Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Four Sisters, All Queens by Sherry Jones


Marguerite, queen consort of France. Eleonore, queen consort of England. Sanchia, queen consort of Germany. Beatrice, queen consort of Sicily. Four remarkable women made even more so by their sisterhood and the struggles each faced. Author Sherry Jones reveals deep-seated rivalries and startling secrets about the sisters and their courtly lives in the medieval world of Four Sisters, All Queens.

Despite their shared heritage as the children of Count Ramon Berenguer of Provence and Beatrice of Savoy, Marguerite, Eleonore, Sanchia and Beatrice, have anything but an idyllic existence. Constant warfare with the neighboring county of Toulouse means poor nourishment, threadbare clothes and hand-me-downs, and the possibility that their father Ramon’s days as count are numbered. Beatrice of Savoy is determined her children will escape their circumstances by marrying well, a scheme the two eldest sisters heartily endorse. Marguerite marries the pious Louis of France, whose mother Blanche will not surrender her power to a young queen. Blanche continually disrupts Marguerite’s expected role as Louis’ consort at court and even intrudes on their privacy in the couple’s bedchamber. Eleonore’s marriage to Henry III of England would fare better than her elder sister’s own, if not for Henry’s jealous courtiers. Many of the English barons, including members of Henry’s family, comically refer to Eleonore as an interfering “foreigner” despite their own dual heritages across the Channel. 

The younger sisters Sanchia and Beatrice fare little better. The devout Sanchia, for whom beauty is curse, looks for an escape from Raymond of Toulouse’s eager attentions. Her elder sisters and mother invent a timely rescue, beguiling King Henry’s brother Richard of Cornwall into thinking he has fallen in love with a woman as vivacious as Beatrice of Savoy, when he marries Sanchia. Beatrice seems the happiest in her union with Louis’ brother Charles, if only Blanche’s schemes to claim Provence for France and the sudden death of Beatrice’s father hadn’t forced her into the marriage. Unlike Sanchia, Beatrice has always felt like an interloper among her siblings. Charles’s machinations force her to choose between love for her sisters or her husband, ensuring the permanence of a long-standing feud with Marguerite and Eleonore’s bitterness over rival claims to Sicily. It’s heartbreaking to witness how easily each of the sisters forgets their mother’s chief admonition: family first, when it comes to each other.

The author takes readers on a mad dash between rival courts in France and England, and the German court, where Sanchia enjoys a brief reign. If I could find any fault with this novel, I wish it had been longer. Jones has created multifaceted characters with distinct personalities, flaws and triumphs. Marguerite’s strong personality emerges despite all of her mother in-law’s attempts to subdue her. Eleonore is perhaps even bolder like her elder sister, often thwarting her husband the king and his courtiers. While Sanchia’s demure nature seems subdued compared with Marguerite and Eleonore, her endurance against steady trials at her husband’s side reveal an inner strength to rival that of her sisters. Beatrice’s personality matches that of her two elder sisters, but she fosters the same compassion one might feel for Sanchia, as both endure unions with men who ride roughshod over their wives’ wishes and sympathies. It’s a testament to Jones’ natural talent that she can explore the vast history of the period with obvious passion and interest, yet leave a reader wanting to know more.      

Once More from the Beginning by Wendy Bertsch

 Here’s a new look at the Old Testament...but this time the women’s voice gets the prominence it deserves. Always witty, often funny, and definitely never boring, the women’s common sense outlook puts quite a different spin on the stories you think you remember. The men have had their way with history for far too long. Let’s see that ancient world through a woman’s eyes. You may be surprised! 

Author Wendy Bertsch has penned an intelligent, riotously funny, tongue-in-cheek, yet respectful poke at the Old Testament. And she tells it all from a woman’s perspective! I was utterly entertained from cover to cover. Told in modern language, and always with a touch of sarcasm aimed at the many beliefs and rites affecting womanhood, the book definitely tackles fascinating gender related topics. If you love comics who poke fun at gender differences, then you will adore this book!

The cast of characters in this colorful story includes Jezebel and the Queen of Sheba in addition to Eve and the men in these women’s lives, and many more men and women from the Bible. The dialogue is quippy and clever, and always great fun. In fact, flip the book open to any page, and you will find something that will make you laugh out loud. Some of my favourite scenes pertained to Sodom and Gomorrah and the Coat of Many Colors, but there are so many others, far too numerous to mention, that are equally as entertaining.   

Wendy Bertsch has forged a unique trail into a new form of humorous writing. Not only is she gifted with the ability to write comedic fiction, but she does so in a fresh, uninhibited manner that surprises and delights the reader. She is also the author of Dodging Shells, another must read, humorous novel about her father’s adventures in World War II. Having read both books, I strongly recommend them to readers across all genres. I’m eagerly awaiting her next novel. Wendy Bertsch is one of my all-time favourite authors! Read the book and you will see why.
 

Friday, July 27, 2012

Dodging Shells by Wendy Bertsch

When you open the pages of this novel, be prepared! It will not be what you expect. In fact, it will exceed your expectations. What you will find is a blunt narrative from a tough, gritty soldier who tells things like they are, through his own biting, but touching sense of humor. And it is this sense of humor that helps him survive horrendous battles and dire circumstances and the loss of life. Tommy is real, loveable, dynamic, and the penultimate hero. I defy anyone who picks up this book not to fall in love with this man. And the best part, is that he is real. He is the author’s own father. 

