Welcome to my blog!

Welcome to my blog! You may not think you know me, but I have a feeling we are very much alike. I am the woman in the long skirt and bulky sweater sitting cross-legged on the library carpet reading the hardback vintage classics one can only find on the bottom shelf, back row. You will also find me searching through the online catalogs of publishing companies and chatting with authors on forums. I love the smell of fresh paper in a new book, and the smell of dust on a vintage classic. I love the classics, Christian fiction, short story collections, and those unique finds that keep me up until the early hours of morning when I finally fall asleep with the book still open on my chest. I am, however, a careful reader. I notice missing details, glaring plot flaws, and characters who suddenly have drastic personality changes halfway through the novel and I do not hesitate to discuss these issues in my reviews. I am honest and believe I am fair so please don't take my criticism personally and don't hesitate to contact me about your next book. I also enjoy a good, long chat with other readers and often learn from these experiences. Comments are always welcome. You will find more about me in the right hand column and more about what I look for in books in the left. I hope you enjoy your time here! --Darla Sue

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Book Review: Duchess by Susan May Warren


Rosie Worth has finally achieved her dream. She is a film star. Beautiful, glamorous, famous...and mentally and physically exhausted. She is emaciated, losing her hair, 
and headed for a breakdown. 

I first met Rosie Worth in the novel Baroness. In Baroness, Rosie was a wealthy heiress determined to corrupt her cousin, Lilly, and avoid an arranged marriage to the handsome Rolfe Van Horne, the Belgian Duke of Beaumont. Rosie's quest for freedom brought nothing but heartache when her beloved husband, Guthrie, was murdered by the mob. 

Unable to cope with her loss, Rosie abandoned her child, Coco, and returned to Hollywood. Readers cannot read Baroness without continuing on to the next novel, Duchess, to discover what happens to the pretty, young girl with big dreams and a broken heart.

Duchess

Duchess opens in 1929, and Rosie, a widow and former showgirl, has now attained star status. Her secret marriage to Dashielle Parks, a friend from her youth, is one of convenience, for business purposes only, though they are obviously intimate as she has a miscarriage. 

Dash invests all of their money in their film production company, Palace Studios, then shoots himself on Black Friday when the stock market crashes. As he lies dying, Rosie discovers Dash was secretly involved with his business secretary, Irene, who is also pregnant. Rosie wanted drama and excitement and that's exactly what she's found.

Lessons Learned

Yes, it is tragic, and beginning a romance novel with one tragedy after another would seem to break the rules, but Rosie is a character who needs to learn a lesson, and change is inspired by suffering. To her own surprise, Rosie learns that she is capable of showing deep affection and compassion for Dash's true love, Irene, and their son, Sammy.  

Now it is time for Rosie's transformation. She has learned her lesson about herself and her relationship with God, now it's time for her to open her eyes to the world and learn about those around her. One of the first things she learns is that Irene is also surprisingly capable of forgiveness and compassion. She then learns that the man she rejected so many years before, Rolfe Van Horne, is not the snobbish wealthy aristocrat she assumed he would be, but a true hero, using his wealth, reputation, and the excuse of making a film to help Jewish people in Europe escape to America.   

Rosie Worth, or Roxy Price, does not live the life of glamour she dreamed of in her younger days, but she does pay the "price," as her surname implies, for mistakes she made along the way and the many people she harmed, intentionally and by accident. As the novel draws to a close we realize that Rosie has learned the lesson of forgiveness. Most of all, she has learned to forgive herself.      

Recommendation

The beginning of Duchess has much of the excitement and thrill from the previous novel, but it appeals to the reader in a different way. It holds the reader in its grasp, leaving us hoping and praying that something will happen to save Rosie Worth from the mistakes of her past. The first few chapters of Duchess are filled with sorrow, but it is an honest emotion. This character has earned her sorrow. She has suffered. 

Duchess is a bold book with themes that are rarely discussed in Christian fiction, and I found this very appealing. The characters and conflicts are honest, believable. The beginning was a bit challenging as I tried to remember the events and character connections and I believe these could have been explained a bit more effectively for the reader increasing the appeal of the novel for those who have not read the first two books. Nevertheless, I have to say I was impressed by the writing, the story, and the research.

Daughters of Fortune Series

This is Warren's third novel in the Daughter's of Fortune series following the lives of the ancestors of wealthy and powerful August Price. The novels--Heiress, Baroness, and Duchess--follow a theme, one that fits well with wealthy families. According to author Susan May Warren, the theme of the Daughter's of Fortune series could be described as "What a true inheritance is when a person puts their faith in the Lord."

