The Messenger by Siri Mitchell

Messenger_mockup.indd“While love without faith offers no hope, faith without love offers no mercy. We must have both faith and love or run the danger of discovering that, in the end, we have nothing at all.”

Again, I am bringing you a Revolutionary War novel. But this one is different, written in first person and from the point of view of a Quaker. Historical fiction set in the Revolutionary War era is about as rare as a Unicorn, where everyone hopes it exists and then ends up not being anything like what you expected or wanted it to be. Mitchell even thanked her publishers for allowing her to publish the book because despite how much people enjoy the books, they often don’t sell as well as others.

So when someone actually finds a decent Revolutionary War it’s shouted from the rooftops and everyone wants to see what all the hullabaloo is about, even those who might not have a particular interest in the time period. And this book by Siri Mitchell is, in my opinion, one of the best Revolutionary War stories out there.

The setting and the story is very interesting. A young Quaker woman becomes a spy to help the Patriot soldiers, and the two don’t usually pair well together so it’s interesting to see these two different sides come together. Again, think of the TURN: Washington’s Spies TV series that I mentioned before. The language was accurate to the protagonist Hannah has sounds true to the Quaker faith; “thee”, “thou”, and so on. Her story was very well researched, which was really cool because not very many authors research their books or add an actual historical event tie-in to their stories so you could really see the detail and hard work she put into making this novel.

The other thing I really liked was the historical background the reader is given after finishing the book. I probably learn more about history second hand (not from a textbook) then I do when I just sit and have to read a textbook. For example, just the other night I learned from watching a show called Mysteries at the Museum that during the Cold War these spies called “Romeo Spies” would woo women into handing over top secret information that I probably learned about before and just have no recollection of reading about it. Anyway, what I’m trying to say here is that this story is so rich in historical content that you’ll probably walk away remembering the stuff in this book then if you had to sit and read it for a class.

I really enjoyed this book and I hope you all do too!

Wonderland Creek by Lynn Austen

wonderlandcreek“That’s absurd… Nobody can read too much. That’s like saying someone breathes too much.”

I absolutely adore this book. If you are looking for something different than the standard Christian Historical Fiction, this is the book for you. And if you’ve ever read any Christian Historical Fiction book, you know exactly what I’m talking about. Lynn Austen’s books have a more grown up and mature sense to them; think a mix Francine Rivers and Kristy Cambron. It is one of the best books I’ve read in a while. It doesn’t have a deep plot line but is still not a slow or boring read.

This book is set during the late 1930’s, about midway into the Great Depression so you can expect some financial hardships. Alice Grace Ripley, the book’s heroine, is let go by both her job as a librarian and by her long-time boyfriend and is left wondering what to do next with her life. She then arrives in a rustic and rural town and is left there as the town’s librarian. As a girl from a privileged and more wealthy household, this is not exactly her comfort zone which results in laughs from the reader’s end.

This book has essentially everything anyone could want in a book. You’ve got humor, adventure, mystery, murder, a great setting, a great time period, and brilliant and life-like characters. Yet it never feels too much… all of these elements fit right into the plotline and really makes for a story that many people, regardless of likes/dislikes will enjoy. I myself am not particularly fond of mystery books but still enjoyed myself reading this.

One of my favorite things is the maturing that takes place in Alice. For a girl who had a comfortable life and spends her time reading, being thrust into a town with nothing to do brings out a more mature and caring side of her. She eventually comes to enjoy spending time with real people, not fictional people, and realizes that having a balance in life is not a bad thing. She drags her feet of course, as anyone would do when they are forced into a new way of living, but eventually learns to accept it and surprising to her, finds she is sad when its time for her to go back to her big city life.

I really enjoyed reading this and I hope you will too. I have nothing bad to say of this book, other than the beginning may start a little slow for some people.

Where Courage Calls by Janette Oke

9780764212314“A sense of humor is a requisite to surviving in our demanding world.”

Unlike other times where I usually have something to say before moving onto the review, this time I can’t think of anything to say so I’m going to jump right in and get started.