The story itself is factual and told with simplicity through the eyes of our Canadian soldiers. Tommy’s tale is revealed through letters he sends to his twin sister in Canada. Fun colloquialisms and humorous slang intersperse the dialogue and help to paint a realistic picture of Tommy’s resilient character. 
Cudos to author Wendy BertschWendy Bertsch who was talented enough to honor and immortalize her father in such a brilliant manner. I cannot recommend this book enough. All Canadians should read it – men and women alike. Get the book. Get it now!

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Hope of Israel by Patricia O'Sullivan


The plight of the persecuted is the focus of Patricia O’Sullivan’s novel, Hope of Israel. Rooted in historical fact, the novel examines the lives of people forced to subvert their true natures and live behind masks of conformity. Along the journey, two unlikely protagonists, Domingo and Lucy discover a powerful bond, often threatened by misunderstandings, bigotry and religious hatred.

In 17th century Portugal, religious wrath destroys Domingo Lacerda’s boyhood innocence. He witnesses the execution of his brother Felipe, convicted of accusations against a Catholic priest. When Domingo returns to his home in Alfama, perched on a Lisbon’s hilltop, he learns of his parents’ intentions to flee the country for Brazil. At the same time in London, little Lucy Dunnington wonders at her mother’s behavior toward the doctor who has come to attend a delivery. Lucy also ponders how her family remains secret Catholic in Cromwell’s era.

Domingo’s family travels to Amsterdam, where the young man learns of his true heritage, while immersing himself among a new community. Later, he serves as an apprentice in London, and meets Lucy and her family. Grief and secrets culminate over several years, fostering a tenuous union. The couple takes grave risks to be together, before Domingo’s impetuousness and indecision interrupts their relationship. It seems too late for the lovers, as Lucy marries the cold, businesslike Edward Polestead and looks toward a future with him. Domingo faces several harsh choices, which force him to acknowledge his past. In doing so, has he ruined all hope of a life with Lucy?

***

I enjoyed the visceral emotion this novel evoked; pity arising from the brutal death of Domingo’s brother, and fear and worry about the remaining family facing the threat of discovery and religious persecution in Lisbon and England. Domingo’s emotionally fragile state and his bewildered attempts to adjust to drastic change also won my sympathy. Lucy emerges as the strongest of the pair; she never truly loses her convictions about her faith or her attachment to Domingo. Both find admirable qualities in each other, which bolster them through the most painful of trials.

While Lucy’s husband Edward remains aware of his wife’s devotion to Domingo, he uncharacteristically does not address it until a moment of crisis. Even for a man who could be as callous and detached as to abandon his family, his lack of confrontation with his wife seemed implausible. Also, there were a few instance of quick POV shifts within scenes that distracted me. None of these concerns seriously detracted from a richly detailed story of life and love enduring against impossible odds. 


Friday, July 20, 2012

Just Send Me Word: A True Story of Love and Survival in the Gulag by Orlando Figes



A heroic love story and an unprecedented inside view of one of Stalin's most notorious labor camps, based on a remarkable cache of letters smuggled in and out of the Gulag.

"I went to get the letters for our friends, and couldn't help but feel a little envious, I didn't expect anything for myself. And suddenly—there was my name, and, as if it was alive, your handwriting."

In 1946, after five years as a prisoner—first as a Soviet POW in Nazi concentration camps, then as a deportee (falsely accused of treason) in the Arctic Gulag—twenty-nine-year-old Lev Mishchenko unexpectedly received a letter from Sveta, the sweetheart he had hardly dared hope was still alive. Amazingly, over the next eight years the lovers managed to exchange more than 1,500 messages, and even to smuggle Sveta herself into the camp for secret meetings. Their recently discovered correspondence is the only known real-time record of life in Stalin's Gulag, unmediated and uncensored.

Orlando Figes,"the great storyteller of modern Russian historians" (Financial Times), draws on Lev and Sveta's letters as well as KGB archives and recent interviews to brilliantly reconstruct the broader world in which their story unfolded. With the powerful narrative drive of a novel, Just Send Me Word reveals a passion and endurance that triumphed over the tragic forces of history. 

When he was a child, Bolshevik revolutionary’s killed Lev Mischenko’s parents in Siberia. Raised by his grandmother, Lev became a physicist and while at university, he met and fell in love with Svetlana. When World War II began, before they could marry, he joined the army to battle the Nazi’s. During one particular battle, he was captured and imprisoned in concentration camps. Mischenko tried to escape, but failed. His face was added to the millions of Soviets already in custody. Fortunately, he survived when millions of others died. Accused of spying, he was sent to the Gulag, one of the most brutal Siberian prison camps. Over the next nine years, Lev and Svetlana exchanged hundreds of letters. On occasion, she was allowed to visit him. He remained in prison until 1954. After Stalin’s death, he was among the hundreds of thousands of prisoners who were released.

Just Send Me Word is a non-fictional recounting of Lev and Svetlana’s lives in the aftermath of the Bolshevik revolution. Decades later, the nearly 1500 letters were discovered in a trunk – carefully preserved, and ready to tell their dramatic story, of a great love separated, and the conditions Soviets suffered during the Stalin years.

This book is a shocking revelation about the harsh conditions and the tens of millions of lives lost because of the Soviet Communists. Hunger, poverty, and illness were rampant. Despite all this, love proved true between Lev and his wife who waited so long for his release. Their love for each other and the miracle of human endurance is becomes evident in the letters as the couple bolsters each other in the harshest of conditions. It gives an accurate, first hand glimpse into the suffering of the Russian people and their suffering during the 20th century. Highly recommended and with appeal to those who love romance as well as a good war story. 

