Friday, November 29, 2013

"The Doctor's Lady" by Jody Hedlund

Based on a real missionary couple of the 1830's, Jody Hedlund's novel The Doctor's Lady is the story of the journey of the first white woman to cross the Rocky Mountains.  Priscilla White has always felt called to missions, and after a severe illness left her infertile, she felt that calling reinforced.  However, the only way the missionary board will allow her to go to India - which she has long felt is her calling - is if she is married, and that, she has accepted, will never happen.  However, Dr. Elijah Ernest is also in the same predicament - except that his calling is to the Nez Perce of Oregon.  Since neither can leave without a spouse, they make a business agreement to minister to the Nez Perce together, and then embark on the arduous, seven-month journey to far Oregon - across vast wilderness no white woman has ever seen, and through land full of danger, disease, and hardship.
The Doctor's Lady
Full of real disasters and mishaps that happened to the real couple, this novel is a journey back in time to when everything west of the Mississippi was new, dangerous, and exciting, and Hedlund does not make light of the hardships or work involved in such a journey.  Even more poignant, though, is the journey Priscilla and Eli make as a couple - a journey that for them is just as new, dangerous, and exciting as their westward march, and one that is equally full of hardship and work.  The characters are not perfect, but they are so easy to like - and as such it hurts more when they are hurting, to the point where my eyes did not always remain dry. 

Both Priscilla's infertility and her loveless marriage are a burden and an embarrassment to her, so she bottles the pain inside and never speaks of it.  By never acknowledging the truth to others, she is largely able to avoid becoming an object of pity; but by not sharing it with her closest friends and family, she also misses out on the loving support they would give her - support that she has been desperately needing for so long.  It forces one to think about all the things - both big and little - one hides to avoid the pity, pain, or embarrassment that could result from sharing.  The easy excuse is that it is no one else's business, which is largely true; but the truth is that sometimes we really need support from people who love us.

As usual, Hedlund does an excellent job writing a very historical novel without compromising the story itself.  5 out of  stars!

Monday, November 25, 2013

Joanne Bischof's "My Hope is Found"

In the final novel of The Cadence of Grace trilogy by Joanne Bischof, My Hope is Found, Gideon is finally free to come back to his true wife Lonnie, after Cassie releases him from their marriage.  However, never expecting to see Gideon again, Lonnie has begun handing her heart over to a young preacher - Toby McKee.  When Gideon returns, the men naturally take an instant dislike to each other, and Lonnie must choose which is best for her and her son.  As for Gideon, he must be prepared to do what is best for them too - even if it means giving her to another man. could read this novel as a stand alone, as it is a full, well thought-out story, but I do not recommend doing so - read the full series!  If one has not read the first two of the trilogy, the impact of this novel is greatly lessened - there is so much back-story to Gideon and Lonnie's relationship that this novel can only give a barest glimpse of all they have been through individually and as a couple.  This book is the final leg of a very long, tempestuous journey in faith, hope, and love.  They start out the series as little more than children to eventually become the mature man and woman found in this book. 

Of all three books of the trilogy, this was the only one in which Lonnie frustrated me.  Granted, it is the only one in which she truly is given a choice in which direction her life will go, something with which she has had little experience in her life, so I suppose she ought to take her time to make the wiser decision.  However, I felt it was unfair to both men to keep them dangling for so long.  I can see why after being beaten down so often when it comes to Gideon that she would be hesitant to yet again give him another chance, and Toby is a really good man who loves her child and sister like they were his own.  But Gideon was her first love and father of her child, while Toby does not have that history.  Each one makes sense in his own way to be her husband. 

In general I really liked Toby McKee, and in almost any other situation I would be rooting for him; he is a wonderful man: a preacher, accepting of a woman with a tarnished reputation, not afraid to stand up for himself, willing to pray for his enemies in spite of how much he'd rather pray them off a cliff, and yet he is still humanly imperfect.  The only problem is that Gideon has come so far for Lonnie's sake, and I feel like one just can't take her away from him - that those two belong together.

