Monday, December 22, 2003

Shadows of the Canyon: Life with the Harvey Girls

Tracie Peterson’s "Desert Roses" series begins with Shadows of the Canyon, set in Arizona in 1923. Alexandria "Alex" Keegan has worked the last few years as a Harvey Girl in the prestigious El Tovar hotel near the Grand Canyon, hoping to save enough money to leave and take her mother with her, far away from her philandering father. She also enjoys her close friendship with rancher Luke Toland.
It is campaign time that summer, with several Democratic candidates gathering at El Tovar to begin their attempts to win the White House. Through the local workers, mainly Alex and Luke, and the wealthy visitors, Shadows of the Canyon shows an interesting time and region, the early years of the Roaring Twenties in the American Southwest.

The history of this story includes the last days of President Hoover’s administration, including his sudden death in early August (possibly from food poisoning, though many historians today believe he died of a heart attack). The El Tovar was, and is, an actual hotel, a luxury hotel far nicer than the standard train-stop restaurants. By 1923, Fred Harvey himself has passed on, and the Harvey business is in its heyday.

Beyond the basic historical setting, though, is a good page-turner, part murder-mystery and thriller, that could occur in any setting. The main relationship theme is common enough: a young woman distrustful of men, who must learn to trust. A secondary plot involves change and maturity in another young woman who at first appears as a rather flippant, superficial and unlikable character.

The main characters, Alex and Luke, are well developed. The novel also shows a good progression of character for Valerie Winthrop--from rich, spoiled girl to one broken in spirit when events get out of her control. Other characters, such as the father Rufus Keegan and crazy-man Joel Harper, seem more exaggerated and the stuff of movies, larger than real-life. Still, they provide suspense and a quick-moving plot, the classic villains in a story where good must ultimately win.

Shadows of the Canyon works well as a stand-alone novel, yet it is the first in a series about unrelated "Harvey Girls" in pre-World War II American West. This first story keeps the action going, then wraps up all the loose plot ends in a somewhat lengthy denouement. This book is a fun read, and a great start to an interesting series.

Tuesday, November 25, 2003

Daughter of the Loom: New England in the Industrial Age

Tracie Peterson and Judith Miller’s new series, Bells of Lowell, begins with Daughter of the Loom, set in 1828 Massachusetts. Lilly Armbruster has lived in East Chesholm, which has recently been renamed Lowell and turned into a textile factory town. She misses the countryside, and blames the mills for taking away her father and all she once had. Left with nothing, Lilly takes a job working at the mill and shares a small boardinghouse room with 8 other girls. Yet in her heart, Lilly purposes to sabotage the mills, carrying out God’s vengeance to remove the industrialists.

Having recently visited the northeast and the early historic mills (Slater Mill, in Northern Rhode Island), I enjoyed the regional and historic background of this novel, with its regional references to Pawtucket and the rivers that powered the region (southern Massachusetts and northern Rhode Island) into the Industrial Age. Daughter of the Loom takes place some years after the first mill was established in 1790; the technology has been developed and now is expanding into areas such as Lowell. Kirk Boott, who started up the mill in this story, appears as one of the minor characters, and we experience this historical figure as seen by Lilly’s old beau, Matthew Cheever.

Daughter of the Loom mentions, at least superficially, some of the problems of the time—cheap labor from foreigners (such as the Irish), long working hours, the heat and humidity of mills that were kept closed with no windows opened, child labor, and sexual harassment of the young women. The descriptions are relatively mild, though, and lack great details of what that life must have been like. Yet we do see both sides; in spite of worker exploitation and literal sweatshops, many among the common people eagerly embraced change and the new economic opportunities the mills brought. Women could find work to help their poor families, and the paycheck seemed more reliable than uncertain farm crops. The town also provided greater social interaction, including annual dance balls eagerly anticipated by the mill girls.

The story moves slowly at times, and the minor characters are not well developed. Much of the time, Lilly is embittered and cynical, not always the easiest person to like. Yet perhaps because of these qualities, the story is more believable, with characters behaving within the constraints of 1828 – in contrast to some of Peterson’s previous series with great page-turning action and events that really would not have happened. Daughter of the Loom serves well as a stand-alone novel, with most of the plot threads resolved by the book’s end. The book is also a great introduction for the future installments, each of which focuses on different main characters -- not yet introduced at this time – and their experiences in the New England Industrial Revolution.

Wednesday, October 15, 2003

If I Perish: Historical Fiction Review

Reviewed by Rita Gerlach

Deborah Turner’s talent as a writer shines through the pages of her novel If I Perish. She took on the daunting task of writing a fictional account of the Biblical story of Queen Esther. Through vivid narrative and true-to-life dialogue, If I Perish is an excellent story that transports you thousands of years into the past, to the world of a young Jewish girl called of God to save her nation.

If I Perish, following the Bible’s account, is filled with intrigue, courage, and romance. The book opens with King Xerxes’ feast. He calls to him his wife Vashti, who refuses to obey the King’s command. Though the King loves his wife, he is forced to denounce her as his queen and send her away.

Pining away for Vashti’s love, the King slips into a depression. His ministers suggest he seek a new queen among the women of his kingdom. The young virgins are brought to the palace and placed under the watchful eye of Hagai the eunuch in the "House of Women". Here the girls are groomed and taught the graces most desirable to the King for a purification period of one year. Among them is Hadassah, a young beauty full of grace and charm, and niece of Mordecai the Jew.

Hagai sees something different in Esther, and she wins his favor. He takes her "under his wing’ so to speak, and teaches Esther all she needs to know in order to win the King’s heart. Unknown to the eunuch is Esther’s Jewish heritage.

Deborah Turner writes with sensitivity the meeting between King Xerxes and Esther. The King falls in love with Esther, and Esther returns to the King a tender love he never experience with Vashti. In If I Perish the author conveys the attitude that men had in that time period toward women, that a woman was a man’s property and subservient to men. But the King finds this is not at all true for his Esther. She becomes his confidant and lover, his friend and most loyal subject. Esther is chosen as Xerxes’ wife and queen.

Esther was advised by her uncle Mordecai not to reveal to the King her Jewish origin. Mordecai has grieved the loss of his dear Hadassah (Esther), yet believes that there is a great purpose for Esther.

Ms. Turner depicts Haman, the prime minister, as the Bible evil, self-serving man, bent on gaining all the power he can to the point he believes it is his right to be King. Haman hates the Jews, and his hatred is further flamed when Mordecai refuses to bow to Haman. Haman then persuades the King to rid the kingdom of all Jews, young and old, man, woman, and child. Haman does not know that Esther is a Jew and Mordecai’s niece.

The decree is issued. Mordecai becomes a target of Haman’s hatred, and Haman has a gallows built by another Jew, a gallows he intends for Mordecai. When Esther receives word of the decree, she faces the most challenging time of her life. She must speak to the King and reveal that she is a Jew, and then reveal Haman’s plan. No one, including the queen, could appear before the King without being summoned by him. To do so meant a sentence of death.

Esther risks her life to save her nation by entering the King’s throne room. She knows the King trusts Haman, but in spite of that, she follows through on a plan that had to be divinely inspired.

