Book Review: Everlasting by Angie Frazier

Everlasting (2010) by Angie Frazier is an adorable teen adventure/romance. The year is 1855, and seventeen-year-old Camille Rowen of San Francisco is the daughter of a successful widowed sea captain… or so she thinks.

Camille is shocked to discover that her mother is not really dead, but alive somewhere in Australia, having abandoned the family for reasons unknown. On top of that, Camille is being forced to marry a wealthy dandy she doesn’t love, due to her father’s secret financial ruin. But Camille is truly in love with her father’s first mate, the young Irish sailor named Oscar. Amidst it all, Camillie’s mother is in possession of a magic map to an enchanted stone, which Camille and company are racing her father’s arch-nemesis, the evil captain Stuart McGreenery, to find.

Camille is a strong, vulnerable and lovable protagonist. I loved the cinematic adventure and enchantment in the vein of Indiana Jones or Pirates of the Caribbean. This YA read is virtually flawless, a delightful story of love, secrets, adventure and magic.

Book Review: Maid Marian by Elsa Watson

Maid Marian is a novel by Elsa Watson, published in 2005, which tells the story of Robin Hood from the point of view of his romantic partner, Marian. In this book, Robin Hood is presented as a playful and tender lover. Marian is not privy to most of his adventures, so these are generally omitted or recounted secondhand.

Instead, Marian’s story is one of courtly intrigue and medieval politics, as Queen Eleanor and Lady Pernelle of Sencaster attempt to use the young woman as a pawn in their political schemes. To escape their plots against her, Marian rides to Sherwood Forest to seek help from Robin Hood, with whom she falls in love. Watson’s prose is good, and her grasp of dialect from the era remarkable. It is not, however, a Robin Hood adventure novel. This work may interest readers of medieval historical fiction.

Book Review: Madame Tussaud, A Novel of the French Revolution by Michelle Moran

Historical fiction author Michelle Moran tackles the story of the famous wax sculptor, Madame Tussaud, in her novel, Madame Tussaud: A Novel of the French Revolution. We meet Marie Grosholtz, later to become Madame Tussaud, as a Parisian woman in her late twenties. Since childhood, she was apprenticed by her mother’s employer and romantic partner, Curtius, to learn wax sculpting. In the late 1700s (long before the advent of television and photography – obviously), the public would tour their wax figure gallery, the Salon de Cire, in order to see what the famous politicians and celebrities of their time looked like. Otherwise, people had nothing but newspaper etchings to put faces to the prominent names of their era. In this way, I was surprised to learn that the Salon, or gallery, had more of a functional media purpose, rather than being just a novelty. As such, Marie, her “uncle” Curtius, and Marie’s mother live a fairly comfortable life, due to their commercial success.

But with the advent of the French Revolution, politics take over the Salon de Cire. Marie and Curtius can no longer display likenesses of the royal family, such as Queen Marie Antoinette and King Louis XVI, or notorious people of the court, like Madame du Barry, without the threat of the Revolutionaries executing them for royalist sympathies. Marie and Curtius’s job is to survive and make money, which can only be accomplished by sculpting the likenesses of whomever the people in power would like to see– in this case, the (disorganized, incompetent) patriot leaders, such as Marat, Robespierre, the Duc d’Orleans, etc. Yet, at the same time, Marie has befriended the king’s sister, Madame Elisabeth. Marie spends most of the story as a secret royalist, torn between her ambition for success, and her horror at the injustice and anarchy of the Reign of Terror brought about by the Revolutionaries. As well, a slow-moving romance between Marie and the scientist, Henri Charles, develops in the background. The two love each other, but Marie doesn’t wish to become a wife and mother. Her passion is her work.

The novel does not give the complete life story of Madame Tussaud, but focuses on the five-year period of her career during the Reign of Terror. We learn in the epilogue that the real Mme Tussaud lived for nearly a century, survived a shipwreck, went on to reap success in London, and had a very odd relationship with her future husband and sons, which would’ve been very interesting to read about in novel form. A missed opportunity? Overall, an educational and well-researched story, though it does contain some graphic, gory content. Readers interested in French history or how revolutions work will want to check this out.