While I thought that Gideon had made amazing inroads in the previous two books, this one proved he could go farther yet - to wholly surrender himself, his dreams, and his family to God.  Sure, he still has a hot temper and does idiotic things on occasion, but he overcomes so much - he is truly a new creation in the Lord, and that changes how he loves.  He learns what true love is: unconditional, sacrificial love to do what is best for the other person, not taking into account selfish desires, but loving as God loves. 

Again, Bischof thoroughly thinks through the story line, taking into account issues that would really affect them - Lonnie's tarnished reputation, Gideon's history with selfishness and lying, his marriage with Cassie that has proven so difficult to dissolve.  It isn't easy for them, and it would not be for any real people.  4.5 stars for the novel.  Individually these are good books and worth a high rating, but as a trilogy, when all three books are taken into account together, they deserves a full 5 stars. 

I received this book for free from Blogging for Books for this review.  I was not required to make it positive; all opinions are my own. 

The Cadence of Grace
Be Still My Soul 
Though My Heart is Torn  
My Hope is Found

Fun extras:
Read chapter one!
Author Biography
More info on the book from WaterBrook Multnomah

Friday, November 22, 2013

"Though My Heart is Torn" by Joanne Bischof

Though My Heart Is Torn, Cadence of Grace Series #2   -     By: Joanne Bischof
Joanne Bischof's Cadence of Grace trilogy is the three-part story of Gideon O'Riley and his wife Lonnie in the early 20th century Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia.  In part two, Though My Heart is Torn, Gideon and Lonnie have finally reached a place of mutual love and respect in their marriage, though some hurts run deep and are still healing.  When Lonnie receives a deceptive letter from her father calling them back to Rocky Knob, they hurry back, only to find themselves trapped - by Gideon's first and, unbeknownst to him, still current wife, Cassie Allan.  Because Cassie had failed to turn in the papers filing for divorce after their exceedingly brief and secret marriage, they are technically still married, a fact which places a horrid stain on the Allan family honor.  Lest he be hunted down and murdered by Cassie's rage-filled brothers, Gideon must leave the woman and son he loves and return to the deceitful woman he now even more despises.  How can one survive having one's family forcibly split, never to be together again?  Is it even possible to learn to care for the one responsible for this tragedy?

Like in so many trilogies, one cannot just read this (the second) book.  The first of the series was suitably conclusive to stand on its own, and if one had to, one could skip it and start reading the second (though this novel is so much richer having read the first).  But if there were not a book to follow, it would be terribly unsatisfying.  Does it end horribly?  No, but it is clearly not the whole story.  Do not read this without the intent of reading the final book in the series. 

This is a hard novel to read - I cannot imagine the pain to have one's husband ripped away to be someone else's wife, or how one can move on from there. Somewhere in the back of the mind would always be the hope that he would return.  Having a child who cannot grow up to know his father - not because the man is dead or because he wants to live without his son - is incomprehensible.  And for Gideon - now he is married to a woman whose actions repulse him.  How can he treat her the way a husband should his wife without bitterness tainting every action?  And for Cassie, now that she has the man she wanted, how can she live with the pain of being unwanted and unloved, when nothing she does can please him?  None of the three are in an enviable position. 

I wanted Gideon to stay in love with Lonnie, to keep Cassie forever at arms length.  I wanted Lonnie to forever be in love with Gideon so that she would never consider another man.  But . . . do not covet your neighbor's wife (or in this case, husband).  Since Lonnie can't have Gideon anymore - since he is another woman's husband - she should make an effort to cut ties and not come between them.  Gideon has a wife - he should not commit adultery by forever wanting another.  And when it comes down to it, God hates divorce.  It seems an impossible situation. 

How can such a situation come to be?  When people are not following God, there are major consequences.  Gideon had been a selfish youth, taking what pleased him and discarding it when done.  Cassie was no better - she had an equal part in their sin.  It is well after the fact, but their sin comes to light, and there are consequences, even though Gideon has set aside his selfishness.  Just because God forgives one's sins does not mean one is exempt from taking responsibility for them on Earth.  Unfortunately, sometimes the innocent must suffer for it when one does. 

