Alabaster, by Chris Aslan

book coverPublisher’s Overview:

Maryam is stuck in an abusive marriage, living with her in-laws in a conservative, toxically religious village. A few years back, her father was given a jar of priceless perfume by a dying leper and it seemed as if their fortunes would improve, but then Maryam’s father contracted leprosy and was exiled from the village. Maryam and her siblings, Eleazar and Marta, experience the shame and ostracism this brings. The precious jar that was meant to bring them freedom has only brought destruction. But rumors abound concerning a new doctor; perhaps hope is on the horizon…

First Thoughts:

This had such an intriguing description that I just had to read this debut work of fiction.

My Take:

Alabaster begins ominously with a young woman experiencing an earthquake and its aftermath. We learn immediately that she’s treated like a slave by her husband’s family, is a mere 15 years of age, and has an older sister who lives alone. While the earthquake has caused some damage in the village, and a nearby family has suffered a fatality, Maryam is relieved to find that her family’s most precious possession has survived. From there, the first person narrative goes back to the time when Maryam and her father came across a dying leper in their olive grove. Her father’s choice of grace over Mosaic Law came from a good heart, but when he paid for it later the family was plunged into shame. The story continues to go back and forth in time, which I found confusing until I realized that the tense changed with each switch.

Aslan’s debut work of fiction has some wonderful moments. When the sisters learn they’re to host an important visitor you can feel the excitement. When a woman is found guilty of adultery and the sentence is carried out you understand her mother’s pain. I had read three-quarters of the book when I came upon a scene I immediately recognized. I don’t want to give anything away, but at that point I realized who the sisters were and I looked at them differently from then on. Other familiar scenes followed. I read Alabaster during Holy Week and found it to be a very appropriate tale. Overall, I loved reading this novel, found it far too short, and am looking forward to its follow-up whenever it’s released.

Thank you to Kregel for my complimentary copy of Alabaster, which I received in exchange for my honest review.

Have you read Alabaster? Do you plan to read it? Let me know your thoughts.

Excerpt

Publisher: Kregel Publications

Publication Date: 27 March 2017

Page Count: 208

Read more on:   Chris Aslan’s Website   Kregel’s Website

Purchase on:   Amazon   Barnes & Noble   Books-a-million   Christianbook.com

The Elusive Miss Ellison, by Carolyn Miller

book coverPublisher’s Overview:

“Handsome appearance counts for naught unless matched by good character and actions.” That’s the firm opinion of not-so-meek minister’s daughter Lavinia Ellison. So even though all the other villagers of St. Hampton Heath are swooning over the newly returned seventh Earl of Hawkesbury, she is not impressed. If a man won’t take his responsibilities seriously and help those who are supposed to be able to depend on him, he deserves no respect from her. In Lavinia’s pretty, gray eyes, Nicholas Stamford is just as arrogant and reckless as his brother–who stole the most important person in Livvie’s world.

Nicholas is weighed down by his own guilt and responsibility, by the pain his careless brother caused, and by the legacy of war he’s just left. This quick visit home to St. Hampton Heath will be just long enough to ease a small part of that burden. Asking him to bother with the lives of the villagers when there’s already a bailiff on the job is simply too much to expect. That is, until the hoydenish, intelligent, and very opinionated Miss Ellison challenges him to see past his pain and pride. With her angelic voice in his head, he may even be beginning to care. But his isn’t the only heart that needs to change.

These two lonely hearts may each have something the other needs. But with society’s opposition, ancestral obligations, and a shocking family secret, there may be too many obstacles in their way.

First Thoughts:

This is the first is a new Regency romance series by Carolyn Miller.

My Take:

If you like a bit of Jane Austen, you’ll probably enjoy The Elusive Miss Ellison. Early on, we read of a mother “whose social aspirations far surpassed [her husband’s] sizable income.” This description brings to mind a certain mama in Pride and Prejudice. We also learn that Lavinia has a dislike of embroidery and is far more content to extract weeds from flower beds. She plays the piano and sings, but she’s no demure lady. She attends social events, but is not considered the belle of any ball. The new lord of the manor finds these soirees most tedious, especially since he’s expected to soon choose a bride. His aloofness is seen as snobbery, but he’s recently returned from battle against Napoleon’s army in the Iberian Peninsula and is scarred from his experiences.

