Book Review of Elizabeth Loupas’ The Red Lily Crown

https://i1.wp.com/luxuryreading.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/04/18114123.jpgPassion, intrigue, suspense, romance, murder, and science blend together in Elizabeth Loupas’ historical novel about the infamous Medici family. Set in mid-1500s Florence, Italy, The Red Lily Crown fulfills readers’ desire for love, life, and family in a background that is as common today as seven-hundred years ago, and yet as vastly different from the independent, free-spirited society most of us recognize presently. Readers are transported into the courtly life of Medici Florence in Loupas’ Red Lily Crown—the descriptions of royal life will no doubt fascinate readers, but anyone wishing to live a day in the life of Duchess Katherine or a Disney fairy-tale princess will probably be thankful they were not royalty in the days of the Medici family.

Loupas’ novel centers around palace intrigue involving seven significant characters at the Medici court. Whether based on their real-life counterparts or created for the purposes of the novel, the characters in The Red Lily Crown are vibrant animators amongst the many locations of Medici Florence, Cornwall (England), and Austria. Loupas’ characterization is good enough to keep the story moving; however, readers, such as myself, who require deeper, more filling characters, will struggle with Loupas’ characters because Chiara, Ruan, Franceso, Giovanna, Bianca, Isabella, and Ferdinando (amongst multiple other characters) only skim the surface of who they could really be as people living in such a turbulent time. I liked the characters as they were, but I wanted—and expected—much more of them, especially as the story progressed and the plot thickened to unimaginable heights. At times the superficiality of the characters detracted from the plot, and I asked myself questions regarding them to ensure I gave the story the credit it deserved. Did I find the story slow simply because I did not like Chiara for base reasons, for example, or did Loupas truly create Chiara to be un-likable because her character is meant to be villainous? While all readers should question the author’s motives for creating characters, I disliked constantly interrupting my reading to put aside any extra bias I might have held for a character just for personal reasons. I also found I felt empty upon finishing the novel because the characters motivations, emotions, and actions did not come across as necessary or substantive since their characterization was somewhat superficial.

Loupas excels in her descriptive, emotive writing, her dialogue between characters, and her inclusion of historical fact amongst all other aspects of the novel. Throughout reading the novel I constantly imagine myself joining Chiara among the palaces of the Medici family, wandering the back alleyways of Florence, or standing along the cliffs or within the mines of Cornwall with Ruan. Loupas spares no detail in her physical descriptions of her settings, her emotive descriptions of every action her characters pursue, or her historical descriptions—from characters clothing, to alchemical processes, to medicinal remedies for illnesses, to events from around Europe during this time period—and that decision helps her story come alive.

Publishing abounds—rightfully and understandably so—with books about the Tudor period. The confluence of royalty, wealth and privilege, passion, and intrigue brims with good storytelling. Readers who enjoy novels about Henry VIII, Elizabeth or Mary Tudor, or really just anything British, will enjoy Loupas’ The Red Lily Crown because the story holds those same elements; however, reading about a different family within a royal court that held family obligations to high esteem brought was enjoyable purely for the sake of learning something new about European history.

Rating: 3 stars out of 5

Review originally posted on April 7th, 2014 for LuxuryReading

Book Review of Maeve Binchy’s Chestnut Street

 

 

https://i0.wp.com/luxuryreading.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/07/9780385351850_custom-89fd963ff874b9f12d230dc2dd31359fc3e74078-s6-c30.jpgPart of the joy of reading a good book is being transported into a world different from one’s own. Whether a reader fights with Katness Everdeen in the Hunger Games, battles Lord Voldemort with Harry Potter, or dances with Lizzy Bennett in Netherfield’s ballroom, a book is usually chosen because the combination of an appealing character and intriguing setting is irresistible. Irish author Maeve Binchy holds universal appeal because her talent lies in creating stories whose successes relied upon characters similar to her readers. All readers self-identify in some form or another with characters in a novel—they either see themselves in the character as the author wrote him or her, or put themselves into the character’s position because they want to be the person the author has created. Any reader of Binchy’s books needs only skim one of her novels to find a character whose story parallels their own. Throw in some Irish brogue and details of rolling green hills and misty moors, and readers can immediately place themselves amongst Binchy’s characters. American readers tend to find any story of British origin fascinating—it is that combination of fascinating setting and appealing characterization that is sure to bring best-selling numbers to Maeve Binchy’s newest (and final) book, Chestnut Street.

