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Saturday, August 16, 2014

Annie's Stories by Cindy Thomson

 Read first chapter excerpt here

The year is 1901, the literary sensation The Wonderful Wizard of Oz is taking New York City by storm, and everyone wonders where the next great book will come from. But to Annie Gallagher, stories are more than entertainment—they’re a sweet reminder of her storyteller father. After his death, Annie fled Ireland for the land of dreams, finding work at Hawkins House.

But when a fellow boarder with something to hide is accused of misconduct and authorities threaten to shut down the boardinghouse, Annie fears she may lose her new friends, her housekeeping job . . . and her means of funding her dream: a memorial library to honor her father. Furthermore, the friendly postman shows a little too much interest in Annie—and in her father’s unpublished stories. In fact, he suspects these tales may hold a grand secret.

Though the postman’s intentions seem pure, Annie wants to share her father’s stories on her own terms. Determined to prove herself, Annie must forge her own path to aid her friend and create the future she’s always envisioned . . . where dreams really do come true.

Annie's Stories is Cindy Thomson's second novel in the Ellis Island series, following the release of Grace's Pictures. I have not read Grace's Pictures yet, so I can confidently say that it is not necessary to read them in order. Grace is in this second novel, but a reader is perfectly able to understand what is going on without reading the first book. I do think, however, Annie's Stories would be a welcome read to those who connected with Grace and her beau in Grace's Pictures because they are included in the second novel. Annie's Stories has an interesting and spell binding plot, and it includes both the internal struggle in Annie as she tries to reconcile the hurt in her past, the love of seemingly distant God, and the biblical truths in her deceased father's stories, as well as the plot against one of the other boarders. While there is certainly a lot going on in this novel, I was still able to connect with the story, particularly the honest emotions that Annie was dealing with. I enjoyed seeing both her and Stephen struggle and then grow as people (and Christians) as they surrendered their pain and bitterness to God and trusted Him. The characters in this novel were well written and easy to connect with as a reader. I liked seeing how they interacted with one another and as they learned from their past mistakes. Overall, I would highly recommend this novel, and I look forward to going back and reading Grace's Pictures now!

I received this novel from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

Sunday, August 3, 2014

The Sentinels of Andersonville by Tracy Groot

 Read the first chapter excerpt here

Near the end of the Civil War, inhumane conditions at Andersonville Prison caused the deaths of 13,000 Union soldiers in only one year. In this gripping and affecting novel, three young Confederates and an entire town come face-to-face with the prison’s atrocities and will learn the cost of compassion, when withheld and when given.

Sentry Dance Pickett has watched, helpless, for months as conditions in the camp worsen by the day. He knows any mercy will be seen as treason. Southern belle Violet Stiles cannot believe the good folk of Americus would knowingly condone such barbarism, despite the losses they’ve suffered. When her goodwill campaign stirs up accusations of Union sympathies and endangers her family, however, she realizes she must tread carefully. Confederate corporal Emery Jones didn’t expect to find camaraderie with the Union prisoner he escorted to Andersonville. But the soldier’s wit and integrity strike a chord in Emery. How could this man be an enemy? Emery vows that their unlikely friendship will survive the war—little knowing what that promise will cost him.

As these three young Rebels cross paths, Emery leads Dance and Violet to a daring act that could hang them for treason. Wrestling with God’s harsh truth, they must decide, once and for all, Who is my neighbor?

The Sentinels of Andersonville by Tracy Groot was a moving novel that described the Andersonville prison in shocking detail, and which convicted me to the core. This was the second book that I read in as many days about harsh conditions in war prisons; the first was The Auschwitz Escape by Joel Rosenberg, and I was saddened to see the terrible similarities between both the dreadful conditions within the prison camps and even more so by the lack of protest and care shown by those on the outside. As Dance, Violet, and Emery discovered, most people, even if they profess to be Christians, are unwilling to take off the "blindfold" and to respond to the need around them, particularly when they are already hurting and those that are needy are their enemies. Tracy Groot, in her author's note, asked the readers to imagine if we had a prison nearby filled with terrorists who had killed our friends and family, would we want to reach out to them if they were starving and dying of preventable diseases?

I was convicted both by the attitudes of those in the novel and by Tracy's challenge to us in the note as it is so easy to ignore the needs of those we dislike when we are hurting ourselves. Another theme that resonated with me was a lesson that Dance learned near the end of the novel. Dance had worked at the prison for months and had seen so many soldiers die, starved and helpless. While he wants to help them, he knows that anything he does will not only sentence him to death but will probably only aid one prisoner. However, what Dance realizes in the end is that everyone should do what they can to help those in need even if the result seems small. Every little bit helps, even if only one person receives the care, and that is all that really matters -helping one's neighbor, no matter how hated they are.

