Tuesday, December 31, 2013

History and Women Book Club January Read is Queen's Gambit

If you love novels about the Tudors, then join The History and Women Book Club and join us as we read The Queen's Gambit by Elizabeth Freemantle, our book club choice for January 2014.


For fans of Hilary Mantel, Philippa Gregory and Alison Weir, Elizabeth Fremantle's first novel, Queen's Gambit, is a riveting account of Katherine Parr, the Tudor queen who married four men and outlived three of them - including Henry VIII.

Widowed for the second time aged thirty-one, Katherine is obliged to return to court but, suspicious of the aging Henry and those who surround him, she does so with reluctance. Nevertheless when she finds herself caught up in a passionate affair with the dashing and seductive Thomas Seymour, she believes she might finally be able to marry for love. But her presence at court has attracted the attentions of another...

Captivated by her honesty and intelligence, Henry Tudor has his own plans for Katherine and no one is in the position to refuse a proposal from the king. With her charismatic lover dispatched to the continent, Katherine becomes Henry's sixth wife.

Passionate about religious reform, and ever aware of the fates of his previous queens, she must draw upon all her instincts and intellect to navigate the treachery of the court. With the Catholic faction once more in the ascendency, reformers burned for heresy and those around the dying king vying for position in the new regime, her survival seems unlikely - and yet she has still not quite given up on love...

Rich in atmosphere and period detail, and told through the eyes of Katherine and her young maid Dot, Queen's Gambit is the story of two very different women during a terrifying and turbulent time. If you loved Wolf Hall, The Other Boleyn Girl or the BBC drama series The Tudors, then Elizabeth Fremantle's Queen's Gambit is the book for you.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Daughter of the God King by Anne Cleeland


The Cursed Tombs of Egypt Hold Many Secrets...

Miss Hattie Blackhouse has never been close to her parents...and no wonder, since the Blackhouses are renowned scholars who spend most of their time excavating ancient tombs in Egypt. But news of their disappearance forces Hattie to leave England and embark on a voyage that will reveal the long-buried secrets of her past. An encrypted senet board and a gold medallion lead Hattie on a perilous quest to track down her missing parents—and discover why people associated with the Blackhouses continue to turn up dead. What she uncovers is a secret that could alter the course of history...

Filled with intrigue, romance, and ancient secrets, Anne Cleeland's thrilling novel takes you on an unforgettable Egyptian adventure.

Book Review

In Cornwall England, Hattie Blackhouse has come of age and now seeks to reunite with her famous archaeologist parents who are archaeological explorers in Egypty. When she discovers her parents are missing, she travels to Egypt to find them. But something sinister is going on and Hattie soon finds herself embroiled in intrigue with her very life in danger. 

This historical novel has much going on - a feisty heroine, complex characters, plenty of mystery and espionage, and even a little romance. Set near the end of the Napoleonic, I enjoyed the exotic setting of this fun romantic adventure and the many twists and turns the story takes. Despite the over-abundance of characters which sometimes made it difficult to recall who was who, and who sometimes slowed the pace, this was a most enjoyable tale!

Sunday, December 15, 2013

The Flowers of War by Geling Yan


December 1937. The Japanese have taken Nanking. A group of terrified schoolgirls hides in the compound of an American church. Among them is Shujuan, through whose thirteen-year-old eyes we witness the shocking events that follow.

Run by Father Engelmann, an American priest who has been in China for many years, the church is supposedly neutral ground in the war between China and Japan. But it becomes clear the Japanese are not obeying international rules of engagement. As they pour through the streets of Nanking, raping and pillaging the civilian population, the girls are in increasing danger. And their safety is further compromised when prostitutes from the nearby brothel climb over the wall into the compound seeking refuge.

Short, powerful, vivid, this beautiful novel transports the reader to 1930s China. Full of wonderful characters, from the austere priest to the irreverent prostitutes, it is a story about how war upsets all prejudices and how love can flourish amidst death.


