Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Forgotten by Nicole Salomone

Review by Lavender Ironside

Forgotten charts rare territory in the historical fiction genre:  It’s centered around medical history, and follows the early career of a healer/nurse during the American Revolutionary War.

Abigail is a woman who has fallen from high society.  When her abusive husband is mobbed and killed by Patriots under suspicion of being a Tory, Abigail eventually finds herself homeless and searching for a way to get by in life.  A chance acquaintance with two Patriot soldiers leads her to the camp of the American army, under the command of General George Washington.  Abigail’s small skill with home remedies affords her a place among the medical tents, where the staff is stretched thin and unable to cope with the disease and injuries of war.

As Abigail’s knowledge and confidence in her new role grows, she becomes a favorite among the soldiers and eventually develops a cure for a disease which has been raging uncontrolled throughout the camp.  Many camp personages are unhappy with her rise to minor celebrity, and despise her for reasons ranging from apparent jealousy to misogyny.  Abigail faces perils and enjoys kindnesses as both her enemies and friends increase in number.  Eventually she accepts a position working in a doctor’s surgery clinic.

It is my assumption that this is the first book in a series, for the story ends abruptly with little resolution of the open conflicts. 

The book is short – a novella – and is full of familiar names from history.  Abigail forms relationships with George Washington, his wife Martha, Alexander Hamilton (and there is a hint of a burgeoning romance there), and more important figures from the Revolutionary War.  It’s a fast read with occasionally difficult moments, as the author has clearly done her research on medicine during the War.  Wrenching details of the treatment of serious war wounds and illnesses are not spared.  If more books are to come, the series promises to be engaging and informative, and it’s nice to see a medical historical series taking shape, as such specialty niches are rare in historical fiction.

Forgotten
Nicole Salomone
172 pages
July, 2011
Independently published

Monday, February 27, 2012

The Needle in the Blood by Sarah Bower

January 1067. Charismatic Bishop Odo of Bayeux decides to commission a wall hanging, on a scale never seen before, to celebrate his role in the conquest of Britain by his brother, William, Duke of Normandy. What he cannot anticipate is how utterly this will change his life – even more than the invasion itself. His life becomes entangled with the women who embroider his hanging, especially Gytha – handmaiden to the fallen Saxon queen and his sworn enemy. But against their intensions they fall helplessly in love; in doing so Odo comes into conflict with his king and his God and Gytha with Odo’s enemies, who mistrust her hold over such a powerful man. Friends and family become enemies, enemies become lovers; nothing in life or in the hanging is what it seems. The Needle in the Blood – a powerful tale of sex, lies and embroidery.

The Needle in the Blood by Sarah Bower is a novel that takes place in the 11th century England. It is about the making of the Bayeux Tapestry, a colourful, embroidered linen cloth, 230 feet long, which depicts fifty historical scenes from before the Norman conquest of England to the Battle of Hastings. The cloth is believed to have been commissioned by Bishop Odo.

At the heart of the story is a woman named Gytha, a serving maid to King Harold’s consort, the Lady Edith. When King Harold is killed during the Battle of Hastings, Bishop Odo of Bayeux, brother of William the Conquerer, refuses to allow the king’s body to be returned to his family for burial. Later, Gytha manages to hide and avoids being captured and sent away with Lady Edith and her other ladies. Left destitute, with no means of support, Gytha falls upon a time of great suffering. Her one hope is that she can soon find work as an embroideress, putting to use her exceptional talent.

At first, her bitterness and hatred of Odo, resides rampant within her. She is determined to kill him. A stroke of fortune brings her directly into his path when she is recruited by his sister, a nun of dubious repute, to help sew the Bayeux Tapestry.

The Needle in the Blood is an historical novel about forbidden love, the treachery of war, and healing. It is a profound piece of work, rich with complexity and detail of this fascinating period. Sarah Bower gives us a rare insight into the complexities of a bloody and violent period in England’s history.

Along with a gradually enfolding romance, the author does not hesitate to show readers the harsh brutalities and ferocious carnage that was prevalent, and the helplessness of women to exert even the most basic control over their own lives.

The writing is deep and alluring, and a bit challenging. It is pure historical fiction with plenty of historical data weaved into the plot. Overall, it is an epic tale and one well worth reading! Highly recommended!
The book will be released on March 1st, 2012. Here are the links to pre-order:





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Makeda by Prue Sobers

A novel inspired by a medieval text and its ancient tale of sexual conquest by Australian best-selling author, Prue Sobers. 


A woman stands in a hooded cloak, feet drenched and muddied, at the entrance of the great hall as thunder reverberates through the palace walls. In the gloom he cannot see her clearly. It is before the Common Era, the year 961. He is Solomon the Wise, thwarted by protocol, impatient for his work. She is the beautiful and spirited Makeda, Queen of Sheba and all Ethiopia who has risked life and limb in a bid to talk trade. Against a glittering backdrop of pomp and opulence, and the shadows of slavery and the politics of the times, as strangers, they embark on an uncharted course.



