Saturday, November 27, 2010

The Gentleman Poet by Kathryn Johnson

Review by Sheila R. Lamb

Kathryn Johnson weaves historical fiction, romance, and mystery into an intriguing novel that parallels William Shakespeare’s The Tempest.

Elizabeth Persons is on her way to the foundling colony of Virginia in 1609 when a shipwreck leaves her, and the other 150 passengers, stranded on the shores of Bermuda.As a servant to the cantankerous Mistress Horton, Elizabeth keeps her true religion, for which her father was executed, a secret. She befriends the ships’ mysterious historian, William Strachey, who plays matchmaker between Elizabeth and the ship’s cook, Thomas Powell.

Temperamental Strachey fills the role of a father-figure for Elizabeth as the shipwrecked passengers attempt to rebuild their lives on the desolate islands.  Elizabeth soon discovers her new acquaintance has secrets similar to her own, and the two are bound together in their struggle against Catholic persecution they faced in England. When Strachey writes a play for the marooned colonist’s entertainment – and casts Elizabeth as Miranda - he risks discovery of his true identity.

Johnson deftly uses Elizabeth’s perspective to portray conflicts between the governor, captain, and unruly sailors, as the fledgling community takes shape. Elizabeth’s new role as a chef, bestowed upon her when Powell falls ill, gives her the opportunity to observe the entire group as she scouts the island to collect herbs and roots for her delectable feasts. In a unique visual twist to the text, Johnson includes seventeenth century styled recipes for island finds such as Baygrape Jelly and Turtle Soup.

Historically, the Sea Venture was the third supply ship bound for Jamestown in 1609 which ran aground in the Bermudas.  The novel accurately incorporates figures such Captain Newport and Governor Gates. Thomas Powell and Elizabeth Persons are also recorded on the ships manifest, as well as Will Strachey, who wrote an account of the adventure.  As Johnson indicates in her author’s note, Shakespeare seems to be notably missing from England during this time. Thus, she successfully transforms Strachey into Shakespeare and the Gentleman Poet sets a marvelous stage for The Tempest

Friday, November 26, 2010

Burning Silk by Destiny Kinal

Reviewed by Mirella Sichirollo Patzer

Burning Silk is a story set in the 19th century France and America about the Duladier family known for the craft of spinning silk. For decades, their maitresses of women have raised the finest silk moths from cocoon to their mating and then death in order to spin the fine threads of silk. Catherine, the newest maitresse is sent to visit a perfumier who ultimately exploits her sexually and painfully, an experience that she has never forgiven or forgotten.

Later, the she moves to Bucks County, Pennsylvania with a family of her own to start the family business in the new world. Even though she has started a new life, she has never been able to forget the horrible sexual experience she had to endure. It is her fear and torment that continues to haunt her and her family.

Burning Silk is an erotic novel not for the faint of heart. The novel delves deep into the topics of sexuality and the journey into womanhood. It is a rich, complex story that is not to be rushed when reading it. Although not an easy read due to numerous point of view shifts and short sentences of introspection, it is a book worth persevering through. Many readers might find the sexual explicit rape scene in the first chapter a little difficult to read, but if readers continue past that point, they will discover a lovely, emotional story.

This is the first novel in a series about textiles. It was also nominated as a finalist in the International Book Awards.

Blood and Silk, by Carol McKay

Review by Laurie Rezanoff

"The Hidden Love Story of Mary of Magdala and Jesus of Nazareth" as told mostly by Mary of Magdala (also known as Mary Magdalene), the wife of Jesus. There will be people who staunchly disbelieve that Mary and Jesus were married, let alone had children of their own. This is yet another version of historical novels currently out there revealing this buried truth. I believe Jesus lived as an ordinary man, with extraordinary gifts and destiny. Why wouldn't he and Mary Magdala have married and had children? It is interesting what the politics and power mongers of the day did to suppress their real life and who they truly were.

I enjoyed learning about the political, religious and spiritual realities of just prior to, and within, the First Century CE in Roman Judea. There were times when I struggled with the weight of the historical facts and figures that outweighed the storytelling. Personally not knowing much about the political aspect and names of the Roman Empire leaders, nor the Jewish language, made it difficult to understand some of the layers of meaning within this novel. It also made the character's conversations with one another sound more like university lectures than personal conversation from time to time.

It was worth the struggle to find out what happened after Jesus' death, and what ensued for many decades to his siblings, parents, wife and children, as well as his disciples. It is interesting to see, again, what power, greed and thirst for leadership will do to people, and how far they will go to cover up the truth of what happened 2000 years ago.

An interesting look into "what might have been" as imagined by author Carol McKay, and supported by detailed research of the history of the times. As an Astrologer myself, I was glad to read the addition of the role of astrologers and other "healers" in her story that we take for granted in our modern times.

