Wednesday, September 30, 2009

The Heretic Queen by Michelle Moran


In ancient Egypt, a forgotten princess must overcome her family’s past and remake history.

The winds of change are blowing through Thebes. A devastating palace fire has killed the Eighteenth Dynasty’s royal family—all with the exception of Nefertari, the niece of the reviled former queen, Nefertiti. The girl’s deceased family has been branded as heretical, and no one in Egypt will speak their names. A relic of a previous reign, Nefertari is pushed aside, an unimportant princess left to run wild in the palace. But this changes when she is taken under the wing of the Pharaoh’s aunt, then brought to the Temple of Hathor, where she is educated in a manner befitting a future queen.

Soon Nefertari catches the eye of the Crown Prince, and despite her family’s history, they fall in love and wish to marry. Yet all of Egypt opposes this union between the rising star of a new dynasty and the fading star of an old, heretical one. While political adversity sets the country on edge, Nefertari becomes the wife of Ramesses the Great. Destined to be the most powerful Pharaoh in Egypt, he is also the man who must confront the most famous exodus in history.

Sweeping in scope and meticulous in detail, The Heretic Queen is a novel of passion and power, heartbreak and redemption. – Crown

Opening Line: I am sure that if I sat in a quiet place, away from the palace and the bustle of the court, I could remember scenes from my childhood much earlier than six years old.

The Heretic Queen is a sequel to Nefertiti, however, you don’t have to read the first book to enjoy this one. Both stories can easily stand alone.

For those who love Ancient Egypt, with all its mysteries and brutalities, this novel will surely please. The gentle, unassuming prose lulls readers deep into the story, capturing interest and garnering suspense with each page turned. It is the story of a young, orphaned princess, shunned because of the sins of her ancestors, who faces adversity and achieves the highest rewards. Filled with palace intrigues, murder plots, greed, love, and desire, The Heretic Queen is sure to please. A highly recommended read!

A Hidden Legacy by Heather Garside

For most of his life, Matt Jones believed he was the uneducated son of kindly servants who work at Fenham Manor in England. But when he discovers they are not his true parents, and that he is the grandson of the lord of the manor who has always treated him with disdain, Matt sets off to Australia to search for his parents.

With little money, he is temporarily hired by his mother’s brother, a wealthy stockman who holds nothing but contempt for Matt’s father, a man of low rank who married his mother after getting her pregnant with Matt years before. From his uncle, he learns the whereabouts of his family’s ranch, complete with both parents and numerous siblings.

But acceptance into his new family and life becomes a struggle as Matt finds himself embroiled in sibling rivalry and an illicit love affair with Isabella, the daughter of a neighbouring stockman. Soon, Matt leaves Isabella for the gold fields to make his fortune. Unprepared for the harsh life of a gold miner, Matt soon finds himself in unfairly in trouble with the law. It is only then that he realizes the depth of his love for Isabella.

A HIDDEN LEGACY is more than a love story. It is a realistic family saga steeped with family secrets, scandals, and rich, twisting plot themes. Heather Garside has realistically recreated 19th century life in the harsh Australian countryside. Although it is the sequel to The Cornstalk, it easily stands alone.

Drawing on her own, real life experiences regarding her own life and work on an Australian ranch, Ms. Garside s has written a realistic, compelling novel about the lives of early settlers in Queensland. This is one of the best Australian novels I have encountered and highly recommend it.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Interview With Paula Phelan

Thank you for joining me on the Historical Novel Review Blog, Paula.

1. How long have you been writing historical fiction, and is this genre your only foray into writing?

I began writing historical fiction in 2003. I was inspired after not being able to travel on a business trip to China due to SARs. I wanted to understand how the threat of a flu should stop one’s ability to do business as usual. I discovered that the 1918 flu epidemic had been a great example of under-reported history. This spurred me to uncover other facts, events, and people that had slipped through the cracks of time.

Historical fiction is only one of my writing outlets, as the CEO of a robust technology public relations firms in Silicon Valley, I write non-fiction daily including articles for management publications and technology journals. I have also written fictional short stories for adults and children.

2. What other eras are you interested in writing about, apart from early 20th century American history, which are the settings for your trilogy?

When I started on the road of historical discovery I decided I would write Ten-of-Nine. Ten books on a year that ended in nine, that would span three centuries the 20th, 19th, and 18th centuries.

3. What made you choose such an unusual format for your novel, 1939-Into The Dark, and how did you come up with the template?

