Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Book Review AND Author Interview! The Merchant's Daughter by Melanie Dickerson

In this hauntingly beautiful retelling of the classic fairy tale, Beauty and the Beast, Melanie Dickerson takes the reader to 14th century England where we meet Annabel Chapman. At seventeen years old, Annabel is of the age to marry, but her one desire – to read the Bible – can only be fulfilled by entering a convent. However, her father’s death and the family’s bankruptcy three years earlier have made that dream impossible. 

To save her family from losing their home, Annabel becomes a servant of the new Lord, Ranulf le Wyse, a man whose scars and missing eye make him fertile ground for rumors and speculation. While in this potentially dangerous situation, Annabel learns that underneath Lord le Wyse’s gruff exterior lies a desperately wounded man. When Lord le Wyse asks her to read his Bible aloud to him in the evenings, they find common ground. 

One of the most intriguing parts of this story is the appearance of more than one “beast” and more than one “beauty”. Annabel’s depth of beauty is more than skin deep, and she is contrasted with another girl who appears beautiful on the surface. Lord le Wyse’s beastliness is legendary, but again, the author holds other beastly men up for the reader to compare with him. These contrasting characters give this story many complex layers to explore.

This is Melanie Dickerson’s second book, matching her first, “The Healer’s Apprentice”, in historical detail and appealing romance. Even though both stories are retellings of classic tales, they read more as richly detailed historical fiction than fairy tales. 

With her complex characters, detailed historical settings and compelling stories, Melanie Dickerson writes the kind of fiction I wish more Young Adult readers had access to.

And now you can meet the author!  

Hi Melanie, and welcome to my blog!

Thank you, Jan, for inviting me! I’m thrilled to be here!

First of all, can you tell us a little bit about yourself?

I’m a wife and stay-at-home mom of two daughters and I live near Huntsville, Alabama. I’ve always been fascinated with the middle ages, and I love writing in that time period. I also love to cook, but I hate to clean up. It’s a classic internal conflict, but now my daughters are getting old enough to help out with the dishes, so … classic happy ending! (Just don’t tell my daughters I said that.) And we have a crazy dog, a Great Pyrenees mix who loves to escape our fenced in back yard and run wild all over our neighborhood. And that’s my life in a nutshell. Pretty boring, really.

Both of your published books are retellings of classic fairy tales – The Merchant’s Daughter is a retelling of “Beauty and the Beast”, and your first book, The Healer’s Apprentice, is a retelling of “Sleeping Beauty”. What made you choose these stories?

When I started getting the idea for The Healer’s Apprentice, I didn’t even know there was such a thing as fairy tale retellings. I was watching Disney’s Sleeping Beauty movie with my daughters and it occurred to me that it would be fun to flesh out the basic story and make it more realistic. And since publishers at the time all wanted series, I thought it would be fun to do a series of books based on fairy tales. And since Beauty and the Beast was my favorite fairy tale, it was the natural choice for my second novel.

Even though your books are enjoyed by readers of all ages, they are in the “Young Adult” age group. What is your vision for writing for this audience?

I love feeling that I am writing something that shines light in the darkness. So many YA books these days seem so very dark. I have nothing against showing good versus evil, but I dislike the idea of my daughter, and other teen girls, reading books that blur the lines between what is good and what is evil. Today’s “heroes” are often anything but heroic. And I fear that many of the novels teach kids that it’s okay to do evil if one can justify it somehow. It’s okay to kill innocent people if you’re forced to do it, or vampires can be good if they don’t kill people. That bothers me, frankly. And I love it when I get emails from girls all over the world (thanks to e-books!) who say that they appreciate the Christian aspect, or the spiritual aspect, or the moral aspect of my books. The teen years are so crucial! If I can positively affect a life in that pivotal time, then I am happy and blessed.

Even though this is just your second book, you’re already developing a loyal readership. Can you tell us about your next project?

Well, it’s top secret of course, Jan (wink) but I just finished the first draft of a Snow White story involving Rose and Wilhelm’s (from The Healer’s Apprentice) second son, Gabe. He learns that his older brother’s betrothed is actually still alive and being persecuted by her evil stepmother. Since his older brother has a broken leg and can’t go rescue her, Gabe goes himself. He and Sophie escape from the duchess, but they have to battle her hired henchman, wild animals, and their own attraction for each other as they ride toward the Cottage of the Seven, the mysterious house where they’ve been told they will find safety. I’m hoping this one will be published late next year.