Maids of Misfortune by M. Louisa Locke

Review by Laurie Rae Rezanoff

This Victorian San Francisco mystery, set in 1879, features a financially struggling widow who must supplement her boardinghouse income by using her clairvoyant tendencies to help advise her clients with domestic and business advice.

When one of her male business clients ends up dead, it is Annie Fuller (aka Madame Sibyl) who must find evidence that he was indeed murdered for the assets he accrued through her financial advice, not death by suicide as the police believed.

It is interesting to see the struggles women went through in the Victorian era, having to hide their quick and brilliant brains in order to conform to societal expectations of proper ladylike behaviour. This includes male expectations of business affairs, and taking any such advice from a mere woman!

To add to this mix is the family lawyer, Nate Dawson, who must work with Annie, not knowing her Madame Sibyl identity, nor the education she received from her father about all things financial. He is in for a rude awakening, as well as the opening of his heart.

Lessons in Love by Charlie Cochrane

Review by Laurie Rae Rezanoff

Set in St. Bride's College, Cambridge England, in 1905, a pair of male teachers find themselves seconded by the police to be the eyes and ears within the college to, hopefully, lure out the person responsible for murdering several male students.

Jonty Stewart and Orlando Coppersmith become smitten with one another in the course of the investigation, and must hide their true relationship from the rest of the college, as well as the murderer. It turns out that all the victims have the same thing in common - loving men.

This quick novel reads well, and shows the deep affection some men have for one another, as well as the hatred others have of them.

Deep Creek, A Novel by Dana Hand

Review by Laurie Rae Rezanoff

I quite enjoyed this novel, set in 1887, based on actual events that took place in Idaho Territory, in America.

An old west murder mystery, this tale brings together foreign cultures, politics, prejudices, greed and the hunger for power. The ongoing struggle of Native American vs white vs Chinese cultures, class and caste, and human inner demons, echoing at times what we still see and hear today in so-called modern society.

The twists and turns in this novel made it unpredictable and intriguing. You will learn the role Chinese immigrants played in the gold mining history of western America, and the power plays for the lands relegated to expanding railroads that crossed continents.

What is most shocking to read are the lengths people took to massacre these Chinese miners, and then the cover up. Ancient beliefs are revealed that only add to the intrigue of this novel.

The personal struggles and inner growth of the three main characters was truly inspiring. They each lived their lives to the best of their ability. It took the formation of the unlikely threesome team, who eventually solved the mystery surrounding the massacre, that finally laid to rest their own inner demons, over time.

I highly recommend reading this novel. Dana Hand has successfully brought the fiction into the actual history without overloading the reader with facts over fantasy. A great winter weekend read!

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Désirée by Annemarie Selinko

Reviewed by Mirella Sichirollo Patzer

Désirée by Annemarie Selinko is a biographical novel about Désirée Clary who was Napoleon Bonaparte's first true love.  In this re-issue by Sourcebooks, readers will be highly entertained by one of the most comprehensive and detailed novels of France during the 18th and 19th centuries.  The scope of this novel is amazing and follows the rags to riches life of the Bonaparte family as they gained power throughout all of Europe.

Told through the eyes of Désirée Clary, it is a beautiful first person narrative about a strong, wise, courageous, and often eccentric young woman who never aspired to prestige.  Yet, destiny nudged her into the highest ranks until she found herself an unwilling and unpopular queen.  

If there is one book that will tell all about this fascinating era in history, this is it.  And what a fascinating woman Désirée was.  Well written, full of historical detail, it is an education in itself, carefully disguised as a pleasant novel.  For a fascinating insight into this very intriguing woman, I highly recommend this novel to readers.   

Désirée Clary

Before Napoleon fell in love with the beguiling Josephine, his heart belonged to Désirée Clary, the daughter of a wealthy silk manufacturer and merchant in Marseille, France. As was the mode in pre-revolutionary France, she entered a convent to receive her education. When her convent was closed because of the French Revolution, Désirée returned home to her parents.

After the death of her father, the revolutionaries arrested her brother. Désirée went to see Joseph Bonaparte who was in charge of the prisoner to beg for his release.

Joseph Bonaparte

It worked and a grateful Désirée introduced Joseph to her sister, Julie, and they were soon married.

Julie Clary

Through Joseph, Désirée met and fell in love with Napoleon Bonaparte and they became engaged.

Napoleon Bonapare

It was during their engagement that Napoleon met Josephine de Beauharnais. He broke off his engagement with Désirée and married Josephine instead.

Josephine de Beauharnais

Heartbroken, at first, Désirée returned to live with her mother in Genoa and later she lived Julie and Joseph in Rome. She was briefly betrothed to General Léonard Duphot, but on the eve of their marriage, he was killed in a riot in Rome.

