Tag Archives: historical fiction

Review: Once Upon a Dickens Christmas, by Michelle Griep

Once Upon a Dickens Christmas, by Michelle Griep | Christmas fiction, Christian fiction, novellas, historical fiction

Once Upon a Dickens Christmas, by Michelle Griep (Shiloh Run Press, 2019)

Three Christmas novellas set in 1850’s England, each with a cameo appearance from Charles Dickens, and each featuring a “second chance” coin—and a second chance at love.

The titles are nods to Mr. Dickens as well: 12 Days at Bleakly Manor, A Tale of Two Hearts, and The Old Lace Shop.

Once Upon a Dickens Christmas will charm readers who enjoy period historicals with quiet faith and feel-good endings. Each novella has a degree of suspense, but these aren’t stories that will keep readers up worrying what will happen next. They’re gentle, relaxing reads with winsome characters and some delightful turns of phrase.

Some of my favourites:

It was the kind of late January day that crawled under the best of woollen capes and took up residence in the bones. [Kindle location 1797]

He wore his wrinkles like a garment, the deep creases on his face in sore need of a good ironing. [Kindle location 2338]

Either your faith will move mountains, or your doubt will create them. [Kindle location 4901]

The three novellas are available individually as well as in this collection. For more about Christy award-winning author Michelle Griep and her other books, visit michellegriep.com.

[Review copy provided by the publisher through #NetGalley.]

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Review: Unwrapping Hope, by Sandra Ardoin

Book cover: Unwrapping Hope, A  Widow's Might Novella, by Sandra Ardoin

Unwrapping Hope, by Sandra Ardoin (Corner Room Books, 2019)

In the fall of 1986, Phoebe Crain supports her mother and her 5-year-old daughter on her scant earnings as a small-town piano tutor. It’s a long way from the concert stage, but it lets her hide from a past that’s left her bitter.

Spence Newland the Third, owner of the local department store, represents everything she’s come to despise and distrust—or does he? Her daughter, Maura, discovers his kindness.

In this historical romance, Phoebe and Spence each have past hurts that threaten to keep them from discovering a future that would bring young Maura the father she’s been wishing for.

Unwrapping Hope is a prequel novella that leads into Sandra Ardoin’s Widow’s Might series. The Widow’s Might circle is a group of widows in the town who, whether rich or poor, meet for support and to knit scarves etc for the nearby orphanage.

The author does an excellent job of setting the scene and the atmosphere, and I found the historical details interesting. I don’t think of this specifically as a Christmas story, but it does run through fall and finish on Christmas Eve. So while it can be enjoyed any time of year there might be an extra resonance in the season leading up to Christmas.

Favourite lines:

At the same time, she would eat the crow she already smelled cooking. [Kindle location 257]

Years ago Phoebe had seen a similar look in the mirror. If she could go back in time, she would shatter the glass. [Kindle location 378]

Verbenia was the durable thread that kept the emotions of each member of the [Widow’s Might] circle from unraveling. [Kindle location 412] 

Enduring Dreams, the next book in the Widow’s Might series, releases in 2020. For more about historical romance author Sandra Ardoin and her books, visit sandraardoin.com.

[Review copy provided by the author. Opinions are my own.]

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Review: Up From the Sea, by Amanda Dykes

Book cover: Up From the Sea, by Amanda Dykes

Up From the Sea, by Amanda Dykes (Bethany House, 2019)

After I read Whose Waves These Are, I went looking for more fiction from Amanda Dykes and was excited to find two free ebook novellas.

One of those is Up From the Sea, a prequel novella for Whose Waves These Are. Reading it later let me enjoy recognizing details significant to the novel, which features the next generation. It also made me want to go back and read the novel again with this deeper understanding of the past.

Savannah Mae Thorpe was born and raised in Georgia, but after her parents’ deaths in 1925 the young woman returns to her mother’s family in coastal Maine. She doesn’t fit in with her aunt and uncle’s ways, nor with her cousins, although Cousin Mary used to be a good friend.