She is not what he expects and takes him by surprise. He is everything she has heard. Behind the closed doors of privilege and power, both are about to face more than they bargain for.



Brimming with imagery, taut with intrigue, Makeda is a light with incident and glamour. In her compelling novel of obsession and self-discovery, Prue Sobers brings to life two of the world’s most illustrious icons, rendering them enthralling in all their dazzling otherness, yet as human and palpable as legends of our day. Feisty and engaging, the novel takes the reader into the minds of its characters, foiling all the energy of sovereignty and might with the exquisite eroticism of attraction and desire. Emotionally rich and evocative, this bitter-sweet story of moral dilemma, grand passions and sacrifice will tug whimsically on the strings long after it is read.


From its beautiful front cover and lovely prose within its pages, the novel Makeda definitely drew me in and swept me back into ancient history. It is the heated love story between King Solomon and Makeda, Queen of Sheba, both powerful, wealthy leaders in their own lands.

Within its pages, author, Prue Sobers, deftly tackles powerful subjects such as slavery and oppression by weaving Makeda’s life story and detailing the splendid romance that unfolds between her and Solomon. The author writes with great skill, gentle clarity, and avid enough descriptions to truly give readers a strong sense of the era.

I enjoyed Makeda’s talent to verbally spar with Solomon, impressing instead of offending, fascinating instead of angering. She was a woman of great resilience, courageous enough to speak her mind and unafraid to act on her moral ethics. Makeda is a true heroine, one who has transcends time, whereby her dignity and brilliance fascinates to this day. A wonderful biographical historical novel!

The Book of Lost Fragrances by MJ Rose

A sweeping and suspenseful tale of secrets, intrigue, and lovers separated by time, all connected through the mystical qualities of a perfume created in the days of Cleopatra--and lost for 2,000 years.

Jac L'Etoile has always been haunted by the past, her memories infused with the exotic scents that she grew up surrounded by as the heir to a storied French perfume company. In order to flee the pain of those remembrances--and of her mother's suicide--she moved to America. Now, fourteen years later she and her brother have inherited the company along with it's financial problems. But when Robbie hints at an earth-shattering discovery in the family archives and then suddenly goes missing--leaving a dead body in his wake--Jac is plunged into a world she thought she'd left behind.

Back in Paris to investigate her brother's disappearance, Jac becomes haunted by the legend the House of L'Etoile has been espousing since 1799. Is there a scent that can unlock the mystery of reincarnation - or is it just another dream infused perfume?


The Book of Lost Fragrances fuses history, passion, and suspense, moving from Cleopatra's Egypt and the terrors of revolutionary France to Tibet's battle with China and the glamour of modern-day Paris. Jac's quest for the ancient perfume someone is willing to kill for becomes the key to understanding her own troubled past.

Although The Book of Lost Fragrances is not purely a historical novel, it encompasses historic facts and lore from ancient Egypt and Greece. The subject matter also touches on past lives and the possibility of reincarnation. Beyond that, it is mostly contemporary, taking the reader from New York to the Europe, and the Far East.


Facts about fragrance and how it is produced both in ancient times and today was rather fascinating. The author truly delved deeply into her research to be able to describe fragrances and practices in such detail. The story is a good one, albeit a little difficult to read due to numerous characters and flashbacks. I suspect by the way the book ended, that there might be a sequel in contemplation. A bit archaeological, a bit suspenseful, and a bit mystical, The Book of Lost Fragrances is an ambitious, but fascinating read. It will be released on March 13, 2012. You can pre-order it now on Amazon!  

Fiji by James and Lance Morcan

A gripping story novel of historical Fiji with plenty of sex and violence!

Fiji is a spellbinding novel of adventure, cultural misunderstandings, religious conflict and sexual tension set in one of the most exotic and isolated places on earth.

As the pharaohs of ancient Egypt build their mighty pyramids, and Chinese civilization evolves under the Shang Dynasty, adventurous seafarers from South East Asia begin to settle the far-flung islands of the South Pacific. The exotic archipelago of Fiji is one of the last island groups to be discovered and will remain hidden from the outside world for many centuries to come.

By the mid-1800's, Fiji has become a melting pot of cannibals, warring native tribes, sailors, traders, prostitutes, escaped convicts and all manner of foreign undesirables. It's in this hostile environment an innocent young Englishwoman and a worldly American adventurer find themselves.

Susannah Drake, a missionary, questions her calling to spread God’s Word as she’s torn between her spiritual and sexual selves. As her forbidden desires intensify, she turns to the scriptures and prayer to quash the sinful thoughts – without success.

