Tuesday, June 25, 2013

The Roving Tree by Elsie Augustave

Elsie Augustave's debut novel explores multiple themes: separation and loss, rootlessness, the impact of class privilege and color consciousness, and the search for cultural identity. The central character, Iris Odys, is the offspring of Hagathe, a Haitian maid, and a French-educated mulatto father, Brahami, who cares little about his child. Hagathe, who had always dreamed of a better life for her child, is presented with the perfect opportunity when Iris is five years old. Adopted by a white American couple, Iris is transported from her tiny remote Haitian village, Monn Neg, to an American suburb.

The Roving Tree illuminates how imperfectly assimilated adoptees struggle to remember their original voices and recapture their personal histories and cultural legacy. Set between two worlds—suburban America and Haiti under Papa Doc's repressive regime—the novel offers a unique literary glimpse into the deeply entrenched class discrimination and political repression of Haiti during the Duvalier era, along with the subtle but nonetheless dangerous effects of American racism.

The Roving Tree is a poignant revelation about racial and cultural prejudices told through the eyes of a young black Haitian woman named Iris who is adopted by a white American family. Born into poverty and threatened by a black radical leader, Iris’ mother willingly gives up her young daughter to an American family in the hopes of protecting her and giving her a better life. The story then takes the reader through various circumstances and stages throughout the heroine’s life. It gives readers a strong perspective on how racial differences affect people.

Beyond the deep, underlying messages of religion, culture, social classes, and prejudice, there is a darn good story being told. One cannot help being engaged with Iris’ plight of being at the centre of two racial worlds.
The prose is written in first person, gentle and easy to read. The story unfolds in the present with clever use of flashbacks that reveal the past without breaking the flow of the story. I liked the Haitian/African background of the heroine because it brings about awareness of the social and political background of that country. Most of all, this is a novel about a young woman’s awakening to her roots as she travels from Haiti to American to Haiti and Africa. The beauty of this book lies in its simplicity. An engaging read that packs a powerful punch.

Breathless by Anne Sward

In the tradition of Housekeeping and Tinkers, award-winning Swedish author Anne Swärd’s American debut blends the lyricism of youth with the darker desires of age.

Lo was just six when she met thirteen-year-old Lukas the night a brushfire threatened their community. Both the children of immigrants, both wild with love for the land, theirs was an easy friendship despite the fierce injunctions of Lo’s family. Meeting in secret at an abandoned lake house, they whiled away their summers in the water and their winters curled up inside, reenacting dialogue from their favorite film, Breathless.

How a friendship so innocent and pure—and so strictly forbidden—could be destroyed is a mystery that unfolds across Lo’s travels from Berlin to Copenhagen to New York, from tryst to tryst, as she seems fated to roam the outside world she blames for tearing her and Lukas apart. Haunting, resonant, full of humor and heartrending depth, Breathless explores how childhood acts can stake an unimpeachable claim on our older selves, and how atonement might be wrest from the past.

Breathless is novel about a young woman named Lo. Through flashbacks, she looks back on her past and her past relationship with a young boy named Lukas. She first meets him when she is five and he is thirteen. Although her family is desperate to keep her away from Lukas, their friendship endures and becomes much deeper. When they become adults, they move away from their small town and live together, pursuing careers and other relationships.

This award winning Swedish novel has been translated into English for the international market. Readers must bear in mind that this is very much a literary novel because of its unique style of prose and story structure. The tale does not unfold chronologically. Rather, it skips back and forth through time by way of flashback. This makes the story difficult to follow and challenging to read.

The novel is about misunderstood lovers, lost innocence, and individual freedoms. The characters, their motivations, their behaviors are very unique and unusual. The writing is very deep with powerful messages within. 

This novel is not for everyone. Rather, I would recommend this novel to those readers who truly enjoy unusual literary fiction written with a unique and distinctive voice.