A local legend from the 1700s captures her imagination with a wild hope to save her inheritance. Local lumberjack Alastair Bliss agrees to help, but Savannah’s quest sounds more like a fairy tale than reality.

Favourite lines:

Lord, you created the dark just as you created the light. Help me find life there, and not fear. [Chapter 3]

“She was imagination itself.” It felt good to speak of her [Savannah’s mother] with laughter, to feel the jagged edges of grief gentled with fond memory. [Chapter 7]

Vague light seeped in through a window whose wavy glass dripped with time. [Chapter 7]

Amanda Dykes’ tag line is “spinning stories, gathering grace.” As well as the historical fiction Up From the Sea and Whose Waves These Are, she’s written the novella, Bespoke: A Tiny Christmas Tale, and one of the stories in The Message in a Bottle Romance Collection. For more about the author and her work, visit amandadykes.com.

[Review copy from my personal library.]

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Review: Far Side of the Sea, by Janice L. Dick

Book cover: Far Side of the Sea, by Janice L. Dick

Far Side of the Sea, by Janice L. Dick (Tansy & Thistle Press, 2019)

Danny Martens, now a man, was an infant when his Mennonite parents fled the USSR to China in the 1930s. The refugees became farmers, then refugees again. At long last, they’re in a refugee camp in Germany—far from their promised destination in Oregon.

Far Side of the Sea is book 3 in the In Search of Freedom trilogy, beginning in 1951 and spanning 40 years to bring this multi-generational family saga to a satisfying conclusion.

I appreciate the characters, especially Rachel and Luise. Despite their many hardships, these two women live a sincere faith. They don’t deny the pain, but they choose to let it press them closer to their Saviour. Danny carries trauma he won’t share with them, and in his anger at God he bears it alone.

With this novel, we move from a foreign setting to the western US, and from the 1950s (which are still in the historical genre) to 1990, which is recent enough for me to remember. Readers with longer memories will enjoy recognizing nods to their past.

While you could enjoy this novel as a stand-alone, I recommend beginning with book 1, Other Side of the River. Take time to savour the Martens family’s full experience. As difficult as parts of their journey are, there are also moments of laughter. And some well-turned phrases.

Some of my favourite lines from this book:

As Rachel watched Luise from day to day, the older woman grew more tired, more worn. But then, they all felt weary after years of homelessness, persecution and fear, as though their souls were getting thin.

He didn’t even say amen, because now that he’d begun a conversation with God, he didn’t think the dialogue was over. [Danny, after a brief, desperate prayer for help.]

“A broken heart does not heal quickly, but it does mend enough to allow us to live again.” [Brigette, another favourite character, who doesn’t appear often.]

Historical novelist Janice L. Dick has also written Calm Before the Storm, Eye of the Storm, and Out of the Storm, a Mennonite historical series set during the Russian Revolution. For more about the author and her work, visit janicedick.wordpress.com.

[Note: I received an advance review copy from the author. My opinions are my own.]

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Review: The Incense Road, by Tracy Higley

The Incense Road by Tracy Higley | Christmas fiction, historical fiction, Christian fictionThe Incense Road, by Tracy Higley (StoneWater Press, 2015)

This ebook bundles Star of Wonder, Star of Night, and Royal Beauty into one, and it’s the best way to read the three novellas because they don’t stand alone well. Together, they form a sweeping and engaging historical tale of intrigue, romance, and spiritual warfare as a caravan of mages set out on a quest for a rumoured object of power, their way lit by a mysterious star.

The three central characters are Misha (a mage who rejects his Jewish heritage), Reza (a general who’d rather be a scholar), and Kamillah (an Egyptian princess sent to learn from the mages).

Their adventures drive them to trust one another and to discover truths about themselves – and about the true source of power.

I enjoyed the voice, the characters, and the pacing of the story, as well as the exotic setting.

The Incense Road collection takes place after the novel The Queen’s Handmaid, and some characters reappear. I hadn’t read the first novel and had no trouble following the plot.