Nathan Johnson arrives to trade muskets to the Fijians and immediately finds himself at odds with Susannah. She despises him for introducing the white man’s weapons to the very people she is trying to convert and he pities her for her naivety. Despite their differences, there’s an undeniable chemistry between them.

When their lives are suddenly endangered by marauding cannibals, Susannah and Nathan are forced to rely on each other for their very survival.

Written by father-and-son writing team Lance & James Morcan (authors of The Ninth Orphan), Fiji is an historical adventure-romance published by Sterling Gate Books.

A feature film adaptation of Fiji is currently being developed.

Ever since I read the Mutiny on the Bounty Trilogy as a teen, I have been drawn to exotic stories about the South Pacific. Fiji immediately drew my interest and I was more than pleased with this fascinating novel.

If you like your stories straight up, told like it really was, and without any sugar coating, then Fiji is sure to please. This novel transcends gender and will appeal to both male and female readers. The characters in the story fascinated me, evolving and adapting to their circumstances and surroundings. The underlying romance that weaves itself through the story is beautifully written and credible as the couple move from intense dislike to meaningful love.

This book had a bit of everything – sex, violence, humor, historic detail, and plenty of twists to keep one reading. A warning for all readers - in keeping with the authentic tone throughout, you will come across scenes of ritualistic slaughter and cannibalism. A fabulous novel, beautiful for its blunt rawness, exotic scenery, and fascinating storyline. Definitely one to pick up and read. The Kindle version is less than a dollar! A quality book for sure!

The Whipping Club by Deborah Henry

A heart-wrenching novel about painful abuses in Irish Catholic Institutions

Synopsis:

Deborah Henry's new historical novel, THE WHIPPING CLUB (T.S Poetry Press, March 2012) is a literary page-turner and a tale of redemption, set against the backdrop of violence and deeply entrenched prejudice in 1960s Ireland as told through the heartrending experience of one inter-faith family. In it, an Irish Catholic woman, Marian, in love with a Jewish journalist hides the birth of her out-of-wedlock child to save her future marriage. The child she has relinquished does not end up with an American family as promised. Instead, he is committed to a notorious Catholic orphanage where there is little hope for his survival.

Tormented by feelings of remorse and guilt that have plagued her throughout her marriage to the boy's father, the woman must confront the truth and reveal her long-buried secret. While putting her marriage and family at risk, she determines to save her son and in so doing correct the terrible wrongs of her own past and challenge a system that chronically serves up children to abusive clergy.

Using a hidden Ireland as a backdrop, an island in which thousands of adults and children were forcibly separated in the 1950's and 1960's, the novel explores the sacrificial secrets we keep to protect our loved ones and their impact on a marriage, a family and a society. THE WHIPPING CLUB raises powerful questions about the nature of sin, guilt, and redemption by chronicling a young boy's perilous travels through a corrupt system and one couple's heartbreaking struggle to bring him home.

The Whipping Club is a timely novel that makes a powerful statement, revealing the sufferings of victims and families at the hands of the Catholic Church in the mid 1900’s. Although the story focuses on Ireland’s orphanages, Magdalene Laundries, and homes for unwed mothers, parallels can be drawn in many other countries where survivors of similar institutions are coming forward.

The story centers around one family. Marian is a Catholic teacher at a Zionist school who falls in love with a young Jewish man named Ben. When she discovers she is pregnant, she tries to tell Ben, but his mother’s antagonism at her religious background forces her to keep her secret. Instead, she enters into a special hospital/home for unwed mothers where she puts her son up for adoption, assured he will find a good family in America.

Marian and Ben marry and they have a young daughter. All seems perfect until one day, she learns the son she gave up for adoption is still in the Catholic orphanage she originally left him in. Ben and Marian take legal action to acquire custody of their son, Adrian, and begin to assimilate him into their lives. But he is under the custody of the nuns at the orphanage and they, together with the court system, maintain their hold and custody of the boy.

Not for the faint of heart, this novel addresses several complicated and painful issues that are coming forward in today’s society. For the sake of the survivors, it is important to learn about what truly happened, to understand, and to learn from these mistakes so that such things never occur again. As a Catholic myself, it was a shattering experience to read about the harsh punishments, cruelties, and sexual abuse against innocent children and the prejudices against unwed mothers. I admired the fact the author took care to not only portray depraved or cruel religious members, but also those who were loving and kind, albeit the former outweighed the latter in numbers.

What I admire is that the author had the courage to deal with such contentious issues such as deeply ingrained religious beliefs, transgressions, mercy, and the devastating consequences of not speaking out. This novel has depth and punch. It is not a light read – one should not skim over the words light-heartedly. Rather, readers need to prepare themselves to face a realm of emotions as they read and try to understand the true purpose for which the author wrote such a story. This heart-wrenching tragic drama has depth and richness. Despite the painful topic, the author leaves the reader with hope at the end. Bravo Deborah Henry for having the courage to address such tragic and painful realities in our recent past.


Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Sonoma Rose by Jennifer Chiaverini

A fascinating story about love and courage set during America's Prohibition.

Book Summary:

From New York Times bestselling author Jennifer Chiaverini, a powerful and dramatic Prohibition-era story that follows the fortunes of Rosa Diaz Barclay, a woman who plunges into the unknown for the safety of her children and the love of a good but flawed man.


As the nation grapples with the strictures of Prohibition, Rosa Barclay lives on a Southern California rye farm with her volatile husband, John, who has lately found another source of income far outside the federal purview.
Mother to eight children, Rosa mourns the loss of four who succumbed to the mysterious wasting disease that is now afflicting young Ana and Miguel. Two daughters born of another father are in perfect health. When an act of violence shatters Rosa's resolve to maintain her increasingly dangerous existence, she flees with the children and her precious heirloom quilts to the mesa where she last saw her beloved mother alive.


As a flash flood traps them in a treacherous canyon, only one man is brave-or foolhardy-enough to come to their rescue: Lars Jorgenson, Rosa's first love and the father of her healthy daughters. Together they escape to Berkeley, where a leading specialist offers their only hope of saving Ana and Miguel. Here in northern California, they create new identities to protect themselves from Rosa's vengeful husband, the police who seek her for questioning, and the gangsters Lars reported to Prohibition agents-officers representing a department often as corrupt as the Mob itself. Ever mindful that his youthful alcoholism provoked Rosa to spurn him, Lars nevertheless supports Rosa's daring plan to stake their futures on a struggling Sonoma Valley vineyard-despite the recent hardships of local winemakers whose honest labors at viticulture have, through no fault of their own, become illegal.

Sonoma Rose by Jennifer Chiaverini is fascinating novel set during Prohibition in the southern United States. I loved the retro cover. It reminded me of many classic novels that I enjoyed so many years ago, or finding an old dusty classic hidden at the back of a library's bookshelf. This novel weaves through time as it follows the trials Rosa and Lars face as they attempt to escape their past and avoid treachery in their new life. One immediately feels sympathy for poor Rose who is trapped in a loveless marriage with an embittered man who refuses to provide the necessary care for her ill children and regularly abuses her.

This is an epic story that weaves itself over several years and takes the reader into the heart of wine country during the era of Prohibition. The author gave us an in-depth look at the struggle of vineyard owners at a time when wine-making was severely and how they struggled to survive. Insight was also given as to how celiac disease was first diagnosed and treated.

The novel was easy to read. Its characters, both protagonist and antagonist, were well written and realistic. It is nice to learn about lesser known eras in unusual settings, and this novel certainly made that mark. Beautiful prose, rich descriptions, and an endearing story of courage and hope make this an awesome read.

Monday, February 20, 2012

The Healing by Jonathan Odell

An engrossing novel about slavery!

Mississippi plantation mistress Amanda Satterfield loses her daughter to cholera after her husband refuses to treat her for what he considers to be a “slave disease.” Insane with grief, Amanda takes a newborn slave child as her own and names her Granada, much to the outrage of her husband and the amusement of their white neighbors. Troubled by his wife’s disturbing mental state and concerned about a mysterious plague sweeping through his slave population, Master Satterfield purchases Polly Shine, a slave reputed to be a healer. But Polly’s sharp tongue and troubling predictions cause unrest across the plantation. Complicating matters further, Polly recognizes “the gift” in Granada, the mistress’s pet, and a domestic battle of wills ensues.

Seventy-five years later, Granada, now known as Gran Gran, is still living on the plantation and must revive the buried memories of her past in order to heal a young girl abandoned to her care. Together they learn the power of story to heal the body, the spirit and the soul.

Rich in mood and atmosphere, The Healing is the kind of novel readers can’t put down—and can’t wait to recommend once they’ve finished.

The Healing is a novel about an old woman named Gran Gran. The former slave lives alone in an abandoned mansion on a Southern plantation. In her youth, she worked as a midwife and healer to the slaves. Once revered for her skills, as time progressed, the respect she once enjoyed has faded away.

Lonely, she finds herself taking care of a young girl named Violet whose mother died after a botched abortion. Gran Gran shares her memories of her life as a slave on the plantation with the young girl, soothing her grief over her mother’s death. An unhinged mistress, the hardships the slaves suffered because of heartless masters, disease, sorrow, and cruel racial prejudices abounds on every page of this engrossing novel.

Moving between present and past, the author tantalizes by revealing dark secrets and mistakes. But this novel is more than a story of the South. It is a revelation about the difficulties black women faced at the hands of slaveholders - forced separation from children and family, lack of food and clothing, and their resilience to succeed despite numerous adversities.

