Wednesday, November 22, 2006

A Hearth in Candlewood: Candlewood Trilogy in 1840s New York State

A Hearth in Candlewood, by Delia Parr, begins a nice “Candlewood Trilogy” series. Set in 1841, this story chronicles the lives of several residents at a boarding house in a canal village in upstate New York.

Widow Emma Garrett, in her early fifties, recently sold her general store and bought the Hill House. Her new business venture includes several residents, including her mother-in-law (another “Widow Garrett”) and an elderly former pastor, as well as guests who make frequent trips to the area. Two teenage workers, Liesl and Ditty, provide help to the kitchen and general upkeep of the boarding house.

When an elderly grandmother and widow runs away from her feuding sons to stay at Hill House, Emma quickly becomes involved in trying to reconcile the sons with their mother, but encounters problems along the way.

The canals running along nearby are ever present in the background, named as the mode of transportation for people visiting Candlewood, New York. Occasionally we even meet characters who work at the ship yards, the major employment of the area. However, this story is more focused on the actual characters, with few details of the canal operations, for a story that could take place in any time or place.

The story is the focus, a nice, “chicken soup for the soul” type of feel-good story about nice, simple characters in this village. Unlike most Christian historicals, the main characters are older adults. As such, their problems are not the exciting, page-turner suspense type, but the more mundane everyday problems of life. Emma knows nothing of today’s big societal problems, and instead frets about such things as: what people will think of her for wearing unconventional clothing when she goes horseback riding with two eccentric visitors. Or, how to keep Liesl and Ditty at the boarding house and away from the temptations of boys (at least, unchaperoned visits). And, for the biggest and somewhat humorous one, how to handle several renegade chickens that run loose in the town and then decide to roost at the Hill House.

Throughout the story, Emma always seeks solutions, wanting the best for everyone around her. She also sees herself as a good business woman, with plenty of experience from running a general store and now the boarding house. Yet her biggest worry she keeps to herself: news from her lawyer that she bought the boarding house from an unscrupulous salesman who did not have the right to sell it to her – and thus, she does not legally own title to the Hill House. So Emma must consider her own past actions, questioning her motives and judgement, as she continually remembers to trust God in everything.

A Hearth in Candlewood is a nice beginning to the “Candlewood Trilogy.” Some conflicts are resolved, but the biggest question, Emma’s questionable ownership of the actual property, are left for us to wonder – for the next story in the series.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Under the Northern Lights

Under the Northern Lights, by Tracie Peterson, continues the “Alaskan Quest” story begun in Summer of the Midnight Sun. Beginning in September 1915, Under the Northern Lights picks up from the previous story’s cliffhanger ending, and finally resolves that story, while continuing the relationship issues between Jacob and Helaina.

This novel clearly works as part of a continuing story. It assumes familiarity with the first book, and as a middle piece it leaves another unclear ending. The final installment in this trilogy, Whispers of Winter, will be published this November (2006). Recognizing that the series is really one longer story, the publisher will soon also publish the “Alaskan Quest” as a complete set.

Chase Kincaid has already abducted Helaina Beecham, the Pinkerton agent originally sent to find the man responsible for crimes back East. Now Chase abducts Leah as well, and part of the story involves the typical “chase” story of the abducted ones with their captor, and their loved ones following their trail. Beyond this subplot (which is resolved halfway through the book), though, we see Leah and Helaina grow and mature from their experiences. Leah learns to trust God, even when bad things happen to her, and accept God’s ability to heal her soul. Meanwhile, Helaina must deal with her attitude of justice at all costs, and learn that some things are more important than what money can buy.

Under the Northern Lights continues the fast-paced and enjoyable reading, along with more time getting to know the main characters: Jayce Kincaid and his evil twin brother Chase, Leah (now married to Jayce), Jacob Barringer and Helaina Beecham. Though some story elements are clearly far-out—such as an evil twin abducting his brother’s wife and headed into the wilds of Alaska as winter sets in—many relational aspects are presented realistically enough.

The historical and regional background is again well-established. The “real world” of the lower 48 states is in the background, with only brief references to the events of World War I. However, the day-to-day survival life in Alaska is ever-present, a simple yet attentive world in which the characters must always be vigilant and prepared for the weather. The author skillfully blends her research into the ongoing story—through the many chores and activities of a small Alaskan village, along with great dialog and interactions with the missionaries and local natives—to create an interesting picture of Alaska in 1915 and 1916.