The books in this series follow the pattern of Bildungsromans, or coming-of-age stories, following the psychological and moral growth of the protagonists from their youth to adulthood. Each of the heroines in this series learns an important lesson based on The Beatitudes in the Bible.

For instance, in Heiress, the protagonist, Esme, learns that true wealth comes from a relationship with God, or "Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven," Matthew 5:3. In Baroness, Lilly, Esme's daughter, learns to cope with her loss and the stages of grieving, and to accept the comfort of others, as "Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted," Matthew 5:4. And finally, in Duchess, Rosie discovers that her acting career, her desire for applause, was not what she needed after all. She needed to surrender to God's love. "Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth," Matthew 5:5.

Now that I have finished these books I find myself wanting more. I would still like to know about Lilly's life in Montana, saving the buffalo, starting a family, and raising Rosie's child, Coco. I would like to know more about Coco, Rosie's daughter, and how she copes with the knowledge that her mother abandoned her to become a Hollywood star. This is, of course, the sign of a great author, when readers beg for more books in the series! 

Susan May Warren

Resources:
  • Warren, Susan May. Duchess. Summerside Press. New York: 2013.
  • Warren, Susan May. Personal Website. Accessed July 13, 2013.
I received this book free from the publisher through the Litfuse Publicity Group. However, I was not asked or required to write a positive review. The opinions I express are my own and in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255 [...] : "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising."


Monday, March 25, 2013

Book Review: Beauty for Ashes by Dorothy Love




Readers of historical romance are often particular about the facts in a story and Dorothy Love meets the reader's needs well in her latest novel, Beauty for Ashes, providing carefully-researched, specific details on life in post-Civil War Tennessee. The picture she paints of a small town struggling to survive the loss of businesses, crops, homes, and most of its young men is realistic and painfully honest. It is the perfect setting for the story of a young woman trying to cope with tremendous loss and accept and appreciate the life that she's been given.

The Romance in Beauty for Ashes

Carrie Daly is a proud, determined woman who has worked alongside her older brother on the family farm since her husband died in the Civil War. It is a difficult life, but Carrie is comfortable with her daily routine. She is not, however, comfortable with change. When her brother, Henry, decides to marry his decision does not sit well with Carrie who emotionally rejects Henry's new bride and her two rambunctious children.

The solution to Carrie's dilemma would seem to be an easy one. Carrie is engaged to local bookstore owner Nate Chastain. She could marry Nate and have a home of her own, but for reasons she cannot quite understand, she is unable to set a wedding date. When Charleston horse trainer Griff Rutledge comes to town, and like a true Southern gentleman offers assistance when needed to the struggling young widow, Carrie's reasons for avoiding marriage to Nate eventually become more obvious.

Carrie Daly and Griff Rutledge

Carrie Daly is an interesting and realistic character with flaws, weaknesses, and a life that presents a never-ending supply of challenges that she must overcome. Her greatest weakness is a tendency to find fault in others combined with a stubborn refusal to admit that her judgmental behavior is contributing to the escalating conflicts in her life and her continuous disappointments. She experiences many such disappointments and a great deal of emotional pain before she finally begins to recognize that her judgments placed on those around her are often harsh, unfair, and unreasonable.

The relationship between Carrie and Griff may be challenging for the reader to understand, at first. Carrie is not presented in the best light for much of the novel with her constant criticism of those around her, though she does keep her criticisms to herself, for the most part. At one point, she refuses to help her brother at a time when she is desperately needed because she cannot set her pride aside and admit that she may have been partially to blame for the tension in her family. On the other hand, she is generous with her baking services, assisting those less fortunate in town even when she is barely able to support herself.

Griff Rutledge is a man of mystery for most of the novel and it is not until the story nears the end that his secrets are revealed. His patience with Carrie's stubborn, prideful behavior seems to encourage Carrie to change. It also enables her to accept a man that few others in town are willing to allow into their lives due to prejudice and suspicion--behavior that is perfectly understandable considering the financially depressed times and atmosphere of distrust following the American Civil War.



Dorothy Love and the Hickory Ridge Romance Series

Dorothy Love has once again captured the beauty of the American South with her vivid descriptions and complex characters in the Hickory Ridge Series of Christian romance novels. Beauty for Ashes is the second in this series, following the well-received Beyond All Measure. The third novel in this series, Every Perfect Gift, is scheduled for release in Fall of 2012. Although she now calls the Texas Hill Country her home, Dorothy Love is a native of Tennessee and sets all of her novels in the Smoky Mountain region.

