I’ve been reading less historical fiction this year, but I just couldn’t resist The Bachelor Girl’s Guide to Murder. I’m not sure what appealed to meI’ve been reading less historical fiction this year, but I just couldn’t resist The Bachelor Girl’s Guide to Murder. I’m not sure what appealed to me most—the awesome title, the pretty cover, the not-so-typical setting (finally, a book not set in the United States!), or just the idea of two single women attempting to solve murders in 1910. The summary reminded me a lot of The Hourglass Factory by Lucy Ribchester, and that kind of closed the deal for me. I had to read it. Just not immediately, as I have a very active toddler who makes it difficult to find time to read. Still, a belated review is better than none, right? And this book was definitely worth waiting for.
The actual murder may not have been the most interesting part of the book for me. I think I was more intrigued by the character of Ray DeLuca, the reporter Jem runs into at the start of the novel. Not so much as a romantic interest (although I can see the appeal) but as an Irish immigrant trying to make a place for himself in the field of journalism while also sticking to his conviction to expose the truth, even if it upsets those who pull the political strings. His commitment to his sister was equally admirable. Honestly, Ray’s dilemma—stop exposing political corruption or lose his job—is very likely still relevant to modern day journalists. The world needs more Rays!
It wasn’t just the immigrant culture that intrigued me in The Bachelor Girl’s Guide to Murder, but the entire setting of 1910 Toronto. From the note at the end of the novel, it’s clear that Rachel McMillan fabricated a lot of the political issues she presented, but it still seemed like a fascinating city and time period, especially for young women like Jem and Merinda. The World Wars would soon open up new freedoms for women, but they aren’t quite there yet, and older generations have very different expectations for how young ladies should behave. I wouldn’t like to trade places with Jem or Merinda but I did enjoy reading about their attempts to subvert societal norms, and I was impressed with their bravery in cross-dressing. Christian Historical Fiction needs more heroines like these young ladies!
I didn’t guess who was behind the murders as quickly as I sometimes do with mystery novels, mostly because I was a) distracted by a toddler and b) more focused on the character development than the actual mystery. So if you’re not big on solving crimes but enjoy stereotype-defying heroines in the early twentieth century, I’d encourage you to still give this novel a shot. Jem is a very likable heroine, and while I did sometimes wish she stood up for herself more—particularly when Merinda pushed her further into a relationship that made her uncomfortable—her flaws made her all the more real. I look forward to seeing her grow more confident in the sequel, and I hope we also get more insight into Merinda’s character. She intrigued me, but I never felt like I truly got inside her head, so at times she felt like a bit of a caricature. She was awesome, don’t get me wrong, but maybe not entirely authentic since I didn’t know how she’d come to be so eccentric and determined to push aside all societal conventions and expectations. The bottom line: Merinda is great, but I wanted more of her!
While I didn’t completely love The Bachelor Girl’s Guide to Murder, I can’t think of any major flaws with it either. It could have been longer (it comes in at a pretty short 224 pages), and it could have had more Merinda, but otherwise I really enjoyed it. Rachel McMillan did a great job of developing the characters and the setting, and I’m eager to see what Jem and Merinda are up to in the next instalment in the series. For such a short book, the story was fantastically engaging and just downright fun, and I’d encourage historical and mystery fans alike to give it a shot.
I love it when an author takes a previously unlikable character and gives them the chance to redeem themselves and turn to their life around, especialI love it when an author takes a previously unlikable character and gives them the chance to redeem themselves and turn to their life around, especially when they devote an entire book to this journey! Tessa was definitely an annoying character in the previous Beacons of Hope novel, manipulating her family members and situations to get what she wanted. She wasn't your stereotypical villain, just a misunderstood teenage girl searching for love in all the wrong places. Tessa's actions might have been a bit outlandish at times (trying to trick her older sister's beau into marrying her, in particular) but what teenage girl hasn't felt the same as Tessa—overlooked, unloved, out of place? Tessa did make me want to bang my head against a wall in frustration in Hearts Made Whole, but I was also intrigued by her, and hoped that the third book in the series might be devoted to her.
