D-Dames by Laura VanArendonk Baugh

Fantasy Fiction

Book reviews are subjective. I tend to rate books not according to how “perfect” they are, seem to be, or are said to be in general but rather to how perfect they are to me. I received a complimentary copy of this book for an honest review.

5 Stars

Illustrated book cover shows a serious woman in World War Two service attire, and war planes flying overheadD-Dames by Laura VanArendonk Baugh

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Description: Four stories of women and elemental magic in World War 2. Meet young women finding both courage and powers as they resist the Axis forces in England (fire), Wales (air), Northern Ireland (earth), and Scotland (water).

My thoughts: I had yet to try any of this author’s work before, but I went to her website and knew I wanted to read this short story collection the minute I saw the title and book cover.

I think it’s pretty safe to say this is the only time I’ve ever read historical fantasy fiction based on the Second World War. I thoroughly enjoyed all four stories and their depictions of imperfect, believable, powerful women. They aren’t almighty heroines who know everything and make nothing but superb decisions all the time (which would’ve been too over-the-top to be interesting). But these women are gritty and incredible when they kick into gear at critical moments, whether the actions they take are dramatic or subtle.

These tales have what I love about good short stories: sharp lines and meaningful details with no dispensable scenes. Vignettes like these reveal what’s important and let it be enough, trusting the reader’s discernment and imagination. Demonstrating how a story doesn’t have to be long to be substantive, with strong characters.

Oh! And after reading the stories straight through, you’ll definitely want to check out the annotations and bonus images. They’re like dessert that’s more than dessert.

D-Dames is currently available at
Laura VanArendonk Baugh’s website.

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The Sound of Light by Sarah Sundin

Historical Fiction

Book reviews are subjective. I tend to rate books not according to how “perfect” they are, seem to be, or are said to be in general but rather to how perfect they are to me. Revell provided me with a complimentary copy of this book for an honest review.

3 Stars

Book cover shows a blond-haired woman walking toward an empty seaside boat, while World War II era planes pass by in the cloudy skyThe Sound of Light by Sarah Sundin

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Description: When the Germans march into Denmark, Baron Henrik Ahlefeldt assumes a façade, exchanging his nobility for anonymity so that he can secretly row messages for the Danish Resistance across the waters to Sweden. American physicist Dr. Else Jensen refuses to leave Copenhagen and abandon her research, her life’s dream. While printing resistance newspapers, she hears stories of the movement’s legendary Havmand—the merman—and wonders if the mysterious and silent shipyard worker living in the same boardinghouse has something to hide.

My thoughts: While this historical ChristFic novel is a standalone, I was unsurprised but pleased to run into its tie to two previous WWII novels by this author, including my favorite of hers, When Twilight Breaks. I also really liked how Henrik and Else each have to wrestle with the question of silence in regard to either courage or cowardice.

On the whole, most of this read was fairly slow for me, but the overall plot is well-woven. I’ll admit I couldn’t fully connect with the romance, given that, due to Henrik’s façade, Else spends much of the time falling for her idea of a man she doesn’t know that well, making certain incorrect assumptions about him in her imagination. When she later has to make significant mental adjustments about him, it happens so fast on the page. I also couldn’t fully appreciate Henrik as such a “changed” character because the story only shows him after his major change from the past. It’s almost as if he’s had a before-and-after makeover, and you see his “after” results, but you only hear about what he must have looked like “before.”

Also, given the private or underground nature of so many people’s wartime activities, Henrik’s own share of covert work he’s been doing for over three years, and all of the coded messages involved, I found it unconvincing that at a particular, critical meeting, Henrik wouldn’t realize when someone’s strange, repeated words to him are coded language.

Nevertheless, I didn’t leave the story feeling unmoved. A crucial parent/child relationship in the book is what touched me the most.

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What I Would Tell You by Liz Tolsma

Split-Timeline Fiction

Book reviews are subjective. I tend to rate books not according to how “perfect” they are, seem to be, or are said to be in general but rather to how perfect they are to me. I received a complimentary copy of this book from Barbour Publishing and was under no obligation to post a review.

3 Stars

Book cover shows a somber woman with downcast eyes in the foreground, and a dark reddish monotone city street in the backgroundWhat I Would Tell You by Liz Tolsma

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Description: 1941—The pounding of Nazi boots on the streets of Salonika, Greece, reverberates in Mathilda Nissim’s ears, shaking her large community of Sephardic Jews to its core. At great risk to herself and those around her, Mathilda uses the small newspaper she publishes to call her people to action. 2019—College student Tessa Payton takes a popular DNA heritage test that reveals she’s a Greek Sephardic Jew. So she empties her savings account and jets off on a journey to Greece to discover where she belongs.

My thoughts: Similar to other readers, I picked up this split-timeline ChristFic novel because I hadn’t read fiction about Sephardic Jews in Greece during WWII before. I became so engrossed in the historical side of the story that I would’ve read the book in one sitting if my schedule would have allowed it.

Now, a number of details, phrases, and characters’ thoughts in this book are redundant, and some portions of the story felt overdone or overmilked to me. I personally like a defter touch, when the characters and the narrative effectively leave certain things unrepeated or unsaid.

