Novel Buffet

Am I sharing recipes for weird, unusual foods? No, preparing a buffet of appetizers from novelists who write marvelous stories. As you peruse the buffet, I hope you discover intriguing new stories and authors. It’s a joy to share a taste of them with you. [Many of these have appeared on my blog in years past. You will find a link (colored words near end of each book blurb) to the longer review if you want more than a taste. Bon appétit.]

Books are like a magic carpet ~ transporting us to realms far from our everyday.  Distant countries. Distant eras. Journeys of heroism, beauty, joy, love. Such a rich gift for pennies.  I love a tale that sweeps me away, dives deep, broadens my perspective, delights my artist heart. Here are some of the best.

KRISTY CAMBRON

Hope & Beauty ~ THE BUTTERFLY AND THE VIOLIN

A powerful story, well told … beautifully told. ‘Tis a gifted writer who can not only open a window for a reader to peer into a different world, but transport the reader there. Kristy Cambron transported me to another world ~ and I don’t feel as if I’ve quite returned yet.

On finishing the story, I closed the cover and felt strangely untethered from my hot summer home. Also bereft at leaving behind this place Cambron had so thoroughly delivered me to. Haven’t analyzed the why; not certain I want to. But I do know this tale displays our urge to create beauty, and the power of beauty to infuse hope. That message resonated with me. I suspect it will with you.

Fear. Faith. Family. A SPARROW IN TEREZIN

sparrow-in-terezin-cambronFor some people hundreds of things spark hope and joy. But for Europeans living during the 1940s, choices, safety, and reasons for optimism were shrinking.

In A Sparrow in Terezin Kristy Cambron works her alchemy of words and brings her story world to life in my living room—even more so in my mind and heart. …

Closing the cover of a Cambron book is never a complete pleasure because many months will pass before another of her tales is available.

Stunning ~ THE RINGMASTER’S WIFE

With a thorough grasp of historical research (like another favorite author, Laura Frantz), Cambron’s stories ~ the fictional saga of Colin and Rosamund and the historical lives of John and Mable Ringling ~ are perfectly interlaced. The novel is such a seamless blend, it’s impossible to dissect the two threads while reading. So superbly woven that if Cambron didn’t tell me, I’d never suspect half the novel is not based on actual people.

Reading The Ringmaster’s Wife with Cambron’s signature powerful story, lively settings, fascinating characters, and her lovely way with words is like savoring fine chocolate.

LAURA FRANTZ

A Journey through A MOONBOW NIGHT

As a reader I love a good story. One that invites turning pages quickly, chasing plot turns with characters that have captured my interest. I want be so immersed in a book that closing the cover and returning to my time and place is a shock. Laura Frantz writes stories that come alive. A venture she succeeds in every time. For a reader, that is enough to know opening A Moonbow Night will bring satisfaction.

moonbow night coverFrantz captures the unsettledness and danger of 1777, a year of much violence and bloodshed in Kentucky known as “the bloody sevens.” Indian attacks grew more common. Constant vigilance and heightened senses were required. The story shows the toll vigilance takes, and the price of being careless. And though the story is set in a turbulent era and covers many raw days, do not fear it’s a dark and overwhelming story. That all is relieved when Frantz peppers the story with beautiful observations, joyous experiences, noble deeds, glimmers of hope, as well as snatches of humor.

Frantz creates living, breathing characters. Though this is her fourth novel set in l770-1790 Kentucky, her characters are always fresh, distinct, and seem to emerge perfectly from the era. Not a retread among them.

…  I think the magic of Frantz’s writing (which in my experience is shared by only a few) is that her stories are not so much read as lived.

There can be only one ~ THE MISTRESS OF TALL ACRE

Who do you trust when the whole world has turned upside down? When you live in a new country with new loyalties, expectations, resources? When family and friends are all dead or gone? When one wrong word or glance can jeopardize your fragile hold on life?

Whether you’re a twenty-something spinster or a five-year-old motherless child ~ that world is a frightening and dangerous place. It is into just such a post-Revolutionary War period that Laura Frantz drops us.

May I introduce:  General Seamus Ogilvy ~ whose “battlefield manners often follow him into the parlor.”

THE BALLANTYNE LEGACY series

Secrets, lies, and mistrust create a dark backdrop against which Frantz’s characters shimmer. And as if a good story well-told wasn’t enough, Frantz drops gem-like epigrams throughout which intrigue you or tickle your funny bone.

Breath-taking ~ LOVE’S RECKONING

Very possibly my favorite hero! (At least 1 of top 2.) Astonishing how real this story became to me.

