Thursday, September 27, 2012

Secret of Old Blood: The Sandoval Sisters by Sandra Ramos O'Briant

Arranged marriages. A runaway bride. Sisters. Adultery. Witchcraft. A Woman doctor. 
Secrets.The Sandoval diaries.

When Alma flees with her young lover to Texas to escape an arranged marriage with a much older man, she sets in motion a drama that will put the sisters and their legacy at risk. Pilar, a 14-year-old tomboy, is offered as a replacement bride, and what follows is a sensuous courtship and marriage clouded by the curses of her husband’s former lover, Consuelo. She will stop at nothing, even the use of black magic, in her effort to destroy the Sandoval family. The Mexican-American war begins and the Americans invade Santa Fe. The sisters are caught in the crosshairs of war from two important fronts - New Mexico and Texas. Their money and ancient knowledge offer some protection, but their lives are changed forever.

The Secret of Old Blood is a novel about three sisters during the Mexican-American wars. The Sandoval family are wealthy land owners in the late 1800’s. An old family tradition exists where the women keep extensive diaries of their lives. The diaries date back centuries and are all carefully kept and shared amongst them. In this way, family secrets, recipes, potions, and life stories are shared to future generations as a way to share knowledge and preserve information.  

The novel draws the reader in quickly, and as the three women go forth to the their own destinies, their individual stories, heartbreak, triumph, and secrets are revealed. And of course, no novel that deals with old history is without its share of potions, witchcraft, and black magic. And that’s what I found most entertaining about this novel – is how the old intersects into each woman’s life. 

This is a novel with a unique setting, intriguing characters, filled with both turbulent and challenging life issues. There was plenty that kept me interested and reading until the last page. Highly recommended, especially for those who love a good family saga!

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

The Twelve Rooms of the Nile by Enid Shomer

Before she became the nineteenth century’s greatest heroine, before he had written a word of Madame Bovary, Florence Nightingale and Gustave Flaubert traveled down the Nile at the same time. In the imaginative leap taken by award-winning writer Enid Shomer’s The Twelve Rooms of the Nile, the two ignite a passionate friendship marked by intelligence, humor, and a ravishing tenderness that will alter both their destinies.

In 1850, Florence, daughter of a prominent English family, sets sail on the Nile chaperoned by longtime family friends and her maid, Trout. To her family’s chagrin—and in spite of her wealth, charm, and beauty—she is, at twenty-nine and of her own volition, well on her way to spinsterhood. Meanwhile, Gustave and his good friend Maxime Du Camp embark on an expedition to document the then largely unexplored monuments of ancient Egypt. Traumatized by the deaths of his father and sister, and plagued by mysterious seizures, Flaubert has dropped out of law school and writ-ten his first novel, an effort promptly deemed unpublishable by his closest friends. At twenty-eight, he is an unproven writer with a failing body.

Florence is a woman with radical ideas about society and God, naive in the ways of men. Gustave is a notorious womanizer and patron of innumerable prostitutes. But both burn with unfulfilled ambition, and in the deft hands of Shomer, whose writing The New York Times Book Review has praised as “beautifully cadenced, and surprising in its imaginative reach,” the unlikely soul mates come together to share their darkest torments and most fervent hopes. Brimming with adventure and the sparkling sensibilities of the two travelers, this mesmerizing novel offers a luminous combination of gorgeous prose and wild imagination, all of it colored by the opulent tapestry of mid-nineteenth-century Egypt.

Ancient Egypt is the backdrop for this imaginative novel about two famous people, Florence Nightingale and Gustave Flaubert, author of Madame Bovary, who accidently meet and form a bond while travelling through this ancient country.

The first thing that draws the reader are the lush, beautifully written descriptions of the majestic city of Egypt with the flowing Nile river, its ancient tombs, hidden artefacts, and spectacular views. The author describes the characters’ surroundings with such vividness, that it is easy to picture all the sights and feels as if one can place themselves in the actual locations.

The characters contrast each other, providing interest as the story unfolds. First there is the virtuous Florence Nightingale, a woman with a keen interest in learning, reading, who is eager to escape the restrictions of her family and society. Flaubert is depicted as a lustful, regularly immoral womanizer, Gustave Flaubert. 