First off, if you are looking for a book that follows the movie or TV show storyline, this book is not for you. At least, that is what I’ve seen on other reviews. I know this review isn’t about the movie/TV show but because this book is supposed to be a companion to the Hallmark series, When Calls the Heart, I felt it was important for the TV watchers to know that the book series does not follow the TV show. Which in a way, I suppose is not a bad thing because then you are able to have two different storylines and can choose to your liking.

Historically, there was not a whole lot of background that I can remember. Which was totally fine. Based on the cover, you can guess that it’s around the early 1900’s, and the book describes as much. There are no inaccuracies as far as I could tell in my little knowledge of that time period, but the same can’t be said of the TV show. It’s little things, but the little things bother me the most. I won’t get into it because it doesn’t claim to be a historical show (you can go watch Downton Abbey for that), but it still bothers me because so much of the show is already based in the early 1900’s, but no matter. It’s just my detail oriented brain being nit-picky as always.

I really enjoyed reading about Beth… She is different than other heroines in novels I’ve read, and I can relate to her fears and her wanting to become more independent and wish for more out of life, and she actually reminds me a bit of Belle from Beauty and the Beast. The book basically just takes us through her adjusting from her high-life to a more simple way of living. The characters are very well rounded and realistic, even the minor characters.

I would describe the plot line as “soft”. There’s not page turning action or anything like that. It basically just describes Beth’s adjustment to living on the prairie. And that is pretty much it!

I hope you’ve enjoyed this review, and I’ll see you next week!

A Distant Melody by Sarah Sundin

51oonhzgjzl“When we’re not following God’s will, our sacrifices aren’t acceptable to Him. What God wants most is for us to be broken before Him, walk with Him, know Him, and obey Him.”

A Distant Melody the first book I’ve read of Ms. Sundin’s, and it has become a favorite of mine. As Ms. Sundins debut novel, she made a good impression on other readers and me. I didn’t want to put it down; my eyes were glued to the page. I picked this up during my period of fascination with the 40’s-50’s (which has yet to subside), and this book has all the elements I enjoy in a book, plus it reminds me a bit of The Notebook.

I loved the dual point of view we get from both Allie and Walt. When I read books that sometimes have that, I find myself skimming or even skipping parts because they bore me. These didn’t. I got to see what life was like for people on the homefront, waiting for their soldiers to come home, and also what life was life for the soldiers on the frontlines of war.

Historically, I loved the research that was put into the setting and combat scenes. I love when I learn stuff from books, and though this book is obviously not meant for the purpose of learning, I feel like I learned some things from this book, at least from the view of the soldiers.

I love how Sundin includes the tragedies and hardships of the war. Of course, it was not all blood and gore, but you do lose characters. It’s not fun, but it’s real, and that is the most important to me; that tragedy is not watered down, just handled a little bit more carefully.

All in all, I really enjoyed reading this book. I would definitely recommend this book to anyone looking for a light, but a fun read, especially if you are interested in the World War 2 era.

This article from History.com has a wonderful brief explanation of the American Home Front, which you can read by clicking here.

The Butterfly and the Violin by Kristy Cambron

butterfly-and-violin“And as God is everywhere, she couldn’t live but to carry Him in her heart, with the worship of daily life, using the gift of every second bestowed upon her to bring honor and glory to her Savior.”

If you enjoyed reading The Book Theif, you’ll probably enjoy this book too. While I do enjoy 18th-century fiction (and non-fiction!), I love World War II fiction as well. This book was not as light and fluffy as some of the others I’ve read, which I’ve found I’m growing out of my fluffy and fun stage and into more thought-provoking or more serious books, such as this one. But I still think it will be enjoyed by anyone of any age. In fact, my grandmother got this book for Christmas and I stole it from her after she read it. Oops.

Very quickly, I’d like to comment on the title and the cover. I love titles that are part of the story; ones that as you read you say to yourself “Oh! So that’s where this came from!” And the cover is one of my favorites I’ve seen. It looks a little vintage, which I think is interesting because many books have bright, eye-catching covers, while this one is obviously a bit more subdued, but eye-catching for that very reason.

