Wednesday, March 30, 2011

The Cyclist by Fred Nath

Book Review of The Cyclist by Fred Nath
Reviewed by: L. Gregory Graham

World War II can be a touchy subject. It is still too fresh in our collective memory. In addition, there is film. As a result, it is very hard to romanticize it or to stray far from the truth. This novel of three hundred pages confronts these obstacles and manages to tell a compelling story.

Vichy France is a deal with the devil at best. The Nazi’s, acting the part of the Devil, promise that they will not rape and pillage too much if citizens of France promise not to resist. The deal is frequently violated on both sides. The Nazi’s take what they want, and violate whomever they choose, and the French organize a resistance movement that does what it can to kill soldiers and sympathizers and disrupt Nazi hegemony.

This is the world of August Ran, an assistant Chief of Police, in Bergerac, a small town in the south of France. He is a just man, a moral man who knows on the most basic level that the social fabric must be maintained. The guilty must be punished, and justice must prevail no matter who is in charge. When the order comes down from the Nazi’s that all Jews in the prefecture must be identified, he compiles the list and passes it along. When the order comes down that all Jews must wear a yellow Star of David on their coats, he enforces this also. Only when the orders come that he must round up the Jews for deportation to work camps does he wake up to the moral implications of his actions.

To make matters worse, he is sheltering the daughter of his boyhood Jewish friend who has joined the resistance, and the Nazi in charge of his area has raped and murdered a young woman. It looks as if the monster will get away with it and be free to rape and murder again.

August finds himself plunged into a moral nightmare without easy answers. Should he obey Nazi orders and round up the Jews if he knows that they will be killed? Should he continue to harbor the Jewish girl when it jeopardizes his own family? How can he allow the Nazi commander to get away with rape and murder? Isn’t he in the final analysis a policeman, and isn’t his job to protect the people of Bergerac from monsters like the Nazi even if the courts and the penal system no longer function as they should? Finally if he kills the commander, is his immortal soul forfeit or is he absolved because he is an instrument of God’s will?
Nath does an excellent job of depicting one man’s moral and intellectual struggle to make sense of a world turned upside down. It is far too easy for us, seventy years after the war to label all Nazis as evil and deserving of death. It is another thing to walk in the shoes of a just man faced with the enormity of the Nazi regime. When does one decide that killing is the only answer?

It is not an easy question. If you don’t believe me, change the circumstances. Should an Iraqi man who watched his family killed by an American soldier take that soldier’s life when he gets the chance? Is he morally justified in doing so?

There is a gritty appealing reality to this story. Sometimes one must find a way to work with evil to preserve a greater good, sometimes one must decide when evil has gone too far, and sometimes one must resist it knowing the consequences. They are tough decisions that take a man back to the basics. What does he believe and why does he believe it?

The story is a compelling one. There were times when I wearied of August’s internal monologues, but in the end, it is worth it. August does what he must because of who he is and what he believes. That makes him a hero.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Sins of the House of Borgia by Sarah Bower

The Renaissance court of Lucrezia Borgia comes to life in this epic tale of the wickedly corrupt Borgia family.

Sins of the House of Borgia is an epic historical fiction novel of the infamous Borgia family who rose to power in fifteenth century Italy. The story is narrated by a young Jewish girl named Esther who is forced to leave Spain when the Jews are expelled. She flees to her father in Italy who uses her for his own political advancement. He urges her to relinquish her Jewish faith and be baptized as a Catholic in order to place her as a lady in waiting for Lucrezia Borgia. Lucrezia stands as Esther’s godmother.

Lucrezia Borgia

The illegitimate daughter of depraved Pope Alexander VI, Lucrezia Borgia’s court is one of decadence and secrets. Violante soon encounters the alluring and callous Cesare, Duke of Valentinois and Romagna, Lucrezia’s old brother, and falls desperately in love with him.

Cesare Borgia

After a horse race, Cesare renames her Violante, breaker of promises. As the relationship with Cesare progresses, Violante relinquishes her virginity to him, which resulted in two unanticipated results - she becomes pregnant and contracts a dose of the pox.

The world has always been fascinated with the wickedly corrupt Borgia family and many books have been written about them. What makes this novel stand apart is that it is told through the eyes of an innocent Jewish woman trapped at the center of numerous intrigues. As a result of her connections to the Borgias, she is caught up in the family’s troubles, forfeits all family ties, and suffers great losses.

