Book Review: The Ringmaster’s Wife

Ringmaster's WifeKristy Cambron’s The Ringmaster’s Wife is set in the 1920s Jazz Age. Mable Burton came from humble beginnings on a farm in Ohio. She wanted more out of life, so she went to work at the Chicago World’s Fair, carrying with her a cigar box of clippings she had collected to inspire her dreams. She met John Ringling of the Ringling Brothers circus, and eventually they married.

Lady Rosamund Easling was an earl’s daughter whose life was more or less arranged for her without consultation as to her desires. Her parents were arranging and preparing for her engagement and marriage to a man she didn’t love, and worst of all, her father was selling her beloved horse, Ingenue, a gift from her deceased brother. When offered a chance to travel to America, Rosamund took it, eventually becoming the star bareback rider for the circus.

It’s interesting that the two women came from opposite ends of the economic and social spectrum, so to speak, but both were motivated to break out of the life that was expected of them. Mable and John were real people; Rosamund and Colin, the man in charge of everything under John, were fictional. Mable didn’t set out to become rich, but she adapted well to her new lifestyle without letting it go to her head. She and John loved Venice, so when they built their home, Ca’ d’ Zan (House of John), in Florida, Mable oversaw every aspect of it and included a lot of Venetian inspiration. They had grand parties with guests like the mayor and the Ziegfelds. After I read the book, I went back to reread Susanne’s review, and saw a comment there that Kristy had a video of a tour of the house, so I looked and found this. (That’s just the first floor: there is another for the second floor and one for the circus train cars I haven’t watched yet) It was fascinating to see, having just read the book.

In the book, though, Mable was known more for her quiet wisdom. She didn’t “dip her oar” in John’s business, but she extended her influence when she thought it appropriate, like accosting the boy who pickpocketed her husband and, seeing the potential in him, encouraging him to work for the circus (I don’t know if the pickpocket incident was real). Likewise when Rosamund was “just” a beginning performer, Mabel took time to encourage her.

I wondered what inspired Kristy to write about Mable and this era (both her previous books were set in WWII, but this and the next one are set in the Jazz Age). I didn’t find anything on that exactly, but in trying to find that out I did find this interview with her about the book.

There were a lot of behind-the-scenes looks at how a circus works, and a lot of mention of the circus workers as a family. Every family will have its squabbles, though, and there is some dissension among some on a couple of issues. But I think the main thrust of the book is the sacrifice and joy involved in chasing one’s dreams.

My only criticism was that the back-and-forth timelines got a little confusing at times, even though the date is at the beginning of every chapter.

My favorite line: “Home can move. As long as your heart goes with it.”

Genre: Historical inspirational fiction
Potential objectionable elements: None
My rating: 8 out of 10

(Sharing with Semicolon‘s Saturday Review of Books and Literary Musing Monday)

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Book Review: Traces of Guilt

Traces of GuiltIn Traces of Guilt by Dee Henderson, Evie Blackwell is an Illinois State Police detective helping test out the possibility of a new task force dedicated to reexamining cold cases. To that end she comes to small town Carin. The disappearance of a policeman and his family  as well as the disappearance of a small girl have been unsolved for years. A fresh pair of eyes and an objective point of view should aid in coming up with new angles and questions and hopefully new trails of evidence to solve the case.

Evie’s primary contact is Gabriel Thane, Carin’s sheriff. He makes sure she has everything she needs, from case files to work space to food, answers questions, and considers possibilities of the cases with her. He loves his job, the town, and his close-knit family.

Meanwhile Gabriel’s brother, Josh, receives news that an old friend – in fact, the only girl he ever had feelings for – is coming back to town and will need his help. Learning what she needs and the reason for it is gut-wrenching, but he and his whole family are willing to help, and he hopes he can begin to reestablish a relationship with her.

Ann and Paul Falcon of Dee’s earlier book Full Disclosure make appearances here: Ann is something of the connector for various people in the story. I don’t remember if Gabriel was in any of Dee’s earlier books or not, but here they have a full-fledged working relationship and history. A few other characters from Dee’s most recent books are referenced as well.

The suspense in this story is not that of mile-a-minute action or edge-of-your-seat expectation: it’s more the suspense of puzzle-solving as Evie tugs on different threads to see which one unravels the case.

