BOOK REVIEW: ‘Playing by Heart’ Carmela Martino

bf6a14_411c0964ef724b8c815c9fffceea37fd-mv2_d_1400_2100_s_2Synopsis:

She could compose anything . . . except the life she wanted.

 

Emilia Salvini dreams of marrying a man who loves music as much as she does. But in 18th-century Milan, her position as “second sister” means she’ll likely be sent off to a convent instead. Ironically, Emilia’s pious older sister, Maria, would gladly become a nun. But Father won’t allow it—her brilliant language skills are too important to his quest for noble status. Emilia’s only hope to avoid the convent is to prove that her musical talents are as indispensable as Maria’s skills. First, Emilia must earn the respect of the music tutor who has always disdained her, simply for being a girl. But before Emilia can carry out her plan, Mamma, her greatest supporter, dies in childbirth.

In her sorrow, Emilia composes a heartrending sonata that causes the maestro to finally recognize her talent. He begins teaching her music theory alongside handsome violinist Antonio Bellini, the great-nephew of a wealthy marquis. The two begin as rivals, but making music together gradually melds their hearts. When Antonio abruptly quits their lessons, Emilia assumes it’s because her family isn’t nobility. More determined than ever to help Father acquire a title, she dedicates a set of compositions to Archduchess Maria Teresa. The archduchess is so impressed that she helps Father become a count. Having finally won Father’s favor, Emilia expects she’ll now be betrothed to Antonio. But the repercussions of her family’s new status threaten not only her dreams, but her sister’s very life.

 

This was a really lovely historical romance for teen readers—and indeed, I think adults would enjoy it as well. The characters were nicely drawn, and realistic, and the plot worked well. Faith was present in the characters’ lives and actions, without being preachy or ‘in your face’ (yey!).

One of the things I most enjoyed was how vividly and convincingly Martino drew the historical period. I especially appreciated the lack of the politically correct anachronisms that you find shoe-horned into so many historicals nowadays. For example, the young women in the story accept that their fathers will be the ones to decide who they marry, and whilst they work in such ways as they can to influence their fathers’ choices, there’s no twentieth century railing against the injustice of their predicament. Unjust, it certainly is, but they would not, then, have perceived it so—it was a fact of life—and it is refreshing that Martino presents things like this authentically.

Many of the descriptions are beautiful, as well, such as, ‘I heard music everywhere—in the whispering of the wind and the rustling of the trees.’ I also very much enjoyed the information at the end about the real life sisters that inspired the novel.

I will say that the synopsis did mislead me into expecting that something dramatic—in the ‘action’ sense of the word, would transpire later in the book, but by the time I actually reached the end, this misunderstanding had been cleared up, so it had no impact on my enjoyment and simply provided a good hook for part of the novel!

My one real (but extremely minor) niggle would be that the ending seemed very abrupt, and when the novel ended (trying to express this without spoilers!) characters were acting as though something was definite, that was in fact not definite, and which could quite easily have been completely altered by the occurrence of a far from unlikely event. Maybe I am just a paranoid pessimist, but I certainly felt that if I were any one of the characters, there is no way I would be assuming all was settled at that moment in time. It is possible that we were supposed to assume all would go as planned on the basis of a particular dream someone had had, but all the same, I would have at least liked an Epilogue, even just one paragraph, to confirm what actually did transpire.

A minor niggle, though, and I certainly look forward to reading other books by this author.

 

[I received a free copy of this novel in exchange for an honest review. The author is a fellow member of ‘Catholic Teen Books’.]

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SALE ALERT: ‘The Other Side of Freedom’ by Cynthia T. Toney

TOSOF front cover FINALWhen the reward is the most costly sacrifice of all…

This isn’t actually a review since I haven’t read the book yet, but it’s written by a fellow ‘Catholic Teen Books’ author, it looks awesome, and it’s high on my to-read list so seeing that it’s currently on sale until Saturday, I thought I’d let you know about it!

 

Blurb:

In a U.S. southern farming community in 1925, thirteen-year-old Salvatore and his Italian immigrant father become involved against their will in a crime that results in the murder of an innocent man and family friend. Will Sal keep the secrets about that night as his father asks, or risk everything he and his family cherish in their new homeland, including their lives? 

