her younger mentally handicapped sister Birdie. Their mother hides her grief and immediately starts dating a man with hopes of marrying him but Tessie does not trust her mother and detests her new boyfriend.

She also names herself president of The Mutual Admiration Society, a group consisting of herself, Birdie and Tessie’s wannabe boyfriend Charlie. The group’s purpose is to either solve crime or use it to blackmail  others as a way of earning money in case Tessie must take Birdie and run away from home for their own safety.

When Tessie witnesses what she believes is a murder in the cemetery behind her home, she must use all of her wiles to solve the crime while also dodging her mother and their evil next door neighbor lady.

Personal Review

The Mutual Admiration Society was an unusual read for me due to it’s setting and subject matter. It is a coming of age story set in a blue collar neighborhood of Milwaukee in the 1950’s. Tessie is precocious, stubborn and voluntarily carries the weight of responsibility on her shoulders. She is a young girl struggling to deal with her guilt and grief over her father’s death and the instability of her home life now that her mother is the sole support. Tessie believes herself her sister’s sole protector. She looks on life through jaded, accepting eyes, yet with a child’s limited experience of perception. In the process of investigating what Tessie believes is a murder or kidnapping she is exposed to the dark and questionable actions of the adults in her life, but also learns that assumptions are not always accurate and that truth is not always obvious.

In some ways Tessie is both a hero and an anti-hero as her hard scrabble life forces her into lying, stealing, blackmailing and other underhanded behavior, yet her childlike assumptions and fears and her fierce love and commitment balance the more negative aspects of her character.

Although this book deals with some dark life issues, it does so in a humorous way by telling the story through the eyes of a child. Tessie’s voice is very clear whether it be yelling in frustration at her sister, cussing under her breath, making her lists of priorities and suspects, thinking through her investigation, or finding ways to avoid her mother and neighbor. She is likable despite her many faults and it is her perspective of the world which the reader experiences.

I found myself both admiring and wanting to take care of Tessie and her sister, which I believe is the mark of a good book -engaging the reader in a fictional life.

Recommendation

Although this book is a clean read, there are some instances of implied or inferred immoral behavior as well as some foul language which Tessie  uses in times of frustration and anger. Overall, I would recommend this story to any who like a light mystery which still tackles difficult issues.

 

Favorite Historical Fiction Series

Since historical (romance) fiction is my favorite genre, today I’m sharing a list of my favorite series in this genre. Some of these are long-time favorites some are newer. The list may seem a bit long, but believe me, I got it as short as I could. I can’t help that there are so many good stories out there. So without further ado…

BIBLICAL HISTORICALS

The Reluctant Demon Diaries by Linda Rios Brooks -tells the events of the Bible from the perspective of a demon longing for redemption.

Harvest Series by Tessa Afshar -not technically a series, but I love this book and it’s sequel which tells the story of the biblical Nehemiah’s fictional female cousin who finds herself married to a Persian prince when all she wants is to be a scribe.

Mark of the Lion by Francine Rivers -Set in the early years of Christianity, a Jewish convert to Jesus, serves as a slave in the household of a Roman centurion.

MEDIEVAL HISTORICALS

The Age of Faith by Tamara Leigh -Leigh is a premier medieval fiction author and all of her series are excellent. But for the sake of brevity I chose the first one about five siblings who confront danger and meet their matches.

Fires of Gleannmara by Linda Windsor -a longtime favorite set in Scotland.

The River of Time by Lisa T Bergren -a YA time travel series, two sisters travel back in time to medieval Italy.

The Gifted by Lisa T Bergren -a totally different Bergren series about a group of individuals who find they possess special gifts and must join together to fight evil. Set in medieval Italy and France.

Poitevin Hearts by Joyce DiPastena -set during the reign of Henry II, interconnected characters must determine their loyalty to the king and uncover treachery in their personal lives.

Unnamed Series by L.A. Kelly -a special story about a tortured, orphaned warrior seeking redemption.

Unnamed Series by Leigh Bale -each book is a stand alone, unconnected with the rest, and I love all three.

ENGLISH HISTORICALS

Miss Pickworth Collection by Catherine Palmer -Palmer is no longer writing books, but was a prolific author at one time. This is my favorite series of hers set in Regency England. It is named after a minor character who is an anonymous gossip columnist.