The novel drills deep into each character’s thoughts, their past histories, their feelings in a rich examination of the human spirit and human individuality. There is humor, sadness, and the mystery of ancient Egypt’s artefacts, weaved into each page. This book is recommended for readers who prefer beautiful prose and rich detail, rather than those who are looking for a quick, spirited read. It is very much about a few moments in time where two very different people find friendship and something in common, but which never altered their lives.

Spitfire by Jack Duarte

Greg Graham

I so wanted this book to be good.  The subject matter is fascinating.  For a year during World War II, a very small group of British airmen held off the might of the German Luftwaffe.  The stakes could not have been higher.  If the Luftwaffe gained control of the skies over Britain, then Hitler would have invaded.  Imagine the pressure of being twenty-five years old and realizing that you hold the fate of your nation in your hands.  Imagine the deal with the devil those young fliers made each day as they throttled up their planes and leaped into the sky.  If their death meant saving the country, then so be it.  There exists in these men equal parts of sacrifice and heroism.  The fate of the nation rested on these men who had been schoolboys only ten years earlier.  The subject does not have to be made melodramatic, it is melodramatic.

So where does the novel go wrong?  I think it starts with the characters.  The main character is all good.  He simply cannot do wrong.  He reminds me of Captain America except that the setting is wrong.  Let's call him Lieutenant Britain.  He lacks any personality beyond patriotism and an unflagging sense of duty to his country and to his brother.  He comes complete with a wise cracking, beer swilling Australian side kick, and a hot-headed, equally patriotic younger brother who is reckless.  The brothers fly in the same squadron.  A love triangle forms between the two brothers and an equally patriotic young woman who in many ways represents the fair flower of British society.

The plot is predictable, the characters verge on cliché, and appear to be distilled from the spate of Hollywood movies churned out during the forties to support the war effort. 

One of the reasons why the characters don't click is because the dialogue is stilted.  People, even the British, do not speak in complete sentences.  They seldom answer the question asked, and their logic is never impeccable.  Only the drunken Australian is allowed to indulge in slang.  Everyone else speaks like Basil Rathbone in a Sherlock Holmes movie.

The following conversation occurs at the climax of the book.  Prudence, former girlfriend of the younger brother and now fiancée to the older brother, is standing beside the runway as the older brother's shot up plane is making an emergency landing.  The both know the older brother has been seriously wounded,  The younger brother is filled with guilt because he and his older brother, the one flying the plane, had a huge fight about Prudence before the older brother took off:

“What's it like Fletcher?  What's he going to do?” Prudence asked anxiously.
“It all depends on how badly Anthony is hurt, and the extent the Spitfire is damaged.  The aircraft is great on flying even when it is damaged. It takes a lot to bring one down.  Anthony, on the other hand, is another story.  If his injuries are too severe, he won't be able to perform all the steps necessary to bring the plane down. We must just wait and see.  Only God knows what's going to happen.”
Prudence looked toward that part of the sky that held everyone's attention.  She made another prayer that her darling would make it safely through all this.

I know a good deal about brothers.  I have four.  I don't think I'd be discoursing about the air worthiness of the Spitfire at a time like that.  Prudence comes off as wooden also.  The British, at the time, may have exhibited the stiff upper lip; but emotion smoldered as hot as it does in everyone else beneath the surface.  The author fails to break that calm exterior to confront the raging fires within. 

Finally, I want the author to rethink his air battles.  They come off unexciting.  I know they weren't.  I remember reading about crew chiefs regularly cleaning vomit and worse out of the cockpits of those planes because the terror was so intense in the free-for-all of dogfighting. 

One bright spot in the book was the night flying.  A very compelling book could be written about those rare fliers brave enough to risk death chasing bombers through a night sky.  They did it without radar relying only on the blue flame of engine exhaust and the glow of fires below.