After all that hoping and waiting, did this book live up to my expectations? Mostly! I absolutely loved the first two books in the Beacons of Hope series and wasn't sure if Jody could keep up her fantastic streak. Often in a series, there is one book that doesn't quite live up to the others. It's not a sign of a bad writer, just that the reader likes one character more than another, or one situation appeals to them more. From the start of this novel, Tessa's situation intrigued me. Even if I didn't know her backstory (and I think you could probably read this book as a standalone), the strange situation she finds herself in makes for an interesting opening. She's a teacher in a town that's basically a dictatorship run by the mining superintendent, who is desperate to get rid of her. The lighthouse link felt a bit shaky at times, but does become more present as the story develops.
I'll admit straight off that I'm not really a fan of love triangles. I always have to fight the urge to roll my eyes when two men are in love with the same woman. Maybe it's just because no one's ever fought for my affections, but it always feels a bit unrealistic. In this case, it didn't feel quite so unbelievable—Alex does genuinely have feelings for Tessa, while Michael is pushed into the situation by his children and the desire to find a mother for them. Tessa is basically the first single woman he's met since the death of his wife, so it's not like there are a lot of options out there. I appreciated that Tessa struck up friendships with both men, so it wasn't a case of them both pining for her from a distance and just being infatuated with her beauty, or anything annoying like that. They both like her, just in different ways. If the thought of a love-triangle puts you off, I'd recommend giving this book a shot anyway. This isn't Twilight with lighthouses, trust me.
The details about the mining industry and the corruption in the town were really interesting. I've said it before, but it's worth repeating—I love how Jody Hedlund finds the gritty and previously overlooked parts of history and brings them to life and makes you realise just how interesting they really are. I know a bit about mining as I went to school in a former mining town in Scotland, but Undaunted Hope really highlighted how bleak and dangerous the mining life was. I hurt for Tessa as she attempted to help break families out of the cycle of poverty and death associated with the mining life. There is a lot of sadness in this book. Jody doesn't shy away from the real struggles of the miners.
From the beginning of the novel, Tessa is worried about the townsfolk discovering the reputation that she made for herself back home, and she makes a lot of fuss about her actions not being misconstrued, especially when she spends time with Michael and Alex. I was initially concerned about this story thread, as one of my pet peeves in Christian Fiction is the infatuation with how others perceive our actions. Sometimes it doesn't matter how well you act, someone somewhere will find fault with what you do, or misinterpret something they see or overhear! Thankfully, it turned out that this was the lesson Tessa had to learn, as well as letting go of her fear of what others thought and just focusing on doing what she knew was right. I think Jody managed to get a good balance between the historical ideals of respectability and presenting a valuable lesson having freedom from fear and anxiety. This is a hard line to tread in historical fiction, especially with a character who has a “reputation” linked to (perceived) sexual sin. I've always found that Jody writes about sexuality from a historical viewpoint very well, and this book is no exception to that rule.
Although I'm not a a big fan of love-triangles, this didn't stop me from thoroughly enjoying Tessa's story arc and cheering her on as she fought for the rights of the miners in Undaunted Hope. There is a lot of bleakness in this book, but there's plenty of encouragement too. I've really enjoyed this series and was pleasantly surprised to see that a fourth book is due to release in the summer, featuring a character who was briefly introduced at the end of this book. Here's hoping it's just as good as its predecessors!
With her brother fighting in France, Grace Mabry is determined to do her part for the Great War effort, even though her constant efforts to display heWith her brother fighting in France, Grace Mabry is determined to do her part for the Great War effort, even though her constant efforts to display her patriotism are met by disapproval from her father—most recently in particular, sneaking into a masquerade ball to hand out white feathers to upper class conscientous objectors. Since baling hay seems safer and less scandalous than any of Grace's other suggestions on how she could support their country, Grace and her maid are soon sent to a Kent to bale hay for the Women's Forage Corps. There Grace is introduced to a group of hardworking women—who are understandably sceptical of Grace's farm skills—as well as the mysterious masked Lord Roxwood, on whose property they are based.
Lord Roxwood has little interest in the WFC volunteers who are working on his land, until one of them lets a litter of pigs ruin his rose garden and and stumbles upon him on one of the rare occasions that he's unmasked. Recently blinded and significantly scarred as the result of an accident, Jack is struggling to come to terms with his new appearance, especially given his fiancee's less than appreciative reaction to it. Grace Mabry quickly becomes a welcome distraction from the responsibilites of his future and his work for the government, but he can't help but shake the feeling that Grace's presence in his life is more than coincidental. Have they met before? How did she come to work for the WFC on his property? And does she have ties to his accident?