Odell delves deep into womanhood, never shying away from poverty, rape, and horrendous abuses that were considered normal in the treatment of slaves. And he does so in a way that evokes great respect and sympathy for the women who were not only resilient, but courageous. Above all, this is a poignant novel of hope and courage that will deeply touch readers. I truly loved this book and look forward to reading future books by this very talented author.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Enchantments by Kathryn Harrison


Back Cover Blurb:

1917 was a turbulent year for Russia. Already deeply enmeshed in World War I, there were problems on the home front as well, as the seeds of revolution began to sprout. On New Year’s Day, the body of the “Mad Monk” Rasputin, charismatic healer and confidante of the tsarina, was pulled from the icy river Neva. His daughters, according to his wishes, are placed under the protection of the Romanov royal family. Eighteen-year-old Masha, despite not being gifted with her father’s powers, takes his place at the bedside of the young tsarevitch, Alyosha. The heir to the empire, Alyosha is frequently confined to bed with the effects of his hemophilia, and Masha must do what she can to ease his discomfort. She tells him stories, of her parents and his, but even the most enchanting fictions cannot hide the fact that the Romanovs are under house arrest by the Bolsheviks, and that Alyosha may not survive long enough to die from his disease.

Review

Enchantments is the story of the Russian Revolution, fictionally recounting what happpened to Rasputin's daughters after their father's murder. The tsarina, desperate to grasp on to Rasputin's magical healing powers for her hemophiliac son, takes Masha and her sister to live with them, in the hopes they may possess some of their father's skills. Rasputin's life and murder continue to fascinate to this day. And this is what drew me to this story.

Kathryn Harrison did an excellent job of bringing to life the central characters in this story. I enjoyed the historical details and the poignancy she portrayed regarding the royal family at their anticipated demise. She truly is a talented writer who did a great deal of research. Many of her scenes are gripping and so real, they truly stirred a realm of emotions as I read them. In particular is the scene depicting the murder and recovery of Rasputin's death. At times, I wished for more of Rasputin to be brought into the story through flashback or recounting some of his escapades, but I bear in mind how difficult it is to write a novel set in such a complicated era and within the constraints of required novel length. 

The cover is spectacular and definitely a draw for readers. All in all, this novel is an excellent representation of a most traumatic time in Russia's history and recommended for those who love Russian historical novels.  


Tuesday, February 14, 2012

The Orchid House by Lucina Riley

A beautiful story!
Synopsis:

As a child Julia Forrester spent many idyllic hours in the hothouse of Wharton Park, the great house where her grandfather tended exotic orchids. Years later, while struggling with overwhelming grief over the death of her husband and young child, she returns to the tranquility of the estate. There she reunites with Kit Crawford, heir to the estate and her possible salvation.

When they discover an old diary, Julia seeks out her grandmother to learn the truth behind a love affair that almost destroyed Wharton Park. Their search takes them back to the 1930s when a former heir to Wharton Park married his young society bride on the eve of World War II. When the two lovers are cruelly separated, the impact will be felt on generations to come.

Lucinda Riley skillfully sweeps her readers between the magical world of Wharton Park and Thailand during World War II with irresistible and atmospheric storytelling. Filled with twists and turns, passions and lies, and ultimately redemption, The Orchid House is a romantic, poignant novel that became an instant bestseller in the UK and Germany.

The Orchid House is a tantalizing story involving a grieving heroine, a secret diary, an ancient mansion, and long buried family secrets. The story’s main character is Julia who is grief-stricken over the death of her husband and son. She returns to her roots – a dilapidated mansion where she once spent countless hours with her grandfather in the conservatory watching him tend to orchids. There she meets the heir to estate and a friendship is sparked between them. The discovery of an old diary, long forgotten, sweeps Julia into the past where she uncovers family secrets and which ultimately help her heal.

Told through some flashbacks between the present and the past, these tantalizing reminisces helped build momentum and kept me enthralled to read further. The story held my interest with its twists and turns and fascinating characters. I immediately sympathized with the heroine whose grief and pain, as well as her gradual healing, was well portrayed. I especially enjoyed how the theme of a rare orchid flowed from start to finish. I cannot say enough about how lovely this book is to read. Utterly beautiful! Completely satisfying!

Saturday, February 11, 2012



Synopsis:

Just in time for the centennial anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic comes a vivid, romantic, and relentlessly compelling historical novel about a spirited young woman who survives the disaster only to find herself embroiled in the media frenzy left in the wake of the tragedy.

Tess, an aspiring seamstress, thinks she's had an incredibly lucky break when she is hired by famous designer Lady Lucile Duff Gordon to be a personal maid on the Titanic's doomed voyage. Once on board, Tess catches the eye of two men, one a roughly-hewn but kind sailor and the other an enigmatic Chicago millionaire. But on the fourth night, disaster strikes.