The Gods of Heavenly Punishment by Jennifer Cody Epstein

A lush, exquisitely rendered meditation on war, The Gods of Heavenly Punishment tells the story of several families, American and Japanese, their loves and infidelities, their dreams and losses, and how they are all connected by one of the most devastating acts of war in human history.

In this evocative and thrilling epic novel, fifteen-year-old Yoshi Kobayashi, child of Japan’s New Empire, daughter of an ardent expansionist and a mother with a haunting past, is on her way home on a March night when American bombers shower her city with napalm—an attack that leaves one hundred thousand dead within hours and half the city in ashen ruins. In the days that follow, Yoshi’s old life will blur beyond recognition, leading her to a new world marked by destruction and shaped by those considered the enemy: Cam, a downed bomber pilot taken prisoner by the Imperial Japanese Army; Anton, a gifted architect who helped modernize Tokyo’s prewar skyline but is now charged with destroying it; and Billy, an Occupation soldier who arrives in the blackened city with a dark secret of his own. Directly or indirectly, each will shape Yoshi’s journey as she seeks safety, love, and redemption.

The Gods of Heavenly Punishment is an intriguing look at war and survival, and the ability of the human spirit to endure. The main conflict in the story is the bombing of Tokyo during World War II.

Yoshi is a young woman at the center of the story. Her father is a major builder in the city and her mother with a troubled past who was the granddaughter of a Samurai warrior. There are several supporting characters in the story who each add a layer of intensity to this epic tale and help to unfold the mystery within the story.

Expertly researched and beautifully written, this novel sweeps a wide span to give readers an indepth look at the atrocities of war and the impact upon those who survived. There are several threads to follow, but they are expertly woven and the plot is easy to follow. This novel reaches deep into one’s soul to fill readers with a realm of emotions. It deals with issues of conscience, forgiveness, love, and endurance. A fascinating read beautifully rendered.

Monday, June 24, 2013

The Mongoliad by Stephenson, G. Bear, Teppo, deBirmingham, E. Bear, Brassey and Moo

Reviewed by Victoria Dixon

As the Mongols swept across Asia and were poised to invade Europe in 1241, a small band of warriors, inheritors of an ancient secret tradition, conceived a desperate plan to stop the attack. They must kill the Khan of Khans; if they fail, all of Christendom will be destroyed.

In the late nineteenth century a mysterious group of English martial arts aficionados provided Sir Richard F. Burton, well-known expert on exotic languages and historical swordsmanship, a collection of long-lost manuscripts to translate – the lost chronicles of this desperate fight to save Europe. Burton’s translations were lost, until a team of amateur archaeologists discovered them in the ruins of a mansion in Trieste. From the translation and from the original source material, the epic tale of The Mongoliad was recreated.

Mongoliad is actually much more complex than the above suggests. While the story does have a strong basis in history and most especially in the martial arts of the time period, the story takes place in an alternative history setting not our own. It is also part of a massive media undertaking that includes app technology, fan involvement in the story telling and scads of story and tech developers including but not limited to authors Neal Stephenson, Greg and Erik Bear, E.D. deBirmingham, Joseph Brassey, Mark Teppo, and Nicole Galland.  I cannot speak for the app technology except to say that the book’s app following has grown tremendously.

As far as the book goes, for those who love unusual settings, quests, long swords and the battles fought with them, this is your novel. For that matter, this is your series as Mongoliad is the first of at least three books in this setting/series plus multiple “sidequests.”

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Hetaera: Daughter of the Gods by J.A. Coffey

She was the original Cinderella...

Doricha is twelve when her father is murdered by a roving band of Greeks. Betrayed by a jealous priestess and sold into slavery, headstrong Dori loses her most valuable possession-her freedom. She hopes that one day she can truly be free, but not even Aesop, her mentor, can protect her. The harsh world of classical Greece has little use for the minds of women, and she finds her body traded to another owner, who transports her to a new life of luxury and political turmoil in the faraway deserts of Egypt. All she has to do is be beautiful, all she has to do is love him, and she will be kept safe.

The problem is, Dori doesn't want to be kept--by any man. Not even the god-king Amasis, Pharaoh of Egypt.