Source:
  • Love, Dorothy. Beauty for Ashes. Thomas Nelson. Nashville, Tennessee: 2012. ISBN: 978-I-59554-901-3
I received this book free from the publisher through the Litfuse Publicity Group. However, I was not asked or required to write a positive review. The opinions I express are my own and in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255 [...] : "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising."

Book Review: The Keeper by Suzanne Woods Fisher



Julia Lapp is a determined young woman who knows what she wants in life, including marriage to her handsome childhood friend, Paul Fisher, but every time the bee keeper comes to town and talks to the young men in the community, Paul and his friends postpone their wedding plans.

Roman Troyer, the bee keeper, has lived a life of freedom over the past few years, selling bees to the farmers in the springtime and traveling to exciting places during the winter season. He has a reputation for influencing other young men to pursue their dreams, dreams that do not include wives, children, and a life as a farmer.

Roman knows the young women in this Amish community refer to him as "Roamin' Roman," and he's also aware of Julia Lapp's frustrations over her postponed wedding. His apologies to Julia somehow lead him to an agreement to assist the Lapp family while Julia's father regains his strength, and his presence in their home creates an emotionally confusing situation for Julia, Roman, and Paul.

The Lapp Family

When I first picked up this book, I assumed I would read about a young couple falling in love. I did not expect to fall in love with this family, but they are so charming, compassionate, and dedicated to God and to each other, that one cannot help but love each one of them.

The true beauty of this book is its descriptive details of each member of the Lapp family, as well as those who influence their story. Suzanne Woods Fisher dedicates as much love and care to her characters as her heroine, Julia Lapp, places in the stitches of her quilts, creating a work of art that will surely appeal to many generations.

The Keeper is the story of a family, a family that doesn't hesitate to show their dedication and love for each other. It is an inspiring approach to contemporary romance with compassionate family interaction. It is the story of the precocious little sister, M.K., who tries to do right, but somehow always ends up in trouble, and middle sister Sadie, who struggles with her self-esteem as she gradually recognizes that God has granted her the gift of healing. It is the story of Menno, the compassionate brother who cares for the little creatures on the farm.

It is also the story of Amos, a single father fighting the illness that is ravaging his body, worried about the fate of his four young children, but willing to place his trust in God, and the story of Fern who mysteriously and miraculously arrives at the Lapp farm when she is most desperately needed and in spite of her meddling, irritating ways, becomes an absolutely essential member of the household.
It is refreshing to read a book where God's love is an integral part of the plot and not dropped in as an afterthought. God's influence on the Lapp family is as obvious to the reader as their love for each other, which creates a deeply touching story. When I finished reading The Keeper, I realized I wanted more. I wanted to sit at the table and listen to Roman teach M.K. about bees. I wanted to watch Julia patiently stitching her quilts. I wanted to help pick the fruit from the trees in the orchard, tend the garden, play with the puppy in the barn. Most of all, I did not want this book to end!




Suzanne Woods Fisher

Reading the stories of Suzanne Woods Fisher, it is easy to understand the current popularity of Amish fiction, of a lifestyle filled with love and compassion, a world we all long for. Fisher knows this world well. Her interest in writing about the Amish way of life was inspired by her grandfather, W.D. Benedict, who was raised in the Old Order German Baptist Brethren Church in Franklin County, Pennsylvania. Her grandfather was also the publisher of Christianity Today magazine.

Suzanne Woods Fisher has a gift for storytelling, and it shows in The Keeper, but this is not her first book of Amish fiction. She currently has 18 books of fiction and nonfiction in print, including The Waiting, a finalist for the 2011 Christy Award; The Choice, a finalist for the 2011 Carol Award; Amish Peace: Simple Wisdom for a Complicated World and Amish Proverbs: Words of Wisdom from the Simple Life, both finalists for the ECPA Book of the Year in 2010 and 2011 respectively. She also hosts a weekly radio program called Amish Wisdom and is a columnist for the Christian Post.

Resource:
  • Fisher, Suzanne Woods. The Keeper. Revell, a division of Baker Publishing Group. Grand Rapids, Michigan: 2012. ISBN-10: 0800719875, ISBN-13: 978-0800719876
  • Fisher, Suzanne Woods. Official Website.
I received this book free from the publisher through the Litfuse Publicity Group. However, I was not asked or required to write a positive review. The opinions I express are my own and in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255 [...] : "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising."