I would like the author to join a writing group.  A good one would give him excellent feedback.  It is a harrowing experience to have your book vetted chapter by chapter, but if he listens carefully he will learn to avoid the issues I've mentioned above.  They would not have allowed the author to end the book as he did.  You cannot allow a reader to invest two hundred and seventy-eight pages of reading and then not tell him or her whether the main character lives or dies. 
If I were a writing teacher, I would hand the manuscript back at this point and suggest that the author read All Quiet on the Western Front and The Red Badge of Courage before he takes another crack at the novel.  The plot of a good war novel is never man against man.  It is always man against himself.  How does a civilized man force himself to do what must be done in a world where nothing he has learned about love or kindness applies? 

For exciting air battles, I would also suggest God is My Copilot by E. K. Gann.
On the title page of the manuscript, I would write the following:  You can do so much better.

The Raven's Heart by Jesse Blackadder

The Blackadder family has long awaited for Mary, Queen of Scots return to bring them justice. Alison Blackadder, disguised as a boy from childhood to protect her from the murderous clan that stole their lands, must learn to be a lady-in-waiting to the Queen, building a web of dependence and reward. Not everyone welcomes the widowed queen to her native land, a soulless place which has known only death, violence and misery. Where Mass is outlawed and Mary's bastard half-brother is intent on keeping his iron grip on government.

Just as the Queen can trust nobody, Alison discovers lies, danger, and treachery at every turn.
Robbie Blackadder, son of the exiled William Blackadder, has spent his life hiding from Lord Hume, the man who stole the Blackadder Castle, and forced a marriage with William’s mother.

Robbie dances with Queen Mary on her first night in Scotland, and William Blackadder, determined to win her over in his claim to Blackadder castle, has one weapon left.  His child. Only Robbie has become accustomed to a life lived as a boy, a situation forced on her to avoid another forced marriage with one of Lord Hume’s relatives, or murder by Hume himself. Becoming Alison Blackadder again is something she is unsure of.

But William is determined and she has no choice and is taken into the new Queen Mary’s household at Holyrood House, where her quest begins. However, Lord Hume is one of Mary's most trusted Lords and who will believe Alison's story of a stolen birthright?

The author researched her family name for this book -and what a fabulous name it is! - and discovered an untold story of her ancestors which she has woven into this epic novel, using historical fact and fictional licence to make a compelling story.

It is not often I say this about a book, but this one grabbed and held me from the first page. Ms Blackadder is a masterly writer with active and descriptive prose, which not only engaged immediately with the young and confused Robbie/Alison, but took me with her through the Edinburgh streets of a dirtier, harder time and into a royal court where every nuance is watched closely, the rules of survival and success are unyielding and there is little compassion or love to be had. Alison jumped off the page and accompanying her through her everyday life as Robbie, the queen's spy, , her 'Raven', as well as her conflicts when she tries to live as Alison, was fascinating and beautifully drawn.

This is also the story of Mary Queen of Scots, although mixed in with some poetic licence, one of the most beautiful royal women whom all men wanted to own and influence, but were willing to betray. This is a long, complicated story that deals with all Queen Mary's battles with unruly Scots lords and her own husband.

It's a deeply emotional story, and quite raw in that the 16th Century was no time for faint hearts, where forced marriages and murder were a way of life. Anyone who enjoys reading about this era and will love this book and it will create a new fascination for the tragic queen. I can honestly say I look forward to Ms Blackadder's next novel.

Anita Davison is a Historical Fiction Author whose latest release, ‘Royalist Rebel’ a biographical novel set in 17th Century England, is being released by Claymore Books in early 2013 under the name Anita Seymour


Monday, September 24, 2012

The Seventh Etching by Judith K. White

Book Description:

A historic family drama based in and near 1640 Amsterdam, the wealthiest city on earth at the time, The Seventh Etching tells the story of two families over a one-year period. Both Griet and Johannes Verhoeven, farmers, in their early 20's and Jos and Myriam Broekhof, wealthy merchants in their 30's, face devastating losses that threaten their livelihoods and their marriages.

After a major flood, Griet and Johannes attempt to rebuild two combined family farms - a unique, promising inheritance that initially brought them together, but now overwhelms them. Myriam secretly sells her husband's valuable art collection to build a hidden monument to her deceased daughter. Jos suffers despair and defeat as he combs every corner of the city in his obsessive attempt to complete a set of playfully erotic etchings.

