(Review) Alina: A Song for the Telling by Malve von Hassell

Publisher and Publication Date: BHC Press. August 27, 2020.
Genre: Historical fiction. Coming of age story. Middle ages.
Pages: 232.
Source: I received a paperback copy of the title from the author/publisher for the purpose of an honest review.  I was not compensated for this review: all conclusions are my own responsibility.
Audience: Middle grade readers. Historical fiction readers.
Rating: Very good.

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Malve von Hassell

About the Author:
Malve von Hassell is a freelance writer, researcher, and translator. She holds a Ph. D. in anthropology from the New School for Social Research. Working as an independent scholar, she published several books and journal articles, in particular, The Struggle for Eden: Community Gardens in New York City (Bergin & Garvey 2002) and Homesteading in New York City 1978-1993: The Divided Heart of Loisaida (Bergin & Garvey 1996). She has also edited her grandfather Ulrich von Hassell’s memoirs written in prison in 1944, Der Kreis schließt sich – Aufzeichnungen aus der Haft 1944 (Propylaen Verlag 1994). She has taught at Queens College, Baruch College, Pace University, and Suffolk County Community College, while continuing her work as a translator and writer. She has published a children’s picture book, Letters from the Tooth Fairy (Mill City Press, 2012), and completed a manuscript for a historical fiction book set in the 13th century for young adults, Falconello. She is working on a historical fiction novel set in Jerusalem in the time of the crusades.

Alina: A Song for the Telling is the coming-of-age story of a young woman from Provence in the 12th century who travels to Jerusalem, where she is embroiled in political intrigue, theft, murder, and finds her voice.

“You should be grateful, my girl. You have no dowry, and I am doing everything I can to get you settled. You are hardly any man’s dream.”

Alina’s brother Milos pulled his face into a perfect copy of Aunt Marci’s sour expression, primly pursing his mouth. He got her querulous tone just right. Maybe Alina’s aunt was right. She could not possibly hope to become a musician, a trobairitz—impoverished as she was and without the status of a good marriage. But Alina refuses to accept the life her aunt wants to impose on her.

At the first opportunity, she and her brother embark on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land to pray for their father’s soul and to escape from their aunt and uncle’s strictures. Their journey east takes them through the Byzantine Empire all the way to Jerusalem, where Alina is embroiled in political intrigue, theft, and murder.

Forced by a manipulative, powerful lord at court into acting as an informer, Alina tries to protect her wayward brother, while coming to terms with her attraction to a French knight.

My Thoughts:
Reasons why I like this story!
~Alina is a mature 14 year old. Her brother Milo is a year younger. I feel Hassell portrayed both as young people on the cusp of figuring out who they are and what they want in life. Alina has a desire to be a woman troubadour. This is an occupation and career during an era when females married and had children. She has strong character traits that only develop as the story continues. So, I feel her character evolves and transforms.
~Alina and Milo are typical brother and sister. They tease, give each other a hard time, and boss one another. However, they are devoted to one another, and this shows by their compassion and faithfulness. I love this about the brother and sister and it makes the story endearing.
~I had not read another story about pilgrims traveling to the Holy Land. Some of my questions were answered because of the story.
~The King of Jerusalem and his family were not people I’ve studied. This story gave me (even thought it’s historical fiction) a better idea of who they were.
~The story was descriptive whether it is a market place, palace, Jewish home, or scenery along the way to the Holy Land.
~There is a strong teaching element at the conclusion of the story. I found other places where the story reveals a lesson learned.

Themes in the story: ambition, loyalty, family love, perseverance, maturity, gratitude, courage, and compassion.


(Review) The Way of Glory by Patricia J. Boomsma

04_The Way of Glory_Blog Tour Banner_FINAL02_The Way of Glory

Publisher and Publication Date: Edeleboom Books. November 14, 2018.
Genre: Historical fiction.
Pages: 406.
Source: I received a complimentary copy, but was not required to write a positive review. Complimentary paperback copy provided by the author, Patricia J. Boomsma.
Rating: Very Good.
Audience: Readers of historical fiction. Readers who love medieval history. Adult and young adult audience.