I am glad that Bischof does not take the easy way out with this novel - and she clearly had the opportunity.  Instead, it is well thought out; not completely satisfying, but I don't think there is a solution that could be anything but bittersweet.  4.5 stars

The Cadence of Grace
Be Still My Soul 
Though My Heart is Torn  
My Hope is Found

A novel on a similar theme that I would highly recommend is Cathy Marie Hake's Bittersweet

Monday, November 18, 2013

"Be Still My Soul" by Joanne Bischof - a powerful story

Be Still My Soul, Cadence of Grace Series #1   -     By: Joanne Bischof
Joanne Bischof's Cadence of Grace trilogy is the three-part story of Gideon O'Riley and his wife Lonnie in the early 20th century Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia.  In part one, Be Still My Soul, Lonnie has been looking forward to the day she turns eighteen and may flee her abusive father's house.  However, before that day comes, she ends up trapped in a shotgun marriage with Gideon.  While it releases her from her father's thumb, she is no more free than before - just owned by another man.  Gideon is none to pleased to be saddled with a wife, especially since he gets stuck dragging her with him to look for work far from Rocky Knob.  Will he turn to God and learn to appreciate the woman he married?  Or will his destructive behavior ruin their marriage and possibly destroy them both?

Gideon was very easy to dislike at first, but I was able to pity him too; if anything, his family is poorer than Lonnie's, and he is just another neglected mouth to feed.  He is an alcoholic, which makes such temptations extremely difficult for him to endure, and though of marriageable age, he is not mature enough for a family of his own.  I thoroughly approve of Jebediah's methods of character reform, at which time I finally started to gain some respect for Gideon.  He grows slowly but believably - there is no overnight change in him, but rather a realistically gradual softening. 

Lonnie has not had an easy life - neither before nor after her marriage.  Between the abuse and neglect, she has felt very little love in her life.  While she never loses her faith in God, always remembering that his eye is on the sparrow, she understandably struggles.  While I have never been in a situation like that, I could still relate with her in other ways.  Although she is sweet and God-honoring, she is not perfect - she loses her temper on occasion and makes poor choices with painful consequences - just like anyone.  Her relationship with her husband reminded me of that between Millie and Adam Pontipee in the musical Seven Brides for Seven Brothers

Bischof has a well-paced story - it does not ever feel like it is dragging or that there is too little happening, but neither is it rushed with an unbelievable quantity of disaster.  While the focus of the novel is on Lonnie and Gideon's relationship, there is sufficient action too.  Her attention to the setting is such that I could picture the Appalachians, though I have never seen them.  It is a very rich novel - painful at times and heart-warming at others, but in no way a fluffy romance.  4.5 stars

The Cadence of Grace
Be Still My Soul 
Though My Heart is Torn  
My Hope is Found

Friday, November 15, 2013

Elaine Marie Cooper's "Fields of the Fatherless"

Fields of the FatherlessIt is 1775; tensions are mounting through the American colonies, and the American militia is secretly preparing for battle.  In the Russell household in Menotomy Village, Massachusetts, 18-year-old Betsy knows that war is coming, and she wants to be prepared - but who can really be prepared for a battle that literally takes place on one's doorstep?  And how does one deal with the aftermath - when fathers and grandfathers and brothers throughout the village are killed in the battle?  Elaine Marie Cooper's novel Fields of the Fatherless looks closely at the opening day of the American Revolution, as seen through the eyes of young Betsy Russell. 