Amidst the chaos and desperate urging of two very different suitors, Tess is one of the last people allowed on a lifeboat. Tess’s sailor also manages to survive unharmed, witness to Lady Duff Gordon’s questionable actions during the tragedy. Others—including the gallant Midwestern tycoon—are not so lucky.

On dry land, rumors about the survivors begin to circulate, and Lady Duff Gordon quickly becomes the subject of media scorn and later, the hearings on the Titanic. Set against a historical tragedy but told from a completely fresh angle, The Dressmaker is an atmospheric delight filled with all the period's glitz and glamour, all the raw feelings of a national tragedy and all the contradictory emotions of young love.


Review:

The Dressmaker is the story of a young woman who dreams of fleeing the harshness of her life in England where she works as a maid. Alone in the world, her only talent lies in her skill to design and sew dresses. Yet the only work available to her are ones that require housework or the most basic of sewing skills.

So Tess Collins sets her sights on the New World, to America. A chance encounter with Lady Lucile Duff Gordon results in her being hired as an assistant to the world renowned fashion designer. Together they embark on the Titanic. Miraculously the two women survive and are brought to New York. In the aftermath of the sinking, with all the confusion and the pandemonium, Tess struggles to make her way in this new world while trying to get along with her formidable boss. She soon falls in love with two men, one of high social class and the other poor. These love interests, along with a feisty reporter named Pinky, makes for an entertaining sub-plot. 

Author Kate Alcott definitely offers an interesting story. It is important for readers to know, however, that this  novel focuses mostly on the fictional story and characters than on what actually happened on the Titanic. More attention is placed on the aftermath of the sinking than what happened in the final hours before the ship sunk. And this is what I enjoyed most about this tale. 

Through her characters, the author briefly delves into the facts of what happened on the Titanic, especially what happened on Lifeboat One and the quandry between those in the water and those who were fortunate enough to find space in a lifeboat, and more heavily on what happened to the survivors afterwards when they arrived in New York and faced a media frenzy.

The story of the Titanic has been told through film and book, so it is a challenge for any author to tackle such a challenging, complicated historical event. Some of the characters in this story were fictional, while others were drawn from the actual persons aboard the tragic ship. Although I enjoyed reading and learning about the aftermath of the Titanic's sinking and the subsequent subplots that arose with the survivors, I was left yearning for a little more about the circumstances that arose on the ship itself. Some of that was disclosed at the end of the novel. Nevertheless, the story was enjoyable, informative, and accurately written based upon meticulous research. It was tasteful and didn't play upon the tragedy, being so respectfully written. For those fascinated with the Titanic, this makes for pleasant reading. 

Friday, February 10, 2012

Sister Queens: The Noble, Tragic Lives of Katherine of Aragon and Juana, Queen of Castile by Julia Fox

A remarkable and exceptional recreation of the lives of two nobelwomen.


Synopsis:

Daughters of the formidable Isabella and Ferdinand of Spain, Katherine and Juana were born in to a world of privilege and luxury that came at a devastating personal price. They were trained from an early age to understand European diplomacy and to revere their position as defenders of Catholicism against any threat to their religion. In an age of family politics, the sisters were useful only as a way to secure new alliances through marriage; both at the mercy of the men they were to marry. Katherine's marriage to Prince Arthur appeared to go well until he died suddenly after ten months. Marriage to King Henry VIII did not result in the vital heir, and soon Henry was displaying his despotic nature, with the execution of 'traitors' and high-handed affairs. Juana fared no better with Philip of Burgundy, whose naked ambition and cruelty made her life equally difficult. Julia Fox's new biography vividly portrays the harsh realities of being a queen within a world dominated and run by men. She provides a fresh take on the sisters' characters and interior worlds by setting them within their family and Spanish contexts. In the case of both women, this vibrant biography graphically illustrates the dangers of being a royal commodity at such a perilous time, and gives a highly revealing portrait of two forceful female personalities thwarted by the men around them - including the men closest to them who should have cared for them the most.
Opening Sentence:

The snow-covered mountains of the Sierra Nevada were clearly visible from the high, castellated red walls of the citadel as the slight figure of Boabdil, the last king of Granada, slipped out of its gates for the final time.

Review:

Sister Queens is a biography about two Spanish sisters who became queen - Katherine of Aragon and Juana of Castile.


Both were daughters of Ferdinand II of Aragon and Isabella I of Castile. From the very start, Isabella planned and schemed to marry them to the most powerful kings in Europe.


Katherine, heiress of Aragon, was married to Arthur, the elder brother of the notorious King Henry VIII who was a mere prince at the time and who was destined to become her second husband.


Juana, heiress of Castile, was married to Philip of Burgundy, a cruel, ambitious man hungry for power and control.