As Grace and Jack's relationship draws them closer together, the harder it will be for them to trust each other when Jack's suspicions are brought to light. Can they ever trust each other again?
I adored Kate Breslin's debut novel and have been tentatively awaiting Not By Sight. Isn't that the way with a second novel—you're excited to read it, but worried that it might be overshadowed by its predecessor? Stumbling across the synopsis for Not By Sight a couple of months ago, I was pleased to learn that Kate wasn't sticking to the WWII setting from her first novel. As much as I loved For Such a Time, I'm glad that the focus of this novel is entirely different, forcing me to concentrate on the story at hand rather than comparing the two books. If you're looking for another For Such a Time, you'll probably be disappointed. If you're interested in a WWI novel with a focus away from the trenches, a fiesty but niave suffragette, and a bit of espionage, you're in for a treat!
If you read my review of The Hourglass Factory, you'll know that I love reading about the suffragette movement. While this book doesn't delve too deep into the movement itself, it fuels a lot of Grace's ideology. Grace is far from your model feminist, and at times her beliefs are heartfelt but incredibly flawed. To begin with, I felt frustrated by Grace's attempts to help her fellow WFC workers. She had an answer to all of their problems, but often this answer was just a pat on the back and an encouragement that, when the suffrage movement had won, women would be free to do anything they wished. But as the story developed, I realised that there was a reason why Grace's behaviour was like that of an incredibly naive fairy godmother. She's supposed to be young and idealistic. At times, her open-mindedness and optimistim are beneficial to others—like Jack, who is scared that no woman can look at him after his accident, and appreciates Grace's unusual outlook on life. At others times, Grace offers help but doesn't have enough understanding to truly follow through with her aid. I appreciated this flawed side of her. She has a lot to learn—especially about those who haven't come from such a fortunate background as hers. If Grace irritates you to begin with, please stick with her—her journey does make her a lot more likable.
Another reviewer likened Grace and Jack's relationship to that of Beauty and the Beast, and I quite liked this comparison. A large part of their relationship revolves around Grace driving Jack all over the English countryside and describing to him the scenes that they witness. This seems gimmicky, but given Jack's blindness and Grace's desire to be a novelist, it makes sense, and there are some really sweet scenes between them. Jack challenges Grace's creativity, and she confronts some of his misconceptions about his appearance and how others perceive him. They rile each other up a lot, but seem to make a good match. I enjoyed the way in which their relationship developed, as well as the beautiful descriptions of the countryside surrounding Kent. Given that Jack is technically engaged to another woman at the start of the novel, I felt a little uneasy about the idea of him falling for Grace, but most of their relationship is very innocent, and the author approaches this issue very well.
While there are many things I like about Britain, I would never call myself patriotic. As such, I was a little wary about this aspect of Grace's character. There are some wartime romances that have rubbed me the wrong way because of their in-your-face patriotism and blind support of the war, which often skims over the darker, grimier aspects of warfare. Not By Sight, thankfully, was not one of these novels. While Grace initially exerts blind patroitism and commitment to Britain's part in the war, her time in the WFC slowly causes her to reconsider her attitude. Witnessing men who, like her brother, have fought in France and returned with broken bodies and spirits, Grace realises that war is about more than inspiring words and a hearty spirit—and that she may have misjudged the men whom she handed her white feathers to. The message of this novel is neither pro- or anti-war, simply truthful about the damage and loss of life that occurs in any war.
The espionage mentioned on the back cover of this book intrigued me, but it was often overshadowed by the romance between Grace and Jack. The details about Jack's job as a spy definitely became more prominent towards the end of the novel, but by then I already had my suspicions about a secondary character, and they turned out to be right (although I hadn't been sure about their motivations). If you're thinking of reading this book because of the espionage storyline, I wouldn't particularly recommend it. The details about this part of the war are interesting, but they don't take up a lot of the book, and several of the events at the end of the novel felt very contrived and rushed. I'm not sure if this is because I was reading an ARC, but I felt that too many things came together in too short a period of time. Given the wartime setting, the Happily Ever After was a little bit too perfect.
Ultimately, I did really enjoy Not By Sight. The romance was endearing, the subject of the WFC was intriguing, and I appreciated the friendships that Grace formed and the character growth she experienced. My biggest issue is probably the speed at which events occurred towards the end of the novel, which caused several of them to feel contrived or a little too perfect. I'm not too disappointed, but it keeps this novel from finding a place among my favourites. I do appreciate that Kate Breslin chose to explore some lesser known aspects of Britain's war efforts, and that she chose such a wonderfully flawed heroine to explore them with. Not By Sight is certainly a unique novel, and I hope other readers enjoy its beauty as much as I did.