Sins of the House of Borgia is a riveting, scandalous historical fiction novel with shocking characters and an intricate plot. The book is rich in detail, the times brought to life skilfully and with accuracy. Sarah Bower skilfully draws her readers into the abundantly vivid world of Renaissance Italy. This opulently gratifying story immerses the reader into the rich lives of the characters. It is a dazzling, breathtaking read – one worth savouring, which I very much recommend.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

The Oracle of Stamboul by Michael David Lukas

In this rich first novel set in 1877, a young girl, Eleanora Cohen secretly follows her rug-trader father and stows away on a ship bound for the city of Constanta in Stamboul. Eleanora is no ordinary child. She was born prophetic and with the intelligence of a savant. Once in Stamboul, she goes to the home of Moncef Bey, a wealthy friend of her father who lavishes Eleanora with rich clothes and a great many books. Unexpectantly, her father dies in a boat accident and Eleanora is left under the kind guardianship of Bey. Alone in the world and overcome by grief, she withdraws and no longer speaks. But a child savant cannot be inconspicuous for long and she soon comes to the attention of the Sultan himself.

This tale has a charming, almost magical feel about it. With its innocent quality, endearing young heroine, and exotic surroundings, it can easily be read and enjoyed by young adults as well as adults. It is a gentle read and the tale flows seamlessly from its pages. The ending left me with the impression there is a sequel in the works, which I look forward to reading. I highly recommend this book for people of all ages.  A wonderful debut novel.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Wickedly Charming by Kristine Grayson

Review by Sheila R. Lamb
Wickedly Charming offers a new twist on historical fantasy. Set in the present day, Charming and Mellie are torn between their contemporary lives and the world they left behind, hundreds of years in the past. Through various portals, fairy tale characters are able to travel back and forth between the mythical Kingdom and the present day Greater World.
Charming doesn’t really go by Charming. Not now. In modern Los Angeles, he’s known as bookseller Dave Econto. He rarely returns back to the fairy tale world of the Third Kingdon, not since Ella (aka CinderElla) divorced him, taking their two daughters with her.
Mellie is angry and for good reason. Her step-daughter, a Miss White, told the world that Mellie tried to murder her. And now Mellie is trying to overcome the untrue accusations, by organizing the activist group, PETA: People for the Ethical Treatment of Archetypes. When Mellie bumps into Dave at an LA bookfair, sparks fly. Literally. The recognize each other from their past lives in the Kingdom world. 
As Charming figures out and I met at a party ... a century or two ago when someone decided we should clear up the Charming mess and the stepmother gossip and see if we could take care of those Brothers Grimm.
First, the two modern day fairy tale misfits have to overcome some stereotypes of their own. She knows he is one of family of Charming’s. He knows she is a Stepmother. They dance around their attraction to each other until Charming’s jealousy of one of Mellie’s supposed dates, Bourke, causes a humorous scene in an L.A. coffeeshop.

‘I think you should stop talking now,’ Mellie said to Bourke. 
Charming recognized that tone. It was a warning tone, one that the magical used in the Kingdoms as fair notice that magic was about to occur. 
‘Don’t Mellie,’ Charming said softly.
She ignored him.
‘You think I should stop talking, do you, your highness?’ Bourke asked.
It took Charming a second to realize that Bourke was using the phrase sarcastically.

As the two forge a rocky friendship, Charming tries to help Mellie tell her side of the story by offering to be her ghostwriter. In the meantime, Ella gives him full custody of their two daughters, and Charming finds himself  with his hands full a single father. He must protect his girls from school bullies and try to explain why their mother has disappeared. 
Mellie is reluctant to help, given her bad standing as a stepmother already.  Slowly, she begins to make overtures to Charming’s daughters, and a tenuous relationship between the three women in Charming’s life begins to develop. Soon, Charming and Mellie can no longer deny their wickedly magical attraction to each other.
A fun and delightful story, read Wickedly Charming and find out what really happens to “happily ever after!”

Wickedly Charming will be published by Sourcebooks in April 2011.

