Monday, October 31, 2011

The Measure of Katie Calloway by Serena Miller

From the Publisher
Her heart seeks sanctuary in the deep woods. But will trouble find her even here?

The Civil War has ended, but in Katie Calloway's Georgia home, conflict still rages. To protect herself and her young brother from her violent and unstable husband, she flees north, finding anonymity and sanctuary as the cook in a north woods lumber camp. The camp owner, Robert Foster, wonders if the lovely woman he's hired has the grit to survive the never-ending work and harsh conditions of a remote pine forest in winter. Katie wonders if she can keep her past a secret from a man she is slowly growing to love.

With grace and skill, Serena Miller brings to life a bygone era. From the ethereal, snowy forest and the rowdy shanty boys to the warm cookstove and mouth-watering apple pie, every detail is perfectly rendered, transporting you to a time of danger and romance.

The Measure of Katie Calloway is an excellent, well-researched, carefully-plotted read. I very much enjoyed this slice of slightly different Christian historical fare.

The beginning of the novel will remind readers of Victoriana of Anne Bronte's The Tenant of Wildfell Hall: a young woman runs, this time with her young brother, from the beatings of her abusive husband. Here, a Civil War vet named Harlan determined to ensure his wife's untimely demise.  Unsure where to find work or sustenance, Katie providentially runs into Robert Foster, the foreman of a Michigan logging company where a good cook is immediately needed.   Katie's tenacious spirit and talent in the kitchen find her a perfect match for the voracious loggers.

Surrounded by rough loggers in the shanties outback, Katie's already wavering trust of the male sex is tried and tested; but Robert Foster and some of the more noble loggers slowly turn her opinion.  

Elements of trust are a major motif in the novel.  As Katie learns to open her heart again; so Robert Foster slowly learns to let go of his past as a surgeon during the Civil War.   The historical research is meted out perfectly. Moreover, the atmosphere of the crude mining environment is painted with historical integrity.   I was wowed by Miller's grasp of the time and of the mining community. Each well-paced chapter, for example, is framed with a shanty song of the time adding to the historical relevance and flavour of the tale. 

I was most impressed with the heart-stopping climaxes of the tale:  one, surprisingly, and refreshingly, occurs little past the halfway mark when a forest fire threatens the livelihood of all of our well-painted characters.   The treatment given to Katie's husband and his dogged pursuit to find her and give her her just desserts is also well-maintained in the background as the story plugs forward.

This is a strong offering for a Christian historical which paints a time and place I had not read of yet.  The lingering effects of the Civil War still haunt the characters.  There is a believability of time and place that is winsome in this genre.  Elements of faith play as a stronghold; but never venture into preachy territory. All readers will enjoy this novel with a hefty spice of character and faith.

I applaud Miller for this great addition to Christian historical fiction and I strongly encourage you to seek it out. In a tale that could easily seep into melodrama, Miller's strong prose and solid plotting give great credibility to the novel.

Visit Serena Miller at her website to learn more about the author and her writing of this text.

My thanks to Revell for the review copy of this novel.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

TLC BLOG TOUR: Beyond All Measure by Dorothy Love

Ada has loved deeply and lost dearly. But protecting her heart could mean missing the love of a lifetime.

Ada Wentworth may be young, but she's seen enough of life to know she can only rely on herself. Everyone including God it seems, has let her down. Having lost her family, her fiance, and her fortune, Ada journeys from Boston to Hickory Ridge, Tennessee, to take a position as a lady's companion. Though initially charmed by the pretty little Southern town tucked into the foothills of the great Smokies, Ada plans to stay only until she can earn enough to establish a millinery shop.
Her employer, Wyatt Caldwell, the local lumber mill owner, is easily the kindest, most attractive man Ada has met in Hickory Ridge. He believes Providence has brought her to town and into his life. But how, after so many betrayals, can she ever trust again? Besides, Wyatt has a dream of his own. A dream that will one day take him far from Hickory Ridge.

As the South struggles to heal in the aftermath of the Civil War, one woman must let go of her painful past in order to embrace God's plans for her. Can she trust Him, and Wyatt, with her future and her heart?