The Kensington Chronicals by Lori Wick -a very early favorite for me, I’ve read these books over and over. Set in Regency England.

Price of Privilege by Jessica Dotta -another series set in Regency England. These three books tell one story of a young girl who goes from rags to riches, anonymity to notoriety. Complex and detailed, every detail matters and is woven together into a stunning ending which made me cry.

AMERICAN HISTORICALS

The Pathfinders by Lori Benton -an early American tale around the time of the Revolution about the culture clash and betrayal between two Indian and British-American families.

The Midwives by Laurie Alice Eakes -the series title is pretty self-explanatory.

Hearts of Faith by Jody Hedlund -Hedlund writes exceptional historical fiction. Each book tells the fictionalized story of real historical figures.

Diamond of the RockiesKristen Heitzmann -though Heitzmann also writes amazing romantic suspense stories, she began with historical fiction. I loved this one about a pampered woman who leaves her family vineyard to prove herself in a Colorado mining town.

Cheney Duvall M.D.Lynn Morris -originally co-authored with her father, prolific author Gilbert Morris, this series follows a female doctor Cheney Duvall and her male nurse following the years after the Civil War.

Daughters of Fortune by Judith Pella -another oldie but goodie. Three very different sisters are impacted by their parents’ secrets and WWII.

Ladies of Distinction by Jen Turano -set in turn of the century upper class New York  City, this series reads like a screwball comedy of sassy independent women who give their love interests nothing but trouble.

GENERATIONAL FAMILY SAGAS

The Ballanytine Legacy by Laura Frantz -Frantz is a must-read author for me. So far, this is her only series and tells the stories of three generations of the Ballantyne family beginning just after the Revolution and ending before the Civil War.

The Culper Ring by Roseanna M White -this author surprised me in the best way and I love this series about generations of a family who take on roles as spies at critical times in U.S. history.

Daughters of Fortune by Susan May Warren -another must-read author of mine, Warren generally sticks to contemporary fiction. This exception to the rule follows a wealthy, dysfunctional New York family from WWI to WWII.

OTHERS

Legacy of the King’s Pirates by MaryLu Tyndall -I love a good swashbuckling pirate hero and Tyndall writes them so well.

What about you? Do you have a favorite historical fiction book or series?

Book Review -The Ringmaster’s Wife

SUMMARY

With dual story lines, The Ringmaster’s Wife, gives a fictional account of historical characters, John and Mable Ringling . Right before the start of the twentieth century, young Armilda leaves her small Ohio home to pursue dreams she cannot even articulate. Soon she has renamed herself Mable and meets Mr. Ringling at the Chicago State Fair. In Chicago she makes a friend who will inspire her to be courageous and kind enough, not just to pursue her own dreams, but to encourage others to pursue theirs. This friendship, though brief, plays an important part in helping the reader to understand Mable’s motivations going forth and is the foundation for all that is to come.

A second story line set during the last half of the Roaring Twenties, introduces us to Lady Rosemund Easling, who is still grieving the loss of her beloved brother. She also feels constrained by all the expectations placed on her shoulders by her aristocratic parents. Rose meets Colin Keary, a manager for the Ringling Circus who has come to buy her beloved horse. Colin knows talent when he sees it and ends up recruiting Rose as well. Rose’s connection with her horse, Ingenue, and her talent for bareback and trick riding earn her a place with the circus. But not everyone is happy about a new star joining their family. It will take grit, courage and grace for Rose to find where she truly belongs.

This novel goes back and forth between these two separate stories, eventually weaving them together in a touching and beautiful way.

REVIEW

From the first page, The Ringmaster’s Wife held my attention, transporting me to a world I never would have experienced otherwise. Having attended a few circuses myself in my younger years, I can attest that they put on quite a show. But in today’s modern world where exotic animals are easily seen at zoos, and yet to be seen marvels are easily displayed worldwide on television, movie and computer screens, circuses are well past their heyday.

But this is the gift of a Kristy Cambron novel. It’s not so much the story contained within its’ pages, although she is a master story teller. It is the way she creates a world so alive and vividly described. LIke Alice and the looking glass, the reader is drawn in through a  portal to live in a fantasy.

I could smell the popcorn and cotton candy as I wandered around the circus tents and animal cars. Excitement hung in the air as performers and others prepared for the grand spectacle. I saw the dust of thousands of human and animal feet swirling around me. And I experienced the joy, wonder and thrill of the high wire act and the bareback riders.