1939 was the first year I knew I would write about because of the great output of film and theatre in that year. In order to be able to provide commentary I created Alan Stipple a contemporary of the powerful critics of that day men and women who could make or break an artistic endeavour.

Nancy Ames, the African American reporter, is based on a real person who wrote for one of the negro papers in 1939 and spoke plainly about the atrocities in Europe and the implications for young black men who would be called up to serve.

4. I got the impression from the novel that the war correspondent was shouting at her readers, trying to get them to sit up and take notice, but no one was listening. It was a powerful premise. Was that what you intended?

Indeed, as an African American in the United States at that time Nancy Ames had the ability to recognize racism and its dangers. She, and other reporters like her, attempted to awaken the American public to what was going on. At the time the country was committed to neutrality, no one wanted another war. It had been twenty years since the First World War which was very unpopular when the citizens realized it was a war of economics not righting wrongs. The young men born when their fathers returned would be sent off if another war should occur.

5. What was your personal view of how American citizens regarded the outbreak of war in Europe, and did your own perspective form part of the story?

I had grown up believing people in the U.S. didn’t know, which proved not to be true. I asked individuals who were in their twenties at the time – why there wasn’t an outcry and the answer was poignant, “We were so worn down by the depression, excited by the glimmer of light that things could get better, that it was easier to say nothing. Besides what could one person do?”

And in truth how different is that from today? We all know about Dafur, however, feel powerless to do much besides send money.

6. I found myself waiting for the rest of the cast to fall in line with the premise that something had to be done about the atrocities being perpetrated on the Jewish community, but no one really did. As President Roosevelt held out until the end of 1941 before entering the war, was that a social comment?

Yes, there were a few people, the Roosevelts, Churchill and others who wanted to do something, however the sentiment was so strong toward neutrality these individuals were in the minority. What’s more there was a great deal of anti-Semitism in the U.S. at the time (which Nancy Ames reports on) another reason why Jewish Americans were afraid to speak up.
7. You leave the reader hanging – sort of – at the end as three characters sail off into the sunset with their own agendas. Is that to leave us with our own ending to the story, or do you hope to get across that those who are worth redeeming find their way?

The characters defined their own outcomes. I personally believe that life is an adventure and the more it can be faced pure of heart the greater the chances for success. In fact all three gentlemen make it back and appear in 1969 – The Dream of Aquarius as supporting characters.

8. In the UK, apart from being too caught up with our own survival, the consensus of opinion was that Americans didn’t know what went on in Europe. Your novel shows that news reports were readily available and that the apathy was voluntary. Is that what you were trying to say?

The apathy or unwillingness to engage is one of those ‘under-reported’ facts of history. In the U.S. we are told of our contributions to World War II, however, there is never any mention of our unwillingness to act until after the bombing of Pearl Harbor.

9. Now the more frivolous bit. What has been the biggest stumbling block in writing and getting your work published?

The biggest challenge for me was getting the novel published without allowing a publisher to significantly alter my work. I had a vision for how the novel would look and feel, and the first publisher I worked with wanted to turn it into a romance novel. After numerous historical characters were removed I finally drew the line when I was told to take out Ernest Hemingway because no one would know who he was. Needless to say, I didn’t end up working with that publisher.
10. What would you like our readers to know about you and your writing?

I truly believe we can learn from history. Learn how to not to make the same mistakes. History taught in schools is packaged and polished to take off all the rough edges – it lacks the whys and personalities that brought us to this moment in time.

That is why I focused each book on one year, in order to not be overwhelmed and able to find the nuggets of under reported history and bring them to light.

To write historical fiction for me is to be part private investigator, part empathetic therapist, and mostly willing to be awed by what I don’t know and share what I learn with others in a way that entertains and inspires.
You have quite an unique view on your ambitions as a writer, Paula.many thanks for talking to me and may I wish you every success with 1939 Into The Dark

Thursday, September 24, 2009

1939-Into The Dark by Paula Phelan

The focus of Paula Phelan’s story, 1939 - Into the Dark, published by ZAP Media New York, takes place over a twelve month period with her characters interacting with famous names of the day in both New York Society's arts and entertainment world.

Set during the months before the declaration of war in Europe, Jason Rothman, is writing a play starring Carole Lombard which promises to be a huge success, but he is distracted by the events in Europe.

Having no knowledge of how the US greeted the news and events of the opening months of the war, being weaned on The Blitz, rationing and telegrams received by my family from the War Office, this perspective was what attracted me about this novel.

