Review: “Many Sparrows” by Lori Benton

My copy of Many Sparrows

In my experience with the world of richly written historical fiction, Lori Benton is a master storyteller. Her stories never cease to leave me speechless for days and touch my spirit with their truths and dynamic characters. Her latest standalone release, Many Sparrows, is another such work of art. Combining cultures and a unique piece of real history (Dunmore’s War), it explores a mother’s heart, her longing for peace, and her journey to forgiveness.

About the Book

Either she and her children would emerge from that wilderness together, or none of them would…

Many SparrowsIn 1774, the Ohio-Kentucky frontier pulses with rising tension and brutal conflicts as Colonists push westward and encroach upon Native American territories. The young Inglesby family is making the perilous journey west when an accident sends Philip back to Redstone Fort for help, forcing him to leave his pregnant wife Clare and their four-year old son Jacob on a remote mountain trail.
When Philip does not return and Jacob disappears from the wagon under the cover of darkness, Clare awakens the next morning to find herself utterly alone, in labor and wondering how she can to recover her son…especially when her second child is moments away from being born.

Clare will face the greatest fight of her life, as she struggles to reclaim her son from the Shawnee Indians now holding him captive. But with the battle lines sharply drawn, Jacob’s life might not be the only one at stake. When frontiersman Jeremiah Ring comes to her aid, can the stranger convince Clare that recovering her son will require the very thing her anguished heart is unwilling to do—be still, wait and let God fight this battle for them?

Goodreads | Amazon

Lori’s Website | Facebook | Instagram 

Review

Many Sparrows is a stunning masterpiece of a story, chronicling the challenge and patience of trust and the importance of forgiveness. The truths and wisdom found between these pages, presented in story, are timeless. With her typical historical research and attention to detail, Lori Benton portrays the contrasts of cultures and tumultuous era in this novel with great care. The Shawnee culture is impactfully presented, touching a personal part of Clare she would rather protect from vulnerability and a growing care for their well being.

20170906_002043Like scars are stronger after healing, so too is Clare by story’s end. Permanently changed, sometimes through pain, but stronger as a result of her trials. The beauty of Clare and Jeremiah’s journey outshines the struggles, pointing to the God who knows all and intends good things for His children, even when circumstances appears as though any resolution will bring pain.

Clare and Jeremiah are exposed at heart-level on the page, emotionally relatable despite their seeming distance in history. I loved seeing their bond of friendship grow as their separate stories entwine and parallel each other in many ways. My heart broke along with Clare’s, and soared with Jeremiah’s words of wisdom and steady support. I was amused by Wildcat and humored by Jacob. Most of all, Rain Crow spurred a response of compassion and emotion that caught me off guard more than once (just like it did Clare) with its depth and desire for healing.

To delve deeper into the themes and twists of this novel would take away from the the way this plot beautifully unfolds, so I will end by saying read it! While it is heart-wrenching at times, its portrayal of a world on the cusp of great change (just before the American Revolution) is touching in its authenticity and relevance.

For fans of: Laura Frantz, Jocelyn Green, Native American culture, late 1700s American frontier stories, adventure, and romance.

Thank you to WaterBrook for providing a complimentary ARC of this novel. This is my honest review.

Advertisements

Review: Together at the Table by Hillary Manton Lodge

You know that moment when you FINALLY finish reading a book series and you’re perfectly happy with the way it ended, but you still want MORE??? Yep, that was me after reading Together at the Table by Hillary Manton Lodge, the last book in the “Two Blue Doors” series.

I read it a few weeks ago with two blogger and #BookBestie friends, Cassie and Rissi. We chatted and debated and gushed via Twitter with the hashtag #TogetherAtTheTableRAL (click to see all our tweets, but warning: some are spoilery). And, Rissi created this awesome graphic for our read along.

 

Ok, by now you’re wondering what this book is about, so here’s the plot summary:

Together at the Table by Hillary Manton Lodge.jpgThree months ago, Juliette D’Alisa’s world changed.

In a bittersweet series of events, her mother’s health took a turn for the worse. Juliette and her brother opened their restaurant together to rave reviews, but her romance with Memphis immunologist Neil McLaren ended in anger and tears.

As autumn sweeps into the Pacific Northwest, Juliette feels that she’s finally on the cusp of equilibrium. The restaurant continues to thrive, and her family is closer than ever. She and sous-chef Adrien are seeing each other, both in and out of the kitchen. Just when she thinks her world might stop spinning, a trip to the waterfront lands a familiar face into her path.

Rather than dwell on her personal life, Juliette throws herself into work and research. After reading her grandmother’s letters from war-torn Paris, she still wants to know the full story –  and she’ll travel across countries and oceans to find it.

But even Juliette can’t outrun the man who stole her heart. As she finally uncovers the truth about her family history, what will it mean for her own chances at lasting love?

My thoughts: So many feelings! Bittersweet, happy, hunger, nostalgia, the camaraderie of family and food. If you’ve followed this series from the beginning (please, start at the beginning), you know the emotional journey Juliette has already been on and the unexpected things in her path. Even after the first few chapters, I had no clue where this story would take Juliette or the *ahem* love interest she would end up with.