Long before her father’s unexpected death, Caroline Tyler had taken on most of the responsibilities required for operating the Windmill Point LighthouLong before her father’s unexpected death, Caroline Tyler had taken on most of the responsibilities required for operating the Windmill Point Lighthouse. While other young women—including her own sister Tessa—might prefer looking after a home and tending to children, Caroline has grown to love the lighthouse where she grew up. She can’t imagine living anywhere else, or doing any other kind of job—until the lighthouse inspector arrives to inform her that she is no longer allowed to remain at the lighthouse and that a man—a veteran returning from the Civil War—is going to replace her. Allowing her and her siblings to stay in the lighthouse after her father’s death was apparently a polite courtesy, and now Caroline is faced with only a week to find somewhere new for them to live, and a new job. But if she isn’t allowed to work in a lighthouse—an occupation she is trained to do—who else will offer her employment? Will she be forced to marry simply to put a roof over the heads of her siblings?
Although Ryan Chambers applied for a job as a lighthouse keeper, he didn’t expect to be given the position. Not only is his hand crippled from the Battle of Gettysburg, but his knowledge of lighthouses is limited to what he has learned from his sister, whose husband is also a keeper. In fact, he isn’t sure if he’s the right man for this job at all. The only way he can numb the pain of the lingering shrapnel damage and rid the nightmares of war from his mind is to take opium pills and drink whisky—both of which put him into such a stupor that he might not awaken in time to attend to the lamp in the lighthouse. He longs for a second chance, and an opportunity to earn money to make amends for some of his mistakes during the war, but he isn't sure if this is the right place for him.
Ryan doesn’t expect the previous keeper to still be residing at Windmill Point when he arrives, and he’s confused as to why he’s been offered the job when Caroline seems entirely capable—especially considering that she has four siblings to support, one of whom is ill and bedridden. He and Caroline strike a deal, where her family can remain at the Point while she teaches him all there is to know about tending the light. Although Caroline talks of moving her family and finding a new job, Ryan can see how much she loves the lighthouse. Surely this is the job she was born to do? But when strange accidents begin occurring around the Point, Ryan wonders if some of the locals don’t agree with Caroline continuing to operate the lighthouse. Who is trying to scare Caroline away, and why? Can Ryan convince Caroline to stay, or will the threats—and Ryan’s nightmares—scare her away?
I read the first Beacons of Hope novel at the start of this year and absolutely fell in love with it. While Hearts Made Whole made its way on to my wishlist, I did worry that it might not live up to its predecessor. Thankfully, my worries were unfounded. While the two novels did have a similar premise—a man and woman thrown together under unexpected circumstances—Ryan and Caroline didn’t rush into their relationship or marry in haste. As much as I love a good marriage of convenience story, I enjoyed how Ryan and Caroline’s relationship developed, how they got to know each other while operating the lighthouse and spending time with Caroline’s family.
That said, this is not your sweet, fluffy romance where the characters always have a chaperone and never touch each other. There is chemistry between these two right from the start, and it’s clear that they’re almost instantly attracted to each other. I love the way that Jody Hedlund writes about passion and romance. I can’t think a lot of authors who write for the Christian market who portray relationships the way Jody does. Ryan and Caroline are attracted to each other, and embrace this attraction early on in their relationship, but they aren’t overcome with passion. There’s discussion of consent and respecting each other, and when they find themselves locked in a cellar together they continue this attitude of respect and self-control. I’m tired of reading books where characters (particularly male ones) can’t control themselves when they’re alone with someone of the opposite sex. Ryan is falling in love with Caroline and very attracted to her, but he’s a true gentleman, not an animal, and he knows how to control his desires and respect a woman. What more could you ask for in a romantic hero?