Sensory Jewel ~ LOVE’S AWAKENING (book 2)

Clash of the titans aptly describes the atmosphere as you open Love’s Awakening. Oh, love is in the title and in the novel ~~ but the story is much more than a love story. It’s drama, adventure, intrigue, mystery, and history-come-alive when Ellie of the powerful, wealthy, and abolition-leaning Ballantyne clan encounters children of the slave-holding, whiskey magnate, Henry Turlock.

More than the sum of well-done craft elements, this is a book I thoroughly enjoyed escaping into. I’d love to see it made into a movie.

Adventure Calls ~ LOVE’S FORTUNE (book 3)

For the rest of his life James Sackett would remember this moment.”

What about this moment is special? And who could resist turning the page after reading such a line?

Whatever makes a good novel for you ~ high-stakes action, compelling characters, a setting that takes you someplace new ~ you’ll find it between the covers of Love’s Fortune. Frantz is skilled at the elements of writing good fiction—vivid characters, rich setting, taut plot lines. And also using the subtlety, red herrings, and misdirection of engrossing mysteries.

But there is more, much more.  Some authors (and Frantz is one) have a way of weaving simple words, sentences, and paragraphs into a glittering jewel that is more than the sum of its parts. She transforms these elements into a tale that Narnia-like captures and carries us to a satisfying journey.  Love’s Fortune is a tale that unfurls at times with the grit and scrape of a coil of hemp rope, at others with the caress and shimmery mystery of a spool of moiré ribbon. A tale that kept me reading until the dawn broke.

[Note:  having read all but one of Laura Frantz’s novels (most more than once), I recommend them without hesitation.]

DAVIS BUNN

THE TURNING  ~   Bunn presents a story which is paradoxically as familiar as age-old fairy tales yet as astonishing as tomorrow’s news.

The power of one person ~ UNLIMITED

Illustrating a person’s unlimited potential when relying on a limitless God demands hopeless circumstances. And Bunn delivers.  The setting—a dusty, Mexican border town—is so clear that reading the book during a  heat wave was sometimes uncomfortably real. The characters are also realistic. Currently breathing in my home, they’ve been invited to stay.

Though I don’t typically enjoy desert settings, this novel grabbed me and carried me along. Unlimited is another in a long line of Bunn’s satisfying reads and I highly recommend it.

MARC ROYCE series

Tested loyalty, courage, and faith, a five-star series ~ LION OF BABYLON (book 1), RARE EARTH (book 2), STRAIT OF HORMUZ (book 3)

With an economy of words and profusion of images, Strait of Hormuz  is a story seemingly ripped from today’s news. American Marc Royce has been sent on a clandestine intelligence operation that takes him to Switzerland, then across Europe into the Middle East, without backup. Or even a gun.

Might just give you chills on a hot summer day ~ BOOK OF DREAMS & HIDDEN IN DREAMS

This 2-book series of Bunn’s is an intriguing tale that seems simultaneously drawn from today’s newspaper headlines and Old Testament prophecy. You’ll follow plot twists, but still won’t see the ending coming.

C. J. MILBRANDT

MeadowsweetIn the vein of Chronicles of Narnia ~ GALLERIES OF STONE series

Statues on the legendary Moonlit Mountain have a life of their own.

MEADOWSWEET – book 1, HARROW – book 2, RAKEFANG – book 3

Milbrandt weaves a marvelously creative, whimsical world where mountains have moods and some people can discern those moods, even hear the mountain. Where mountains have keepers to protect their hearts. And stone statues can be woken. This is a tale brimming with love, loyalty, and delight ~ where every person and thing is valuable.

Chocked full of fun, mystery, and life lessons, the Galleries of Stone series are be labeled YA, but they’re family-friendly stories along the line of C.S. Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia, and are equally good for reading by any age, aloud to little ones, or as a family. Milbrandt is a master craftsman whose books overflow with creativity, heroism, love, and joy. I recommend this series to all who want more light and joy in their day.

JULIE KLASSEN

Captivating ~ THE TUTOR’S DAUGHTER

THE TUTOR'S DAUGHTER coverSurely in her Minnesota hometown, Julie Klassen must spend time fishing ~ for in The Tutor’s Daughter she set the hook on page one and steadily reeled me deeper as the story unfurled. [Though, truly I was captured by the cover first.  Isn’t it a delight?]

From the time the Smallwoods enter Cornwall, the story’s twists continually ramp up the mystery ~ it seems everyone there harbors secrets. I savored every bit of description. Klassen uses the setting with great skill not only to draw the reader in but to advance the plot ~ always a nice touch.