Amidst bigotry, bootlegging, police corruption, and gangland threats, Sal must discover whom he can trust in order to protect himself and his family and win back his father’s freedom. Sal’s family, their African-American farmhand, and the girl who is Sal’s best friend find their lives forever changed as dreams are shattered and attitudes challenged in a small community called Freedom.

 

Cynthia writes for preteens and teens because she wants them to know how wonderful, powerful, and valuable they are. The Other Side of Freedom is her first historical novel. She is also the author of the Bird Face series, a contemporary series for girls.

Inspiration for Ms. Toney’s novel came from her own ancestry.

“Possibly orphaned but definitely impoverished, one of my great-grandfathers journeyed from Sicily to America as a young boy with a family not his own, and he grew up with their children. He established the strawberry farm that inspired the setting for this novel.”

Written for ages 10 to 17, but with appeal for adult readers, The Other Side of Freedom lends itself to discussions on immigration, segregation, Prohibition, and numerous other topics. The book includes thought-provoking questions for classrooms and book clubs.

 

The Other Side of Freedom releases October 9, 2017 in both paperback and e-book versions through major online book retailers.

 

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BOOK REVIEW: ‘The King’s Prey’ by Susan Peek

35075872Synopsis:

An insane king. His fleeing daughter. Estranged brothers, with a scarred past, risking everything to save her from a fate worse than death. Toss in a holy priest and a lovable wolfhound, and get ready for a wild race across Ireland. Will Dymphna escape her deranged father and his sinful desires? 

For the first time ever, the story of Saint Dymphna is brought to life in this dramatic novel for adults and older teens. With raw adventure, gripping action, and even humor in the midst of dark mental turmoil, Susan Peek’s newest novel will introduce you to a saint you will love forever! Teenage girls will see that Dymphna was just like them, a real girl, while young men will thrill at the heart-stopping danger and meet heroes they can easily relate to. If ever a Heavenly friend was needed in these times of widespread depression and emotional instability, this forgotten Irish saint is it!

I recently read (and reviewed) Peek’s ‘Crusader King’ and loved it, so I was delighted to receive a review copy of her new book, ‘The King’s Prey’. ‘The King’s Prey’ tells the story of little-known Saint Dymphna of Ireland, patron saint of those with mental illness. I hadn’t really heard of this saint before reading and I deliberately didn’t find out about her, so I read the entire novel not knowing whether she was a confessor, a martyr, a hermit, or what—which hugely added to the suspense of the story, so if you don’t know anything about her, don’t go and look her up, just buy ‘The King’s Prey’! It’s all the introduction you could need!

Although there was the odd hint of plot convenience here and there (characters making stupid-but-convenient decisions being the chief offenders) I could not put this book down. Peek interweaves what is actually known about St Dymphna (Princess Dymphna, in fact) with the fictional story of her companions, and others. I was gripped from the first chapter, desperately wanting to know not only what happened to the princess saint, but also what happened to estranged brothers Breoc and Turlough—and not to forget the wolfhound, Sam.

Some of the misunderstandings that take place between characters were absolutely agonising—and something I was totally not expecting happened part way through that eclipsed them all. Ultimately, I simply had to read straight to the end to find out what happened. It’s full of adventure, heroism, romance, and lovely characters, and it also gives a sensitive look into the world of someone suffering from mental illness. I don’t feel I can say more without giving things away, so I suggest you simply read it for yourself.

I would highly recommend this book to both adults and young adults. I think it is suitable for all but the most sheltered and sensitive teens, since although St Dymphna’s insane father wants to marry her, it is all handled extremely discretely and age-appropriately.

 

[I received a free copy of this novel in exchange for an honest review. The author is a fellow member of ‘Catholic Teen Books’ and the Catholic Writers Guild.]