Before she goes to the King, Esther orders all Jews to hold a fast for three days and nights. She enters the fast as well with her servants

On day three, Esther dresses in her best royal attire. She then enters the King’s throne room looking beautiful and radiant. Xerxes is smitten by her each time he beholds Esther. She stands in the inner court of the palace, fearing for her life, not knowing what the King will do. Xerxes holds out his scepter. She is free to speak to him. Esther asks the King and Haman to attend a banquet she will have prepared. Haman is proud the Queen has requested his presence and has no idea what is in store for him. After the banquet, Esther asks the King and Haman to attend another banquet the following night, where she will reveal her secret.

At the feast, Esther tells the King she is a Jew, and about Haman’s plan to destroy her people. Esther begs the King to spare the Jews and to delve out punishment upon the evil Haman. Haman begs for his life. Xerxes is extremely distraught, and walks out to the garden, no doubt to think over what has just been revealed to him. He had trusted Haman all this time, only to discover the cruelty and hatred of a plan to destroy the Jews along with his beloved Esther.

While Xerxes is gone, Haman begins employing Esther for help. He goes so far as to lay his hand upon her, and when the King enters, Xerxes believes Haman was attempting to force himself on Esther. He then orders Haman’s be hung upon the gallows Haman had built for Mordecai.

If I Perish is a book that is a reminder that self-sacrifice for the good of others is not only honorable but also far-reaching. If you have never read the Biblical account, If I Perish compels the reader to do so.

I thoroughly enjoyed reading this novel and highly recommend it. In a world where most literature seems to be the same authors and the same kinds of stories, If I Perish is a refreshing change, with a fresh voice from a new writer who has great potential to take her readers into a new place. In your mind’s eye, you see the luxurious palace, and the richly colored silks that adorned Esther. The role of the eunuchs is made clear to the reader, for they, too, were men who sacrificed much in order to fulfill their duty to the King.

If I Perish reminds us to stand up for those in need, those in danger, and those who are persecuted. I give this book five stars!

If I Perish is available from Publish America and all online bookstores.

Reviewed by Rita Gerlach

Rita Gerlach is the author of three romantic historical novels. All of which have received five star reviews. The Rebel’s Pledge is her first book, a story of courage and love in colonial times. Thorns In Eden and The Everlasting Mountains are companion novels, set during the rise of the American Revolution and the Indian War of 1774. Both books have received rave reviews. She is currently writing another historical novel, The Sacrifice, which she hopes to complete by next year.
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Monday, September 15, 2003

Zion Covenant: Vienna Prelude and Prague Counterpoint

Bodie Thoene's popular Zion book series includes the Zion Covenant series, published after the Zion Chronicles series, with a setting prior to the Chronicles. Beginning with Vienna Prelude, we experience the horrors of Nazi Germany in the late 1930s, not long before World War II. The first two books in the series vividly describe the political and social climate that allowed the Nazis to invade Austria and then Czechoslovakia.
Amidst this background is an interesting story about Elisa Lindheim, a Symphony Violionist who happens to be half-Jewish. Though she and her family are baptized Lutherans, and Elisa bears the Aryan blonde traits from her mother's side, she has no rights in the Nazi belief system. Elisa's friend Leah, concert celloist and full Jew, lacks false identity papers and is at even more risk.

Vienna Prelude vividly describes life in Austria immediately before the Nazi invasion, complete with the details of that takeover and the seemingly shocking apathy of Europe. Prague Counterpoint immediately follows, with the early days of Austrian occupation, streams of refugees fleeing into Czechoslovakia, and Hitler's scheming to conquer that nation (which would fall several months after Prague Counterpoint ends).

Other characters include Elisa's Jewish father Theo Lindheim. Also, Elisa's old boyfriend-turned-Nazi Thomas Von Kleistman, contrasted with a daring young American reporter, John Murphy, provide a background love interest. A rural Austrian family illustrates the tension experienced even within families, the division brought by Hitler, that would set a son against his brother and his parents. Yet perhaps there is hope for Otto Wattenbarger, the Nazi son who appears more prominently in the second book.

Several historical figures from the time have minor roles, especially the then-out-of-favor, banished Winston Churchill. Yet even American celebrities Charles Lindbergh and Clark Gable have guest appearances, for a greater, international view of the times.

These two books provide exciting adventures which make the historical period even more interesting, while providing great details of historical research. Prague Counterpoint also addresses the "old-news" story (having begun in Germany even before 1938) of the persecuted church in Germany, the Nazi efforts to remove Jewishness from the state church, even their plans to sterilize imperfect adults and kill defective children.

Monday, September 1, 2003

I'll Watch the Moon: An Inspiring Story from Ann Tatlock

It is 1948, and Minnesota (and the rest of the country) is in the midst of a polio epidemic. The situation becomes personal for 9-year-old Nova Tierney when her 14-year-old brother Dewey contracts the dreaded disease. Both children enjoy astronomy and watching the night sky – so when Dewey despairs, looking always at a hospital ceiling, Nova promises him that she will "watch the moon" for him.

Ann Tatlock’s inspiring novel, I’ll Watch the Moon tells a woman’s reminiscences of her life growing up in the post-World War II Midwest. Nova and her brother and mother live with Aunt Dortha, who runs a boarding house in St. Paul, MN. Beyond the close friendship of brother and sister, though, lies a deeper story about Nova’s mother; boarder and Holocaust survivor Josef Karski; and a child who longs for a father.

As with earlier Tatlock novels (such as All the Way Home), this fourth novel is told in a casual first-person style. Nova views the story as an adult piecing together all the pieces: her own memories, plus what her mother later told her before dying of cancer. We are easily drawn into the story and care about the characters, while learning some about polio epidemics, a scary thing before the vaccine was developed. As one who cannot remember the time, it was interesting to learn that – before people knew what caused polio – it was associated with summer activities, especially water and swimming areas. The characters also think the polio epidemic will end when the frost comes, as though it were caused by mosquitoes and killed off by the cold weather. The historical background also tells of the origin of the March of Dimes and FDR’s involvement, as a polio victim himself.

For a Christian novel, the religious element is weak (perhaps to reach a non-Christian audience?). I’ll Watch the Moon contains plenty of references to God, with some attention to the term Providence and its meaning -- but little mention of Christ or Jesus. An emotional incident relayed from Josef to Nova’s mother suggests that a Jewish (non-Christian) Rabbi found hope and something greater than himself (in his circumstances, the Holocaust) – and that is a major lesson learned. The story never goes beyond that point, toward any discussion of Christian beliefs or faith.

Still, this novel has an enjoyable story, a time-slice look at ordinary people in middle America, in the not-too-distant past. The characters, mainly adults, grow and learn from their experiences. The plot brings about a rather surprising and abrupt twist near the end, to show that real life, as in the story, does not always play out the way we expect it to.

Friday, August 22, 2003

Review: Thorns in Eden

Reviewed by Shirley Johnson

Thorns in Eden, by Rita Gerlach, is perhaps one of the most outstanding books I have read in quite a while. Set in 1773 in Fredericktowne MD and England, this novel takes you into the intimate world of the people trying to birth a free Nation, under God. You become one with their struggles and the very essence of their lives is etched in your heart forever!

