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Pawn in Frankincense by Dorothy Dunnett

The fourth book in Dorothy Dunnett’s historical series Renaissance man, Francis Crawford of Lymond, aka Comte of Sevigny, takes the characters, especially Lymond himself, to a new level of complexity and human triumph over adversity and suffering. And at one point in the story, we are informed or perhaps reminded that Lymond is only twenty-six years old. He’s already survived more than most men three times his age, even in the adventurous Renaissance times in which he lives.

In this book, Lymond manages to escape a couple of assassins disguised as nuns, imprisonment in a North African harem, poisoning, an underwater struggle with his murderous arch enemy, and a rather deadly chess game featuring human chess pieces who forfeit their lives if taken by the opposing player. The chess game in the seraglio in Istamboul is unforgettable, by the way. And that’s just a sample of the perils and predicaments that face Mr. Crawford in this highly entertaining adventure.

Entertaining, yes, but the denouement of the novel is heart-rending. Lymond must choose whether or not to forfeit the life of one innocent in order to save the lives of many more. It’s a no-win situation, and of course, since Lymond is the sensitive soul that he’s always been in all of the other books in the series, he blames himself for the outcome and carries a heavy burden of guilt into the next book in the series, The Ringed Castle.

Has anyone else read this series, and if so, what did you think? The vocabulary and writing style are challenging for me, in a good way, and I don’t usually find that to be so with novels written after 1900. Lymond is also a complex, conflicted, and challenging character. I do have a prediction to make at this point in the series, a prediction I came up with halfway through this volume: I predict that Lymond and Philippa will end up truly married by the end of the sixth book. Don’t ask me how (I don’t know) and don’t tell me if I’m right or wrong. I’ll see how my prediction pans out as I read books five and six.

If you want to read a little more about this engaging novel, here are some other blog reviews of Pawn in Frankincense:

She Reads Novels: Pawn in Frankincense by Dorothy Dunnett.
Shelf Love: Pawn in Frankincense (some spoilers)
Semicolon review of The Disorderly Knights, book three in the series.
Semicolon thoughts on Game of Kings, the first book in the series.

The Grand Sophy by Georgette Heyer

Georgette Heyer, besides authoring several Golden Age of detective fiction mysteries, also wrote romance novels and according to Wikipedia “essentially established the genre of Regency romance.” During her career,she published over thirty Regency novels, for a period of her life publishing one mystery/thriller and one romance per year.

The Grand Sophy, one of those Regency novels, was published in 1950. It’s the story of a rather indolent and somewhat impecunious family, Lord and Lady Ombersley and their several children, including the eldest, Charles, who has become something of a family tyrant in his quest to save the family from bankruptcy. When Lady Ombersley’s niece, Sophy, comes to stay for a while while her diplomat father goes on an ambassadorial trip to Brazil, the entire household is turned topsy-turvy by Sophy’s free and easy ways and her lack of female propriety, not to mention her monkey, Jacko.

Sophy is a grand character. She’s independent, intelligent, and spirited without being obnoxious. Sophy’s cousin Charles is less well-developed as a character. At first, he seems like a petty family dictator, ruling over his parents and his younger brothers and sisters in a rather arbitrary way while planning to marry an heiress to re-coup the family fortunes. As the story continues, Charles becomes more sympathetic as a character, but I was never sure why he was so high-handed and unbending at the beginning.

Jane Austen fans and Regency romance readers should definitely check out The Grand Sophy. Ms. Heyer’s novels, including this one, are not as subtle and deep as Jane Austen’s, but as far as straight light romance novels go Georgette’s Heyer’s books rise near to the top of the list.

The Windy Hill by Cornelia Meigs

Big Hair and Books

I had intended to get a review written and posted about Cornelia Meigs’ 1922 Newbery Honor book, The Windy Hill, soon. I just read the book last night. However, I forgot about Rosemond’s Way Back Wednesday link-up, and of course, The Windy Hill is way back, almost a century back. So, here goes.