Tracy Higley writes fiction set in the ancient past and has travelled extensively in her research. For more about the author and her books, or to check out her travel blog, visit tracyhigley.com.

[Review copy from my personal library.]

Review: Awakening, by Tracy L. Higley

Awakening, by Tracy L. HigleyAwakening, by Tracy L. Higley (StoneWater Press, 2014)

New York City museum employee Kallista Andreas has a passion for antiquities, especially those associated with the ancient Minoan civilization. Yet she doesn’t know her own past. Her memories begin seven years ago, when the curator found her in the museum.

Now she’s experiencing visions so disorienting that she begins journaling them as a story—the story of a young princess from the ancient past.

At the same time, she’s forced out of her comfort zone—and away from her safe office—as part of a team searching for a relic that could unlock the mysteries of the Minoan language.

Kallista’s patron for this globe-spanning search is mysterious, romantic, and wealthy enough to give the team all they need along the way. It makes for an enjoyable novel with exotic locations and moments of danger. I liked how it was tense but not too intense.

I’d call this a clean read as opposed to a Christian novel, but Kallista is curious about spiritual truth and whether any of the ancient gods or goddesses can point to that truth. Toward the end, she sees that Christianity may indeed offer what these pre-Christian religions hinted at.

Because Awakening is split between the story-present (contemporary times) and Kallista’s journal stories (ancient past), it’s a novel for those who enjoy either time period.

Tracy L. Higley writes historical and contemporary fiction, and travels extensively in her research. For more about the author and her work, visit tracyhigley.com.

[Review copy from my personal library.]

Review: A Halifax Christmas Carol, by Steven Laffoley

A Halifax Christmas Carol, by Steven LaffoleyA Halifax Christmas Carol, by Steven Laffoley (Pottersfield Press, 2017)

December, 1918. Halifax, Nova Scotia, is a grim place, still shattered by the massive explosion that caused so much death and destruction one year previously.

The Great War is over, and the surviving troops are coming home, those not wounded in body, wounded in mind. News headlines cry worldwide unrest, and fear of the so-called “Spanish Flu” is so high that citizens avoid public trams and walk to their destinations.

To newspaper reporter Michael Bell, hope is dead. He survived a gas attack in the war and came home to lose his family in the explosion. Bitter pursuit of the facts of the world’s dark spiral has become his sole purpose in life.

When assigned a story of goodwill just before Christmas, about a mysterious lad with a missing leg and a generous heart, Michael insists he’ll only report the facts. And if the facts don’t produce the upbeat story his editor wants, so be it.

He’s paired with a female reporter who rejects his “wisdom of the head” for “wisdom of the heart.” As well as following their search, readers trace the days of a nameless beggar with the soul of a poet.

The narration itself has a poetic feel at times, with both poetry and prose philosophy quoted. Michael and the beggar are both well-read. Not surprisingly, given the title, Dickens is referenced, usually through Michael’s denial of his continuing influence in this darkened world.

This isn’t a retelling of A Christmas Carol, but those who know that story will find many nods to it. For example, Michael goes home to his dark, lonely, and cold lodgings where he broods by the fire, and he’s disturbed by significant dreams. And the ending, in A Christmas Carol fashion, gives a narrative summary of how certain things turn out happily ever after. While that’s ordinarily annoying, it works here as a final Dickensian touch.

For all the grim setting, and the stories of loss and trauma that Michael uncovers in his search for the boy, this isn’t a hard book to read. The omniscient narrative is well-handled to keep us at enough of a distance that we can observe and learn without being overwhelmed. The author reveals insights, details, and even smells that could only come from extensive research, yet it all flows as part of the story.

Because I usually review clean or Christian fiction, I’ll include a language warning with this one. There’s frequent minor profanity and one misuse of the name of Jesus.

Inspired by a true story, A Halifax Christmas Carol offers a look into a dark time in history, and yet may leave you with a warm hope reminiscent of Dickens’ tale.

For more about award-winning Canadian author Steven Laffoley and his books, visit stevenlaffoley.wordpress.com.