I was a little cautious about Ryan’s character initially. Tortured heroes often go one of two ways in romance novels—they need the heroine to “fix” them, or they’re not allowed to fall in love with the heroine until they’ve overcome all of their problems. Either way, they have to be perfect before they can live happily ever after. This wasn’t the case for Ryan. To put it short, when he meets Caroline he’s a crippled opium addict who has a drinking problem and is haunted by his past mistakes during the war. Surprisingly (even to me) Caroline doesn’t judge him, push him away or try to make him leave the lighthouse when she discovers the ways he manages his pain. She tries to help him, but she does so incredibly gently, and not once does she push Ryan to give up his crutches. She waits until he’s ready, and supports him fully. I was incredibly touched by the way Ryan’s addictions were dealt with. Obviously this would be an entirely different situation if Ryan’s addictions were harming anyone but himself (especially if he were a danger to Caroline’s younger siblings), but given the circumstances, this situation was dealt with carefully and without judgement. The depiction of Ryan’s struggle to give up his pain medication and learn what he could achieve without it was incredibly sympathetic. Although Ryan has to fight his demons and make amends for his past mistakes, he still isn’t entirely perfect at the end of the novel. He can’t get back the fingers that he lost in the war, and he will always have to be careful around alcohol because of his addiction—and Caroline understands this and embraces this as part of their relationship.
There's another fantastic relationship in this novel: that of Caroline and her lighthouse. Obviously, lighthouse keeping isn’t for everyone (in fact, her sister Tessa abhors it), but Caroline has clearly fallen in love with the occupation. That she should be forbidden from doing what she loves because she is female is infuriating, and I appreciated the way that Jody worked this angle into the story. Caroline’s fight to do the work she loves and support her family is one that many women in this period faced, and I understood how tempted she was to marry for convenience in order to protect her younger siblings. How many other women entered loveless—and possibly abusive—marriages because they had no male family members to support them? I also appreciated Caroline’s friend Esther, who used her husband’s political position to lobby for women’s rights, and other causes that were close to her heart.
Hearts Made Whole contained several elements that made it the perfect romance for me—a relationship full of passion (and plenty of consent and respect!), a perfectly imperfect hero, and a small victory for women’s rights. I haven’t even had time to talk about the suspense, or the tumultuous relationship between Caroline and her sister—so you’ll probably just have to read this book for yourself! In short, Jody Hedlund is quickly becoming one of my favourite historical romance authors, and I hope that Tessa’s story is the next one in the Beacons of Hope series. ...more
It’s 1912 and Frankie George is determined to make her mark in the cut-throat world of journalism. She longs to write something that isn’t for the ladIt’s 1912 and Frankie George is determined to make her mark in the cut-throat world of journalism. She longs to write something that isn’t for the ladies’ pages, but she isn’t impressed when she’s given the opportunity to interview a famous trapeze artist and suffragette, Ebony Diamond. For all her trouser-wearing and bicycle-riding, Frankie doesn’t align herself with the suffrage movement—but that doesn’t mean that she’s apathetic when Ebony Diamond disappears in the middle of her big act, especially when it appears that someone is trying to hunt Ebony down. Getting to the bottom of Ebony’s disappearance would make for a great story, and prove to Frankie’s boss that she’s able to write about more than fashion and homemaking. However, the deeper Frankie digs into Ebony’s background, the more convoluted the story becomes. Who wants Ebony dead? Is it the politicians she’s angered with her suffrage demonstrations? One of the mysterious characters who frequents Ebony’s corset shop? Or a fellow suffragette who disagrees with Ebony’s extreme militarism? Before long, Frankie has to admit that she’s investigating Ebony’s disappearance for more than just a story. Someone wants to murder Ebony Diamond, and ruin the suffragette cause once and for all. Can Frankie get to the bottom of the mystery before someone gets to her?
Before I go any further, I must admit that the author of The Hourglass Factory is technically a friend of a friend. On a recent visit with my old high school librarian, she mentioned that my former History teacher had a friend who had written a novel about suffragettes, circus performers and murder. Naturally, I couldn’t pass up such a story. History? Mystery? Feminism? Count me in! I even told her that I’d write a review once I finished the book. I feel honour-bound to give my honest opinion of every book I review. This one? I adored.
The Hourglass Factory is a little outside my usual comfort zone. My historical novels tend to contain more romance and less mystery, but that doesn’t mean that I don’t enjoy non-romantic historicals. Lucy Ribchester thrusts the reader straight into the heart of 1912 London, from the cramped boarding house where Frankie lodges, to the murky corners of Soho where Ebony and her friends perform in clubs. Lucy details the tall, skinny buildings of Fleet Street where the newspaper offices are held, and the Police Special Branch that dealt specifically with suffragette matters. This is one of those books that sucks you in, and when you’re forced to take a break from reading, you’re rather confused to find that you’re sitting on a blanket in your garden in Edinburgh, not attempting to escape paying a fare on the London Underground or snooping around the back of a corset shop.