Sunday, March 17, 2013

Book Review: Baroness by Susan May Warren




Baroness by Susan May Warren
Summerside Press
Minneapolis, 2012
ISBN-10: 160936631X
ISBN-13: 978-1690366315


Rosie Worth is a flapper in Paris, or at least she's trying to be with her deep red lips and cheeks, kohl-lined eyes, and dark, bobbed hair. She is the daughter of the infamous Jinx Worth, a woman aptly named, for Rosie's mother now lives under the shadow of the mystery of her murdered husband, shipping baron Foster Worth, and the disappearance of her soldier son, Rosie's beloved brother. Rosie is struggling with the scandals that haunt her family, and desperately to fit in with her seductively wild Parisian crowd of friends while coping with the pain of rejection during her search for love and acceptance.

Rosie's cousin, Lilly Joy Hoyt Stewart, is forced to leave her childhood home, a ranch in Montana, and join her cousin in Paris. Lilly is reluctant to paint her face and cut her long braids into the fashionable bob. Lilly's heart is in the American Northwest with the open fields and one of the last remaining buffalo herds rescued and protected by her family. She is anti-rebellious, refusing to change with the times.

Buffalo herd in Colorado. Photo by Darla Sue Dollman.

Hard Lessons

At the beginning of the novel, Lilly and Rosie are in France, but their behavior with some of the men they meet, behavior that could be perceived as risky and inappropriate, soon attracts the attentions of their parents and guardian and they are forced to return to New York. They quickly devise a plan to escape to continue their adventures, a plan that involves an act of betrayal from one of the cousins that will emotionally separate the two women who need each other more than they realize.

Eventually, Lilly and Rosie are both on the run--Rosie is running from her past while Lilly is trying to return to Montana.. Through their travels, they are exposed to environments that are very different from their somewhat sheltered childhoods. Their hearts are broken, and healed, and broken again by family, friends, gangsters, daredevil pilots, flappers, and baseball players, and Rosie and Lilly grow to realize that they were not quite prepared for the adventures they were seeking.

Separation

The two women are separated early in the novel and live very different lives. In fact, at times, Baroness seems like two separate novels--the women experience many painful moments alone and spend years where they do not communicate at all, and their stories do not reconnect until the end. However, the tension builds smoothly in both stories to a conclusion that reunites the women with events that are both shocking and painful.

In the end, Lilly and Rosie learn important lessons in trust, faith, and the wisdom of following the advice of their parents and trusting their faith in God, but for one of these women, this knowledge comes too late. We leave her in a cliffhanger ending that is a bit frustrating, but hopefully will be resolved in the next novel in Susan May Warren's Daughters of Fortune series.




Susan May Warren

Susan May Warren is a former missionary who now writes full time from her family home in Minnesota.Warren, a talented and prolific writer, has a Mass Communications degree from the University of Minnesota.

Susan May Warren has 17 novels with Tyndale, Steeple Hill, Barbour Publishing and Summerside Press. Baroness is the second in Warren's Daughters of Fortune three book series, which began with Heiress, published in 2011 by Summerside Press.

Warren is also an award-winning novelist. Her novel Happily Ever After won the American Fiction Writers Book of the Year in 2003 and was also a Christy Award finalist that same year, which was quite an accomplishment considering it was her first book. She then wrote a thriller, In Sheep's Clothing, which was also a Christy Award finalist in 2006, and won the 2006 Inspirational Reader's Choice Award.

Resources:
  • Warren, Susan May. Baroness. Summerside Press. New York: 2012.
I received this book free from the publisher through the Litfuse Publicity Group. However, I was not asked or required to write a positive review. The opinions I express are my own and in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255 [...] : "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising."



Thursday, February 7, 2013

Ralph Moody: Author of Little Britches

View of the Colorado Rocky Mountains on a foggy morning. 

By the late 1800s, the Wild American West was much more tame, but young men like Ralph Owen Moody, raised on the stories of longhorn cattle drives and clashes with Apache and Comanche, still longed for Western adventure. When Moody's family moved West, he finally had his chance, brief as it was, to live the life of a cowboy.

Life as a Colorado Cowboy

Ralph Owen Moody was born in 1898, one of six children of Charles and Mary Moody. The family lived in Rochester, New Hampshire until 1906 when their father was diagnosed with tuberculosis. Moody's parents purchased a small farm west of Fort Logan in Colorado, hoping the dry climate would cure, or at least help with his father's disease.

Moody was a cowboy at the age of eight, and he was thrilled. Nevertheless, the experiences of the Moody family were filled with drama and heartache. When they first arrived on the farm they discovered the house was uninhabitable. Ralph and his father rushed to make repairs while the rest of the family remained in a nearby hotel. These early struggles seemed trivial compared to what came later, including tornadoes and other destructive wind storms. According to a Ralph Moody biography written by Pat Massengill, an irrigation war and insufficient water rights ultimately forced the family to leave the farm and move to Littleton, Colorado. Years later, Moody would relive each of these events with great detail in his most famous book, Little Britches.

