Book Review: Caledonia by Sherry V. Ostroff

Caledonia by [Ostroff, Sherry V.]

Caledonia is Sherry V. Ostroff’s historical fiction debut novel. It’s a novel that simultaneously tells the story of Anna, a character living in Scotland and traveling during 1696, and Hanna, a character living in the United States in 2005. The two characters have a connection to one another. The similarities of their names was an unwise choice, in my opinion.

While Anna’s story is full of hardships and struggles, Hanna’s story is full of adventure and research to find out how she and Anna are connected. Both story lines include a love story.

I found that I was much more drawn to Anna’s story as well as to Anna and Alain who were the main characters of her story. I felt that Ms. Ostroff did a much better job of developing the characters in this story, and it was obvious that Ms. Ostroff did her research to tell the tale of Anna, Alain, and Caledonia. Ms. Ostroff did an excellent job of writing an interesting plot in this story line–a plot that kept me turning pages and wanting to know what was going to happen next.

I found the story of Hanna and Alec to be less developed and less interesting as it almost entirely revolved around Hanna searching for the connection between her and Anna. She spent a lot of time reading a journal and researching things she found in the journal, as well as the history of a candlestick. Therefore this story line did not hold my interest as much, and I wasn’t as invested in the lives of Hanna and Alec. I was, however, invested in the character of Hanna’s grandmother, whom I believe Ms. Ostroff did a good job of developing. As a matter of fact, one of the chapters about Hanna’s life ended with a cliffhanger in regard to her grandmother, and though the next chapter was about Anna, I bypassed it long enough to read the first scene of the next chapter that was about Hanna to find out about her grandmother, then I flipped back to read the chapter on Anna.

Overall I felt that the story was unbalanced because there was so much focus on Anna’s story and much less on Hanna’s story. I learned so much about Anna and her personality and life that she was very real to me. I loved and cared about her. I felt much less interest in Hanna and very little connection to her. I never came to love or care for her as I did for Anna throughout this story.

I was a little disappointed at the end of the story. I felt that certain things were unfinished. Then I read that there will be a sequel to Caledonia. The first chapter of On the Edge of a Precipice is included at the end of Caledonia, and I couldn’t help but wonder how Ms. Ostroff will write an effective sequel, as it seems to me that there’s not much left for her to tell of Anna’s story because she did such a thorough job of covering the historical story line in Caledonia. However, I will be looking for the sequel to see what else I can learn about Anna and further Scottish history.

For those of you who choose to read clean fiction, I will say that there are some mildly explicit sexual scenes in this book. There are also a few places where profanity is used.

Beyond the Valley by Rita Gerlach

Beyond the Valley (Daughters of the Potomac Book 3) by [Gerlach,  Rita]

The third and final book in the “Daughters of the Potomac” series by Rita Gerlach, Beyond the Valley is my favorite. I enjoyed all three books, but I found myself on the edge of my seat cheering for things to get better in Sarah Carr’s life in this book. This book made me laugh and cry, which is another way I measure how good a book is–that it evokes strong emotions within me and moves me to both laughter and tears.

This story begins with a tragic event that affects Sarah’s life, and this event is quickly followed by three more tragic events in Sarah’s life. Then things in Sarah’s life seem to improve a little for a short while before the next tragic event, and this is the pattern for the rest of the story–Sarah, dealing with one tragedy after another, and all she wants is to be free and loved.

When she meets a doctor, who falls in love with her, it appears that her hopes and dreams will be fulfilled. However, as an indentured servant, Sarah is not free to marry as she wishes, and the man who owns her refuses to allow the doctor to buy Sarah’s indenture, but instead sells her to a backwoodsman. And so, Sarah’s life is thrust into more struggle for survival, as her heart aches to be reunited with the doctor.

Sarah’s faith, courage and bravery in all that she faces is an inspiration.

The doctor’s unwillingness to give up in his search for Sarah because of his love for her is the stuff an outstanding romance story is made of.

Once again, I highly recommend the “Daughters of the Potomac” series by Rita Gerlach to all who love history, romance, and adventure. The first two books are strongly connected, and I believe should be read together. However, this book, though connected to the first two, could be read on its own without the reader feeling lost.

These books and the strong characters in them will live in my memory for a long time to come.

Beside Two Rivers by Rita Gerlach

Beside Two Rivers (Daughters of the Potomac Book 2) by [Gerlach,  Rita]

Beside Two Rivers is book two in The Daughters of the Potomac series by Rita Gerlach. I think I read this book much faster than the first one. This book is about the life of Darcy, the daughter of Eliza from the first book.