First off, this is not a typical historical fiction book. Ms. Cambron switches between our present day with the horrors of Hitler’s reign, yet it never feels too confusing and the horrors of Auschwitz too difficult to read. While I did prefer reading about Adele, the stories of the two young women weave and connect together very nicely. The writing style is so beautiful, I was very surprised when I found out that this was Cambron’s first novel.

The story itself is based on a young woman Adele Von Bron, an exceptional violinist from a prominent Austrian household who is sent to play her violin for Nazi soldiers at Auschwitz along with other musicians. Sera James is a Manhatten art dealer who becomes intrigued by a painting of a young violinist (Hint: It’s Adele) and begins to research the painting to find out what her story turned out to be.

Adele’s story was so incredible and inspiring. Again, this is Adele’s story, as we see what becomes of her through the eyes of Sera. There isn’t much I can say on Adele’s story that won’t give too much away, but what I can say is that Adele is a character that many of us will probably be able to relate too; at least I did. Though it is very unlikely none of us will face the horrors of Nazi concentration camps, we can all take care to be brave and caring like her. My favorite part was that her bravery didn’t mean she wasn’t scared, but rather she had the courage to stand up and face her fears.

Sera’s story was one that surprised me – mostly because I was surprised that I enjoyed it as much as I did! As with Adele, there isn’t too much I can say about Sera that won’t give much away, since Sera’s story is so close to Adele’s. But I will say that this modern day storyline was enjoyable, too for those who prefer modern over historical fiction.

I absolutely and thoroughly enjoyed this book. I was swept off my feet at the subtle sweetness and careful handle of such a dark subject. Whether you enjoy contemporary or historical fiction, I think you will really love this book and the different look you’ll receive about Auschwitz and Nazi Germany.

***This book is currently available on Amazon Kindle for only $1.99! Get it here!

Washington’s Lady by Nancy Moser

2662952“It is said that without George Washington there would be no United States, but without Martha, there would be no George Washington.”

I have always held a particular fascination for early America, from about the time the first settlers came to the continent to the establishment of our country some hundred years later. I have really been enjoying TURN: Washington’s Spies and how it focuses not just on people living during the 18th century, but actual historical people such as George Washington and others who were part of the Culper Ring. So when I heard about this book, I got really excited because I’ve never seen anything written from the point of view of the true First Lady. So I picked it up and despite a slow beginning, I read this in only a couple hours.

The historical detail in this book is so well done, but not overdone, and even in the slow parts, it keeps you interested. I love having books that have real historical events tied to them, whether it be a war, a tragedy such as the Titanic, or something fun like the World Fairs. But this book is labeled as fiction if you look at it through the Goodreads website. The book is mostly truthful, but it also has fictional elements that the author clears up at the end.

I really loved Martha’s story. I had always thought of George and Martha together, not exactly realizing she was an individual and had a life before him. While I wouldn’t consider her story in itself a feel good story, because she endured so many hardships in her life, but there are some fun and humorus parts of the story that kept it from being too much of a downer.

I think people who are learning about the American Revolution and/or George Washington will really enjoy this non/fiction book about America’s First Lady.

Waterfall by Lisa T. Bergen

7879278“But that was the thing about courage. Sometimes you had to fake it to feel it.”

This book is a lot different than what I’ve ever read before, for many reasons. The first being it’s target demographic, young adults. I usually despise reading young adult fiction, mostly because the main characters have way to many problems that I prefer to read about, and it’s usually the same set of issues for every book. However, this one I found to be a neat little twist to what you would usually find browsing the young adult section of a bookstore or website.

I first read this in 2011, so I apologize if I don’t quite catch everything, but I loved and still love this book so much I want to share it with you!

My favorite thing about this book is definitely the setting. The book starts and ends in 21st century Italy, but for the bulk of the book, readers are taken back to 14th century Italy (I believe the exact place is around Vienna, but I’m not 100% sure). I don’t read many books set in this time period, I usually stick to the 18th century and beyond, so this was a nice change. I also found the dialogue between the characters to be very believable, as well. That, to me, is one of the most important things when reading (or watching) a historical piece.

