Thursday, August 29, 2013

Muse by Mary Novik

A richly engaging historical adventure in the vein of The Winter Palace and The Malice of Fortune.

Muse is the story of the charismatic woman who was the inspiration behind Petrarch's sublime love poetry. Solange Le Blanc begins life in the tempestuous streets of 14th century Avignon, a city of men dominated by the Pope and his palace. When her mother, a harlot, dies in childbirth, Solange is raised by Benedictines who believe she has the gift of clairvoyance. Trained as a scribe, but troubled by disturbing visions and tempted by a more carnal life, she escapes to Avignon, where she becomes entangled in a love triangle with the poet Petrarch, becoming not only his muse but also his lover.

Later, when her gift for prophecy catches the Pope's ear, Solange becomes Pope Clement VI's mistress and confidante in the most celebrated court in Europe. When the plague kills a third of Avignon's population, Solange is accused of sorcery and is forced once again to reinvent herself and fight against a final, mortal conspiracy.

Muse is a sweeping historical epic that magically evokes the Renaissance, capturing a time and place caught between the shadows of the past and the promise of a new cultural awakening.

Muse is Mary Novik’s second novel; a story about a young woman named Solange LeBlanc who was born to a harlot in 14th century. She becomes orphaned and sent into a Benedictine convent. There, the nuns believe her to be gifted as a visionary. Her clairvoyant dreams raise her status while also bringing danger from those who are superstitious. After an attack, Solange escapes the confines of religious life, and sets out on her own to make a living copying books with her beautiful penmanship. It is then that she meets Petrarch and becomes the inspiration behind many of his poems. Petrarch, however, is obsessed with his growing fame and leaves her behind with limited funds to pursue his career among the rich and noble. Unmarried and pregnant with Petrarch’s son, Solange gives birth in diminishing circumstances. When Petrarch learns about his son, he kidnaps him, spurning a desperate search by Solange to find him.  

Muse is an epic story with a powerful, resilient heroine at its centre. The author excels at bringing to life the political and social atmosphere of the times, including those pertaining to the French Pope to whom Solange becomes an advisor. Written with a compelling voice, this is a gripping story of a young woman who rises above the hardships of her time. 

Monday, August 19, 2013

Troll by Richard Sutton

At what point did humanity learn to fear each other? To hate? Paleo-Anthropologist Arial Connor thinks she knows. She just can't prove it yet, but her newest find, high in a Norwegian Valley may give her the proof she needs. Those scary stories we've told our children to keep them from roaming too far outside the gleam of the porch light may have come from real incidents, many, many years ago. While Dr. Connor's excavation continues, the story of what happened is slowly being revealed.

Two clans are converging on the remaining game lands. One will have to leave their homes, one will tell stories and sing songs of their own bravery. One people will disappear while another will bring their history into the modern world. One way of life will be lost, but does the better way endure? What have we learned from the ancients that would have been better forgotten? Troll explores these questions and asks a few more as well.

Prehistoric fiction is a rarity, so it was with great interest that I read Troll. Like all books in this genre, the author provides great descriptions to give good understanding of the tools, scenery, and way of life of the period. The story takes place in Scandanavia and is about two factions of people. One group is highly developed and clearly resembles human beings. The other group is somewhat Neanderthal, part way between human and ape. These are the trolls. The two groups fear each other. Yet when a child of the human clan falls ill, it is a woman of the troll clan who offers the secret red flowers that will cure the child.

The characters are fascinating and the story is riveting and believable. Instead of making them primitive and primal, author Richard Sutton has made them human, credible, and easy to identify with. His interpretation of the period is well researched without bogging down the pace of the story. The conflict takes time to gather momentum and it is not until after the first third of the book that the story begins to truly take hold and fascinate. The events that unfold are plausible and the author writes with enough clarity and conviction that it evokes empathy and a realm of other emotions from the reader.

I found myself questioning what it meant to truly be human. Is it one’s appearance? Or knowledge? Or skill? Or rather is it how we interact with others of different races and cultures? How is superiority determined? These are some of the questions that raced through my mind as I read the story to its satisfying conclusion.

This is a gentle, easy read with depth, a pleasant change from other more highly read genres of historical fiction. A lovely book indeed and definitely recommended. 