Philip of Burgundy

This biographical non-fiction book focuses on their equally tragic lives as they fell victim to the aspirations and ruthless power-seeking men in their lives. Although women could hold power and govern lands in their own right, they often faced insurmountable barriers by husbands, brothers, and fathers. Julia Fox did a wonderful job with researching lesser known facts about their lives. What results is an entertaining, sympathetic portrayal of two women who struggled against great adversity.

Although the book focuses heavily on the life of Katherine, likely due to the popularity of the Tudors, she delves a little less, but adequately into the life of Juana. There have been many novels written about these two fascinating queens, however none carry as much detail as Sister Queens. It is evident the author utilized authentic historical sources; she credits them throughout this book's pages, so there is an aura of credibility from start to finish.

I highly recommend this book for everyone interested in English and Spanish history. There is no doubt that Sister Queens will stand as a valuable resource because of its accuracy and veracity for generations to come. It was truly an enjoyable read, rich with life, strife, and trouble.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Legacy of Blood by Alex Connor

London, 1732. William Hogarth is called to a cellar where a whore lies dead. But not just any whore, Polly Gunnell was the mistress of Frederick, Prince of Wales. Not only must this fact be kept secret, and is the reason for poor Polly’s death, but she was carrying his son.

Hogarth is filled with guilt at the sight of a woman he cared for, especially when he realises he is partially responsible for her murder. Hogarth painted a very recognisable picture of the future King leaving her bed.  A picture he included in his series, ‘A Whore’s Progress’.

The situation looks bad, but is worsened when left alone with the body, Hogarth discovers that Polly’s baby is still alive, barely. He takes the child away and hides it, together with a gold ring given to him by the Prince with an inscription identifying the boy’s parentage.

Centuries later, one man is entrusted to keep the proof of this line of succession hidden, and keeps a watchful eye on the Prince's descendant. Being an old-school, honourable man, Sir Oliver Peters fulfills his duty for many years.

Oliver then accepts a lift on a private jet, and during that flight, someone tells him he has stolen the painting of Polly and Frederick, apparently unaware of Oliver’s custodianship.  To protect the monarchy, Oliver must at all costs retrieve the painting, but he doesn’t know where it is and within days, the man who claims ownership is killed in a traffic accident.

Then others who took that same flight start dying too, and one interested party employs Victor Ballam, a disgraced art dealer to find out what is going on and if possible – retrieve the painting.

I enjoyed Alex Connor's The Rembrandt Secret and looked forward to reading this one. I was not disappointed, as she has a canny knack of building the tension and then leaves the reader floundering when all the clues she lays are proved wrong.  There’s never a quiet moment in this story and the long-dead Hogarth appears at intervals to tell us what he did and why – to some extent!  It seems it was as difficult keeping secrets in the eighteenth century as it is in the present.

The story rolls along to a satisfying conclusion where all the ends are tied up nicely – well, sort of!  I cannot say any more about the plot without spoiling the book for prospective readers.

This is Connor’s second novel about the art world, and she paints art dealers as a murky, dishonest, back-stabbing bunch, which makes me feel she has had extensive experience of that world. All her characters stand out, each with their own stories that affect their actions when it comes to honour, greed or a sense of self.  I enjoyed the way everyone looking for the painting had their own reasons for their interest, from its protection, pure greed or simply the pride of ownership.

One point I would make on a personal level is that I very much doubt the Royal Family would give two hoots about an illegitimate child born in 1732, either then or now, let alone his descendant.  Prince Frederick had nine legitimate children and three illegitimate ones, so it wasn’t as if the throne was shaky.  And why would Frederick himself leave evidence of the child’s identity?  The fact Hogarth couldn’t bear to destroy a work he was proud of makes more sense, and his sentimentality for the baby makes him human too.  In fact I became quite fond of poor William Hogarth and his battle with the demons he had unleashed by an act of compassion through Alex Connor’s prose.

In the end, my suspension of belief in the premise of the plot in no way spoiled my enjoyment of this rollicking story I couldn’t put down.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Oleanna by Julie K. Rose

A haunting novel of isolation and triumph in the wilds of Norway

Back Cover:

Set during the separation of Norway from Sweden in 1905, this richly detailed novel of love and loss was inspired by the life of the author's great-great-aunts.

Oleanna and her sister Elisabeth are the last of their family working their farm deep in the western fjordland. A new century has begun, and the world outside is changing, but in the Sunnfjord their world is as small and secluded as the verdant banks of a high mountain lake.

The arrival of Anders, a cotter living just across the farm's border, unsettles Oleanna's peaceful but isolated existence. Sharing a common bond of loneliness and grief, Anders stirs within her the wildness and wanderlust she has worked so hard to tame. When she is confronted with another crippling loss, Oleanna must decide once and for all how to face her past, claim her future, and find her place in a wide new world.