High stakes ~ LADY MAYBE

Having read at least a half-dozen of Julie Klassen’s books, I am a fan. Lady Maybe is full of the high-quality writing with interesting characters and the rich historical setting Klassen does so well. The story is gripping from its creative and compelling inciting incident. The powerful consequences and possible losses that could result from each choice the heroine faces kept me eager to continue reading. Klassen is a gifted storyteller.

I think Lady Maybe fell a tad short in one aspect—the romantic plot thread. The content was more sexually-oriented than others by Klassen. Also, the heroine waffled between love interests without clear motivation, leaving me with no particular hero to root for. (I wondered if the marked difference between this novel and other Klassen novels is the result of the new publisher.)

SUSAN MEISSNER

Everything about Meissner’s work is rich ~ A FALL OF MARIGOLDS

Reading Meissner’s captivating story of either Taryn or Clara, women buckled by tragedy and strengthened by love, would be a day well-spent. Meissner, however, weaves their stories together, doubling our enjoyment of the gripping journey. Each woman endures an infamous event and recoils from the pain of living. We accompany them as circumstances force them to discover how to peel off their armor like bandages from a burn and let their tender selves face life again.

PEPPER BASHAM

PENNED IN TIME series

An energetic story ~ THE THORN BEARER (book 1)

Basham braids her story around the taut theme of broken people needing to give and receive forgiveness. She excels in hinting at feelings not shown and things left unsaid, giving readers a dance of communication with exquisitely veiled dialogue that allows much opportunity for misunderstanding. This occurs amidst a fast-flowing stream of situations that shuffle the characters and their futures.

SANDY SNAVELY

 Intriguing views through ELLIE’S WINDOW

An engaging book with a creative smörgåsbord of characters, themes, and perspectives. … It expands the realm of possibilities for our consideration. A gift on every level.

OPERATION FIRST NOVEL CONTEST WINNERS ~

THE CALLING OF ELLA McFARLAND, Linda Brooks Davis     Davis spins a good yearn and draws vivid characters with perfectly chosen details.

SNOW OUT OF SEASON, Christy Brunke     That title intrigues me. “Out of season” always means something is awry. … I appreciate believable characters, evocative settings, intriguing storylines, lovely writing, spot-on symbolism, crackling dialog with a dash of charm and humor.

DOUBLE HEADER, Clarice James    The author draws characters with plenty of quirks and finds fresh ways to describe them. Her writing skill and witty style make the  reader’s journey a delight.

And on a 2nd buffet table ~ Many book review posts were lost in a massive tech glitch on my website. Not wanting to slight some favorite authors and great books, I’m including some notes below from reviews I’ve done on other websites so they may be missing links to the longer versions.

LIZ CURTIS HIGGS

In this 2-volume set, we walk with the Kerr family through the dark and dangerous times of the Jacobite Rising in Scotland, 1745 and find God’s love dazzles like a diamond against a jeweler’s black velvet. I look for a novel to carry me away. This series succeeded magnificently, and I could not recommend it more highly!

HERE BURNS MY CANDLE (book 1)

Here Burns my Candle coverThis story didn’t just unfold. It crept into my mind and heart like the chill creeps under Elisabeth’s wool cape. I walked the bustling High Street. Smelled lavender and hay. Heard the rustling sigh of silk skirts, the clip-clop of horses on cobblestones, and cannons boom from Edinburgh Castle. I felt the chill mist on my face, the icy mornings when coal was scarce, and the cold scorn heaped upon the family as allegiances shifted like sand.

Some reviewers said the story grows slowly. Perhaps the action could have been conveyed in two-thirds the length ~ but ah, the experience could not. I believe the pace allows me to accompany the characters as they encounter challenges that induce gradual change in their perceptions, expectations, and reactions, and that is precisely why the story draws me in so thoroughly.

MINE IS THE NIGHT (book 2)

Elizabeth and Marjory are two women who may have lost their titles but not their nobility of character. As they make their way in this new world, the neighbors and challenges they meet provide no end of excitement.

In typical fashion, Higgs creates characters I love to spend time with, places them in a drama as filled with wrinkles as calico stuffed in my quilt-scraps bag, and plants them in a setting so richly drawn that I feel the dew and the odd sensation of drinking from a wooden cup. I soak up the colors of the evening sky.

Finishing the book, I feel as if I’ve just returned from a memorable trip–and long to return. So I do. I leisurely wend my way through the story in Selkirkshire and visit the dear companions residing there on my second read in as many weeks.

Grab your boots; it’s snowing!  ~ A WREATH OF SNOW

As usual, Liz doesn’t just tell us a story, she draws us into it, deftly weaving this tale so there’s no escaping accompanying the characters on their journey. In snowbound Stirling, Scotland, we feel the need of a scarf and dry shoes, a loved one’s smile, a ray of hope–and a desire to run away.