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Gold Mountain by Vicki Delany


In the summer of 1897, Fiona MacGillivray and her eleven year-old son, Angus, arrive in Vancouver in time to hear the news — gold discovered in the Klondike! Fiona immediately sets off for Skagway, Alaska, intent on opening a theatre. After one encounter with infamous gangster Soapy Smith and his henchman Paul Sheridan, she decides to pursue her ambitions on the other side of the border in Dawson City. As a dying man breathes his last, he passes on to Sheridan a map pointing due north to the fabled Gold Mountain, where hills of gold keep the heat from hot springs contained in a valley as warm as California.

Sheridan is determined to become the king of Gold Mountain … and to marry Fiona and make her his queen. Fiona, of course, wants no part of these mad plans. When Sheridan refuses to take no for an answer, Fiona must rely on Corporal Sterling of the North-West Mounted Police, young Angus, and a headstrong assortment of townsfolk to help thwart his scheme.

Gold Mountain is the third Klondike mystery novel written by Canadian author Vicki Delany I’ve had the pleasure of reading. At the heart of all three stories is the strong and ever courageous heroine, Fiona MacGillivray. Her preteen son, Angus, and love interest, Corporal Sterling, of the North-West Mounted Police, also appear in this novel.

In Gold Mountain, we go back into time when Fiona makes the decision to escape the sins of the past and start a new life in the Klondike. The story opens with Fiona and her son travelling from Toronto to Vancouver where they boarded a ship to the Klondike. Once at their destination, readers are treated to vivid descriptions, colorful characters, unruly brawling, and the boom town mentality that existed during the gold rush. Fiona sets up a theatre/saloon type establishment (Savoy Salon and Dance Hall) frequented by the town’s rowdy gold miners, including unscrupulous villains like Soapy Smith and his toady Paul Sheridan. Add to the story a secret map of a location rumored to be the mother lode of all mother lodes, and you have the start of another wonderful mystery. Soon Fiona finds herself kidnapped by Paul Sheridan on a quest to find the vast treasure.  

Canadian author Vicki Delany knows her history. Over the span of her three novels, she has created vivid, memorable characters and unleashed them in the feral setting of Dawson Creek. There is a lot to like in these stories – intrigue, greed, romance, historical detail, wily characters, and a warm-hearted tale of a single mother struggling to scrape out a living in a time and place where women had little or no rights. The prose is smooth and easy, making this a great whodunit! Highly recommended. 

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

An Interview With Thomas Hill

Today, I am interviewing  Master Thomas Hill, the main character of Andrew Swanston’s English Civil War novel, ‘The King’s Spy, set in Oxford in 1643.


Thank you for joining me, Master Hill, and hope you have had a sufficient rest after your sojourn at Oxford?
Thank you for inviting me, madam. It is a pleasure, and something of a relief, to be here.

1.    Is the city as devastated as everyone says? I hear morale amongst the Court is low and many only manage to eat by dining with the King at Christ Church each night?
Oxford was a shock. Guns for gowns, soldiers for scholars. Appallingly overcrowded, filthy and wretched. Worst of all was to see such squalor side-by-side with the conspicuous extravagance of the royal court. Morale there shifts with the king’s moods while the townsfolk suffer.

2.    Had you always seen yourself as a bookseller, or did life simply drift that way? Did you have other ambitions whilst you were studying at Oxford?
I had intended to stay in Oxford to continue my studies and perhaps go on to teach mathematics there, but when my father became ill I returned to Romsey to take care of him. When he died, I decided to stay. The bookshop makes a little money and allows me time for reading and writing. It suits me.

3.    You were recruited to help King Charles because of your expertise in mathematics, yet you make it clear that you disapprove of the war, [not to the King, obviously] so how do you avoid being labelled a Royalist?
A difficult question and one which Margaret and I discussed before I went to Oxford and which I asked myself many times on the way there. I am firmly against this war which should never have started and has already cost thousands of lives. Who knows how many more will die before it is over? I would prefer not to be labelled either a royalist or a parliamentarian, but, on balance, I believe that England is best served by a monarchy. After all, we have had a monarch on our throne for centuries. The monarchy, however, like all of us, must move with the times, and I sincerely hope it will.

4.    From what I have seen of 17th Century correspondence, no one appeared to use uniform spellings for most words. Does this make devising and breaking ciphers more difficult?
An interesting point. Variable spellings can cause problems, but no more than the use of deliberate mis-spellings and nulls (meaningless letters or symbols inserted to deceive the decoder). If one gets close enough to a full decryption, the last few words or letters can often be guessed.

5.    You are devoted to your sister Margaret and your two nieces, and without giving too much away, you reach the end of your adventure with no romantic interest of your own. Is this a conscious decision due to wartime, or have you simply never had the inclination to marry?
I am no monk and I have had my moments! Alas, however, I have not yet met a lady willing to take me on as a husband. One day, perhaps.

6.    Margaret makes a reference to the fact that you are well respected man in Romsey who ‘writes important pamphlets’ What would these be about and are they likely to attract unwelcome attention for you?
Dear Margaret is inclined to exaggeration. My modest efforts are chiefly on mathematics and philosophy. As you may know, I am a particular devotee of Michel de Montaigne, a French philosopher who lived in the last century.