The Flowers of War is a novel set in 1937 which depicts the Nanking Massacre. In fear for their lives, a group of prostitutes flee the Japanese atrocities by climbing over the walls of convent and church where young school girls, some from elite families, are being educated. At the forefront is the priest, Father Engelmann who is entrusted with the school girls lives. What ensues is a desperate story of survival from hunger, murder, and oppression. 

The Flowers of War is novel that exposes the full atrocities of that period. It is very much a story of innocence vs. sin, of good vs. bad as the contrast between the personalities of the prostitutes and the school girls clash. Although the writing is simple and easy, the story itself is incredibly poignant with an expolosive ending that will not soon be forgotten. This is a story that will definitely touch readers.

Tuscan Rose by Belinda Alexandra


A magical, richly woven World War II– era saga filled with passion, secrets, beauty, and horror from internationally acclaimed bestselling author Belinda Alexandra. 

FLORENCE, 1914. A mysterious stranger known as The Wolf leaves an infant with the sisters of Santo Spirito. A tiny silver key hidden in her wrappings is the one clue to the child’s identity. . . . FIFTEEN YEARS LATER, young Rosa must leave the nuns, her only family, and become governess to the daughter of an aristocrat and his strange, frightening wife. Their house is elegant but cursed, and Rosa—blessed with gifts beyond her considerable musical talents—is torn between her desire to know the truth and her fear of its repercussions. All the while, the hand of Fascism curls around beautiful Italy, and no citizen is safe. Rosa faces unimaginable hardship: her only weapons her intelligence, intuition, and determination... and her extraordinary capacity for love.

In 1914 Florence, an infant is abandoned at a convent. The only clue to her past is a tiny silver key that was left in her swaddling. The child is named Rosa and when she turns fifteen, she is sent to work at Villa Scarfiotti on the outskirts of Florence. Soon, Rosa discovers that behind the villa's walls, the Scarfiotti family hides dark secrets and mysteries.

Rosa's journey in life is a constant struggle as the fascist movement gains power in Italy with its leaders, Mussolini and Hitler. This lengthy novel gives the reader a brilliant, indepth look at the life of every-day Italians from facism in its infancy, to the years of World War II, and finally into the aftermath of devastation and rebuilding. Through Rosa's eyes, we experience the lives of the privileged, the desperation of the poor, and of the quiet machinations of those who worked to defeat facism.

This was an entertaining, engrossing read which detailed the hardships, the indignities, and the horrible atrocities of war faced by the Italians. With a full cast of fascinating characters, both evil and good, and powerful love stories, it is a novel of growth and inspiration. Intesely researched, authentically Italian, and written in a easy to read prose, this is one book I very highly recommend. Absolutely beautiful!


Thursday, December 5, 2013

Christmas Hope by Anne Perry


Anne Perry’s “vastly entertaining” (The Star-Ledger) holiday novels are “as delicious as mince pie and plum pudding” (Milwaukee Journal Sentinel). A Christmas Hope is just as delectable—the gripping story of an unforgettable battle between goodness and evil in Victorian London—and a lonely woman’s search for meaning in her life. 

Although she lacks for nothing, Claudine Burroughs dreads the holiday season for forcing her to face how empty her life has become. She no longer expects closeness with her coldly ambitious husband, and she has nothing in common with their circle of wealthy, status-minded friends. The only time she is remotely happy is when she volunteers at a woman’s clinic—a job her husband strongly disapproves of. Then, at a glittering yuletide gala, she meets the charming poet Dai Tregarron and finds her spirits lifted. But scarcely an hour later, the charismatic Dai is enmeshed in a nightmare—accused of killing a young streetwalker who had been smuggled into the party. 

Even though she suspects that an upper-class clique is quickly closing ranks to protect the real killer, Claudine vows to do her utmost for Dai. But it seems that hypocritical London society would rather send an innocent poet to the gallows than expose the shocking truth about one of their own. 