Book Review: Anastasia’s Secret by Susanne Dunlap

Anastasia’s Secret, published in March 2010, is an historical romance for teens written by Susanne Dunlap. The premise is that the Grand Duchess Anastasia Romanov, youngest daughter of the last Tsar of Russia, had a love affair with one of the guards, Sasha, who imprisoned her and her family. In Dunlap’s world, the reason that Anastasia was always so lively and playful, as history has come to know her, was because she was secretly in love.

I adored Dunlap’s idea. Anastasia and Sasha’s romance is tragic and haunting. I would’ve loved to have read far, far more of it! Sasha was totally sexy. But Dunlap did as realistic a job as she could, which meant that the couple’s encounters had to be brief, infrequent, and hidden to have stayed a secret. The historical accuracy of this novel is well-researched (I’m a tad of a Romanov enthusiast myself). I was hoping for– truly expecting– Dunlap to pen a fanciful, happy ending, but I give her credit for staying faithful to true historical events instead. Overall, a haunting romance. I would read more of Dunlap’s writing down the road, as I see she’s published several other similar titles. A great title for fans of teen historical romance, or anyone fascinated- as I am- with Anastasia Romanov.

Book Review: In Need of a Good Wife by Kelly O’Connor McNees

Kelly O’Connor McNees weaves a delightful tale about post-Civil War mail order brides in her sweet novel, In Need of a Good Wife. The book rotates between its three prime characters. Clara’s rakish husband abandoned her for another girl after a tragedy. Rowena is a vain but broke, widowed war bride. And Elsa is a devout, older woman of faith who works as a laundress. Each woman dreams of leaving the tired and crowded city of New York to start afresh on the new western frontier– Clara to escape her grief and settle alone, Rowena to remarry a wealthy man, and Elsa with nothing to lose.

With an entrepreneur’s spirit, Clara organizes correspondences between the lonely bachelors of Destination, Nebraska, and the handful of ladies hoping to leave New York, orchestrating suitable matches for each, and planning to keep a profit for her services. However, when the group finally sets off to meet their grooms-to-be, all goes awry, and poor Clara is left with the blame and an impossible sum to repay.

This book makes an extremely pleasant read and is very well-written, especially in remaining authentic to the era. I could not put it down until I’d finished. I like McNees’s subtlety in leaving a few open ends and allowing the reader to imagine what becomes of Clara, Rowena, and Elsa, and their respective romantic prospects by the end of the novel. This is a delightful piece of character-driven historical fiction for women.

Memorable Quotes:

“Earthly things will pass away. They will pass away and what will be left is my Savior.” (page 233)

“And as if suffering ever taught anybody a thing except to thank God when it ended.” (page 274)

“Don’t do that to yourself, Spatzchen, Elsa thought. The world is full of Rowenas, women who could cut you to the quick with their cruel appraisals of what they think you are. You have to know your own sacredness in order to endure them. You have to know that you have been created for a reason that has everything to do with what is good and what is righteous. And no one can ever take that away from you.” (page 321)

Book Review: Journey to the Well by Diana Wallis Taylor

Diana Wallis Taylor writes the fictional life-story of the Samaritan woman, whom Jesus meets at Jacob’s Well in the New Testament (John 4:4-26). Imaginatively, Taylor weaves the story of young Marah, a maiden from the village of Shechem, and the fateful events of her life that lead to her having had five husbands. But instead of making Marah out to be a harlot, Taylor creates a virtuous young woman, dutiful and subdued, trusting God’s will for the course of her life, always doing as told.

When her selfish aunt forces her to marry an older widower, rather than the shepherd boy Marah loves, Marah accepts her fate, and patiently endures her new family’s abuses. Marah’s story unfolds, bringing her more husbands– some loving and tender, some horrible – as well as their deaths or mysterious disappearances. Though the men in her village begin to treat her like a common prostitute for her succession of husbands, the gossiping women scorn her and try to stone her, and the children fear she’s a sorceress, Marah maintains the disposition of a saint. In the face of adversity, she constantly prays to God and does her best.

