Category: Historical Fiction

Book Review: The Lost Melody by Joanna Davidson Politano

“The Lost Melody” is an excellent example of Christian historical fiction. Set in England in the 1880s, this is the story of a young musician who is searching for an inherited ward in an asylum. The asylum claims to have no record of the patient in question, and Vivienne goes to great lengths to figure out what happened to this mystery woman.

Most of the story is set in Hurstwell Asylum, and the author sheds a great deal of light on what conditions were typically like in that type of institution during that time period. I found her descriptions of locations, staff, patients, and practices to be historically accurate and interesting. I appreciate Ms. Politano’s efforts to research and write about such a difficult topic, and share her knowledge with the reader without making the story feel depressing. I also liked reading about some of the earliest attempts at music therapy.

I enjoyed just the right amount of suspense as I tried to figure out the answers along with Vivienne. It was interesting to watch her navigate the asylum and see firsthand how it was run. I enjoyed the missing ward storyline, as well as Vivienne’s personal growth and development, throughout the novel.

The author has a unique way of bringing characters to life that make them simultaneously fascinating and relatable. There is just something special about the way she writes that draws me in to her work in a very personal way. In addition to Vivienne, other characters added a great deal to the story. Patients and staff, as well as a couple of “outsiders”, all add depth to the plot and draw the reader into this world even more deeply.

Vivienne’s personal faith journey adds an important element to the story. From her childhood acceptance of God through some doubts as she navigates a difficult situation, I found her faith and thoughts to be realistic. I liked the way her faith was portrayed throughout the novel, and seeing how it guided her in her choices.

The book ends with a satisfactory resolution of the plot, while leaving room for the reader to imagine what comes next in the lives of the characters.

As an added bonus, a quote by a musician starts each chapter. Many are from familiar historical names, but some are from Vivienne herself.

Definitely five out of five slices of perfect Provolone!


When the Meadow Blooms by Ann H. Gabhart

I have so many good things to say about “When the Meadow Blooms”! Ann Gabhart is a new author to me, and after reading this amazing story, I’ll definitely be seeking out more of her work.

This is the story of Rose, a young single mother in the 1920s. Rose is forced to leave her children in an orphanage while she undergoes treatment for tuberculosis. This book covers Rose’s time in the sanatorium, what her children had to deal with at the orphanage and (most importantly) what happened after they were reunited.

First, I appreciated the historical accuracy of the book. The author obviously did significant research into the various locations portrayed in the story, and provided an accurate account of what those places were like in the 1920s. I definitely learned some things about medical care and the treatment of children that I didn’t know before. As always, I appreciated the chance to discover new things.

The story of how this fractured family was reunited was beautiful to read. The girls and their mother are finally allowed to be together again, but only through the help of Rose’s brother-in-law Dirk. I enjoyed how all four of these characters found emotional growth and healing through each other.

Each of the four major characters was very well-drawn and detailed. They all felt like real people, and I empathized with each of them for different reasons. Calla, the older daughter, was probably my favorite. Her loyalty to and love for her younger sister was beautiful, and she showed maturity well beyond her years.

Overall, this was an incredibly interesting and inspirational story. I was invested from the very beginning, and left with a sense of closure at the end.

Definitely five our of five slices of perfect provolone!

Book Review: The Master Craftsman by Kelli Stuart

“The Master Craftsman” by Kelli Stuart is a dual-timeline historical novel set during the early 1900s in Russia and the present. The author skillfully weaves in a lot of information about historical events, daily life, and the mindset of various parts of society. I enjoyed the new things I learned, and the book never felt like a history text. All of the information shared was a natural and easy-to-read part of the story.

The story itself was fabulous! I enjoyed both timelines equally, and found myself eagerly awaiting the newest developments in one timeline even as I was reading the other one. I especially enjoyed the way the two stories/timelines eventually connected.

The character of Ava was particularly well-written. She felt like a real person to me, and was very relatable. I felt that her actions and speech were appropriate to her age and situation, and very much enjoyed following along on her quest.

Honestly, this is one of my favorite books of the year so far. The mix of fantastic characters, historical information, and treasure hunting is absolutely perfect.

Five out of five chunks of my favorite sharp cheddar!

Book Review: Until Leaves Fall in Paris by Sarah Sundin

“Until Leaves Fall in Paris” by Sarah Sundin is one part historical fiction, one part romance, one part Christian fiction, and one part pure literary magic. The book tells the story of Lucie, a young women living in Paris during the German occupation of World War II, and Paul, an American businessman with a young daughter.

In the course of trying to navigate the occupation, Lucie buys a bookstore from Jewish friends who are fleeing the country and Paul runs an auto manufacturing company and deals with the Germans. These actions propel both characters toward a mutual relationship, and cause both to examine their personal faith and their definitions of right and wrong.