The main characters are brought to life by the author to the point that you feel a deep kinship to each one. Rebecah Brent, the daughter of a slain British Officer who is thrust into the arms of her less than appealing uncle, Samuel Brent, who is given charge of her life. Rebecah is a young woman that is determined to taste liberty, not only in government but as a woman.

We have the uncle, Samuel, who harbors a deep resentment for his now deceased brother, the mystery of why has not yet been unfolded, although you are given several hints. His loving wife Kathryn, submitted to a harsh hurting man; his children, young Hugh, a lively wonderful boy who seeks out the love and attention of Rebecah. The two woman cousins, Lavinia and Dorian, who are as different as day and night. Dorian being quite stuck on herself and her beauty, does not like the idea of the attractive cousin coming to live, and sweet Lavinia immediately befriends Rebecah and a deep relationship is seared between the two. None of them realize how important each one will be to the other in this drama of their lives.

The author brings into light the one trying to win Rebecah's heart, and the one whom has been chosen for her, rich Cecil Lanley. I, like Rebecah, did not like this self-centered man and cheered when she refused his attention. However, she is reminded that a woman has no say so on whom she will marry. Rebecah had other ideas, good for her!

My favorite characters were the kindly Nash family, Lady Margaret, Sir Rodney and their son the young patriot John Nash, who was trying to make his life in the colonies.

Nash was a patriot, and was against the control that the British had on his new land, this was a death wish for him and his family, one that becomes the main focal point of this entire story.Through only the hand of a higher power, Nash and Rebecah find each other, but the battle is on, not just for the liberty of a new land, but for the liberty of a new love.

It isn't very often that you read a book where the author is able to blend the deep faith of the characters into the story without being preachy or religious. Rita has done just that, in a way that lets you understand all the decisions that they make, throughout this wonderful read, are based on their commitment to a Higher power that is leading their destiny. Only the hand of an exceptional writer could pen the words in this way, bringing to life the true heart of the people who gave their lives for our liberty.

Oh how this story twists and turns as the life of each player surfaces and merges with the others, like a muted sunset at the close of day.

Battles, emotional, physical and spiritual rage throughout the confines of these pages. Deep conflicts of the soul and spirit are wrestled within each character as they bring to life a novel that will draw you into the making of a nation, through the shed tears of the past. As I read the final pages my heart broke, not just for what was behind, but for what lies ahead for the characters I had grown to love.

If you only read one book this year, I recommend Thorns in Eden, a story of love, a story of faith, a story of freedom, a voice from our past, a prayer for our future! Outstanding!

Shirley Johnson/Reviewer
MidWest Book Reviews
Denise's Pieces

Friday, August 15, 2003

Highland Grace: A Moving Conclusion to the Blue Ridge Legacy

Gary Parker’s three-book series, Blue Ridge Legacy, concludes with Highland Grace. Continuing the story of 100-year-old Abby Porter, this final part tells of the Porter family during the years 1945 to 1974. Finally we see where Abby’s great-granddaughter, Lisa, fits into the family tree; and Lisa, the one learning the story from Abby, can make the family faith her own as well.

As begun in Highland Mercies, the previous book, the story now focuses on Abby’s children, as the post-World War II generation takes over from the previous one. Abby and Thaddeus are still around, but more in the background, and brother Daniel is soon removed from the scene. Much of this story revolves around Abby’s wayward younger son, Steve Waterbury. Now that Abby and her generation have their faith in God, the next generation must go through its struggles – and will Steve find his way back home?

The story is told in three sections: 1945 to 1946; 1946 to 195x; and from then to 1974 – but as with multi-generation stories, sometimes many years are skimmed over before more action occurs. Along the way the family lives through the turmoil of those years, including the Korean and Vietnam Wars.

The highlander ways have passed, as the first part of Highland Grace makes clear. This first part concludes lingering plot elements from the first two books: the long-standing conflict with the Clack family; and Daniel’s vow to get back his family’s land (now lost over 30 years before). After a few interesting plot twists, those two problems are resolved, and the story can move forward. Much of the next two sections deal with a familiar story theme: sibling rivalry between two brothers, with an inferior-feeling younger brother envious of the older.

Still, it is interesting to follow the lives of these characters, much like a real family with many relationships to each other. Even another Clack character comes around to play the brief role of villain, in Jim Waterbury’s brother-in-law (his wife’s side of the family). It also is neat to see the story come up to the present, to fit the modern-day Lisa into the picture along with her early life in the 1970s.

Saturday, July 12, 2003

The Lady in the Tower: Anne Boleyn’s Story

English author Jean Plaidy (the pen name for Eleanor Hibbert; also known as Victoria Holt) wrote many historical fiction novels during the latter half of the twentieth century. Many of her books are currently being re-published, for another generation to enjoy. One such novel is Plaidy’s The Lady in the Tower, of the "Queens of England" series.

The Lady in the Tower is Anne Boleyn’s story, told in first-person as she sits in the London Tower awaiting her execution in 1536. Having come to this tragic end, she recounts her life story, considering along the way her mistakes and what she could have done differently.

With its touching, personal style, The Lady in the Tower portrays life in the royal courts of Britain and France during the early 16th century, as seen by young Anne Boleyn. We learn of her early years in the French court, then her arrival in the English court and romance with Henry Percy. But alas, King Henry VIII intervened to prevent that marriage, and soon revealed to Anne his own interest in her.

This real story – one of those "stranger than fiction" tales that grabs our attention and fascinates so many, because it is true – is revealed with great accuracy, faithful to the actual political events as well as to Anne’s character. All of the characters are historical figures: her brother George and his wicked wife; wayward sister Mary, who was Henry’s mistress for several years and comes to a sad ending; also Thomas Wyatt, Henry Percy, Cardinal Wolsey, King Henry, Queen Katharine, and so many others of this era. The backdrop of the Reformation is ever-present, and we learn of Anne’s interest in Luther’s ideas. From this background also springs forth Cromwell’s suggestion to King Henry (a devout Catholic) to break from the Catholic Church and form a new Church of England.

The sometimes-sympathetic Anne has her good qualities as well as her faults. On the one hand, Anne prized some moral values: keeping her body only for her husband and no other. Yet she had no such qualms if that meant breaking up an existing marriage, for the King to divorce his first wife to marry her. Ambition, as Anne herself relates, came into her heart to replace love; she could not have Henry Percy, whom she loved. Her ambitious father, Thomas Boleyn, would have her marry some man of higher standing -- so why not the King himself? Anne’s personality comes through clearly, again accurate to the historical record: one who liked fashion and designed her own garments; enjoyed being in the spotlight at court; and was often flirtatious, bold, and flippant.

The reader can sympathize with the young woman who makes many foolish mistakes – as so many young people do – and realize the incredible temptations and pressure she faced. Yet we also – as Anne herself now, too late – see her lack of wisdom and judgement, her pride and arrogance, that which would lead to her own judgement and downfall.

