Sunday, April 21, 2002

The Distant Beacon: Acadians and the American Revolution

Janette Oke and T. Davis Bunn's "Song of Acadia" series continues with The Distant Beacon, book four in the series. The story begun in 1753 with The Meeting Place now tells the adventures of the two girls, who were switched as infants. Anne, the French child raised by Catherine and Andrew Harrow in Nova Scotia, now lives in England with her new husband. Nicole, the Harrow’s daughter raised by the Robichauds in New Orleans, now returns from England to Nova Scotia and then Massachusetts.

Anne’s story has been told in the previous books (The Sacred Shore, The Birthright), and so The Distant Beacon focuses almost exclusively on Nicole. Nicole has come to faith in Christ, but still harbors many insecurities. She still feels troubled, in part due to an unfortunate romantic incident in her past. She now loves Captain Gordon Goodwind of the British merchant navy, but holds back – for he does not know God.

Nicole has inherited land in the Massachusetts colony, as well as great wealth and title – the Viscountess Lady Harrow. Meanwhile, the colonies are at war with the British. It is 1776, and British forces occupy Boston but not the countryside. Throughout their dealings with both sides of the conflict, Nicole as well as Goodwind and his men find they must choose their allegiances.

The Distant Beacon begins at a steady, uneventful pace as it explores Nicole and her troubled thoughts. Later, like the flow of the first book, the action picks up for a story less focused on Nicole’s problems and more on an exciting adventure and great deeds the characters perform. A fairly short book -- only 270 pages -- The Distant Beacon thus provides an enjoyable read; not too prolonged at the outset, with all the strong elements of a historical romance – the rich historical setting, action, and themes of love, bravery, allegiance, honor and betrayal.

Thursday, April 11, 2002

Rivers of Gold: Conclusion of Tracie Peterson's Yukon Quest

The second part of "Yukon Quest," Ashes and Ice, left our Yukon friends separated, relationships broken. Miranda Colton fell from a boat during a storm, presumed dead. Due to miscommunication, Peter and his parents think they lost Grace, not Miranda.

Rivers of Gold begins with such circumstances and quickly adds a few twists, for a hard-to-put-down story filled with several timing incidents in which the friends almost find each other. Then the pieces all fall into place, for a nice conclusion that neatly ties all the loose ends for a "happily ever after" historical romance.

While the first novel focused on Grace Hawkins and the second on Karen Pierce, Rivers of Gold brings Miranda to the foreground. She did not die in the river after all, but was rescued by a British man and an older Indian woman. Teddy Davenport is a botanist, researching the plant life of the Yukon. He plans to publish a book of his findings, his way of continuing his father's work and legacy. Thus he has no time for "interruptions" such as the young woman that showed up at his cabin. Miranda, meanwhile, is determined to find her friends and let them know she is okay. Through their time spent together, though, Teddy and Miranda fall in love.

The story takes place in 1899, and the characters note the changes in the area: how different things are from when they arrived during the gold rush hey-day two years ago. Just as quickly as the gold seekers came, the now depart. Many have given up their dream of gold and desperately try to sell their equipment. Others are heading for Nome, Alaska, where gold has just been discovered, hoping again to strike it rich.

The bulk of the action takes place in and around Dawson, Yukon, the town the group was heading for in the previous book. Villain Martin Paxton is now gone, and so a new villain is supplied, from a minor character introduced in Ashes and Ice. This enemy is more realistic than Paxton, does not occupy the full story, and reflects the all-too-true violence and greed of the gold rush days.

Brief mention is made of historical events, including a fire in Dawson made worse by the firemen's strike, and the celebration for Queen Victoria. Overall, though, Rivers of Gold is a story about the people we have come to love from the previous two books and how their lives and problems finally fall into place. The characters learn of the true "rivers of Gold" -- faith in God and the joy of loved ones. Through trials and temptations of gold, the characters learn what really brings peace and riches; the gold that so many seek will not satisfy.

Monday, April 1, 2002

A Way Through The Sea: Denmark Children During World War II

A Way Through The Sea begins Robert Elmer’s “The Young Underground” series for young readers (ages 8-13). The Andersen twins, Peter and Elise, have experienced German soldiers in their hometown of Helsingor, Denmark since they were eight years old. It has been three years since the Germans invaded (1940), with no sign of the war ending. Life goes on, as normal as possible, but the adults seem nervous, as does the twins’ Jewish friend, Henrik Melchior. The Danish Jews have escaped the persecution of other European countries – so far. But that situation will soon change.

Throughout the first part of the book, eleven-year-olds Peter, Elise and Henrik enjoy carefree summer days. Often they ride their bicycles across town and release their three pigeons for “pigeon races” to see which bird is the fastest. Peter and Henrik send Morse code signals by flashlight at nighttime, though the Nazi presence makes such games more dangerous. Peter also enjoys visiting his grandfather and Uncle Morten, who operate a fishing boat at the coast. Sweden is just a few miles across the sea, visible from the Denmark coast, but Peter and Elise have never even been out in the fishing boat.

Peter considers himself a Lutheran, in the patriotic tradition – after all, they attend church every Christmas and Easter. Still, he notices that Uncle Morten, who attends a small church every week, is different. Then the children see Uncle Morten having a secret meeting with a Swedish man. He must be working with the Underground Resistance.

In late September 1943, the Nazis decided to round up all the Denmark Jews – about 7,000. But in a remarkable, oft-forgotten true World War II story, the Danish people learned of the plan two days in advance. Unlike the Europeans in other conquered lands, all Denmark’s citizens banded together to rescue their Jewish neighbors and help them escape to Sweden. As related in A Way Through The Sea and the epilogue (historical notes), most of the Jews in fact escaped – Hitler was furious! Peter, Elise and Henrik find their own harrowing adventures in the midst of this terrible time, as they take direct action to send Henrik to Sweden.

The first in a series, A Way Through The Sea sets the groundwork for many more adventures for the Andersen twins. Henrik Melchior later appears in the second book of Elmer’s “Promise of Zion” series, as a 15-year-old in 1947 Palestine. The name Melchior, by the way, may come from an actual person in Denmark history; Rabbi Dr. Marcus Melchior was among those who took action in September 1943.