Friday, March 18, 2011

The Shrouded Path by Aron White

Shrouded Path (The Doorway Cycle)Jun Quan is a boy who dreams of fighting the injustices of the world. After his beloved father abandons him at a temple and Jun learns Kung Fu, he’s prepared to fight, but he’s torn between the desire to protect others and finding his father.

When Jun returns to his father’s home town in search of information, he finds trouble instead. Jun saves a young boy whose grateful parent allows Jun to stay at their home and finds Jun a job in town. Again and again, Jun is called upon to protect others from predatory guards until he becomes a vigilante.

Leaping from roof to roof in scenes reminiscent of “Batman” as much as “Crouching Tiger,” Jun is soon joined by an old friend and the two join forces against the regional governor, Xiong Ba, whose greed and corruption forced Jun’s father to leave years before.

This book touches on the difference between vengeance and justice, with realistic descriptions of kung fu (NOT Hollywood spinning kicks) and kung fu training that young boys will enjoy. Shrouded Path is a YA approach to Wuxia, a genre where a lone warrior or a team of warriors do battle with evil villains.

When Aron White isn't hard at work writing the sequels to "Shrouded Path," you might find him at 

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Desperate Desires by Terri Wolffe

Desperate Desires (A Sweet and Spicy Novella)
It’s London in 1796 and Lady Lucinda Davenport, along with her mentally retarded and overly-large brother and her servants, set out to kidnap a well-known Duke for purposes later revealed in the book…and Lord, are they revealed.  

Lucien Brandord, IV Duke of Carlsborough, is handsome, virile, and one of England’s richest. His sexual appetite is usually satisfied by some of the areas finest courtesans, but on this given night, as he leaves a high-brow brothel, he’s approached by a mysterious and veiled woman who claims to need his help.  As he hurries to her waiting carriage, he’s suspicious, but the plea to help the injured woman inside convinces him to enter.

Pinned in the darkness of a blanket wielded by the largest man he’s ever seen, the Duke is swept away into the night and taken hours away from his home, only to be shackled hand and foot to a bed while blindfolded to protect the identity of his abductors.  He has no idea what’s in store for him.

While Desperate Desires is Ms. Wolffe’s first “historical” and advertised as a “sweet and spicy novella,” I found it to be more than just a little spicy. For me, the sweetness and historical facets are lost among the overuse of sexual “buzz” words which soon became tiresome.  The limited historical references made in the book were accurate, and I admit the author writes with descriptive flare. However, reading with my ever present internal editor on, I did notice a great deal of head-hopping and constant reference to the coloring of Lucinda’s cheeks while in her POV.  The editorial issues should have been caught before publication, but there were parts of this book I found very enjoyable. In all fairness, had I known it was such an erotic book, I would have declined reading it.  For my liking, there was too much sex and too little story, plus the ending was too predictable.  Those who enjoy voyeurism will find great delight in this book.  If you give a heat-rating based on sexuality, then this book is on fire. 

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

The Dawn Country by Kathleen O’Neal Gear & W. Michael Gear

In the wilds of 15th century North America, tribes of the Iroquois people are at war with each other. Food is scarce, the hardships many, and corruption abounds. In a clear act of war, the Dawnland tribe sets fire to Bog Willow Village murdering the men, raping the women, and selling the children into brutal slavery. A malevolent old woman named Gannajero buys these abducted children and treats them with the harshest brutality to break them before selling them to sexual deviants to use.

Among the terrorized children is Wrass, a young boy on the verge of manhood. He tries to save the children, but his attempt goes awry and only some of the children make their escape. Unbeknownst to him, his mother, Chief Koracoo and her deputy, his father, Gonda, set out to rescue the children despite the incredible dangers they will soon face.

The Dawn Country is the second book in the People of the Longhouse quartet, set in North America six hundred years ago. Meticulously detailed, it is a tale that resurrects the savage brutality of these ancient peoples. Interspersed with magical elements, despicable villains, and heroic warriors, the authors have written a story that not only intrigues, but is very difficult to put down. To enjoy the full impact of this fabulous novel, I highly recommend readers start with the first book in the series, People of the Longhouse, as The Dawn Country picks up where the first one ends.

An Interview with authors Kathleen Gear and W. Michael Gear

Q: Why did you write this book?