After her return to France, she met and married General Jean Baptiste Jules Bernadotte and together they had a son whom they named Oscar.

Bernardotte was a leading general in the French Napoleonic army.  Désirée maintained a very good relationship with the Bonaparte Imperial family, as well as with the Empress Joséphine.  When Josephine was crowned Empress, Desiree held her train.  

Désirée enjoyed a busy and comfortable social life in Paris during her husband's long absences.  Bernardotte rose in power and acclamation.  He became Prince of Pontecorvo and later was elected to the throne of Sweden.   

Throughout her life, Désirée was not interested in politics, but because of her good connections, she was often used for political purposes by her husband and Napoleon.  

Unlike her husband, Désirée did not like politics and she remained in Paris for most of his career.  Désirée visited Sweden, but struggled with court intrigues, the cold weather, and was treated with disdain.  She never wanted to be a queen and hated to be so far away from her family.

The Swedish Dowager Queen found her spoiled and undignified, and Désirée's ladies, made matters worse by encouraging her to complain about everything.

Dowager Queen Hedwig Elizabeth Charlotte

She further described Désirée as good-hearted, generous and pleasant when she chose to be and not one to plot, but also as immature and a "spoiled child" who hated all demands and was unable to handle any form of representation.  She described Désirée as "a French woman in every inch," who disliked and complained about everything which was not French, and "consequently, she is not liked."

Désirée departed from Sweden for health reasons and returned to her beloved Paris where she remained for twelve years, leaving her husband and her son behind. 

In Paris she did her best to avoid politics during the difficult period when Sweden was at war with France. However, her house at rue d'Anjou was watched by the secret police, and her letters were read by them.

When Napoleon was defeated in the year 1814, she gave refuge to her sister, Julie.  Bernadotte came to Paris, but once more returned to Sweden without her.  He left behind Count de Montrichard at Désirée's household as his spy to report to him if she did anything which could affect him.

While in Sweden, Bernadotte took a mistress, the noble Mariana Koskull.  Dubbed Desideria by the Swedes, Désirée held receptions in Paris as the queen of Sweden on Thursdays and Sundays, though she still used the title of countess.  After many years of separation from her son, they were briefly reunited in 1822 in Aachen.

Crown Prince Oscar Bernadotte

In 1823, Désirée returned to Sweden together with her son's bride, Josephine of Leuchtenberg; the visit was initially to be but a short one.

Josephine of Leuctenberg

On 21 August 1829, Désirée was crowned Queen at her own request.  She was the first commoner to become queen since Karin Månsdotter in 1568.

She did her best to be active as a queen, a role she had never wanted to play, partaking in balls and parties and royal appearances.  Désirée soon grew tired of her royal status and wanted to return to France. However, Bernadotte refused to allow her to go.  

She liked spending her summers at Rosersberg Palace and visited Swedish spas. The court was shocked by her informal behaviour.  Every morning, she visited Bernadotte in her nightgown, even though he often met with his council in his bedchamber at that time of day.  Désirée was always late to dinner so they stopped having meals together.  Bernadotte preferred to have his meals alone.  She kept late hours, going to bed late, and waking up late each day.

The Swedish court never became endeared to her and they considered her eccentric.  At Rosersberg Palace, she liked to take walks in the park at night, but because she was afraid of bats, she instructed her ladies-in-waiting to walk ahead of her dressed in white to detract the bats from her.

Her eccentricities

When Bernadotte died in 1853, she wanted to return to Paris, but remained in Sweden due to her intense fear of sea travel.  During this time she became even more eccentric.  She went to bed in the morning, got up in the evening, ate breakfast at night, and drove around in a carriage through the streets, in the courtyard, or wandered around the corridors of the sleeping castle with a light.  Désirée made unannounced visits, and sometimes she would take in children from the streets to the palace and give them sweets even though she could not speak a word of Swedish.  On the day she died, she entered her box at the Royal Swedish Opera just after the performance had ended.

Désirée died in Stockholm on 17 December 1860 and was buried in the church at Riddarh.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

The King's Daughter

The daughter of James I, Elizabeth, who became Elizabeth of Bohemia and the mother of Prince Rupert, has been given a first-person voice in Christie Dickerson’s novel, The King’s Daughter.  Elizabeth is also the granddaughter of Mary Queen of Scots, daughter of James VI of Scotland and I of England, who signed his mother’s death warrant, a bisexual, profligate monarch who wears a padded shirt due to his pathological fear of assassins. A paranoia which extends to his children, whom he separates from himself and each other due to his fear and jealousy.