(Though there was not exactly a love triangle in this series, we do see her life morph and her love life change naturally within seasons of life. I didn’t exactly have a preference myself with whom she would end up with, but I am extremely happy with the end and with him. He shall remain nameless for the review because spoilers.)

Hillary knows how to use a singular POV to its advantages. With it, there was increased dramatic tension because we only knew Juliette’s thoughts, feelings, and reactions. And it made us feel very close to her as a character. Most impressive, I thought, was the way the eventual hero of the story was written so well, even through Jules’ eyes, that we saw and read into his thoughts by his behavior around her and the way he treated her. This was carried out through Juliette’s observations of the other characters, as well. We saw their humor, bubbly personalities, or even jealous and pensive moods.

The historical letters and family story we experienced in previous books is carried out in the latter part of this one. This unique sub-storyline is a riveting glimpse into the WWII life in the French countryside. It even has parallels with Jules’ contemporary life with a theme of perseverance and a story of simple joy that can be found in everyday life.

Ultimately, this is a book for the foodie and the romantic. The food quotes and many recipes are a fabulous bonus. The sense of family and belonging Juliette feels when she is sharing the table with loved ones in this story are extended to you, the reader, with a sense of hospitality and invitation. It was a quite satisfactory end to the series — I was happy with where the characters ended up. Though I would happily read many more books about these characters if I could! (hint hint, Hillary 🙂 )

Thank you to WaterBrook Publishers for a complimentary review copy in exchange for my honest review.

See my reviews of book 1, A Table By the Window, and book 2, Reservations for Two.

And this was how we felt when it was over….

 

Review: “Luther and Katharina” by Jody Hedlund

When writing book reviews, I always start with the best of intentions to keep my reviews precise and informative. But then feelings and stories and lovable characters get in the way. And before I know it, I’ve practically written a short story myself. But, I’ve decided this is not an editorial journal, it’s my blog, so I’m going to tell you what I think — even if it takes a few hundred extra words 🙂

This review of Jody Hedlund’s recent release – Luther and Katharina: A Novel of Love and Rebellion – does get a little long. But I love Jody! This is the first historical from her, as opposed to her usual historical romance/YA books. That means the plot is driven more by historical events and less by relationships or romance. Don’t worry, there is still a sweet and earnest love story that unfolds. History tells us that Luther and Katharina did marry, but Jody’s style just makes their story all the more relatable.
Luther and Katharina by Jody Hedlund

Book Summary: Katharina von Bora has seen nothing but the inside of cloister walls since she was five. In a daring escape, Katharina finds refuge with Martin Luther and seeks his help to pair her with the noble, wealthy husband she desires.

As class tensions and religious conflicts escalate toward the brink of war, Martin Luther believes that each day could be his last and determines he will never take a wife.

As the horrors of the bloody Peasant War break out around them, the proud Katharina and headstrong Martin Luther fight their own battle for true love, in one of the greatest love stories of history.

My thoughts: Jody Hedlund has successfully done something very challenging — she has written the fictional account of actual historical figures in a manner both realistic and entertaining. I applaud her for the work she put into this story to include as much historical accuracy, detail, and actual quotes from Martin Luther as possible (her website and her author’s note are very informative!). On top of all that, the story itself is riveting, spiritually deep, and romantic.

This is a very fascinating and interesting era. I can see why it is sometimes referred to as the Dark Ages: spiritual matters, including any reading of the Bible, were left up to the very high figures of the church. The concept of a personal relationship with God was revolutionary for Luther to preach. In this story, the characters are caught up in the turmoil of the era. Luther is caught between pledging loyalty to the noblemen and peasants in the Peasant War. And, Katharina is struggling to find balance between the stricture of her old life and trusting in her newfound relationship with God.

At times, this was tough to read because the lives they lived were hard, with a constant threat of persecution. These people had to deal with turmoil and real doubts in a time where spiritual leadership was severely lacking. Oh to meet them someday in heaven! I admire their faith and bravery. Little did they know this would be the start of the Protestant Reformation and how would impact Christianity.

This is the type of story with many layers and themes. The main takeaway from it, I think, is the example of how Luther and Katharina each chose to commit their whole lives to God. They left it in His hands for Him to receive glory, whether it came about through their persecution, trials, or fulfilled dreams. Trusting in God and learning from their circumstances brought about growth of character (as in the personality trait) and ultimately led to contentment with their lives.

For more info on Jody’s books, fun extras that go with Luther and Katharina, or to connect with her visit her website. If you’ve read Luther and Katharina already :), you’re invited to join in a discussion as part of Cassie and Jamie’s #HedlundChallenge2015 later in October!

Thank you to Blogging for Books and Waterbrook Press for the review copy in exchange for my honest review.

What are your thoughts? Are you a fan of Jody’s? Do you prefer historical fiction or historical romances?