The Lady in the Tower is an interesting, if somewhat sad and depressing, historical fiction novel. Though we all know the ending, the telling is made more interesting through Anne’s hindsight point of view, a storyteller half in the past, now looking back with regrets and insights (such as of Henry’s character), even the subtle hints that would foretell later misfortunes. This book is a good sampling of Jean Plaidy’s work, one of her many historical novels set in Europe’s past.

Tuesday, July 1, 2003

Review: The Patriote Proposition

Reviewed by Elizabeth Batt
Thomas Thorpe's, "The Patriote Proposition" is a delightful and historically rich novel centered on 1833 Canada. This work of fiction cleverly combines history, adventure and political intrigue while creating a fast-paced tale thick with plots and counterplots.

Elizabeth Darmon and her family travel to Canada from England, to visit sister Victoria and her husband Richard Hudson. What should have been a happy and pleasurable family reunion and vacation instead turns out to be the ultimate nightmare. When her family leaves for an outing and only an empty carriage returns, Elizabeth is suddenly stranded in a strange country trying to find answers for her family's disappearance.

This book centers on the fight for Canadian independence from the British and the radicals that seek this freedom. Obvious then, is the immediate disadvantage that Elizabeth finds herself facing. Practically single-handed, Elizabeth has to determine what became of her family while facing adversity at every angle - culturally, politically and geographically.

Thorpe's book flows along beautifully and constantly leaves us pondering just who can and cannot be trusted. You can try and connect the dots as you weave your way through the plots and counterplots, but still the author achieves an element of surprise, not easily accomplished in the author's world.

Aside from the adventure and the non-stop action, the historical aspect of the book is wonderful. Not only does it illustrate an area of Canadian history seldom revealed, it nurtures your knowledge so cleverly that you don't realize that you're gaining a history lesson.

Lovers of history and for those seeking a delightful conspiratorial adventure should appreciate this book. Venture into an era that is often overlooked in the history market - you'll be pleased you did.

Book and Reviewer Information:

The Patriote Proposition
by Thomas Thorpe
Port Town Publishing
ISBN: 0-9716239-7-X

Review by Elizabeth Batt
Founding History & Politics Dean - Suite University

Friday, June 20, 2003

The Twelfth Vulture of Romulus: The Last Generation of Ancient Rome

Most historical fiction novels treat fairly recent subject matter, typically events of the last 400 years or so. Yet a few books dig deeper into the past, with an interesting story and a well-researched background of ancient times. Boris Raymond’s new book, The Twelfth Vulture of Romulus: Attila and the Fall of Rome, is one such case: a detailed story that looks at the waning years of the Roman Empire.
Beginning in 458 AD, The Twelfth Vulture of Romulus traces events of this last generation, until the fall of Rome in 476 AD. These years also span the career of the ever-ambitious Orestes, from his early service to Attila the Hun, years as head of the Roman army, to his final grab for the Purple when his young son became the last Roman Emperor. Along the way, we meet many other characters, both historical and fictional, in an epic story with three main sections.

The book’s title at first seems obscure and uninteresting, and the length (almost 600 pages) intimidating. Yet the book is written in normal size print, with an easy-to-read narrative style. As for the title, the author explains that it comes from an ancient prophecy of Rome’s founder, Romulus, who saw 12 vultures: a dream understood to mean that Rome would last for 12 centuries.

The book’s many characters and geographical references appear overwhelming. Here again, though, the author provides many aides (at the back of the book). Often I found myself turning to the detailed list of characters, which tells a little about each character, including his or her’s date of birth (and death, if within the timeframe of the story), age in 458 AD, and whether historical character or not. Many of the characters are in fact from the pages of history: more well-known ones such as Attila the Hun, and other rulers and Popes of the time, but also the story’s main and minor characters: Orestes, his brother Paulus and adopted brother Odovacar; Cassiodorus, Romulus; Orestes’ wife Barbaria; even the priest Gelasius and desert monk Severinus (with a fictional pre-Christian identity of Antonous), and Biglias. Fictional characters include Alexia, a worldly woman who trades slaves for the "entertainment" industry, and at various times is lover to Orestes and Carlus (another fictional character).

Other story aides include a list of geographical places (where one can learn that Itallia is modern-day Italy, Gallia is France, and Mediolanum was an early name for Milan). Another appendix shows an overall map of the Roman Empire.

Against this rich backdrop comes an intriguing story about government corruption and power-plays; rampant immorality in a society increasingly reliant on, and vulnerable to, the Barbarians within and without; and increasing conflict between the Roman Catholic Church, already firmly established, and secular rulers. This is Rome in its decadence, and many characters are not the most morally upright. Yet the author presents the story in good taste (as are all the books I review here), sparing the reader the lurid details that too many books unfortunately include nowadays. Through Severinus, immoral characters are even confronted, albeit briefly, with their wickedness.

From beginning to end, The Twelfth Vulture of Romulus highlights the struggles faced by so many different groups living in this last generation of Rome: the changes they desire, and how they go about achieving those desires. We see in particular the various groups’ quests for power: Orestes’ ever-growing ambition; the Phoenix Group’s quest to restore Rome to its former glory; and the Catholic Church’s increasing dominance. Offset against this are a few individuals (Severinus and Barbaria, for example) who look to the power of God instead. The Twelfth Vulture of Romulus is an interesting, well-researched and informative historical novel about this time period, so distant and yet an important transition to the Western world we know today.

Tuesday, June 10, 2003

Island of Refuge (by Abby Parks): Gripping from Beginning to End

Reviewed by Rita Gerlach
As a child, Tara Madison is given her own island on Tampa Bay. Over the years, her island serves as her refuge. It becomes a place of escape. The tirades of her abusive father are too difficult to bear, and the sorrow of watching her invalid mother waste away leave Tara feeling hopeless and alone.

One night when Tara is a young woman, she rows out to her island in hopes of finding solitude. Instead she finds something she never imagined. It is the eve of World War II, and it has come to invade her private world.

That night, Tara’s world changes forever when she discovers an escaped convict hiding in her island hut. Instead of reporting Tommy to the authorities, Tara insists on helping him prove his innocence.

Island of Refuge reminds me of those 1940's Hemmingway novels made into movies such as Key Largo and To Have and Have Not that, to this day, glue you to your seat. Island of Refuge is a tightly woven suspense mystery. It keeps you questioning with every turn of the page. You suspect that the book is about uncovering Tommy's innocence, but it is much more than that. Tara discovers the Truth that sets her free, and that God will always help those in need of finding it.

I enjoyed this novel very much and highly recommend it. It is a five star piece of literature.

Ms. Parks’ book, Island of Refuge, is published by Publish America. (ISBN: 1-59129-123-2)


Reviewer's bio: Rita Gerlach is the author The Rebel's Pledge, a romantic historical novel of Colonial times that has been rated at five stars. She writes with an inspirational mindset. She has written several articles for The Christian Communicator Magazine, and is preparing to publish a historical series set prior to the American Revolution. These two new novels are entitled Thorns In Eden and The Everlasting Mountains.

Look for them soon!