Thanks for stopping by, Melanie! We'll be looking forward to your next book!
I received a free galley copy of this book from the publisher. I was not required to write a favorable review nor did I receive any incentive to do so.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Book Review: Forsaking All Others by Allison Pittman

 From the back cover:

“Camilla Fox is alive, having been rescued from a near-fatal snowstorm after leaving her home to escape the Mormon faith she no longer calls her own. Now, as she regains her strength under the personal care of United States Army Colonel Charles Brandon, thought of the two children she left behind flood her mind, threatening to break her heart.

Camilla is desperate to reunite with her daughters and does not want them to grow up under Mormon teachings, but she cannot provide a home for them on her own, and she will not share her husband with a sister wife. As Spring arrives, Camilla returns to Salt Lake City ready to fight…and she won’t back down until she’s brought her children safely to the other side.”

This book is the second in the Sister Wife Series by Allison Pittman. I hadn’t read the first one, For Time and Eternity, before I received this book for review, but it’s on my “to be read” pile now!

Allison Pittman reveals the inner workings of the early days of the Mormon Church under the leadership of Brigham Young with a sympathetic eye that shows the reader the difficulties followers of a false prophet encounter. Her heroine, Camilla, is torn between two worlds – the world of the Latter-Day Saints where her husband and children reside, and the irresistible pull of the God of the Bible. Even though Camilla made a heartbreaking choice when she fled her home, leaving her children behind, we continue to cheer her on as she fights to regain her children.

This seemingly straightforward story is interwoven with complex and sometimes conflicting emotions as Camilla struggles to find her way. Mrs. Pittman navigates this complexity with an ease that brings the reader along effortlessly. Her descriptions are part of what helps us navigate – her details in a variety of settings in this historical novel provide a solid background that places the reader in the middle of the action.

For the reader’s greater enjoyment, pick up the first novel in the series before reading this one – but be sure to come back!

I received a free copy of this book from the publisher for my impartial review.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Book Review: The Betrayal by Douglas Bond

For adults who have enjoyed Douglas Bond’s other historical fiction novels, The Betrayal will come as no surprise.

Douglas Bond’s meticulous research adds rich detail to this story of John Calvin’s life, told from the view of a fictional boyhood rival, Jean-Louis Mourin.  The story unfolds as a manuscript, penned by Jean-Louis in the 1500’s, is found in the bombed ruins of a building in Noyon during World War I. We then read the tale of a life of a gifted boy who grows into an articulate man who’s writing and preaching help to shape the course of the Protestant Reformation in France and Geneva, Switzerland.

The author quotes John Calvin’s writing in his book, using the subject’s own words to tell the story of his life and thought. At the same time, Jean-Louis uses those words as evidence against Calvin during the time of the Huguenot persecution in France – but can Jean-Louis resist the combination of Calvin’s persuasive arguments and God’s relentless pursuit of his soul?

One word of caution for those desiring to read this book: This book, in its vocabulary and mature logical arguments presented by Calvin, is written for older students and adults. Readers who have enjoyed Douglas Bond’s fiction for middle-grade and high school students should be content to wait a few years before reading this book, but it is well worth the delay!

I received a free copy of this book from the publisher with no requirement to write a favorable review.  

Friday, October 21, 2011

Book Review: The Harvest of Grace by Cindy Woodsmall

The Harvest of Grace is Cindy Woodsmall’s third book in her “Ada’s House” series. In this book we meet Sylvia Fisher, a young Amish woman whose skills encompass tending and nurturing a dairy herd more than the homemaking skills that her friends excel in. A heartbreaking development sends her away from home, where she finds employment on another farm, becoming a trusted friend of the arthritic Amish farmer and his wife.

But when Aaron Blank, the farmer’s son, returns home after months in rehab, his desire to move his parents into town and an easier life clash with Sylvia’s, and his father’s, determination to bring the dairy farm back from the brink of bankruptcy.

In spite of their opposing goals, Sylvia and Aaron form a bond based on their mutual love of Aaron’s parents and find a way to work together toward a solution for them. But will love give an added blessing to their lives?

Cindy Woodsmall’s intimate knowledge of the stresses that our modern culture places on the Old Order Amish brings an authentic touch to her novels. They are always a pleasure to read!

And Ada’s House fans won’t be disappointed. The Harvest of Grace holds more than Sylvia and Aaron’s story – we’re also treated to the continuing sagas of favorite characters from the earlier books.

I received a free copy of this book from Waterbrook/Multnomah Press for my impartial review.