Monday, September 30, 2013

Stigmata by Colin Falconer

Back Cover:

1205AD: Philip of Vercy sails away from the roasting wasteland where he has passed the last year. As a Knight of the Realm, he has fought the infidel in the Holy Land. Now, after twelve months of savage, bloody warfare in the scorching sun, he is finally coming home to his castle, to peace, and to his beloved wife. But France offers neither comfort or peace. His wife has died in childbirth, his young son is dying of a wasting disease, and, in the south, his Cathar countrymen are being brutally persecuted. When Philip hears rumours of a healer in the Languedoc, a young woman blessed by God and marked with Christ's Stigmata, he rides out on a desperate quest to save his son. His journey takes him into a vision of hell that outstrips even what he saw in Outremer. Disgusted by the senseless slaughter, Philip gradually becomes embroiled in the Cathar cause. And then he finds his miracle: Fabrisse Berenger, the beautiful, loving daughter of Cathar parents. She is bewildered by her strange wounds, but Philip is fascinated by them... and more fascinated by the serene goodness of Fabricia herself. Together, the pair must flee persecution under cover of darkness - but they cannot hold off the Pope's soldiers forever. Their destiny will be decided in the snows of the Black Mountains where Fabricia and Philip must make choices not just to save their lives, but their souls.

My Review:

In the year 1205, Sir Philip of Vercy returns home to France after a grueling year as a knight fighting in the Holy Land only to learn that his beloved wife is dead in childbirth and his newborn son is frail and sickly, on the verge of death. Consumed by grief, he travels to Languedoc in search of a miraculous healer named Fabricia Berenger, a nun, to save his son’s life. But once in Languedoc, he finds himself thrust into the dangers of battle against the Papal military who are waging war to eliminate the Cathar heretics. Fabricia Bérenger receives visions from the Virgin Mary. Her devotion to her faith is strong and along with her prophetic visions, she receives the Stigmata, open wounds to her hands and feet that bleed like Christ’s wounds did on the cross. Philip is plagued by his conscience and his future. Nothing is the same, death of his wife, and all the killing in battle deeply affecting him. Fabricia’s presence in his life affects him deeply as he is more and more drawn to love her.

Stigmata by international bestselling author, Colin Falconer, is an intricate story with rich characters and an intense plot that proved to be an enthralling read. A touch of Catholic mystery, a broken hero who is trying to rebuild his shattered life, and a heroine blessed/cursed with the ability to heal that keeps her in constant turmoil. It was a turbulent time of heresy, crusades, and the struggles to overcome devastation. Beautifully written in typical Falconer style with plenty of snap and sharpness, and wonderfully researched, I enjoyed every page of this book. Fast paced, sprinkled with unique and unusual details, and with plenty of emotion, makes this a must read for those who love the medieval period or books about the unexplained mysteries of life. Loved, loved, loved this novel. Rivting!

The Outcasts by Kathleen Kent

A taut, thrilling adventure story about buried treasure, a manhunt, and a woman determined to make a new life for herself in the old west.

It's the 19th century on the Gulf Coast, a time of opportunity and lawlessness. After escaping the Texas brothel where she'd been a virtual prisoner, Lucinda Carter heads for Middle Bayou to meet her lover, who has a plan to make them both rich, chasing rumors of a pirate's buried treasure.

Meanwhile Nate Cannon, a young Texas policeman with a pure heart and a strong sense of justice, is on the hunt for a ruthless killer named McGill who has claimed the lives of men, women, and even children across the frontier. Who--if anyone--will survive when their paths finally cross?

As Lucinda and Nate's stories converge, guns are drawn, debts are paid, and Kathleen Kent delivers an unforgettable portrait of a woman who will stop at nothing to make a new life for herself.

I loved this novel! The Outcasts is an engrossing novel set in the American west where no one is perfect and everyone is in search of something! The story unfolds through the points of view of Nate Cannon and Lucinda Carter.

Nate is an immediately likeable character. He leaves a young wife at home to join a cattle drive and later the Texas State Police. On his first assignment, he encounters two crusty old Texas Rangers, George Deerling and Tom Goddard. They have spent a lifetime hunting a ruthless killer named McGill who has killed women and children. Good with horses, Nate impresses the rough and tumble duo and the three ride off in search of McGill. The scenes in the book pertaining to these characters are excellently written, in fact, I would classify it as amazing, capturing the crudeness and wisdom of old age cowboys and rangers. Incredibly fabulous!

