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

New Historical Fiction for February

It’s the first week of February, so let’s take a look at some of the historical fiction titles that will be hitting the shelves sometime this month.

From authors who are part of American Christian Fiction Writers:

ProphetessThe Prophetess: Deborah’s Story by Jill Eileen Smith — Outspoken and fearless, Deborah has faith in God but struggles to see the potential her own life holds. As an Israelite woman, she’ll marry, have a family, and seek to teach her children about Adonai – and those tasks seem to be more than enough to occupy her time. But God has another plan for her. Israel has been under the near constant terror of Canaan’s armies for twenty years, and now God has called Deborah to deliver her people from this oppression. Will her family understand? Will her people even believe God’s calling on her life? And can the menace of Canaan be stopped? (Biblical from Revell – A Division of Baker Publishing Group)

The Love Is Patient Romance Collection by Janet Lee Barton, Frances Devine, Lena Nelson Dooley, Vickie McDonough, Darlene Franklin, Jill Stengl, Connie Stevens, and Erica Vetsch — Enjoy the slow dance through the courtship of nine historical couples in the American west, including the territories of Arizona and Wyoming. Just at a time in life when they have nearly given up on finding love, romance enters their lives. But will it be true love, and will it be worth the wait? Find out in this delightful collection written by eight bestselling authors of inspirational romances. (Historical Romance from Barbour Publishing)

Sweet MisfortuneA Sweet Misfortune by Maggie Brendan — Rachel Matthews isn’t one to rely on others to take care of her. Destitute and alone, she still wants to make her own way and her own money – even if she’s forced into the life of a dance hall girl. Horrified by her circumstances, Rachel’s brother sends a friend – the widely admired cattle baron John McIntyre – to rescue her, then sets off to earn enough money to buy back the family ranch. But when months pass without her brother’s return, Rachel isn’t sure she can take one more day in John McIntyre’s home – especially once she discovers that he’s the one who holds the deed to her family’s ranch. (Historical Romance from Revell – A Division of Baker Publishing Group)

Spy DevotionA Spy’s Devotion by Melanie Dickerson — Langdon returns home to heal from a battlefield injury — and to fulfill a dying soldier’s last wish by delivering his coded diary. At a ball hosted by the powerful Whilhelm family, Langdon meets their beautiful and intelligent ward, Julia Grey. Honoring propriety, he keeps his distance — until the diary is stolen and all clues lead to Julia’s guardian. As Langdon traces an evil plot that could be the nation’s undoing, he grows ever more intrigued by the lovely young woman. And when Julia realizes that England – and the man she is falling in love with – need her help, she finds herself caught in the fray. (Historical Romance from Waterfall Press, an imprint of Amazon Publishing)

The Express Rider’s Lady by Stacy Henrie — Delsie Radford’s father may have kept her and her sister apart, but Delsie refuses to miss her sister’s wedding – even with only 18 days to get there. And she’s found the perfect escort in Pony Express rider Myles Patton. Myles can’t believe it when a pretty socialite hires him to take her cross-country through dangerous territory. He’s sure she’ll give up soon, but the longer they ride together, the more Myles notices the toughness and kindness beneath Delsie’s refined exterior. And though they may be worlds apart…they might just be perfect for each other. (Historical Romance from Love Inspired [Harlequin])

Northern LightThe Texan’s Engagement Agreement by Noelle Marchand — It’s been five years since Adelaide Harper broke Chris Johansen’s heart and their long-distance engagement. But when she steps off a train in Peppin, Texas, and strolls back into Chris’s life, he can’t help but panic. To avoid his parents’ plan to arrange a marriage for him, he’s let his family believe he and Adelaide are still engaged. Adelaide is facing her own troubles with a matchmaking mama and a parade of aggravating suitors. So pretending to let Chris court her could help them both. Surely after five years, there’s no need to worry their time together could reignite a long-buried love…is there? (Historical Romance from Love Inspired [Harlequin])

Northern Light by Annette O’Hare — The Yankees took her fiancé’s life, but when a wounded Union soldier washes ashore, needing her help, will she learn to love again or will hate cost him his life? (Historical Romance from White Rose Publishing [Pelican])

 

Moonlit GardenA few from authors in the general market:

Rush-Oh by Shirley Barrett (Virago) – When Mary Davidson, the eldest daughter of a whaling family in New South Wales, sets out to chronicle the particularly difficult season of 1908, the story she tells is poignant and hilarious, filled with drama and misadventure.

The House at Baker Street by Michelle Birkby (Pan) – Mrs. Hudson and Mary Watson take on a case rejected by Sherlock Holmes.

The Ironsmith by Nicholas Guild (Forge) – The behind-the-scenes political plots to kill Jesus of Nazareth, and one man’s attempt to save his life.

The Farmer’s Daughter by Mary Nichols (Allison & Busby) – A WWII Suffolk girl managing her sick father’s farm enlists the help of a German POW and they fall in love, to local disapproval.

The Moonlit Garden by Corina Bomann – A widowed antique shop worker digs into history to learn the story and secrets of a violin brought to her. As she unravels the mystery of the previous owner’s story, she comes to see her own life in a new light.

Your turn: What sounds good to you? I know several will be added to my to-read list! Share what you think about these or if you’ve heard of another new release that the rest of us might enjoy.

Happy reading!
Leigh

Book Love

Book Review: The Healer’s Apprentice

The Healer’s Apprentice, by Melanie Dickerson

Rose is a woodcutter’s daughter in 14th century Germany. Social classes have distinct divisions and expectations, but Rose has been pulled from the lowly life she experienced as a child. She’s been appointed as the apprentice to the town healer, Frau Geruscha, which means she lives on the castle grounds with a hands-on education. She struggles to conquer her uneasiness around blood and to focus on learning the healing arts instead of letting her mind wander to thoughts of Lord Hamlin, the future duke. But her mind and heart refuse to follow her orders. Every encounter with Lord Hamlin increases her respect and affection.

Rose and her friend Hildy dare to dream that Lord Hamlin might return some of Rose’s feelings. But he’s betrothed to the mysterious daughter of another duke, and has been in hiding for years. She can’t come forward to marry Lord Hamlin until he finds and destroys the evil sorcerer who cursed her.

The Healer’s Apprentice is what’s called a fairy tale retelling, because it’s loosely based on the story of Sleeping Beauty. But Dickerson weaves in enough other elements and supporting characters to keep things interesting instead of by-the-book predictable. Yes, some readers might connect the pieces before they all come together in the story, but that shouldn’t spoil the fun. The Healer’s Apprentice was a fun read for me, and I’ve heard that teenage girls especially loved it.

Look for it in your local bookstore or download the ebook version online. Then visit Melanie Dickerson’s website to learn about her other projects, including her next book The Merchant’s Daughter. It’s a retelling of Beauty and the Beast and will be available in November. I’m looking forward to reading it, too!