Thursday, August 15, 2013

The Dark Maiden by Lindsay Townsend

The British Isles in the 14th century, rife with superstition and plagued by more than rampant sickness, inspires a heroine’s quest in Lindsay Townsend’s The Dark Maiden. Yolande is duty bound for an enigmatic term, a ‘time of seven’ to rid the country of dark paranormal forces, the restless spirits who seek vengeance or pure evil that troubles clergy and villagers alike. Although uncertain about the length of her service or the destinations it will take her, Yolande commits herself to the undertaking. Early in the course of her journey, she meets Geraint the Welshman, a juggler and tumbler by trade with an innate understanding of the troubles his companion faces. Although he has little patience for the Church, which took him in as a little boy until one of its members forsook the duty, Geraint respects Yolande’s work. His admiration for her commitment almost rivals his budding feelings of intense passion. As her self-appointed protector and helpmate, he shares in her precarious adventures, which take them through medieval England and Wales.

They face more than malignant specters. Bigoted villagers mistrust Yolande based solely on her skin color. Each encounter tests of Yolande’s determination and skill. Some of her foes are not shadows lurking in the darkness, but frail and flawed people cloaked in self-righteousness and mysticism. At times, they are even more dangerous than the evils of the spirit world. With each ordeal, the attachment between Yolande and Geraint blossoms into a powerful love that binds them together against all trials. When it seems Yolande has completed her task and faces a bright future with Geraint at her side, a new torment awaits them, something stronger than Yolande and Geraint have faced before.   

Lindsay Townsend has a knack for writing about the unusual heroine. Her female protagonists are often uncommon woman and Yolande is no different. As a biracial woman of Ethiopian and English descent, working as an exorcist for the medieval Church, she faces constant challenges that would subdue a weaker-willed character. I enjoyed her portrayal. While her origins aren’t commonplace, Yolande is very much a woman of her times. She is spirited and spiritual, a character who exemplifies honor and duty, but she isn’t afraid to delve into the hearts of people and examine the fears, heartaches, hopes and loves, influencing their best and worst actions. Through her viewpoint, readers enter a world, which at the outset seems different from the modern period. Still the elements of humanity are familiar, emotions that drive lust and hate. Although Geraint doesn’t share Yolande’s uncanny connection to the spirit realm, he serves the purpose of keeping her grounded in the real world around her. His love bolsters her against each threat and aids her growth. Theirs is a wonderful partnership and a great love story. 

Monday, August 12, 2013

The Butternut Tree by Maureen Ann Richards Kostalnick

Avon, Ohio, was a sleepy little farm town in 1945. A simple way of life focused around strict Catholic doctrine, St. Mary's Church, and the objective truths and sense of right and wrong contained within those hallowed institutions. Tolerance was a luxury, one in which this town never indulged, favoring the rod over compassion. In 1928, when a young woman was the victim of sexual assault, she was tarnished, regardless of her subsequent marriage and a house full of children. Years after the assault, I was born into this family -- a family that shared a dilapidated farm house scarcely big enough to contain two people, let alone my grandparents, mother, sister, and two brothers. The townspeople's denial became condemnation as my father divorced my mother; the Town shunned our family and my mother took to her bed, unable to face herself or the world. Unaware of the cause of my mother's inability to function, I only knew I would grow to live a different life. I made a promise to that effect at the age of seven, under the shade and protection of my Butternut Tree. The fulfillment of that promise has taken many turns. "By turns humorous and poignant, Maureen Kostalnick's The Butternut Tree is insightful, entertaining, and stands as a testament to the human spirit. A tragedy, but also a triumph, this nostalgic tale brims with love and seethes with vengeance, seemingly in equal measure, pulling no punches in its honest, heartbreaking exploration of the vast spectrum of human emotion." -- Eldon Thompson, author of The Divine Talisman

The Butternut Tree is a compelling memoir about a young woman and her mother and the dark secret that impacted them throughout their entire lives. 

The author wrote a very sad book with a powerful impact. It is about a sexual assault that profoundly impacted an innocent woman's reputation, making her ostracized in the eyes of the community. The impact could be felt into the next generation.  

The story takes us into the author's childhood where she has been abandoned by her father and must deal with a mother who can barely get out of bed due to her depression. 