Sunday, June 1, 2003

The Lion’s Apprentice: More Adventures of the Young George Washington

The Lion’s Apprentice, the third book in Richard Patton’s "Neophyte Warrior" series, continues the story told in the previous two books—His Majesty’s Envoy and The Reluctant Commander. This third installment picks up the story after Washington’s debacle at Great Meadows, and covers the next year – from the fall of 1754 to the summer of 1755. We now meet General Braddock, brought in by the British to subdue the French and reclaim the western fort. Braddock then brings Washington onto his staff, as an adviser, one who knows the territory and its problems. Washington sees a great opportunity here, as an apprentice, a way to advance his military career.

Much of this book contrasts the military styles of the two cultures: the more refined (and somewhat arrogant) British, versus the rustic, rural Americans. The clashing military styles, well-known to Americans familiar with our country’s history, are discussed at length, along with the many details often brushed-over. Braddock’s main problem is deja-vu for Washington: the lack of supplies, and inadequate roads through the back country.

The minor fictional characters are back, in brief parts of the story as before. Shawnee Indian Old Smoke is the strongest and most visible of these. The Pariah West/Stump Neck story seems rather tiresome by now; indeed the character himself admits his own boredom and lack of direction. Fortunately, his presence in The Lion’s Apprentice is quite negligible, and most of the book focuses on the more interesting story of General Braddock, Washington and their associates.

As the third part in a longer series detailing George Washington’s career with the French and Indian war, The Lion’s Apprentice is understood as an installment, not a novel on its own with a clear beginning and ending. The author includes a synopsis of events prior to this part, but readers would do best to read the books in sequence. This third part of "Neophyte Warrior" is a good, interesting and educational read through this period in America’s history.

Tuesday, May 20, 2003

Divine Compass: A Review

Reviewed by Phyllis Andolsek
Interlacing of individual lives in day to day life often appear to be random and without special purpose until those lives are viewed in retrospect. Several collections of personal letters and journals (circa 1860-1910) revealed that premise to inspire this historical novel, Divine Compass by Irene Bonk Koch.

In this condensed saga, the characters are neither good nor bad but merely human as they negotiate their circumstances within the limits of inherent strengths and frailties. This tale deals with bargained marriage, spinster independence, divorce, deception and thievery in a fictionalized account of real persons interacting by chance or by choice. During the aftermath of the American Civil War, many persons were lured to the western territories in search of independence and prosperity. A diverse mix of people crossed paths to form connections that ultimately affected their lives.

The story explores family influence, personal ambition, luck and disillusionment with magnificent accuracy of the era's language and attitudes. Although times and mores change, each generation reveals similar needs and motivations in the inevitable compromise of each life. The final outcome is an understanding that attempts to balance gratitude and regret. A good read, the tale moves swiftly without sacrifice of description or character detail in a manner that vividly reveals the subtle motivations and personalities engaged in particular circumstances. The reader is left with an understanding of the characters as real persons and empathy for their struggles. Most profound is the author's ability to accurately portray male and female attitudes and behavior in keeping with their time while confirming that times change but the inner workings of humans remain much the same from generation to generation

Phyllis Andolsek can be reached at:

Saturday, May 10, 2003

Leaving Ireland: Irish Immigrants in America

Ann Moore’s novel Leaving Ireland begins where its prequel, Gracelin O’Malley, ended. It is a time of good-byes and new beginnings for Grace, who is now compelled to leave Ireland and join her brother Sean in America. Now widowed, and wanted by the authorities for shooting a British soldier, she must leave her newborn son behind; only Mary Kate, her young daughter, accompanies her on the voyage to a new home.

As with Gracelin O’Malley, this second book includes great historical detail, of life for poor immigrants in America as well as the continuing struggle back in Ireland during the late 1840s. Leaving Ireland also includes a look at other American phenomena of the time: slavery (and its runaway slaves), and the early days of the Latter Day Saints (Mormons). New characters introduced include a young Irish boy, Liam Kelley, and Captain Peter Reinders. With its multiple-focus on different issues, Leaving Ireland is less dark in its tone. After all, even the worst situations in America are better than in Ireland. Still, the author does not hide the problems of 19th century America, including the horrid living conditions in the New York City slums and the social class structure with its all too evident prejudice against the Irish. 1840s New York is also a world rife with government corruption and unscrupulous hucksters out for a quick buck.

Though written as a stand-alone novel, Leaving Ireland is clearly a sequel, the continuing life of Grace and her loved ones. The story continues the characters and subplots from Ireland, as we see more of Abban, Barbara, and Julia Martin—the few surviving friends still in Ireland. As a transition in Grace’s life, much of the book details the voyage over, and the characters represent the typical Irish experience. At first they identify themselves as Irish, and remain deeply involved in America’s assistance to their homeland. Later on, Sean and Grace discover what it means to really be American, to identify with the new country. Thus Leaving Ireland conveys the heart of these brave and desperate immigrants, how they made that necessary shift to a new life.

One curious (and slightly annoying, to me at least) change in Leaving Ireland concerns the characters’ age progression. From the chronology in Gracelin O’Malley it is clear that by the fall of 1847 Grace is only 18 years old, and her daughter Mary Kate still two years old. Yet this book begins with Grace inexplicably older, age 20; and Mary Kate is suddenly three years old, almost four. Still, this is a minor inconsistency in an otherwise enjoyable historical fiction tale.

Like Gracelin O’Malley, this book includes a question-answer "conversation" with the author, and discussion questions for groups. Also like the first book, Leaving Ireland has a cliffhanging, suspenseful ending, to leave the reader eagerly looking forward to the next book—and the author’s notes at the end indicate that at least one more book is forthcoming.

Thursday, May 1, 2003

Gracelin O'Malley: An Ireland Story

Ann Moore’s novel, Gracelin O’Malley, begins a heartwarming, inspiring story about a young Irish woman during the 1840s. At age 15, Gracelin agrees to marry the local English Squire to help her family pay the rent. Through the next few years, Gracelin experiences both her husband’s increasing cruelty, and the country’s suffering during the potato famine. She lives with the rejection of higher-society English, and longs for visits with her family, including crippled brother Sean and her grandmother. Through the years she matures, no longer the simple and naïve maiden, yet strong in courage and a hope that goes beyond her circumstances.

The supporting characters are also engaging: embittered Da, who distrusts the Catholic Church; her loving grandmother who took the place of her mother after she died. We see other Irish families, such as the McDonaghs, Catholic peasants headed by a weak-willed father who often deserts the family. Brigid Sullivan is servant to the Squire and Grace, and we meet her children—teenage Moira, and young Nolan. Lord Evans also enters the picture, as an Englishman who helps the Irish.

A good historical novel should also convey history to the reader, and Gracelin O’Malley excels here as well. Most of the story takes place from 1844 to 1847, and several characters become involved in the political unrest, in the Young Irelanders. The setting is a near contemporary with the Thoene’s "Galway Chronicles," (see reviews of Only the River Runs Free and Of Men and Of Angels) and makes reference to Daniel O’Connell, the Repeal Movement and the Monster meetings of 1844—events detailed in that series. But now O’Connell is dead, and famine quickly decimates the Irish. Other historical figures referenced here include John Mitchel (of the inflammatory, anti-British publication The Nation) and William Smith O’Brien, a minor character involved with the fictional Morgan McDonagh and Sean O’Malley.