7.    You are clearly a pacifist, and hate uselessness, violence and the waste of lives, and yet when the situation requires it you can handle yourself. Captain Fayne could attest to that. How does an Oxford scholar learn to defend himself so well?
Being smaller and lighter than most of my fellow students at Oxford, I quickly learnt to develop speed of hand and foot and to use them to my advantage. I took lessons in fencing and boxing and played tennis on the court at Merton. I only condone violence in self-defence or as a last resort. However, I know I have a temper which can get the better of me.

8.    How difficult is it to remain objective when both Roundheads and Royalists are likely to invade Romsey at any time, threaten your family and disrupt your business and your life?
We have had experience of both sides in Romsey. As you suggest, my first loyalty is to my family and I will do whatever I must to protect them.  I hope, however, that we shall not see bands of clubmen appearing in Hampshire. I know they too just want to safeguard their property and families, but I cannot condone their doing so by violence.

9.    Margaret comes across as a woman who knows her own mind and has opinions about the current conflict. Do you encourage her thinking or wish she would keep her mind on less controversial subjects?
Our father taught both Margaret and me to think for ourselves. He often said we must learn how to think, not what to think. And if I may quote my favourite philosopher – ‘There is no conversation more boring than the one where everyone agrees’. Thankfully, Margaret and I often disagree. Long may it be so.

10.    Do you educate Polly and Lucy in mathematics, philosophy and literature, or do you think they are better served learning only domestic skills?
My nieces are both bright children who want to know about the world they live in. I think they should let their curiosity take them in whatever direction they wish. Being able to bake a good pie is also a useful talent.

11.    If I came into your private rooms above your bookshop, what volumes would I find on your personal shelves? 
De Montaigne, of course, Seneca and Marcus Aurelius, Plato, Aristotle, Descartes and Bacon. All of Shakespeare’s plays and sonnets and Chaucer. Also a much loved volume of local history with beautiful illustrations. I look at it often with the girls.

12.    Your life was in danger more than once in Oxford, so if asked, would you welcome a chance to venture out of your bookshop again, or do you prefer a quiet life from now on?
My experience in Oxford has taught me to expect the unexpected and to take whatever comes. I have a feeling, however, that my life is unlikely to be a quiet one, however much I might like it to be.

13.    What are your chances of crossing paths with Simon de Pointz in your next adventure?
I suppose that depends upon the outcome of the war.  Simon is now in France with the queen. When and if they return, I hope we shall meet again. He is a most interesting and unusual man.

14.    I take it we haven’t heard the last from Master Thomas Hill?
You most certainly have not.

Thank you for joining me, sir and of course for answering all my impertinent questions.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

The King's Spy by Andrew Swanston

Summer, 1643 and the English Civil War is still being dominated by Royalist troops, but the Parliament men are gaining ground every day and after the Battle of Edgehill, Charles I makes a bad decision, fails to reach London before his enemy Lord Essex and instead, flees to Oxford with his court.

Thomas Hill, a Romsey bookseller, and scholar of philosophy and mathematics, is approached by  a messenger who tells him the king's cryptographer is dead and Thomas’s skills are required in Oxford.
Thomas is ambivalent to the war, his only wish being for an end of bloodshed, and hoping his skills will achieve this, he accepts.

Oxford, however is not the same city where he was a student; Royalists are barely tolerated,  his former tutor is old and blind, and there is evidence of a traitor in their midst. Those around Thomas start dying, brutally, and when a vital message encrypted with an unbreakable code is intercepted, Thomas must decipher it to reveal the king's betrayer and protect Queen Henrietta Maria.

Andrew Swanston’s story reminds me of the novels of C J Sansom in that it throws the reader into the gritty, violent and toxic daily life of soldiers and townsfolk alike and what they had to endure during a war where neither side possessed much honour.

The author’s descriptions of Oxford during the Civil War are masterly, portraying a town ravaged by gunfire, disfigured by defensive earthworks and overflowing with the human waste of a massively increased population who occupied every cellar, garret and college building.

Thomas Hill is a man of principle, whose loyalty lies with his widowed sister and his two nieces, but when he begins working for King Charles, he finds the fascination of mathematical conundrums capture his imagination, until enemies start turning up in different forms.

I liked the way Thomas’ pacifist nature subtly changes when his friends get hurt and his family is threatened. He realises he cannot simply do his duty and return to his life in Romsey as if nothing has happened, the fight has become personal and he must put a stop to the bloodshed, despite his aversion to the vain and detached King.

Anyone who likes mystery and suspense will enjoy this story, and if 17th Century enthusiasts will like it even more. A definite keeper and I look forward to reading the next Thomas Hill Book.

An Interview with Master Thomas Hill, Andrew Swanston's hero of 'The King's Spy' appears on this blog tomorrow.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Koites by Kyllie Pinker

Today we will be giving away an ebook copy of this hilarious little book that pokes fun at sex and pornography! All you have to do to enter is read the entire post and leave a comment at the end about some facet of our discussion. Good luck to all!

Synopsis

A gender-bending tale about how modern day sex relationships came to be. When Actaeon returns from the sea determined to marry his beloved Diana -- the greatest huntress and ruler-to-be of the land -- the Licentians in the fabled land of Licentia are shocked. But Diana likes Actaeon too, so Licentians stir up gossip, rumor, and betrayal to thwart their love. The shenanigans bring Licentia to war, destroying, most terribly of all, the land's coupling traditions, including the Barzexton, the Koites, and the Kunte. Written in chronicle form, the story wanders through the voices of oeconomica specialist Tantral, impecunious Pornog, and Jealomene who can only be a tailor, not a huntress, because she lacks bushy armpits.