When Meg Campbell, her family, and Gordon Shaw are snowed into a town that seems to hold nothing but painful reminders, we feel along with them the suffocation of burdens not meant to be borne. And we celebrate when they confront their deepest secrets, shames, and fears, and then experience God’s wonderful way of using everything to further his purposes and to give light to those trapped in emotional prisons.

With a lovely drawing of the Stirling Railway Station, Liz’s notes and book club questions, snippets of poetry, AND a recipe for yummy shortbread, this is a charming story which I highly recommend whether you love Scotland or not–which I thoroughly do.

[Just a note without reviews: I’ve read all of Higgs’ novels and they are all 5-star reads, captivating and thoroughly enjoyable. I don’t believe there’s one that I haven’t read at least twice.]

ANGELA HUNT

LET DARKNESS COME

Angela Hunt’s tagline is “Expect the unexpected.” I do, yet she continues to surprise me. This taut, intriguing mystery is no exception. Hunt’s understated prose draws the reader into Briley’s, Erin’s, and Antonio’s world–then tilts it, inviting news perspectives, allowing new insights. The story unfurls with masterful precision, early clues barely breathed into the story with such subtlety Sherlock Holmes would have difficulty catching them. An exceptional read.  [Another author who writes consistently excellent and intriguing novels. I haven’t read every one, but many; and never hesitate to recommend them.]

NANCY RUE

SULLIVAN CRISP series ~ with Steve Arterburn

I also recommend HEALING STONES (book 1) and HEALING WATERS (book 2) but haven’t written reviews.

HEALING SANDS (book 3) ~ a powerful tapestry woven of drama and mystery, shot through with sparkling threads of humor and poetry. This compelling story grabbed me and held me until the wee hours of the morning with laugh-out-loud and take-my-breath-away moments. Arterburn and Rue’s writing reveals nuanced characters in compelling situations in settings that shimmer in their clarity. You’ll blink sand from your eyes and take new perspectives with you when you close the cover. I will read this book again–and highly recommend it.

SALLY JOHN

Intricately woven, achingly real, story within a story, intriguing, satisfying ~ RANSOMED DREAMS

From the first sentence I was carried away into Sheridan Montgomery’s world as surely as Wendy Darling entered Neverland. And leaving was every bit as difficult. The journey with the characters led to a powerful ending with life-altering shifts in perspective.

Whether you wish an armchair (or beach towel) vacation, or a thought-provoking journey to new insights, Ransomed Dreams satisfies. [Another superb author who doesn’t disappoint. I believe I’ve read every novel she’s written, some more than once. Highly recommend them all.]

JOANNE BISCHOF

THE CADENCE OF GRACE series

Bischof spins tales that draw you in through clearly drawn characters who face obstacles that shake them to the core, leaving them with barely enough strength to take another breath.

BE STILL MY SOUL – book 1, THOUGH MY HEART IS TORN – book 2, MY HOPE IS FOUND – book 3

Gideon O’Riley has two wives—but he doesn’t know it.

Reading that, how can you help but be drawn in? We want to know: How is that possible? And when we discover that, we wonder how you continue moving through life when every person you love and rely on is ripped from you. Though My Heart is Torn is a powerful story of perseverance under testing.

[I heartily recommend books 1 & 2. Somehow I missed book 3! For shame.]

Kristy Cambron’s Stunning THE RINGMASTER’S WIFE

ringmaster_final-cover_nov-11In The Ringmaster’s Wife, Kristy Cambron takes us deep into the rapidly-changing 1920s with young ladies Mable and Lady Rosamund as they carve out lives of their own choosing, following their own dreams.

Cambron’s characters, both fictional historical, are totally believable and engaging. They’re delightfully flawed yet with redeeming aspects that make them endearing. A few times as decisions were made, I wanted to yell, “No! Don’t do that.” And while I was certain danger or heartache lay in that direction, each decision was consistent for that character.

MANOR HOUSE - perhaps ATHOLL fr Paula cr br summerWhether the reserved air of an English nobleman’s estate or the flamboyant life of the circus, Cambron creates a story world that sizzles with life. She has an uncanny ability to choose a golden-nugget detail that conveys the essence of a character, a place, a time. Each line brims with insight into both observer and observed. For example:

“Rosamund watched her mother’s transformation … showering compliments. Dripping with charm. Why her very words could have slithered through piles of sugar.”

CASTLE sitting room-museum frPaula cr Have we any doubt how Rosamund and her mother relate?

“He stood tall, owning his spot by the hearth with a devil-may-care ease unusual for a drawing room in Yorkshire.”

Or that the shocking new visitor captures Rose’s attention?