Under the Northern Lights is an enjoyable historical fiction novel, a great follow-up to the beginning of this “Alaskan Quest” story.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Mozart's Sister

Mozart’s Sister, by Nancy Moser, is the story of Mozart’s older sister, Nannerl. Told in the first person in the style of an autobiography, it tells of the Mozart family’s life beginning with their international tours as children, up to Mozart’s death at age 35. Throughout, we experience the particular feelings and frustrations of Nannerl, whose talent was overlooked because of her gender. The story is in fact a rather sad one, of a woman always in the shadow of her controlling father and genius brother, denied both the musical career and the normal life of marriage and family.

Mozart’s Sister is an interesting and easy reading, with its combination of biography and a narrative with characters and dialogue. The main characters are developed quite well (father, mother, Nannerl, and “Wolfie”), but other characters come and go and are not as clearly developed. But such should be expected, as the focus on the family members reflects the historical research, in which more is known about the Mozarts than the other people they interacted with.

The author does an excellent job with the historical research, presenting a story as true as possible while filling in the gaps of what is known and not known in the Mozart family history. As the author notes at the end, she took advantage of the great collection of letters from the Mozart family; much of the dialogue comes straight from the actual letters. The setting of late 18th century Europe, and the larger context of events going on in England, France, and Austria, is also well established. Names of nobility are mentioned and introduced throughout--some names well known today, such as Marie Antoinette, due to what would happen to them in later years. Other names, including the political leaders of Austria and even the musical and political leaders of Salzburg, where the family resides when not traveling, are less familiar; these names of nobility and leadership complete the picture of the broader, political landscape of Europe especially during the 1760s through 1780s. Opera is of course a big part of music at the time, and the book gives some attention to these great music events in Italy as well as Vienna, Austria.

As with most “biography” stories, the best parts are early on, the person’s childhood. Later on, the story tends to drag at times, especially as Nannerl tends to be rather morose and moping. Still, the story has great educational value, an entertaining way to learn more about this great classical music composer and his family. As a “Christian” story, though, it is rather on the weak side, since the topic involves somewhat nominal Catholics with glaring character faults. Nannerl has some sense of God and religion, and accepts “God’s will” for her life, but the story overall lacks the specifically evangelical Christian themes that are more easily presented in other fictional settings.

Mozart’s Sister is still an enjoyable read, a great way to learn the untold story of this forgotten woman, Mozart’s older sister, and the particular trials and challenges she endured.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Fury: 1825-1826

Fury, part of the “Great Awakenings” series (Bill Bright and Jack Cavanaugh), also serves as a sequel to Storm. In 1825, 16-year-old Daniel Cooper, orphaned son of Eli Cooper and Maggy (Asa Rush’s sister), now lives with his uncle Asa and Aunt Camilla. Daniel witnesses a murder that involves his employer, Cyrus Gregg, and soon finds himself running for his life, with the hired-murderer close behind. Fleeing also from his Uncle Asa, Daniel heads north into upstate New York, where he encounters a Charles Finney revival and is challenged by the Christian witness of other young people he meets.

Fury does a great work of combining historical details of the period with a great action story. It incorporates the canal fervor of the day along with interesting descriptions of ideas for early washing machines, and the frontier spirit of the people at Finney’s revival meetings. (One minor historical error: throughout the text Washington D.C. is called by its present-day name, not "Washington City" as it was then called.) Along the way we read plenty of action, especially great physical stunts of survival, and detailed descriptions of the two characters lost in a cave. Yet Fury seems weaker than its predecessor Storm, perhaps because it takes a long time getting to the good parts. Much of the action takes place in the town before Daniel flees, and the events described on the book cover – even Daniel’s flight from the murderer – don’t occur until well into the story. The story’s Christian aspect, and the introduction of Charles Finney, only occur near the very end. Overall, the story works as an entertaining, action-packed thriller that will keep you turning the pages – at least in certain sections. A few parts tend to lag, and the part where Daniel is alone in a cave seems stretched a bit too long. Otherwise, though, the story and the characters are amusing and entertaining.