Those who enjoyed The Hunger Games will probably enjoy this too, because of the battle scenes we are invited to “watch”. This book had a nice balance between action and having a more relaxed vibe. We also get a more realistic look at the romantic “Knights in Shining Armor”. Are there knights? Yes. But the shining armor, not so much. Because this is set during the Middle Ages, we get a great look at what the Lords and Ladies of Italy may have experienced when things got a bit out of hand and people got too sensitive.

I also enjoyed the characters. They felt very believable, and it was fun reading Gabi interact with all the 14th-century Italian men and women. Speaking of Gabi, girls who find themselves celebrating girl power I think will really enjoy her character. She’s logical and intelligent, and unlike many teenage (and even adult heroines) doesn’t let the romantic stuff get to her head. Though we don’t see much of her sister Lia in this first book, those who find themselves more in tune with her will really enjoy her character development in the later books.

But if you easily turn squeamish, I advise you to maybe not read this book, or at least not before or after eating. There are some pretty descriptive battle injuries, which kind of got me squirming in my seat so just keep that in mind.

I usually try to leave you with some things I saw people got annoyed about, so here we go. I read a lot of reviews where people did not enjoy the stereotypical teenage “language” (like, totally, whatever). Which I can understand, but remember that this book is written for teenagers. Another thing is how easily Gabi is able to pick up the old Italian language, but this is explained in a later book; the longer you spend 1300’s Italy, the easier the language becomes to read and understand.

Now if you think it may annoy you, try to keep in mind that this book was written for the entertainment of teenagers; I don’t think the author thought so many older readers would be interested.

Overall, I really love this book and the rest of the series and highly recommend it to all of you.

If you are interested in reading this book, it is free on Kindle and the Kindle app! Click here to be taken to the page on Amazon.com.

If you are interested in learning more about the Italian Renaissance, click here to be taken to a short but informative article on LifeInItaly.com. Click here to be taken to a webpage on SparkNotes.com.

The Governess of Highland Hall by Carrie Turansky

9781601424969_p0_v1_s600“After all, He was the giver of every good gift… She would not doubt Him now.”

As a lover of Downton Abbey, I was very excited to find this book set in the same period and setting that the TV series starts out in. I love the period so much, the clothes and the glamor of it all and this book gives a different perspective of what you might see on Downton Abbey. This book was sweet and easy to read that held my attention for most of the story.

First, the cover. It’s gorgeous. I love how it gives the reader a little bit of visual to where the book is set and what the mansion looks like. I suppose one could use their imagination, but I enjoyed having the estate in the background. I’ve heard some people don’t like having the face of the books heroine, Julia, on the cover, but I like being able to see what she looks like.

As for the characters, I’ve never read a book where the main character was a missionary. Julia was a refreshing change of character from the other books I’ve read. She kept strong faith throughout the entire book, even through the difficulties she faced she kept faith in God to lead her through it, rather than helping her out of it (if that makes sense). I enjoyed Julia’s character. Her personality is quieter and a little less headstrong than other heroines, but I think it fit her profession (governess) well. Not to mention there are so many female characters that fit the progressive feminist role, so I enjoyed her.

The only beef I have with the character of William is that he is, unfortunately, the cliche of a person who was betrayed by his (or her) significant other and has a hard time trusting another person for the prospect of marriage due to the possibly she (or he) might be like his previous SO. It was got on my nerves a little bit. I would have preferred if he pulled more of a Rochester from Jane Eyre, instead of a 50% can’t-trust-women and 50% can’t-marry-her-because-she’s-the-governess. Nonetheless, he wasn’t that bad. I just would have preferred him to have a different personality.

Other Comments – I wish Julia had a bit more spunk about her, but due to her calmness it just really wasn’t part of her personality. I did like the little twist at the end, and it wasn’t terribly predictable.

Conclusion – I enjoyed it immensely and thought it’s conservative enough for any Christian to read.

Anna’s Crossing by Suzanne Woods Fisher

annascrossing

“Even in the midst of great gales, they could know peace.”