An attraction is growing between Evie and Gabriel, but they wonder if any kind of romance can thrive between a self-professed “woman of no small ambitions” and a small town sheriff committed to the area.

I always enjoy Dee, and this book is no exception. The cases themselves were intriguing, and I imagine a real-life cold case investigator would have to do much of what Evie did, examining evidence, coming up with and running down leads  that don’t end up anywhere but that tip off other details or questions, before something leads to the right outcome.

I appreciate that the Christianity in the book is neither subtle or blatant. Characters do normal Christian things like pray and talk about spiritual issues, but they don’t preach at each other or the reader.

Evie receives a tantalizing offer near the end of the book, one that contributes to fulfilling her ambitions but does nothing to resolve her personal life. But this book is evidently the first in a series, with a sequel due out in May, so we’ll see where her next steps take her.

(Sharing with Semicolon‘s Saturday Review of Books and Literary Musing Monday)

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Book Review: Two Roads Home

two-roads-homeTwo Roads Home by Deborah Raney is the second in her Chicory Inn series (the first was Home to Chicory Lane, reviewed last year). The series focuses on the Whitman family: empty nesters Grant and Audrey, who have turned their home into a bed and breakfast, and their four grown children and their families.

This second book focuses on oldest daughter Corinne, though all of the family is in the book. Corinne is married to Jesse, who has a good, well-paying job which allows her to comfortably stay home with their three daughters in a nice, big house. Jesse is very good-looking and very outgoing, and they’ve had talks about how sometimes women see his interactions as flirtations when he hasn’t meant them that way.

But on a business trip with a female colleague, it finally happens. He hasn’t led her on or flirted intentionally, but she acts towards him in ways that make him feel uncomfortable. When he confronts her and tells her that he is not interested and he is happily married, she turns the tables on him and files a a complaint with their boss against him for sexual harassment.

As Jesse and Corrine deal with the implications of this, several odd things begin to happen that make them realize that more than just Jesse’s job is under threat.

Part of the book reads like a mystery, but the part I liked best was the realistic interactions between family members. Though they all love God, they have misunderstandings or occasionally rub each other the wrong way, like we all do. Audrey wants to be the “quintessential grandmother,” but she feels her children don’t understand that running the inn is the equivalent of a full-time job. Two of the sisters’ housing situations is changing, one moving up and one moving down, and there are very human feelings portrayed there. Sometimes the siblings are too sensitive, sometimes not sensitive enough. I felt that their trying to work through these things in the best way was genuinely portrayed.

All in all it was a good read, and I am looking forward to the next in the series.

Genre: Christian fiction
Potential objectionable elements: The physical side of Jesse’s and Corinne’s marriage is mentioned a few times, but there is nothing explicit and no “steamy” scenes.
My rating: 9 out of 10

(Sharing with Semicolon‘s Saturday Review of Books and Carole’s Books You Loved)

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Book Review: The Tidewater Sisters

tidewaterThe Tidewater Sisters by Lisa Wingate is a sequel novella to The Prayer Box. At the end of the latter, sisters Tandi Jo and Gina had had a confrontation and parted ways in opposite directions figuratively.

In this new book, Tandi is busy getting the Poole house ready to become a museum as well as planning her upcoming wedding. Right in the throes of all of that she receives notice that she is being sued for fraud connected with a piece of real estate — real estate that she doesn’t even own.

Suspecting that Gina is behind it, Tandi Jo takes an unplanned trip to the Tidewater area of NC to see what’s going on. She confronts several elements of her past: her grandparents’ home, her old boyfriend, and old family secrets. She also discovers secrets that Gina has kept from her for years and tries to unravel the legal situation. How will the impact of all of that affect her future?

As this is a very short book, there is not much else to say without revealing too much of the plot. I enjoyed Lisa’s writing here, the humor tucked in places and the pathos in others. I also appreciated, if I can say this without spoiling anything, that though the sisters do eventually come to an understanding, Gina does not have her “come to Jesus” moment here. Some authors would have resolved things in that way. While I like to think that everyone, even in fiction, is a candidate for redemption, and would hope that Gina would come around eventually, realistically in life sometimes you just have to let people be who they are and move on. As Tandi says in the book, “Eventually, you must stop running to something or from something and embrace where you are. Otherwise you’ll never embrace anything.” As one line in the old hymn says, “Though none go with me, still I must follow.”