An anthology of short stories examining daily life in Ireland, Binchy’s Chestnut Street details the myriad emotions, motivations, relationships, and identities of the residents of the aforementioned streets. Characters move between stories, which creates a relationship between character and reader as the characterization increases throughout the book when a character’s story is not their own. Binchy’s straightforward prose leaves out flowery language in favor of deep emotional plotlines that resonate with readers on many levels. One can enjoy the stories just for themselves or can reader deeper into plots for subtle messages and themes that move beyond Binchy’s characters. Chestnut Street’s stories are short in length; a reader can easily finish three or four in a half-hour reading session. In fact, the only downside to Chestnut Street is that at times the stories do not feel long enough—the short length does detract from a pieced fleshed out with multiple characters and subplots within one narrative. Any frustration with story length is easily put aside with the numerous stories within Chestnut Street residents’ lives; Binchy covers everything from children leaving home and extramarital affairs to finding roommates, avoiding jail, making friends, revenge on coworkers, and celebrating New Year’s Eve. Knowing that Chestnut Street is the last of Binchy’s novels to come is sad because this author had a special gift for writing stories close to readers’ hearts; however, in this anthology of varied stories, all readers are to find something enjoyable in her final novel. Rest in peace, Mrs. Binchy—your readers will miss you.

Rating: 4 of 5 stars

Review originally posted on July 4th, 2014 on LuxuryReading.com

Book Review of Jenny Barden’s The Lost Duchess

https://i0.wp.com/luxuryreading.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/06/The-Lost-Duchess-1.jpgAuthor Jenny Barden brings a novel that reaches new heights from those of the Tudor dynasty stories in the descriptions, narratives, and themes that typically depict life during the reigns of King Henry VIII and Queen Elizabeth I. A novel of passion, intrigue, deception, loyalty, and bravery, The Lost Duchess is not a novel to be missed because it holds dear all the themes that readers of Tudor novels have come to expect from their authors but also because it explores a new story of savagery and danger.

The Lost Duchess details the adventures, misfortunes, and palace intrigue for a group of characters in the charge of Queen Elizabeth I, who under the guidance of Sir Walter Raleigh and Sir Francis Drake sends these characters to the soon-to-be colony of Roanoke (Virginia). Barden begins and ends her novel in the various palaces of the Tudor court, but the crux of the novel is set amongst Roanoke and its surrounding Native American settlements and villages. Lady-in-waiting Emme Fifield and mariner Christopher (Kit) Noonan take center stage in Barden’s story, along with a band of other government leaders, Planters (colonists), and Native Americans. Emme, Kit, and the Planters seek to begin an English colony in Chesapeake Bay; however, for numerous reasons—including a deceptive captain—the crew lands in Roanoke. Barden’s novel, at this point, turns from lightly historical to thorough and rich in its descriptions of survival in the New World. The author discusses these challenges within the context of her character’s fighting and discovering how to live peacefully with the Native Americans. Death, murder, poison, rape, and physical violence are commonplace in The Lost Duchess. Readers should prepare themselves for graphic scenes before reading this novel. The descriptive scenes bring authenticity to the novel and enrich readers’ interpretation of the time period; Barden’s decision to write these scenes should be praised because life in the early colonies was not as rosy at Disney depicted the scenes in its movie musical, Pocahontas.

The novel’s themes overarch amongst different facets of the characters’ lives: love for others and country, revenge for misdoings and for wrongs taken against them, loyalty and honor for country and for personal gain during a dangerous undertaking, and lies versus truth for the betterment of family and marriage. Barden’s novel is certainly one of adventure and love, but ultimately the author’s work is a story of her characters’ personal growth and maturation amongst challenges of war, political scandal, physical hardships, and harsh landscapes.

For all of the majesty and authenticity of the novel, The Lost Duchess does have points that need strengthening: the love story between Kit and Emme, for example, definitely could be fleshed out to include better understanding of the characters. Aside from the fact that Emme and Kit are among the few male and female characters to spend time together in the novel—and therefore conclude the probability of their romance—their relationship lacks in-depth; there is little reasoning for their falling for each other, and Barden takes the characters’ adoration for each other too high to be realistic. The pacing of the The Lost Duchess is slow, especially in the first half of the novel. Out of the four-hundred-plus pages of the novel, the first hundred-plus detail Emme’s life and court and her fight to be allowed to sail to the New World. This part of the story is necessary to plot development but could be cut down to allow the pacing to pick up speed.

The Lost Duchess is an engaging read; Barden’s prose is beautiful, her descriptions vivid, her characterization strong, her research thorough, and her dialog appropriate for the time period. This is a novel that any reader of historical fiction should have on their bookshelf.

Rating: 4 of 5 stars

Review originally posted on June 18th, 2014 at LuxuryReading.com

Book Review of Ann H. Gabhart’s Love Comes Home

Love Comes Home, courtesy of Revell.

