Book Review: “Then Sings My Soul” by Amy K. Sorrells

Nel Stewart hasn’t been home in years when her mother’s sudden death brings her back to Michigan from Arizona. Her father’s deep grief and oncoming dementia causes Nel to stay longer than she originally intended. Together, Nel and Jakob work through their present pain as well as learn to deal with their past griefs.

Using alternating story lines, Sorrells tells Jakob’s story of his escape from the Jewish pogroms in the Ukraine, a story Nel never knew. We also learn Nel’s story of why she left home and the significance of Jakob’s hobby of the lapidary arts.

I was immediately drawn into this book because of the historical descriptions of a time and place I know little about (the Ukraine and the Jewish pogroms). The use of the lapidary arts was also an interesting addition, giving insight to the characters–their backgrounds and their interests.

From the title, I thought it was going to be a book about the song, “How Great Thou Art”, but it’s not; exactly. The author explains the meaning behind the title at the end, so make sure you read that. Highly recommend!

 

 

Biblical Fiction: Dead or Alive?

At the writers conference I attended in March, I had an opportunity to meet with someone who is the head of a Christian agency and well known in Christian publishing. I didn’t go with the plan of talking with him, so was pretty proud of myself for taking the plunge. I knew it would be a good experience, both to speak with him and to hear his thoughts on the book I’m writing. Now, I was not expecting much–no, I really didn’t think I would tell him about my story, he would respond with delight, and hand me a contract on the spot. The dream is there but I was feeling pretty realistic. However, I have spent a bit of time thinking over some of the things he said, and I have to admit, I am still puzzled by his attitude.

His first response to my pitch of “I’ve written an historical novel about Solomon growing up in King David’s palace,” was “People aren’t reading Biblical fiction. That just doesn’t sell, and no one is publishing it.”

I was stunned and, yes, I’m a bit of a slow thinker, so it wasn’t until I was back in my hotel room that I thought: “What about Tessa Afshar? Ginger Garrett? Connilyn Cossette? Francine Rivers? Jill Eileen Smith? Stephanie Landsem? Mesu Andrews? These writers may not be on the New York Times bestseller list, but they are all publishing Biblical fiction and doing reasonably well. I am currently reading Tessa Afshar’s Land of Silence, am enjoying it, and believe it is very well written. 

Did I misunderstand him? No, the conversation went on from there as he explained the ups and downs of Biblical fiction and told me why no one was interested in that any more. Of course, I tried to tell him that my book was special and many people would be interested in it and love to read it. Well, I didn’t exactly say all that, but I did spend more time telling him of my story, but I did not leave with a positive impression.

Looking through the authors I mentioned above, I found they were published by six different publishers, so there seems to be quite a few publishers still interested in these books.

So, am I wrong, and is he right? Are people not interested in reading Biblical fiction? What about you? Have you read any of these authors lately? Have you any others to add and recommend?

Valentine Reads: Christian Romance

20170214_122302-3Though I admit, “romance” books are not the genre I usually list as a favorite, I do have a few favorite authors and several books on my to-read list.  I mostly enjoy some historical romance, romantic suspense, and even fantasy romance. And what better time to look these over than on this day of love? So, quiet your inner cynic, grab some chocolate and look over this list and see if you can’t find something you might enjoy to take you through the rest of this winter month.

Tamera Alexander: She has several different series, all historical. I recently read the first two in her Timber Ridge Reflections series: From a Distance  and Beyond this Moment. Both take place shortly after the Civil War in Colorado. Interesting history (concerning both photography and the time of Colorado shortly before it became a state), and suspense in these books.

Lori Benton: I have read her first book: Burning Sky set in colonial times. Looking forward 20170214_121054-2to reading soon: The Wood’s Edge, (also set in colonial times) Christy Award winner for Book of the Year and Historical and First Novel.

20170214_122302-3Laura Frantz: Frantz has several different series and these also take place during the colonial period of the U.S. Two I have read and highly recommend: Love’s Reckoning and The Colonel’s Lady.

 

Jody Hedlund: Also has several different series, but two of her books I have on my to read-list: Luther & Katharine (winner of ECPA Christian Book Award & Christy Award for Historical Romance) and Newton & Polly (recently long listed for INSPY). As you might be able to guess, these are based on the real-life relationships of Martin Luther and his wife; and Amazing Grace writer, John Newton and his wife.20170214_121203-2

For more contemporary romance, Katie Ganshert is becoming a favorite as well as Beth Wiseman and Pepper Basham. What about you? Reading any romance today?

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The Women in the Castle Jessica Shattuck

20170127_155658I’ve read many books of historical fiction that take place during World War II, but few that are from the vantage point of German characters. (One exception that comes to mind is the excellent The Book Thief by Markus Zusak). The Women in the Castle is a new book of historical fiction coming out in April, and it is a story of three German women whose husbands were involved in an attempt to assassinate Hitler during the war. What happens to these women during and after the war because of this (obviously, unsuccessful) attempt creates a story that examines good and evil in the choices that people make. How do our choices affect, not only ourselves, but also those we love and want to protect?

In spite of the inevitable sadness running through this book, I was easily caught up into the story and could commiserate with each character and the hard choices they were forced to make. The three women were distinct with their own personalities.  They came from different backgrounds with secrets to hide, children to protect, and the need to find their way through a new world after their old one was destroyed.