My main complaint is that it is so short - only 128 pages.  I would have loved it to be triple that length with a lot more development of Betsy's life prior to the battle and the events afterward, but as such it makes an excellent young adult novel.  At eighteen, with plenty of insecurities during this troubled time, Betsy is not so mature that she will not appeal to young readers.  I think she is realistically portrayed - neither a little girl nor completely grown up; with her young, scared nephew, she acts calm and in charge; when she is frightened, she is willing to turn to her parents and other adults with her fears.  As a warning for young readers, there are some violent descriptions in the story (though compared to most movies, they really are not too bad).  In general it would be a great educational novel on the Revolutionary war. 

The battle at Menotomy Village saw the most bloodshed on the first day of the Revolutionary War, with more fatalities than Lexington and Concord combined.  Many of the characters who appear during the battle and afterward were real people, and many of the incidents that sound like fiction - like Betsy's sister-in-law going into labor in the middle of the battle and British soldiers surrendering to a little old lady while she was pulling dandelions -  were in fact also real.  

I like that Cooper's descriptions of the battle are based on truth, and that she does not paint the Americans as saints during it.  Soldiers and militia men were not just shot cleanly and killed, but rather many were shot, then stabbed by bayonets and hacked with hatchets until nearly unrecognizable - and the brutality was not limited to the British.  Both the British and Americans fought in such a way, with more savagery than could ever be necessary.  The amazing thing is that even with such brutal fighting, people still survived - an 80-year-old man was shot in the head and bayoneted thirteen times, and yet he lived to reach 98. 

In the story, not only is Betsy dealing with significant fears, but also bitterness and anger - she must learn to love her enemy, which is no easy feat for anyone, let alone a grieving girl.  Cooper does a good job dealing with the subject, bringing a touch of humanity to America's enemies.  It is a good story - 4 out of 5 stars.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Margaret Brownley's "Gunpowder Tea"

Gunpowder Tea, Brides of Last Chance Ranch Series #3   -     By: Margaret Brownley
In the last of her Brides of Last Chance Ranch series, Gunpowder Tea, Margaret Brownley pits Miranda Hunt, a female Pinkerton Agent out to prove her worth, against Wells Fargo Detective Jeremy Taggert, who is chasing the man who killed his friend.  No one knows who the mysterious Phantom is, the outlaw plaguing Arizona with train, stagecoach, and bank robberies.  All they know is that the clues point to Last Chance Ranch, and so each agency sends a representative to bring him to justice.  Unfortunately, neither knows that the other agency has an operative in the field, and Miranda and Jeremy mutually assume the other is in the Phantom's gang.  How can they catch the elusive Phantom if they are too busy chasing each other?

I have to say, the Phantom was pretty lucky to be pursued by two agents before they found out each other's identity.  Since they were so busy assuming the other and their contacts were involved, the real outlaw could have gotten away clean by using a little more intelligence.  Sadly for the thief, villains are prone to such errors of judgement.  However, as a reader it was a lot of fun to watch the agents make logical assumptions based on the circumstances, understanding their reasoning but knowing just how wrong they are.  It was a rather clever tactic by the author - both humorous and still able to show off their detective abilities.  The clues to the real villain are carefully disguised, and I confess I did not pick up on them until Miranda spells it out. 

I really enjoyed that Miranda keeps case files not only on all her suspects, but also on God - a journal of sorts, detective style.  She knows He is in charge, but she has issues and questions that she wants to take up with Him, and keeping a case file suits her personality better than other styles of journaling.  Throughout the novel Miranda is learning the difference between motives - is she doing this to please (and prove herself to) men, or to please God? 

While the cover of a novel rarely factors into a review, I must say that this one is cleverly done - that look of pure suspicion on Jeremy's face as he accepts tea from the sweetly smiling Miranda as she hides a derringer behind her back . . . it suits the tone perfectly - full of humor, sparks, hidden agendas, and delicious beverages. 