Head of the Household

Moody was raised in a warm and loving atmosphere. His mother spent many evenings reading to the children and telling them stories, which fueled Moody’s desire to become a writer. When Moody’s father died in an accident involving a horse and automobile, Moody took on many of his father’s responsibilities. He was forced to do whatever he could to help support his younger siblings, including herding cattle to the local stockyards and selling his mother’s cooking door to door.

The family eventually moved back to New England, but Moody was restless, and he continued to travel through Arizona, New Mexico, Nebraska, and Kansas. He tried to enlist in WWI, but was rejected due to diabetes. His doctor told him he had less than a year to live. After many years had passed, Moody decided to stop worrying and move on with his life. He intended to return to Littleton and his childhood home, but decided to marry and start a family, instead.

A Family of His Own

In 1922, Moody met and married Edna Hudgins in Boston, Massachusetts and started his own family with two sons and a daughter. In the late 1940s the family moved to California. When he was 50, he enrolled in a writing class to enhance his skills so he could help his daughter with her school assignments. When the instructor read his stories about his early days in Colorado, Moody was told that he should try to expand these tales into a book, which he did. Moody continued writing and telling his stories until his death in 1982 at his sister's New England home. He was 83 years old.

Western Novels for Children

Most of Ralph Moody’s books are memoirs and only a few include fictional characters. His first book, Little Britches (1950) describes the family’s early days on the Colorado farm. His second book, Man of the Family (1951), continues with the family’s experiences in Littleton. He wrote a total of 19 books, including Dry Divide,The Home Ranch, Mary Emma and Company, The Fields of Home, Shaking the Nickel Bush and Horse of a Different Color: Reminiscences of a Kansas Drove.

A Legacy of Family Values

The books of Ralph Moody still top recommended reading lists for young children because of the high moral values and close family atmosphere described in his stories. Moody explained his writing philosophy in a quote now published on the City of Littleton’s website: "My goal in writing is to leave a record of the rural way of life in this country during the early part of the 20th century, and to point up the values of the era which I feel that we, as a people, are letting slip away from us."

Sources:
  • Massengill, Pat. "Ralph Moody." Biographies, Littleton History. City of Littleton Website, updated January, 2004.
  • Moody, Ralph. Little Britches. Norton & Company: New York, 1950.
  • Moody, Ralph. Man of the Family. Norton & Company: New York, 1951.

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Love Finds You in Mackinac Island, Michigan by Melanie Dobson



Love Finds You in Mackinac Island, Michigan by Melanie Dobson
Summerside Press
Minneapolis, 2012
ISBN 10: 1609366409
ISBN 13: 978-1609366407

It is June, 1894. Elena Bissette and her parents are on the steamer, Manitou, traveling through the Straits of Mackinac, headed for their summer residence on Mackinac Island. This may be their last summer on the island as Elena's father's investments have not provided the financial support they had hoped for, and Elena's mother has made it clear that this will be the summer Elena will become engaged, for the family's sake, for the sake of money. According to Elena, her mother has thought this through carefully and chosen the richest, most eligible bachelor on the island for her daughter. Elena realizes her family's situation is dependent on her success at finding an appropriate spouse over the summer months. Although she's not sure she's ready for marriage, she does understand her mother's feelings of desperation, and yet, she still believes that marriage should be for love. The conflict of the novel is established from the beginning--love versus money.

As Elena and the rest of the passengers disembark from the ship a gust of wind catches Elena's hat, whips it from the top of her head and sends it tumbling along the boardwalk toward the water's edge. Elena pushes through the crowd, trying desperately to retrieve her lovely hat and nearly falls into the water, rescued at the last minute by a departing soldier. She can hear the whispers in the crowd as she returns to her mother. She can see the look of embarrassment and disapproval on her mother's face, and this scene establishes yet another theme in the novel--gossip, judgment, friendships based on popularity, the type of life that Elena abhors and tries to avoid, but she now knows she will be the focus of this gossip the entire summer, all because of her silly hat and a playful gust of wind.



Elena's concern for her hat is matched by her concern over how her mother will react to the situation. In Elena's mind, her mother seems to fit in well with the rest of the families on the island, people who are more concerned with gossip and impressing their neighbors than living a Christian life. Soon, however, Elena will realize that her mother is showing concern for Elena's reputation because she deeply loves her daughter and wants what is best for her. This realization will take time, though, and Elena will experience a few more embarrassing moments before she recognizes the wisdom in her mother's advice and decisions.