Once again, Rita Gerlach has created well-developed characters that I could relate to immediately, and, again, I cheered for them, grew angry when others mistreated them, ached with them through their struggles, cried with them in their times of sadness and loss, and laughed with them in the good times. The characters in these books become like good friends.

I found it interesting that two of the characters, in these first two books, were cousins but had more similar character attributes and attitudes than some brothers. However, I longed for one to find redemption. The other I simply disliked and held no sympathy toward–there has to be one of these in almost every book.

I was also extremely pleased that the things, I longed to have resolved in the first book, were resolved in this book. Maybe not the way I had wished, but in a satisfactory and understandable way.

These are the first books I have read by Rita Gerlach, and I have to say that Ms. Gerlach is now on my list of favorite authors, and I will look for more books by her as soon as I can.

Again, this story was an historical romance story, so if that’s the kind of book you like to read, I’m sure you’ll like these books. I have one more to read to complete this series, and I plan to begin reading it tonight.

Before the Scarlet Dawn by Rita Gerlach

In 1775, Eliza Bloome’s ailing father dies and just a couple days later she receives notice that she has to vacate her home. Her father was a vicar and the home would be needed for his replacement.

An Englishman who would soon inherit a wealthy estate expressed interest in marrying Eliza, but he was not the kind of man Eliza wished to marry. There was another Englishman she wished to marry, but he thought her beneath him. However, when his plans didn’t go the way he wished, he agreed to wed her and take her with him to America. Eliza’s maid, Fiona, went along.

Things were going fairly well in America, though Eliza was unsure of her husband’s love, and she longed for it–for him to say the words. America was in turmoil and the Revolution began. Her husband had embraced America as his home and agreed that they should break free from the King of England’s control. So, just after Eliza gave birth to a daughter, her husband left to join the fighting.

Nothing was the same after that. One tragedy followed another, and Eliza returned to England with no real place to go.

This book has well-developed characters that I could empathize with. I cheered for them and cried for them, and my heart broke for them. There is romance, the struggles of war and the family’s the soldiers left behind, and there is loss, and pain and suffering.

I couldn’t put the book down. It is the first in “The Daughters of the Potomac” series by Rita Gerlach, and when I reached the end, I found the end written well enough that it could be the end, but there was one thing that had not been resolved that my heart longed for. So, I immediately began the second book in the series. You’ll see that review soon.

If you like historical romantic fiction, you will enjoy this story.

 

The Writing Desk by Rachel Hauck

In the past couple years, I’ve heard about a new style of historical fiction stories. The authors weave an historical fiction story and a contemporary fiction story and put them in the same book, and there’s something that connects the historical with the contemporary. The Writing Desk by Rachel Hauck is one of those stories and it is the first story like it that I have read.

The historical story follows the life of a young woman named, Birdie, who is from a prominent American family during the Gilded Age. She is a free-thinking independent woman, but her parents try to force her to marry a man she doesn’t love, so that the two will be even more wealthy, and put Birdie at the height of society. Her mother is much more adamant about it than her father. However, Birdie wants to marry for love, and she wants to write stories.

The contemporary story follows the life of a young woman who wrote a book in the midst of her grief over the death of her father, and it quickly becomes a New York Times Bestseller. Therefore, Tenley is pressured to write another one, but she is paralyzed by writer’s block and struggles with her emotions and who she really is. Then her mother, who deserted her twenty years ago, calls and announces she has cancer and needs Tenley to come to Florida to take care of her. However, the man Tenley has been involved with gives her an engagement ring and asks her to marry him, and he invites her to go to Paris to write.

The lives of both women are so different, yet they are connected by several threads.

I found this book impossible to put down. Last night I stayed up an hour and a half later than I usually do because I just had to finish it. I always say that a book that can make me laugh and cry is on my list of “best books”, and this one struck both of those chords within me, and there was one tremendous surprise twist in the story that I never suspected that made me laugh and cry tears of joy!

Because I, too, am a writer, I could relate to both the women in this story, and I continually cheered them on throughout the book.  The other characters also evoked strong thoughts and/or emotions within me and I either, cheered for them or wished for them to go away.

Not only was this an incredible pair of stories woven together, it was also an incredible story of loss, hurt, guilt, pain, hope, healing, and love. Birdie, Eli, Tenley, Jonas, and even Alfonse, Rose, Blanche, and Holt will live on in my memory and heart for a long time to come. This book has endeared itself to me. It is the kind of book I LOVE to talk about with friends who have also read it, and it is a book I will highly recommend to anyone who loves a wonderfully, skillfully told story that includes all of the things I’ve listed above.

The Writing Desk by Rachel Hauck gets five stars from me.

I also have to say it is the first and only book that I have ever read by Rachel Hauck, but I will definitely be looking for more.

