Thursday, September 24, 2015

The Carols of Christmas


The Carols of Christmas
Andrew Gant
Thomas Nelson

From Oxford professor and renowned British composer, a joyous account of the history behind our favorite carols.

Everyone loves a carol--in the end, even Ebenezer Scrooge. They have the power to summon up a special kind of mid-winter mood, like the aroma of gingerbread or the twinkle of lights on a tree. It's a kind of magic.

But how did they get that magic? Andrew Gant--choirmaster, church musician, university professor, and writer--tells the story of some twenty carols, each accompanied by lyrics and music, unraveling a captivating, and often surprising, tale of great musicians and thinkers, saints and pagans, shepherd boys and choirboys. Readers get to delve into the history such favorites as "Good King Wenceslas," "Away in a Manger," and "O, Tannenbaum," discovering along the way how "Hark, the Herald Angels Sing" came to replace "Hark, how all the welkin' ring" and how Ralph Vaughan Williams applied the tune of an English folk song about a dead ox to a poem by a nineteenth century American pilgrim to make "O Little Town of Bethlehem."

A charming book that brims with anecdote, expert knowledge, and Christmas spirit, this is a fittingly joyous account of one of the best-loved musical traditions.

     It seems a bit premature to be reading Christmas books in September, but when I saw this book available I couldn't help but pick it up. While I'll be the first to say I'm musically challenged, I love listening to music anyway. And one technical aspect I can understand and appreciate is the history behind the songs.

     With this in mind, I settled down with this book, assuming it would be a quick, fun read.

     Well...not exactly. At least, it wasn't a quick read. The book, packed with information, was a bit more...scholarly than I had anticipated. Not a bad thing, but it did take more time to chew on, and I found myself reading a chapter or two a day during my free time.

     I was unfamiliar with a lot of the stories behind the carols; so I felt like I learned a lot. My favorite chapters were probably those later in the book, on carols such as "Away in a Manger," "Good King Wensceslas," "I Wonder as I Wander," and "We Three Kings."

     Overall, a book full of well-researched information and a good resource for anyone who wonders about the familiar carols we sing every year.

Rating: 7

I received this book for free from the publisher in exchange for my honest review.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Royal Blood

Royal Blood
Una McCormack
Broadway Books

The city-state of Varuz is failing. Duke Aurelian is the last of his line, his capital is crumbling, and the armies of his enemy, Duke Conrad, are poised beyond the mountains to invade. Aurelian is preparing to gamble everything on one last battle. So when a holy man, the Doctor, comes to Varuz from beyond the mountains, Aurelian asks for his blessing in the war.

But all is not what it seems in Varuz. The city-guard have lasers for swords, and the halls are lit by electric candlelight. Aurelian’s beloved wife, Guena, and his most trusted knight, Bernhardt, seem to be plotting to overthrow their Duke, and Clara finds herself drawn into their intrigue...

Will the Doctor stop Aurelian from going to war? Will Clara’s involvement in the plot against the Duke be discovered? Why is Conrad’s ambassador so nervous? And who are the ancient and weary knights who arrive in Varuz claiming to be on a quest for the Holy Grail…?

     I ended up really enjoying this Doctor Who novel. This might be simply because I loved the setting, which was a medieval-like culture with  remnants of modern technology, but I thought the plot was interesting as well. It seemed a lot less "science-y" which might bother some readers, but I didn't mind. Personally, I was just pleased that it wasn't overly confusing. Doctor Who is known for it's complicated plots, but sometimes it's nice to have a story that's a little more straightforward. 

     This book was also very clean. There was a bit of a love triangle between the the Duke, his wife, and his most trusted friend (yeah, all very Camelot-inspired) but it never got inappropriate. I did catch one or two technical editing errors, though, but that didn't really spoil my enjoyment of the book. It did feel the ending was a little rushed, though, and the book was short, which meant that there wasn't a whole lot of world-building. (and the Doctor seemed a little out of character here and there...) Still, Royal Blood was one of the better Doctor Who books that I've read, but that might be because it approached my "comfort" genre of historical fiction more than the others. ;)

Rating: 7 1/2

received this book for free from the publisher in exchange for my honest review. 

Saturday, September 12, 2015

Deep Time


Deep Time
Trevor Baxendale
Broadway Books

"I do hope you’re all ready to be terrified!"
The Phaeron disappeared from the universe over a million years ago. They travelled among the stars using roads made from time and space, but left only relics behind. But what actually happened to the Phaeron? Some believe they were they eradicated by a superior force… Others claim they destroyed themselves.
Or were they in fact the victims of an even more hideous fate?
In the far future, humans discover the location of the last Phaeron road – and the Doctor and Clara join the mission to see where the road leads. 
Each member of the research team knows exactly what they’re looking for – but only the Doctor knows exactly what they’ll find.

Because only the Doctor knows the true secret of the Phaeron: a monstrous secret so terrible and powerful that it must be buried in the deepest grave imaginable…

     This particular Doctor Who novel brought to mind episodes such as "The Satin Pit" or even "Hide." The characterizations of the Doctor and Clara (which I personally find to be the most important part of these types of books) worked pretty well. There wasn't a whole lot that screamed out their television personalities to me, but nothing in them that seemed contrary to them, either. There were also several minor characters, who I amazingly was able to keep all straight and several who I ended up genuinely liking and caring about.