The novels truly shines in several areas:

  1. Character development: We learn a great deal about both Lucie and Paul, as well as Paul’s daughter Josie. All three are portrayed in great detail, which makes them feel like real people you (as the reader) could meet and interact with. I found myself genuinely wishing for happiness for all of them, and eagerly reading “just one more chapter” to see how the author would evolve their stories. One added note for Sarah Sundin fans: Paul played a smaller role in “When Twilight Breaks”, a book I also recommend.
  2. The romance storyline: While both Lucie and Paul had interesting individual storylines, it was magic when the two came together. Of course there are misunderstandings, as Paul is publicly working with/selling to the Germans, while Lucie is trying to help her Jewish friends. However, things are not always as they appear, and I enjoyed watching the two getting to know each other, realize that appearances can be deceiving, and growing closer. The slow-burn romance was absolutely believable, and a joy to watch unfold.
  3. The historical information: While I’ve read a lot of World War II fiction (and non-fiction), I had not come across a book that was directly focused on occupied Paris before. I learned a lot about what life was like for American expats, Jewish locals, business owners, and German military figures. All the information was shared as a natural part of the story and never made me feel like I was reading a textbook. What could be better than actually learning something while enjoying a great story?
  4. The faith element: Both Lucie and Paul are Christians. I liked how their faith guided their actions, and how they actively sought out God when circumstances grew difficult and they needed guidance. This story provides wonderful inspiration and support for Christians who are struggling with difficult circumstances, and a nice faith boost to those who aren’t.

All in all, this is a truly excellent book. Five out of five perfect razor-thin slices of mild cheddar!

Book Review: The Last Roman: Exile by B.K. Greenwood

I enjoyed everything about “The Last Roman: Exile”. It’s an exciting, fast-paced combination of thriller, historical fiction, and magical realism. Since I’m a fan of all of those things, this book couldn’t have been a more perfect choice.

The story toggles between two timelines. The present-day plot deals with main character Marcus and his partner Sam trying to thwart a centuries-old plot to wreck havoc on humanity. The historical timeline moves from Marcus’ mortal days and follows him through some key moments of his immortal life. Usually when I read a dual-timeline story, I find myself rushing through one to get to my preferred plotline. In this case, both timelines were so enthralling that I honestly couldn’t choose a favorite. I find myself looking forward to the next book in the series to see what happens in the modern-day crisis, as well as to learn more about Marcus’ past adventures.

Main character Marcus was given a detailed backstory, and lots of information to help the reader understand who he was, who he is today, and how that transformation occurred. His motivations are clear and the reader feels a true sense of who this character is. Minor characters added a lot to the story as well. I particularly enjoyed Sam, and the relationship between the two.

The historical story begins in Biblical times, and I appreciated the author’s use of religious people and events in the book. I enjoyed the unique take on what may have happened to people who had noteworthy interactions with Jesus, and what happened to some of those people after the Biblical events were over. Please note that this book is NOT to be read as a theological treatise. It is a “what might have happened if…..” exercise, not a suggestion of philosophical possibility.

All in all, I loved everything about it, and eagerly await the next installment.

Book Review: A View Most Glorious by Regina Scott

“A View Most Glorious” by Regina Scott is the third book in the “American Wonders Collection” series. It is absolutely fine as a stand-alone. This installment tells the story of Cora, a young suffragette who decides to prove her independence, make a statement about the abilities of women, and avoid a marriage she doesn’t want by climbing Mt. Rainier.

This book is definitely character driven. Both main characters (Cora and her mountain guide Nathan) are incredibly well-written. The reader will feel like he/she is gradually getting to know real people as the story moves along and more and more about the characters’ pasts, families, and personalities are revealed. This is a historical romance, so it’s not surprising that feelings grow between the two. I found it interesting that two people from high society backgrounds, both looking for more out of life, managed to find each other. It was fascinating to watch their relationship develop.

Although the romance is lovely, it is only one part of what this book has to offer. The relationship unfolds as the couple undertakes a climb of Mt. Ranier together. The reader will learn a lot about the geography of that area, and what it was like to be undertake such a challenge without the benefit of modern equipment and safety gear. There is also plenty of information about daily life, religion, clothing, food, and the role of women during that time. Despite learning quite a bit, you will never be bored or feel like you’re sitting in a history lecture. All of this information is presented as part of the story, and is truly fascinating!

Since this is a Christian novel, I’ll address the role of Christianity in the story. Nathan is a devout Christian, and lives as he believes. His daily morning devotions provide an excellent example for Cora, as well as for the reader. It is always nice to read about a Christian person (Nathan) who lets his faith guide his actions without constantly announcing it and trying to force it onto others. I thought the religious aspect of this novel was handled perfectly.

5 out of 5 slices of thinly sliced, ultra-sharp Cheddar!