Review

If you enjoy light-hearted stories with a touch of humor and satire, then Koites: An Ancient Myth About How Modern Day Sex Relationships Came to Be by Kyllie Pinker will provide you hours of entertaining fun. The author sweeps us into a fable about a place named Licentia and a time long ago where desirable women sported bushy legs and hairy arm pits and men shaved themselves hairless clean-shaven; where coupling rituals were strictly controlled and women had the power to chose a mate best suited. 

Diana is a young woman being primed for her mating ritual. Much to everyone’s chagrin, she chooses Actaeon, a seafarer much disliked by the town folk. The fact that he bends the rules of the Barzexton mating ritual where the males present themselves to Diana to choose from, causes trouble and the entire village tries to keep the couple apart.

The author has written a highly imaginative, comedic story about sex. It is a satire of pornography and intimacy, poking fun at men and women alike. The book itself is not lengthy and makes for a fast read. The prose is very rich and colorful, adding to the elegance of this little fable. Sexy, informative, funny, and delightful, there is much to enjoy in this tiny book that packs a big punch!

Author Interview

Today I'm so pleased to have Kyllie Pinker who has kindly offered to tell us a bit more about herself and this comedic book that kept me chuckling from start to finish. Welcome Kyllie!

so much for having me, Mirella!

1.      Welcome to History and Women.  Can you tell us a little about your novel?

I wrote Koites as a comedic backstory to Ovid’s famous myth about Actaeon and Diana. Ovid tells how Actaeon was turned into a stag by the goddess Diana and then Ovid explains it all happened by fate. I’ve created a fantasy story that scolds Ovid and says, “Are you kidding me?”

The novella begins when Actaeon returns from the sea determined to marry his beloved Diana. She now happens to be the greatest huntress and ruler-to-be of his hometown, called Licentia. In the end, Actaeon doesn’t “get the girl” and instead, his presence and his strange ways bring Licentia to ruin.

In between, we learn that women in this land are huntresses with bushy armpits, while men are clean-shaven and relegated to a life of child-rearing and homemaking.


2.      What inspired you to write a novel about a woman in this period of history? 

When I was a kid, I had a love for ancient Greek and Roman mythology. My readings made me want to travel extensively to the ancient ruins: Ephesus, Athens, and Delphi, for example. I also lived in Naples, Italy for three years and spent a great deal of time roaming the ancient ruins there, including Pompeii and the Phlegraean Fields. The grand temples of the goddesses especially inspired my imagination, so I really wanted to write a story set in mythical ancient times.


3.      What hardships did women face in this particular century and what lessons can today's woman learn from it?

Although scholars who write about the history of ancient times show that women were kept out of public life and forced to stay at home carrying out child-care duties, the mythology points to a different world entirely. Goddesses were often equal to men in strength, ruthlessness, jealousy, and compassion. Goddesses were also very much in the public eye.

Greek and Roman myths also centered around the notion of ‘fate.’ But I think we moderns believe less in fate and more in choice. So I created a world in which there was a complete role reversal of women and men and then I asked: What choices would boys make under these circumstances? What choices would girls make if they had all the power?

I blend the two ideas, fate and choice, and then leave it up to women to make up their minds about how much they impact their own roles in society today.

4.      What inspired you about your heroine?  Why did you choose her?   

I chose Diana because I’ve always admired her in mythology. She is a huntress and also an independent female who goes against the norm of what is considered proper for women in ancient Greece and Rome. (And maybe even what’s considered proper for women today.)

5.      Can you describe a typical writing day?  

I wake up, get the kids off to school, and sit down at my desk. I write for several hours just like someone who works at an office. It’s a pretty reliable and boring schedule, really.

6.  Can you tell us briefly about your other novels and any new novels in the works? 

Shshsh. It’s a secret. J





Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Cherries: A Vietnam War Novel by John Podlaski



Cherries: A Vietnam War Novel by John Podlaski

Summary

Those first few days at a new school can always be tough. You don't know where to go, what to do, and you are dependant on the advice given to you by others. Now imagine that your school is in the jungles of Southeast Asia, your school bus is a Huey, and those that can't keep up with the learning curve are maimed or killed. That is the life of the cherries, or newcomers to Vietnam. John Kowalski, affectionately referred to as Polack, finds himself in this toughest of all learning situations when he is shipped off for his one year tour in Vietnam in 1970. Will he survive long enough to go from being a cherry to an old-timer? What a difference a year can make. 


The Bad


This is not a traditional novel! Traditional novels follow the tradition of introduction, conflict, resolution, etc., etc. Cherries does not follow this pattern. Introductions, conflicts, and resolutions are occurring constantly throughout the book. Nearly three-fourths of the novel is spent describing the main character's experiences in the 25th Infantry Division, so his description of events in the 101st Airborne Division seems hurried. There were also numerous typos and errors in the Kindle version that I read. It is possible that these occurred when the manuscript was being adapted to Kindle, as I have seen similar problems in some "big name" books as well. 