The very first year that the Newbery was awarded, Cornelia Lynde Meigs’ story of two young teens solving a family mystery at their cousin Jasper’s house in the country won a Newbery Honor. Ms. Meigs was a teacher whose first book, The Kingdom of the Winding Road, was published by Macmillan in 1915. Meigs’ books won Newbery Honors again in 1929 for Clearing Weather and in 1933 for Swift Rivers. I read and reviewed Swift Rivers a few years ago, and I still remember quite a bit about that story, something I can’t really say about many of the more recently published children’s books I’ve read. Finally, in 1934 Ms. Meigs’ biography of Louisa May Alcott, Invincible Louisa: The Story of the Author of Little Women won the Newbery Medal. Over the course of her career, Cornelia Meigs wrote over thirty books for children.

On to the book at hand, The Windy Hill tells the story of a family feud, a rather polite New England sort of feud, but a family quarrel nonetheless. The author tells her story from the point of view of fifteen year old Oliver and his sister Janet who have come to visit Cousin Jasper in his country mansion near Windy Hill. Unfortunately, Cousin Jasper is not himself. Something, or someone, is troubling him, and Cousin Jasper is not a very entertaining host. Oliver first decides to run away from the problem and return home on the next train. But on his way to the station, he meets The Beeman, a beekeeper with a penchant for storytelling, and as Oliver thinks and listens to the Beeman’s stories of the history of Windy Hill, he decides to stay and figure out what is wrong and do something to help.

The historical stories, one about an Indian named Nashola, another set during the War of 1812, and a third during the California Gold Rush, illuminate both the past and the present, and the main story comes to a climax when evil is revealed, good is rewarded, and all is made right. It’s probably unsuited for the internet generation, but I enjoyed the slower pace. The Windy Hill served as a good old-fashioned antidote to all the dark, weird, and twisted children’s books I’ve been reading for the past week or so. If my children were still young enough for read-alouds, I’d put it on the read aloud list.

QOTD: What’s your favorite Newbery Award or Newbery Honor book? What Newbery Award book do you think should definitely not have been chosen for the award?

The Disorderly Knights by Dorothy Dunnett

I read the first of the Lymond Chronicles, The Game of Kings, back in early January and reviewed it, sort of, here. Mostly I told you about all of the new words I learned from reading the first in a five volume series about a sixteenth century Scots lord with a loquacious and facile tongue.

A couple of months ago I read the second book in the series, Queens’ Play, in which Francis Crawford of Lymond, moves his base of operations from Scotland to France, where he lives a dissolute and adventurous life at the court of Henri II and manages to protect the young Scots princess Mary, who is affianced to the the Dauphin, from numerous assassination attempts, all while drinking inordinate amounts of alcohol and staying drunk for most of the book. Crawford of Lymond is, simply put, amazing.

“On the day that his grannie was killed by the English, Sir William Scott the Younger of Buccleuch was at Melrose Abbey, marrying his aunt.
News of the English attack came towards the end of the ceremony, when, by good fortune, Young Scott and his aunt Grizel were by all accounts man and wife. There was no bother over priorities. As the congregation hustled out of the church, led by bridegroom and father, and spurred off on the heels of the messenger, the new-made bride and her sister watched them go.”

In this third book, The Disorderly Knights, Lymond becomes entangled with the affairs of the Order of the Knights Hospitaliers, whose headquarters and refuge on the island of Malta is threatened by the Turkish fleet bent on revenge. The Knights of Malta themselves are torn by internal dissension, and the only hero in the whole mess, besides the ever-smiling and accomplished Lymond himself, is Sir Graham Reid Mallett, nicknamed Gabriel, a Scots recruit to the order whose skills and expertise in war and diplomacy rival those of Lymond.

After a stirring and tragic (for Lymond’s inamorata, Oonagh O’Dwyer) escape from the Turkish invaders in Tripoli, Lymond and Gabriel both return to Scotland where Lymond puts together a small private army, trained in all of arts of war and intended to keep the peace along the Scottish border on behalf of, but not directly under the orders of, Queen Dowager Mary of Scotland. Gabriel joins Lymond’s merry band ostensibly to train under the great soldier, but also to claim Lymond’s allegiance and soul for God, the (Catholic) Church and the Knights Hospitaliers. Lymond, of course, has other plans for his soul.