This is a novel of the haves versus the have nots, and the benevolent versus the selfish. Throughout the narrative, Lavinia gets to experience both modest and affluent ways of living. There’s a side story about Lavinia’s family which I felt was unnecessary, but it does show additional situations where love triumphs over wealth. I did like that Lavinia tried hard not to like Nicholas, and had to acknowledge every occasion when he did something positive in her eyes, such as carrying out small kindnesses to the villagers.

The Elusive Miss Ellison is the first in a series called Regency Brides: A Legacy of Grace. While it’s possible the next two can be read out of order, they do feature women who were introduced in this first book. They’re due out in June and October and can already be pre-ordered.

Thank you to Kregel for my complimentary copy of The Elusive Miss Ellison, which I received in exchange for my honest review.

Have you read The Elusive Miss Ellison? Do you plan to read it? Let me know your thoughts.

Excerpt

Publisher: Kregel Publications

Publication Date: 28 February 2017

Page Count: 304

Read more on:   Carolyn Miller’s Website   Kregel’s Website

Purchase on:   Amazon   Barnes & Noble   Books-a-million   Christianbook.com

The Kill Fee, by Fiona Veitch Smith

book coverPublisher’s Overview:

Poppy Denby, arts and entertainment editor at the Daily Globe, covers an exhibition of Russian art, hosted by White Russian refugees, including members of the surviving exiled Romanov royal family. There is an armed robbery, a guard is shot, and the largest Fabergé egg in the collection is stolen. While the egg itself is valuable, the secrets it contains within are priceless–secrets that could threaten major political powers.

Suspects are aplenty, including the former keeper of the Fabergé egg, a Russian princess named Selena Romanova Yusopova. The interim Bolshevik Russian ambassador, Vasili Safin, inserts himself into the investigation, as he believes the egg–and the other treasures–should all be restored to the Russian people.

Poppy, her editor, Rollo, press photographer Daniel, and the other staff of the Globe are delighted to be once again in the middle of a sensational story. But soon the investigation takes a dark turn when another body is found and an employee of the newspaper becomes a suspect. The race is on to find both the key and the egg–can they be found before the killer strikes again?

First Thoughts:

This is an historical fiction book set in London, written by a British-based author. I always appreciate the opportunity to read these when they come along.

My Take:

Poppy Denby first came on the scene in The Jazz Files, which I admit to not having read. This second novel apparently takes place in 1920, shortly after the events of the first title. There are references to those events, but knowledge of them (or lack thereof) didn’t impact my reading enjoyment.

The opening pages consist of a map of 1920s London, highlighting locations pivotal to the story, and a thorough cast of characters. I referred to these often as Poppy and her friends visited various places and interacted with a lot of people. Pivotal Russian historical characters are featured, including Rasputin’s assassin and the mother-in-law of Tsar Nicholas II. I found the narrative slow going through the first couple of chapters, but once it got to the Crystal Palace and the theft of the Faberge egg it sped up and caught my interest.

On her Poppy Denby website, the author makes a point of saying that this series is not Christian fiction. Instead, it’s about a young woman experiencing the world and attempting to reconcile it to her faith. Consequently, there are things some readers may not appreciate. This is the ‘Roaring 20s’ of jazz clubs, drinking, and promiscuity. Not all the characters are Christians; some are anything but. This is a good look at life in London after World War I, and the clash of old and new ideas. For example, Poppy wonders if a woman could marry and keep her career. As for the plot, I found it intriguing and it kept me guessing for much of the story. I wondered who was responsible for the theft and, as information gradually came to light, I began questioning who could be trusted. When the villain was revealed, it made sense even if I hadn’t guessed who it was. Overall, it’s a fun story which kept me entertained for a couple of hours.

Thank you to Kregel for my complimentary copy of The Kill Fee, which I received in exchange for my honest review.

Have you read The Kill Fee? Do you plan to read it? Let me know your thoughts.

Excerpt

Publisher: Lion Fiction (a division of Kregel)

Publication Date: 27 November 2017

Page Count: 336

Read more on:   Fiona Veitch Smith’s Website   Poppy Denby Investigates   Kregel’s Website

Purchase on:   Amazon   Barnes & Noble   Books-a-million   Christianbook.com