I recently read a book with a circus setting which turned out to be a favorite last year. So, even knowing the quality of the author’s work, I was hesitant to read another circus themed book. Boy, was I wrong.

I have read and loved the author’s previous two books. Like this one, they contained dual story lines. However the subject matter, being set during WWII, was by nature much more somber and serious. The Ringmaster’s Wife is a lighter story which focuses on discovering the joy and magic of living a life which fulfills your purpose.

The dual story lines’ emphasis on courage and forgiveness is interesting and well done. But it is the “world within a world” that Cambron creates, of both the circus and of the Ringling’s winter home, Ca d’ Zan, and the family that lives within the walls of both, that is truly the magic of this book.

“We only see what we want to see -in people, in love and in life. What we see is a choice, as is what we offer the world in return. And it’s only behind the costumes and the masks that we can be who we truly are.”

CONCLUSION

The Ringmaster’s Wife is Kristy Cambron’s love letter not only to the Ringlings, but the world they create and nurture, the magic of wonder and beauty that is the circus.

For images which inspired this novel, check out the author’s Pinterest page.

Book Review -A School for Unusual Girls

A School for Unusual Girls is the first in Kathleen Baldwin’s new YA series called Stranje House.
SUMMARY
A School for Unusual Girls is set in 1814, while Napoleon is exiled to the island of Elba. Georgiana Fitzwilliam is the youngest child and only daughter in her family. After one of her scientific experiments goes awry and burns down her father’s stables, her exasperated parents enroll her at Stranje House and wipe their hands of her care. Despite the tense relationships Georgie has with her parents she would rather return home or run away than to stay at this mysterious school for girls. The dark rumors which swirl around the school and the scenes she witnesses upon her introduction to the staff and students convince her that Stranje house is a dangerous place to remain.
However, appearances can be deceiving. Georgie is shortly introduced to the other four female students, Tess, Sera, Maya and Lady Jane all of whom have unusual talents and gifts. Georgie also makes the acquaintance of Lord Sebastian Wyatt after unintentionally spying on him and overhearing a discussion about the Order of the Iron Crown.
Despite her distrust of Miss Stranje, owner and headmistress, she is thrilled with Miss Stranje’s generosity in granting Georgie a lab of her own with all of the equipment and ingredients necessary for her to continue developing her “recipes”. You see, Georgie is a scientific genius and is working on a recipe for invisible ink for encoded messages. She is commanded to partner with Sebastian in accomplishing this task.  But just like her experiments, it is a highly charged relationship with the potential to be explosive.
In the meantime, Georgie continues to uncover the mysteries behind Stranje House and its’ occupants only to discover that it is a very secretively special school. Eventually Georgie, Sebastian and the occupants of Stranje House find themselves caught up in an international intrigue and a race to stop the Order of the Iron Crown from returning Napoleon to power.
REVIEW 
I have read Baldwin’s adult novels and found them charming. Her venture into Young Adult fiction is no less so. They read almost like a screwball comedy film. The heroines are always independent, peppy and don’t conform to the norms of their society. They are also tender hearted and good natured, yet they constantly find themselves in embarrassing predicaments while also butting heads with their heroes.
The heroes generally admire the heroines but in secret, preferring to show their interest like young school boys who tease and harass their object of affection. But they are always available to encourage and rescue their heroines when they need it. This same modus operandi is carried out in Georgie and Sebastian’s relationship. They begin as bickering opponents, but as they work together they gradually develop respect and admiration for each other while still maintaining their verbal battles.
I really enjoyed Georgie’s slowly developing relationships with Miss Stranje and the girls. Each of the girls has experienced rejection and trauma related to their loved ones. When added to the fact that they have unusual talents and the secrets they must keep, they are understandably wary and cautious of the newest addition to their group. The development of their individual friendships with Georgie coincide with the revelation of the secrets and mysteries behind Stranje House. I always appreciate when an author highlights strong female friendships. I’m not opposed to a good bromance either.
CONCLUSION
A School for Unusual Girls is a very fun read if slightly less than historically accurate. I am eagerly anticipating the continuation of the mystery introduced in this book and the focus on Tess’s story in the next title, Exile for Dreamers.