The biggest problem with the story is in its treatment of Charles Finney. References to Finney are brief, and the story accurately portrays the revival fervor of the period. However, Fury says nothing about Finney’s actual beliefs and makes the man out to be a great evangelical Protestant Christian, when it is clear from Finney’s own writings that he was far from that. As this article by Phillip R. Johnson points out, Finney rejected basic Christian theology such as original sin, the imputation of Christ’s righteousness to the believer and the substitutionary atonement, believing instead that Christ’s death does not justify (save) anyone—in Finney’s view people are saved through God’s benevolence and their own perfection and self-reformation in adhering to God’s laws. Within a few years after Finney’s great revivals, the “burnt-over” region of western New York was spiritually cold, with no lasting fruit from the many “conversions,” as even Finney himself later admitted.

Aside from the theological handling of Finney, Fury is a decent, exciting novel. I only wish the authors would hold true to their evangelical Christian beliefs and write about true Christian historical figures--rather than a false teacher.

Saturday, September 16, 2006

The Redemption: Pirate Adventure Story

The Redemption, by M. L. Tyndall, begins a new pirate adventure series, “Legacy of the King’s Pirates.” Set in 1665 in the Caribbean, The Redemption follows the story of Lady Charlisse Bristol, who has fled England to search for her only relative, a father she has never known. She soon is shipwrecked and stranded on a deserted island, until a pirate ship, The Redemption, arrives. Captain Edmund Merrick is a “legal pirate” in the service of Great Britain to attack only Spanish ships, though the rest of his crew are hardened pirates. Merrick also has recently become a Christian and daily struggles with his old nature and new life in Christ.

Merrick assists the young Charlisse Bristol in her search to find her father. However, he soon learns that her father is the very wicked and violent “Edward the Terror,” the very pirate Edmund has been searching for—to bring to justice. Edmund also struggles with his own temptations with the beautiful lady while keeping his crew away from her. Throughout the story, Charlisse and Edmund grow in their relationship to each other, as Charlisse learns to trust and accept help from Edmund, while also learning about the true Heavenly Father she needs even more than a human father.

Much of the story takes place in Port Royal, the main port of Jamaica at that time and the special attraction of pirate ships. The Redemption skillfully depicts the wickedness of Port Royal, the “Sodom of the New World” as it was known by the 1660s (), integrating the story of Edmund and his pirate shipmates with the local population of prostitutes and generally disreputable folk. Yet a small church, and its pastor Reverend Thomas Buchan, provide a great contrast and the Christian element for this story. For The Redemption is much more than a pirate and romance story, but a strong story about God’s redeeming love for His own, including these two characters, Edmund and Charlisse.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Fire: 1740-1741 -- The First Great Awakening

Fire, second in the “Great Awakenings” series by Bill Bright and Jack Cavanaugh, introduces us to the town of Havenhill, Connecticut in 1740. The revival focus here is the one brought about by the preaching of Jonathan Edwards and George Whitefield.

Josiah Rush returns to Havenhill after spending seven years in exile, banished from the town after a fire he accidentally caused brought about the deaths of the town pastor and two young children. His old friend Philip Clapp, now the community leader, helps re-introduce Josiah as the new pastor. Soon, however, it becomes clear that the townspeople are still attached to their old preacher and will never accept Josiah. Hostility seems to come from every part of town, including the deacons, and especially from the busybody Eleanor Parkhurst, widow of the former pastor.

After Josiah’s arrival, more trouble arrives, including a small-pox epidemic. Several mysterious fires at the warehouses are blamed on Josiah; dock workers talk about strange things going on, and end up murdered. Josiah bungles around in his social life, still pining for his old love, Abigail Parkhurst, who is now engaged to Josiah’s close friend Johnny Mott.

As Josiah considers the town’s condition in his journal and diagnoses a “soul sickness,” he learns of the revival sweeping through Boston and other parts of New England. Through Josiah’s exploration we are briefly introduced to the historical figures of the time: Jonathan Edwards and George Whitefield. As with all the books in this series, Fire includes great descriptions of the revival, the crowds of people attending to the preaching, and even the changed lives of the communities. Fire even includes a brief conversation with Benjamin Franklin, for a look at Franklin’s own unbelieving views (though that scene seems rather extraneous, thrown in only because of Franklin’s fame, but serving no real purpose).

