Monday, July 15, 2002

The Maiden of Mayfair: An Orphan's Story in Victorian England

Lawana Blackwell’s novel, The Maiden of Mayfair (first in the Tales of London series), tells a heartwarming story about a young girl living in an orphanage in the slums of London in 1870. Thirteen-year-old Sarah Matthews is suddenly sent away to live with a wealthy elderly woman in the Mayfair district.

Mrs. Blake is hardly the Daddy Warbucks type, and Sarah a far cry from Orphan Annie. Sarah is a rather shy girl, quite content to live in the St. Matthews’ Methodist Home – the only home she has ever known – and can’t understand why she has been sent away. Other girls she knows would much more enjoy living in a real home. However, Mrs. Blake wishes to make amends for past mistakes, and believes Sarah to be her granddaughter. Only problem is, the real grandchild died in infancy, so the Orphanage director provides Sarah as a substitute.

Both Mrs. Blake and Sarah face of scorn – of Sarah’s presumed illegitimacy – from Mrs. Blake’s friends. Sarah has much to lose as well, if her true identity is discovered. Through the years Sarah comes to enjoy a wonderful life, including friendship with Mrs. Blake’s household servants, including Naomi, the cook and a close confidant of Dorothea Blake.

The historical setting includes a favorable view of household servants and their day-to-day lives and relationships. Many of the characters enjoy reading Charles Dickens’ novels, and mourn the passing of the great author that summer of 1870. Through one of the characters we also learn of the many ways in which businesses preyed on consumers: bad food, ordinary liquids touted as miracle cures, and so on. Naomi, her nephew William, and Sarah also tour the cultural sites of 1870s London.

Throughout the story is a theme of compassion, forgiveness, and the joy that comes from loving and helping another. Mrs. Blake especially conveys the hope of one, once miserable over past failures, who finds this truth working its way in her life. The Maiden of Mayfair is a truly touching story, conveying compassion along with interesting characters. Though the first in the series, it reads and concludes as a single book with no loose ends. After a great first book, though, Lawana Blackwell fans can eagerly look forward to the next book, Catherine's Heart, scheduled for publication this fall (2002).

Monday, July 1, 2002

Freedom Trap: "Promise of Zion" Book 5

Robert Elmer's "Promise of Zion" series continues with the recently released 5th book, Freedom Trap. (The author announces in this book that the series will finish with the next book, True Betrayer.)

This book finds Emily on the island of Cypress, visiting the Jews at the refugee camp run by the British. Remembering a promise she made to Dov -- to do anything she could to find his parents -- she continues her search for Dov's mother. Dov, meanwhile, has returned to the Old City Jewish Quarter with his brother Natan. Arabs bomb the area daily, and soon Dov finds himself living in a crowded apartment with a Jewish family and nearly a dozen small girls from a nearby (now destroyed) orphanage. Soon we see a new side of Dov, who now considers others, not just himself. Somehow he must get the orphans to safety.

While the British pull up their final stakes, in a hurry to leave the area, the Arabs mercilessly attack the Jews--who will soon declare their new nation of Israel. Emily, too, sees the harsh reality along a highway from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem: cars and trucks wrecked everywhere along the road, and groups of Arabs from the hillsides above waiting to attack any more non-British vehicles.

As in the previous books, Elmer tells a thrilling action-adventure with great historical detail. This book introduces additional elements of 1948 Palestine, including life in the refugee camp, where the British have detained thousands of Jews who sought a new home in Israel. Though nothing like the Nazi concentration camps, conditions are harsh and many Jews die of diseases such as tuberculosis. Another historical detail, a hanging trolley run by cables above Jerusalem, provides an interesting plot-device (though the author notes that this train did not in fact exist until later that year).

Freedom Trap is another excellent book for young people, and a book that sparks interest in the real historical events of Israel's founding in the late 1940s.