Monday, December 7, 2015

The Abbess of Whitby

The Abbess of Whitby by Jill Dallady is an intriguing look into the history of Britain in the 7th century, as Christianity spread among numerous small kingdom. This historical fiction novel sheds light on a period that’s rarely discussed, especially in America, but remains fascinating for not only historians, but readers in general.  Hild is known to history from the monk Bede’s History of the English Church and People, but is not a household name.

For people who are not familiar with the period, a family tree and listing of names are available at the beginning of the book, but another possible hurdle might be the time span—the book covers over thirty years of Hild’s life, with the rise and fall of many kings in the background. However, readers accustomed to wide-ranging novels will enjoy the rich historical detail. I’d recommend this book for teen and older readers just because of the unfamiliar setting and many characters.

I received a free copy of this book from Kregel Publications in exchange for an honest review.  They have also published other books set in 7th-century Britain, including Edwin: High King of Britain, which are worth checking into if this book has caught your interest.  

Monday, October 19, 2015

The Hardest Thing to Do

The Hardest Thing to Do by Penelope Wilcock, the fourth book in The Hawk and the Dove opens after the death of Father Peregrine, just as the new abbot returns to take command. But the peace of Lent is disturbed by news of a fire at a nearby community of Dominicans, led by Prior William, known for harsh rules.
The previous books have shown what love looks like in a community, how growth can come from loss, but this is so much harder. This is an enemy, this is a man that we desire to see brought low, but at the same time his world has been so utterly destroyed.
This book can be read without any knowledge of the previous installments in the series, but I would recommend reading at least the chapter of The Wounds of God  featuring Prior Williams.  Even if someone doesn't normally like historical or Christian fiction, these books are a raw, honest look at people, at the body of Christ, and how he works through people. I've really enjoyed the previous books and am looking forward to reading the next installments.
I received a free copy of this book from  Kregel Publications in exchange for an honest review. Five stars

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Unlikely Rebel by Kelli Gotthardt

Christian rebels don't always smoke cigars or wear low-cut blouses.  They don't have to march in liberal parades or even die their hair blue. Sometimes they hide in plain sight. Kelli Gotthardt's book Unlikely Rebel: A Church Girl's Journey out of Shoulds and Shame focuses on the hidden chains of being a 'good girl.'
I initially requested this book to read for myself, but ended passing it on to my mom. Both of us found the book fascinating. It's both memoir and a book of spiritual insight.  
"I did not set out to be a rebel" the author states in the prelude. "My goal was to follow Jesus more faithfully."  Her rebellion did not start with stereotypical 'bad girl' behavior, but with a simple choice: for one year, she said no to any outside commitments.
To anyone who's been in the evangelical subculture, this choice is shocking.  The implicit assumption in many churches is that involvement directly correlates with maturity.  Over the past year, I've been a part of nursery, fellowship snacks, Awana, VBS, and the slideshow.  To a certain extent,  it doesn't matter if I really want to do, or even how good I am at doing it. There's a peg-hole, and I must fill it.
This book does an excellent job of considering the personal consequences of busyness on the Christian life and I would highly recommend it.  

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

The Methuselah Project by Rick Barry

An American soldier in his early twenties is shot down in Germany during World War II and subject to experiments that extend his lifespan and give him superhuman healing abilities. No, I'm not talking about Captain America in any of his comic or adaption forms, but Roger Greene, one of the protagonists of The Methuselah Project by Rick Barry.
While my tastes generally run to sci-fi or fantasy, the basic premise of this book sounded interesting enough that I requested it through Kregel Press in exchange for an honest review.
It was exactly what I expected.
That might not be a good thing. I requested the book because it reminded me of Captain America, but when I set it down, I couldn't think of anything distinctive about it.
The people who kept Greene imprisoned hid the truth about the war from him, making him think the war was still going on, that Germany had the upper hand. When he escapes, he is surprised at the modern world, but not as surprised as he should have been. By the end of the book, Greene seems quite comfortable in modern society. Honestly, I found that the least believable part of the whole story.
Another part I didn't believe was the heroine's unwitting involvement in a Neo-Nazi organization.  Granted, her guardian hid the truth behind several bright cliches, but if 'training' involves tracking someone around the city with water pistols, most people would become suspicious.
I'd rate this book 2/5.