Ada has lost everything: her family, her livelihood, her dearest love and her future; but her will and spirit are the perfect match for the rough Hickory Ridge terrain and the rough-around-the-edges Wyatt Caldwell.  This is one book in which the reader will fall for the hero long before they fall for the seemingly overtly-stubborn heroine. However, after learning more about the circumstances driving Ada to her new life, so she softens and glistens in the reader's eye.  Matched with Love's strong prose and knack for this readership, the pair is a solid offering and a sure-fire hit with women who love a bit of Western texture in their hearty romance. 

Readers of Karen Witemeyer and Tamera Alexander will love this debut offering from Dorothy Love. Reminding the reader of the steadfast heroine of A Tailor- Made Bride and her determination to succeed in a new life for herself with her penchant for sewing as her livelihood, so Ada is determined to use her new life as lady's companion to the prickly Lillian to start her millinery business.

I quite enjoy this new trend in Christian historical fiction wherein the heroines are driven not only by their desire to settle and find true love and family; but also by their need to prove themselves and utilize their skills to make positive changes in the communities now altered by their arrival. Unlike Lily Bart failing haplessly at all trades she tries in Wharton's House of Mirth, Ada is a strong-minded heroine and, despite her privileged upbringing, seems capable of handling herself quite readily in the midst of adversity.

Smart, winsome heroine, attention to historical detail and a very swoon-worthy hero, not to mention charming moments and stalwart prose, this is a fresh and unique tale to add to your Christian bookshelf.   

One historical journey I appreciated was the influx of the original Ku Klux Klan: this clash of racism and prejudice, not often explored in Christian fiction of this historical ilk, was well-researched and added a layer of much-needed conflict, friction and suspense.

Thanks so much to TLC for allowing me to participate in this blog tour!

Check out the other stops on this tour:

Beyond All Measure by Dorothy Love

Monday, October 24th:  Reviews from the Heart
Tuesday, October 25th:  All Grown Up? 
Wednesday, October 26th:  I Am A Reader, Not A Writer  author Q&A
Thursday, October 27th:  A Fair Substitute for Heaven
Friday, October 28th:  Life in Review

Read more about Dorothy Love on her website ( she even has a Q&A section of interest to readers). 
I also mean to seek out her first Hickory Ridge novel, Beauty for Ashes

You can purchase Beyond All Measure on Amazon

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

My guest spot on 31 Days of Hallowe'en: Dickens and Hallowe'en

I was fortunate enough to feature in Read All Over Review's 31 Days of Hallowe'en and even more fortunate to speak on a favourite subject, DICKENS!  I have reposted it here for you to see; but make sure you check out the website and follow all 31 gruesome, literary days!

31 Days of Halloween { guest post } Dickens and Hallowe’en:

Today we are joined by Rachel from A Fair Substitute For Heaven, who talks about one of my favorite subject: Charles Dickens!
During October many readers pine for the fiction that makes our skin creep and crawl, for things that go bump in the night, for the chilling ghost stories of The Headless Horseman or James’ The Turn of the Screw. In literary fiction, Charles Dickens, fed heaps of the grueling macabre into his fiction. This Hallowe’en, I want to walk you through a few chilling vignettes of Dickens at his most gruesome. We’ll meet ghosts, thieves, witness murders, learn of Dickens’ penchant for descriptions of the gallows and paint a clear, rain-soaked cobblestoned world of gaslight and fright.
Here are a few examples of the dreariest Dickensian tales, a snapshot of some of their most malevolent characters and hopefully enough tingly-feelings to beguile you to revisit their worlds once more:

Photo Caption: Fagin waits to be hanged
There is a portentous sense of the macabre hovering in many of Dickens’ grim Victorian worlds including the conniving Fagin, the bandleader of a pack of boy thieves and Bill Sykes, the murderous henchman who skulks the streets of London at night: pilfering here and there, his mangy dog in tow.
Nearer the beginning of Oliver Twist, the scene is an undertaker’s: Oliver leads funeral processions for children’s funerals in a tall, be-plumed black hat and his forced to sleep in the dank dusk with coffins awaiting their next corpse.
According to eyewitness accounts, during Dickens’ numerous reading tours of Europe and North America, audiences were moved to fainting when Dickens read of the brutal death of Nancy at the hands of her lover, Bill Sykes. 