It is a six-year old Gypsy orphan, Nelleke, who connects the two couples. Sprightly and spirited, Nelleke both delights and exasperates. Might this mysterious child have the power to heal struggling adults and find the permanent home she seeks? Does she, innocently and unknowingly, hold the clue to the missing etching, as Jos suspects?


The Seventh Etching gives readers a fascinating glimpse into 17th century Amsterdam. This novel is the story of two families suffering strife, and covers both extreme wealth and poverty during the era. 

To read this book is like taking a trip back in time to experience the social, political, and religious circumstances. With meticulous detail, the author describes food, clothing, and art, lending the novel credence and richness.   

Beyond the well-written prose and lush storyline are the characters who face numerous struggles and behave in realistic manners. No novel of Amsterdam is complete without reference to its famous painters. I thoroughly enjoyed the scene with Rembrandt. This is a rich historical fiction novel set in a lesser known country with plenty of conflict and details that will keep readers reading. Definitely recommended!

Saturday, September 22, 2012

A Baron In Her Bed by Maggi Andersen

London, 1816. A handsome baron. A faux betrothal. And Horatia's plan to join the London literary set takes a dangerous turn. 

Now that the war with France has ended, Baron Guy Fortescue arrives in England to claim his inheritance, abandoned over thirty years ago when his father fled to France after killing a man in a duel. When Guy is set upon by footpads in London, a stranger, Lord Strathairn, rescues and befriends him. 

When Horatia discovers Guy lying unconscious on the road, the two are forced to take shelter for the night in a hunting lodge. After Guy discovers her ruse, a friendship develops between them. Guy suspects his relative, Eustace Fennimore is behind the attacks on his life. He has been ensconced in Rosecroft Hall during the family's exile and will become the heir should Guy die. Horatia refuses to believe her godfather, Eustace, is responsible. But when Guy proposes a faux betrothal to give him more time to discover the truth, she agrees.

Horatia is a typical Regency young lady brought up to a genteel but uneventful life in the country where her small rebellion is to go riding alone in men’s clothes on her father’s horse, The General.  One day she happens to find a handsome, unconscious man on the roadside and helps him back to the nearest shelter, a hunting lodge in the woods.  Trapped there for the night, Horatia has to continue her masquerade as a groom.

Things seem to work well and the next day, she discovers Baron Guy Fortescue is in fact the heir to the neighbouring estate where her godfather, Eustace lives.

However, Guy is half French and no one is going to fool him into believing the soft faced, gently curved Horatia is a boy, and before long he confronts her with her deceit, and inveigles her into a mock engagement.  Guy is a more complicated character than one might imagine, he has been attacked by would be assassins, twice and whoever wants him dead isn’t about to give up now.

Befriended by Lord Strathairn, he isn’t entirely alone in his quest both to stay alive and prove his ancestry so he can lay claim to his estate. Guy suspects his relative, Eustace Fennimore is behind the attacks on his life, and has been ensconced in Rosecroft Hall during the family's exile and becomes its heir should Guy die.

Now that Horatia is engaged, her father is happy to allow her to have a season in London with his sister, Emily, who is immediately taken with Guy, and although Horatia keeps telling herself their betrothal is only a ruse, her feelings for him deepen until she is desperate to help him find out who is trying to kill him.

This story has all the elements of a perfect Regency romance, a handsome Frenchman in fear of his life from unknown quarters, a beautiful girl trying not to fall in love with him and a mysterious Lord who becomes his friend but seems to know a lot more about him than a stranger should.

As a fan of Maggi Andersen, she has done it again with ‘A Baron In Her Bed’, with a mystery encompassed within a love story that has to be solved, and races along to a satisfying conclusion.

The reviewer received a copy of this novel from the author in exchange for an honest, unpaid review.

Anita Davison is a Historical Fiction Author whose latest release, ‘Royalist Rebel’ a biographical novel set in 17th Century England, is being released by Claymore Books in early 2013 under the name Anita Seymour


Thursday, September 20, 2012

The Shadowy Horses by Susanna Kearsley

As a fairly new convert to the author Susanna Kearsley’s work, I was pleased to be asked to review this novel. There is something for everyone in her books, whether it’s the beautifully crafted prose and deep emotions between  characters, to the English, Scots, Welsh and French history and mythology, all of which she handles beautifully.