Shattuck was able to write her story because of the memories and recollections of others, among them her own grandmother, mother, and aunt. There really was a German resistance and because of the research Shattuck has done, we can learn much of what people endured and why they may have made some of the decisions that they did.

Lovely writing and intriguing characters set in a difficult, but important time in history. Highly recommend!

 

 

 

Sixteen of My Favorite Books from 2016

I probably should have worked on this post last week, but better late than never. I did take a few days away from writing during the holidays, but I spent the last few days of 2016 trying to start my next book which I suppose I should call “The Continuing Saga of Solomon”. Well, it’s just a working title.

So, I’ve been reading blog posts on everyone’s favorite books of 2016, so thought I would go to goodreads and find out what were my favorite books this past year. All of the books I’m going to mention were either four or five star for me but that does not mean there weren’t a few others that hit that mark. Trying to keep it down to sixteen was a challenge. Sometimes, though, I think I’m too generous with my stars (especially if I’m struggling with my own writing and feel that any writer who actually finished writing a book should receive at least two stars for that accomplishment alone), but, regardless, I will only mention books today that were either my top favorites or were by a new author for me.

For my top fiction, one of the first books I read in 2016 was Kate Morton’s The Lake the-lake-houseHouse. I loved it and wonder why I still haven’t read more of her books. But I will.

Looking over the fiction books I read, I noticed I read several books which are the first in a mystery series. This makes these books even more special as it means there are more books by these authors that can I look forward to in 2017. (And I actually have already read the second in a few of these series). These books (in no certain order): What Angels Fear by C.S. Harris; The Anatomist’s Wife by Anna Lee Huber; Raven Black by Ann Cleeves; The Merchant’s House by Kate Ellis; and The Lewis Man by Peter May. I also read two by Tana French (the second and third in her series). I don’t think you can go wrong with her. Looking forward to reading the next in her series soon.what-angels-fear-240h

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I’m doing a reread of Robin Hobb’s Farseer series. I read both Assassin’s Apprentice and Royal Assassin in 2016. She is an amazing writer and though her books are fantasy, I feel can learn a lot about writing historical fiction from her writings. She is great at both setting and characters.

Other favorites in fiction: The Marriage of elephant-whisperer Opposites by Alice Hoffman; The Architect’s Apprentice by Elif Shafak; Plainsong by Kent Haruf; and Beneath a Golden Veil by Melanie Dobson.

Not counting the two by Tana French, that’s twelve. Since the Robin Hobb books are rereads, maybe I shouldn’t count those, but didn’t want to leave her out.

Obviously, I can easily mention more than sixteen, but I will round this out with my top four non-fiction: None Like Him by Jen Wilkin; An Editor’s Advice by Betty Lerner; The Elephant Whisperer by Lawrence Anthony; and A Woman of Contentment by Dee Brestin.

How about you? Any books that stood out for you in 2016? Have you set any reading forest for the treesgoals for 2017 yet?

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Beneath a Golden Veil by Melanie Dobson

20161207_114254In Sacramento in 1853, the gold rush is on and people are coming from all over the country to try their luck. Isabelle runs a hotel and seems to be successfully overcoming a secret in her past, in spite of the loss of her beloved aunt. When a man enters her hotel in search of his slave, Isabelle becomes involved in helping and hiding slaves in this state which has no clear laws on the issues of slavery.

From Virginia, comes Alden with a twelve year old slave, Isaac. Isabelle recognizes Alden from her past, but he does not recognize her. Soon, another man from Isabelle’s past arrives in Sacramento, and Isabelle has no doubt that this man means her harm. Isabelle becomes caught between wanting to help others who are trapped in slavery and needing to save herself. Her aunt taught her to trust in God, but can she trust Him to deliver her from this evil?

This is my first book by Melanie Dobson though I have read good things about her books and have had a couple of them on my TBR for awhile. Receiving this Kindle edition gave me my excuse to read Dobson’s newest book, and I was not disappointed. I don’t remember ever reading before of California’s stance during the time of slavery or hearing of their own underground railroad, so I found the history interesting and appreciated the details Dobson brings to her story. There is romance, suspense, and colorful characters–all helping to bring together an entertaining story. I gave this book five stars on Goodreads.

Though I received a free Kindle copy through Goodreads, the review is my own.

Dying in the Wool by Frances Brody/book review

 

20161106_075045As you all know, I enjoy historical mysteries, and thanks to goodreads and the historical mystery group I’m in, I have found another series to relish. Dying in the Wool is the first of eight mysteries set in England after WWI which introduce Kate Shackleton.

Kate’s husband went missing four years before during WWI, and though most presume him to be dead, Kate has not given up hope for his safe return. In the meantime, Kate is trying to establish herself as a photographer, and she has also solved several mysteries involving missing persons. When a good friend, who is soon to be married, asks her to look for her father who went missing several years before, (wanting him to be there at her wedding), Kate agrees and is soon involved in learning the secrets of a mill town in an otherwise quiet Yorkshire village.

I usually try to avoid comparisons with other books as they are often misleading and disappointing. I don’t like to be told a book or an author is like another and after reading it, discover it’s not in any shape, form, or fashion like the one it has been compared to. In fact, it can take away whatever enjoyment I might have had if my expectations had been different. However, I do believe readers of both Jacqueline Winspear and Charles Todd will find this series entertaining in a similar vein. Having only read the first book, I can’t say how well the series continues, but I hope to find out soon.

How about you? Reading any new mysteries? Or have any of you read anything else by Frances Brody?