Book Review, “The Preacher’s Bride”

7685228Are you tired of Cinderella stories? You know, the ones with their saintly fair maidens and angelic buxom brunettes. The characters are flawless from the start in every way, from their moral fortitude to their physical attributes. The Preacher’s Bride, by Judy Hedlund, is a refreshing exception. Perhaps that is what makes the book so cogent—the invitation to identify with the heroine, finding grace in her imperfections and confidence in her strengths. Surely this comes from the fact that the story is only partly fiction.

From the first pages of The Preacher’s Bride, the protagonist, Elizabeth Whitbread, treads common ground with us lowly, average, homely, self-conscious, dutiful women. Through the course of the book, Hedlund expertly uses Elizabeth to empathize with each varied and mystifying roll a woman may play in her life: from a young, single woman to a new bride, an unloved wife to an independent woman, and finally to a wise, seasoned, valued and respected mother and wife.

Hedlund is skilled at sharing the perspectives of each the primary characters, but Elizabeth drives the story. This is particularly fascinating, as The Preacher’s Bride is ultimately based on the story of John Bunyan, the tinker turned preacher in England during the 1600’s.

The book is well-researched, and accurately portrays the cultural and political climate of the times; the tension between the Puritans and the Royalists. Then, adding a good dose of creative license, Hedlund explores the emotions, trials and victories of Bunyan’s second wife, Elizabeth.

Elizabeth’s defining characteristic is her strength. In spite of persecution, poverty, overwhelming responsibility, loneliness and pain, she emerges victorious. I liken Elizabeth’s story to a item submitted to a tinker such as John Bunyan.

Tinkering, according to Wikipedia, is essentially “the process of adapting, meddling or adjusting something in the course of making repairs or improvements,”. It must be painful. There is twisting and bending, heating and filing. But the end result is always finer than at the start.

The Preacher’s Bride shows how God uses many challenges to “tinker” with each of us. But like Elizabeth, there is a reward when we remain faithful. I found myself with Elizabeth, experiencing each of her trials, and somehow, I believe, emerging with her refined, purified and improved.

Book Review, The Governess of Highland Hall

The Governess of Highland Hall, by Carrie Turansky, is a heart-warming book, based on a no-fail, time-tested plot. Though not too obvious, it really is a twist on the classic tale of Cinderella, seasoned with Scripture and moral themes, and omitting the talking animals and fairy godmother.

The heroine, Julia Foster, was a young missionary with her parents in India, but just before the book opens, the small family has returned to England due to her father’s poor health. Nearly 30 years old, and teetering on the edge of spinsterhood, Julia nobly sets aside her own dreams in order to help support her parents and hopefully return to the mission field.

Sir William Ramsey hires the lovely Julia to be governess to his two young children. She is also to serve as a tutor for his two adolescent cousins, the orphans of the uncle from whom he inherited Highland Hall. He’s a kind, Christian man, but distracted from his family by financial burdens and the festering hurt of his late, unfaithful wife.

Within the virtual castle of Highland Hall, the Cinderella story unfolds. Julia plays the selfless, tender role of Cinderella. Mrs. Emmitt, the head housekeeper is a mirror of the evil stepmother, threatened by Julia’s winsome ways and her potential to upset the traditions of the house. Sir William’s young cousins might well be Drusilla and Anastasia, the cruel stepsisters. They view Julia with unjustified contempt.

Sir William’s children, his sister Sarah and a few other servants play relatively minor roles, but in essence could be Cinderella’s pet mice and birds personified. They flutter around Julia, encouraging her, benefitting from her wisdom and gentleness and giving her courage to face each new day despite the uncomfortable circumstances.

As might be expected, romance must bloom in such a fairytale. This happens on several fronts, adding depth to the story, but the central romance develops between Sir William and Julia. The primary conflict in the book is their reluctance to admit their growing affection for each other, break social barriers and publicly fall in love.

The Governess of Highland Hall is a sweet story, but lacks the significant conflict needed to really hold my attention. The conclusion is predictable. As the main character, Julia remains one dimensional, and I have difficultly relating to and admiring a heroine who seems to have no flaws.

For an easy read, or to invoke nostalgic, “Once upon a time”, emotions, this is an excellent book. It simply doesn’t provide the mental stimulation I prefer in historical fiction.

Book Review, Wedded to War

Wedded to War, attains to all standards of excellence for an historical fiction novel. Far beyond whetting my appetite, author, Jocelyn Green, left me practically drooling for the sequel. With very few embellishments she relates an already fascinating story.

Charlotte Waverly is the fictional imprint of Georgeanna Woolsey, a nurse serving with the Sanitary Commission, the precursor of the Red Cross, during the Civil War. Her story is the opposite of the overdone “rags to riches” tale, and this is what makes the story so compelling. Against all tradition, expectations and social mores, this brave young woman left her aristocratic heritage and dug her hands deeply into soil of America’s battlefields. With filth and blood clinging to the hem of her skirts, she nursed, cleaned, fed and comforted the wounded and dying soldiers of the Union army.

The truths of suffering, courage and dogged determination are enough to craft a rich story. The truths of honor and right triumphing over prejudice and hate is enough to strengthen our hearts. The truth of history and a longing to learn from past mistakes is enough to deepen our resolve to know such stories as that of Georgeanna Woolsey. The knowledge of generations of women who served their way toward equal rights and equal opportunities, is enough to make us thrill as we read the tales of the valiant women who volunteered in the Sanitary Commission. As we read, our hearts quicken with patriotism and pride.

Wedded to War, would be excellent if it were merely a precise retelling of Georgeanna’s adventures as a Civil War nurse. But, couple that with Green’s rich descriptions, a few additional elements of romance and historically accurate, fictional characters to deepen the overall scope of the book, it becomes an unparalleled read.

On a more technical note, Wedded to War, is appropriately paced. Every chapter leaves the reader piqued but satisfied, as if pleasantly full from an exquisite meal, but hungry for dessert.  Green’s descriptions are vivid and complex but not tedious. All of the characters are fully developed. I felt like Mary Poppins, popping in and out of a sidewalk painting so that I could live realistically within the story as if it were happening this very moment.

Maybe this book had a little more to offer me than it might to every reader. As the spouse of a military officer, Green’s portrayal of heroic men and women and their actions in the midst of war, gave me great insight into my husband’s calling, and subsequently my own. Through this book, I was encouraged to honor my husband more than ever, to be incredibly grateful for all that he has done and is willing to do for me, for this country, for freedom.

This is history that must not be forgotten. And I can think of no better way to remember it and to pay tribute to those who paved the roads to the freedom we enjoy today as a country, as women, as individuals, than to read books such as this one.