Today I’m writing a
long and gushing review of a recent independent release (yay for #indieauthors!) from Joanne Bischof, The Lady and the Lionheart. Its setting alone is intriguing: a traveling circus in Victorian-era Virginia. Combine that with a colorful cast of characters, most prominent being the enchanting lion tamer, a nurse in training, and a precious baby who will steal your heart, and we have a stage for a dramatic story of heart with hints of Beauty & The Beast.
Two worlds collide when the circus comes to Victorian-era Virginia.
Raised amid the fame and mystique of the Big Top, Charlie Lionheart holds the audience in the palm of his hand. But while his act captivates thousands, it’s away from the spotlight where his true heart lies. Here he humbly cares for his pride of lions as if they were his brothers, a skill of bravery and strength that has prepared him for his most challenging feat yet—freeing an orphaned infant from the dark bondage of a sideshow. A trade so costly, it requires his life in exchange for hers, leaving him tarnished by the price of that choice.
As the circus tents are raised on the outskirts of Roanoke, nurse Ella Beckley arrives to tend to this Gypsy girl. All under the watchful eye of a guardian who not only bears a striking resemblance to the child, but who protects the baby with a love that wraps around Ella’s own tragic past,
awakening a hope that goodness may yet reign. When their forbidden friendship deepens, Charlie dares to ask for her heart, bringing her behind the curtain of his secret world to reveal the sacrifice that gave hope to one little girl—boldly showing Ella that while her tattered faith is deeply scarred, the only marks that need be permanent are his own.
Just then a child in the row behind Ella cried out, “Look, Mama!”
Charlie, dressed in his center ring finery, strode into the arena, as strong and strapping as ever. Face powdered and painted with two jagged teardrops under his eyes, he walked with stoic authority, tall boots forging a fresh trail straight toward his audience. Ella didn’t know a single man could hush a packed house with no words, but…then there was Charlie Lionheart.
This is one book I kept hearing exclaimed by fellow bloggers AND some favorite authors, so I knew I had to see what all the fuss was about as soon as I could. And WOW, was it all well-deserved!
Let me continue by saying this is now one of my absolute favorite books! This story is a beautiful picture of the Gospel, of the freely given sacrifice, the love of Christ for His bride, the constant call for us to have a relationship with Him.
The dynamic (and romance) of Charlie and Ella is wonderful! They perfectly complement each other. Both have pasts filled with pain, and through this story we see how Charlie has chosen to react — and his encouragement for Ella to do the same — to choose hope. Charlie finds strength in Ella, I think. A determination to press on, a reassurance that his life choices were right, even though he feels like he doesn’t have much to offer.
Ella is longing for home in more than one sense (both earthly and heavenly belonging), though she doesn’t realize it until Charlie’s discerning presence arrives in her life. And Ella, in turn, sees the contrast of Charlie’s response to some damaging things that have happened to him with her own responses.
Joanne Bischof creates beautiful scenes with each turn of phrase, conveying feelings with just a simple description. There was so much raw emotion expressed by Ella and especially Charlie that I couldn’t help being caught up in it all, tugging my heart with moments both bittersweet and joyous. And little Holland! She is so important as a catalyst between these two and a ray of light.
I want to mention the supporting characters because they contribute so much to the story, even the lions. They are gracious, important, and colorful (it IS a circus, after all!). The lions and corresponding circus act is so unique and intriguing! They are really just overgrown cats, and I was happy to see them portrayed with a little humor.
The message of this story resounds long after reading it. It’s impactful in its display of a pure love with raw — and sometimes painful — honesty. The underlying theme of sacrifice is beautifully realized as secrets are slowly revealed regarding Charlie’s past. I believe it’s a story I will come back to multiple times and see new truths and joys with each reading.
Connect with author Joanne Bischof
What about you? Have you read a story lately that’s completely blown you away with its beautiful message or themes?