Monday, August 17, 2015

Oswald: Return of the King

Oswald: Return of the King by Edoardo Albert is the second book in the Northumbrian Thrones series, sequel to Edwin, High King of Britain.  With a total of 448 pages, this book delves further into early English history.  The author draws from one of the earliest known British historical sources, Bede's  Ecclesiastical History of the English People, to paint a vivid picture of a little-known time period.
As the title suggests, the author originally came to this field of history through an interest in Tolkien's work; the keen reader will notice parallels between Oswald and Aragorn.  Fans of world-building fantasy will enjoy this book, as will fans of medieval history novels. I would recommend reading the previous book first, just because it can be hard to keep track of who is feuding with whom otherwise.  The author did provide a cast of characters at the beginning of the book, which can help boost one's memory.
What really intrigues me about this book is Oswald's personal struggle. At the beginning, he is content living on the island of Iona with the monks; he even looks forward to joining the order himself.  A good portion of the book deals with Oswald's struggle between two paths, between ruling the kingdom or setting power aside.
I really look forward to the final book in this trilogy.

I was given a free copy of this book by Kregel Press in exchange for an honest review.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Day of Atonement by David A. deSilva

Day of Atonement by David A. deSilva opens a door on the little-known period between the Old and New Testaments, when Jerusalem was torn between those who sought to emulate Greek culture and those who sought to continue in the Mosaic law. The author, a seminary professor of New Testament and Greek, makes the drama come alive with vivid portrayals of historical figures. It's fascinating to see how the characters' choices and compromises led them down different paths.
As an evangelical Christian, I am not familiar with  the Apocrypha, so most of the events in this book were completely new to me. Regardless of the Apocrypha's status in Biblical canon, I think it is worthwhile to know about the historical context, especially  what happened to Israel between the return from exile and the incarnation.

Monday, May 25, 2015

The Hawk and the Dove trilogy

The Hawk and the Dove series by Penelope Wilcock,  originally published twenty years ago, tells a series of stories about a community of 14th-century English monks.  Recently, Lion Fiction republished the first three novels in the series (The Hawk and the Dove, The Wounds of God, and The Long Fall) in paperback.  The series is currently seven books long, with an eighth expected next year.The first two books are structured as someone remembering stories she was told as a young lady; the framing device is dropped in the third book as the author felt it didn't fit anymore

The first three novels (The Hawk and the Dove trilogy) focus on Abbot Columbia, formerly known as  Peregrine,  the newly appointed leader of a religious community in Yorkshire. He hasn't been at the abbey long when an unexpected attack leaves him severely crippled.  

I read through all three of these books in just over one day because I was fascinated by the relationships between characters. Not many books are written today about non-romantic relationships in a community, but that sort of love is just as important as romantic love.

I recommend these books for anyone who likes historical fiction or well-developed characters, as well as religious fiction.

Thursday, February 5, 2015

The Abbot's Agreement

The Abbot’s Agreement by Mel Starr is the seventh book in a historical mystery series set in the mid-1300s. The main character, Hugh de Singleton, is a bailiff and surgeon who keeps ending up solving mysteries.   While I haven’t read any of the author’s other works, the historical accuracy is outstanding.  According to the bio, the author has a background in medieval surgery, which helps ground the book.  The character’s position as a bailiff also makes it plausible that he would be asked to investigate the stories.
Hugh did not mean to become entangled in a murder when he set off for Oxford to buy a Bible. But when he found the body of a novice, the abbot asked him to investigate. As Hugh looks into the situation, he discovers that more might be going on than meets the eye. Was the novice, John, really suited for the religious life, or might he have gotten on the wrong side of Maud atte Pond’s suitors? And what about the other people at the abbey?

I enjoyed this book and would recommend it to readers over 12 who are interested in medieval English historical fiction or murder mysteries. I was given a free copy of this book by Kregel Blog Tours in exchange for an honest review.

Friday, January 16, 2015

Draven's Light cover reveal

Excerpt from


By Anne Elisabeth Stengl

(coming May 25, 2015)