Lymond: “What does anyone want out of life? What kind of freak do you suppose I am? I miss books and good verse and decent talk. I miss women, to speak to, not to rape; and children, and men creating things instead of destroying them. And from the time I wake until the time I find I can’t go to sleep there is the void—–the bloody void where there was no music today and none yesterday and no prospect of any tomorrow, or tomorrow, or next God-d— year.”

Finally, in addition to a fiendishly clever plot and excellent characters and dialog, there are the words. Here are a few more words that I gleaned from The Disorderly Knights:

Fremescent: Becoming murmurous, roaring. “Fremescent clangor.” –Carlyle.
Opaline: of or like opal; opalescent; having a milky iridescence.
Fauve: wild, literally, tawny
Insessorial: adapted for perching, as a bird’s foot.
Coign (quoin): an external solid angle of a wall or the like; cornerstone.
Debouch: to march out from a narrow or confined place into open country, as a body of troops: The platoon debouched from the defile into the plain.
Culverin: medieval form of musket or a kind of heavy cannon used in the 16th and 17th centuries.
Cittern: an old musical instrument related to the guitar, having a flat, pear-shaped soundbox and wire strings.
Simulacrum: a slight, unreal, or superficial likeness or semblance.
Dissentient: dissenting, especially from the opinion of the majority.
Otiosity: being at leisure; idle; indolent.
Pendicle: An appendage; something dependent on another; an appurtenance; a pendant.
Bagatelle: something of little value or importance; a trifle.

Those are just a few of the new-to-me words I encountered in this volume of Francis Crawford of Lymond’s further adventures. The next book (fourth) in the series is entitled Pawn in Frankincense.

QOTD: What is your favorite word? What word(s) do you just like to use because of the sound and meaning and the way the two fit together?

The Beekeeper’s Apprentice by Laurie R. King

This Sherlock Holmes tribute starts off slowly, but the pace picks up about halfway through when the author has finished setting up the relationship between Holmes and his teenage, female apprentice, Mary Russell. Mary, a sharp-eyed, feminist mirror image of Holmes himself, is, from the beginning of their acquaintance, mach more actively involved in Sherlock Holmes’ experiments and detection than was the ever-admiring, but frequently dim-witted Watson. Russell, as Holmes calls her, becomes Sherlock Holmes’ protege, and eventually his equal partner in sleuthing as the two of them face off with an enemy even more subtle and diabolical than the deceased Moriarty.

I had a good friend in high school/college days who was a great fan of Sherlock Holmes. I preferred Nero Wolfe or Miss Marple. I wish I knew where Winona was. I would definitely recommend The Beekeeper’s Apprentice to her—and to any other Sherlockian mystery fans, at least those who aren’t offended by the non-canonical addition of a female genius apprentice who sometimes outdoes even the Great Sherlock Holmes himself in her deductions and observations.

I’m in the middle of the second book of the series, A Monstrous Regiment of Women, and the feminist themes are definitely predominating in this one. However, the plot and characters and the writing are all stellar, and I’m definitely in for the long haul, unless the quality goes down or the feminist* propaganda gets to be too much. I’m looking forward to getting to know Ms. King’s version of Sherlock Holmes and his (now) partner, Mary Russell, over the course of twelve books.

*I would never use the word “feminist” to describe myself because the term has way too many connotations and associations that are anti-Christian and anti-male. However, Mary Russell’s version of feminism, so far (only in the second book), has much to recommend it. Ms. Russell is an independent and highly intelligent young woman who is learning how to relate to and older male mentor in a way that is dignified and and at the same time grateful for the things that he is able to teach her. So far, I like Mary Russell very much.