 

REVIEW: Wind River (2017)

Wind RiverUK Rating: 15

Release Date: 8th September 2017

Running Time: 107 mins

Director: Taylor Sheridan

Genre: Thriller, drama, crime

Starring: Jeremy Renner, Elizabeth Olsen, Kelsey Asbille, Apesanahkwat, Graham Greene

Finally, another film review! Sorry it’s been so long. Just a quick one:

Haunting and beautifully filmed, I thought Wind River was just a fairly normal (albeit very good and unusually interesting) sort of crime thriller until this pre-credit information flashed up on screen at the end: ‘The US keeps records of missing women for all groups—except Native Americans. No one knows how many Native American women are missing.’ Coming after the film I had just watched, that struck hard. For this reason alone, I hope people will see the film.

From a non-social justice point of view, it’s also well worth watching. Although there are a few caveats. Firstly, it’s not for sensitive viewers. Despite what I’ve just said, there is one scene during which a group of supposedly respectable men act like a pack of animals that I could happily delete from my memory, if such a thing were only possible.

Secondly, though riveting and far from predictable, the film ultimately left this Christian viewer feeling like something was missing. As it was. Without meaning to give too much away, certain events, although feeling more like rigid ‘an eye for an eye’ justice than revenge, were completely lacking in any notion of forgiveness or redemption, or even the possibility of such. As for the need for such? That gets no look in at all.

Overall: A powerful indictment of the lack of interest in the fate of Native American women, and a gripping crime thriller, well worth watching both by those wishing to broaden their awareness of this issue and by those simply wanting a cracking good film. But it is flawed in crucial ways that leave this Christian viewer unlikely to be buying it for her shelf.

 

Sex/Violence/Profanity/etc: Premarital sex/sexual activity implied. Rape (on screen). Considerable violence, with both gunfights and fistfights, with injury detail. Plenty of profanity.

Have you seen this film? What did you think?

 

via faithfullfilms.wordpress.com

BOOK REVIEW: ‘Hush Hush’ by Michelle Quigley

51iHrSVY9sLAnother book review, I’m afraid! I’ll try and review some more films soon!

 

Blurb: ‘Why do I have to stand here and pretend that everything is alright, when the truth is I want to curl myself up into a ball and die somewhere?’

Molly is a normal sixteen-year-old working as a factory girl in Derry, Northern Ireland, until one night her world is turned upside down. After experiencing a brutal attack, she is left mentally and physically broken, slowly withdrawing from her family and community, suffering in silence. She tries in vain to keep her increasing despair to herself, but life has more surprises and heartache in store. As her family battle to conceal a dreadful secret and expected allies shun her, Hitler steps up his invasion of Europe. With the outbreak of war an even greater strain is placed upon her family when her brother enlists in the army. Will she ever manage to make amends with him again? And with gossip rife among the community, will her secret remain hidden forever?

Hush Hush will draw you into Molly’s struggles and desires and leave you hoping that maybe, just maybe, there is someone out there who can help turn her life around.

 

This was a gripping read that I should have put down more often than I did. Molly is a sympathetic heroine and the characters and scenarios were, for the most part, very credibly drawn. There was also a really lovely love interest (I want one!), and for me the romance was a very satisfying part of the plot.

To begin with I found some of the writing a little awkward, but I suspect it was mostly due to the differences in Northern Irish dialect and phrasing since I got used to it and stopped noticing it quite quickly.  The Northern Irish and Irish settings were vividly drawn and made me want to go and explore them! The historical angle was also fascinating, especially the glimpse at the culture of the period.

In many ways this book could be described as a fable about lying, and the consequences of lying. All the way through runs this huge ‘if only’. If only she had told the truth… But this pent up frustration makes the climax of the novel all the more poignant.

The only thing that really annoyed me was what some reviewers have called the plot ‘twist’ at the end. Quigley carefully leaves the identity of the attacker up in the air for the majority of the book, making it a mystery. Is it one of two possible candidates – or someone else entirely? It’s an effective technique, only I suspected that while we were supposed to assume it was one suspect, it might turn out to be someone else.

My issue was that if it was this other person, some of the scenes in the novel were implausible, because it was not credible to me that the first person narrator could think about certain things without thinking related thoughts that would give away the identity of the rapist. Essentially, by including such scenes, Quigley should have been ‘proving’ that a particular person wasn’t the rapist – but I had a feeling this might prove not to be the case and I was irritated when my suspicions proved correct.