[Review copy from my personal library.]

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Review: 12 Days at Bleakly Manor, by Michelle Griep

12 Days at Bleakly Manor, by Michelle Griep

12 Days at Bleakly Manor, by Michelle Griep (Shiloh Run Press, 2017)

England. 1850. On December 24, Clara Chapman receives a mysterious offer: if she spends the next 12 days at a place called Bleakly Manor, she’ll receive enough money to rescue her from the poverty she’s experienced from the loss of her family fortune.

If they’d told her that another of the guests would be the man who stood her up at the altar, she’d have stayed away.

Except her former fiancé, Benjamin Lane, missed the wedding because he’d been thrown in prison for a crime he didn’t commit. He thinks Clara has refused to visit him because she believes he’s a thief. Can he somehow clear his name? Can the two lovers trust one another again?

The other guests are unusual, bordering caricatures: Miss Scurry, who keeps her box of pet mice with her at all times (and who can tell them apart by name!); Mr. Minnow, an eel-like fellow; Mr. Pocket, a police inspector; Mademoiselle Pretents, quite pretentious (and very rude); Mr. Tallgrass, a vulgar fellow in a wheelchair.

It’s a light-hearted mystery: who (and where) is their mysterious host? And who’s behind the incidents that seem calculated to eliminate the guests?

Michelle Griep draws readers in with choice turns of phrase. My favourites:

Ancient buildings with rheumy windows leaned toward one another for support, blocking a good portion of the sky… Clara rapped on the very next door, then fought the urge to wipe her glove. The filthy boards, hung together more by memory than nails, rattled like bones. [page 9]

A cold mist settled over London, dampening everyone’s clothing to the same shade of dreary. It was the kind of late January day that crawled under the best of woolen capes and took up residence in the bones. [page 181]

The novella is book one in the Once Upon a Dickens Christmas series, and while Charles Dickens himself doesn’t appear on the pages, readers will find the connection before the story ends.

Michelle Griep’s website describes her as “an author, blogger, and occasional superhero when her cape is clean.” For more about the author and her books, visit michellegriep.com. Also, you can read my interview with her here.

[Review copy from the public library.]

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Author Interview: David Kitz

Author David Kitz, in centurion uniformDavid Kitz is an award-winning Canadian author and Bible dramatist, currently celebrating the release of his newest book, The Soldier Who Killed a King (a true retelling of the Passion).

Janet: Welcome, David, and thanks for taking time to join us. First, I have to ask: what exactly is a Bible dramatist?

David: To put it simply, I act out or dramatize the Bible. For example I have memorized the Epistle of James and present the entire book in costume, often in place of the Sunday morning sermon. I do something similar with fourteen Psalms. In the case of the Psalms, I play the role of David.

Janet: That must have an incredible impact on your own spirit and on those who hear you. Does being able to immerse yourself in the Bible scenes enrich your ability to bring the stories to life?

David: Absolutely. Sometimes we can read the Bible in a detached sort of way, after all it was written in a different time and in a faraway place. But these were real people who lived and experienced these events. Putting yourself in their shoes brings the Bible to life in a whole new way.

Janet: Tell us a bit about The Soldier Who Killed a King.

David: This book was born out of a one-man drama called “The Centurion’s Report” that I have been performing for about twenty years now. After doing this four-act play for a few years I realized that this drama could form the basis for a novel. 

Janet: Did connecting so deeply with the Roman soldier affect you personally?

David: Yes, it did. But even more significantly it affected my identification with the suffering of Jesus. It all happened in a rather mysterious or even mystical way. As my novel writing progressed, I eventually reached the point where I was describing the whipping Jesus endured from the Roman soldiers. At the same time I was diagnosed with a severe case of shin splints. My doctor said, “Things will get worse before they get better.” They did get worse—much worse. Over the next few weeks I wrote the chapters that detail the crucifixion. It was a descent into a personal place of extreme agony. The pain—my pain— kept getting worse until the point when Jesus died. But from that point on I started feeling better. In fact, I recovered rapidly. It seems I needed a taste of agony to make those chapters ring true.