The only thing I didn’t like is that the book ended at what the Kindle app said was the 62% mark. With so much left in the book, I wasn’t expecting the story to wrap up yet, so I was surprised and disappointed and just not ready for the end. Even though the main issue was resolved, I was expecting to see the wedding. 🙂 The rest of the content is lengthy excerpts from three of Lisa’s other books, two of which I had already read and one I have on hand and didn’t want to read a preview of yet.

But overall, it’s a very enjoyable read.

Genre: Christian fiction
Potential objectionable elements: None

My rating: 9 out of 10

(Sharing with Semicolon‘s Saturday Review of Books and Carole’s Books You Loved)

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Book Review: The Silent Songbird

silent-songbird The Silent Songbird by Melanie Dickerson is a Christian fiction retelling loosely based on “The Little Mermaid.” It’s book 7 of the Hagenheim/ Fairy Tale Romance Series, so some other characters in the other books appear here, mainly from The Merchant’s Daughter, as the hero here is the son of the couple there. But it could be read as a stand-alone book.

In this book, Evangeline is the ward of her cousin, King Richard II. When he plans for her to marry Lord Shively, a much older man whom she finds disgusting, she decides to escape. Her maid, and older woman named Muriel, finds out and, not being able to stop her, comes with her.

Evangeline is known for her beauitful singing voice, so she decides to act as if she is mute as part of her disguise. She and Muriel travel with a group going away from the castle back to their home village. Right away Evangeline notices that the apparent leader, Wesley le Wyse, is both handsome and kind. He notices her as well, and feels sorry for her when Muriel tells him that Eva (as she’s known now) lost her voice when her master beat her. Eva and Westley find ways to communicate, and as she comes to know him better, she regrets deceiving him. She wants to tell him the truth but is afraid of how he might react to her deception.

When they get to Westley’s village, he gets Eva and Muriel jobs at his family’s home. But Eva has never been trained to do menial labor and either injures herself or someone else at everything she tries. Muriel is more capable but also more miserable, longing for home and a special someone there.

Eventually Westley catches on the Eva is not who she seems to be, learns of her deception, and is understandably angry. Just then Eva learns that Westley’s life is in danger, as is the king’s safety, but will anyone believe her now? And can she ever be forgiven, not only by other people, but by God?

“Losing everything is sometimes the price one must pay for doing the right thing.”

I wasn’t sure if perhaps Westley’s name was a nod to The Princess Bride, but when “As you wish” was said a couple of times, it seemed so.

This series is labeled as Young Adult, and I mentioned last time that most of them didn’t read that way to me. This one did seem meant for a younger audience, but I generally enjoyed it.

Genre: Christian fiction fairy tale
Objectionable elements: None
My rating: 8 out of 10

(Sharing with Semicolon‘s Saturday Review of Books and Carole’s Books You Loved)

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Laudable Linkage

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I usually go a couple of weeks or more between these, but had so many, I decided to go ahead and list them. These are all thought-provoking reads found in the last week or so.

Believing in the somehow.

God’s Work in Your Bible Reading. “The Bible was precious because it mediated a sight of God, and a relation to God, which are sweeter than any other experience. This was the spring of what Sweeney called ‘Edwards’s lifelong love affair with Scripture.'”

Rethinking Phil. 4:13. It’s for far more than positive thinking and winning ball games.

How many days would it take to read through the Bible? A friend and missionary tried reading straight through the Bible in a week and discussed it here, then followed up with Meditations on binge-reading the Bible afterward.

Friends your age are not enough. We need friends of all ages.

#NotMyPresident. I’ve been appalled at some of the reaction to the president-elect. Many of us weren’t happy with the last two elections, but we didn’t act like this. I don’t agree 100% with everything about Trump, but, as a Christian, I appreciated this perspective.

Why Kids Ask Why (and How to Respond Lovingly)

Want to raise successful boys? Children, especially boys, learn better when they have more opportunities to move around than the average school gives them.