Nevertheless, it’s the season of miracles and Claudine finally sees a glimmer of hope—not only for Dai but for a young woman she befriends who is teetering on the brink of a lifetime of unhappiness. Anne Perry’s heartwarming new holiday novel is a celebration of courage, faith, and love for all seasons. 

As a first time reader of Anne Perry’s Christmas novels, I thoroughly enjoyed this Victorian cozy mystery. The heroine is compelling in her aloneness and search for meaning in her life, while the whodunit part of the story is a strong part of the story without being overpowering. Underlying themes of forgiveness, compassion, and love makes this Christmas tale stand out from other mysteries. Clear, succinct writing, with poignant scenes and the sympathetic main character kept me turning the pages. This is a wonderful story, not too long and perfect for the holidays. Very much recommended.

Monday, December 2, 2013

Havisham by Ronald Frame


From the Back Cover!

There was a delicate tracery of gold foil on the back of the dress. How strange that such a consummately made garment should be worn for this one day only. But, as every girl growing up understood, her wedding day was the most significant she would know: a woman's crowning glory.

Catherine Havisham was born into privilege. Handsome, imperious, she is the daughter of a wealthy brewer, and lives in luxury in Satis House. But she is never far from the smell of hops and the arresting letters on the brewhouse wall - HAVISHAM. A reminder of all she owes to the family name and the family business.

Sent by her father to stay with the Chadwycks, Catherine discovers literature, music and masquerades - elegant pastimes to remove the taint of new money. But for all her growing sophistication Catherine is anything but worldly, and when a charismatic stranger pays her attention, everything - her heart, her future, the very Havisham name - is vulnerable.

It is a masterly tribute to one of Dickens's most celebrated and iconic characters.

As a big fan of Charles Dickens, and never having read Great Expectations before, I was eager to read this.
It is the heartbreaking story about a wealthy young woman named Catherine Havisham, the daughter of a nouveau rich man earned his riches making beer and ale. Frowned on by the upper classes, her father sends her off to live with a more noble family to ease her into society. Cathrine is deeply in love with the man she is about to marry, but to her utter shock and devastation, he never shows up for the ceremony and she is left at the altar. This sets off a chain of events as Catherine is left to pick up the pieces of her life and run the family business after her father dies. She does so with a ruthless ambition, growing the business even further. But others thwart her, embezzle, seek to usurp her authority. Betrayal, frayed trust, and resilience are underlying themes in this novel.   

At first, I struggled to "get into" the novel, and set it aside several times. On the 4th try, I persevered, and was glad that I did, because after that, I was thoroughly engrossed in the story. I think my difficulties lay with the writing itself, and not the story. At times, scenes were under explained and too brief and I found myself going back to re-read passages to try to understand the meaning. Other times, the prose sparked with brilliant descriptions and emotion. Other than the unusual writing style, it was a great book. Now I'm eager to sit down and finally read Great Expectations. Don't be afraid to give this book a try, especially if you're a Dickens fan!

Imperial Woman by Pearl S. Buck


Pearl S. Buck’s remarkable account of the life of Tzu Hsi, the magnetic and fierce-minded woman from humble origins who became China’s last empress


In Imperial Woman, Pearl S. Buck brings to life the amazing story of Tzu Hsi, who rose from concubine status to become the working head of the Qing Dynasty. Born from a humble background, Tzu Hsi falls in love with her cousin Jung Lu, a handsome guard—but while still a teenager she is selected, along with her sister and hundreds of other girls, for relocation to the Forbidden City. Already set apart on account of her beauty, she’s determined to be the emperor’s favorite, and devotes all of her talent and cunning to the task. When the emperor dies, she finds herself in a role of supreme power, one she’ll command for nearly fifty years. Much has been written about Tzu Hsi, but no other novel recreates her life—the extraordinary personality, together with the world of court intrigue and the period of national turmoil with which she dealt—as well as Imperial Woman.
This ebook features an illustrated biography of Pearl S. Buck including rare images from the author’s estate.