This story is centred around archaeologist Verity Grey, whose ex-boyfriend, Adrian offers her a job in the Scottish fishing town of Eyemoth, where his eccentric boss, Peter Quinnell,  is intent on finding evidence that the Legio IX Hispana passed that way.

The mysterious loss of the Ninth Legion of the Roman army that precipitated the building of Hadrian’s Wall is a legend. Opinions are divided as to what happened, and many say the legion was scattered to fight in the Parthian wars, and therefore didn’t exist in its original formation after AD120, but the legend is more romantic and works better for this novel.

Verity soon discovers that Peter’s ‘proof’ resides in the mystical mind of a nine-year-old boy who sees and talks to ‘The Sentinel’, whom he claims walks the heath.  Oh, and his dog sees it too!

Despite its source, Verity becomes enthralled with her task, although I think she should have taken a stronger line with  Adrian, who persists with his ‘nudge-I-had-her-first’ allusions which I would certainly have put a stop to, especially as she is attracted to the handsome Scott, Davy Fortune, he of  the enigmatic nature and mysterious past.

Robbie is the delightful boy who is convinced his Roman soldier is protecting them, and is particularly drawn to Verity, though she cannot see him.  However as the days pass, The Sentinel, or someone is hovering, because Verity finds herself ‘led’ to lost items and receives warnings of possible danger.

As a character, ‘The Sentinel’ is enigmatic but compelling – well what would you expect from a ghost, and I looked forward to his infrequent appearances, though he never really explained why he was condemned to walk the heath for eternity.

The historical background was fascinating and Ms Kearsley sets a scene perfectly of a pretty little Scots fishing town with its amazing characters, like Davy’s Mother, Robbie’s father, and a fey young woman who is Peter’s granddaughter who isn’t the airhead she seems. Ms Kearsly evokes the same sense of mystical puzzles which must have existed at the time, the enigma of the fate of the five thousand soldiers who appeared to have walked into the mists of ‘The North’ and were never heard of again.

The narrative doesn’t so much come to a climax, as roll gently to a satisfying conclusion for Verity. However as a good read which keeps your attention, with dialogue that draws wonderful pictures of how the characters really feel – she handles nuances and body language beautifully – this story will not disappoint.


Thursday, September 13, 2012

Before Versailles by Karleen Koen

Louis XIV is one of the best-known monarchs ever to grace the French throne. But what was he like as a young man—the man before Versailles?
After the death of his prime minister, Cardinal Mazarin, twenty-two-year-old Louis steps into governing France. He’s still a young man, but one who, as king, willfully takes everything he can get—including his brother’s wife. As the love affair between Louis and Princess Henriette burns, it sets the kingdom on the road toward unmistakable scandal and conflict with the Vatican. Every woman wants him. He must face what he is willing to sacrifice for love.

But there are other problems lurking outside the chateau of Fontainebleau: a boy in an iron mask has been seen in the woods, and the king’s finance minister, Nicolas Fouquet, has proven to be more powerful than Louis ever thought—a man who could make a great ally or become a dangerous foe . . .

Meticulously researched and vividly brought to life by the gorgeous prose of Karleen Koen, Before Versailles dares to explore the forces that shaped an iconic king and determined the fate of an empire.


When you pick up one of Karleen Koen's novels, be prepared to be immersed in rich storytelling, lush descriptions, and enthralling characters. BEFORE VERSAILLES is a novel about the rise of King Louis XIV of France with its decadent court, convoluted routines and traditions, and sumptuous surroundings. 

Behind such a lush backdrop, life is not as easy as it seems. Civil war, ambitious men and women, and malicious dangers lurk in life and death power plays. True life characters such as Anne of Austria and Catherine of Monaco are brought to life with vivid depiction.

At the heart of the story is Louise de la Baume le Blanc who comes to court as a naive, shy maid of honor. Soon, she finds herself embroidered in court intrigues. When she accidently comes across a boy wearing an iron mask, she has no idea that her desire to uncover his identity will set her on a course that will shock the country and upset the royal court.