Must Christian Homeschool? Well thought-out response from Rebekah.

More than slightly Christian novels. Yes! This resonated with me.

Writing tips from Charles Spurgeon, HT to Challies.

And finally, someone posted this on Facebook, and I found it adorable:

Happy Saturday!

Book Review: The Golden Braid

Melanie Dickerson’s Hagenheim/ Fairy Tale Romance Series retells familiar old stories and sets them in medieval Germany and England with no magic or fairy godmothers coming to the rescue. The sixth book in the series is The Golden Braid, based on Rapunzel.

golden-braidRapunzel’s mother has her locked up, not in a stone tower (at least at first), but in a prison of fear. She’s told Rapunzel all her life that other people are not to be trusted, men especially, and to keep to herself. They move frequently, which, combined with her mother’s warnings, makes it hard for Rapunzel to ever make any connections or feel like she belongs anywhere. At 17 she’s beginning to wonder if her life is normal.

Her mother is a midwife who found Rapunzel when she was 3 and has raised her ever since. Rapunzel has no memory of her life before and feels abandoned by her family.

As the two are traveling to a new location one day, they’re attacked by robbers. One of Duke Wilheim’s knights, Sir Gerek, happens to be nearby and comes to their rescue. But instead of being grateful, Rapunzel’s mother, Gothel, wants to be rid of him as soon as possible and Rapunzel is distant. He insists on accompanying them to Hagenheim, however, for their protection.

Meanwhile the robber turns the tables and comes after Gerek, and Rapunzel comes to his aid. Years ago she had some boys teach her how to throw knives, and she disables the attacker. But Gerek’s horse has thrown and and landed on top of him, breaking his arm and leg. Rapunzel feels compelled to help him, so they care for him until they come to a monastery where they leave Gerek to recover while they travel on to Hagenheim.

Rapunzel has always wanted to learn how to read, and sneaks away back to the monastery to ask if they will teach her in exchange for her working there cleaning. They agree and assign Gerek the task – since he’s not doing anything but recovering anyway. Neither of them is pleased with the arrangement, but they carry on anyway. Rapunzel finds Gerek haughty and grouchy. He thinks she’s pretty, but would never marry a peasant: he wants to marry a wealthy widow with land since he has none of his own.

Eventually life with Gothel becomes so precarious that Rapunzel wonders about her mother’s sanity, and she runs away to the castle in Hagenheim. With Gerek’s references, she is able to work as a maid. As she gets to know him in a different setting, she finds much to admire, but knows he would never consider her. But she when uncovers the mystery to her own identity, she struggles with the best way to handle it. And with the castle coming under attack by an enemy, that will have to wait anyway.

The action in the book, especially after Rapunzel comes to the castle, overlaps with that in the previous book, The Princess Spy, but I don’t think you’d have to have read that book to enjoy this one. I like how each book in the series can be read alone yet connects with the others and how characters we’ve met before show up again. I was delighted by who Rapunzel’s parents turned out to be.

I love a Christian fiction book that’s not ashamed to be Christian. Melanie weaves the faith element in quite naturally.

This series is listed a Young Adult, but to me they don’t read that way (except perhaps for The Princess Spy). It got a little too romance-y for me in places (shivers running up their spines when they accidentally brushed against each other’s fingers while handing something to the other and that kind of thing). But otherwise I enjoyed it very much, not just for the story, but also for the spiritual steps each character needed to take.

Others in the series, linked to my reviews:

Book 1: The Healer’s Apprentice based on Sleeping Beauty
Book 2: The Merchant’s Daughter, based on Beauty and the Beast
Book 3: The Fairest Beauty, based on Snow White
Book 4: The Captive Maiden, based on Cinderella
Book 5: The Princess Spy, based on The Frog Prince

This book and The Merchant’s Daughter have been my favorites. I’m reading the seventh, The Silent Songbird based on The Little Mermaid, now.

If you like fairy tale retellings, medieval stories, or clean romances, you will probably like The Golden Braid.

Genre: Christian fiction fairy tale
Objectionable elements: None
My rating: 9 out of 10

(Sharing with Semicolon‘s Saturday Review of Books and Carole’s Books You Loved)

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