Book Review -Counted With the Stars

SUMMARY

When privileged Egyptian Kiya is sold into slavery by her own father, it is to save the rest of her family including her crippled brother. She finds herself in the household of a family friend, but the shame of serving in a home she once frequented as a guest and the vengeful behavior of her master’s wife leaves her feeling humiliated and hopeless. During her time of service she meets fellow slave Shira, a Hebrew, who makes a great sacrifice on Kiya’s behalf winning her loyalty and friendship. Through Shira, she also meets Eben, Shira’s brother who seems to despise her, but she also begins to learn of the rumors of a Deliverer spreading through the Hebrew households. Things go from bad to worse for Kiya, as her former fiance deserts her and all of the Egyptians are terrorized by strange plagues. Kiya wrestles with her lack of faith in her own gods and her terror of the Hebrew God, while also being strangely drawn to both the enslaved people and the one they call Yahweh. Eventually, in order to save her mother and brother, she casts her lot in with this strange people and flees Egypt.

REVIEW

I’m particular about biblical fiction. I love it if it is well done and gives me a new perspective on familiar stories without straying too far from biblical accounts. So, I really enjoyed this story of what is known by most as the Exodus story. I appreciate seeing the account of the plagues of Egypt, the exodus of the Hebrew slaves and their journey into the desert from the perspective of an Egyptian outsider. It brought a new depth to a familiar story which caused me to consider things I never had in reading the biblical version. It is obvious the author also did quite a bit of historical research as she really makes this ancient time come alive. The details of a woman’s toilette, the food that was consumed, the articles of clothing they wore, the industry and economy of the time and even the daily tasks and habits were woven into the story in an interesting way while also teaching me about an ancient culture.

It’s also fascinating to read about how the plagues affected not just a nation, but individuals. It makes the story so much more personal and real. In this account, the plagues take place over the course of months and you can see the slow stages of their effects until it reaches catastrophic limits of devastation for the entire nation. If you have read the biblical account it may have come across as simply a set of facts which sound terrible, but give you no real concept of their brutal impact. But to have them applied to individual characters makes the terror of it come alive. You can really wrap your mind around how not just the economic and military power of Egypt, which was the strongest in the world at that time, but also the very heart of the people would have been decimated to the point of no recovery. According to historical accounts, Egypt never did recover to its highest level of former glory after these events. Can you imagine the mightiest nation in the world today brought to such lows that it would never recover without a single battle waged? It is sobering.

I also enjoyed Kiya’s emotional and spiritual journey. She started out as a proud yet protective young woman with the prejudices of her privilege and race to a woman who is able to humble herself enough to become part of a culture and to accept a God she had initially despised. Kiya’s friendship with Shira really is the catalyst for her transformation and it is a beautiful account of the impact a true friend can have in your life. This relationship also sustained her in the challenges of leaving her home and learning a completely new way of life.

My only complaint is that I felt that the relationship between Kiya and Eben was not developed enough for its’ eventual conclusion.

Counted with the Stars is the author’s debut and the first in a series and it is impressive. I am definitely looking forward to reading Shira’s story next.

If you are similar to me and like visuals for the stories you read, check out the author’s Pinterest page for this book.

Book Review -The Lady and the Lionheart

SUMMARY

When Charlie Lionheart burst into the hospital with a sick baby, nurse Ella Beckley is immediately drawn into the plight of this mysterious young man and his sick but precious charge. His presence instigates immediate changes in her safe, ordered life and lures her into the unfamiliar life of the circus.

Charlie is quickly drawn to the sweet but curious Ella, but the secrets he harbors make him hesitant to expose her to his life. As they jointly care for baby Holland, they each find their perceptions challenged and must find the love and courage to reveal their traumatic pasts.

REVIEW

The Lady and the Lionheart was probably my favorite read in the past year and will go on my list of all time favorite books. The story, the setting, the characters all combine to make this a memorable book which has pleasantly haunted me since I first read it last August.

The relationship that slowly and quietly develops between Charlie and Ella left me breathless. Both of them have heartbreaking pasts, but Charlie’s is earned by a beautiful sacrifice for the sake of Holland which has scarred him both physically and emotionally. And yet, his tender, compassionate and patient care for both Holland and Ella while still dealing with the ramifications of his painful choice is quietly devastating. This same thoughtfulness is also extended to his “brothers”, the lions which are in his care. Oh yes, did I forget to mention? Charlie is a lion tamer. The dichotomy between his job and his personality is really the heart of his story, how he is seen by others versus who he really is. Charlie’s hesitant willingness to allow Ella into his world, helps her to step out of her self-imposed prison and to see things, both circumstances and people, in a new perspective which ultimately leads to much needed healing for both of them.