I may have studied a little about the suffragettes at university, but a large part of this study was devoted to the Duchess of Atholl—a woman about as different from Ebony Diamond as you could possibly imagine. Women like Atholl are often remembered for their rhetoric, but what of the illiterate, working class women who also fought for equality? Ebony might not have been able to read or write, but she used the skills she did have to attempt to make her mark on the movement—even when it ended with her imprisonment. The Hourglass Factory doesn’t detail the persuasive speeches and peaceful marches made for the cause of women’s suffrage. Instead, readers are reminded of the more unpleasant aspects of the fight for women’s votes, including mass arrests and police mistreatment following window smashes, and a rather grisly description of a prisoner being force-fed while in prison. I’m not going to lie—while I have read about hunger strikes and force-feedings, I hadn’t ever really thought about what they entailed. This book isn’t unnecessarily gruesome, but it is raw and honest.
Frankie is a fascinating character. It would have been easy to paint this novel’s protagonist as your typical feminist who was eager to interview Ebony, and devastated when she disappeared, but it was a lot more interesting to see the growth of the suffrage movement through the eyes of an outsider. That doesn’t mean that Frankie’s all that different from the women she meets in her attempt to unravel the mystery of Ebony’s disappearance. Rebelling against her mother’s wishes by moving to London and writing for a newspaper, Frankie’s written anything and everything in her attempt to get picked up by a major newspaper, from grisly suicide stories to columns on the latest fashions. She can barely afford her boarding house accommodations while also making payments on her typewriter, which is essential to her job. She wears trousers, much to the disapproval of many of her female acquaintances, and it’s debatable whether she does this for the comfort factor, or simply to cause shock everywhere she goes. Whether you like her or not, Frankie is a fantastically interesting and flawed character. Her habit of speaking before she thinks may make her frustrating at times, but she’s definitely real.
And isn’t that the real beauty of this book, that it deals with real women? From Frankie, the tomboy journalist, to Millicent, the surprisingly well-spoken and possibly aristocratic exotic dancer, to Ebony, the illiterate circus performer who wants the right to vote, each of the women in this story is flawed but honest. The Hourglass Factory is a fantastic portrait of what life was like for women in 1912. The constant fight for respect—be it from the police, politicians, parents or simply one’s boss—is evident within the pages of this book. In the author’s note at the end of the novel, I was struck again by just how long women have had the right to vote in Britain. As I write this review, it’s not even been a hundred years. 1912 was only the beginning of a long fight, and even if she is fictional, I like the idea that unsuspecting women like Frankie had their part to play in the movement.
Whether you have a personal interest in the suffrage movement or not, The Hourglass Factory will appeal to fans of rich historical fiction, unconventional characters and intriguing mysteries. I suspect that this debut novel will be making my list of top reads for 2015....more
Anna Konig has no desire to leave the small community she grew up in to travel to the New World, but since she's one of the few church members who canAnna Konig has no desire to leave the small community she grew up in to travel to the New World, but since she's one of the few church members who can speak English, she has little choice but to accompany those who are taking the trecherous journey across the sea to America. Initially Anna hopes that the journey will be short, and that she can quickly return to Europe via another ship, but just getting onboard a boat is difficult enough. Anna attempts to navigate the intricacies of purchasing passage for all the members of their party, ensuring that they have enough food and water for the voyage, and determining how best to transport all of their belongings. The only English-speaking member of the group, Anna quickly learns that her people are dubbed “Peculiars”, and while not terribly well-respected, they are welcome onboard most ships providing that they can pay for the journey. Anna's group aren't the only Peculiars making this trip, and the majority of the passengers onboard the Charming Nancy are from similar communities.
Bairn, the Scottish carpenter of the Charming Nancy, has no desire to mingle with the Peculiars from the Lower Deck, but one young boy keeps getting into trouble with the sailors. Bairn is forced to confront the one English-speaker out of the group to address the issues about Felix, and in doing so, quickly learns about the difficulties the passengers are facing—overcrowded and leaky sleeping quarters, an inability to properly launder clothes, and unbearable smells. All Bairn wants to do is make enough money to have a ship of his own one day, but he's drawn towards Anna and the peaceful nature of her people. As their journey to the New World stretches on and the passengers face sickness and are forced to make sacrifices, Bairn is challenged by the actions of the Peculiars. Does his future really lie at sea, or somewhere new? Is he drawn to Anna by mere human attraction, or because she reminds of someone from his hazy, forgotten childhood?