Janet: Wow! God teaches in some unusual ways. What compelled you to write this story?

David: I believe that the suffering, death and resurrection of Jesus form the pivotal event in all of human history. As believers we need to experience the personally transformative power of those events. The book is intended to take you there—to immerse you in that life-changing experience.

Janet: Observing with the centurion does bring readers into the story. Any interesting research tidbits?

David: I found Herod Antipas to be a perfect foil for Jesus. In character and conduct he is the polar opposite of Jesus. He’s an ambitious schemer seeking to regain his kingdom.

Janet: It was interesting how you contrasted them in the book. I’m assuming Jesus is your favourite character. Who do you most relate to?

David: Actually, I most relate to the centurion, Marcus Longinus. Maybe it’s because I have played his part so often over the years. He is awestruck by Jesus miraculous power, but quite uncertain what to make of this messianic figure.

Janet: What other books have you written?

David: I’m a rather eclectic writer. My children’s book Little Froggy Explores the BIG World was also a Word Guild Award winner. I have written a devotional study on the psalms entitled Psalms Alive! My literary agent is currently seeking a publisher for my book on the life of James, the brother of Jesus.

Janet: Do you have any advice for beginning writers?

David: Don’t give up. This is a very tough business. Learn lots. Pray hard. Know your calling.

Janet: Is there a particular song or Scripture verse that’s made a big difference for you?

David:  I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me (Galatians 2:20).

Janet: From the serious to the trivial: Cake or Pie? And what’s your favourite season?

David: Pie by a country mile, and yes, I bake my own pies. Seasons? I like them all. Probably my favourite is a warm sunny day in fall with autumn colours ablaze.

Janet: What do you like to do to recharge?

David: Gardening.

Janet: Tell us something you appreciate about where you live.

David: Access to beautiful cycling trails.

Janet: Congratulations again on your new release, and I pray it impacts many people. Readers who want more can see my review of The Soldier Who Killed a King.

===

 

A stunning story of Holy Week through the eyes of a Roman centurion

The Soldier Who Killed a King, by David KitzWatch the triumphal entry of the donkey-riding king through the eyes of Marcus Longinus, the centurion charged with keeping the streets from erupting into open rebellion.

Look behind the scenes at the political plotting of King Herod, known as the scheming Fox for his ruthless shrewdness.

Get a front-row seat to the confrontation between the Jewish high priest Caiaphas and the Roman governor Pontius Pilate.

Understand as never before the horror of the decision to save a brutal terrorist in order to condemn the peaceful Jew to death.

If you’ve heard the story of Passion Week so often it’s become stale, now is the time to rediscover the terrible events leading from Jesus’s humble ride into the city to his crucifixion. The Soldier Who Killed a King will stun you afresh with how completely Christ’s resurrection changed history, one life at a time.

Read an excerpt: kregel.com/fiction/the-soldier-who-killed-a-king/

Find more about the author: davidkitz.ca

Author Interview: Janice L. Dick

Janice L. DickJanice L. Dick is a Canadian author of Christian historical fiction, and she’s celebrating the recent release of her newest novel, In a Foreign Land.

Janet: Welcome, Janice, and thanks for taking time to join us. Let’s start with a few details to place your this book in context on the world stage. Where is it set? What’s the time period, and what are a few world events that would have happened at the same time?

Janice: Hi Janet, and thanks for this opportunity. My latest book is set in northern China between 1945 and 1951. WWII has just ended, China is in turmoil, and the ensuing civil war disrupts every corner of the land.

Janet: You’re a Canadian author, of Russian Mennonite descent, and family stories were part of your childhood. Have some of those anecdotes found their way into your fiction?

Janice: Oh yes. The stories I heard as a child at family gatherings were one of the reasons I started to write these historical fiction books. Some of my characters resemble certain of my forebears, either in character, experience, or both. Turning life into fiction is what I love to do.

