Book Love, Christian fiction

Book review: Colors of Truth by Tamera Alexander

A story of racial reconciliation and the cost of telling the truth

Colros of Truth by Tamera AlexanderBack cover copy: In a town battered and bruised by war, one woman embarks upon an impossible search — and one man must face the past in the very place that almost destroyed him.

Tennessee, 1866. According to the last letter Irish immigrant Catriona O’Toole received from her twin brother, Ryan, he was being dispatched to Franklin, Tennessee, where — as a conscripted Confederate soldier — he likely endured the bloody Battle of Franklin that claimed the lives of thousands. Catriona leaves behind the lush green of their Irish homeland in search of him, with nothing to her name except the sum of cash Ryan sent to their family. Now the sole provider for her seven-year-old spitfire sister, Nora, Catriona hopes to reunite the siblings — the only surviving members of their devastated family.

Wade Cunningham is a former Federal soldier who now works for the newly formed United States Secret Service and is trying to uncover counterfeiting rings in the postwar South. In order to infiltrate their sophisticated enterprise, he must pose as a former Confederate in Franklin — a town where counterfeit greenbacks run rampant. When Wade meets Catriona, he is immediately intrigued by her and the little redheaded scamp in her care — but what he doesn’t anticipate is that the cash in Catriona’s possession is some of the most convincing counterfeit money he’s ever seen. Soon the object of Wade’s affection is also the suspect in a major crime — one he’s expected to prosecute.

My review: I have long been a fan of Tamera Alexander and have read all of her books, full of imperfect characters and rich historical details that add so much to the story without weighing it down. Colors of Truth is no exception. I will say that I usually get pulled into her stories quicker than I did this time, but I think that was because it was so different from the fast paced, jump-right-in YA titles I’ve been reading lately (which is what you expect from different genres, I just needed to shift to a historical romance mindset).

Catriona is no stranger to struggles or grief but is determined to not let those mark her life. When she and Nora lose everyone else in their large Irish family to famine or other disease, the money Ryan sends is her only hope of a fresh start for herself and Nora. She decides to follow Ryan to America and help him regain land that was taken from other family members years ago. Once in America, her high hopes soon crash into harsh realities no one warned her about — particularly prejudice against the Irish. People are suspicious of her traveling alone with Nora, are wary of taking her money, don’t want her in their places of business, and assume she’s a thief or troublemaker.

This thread of prejudice is layered throughout the book in ways that aren’t necessarily expected in a story set in the South on the heels of the Civil War. There’s the obvious prejudice against Catriona and Nora, plus the prejudice most characters still hold against Negroes and the North. Catriona and Wade don’t share the views of the Confederacy but shy away from speaking out because of their circumstances. Yet each notices small things about the other that hints of their true beliefs.

Redemption and accepting forgiveness are other important themes in Colors of Truth. Catriona and Wade both carry the weight of guilt from words and actions that they have trouble finding closure for because their loved ones are gone. They both have to learn how to ask for and accept forgiveness and how to make peace with their past and move on. It’s no easier task for them than it is for us in real life. Without sharing any spoilers, I’ll say that I loved the scene that brought them both the closure and peace that they so desperately needed.

The faith element in Colors of Truth is strong, as it is in all of Tamera Alexander’s books. Characters have all levels of faith and show it in all different ways, from speaking boldly to keeping it private to infusing little bits of it into everyday life. Catriona is especially affected by this and is finally able to believe that God hasn’t turned His back on her even though sometimes it can feel that way. That’s another life lesson for us as readers that manages to come through without being preachy. Alexander’s subtlety in handling those types of elements is one of my favorite things about her as an author.

Who should read it: Alexander’s books are always multilayered and have more than one plot thread running throughout. That means they’re more detailed and longer than some historical novels, but I personally enjoy the extra details she’s able to include because of the longer length. My guess is that her primary reader is an adult female, but anyone who enjoys historical fiction, especially stories set in the Old South, should enjoy Colors of Truth.

Bonus: Tamera Alexander shares a bit of conversation about cancel culture and Colors of Truth on the home page of her website. You might be interested in reading (and hearing) her perspective as an author of historical fiction.

This book review of Colors of Truth counts as my March “event/time period” book in the Read Something New in 2021 Book Challenge. What have you read lately? The April selection is “young adult;” I’d love for you to join me!


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Book Love, Christian fiction

Book Review: The Story Peddler by Lindsay A. Franklin

Book cover The Story PeddlerBack cover copy: Selling stories is a deadly business.

Tanwen doesn’t just tell stories — she weaves them into crystallized sculptures that sell for more than a few bits. But the only way to escape the control of her cruel mentor and claw her way from poverty is to set her sights on something grander: becoming Royal Storyteller to the king.

During her final story peddling tour, a tale of treason spills from her hands, threatening the king himself. Tanwen goes from peddler to prey as the king’s guard hunts her down … and they’re not known for their mercy. As Tanwen flees for her life, she unearths long-buried secrets and discovers she’s not the only outlaw in the empire. There’s a rebel group of weavers … and they’re after her too.

My review: My favorite part of The Story Peddler was the magical “system”—colored ribbons literally flow from the hands of people who are gifted as storytellers as they share tales of the kingdom, crystallizing into objects that represent the story. How cool (and imaginative) is that? Tanwen is exceptionally good at storytelling, especially considering that she’s not old enough to be a registered storyteller yet.

