Book Review of Jenny Barden’s The Lost Duchess

https://i1.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