Book Love

Book review: Court of Swans by Melanie Dickerson

Court of Swans by Melanie Dickerson is a reimagining of the Wild Swans tale and the first book in a new series of fairytale retellings set in medieval England. It was my choice for a young adult book for the April installment of the Read Something New in 2021 Book Challenge.

Back cover copy: Delia lives a quiet life as the daughter of an earl in late 14th century England, but that peace is shattered when her seven brothers are betrayed and falsely arrested. Meanwhile, with the Peasants’ Revolt threatening the peace of the kingdom, the king is executing anyone who had anything to do with the uprising. Delia is terrified her brothers will be next, the youngest of whom is only ten years old.

Delia infiltrates the palace as a seamstress so she can be near her brothers in the Tower of London and help them escape. When she runs into Sir Geoffrey, the guard captain who arrested her brothers, she hates him — until she discovers he has been secretly carrying food to her brothers in their prison cell.

Trapped into obeying the orders of his king, Sir Geoffrey is the oldest son of a duke whose estate has been seized by the king and his treacherous advisers. His first mission as captain was to arrest seven brothers for treason, but he had no idea that the brothers were so young or that their sister would be so feisty and beautiful.

In a court where everyone is eager to backstab anyone else to get what they want, how will Geoffrey right this wrong and help Delia and her brothers — especially when Delia hates him? And how will he keep them both from losing their heads to this execution-prone king?

My review: Most of the time when I read a book that’s based around a fairytale, I’m familiar with the original story so have an inkling of how some parts of the book will play out. That wasn’t the case with Court of Swans since I’m not familiar with the tale of the Wild Swans. I enjoyed that while reading because it meant I wasn’t sure what to expect (other than the usual happily ever after ending that’s always part of Dickerson’s books).

Delia and Geoffrey are sweet characters, though a bit shallow for my tastes. Delia is definitely an innocent, which is probably accurate for many young women her age at that time. But even with her innocence, I would have liked to get deeper into her mind and emotions.

Two threads ran throughout the book: Delia’s grappling with the question of why bad things happen to good people and her learning to trust that God was in control of every situation. Those are real world issues that we all face, which is why I would have liked them explored more.

Delia’s love for her brothers and absolute loyalty to them define much of who she is. She is willing to do anything within her power to help prove their innocence and free them from prison. She does make some mistakes along the way, especially because her personal tendencies to take everyone at their word make her an easy target for less-than-honest people.

There are things we can learn from that as readers, questions we can ask ourselves: How far am I willing to go for the people I love? Do I stand by them no matter what? But, at the same time, does my desire to help blind me to things that seem like obvious warning flags to others? Do I pray for — and wait for — God’s guidance or do I plow ahead on my own?

Bottom line: Although the characters and plot didn’t have the complexity I usually look for in a book, Court of Swans was a nice, lighter read.

Who should read it: Dickerson has a lot of adults in her reader fan base, but most of her books are marketed as young adult. Court of Swans fits that bill: the age of the main characters and the sweet romance make it a good choice for anyone but especially teens.

Next up: In May, the challenge is to reread something you enjoyed in middle or high school. I’m going with a classic: Where the Red Fern Grows. What are you reading right now?


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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

First Line Friday: Heart of a Royal

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). It’s a fun thing I hope to do more often in 2021, so I’m kicking off my participation for the New Year with a story from an Australian YA author I recently discovered:

Heart of a Royal by Hannah Currie

Heart of a Royal book cover

The first line is:

If mortification could kill, I’d be six feet under.

Talk about an opening line I could relate to (plus, what a gorgeous cover)! And so begins the story of Kenna, the companion/practically sister to Princess Alina of Peverell. But Kenna and Alina are about to turn 18 and Alina will soon be engaged to Prince Marcos of the neighboring kingdom — which means everything is about to change for both of them.

I enjoyed Heart of a Royal so much that I read it and the second story in the series, Heart of a Princess, about Princess Alina’s own journey over the 4-day weekend. They reminded me of the Selection Series by Kiera Cass, which is saying a lot.

The final book in the series, Heart of the Crown, releases next week: January 15. I’ll definitely be reading it and keeping an eye out for others by Hannah Currie. I’ve also been participating in Hannah’s Instagram challenge leading up to Heart of the Crown, if you want to check out the photos I’ve shared.

Your turn: Share the first line from one of your books 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!