This is a solid piece of inspirational fiction. Fans of bible-inspired novels will enjoy this book.

Book Review: Honolulu by Alan Brennert

Moloka’i, the story of a girl in a leper colony, by Alan Brennert, is one of my favorite books. So I thought it would be worth checking out Brennert’s other Hawaii novel, Honolulu.

We meet Regret, a young Korean girl at the turn of the (twentieth) century. She longs to venture outside of her culture’s confines, dreams of going to school, and secretly learns to read. But when her strict Confucian father discovers her literacy, he’s furious. And when Regret decides to leave Korea for Hawaii as a picture bride, her father disowns her.

With her fellow picture brides, Regret excitedly leaves her home country, only to find that her husband is not the young and wealthy man she was promised, but an older man living in an impoverished labor camp. Worse, he proves to have a severe gambling and drinking problem. But not until he begins to abuse her does Regret finally flee for Honolulu. Regret, now going by the name Jin, eventually finds new friendships, love, and fosters a family and career of her own. Towards the end, the novel contained a few key touching scenes, when Jin returns to Korea to visit an old friend. A culturally and historically educational read.

Book Review: Lady Macbeth’s Daughter by Lisa Klein

Another hit from Lisa Klein, Lady Macbeth’s Daughter retells the famous Shakespearean tragedy of Macbeth from the point of view of a female character– Macbeth’s secret lost daughter, Albia.

When Lady Macbeth gives birth to a baby girl with a clubbed foot, her husband Macbeth considers the babe cursed, and demands she be left outside to die. Lady Macbeth mourns for her daughter as her maid takes the baby away. But instead of adhering to Macbeth’s heartless orders, the maid gives the child to her sisters to raise in secret. Albia grows up in the simplicity of the woods, herding sheep in the pastures with her friends, completely unaware of her royal parentage.

In the meantime, Albia’s adoptive aunts’ false prophecies to Macbeth have begun to drive him mad. Macbeth and his wife murder the goodly King Duncan for their own gain, and all of Scotland suffers under Macbeth’s tyranny. Eventually, Albia is sent to live with Banquo, Macbeth’s loyal general, and Banquo’s family. There, she falls in love with his son, Fleance. Meanwhile, gifted with “the Sight,” Albia plays a pivotal role in the story’s well-known outcome. The book is also narrated in part by Lady Macbeth.

A well-woven tale rich with romance, intrigue, secrets, magic, history, beautiful Scottish scenery, and surprisingly multifaceted characters. Klein’s writing is elegant, tasteful and true to the era. This is an excellent novel!

Book Review: Cate of the Lost Colony by Lisa Klein

After reading Ophelia, I was eager to read another of Lisa Klein’s novels. I was not disappointed by Cate of the Lost Colony! This was another great read.

Catherine Archer is the orphaned daughter of a high-ranking soldier when Queen Elizabeth grants her the rare honor of becoming a lady-in-waiting. But court life – with all of its scandals, forbidden romances, and gossip – does not bode well for Catherine when she becomes romantically involved with the charming Sir Walter Ralegh. As Ralegh is one of Queen Elizabeth’s “favorites,” the jealous Queen banishes Catherine to the wilderness of Roanoke in retaliation.

Interestingly, this book is narrated not just by Catherine, but also by the two prominent male characters in the story: the ambitious (and fairly shallow) Sir Walter Ralegh, via his journals, letters, and various papers; and Manteo, a Native American man who aids the Roanoke colonists as an ambassador. When Cate arrives in the New World, the story is no longer about queens and castles and ladies-in-waiting, but becomes a sobering tale of poverty, war, death, and survival in the wilderness. What drives the story are Cate’s emotions, her willful, outspoken spirit, and her refusal to be ruled by any man. I really enjoyed this novel!