Also in keeping with other books in this series, though, the actual revival of the time plays only a minor part, observed only by a few outsiders immersed in their own story. Yet Fire does a great job of conveying Christian truths, especially the idea that revival comes not on man’s schedule but God’s, and the glory belongs to God alone and not man. Josiah even gets his own Job-style confrontation, to further bring home the point of God’s sovereignty and power. As such, Fire is one of the better installments of the “Great Awakenings” series, with its good mystery story combined with sound theology. It also highlights the best known revival in American history—and the one true revival that came from the preaching of God’s word.

Friday, August 4, 2006

Proof: 1857-1858 -- A Great Prayer Revival

Proof: 1857-1858, the first in a series called “The Great Awakenings” by Bill Bright and Jack Cavanaugh, takes as its subject the great prayer revival of 1857-1858. Centered in New York City, where the revival began, Proof tells the story of 26-year-old Harrison Shaw, recent law school graduate. Harrison, orphaned since a young child, has grown up in a boys lodge and likes to help the residents of the seedy Five Points neighborhood. At his mentor George Bowen’s request, he applies for – and wins – a coveted internship in law from J. K. Jarves.

Shaw soon finds himself at odds with the rich world of Jarves and his daughter, Victoria. Even more so, he cannot handle the ferocious, predatory survival philosophy of Jarves – and soon finds himself, and everyone in his life, ruined by the revengeful Jarves. Later in their confrontation, Jarves creates a trial to examine the truth of the great revival, to put the Holy Spirit on trial.

Proof includes references to Jeremiah Lanphier and how he started the prayer meetings at the North Dutch Reformed Church in the fall of 1857. Later on, the story also chronicles many of the amazing answers to prayer and the revival’s impact to peoples’ lives as it spreads beyond New York City to include many other areas of the U.S. (and even on to Europe afterwards). The story includes some detailed and unpleasant descriptions of the New York City slums, including the Five Points neighborhood. Surprisingly, though, Proof rarely mentions the actual economic setting of this revival and a major factor that, from a human perspective, brought about the revival. Soon after Lanphier started his prayer meetings, the banks and stock market collapsed and the country was economically hard pressed—the time when people do tend to turn towards spiritual matters, getting a reality check against the good, prosperous times. A few of the characters’ personal “witness” stories make brief reference to this in the telling of their conversion story; yet the larger story, Proof, itself lacks that level of background—one might easily miss this detail if not paying close attention. The main focus of Proof is on Shaw and a few characters he interacts with, along with a rather episodic look, from a journalist’s perspective, at specific prayer revival marvels.

The character portrayals are average, and we learn and understand Harrison Shaw well enough. The other character portrayals, though, seem more two-dimensional. J. K. Jarves seems rather exaggerated and one-sided, an extreme example of a Darwinist, Madlyn Murray O’Hair-style atheist, and a real Scrooge of a man in a time when even the wealthy gave at least lip service to the idea of charity and Christian morality. His daughter Victoria turns out to be quite a surprise, but her overall character and the many things attributed to her seem hard to believe and a bit too much of modern-day feminism. In spite of such problems, though, she at least becomes more likable as the story progresses.

This book’s weakness is in its theology, a rather man-focused view in which the Christian characters, and especially Harrison Shaw, somehow feel that it is up to them to prove God’s existence and power—and that all of Christianity is at stake and will fail based on a bad outcome of a human court trial. It seems that the characters, many of them supposed great Christian leaders and scholars (and the authors, for coming up with such a fictional scenario in the first place), should consider the meaning of the scripture “Do not give what is holy to dogs, and do not throw your pearls before swine” (Matt. 7:6)—the wisdom and understanding that the things of God are sacred, and that at a certain point, with certain people, to forcefully press Christian ideas to that audience just belittles and denigrates the greatness and character of God. To be sure, a few characters briefly mention that God can defend Himself (one brief paragraph after many pages of contrary ideas), but the greater issue (Matt. 7:6) is never addressed, and the story takes the easy way out rather than a more realistic display of how God actually deals with His people in our post-1st century world.

