Monday, January 31, 2005

Homeward My Heart: Exciting Conclusion to the "Daughters of Fortune" Series

Judith Pella’s "Daughters of Fortune" series comes to a close with the fourth book, Homeward My Heart. Daughters Cameron, Blair and Jackie have been through many hardships of World War II, scars they still deal with during the war’s aftermath. This part, set in 1946 and 1947, reveals a world now beginning a Cold War – and we get a good look at Stalin’s paranoia and hard-line tactics in the Soviet Union. More than half of the story takes place in Russia, with all three daughters spending a good amount of time there. The Russia plots involve Cameron’s husband, Alex, while also neatly tying up the Semyon half-brother story and introducing new relationships for other Hayes family members.

As always, the story keeps a good pace, with excitement and suspense as we share Alex’s desperation and growing problems with the Soviet government. Though we expect everything to turn out okay, the story’s circumstances certainly show a bleak picture at times, as we wonder how the author can get the character out of a very grave situation. A few other plot lines also seem unrealistic, but bring a nice closure to the "Daughters of Fortune" series.

Our old friends, including the Federcenko family, and Alex’s friend (Anatoly Bogorodsk) are back, and we get a closer look at a previously minor character, Cameron and Alex’s contact Robert Wood.

As with most historical fiction novels, especially a series’ conclusion, this book gives a nice, happy ending for all the characters. After all the tragedies of the previous parts to this series, it is nice to enjoy the lighter, happier parts of Homeward My Heart. Of course, along the way some of the characters still suffer, and work through some serious issues (such as the Japanese American racism).

Homeward My Heart is an excellent addition to the "Daughters of Fortune" series. I only wish it were not the end. Judith Pella has done a great job with character development and plots for these young women, with their relationships to each other and their family, against the backdrop of active World War II involvement.

Saturday, January 15, 2005

The Shiloh Legacy: World War I Veterans 10 Years Later

Bodie Thoene’s Shiloh Legacy series includes two more books after the great beginning of In My Father’s House. The next two books, A Thousand Shall Fall and Say to This Mountain, are written as a double-novel, one continuous story that takes place ten years after the first book’s end. Through these two books, we explore the world of America in the last half of 1929 – the Stock Market Crash and the beginning of the Great Depression.

A Thousand Shall Fall sets the scene in the last two months before the crash, a snapshot of life during the crazy days of the booming Wall Street right before its collapse. The concluding book picks right up where the previous one left off, at the beginning of the actual stock market crash in late October, through the end of that year. As with the first book in the series, the novels again follow the lives of several World War I veterans in their lives across America – Oklahoma, Ohio, and New York City – to give a broad picture of classic American life in the late 1920s.

Of course, ten years have passed, and so new characters are introduced – especially Birch and Trudy’s young boys Tommy and Bobby, and Max Meyer’s son David. While the Tucker family portrays the idyllic rural family living out in the sticks of Shiloh, Arkansas, David Meyer is a street-wise city kid living in Philadelphia, who seeks out his father living in another big city, New York. A Thousand Shall Fall thus provides plenty of contrasts – life out on the farm, small-town gossip and racial strife, as opposed to the dark life of gangsters and the free-wheeling wealthy consumed with the Stock Market. Though the Tucker story is interesting enough, the New York plot is a much greater page-turner; Davey Meyer is an especially fascinating character, in a story somewhat reminiscent of Charles Dickens novels.

After resolving some of the suspense in A Thousand Shall Fall, the concluding book deals more with characters and their relationships. How will the Tucker family, Jefferson Canfield, and Max and his son survive the Great Depression? After wondering about the Warne family in Ohio (never mentioned in the first half of the 1929 story), we also get their view – and that of Jefferson’s family -- living in the Rubber Capitol of Akron, Ohio. This last book focuses more on personal religious faith, as Max continues to come to terms with his life – beyond just finding out about David. The black characters, mainly the various family members of Hock and Willa Mae Canfield, are also well-developed and strong in their hope in God against all the terrible circumstances they face.

Apparently many of the characters are featured in other Thoene books (Zion Covenant and Zion Chronicles), but "The Shiloh Legacy" only has brief references to characters in the "Zion Covenant" series. One line mentions Max’s "rookie reporter" John Murphy, but even more interesting is the revelation of the "D’Fat Lady" singer, as the identity of Hattie Canfield, one of Jefferson’s sisters. But several of the characters, including Ellie Warne (briefly introduced here as a 9-year-old, nicknamed "Boots"), show up in the "Zion Chronicles" series. As I read these books I could not help but consider, too, that the children of 1929 would indeed grow up to be the young adults of the World War II era. The "Shiloh Legacy" is another excellent series from Bodie Thoene, one that could easily go beyond the three books in the set.