The Good 


This is not a traditional novel! Yes, it seems odd to have that observation listed as both good and bad, but it falls under both categories. Cherries reads like a memoir, which makes it much more believable. Life does not follow a pattern of introduction, conflict, and resolutions, so neither does this novel. The author does a great job of describing both the good and the bad to be found in a nation that most American's still have trouble finding on a map. The reality of the characters is evident in both their strengths and their flaws. John Kowalski is not Rambo. The first time he sees combat, he wets his pants. The first time he sees one of his comrades killed, he vomits. However, his determination keeps him going. You find yourself missing characters as they come and go out of Kowalski's life. You even find yourself appreciating some of the simpler things more as you read, like the joy of tasting an ice cold soda. 


Conclusion 


If I were to rate this book simply as a novel, I would probably give it 3 out of 5 stars. Sure, if you have it, read it, but don't go out of your way to find it. However, knowing that this novel is actually a fictionalized account of the authors tour of Vietnam, I cannot rate it as a novel. This is truly a memoir with names changed, and that changes the expectations of the book. Cherries opens your eyes to what many faced in "the Nam," and reminds us that a true hero isn't flawless, but they are determined. Cherries will make you want to find all of the other "Kowalskis" out there just to give them a thumbs-up. From that point of view, I would have to give Cherries by John Podlaski a 4 out of 5 stars. If you see it, read it. If you don't see it, look for it! 


Reviewed by Christopher Slater 


Christopher Slater is a history teacher, reenactor, and author of Trapped in Shades of Grey. He also writes reviews on his blog, Cure My Writers Block (curemywritersblock.blogspot.com).

Waking Storm's Winter

Waking Storm's Winter by Kathryn Adams
Reviewed by Ginger Simpson

Many people judge a book by the cover, but for me, a great book is one you can't put down, and this was the case for me in Waking Storm's Winter.  Author, Kathryn Adams has captured the essence of a
pioneer woman's courage when her husband passes and she's left alone to face the long Colorado winter on her own while maintaining standards required to secure the land the duo homesteaded. 

I've always admired the strength of women who lived and thrived in the old west, and in this wonderfully written historical novel, Storm becomes my new role model: a woman filled with determination and eventually faced with the task of tracking down the very stranger she took into her home and nursed back to health after he's shown his true colors.

 As a reader, you'll feel the fierceness of a Colorado blizzard, sense the bone-chilling draft drifting through the wooden floors, and get a true peek into the life of an exceptional woman from the 1800s who totes water, cuts woods, feeds the animals, cleans the barn, and does all the chores normally the responsibility of the wife.  All the while she mourns the loss of the love of her life.

Although truly named Mary Elizabeth, her siblings referred to her as the "Storm Child," hence her nickname.  I must say, the name is a perfect fit, and I promise you'll be yanked right into this amazing story that combines history, reality, and the mystery of what Storm has that the stranger wants.   

I received this book today and was hooked from the first paragraph.  Ms. Adams has a new fan, and I can't wait to read more of her work.  Luckily, this is Book One in the Colorado Storm Series, so I eagerly await the next installment.

Waking Storm's Winter is published by Humbles Church Road Media and available on Amazon.  I highly recommend this book, and with so many good reads available these days, I don't make my recommendations lightly.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Thunder on the Plains by Rosanne Bittner

An endearing family saga about the railroad and the American Frontier....

Book Description:

Sunny Landers is utterly devoted to her father’s dream—a transcontinental railroad that would run from Chicago to the Pacific. Journeying west on a wagon train, she discovers for herself the glories of the unsettled country…and the unsettling half-Cherokee, Colt Travis. He was like the land of his birth: handsome yet wild, imposing, and dangerous. Against an endless horizon, Colt opens her heart to a passion she never dreamed possible. But in a country torn apart by war and progress, can they ever find a way to stay together? 

Review:

Rosanne Bittner is no stranger to Western romances. Thunder on the Plains takes us back in time to the American frontier in the days before the railroad. Despite all the naysayers, Bo Landers, a wealthy Chicago business man, is determined to see his dream of building a transcontinental railroad fulfilled. So he takes his only child, a fifteen year old daughter named Sunny, with him on a journey to the American west to survey the landscape to determine the best routes. He hires Colt Travis, a handsome and wild young man, half native, half white, as scout. When Bo notices the sparks between Colt and Sunny, he sets out to keep them separated. He did not want his wealthy white socialite daughter marrying a poor, lone, half-breed below her class. But as much as Colt tries to stay away from Sunny, as the years pass, they continue to be drawn together. 

Although classified as a romance novel, I felt this novel resembled more of a pure, mainstream historical novel. There is a great deal of historic fact pertaining to the development of the railroad, the politics, and the wealthy magnates of the time. Equal emphasis was placed on the history as it was with building the romance. A fact I liked since this makes the novel more realistic. Sometimes, the storyline slowed due to an overabundance of historic facts presented, but the relationship between Colt and Sunny kept me involved and reading. Bittner has a knack for writing strong, believable characters who truly seem to jump off the pages. I enjoyed this novel very much and look forward to reading more of Rosanne Bittner’s wonderful stories and characters.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Bereft by Chris Womersley


It is the end of WWI, and Quinn Walker returns to the small Australian town he left years before after being accused of the rape and murder of his sister. Knowing he won’t be welcome, he hides in the hills, where he befriends an orphan girl.

The relationship between the man and a pre-pubescent girl made me uneasy at times, as I anticipated a repeat of what Quinn had experienced ten years before.  The town of Flint is dead set against Quinn and his guilt, it seems, was never in question. Quinn bears the physical and mental scars of his years in the war, and ponders his life as it is now, as well as his reasons for coming back to somewhere with such bad memories. 