Book Review: When Two Feathers Fell from the Sky by Margaret Verble

“When Two Feathers Fell From the Sky” is an excellent historical fiction novel. Set in the Nashville area in the 1920s, it tells the story of Two Feathers, a young performer, and her time working at Glendale Park. From a historical perspective, the author shares a lot about what life was like in that time and place. The reader sees glimpses of everyday life for the wealthy park owners, prominent local citizens, and park employees. However, the most impressive lessons come from the light the author shines on the lives of American Indians and African Americans during a time when discrimination was common and accepted. I also enjoyed everything I learned about Cherokee history and culture.

In the midst of all the subtly educational content, there is also a great story. Two Feathers is employed at the park as a horse diver; this means that she rides her horse off a high platform and lands in a fairly small pool at the tower’s base. I loved learning about her act and everything that went into it. The story primarily focuses on Two, but a fair amount of time is spent with her friends and co-workers Crawford and Clive. All three are fascinating characters, with enough back story provided to let the reader truly understand their motivations and decisions.

A bit of magical realism is included as well, as two characters start to become aware of spirits around them. In addition, something odd is going on with the park’s animals, and it was fascinating to watch as the spirit world intersected with the actual one as the mystery was unraveled. I will note that the mystery was actually a fairly small part of the overall story. I recommend this mainly for readers who enjoy historical fiction, as well as anyone who wants to read a quality story about characters and events that don’t get written about nearly as often as they should.

Five out of five slices of perfect Provolone!

Book Review: The Nature of Small Birds by Susie Finkbeiner

I first discovered author Susie Finkbeiner when I read “Stories That Bind Us”. I loved it so much that I snatched up a copy of “The Nature of Small Birds” as soon as it became available without even reading the blurb, and I’m SO glad I did. This book is every bit as amazing, detailed, and moving as the first one I read. I plan to do the same when her next book comes out.

This particular book tells the story of the Matthews family during three time periods, which come together to provide the reader with a complete portrait of the lives of the family members. The tale is unique in that it is told during three distinct years: 2013 (present day) from the perspective of patriarch Bruce, 1988 from the perspective of 18-year old daughter Sonny, and 1975 from the perspective of matriarch Linda. I found it easy to keep the time periods straight, and enjoyed this interesting method of storytelling. As each character’s POV chapter ended, I was sad that it was over, but also eager to pick up missing threads of the narrative from the next character’s chapter. This made the book virtually impossible to put down!

The story itself revolves around the family’s adoption of a Vietnamese child named Minh/Mindy in the 1970s, and how that event affected the family and their relationships going forward. I appreciated learning more about the Vietnam Babylift, a topic about which I knew nothing before reading this novel. It was interesting to learn about this historical event, while also seeing how one particular family reacted to being part of it.

All of the characters were incredibly well-written. Of course, we learn the most about the three major POV characters, but other family members were portrayed with a great deal of detail as well. I found plenty of moments I could relate to personally, as well as others that I could only sympathize with.

I loved the way the family’s entire history felt complete by the end of the book. There were some laughs along the way, as well as some tears (both happy and sad). I’m so glad to have had the chance to read “The Nature of Small Birds”….it is a story that will stay with me for a long time.

One final note: I enjoyed the author’s blurb at the end in which she explained how she got the idea for the story. She had been researching an earlier book, and came across information about the Babylift. It didn’t fit for that book, but she made a note and came back to it when she was looking for a new idea. I appreciated that little glimpse into her writing process, and am SO glad she made and found that note!

Five out of five chunks of the most perfect Provolone!

Book Review: Mary Jane by Jessica Anya Blau

I have so many good things to say about “Mary Jane” by Jessica Anya Blau. This book was my introduction to the author, and I’ve already ordered some of her other work based on how much I enjoyed this story.

This is the story of Mary Jane, a young teenager who has lived a sheltered, fairly simple life. She is hired as the summer nanny for a neighboring family, and finds her life stretched and changed in many ways as she gets to know new and different types of people.

While I loved everything about the story, my absolute favorite was the way the characters were written. All the major ones were portrayed with such depth and sincerity that I felt like I was actually meeting them. I don’t mean that they were realistically written….they were, but I say that about lots of books. I mean that they felt real to me in a personal way. As I was introduced to Jimmy and Sheba, I really felt like I had been introduced to these famous people in real life. I felt like I spent the summer with them, and really knew them, and looked forward to keeping in touch. I had to remind myself that they were fictional characters. To me, that’s the sign of a truly phenomenal character writer!

The story was also excellent, and kept me turning the pages to see what would happen next to my new book friends as the summer progressed. I loved seeing the ups and downs, the highlights and low points, and the day-to-day life of 1970s Baltimore (and Dewey Beach). I won’t say more to avoid spoilers, but I appreciated the ending, both the parts that were wrapped up, and the parts that were left for the reader to imagine. It left me feeling the perfect amount of closure and hope for the characters’ futures.

One important lesson I took away from this book: People need to feel appreciated and valued. If someone in your life matters to you, please take a moment to make sure they know it.

I received a review copy of this book through the Goodreads Giveaways program, and am thankful to have been selected.

Five out of five slices of perfect Provolone!