Yet beyond the politics of the day were the real Irish people, the heart and soul of Ireland. Gracelin O’Malley so captures that spirit, with a detailed, honest look at the hardships of the Irish. The picture is not always pretty, often including graphic descriptions of starving, malnourished bodies, and the horrid smells of disease and poor sanitation both in the city and country.

An interesting plot and strong characters bring a powerful story in Gracelin O’Malley. The author avoids black-and-white stereotypes of characters, showing both good and bad English, as well as good and bad Irish. One Englishman is proud and cruel, yet another, a young soldier, is challenged by Gracelin’s spirited words about her homeland. Ann Moore has written an excellent tribute to Ireland and its people with this book, a great start to a still-developing series. (Leaving Ireland is the sequel, and the author suggests that at least a third book is in the works.)

Tuesday, April 22, 2003

Where Hearts Live (by Sara DuBose)

Reviewed by Rita Gerlach
There is something special about the Southern Writer, a special bond with storytelling, a unique style in the weaving of the craft of storytelling.

Sara DuBose is as good a southern writer as one would expect to find. Her unique and heartwarming book, Where Hearts Live, is a gem. She paints a picture of Chantilly, Alabama in the early 1950's that changed my mental picture of the deep south being all swamp and heat. Instead her vivid writing style introduced me to houses with front porch swings, hospitality, and shady magnolia trees, as well to a plethora of characters.

Where Hearts Live is a book for young and old alike. The childhood stories of Mary Lynn take us back to our own childhood, for most of us more than likely experienced similar situations.

Where Hearts Live is filled with characters that are real...much like Twain did in his books. There is the lovable Uncle Jimmy and Aunt Molly, and Grandma Lil, and Preacher Sam, a Burl Ives type pastor, whose sound theology, love for children, and gift for storytelling make him a beloved figure in the community and in Mary Lynn's heart. The book would not have been complete without Mary Lynn's dog, Sir Prize. The dialogue is fresh and believable.

I really loved reading this book. I highly recommend it for a relaxing read. Also it is a good book for young readers. Mom's, try reading this one to your kids before bedtime.

Where Hearts Live is also a book that takes us back to a time when values were valued, when love was the cement that bound families together. Where Hearts Live would make a good movie or play. Do not hesitate to read Ms. DuBose's delightful book. You won't regret it!

Reviewer's bio: Rita Gerlach is the author The Rebel's Pledge, a romantic historical novel of Colonial times. She writes with an inspirational mindset. She has written several articles for The Christian Communicator Magazine, and is preparing to publish two new historical novels in a series, a story of the Revolution, England, and the wilderness of Maryland, entitled Thorns In Eden with the sequel The Everlasting Mountains.

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Tuesday, April 8, 2003

Review: The Wolf Hunt

(Forge; 384 pages; 2001) The Wolf Hunt, by Gillian Bradshaw
Reviewed by Lisa Jensen

A scrupulous and compelling work of historical fiction spiced with a dash of fairy tale, this wonderful Gillian Bradshaw novel is in a category of its own—medieval magic realism. Based on a 12th Century "lay" (or troubadour romance) by French poetess Marie de France, the story presents a fantastical premise—a werewolf story— within the gripping realistic context of the era of the French medieval troubadours in which Marie herself lived and wrote. Bradshaw's novelized version also ponders the very human notions of honor, betrayal, identity and longing that resonate in any era.

The hero of the tale is a Breton huntsman-knight called Tiarnan. A fair-minded lord to his serfs, and a pre-Greenpeace crusader for the environment, he has just one minor flaw to his sterling charactr: he likes to go into the forest on a moonlit night, take off his clothes and morph into a wolf. ("Bisclavet," as they say in medieval French.) His shapeshifting abilities are treated like any addiction; he does it for the rush, the thrill of heightened sensory awareness. And, as is the case with most addictions, he’s tried and failed to kick the habit. But his private passion has unexpected consequences when his silly, scheming new bride and her ambitious former suitor discover Tiarnan's secret. Suddenly, his own future and the fate of his entire estate and all the people who love and respect him are at stake.

Bradshaw's tale is a sly nod to the "Beauty And The Beast" legend. But in this case, a beauty is responsible for transforming the hero into a beast when Tiarnan's angry bride prevents him from shifting back into human shape, forcing him to roam the countryside as a wolf. It's up to a somewhat lesser beauty (but a much more valuable woman) to restore him. Bradshaw ingeniously invents a character named Marie (in hommage to the poetess herself) to quietly assume the role of heroine, but in other respects sticks close to the plot of the original lay. Medieval court life is brought to vivid, robust life, while issues of betrayal, redemption and, yes, love, are beautifully handled. Bradshaw is particularly good with Tiarnan's interior struggle to retain his human identity within the body of a wolf. For readers like moi who had no idea there was even a word for werewolf in medieval French, the very idea is a revelation. It's also an irresistible story that makes for a delightful read.

Lisa Jensen is a novelist, critic, and avid reader of historical fiction. She has been a professional film critic for a Santa Cruz, CA newspaper for 27 years. She also reviewed books for the San Francisco Chronicle for 13 years, where her specialty was historical fiction and women's fiction. Her first novel, THE WITCH FROM THE SEA, an historical swashbuckler, was published in 2001.

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Saturday, March 15, 2003

The Unionist: Book Review

Reviewed by Mark H. Kelly
This article first appeared in the Morgan County Citizen, October 31, 2002

Every historical event has an inside angle or issue that isn’t recognized for its impact on individuals or communities. When the subject of the American Civil War is introduced into discussion, most people focus on the major battles and historical figures.

Perry, Georgia attorney W. Steven Harrell has reached into our nation’s and state’s past with the non-fiction work The Unionist, implementing pain-staking research to resurrect the life and Civil War adventures of Lt. David R. Snelling.

The literary angle readers will immediately be captured by the Milledgeville native’s decision to break against the tide of Southern History and emotions, joining the First Alabama Union Cavalry Regiment.

More than a retelling of battles and actions of historical figures, The Unionist provides readers with an accurate description of plantation life in Milledgeville in the days leading up to the conflict, along with the backroom legislative activities of fire-eaters Robert Toombs, Alexander Stephens and many others.

However, where the book excels is on the home and battles fronts. Snelling’s decisions (as one can imagine) cost him dearly on personal and professional levels, profoundly presenting issues of the era to light.

Once the war begins for Lt. Snelling, Harrell’s skills as a writer jump into the saddle at full gallop with depiction of troop movements and battle capturing readers’ attention. Indeed, smoke often wafts from the pages and bullets zing through the air as soldiers from both sides fall and move from tree to boulder to streambed in search of cover.

There are equally compelling stories of soldier camaraderie, interaction with citizens and the forming of bonds lasting Snelling’s lifetime. Snelling’s adventure takes him to Stones River, Abel Streight’s Raid, Dallas, Monroe’s Cross Roads and Atlanta to Durham Station during Sherman’s March to the Sea.

Civil War and history buffs will find the work engaging and can proudly place it in their collection.