Rich descriptions of clothing and décor at the illustrious Fountainbleu provide a vivid feast as the reader progresses through the novel. There is a large cast of characters, and plenty of conflict to hold the reader’s interest. Musketeers, royal and noble persons, cardinals, drama, mystery, and love are blended together in this story of epic proportions that will keep readers highly entertained for hours.

Freud's Sister by Goce Smilevski

The award-winning international sensation that poses the question: Was Sigmund Freud responsible for the death of his sister in a Nazi concentration camp?

The boy in her memories who strokes her with the apple, who whispers to her the fairy tale, who gives her the knife, is her brother Sigmund.

Vienna, 1938: With the Nazis closing in, Sigmund Freud is granted an exit visa and allowed to list the names of people to take with him. He lists his doctor and maids, his dog, and his wife's sister, but not any of his own sisters. The four Freud sisters are shuttled to the Terezín concentration camp, while their brother lives out his last days in London.

Based on a true story, this searing novel gives haunting voice to Freud's sister Adolfina—“the sweetest and best of my sisters”—a gifted, sensitive woman who was spurned by her mother and never married. A witness to her brother's genius and to the cultural and artistic splendor of Vienna in the early twentieth century, she aspired to a life few women of her time could attain.

From Adolfina's closeness with her brother in childhood, to her love for a fellow student, to her time with Gustav Klimt's sister in a Vienna psychiatric hospital, to her dream of one day living in Venice and having a family, Freud's Sister imagines with astonishing insight and deep feeling the life of a woman lost to the shadows of history.

Sigmund Freud's Sisters

Adolfina Freud was the youngest of Sigmund Freud’s sisters. Sickly and shunned by an unloving mother who keeps telling her she should never have been born, Adolfina develops a strong bond with her eldest brother whom she adores. He shelters her and loves her as they grow into adulthood. Sigmund marries and becomes successful. His work into mental illness gains acclaim and his career reaches loftier heights, bringing much distance in his relationship with his sister. Adolfina’s life, on the other hand, begins a downward spiral that plummets her into madness and depression, and ultimately institutionalized for a period.

Sigmund Freud

As World War II heats up, and the Nazi’s seize control of Austria, Sigmund, because of his career, has the paperwork necessary to flee the country with members of his family. He takes his wife and even his dog, but does nothing for his sisters. Sigmund ignores their please to get them out of the country and ultimately results in their capture and execution in the gas chambers at Terezin.

Freud, his mother, and his sisters looking into their father's grave

This is a very complex, and emotionally moving book, which left me feeling a bit unsettled as to Sigmund’s behavior with Adolfina, at times treating her experimentally and coldly like a test subject and at other times, treating her like a beloved sister. I had trouble understanding why Sigmund would deliberately leave his family in Austria under threat of the Nazis when he had the means to save them, but no one but Sigmund Freud will ever be able to answer that question. It is for these very reasons that this novel is so captivating, so haunting, so fascinating, and so richly deserves the prestigious international award and all the attention it has garnered.

From History and Women

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Spirit of Lost Angels by Liza Perrat

Her mother executed for witchcraft, her father dead at the hand of a noble, Victoire Charpentier vows to rise above her poor peasant roots.

Forced to leave her village of Lucie-sur-Vionne for domestic work in Paris, Victoire suffers gruesome abuse under the ancien régime. Can she muster the bravery and skill to join the revolutionary force gripping France, and overthrow the corrupt, diabolical aristocracy?

Spirit of Lost Angels traces the journey of a bone angel talisman passed down through generations. The women of L’Auberge des Anges face tragedy and betrayal in a world where their gift can be their curse. 

Amidst the tumult of revolutionary France, this is a story of courage, hope and love.

Spirit of Lost Angels is an exciting novel to read with its many plot twists and high degree of conflict and emotion. The novel is set in 1700’s France around the time of the chaotic events of the French Revolution.

Not only did the author do an excellent job of plotting and characterizing the story, but it is evident she spent a great deal of time getting to know the era and the social circumstances and standards of the time, especially as they pertain to women.