There is one area of her life, though, where Elena appears to be wiser than her mother, and that is in her choice of husbands. Although Elena realizes her family's finances are in jeopardy, and a marriage to a wealthy man could help this situation, she seems to understand clearly, in her heart, that marriage should be for love. She is torn inside with the conflict between marrying for love and her duty to her family.

The man her mother has chosen, the most eligible bachelor on the island, Chester Darrington, is struggling with a similar conflict. Darrington is aware of the fact that every mother on the island is hoping he will marry her daughter and he does his best to avoid the usual gatherings where he will be forced to spend his time meeting every single daughter in his family's social circle. Darrington also understands his family obligations and tries to please his own mother by smiling, dancing, and acting appropriately during these seemingly endless introductions.

A Change in Personality

Then Chester is told a bit of gossip that oddly seems to change his personality. When he hears that Elena is seeking him out, intent on a wealthy marriage, he judges her before they even meet, and when they do meet, he is rude and unkind. It almost seems as if a union between Elena and Chester is impossible. This novel, however, has a second story embedded in each chapter, the story of a woman and her children seemingly abandoned in the lighthouse that Elena has used to hide away from her family since her childhood years. The story appears in the form of a diary, and the diary's presence eventually helps bring Elena and Chester to a stronger understanding of the truth about love and commitment.

This is a novel that is hard to set aside, even for a few hours. The relationship between Elena and her mother is realistically portrayed and the historical details are both accurate and fascinating. It is hard to classify the plot as it could be historical romance, but with the inclusion of the diary, it also becomes a mystery, which makes it even more fun to read.

On the other hand, I was frustrated by the way the diary was introduced in the novel. A page from the novel simply appears in the book without explanation or introduction. I would have preferred to read about Elena's first discovery of the diary. As it is, the introduction of the diary into the story creates a bit of confusion, and the confusion is not cleared up soon enough. In fact, it continues until the reader is well into the story.

I felt the same way about the introduction between Elena and Chester, which does not take place until nearly halfway through the novel. I wanted them to meet much sooner. I felt a bit of irritation over how long it was taking for the two to meet. I wanted to feel the tension between the two of them from the start. Instead, I felt their individual tensions over their life situations, but no connection between the two that would lead me to believe they might eventually fall in love.

Spoiler Alert

And now I will say a few things that may spoil the plot for those who have not read the book. In fact, these comments are specifically for those who have read the book.

I also felt as if the conflict that kept this couple apart was a bit contrived. Elena's actions did not seem shocking in any way, and the fact that Chester's sister was embarrassed by her husband's flirtations with another woman should not have deterred Chester as he already recognized that his brother-in-law was a womanizer.

I was equally confused by Chester's response to gossip about Elena. From the beginning, the reader is made aware of Chester's disdain for the gossipy nature of the social circles on the island, so it doesn't make sense that he would listen to, respond, and react to the gossip in the way that he does.

There is yet another conflict between Elena and Chester involving identity confusion, but this does not seem serious enough to cause the tension between them that appears in the novel. However, when the tension is finally resolved, and the couple are united, Chester's character becomes almost unbelievable. He suddenly transforms from a serious businessman to a silly, irritating schoolboy. The resolution of the financial situation could also have been made more clear considering this was such an important theme in the novel.

In spite of the problems with characterization and plot, I would recommend this novel. The details are strong and compelling. The author has clearly completed a tremendous amount of research about the history of the island and has a solid understanding of the workings of society at that time. Elena's mother is a strong presence in this novel. Although Elena does not present her in the best light in the beginning, the reader begins to understand the woman's fears and desperation, emotions that make sense under the circumstances. Elena is an interesting character, a woman I would enjoy reading about in a sequel. She is intelligent, compassionate, and kind, a young woman who is trying her best to make her own way in this world while still pleasing her family and maintaining her Christian ideals.

I would rate this novel with a four for quality. Although there are problems with the plot, and with the hero's character, Elena, her mother, the exquisite historical details and the mysterious diary are enough to justify a high recommendation of this novel and its author. As for the blush factor, the only sexuality in this novel is implied in the behavior of Chester's brother-in-law and other island gossip, not enough to even rate on the blush scale.



Melanie B. Dobson


I would like to say a few words about the author, though. This is not a first-time novel for Melanie Dobson. She has eleven historical romance, suspense, and contemporary novels in publication. Like most authors, she started writing while still in school. Her writing career began in 2006 with the publication of a novel inspired by the adoption of the oldest of her two daughters.