Scenes and settings come alive in the theater of our minds:

“Mable … walked through the halls of a sanitarium, trying to angle stiff crinolines and yards of lace around the metal wheels of hospital beds positioned as fabric traps …”

Cà d'Zan, Mable & John Ringling's home on Sarasota Bay in Florida.

Cà d’Zan, Mable & John Ringling’s home on Sarasota Bay in Florida.

With a thorough grasp of historical research (like another favorite author, Laura Frantz), Cambron’s stories ~ the fictional saga of Colin and Rosamund and the historical lives of John and Mable Ringling ~ are perfectly interlaced. The novel is such a seamless blend, it’s impossible to dissect the two threads while reading. So superbly woven that if Cambron didn’t tell me, I’d never suspect that half of the novel is not based on actual people. *

Because the two women around whom the story builds are 25 years apart in age, the story unfolds in chapters that jump back and forth in time. While each transition is marked with a date/location slug, I still found following the story a bit difficult. At times I had to return to the previous chapter in order to map out the relationship of the new action with the previous. A minor frustration in a story that captivated me. I cared about what happened in each person’s journey. And I will take great pleasure in re-reading The Ringmaster’s Wife with Cambron’s signature powerful story, lively settings, and fascinating characters. And her lovely way with words.

“Allowing … the clippings, one by one, to float out across the surface of the water. Every one of them danced.… Photos of Steinway pianos. Drawings of pink roses. Catalog pictures of fashion models … all disappeared in the blackness of the sea. It was a ticker-tape parade of forgotten dreams.”

Ahh …  Re-reading this is like savoring the finest chocolate.

* Cà d’Zan photo, courtesy of By Fred Hsu  https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=57645633

A Journey through A MOONBOW NIGHT by Laura Frantz

MOONBow woods cr-BACKGROUND LOCATION - Woods450 COPYWhew. What a journey. I just returned from an arduous trek, blazing a trail thru untamed mountain wilderness of Kentucky. The doctors and lawmen back in Virginia could not help us with catastrophes there. But we enjoyed gifts along the way ~ like when lush moonlight “silvered  the woods and river.” And the “hallowed, heavenly magic … a star shower.” The moonbow rose from the mist of the falls, spanning the river, bands of white streaked with red and indigo and pale green, “vivid against the froth of the falls.”

 

 

GREEN VEIL OVIBut the journey was long. Through springtime teasing with warm breeze but dumping snow at night, “the cold polishing every rock and speck of grass like barley sugar.” Summer with its veil of green protecting us but also hiding danger. And heated “air shimmering like a cast-iron skillet.” Autumn with its canopy of color, treacherous when wet and fallen.

MOONBOW copy-SNOWY EVERGREEN TREE -crop - half Cmkm colorI ache with the walking and carrying supplies. My mind and senses cannot rest after months of being alert to any subtle change. Getting lazy in observing allows death to strike. I wonder if I will ever settle, not react to every slight sound. Every variance of breeze or temperature or color of the sky …

 

But wait. As I rouse, a book slips from my fingers and I sit in my own room. I glance around. Gradually senses adapt as I drift out of story-world reality of A MOONBOW NIGHT and into my 21st-century home.

moonbow night cover

As a reader I love a good story. One that invites turning pages quickly, chasing plot turns with characters that have captured my interest. I want be so immersed in a book that closing the cover and returning to my time and place is a shock. Laura Frantz writes stories that come alive. A venture she succeeds in every time. For a reader, that is enough to know opening A MOONBOW NIGHT will bring satisfaction.

Frantz creates living, breathing characters. Though this is her fourth novel set in l770-1790 Kentucky, her characters are always fresh, distinct, and seem to emerge perfectly from the era. Not a retread among them.

She places these characters in a time of keeping delicate balances. Frontier living was living on a knife’s edge. Survival was tentative at best. The times demanded one be constantly alert and correctly interpret even the most subtle of things around them. A rapidly-hidden glance. A slight weather shift. A near-indiscernible sound. A barely-there hint of something out of order—a fallen leaf out of season, birdsong gone silent, hoof print with no shoe… Missing natural or human clues left one vulnerable. Death could be sudden—in a rockfall, a storm, gunshot, snakebite. 

Trkee river

Much of MOONBOW unfurls as Tempe Tucker or Sion Morgan (with various companions) travel. Sometimes they trek familiar, narrow paths; other times unfamiliar territory, be it tough terrain, rough rivers, forests lost in fog or laced with enemies. Many miles are walked, then backtracked. Yet throughout Frantz keeps the action moving in a setting that some might see as an endless slate of green and wood to forge through. Not once does she revert to lazy repetition.