He heard the drums in his dreams, distant but drawing ever nearer. He had heard them
before and wondered if the time of his manhood had come. But with the approach of dawn, the
drums always faded away and he woke to the world still a child. Still a boy.
But this night, the distant drums were louder, stronger. Somehow he knew they were not
concocted of his sleeping fancy. No, even as he slept he knew these were real drums, and he
recognized the beat: The beat of death. The beat of blood.
He woke with a start, his leg throbbing where it had just been kicked. It was not the sort
of awakening he had longed for these last two years and more. He glared from his bed up into the
face of his sister, who stood above him, balancing her weight on a stout forked branch tucked
“Ita,” the boy growled, “what are you doing here? Go back to the women’s hut!”
His sister made a face at him, but he saw, even by the moonlight streaming through
cracks in the thatch above, that her eyes were very round and solemn. Only then did he notice
that the drumbeats of his dream were indeed still booming deep in the woods beyond the village
fires. He sat up then, his heart thudding its own thunderous pace.
“A prisoner,” Ita said, shifting her branch so that she might turn toward the door. “The
drums speak of a prisoner. They’re bringing him even now.” She flashed a smile down at him,
though it was so tense with anxiety it could hardly be counted a smile at all. “Gaho, your name!”
The boy was up and out of his bed in a moment, reaching for a tunic and belt. His sister
hobbled back along the wall but did not leave, though he wished she would. He wished she
would allow him these few moments before the drums arrived in the village. The drums that beat
of one man’s death . . . and one man’s birth.
His name was Gaho. But by the coming of dawn, if the drums’ promise was true, he
would be born again in blood and bear a new name.
Hands shaking with what he desperately hoped wasn’t fear, he tightened his belt and
searched the room for his sickle blade. He saw the bone handle, white in the moonlight,
protruding from beneath his bed pile, and swiftly took it up. The bronze gleamed dully, like the
carnivorous tooth of an ancient beast.
A shudder ran through his sister’s body. Gaho, sensing her distress, turned to her. She
grasped her supporting branch hard, and the smile was gone from her face. “Gaho,” she said,
“I will,” said Gaho, his voice strong with mounting excitement.
But Ita reached out to him suddenly, catching his weapon hand just above the wrist. “I
will lose you,” she said. “My brother . . . I will lose you!”
“You will not. You will lose only Gaho,” said the boy, shaking her off, gently, for she
was not strong. Without another word, he ducked through the door of his small hut—one he had
built for himself but a year before in anticipation of his coming manhood—and stood in the
darkness of Rannul Village, eyes instinctively turning to the few campfires burning. The drums
were very near now, and he could see the shadows of waking villagers moving about the fires,
building up the flames in preparation for what must surely follow. He felt eyes he could not see
turning to his hut, turning to him. He felt the question each pair of eyes asked in silent curiosity:
Grasping the hilt of his weapon with both hands, Gaho strode to the dusty village center,
which was beaten down into hard, packed earth from years of meetings and matches of strength
held in this same spot. Tall pillars of aged wood ringed this circle, and women hastened to these,
bearing torches which they fit into hollowed-out slots in each pillar. Soon the village center was
bright as noonday, but with harsh red light appropriate for coming events.
Gaho stood in the center of that light, his heart ramming in his throat though his face was
a stoic mask. All the waking village was gathered now, men, women, and children, standing just
The drums came up from the river, pounding in time to the tramp of warriors’ feet. Then
the warriors themselves were illuminated by the ringing torches, their faces anointed in blood,
their heads helmed with bone and bronze, their shoulders covered in hides of bear, wolf, and
boar. Ten men carried tight skin drums, beating them with their fists. They entered the center
first, standing each beneath one of the ringing pillars. Other warriors followed them, filling in the
Then the chieftain, mighty Gaher, appeared. He carried his heavy crescent ax in one
hand, and Gaho saw that blood stained its edge—indeed, blood spattered the blade from tip to
hilt and covered the whole of the chieftain’s fist. Gaher strode into the circle, and the boy saw
more blood in his beard. But he also saw the bright, wolfish smile and knew for certain that his
sister had been correct. The night of naming had come.
“My son,” said the chief, saluting Gaho with upraised weapon.
“My father,” said Gaho, raising his sickle blade in return.
 “Are you ready this night to die and live again?” asked the chief. His voice carried
through the shadows, and every one of the tribe heard it, and any and all listening beasts of
forests and fields surrounding. “Are you ready this night for the spilling of blood that must flow
Gaho drew a deep breath, putting all the strength of his spirit into his answer. “I am
Gaher’s smile grew, the torchlight flashing red upon his sharpened canines. He turned
then and motioned to the darkness beyond the torchlight.
The sacrifice was brought forward.

In the Darkness of the Pit, The Light Shines Brightest

Drums summon the chieftain’s powerful son to slay a man in cold blood and thereby earn his 

place among the warriors. But instead of glory, he earns the name Draven, “Coward.” When the 

men of his tribe march off to war, Draven remains behind with the women and his shame. Only 

fearless but crippled Ita values her brother’s honor.

The warriors return from battle victorious yet trailing a curse in their wake. One by one the 

strong and the weak of the tribe fall prey to an illness of supernatural power. The secret source of 

this evil can be found and destroyed by only the bravest heart.

But when the curse attacks the one Draven loves most, can this coward find the courage he needs 

to face the darkness?

Coming May 25, 2015
 Visit Anne Elisabeth Stengl’s blog to enter the giveaway!