A: We wrote the “North America’s Forgotten Past” series to chronicle the rise and fall of the magnificent native cultures that inhabited North America long before Europeans arrived on our shores. As archaeologists, we know the role these extraordinary cultures played in what America would become, but most people don’t.

Most Americans have no idea, for example, that their unique concepts of democracy, and even their very identity, was molded by Iroquois concepts of self, government, and liberty. The notion of one-person-one-vote, referendum and recall, and especially the notion of confederacy of states—or a United States--originated not in Europe or ancient Greece, but in the forests of upstate New York in the mid- 1400s.

Q: Does your story line develop organically or is it a gestalt before you begin?

A: Well, it depends. The story is based upon the archaeological information, as well as Iroquoian oral history, so we know the beginning and ending when we start. What we don’t know is exactly how the characters are going to reach that ending. As a result, characters evolve organically as they must deal with the stresses of the storyline.

Q: How does your archeological degrees and experience impact your story telling?

A: Our 35 years of experience as archaeologists heavily influences the story. Everything the characters wear and eat, the tools they use, the activities they participate in, are all based upon the archaeological record—what has actually been dug up.

Q: Do you have a favorite character in the book and if so why?

A: That’s like asking a parent which child is their favorite! We love them all or we wouldn’t have written their stories, but that said, we feel especially close to the children who are stolen from their homes during war raids and sold into slavery. Seeing warfare through the eyes of its youngest victims is a powerful experience for authors, and we hope, for readers.

Q: What do you like the most about writing?

A: Character creation is a kind of magic, you’re never quite sure where these people are going, and watching it happen is just plain fun. Additionally, we have had people explain how our stories have helped them in times of crisis. The notion that our fiction can help hurting individuals is really humbling.

Q: Where do your new story ideas come from?

A: They come from archaeological excavations and native oral history. With PEOPLE OF THE MOON, for example, we were touring the site in southern Colorado and the story just

popped into our heads. The same thing happened at the Poverty Point site in Louisiana—bam! PEOPLE OF THE OWL was just magically there.

Q: What advice has helped the most in your writing?

A: Kathleen’s father was a short story writer, and he said, “Writing is 3% inspiration and

97% hard work. Don’t sit around and wait for a story to come. Just sit down and start writing.”

Q: Is a sequel in the works?

A: Yes, actually, THE BROKEN LAND, book 3 in the Iroquois quartet is already finished, and we’re hard at work on THE BLACK SUN, the final book .

Q: Who is your favorite author and why?

A: There are so many it’s hard to name just one. Here are a few of them: John Steinbeck, Margaret Mitchell, Elmer Kelton, Craig Johnson, A.B. Guthrie, Edgar Rice Burroughs, Lisa Gardner, C.J Cherryh, David Morrel, Greg Iles, Tess Gerritsen, and the list goes on.

Q: What advice would you give for the want to be writer?

A: Tenacity is worth ten times what talent is. You have to have both, but without the ability to see a project through, regardless of all the idiots out there who tell you that you can’t do it, you are lost. For ourselves, Mike wrote 8 novels before he sold his first. Kathleen had written 5. You must learn the craft and excel before you can sell in the modern market.

KATHLEEN O'NEAL GEAR is a former state historian and archaeologist for Wyoming, Kansas, and Nebraska for the U.S. Department of the Interior. She has twice received the federal government's Special Achievement Award for "outstanding management" of our nation's cultural heritage. W. MICHAEL GEAR, who holds a master's degree in archaeology, has worked as a professional archaeologist since 1978. He is currently principal investigator for Wind River Archaeological Consultants.

More About the Authors

Bestselling authors and award-winning archaeologists Kathleen O’Neal Gear and W. Michael Gear are renowned for their novels on North American prehistory, a series that melds the latest archaeological findings with sweeping dramatic narratives and strong Native American tradition. The “North America’s Forgotten Past” series educates readers about our continent’s more than 15,000 years of prehistory and brings to life its natural and cultural heritage.

Beginning with People of the Wolf (Tor; July 1990), and continuing through to People of the Thunder (Forge Books; January 2010), the series provides a vital understanding of the history of North America in a way that is entertaining, full of cultural detail, and intelligent. One of the more recent novels, People of the Raven, won the Spur Award for Best Novel of the West in 2005.