Proof does a great job of bringing attention to this now-forgotten time, a prayer revival in the late 1850s when people sought God and He answered their prayers in an amazing way. This book includes many actual incidents of the people saved and prayers answered, a testament to the wonders God can do at all times, including these times of revival. As such, Proof is a good start to a series about past revivals, to educate readers about the various revivals in American history. The story and main characters provide decent entertainment and general information about these revivals, though the particulars, including the theology presented, could be improved.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Storm: 1798 - 1800: Revival in Early America

Storm, third in the “Great Awakenings” series by the late Bill Bright and Jack Cavanaugh, takes place in Connecticut in 1800-1801. Featuring historical figure Dr. Dwight, president of Yale College in the early 19th century, this story centers around two college boys, Asa Rush and Eli Cooper. Yale College is fully immersed in the Age of Enlightenment, the anti-Christian, pro-French philosophic reasoning of the time. Asa Rush begins his freshman year as one of a handful of Christian students determined to bring Yale back to its Christian heritage. Eli Cooper, full of himself and swept up in the Enlightenment philosophy, picks on Asa the new freshman and quickly becomes Asa’a main enemy. Just to make Asa’s life more complicated, though, Dr. Dwight commissions Asa to evangelize and save Eli Cooper.

The one actual revival from this time period, the Cane Ridge Revival in Kentucky, is introduced briefly, with appearances by Asa and Eli during school break. But most of the story takes place back at school, with an outstanding action-paced plot. Asa endures several incidents of freshman hazing, and romantic competition over high-society Annabelle Byrd. In typical Cavanaugh fashion, the characters end up in some very unlikely scenarios, with several surprising developments in the plot.

Throughout the action-packed story, the historical research also provides an exciting background, incorporating all facets of life at the time. We learn several examples of the rules for Yale freshmen, as well as many of the rules of dueling (which was then illegal) and how duels were supposed to play out. The Illuminati is referenced, and the general atmosphere shows the pro-French, pro-Jefferson and anti-Adams sentiments of the time, including the radical, dangerous factions of the American public. Storm includes the detail of guillotines shipped to America, and the strong desire some had to begin a new Revolution more in the style of the recent French Revolution. Throughout the story, we take comfort in knowing how history turned out while appreciating the characters’ uncertainty: would the Federalists leave peacefully? Would there be a peaceful transition of power from the Federalists to the Democrats? Such things had never happened before, after all.

Storm is an entertaining novel that highlights a crisis period in early American history. Even more, it shows a place not all that different from today, in which the Christian worldview clashes against the majority view, yet a few Christians make a difference by speaking out and praying for revival in the nation.

Thursday, June 29, 2006

Faith of My Fathers: Biblical Fiction about King Manasseh's Reign

Faith of My Fathers, by Lynn Austin, continues the “Chronicles of the Kings” series about the Old Testament kings. After covering the life of Hezekiah in the previous three books, Faith of My Fathers begins the story of the next generation: Hezekiah’s son Manasseh, and Joshua son of the palace administrator Eliakim.

Manasseh's anger at his father’s death soon leads him to pagan idols and sorcery. Eliakim and the prophet Isaiah are soon executed and a new set of characters takes the stage. The main theme of this book involves Joshua’s anger and hatred toward his former friend, Manasseh, and how Joshua deals with his experiences: at first angry with God, but later returning to God and helping God’s people. Other fictional characters have similar experiences to the characters in previous books, such as Joshua’s sister Dinah and a maidservant named Miriam.

As with the previous books in this series, the historical background is not extremely well developed. The characters generally think like modern-day Christians, complete with a New Testament understanding of God as a loving and forgiving Father. The story itself could take place in any Christian era, with its emphases on persecution, suffering, and looking in repentance toward a loving and sovereign God. That said, Faith of My Fathers does offer good dialogue and many characters with their various subplots. This story is entertaining, with the good page-turning suspense of a good action novel, including a strong climax and a happy ending for the “good guys.”

Perhaps the most intriguing part of the story involves an item from Jewish history with some basis in facts gathered from the archeological records of Egypt. As the author notes at the end, apparently some Levites and priests did leave Israel during King Manasseh’s reign and settled a colony in Elephantine Island, Egypt; they may well have taken the Ark with them. Faith of My Fathers skillfully blends this idea into an exciting action plot, to be continued in the next book (Among the Gods).

Overall, Faith of My Fathers offers an excellent action-adventure book with Bible characters. Fans of Bible fiction will find this book adequate, as well as a good continuation of the characters and families from the previous three books of “Chronicles of the Kings.”