MOONBOW Yosemite - falls close up brtWith her extraordinary observation and writing skill, every turn of trail and fortune unfolds in a vividly-drawn setting. Much like inhabitants of extreme northern climes have a vast number of words for snow, Frantz finds a seemingly infinite variety of sights, sounds, and senses within which to place the action. No cookie-cutter travelogue descriptions here. Rather, an endless diversity of vegetation impedes progress or provides food, fuel, or healing agents as the characters move thru the forest. A variety of sounds soothe … or frighten, an array of sights assist in navigating the journey … or stirring emotions.

An example is when Tempe recalls first traveling to Kentucky. Weeks upon weeks amid a long, snaking column of people and animals, eating cornbread and meat that tasted of wood smoke and ashes, clothes full of briars and burrs. Then one night she was lost in a sunset, “a blaze of red and gold, the sky pretty as a party dress.”

God is Present Sunset cprt color - MOONBow copy

The germ of the story is a little-publicized event in the life of Daniel Boone. Frantz says learning about it as a child impacted her greatly. Around that incident, she’s woven a plot as filled with twists and turns as paths early surveyors had to travel through the wilderness. Sion, Tempe, and her family~indeed all the secondary characters spring to life so authentically connected to the era and location that MOONBOW seems a tale of history told, not a novel spun from Frantz’s imagination. Even knowing beforehand that part of the story was fact-based, as I read I could not find the line between fact and fiction.

Frantz’s diction is another area where she displays her skill and her readers benefit tremendously. Her language is fresh, evocative, sensory, and captures the dialect of the times.

LIFE is chancy posterShe also captures the unsettledness and danger of 1777, a year of much violence and bloodshed in Kentucky known as “the bloody sevens.” Indian attacks grew more common. Constant vigilance and heightened senses were required. The story shows the toll vigilance takes, and the price of being careless.

Fog in valleyTempe, as expert as any professional guide, regularly finds solace from the past that haunts her by wandering through the woods. But now fewer patrons stop at their inn, and fog settles in. “The lull unsettled her. She didn’t dare venture far with the fog. It seemed to take the land captive whilst scrambling her usually sound sense of direction. Without the sun or North Star as her guide, she felt adrift.”  [p 65]

MOONBOW - blossom“Tempe was struck right then by how chancy life was. Like a spider’s web or an eggshell or a butterfly’s wing. Their world seemed made of little losses. She was always having to say goodbye, part with something. A brilliant sunset. A blossom. A sweet feeling.”  [p 182]

And again as Tempe trekked toward a favorite place:

MOONBOW - tree-massive“A hymn stirred in her spirit. Her mouth opened, then shut. She sensed the meadow wasn’t entirely hers … she felt a cloudiness. Not fear, just a foreboding, a heightening tension. She stepped behind a chestnut, its bulk broad as two men.

Raven.

He crossed the clearing, moving with an easy grace, gaze turned toward her as if telling her she was plain as a parakeet with its noisy chatter and brilliant plumage. She looked down at her showy skirt, dyed pumpkin orange … Half Chickamauga Cherokee, Raven seemed rootless, restless, living between two worlds, never quite at home in either. Whenever she saw him he was on the move, usually on the Warrior’s Path. But today he was in this very meadow, near her beloved Fairy Rock.

She felt … wronged.

Chafing … she stepped from behind the tree as if to banish any territorial thoughts. This was Indian ground be it anyone’s. She had no special claim … ‘Twas more Raven’s than hers.”  [p 70]

SCOTs AZALEA or rhod - MOONBOWThough the story is set in a turbulent, violent era, and covers many raw, tough days, do not fear it’s a dark and overwhelming story. That all is relieved when Frantz peppers the story with beautiful observations, joyous experiences, noble deeds, glimmers of hope, as well as snatches of humor. In this example Tempe, concerned by the reserve between her brother Russell and her friend (clearly smitten with him) decides to intervene.

“Mama, maybe it’s time to give Russell a talking to.”

[Her mother’s] dark brows arched. “What for?”

“Don’t you want some grandchildren?”

“I’d like a wedding first.”  [p 95]

Laura Frantz’s skill as a story-teller astonishes me. A MOONBOW NIGHT is filled with accurate historical detail, intricately woven, and beautiful. As a writer, I re-read her novels as a master class on technique. Though I must say studying them to explain details of writing craft feels like an intrusive act that violates their integrity and beauty, much like dissecting a delicate flower or pinning a lovely butterfly.

Thorough research is another of Frantz’s hallmarks. I could fill a page listing the areas she has mastered to give us the verisimilitude in this story—history, tracking, Indian languages, plant/animal knowledge, food preservation, weapons, to name only a few. All that plus her keen observational skills, and familiarity with and love of the region combine to create a world so immediate that a reader cannot help but inhabit it. You will find yourself holding your breath, the hair on the back of your neck tingling as you sense, without knowing why, impending doom. And relief will make your legs go weak when help arrives.