When Elizabeth’s father tells her that his philosophy is never to trust anyone, she learns quickly that this adage includes herself and her two brothers, the beautiful and popular blond, handsome heir, Henry Prince of Wales, and Baby Charles, who at this stage was not expected to become the Charles I who ultimately became The Martyr King.

The story opens with Elizabeth’s being approached by Lord Digby outside Combe Abbey, who tells her she ‘Must be Queen’. Frightened and confused, she refuses to co-operate and when the conspiracy of the Catholic Gunpowder plot to destroy King James and Prince Henry and put Elizabeth on the throne is discovered, King James suspects her of trying to usurp his throne and she is ‘examined’ by his secretary, Robert, ‘Wee Bobby’ Cecil, and is forced to watch the hanging, drawing and quartering of the plotters so her reaction can be gauged, despite the fact she is not yet ten years old.

Ms Dickason’s portrayal of James I is exactly what I have learned about this profligate, obsessive, physically unattractive man with a penchant for young boys. She writes a scene where he hurls a diamond into the Thames to show Elizabeth he cares nothing for wealth, then sends a team of servants to dredge the river to retrieve the gem.  Elizabeth is warned that those close to her cannot be trusted, ‘everyone is someone’s creature’ and she has virtually no one she can confide in.

Historical biographicals are complicated to write, in that some readers like a lot of fiction to pad out the boring parts of true life events, whereas others require the author stick religiously to the known facts. There is a great deal of fiction in this story, specifically the young Elizabeth’s friendship with Thalia Bristo, the Ethiopian lute player who takes her to a brothel in Southwark to educate her on sex. She and Thalia make a list of her suitors and the slave girl is sent on a mission to obtain information and likenesses of these men so Elizabeth can decide on a favourite. I doubt any aspect of this friendship occurred, but I didn’t care and I thoroughly enjoyed delving into the two girl’s thoughts as they established a bond. A bond that Elizabeth decides must be broken to save Thalia’s life and so she sends her to the Americas.

I found no difficulty in separating the fictional aspects from the real history, and it appeals to me to think that Elizabeth was strong enough, as Ms Dickason writes, to confront her dreadful father to demand some say in whom she marries.  I found it added to the romance that she and Frederick, Elector Palatine formed an immediate close bond and were both determined to marry, which finally happens after several false alarms when Elizabeth is seventeen. Their courtship is endearing and sweet and this was reputed to be a true life love match as Elizabeth and Frederick had thirteen children, including Prince Rupert of the Rhine, even though her own life as Queen of Bohemia had its own tragedies.

The only criticism I would have, other than that the plot is a padded out at times with lots of introspection so could do with some editing, is that Elizabeth’s character doesn’t change much during the course of the novel, so the nine-year-old girl has the same inner voice at the seventeen-year-old bride.

Elizabeth’s love for her elder brother Henry was touching, although the poor young man seemed to have no faults at all, but then he died young so probably had no time to develop any. But then, when a Prince of Wales dies in his teens, I doubt any court recorder would dare to speak ill of him! Unsurprisingly, Elizabeth shows some of her Father’s paranoia, in that she believes the King may have poisoned Henry, whom she adored and wouldn’t balk at killing her too.

Ms Dickason's concept of Anne of Denmark, Elizabeth’s mother, was of a cold, emotionally damaged woman who tells her daughter that when her babies were removed from her to be raised by someone else prevented her having any feelings for them. She goes on to display this with crushing detachment in that she cannot spare a kind word or look for her only surviving daughter. However, history also says that Elizabeth herself was a disinterested mother, being more interested in her moneys and pet dogs than her large brood of children

If you don’t mind a large dose of imagination mixed in with recorded history, The King’s Daughter is a lovely story to escape into. I thoroughly enjoyed it and it kept my attention so even with 468 pages I completed it in two days.

Leave a comment on this blog and you will automatically be entered into the contest to win a paperback copy of 'The King's Daughter'

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

The Two Pearls of Wisdom by Alison Goodman

     Eon: Dragoneye Reborn

Two Pearls of Wisdom is easily one of the best, most inventive works of fantasy I've ever read. Superb writing, characters and character development were precise and sometimes surprising and the world building was on a level seldom seen.
For instance, have you ever heard of magic built around the twelve animals of the zodiac and the Chinese belief in meridian points within the human body? In answer to the first question: yes, once. In answer to the second question: never unless you count traditional Chinese mythology. In 37 years of reading fantasy, I have never come across something quite this inventive. I wish I'd thought of it, but I can only admire.

Eon is a crippled boy with the unusual ability to see all twelve mystical dragons of the zodiac. Eon is also not a boy, but Eona, a sixteen-year-old girl who will be killed for presuming upon a man's position if she's discovered. To complicate matters, the Emperor lies on his deathbed. His brother and Lord Ido, the Rat Dragoneye, seek to make the "String of Pearls," a weapon of unholy power, and with it, change the world. Eona must learn to trust her power and find the strength to face a vicious enemy who would seize her magic and her life.