Friday, June 2, 2006

Waiting for Summer's Return: German Mennonite Immigrants

Waiting for Summer’s Return, a new historical novel by Kim Vogel Sawyer, takes place in eastern Kansas among a community of German Mennonites in 1894. Summer Steadman is the sole survivor of her family that had traveled from Boston, bound for Oklahoma but stricken with typhoid near the town of Gaeddert, Kansas. With her husband and four children buried, Summer lingers in town but finds no reason to eat, no reason to live. But local resident and widower Peter Ollenburger needs a tutor for his injured 10-year-old son, Thomas, and offers the job to Summer, a “learned woman.”

Throughout the story, the point of view alternates between Peter, Summer, and even young Thomas. Gradually we learn more about Summer; her grief early in the book is perhaps a bit overdone, making the story a bit slow and depressing to get through at first. But as time and pleasant experiences work in the character’s heart to heal her, so the story itself improves and becomes more uplifting. The final outcome seems certain (surely Peter and Summer will get together) yet the story takes a while to get there. Along the way the main characters and their relationships are well-developed and realistic, and as in real life some things take time. Summer must first heal from her grief, and afterwards consider her future. Peter must consider if he can love another woman as he had loved his Elsa.

The story also reflects the closed-community of German Mennonites, a people who have fled persecution in other countries and who now tend to keep to themselves, not welcoming outsiders. Here again, the townspeople develop and mature, from a rather hostile, suspicious mindset at first, until they gradually open up, a few families at a time, to the newcomer. The author also shows her knowledge of at least some German language. Peter Ollenburger, in particular, talks much of the time in German. As a new immigrant might well do, often his thoughts come out first in his native tongue, after which he translates as best he can – and often learns new English words in the process.

Waiting for Summer’s Return is an enjoyable historical novel, filled with great characters who grow and learn from each other. This story also gives a fresh look at the life of late-19th century immigrants and their community, and a glimpse at the history of German Mennonites in Kansas.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Mark of the Cross: 13th Century Europe

Mark of the Cross, a stand-alone historical novel by Judith Pella, brings medieval Europe to life through an entertaining story. In 1265, Philip de Tollard is a young bastard son of the Lord Hawken, who has provided Philip with education but never acknowledged the illegitimate son as his own. Philip soon meets Beatrice Marlowe, from an estate near Hawken’s lands, and the two fall in love—but Philip will not bring dishonor upon Beatrice and bring another illegitimate child into the world. Without any land holdings, and a low-class job as a groom, Philip has nothing to offer Beatrice anyway. To make matters worse, Lord Hawken’s legitimate son, Gareth, is especially vindictive and cruel, and does everything in his power to keep Philip away; soon Philip is banished from England and becomes a fugitive fighting for his life in France.

The two antagonists, Gareth and his mother, seem a bit exaggerated and unrealistic, more stereotypical than actual people. Some scenes also tend to depict all wealthy people as bad, completely self-centered and scornful of the poor – much like Philip’s brother Gareth. Such characters assist the basic story line, in which Philip becomes hardened and angry at the world. Yet throughout many providential events, Philip survives and finds friends in unlikely people—and thus he grows and learns to trust others. With the few exceptions just noted, though, most of the characters are well-developed.

As always, Judith Pella brings excellent historical research into the story’s background, this time discussing the English rebellion against King Henry III, including the specific battle when the King and then-Prince Edward turned the tide back to their side. The story continues on to the early years of King Edward I, and through the characters we experience all aspects of medieval life – the court in England and the English lords in the countryside, as well as the peasants and thieves of France, and even the Crusades—including the Saracens and several locations in Palestine.

For a book with evangelical Christian emphasis, a story from 13th century Europe obviously does not fit entirely, and so the Catholicism is downplayed – no mention of the many Catholic saints worshipped, purgatory, or sales of indulgences. Yet the story gives the general background and feel (at least those things today’s readers readily associate with medieval Catholicism), complete with monasteries, priests, and devotion to Mary as Jesus’ mother. Mark of the Cross even gives some background details such as what was required to seek asylum in the Church, and the life of monks.

Yet Mark of the Cross excels even more as an entertaining and uplifting story, with likeable characters in great contrast to the two villains. The action moves quickly enough, with plenty of page-turning suspense, as we come to know and love the characters. Through their many experiences and hardships, both Beatrice and Philip grow, and Philip’s friends prove themselves genuine.