Sadie Fox, is a vulnerable character, a fey child who befriends Quinn, with a maturity beyond her years and a strange, almost prophetic insight into what Quinn is suffering.

The author’s use of language to describe Quinn’s state of mind is beautiful, and the descriptions of experiences in the trenches which torment Quinn and reminiscent of shell shock, are difficult to read in that they are so realistic.I was comforted to discover that Quinn’s relationship with Sadie remains innocent, though it is strange at times with an almost mystical quality.

Bereft is beautifully written, though at times I felt the edges between reality and fantasy were often blurred and I began to wonder and speculate on what the future held for them both. Without giving away a satisfying ending, this is a compelling read and one high in the lists of Australian fiction.

'Bereft' was awarded ABIA Literary Fiction Book of the Year and Indie Award for Best Fiction Novel in 2011 and has been shortlisted for numerous other Australian prizes.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

The Woman at the Light by Joanna Brady

Summary

One afternoon in 1839, Emily Lowry’s husband vanishes from Wreckers’ Cay, an isolated island off the coast of Key West where he tends to the lighthouse. As days stretch into months, Emily has no choice but take charge of Wrecker’s Cay and her husband’s duties tending the light to support her three children—and a fourth on the way. Unexpected help arrives when a runaway slave named Andrew washes up on their beach. At first, Emily is intensely wary of this strange, charming man, whose very presence there is highly illegal. But Andrew proves himself an enormous help and soon wins the hearts of the Lowry family. And—far from the outside world and society’s rules—his place in Emily’s life, as steadfast now as the light, will forever change their futures. When Emily’s family is ripped apart once again, she faces untold hardships that test her love and determination and show how the passionate love of a defiant, determined woman can overcome any obstacle. 

The Woman at the Light is a tale of tragedy, perseverance, and love set in 19th century Key West.

In 1839, Emily Lowry lives on Wrecker’s Cay off the Florida coast with her children and husband, the lighthouse keeper One day, her husband disappears from a boating trip and is presumed dead. She is alone on the isolated Cay forced to fend for herself and her 4 children. Desperate to support her family and avoid being displaced by the authorities who do not believe a woman can manage a lighthouse, she works hard to continue her husband’s work, but a far less of a salary. Her life becomes complicated when a black man escapes from a slave ship and swims to Wrecker’s Cay. He helps her manage the light house, work, and helps care for her children. They soon fall in love and she finds herself expecting a child with him. 

With plenty of plot twists and continual tension, this story is definitely engrossing and offers plenty of entertainment - a strong determined heroine, forbidden love, murder, mystery, duplicity, tragedy, resilience, prejudices, and love! Beautifully written and wonderfully researched, author Joanna Brady convincingly recreates a rare setting and era, never before fictionalized. Historical facts pertaining to Seminole Indians, the slave trade, cigar making, and the actual work and responsibilities of light house keepers make were skilfully interwove with fascinating fictional characters and events to make a compelling story. 

For readers who love historical fiction that take place in unique settings, this is one debut novel you should not miss. A lovely novel!


Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Trapped in Shades of Grey by Christopher Slater



Trapped in Shades of Grey 
by
Christopher Slater
Reviewed by Gregory Graham


As a kid I remember the old World War II movies where the sadistic Japanese officer announces at one point that he graduated from Princeton in the class of '35.  It always evoked in me a sense of indignation that someone who had experienced the freedom and the goodwill of America should respond by making war against us.  After all, we were the good guys, right? 
            At that age I knew nothing of the pull of family, culture, or patriotism.  I thought I understood why people chose up sides for a war, but this book calls it all into question.  In this book, a man who is German by culture, and American by birth chooses to spy for America by joining the German Army and fighting along with it during WWII. 
            Things go well a first, he is fighting the Russians on the Eastern Front.  Inevitably as the war progresses he is thrust into the fighting on the Western Front where he must confront one moral dilemma after another.  Can he feed information to the Americans that will result in his own men getting killed?  Should he kill Americans in order to protect his secret?  The choices only get more difficult as the war rumbles to its conclusion.
            If things aren't difficult enough, Ernst, the protagonist, is also dogged by an OSS operative working for the Americans who doubts his loyalty to the Allied side and wants him killed.
            All this is a heavy burden for a man who must also figure out a way to stay alive amid the bullets, the bombs and the artillery.
            The end to this dilemma is surprising and I will not divulge it here.
            While this is truly a war story, it is also the story of a man who must make moral choices in a time and place where morality changes by the moment.  Survival for himself and his men becomes far more important than which side is winning.  He is truly proud of the bravery and steadfastness his unit has demonstrated in the face of the enemy even if he cannot align himself with the cause they are fighting for.  The following passage sums up his quandary:
His actions had almost completely destroyed his division and had allowed 10,000 Germans to escape the Falaise Pocket.  This was the second time he had failed as an American spy and as a German officer.  He couldn't seem to reconcile the two in theory or in practice.  He fell back into a fitful sleep, having nightmares about American soldiers and German soldiers.  One held onto each of this arms and were trying to pull him to one side or the other.  The American soldier kept yelling, “Remember your duty to your country!”  Just as Ernst was about to tear his arm out of the German soldier's grasp, and join the American, he would hear the German scream, “You were supposed to protect your men!”...Then both would start pulling on his arms once again, and Ernest would feel himself begin ripping in half.  Just as the pain of being ripped in half became unbearable, he would wake up.

