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?

Christian fiction, Historical research, Monday Musings, Scripture verses

6 things you might not know about the Quakers

I love that reading fiction helps me escape to another time or place, into a world that entertains me and gives me a break from work/house stuff/playing family errand runner and chauffeur. I love it even more when reading a novel teaches me some new things.

Path of FreedomThe book I read this weekend is a perfect example. Path of Freedom by Jennifer Hudson Taylor is part of the “Quilts of Love” series that Abingdon Press began publishing a few years ago. Each book in the series centers somehow on a quilt. In Path of Freedom, the quilt serves as a map to help guide two slaves to freedom on the Underground Railroad (the story takes place before the Civil War).

The main characters, Flora and Bruce, are Quakers. I’ve never known much about Quakers other than they’re pacifists and that many settled in and around Pennsylvania when first coming to the U.S. So, in case you don’t know much more about Quakers than I do, here are a few things I learned (some from Path of Freedom, some thanks to the internet):

  • The full name for the group is the Society of Friends (which I’m guessing is what leads to them addressing each other as “Friend Bruce” or “Friend Flora” on many occasions).
  • The name “Quakers” originates from the fact that early worshipers would “quake with the spirit of God.”
  • Quakers are strong believers in equality among gender, race, and society in general. One verse from the Bible they use to support this view is Galatians 3:28: “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”(NIV)
  • The Quakers became the first organization in history to ban slave holding, and in the 1800s Quakers populated the abolitionist movement in numbers far exceeding their proportion of all Americans.
  • Women Friends had a role and status more equal with men’s than in any other Christian church. They preached and ministered to mixed audiences, traveled extensively unaccompanied by men, and regulated the lives of fellow Quaker women without men’s assistance (such as in church discipline and marriage arrangements).
  • Both Daniel Boone and Abraham Lincoln had ancestors who were Quaker.

 

See? You never know what a little reading might teach you. 🙂

I have a soft spot in my heart for Jennifer’s books because we were in an online critique group together years ago and I love to see how well she’s done (plus, I’ve enjoyed all of her stories that I’ve read). If you’d like to learn more about Jennifer and her books, visit her website or Facebook page.

Your turn: Did you know any of these things about the Quakers? Or, what’s something interesting you’ve learned by reading a novel lately? Share with us in the comments!

 

Christian fiction, Wednesday Writings, What I've Learned Lately, Writing life

What I’ve learned lately … with Jennifer Hudson Taylor

I was added to an online critique group soon after joining American Christian Fiction Writers a few years ago. Jennifer Hudson Taylor was part of that group, and taught me so much by her comments! She’s now a published novelist with Abingdon Press; her debut novel, Highland Blessings, was released in 2010 and her follow-up, Highland Sanctuary, releases this month. We’ll finally meet in person when she joins the faculty at our local writers’ group conference in November. In the meantime, I’m she’s able to stop by to share with us here today.

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Micro Progress is Still Progress

By Jennifer Hudson Taylor

 

How many times have you heard someone say, “I take two steps forward, and one step back.”

This cliché was born out of frustration. Most of the time we feel like we’re being pushed back. It isn’t a step we’re actually taking with purpose. It’s unplanned and it breeds discouragement.

The good news is even if you feel like you’re back where you started, most of the time you’ve learned something in the process or God may be protecting you from being in a place at the wrong time. There is a reason for everything—even when we can’t see it.

Recently, our family has been going through many things. My father-in-law passed away from cancer a month ago and at the same time my mom was battling a different kind of cancer. We knew he wouldn’t make it, but were assured hers was caught in time. Cancer is a kind of illness that takes a while to overcome or succumb. It not only wears out the ones battling it, but the loved ones trying to surround their loved one with strong support.

I was frustrated that I couldn’t take time off from work for every visit to be with my mom and help her make decisions. I had to rely on the info she relayed to me, hoping she had heard correctly and wasn’t forgetting something important in the midst of her distress. Yes, I may be a published author, but I still have a full-time job with a boss who owns my time during those 40 hours each week. My time is not my own, and I struggle with this concept—especially when I feel like I’m needed elsewhere.

During this time I had to let go of some things such as canceling a trip to a writer’s conference where I was scheduled to present three workshops, took a sabbatical from some blogs, stopped scheduling events and book signings for my new book release. These were temporary setbacks, but my family was much more important. The only thing that nagged me was falling behind on my word count each week because I had signed a contract that I would finish a book by a certain time, and I was already stretching myself to meet this contract obligation in my already limited schedule.