March by Geraldine Brooks

March, Ms. Brooks’ take-off on Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women, won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 2006. I found it to be an odd little novel. Ms. Brooks takes a fictional character, Mr. March, father to the “little women”, and places him and his family in a real world with people who actually lived in Concord near the Alcott family, namely the Emersons and the Thoreaus. Then, the author sends March off to war, just as he is off “where the fighting is” in Little Women, and she tells most of the story from his point of view. It’s an odd point of view, that of a vegetarian, abolitionist, peace-loving philosopher-soldier-chaplain caught in the midst of horror and insoluble moral dilemmas.

The tone and voice of the novel matched the rather stilted nineteenth century style of Louisa May Alcott’s original novel, and while this style of writing was a little disconcerting at first, I soon began to like it and to feel transported to the Civil War era when men wrote flowery, loquacious letters to their loved ones.

“I have now traveled so far south that I find myself come to a place where our common expression ‘white as snow’ has no useful meaning. Here, one who wishes his words to make plain sense had better say ‘white as cotton.’ I will not say that I find the landscape lovely. We go on through Nature to God, and my Northern eye misses the grandeur that eases that ascent. I yearn for mountains, or at least for the gentle ridges of Massachusetts; the sweet folds and furrows that offer the refreshment of a new vista as each gap or summit is obtained. Here all is obvious, a song upon a single note. One wakes and falls asleep to a green sameness, the sun like a pale egg yolk, peering down from a white sky.”

March is an adult novel, and in it, the “perfect” Marmee and the idealized Father March become real flesh and blood people with faults and passions and uncertainties and doubts about their own choices and abilities. March, in particular, is a man who finds himself in a place and time where his ideals and moral philosophy are tested and found wanting. And still he and his wife, the Marmee of Little Women, come through the fires of war and suffering with admirable character and fortitude. There is much to respect in Geraldine Brooks’ March, even though Bronson Alcott and I would find much to disagree about in real life. (I’m not a transcendentalist nor a utopian nor a vegetarian nor a pacifist nor a Unitarian/free thinker.)

The novel does a good job of bringing out the impracticality and impracticability of March’s/Alcott’s beliefs and still making him admirable as a man who tried, at least in the fictional version of his story, to remain true to his principles. I think all of us, as we age, feel the tension between the youthful ideals that we still believe to be right and good and true and the imperfection and fallenness of the world we actually inhabit, including the impossibility of remaining pure in our own execution and implementation of those ideals and principles to which we bear allegiance.

“You are not God. You do not determine the outcome. The outcome is not the point. . . The point is the effort. That you, believing what you believed—what you sincerely believed, including the commandment ‘thou shalt not kill’–acted upon it. To believe, to act, and to have events confound you–I grant you, that is hard to bear. But to believe, and not to act, or to act in a way that every fiber of your soul held was wrong–how can you not see? That is what would have been reprehensible.”

“[T]here is only one thing to do when we fall, and that is to get up, and go on with the life that is set in front of us, and try and do the good of which our hands are capable for all the people who come in our way.”

Edenbrooke by Julianne Donaldson

“In true romance fashion, it’s pretty easy to guess how the relationships will all work out.” ~Susan Coventry at ReadingWorld.

Susan made this rather predictable observation about a different Regency romance novel that she was reviewing, but the truism pretty much sums up Edenbrooke as well. I picked up Edenbrooke from my library bookshelf because I needed something light, and easy, and yes, predictable, to distract me from the not-so-light, not-so-easy, and not predictable at all things that are going on in my real life. Edenbrooke served its purpose admirably.

Gentleman meets lady in dire circumstances. Her carriage has just been attacked by a highwayman, and she has escaped, barely. The gentleman is at first unhelpful and insufferably rude. Then, he realizes his mistake and becomes quite charming. The two develop a bantering relationship, interspersed with smoldering looks, racing pulses, and lots of double talk. Misunderstandings ensue. The Noble Idiot plot is enacted on both sides: she must give up him because her twin sister planned to pursue him first, and he must not pursue her because honor forbids that he do so while she is a guest in his house (really?).

Misunderstandings are eventually cleared up to the satisfaction of all concerned. Barriers to true love are removed. Pulses continue to race. Smoldering looks become passionate kisses, and all live happily ever after.