I think the magic of Frantz’s writing (which in my experience is shared by only a few) is that her stories are not so much read as lived.

 Visit with Laura on her blog or Facebook or Pinterest. She’ll be thrilled to meet you.

There can be only one Mistress of Tall Acre

In The Mistress of Tall Acre, Laura Frantz has shared a marvelous story with us. (And at the end of this review, she also shares a tidbit from her unusual writing regimen.)

from The Declaration of Independence

from The Declaration of Independence

 

Who do you trust when the whole world has turned upside down? When you live in a new country with new loyalties, expectations, resources? When family and friends are all dead or gone? When one wrong word or glance can jeopardize your fragile hold on life?

Whether you’re a twenty-something spinster or a five-year-old motherless child ~ that world is a frightening and dangerous place. It is into just such a post-Revolutionary War period that Laura Frantz drops us in MISTRESS OF TALL ACRE.

MOTA-Never Forget LILY CATEMay I introduce:  General Seamus Ogilvy~ whose “battlefield manners often follow him into the parlor.”

His daughter, Lily Cate ~ a motherless five-year-old with no remembrance of her father or the loving words he whispered over her on the day of her birth.

And Sophie Menzies ~ young woman, neighbor to Lily Cate and General Ogilvy, who is presently without family. Some have perished. Others, loyal to England, fled America. And a brother remains mysteriously unaccounted for despite the war’s end.

A HERO - if only she knew QuoteFrantz is a masterful storyteller. THE MISTRESS OF TALL ACRE is a rich tale that abounds in surprising plot twists, powerful character and setting depictions, and perfectly on point historical details. We ache with these people whose hearts call out for something … someone … that no longer exists. Navigating their losses and the changes required by new allegiances and cultural expectations is precarious. Finances, health, peace, even their very lives are at risk.

 

With her usual flair, Frantz creates a rich story world that seems to leap off the page and unfold before readers like a play in their own living rooms. Aye, so real that as I read, I often felt the bone-deep chill of rooms with hearths bereft of logs.

 

 

We shiver at the haunted cries that slice the night. Hold our breath as we hear the crunch of footsteps on the crushed shell pathway. We startle at the crash of pottery breaking in the next room. Oh, sleep will not come this night.

 

We feel their fear, their hunger pangs. And panic at the sound of thundering hoof beats that threaten to carry away all that is familiar and beloved.

 

by Rebecca Graham

by Rebecca Graham

But this is not only a bleak world. Frantz warms it with beauty, rich sensory details, and tender acts of devotion. You might smell the warm scones with peach preserves, enjoy the lilting brogue of a recent immigrant, or be comforted by the soft songs from the slave quarters.

 

The Thorn - child's face

 

Frantz displays a talent for developing delightful, innocent characters who add marvelous depth and flashes of pure joy. Who could not ache to hug a winsome, motherless child who tells her father he works so hard that surely his brain must be crowded? Then she asks, “Is there room for me?”

 

And Frantz’s skill at character development helps us clearly see the world through their  eyes and adds another layer of depth to the story. Of all the ways she could have described an overcast sky, she chose the manner that only a military man would ~ “Clouds … stacked like cannonballs on the horizon, threatening rain.” [pg 84]

Or this ~ “Williamsburg in its heyday was something Seamus carried around in his head like a map, reluctant to roll it up and let it go.” Who thinks of describing a person’s connection to a city in such a way? A masterful storyteller.

 

Mistress of Tall Acre coverI’m not typically a big reader of the “romance” genre. And I do love history brought to life. THE MISTRESS OF TALL ACRE, while labeled “Historical Romance,” is actually more a drama whose characters live during a particular time and deal with the challenges that era forces on them.This year our travel to The Sierra Nevada mountains was cancelled. So I indulged in imaginary time travel. Laura Frantz’s THE MISTRESS OF TALL ACRE carried me back to 1783 Virginia. Now, whether I jumped into the story, or if the words reached out from the page drew me in ~ that is still unclear. But I was captured by Frantz’s superb story. And it is now back in my “to be read” pile. Despite the large stack, I can scarcely wait to read this engaging, compelling story again.

Now, an insider bit from Laura. She writes her novels by hand, pen and paper as did Jane Austen. In this day of tech tapping, I think that’s astonishing ! Laura Frantz ~ Writing Chair on Mull

And here she shares a photo of the chair at a bed and breakfast on the Isle of Mull where this story was birthed. Doesn’t it look cozy?