Saturday, March 1, 2003

Review of "Treason & Triumph"

Reviewed by Rita Gerlach

At the onset of a war that would leave Europe devastated and the Jewish people raked by the Holocaust of Hate, two women from vastly different worlds, become embroiled in Churchill's plan to thwart the Nazis' plan to produce the first atomic bomb. Trapped in a switch of identity, both women must rely on the traitor to save them.

Treason and Triumph
opens with the Spanish Civil War and takes the reader into the nerve center of the Third Reich. It is the late 1930's. Hitler's agenda spreads through Germany like a vile poison. His war machine rages through Europe, bringing insurmountable suffering and destruction, especially to the Jewish people. American journalist, Marla Franklin is sent to cover the war for the London Times. Lady Catherine Rushmore, cousin to Britain's king, is a talented concert pianist forging her way into the heart of England's cultural elite as a talented concert pianist, when she is given an assignment to serve her king and country.

Marla and Catherine are identical in appearance and are recruited into Churchill's Project Amanita. The mission is to penetrate into the heart of the Nazi leadership and carry out a plan of espionage. With patriotic fervor, and unswerving bravery, the two women vow to sacrifice their very lives in order to fulfill their mission along with the Amanita Team.

In the beginning of the story, it is not known that one person on that team is a traitor and spy, a Nazi desirous to see the Nazis win the war and rule the world. As events unfold, suspicions rise. The story continues on a tense pace to discover who the traitor is.

TREASONS & TRIUMPH is a suspenseful World War II thriller. From start start to finish Treason & Triumph is fast paced. Bonnie Toews' novel is not just an entertaining thriller. It is novel that transports the reader into the horrors of World War II. It is vivid in imagery and not for the light hearted reader. Her novel demonstrates a writing skill that all writers should strive for: the ability to tell a story that is real to the reader, and give the reader a greater sense of the duty of mankind. Treason & Triumph shows good and evil, the moral and the immoral. The reader will discover that with there is no greater love than for a man, or woman, to lay his or her life down for a friend. Marla and Catherine are willing to sacrifice their lives in order to save the lives of millions. Treason & Triumph is a compelling story of sacrifice in a time when morals and honor were something of value, challenged by the immorality of Nazi brutality. I highly recommend this book, especially to readers who enjoying stories of WWII. Bonnie Toews knows how to draw a reader in and keep you turning the pages.

Reviewer's bio: Rita Gerlach is the author The Rebel's Pledge, a romantic historical novel of Colonial times. She writes with an inspirational mindset. She has written several articles for The Christian Communicator Magazine, and is preparing to publish a historical series set prior to the American Revolution.

Saturday, February 22, 2003

Doing Research for Historical Fiction

By Rita Gerlach

Doing research for the historical novel can either be one of the most tedious jobs for a writer or one of the most enjoyable, besides writing the novel itself. We hear the phrase, "write what you know." Research helps you do just that.

The writer should look at the task of researching as an adventure, an unveiling of facts that perhaps have long been forgotten. Research will help you capture the setting of your novel. It will enable and equip you to make your novel flow and come alive. It will enhance your narrative. It will allow you to help the reader hear, taste, touch, smell, and see the setting as well as your characters.

There are steps you can take to effectively research your novel.

1. The Local Library: Research does not have to be mind-boggling. The first step is researching the location of your novel. Think of who, what, when, where, and why. Your local library is an excellent place to begin.

For example your novel takes place during the War of 1812. The first place I would start for simple and basic historical facts in the juvenile section. There you should find a book outlining the events of the war. Search for the style of dress, modes of transportation, what people ate, music, medicine, etc. Check encyclopedias and reference books.

By now you have gathered some basic information. But how do you find those hidden facts? Where are those untold stories? Reference books and biographies can provide a lot of information. But your best source is your librarian. Ask for help, and tell the librarian you are writing a novel and need additional information the encyclopedias and reference books cannot provide. Your librarian should be able to direct you to the best information available.

When I was writing a novel about 18th century Maryland, I visited "The Maryland Room" at my local library. It is open at certain times of the week and is attended by a librarian. The books for the most part are old, and therefore a treasure-trove of history. It is my belief the older the resource, the more accurate the information.

2. Local Historical Societies: Local historians usually run their historical society. Go in and ask questions. Ask to see any documents that might enhance your vision. Not only do historical societies have original documents and pictures, they might also have works of art and photographs.

3. Historical Sites: If possible, visit the historical sites in your subject area. Attend reenactments. Take a historical tour. Visit sites through the eyes of your characters.

4. New and Used Bookstores: Many out-of-print history books may be found at your used bookstore, and local bookstores may have an excellent history section.

5. The Internet is a wellspring of information. In writing the historical novel, you can find sites on everything from period clothing to detailed historical events. One thing that has helped me in writing my novels is to visit sites with period paintings. Often enough I find portraits of both famous and not so famous historical figures. Interestingly, I find that the book covers of historical novels, especially in the romance genre, do not reflect the way people looked in ages past.

Here are two excellent links for historical content.

PBS's American Experience:

The History Net:

Lastly, remember that by gathering significant information you add zest to your story in order to engage readers. However, be alert to the danger of adding too much information. Don't spend so much time on research that you never start writing, that the inspiration begins to fade. Gather just enough material to validate your story historically and hold the reader's interest. Remember you are writing a novel, not a thesis on the history of Whatever Town.

Saturday, February 15, 2003

Catherine's Heart: A Victorian Romance

Lawana Blackwell continues her historical fiction "Tales of London" series with Catherine's Heart, the follow-up to the tender and sweet Maiden of Mayfair story. It is now 1880, and Sarah and William, and Naomi and Daniel (Sarah's father), live quite comfortably, even enjoying the very newest technology of the day -- telephones.

The story now focuses on Sarah's cousin, Catherine -- only briefly mentioned in the previous book -- and her years at a women's college. In contrast to Sarah, Catherine has lived a life of ease, sheltered by good parents, education and travels abroad to India. Like Sarah, Catherine sometimes lacks good judgment, especially as regards the intentions of would-be suitors -- a quality developed more intensely than in Sarah's case, which was a rather small plot development in The Maiden of Mayfair. Catherine's girlfriends at school add to a story of the idyllic 1880s college life -- yet a realistic world with its own jealousies and conflicts between close friends.

Back from the first book, and more fully developed, is William's nemesis, Sidney. Rounding out the cast is a rather unpleasant family with over-indulged children, for a full look at a less-than-perfect Victorian world. As with the first book, some notable characters are lacking in good morals and virtue.

The historical context involves the early days of Girton College, an actual women's college opened in 1873 in Cambridge. (The school is still in operation, though as a co-ed school since the late 1970s.) Neighboring Newnham was another women's college in the area, as mentioned in the story. The characters in Catherine's Heart convey, too, the spirit of the school at this time -- its emphasis on a classical education, with additional offerings in science fields, and chaperoned visits to Cambridge a few miles away -- where the women would likely encounter the male college students.

The plot in Catherine's Heart lacks the moving, emotionally-stirring story of an orphan restored to higher English society. Still, the story serves a nice addition to a series about life in Victorian times, with the strength of characters we have come to love from the first book.