I've long been a fan of Amish fiction, and I'm always interested when an author finds a way to bring something new to the genre. I've enjoyed Suzanne Woods Fisher's more traditional Amish novels, but I haven't been able to keep up with all of her recent releases. Too many books, too little time, right? When I heard that she was writing a novel about some of the first Amish settlers to travel to the New World, and one that featured a Scottish character, I knew I had to make the time to read it. I love learning about the history of the Anabaptists, but I haven't read that many books set in the early eighteenth century, or ones that cover the original settlers. And of course, I have to see how well any author depicts her Scottish characters!
Even if you're not a history geek, you're sure to be entertained by the descriptions of life onboard a ship in 1737. I didn't know a lot about sea travel during this period, but Suzanne quickly made me feel as if I was on the Charming Nancy along with Anna and Bairn. The journey to the New World wasn't pleasant or easy, as Suzanne herself details in her Author's Note. I quickly determined that the decision to leave Europe wasn't one made lightly, given how easy it was to succumb to disease, and how many ships arrived in America with significantly less passengers than they had when they departed. Although ships tried to stock as much food and water as necessary, there were often unexpected delays due to unpredictable weather. These people were brave, and I don't know if I would have been on that boat if I'd had the choice. I could relate to Anna's desire to stay at home with her grandparents, with everything that was familiar to her.
Having read Suzanne's Author's Note, I've learned that it's probably unrealistic that so many members of Anna's party arrived in the New World. Statistically, not so many would have survived the journey, with many succumbing to illnesses due to the unsanitary and cramped living conditions. Although I sympathise with Suzanne's explanation that it's difficult to write a hopeful novel when sticking to the facts of such a difficult situation, the historian in me knows that this book isn't entirely accurate, and that the realities of life onboard such a ship in this time period were neatened up for the sake of making the story easier to read for the more sensitive readers. There are a lot of fantastic historical details in this book, but the fact is, far more people would have died. It's not a nice fact, or a pretty one, but it's true. If you're a die-hard historian, you might not be able to get past this.
Initially I wasn't sure why Suzanne chose to tell parts of the story from Felix's point of view, but it quickly became apparent that he provided insight that Anna and Bairn couldn't. While Bairn struggled with his feelings of uneasiness towards the Peculiars, and Anna tried to overcome seasickness and help her fellow passengers, Felix explored the ship and introduced the reader to the realities of life onboard a ship. He also provided a little humour and light relief, which offset some of the less savoury aspects of the journey. By the end of the book, I was sad to say goodbye to Felix.
Bairn and Anna's relationship didn't strike me as particularly unusual in the world of romance, but that doens't mean that it wasn't sweet. Felix kept pushing them together, and Anna's outspokenness and stubborness gave a reasonable explanation for why Anna was determined to keep communicating with Bairn, even if he was an outsider and disapproved of by her community. Anna isn't your typical, shy Amish girl, which I appreciated. Having to be the spokesperson for her community, it wouldn't have made sense for her to be reserved.
I don't want to give too much away about Bairn, but I will say that there is a twist relating to a secret about Bairn's past. I guessed the twist about halfway through the book, based on a simple comment from one of the other characters. I'm not sure if other readers would also have picked up on this clue (I had watched a lot of Castle episodes that week while my little one was ill, so maybe I was just in the right mindset!) Sicne I figured out the twist, it felt a little bit predictable, but not too much. I was happy for Bairn once he revealed his secret and was able to resolve his problems.