At the heart of the story is Victoire Charpentier, a young peasant woman whose mother was executed for witchcraft. Subsequently, she is forced to leave her home to work as a scullery maid for a nobleman who soon violates her. As her life spirals out of control, Victoire joins forces with another woman and together they work at seeking their own justice and to use her influence to make laws fairer. 

A great book that readers will enjoy from cover to cover; one that will make you eager to return to the story to find out what happens next.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

The Falcons of Fire and Ice by Karen Maitland

The year is 1539 and the Portuguese Inquisition ushers in an era of torture and murder. When the Royal Falconer is imprisoned on false charges to remove him from the inner circle of the boy King, the Inquisitors strike an impossible deal with his daughter, Isabela. Bring back two rare white falcons from Iceland within the year or her father dies.

Meanwhile in Iceland, a menacing stranger appears to have possessed the soul of a woman chained up in a volcanic cave and is threatening to destroy the community. The woman's twin sister, Eydis, is desperate to intervene but vivid dreams suggest the twins' only salvation lies with a young girl from afar, travelling in search of white feathers ...

Isabela's quest might hold a more crucial purpose then she could ever imagine and there are those among her travel companions who have an interest in doing her harm. But in order to fulfil her destiny, first she must reach Iceland's shores. Alive.

Step back in time with Karen Maitland's Dark Tales and discover a world full of imagination in The Falcons of Fire and Ice - 'a thrilling horrible vision of the Dark Ages' Metro

Karen Maitland travelled and worked in many parts of the United Kingdom before finally settling in the beautiful medieval city of Lincoln. She is the author of The White Room, Company of Liars, The Owl Killers and The Gallows Curse. The latter three titles are available as Penguin paperbacks.

In 1539 Portugal, the Inquisition is wreaking terror upon Jews. Even Christianized Jews are being burned at the stake. Isabella is the daughter of the young King’s Falconer. When the king’s most precious white falcons suddenly die, Isabella’s father is wrongly arrested and sentenced to death. But a glimmer of hope exists to save his life. If Isabella can replace the two rare white falcons, and bring them to the king within a year’s time, her father will be saved from execution. When Isabella leaves for her quest, she does not know about Cruz, a Portuguese charlatan who must save his own life at the hands of the Jesuits by killing Isabella while on her quest. 

In Iceland, conjoined twin sisters Eydis and Valdis are both feared, and revered, for their ability to prophesize, and are imprisoned in an underground cave where a hot spring keeps them warm. But evil possess Valdis, and if her spirit is unleashed, harm will come to the people of Iceland. Eydis is desperate to prevent this from happening and waits patiently for the young woman she has envisioned in her dreams to arrive to save them.  

The dark writing of Karen Maitland takes the reader on an adventure filled with danger and shocking events. A blend of history, fantasy, and the paranormal, The Falcons of Fire and Ice is an intriguing read. Each chapter begins with a definition pertaining to falconry followed by a small story or legend. The story is divided into chapters, each narrated by one of the main characters. In this way, the story unfolds in a well-rounded, informative manner. 

The novel starts dramatically, slows a little in the middle, but then picks up at the end. The character Cruz, is very entertaining and speaks to the reader with humor and a bite of sarcasm. This novel is very dark and I would classify it more towards the fantasy genre than historical fiction. 

Although the cover is utterly unappealing, I did enjoy this novel and recommend it for readers who like a touch of the “odd and unusual” in their medieval/fantasy novels.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

A Parachute in the Lime Tree by Annemarie Neary

A Parachute in the Lime Tree

Annemarie Neary

Reviewed by:  Gregory Graham

Book Description

It's April 1941. German bombers are in the air, about to attack Belfast. Oskar is a Luftwaffe conscript whose sweetheart, Elsa, was forced to flee Berlin for Ireland two years before. War-weary, he longs for escape. In remote Dunkerin, Kitty awakes to find a parachute trapped in one of the lime trees. When she discovers Oskar, injured and foraging for food in her kitchen, he becomes a rare and exciting secret. But Ireland during the Emergency is an uneasy place, and word of the parachute soon spreads. Meanwhile, Elsa is haunted by the plight of the parents she left behind. With the threat of Nazi invasion, she feels far from secure. A chance encounter with Elsa, and Charlie, a young medical student, finds himself falling in love. Oskar, Kitty, Elsa, Charlie. Their lives intertwine in a climate of war, exile, and ever-uncertain neutrality.