Janet: Your In Search of Freedom series was to some extent inspired by a true story. How did that come about?

Janice: I had read about the escape of an entire Mennonite village in far-eastern Russia across a frozen river into China in 1930, and I wanted to retell it in fictional form. I was blessed to discover a little chronicle of the events, Escape Across the Amur River, which was written by participants in the 1940s. I inserted my characters into this milieu.

Janet: Do you have a favourite character in the series?

Janice: The main characters change from book to book, so it’s hard to have a favourite through the entire series, but Luise is my fav for book one, and Danny for book two.

Janet: I can see that. I guess we’ll have to wait and see who’s your favourite in book three. What do you want readers to take away from these books when they’re done?

Janice: The most important takeaway is that God is faithful, no matter what circumstances the characters find themselves in. This is also true in our own lives. The stories are just vehicles to show this truth.

Janet: In a Foreign Land is book 2 in this series. Could a reader start here without getting lost?

Janice: I hope I have written the story clearly enough for a reader to be able to find satisfaction at the end of the book, even without reading the first, and that references to former characters are informed enough to create a full picture. It’s a trick I didn’t get quite right in my first series, so I was mindful of it this time through.

Janet: It’s a tricky balance, to include enough but not too much. What do you have planned for the rest of the series?

Janice: The final book, Far Side of the Sea, is in process. The construction of the book will be somewhat different than the other two, which are written linearly, but I plan to connect it to the others as the final book of the series, tying up any loose threads.

Janet: I’m looking forward to it! In your research, what’s the weirdest bit of trivia you’ve picked up?

Janice: Maybe not weird, but definitely strange, was trying to gather information on post WWII China. That history was rewritten by Mao, and apparently, everything that existed before was destroyed. Even GoogleEarth comes up flat across the Amur River. So I had to dig deeply in order to offer a realistic setting. Thanks to my source for the second book (the man it was written about), I was able to piece together what I wanted to convey.

Janet: GoogleEarth is flat… thanks for making me giggle! Random question time… Chocolate or vanilla? And are you a morning person or a night owl?

Janice: There is only chocolate!

As to the next question, I got this apt description from Facebook and I concur: “I am neither an early bird nor a night owl. I’m some form of permanently exhausted pigeon.” Thanks to whoever made that up; I know I’m not alone.

Janet: Yup, I’m one of those pigeons too. Tell us something you appreciate about where you live.

Janice: Lots of space here on the prairies, lots of privacy on the farm, and four of our grandkids only a mile away.

Janet: That sounds idyllic. Thanks for visiting today. I’m looking forward to Far Side of the Sea – but no pressure!

Janice: Thanks again, Janet. (I put enough pressure on myself!)

===

You can discover more about Janice Dick’s books at janicedick.com, as well as find some traditional Mennonite recipes. While you’re there, take a look at her blog posts for readers and writers.

In a Foreign Land, by Janice L. Dick

In a Foreign Land, by Janice L. Dick

Manchuria has been home to the Martens and Giesinger families ever since they escaped Soviet Russia in 1930. At fifteen years of age, Danny Martens and Rachel Giesinger are content with their lives, and with each other.

But the end of World War II changes everything. In 1945, the Soviets invade northern China, infiltrating the temporary vacuum of power, and repatriate all men who were older than twenty years when they fled the Soviet Union.

Robbed of home, livelihood and security, Danny’s family and friends move southward, trying unsuccessfully to acquire emigration papers.

Amid the difficulties, a ghost from the past stalks the Martens family in search of vengeance for previously hidden crimes. Danny struggles to honor his father’s wish to move his family out of the country, but all his plans are thwarted.

In desperation, Danny’s mother requests sponsorship from friends, Phillip Wieler and Jasch Fast, who emigrated to the States in 1932. In spite of their own struggles with personal and economic tragedy, the Wielers and the Fasts attempt to help their friends who are held captive In a Foreign Land.

This story is based loosely on memoirs of a survivor. It is the second book in the In Search of Freedom series. The first book is titled Other Side of the River.