Dobson spends a tremendous amount of time with her family traveling and hiking in the mountains near their Oregon home, and this family closeness is reflected in her stories. In Love Finds You in Mackinac Island, Michigan, the reader finds a realistic conflict between mother and daughter, but also recognizes the love and respect the two have for each other.

Dobson is also an award-winning author. Two of her novels won Carol Awards in 2011, and her novel Love Finds You in Liberty, Indiana won Best Novel of Indiana in 2010. When commenting about her writing, Dobson was quoted as saying, "My desire is that the stories God has etched in my heart will give readers a glimpse of His love and grace even when they don't understand his plan." To me, this statement is an accurate summary of the feelings expressed by Elena Bissette. Dobson has certainly achieved her personal writing goal with Love Finds you in Mackinac Island, Michigan.

Resources: 

  • Dobson, Melanie B. Love Finds You in Mackinac Island. Summerside Press. New York: 2012. 

I received this book free from the publisher through the Litfuse Publicity Group. However, I was not asked or required to write a positive review. The opinions I express are my own and in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255 [...] : "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising."






Tuesday, September 11, 2012

The Virgin's Lover by Philippa Gregory


Queen Elizabeth and Sir Robert Dudley




The Virgin's Lover by Philippa Gregory
Touchstone
New York: 2005
ISBN-10: 0743565096
ISBN-13: 978-0743269261


It is autumn, 1558, and the church bells of England are ringing to announce the coronation of the new queen, Elizabeth, daughter of Henry VIII, once declared his bastard child when her mother, Anne Boleyn, was convicted of treason, then beheaded. Now she is 25, and she is queen. Although she lacks her mother's provocative beauty, she has inherited Anne Boleyn's charm, her pale and willowy appearance. She has her father's ginger-colored hair and his stubborn pride.

She has also inherited a financially destitute kingdom, and the same dilemma that plagued her father throughout his rule--the need for a male heir to carry on the Tudor family line.

The answer to her plight would seem to be an easy one as she is infatuated with her childhood friend, Sir Robert Dudley. It matters little that the Dudley family's reputation has been sullied by claims of treason and the executions of his father and brother as Elizabeth's family line was also tainted by the execution of her mother. There is a far more serious matter preventing a marriage between Elizabeth and Robert: Amy Robsart, Dudley's wife.

Dudley is expected to spend his time at court. Following Elizabeth's accession in 1558, she appoints Dudley the Master of the Horse. This position makes him a dignitary of the court and member of the ministry, a peer and privy councillor. He is in charge of everything that involves the court's horses, as well as the hounds, stables, couch houses, stud, mews, and kennels.

If Elizabeth wants to ride, he must see that she has the proper mount, and Elizabeth rides often, particularly with her Master of the Horse. If there is a procession, hunt, visiting dignitaries, the Master of the Horse makes all decisions regarding how the day will proceed. As Elizabeth is a new monarch, there are many processions and visiting dignitaries, particularly since she is also unmarried, which means Sir Robert Dudley is responsible for preparing his lover to look her best for the representatives of men who want to court her, which could not possibly have been the most comfortable situation for a man.

The Social Plight of Robert Dudley's Wife

While Dudley is at court, his wife, Amy Robsart is shuffled from one place to place, living with relatives, friends, acquaintances, when all she really wants is to build a home with her husband. Not just a house, but a home where they can raise a family and grow old together. In the beginning of Elizabeth's reign, Dudley assigns his wife the task of finding a home that would represent the importance of his station in court, but Amy fails to meet his expectations. She wants a farm, one that is close to her family. Dudley wants a castle fit for a visiting queen.

Amy becomes increasingly aware of the many rumors circulating about her husband's relationship with Elizabeth, but remains steadfast in her belief in his love for her, stubbornly denying any insinuations of an affair that she might overhear. Her marriage to Robert Dudley was not the typical arranged marriage. They married young, but they married for love, and she believes in her heart that this love will be enough to save her marriage.

As the length of time between visits from her husband continues to grow, and his attention to her needs begins to wane, Amy grows anxious and gradually suspects there might be some truth to the rumors, but her anxiety only makes her more determined to find some way to save her marriage. She begins to realize that there is the possibility that her husband will ask for an annulment of their marriage and decides she will refuse any attempt to end her own relationship with Robert Dudley.

Dudley and Elizabeth have grown so close that he now makes all decisions regarding her daily activities and is beginning to overstep his boundaries in political decisions, as well. At first, Elizabeth appears to be willing to accept this behavior. She asks him to move into the rooms adjoining her own so they can meet privately each night without interruption, though this clearly confirms the affair in the minds of those around her.