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Praise for The Way of Glory:
“One of the many impressive things about The Way of Glory is how lightly it wears its scrupulous research. This fine novel invites you to lose yourself to the compelling character and tumultuous life of a young woman trying to find God and love at the heart of a crusade rooted in greed and hate. This is a remarkable debut by a writer to watch.” -Naeem Murr, author of The Perfect Man
The Way of Glory convincingly portrays a place, a time, and a people vastly different from our own. Historical fiction is a fantastically difficult genre to get right, but Pat Boomsma manages it with aplomb.” -Pinckney Benedict, author of Dogs of God
The Way of Glory is a riveting read from first page to last, as it expertly traces the trajectories of several compelling characters caught up in the Crusades. As the protagonist, Cate will steal your heart; she’s as complex a fourteen-year-old as you will ever meet, and the fate she struggles against is a complicated and often frightening vortex of forces, made ever richer by the intense evocation and very thoughtful depictions. This is a remarkable novel.” -Fred Leebron, author of Welcome to Christiania

03_Patricia Boomsma

About the Author:
I grew up in a far southwestern suburb of Chicago among the trees and sloughs of the Cook County Park District, then attended college in Michigan. After graduating, I dreamed of an academic life teaching English literature and began a Ph.D. program at Purdue University. There I concentrated on medieval studies, receiving a Master’s and continuing on for four more years before realizing that no one I knew was finding a permanent, let alone tenure-track, position. So, instead of writing my dissertation I went to law school. I moved to Arizona to escape the brutal midwestern winters and have been practicing law there for over thirty years. My first novel, The Way of Glory, is, in part, an extension of my love for all things medieval.

Cate, a teenage girl from twelfth century England, joins her brothers and aunt on a crusade to save Jerusalem that stops in Hispania to battle the Moors. Life on a battlefield strains the family’s closeness as they confront the terror and contradictions of holy war. Cate’s dreams of sainthood change to those of a husband and children when she falls in love with a soldier, but she finds no peace even after the family settles on land taken from the Moors. Cate’s friendship with a conquered Moor soon leads to impossible choices as she faces the cost of betrayal and the loss of all she’s known.

My Thoughts:
Medieval history is one of my favorite genres. I sometimes go through periods of reading time where this is the only type of book read.
The main reason I gave The Way of Glory a very good rating is because of the details of life during this historical period.
The main character is Cate. She is 14. She has two older brothers, a knight, and a future priest. They have other siblings and parents who do not have strong parts in the story. Cate’s aunt, Mary, is a strong character. Mary is a mature anchor in the story versus Cate’s impulsive immaturity.
Cate’s immaturity is irrational, selfish; and is in itself a theme that later leads to a disaster. Cate is the main character but I disliked her to the point of annoyance.
Mary is a character I’d like to read more about. She has knowledge and wisdom behind eyes that take in a mature perspective. However, making Mary the main character would change the whole story.
Cate wants to be given a mature responsibility. Mary is going to travel as a pilgrim with the soldiers who are “fighting for Christ” against the Moors. Mary can cook. She has knowledge of medicinal arts. And, she will care for the wounded soldiers. Cate and Mary will work together as a team ministering to the men who are fighting. However, Cate’s immaturity will display itself.

Reasons why I love The Way of Glory:
•The descriptions of everyday life in England: family life, church, food, role of women, priesthood, and knights training. And, early in the story a mystery surrounding a death. The village sheriff gave me a view of how a crime is investigated.
•The descriptions of how injured people were cared for during battle.
•Through Cate’s fresh lens I saw her world. The traveling by ship, plants, animals, buildings, bridges, ports, and a lighthouse.
•The people of Hispania. Their language and culture is interesting. Their culture versus the English culture was shown in the story.
•The feelings people had about the crusades. How they felt in England versus how they felt after arriving in a new land, and later, after the fighting began.