Also, unless there’s no direct English translation for particular words, it isn’t my preference when foreign language expressions are mixed into the dialogue of characters who are supposed to be speaking only one language, or when they say something in their own language and then repeat the words in English for the reader’s sake. To me, that draws unneeded attention to the fact that the characters are indeed technically speaking English throughout the book, which pulls me out of the setting somewhat. Even so, I did appreciate the Author’s Note with a bit of information about the Ladino language.

Aside from minor stylistic points, a couple of issues didn’t sit right with me. The first is in regard to one of Mathilda’s papers, where she seeks to move her people to action by reminding them of their ancestors: “We once were a proud nation, marching through Canaan, destroying the evil people” who lived in that land. Yet, the very Nazi regime that Mathilda is writing against—they see themselves that way, as a proud nation marching through and destroying the people who live in the land, people the Nazis see as evil. In one scene, Tessa reads the names of people who died in the Holocaust, “name after name, each one of them a flesh-and-blood person,” but did Mathilda not think of those “destroyed” Canaanites that way, as flesh-and-blood people who each had a name? To me, the example Mathilda uses isn’t the best match for a call to self-defense.

The other issue that left me unsettled is the evangelistic push in the story. I think I understand when I sometimes see Jewish readers express offense or hurt when in fiction about the Holocaust—featuring Jewish main characters—that massive Jewish tragedy and the people who died in it are used as a platform for a Christian evangelism message. I know it’s a complex issue, I in no way mean to discount Christians who are Jewish by heritage, and I can’t speak for Jewish people as they speak for themselves. But I don’t believe all Christian Fiction about the Holocaust takes the evangelistic route that this story does.

As for the novel’s contemporary side, I felt like some details were added in too late, in the final scenes. I would have needed a little more character development earlier in Tessa’s family situation to make their ending more convincing. But on Mathilda’s side of the story, I was stirred by the resolution of her impossibly hard battle with selfishness.

And I’d be remiss not to mention how much I like this novel’s book cover, with its somber but lovely monotone approach. I don’t read many split-timeline novels, but the cover of this one really called to me as a historical fiction devotee.

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Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman: The Bounty by Teresa Warfield

Western Fiction

Book reviews are subjective. I tend to rate books not according to how “perfect” they are, seem to be, or are said to be in general but rather to how perfect they are to me.

Illustrated book cover shows Dr. Quinn and her husband Sully wearing old Western attire and sitting in the front of a wagonDr. Quinn, Medicine Woman: The Bounty by Teresa Warfield

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Description: Michaela and Sully are disturbed when George Hagan shows up in their town, Colorado Springs. Years ago, Hagan had proven himself to be a thief and a liar. Now he’s a bounty hunter searching for a fugitive: a man he claims is being sheltered by nearby Pawnees. Before long, Hagan has everyone in town believing that the Indians are protecting a killer—and that Sully is involved in the cover-up.

My thoughts: Well! I’d say this second in a series of three novels is for people who’ve already watched and enjoyed one of the greatest historical dramas to ever grace a television screen. As the author makes little to no introductions of most of the characters that she brings into scenes or otherwise mentions, she evidently assumes the reader is already familiar with the characters and with what’s happened, overall, up to this point in the television story.

In this book, I liked some moments showing Michaela in her role as a doctor, especially in one of her visits to Cloud Dancing at the reservation. The medicine woman and medicine man go to work!

On the other hand, the fact that this novel is for fans of the show would likely be a source of irritation or frustration for Dr. Quinn diehards and other fans who know the characters from the screen. Sully acts way out of character here, easily provoked into rage and tumbling around and going to blows with an old enemy in public. And then for shady Jake the barber and trigger-happy Hank the pimping saloon owner to be the ones breaking up the fight in the street, trying to talk sense into Sully while he angrily struggles against them in a boyish battle he flew into with “no sense of rational thought”? A situation so backward that I couldn’t take it seriously.

A few times during the story, different characters reflect on how this or that So-and-So has never done such-and-such or acted in such-and-such a way before now. As if the author is saying, “Yeah, what’s happening here doesn’t match the established characters from the show,” but they’re behaving this way now for the sake of this book.

The writing style isn’t my favorite, and the story is rather slow and sorely repetitive in a number of places. The characters have stretches of reflection where they wonder and inwardly debate over the same details, and I found much of the book’s content to be pretty inconsequential filler. It also seems that the novel starts to run out of plot too early, and so more minor events and mishaps in town, which have nothing to do with The Bounty plot, start filling up time in the last third or so of the book.

It’s an almost 300-page novel that could have been a sharper and more action-packed Western in 200 pages or fewer.

Still, when there was indeed some Western action (and again, some medical doctoring) that didn’t contradict who the established characters are, I liked it. And as this Dr. Quinn diehard already read the other two books in this series (didn’t care for the third one, really liked the first one), my curiosity, nostalgia, and I couldn’t resist finally checking out the series’ middle novel.

Here’s my review of the next book in the series, Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman: Growing Pains.

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