A Holiday by Gaslight: A Victorian Christmas Novella by Mimi Matthews is a short historical romance set in England during the 1860s. For Sophie Appersett, the daughter of an established, but almost bankrupt baronet, life isn’t easy in this time of tremendous change. After her father spends her dowry on an expensive installation of gasworks in their lovely country estate, Appersett House, her family plans to marry off responsible, selfless Sophie to some rich, but despised tradesman like Ned Sharpe. Her spoiled sister Emily still has a dowry and hopes to compete socially—but Sophie must think of the family first. She doesn’t know serious, distant Mr. Sharpe at all and is afraid they can’t love each other. But when she invites him to a Christmas party at Appersett House, the days hold plenty of surprises for everyone—and not least for Sophie herself.
A Holiday by Gaslight is a real delight. Completely satisfying as a graceful love story, it also doubles as a family drama, and an authentic presentation of the 1860s that reads with the simplicity and visual gusto of a period movie. Even though the small space of the book will leave avid period fans wanting much more, Mimi Matthews puts a lot of storyline into it. It’s a sweet tale filled with believable characters and fleshed out far beyond the two central leads—likable as they are. Stern, proud Ned Sharpe did indeed remind me of Mr. Thornton from North and South, but he’s a wholly distinct character as well, and Sophie was attractive and genuine as his opposite. Sophie’s hysterical father, in denial about how his actions impact his family; her cunning, dignified mother and immature sister; the guests at the Christmas ball; the sets of London and the countryside—everything was developed really well and the dialogue deserves praise all on its own. Fun to read and fun to read again, this book is one of my favorites now.
The Stone of Wisdom by M. J. Evans is the fourth book in the Centaur Chronicles. After collecting three of the stones needed to fill her magical Silver Breastplate (the stones of Mercy, Courage, and Integrity), teenage heroine Carling, who belongs to a half-human, half-fairy race called the Duende, is confronted with a great challenge. She must find the Stone of Wisdom and put it to use while an evil wizard tries to unite three races of Crystonia against her potential rule. Owning the Silver Breastplate makes Carling the rightful ruler of Crystonia. Although many are willing to accept her—including her friends the Minsheen centaurs, and her own race, the Duende—the wizard Xanbar wants the throne for himself. And does Carling have what it takes to find the Stone of Wisdom in the first place?
The Stone of Wisdom is an impeccable YA fantasy read. Great for some middle-graders as well, the story has a developed world that creates an exciting place you can sink into each time you open the book. Multiple races of people in Crystonia—Fairies, Fauns, Centaurs, Duende, Cyclops, and Ogres—are fleshed out with good descriptions. M. J. Evans has a strong ability to build a very complex situation between warring races while still keeping the story fast-paced and active, and brave, strong-willed Carling was a Future-Queen-With-a-Heart-of-Gold. She won my attention through the sincerely likable and honest way she approached challenges, and the lessons she learned about what it takes to be a real leader rang true. Characterization is strong—the villains have enough comedy or frustration with each other to give them depth and the heroes have doubts, foibles, and preoccupations that lend scope and heart to their journey to rule a kingdom.
Remember by Gary M. Parham is a children’s fantasy novel that presents the epic story of mankind, as seen in the Bible, in a new, intense way. Parham’s book throws readers into the midst of a straightforward adventure tale about God Himself—King Adonai. The King has a great kingdom filled with diverse perfect beings called Malachs. When one of the Malachs becomes vicious and begins to destroy everything, King Adonai’s fragile new people, the Zera, are sent to a protected place called the Garden. It isn’t long before evil finds them. Only those who read a special book that can connect them to the King will understand how to tap into the King’s secret plan amid the waste, torture, and disruption of the Garden.
Remember could easily be called The Adventures of King Adonai. He is developed as a central character in a way reminiscent of C. S. Lewis’s iconic Aslan, but with a more personal flavor than even Lewis was able to create. A wise leader, and a sensitive individual who wants a close relationship with his special new creations, the Zera, he was a character I truly got to know and care about. It was exciting to see His friendship with the great Malachs Gabriel and Michael, and His decisions unfolding with well-crafted and exciting plotting amid heroism, friendship, struggle, and heartache as families are torn apart. Gritty emotion and Gary M. Parham’s resonant, highly visual writing bring a frightening reality to the descent of one of the greatest Malachs into a dragon-like prince of darkness, and his conflict with the King drives through the story like a hammer hitting a nail—soundly and well.
This is the companion for Sarah Scheele's newsletter blog. In it I share reviews for books I'd recommend/are similar to my own.