If you love political intrigue and fantasy as much as I do, then you're probably longing for a unique take on the genre. "The Two Pearls of Wisdom" is it and it's the first in a series.  Please be aware, in the U.S., the book's title is "Eon: Dragoneye Reborn." (Ms. Goodman is Australian and "Two Pearls" is the original Australian title.) I don't do spoilers, but I can tell you this was obviously planned as a series of books. "The Necklace of the Gods" won't be one of those sequels that happened because a sequel was the unplanned, but most expedient literary offering. "Two Pearls" is a stand alone novel that clearly paves the way for what must happen next.

Based on the first book, I look forward to another magical story unfolding.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Journey to Riverbend by Henry McLaughlin

 Reviewed by Ginger Simpson

Modern-day characters don't have a corner on dysfunction. Michael Archer and Rachel Stone both have secrets that haunt them, and author, Henry McLaughlin, has demonstrated their inner turmoil very well in this upcoming release.

It’s 1878, and Michael is about to witness the hanging of a young man who swears his innocence.  Michael believes Ben Carstairs and vows to travel to Riverbend to deliver a message of amends to the boy’s father, Sam.  The senior Carstairs is a powerful man, but not a forgiving one.  He sent his youngest son packing as soon as he was old enough to fend for himself, blaming him for the death of his beloved wife. As his last act in life, Ben presses a silver cross into Michael’s hand.  The necklace belonged to his mother and he wants his father to have it back.

Rachel Stone’s past as a saloon whore plays havoc with her ability to fit into a normal life in Riverbend.  Backed by Sam Carstairs, she opens a dress shop and hopes to find peace she never enjoyed before.  Men still leer at her with hunger and attempt unsolicited advances…the worst, another of Sam’s sons, Mark, a habitual drunk.  Slowly, through church-going folks, Rachel begins to fit in. She’s immediately attracted to Michael, who has also turned to God.

There are more secondary characters than you can shake a stick at, but each play a vital role in the story.  When Sam is kidnapped for something he did in his past, Michael joins the posse in an attempt to bring him home.  The result…pages and pages of tension and suspense when the good guys meet the bad and eventually someone wins…sort of.

Journey to Riverbend is an inspirational historical novel coming in February 2011 from Tyndale Publishing.  If you enjoy lots of internal thoughts peppered throughout the book, then you’ll feel very connected to the characters. Lots of prayer and introspection included as well.  The back cover of the book indicates that the author is the 2009 winner of the Jerry B. Jenkins Christian Writers Guild Operation First Novel contest.  This review is based on an unedited advanced reading copy, so one can certainly see why this first time author so impressed the judges. 

The book will be available in both print and download on the Tyndale Website or via Amazon.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

The Princess of Nowhere by Prince Lorenzo Borghese

Review by Mirella Sichirollo Patzer

Scheduled for release in December 2010, The Princess of Nowhere is a wonderful portrayal about the tempestuous life of Princess Pauline Borghese, sister of the infamous conqueror, Napoleon Bonaparte.

Pauline Bonaparte Borghese

Pauline Bonaparte was born into the most humble of beginnings in Corsica. Their family was large, boisterous, and very poor. Possessed with great beauty and spirit, she was a woman who reached out for life wherever and whenever she could find it. In the year 1793, when the French Revolution made Corsica unsafe, the Bonaparte family moved to France. Her brother, Napoleon, was young, ambitions, and had the highest of dreams.

Napoleon Bonaparte in his study

As he rose through the military ranks and gained fame and wealth, he made sure to pull every member of his family out of the dregs of poverty with him. And Pauline was no exception.

When she was seventeen years old, Napoleon arranged for her to marry a fellow officer named Victor Emmanuel Leclerc.

General Leclerc

She soon bore him a son who they named Dermide. When her husband was posted to the West Indies, she gladly followed him there. But life in the world was fraught with trouble. Life was not easy there and Victor suffered numerous military losses. He soon fell ill with yellow fever and died, leaving Pauline a very young widow. Pauline and her young son returned home with the body of her husband.

In the spring of 1803, Napoleon introduced her to Prince Camillo Borghese and they were married a year later.

Prince Camillo Borghese

With her young son, Pauline travelled to Rome where she and Camillo began their lives together in the beautiful Villa Borghese.

Camillo commissioned a statue of Pauline from the great sculptor Canova, the now-famous portrait of Pauline as the goddess Venus.

Their marriage, however, was not always happy, even though a deep love and strong physical attraction existed between them. When her son, Dermide died in childhood of fever, Pauline’s life fell into a slow painful decline and she and Camillo became estranged. Pauline lived in France (with a series of lovers) and Camillo remained in Italy taking a mistress of his own. It was a bitter separation, but one that still bore the fruits of their love.