Review: “Reservations for Two” by Hillary Manton Lodge

Today’s review features the latest contemporary novel from author Hillary Manton Lodge, Reservations for Two. This is the second book in her “Two Blue Doors” series about character Juliette D’Alisa’s journey as she opens a new restaurant with her brother, Nico, uncovers secrets of her family heritage, maintains a long-distance romantic relationship, and remains involved in all sorts of family drama.

This book picks up right where the first one (A Table by the Window) left off, in Provence, France. While a person doesn’t have to read the books in order to enjoy the series, I think reading the first would allow a deeper understanding and appreciation for the characters.

Book Summary: A culinary concoction of taking chances and finding love in the most delectable places

Food writer-turned-restaurateur Juliette D’Alisa has more than enough on her plate. While her trip to Provence might have unlocked new answers to her grandmother’s past, it’s also provided new complications in the form of Neil McLaren, the man she can’t give up.

Juliette and Neil find romance simple as they travel through Provence and Tuscany together, but life back home presents a different set of challenges. Juliette has a restaurant to open, a mother combating serious illness, and a family legacy of secrets to untangle – how does Neil, living so far away in Memphis, fit into to her life?

As she confronts an uncertain future, Juliette can’t help but wish that life could be as straightforward as her chocolate chip cookie recipe. Can her French grandmother’s letters from the 1940’s provide wisdom to guide her present? Or will every new insight create a fresh batch of mysteries?Story was fun and flowed nicely. Settings were just fabulous – the story opens in the French countryside (anyone want to visit a lavender farm with me?), then the characters travel to Paris, Italy, and back to the states.

My thoughts: Like the first book in the series, Hillary has included several fun elements that add to the story — I’m talking about several tantalizing recipes sprinkled through the chapters. They made me hungry at 1am. And, fun little quotes about food or cooking at the beginning of each chapter.

I love that the story is told from the first person narrative. It’s like Juliette is telling the reader her story, her thoughts.

I also really like the inclusion of old letters between Juliette’s grandmother, Mirielle, and her sister and love from pre-WWII France. This is a secondary story, really, that unfolds a little at a time with some suspense as to what will become of some of Mirielle’s family. These letters offered a unique addition to the storyline and a clever way to encourage Juliette through her challenges.

There is one small thing I want to point out about this story. While it is categorized as “Christian fiction”, it doesn’t have as strong of a spiritual message or focus unlike many books in this genre. The faith of the characters is present through the book, though not addressed in a super-direct way. I had no problem with it being presented as a background theme, however. It was clearly an important part of the characters’ lives.

Overall, this was an easy and interesting read. It’s not all fun and games, though — it deals with some real relationship issues, like sacrifice and the value of family. Excuse me for a second while I give myself some advice: in the future, wait until full series are published, that way I don’t have to wait a year for the conclusion of the story! Actually, I definitely don’t regret reading this one! But I am anxious to read the conclusion of this “Two Blue Doors” series in 2016!

Visit Hillary’s blog here for more info –  and recipes! (She’s recently posted a tiramisu recipe from this book!!!)

Thank you to the publisher for a complimentary copy in exchange for an honest review! I received this book for free from WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group through the Blogging for Books program for this review.

 

Family, a Film, & a French Apple Cake

Sometimes you have a family or culinary experience that’s just so delightful you wish it would last forever. In my case, it was a combination – an evening watching a movie followed by eating a yummy apple cake. It was so great I decided to blog about it 🙂

Last week, I enjoyed watching one of my absolute favorite movies The Ultimate Gift (2006) PosterThe Ultimate Gift (2006) – with my grandmother, aunt, and uncle. If you haven’t seen it, you MUST watch it immediately. It’s one of my go-to movies, the kind I love to watch or listen to any time. It is the perfect family movie with a message for everyone – one “take-away” is that life is a gift meant to be shared with others. Plus it has a great cast (Abigail Breslin, James Garner [one of my personal faves], and Drew Fuller).

So, back to my great evening. After watching this with my family, we devoured ate most of a DELICIOUS French Apple Cake with Almonds (Yes, I am a little biased because I baked it myself, but when my uncle wants seconds, you know it’s good). The recipe came from Hillary Manton Lodge’s fabulous novel A Table by the Window, which is full of recipes squeezed in between the chapters of the story (like Nutella mousse, pasta carbonara with leeks and lemon, pine nut couscous, and mini focaccia to name a few). The story alone was one I loved, but these recipes are a fantastic bonus. This apple cake was very moist and just sweet enough — and easy to make. It was the perfect end to an evening making memories and enjoying a movie with my family. I would definitely recommend picking up a copy of this book, if only for the recipes.

By the way, Hillary is featured in August’s Book Fun Magazine with an interview and recipe for the Provencal Lavender and Honey Pound Cake from the novel.

French Apple Cake with Almonds (recipe by Hillary Lodge)

Here’s a pic of my cake. Doesn’t it make you want a piece?

 

Note: I did receive a free copy of this book from the publishers to review (Thank you!), but this post is just a “fun” one I wanted to share, not encouraged/required by the publishers.

Have you seen The Ultimate Gift? What did you think? What’s your family’s favorite movie?

I’d love to hear your comments – they don’t even have to stay on topic! 😉