Photo Caption: Miss Havisham shows Pip the remnants of her abandoned wedding feast.
The macabre pervades Great Expectations from the opening scene: a gloomy graveyard where the young and impressionable Pip visits his deceased parents and long dead siblings. From out of the fog of the marshes he is pounced upon by a convict, a veritable bogeyman. The haunting of young Pip’s formative years continues with a house as gothically eerie as they come: Satis House wherein the phantom-like Miss Havisham strolls in yellowed white wedding dress, her untouched wedding feast rotting upon a long table: alive with maggots, beetles, mice and rats; the clocks all stopped timelessly, her long sinewy fingers folded as she plays maniacal matchmaker with Pip and her coldhearted ward Estella.
If that’s not enough, the villainous Orlick meanders in: an embittered blacksmith’s help who is as violent as his stalkerish behavior would allot.

Photo Caption: the Thames
Villains are pronounced in Our Mutual Friend, this meandering and carousel-like novel featuring unidentified corpses, cases of mistaken identity, lies, betrayal and the theft of goods from bodies lost to the river, Not unlike the dastardly M. Thenardier scraping the corpses of the barricades after the July Revolution in Les Miserables, so Gaffer Hexam and Rogue Riderhood skulk the dirty river Thames by moonlight in hopes of finding a rare diamond in the rough. When Rogue Riderhood betrays his partner, Gaffer Hexam, it is for a murder: that of the unfortunate John Harmon. Other characters in this dim tale include the taxidermist, Mr. Venus, who is in love with bones and Bradley Headstone: whose name is just as pernicious as it sounds…. When we’re not wallowing in talk of the dust pile heaps that employee many helpless and hopeless of the downtrodden, we are riveted by the manic motives of the jealous Headstone who rages in violent episodes as he pines for the beautiful Lizzie Hexam.
Other Dickens novels feature moments that greatly fall into the category of plain creepy….
Poe’s The Fall of the House of Usher puts one immediately in mind of its predecessor, the fall of the House of Clennam in Little Dorrit : years of secrets, violence and shame crumble under the dusty weight of a structure ravaged to the ground.
The Vengeful Madame Defarge performing that most mundane of domestic tasks, knitting, at the foot of the guillotine: her lust for blood as quick and frenzied as her hands clacking her speedy needles.

Caption: Scrooge is led by the Ghost of the Future to his gravesite: abandoned and alone
The famous Haunting of Scrooge may be a few months too early for our purposes yet is one of the most famous Ghost stories: appropriating ethereal supernatural presence for both good and ill purposes. Near the end, the miser Scrooge comes face-to-face with his mortality and the vapid existence he led when his abandoned gravestone is pointed out to him amidst the unfeeling snow.
Bleak House: features the batty Miss Flite—who christens her caged birds with apocalyptic names awaiting the day of judgment and a court case that consumes young, fresh and impressionable wards in a life-sucking way not unlike vampirism
While Bleak House’s Lady Deadlock is deliciously, drearily stagnant, awaiting the colour in life that will never fill the dark contours of her dreary life; so Mr. Tulkinghorn, her nemesis, skulks nearby with evidence that reminds of the most compelling of murder mysteries. Speaking of murder: the uncomely demise of Captain “Nemo” Hawdon features prominently in the story’s many threads, confused parentage and foreboding manners pepper the ongoing mysterious nature and the novel features Inspector Bucket: noted to be the one of the first (if not the first ) fictional detective.
As seen in David CopperfieldOliver Twist and Great Expectations (to name a few examples), grim pictures of an orphan’s life were not unknown to Dickens’ pen and what could be more eerie than a creaking, rat-ridden, squelching damp hovel of a school for boys.
In NICHOLAS NICKLEBY: the aptly-named Wackford Squeers’ School for Boys is one of the most dark, dreary and scary places in literary fiction Squeers takes unwanted children: those crippled, deformed or abandoned and squeezes money out of them while horrendously mistreating them
The aforementioned are just snapshots of some of the more horrific and terribly tantalizing moments and features of the greatest Dickens’ novels. Charles Dickens may not have been wholly conscious that his work would be appropriated by those who love the ghoulish, the supernatural and the things-that-go-bump-in-the-night; but his eerie atmosphere was embedded naturally. First, he had the perfect setting: dank, overcrowded Victorian London: a place that he walked for hours every night while conjuring the spirits of the pen to help him paint the often grotesque portraits we see above. Secondly, he underwent a dark childhood full of life in a debtor’s prison (not unlike his heroine Amy “Little” Dorrit, in her eponymous tale, and filled with the fumes of an inhumane blacking factory. These dark tenets of his developing imagination as well as the vivid way in which he was able to reconstruct humanity: from its basest and darkest to its loftiest and most noble rendered him a perfect Hallowe’eny writer. Though not technically horror in the same way we label the genre frequented by Poe, Dickens’ dark atmosphere loans the chills and thrills required for those rainy October nights when branches tap the trees and you ache to be lost in a book where every crevice, squeak and move will recall ghosts, gruesomeness and shadow.