I wonder if the sensory act of writing rather than typing helps Frantz craft such evocative and full stories. I suggest ~ read this book! (I’d offer a giveaway, but you wouldn’t want my copy anyway~marked up as it is. :-)  )

Visit Laura at her website. And visit her Pinterest board to see her vision of the characters and setting. Lovely. .

Adventure Calls – Love’s Fortune by Laura Frantz

So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover. [Mark Twain as quoted in Love’s Fortune]

Ah, an adventure awaits.

For the rest of his life James Sackett would remember this moment.”

What about this moment is special?

Who could resist turning the page after reading such a line?  

Papa had forsaken his black mourning band.”

Oh my, what does that portend for young Wren?

Laura Frantz opens the door—just a sliver—into a world unfamiliar to us and then quickly plunges us into the culture shock Wren faces in tumultuous mid-nineteenth century America.

There Frantz’s cast of varied and strongly-motivated characters face dilemmas aplenty as they navigate through treacherous steamboat travel, slavery debates, and debut seasons. They are so richly presented, I can almost see with Wren the river made golden at sunset, inhale the mingled fragrance of cut wood and varnish, ache with James at the tough choices, feel the chilly condescension when Andra or Elspeth enter a room.

Frantz’s deft hand and thorough research bring alive the steamboat travel along the Ohio River, the cramped streets and luxurious upper crust homes of Pittsburgh. Did you know that before a wedding, Pittsburgh society brides had to be wrapped in a sheet to keep their gowns from getting sooty? Or that tobacco and molasses were shipped in a hogshead? (Not as gross as it sounds, a hogshead is a size of barrel.) Or that each steamboat had a distinctive whistle allowing folks on shore to know which boat was arriving? (Clever and extremely helpful in those days before cell phones.)

The hundreds of specific details Frantz includes make history come alive, and the setting so real you can feel the fresh air and freedom as Wren runs barefoot across the Kentucky hills. Along with Wren, I smile watching glamorous couples dance beneath the glittering lights of the ballroom and feel every pinch of high society’s conventions and corsets. I could easily slip into the music room and sway to the melody and eavesdrop in a hallway or on a garden stroll. The world Wren Ballantyne enters is so real, we step in right along with her—wishing at times she could hear our whisper,..

… “This way, Wren.” Or, “Don’t listen to the scoundrel’s slick words.” Or, “This is a person you can trust. That one? Most certainly is not.”

Frantz’s prose is rich and sings like the music Wren makes with her fiddle. She creates a world that throbs with life, filled with joy and sorrow, pride and shame, struggle and celebration, conflict and triumph. And story threads, like a spring, are wound tighter with each chapter. Speaking of chapters, Frantz goes to the extra trouble of selecting an epigraph to introduce each one~~small gems in themselves. A gift, indeed.

Do you remember those old-fashioned children’s pop-up books where, as you turn pages, a cardboard scene rises out of the book? Laura Frantz’s writing does that—it makes a 2-dimensional world 3-D.

So whatever makes a good novel for you~~high-stakes action, compelling characters, or a setting that takes you someplace new~~you will find it between the covers of Love’s Fortune. Frantz is skilled at the elements of writing good fiction—vivid characters, rich setting, taut plot lines. And also using the subtlety, red herrings, and misdirection of engrossing mysteries.  

But there is more, much more. Some authors have a way of weaving simple words, sentences, and paragraphs into a glittering jewel that is more than the sum of its parts. Laura Frantz is one of those, and we readers are the beneficiaries of her alchemy-like ability to transform these elements into a tale that Narnia-like captures and carries us into a satisfying journey. Love’s Fortune is a tale that unfurls at times with the grit and scrape of a coil of hemp rope, at others with the caress and shimmery mystery of a spool of moire ribbon. A tale that kept me reading until the dawn broke.  

Oops, need to give you a brief plot insight. Here’s the back cover copy:   Sheltered since birth at her Kentucky home, Rowena “Wren” Ballantyne has heard only whispered rumors of her grandfather Silas’s vast fortune and grand manor in Pennsylvania. When her father receives a rare letter summoning him to New Hope, Wren makes the journey with him and quickly finds herself in a whole new world–filled with family members she’s never met, dances she’s never learned, and a new side to the father she thought she knew. As she struggles to fit in during their extended stay, she finds a friend in James Sackett, the most valued steamship pilot of the Ballantynes’ shipping line. Even with his help, Wren feels she may never be comfortable in high society. Will she go her own way . . . to her peril?

With her signature attention to historical detail, Laura Frantz brings 1850s Pennsylvania alive with a tender story of loss, love, and loyalty.” 

You can learn about Laura’s other books and why she loves writing about Kentucky at her website: www.laurafrantz.net