Newton and Polly: A Novel of Amazing Grace, by Jody Hedlund

book coverPublisher’s Overview:

Amazing grace! How sweet the sound 
that saved a wretch like me.
I once was lost, but now am found…

Now remembered as the author of the world’s most famous hymn, in the mid-eighteenth century as England and France stand on the brink of war, John Newton is a young sailor wandering aimlessly through life. His only duty is to report to his ship and avoid disgracing his father—until the night he hears Polly Catlett’s enchanting voice, caroling. He’s immediately smitten and determined to win her affection.

An intense connection quickly forms between the two, but John’s reckless spirit and disregard for the Christian life are concerns for the responsible, devout Polly. When an ill-fated stop at a tavern leaves John imprisoned and bound, Polly must choose to either stand by his side or walk out of his life forever. Will she forfeit her future for the man she loves?

Step back through the pages of history, to uncover the true love story behind a song that continues to stir the hearts and ignite the faith of millions around the globe.

First Thoughts:

Sure, I’d heard of John Newton, the former slave ship captain. But who was Polly Catlett? Jody Hedlund has written some great novels about famous Christian relationships of history, so I’m hoping to both enjoy and learn something from this book.

My Take:

Jody Hedlund’s latest foray into biographical historical romance takes us to the early years of Amazing Grace writer, John Newton, at a time when he lived a distinctly non-Christian life. He was still a teenager when he met his distant relation, Polly Catlett, but he was immediately taken with her. He stayed numerous times with the Catlett family, but it was after one of these visits that he was pressganged into serving with the Royal Navy. Newton and Polly focuses on the period before and after this event, including John’s misdeeds.

What I knew of John Newton before reading this book was extremely limited. I knew he was involved with the slave trade, but not to what extent. I didn’t know that he was learned but uncouth, charming but without ambition. He was often absence without leave from the vessels on which he served. Even after falling in love with Polly, he appeared to lack the maturity to live the steady life required of a man looking to marry. I understood why Mr. Catlett didn’t readily approve of him. It was only after five years of indenture and near death in a storm that he realized that, like Jonah, he’d been running from God and turned his life around.

Jody Hedlund’s novel appears to stay true to what I’ve since read about John Newton’s life, although she admits to altering some minor detail and creating a subplot involving smuggling. It’s an ugly story at times. There are brief passages of violence, references to dishonorable behavior, and descriptions of ill-treatment of slaves. And, although there are references to the lyrics of Amazing Grace, the writing of the song itself isn’t included since that happened many years later.

Thank you to Waterbrook and Blogging for Books for my complimentary copy of Newton and Polly, which I received in exchange for my honest review.

Have you read Newton and Polly? Do you plan to read it? Let me know your thoughts.

Excerpt

Publisher: Waterbrook (an imprint of Penguin Random House)

Publication Date: 20 September 2016

Page Count: 400

Read more on:   Jody Hedlund’s Website   Waterbrook’s Website

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

Saffire, by Sigmund Brouwer

book coverPublisher’s Overview:

For President Teddy Roosevelt, controlling the east-west passage between two oceans mattered so much that he orchestrated a revolution to control it. His command was to ‘let the dirt fly’ and for years, the American Zone of the Panama Canal mesmerized the world, working in uneasy co-existence with the Panamanian aristocrats.

It’s in this buffered Zone where, in 1909, James Holt begins to protect a defenseless girl named Saffire, expecting a short and simple search for her mother. Instead it draws him away from safety, into a land haunted by a history of pirates, gold runners, and plantation owners, all leaving behind ghosts of their interwoven desires sins and ambitions, ghosts that create the web of deceit and intrigue of a new generation of revolutionary politics.  It will also bring him together with a woman who will change his course—or bring an end to it.

First Thoughts:

While I’ve heard of Sigmund Brouwer I’ve not read any of his previous novels. I’m intrigued by this novel because of the plot information and the exotic setting. I’m not sure I’ve ever read anything set around the building of the Panama Canal.

My Take:

James Holt is sent to Panama as a favor to an old friend. He doesn’t know the reason for the trip but plans to spend no more than 24 hours in the fledgling country. A chance meeting persuades him to stay marginally longer, but he regrets every minute spent away from his North Dakota ranch. Little does he know a perfunctory search for a missing woman will turn into a dangerous investigation into sabotage and political intrigue. After a nasty run in with the National Police, Holt isn’t sure who else he can trust besides the unassuming clerk T.B. Miskimon.

The plot of Saffire is complicated at times, with several twists and turns. Some clues are easy enough to piece together while other information has to almost be forced from the pages. There’s a multinational cast of characters from the eponymous Saffire to the aforementioned Miskimon, but I found it difficult to remember who some of the minor characters were in relation to the plot and each other. I couldn’t work out how old Saffire was: I get the feeling she was younger than she appeared. Miskimon is introduced as being “prissy” but he grew on me and reminded me of a mix of Bertie Wooster’s Jeeves and Batman’s Alfred. I was surprised to later learn this particular clerk was an historical character. He’s not the only historical figure to appear in the book either.

Saffire is a fascinating portrayal of America’s Panama exploits, with plenty of detail of life in the Canal Zone. There’s also something about it that I can’t quite describe, a certain je ne sais pas if you will. The one aspect I didn’t care for was the romance, which could’ve been left out in my opinion. Overall, Saffire isn’t a mind blowing book but it is one I enjoyed reading.

Thank you to Blogging for Books for my complimentary uncorrected proof of Saffire.

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

Excerpt

Publisher: Waterbrook (an imprint of Penguin Random House)

Publication Date: 16 August 2016

Page Count: 336

Read more on:   Sigmund Brouwer’s Website   Waterbrook’s Website

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

Miriam, by Mesu Andrews

book coverPublisher’s Overview:

The Hebrews call me prophetess, the Egyptians a seer.
But I am neither. I am simply a watcher of Israel 
and the messenger of El Shaddai.
When He speaks to me in dreams, I interpret. When He whispers a melody, I sing.

At eighty-six, Miriam had devoted her entire life to loving El Shaddai and serving His people as both midwife and messenger. Yet when her brother Moses returns to Egypt from exile, he brings a disruptive message. God has a new name – Yahweh – and has declared a radical deliverance for the Israelites.

Miriam and her beloved family face an impossible choice: cling to familiar bondage or embrace uncharted freedom at an unimaginable cost. Even if the Hebrews survive the plagues set to turn the Nile to blood and unleash a maelstrom of frogs and locusts, can they weather the resulting fury of the Pharaoh?

Enter an exotic land where a cruel Pharaoh reigns, pagan priests wield black arts, and the Israelites cry out to a God they only think they know.

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