Tuesday, October 04, 2011

Faith Words Blog Tour: Kiss of Night by Debbie Viguie

From the publisher: While visiting Prague for her beloved grandmother's funeral, Susan meets a dark, mysteriou man to whom she feels an instant and mesmerizing attraction. The man--Raphael--is a vampire, cursed for his sins to roam the earth for eternity. He needs Susan's help in a secret war against evil in a supernatural world that Susan never believed existed until now. Together, they are called on to exercise both courage and faith. KISS OF NIGHT ultimately asks the question: What would happen if a vampire truly accepted God?

Well, kids, it's come to this. The Christian industry--- known in the past to emulate popular secular trends and infuse pop culture with a stream or two of grace, has entered into Vamp territory.   While Thirsty by Tracy Bateman used Vampirism as a metaphor, Kiss of Night stars Raphael: a True Blood, Anne Rice, Edward Cullen VAMPIRE caught in a struggle of spiritual warfare.

Christians: meet Vampires.   Theology and the fiction surrounding legends of the undead is nothing new. After all, Christ rose from the dead three days after His Crucifixion; subsequently appearing in slightly different form to his disciples before ascending to heaven.   As blood remains a major metaphor of salvation and redemption in the Bible and in Christianity, so does blood remain a life-giver in the lore of Vampirism.   Symbolically, it is almost logical that these two tenets should meet.   Especially if you need to put a face to the very real and prevalent darker evil forces Christians believe exist as truly as higher good. While Frank Peretti's fiction explores the more demonic elements, thus juxtaposing Biblical entities with a fiction that makes Spiritual battles ongoing and contemporary, so Viguie re-imagines the power between Good and Evil by using a timeless myth: that of an undead creature condemned to roam the world in a sort of half-life, sucking what he can from human warmth and kindness.

I'm going to be brutally honest and tell you that my preference is for Christianity and Vampirism to stay in their separate spheres: that God ordains good and ultimately negates darker forces and that age old Sunday School Question: "Would you be watching True Blood if you knew Jesus was in the room?" proves that never the twain should meet.   However, I do believe that this fiction is timely and inevitable. At the very least, it can be a springboard for discussion.  The book itself features Discussion Questions at the back; but I would like to point future readers to ponder a few other things:

Do Christians go too far in appropriating secular popularity in order to provide a Christian alternative?  Christian Vampire Fiction is nothing if not an attempt at validating a very popular secular trend for our own.

Is the novel merely an emblem of a unique and new take raising questions about Hell and the afterlife, Eternal Damnation, and all that fun stuff...... or does it do nought but force a discordant clash between that which is Higher and Good and that which dwells ultimately in the darker forces of human nature?

To speak to the prose itself, I found a times it read very much like a Vampire story with Christianity tossed in to give it legs in a new market.... Not to mention the rather awkward infusion of Chapter heading scripture verses which speak to blood, the afterlife....anything to suit the author's timbre.
Take Chapter Fourteen, for example: " For the life of the flesh is in the blood; and I have given it to you upon the altar to make an atonement for your souls: for it is the blood that maketh an atonement for the soul"---Leviticus 17:11.  Pretty straightforward when inserted in its original context: as re-emphasizing the Sacrifice that plays into the whole of the Christian tradition.

I honestly, as mentioned, find this a little strained and a little odd. I don't know if Christians need Vampires and I don't know if we can make the  case that Vampire fiction in a Christian vein will save the worldly souls that the Evangelical publishing world wants to string into the fold....