It is a fun novel and a fitting conclusion to the series - even Eleanor Walker finds a solution to her heiress problem (but I shan't spoil how) - and it is my favorite of the three.  4 out of 5 stars

For more fun novels about Pinkerton Agents, I recommend:

Love in Disguise by Carol Cox

The Secret Lives of Will Tucker series by Kathleen Y'Barbo:
Flora's Wish
Millie's Treasure
Sadie's Secret

Friday, November 8, 2013

"An Elegant Solution" by Paul Robertson - elegant, passionate, and intellectual

An Elegant SolutionPaul Robertson writes an elegant novel of mystery, mathematics, and the mastery of God's creation in his early eighteenth century novel about some of the sharpest mathematicians of history.  The mathematical center of Europe, Basel, Switzerland, is essentially ruled by their University, and within the University, specifically the Chair of Mathematics.  And the Chair of Mathematics is ruled by the head of a highly competitive family of brilliant mathematicians - Johann Bernoulli.  In this family in which discord and distrust abound, Leonhard Euler is a student, servant, and friend.  Through his friendship with the middle son Daniel, he is dragged into researching the suspicious death twenty years earlier of Johann's brother Jacob, but that death begins to appear only one part of a conspiracy with far-reaching ambitions. 

In regards to history and setting, the author did his homework.  Not only was Leonard Euler a real, brilliant mathematician and christian, but the Bernoullis and much of their family dynamics and history mentioned in the story were real - from the rivalries between brothers Johann and Jacob to the bad relationship between Johann and his son Daniel, to the wrong spiral carved in Jacob's headstone, to each of their specialties in mathematics, and much more.  Important landmarks of Basel are painted beautifully - the Barefoot Square, the bridge over the Rhine, the Munster; details of its history are cleverly interspersed throughout the tale, from the famous geniuses who lived there, to the treatment of Jews, to its history with the Black Plague.  If the history and setting are so well researched, I can only imagine the mathematical aspects must be as well, though I bow to those who have a greater love and understanding of such things to say whether they are sound. 

It does not feel rushed like many modern tales of suspense, but the story is driven onward with a more old fashioned style.  This is partially due to the writing style - Robertson likes his metaphors and similes, and much of what people say feels like riddles; they do not necessarily say what they mean, but they always mean what they say.  He is more poetic than one generally finds these days, but it suits the period and theme.  Also appropriate, given its scholarly subjects, is that it demands one's attention to follow the prose, or one can easily become lost.  I did not find it particularly slow, but I think people with short attention spans would have trouble following it. 

While I still have no desire to study calculus, I could appreciate the author's passion for the subject.  He makes a strong statement of how math was created by God and is dependent on God to work, and that God purposefully imbedded it in creation. "It is my belief that the Creation in which we abide has been established by its Creator, established with a regulation by Mathematical principles, and these principles unfold with delightful intricacy and profound elegance" (376).

I enjoyed the story more than I expected.  It has a mysterious edge that borders on the fantastic, and it is littered with literary, mythological, and biblical references, which I enjoy.  I would definitely describe it as a guy book, rather than one geared toward women (there is a grand total of three females in the story, and they are definitely not there for romance).  However, if anyone enjoys an intellectual novel, or especially math, physics, and logic, with a firm base on God's creative genius, then I do highly recommend this book.  4 1/2 stars.

Thank you Bethany house for providing a free copy for the purpose of review; I was not required to make it positive and all opinions expressed are my own. 

Monday, November 4, 2013

"Under a Blackberry Moon" by Serena Miller - crossing the culture gap

To get the full picture of Under a Blackberry Moon, it helps to read The Measure of Katie Calloway first, which describes how Moon Song and Isaac Ross, commonly called Skypilot for his former profession of preacher, meet in a lumber camp, though Miller summarizes it fairly well in Blackberry.  This novel picks up immediately where Katie Calloway leaves off, three years before the related A Promise to Love begins.

Under a Blackberry MoonLumberjack Skypilot is escorting Chippewa woman Moon Song and her infant son from the thumb of Michigan to her people on the western end of the Upper Peninsula.  Traveling by steamboat is the quickest way, by route of the great lakes, but not exactly the safest.  When the ship wrecks, they are left to traverse the rest of the way by foot through dangerous wilderness.  Though they grow closer on the journey, they discover their cultures are an obstacle not easily overcome on the path to love. 