Book Review

 This is the story of people faced with gut wrenching decisions forced upon them by a war they did not want against people they did not hate. Not a new concept by any means: The Red Badge of Courage and a thousand other books have chronicled the angst and confusion of battle. This book examines the lives of people profoundly affected by the World War II while ostensibly safe from the carnage. The ripples of the war profoundly affect the lives of three people hidden away in rural Ireland despite its neutrality.
 There is delicate Elsa, a talented pianist, who has been shipped to Ireland by her Jewish parents on the cusp of the war. She leaves behind the danger of Germany, but also her parents and Oskar. He's the boy next door with whom she grew up who now fights for Germany in the Luftwaffe. She must make her way in a strange land living with people who tolerate and sympathize with her, but do not love her while wondering what has happened to her parents, and to Oskar.
 Oskar loves Elsa enough to jump from a German bomber over Ireland so that he can look for her. He cannot decide if he jumped out of love for Elsa, or out of cowardice to get out of the war. Once on the ground, the enormousness of the task before him nearly crushes him. 
 There is Kitty, the most courageous of the people in the story. She is a lonely Irish woman torn between loving Oskar, turning him in as a spy, or aiding him on his search for Elsa. And finally, Charlie, an Irish medical student, attracted to Elsa. The war comes to him too in the form of a bombing.

 Neary turns an unblinking eye on the decisions they must make and the agonizing consequences of those decisions. There are no cheap happy endings here. Kitty, Oskar, and Elsa form a wobbly love triangle where proximity is as important as passion, and events push them apart with more strength than they can hold on to each other.. When passion and proximity are both gone, what do you do? You accept what life has dealt you and earn your peace. Life is not fair, and once they realize that, they make adjustments and live the lives they can.

 This is not an American ideal nor is it an American novel. As an American, it is bred into the fiber of my being that a man must fight against what is not fair. It is far better to go down swinging than it is to accept ones fate and suffer meekly. The Alamo teaches us that, as does Pearl Harbor and every action movie released by Hollywood. This is a subtler idea. Here the meek inherit the earth and make do with what they have.

 Characterization is key in a story like this where the interior monologue is as important as the external events. Neary crafts three sympathetic, totally believable characters. My strongest sympathies lie with Kitty who soldiers on with quiet bravery knowing that things will not turn out well. I admire Elsa also as she tries to make the best of an Alice-Through-the-Looking-Glass experience where nothing is what it seems nor is anything quite right. She is a German Jew trying to live in Catholic Ireland.

 Neary does her best writing as she achingly portrays Elsa:

The letter is in German. She reads the opening line and at once she knows who this is. The day slips away from her, and the place, and she is back in Berlin with Oskar, as though the entire life she has lived as Elsa Byrne suddenly belongs to someone else. When she looks up, Carmela is standing over her. She is saying something about a sandwich... But the voice in the letter is more urgent than anything Carmela has to say... Meanwhile, Sebastian has started to play the Field. It is the wrong moment for Field, and she tells him to stop. Something in her voice must have startled him. He gets up from the piano and moves towards her. 'You okay, Bubbe?' he said. 'You sure?'

My dearest Elsa, the letter begins, I have always loved you.

   There is a musical quality to her writing as if Neary had Chopin playing in the background as she composed this novel.

 This is not a war story, though it is set during a war. This is a story of the lives people want to lead, and the lives they actually fashion for themselves; the crunch point between the fairy tales we want so badly to believe about the world and our place in it, and the reality of life. 

About the Author
Annemarie Neary was educated at Trinity College Dublin and the Courtauld Institute, London. She is the winner of the Columbia Journal fiction prize, 2011 (US), and of the inaugural Posara Prize, 2011 (Italy). Closer to home, Annemarie has won placings in the international Fish and Bridport prizes, having been shortlisted for Bridport three years running. In 2009, she won the Bryan MacMahon short story award. Her short stories have been anthologised and published in magazines in the UK and Ireland.