Bringing more than 50 years of combined archaeological experience to their writing, Michael and Kathleen have written over thirty-three novels dealing with historical or anthropological themes. They have between fifteen and sixteen million copies of their books in print worldwide and their books have been translated into twenty-one different languages.

W. Michael Gear has a master’s degree in anthropology from Colorado State University, and has worked for twenty years as a professional archaeologist in the western United States. Kathleen O’Neal Gear has a master’s degree in history from California State University, and studied for her Ph.D. at UCLA. She received two special Achievement Awards from the Department of the Interior for work as an archaeologist in the Bureau of Land Management. Both Michael and Kathleen are principal investigators for Wind River Archaeological Consultants, a cultural resource firm in the Rocky Mountain region.

As archaeologists and novelists they have made appearances on CNN, NPR, and have been featured on “Greenroom” on PBS, as well as local network features. They currently live in Wyoming, bordered on two sides by the Wind River Reservation, and raise registered North American bison.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Poison In The Blood, by M G Scarsbrook

Although the name Borgia is well known for their power hungry and decadent lifestyle, little is known of Lucrezia, the daughter of Rodrigo Borgia, Pope Alexander VI. She was certainly a pawn in her father’s quest for power, in that he married her off to three different members of European nobility in order to advance his political ambitions. She was also thought to have had an illegitimate child by a lover. However, the extent of her complicity in the political machinations of her father and brothers is unclear. 

Contemporary accounts say Lucrezia had heavy blonde hair which fell past her knees, a beautiful complexion, hazel eyes which constantly changed colour, a full, high bosom, and a natural grace. Although I doubt anyone in 15th century Italy would have dared describe the Pope’s only daughter as ‘homely’.

History says Cesare Borgia suffered from syphilis and to cover his scars wore a mask and dressed in black. Insanely jealous of her second husband, Alfonso of Aragon (Duke of Bisceglie) when the Prince visited them in Rome, Cesare's men attacked him during the night. To retaliate, Alfonso's men shot arrows at Cesare while he strolled in the garden. This infuriated Cesare, and he had his servant strangle Alfonso while in the recovery room. Lucrezia and Alfonso had an infant, Rodrigo, who predeceased his mother in August 1512 at the age of 12.

It is this marriage and Cesare’s hatred of Alfonso that Matthew Scarsbrook’s Poison In The Blood deals with in a fast paced and very readable way. His Lucrezia is a young and relatively innocent girl with a conscience, whose father rejected her mother when she was small, and whom she is forbidden to see. Lucrezia's betrothal to Alfonso of Aragon is arranged by her family, but she determines to be a good wife. To her horror, Lucrezia discovers her brother Cesare, keeps a locked room full of deadly poisons and that he also murdered their elder brother Juan, who received honours and privilege Cesare believed were due to him.

When Pope Alexander and Cesare go on campaign to defeat their enemies, they leave Lucrezia behind to keep the cardinals of the Vatican in order. Lucrezia seeks advice from Nicollo Machiavelli, the philosopher and poet, and performs well, but she is also aware that when her men return, Alfonso’s days are numbered.

She plans to escape from Rome before the assassins strike, taking their infant son, Rodrigo with them and beg for shelter from Alfonso’s estranged family. However, Cesare pre-empts them and returns early, inviting them to a feast which Lucrezia is convinced will be Alfonso’s last.

Despite her careful arrangements, Alfonso is poisoned and lies near to death. His only hope of an antidote is the legendary Mithridate, but the formula has been lost. Undeterred, Lucretia goes looking for this miraculous antidote and is reunited with her mother.

Just when I was at the point of deciding this Lucrezia was a little too virtuous, her Borgia ancestry emerges and she persuades Cesare to spare her husband’s life in exchange for the formula for Mithridate which she has memorised.

In Medieval Rome, beauty, decadence and luxury hide murder and betrayal. Lucrezia’s fight to keep her husband alive is conflicted by the love she has for her brother, a twisted, dangerous man who may not be acting entirely alone.