The Princess of Nowhere is the beautifully told story of the life of one of the most passionate women of the 19th century. And who better to share the intimate details of her life than the direct descendant of Camillo Borghese, Prince Lorenzo Borghese. This easy to read tale unfolds with beautifully decorated pages at the start of each chapter. The story is told with understanding and tolerance in a non-judgmental way so that the reader is sympathetic towards both Pauline and Camillo while understanding the culture and social norms of the times. It is rich with detail and beautiful of voice – a novel worth lingering over, as full of passion as the woman it portrays.

Tories: Fighting for the King in America's First Civil War

Review by: L. Gregory Graham

A good history book transports the reader back to an era; a great history book causes the reader to reflect on current events through different eyes and different times. Tories does that. Halfway through the book I began to wonder which side our current crop to Tea Party Patriots would have chosen during the Revolutionary War, and by the end of the book, I was wondering which side I would have chosen.

I found the book unsettling, but in a good way. Before cracking the covers, I knew a little more about the Revolution than was taught in high school history, but not much. I had this mental picture of wise forefathers leading a united citizenry against a clearly repressive King George. Patriots shot at Hessians and Redcoats and then returned to their farms where their neighbors esteemed them, and the Scottish settlers on the frontier naturally rallied the Patriots.

Unfortunately, all this is wrong. Our forefathers led a small but noisy faction backed by no more than one third of the populace. Patriots in the middle and southern colonies probably killed more of their loyalist neighbors than they did Redcoats and Hessians, and the Scottish immigrants on the frontiers tended to side with the mother country.

The British were undoubtedly ham fisted in their approach to the colonies, but they were well intentioned, and had good reason to tax the colonies. They had spent a great deal of money protecting the colonists during the French and Indian Wars. So was their taxation without representation? Yes, but it wasn’t taxation without reason.

Probably the most eye-opening subject in the book was the way colonist turned on colonist. Long Island Sound, New York and New Jersey turned into no man’s lands where lawlessness prevailed, where neighbor burned out neighbor, and personal vendetta clothed in partisanship ruled the day. Both sides used confiscation, hangings, rape, theft and arson to compel the other side. Terror became the chief tool of militias on both sides. Our heroes could get pretty depraved.

Mr. Allen displays our forefathers in all their pride, greed and stubbornness. They fight for the wrong reasons, fail to see the larger picture, dissert General Washington by the thousands, and switch sides the minute it appears that one side is winning over the other. In short, out sainted forefathers behaved like assassins and bullies.

Patroits drove a hundred thousand loyalists out of the colonies at the end of the war. Most of them ended up in Canada where the British encouraged them to settle to counteract the huge number of French.

“Today, four to six million Canadians—about one-fifth of the population—claim a Tory ancestor. Most Canadians believe that their nation’s traditional devotion to law and civility traces back to being loyal, as in Loyalist.”

One wonders how our nascent nation managed to survive when they willingly threw out so many good, hard working people.

I take hope in the fact that the passions that festered into looting, pillaging and rape did not tear the newly forming nation apart. If that is the case, then the current round of conservatives and liberals bickering will not damage the union. We are so much stronger than that.

Who should read this book? I would recommend it to anyone trying to understand America. We never were a unified people. One gets the impression that today’s conservatives are yearning to go back to a time when controversy did not exist, when your neighbors looked like you, and thought like you. This book underlines in red the fact that such a mythical time never existed. We have always been a contentious people. Controversy and political passions have been our meat and drink from the beginning.

If you seek the good old days, look around you. It doesn’t get any better than this.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Simon and Schuster Book Giveaway!

Click here to enter and win a set of 10 copies one of these books for your book club!
Hello readers,
I am excited to let you know about a contest Simon and Schuster are currently running with some of their bestselling paperbacks of the year. You can enter below for your chance to win sets of these titles for your book club.

Here's the link with the entry form:

Good luck to everyone who enters!

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Conn Iggulden's Genghis: Birth of a Nation