I adored this book. It is so different from all the other Amish books I’ve read (which is like, two), and is a refreshing change from the shunnings or running around and “unsure-of-where-they-fit-it-but-always-choose-their-faith” type stories.

This book is set during the 1700’s, as Anna and her Amish community embark on a journey to the New World. This book is so unique from anything I’ve ever read. There are not many books about the travel from Europe to America, and this may be the only book to be set on the Amish journey. While this book wasn’t a “read-in-two-days” book for me, I did have a constant feeling of enjoyment while I read this book.

It’s very faith based but doesn’t feel preachy.  All the characters didn’t feel preachy when they spoke of God; it felt very natural. Sometimes characters in Christian books sound really over the top when they talk about anything that has to do with God, the Bible, etc. But these characters “sounded” real, and it felt as natural as saying hello or goodbye.

I really loved the characters, especially Anna. She kept strong faith and showed great compassion toward everyone, not just those who “deserved” it. All the characters added something to the story. While not all had the honor of being the main character, they didn’t feel like fillers.

I don’t have anything I dislike about this book, but because this book does detail such a dangerous and rough crossing, there is some not so pretty stuff I want to leave you with real quick.

This section of the review contains minor spoilers.

One character dies from a blow to the head, is thrown into the sea but is seen again when his bottom half is sticking out the mouth of a shark caught by the crew. A young woman dies after childbirth, and we read a brief description of her dead body being attacked by sharks. There is mention of a slave ship and a nasty stench coming from it, and once again a brief undetailed description of how horrible the future slaves are treated aboard the boat. One character is inappropriate toward Anna on several occasions, and is then walloped on the head.. There are many mentions of people being seasick and passing away when water runs short.

I highly recommend this book to anyone interested in early America or the first settlers journey.

If you would like to learn more about the Amish and their life in 1500’s England to their crossing to America in the 1700’s, this link contains some excellent information.

If you would like to learn more about the first settlers in general, this timeline from the Historic Jamestowne site has a great brief overview of the settlers.

The Pursuit of Lucy Banning by Olivia Newport

cover-lucy-banningI share a lot of good reviews on my blog, so today I wanted to share with you a book I didn’t enjoy as much. Writing more negative reviews is hard for me because I very rarely read an entire book I don’t like, and I don’t enjoy being critical of books. But at the same time, I think it’s good to have a mix of reviews for all books, not just the good ones.  So without further ado, here is my review.

I was initially very excited to read this book. Mostly because the cover is gorgeous, and I’m a sucker for pretty book covers. You don’t know how badly I wanted to like this book; the plot summary seemed decent enough, the cover was gorgeous, and my friends gave it 4 or 5-star reviews. But unfortunately, this book had so many elements that I felt were underdeveloped, it felt like I was reading a draft. Which is so sad, because I know I would have liked this book so much more if it had been fine-tuned maybe once or twice more.

I did enjoy the historical setting, and the research put into it. I felt like I learned a lot about different social classes while reading this, and it gave be a bit of a Downton Abbey feel. However, there is such a thing as too much of something good, and that is the case here. Because there was so much historical knowledge that the author shares with us, I would have enjoyed learning about the setting before diving into the book.

The character development could have been better. Lucy had all the qualities of being a great heroine, but, unfortunately, falls short because there is little to no development with her. She’s a goody-two-shoes, which in some cases isn’t awful (because that usually comes with faults), but she’s just too good to be true. As for her suitors, it pretty obvious who was going to win her heart, as Newport made one of them about as awful as a character could get.

There were so many things going on, and I think if maybe Newport had focused on just one other event apart from the main plot, the book would have flowed and ended a lot cleaner. Instead, there were about four other subplots that took away from the enjoyment.

Conclusion – All in all, it was an average fluff reading that I read in a few days, but you could read it in two. I was very disappointed, and assumed it would be excellent because I will admit; I was drawn first to the cover. But don’t let my review scare you away! My opinion is not popular, and if you enjoy quick reads, you’ll probably enjoy this.

If you enjoy this period of history, here is a Wikipedia link that gives some information on this period in history. It may not be completely trustworthy, but it is a quick link with some info.