Traiven’s Pass by Jessica Marinos

Traiven’s Pass by Jessica Marinos is a debut novel and also the first book in the “Trimont Trilogy”. It is set in medieval times in a land where the king is missing, but a steward king is ruling the land. There are knights and peasants. There is mystery, intrigue, romance, and adventure, and through all of that, there is good and evil at work.

I struggled through reading the first four chapters of Traiven’s Pass because it is told in first person, which I am not a fan of. However, it wasn’t just the fact that it is told in first person, but that the first person Point of View changes from character to character, although each chapter is told from a different character’s first person Point of View. However, after getting through the first four chapters, there were more chapters told from the same character’s first person Point of View–the character’s didn’t change so often.

Because the story is told so well, and Ms. Marinos did such an excellent job of creating well-developed characters, after chapter four, the first person Point of View character switching ceased to bother me. I became so caught up in the characters’ lives and the story that it was quite difficult to put the book down. Ms. Marinos did an excellent job creating and describing her world without overdoing it, and she is quite masterful at weaving back story throughout the story and not simply dumping paragraphs of information from the back story in the middle of an important scene.

Ms. Marinos did such an excellent job showing her character’s emotions that I felt them with them. I have to say that my heart broke over Sir Danek, as I understood his character and so hoped that he could soften. I love Lydia and felt all of her joys and pains throughout the book. Galen has spent his life in a small town and has a lot to learn. I loved the children of Trimont and Meklon and Lady Vala and Rose. I could go on and on. Even after putting the book down, I would think about the characters and the struggles they were going through. They became real, living, breathing people to me, and I can’t wait to read more about them.

It was also wonderful to read a novel all the way through without finding grammatical and typographical errors. This book was obviously, painstakingly well edited.

This is the best debut novel I’ve read in quite a while. It will remain a favorite of mine for years to come. I cannot wait for the next installment of the “Trimont Trilogy”.

I highly recommend this book to anyone who loves medieval stories, and though, I rarely give a book five stars, in my opinion, Traiven’s Pass definitely deserves five stars!

He Knows The Way by Idella Borntrager Otto

He Knows The Way by Idella Borntrager Otto is Ms. Otto’s debut novel.

Back Cover Blurb:

Ellen, a young northern Mennonite nurse is transplanted into the chaos of Mississippi’s church bombings and cross burning. When danger from the Ku Klux Klan lurks, the scripture text “He knows the way that I take and when He has tested me I will come forth as gold” nibbles at her mind like a broken record. She searches for a sense of direction.

Lord, did I misread your leading to serve you in Mississippi? I don’t need to be gold. Silver or pewter would be just fine. In the midst of racial violence, Ellen re-examines her peace-loving faith while trying to unscramble her feelings which vacillate between a handsome Yankee and her southern pastor’s engaging son.

My Review:

He Knows The Way grabbed my attention from the start with a scene of heart-pounding danger — Ellen arriving to do a job as men with guns block her path. She is alone. She is in Mississippi during racial tensions in the 1960s.

More danger crops up as the Ku Klux Klan burns a cross on the lawn of somewhere Ellen has been ministering to someone preventing Ellen from continuing in this ministry with a woman she has become very fond of.

Ellen, a young northern Mennonite nurse, struggles with the attitudes of people in the south who look down on those who are different and don’t want to treat them as human beings. In one situation, Ellen shows great courage and breaks a southern segregation rule, then fears she will lose her job for doing so.

She is encouraged to go to a school in Virginia to get her B.S.N. and apply for a nursing director position. She goes off to school where she meets a young man, and the two begin spending quite a bit of time together.

Then Ellen goes home for a school break and meets her southern pastor’s son and spends time with him.

She returns to school in Virginia, confused with tangled feelings. She prays the Lord would direct her and show her which young man is the one she might one day marry.

Between the southern tensions and the struggle to make a decision on a young man, this story kept me turning page after page. I was rooting for one particular young man, but eventually liked both men so much that I was confused. I had to keep turning pages to see how the story would clear up both Ellen’s and my confusion about which young man was right for her.

There was one place in the story where I was jolted out of the story for a chapter or two because Ellen was suddenly missing from a chapter or two. I was suddenly reading about a young man and another girl. Things soon became clear, when Ellen returned to the story and eventually met this young man.

All in all, I thought this story was very well written, it captured and held my attention, and I had to keep reading to see whom Ellen would spend her life with. Not only was it a decision as to who she would marry, but where the Lord wanted her to minister — foreign missions or missions in her own country.

I certainly hope Idella Borntrager Otto will be producing more books because I definitely look forward to reading more from her.