Then there is Lucinda Carter. Lucinda is running from a horrible past. She is an unloved epileptic whose father banished her to a lunatic asylum when she was a mere child. Now, she makes her living as a whore in a bothel. When she earns enough, she hopes to meet her lover and start a new life. So to hasten her destiny, she steals from her notoriously ruthless madame, who sends a killer after her. But Lucinda’s lover insists she take a job as a school teacher first. Yes, that’s correct, a whore working as a school teacher, one of the many fascinating tweeks and lilts this story takes. While there, she learns of a long-lost treasure hidden by the infamous pirate, Lafitte, many years before.

There is so much to gush about in this novel, I don’t know where to begin. The characterization is stupendous, the plot magnificent, the characters inter-connected, the creativity superb! This is the old west at its best and worst – ruthless, dangerous, wild. This story has it all, brothels, saloons, gunfights, killings, sex, and much, much more, all if it a glorious indulgence! And from start to finish, the story is peppered with clever dialogue and scenes that ring with brilliance. Each character has secrets, and slowly their secrets are revealed reaching a crescendo near the end.   

Ah, yes, the the ending – a fabulous, fascinating ending that neatly ties up all the threads of the story, connects all the characters, reveals all the secrets, and leaves you wanting more. Why? Because the author has the ability to make the characters bigger than life, real, sympathetic, credible. One of the best books I have ever read! Definitely one that I will read again and again.

The Spirit Keeper by K.B. Laugheed

Book Description

This is the account of Katie O’Toole, late of Lancaster Co., Pennsylvania, removed from her family by savages on March the 2nd in the year of our Lord 1747

The thirteenth child conceived of miserable Irish exiles, Katie O’Toole dreams of a different life. Little does she know that someone far away is dreaming of her. In 1747, savages raid her family home, and seventeen-year-old Katie is taken captive. Syawa and Hector have been searching for her, guided by Syawa’s dreams. A young Holyman, Syawa believes Katie is the subject of his Vision: the Creature of Fire and Ice, destined to bring a great gift to his people. Despite her flaming hair and ice-blue eyes, Katie is certain he is mistaken, but faced with returning to her family, she agrees to join them. She soon discovers that in order to fulfill Syawa’s Vision, she must first become his Spirit Keeper, embarking on an epic journey that will change her life—and heart—forever.

Book Review:
In 17th century colonial America, life is full of danger, hard work, and sacrifice. Katie O'Toole lives with her large Irish family who struggle to make a new life for themselves. With a drunkard as a father, and a mother who is cruel and abusive, and siblings who care little for each other, Katie’s only hope for the future is to escape on her own someday. Then one day, Indians attack their settlement, killing many. Those that survived, like Katie, are captured by the natives. Two Indian warriors treat her better than everyone else, creating upset among the other captives. What Katie will soon learn is that these two men, Syawa and Hector, believe she is the woman of their powerful visions who they have been searching for.

And so begins a vast journey through the American wilds – one white woman and two Indian men. In this character driven novel, the story is told through Katie’s point of view as she records her excursion in her ledger. Katie is definitely a strong heroine, driven by her past sufferings, and courageously moving forward through adversity. Slowly, she learns to communicate with her captives, and learns their traditions. The trio bonds and Katie learns to love both men.

The novel is written with much depth and insight, the characters believable and authentic. I enjoyed learning about the endurance and spirituality of the native people. The ending was a little disappointing, but not overly so. Overall, The Spirit Keeper was an enjoyable, well researched read!

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Isabella: Braveheart of France by Colin Falconer


(Contest Ends September 30)

She was taught to obey. 
Now she has learned to rebel.

12 year old Isabella, a French princess marries the King of England - only to discover he has a terrible secret. Ten long years later she is in utter despair - does she submit to a lifetime of solitude and a spiritual death - or seize her destiny and take the throne of England for herself? Isabella is just twelve years old when she marries Edward II of England. For the young princess it is love at first sight - but Edward has a terrible secret that threatens to tear their marriage - and England apart. Who is Piers Gaveston - and why is his presence in the king’s court about to plunge England into civil war? The young queen believes in the love songs of the troubadours and her own exalted destiny - but she finds reality very different. As she grows to a woman in the deadly maelstrom of Edward’s court, she must decide between her husband, her children, even her life - and one breath-taking gamble that will change the course of history. This is the story of Isabella, the only woman ever to invade England - and win. In the tradition of Philippa Gregory and Elizabeth Chadwick, ISABELLA is thoroughly researched and fast paced, the little known story of the one invasion the English never talk about.