Poignant, simple prose makes this a memorable read. An extraordinary tale that leaves the plunges readers into a vastly emotional experience.

A Hostage to Heritage by Suzanne Adair

Book #2 of Suzanne Adair's Michael Stoddard American Revolution Thrillers Series.

A boy kidnapped for ransom. And a madman who didn't bargain on Michael Stoddard's tenacity. Spring 1781. The American Revolution enters its seventh grueling year. In Wilmington, North Carolina, redcoat investigator Lieutenant Michael Stoddard expects to round up two miscreants before Lord Cornwallis's army arrives for supplies. But his quarries' trail crosses with that of a criminal who has abducted a high-profile English heir. Michael's efforts to track down the boy plunge him into a twilight of terror from radical insurrectionists, whiskey smugglers, and snarled secrets out of his own past in Yorkshire.

In the second book of Suzanne Adair’s Michael Stoddard American Revolution mystery thriller series, the reader finds themselves in the year 1781. When a group of bandits kidnap a noblewoman’s son, Michael Stoddard is once again assigned to investigate. Numerous twists and turns link Stoddard with the mother in an incredible, unpredictable way.

Once again, Suzanne Adair has written a wonderful whodunit with plenty of intrigue, interest, and thrills. Wonderfully complex characters and a fascinating story line are coupled with terrific writing. And all this makes this a great book to sink your teeth in. Although this is the second book in the series, it stands alone and does not have to be read after the first book. Michael Stoddard is a charismatic protaganist, highly likeable, cursed with a touch of bad luck that always makes the story more interesting. 

Suzanne Adiar knows how to write a great whodunit in a challenging historical period as its setting. There’s always lots going on in Suzanne’s novels. The story never lags and keeps a reader’s interest until the end. With every new release, her books get better and better. Bravo Suzanne! Another great one to add to your list of books. Very enjoyable!

Regulated for Murder by Suzanne Adair

Book #1 of Suzanne Adair's Michael Stoddard American Revolution Thrillers Series.

For ten years, an execution hid murder. Then Michael Stoddard came to town. Bearing a dispatch from his commander in coastal Wilmington, North Carolina, redcoat Lieutenant Michael Stoddard arrives in Hillsborough in February 1781 in civilian garb. He expects to hand a letter to a courier working for Lord Cornwallis, then ride back to Wilmington the next day. Instead, Michael is greeted by the courier's freshly murdered corpse, a chilling trail of clues leading back to an execution ten years earlier, and a sheriff with a fondness for framing innocents--and plans to deliver Michael up to his nemesis, a psychopathic British officer.

Praise for Regulated for Murder, a Suspense Magazine "Best of 2011:"

"Driven by a desire to see justice done, no matter what guise it must take, [Michael Stoddard] is both sympathetic and interesting." – Motherlode

Regulated for Murder is historical murder mystery set in colonial North Carolina towards the end of the American Revolution. This whodunit has plenty of suspense, a thrillingly complicated plot, and a wonderful, flawed, but brilliant hero!

Lieutenant Michael Stoddard has been ordered to carry a message to Lord Cornwallis through a contact named Ezra Griggs murdered. But when he arrives at Ezra’s cabin, Michael discovers the man’s brutal murder. Even worse, he soon finds himself as a suspect in the victim’s murder. Even more incredible, he is forced by local authorities to investigate the murder. With plenty of suspects, and the fact that Michael must keep his identity as a member of the British army a secret lest he be executed for spying, the pressure is on! Desperate to get out of his predicament, and with time running out, Michael learns that solving this murder is no easy task.

This is mystery writing at its best. The characters are all intriguing. Suzanne Adair kept me on edge, never fully believing or disbelieving any of the suspects. Michael Stoddard was everything any reader would want in a hero, handsome, talented, decent, intelligent, and most of all really unlucky! Misfortune seems to find him and makes his tasks challenging. And of course, there is a wonderful love interest by the name of Kate Duncan which adds plenty of drama to the suspense. There is a ripe picking of villains too!

Suzanne has worked hard in her research to really bring this era alive in her story. An excellent author with a creative muse that promises more great mysteries. If you love a great murder mystery in a fascinating historical setting, I highly recommend you read this novel!