Gradually, Dudley's ambition gets the best of him. Elizabeth, whose mother was beheaded when she was a child, is aware at all times that she must maintain control, that she cannot allow any man to rule over her as this could potentially put her in danger of losing her power, or her life. When Dudley makes a comment about his own power in the court and repeats the same words Elizabeth used when she was told that she was queen--"This is the Lord's doing, and it is marvelous in our eyes."--Elizabeth's worst fears about Dudley's ambitious nature are confirmed.

The Murder of Amy Robsart

Shortly after, Amy Robsart is murdered. Her neck is broken by an intruder who carries her down the stairs to make it appear as if she has fallen, carefully arranges her dress to leave a certain amount of doubt as to whether or not it is an accident, then places Dudley's signet ring in her pocket.

There is an immediate investigation and Dudley is cleared of all wrong-doing by law, but in the minds of the people he is guilty of murdering his wife. This destroys any chance that he will ever be able to achieve his greatest goal--to marry the queen and rule by her side. For Dudley, however, there is an even greater mystery--why did his wife have his ring? He tries to deny the obvious, but there can only be one answer, one person who planned the murder of his wife, and the placement of the ring is a message, warning him against his ambitious nature.

Considering the many characters involved in this story, Gregory's first challenge was to choose the person who would tell the story. She decided to tell the story through the voices of the three primary players in this love triangle--Queen Elizabeth, Sir Robert Dudley, and Amy Robsart. Elizabeth and Dudley are the most logical choices, but when she chose to interject the voice of Amy Robsart into the story, Gregory made a decision that was pure genius.

As Elizabeth and Dudley have clearly wronged Amy through their public romance, Amy Robsart immediately becomes a sympathetic character, a victim in the minds of the readers, just as she was in the minds of the public when she was alive. While she was alive, the Virgin Queen was known as the whore, Sir Robert Dudley was viewed with jealousy, envy, resentment and contempt, which placed him in a very dangerous political position, and Amy Robsart was his pious, obedient...neglected wife who was emotionally abused so badly by her husband that eventually, people were embarrassed to be seen with her.

The Characterization of Queen Elizabeth I

I was disappointed in the character of Elizabeth. I have also researched her life for many years and although it could be said that she was naive, I believe Gregory made her appear weak, and a weak woman would not have made the decisions Elizabeth made to preserve her claim to the throne. The title is catchy, but also a bit misleading. Elizabeth did not take on the persona of the Virgin Mary until much later in her reign. In these early years, she was known as "the whore." The way that Elizabeth is presented in this novel does not make her a sympathetic character.

Dudley's ambitions may have also been a bit overplayed. He certainly would have had a bit more control while in front of the court considering the deaths of his father and brother. On the other hand, Dudley's remorse over the death of his wife felt very real and sad, almost pathetic as he gradually realizes how cruelly he treated the one woman who was faithful to him beyond all reason.

Like most writers of historical fiction, Phillipa Gregory loves her research. This is obvious in the carefully detailed accounting of Elizabeth's early reign. On the other hand, Gregory is, first and foremost, a storyteller. The nature of her craft demands that she apply her creative inspiration to the historical facts, mixing the two like a cook searching for the perfect ingredients to entice her readers to nibble, bite, then eat the cake whole and come back begging for more. The details behind the death of Amy Robsart are often disputed by historians to this day, so Gregory is speculating when Dudley realizes at the end of the novel who it was that orchestrated the death of his wife. Gregory explains this in an author's note at the end of the novel. There is certainly evidence to support her conclusions, but she does plant a device in the story to assist her readers in agreeing with her.

Gregory also portrays Elizabeth's older sister, Mary, in a much gentler manner than many other writers of historical fiction and directors of contemporary Elizabethan films. I believe Mary was angry about the shameful humiliating divorce and subsequent death of her mother, but as Gregory seems to show, Mary tended to unleash her anger on the religious authorities of the time who had refused to support her mother. I suspect she realized Elizabeth was far too wise to plot against her, particularly in the early days of her reign. She shared the same childhood fears as Elizabeth, never knowing when their temperamental father might order their execution on a whim, and I believe Gregory is accurate in showing a certain closeness shared between these two women.

Ratings

On a scale of 1 to 5 for the steaminess factor in this novel, although I do not believe the sex scenes were necessary, there are graphic scenes in this novel. They do not, however, overwhelm the plot, so I would rate the novel with a three.

As for the quality of the novel, I did find the plot captivating, though I do not believe the character of Elizabeth is portrayed consistently throughout the novel. On a scale of 1 to 5, I would rate this novel a four for quality of work.