Thank you, Ms. Donaldson, for an afternoon of pleasant distraction.

Note: Both Edenbrooke and Ms. Donaldson’s second Regency romance, Blackmoore, are billed as “A Proper Romance.” There are no sex scenes, and the prose never turns even slightly purplish. “Proper Romance” is a product category of Shadow Mountain Publishing, which is, in turn, the general trade imprint of Deseret Books, owned by the Church of Jesus Christ, Latter Day Saints (Mormon). There is nothing specifically “Mormon” about Edenbrooke.

Shadow Mountain Publishing announces a new brand of romance novels, appropriately dubbed “a proper romance,” with the newly released title Edenbrooke, by Julianne Donaldson.
This new brand of “proper” romance allows readers to enjoy romance at its very best—and at its cleanest—portraying everything they love about a passionate, romantic novel, without busting corsets or bed scenes.

Game of Kings by Dorothy Dunnett

If you’re a logophile, a lover of words, you’re bound to like this beginning book to a five volume series, set in sixteenth century (1547) Scotland. The hero/villain of the tale, Francis Crawford of Lymond, is a veritable fount of words, a repository of language, a giddy young man with a facile and garrulous tongue. Here are just a few of the beguiling, beauteous, buxom words I descried in the course of reading this historical fiction adventure:

Enteric: of or pertaining to the enteron; intestinal.
Decorticating: to remove the bark, husk, or outer covering from.
Damascened: of or pertaining to the art of damascening (to produce wavy lines on Damascus steel).
Decumbiture: Confinement to a sick bed, or time of taking to one’s bed from sickness.
Peripetia: a sudden turn of events or an unexpected reversal, especially in a literary work.
Yaffle: another name for green woodpecker, imitative of its cry.
Parure: a matching set of jewels or ornaments.
Sphacelate: To develop or produce gangrenous or necrotic tissue.
Hebetude: the state of being dull; lethargy.
Bauchly: in an inferior or substandard way
Cibation: The act of taking food; (Alchemy) The process or operation of feeding the contents of the crucible with fresh material.
Predicant: preaching.
Talion: lex talionis; exaction of compensation in kind.
Thrawnness: twistedness; crookedness; distortion.
Snib: a bolt, catch, lock, or fastening on a door or window.
Encysted: to enclose or become enclosed in a cyst.
Frangible: easily broken; breakable.
Corium: Anatomy, Zoology , dermis. (skin?)
Probang: a long, slender, elastic rod with a sponge, ball, or the like, at the end, to be introduced into the esophagus or larynx, as for removing foreign bodies, or for introducing medication.
Roulade: a musical embellishment consisting of a rapid succession of tones sung to a single syllable.
Crapulence: sick from gross excess in drinking or eating.
Fossa: a pit, cavity, or depression, as in a bone.
Hackbut: harquebus; any of several small-caliber long guns operated by a matchlock or wheel-lock mechanism, dating from about 1400.
Squab: a nestling pigeon, marketed when fully grown but still unfledged.
Calx: the oxide or ashy substance that remains after metals, minerals, etc., have been thoroughly roasted or burned.
Columbarium: a sepulchral vault or other structure with recesses in the walls to receive the ashes of the dead.
Pannage: pasturage for pigs, esp in a forest; acorns, beech mast, etc, on which pigs feed.
Sudorific: causing sweat; diaphoretic.
Insifflating: (insufflating?) to blow or breathe (something) in; to breathe upon, especially upon one being baptized or upon the water of baptism.
Canescent: covered with whitish or grayish pubescence, as certain plants.
Barghest: a legendary doglike goblin believed to portend death or misfortune.
Fugitation: Scots law, a judicial declaration of outlawry; the act of fleeing.
Escharotic: producing a scab, especially after a burn
Limmer: chiefly Scottish, scoundrel.