Oleanna was short-listed in the 2011 Faulkner-Wisdom novel competition.

The first thing that drew me to read this novel was its unusual setting of Norway in the early years of the 20th century. From the very start, its pages evoked an emotion of haunting loneliness that complimented the isolated setting and set the tone of the entire story.

To say I was impressed with the novel is an understatement. I was irresistibly drawn to the characters and always left guessing. Their actions were always unpredictable, holding my fascination, keeping me turning the pages to find out what they would do next. Anders was depicted with an abundance of mysteriousness. Was he truly a good man? Or what secrets did he hide?

Based on the true life story of the author's spinster aunts added fascination. The author was able to delve deep into the thoughts and emotions of the characters to give a detailed understanding of their struggles.

The quality of any novel is exemplified in the transformational journey of its main characters. In this regard, this story did not disappoint. The characters changed in ways I had not expected, especially Oleanna and her sister. Both women learned much about themselves and the land they clung to.

This novel abounds with haunting emotion, sadness, and ultimate triumph. I am not surprised it was shortlisted 2011 Faulkner-Wisdom novel competition. Oleanna is women's historical fiction at its finest. I thoroughly enjoyed every word and highly recommend it as a fascinating read giving insight into a lesser known country and period in history.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Growing Up Patton by Benjamin Patton with Jennifer Scruby

A book that takes the reader into unusual places to meet unusual people!

Growing Up Patton
by
Benjamin Patton with Jennifer Scruby

Reviewed by
Gregory Graham

At the age of seventeen, Benjamin Patton made a decision to not join the U.S. Army. For most teenagers, it is an easy decision; not so if you are the grandson of General George S. Patton Jr, a hero of World War II and the son of General George S. Patton IV. Benjamin has a family military history that stretches back to the Civil War. In many ways, this book is the expiation of Benjamin's guilt for living a life outside the family trade, and an affirmation that life outside of the military can be as meaningful if one uses it to praise its military roots.

As a result, this book is hard to classify. It is part history, part reminiscence, there is some biography thrown in, and, of course, autobiography. You will find no Patton family skeletons here. All people in the book are presented with polished brass and at their Sunday best. What the book does quite nicely is take the reader into unusual places to meet unusual people. That, in fact, is what keeps this book from becoming a puff piece for the Patton family.

The first section deals with family history, and the second section with correspondence between George Jr. and George the IV during World War II. Junior is busy winning the war in Europe, and George the IV is studying hard at West Point. Dad's letters are full of fatherly advice for his son, and the son's letters are full of anxiety about the war ending before he can fight.

I think this section is meant to show the human side of the WWII general or at least dispel the image of him branded into our collective memory by George C. Scott in the movie, Patton. You get the impression that he was loved by the people who worked directly for him, but I know for a fact that this love did not extend to the soldiers in his Army. My father, an Infantry sergeant, who fought for Patton on his race across France and Germany had a different view. He called him 'Old Guts and Glory, our guts and his glory'.

The third section of the book is by far the best. It deals with the remarkable people that had an impact on the family. We get a short biography of General Creighton Abrams, a masterful general who worked for George Jr during World War II and who shaped the career of George the IV. Manfred Rommel is covered and the relationship that developed between Rommel's son and George the IV. We also meet Sammy Choi, a Korean Horatio Alger, Julius Becton, one of the first black generals in the US Army, and Vera Duss, an Abbess.

In the next section, Benjamin Patton covers young commanders shaped by his father who are the future of the US Army. A nod is given to the spiritual leaders who worked with his father, and the next to last section is devoted to his mother and the correspondence between her and his father during his Vietnam assignments. 

The final section deals with Benjamin's brother, George. If you're keeping count, that is George the V, who is mentally challenged.

I'm not sure what the totality of the book is. I found parts of it compelling. There were certainly parts of it that allowed me to peak into different ways of life and those parts were fun, but it is hard to escape the fact that the book is a chimera. The parts don't seem to fit together into a cogent whole.

This final question is who should read this book. I suppose if you're a student of military history, this book would be interesting. As it passes through the generations the reader can see how the Army has morphed from the fighting force of WWII to what it is today.

I would also read it for serendipity. One of my father's favorite stories about WWII was how on Christmas Eve during the Battle of the Bulge, he and his men came upon a banquet set out for German officers in a church. He remembers that the food was still warm and smelled wonderful although no one would touch anything because it might be booby trapped.

In the chapter on Creighton Abrams, Benjamin Patton describes how Abrams broke through to the town of Bastogne by using a little used side road. He surprised German officers along the way as they were sitting down to Christmas Eve dinner.

I now know where my father was on Christmas Eve, 1944. He was at the tip of the spear of the relief column sent to relieve Bastogne. The odd part is that I found it in a book by another man who is searching for his father and grandfather.