A slow-paced tale, but hopefully its sequel will pack in a little more action.

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Warrior, Lover, King

From the The Carolingian Chronicles series , Vol. 1

A king struggles to rule with authority in Oak’s (Anna’s Awakening, 2011, etc.) historical novel.

History remembers Charlemagne as an eighth-century Christian ruler who united Western Europe and carried the titles of King of the Franks and Holy Roman Emperor. According to Oak’s novel, he was also a man at the mercy of the women in his life. Charlemagne’s first marriage falls apart thanks in no small part to his strong-willed, meddling mother. As he battles his guilt over the situation, he realizes that he may be freed up to marry the lovely, intelligent, and kind Hildegard. Yet his mother, in a move of political expediency, has already arranged for him to marry Desiderata, the Princess of Lombardy. Neither Charlemagne nor his brother Carloman trust the proposed alliance, as the King of Lombardy is hungry for power. Yet Charlemagne allows the wedding to proceed, breaking Hildegard’s heart. Predictably, bad things soon happen. Carloman is poisoned and his widow flees to Lombardy, and the marriage between Charlemagne and Desiderata is indeed miserable. The pope is also unhappy about the new wedding, while poor Hildegard pines away for Charlemagne and bemoans his lack of true leadership. Oak’s novel hews to the historical facts of Charlemagne’s life but imagines the details of his personal relationships. She includes several intriguing plotlines; the opening scene involving murderous bandits is compelling, and moments depicting the complicated relationship between church and state (and particularly between Charlemagne and the pope) are promising. Unfortunately, they’re relegated to the background, as Oak dedicates far too much space to the king’s relationships with his mother and Hildegard. In the many scenes depicting Charlemagne’s struggles with the overbearing queen mother, she’s said to be a “master of deceit,” while he’s the “world’s biggest fool.” When he’s not consumed by his annoyance with his mother, Charlemagne moons over Hildegard, behaving more like an angst-filled teenager than a great ruler with a kingdom to worry about. When he laments, “Must I always be punished or in pain, lose the people I need,” before he wraps his arms around himself, he’s not exactly the picture of inspiration. A cliffhanger ending teases a second installment.

A slow-paced tale, but hopefully its sequel will pack in a little more action.

Pub Date: Jan. 13, 2014

ISBN: 978-0-9842768-1-3

Page Count: 436

Publisher: At Last Communications

Review Posted Online: July 13, 2016

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More Hallmarkiana, from a shameless expert in the genre.

THE RESCUE

High-stakes weepmeister Sparks (A Walk to Remember, 1999, etc.) opts for a happy ending his fourth time out. His writing has improved—though it's still the equivalent of paint-by-numbers—and he makes use this time of at least a vestige of credible psychology.

That vestige involves the deep dark secret—it has something to do with his father's death when son Taylor was nine—that haunts kind, good 36-year-old local contractor Taylor McAden and makes him withdraw from relationships whenever they start getting serious enough to maybe get permanent. He's done this twice before, and now he does it again with pretty and sweet single mother Denise Holton, age 29, who's moved from Atlanta to Taylor's town of Edenton, North Carolina, in order to devote her time more fully to training her four-year-old son Kyle to overcome the peculiar impediment he has that keeps him from achieving normal language acquisition. Okay? When Denise has a car accident in a bad storm, she's rescued by volunteer fireman Taylor—who also rescues little Kyle after he wanders away from his injured mom in the storm. Love blooms in the weeks that follow—until Taylor suddenly begins putting on the brakes. What is it that holds him back, when there just isn't any question but that he loves Denise and vice versa-not to mention that he's "great" with Kyle, just like a father? It will require a couple of near-death experiences (as fireman Taylor bravely risks his life to save others); emotional steadiness from the intelligent, good, true Denise; and the terrible death of a dear and devoted friend before Taylor will come to the point at last of confiding to Denise the terrible memory of how his father died—and the guilt that's been its legacy to Taylor. The psychological dam broken, love will at last be able to flow.

More Hallmarkiana, from a shameless expert in the genre.

Pub Date: Sept. 19, 2000

ISBN: 0-446-52550-2

Page Count: 352

Publisher: N/A

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2000

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A love letter to the power of books and friendship.

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THE GIVER OF STARS

Women become horseback librarians in 1930s Kentucky and face challenges from the landscape, the weather, and the men around them.

Alice thought marrying attractive American Bennett Van Cleve would be her ticket out of her stifling life in England. But when she and Bennett settle in Baileyville, Kentucky, she realizes that her life consists of nothing more than staying in their giant house all day and getting yelled at by his unpleasant father, who owns a coal mine. She’s just about to resign herself to a life of boredom when an opportunity presents itself in the form of a traveling horseback library—an initiative from Eleanor Roosevelt meant to counteract the devastating effects of the Depression by focusing on literacy and learning. Much to the dismay of her husband and father-in-law, Alice signs up and soon learns the ropes from the library’s leader, Margery. Margery doesn’t care what anyone thinks of her, rejects marriage, and would rather be on horseback than in a kitchen. And even though all this makes Margery a town pariah, Alice quickly grows to like her. Along with several other women (including one black woman, Sophia, whose employment causes controversy in a town that doesn’t believe black and white people should be allowed to use the same library), Margery and Alice supply magazines, Bible stories, and copies of books like Little Women to the largely poor residents who live in remote areas. Alice spends long days in terrible weather on horseback, but she finally feels happy in her new life in Kentucky, even as her marriage to Bennett is failing. But her powerful father-in-law doesn’t care for Alice’s job or Margery’s lifestyle, and he’ll stop at nothing to shut their library down. Basing her novel on the true story of the Pack Horse Library Project established by the Works Progress Administration in the 1930s, Moyes (Still Me, 2018, etc.) brings an often forgotten slice of history to life. She writes about Kentucky with lush descriptions of the landscape and tender respect for the townspeople, most of whom are poor, uneducated, and grateful for the chance to learn. Although Alice and Margery both have their own romances, the true power of the story is in the bonds between the women of the library. They may have different backgrounds, but their commitment to helping the people of Baileyville brings them together.

A love letter to the power of books and friendship.

Pub Date: Oct. 8, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-399-56248-8

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Pamela Dorman/Viking

Review Posted Online: July 1, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2019

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