Saturday, February 1, 2003

Review of "The Rebel's Pledge": A peak at 17th Century England and America's Maryland

Reviewed by Bonnie Toews

Rita Gerlach has remarkable talent as a writer. She captures the past and makes it live for today's readers. At the same time, she remains true to life in 17th Century Maryland and England during the English rebellion--in dialogue, social mores and historical fact. Rita's characters become like family--you don't want to leave them at the end of her novel--so if she continues to use them in future stories, readers will welcome them back into their literary lives.

"The Rebel’s Pledge"
begins in 1686, just as the English Rebellion against King James is at its height. Mathew Hale is one of the rebels who is caught and faces execution. By Royal Decree, however, he escapes the hangman’s noose to be sentenced to live out his remaining life as a slave in the colonies. On a Maryland plantation, Hale’s new owner Edmund Carey learns his slave is the son of a man who saved his life during the English Civil War. When Indians attack Carey’s home and ravage his land, Hale saves his owner’s life. Carey is so grateful that he frees Hale from slavery. With a chance to go anywhere he pleases, Hale elects to stay with Carey as his foreman. When Carey becomes very ill, he beseeches Hale to go to England to fetch his estranged daughter so she can see him and the plantation that she will inherit before he dies. At Green Glade Manor in England, Laura has lived under her rich uncle’s guardianship. This brother of her mother is an ambitious man, and betroths her to an aristocrat, a man whose fortune he hopes will benefit both of them. Unfortunately, Laura’s fiancé is a man with his own hidden agenda, and when Hale arrives, she escapes with him to America and to her father. In love, she and Hale marry, but soon afterward, Laura’s spurned aristocrat lover accuses Hale of murder and kidnaps Laura from her plantation home. Now Hale must make his way back to England to clear his name, find his wife, discover the real murderer and confront the man who wants to destroy his and Laura’s life together. Can he forgive the man who brought so much pain to his family? Or will he become the thing he despises?

Thus, the true drama begins, pitting Laura and Mathew Hale in a duel of conflicting class distinctions and treachery that stretches across two continents. From the opening page to the last word, this poignant love story is set in the midst of swashbuckling suspense. What a way to learn about American history! Through the heart of fiction. I predict, in time, Rita Gerlach will become an adored household name to readers and fans of historical fiction.

Reviewer's bio: Bonnie Toews is a national award-winning business journalist whose articles and editorials have appeared in Canadian magazines and newspapers. Through a career that has ranged from teacher to editorial director of a major publishing company in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, she now freelances and writes fiction novels as a hobby.

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Wednesday, January 15, 2003

Wallenberg is Here! -- A True Holocaust Story

Carl Steinhouse’s new book, Wallenberg is Here!, tells a fascinating, true story about a "lost hero." Raoul Wallenberg, a Swedish diplomat of the famed Wallenberg family, used his wits and resources to take on the Nazis in Budapest, Hungary. His efforts saved tens of thousands of Jews from certain death.

Wallenberg is Here! brings a historical story as historical fiction, a novel with dialog, conflict, and suspense. Character contrast is shown between the selfless Wallenberg and his greatest foe, Adolph Eichmann—"the bloodhound" of the Jews. The story gives a detailed chronology; each scene begins with a heading of the date and exact place, even to precise streets or buildings in Buda or Pest, the two parts of Budapest. For further variation, Wallenberg is Here! alternates between short narrative prose describing overall events, scenes involving Wallenberg and his associates, and anecdotal scenes with various individual Jews – some of whom soon perish, others who escape impending destruction, and others who are rescued by Wallenberg.

The horrific story is (of course) similar to others from the Holocaust, with events that call to mind, for example, scenes from the movie "Schindler’s List." In tribute to that now well-known event, the author includes brief dialog referring to Schindler. Though Wallenberg’s story takes place outside the concentration camps, it includes all the other horrors: innocent people shot at random in the streets; Jews herded onto cattle cars; others shot and thrown into the Danube River; and still more marched for miles to the nearest train loading points. As with any book dealing with this subject, Wallenberg is Here! does not make for easy, fun or light reading. But the real world often contains such unpleasant and depressing events, and Wallenberg offers hope in the midst of a terrible situation. Though Wallenberg and his associates are hopelessly outnumbered, they do what they can, giving protective custody with Swedish Schutzpasses to thousands. As the persecution intensifies, and anarchy reigns in the new Hungarian "Arrow Cross" government, all Wallenberg can do is put out small fires in a blazing forest – jumping from one emergency to another, and the reader feels the hopelessness of the situation. Yet from the many Jews saved from each crisis, spreads the whisper "Wallenberg is here."

Steinhouse concludes the intriguing "hero" story with its tragic aftermath, in which Wallenberg quickly disappeared behind the Iron Curtain. Unbeknownst even to Wallenberg, a new Cold War had begun even before the "hot war" had ended, by January 1945. Having told a great, true story from history, the author adds a call for action – for the U.S. government and the world to learn the rest of the story from the former Soviet Union.

Wednesday, January 1, 2003

Somewhere A Song: Follow-Up to Pella's "Written on the Wind"

Somewhere A Song, the sequel to Judith Pella's Written on the Wind, begins immediately where the last book ended. Soon all three Hayes daughters--Cameron, Blair, and Jackie--hear the news of the attack on Pearl Harbor -- December 7, 1941. Cameron has just returned to the Soviet Union; Blair has been living in the Philippines for a few weeks; and Jackie continues her life in Los Angeles. The story covers events of the next six months, until June 1942.

Though the book opens and closes on Cameron's life, Blair's story is the most exciting and developed one. After all, as Cameron knows too, the action is now in the Pacific. Blair matures through her hardships, as she faces evacuation from Manila, separation from Gary due to the war, and then a rough lifestyle in the wilderness of the Philippines. Later she and some friends live for a while with Christian missionaries in a remote area. The once-spoiled "glamour girl" learns to survive by depending on God, noting that He always provides others to help her along.

Cameron, meanwhile, has changed her attitude from religious indifference to outright hostility. Her harsh attitude poses irreconcilable differences with Alex--her recent romantic interest--and his new-found Christian faith. The story of Cameron's Russian half-brother is developed more, with a few tantalizing clues for Cameron as well as the reader -- again to await further development in the next book. As in the first book, Cameron's American journalist and Russian friends are back in their minor roles, including the Fedorcenko family. Fans of Pella's "The Russians" series can appreciate these minor characters in this new "Daughters of Fortune" series, with a glimpse at the later years of Anna Yevnovna, her son and grandchildren.

Jackie's story is again too brief (another excellent storyline), but includes more of her relationship with a Japanese-American man, Sam, and a surprising outcome. As hostilities increase in California, towards Japanese after Pearl Harbor, Jackie and Sam must decide what's most important in their lives. This part of Somewhere A Song also discusses the internment camps for Japanese-Americans, a subject also dealt with in another recent Bethany House historical novel (All the Way Home, by Ann Tatlock).

Somewhere A Song is another excellent addition to Judith Pella's "Daughters of Fortune" series. Building on the events from the first novel, it continues several interesting plot developments. Again, several story elements are left hanging, for the reader to eagerly await the next book.