I thoroughly enjoyed this portrayal of an ancient story and anyone who enjoys Medieval Italy, love, betrayal and a strong, resourceful heroine on a knife edge, will enjoy this well researched and well written book.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

The Mistress of Nothing by Kate Pullinger

Lady Duff Gordon is the toast of Victorian London society. But when her debilitating tuberculosis means exile, she and her devoted lady’s maid, Sally, set sail for Egypt. It is Sally who describes, with a mixture of wonder and trepidation, the odd menage (marshalled by the resourceful Omar) that travels down the Nile to a new life in Luxor. When Lady Duff Gordon undoes her stays and takes to native dress, throwing herself into weekly salons, language lessons and excursions to the tombs, Sally too adapts to a new world, which affords her heady and heartfelt freedoms never known before. But freedom is a luxury that a maid can ill-afford, and when Sally grasps more than her status entitles her to, she is brutally reminded that she is mistress of nothing.
When Sarah, a lady’s maid, accompanies her ailing mistress to Egypt, they enter into a world completely different than England. As they assimilate into the culture, and shed their corsets along with some confining rules of English society, the two women become comfortable in their new surrounds. When Sally falls in love with Omar, her lady’s dragoman, the idyllic life they enjoy begins to unravel. Sally is faced with some hard decisions when she realizes she risks losing everything.

The Mistress of Nothing was shortlisted for the Giller Prize and won the Governor General’s Award for Fiction in Canada in 2009. The author travelled to Egypt for research and based her story on the real life of Lady Duff Gordon.

Lady Duff Gordon

To read this novel was pure enjoyment. A poignant description of 19th century social values and prejudices prevalent, the reader is swept into the exotic world of 19th century Egypt. The author skillfully drew me into the story, creating romantic suspense as Sally’s life unfolds with unanticipated turbulence. It kept me on the edge of my seat, turning pages. Beyond its wonderfully creative plot, the novel truly is a statement of profound contrast and the ability for people to adapt or fail in the face of adversity. A highly satisfying read and one I highly recommend.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Exit The Actress by Priya Parmar

Back Cover Blurb:

While selling oranges in the Theatre Royal, Covent Garden, sweet and sprightly Ellen "Nell" Gwyn impresses the theater’s proprietors with a wit and sparkle that belie her youth and poverty. She quickly earns a place in the company, narrowly avoiding the life of prostitution to which her sister has already succumbed. As her roles evolve from supporting to starring, the scope of her life broadens as well. Soon Ellen is dressed in the finest fashions, charming the theatrical, literary, and royal luminaries of Restoration England. Ellen grows up on the stage, experiencing first love and heartbreak and eventually becoming the mistress of Charles II. Despite his reputation as a libertine, Ellen wholly captures his heart—and he hers—but even the most powerful love isn’t enough to stave off the gossip and bitter court politics that accompany a royal romance. Telling the story through a collection of vibrant seventeenth-century voices ranging from Ellen’s diary to playbills, letters, gossip columns, and home remedies, Priya Parmar brings to life the story of an endearing and delightful heroine.

In Exit the Actress, Priya Parmar sweeps the reader back to 17th Century London and the life of a poor young woman named Ellen “Nell” Gwynn who must sell oysters and oranges to London’s theatre patrons in order to scrape out a living. Nell struggles to support herself rather than falling into the same traps as her alcoholic mother and sister who work as prostitutes.

At the theatre, she falls in love with a seasoned actor by the name of Charles Hart, but their relationship fails when she realizes she does not love him. Gradually, as Nell’s career progresses onto the stage as a talented actress, Nell catches the eye of King Charles II, a man 20 years her senior. It is a true love match from the very beginning. In time, Nell bears the king a son.

If there is one word to describe this biographical fiction novel, it is the word, creative. The book itself is a work of art. The book is written in diary format, decorated with bits and pieces of fancy stationary, easy to read diary entries, flourishes, newspaper articles of the time, theatre brochures, personal letters between members of the royal family, and delightful recipes for cures from The Lady’s Household Companion. It truly is a feast for the eyes as well as the intellect. This heightens the historic feel and credibility of the novel. There is a great deal of historic detail cleverly weaved together to form the story. Nell is a fascinating character, courageous and forthright, who overcame poverty and rose to the loftiest of heights. A rags to riches story not to be missed.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011


I'm pleased to announce the winner of When We Were Strangers by Pamela Schoenewaldt is Carol Wong!

A big warm thank you to everyone who took the time to visit and answer.  Your feedback and comments were very heartwarming and informative.