           The author relates his tale in a straightforward manner keeping a taut rein on the emotion of the story in a way that mirrors the iron control that the main character, Ernst, must keep on his own thoughts.  I would have liked to have seen a little more of the guilt, the fear, and the loneliness Ernst had to live with for the five long years of the war.
            The WWII aficionado will love this book.  Its story comes from a unique perspective with a unique voice.  Ernst may want the Allies to win, but his men must not lose.  They have fought bravely and well.  They have nurtured him, and protected him.  How can he do less for them?  On the other hand, America is his country and he has sworn to protect and defend it.  How can he not do everything he can to end the war as quickly as possible? 
            Ernst sees the heroism and the cowardice of both sides.  That makes him friendless and dangerous.  In the end, neither Allies or Axis can trust him, an uncomfortable situation when gargantuan armies maul each other across the countryside, and life is as cheap as the cost of a single bullet.

Veil of Pearls by MaryLu Tyndall

Be swept away to Charleston of 1811, a city bustling with immigrants like Adalia, who is a runaway slave so light-skinned that no one guesses her past. Terrified her secret will be discovered, she settles into a quiet life making herbal remedies for a local doctor. But when Morgan, the handsome son of a prominent family, sweeps her into his glamorous world—a world in which the truth about Adalia’s heritage would ruin them both—suspicions and petty jealousies are aroused. What will Morgan do when he discovers that the woman he has fallen in love with is a runaway slave? 

In the 18th century, Althea Claymore (Adalia Winston) is a quadroom slave who runs away from her cruel Barbadian plantation owner, Sir Walter. She flees to Charleston and because of her fair skin, she easily assimilates into a new life where everyone believes she is a white woman. A kindly doctor has taken her into his home where she is able to put her healing skills and herbal knowledge to good use under his careful tutelage. For the doctor, she represents the daughter he lost and his fatherly care for Adalia intensifies. 

One day, she accidentally encounters Morgan Rutledge, the youngest son of a wealthy plantation owner. He is instantly attracted to the outspoken Adalia. Despite his interest, she does her best to dissuade Morgan’s attentions, while denying her own burgeoning feelings for him. As their relationship progresses, Morgan believes her to be an innocent virgin, and it becomes harder and harder to tell him the truth – that she is no virgin due to the sexual depravity she encountered at the hands of her slave owner. As their love grows more profound, Morgan wants to make her his wife. But how long can she keep her past a secret? At the same time, Morgan is at odds between his duty to his father and the plantation, and a yearning to be at sea. 

Veil of Pearls by MaryLu Tyndall is a wonderfully complex, romantic love story about forbidden love and racial prejudice. At the heart of the tale is a strong, courageous woman who risks all for love. It is a poignant portrayal of the prejudices of slavery and its effect on white and black people alike. The characters have depth; Morgan and Adalia both experience inner struggles to shed their past. This is an enduring novel of great depth. Beautifully written, it explores how far the human spirit will journey for freedom and love. This story was a real pleasure to read. Highly recommended.


Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Mesmerized by Alissa Walser



Summary

Mozart's Vienna. A crucible for scientific experimentation and courtly intrigue, as Europe's finest minds vie for imperial favour. In a colourful, chaotic private hospital that echoes with the shrieks of hysterical patients, Franz Anton Mesmer is developing a series of controversial cure-alls for body and mind. When he is asked to help restore the sight of a blind musical prodigy favoured by the Empress herself, he senses that fame, and even immortality, is within his grasp. Mesmer knows that he will have to gain her trust if he is to open her eyes. But at what cost to her fragile talent? And will their intimacy result in scandal?

Review

In the 18th century Vienna, Dr. Franz Friedrich Anton Mesmer, gained fame by creating a process to induce a trances in people as a cure or remedy for various illnesses. This powerful process became known as mesmerism, but Mesmer preferred to call it animal magnetism. 


Dr. Franz Friedrich Anton Mesmer



Many or most of his patients were women, as his trances were believed to help cure them of “hysterics”.
Mesmer was asked to cure a young pianist, Marie Paradis, of her blindness. He convinces her parents to move Marie into his hospital that housed his other patients. Despite their reservations, and because of their desperation to improve the life of their talented child, they agreed provided Mesmer allowed Marie plenty of access to his piano. What follows is a fascinating glimpse into Mesmer’s unusual methods, colorful patients, and personal family life.

Through the use of magnets, Mesmer believed he could alter the magnetism within a body. Although colleagues disputed this belief, it was his ability to put his patients into a trance that garnered the most attention and made him famous. Because his method required “touching” his patients, especially in the case of young women, he attracted scandalous attention.

This is a historical literary novel, and as such, the writing style takes a bit of getting used to. The sentences are often very short. Numerous point of view changes between characters sometimes occurred without transition, but once used to the unique voice and delivery, the story truly was fascinating. The story depicts Mesmer’s dedication and passion for his work, as well as his distress at being considered a quack. A colorful cast of characters add much interest to the story – a screaming hysterical female patient, Anna - his jealous wife, and an odd maid who keeps his secrets. There is a very entertaining twist near the ending, too.

For readers who like to read books with a touch of the odd and unusual, this novel certainly fits the bill. It accurately depicts some of the scientific beliefs of the era, along with a glimpse into the endurance of the human spirit in the quest to be perfect. Well worth reading!