I’ve always been taught to meet my obligations no matter what it takes, so a bit of anxiety began to set in when my word count dropped until there were a few days with no word count. But I didn’t give up, and kept plugging away at what I COULD do. Guess what? By the end of September, I’d written 20,000 words—more than I’d planned by 8,000 words.

I can’t explain it, but what I learned is that if we are faithful in the small things, God will multiply our efforts. Pennies saved can become hundreds saved if we keep adding to it. We have to keep sowing seeds, and let God give the increase.

 

“I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the increase. So then neither he who plants is anything, nor he who waters, but God who gives the increase. Now he who plants and he who waters are one, and each one will receive his own reward according to his own labor.” (1 Corinthians 3:6-8)

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Jennifer Hudson Taylor is an award winning author of historical Christian fiction set in Europe and the Carolinas and a speaker on topics of faith, writing and publishing. Her work has appeared in national publications, such as Guideposts, Heritage Quest Magazine, Romantic Times Book Reviews, and The Military Trader. She serves as the in-house Publicist at Hartline Literary Agency and co-owns Upon the Rock Publishing, an e-publishing/publicist company. When she isn’t writing, she enjoys spending time with family, long walks, traveling, touring historical sites, hanging out at bookstores with coffee shops, genealogy, and reading.

 

Christian fiction, What I've Learned Lately

What I’ve Learned Lately … with Gail Pallotta

Today I’m honored to have my writing friend Gail Pallotta join us for “What I’ve Learned Lately.” Gail and I met at an American Christian Writers conference in Atlanta several years ago, then pitched a devotional book project together at the Florida Christian Writers Conference (no takers … oh well). She visits my local writers group when she can so it’s always good to see each other and catch up on writing things.

A little more about Gail: Love Turns the Tide is Gail’s first romance, but she’s been writing for as long as she can remember. Her first story appeared in a grammar school newspaper. Much later, she worked as an editor and copywriter. After she married she helped her husband with his business, but continued to write. Between the feature stories she wrote at work and the freelance pieces she placed, she published several hundred articles. After some of them were selected for anthologies and two ended up in museums, friends and family nudged her to “do more.” Then she undertook a lifelong dream and wrote a novel. In 2004, the year she published her first book, Now Is the Time, the American Christian Writers Association named her a regional writer of the year. This past November an excerpt from Love Turns the Tide won the Clash of the Titles Challenge in the best nature / weather scene category.

 

No Two Leaves Alike

I’ve learned that children love macaroni and cheese. Little boys play with worms and bugs. Little girls dance in tutus. Teenagers like to stay out all night. Men want to watch sports on television. Women prefer movies or soap operas.

Even if I don’t sew, I have fun with friends who do because we both like to cook, have lunch or shop. What’s hard is learning that we’re different. With all the things we share, each of us is as different as the leaves on the trees. Some leaves have bug bites on one side. Others have middle veins running off center. Some are broken, cracked or discolored. While one leaf looks perfectly shaped almost as though an accomplished artist drew it, another appears lopsided as though something thwarted its growth. But at a distance the leaves just look like leaves.

Knowing someone from afar, I assume that person’s just like me. Oh, I don’t expect him or her to resemble me. I expect him or her to act like me, to have my values, my beliefs and my sensitivities. Sometimes after being around a person for years, that individual does something that shocks or upsets me. So many times I’ve thought, How could he or she do that? I wouldn’t do or say that to him or her. Or I’ve asked myself, How can he or she not understand what I’m saying? At the time perhaps my feelings are hurt, or I wonder why this person isn’t as excited about something as I am.

The simple truth is that person isn’t me. We may be friends or even relatives and have a lot in common, but we’re different. From a very young age life shows each of us different experiences, hurts, and joys. I’ve learned it’s best to accept others as they are rather than harbor hurt feelings or worse, get angry or resentful. I have to allow each person to be who he or she is, and love him or her. That’s what God tells us to do. I imagine from where He’s sitting He wants to see us in harmony like the leaves hanging on the trees.

In Matthew 22: 37-39, Jesus says, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself.”

 

Thanks, Gail, for joining us. I find myself in the same trap many days – I assume that someone is like me just because we grew up together or see each other through things with our kids. Not always the case, though, is it? But then, how dull things would be if we were all alike and how interesting it can be to find those little differences that make us, “us.”

Read more about Gail on her Web site at http://www.gailpallotta.com and visit her blog at http://www.gailpallotta.blogspot.com Gail’s romance, Love Turns the Tide, is available from www.awe-struck.net. Just click on the inspirational category.