The plot line of The Sentinels of Andersonville was masterfully written and wove together elements of suspense, sorrow, humor, and even romance in a touching way. I appreciated the amount of detail that the author put into the novel, particularly the truthful descriptions of the prison that have been preserved through the diaries and words of the Andersonville survivors. While sad and even horrifying, these descriptions and the journal excerpts helped me become more immersed in the story and understand the conditions the prisoners faced. The characters were also well developed and very realistic. I immediately felt like they were friends of mine, and I was brought to tears and even anger as the story continued and as the main characters faced hardships, loss, and failure. I loved Violet and her family. She and her father were not afraid to fight for what was right even if it meant 'treason'. Her siblings were amusing and charming in their own ways, especially the youngest, Posie, who won my heart and the hearts of the soldiers (on both sides) that she came in contact with. I also really liked Emery and Dance. Both men had tender yet courageous hearts and were willing to die to save others. The relationship that developed between Emery and Lew was also both amusing at times as well as truly touching. I liked how it showed that friendships can develop in the most unlikely of places and that the Civil War really was fought between brothers, between men who had shared experiences, livelihoods, and interests.

Overall, I enjoyed this novel immensely. Sentinels of Andersonville was not a lighthearted read, but it caused me not only to think but to laugh, to cry, and to be angry at the injustices that occurred along with the main characters in the novel. This is definitely one of the best books I have read this summer, and I would highly recommend this novel to any reader who appreciates a heartfelt historical novel that challenges the reader to become a more compassionate person.

I received this novel from Tyndale House, and the opinions in this review are my own. 

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Captured by Love by Jody Hedlund

 Read first chapter excerpt here
Michigan Territory, 1814

It is near the end of the War of 1812, and the British Army has taken control of Michilimackinac Island and its fort, forcing the Americans to swear an oath of loyalty to the crown in order to retain their land. Pierre Durant is a fur trader who returns after being away from the island for years, only to find the family farm a shambles and those he cares about starving and at the mercy of British invaders.

Torn between the adventurous life of fur trading and guilt over neglecting his defenseless mother, Pierre is drawn deeper into the fight against the British--and into a relationship with Angelique MacKenzie, a childhood friend who's grown into a beautiful woman. She now finds herself trapped by the circumstances of war and poverty, and the cruelty of her guardian, Ebenezer Whiley. Not only that, but she is engaged to be married to Pierre's younger brother Jean, and now she must choose where her love and her honor lies.

As tensions mount and the violence rages on, Pierre and Angelique must decide where their loyalties rest and how much they'll risk for love.

Captured by Love by Jody Hedlund was a sweet and enjoyable read that captured me from the first page. I was immediately drawn into Angelique's life as she struggled to take care of Miriam Durant, to find food for herself, and to stay out of the way of her step-father's cruel eye and punishments. Pierre was a welcome breath of fresh air to their lives as he returned a new man, redeemed and changed for the better. He brought happiness and laughter to both women (and to the reader) as his antics were both amusing and charming. The reader did not know the old Pierre, but I could imagine his past life, and I was glad that he had changed and was continuing to try to live a more Christian life, following after the Holy Spirit's guidance even as new failures occurred. I also enjoyed how he interacted with Angelique, how he protected her from others, and how he sought to make her feel beautiful and worthy the way she was. Angelique was a sweet girl who I was glad to see become more carefree as Pierre reentered her life even while she struggled to trust him again and to find the line between friendship and betraying her brother. Both Pierre and Angelique made poor decisions at times, but it was refreshing to see characters that were not perfect and owned up to their mistakes afterwards.

The plot line of Captured by Love was very well written, and it contained a good mixture of mystery, danger, suspense, and romance. There were a couple unexpected occurrences in the story, and there were also times when I was not sure what was going to happen between Pierre, Angelique, and Jean. I also appreciated the history that surrounded the characters in the story. The War of 1812 is a subject I am not very familiar with, especially what happened near the Great Lakes in Michigan as American citizens found themselves under the rule of the British again. I also enjoyed all of the descriptions of the island and the surrounding area, as well as the lives of those who were voyageurs and traded furs for a living.

Overall, I found this novel to be very informative, exciting, and enjoyable, and I would highly recommend Captured by Love by Jody Hedlund to any reader who enjoys a good historical romance. I received this novel for free from Bethany House Publishers in exchange for an honest review.