Love Comes Home, the third novel in author Ann H. Gabhart’s Rosey Corner series, completes the saga of a family of four sisters growing into young women during the World War Two era in rural Kentucky. Beginning shortly after the ending of the war, the novel centers around the four sisters and their family’s transition to post-war society. As American men return from overseas, the women left behind must navigate change in their roles, including motherhood, employment, and family or spousal support. Love Comes Home delves into these and other matters against a backdrop of a loving family and colorful cast of characters in the homey and serene setting of Rosey Corner, Kentucky.

The Merritt sisters—Evangeline, Katherine, Victoria, and Lorena—desperately await the return of the men of Rosey Corner in the summer of 1945 at the opening of Love Comes Home. Evie passed her time as a secretary, Kate found her dream job as a reporter in Lexington, Tori flourished as a mother, and Lorena stayed her cheerful self while romping around with her dog, Scout. The end of the war, however, does not signal a return to normalcy—Tori’s husband, a young Samuel Harper, died overseas, leaving Tori devastated at loss of her childhood sweetheart. Kate and Evie also discover that life cannot return to its previous state when both of their husbands come disturbed and distraught at the violence they witnessed in Europe. Happy to have their men-folk home but trouble with how to comfort them in their time of need, the Merritt sisters tread lightly around the roles of wives and sisters.

Evie, the most temperamental of the sisters, struggles the most with her husband’s return. A preacher before going overseas, Mike led Rosey Corner’s church before the war and was always staunch in his faith. Evie discovers after his return, however, that Mike’s experience over the past four years caused him to waver in his belief of God’s goodness because he no longer knows if he is called to be a preacher. Always one for fine things and never one without a plan, Evie is challenged in Love Comes Home with supporting her husband as he tries to find himself without losing herself in the process.

Picking up shortly after the ending of Small Town Girl, readers will find that Kate Merritt has not changed from the second novel in the series. Gabhart’s most likable character is as loving and brave as ever; Kate is everywhere in Love Comes Home attempting to fix anything broken and comfort whoever needs a hug or prayer. Kate’s caring nature and desire to have everything perfect directs her storyline—whether attempting to fill another character’s void or create the child she so desperately wants. Jay, Kate’s husband, returns from the war in tact but questioning whether or not he and Kate can truly make a marriage work because they spent so little time together before his deployment. In an effort to complete their family and bolster Jay’s belief in himself, Kate pushes hard for a baby. Both Jay and Kate face uncertainty in the months ahead about their paths as parents and individuals. When their path to parenthood abruptly changes, the two of them lean on their faith and each other for support.

With the loss of Sammy so fresh in her heart and mind, Tori struggles day and night just to make a life for her daughter. Her faith has not wavered with his death, but Tori still questions God’s plan for Sammy when all she ever felt called to be was his wife and mother to his children. With his death, her plans for the future are upended; Love Comes Home is Tori’s story of keeping Sammy’s memory alive and him in her heart while also learning to open herself to loving again. In doing so Tori not only finds an opportunity to create a family for her daughter but to create a new life for herself.

The youngest Merritt sister, Lorena Birdsong, has matured significantly since Small Town Girl and yet retains her youthful heart and loving manner in Love Comes Home. Adopted at age five by the Merritt family, in Gabhart’s final novel of the series Lorena discovers that identity comes from who one is as a person, not from a name or through birth. After months of indecision about meeting her birth family and struggling to find where that family may be, Lorena’s story concludes in true fashion: with answers and peace. Lorena also flourishes in Love Comes Home through her talent for singing. Readers will be delighted along her journey from small-town church singer to radio phenomenon.

Love Comes Home is pleasurable read that transports readers into a family of kindhearted characters who live their lives simply and honestly. It is refreshing to come across characters who so willingly follow the Golden rule of do unto others as you would have them do unto you. World War Two readers, in particular, will enjoy Gabhart’s final novel for its nuances and subtle teachings of the time period. Instances of dating rituals, family structure, and societal transitions make this novel special. The themes of the novel—family, grief, change, acceptance, and love—are beautifully portrayed in the various characters of novels, both major and minor. In particular, Gabhart excels with these themes through her vivid descriptions of the male character’s homecomings. The pain, grief, and questioning Mike and Jay experience upon coming home reveal to the readers just how difficult returning to regular life must be for veterans of wars. Gabhart’s tender prose regarding these subjects demonstrates the author’s love and respect for the people of the World War Two era.

Nevertheless, Love Comes Home lacks in certain areas that detract from the overall quality of the book. While still recommended as a light read that anyone can enjoy, for those readers with expectations—especially World War Two lovers—of high-quality novels, Love Comes Home will probably stay lower on the to-read list. While Gabhart’s love for the era shines through in her descriptions of daily life in Rosey Corner and in her characters’ experiences, the prose is so simple and the sentences so short and blunt that it often reads as a novel suited more for younger readers. The one-word “sentences” stop the reader from forming complete thoughts; I often returned to the previous sentences for reminders of the content because the one-word or short-worded “sentences” were so abrupt that the flow of the paragraph was disrupted. I did not feel this writing style added to the content of Love Comes Home and would like the see the author return to complete sentences.