Years ago, storytellers were appreciated and had a wide repertoire from which to entertain their audiences. But that changed when King Gareth gained the throne and outlawed any stories that didn’t show him in a favorable light (known as “crowned stories”). Tanwen knows this and follows the rules when she’s selling stories. But odd feelings begin to crop up while she tells stories—odd feelings that get harder to squish into submission and that begin to show themselves as rogue story strands that alarm Tanwen, her listeners—and the king himself.

As Tanwen runs from the king and his henchmen, she learns valuable lessons in trust and loyalty from a rogue group of weavers who take her under their protection. She also learns that there’s a lot more to family than the people from your bloodline and that making dreams come true often involves layers both good and bad that you never imagined.

The story didn’t have a definitive faith plot thread, but that’s not a deal breaker for me. There are references to the state-sanctioned religion based on goddesses (which is quite corrupt and often ignored )and mentions of a Creator, but nothing extensive. Values such as honesty always being best—even when it carries a cost—are a big part of the story and Princess Braith is one of the few people close to the king who routinely shows compassion, acceptance, and forgiveness. That’s a message in itself: setting an example and standing true to your convictions no matter what the people around you might think.

Who should read it: Tanwen’s story continues with The Story Raider and The Story Hunter. I’m not planning to read them right now because I have so many other books on my to-read pile, but might look at them someday. If they’re along the same lines as The Story Peddler, I would classify them as good material for middle school or early high school. See my first peek at The Story Peddler in this First Line Friday post from January and learn more about author Lindsay A. Franklin on her website.

Book Love, Christian fiction

Book review: Romanov by Nadine Brandes

Book cover of Romanov by Nadine BrandesBack cover copy: The history books say I died. They don’t know the half of it. Anastasia “Nastya” Romanov was given a single mission: to smuggle an ancient spell into her suitcase on her way to exile in Siberia. It might be her family’s only salvation. But the leader of the Bolshevik army is after them, and he’s hunted Romanov before.

Nastya’s only chances of saving herself and her family are either to release the spell and deal with the consequences, or to enlist help from Zash, the handsome soldier who doesn’t act like the average Bolshevik. Nastya has only dabbled in magic, but it doesn’t frighten her half as much as her growing attraction for Zash. She likes him. She thinks he might even like her.

That is, until she’s on one side of a firing squad … and he’s on the other.

My review: I read Romanov by Nadine Brandes for my historical fiction choice in the Read Something New 2021 Book Challenge. It wasn’t the book I originally planned to read for that spot but kept begging me to take it from my ever-growing to-read stack. So I finally gave in – and am glad I did.

Portions of Romanov are based on historical fact. The father, Emperor Nicholas II, was the last czar of Russia. Their family was exiled and later executed by a Bolshevik firing squad in 1918. When the gravesite of the family was found years later, two members were missing: Anastasia and her younger brother Alexei. Rumors persisted for years that they had somehow survived the firing squad and lived out their lives in secret and/or under different identities. Their remains were not found until 2007, buried in a separate grave near the rest of the family.

Romanov adds magical aspects to historical facts to weave a fantastical but believable story. Anastasia is a beginning-level spell master who knows just enough magic to create spells that help relieve the pain and injuries that Alexei experiences because of hemophilia. She is fiercely loyal and feels tremendous responsibility to help him however she can, but the Bolsheviks are hunting down and killing spell masters (in addition to wanting the Romanov family out of their way).

But Anastasia also is a typical teenage girl in many ways – playing pranks, doing things to make her sisters or Alexei laugh, navigating the feelings associated with her first crush, and learning to remain hopeful despite grappling with frustration, anger, and forgiveness.

The characters of Romanov are multi-layered and believable, even the secondary characters and antagonists. That’s part of what kept me reading and enjoying the story.

Faith elements are also strong, despite having magic be such an important element in the story. The family prays together and talks about things related to their faith, plus topics related to living a life of faith (hope, respect, forgiveness, grace) are integral to the story.

Who should read it: Historical fiction fans should enjoy Romanov, though sticklers who might get hung up on the magical aspect might enjoy reading something like I Was Anastasia by Ariel Lawhon more (I read that one a couple years ago and liked it). Romanov is categorized as young adult fiction, but I can see it appealing to readers from middle school to adult. It covers some fairly heavy topics related to the war and violence, but they aren’t too much for a mature middle schooler to handle (and are much less graphic than plenty of other books targeting that age group).

Your turn: Did you read a historical novel for this month’s challenge? If so, tell us which one and what you thought of it! If not, share what you did read – because there had to be something, right?

Coming next month: The February book category for our reading challenge is science fiction or fantasy. Any idea what you’ll read?

Book Love, Just for Fun

First Line Friday: The Story Peddler

Happy Friday, friends!

Welcome to First Line Friday, where book lovers across blogland share the opening line from a nearby book (since we all have books everywhere we turn).

Today I chose The Story Peddler by Lindsay A. Franklin. It’s the first book in the Weaver Trilogy and is my choice for next month’s fantasy/science fiction book in the 2021 Read Something New Challenge. I’ve not read any of her books but they keep popping up in my Instagram feed, so why not give it a try?

Book cover The Story Peddler

First line:

Colored ribbons of light poured from my fingers.

Sets the stage for all sorts of interesting things, I think. Read more at:

Lindsay A. Franklin’s website   |   Goodreads

Your turn: What’s your first line for today? Open the book nearest you and post the first line in the comments. Then hop over to Hoarding Books (the blog I’m joining in this fun) to see what they’re sharing.

Happy reading!