Genghis: Birth of an Empire: A NovelThis is the first book of a trilogy and all I can say is, bring the rest of it! (Please see last month's review of "Bones of the Hills" by Lisa Yarde for a review of a book later in the series.)
“Birth of an Empire” starts with the birth of Temujin, the first Genghis of the Mongolian people. We then rejoin the very young Temujin when his father is murdered and the tribe abandons Temujin and his family. Expected to die on the steppes, the boy Temujin saves his family from starvation and the cold of winter and eventually, they discover a small portion of safety among the wandering herdsman of Mongolia. Had Temujin’s tribe and its new leader assumed his death, history might have had a different outcome, but the tribe’s new Khan fears vengeance for the family’s abandonment. He hunts Temujin’s family, captures Temujin and tries to kill him.
This launches Temujin into a life-long battle, first for survival and eventually for revenge against his father’s murderers and unification for his people.
Birth of a Empire has a little bit of a slow start, but the setting and time frame is epic, so the slow build is appropriate. Mr. Iggulden’s use of historical facts has been questioned by others, but personally, I'm not bothered if he changed things here and there to suit his story. It's fiction. If I wanted historical facts, I'd go researching. I will say, the setting and characterizations are unrelenting in their realism. If you like your historical fiction with a bit of blood and a lot of emotional zest, don’t be intimidated. It’s only the Mongolian Horde, after all.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

The Forever Queen by Helen Hollick

In the newly released novel, The Forever Queen, Hellen Hollick vividly recreates the life of Emma of Normandy.

The daughter of the Richard I, Duke of Normandy and the sister of Richard II, Emma was raised to take her place as a royal queen one day. At a young age, she was married to King Æthelred of England, a political alliance struck to bring peace between their two countries. Stoically, Emma embraced her new role and swore her loyalty to England with heart and soul. It was a promise she upheld with her every action and to her dying breath.

As the second wife of King Æthelred, Emma soon discovered her husband was nothing more than a bungling, ineffectual man whom she instantly disliked. Despite his ineptitude as king and his occasional brutal treatment of her, Emma bore him two sons, Edward and Alfred, and a daughter named Goda. At the Danish invasion of England, Emma and her children fled to the safety of Normandy.

While Æthelred unsuccessfully fought the Danes, Edmund, his son by his first marriage, challenged his throne. But Æthelred was ill and when he died, Edmund became king and continued the battle for control of England against King Cnut of the Danes. After a brutal battle, Cnut and Edmund agreed to peace and divided England so that each would rule half. Unfortunately, Edmund died, and Cnut inherited all of England, thereby putting Emma's wealth and landholdings at risk of loss.  

Emma suddenly found herself with no rank and in a most precarious position.  She faced a dim future. No longer queen, if she returned to Normandy, she would be forced to abandon everything she owned and would become wholly dependent on her brother once more.  He would likely arrange another marriage for her. 

Faced with such a dilemma, the ever courageous Emma took matters into her own hands and approached Cnut the now King of England to marry her. Her boldness impressed Cnut and he was quick to see the advantages of their union. He readily agreed. As part of their betrothal contract, Cnut pledged that any sons born out of their union would also be heirs to his Danish sovereignty. Emma was more than pleased. Not only were they content with each other in their marriage, but it united their two realms and ended any hostility. She was the only woman in history to reign as queen to two kings, mother to two others, and was the great aunt of William the Conqueror.

Helen Hollick has created an epic tale of a shrewd queen who learned to wield her power through influence, manipulation, and force in order to maintain England's peace and prosperity. In this sweeping book, Hollick has included all the important personages of the time; a mix of antagonists and protaganists that will keep the reader turning the pages.  Rich with violence, love, and betrayal, Emma's story does not disappoint. Brilliant prose, historical accuracy, and rich detail bring this violent era to life. The Forever Queen stands as a well-detailed biographical account of one of England's strongest, most determined queens.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Ice King by Geoff Woodland

Review by Tracy Falbe

Fancy houses rise in Liverpool, England from the profits of slave trading between Africa and the plantations of the West Indies. Empires fight wars for control of the seas that connect sugar plantations, industrialists, and the brutally exploited human capital of West Africa. Amid this dark and dynamic global business, William King is ready to make a man of himself in 1804. His father George King runs a modestly successful shipping company where William is employed as a first mate. The Ice King opens with William telling his father he wants a captaincy. George refuses and William rebelliously accepts a commission with the British Navy.

During a war with Napoleonic France, William serves blockade duty off the French coast and then commands a vessel taking dispatches to South Africa. His many sea voyages both as a merchant and a military officer have exposed him to the horrors of slave transport, and William is morally against it.

After the war, when William is trying to decide his next career move, he becomes involved with abolitionists as he travels to reunite with his father after years of absence. William finds that his father George has become much more successful. George's new partnership with the powerful Liverpool businessman Donald Nicholson has made George wealthy, but the wealth is all derived from the Slave Trade.

Disapproving, William rejects rejoining his father's shipping company and instead captains a ship backed by the abolitionists. His mission is to prove that trans-Atlantic trading can be profitable without transporting slaves or trading in commodities produced by slaves. This challenge and William's seafaring and commercial adventures between Boston, Jamaica, and Cuba drive the majority of the novel. About halfway through the novel, its title of Ice King becomes clear, but I will not give it away because it is clever and interesting.