Yes, Mr. Crawford and I are both a little drunk on words. But there’s a story here, too, a plot just as labyrinthine and inscrutable as the conversation and the literary allusions that the characters strew about with merry abandon. And some intriguing characters, especially Mr. Crawford of Lymond himself. If you love Scotland and its history, if you love language, if you’re fond of old-style romantic adventures like The Three Musketeers or The Scarlet Pimpernel, if you like dashing young rakish heroes, medieval conspiracy and intrigue, and literary and philosophical allusions galore, you might very well relish The Game of Kings.

By the way, I wondered throughout the book if the words themselves were actually historically accurate: in other words, could a man living just after the death of Henry VIII in Scotland use all of the words that Crawford of Lymond uses? It would be difficult for a writer of historical fiction to be completely, historically accurate in terms of language, and sadly I figured out that Ms. Dunnett is not. At one point Master Crawford sarcastically tells his brother who is handling his poor, wounded body rather roughly, “I enjoy sadism, too.” Unfortunately, in a strike against historically accurate language, Donatien Alphonse François, Marquis de Sade, from whose name the word “sadism” is taken, didn’t live until the latter half of the eighteenth century. And several of the words that are defined above were dated in the online dictionary as coming into the language after 1600. Oh, well, you can enjoy the inundation of words and story in this novel anyway, without worrying about whether each word or phrase that Francis Crawford of Lymond uses would have actually been available to him. Lymond is a regular Shakespeare: he makes up his own appellations when the common tongue of the time period fails him.

I’m planning to proceed to the reading of the second book in the series, Queen’s Play, just as soon as I can get a copy from the library. It’s about the child, Mary, Queen of Scots, in France, as Lymond of Crawford works to guard Mary’s and Scotland’s interests in the court of French King Henri II and his queen Catherine de’Medici.

Rose Wilder Lane and Anne Morrow Lindbergh

The Aviator’s Wife by Melanie Benjamin.

A Wilder Rose: Rose Wilder Lane, Laura Ingalls Wilder, and their Little Houses by Susan Wittig Albert.

This week I serendipitously read both of these biographical novels about two strong women of the early twentieth century: Rose Wilder Lane, who was an author and independent world traveler, and Anne Morrow Lindbergh, also an author, a mother, and wife to the most famous American man of the 1920′s, aviator Charles Lindbergh.

Both Rose and Anne have been in danger of being overshadowed by their more famous family members and collaborators, Laura Ingalls Wilder and Charles Lindbergh, respectively. Both women wrote under difficult circumstances: Rose while essentially supporting her parents and two adopted “sons” through the years of the Great Depression, and Anne while raising a family of five children almost single-handedly during Charles’ long and frequent absences. Both women have not always received the credit due them for their extraordinary accomplishments.

It was fascinating to read about Rose Wilder Lane and Anne Morrow Lindbergh and realize as I read that these two women could very well have crossed paths during their lifetimes, maybe more than once. Of course, Anne’s life story is dominated by her marriage to Charles Lindbergh and by the tragic kidnapping and death of the couple’s first son, Charlie, when he was only two years old. Anne Morrow knew when she married the famous aviator who had been the first to fly across the Atlantic Ocean that her life would be forever changed and circumscribed by Lindbergh’s overwhelming fame and by the press that hounded him and wrote about every detail of his days. But she had no idea how Charles Lindbergh’s celebrity and popularity would damage her family and transform even her accomplishments.

“Working for months on an account of our trip to the Orient, in the end I still wasn’t satisfied with it; I had found it impossible to capture the innocence of that time before my baby’s death. It had done modestly well, and Charles was proud of it, although I couldn’t help but think that most people bought it out of morbid curiosity. The bereaved mother’s little book—cold you read her tragedy between the lines? I’d imagined people paging feverishly through it, eager to find evidence of a splotch tear, a blurry word, a barely suppressed sob.”

The sad thing is that, if I am honest, back when I first read Anne Lindbergh’s published diaries, and again when I read this novel about her life, I was waiting to get to the part where her son was kidnapped. I wasn’t “paging feverishly”, but I was anxious to see how the tragedy would be written, how the utter horror of the defining event in the Lindberghs’ family life would be handled in print. Well, it’s vey sad and quite moving to read about a family torn apart by journalistic excess and by criminals who fed on that excessive notoriety that made the Lindberghs a target.