From the ancient Thracian temple of the Bacchae to the exotic lands of Egypt where political intrigue coils like a nest of asps, Dori learns that fulfilling her father's dying wish is not about bands around her wrists so much as it is bands around her heart. Based on persons and historical events of 26th dynasty Egypt, HETAERA fictionalizes the life of Doricha/Rhodopis--a most extraordinary woman who changed the world.

Hetaera by J.A. Coffey is a novel adapted from the story of Rhodopis, the first, and an ancient version of the Cinderalla story that was first recorded in the 1st century BCE by a Greek historian named Strabo. Doricha is a Greek slave girl in Egypt who suffers abuse by her fellow slaves. She is beautiful, but has big feet. It is her talent for dancing that catches the eye of a kindly elderly master. She falls in love with a young shoemaker who gifts her an exquisite, unique pair of red slippers before taking advantage of her. Then he suddenly disappears from her life, leaving Doricha devastated and heartbroken. The Pharaoh initiates a great feast for the kingdom, Doricha is prevented from attending by other slave girls. While at the river, a falcon snatches one of her red slippers, flies off with it, and drops it in Pharaoh’s lap miles away. Intrigued and believing it a sign of good fortune by an Egyptian God, he sets out to discover its owner. And of course, as the only woman with feet large enough to fit the slippers perfectly, Doricha rises from slave to the highest ranking woman in Egypt – the Pharaoh’s Great Royal wife.

The Cinderalla fairy tale-ish background does not negatively impact the realistic feel of this novel. Well researched, with oodles of historical details, make this a believable tale. There is plenty to like in this story – unrequited love, horrendous abuse, great love, danger, and plenty of plot twists that kept me entertained to the end. Legendary personalities such as Aesop and Sappho play prominent roles in the novel. Vivid descriptions, memorable characters, and a poignant love story make this a fascinating novel to read. Highly recommended for those who love Ancient History and books about Egypt.

Anarchy (The Making of England 3) by Stewart Binns

Anarchy is the knuckle-whitening third novel in Stewart Binns' The Making of England series.
Ruthless brutality, greed and ambition: the Anarchy!

The year is 1186, the thirty-second year of the reign of Henry II. Gilbert Foliot, Bishop of London, has lived through long Henry's reign and that of his grandfather, Henry I. He has witnessed the terrifying civil war between Henry II's mother, the Empress Matilda, and her cousin, Stephen; a time so traumatic it becomes known as the Anarchy.

The greatest letter writer of the 12th Century, Folio gives an intimate account of one of England's most troubled eras. Central to his account is the life of a knight he first met over fifty years earlier, Harold of Hereford.

Harold's life is an intriguing microcosm of the times. Born of noble blood and legendary lineage, he is one of the nine founders of the Knights Templar and a survivor of the fearsome battles of the Crusader States in the Holy Land.

Harold is loyal warrior in the cause of the Empress Matilda. On his broad shoulders, Harold carries the legacy of England's past and its dormant hopes for the future.

Stewart Binns' Anarchy is a gripping novel in the great tradition of Conn Iggulden and Bernard Cornwell, and is the third in The Making of England trilogy, following Conquest and Crusade.

Anarchy by Stewart Binns is a powerfully told story through the eyes of a 12th century letter named Folio. The tale he tells is about a remarkable man named Harold of Hereford. Of noble blood, Harold is one of nine knights who founded the Knights Templar. Harold is a savvy, cunning, and talented knight who throws his full support and loyalty behind Empress Matilda.

The plot moves at a fast pace, with plenty of intrigue, conflict, and well-drawn out scenes that kept me flipping pages to learn what happens next. The novel’s characters are portrayed humanly, with all their faults and virtues, making them very real in the reader’s eyes. The author is exceptional at storytelling. It is gripping and authentic while he expertly weaves in historical details pertaining to this period in England’s rich history. Even Robert of Hode (aka Robin Hood) makes an appearance with great believability.