In his novel Geoff Woodland displays the sweeping scope of his historical research. Details large and small pack every page of the Ice King as William calls on ports in Liverpool, Boston, Kingstown, and Havana. Each city is summoned in the imagination with vivid details. The stench of Liverpool sewage and its sooty air are constant. The hot sunny diversity of Kingstown blossoms with fruity tropical abundance while always showing the dark underbelly of its slave culture. The mangrove swamps, fortifications, and warehouses of Havana set the scene for a daring slave rescue. The bustling enthusiasm of Boston illustrates the excitement of the young United States.

Woodland employs this broad global landscape with unflagging competence. No place is glossed over. Every setting is carefully developed. The author writes with concrete uncluttered prose that is never flowery but always evocative, and he handles the economic themes of the seafaring commercial empires with great understanding. The sugar produced in the slave plantations is the sweet vice driving the abominable abuse of human capital. A quote from an abolitionist character in the novel explains the problem:

"It is out of sight and therefore out of mind for many people. They want their sugar, but they do not think of the pain and damage inflicted on their fellow human beings to obtain it at a price they are willing to pay."

Even over two hundred years later this sentiment can be applied to many global commodities, and most people still prefer to not think about it.

Woodland's portrayal of human exploitation is not limited to slavery. He mentions how mills in Manchester, England advertised cheaply in Ireland to lure an over abundance of laborers, many of them women, to England. Some women were then easily diverted into Liverpool brothels.

The dreary realities of economic history are only the bones not the soul of this novel. Powerful emotional forces influence the characters. William has a love interest with the capable and shrewd Ruth, daughter of his Boston business partner Abraham. Their romantic relationship is strong but often challenged by their individual desires to run their own companies. George and William have a complicated father-son relationship. William very much serves as a morally redemptive figure when compared to his slave-trading father, who is easily manipulated by Donald Nicholson. And Donald Nicholson embodies the evils of purely reptilian capitalism that has no regard for anything except profit. The reprehensible nature of Donald is further illuminated by the characters of his son, Henry, and daughter, Charlotte. Both are detestable human beings. Henry constantly hungers for sadistic sex with prostitutes, and Charlotte is so irredeemable that when George strikes her across the face, she firmly deserves it.

Many nice touches enliven this engrossing novel that never has one draggy dull moment. The side characters of William's Chinese steward Sang and Paris, the Kingstown coffee house proprietor, add depth and diversity to the story. And the concept of capitalism is also a central character of this novel that nicely portrays how this economic philosophy has shaped the world. Capitalism is seen in both good and bad lights. The commercial successes William achieves as he follows his moral compass act as an inspiring foil to the winning-is-all worship of the brutal commercial status quo presented by Donald and Henry Nicholson.

The Ice King will fill readers' sails with the strong wind of an enlightening historical adventure set on the high seas. The novel presents a tightly written narrative that constantly urged me to read the next page. I was honestly caught up with worry about William until the final paragraph.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Heidegger's Glasses by Thaisa Frank

Review by Sheila R. Lamb

 Heidegger’s Glasses is a complex, intricate story that weaves history with the esoteric. By using philosopher Martin Heidegger’s eyeglasses as a catalyst, Thaisa Frank questions the definition of reality within the historical framework of World War II Germany. 

Cocooned from the blatant horrors of World War II, Scribes and their SS guards are equally imprisoned in an underground compound, built within a mineshaft. The job of the captive Scribes is to answer letters to the dead in order to appease their otherworldly spirits, who would otherwise tell the world about the Nazi plan for the Final Solution. Based on the historical existence of the Thule Society and the Nazi officers who subscribed to occultist beliefs, Frank extends their ideas to create the fictional Compound of Scribes.

Elie Schacten is one of the Scribes, a group of bilingual translators forced to write letters to the dead. Elie and her lover, SS guard Gerhardt Lodenstein, are members of the Resistance, and use the Compound of Scribes as a hiding place for refugees.  Elie’s true identity remains shrouded in layers of mystery, much to Lodenstein’s dismay.

When the feared Nazi propaganda leader Goebbels orders the Scribes to write a letter and deliver eyeglasses to philosopher Martin Heidegger from his optometrist friend Asher Englehardt, held at Auschwitz, the clandestine world of the Scribes is turned upside down. Neither Englehardt nor Heidegger is dead and the Scribes openly question the bizarre nature of their entire mission. Suddenly, their personal dramas meet the harsh face of Auschwitz as Lodenstein ventures beyond the compound to follow the Reich’s orders. Elie and Lodenstein must protect the Scribes, and the Resistance, from Goebbels’s unpredictable wrath.

Thaisa Frank writes with clear-cut prose, deftly juxtaposes the horror of war and the tenderness of love. Heidegger’s Glasses asks, in the face of war and death, what is real?