Consumed with their own problems after the great depression and the threats to playwrights and actors, although most of the characters seem aware of the gathering storm, they are reluctant to do more than discuss its implications dispassionately. Some are even glad to have escaped it, but no one wants to do anything positive.

Miriam, Jason’s wife, is an aspiring poet whose parents are trapped in Germany. The letters they send to Jason and Miriam are distressing, and Jason cannot understand why New York is so ambivalent about what is happening in Europe. Faced with success after many years of hard work, Jason is torn between a desire to do something to help the Jews, and concentrating on his career.

The novel takes the form of short, cameo scenes, each starring a different set of characters; a playwright, an artist, a musician, an architect, an activist and a gangster, the events of their lives, interspersed with press reports of dire warnings about the coming war, mixed in with film reviews. This unusual, fast-paced format was somewhat confusing at first, and I couldn’t get a handle on who the main characters of the book actually were. I also found myself waiting for the rest of the cast to fall in line with the premise that something had to be done about the war in Europe and the atrocities being perpetrated on the Jewish community.

This novel isn’t as simple at that, however and the realisation of how world changing this war would be takes longer to dawn on those watching it from afar, as well as others who turn off the radio due to the burgeoning difficulties of their own lives.

My initial impatience with their lethargy is soon dispelled as Ms Phelan shows me that perhaps they can be excused for their self absorption. Her characters all have intense, interesting lives, and their denial becomes understandable when their own conflicts are taken into account. No one has a free ride in this book, and in their place, I wondered if I would have instantly clamoured to be involved in a conflict everyone hopes will burn out before it becomes too serious.

With the WPA Federal Theatre Project, the Un-American Activities Committee, the Spanish Civil War, and demonstrations by communist unions thrown into the mix, this goes some way to exonerate those who resist involving themselves in a foreign war. Ms Phelan manages to weave them all together in the later stages, where she also makes a comment on the film Wuthering Heights which made me smile.

The characters who stood out for me, apart from Jason and Miriam and their prickly marriage, was Sarah the harpist whose independence and compassion brings some emotion to the series of loosely connected events. Ms Phelan’s meticulous research adds depth and colour to her story, as well as references to Mayor La Guardia, the hedonistic Gables, Tallulah Bankhead, Katherine Hepburn and many others.

1939-Into The Dark is the second of a trilogy, which deals with iconic events in American history in an unusual way. The first novel is 1919 Misfortune’s End, and the next book to be released is 1969 The Dream of Aquarius.

Monday, September 14, 2009

A Land Beyond Ravens by Kathleen Guler

A Land Beyond Ravens - Book Four of the Macsen’s Treasure Series

In 5th century Britain, High King Uther Pendragon is old, frail, and sick. He has no known heir and must name one before he dies. Lesser king, Cadwallon, waits impatiently to take his place. But Uther Pendragon does indeed have an heir, his whereabouts a secret even to him. A son named Arthur who has been hidden away since birth under the guidance of an old, wise wizard. Almost no one knows of his existence. Soon, Arthur will be acknowledged as Uther Pendragon’s sole heir and high king. But until then, doubts swirl about his existence.

Marcus is a fallen confidant of Uther Pendragon. Over the years, he served as the high king’s spy. But now, he knows too much and he is no longer favoured or trusted by the king. He struggles to keep the peace between Cadwallon and the Christian Church, both desirous of increasing their power.

Marcus’ beloved wife, Claerwen is gifted with “fire in the head” (the ability to see the future). She was also a trusted servant of the king, having protected Uther’s daughter by taking her to Avalon. When her sister, Drysi, and a strange monk, Gwion, seek shelter with Marcus at their fortress, trouble mysteriously ensues.
A Land Beyond Ravens is the 4th and final book of the Macsen’s Treasure Series. Even though I had not read the preceding novels, I was easily able to follow the plot and relevant backstory through clever, brief snippets throughout the story. The reader follows the numerous twists and turns of the story through the point of view of the two main characters, Marcus and Claerwan, created completely from the imagination of author Kathleen Cunningham Guler. As such, this keeps the story fresh and unique from the actual Arthurian Legend. Guler writes with a strong voice and vibrant prose. Her use of Welsh and Celtic names and words adds realism to the skilfully woven tale. She is a master at creating unique, unusual characters which draw the reader deeper into the story in anxious desire to unlock their secrets.

I highly recommend this book to afficionado’s of the Arthurian legend. The previous books in the series are Into the Path of Gods, In the Shadow of Dragons, and The Anvil Stone.