As with her other novels, Miller has put in a lot of research.  She does not skimp on how poorly Indians were treated: in general attitudes, in marriages, in the degradations by the government, in stealing their children to "educate" them.  It was a horrible time for them, when the life they'd known for so long was taken away, setting a course that affects them to this day.  In addition, she discusses the difficulties missionaries faced, since by then the Indians had received too many conflicting versions of Christianity from white men  who professed Christ yet so often failed to agree with each other or to show His love. 

The book seems so simple straightforward when one reads the description - two people off on a long trip surviving adversity together, of course they fall in love!  But it isn't simple; sure, they might be in love, but surviving all the shipwrecks and wolf attacks in the world together will not prepare one to give up everything one has known to live in another culture.  Crossing that divide is no easy feat, as evinced by the multiple failures Moon Song has observed in her short lifetime.  Miller has thoroughly thought through this aspect of the story and given it the emphasis it deserves.   Culture gap is a huge issue that cannot be overcome simply by ooey-gooey romantic love - it takes serious work. 

Once again, Serena Miller has written an excellent historical novel.  The characters are flawed, but they grow significantly without ever bordering on unlikeable.  I loved Skypilot, who makes an excellent hero; his devotion reminds me of Jacob laboring for Rachel.  However, Moon Song's spiritual welfare is a priority for him, and no matter how much he wants to, he refuses to be unequally yoked in marriage.  This book is a beautiful journey, full of adventure and determination.  5 out of 5 stars!

Michigan Northwoods
1. The Measure of Katie Calloway
2. Under a Blackberry Moon
3. A Promise to Love

Friday, November 1, 2013

Serena Miller's beatiful novel on marriage, "A Promise to Love"

A Promise to Love   -     
        By: Serena B. Miller
After enduring being mistreated by her employer, Swedish immigrant Ingrid Larsen leaves service, but with nowhere to go.  When a kind widower loses his children to his in-laws, Ingrid speaks up with a proposal of marriage - she will get a home and family, and he will get to keep his children.  Marriage solves their immediate problems, but it creates a whole host of new ones: what do you do with a spouse you don't love?  How do you deal with a spouse who doesn't love you back?  How do you build a loving home with a complete stranger?

Though she writes a well-rounded novel with excellent character development, well-researched history, and a solid plot, Miller does not write about easy subjects.  Marriage between strangers is not a light subject; it involves sacrifice by both parties to survive.  Being unloved is heart-breaking, but being forced to marry while in love with someone else - even if that person is gone forever - is no easier.  

I'm proud of Ingrid - she sticks with the marriage, even after being rejected by her husband; she could easily have walked out on him with an annulment, but she stays to give the children the mother they need.  For all her hard work, she is not a doormat; she sets rules and expects them to be obeyed, especially by her husband.  Even in the face of a loveless marriage, she showers love on the family anyway and perseveres.  It is not easy, and she discovers that she has to do it to please God, since pleasing man is nearly impossible.  She is a model of strength and self-sacrifice. 

At first I was not sure if I was going to enjoy it as much as The Measure of Katie Calloway, but because Miller did not mince on the difficulties of their marriage, but rather focused on how much went into making it work, I ended up really enjoying it.  Really, what man who is in love with his dead wife will be attracted to another woman so soon after her death, especially when she has nothing in common with the deceased?  That alone sets this book apart from so many other stories of arranged marriages -  there is zero attraction on his part.  It felt realistic while I was reading it, and then when I found out that some of that really happened to the author's grandmother, I was even more impressed.  I highly recommend it.  5 out of 5 stars!

Michigan Northwoods
1. The Measure of Katie Calloway
2. Under a Blackberry Moon
3. A Promise to Love

Other recommended reading:
A Noble Groom by Jody Hedlund, about immigrants in Michigan
Serendipity by Cathy Marie Hake and A Bride for Keeps by Melissa Jagears, excellent novels about making a marriage work