Queen Isabella of England was known as a she-Wolf. This was one queen who was beautiful, diplomatic, and smart! But she was also known to be ruthless, manipulative, and sometimes heartless.
Her father, King Philip IV of France schooled her politically and raised her to be wise and cautious. When she was twelve, he arranged for her to be married to England’s King Edward II. She had no idea the trouble she would face during ; background-position: initial initial; background-repeat: initial initial; line-height: 150%; margin: 4.8pt 0in 6pt;"> First, there was internal conflict between the king and his nobles. Second, her husband’s heart belonged to someone else – a male “mistress” named Piers Gaveston. To Piers, he gave not only all his love, leaving none for Isabelle, but also much of his wealth in land, jewels, and titles. This angered the nobles who did much to place restrictions upon the king.
Isabelle fell in love with Roger Mortimer, who worked with Isabelle to depose Edward. Edward was murdered and many believe that she even arranged to have Edward murdered, but that was never proven. Afterwards, Isabella and Roger spent lavishly as she made some unpopular political decision affection Scotland.
Meanwhile, Isabelle and Edward’s son, Edward III, grew to manhood. One of the first things he did was arrest and execute Roger Mortimer, and seizing control of the country for himself. Isabelle, estranged with her son, lived alone but in great style.
Author Colin Falconer has brought Isabelle’s story to life in his latest novel, Isabelle: Braveheart of France. He portrays this fascinating royal woman as strong and wise. Although history records her as cruel, manipulative, and ruthless, perhaps that is an unfair moniker considering all that she had to endure. I can’t imagine her humiliation as her husband flaunted his male lovers. The author does a wonderful job showing this to the readers.
Wonderful descriptive and succinct prose graces each page of this biographical novel.  

Thursday, September 19, 2013

The Wedding Gift by Marlen Suyapa Bodden

Back Cover:

When prestigious plantation owner Cornelius Allen gives his daughter Clarissa’s hand in marriage, she takes with her a gift: Sarah—her slave and her half-sister. Raised by an educated mother, Clarissa is not a proper southern belle she appears to be with ambitions of loving who she chooses and Sarah equally hides behind the façade of being a docile house slave as she plots to escape. Both women bring these tumultuous secrets and desires with them to their new home, igniting events that spiral into a tale beyond what you ever imagined possible and it will leave you enraptured until the very end.
Told through alternating viewpoints of Sarah and Theodora Allen, Cornelius’ wife, Marlen Suyapa Bodden's The Wedding Gift is an intimate portrait that will leave readers breathless.

My Review:

The Wedding Gift by Marlen Suyapa Bodden is a poignant portrayal of what it means to be free in American’s deep south. It is a tale of two half-sisters, one born from a black slave and the other born from a white southern belle. The two are raised together, yet they each overcome restrictions imposed upon them not only by their circumstances, but also by their color and society’s expectations.

The author did a wonderful job of drawing parallels between the main characters while demonstrating their differences. Truly, neither of the two women were completely free. The cruelties of slavery were well depicted, and often heart-wrenching to read, especially the forced separation of black families. As the story unfolds the reader will experience the brutality of the times along with the feelings of helplessness and desperation.

A wonderful story filled with plenty of emotion. A book that will keep you turning and turning the pages until the incredible ending! Highly recommended.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Tre Generazioni by Federico G. Martini

Like its title, Tre Generazioni is a three generational family saga that takes place after the unification of Italy. In that turbulent period, the noble classes, which for centuries had lorded over life at the expense of the Italian people, are crumbling. They are unable to adjust to the new societal changes. The lives of ease and idleness they once enjoyed are disappearing. The Ravazzani family of Milan are symbolic of this great upheaval.

The head of the family is ruled by Count Galeazzo, a domineering authoritarian with obsessive ambition. He is desperate to maintain his power and prestige. Charlotte, the French wife of Galeazzo, is a gentle spirit who does not believe in her husband’s philosophy to act and live solely to increase the family’s social standing and riches. She finds the traditions and prejudices not to her liking and struggles against the narrow-minded environment and painful events in her life. Their first son, Lodrisio, is cynical and reckless and despises anyone who is not of his own rank. He is of the ilk that noble marriages are solely for increasing wealth and social status. Their second son, Ascanio, is rebellious and independent, choosing his own way in life, and marrying a woman of a lower class. But it is the third generation who will prove to be different, released from the previous social restraints. Throughout the struggles of this once great family, runs the details of Italy’s fascinating history as the country struggles to find its own identity.

From start to finish, I thoroughly enjoyed this epic family saga. The story held dark family secrets, fascinating and flawed characters, and plenty of twists and turns to keep me turning the pages. The author’s prose in Italian was easy to read and flowed at a good pace. I found the insight into Milanese life in the 1800’s well researched and highly informative. He skilfully sprinkled Italy’s rich history into the poignant story of each family member’s life struggle, providing the reader with compelling insight during a most turbulent era in Italian history and its impact on the nobility.

For anyone interested in Italian history, this book is one that is well written, but also highly educational and very entertaining. Highly recommended.