As a Catholic I was also a little frustrated by the fact that at one point, in a time of need, Molly decides to pray the rosary every day. When she plunges further into despair and darkness, we are never told whether or not she is doing it. In fact, the whole subject is never mentioned again. I would have liked to known more.

However, these two small niggles don’t change the fact that overall HUSH HUSH was a gripping, satisfying read, with a strong, life-affirming message, and I would recommend it, especially to Catholics and all those committed to the cause of life.

 

Please note, the rape is fairly discreetly described, but I would strongly caution anyone who has suffered a sexual assault.

I received a free copy of this book in return for an honest review.

BOOK REVIEW: ‘Angelhood’ – A. J. Cattapan

24553425This was a thought-provoking and moving read that deals sensitively with a very serious subject. The first couple of pages are quite shocking, though if you’ve read the synopsis what happens won’t be a surprise, and the rest of the book pulls one along with the need to know what happens, whether it can all turn out alright.

Some reviewers have noted that this is not a theologically accurate presentation of the afterlife, and indeed it is not, however, there is a cast iron reason for this within the book. I can’t say more without giving spoilers. Just enjoy it as fantasy, and all will become clear. The novel has the Seal of Approval from the Catholic Writers Guild, incidentally, which should assuage any doubts about theological issues!

This book is perfectly okay for teens to read, despite the suicide theme. In fact, the more of them read it the better, since it allows the consequences of selfishness to play out very clearly before the reader’s eyes, much more effective than simply lecturing on the subject!

Highly recommended.

[I received a free copy of the book whilst acting as a reviewer for the Catholic Writer’s Guild Seal of Approval.]

BOOK REVIEW: Crusader King by Susan Peek

51oNMQBgpiLI thoroughly enjoyed Crusader King and I’m sure I will read it again, which always says a lot about a book. Peek draws her characters very well, making them memorable and distinct whilst still credibly historical. It’s the main character who really steals the show, though: Baldwin IV of Jerusalem. I knew almost nothing about him before reading the book, but he’s such a lovely character, and so holy – in such an appealing way – that I spent much of the book wondering why he was never canonised.

Having finished the book, I remained fixated on this question for some time, coming to two possible explanations:

Explanation 1) Since Peek is writing for young people, she may justifiably have down-played any negative aspects of Baldwin’s character and emphasised all the positive ones. As a friend of mine once put it – historical fiction remains fiction, if you want pure history, go read a textbook.

Explanation 2) Baldwin really was that holy and good, but since the people with power and money (the nobles) spent his life waiting for him to die so they could seize his throne, they probably weren’t going to feel like spending money trying to get him canonised; whilst the people who loved him (the common people) had no power or money. And both nobles and common people were all too soon after his death conquered by the Saracens, after which they had no freedom to pursue anyone’s canonisation and probably did well to remain Christians themselves.

I certainly hope the reason Baldwin IV isn’t a canonised saint is the second reason, not the first. But either way, the book is a fantastic read. Though I did keep wishing a certain fictional friend had actually existed in real life, and had actually done the thing Baldwin asks him to do. How different the history of the Middle East might have been! If you want to make sense of that spoiler-free comment, you’ll have to read the book!

My one major niggle was that as an adult reader, I would have liked more detail at times. The book passes very quickly over great swathes of events in Baldwin’s life, especially in the later part, and I would have been perfectly happy with a much longer and more detailed book. However, Peek is writing for young people, not for adults, so whilst I hope she might one day write a full, detailed, adult version, this cannot really stand as an actual criticism since she does what she sets out to do well.

Off to look for more books about Baldwin IV, though I doubt I will find anything more satisfying than this one!

Edit: To add information received from the author (below):

Susan Peek says: “To answer your question, Baldwin’s cause for canonization was indeed introduced, and he is considered Blessed in France, but not universally. The French version of his name is Beaudoin, and many boys are named after him. I am not exactly sure why his cause was halted. He truly was very holy; even non-Christians acknowledge his great sanctity.”

Lovely to know!

I received a free copy of the book whilst acting as a reviewer for the Catholic Writer’s Guild. ‘Crusader King’ subsequently received the Seal of Approval.