Adding to the completion aspect of the novel, Love Comes Home ended abruptly. The structure of the novel lent itself perfectly to the storyline; however, there are so many characters in the novel that are central to the plot that the ending focusing on just two of them felt incomplete. Two of the sisters’ stories finish enough that readers will be satisfied with the plot; however, since all four sisters are the focus of Love Comes Home, Gabhart did a disservice to her characters in not at least giving some explanation for the other characters. In addition, with the exception of one character whose experience parallels Kater’s struggles as the plot progresses, the minor characters who are pivotal to the storyline in the beginning of the novel are hardly discussed in the latter half of the book. In leaving out any development of this part of the plot Gabhart’s main characters come across as self-centered and shallow.

Love Comes Home is well worth the read for those who enjoy stories of faith, love, and family. Despite the simplicity of the prose, readers will enjoy Gabhart’s story about sisters who care deeply about their family and their community.

Rating: 2.5 stars

Review originally posted for TheChristianManifesto.com

Book Review for Jen Turano’s A Match of Wits

A Match of Wits, courtesy of Bethany House Publishers.

A Match of Wits, author Jen Turano’s fourth novel in the Ladies of Distinction series, is a novel about God’s love and acceptance for His people. Through the main characters’ adventures and challenges in New York City and Colorado, Turano teaches readers that acceptance of ourselves and others is only possible once we understand that we are loved exactly as who are.

It is 1883, and investigative journalist Agatha Watson is traipsing around Colorado Springs for her next story for the New-York Tribune when she comes across her old friend, Zayne Beckett. These two friends parted two years previously in disgruntled company—neither of them is exactly thrilled to see each other in and unexpected setting. Agatha finds Zayne, who was supposed to be in California with his fiancé, broken and dispirited physically and mentally. True to her nature—and to Zayne’s annoyance—Agatha takes up the challenge to bring Zayne home to New York City and reunite him with his family.

Life continues hectically for Zayne and Agatha upon their return to New York City. Agatha, who returns to the city despite threats upon her life, takes it upon herself to help Zayne regain his sense-of-self; Zayne, while he is retained in bed recovering from injuries sustained while out West, believes it is his role to find Agatha a suitor capable of keeping her in line. Both characters relish the opportunities to irritate and annoy the other just for amusement. As attempts on Agatha’s life continue to grow, Zayne finds that he knows Agatha less than he realized. With Agatha becoming increasingly determined to find her assassin, Zayne must discover whether his battle to understand his feelings for her are out of a protective nature or whether the two of them are truly a match of wits.

A Match of Wits is an enjoyable story that brings numerous smiles and out-loud laughter throughout the novel. Turano’s dialog is witty, her characters unique in both originality and for the setting of the novel, and the spiritual lessons relevant but not overwhelming in the presentation. The lively banter between Zayne, Agatha, and the two minor characters, Drusilla—Agatha’s companion—and Mr. Blackheart—Agatha’s body guard—make this novel because of the humor and compassion the characters exemplify through conversation. The characterization Turano employs in A Match of Wits is enough to keep readers satisfied with its development but also surprised in the author’s creative manner of making those characters unique. All of the major characters retain vestiges of their roles: Zayne is the hero who keeps his feelings to himself; Agatha is the damsel looking for love. But, Turano continually discloses tidbits throughout her novel that change those roles her major characters play—changes that make her characters all the more loveable and keep the plot of her novel fresh. Readers spiritual or not will enjoy the spiritual aspect of A Match of Wits for its relevance to the story and real life. Turano keeps the spirituality light—it is not a main focus of the story but the characters refer to their faith enough to keep its discussion of consequence. Readers who look for the spiritual aspect will find the teachings significant while those who do not necessarily choose a book because of its Christian genre will not feel overwhelmed by preaching.

Turano’s novel is one that is light but holds deep lessons of acceptance and love. Readers will have to force themselves to read slowly because the novel is so enjoyable that it can easily be finished in one sitting. Nevertheless, there are points that could be refined to make A Match of Wits more substantial: in particular, the lengthy and wordy sentences distract from the content of the novel. Nineteenth-century language was more prosaic, but the dialog of A Match of Wits takes this distinction to unnecessary lengths. Some readers may also find the plot of the novel too far-fetched for any believability. The numerous scrapes that Agatha finds herself in makes even the most raucous behavior look tame. These aspects of A Match of Wits can be overlooked, however, for the pleasure of an entertaining novel with beautiful themes and witty dialog shared between likeable characters within a humorous plot.

Rating: 4 stars

Review originally posted for TheChristianManifesto.com