It’s very interesting that both of these books are not biographies, but rather fictionalized blends of fact and imagination that both Ms. Benjamin and Ms. Albert felt were more vivid ways to tell the real story of these two women than a straight piece of nonfiction would have been. In A Wilder Rose, Rose Wilder Lane tells her mother, Laura Ingalls Wilder, several times that her books (Little House on the Prairie and its companions and sequels) can’t be told as the exact history of her family’s travels and travails as they really happened. The family stories must be turned into fiction, shaped and reworked as stories that hang together and have a beginning, a middle and an end. And somehow in doing that reshaping, the story become more true than it would be if it were a simple recitation of the dry facts. The fiction gives the stories a context and a theme and tells more about the feelings and drama behind the history than could be done without the framework and freedom of fiction.

“‘I want to tell the true story,’ she said firmly. Her blue eyes darkened and her mouth set in that hard, stubborn line that I knew very well. ‘I’m sorry if it’s not exciting enough to suit those editors in New York, but I’m not going to make up lies to make it more exciting.’
‘Nobody’s suggesting that you tell lies,’ I replied cautiously.’But sometimes we need to use fiction to tell the truth. Sometimes fiction tells a truer story than facts.’”

It’s an odd truth, but it works in both of these books and in the Little House books. I very much enjoyed reading about Rose Wilder Lane and Ann Morrow Lindbergh, and I feel as if I know them both in a way. I must say, however, that I don’t think I would have liked Ms. Lane very much, too prickly and independent, and I’m sure I would have wanted to slap Charles Lindbergh up the side of the head, if he really did what the book says he did and if I knew anything about it.

The Aviator’s Wife by Melanie Benjamin has been quite the popular beach read this summer and is available in bookstores, libraries, and from Amazon. A Wilder Rose by mystery writer Susan Wittig Albert is due to be published in October, 2013, but is not yet available for pre-order, as far as I can tell.

To Whisper Her Name by Tamera Alexander

Romance novels are not usually my thing. Historical fiction is. To Whisper Her Name is an historical romance, set just after the Civil War in Nashville, published by Zondervan, which makes it a Christian historical romance, doubly suspect in some circles.

I must say, however, I found the novel absorbing, if somewhat difficult to swallow whole in some aspects. The romance was fine, although Olivia, the female half of this romantic pairing, overcomes her novel-long inhibitions about marrying the male lead rather abruptly in the last few pages of the book. The part I couldn’t believe was the deep friendship that develops between Ridley Cooper, a white Union army veteran, and Bob Green, a black former slave and expert horse whisperer, on the plantation, Belle Meade. Ridley actually lives with “Uncle Bob” in a cabin on the plantation grounds. I would like to believe that such a friendship would have been possible, would have been tolerated, in those times in the South, but I find it difficult to envision.

The former slaves who are now working at Belle Meade also invite Ridley, and later Olivia, to their church meetings, to eat meals in their homes, and even to their parties. I just can’t picture the class and race differences being overcome so easily and openly. Maybe someone knows of examples of post-Civil War interracial friendships that would disprove my skepticism?

Anyway, it’s obvious from the beginning of the book that Olivia and Ridley are meant to get together by the end. However, there are, of course, impediments to the match. Olivia is a widow, loyal to the Southern cause, betrayed and made wary of marriage by her late husband’s cruelty. Ridley is a Southerner who fought for the Union, a traitor in the eyes of most other Southerners, and keeping that aspect of his life a secret from everyone is the only thing that allows him to live at Belle Meade long enough to learn about the care and husbandry of thoroughbred racing horses from Uncle Bob. Ridley’s plan is to learn all he can and then leave the South to build a ranch in the Wild Western state of Colorado. How can he and Olivia, a proper Southern lady who, moreover, is afraid of horses, ever come together?

Never fear. They can and will. It’s a Christian historical romance, after all.

To Whisper Her Name is on the shortlist of books nominated for the 2013 INSPY Awards in the Romance category.