     The plot was interesting, although sometimes it dragged a little bit and the writing could feel a little clunky at times.

     One thing I did find a little annoying was that this year's batch of Doctor Who books are all part of a story thread titled "The Glamour Chronicles," but they didn't seem to be ordered in books 1, 2, and 3, so I basically just had to guess and pick one. While I think this is because the books are technically able to stand on their own, I really wanted to read them in order, and I think this book ended up being the last one. :P

     This is the fourth Doctor Who novel that I read, and it was probably the most serious out of them, since it involves several character deaths. It also has more instances of language (d**n and h***) than the others I had read. I wouldn't say the language was overwhelming, but it was present.

     However, despite these complaints, Deep Time was an entertaining read, and hopefully I'll be able to read the other books in this "series."

Rating: 7

I received this book for free from the publisher in exchange for my honest review.

Monday, September 7, 2015

A Noble Masquerade


A Noble Masquerade
Kristi Ann Hunter
Bethany House Publishers

Lady Miranda Hawthorne acts every inch the lady, but inside she longs to be bold and carefree. Entering her fourth Season and approaching spinsterhood in the eyes of society, she pours her innermost feelings out not in a diary but in letters to her brother's old school friend, a duke--with no intention of ever sending these private thoughts to a man she's heard stories about but never met. Meanwhile, she also finds herself intrigued by Marcus, her brother's new valet, and although she may wish to break free of the strictures that bind her, falling in love with a servant is more of a rebellion than she planned.

When Marcus accidentally discovers and mails one of the letters to her unwitting confidant, Miranda is beyond mortified. And even more shocked when the duke returns her note with one of his own that initiates a courtship-by-mail. Insecurity about her lack of suitors shifts into confusion at her growing feelings for two men--one she's never met but whose words deeply resonate with her heart, and one she has come to depend on but whose behavior is more and more suspicious. When it becomes apparent state secrets are at risk and Marcus is right in the thick of the conflict, one thing is certain: Miranda's heart is far from all that's at risk for the Hawthornes and those they love.

     A Noble Masquerade was rather fluffy and adorable and amusing and a perfect way to spend a lazy day. There were times I felt the writing was just a little scattered, but overall it had more than enough charm to make up for it. Who doesn’t like heroes in disguise and quirky heroines and overprotective brother characters and spies?

     I’m glad this is the first book in a series, because I want to meet up with these characters again.

     My sister once mentioned to me that Christian romance books are usually the cleanest things you’ll ever read until the very last chapter, and I agree. Once the characters admit to their feelings, I feel like authors then try to slam as many kisses as possible into the last three chapters. A Noble Masquerade was no exception to this, which means that while I greatly enjoyed 85% of the book, I was a little annoyed with that aspect by the end.

     Still, A Noble Masquerade was an altogether enjoyable debut by Kristi Ann Hunter, and I look forward to reading more of her work. Especially if they include more espionage (and quite honestly, her acknowledgements section was actually really fun to read, too. Now I feel like searching on youtube for videos of exploding tomatoes)

Rating: 8

I received this book for free from the publishers in exchange for my honest review.

Thursday, September 3, 2015

The Mistress of Tall Acre


The Mistress of Tall Acre
Laura Frantz

The American Revolution is finally over, and Sophie Menzies is starved for good news. When her nearest neighbor, General Seamus Ogilvy, finally comes home to Tall Acre, she hopes it is a sign of better days to come. But the general is now a widower with a small daughter in desperate need of a mother. Nearly destitute, Sophie agrees to marry Seamus and become the mistress of Tall Acre in what seems a safe, sensible arrangement. But when a woman from the general's past returns without warning, the ties that bind this fledgling family together will be strained to the utmost. When all is said and done, who will be the rightful mistress of Tall Acre?

Triumph and tragedy, loyalty and betrayal--readers find it all in the rich pages of this newest historical novel from the talented pen of Laura Frantz. Her careful historical details immerse the reader in the story world, and her emotional writing and finely tuned characters never cease to enchant fans both old and new.

   There isn't a lot of Colonial fiction in the Christian market, so I do tend to keep my eye out for those ones that do pop up. For that reason, I'm definitely familiar with the novels of Laura Frantz (although apparently I haven't reviewed any of her other books on this blog before- what's with that?)

   The basic plot of The Mistress of Tall Acre is one I've read several times over. (Even the plot twist near the end, while I admit I didn't expect it while reading, is one I've seen used before). However, I felt that Laura Franz skillfully wove her tale so that it felt like new. Also, the synopsis is a little misleading, as I thought the "marriage of convenience" would happen at the very beginning and basically serve as the catalyst for the rest of the plot; in this I was thankfully wrong. There was much more to it than that, and I felt that I had more than enough time in the space of the story to really get to know the characters before they got married, so that afterward I found myself able to root for their relationship.

   Overall,  The Mistress of Tall Acre was a sweet, entertaining read, and I really enjoyed it.

Rating: 8

objectionable content: most of the "content" here is subject matter rather than explicit scenes or situations. There are a couple kisses (between married couples) and some things implied (e.g. marital infidelity, slavery, the "duties" of marriage, etc.) that would not be suitable for younger readers.

I received this book for free from the publisher in exchange for my honest review.
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