The setting of the circus could have been problematic. While the circus can seem exciting and magical to “rubes” (also known as customers) in many stories it is the seedy underbelly of the circus, the behind the scenes happenings and unique personalities which has been the focus of other stories. While the author doesn’t glamorize circus life and touches on the often gritty realities behind the magic, she also shows the humanity, the day to day life in a loving way. The setting of the circus is actually the perfect place for this story to emphasize the valuable lesson that one should never judge by appearances. This is a lesson the reader gets to learn along with Ella as she makes friends with some of the performers and even finds out that her original fear of Charlie’s lions is misfounded.

It’s not just the story that is so exceptional, but the way it is written. I’ve seen Bischof’s writing described before as lyrical and it is that. But beyond that she has a way of making her novels come alive. The characters feel so real, it’s not just that you feel you know them, but that you are living inside their skin. You experience what they experience and feel what they feel which sends the reader on an emotional rollercoaster of a journey revealing truths hidden in your own heart which stay with you for a long time to come. It’s not just a story but a personal experience. I honestly don’t know how Bischof does this except to say it is a very special gift which rarely occurs, but for which I am very grateful. I would wish for everyone of you to experience this gift as well which is why I am telling you that this is a must read story. If you aren’t much of a reader, make an exception. If you are an avid reader with a massive TBR list, move this title to the front. You won’t be sorry, I promise!

To see pictures of Charlie, Ella and Holland and for other visuals pertaining to The Lady and the Lionheart, I encourage you to check out the author’s Pinterest page. You can
also purchase this book at Amazon.

Book Review -Newton and Polly

I have been a fan of Jody Hedlund’s historical romances since her debut release back in 2010. But she particularly excels in this genre when she writes about or is inspired by actual historical figures. From her very first novel which was inspired by John Bunyan, author of Pilgrim’s Progress, to her faithful historical renderings based on American missionaries Marcus and Narcissa Whitman, founding father John Adams and wife Abigail, to her more recent depiction of Martin Luther and his bride Katharina, she never fails to paint a vivid and well researched picture of their lives. And now, with her recent release Newton and Polly she continues her streak of excellence.

SUMMARY

Newton and Polly introduces us to a young John Newton, just as he himself is introduced to Polly Catlett, the woman who becomes the love of his life and who is also instrumental in his eventual salvation and transformation. For those who are unfamiliar with John Newton, he is the author of many hymns, including the famous Amazing Grace, as well as being an important figure in the fight to abolish slavery in Britain. Newton lived his younger years in rebellion to his father and in defiance of most authority and found himself involved in some despicable things, including the slave trade. He had no use for God  until he met the reverent and innocent Polly. Even with her memory in the forefront of his mind, he still struggled to reconcile himself with a God who he felt was harsh and unloving.

MY THOUGHTS

This book follows Newton and Polly Catlett’s relationship from its’ inception through the challenges of multiple and sometimes lengthy separations, difference of belief, disapproving parents, her young age and his immaturity and lack of responsibility to its’ eventual resolution.

Hedlund’s careful research and inclusion of historical detail make their story come alive. It is as if I had traveled back in time and met these two personally, which is one of the reasons I adore this author’s books on historical figures. I also appreciate how Hedlund draws us into learning more about the supporting character (usually women) behind the more famous historical figure.

Many people have heard or are familiar with the name John Newton, but not nearly as many will have known the name Polly Catlett. And yet, Newton, as well as the other historical figures Hedlund writes about, would not be so well known without the absolute support and strength of the women/wives behind the well-known names. Particularly in John Newton’s life, without his love for Polly motivating him, we may never have heard his name.

I always recommend this author’s books, but if you are a history buff like me, you can trust Hedlund’s stories to remain as true as possible to the historical record and facts while still giving you a well-rounded fictionalized biography of someone you may have only met in history books.

I would also recommend the movie Amazing Grace, which tells how William Wilberforce with the help of John Newton fought a decades long battle in the British Parliament to abolish the slave trade which both found so abhorrent. It is inspiring and also will give you an additional perspective on Newton.