Although this is the third book in the Making of England series, this book easily stands alone and it is not necessary to read the previous two novels. But rest assured, this book was so delicious of a read, stunning, a blockbuster of an adventure, that I am eager to read the other two. Stewart Binns is a talented author whose books read like a movie, allowing the reader to deeply immerse themselves in the tale he tells. Gripping, real, poignant, this is a book not to miss. One I highly recommend.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Born of Persuasion by Jessica Dotta

Book Blurb

The year is 1838, and seventeen-year-old Julia Elliston’s position has never been more fragile. Orphaned and unmarried in a time when women are legal property of their fathers, husbands, and guardians, she finds herself at the mercy of an anonymous guardian who plans to establish her as a servant in far-off Scotland.

With two months to devise a better plan, Julia’s first choice to marry her childhood sweetheart is denied. But when a titled dowager offers to introduce Julia into society, a realm of possibilities opens. However, treachery and deception are as much a part of Victorian society as titles and decorum, and Julia quickly discovers her present is deeply entangled with her mother’s mysterious past. Before she knows what’s happening, Julia finds herself a pawn in a deadly game between two of the country’s most powerful men. With no laws to protect her, she must unravel the secrets on her own. But sometimes truth is elusive and knowledge is deadly.


From the outset, it is clear that this Gothic novel is well written with some touching emotions and deep internal conflict of the heroine, Julia. The idiosyncrasies of the early Victorian era and society’s restrictions are well detailed, and the needle sharp dialogue of the two older ladies in the cast is masterful as well as cringe-making in its acerbity.

The novel quickly takes a sinister turn, beginning with her unspeakable hostess, Mrs Windham, who showers Julia with insults while professing to care for her. Then she tries to ‘sell’ Julia to a matchmaker, finally striking a deal with the elderly Lady Foxmore, a woman who would terrify Lady Catherine de Burgh, to find Julia a husband.

When Edward Auburn, Julia’s secret betrothed makes an appearance, she is horrified to discover he has been ordained into the church which victimised her cruelly for her father’s atheist beliefs.

Edward ends their betrothal, and Julia is invited to a magnificent mansion called Eastbourne, Lady Foxmore comes along, but reluctantly and it soon evolves that she and its mysterious owner, Mr Chance Macy have some history. The house party is comprised of enigmatic, hostile characters, some of whom bear some sort of grudge against Julia. They utter damning statements before rushing from the room or lapse into brooding silence, until I am convinced they are there with the sole purpose of driving poor Julia mad.

Julia is still suffering the effects of her mother’s suicide, and events carry her along on a wave of deception, misinformation and downright lies. The patronising Macy treats Julia like a charming pet, professes love within days, then compromises her in front of the other house guests by staying in her room all night before disappearing on one of several unexplained errands - only to return and begin his weird courtship all over again. The way he keeps calling her ‘darling’ is particularly creepy.

Julia doesn’t handle the situation well, and spends most of her time blushing, shaking her head or burying her face in whichever male chest is closest [Macy’s or Edwards-she conflicted] Julia’s best friend, Elizabeth Windham, who is [secretly of course] betrothed to Edward’s brother, Henry, joins this atmosphere of hostility and the general refusal to communicate deteriorates into everyone glaring at each other at mealtimes.

Ms Dotta certainly keeps the reader guessing as Julia is pulled about from pillar to post by those whose motives are unclear. Is Macy a dashing suitor and protector, or is he the villain of the piece with his own agenda? Is Julia’s guardian really bent on ending her life when they have never met, or is he trying to rescue her from the villainous Macy? Will Edward discard his dog collar to win Julia, or does he expect her to preside over his parish teas and pretend a faith in a higher power for his sake?

This is an intriguing read, despite my frustration with the simpering Julia. By the end I accepted her character was dictated by the fact sheltered Victorian girls weren’t naturally assertive, nor expected to be. There are two more stories in this series to come, so maybe the loose ends left by this novel will be made clear in the next. 

I will have to read them as I'm worried about what happened to Nancy!

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