However, there's no doubt that this is an exciting read and that the author has pushed boundaries.  I commend  Hatchette Books for taking this risk and I commend Viguie for boldly going into territory where I know a lot of questions will be raised.

The questions are the most important part; so is the subsequent discussion.  Every popular Christian or Religious tome from The Shack to The Da Vinci Code has excelled at one thing: it has forced an open dialogue between those in favour and those against.   I have a feeling that Kiss of Night, like the two aforementioned novels, will be hard to avoid.   There will be no inkling of a Laodicean thought about it.... you're either in or out....

You won't be either if you don't at least give this book a closer look.  I feel it is an important work because it proves, as mentioned earlier, that Christians are invested in emulating trends... even if it means dappling into dark territory much scorned by our tradition for years.

I recognize that this review did not speak to specific plot points in the novel, or to Raphael and Susan's story; but I think it holds enough twists and surprises to intrigue you when you experience it for yourself. Rather, I wanted to use this space to raise questions about this bold foray in fiction and to encourage you as a faith-based reader ( or non-faith based reader) to explore this nearly unchartered territory. I will say this, I loved the Crusades backstory and the haunting and hallowed landscape of eerie Prague...

You should visit the author's website to learn more about this and some of her other titles
If you tweet, or are an active member of TWITTER, please note there will be a Twitter book Party for this title on OCTOBER 7. Use hashtag #kissofnight to join the discussion.

OTHER BLOGGERS featured in this book tour include:

Make sure to check out these blogs for their opinions on this unique read! As for my copy, I'm passing it on to my friend Blake--- who may or may not yet believe that Christian Vampire fiction ACTUALLY exists ;)

Happy Reading!

This book is the first in a trilogy

My thanks to Hatchette Book Group for my review copy

Saturday, October 01, 2011

The Lady of Bolton Hill by Elizabeth Camden

I, like most of the followers of Christian Romance, was captivated when I first saw the striking cover  for The Lady of Bolton Hill: a woman of the late Victorian age, staring wistfully out to a towering skyscraper: a clash of tradition with industry and change.

The city setting is as unique as some of the tenets of this historical romance. Daniel and Clara's world is Baltimore, Maryland: where high society, glitter and riches frost the booming industry, invention and grit of a world that is not what it seems.

This cover is SO pretty! 
Clara Endicott and Daniel Tremain have been friends for years: very close friends in that sort of L. M. Montgomery Teddy/Emily or Anne/ Gil type of way: they yearn for each other's company, to learn, to play music; but are from very different worlds. Tragedy in Daniel's family catapults him into a state of progressive revenge: not only does he make a name for himself, destined to prove worthy of Clara and her world, he invests every fibre of his energy into seeking justice for a deed long done.

Danger, confusion and change await the two as they rediscover themselves and their child infatuation slowly blossoms into love.

The most poignant scenes take place in the music conservatory: where Clara and Daniel experiment with Chopin and with compositions of their own.  The musical undertones of the novel were well-handled by Camden's pen. I also quite enjoyed the well-researched business world that took Daniel and his ilk high above the city in those massive skyscrapers, slowly chugging the wheels of change into motion.

The friction between Daniel and Clara as adults is a believable exposition of faith and doubt: while Clara holds steady to her belief that the Almighty is the ultimate Judge, Daniel cannot see past the wrongs done to himself and his family.   The reader is engaged and slowly, deliciously tortured as you watch them inch toward meeting half way.

I highly recommend this novel as an example of a thought-provoking, well-researched and well-balanced novel by a fresh voice in contemporary Christian Romance. 

I look forward to more by Elizabeth Camden.... and to see more of her cover treatment!

In fact, you can read more about the cover process for Lady of Bolton Hill in this article. The Novel Process shows us the many different covers considered for the book before the final decision and ( in my opinion) the right one.  For fans of books, I found this a captivating snapshot and a nice companion piece to the book.

look! how pretty!
You can visit Elizabeth Camden's website to read her blog, learn more about The Lady of Bolton Hill and for a sneak peek at her new novel, the Rose of Winslow Street, publishing early 2012

My thanks to Bethany House for the review copy.