While Anna's Crossing isn't quite as dark as some might expect, given the subject matter, it is rich in historical detail and contains a heartwarming and hopeful story of a turbulent time in Anabaptist history. Perhaps it may even convinced some hardcore Historical fans to dip into the Amish genre from time to time. I'll certainly be looking forward to the next volume in the Amish Beginnings series....more
Having managed to escape the clutches of Chance Macy and wed her childhood love, Edward Auburn, Julia hopes that she may finally have the simple countHaving managed to escape the clutches of Chance Macy and wed her childhood love, Edward Auburn, Julia hopes that she may finally have the simple country life that she always longed for. But her wedded bliss is cut short when her husband’s family and congregation shun him for his alliance with Julia, whose reputation and association with Macy has now spread far and wide. Soon Julia and Edward are forced back to London to seek the assistance of Julia’s father. In spite of their desire to keep out of the public eye, news of the Emerald Heiress’s marriage is quickly leaked to the papers—bringing Julia back into Macy’s sights. It won’t be long before the public discovers that Lord Pierson’s long-lost daughter is also the runaway bride of Chance Macy. Will Julia be able to convince the courts that she was merely a pawn in a much larger game? Or will her marriage to Edward be cut drastically short as she is thrust back into Macy’s arms?
When I picked up the first novel in Jessica Dotta’s Price of Privilege series, I had no idea that I was going to be sucked into such a dark and dramatic story. I will admit, I picked up Born of Persuasion because I was intrigued by the comparison of Dotta’s writing to that of Austen and the Bronte sisters. These claims are made so often, and on very few occasions have I actually come across a novel that really can lay claim to these assertions. The Price of Privilege series is one of the few exceptions. What starts out as an intriguing story about a girl with an unhappy childhood, who enjoyed holidays with her friends in the countryside, rapidly takes a much darker, sinister turn, with characters that readers will struggle to peg as truly good or evil. The claustrophobia of Julia’s life, as well as the seemingly doomed relationship between her and Edward, were definitely evocative of the Brontes, and reminded me of Wuthering Heights in particular. As for the Austen claims? The humour and social commentary injected by the character of Jameson in this book definitely took the edge of the darkness, and who can forget Mrs Windham’s theatrics?
I’ve said this in reviews for the other books, but it needs repeating—these novels truly encapsulate just how difficult it was to be a woman in this time period. After her mother dies, Julia has to rely on the men around her to protect her—a task particularly perilous, given that she doesn’t know if she can trust her guardian and biological father. Believing that she can no longer rely on her childhood friend, Edward, she even goes as far as engaging the help of a matchmaker, hoping that marriage will provide the security that she seeks. There were times when I felt frustrated at Julia, because she couldn’t fix the messes she found herself in, and I had to force myself to remember that there was literally nothing she could do. Even a woman of fortune such as Julia was still at the mercy of her father, husband or brothers. The court case that takes place in this novel has as much to do with deciding who Julia belongs to (Macy, Pierson or Edward) as it does charging anyone with a crime.
I have to admit that Edward isn’t my favourite romantic hero. Julia spends two books longing to be with him, but since we don’t get to spend a lot of time with him, Isaac (Lord Pierson’s protégé) ended up capturing my heart instead. That said, you don’t have to be particularly enamoured with Edward to care about the fate of his and Julia’s relationship. I appreciated that Jessica Dotta was able to make the reader care about characters other than the protagonist. Isaac, Jameson, Evelyn, the Dalrys and even Nancy all have their flaws and endearing qualities. Julia and Edward are perhaps the most flawed characters of all. In spite of my continual frustrations with Julia (her rashness and temper particularly aggravated me at times), I can’t deny that she was fantastically realistic. Maybe even I would have thrown plates around if I felt as helpless as she was.
The last quarter of this book really amped up the drama and the emotional impact of the story. I was reading this book while I waited for my five-month-old son to fall asleep, and I will admit that I sat with him asleep on my lap for a full half hour because I could not put this book down once I entered the final quarter! I don’t want to spoil anything, but Jessica Dotta definitely took a wrench to my poor heart. Julia’s situation is truly helpless, and various characters are forced into situations that they wouldn’t otherwise find themselves in, testing and proving the true strength of their love for our heroine. Julia is also tested, and forced to find solace in God when she realises this situation is completely and utterly out of her control—and that had she taken different steps in the past, she could have avoided this mess entirely. My heart truly hurt for her. You may require tissues for the ending of this book.
Looking at the covers for this series, you might be mistaken in thinking that these are light, sweet romances. Don’t get me wrong—there are some humorous moments, some sweet ones, and definitely some romance. But not every character will get a happy ending, and some will be broken in ways that will be incredibly hard to fix. Difficult issues are dealt with within the pages of Price of Privilege, and while important lessons are learned, I wouldn’t want to be in Julia’s shoes for all the pretty dresses in London. I’m grateful that times have changed, and that I will never feel as hopeless as Julia Elliston, even if her story is fascinatingly addictive.