Friday, March 24, 2006

Summer of the Midnight Sun: The Alaskan Quest Begins

Tracie Peterson’s new series “Alaskan Quest” gets off to a good start with the first book, Summer of the Midnight Sun. Set in 1915, in and around Nome, Alaska, the story continues with some of the characters from Peterson’s earlier “Yukon Quest” series. Seventeen years have passed since that series ended, and the Barringer children, Jacob and Leah, are the focus of this new series. Leah has just turned 30, and she and her brother, both still unmarried, live and trade among the natives at Last Chance Creek, a remote village a few days journey from Nome.

The world of 1915 is present, but remote to the people of Alaska, who hear in the news about World War I and the Lusitania, yet are still living as they have for years – a place largely untouched by the technological changes of the early 20th century. Closer to home, Leah struggles with singleness at 30, even as the one man who rejected her love, Jayce Kincaid, returns to Last Chance Creek. Predictably, the two rediscover their love for each other, yet it makes for an entertaining and enjoyable part of the story.

The bigger story involves Helaina Beachman, sent from Washington D.C. to investigate and capture a criminal who goes by the name of Jayce Kincaid. Widowed due to her husband’s violent death, Helaina copes with her problems by her obsession with justice and the law, without room for mercy. She soon finds the Barringers and Jayce, while discovering that the crime facts don’t seem to fit the man she has found, and makes a nuisance of herself while trying to hide her real mission. Yet through her adventures, Helaina is challenged by the Christian message and the idea of mercy.

Summer of the Midnight Sun has an interesting, action-filled plot, along with likeable characters. Fans of Peterson’s earlier “Yukon Quest” series will also enjoy the return of Karen and Adrik Ivankov, now living happily with their children in Sitka, Alaska. The story, which takes place during the warmer months of May through September, also includes many details of life in Alaska, including the types of clothes, food, and the difficulties presented by the weather during the darker part of the year. The main plot lines are all resolved within this first book of “Alaskan Quest,” but with a cliff-hanging ploy sure to entice readers back for the sequel, the ending develops a new plot that leaves the characters in mortal danger. We must wait at least a few months to continue the adventure, but Summer of the Midnight Sun is off to a great series start.

Friday, January 13, 2006

Wings of Morning: 16th Century Scotland

Wings of Morning, by Kathleen Morgan, continues the “These Highland Hills” series set in 16th century Scotland. This story takes place a few years after the first book in the series, Child of the Mist, and introduces a love interest for Niall Campbell’s cousin, Iain Campbell.

17-year-old Regan Drummond has just wedded her boyhood friend, Roddy MacLaren. When he arrives at home drunk, she hides from him; before the night ends, he is shot dead after attempting to steal cattle from the Campbell clan. Soon afterwards, Regan loses her memory while in a storm, and finds herself in the care of the Campbells at Balloch Castle. Throughout the months without memory, and afterwards, Regan experiences love and kindness she has never before known, and builds new friendships with Iain, his mother, and extended family. But her conscience cannot rest until Roddy’s murderer is found and Roddy’s blood avenged; the circumstances point to Iain as one who may have killed Roddy.
Though the story begins with Iain at Balloch Castle, later we meet up with Anne and Niall, at Kilchurn, now happily wed and expecting their first child. It is nice to meet Anne again, as she now befriends the new heroine. Through Anne’s understanding and Iain’s patience and forgiveness, Regan struggles to put away her old, negative thoughts and ways behind her and look to the Lord, and His people, for strength and love.
The historical situation is the hey-day of the Scottish Highlanders, complete with the various clans and political factions. This story also introduces Queen Mary as a minor character and a close friend of Iain Campbell, and makes brief reference to political events then occurring in Mary’s court. Yet the focus is on the local Highlanders, especially Iain and Regan.
After the original conflict and story (Regan’s personal life) seems settled, Wings of Morning continues on a bit, expanding on the issue of Roddy’s murder. Just when the reader feels some closure, that the story is winding down, this new plot extends the story for a few more chapters and suspense. Overall, Wings of Morning is an entertaining story, a good read as its own novel, if not quite up to the superb quality of the previous book (Child of the Mist). The story is still quite good, though, and realistic. Unlike some historical fiction novels; the characters are not all completely trusting and open to the mysterious Regan; this is not a completely “sappy” story of na├»ve, perfect humans, and it is nice to see that depth of character development. As a sequel, Wings of Morning also showcases some very likeable characters, and further events in the lives of the Campbell family we have come to love from the first book.