Feared and hated, Tzu Hsi (Cixi) was the last Empress of China, a decadent woman known for her insatiable desire for power, greed, and murderous shrewdness. Imperial Woman is a detailed, fictionalized accounting of her life. Written with great historical detail and abounding emotion, this epic novel brings to life not only the world of the Qing dynasty, but the hardships and intrigues of the Chinese royal court within the Forbidden City. Beautifully written with a compelling voice, it is a vivid portrayal of this much-maligned woman.

If you’ve never read one of Pearl S Buck’s novels, then you are in for a rare, exotic treat, a journey like you’ve never before taken. It is no wonder that she is one of the world’s most beloved authors, her books classics. This is definitely a must read book, one that will linger in your memory for years to come, and one that will teach you about a period in history well worth learning about. 

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Inceptio by Alison Morton


PUBLISHER’S BLURB

New York, present day. Karen Brown, angry and frightened after surviving a kidnap attempt, has a harsh choice - being eliminated by government enforcer Jeffery Renschman or fleeing to the mysterious Roma Nova, her dead mother's homeland in Europe. Founded sixteen centuries ago by Roman exiles and ruled by women, Roma Nova gives Karen safety and a ready-made family. But a shocking discovery about her new lover, the fascinating but arrogant special forces officer Conrad Tellus, who rescued her in America, isolates her. Renschman reaches into her new home and nearly kills her. Recovering, she is desperate to find out why he is hunting her so viciously. Unable to rely on anybody else, she undergoes intensive training, develops fighting skills and becomes an undercover cop. But crazy with bitterness at his past failures, Renschman sets a trap for her, knowing she has no choice but to spring it...

REVIEW BY ANITA

Although not strictly a historical novel, the premise of this story intrigued me from the beginning. I enjoyed it so much I wanted to post it on this blog, especially when I didn’t know what to expect of an alternative history contemporary novel.

Miss Morton’s version of the world is that ancient Roman society endured when a group of traditionalists set up a nation called Roma Nova where the Latin names and language have survived.

Karen/Carina learns that the EUS [Eastern United States] is not the Land of the Free benevolent democracy she was brought up to believe, but a corrupt xenophobic superpower wielding bully boy tactics over smaller countries. Orphaned young, Karen/Carina discovers from a dashing stranger named Conrad Tellus, that she is in fact an heiress of a large corporation that the American Government want to take away from her, and have no qualms about how they go about it.

As Roma Nova aristocracy, Karen is offered the protection of the military. The bad guy is a shady Government agent, Renschman with his own agenda for disposing of Carina, [I would be interested to see how American readers view this version of the US, where the CIA/FBI and secret service etc. don’t come out at all well.]

At first, when our heroine is subjected to threats and intimidation, she does a lot of ‘How dare you’ and ‘You can’t do this’ but she catches on quick that they can and they are, so changes her tactics. 

Conrad Tellus rushes Karen to their legation in Washington. Karen thinks she is safe for a while, but the big bad Renschman hasn’t given up yet. Her only chance to escape persecution is to give up her US citizenship and de-camp to Roma Nova, and a reunion with her grandmother in a country ruled by women and the twelve leading families who hailed from Imperial Rome. An inheriting bloodline through the female line - far more practical and makes perfect sense.

Karen/Carina starts off terrified and disbelieving, but she soon grows into a courageous woman determined never to be vulnerable again. She was betrayed once by her surviving family [not Grandma] and second by her government. She’s not taking any more nonsense and she grows accustomed to being rich with remarkable ease!

The story is exciting, and the pace excellent. I loved all the Latin names, and the modern Praetorian Guard. Just when I thought Karen/Carina’s situation couldn’t get worse – she is presented with a get out of jail free card. Miss Morton’s what-if scenario never becomes unrealistic or trite. The tense conflict kept me turning pages to find out how Karen/Carina was going to foil the bad guys and keep her inheritance.  I even began believing in Roma Nova and how much I would love to visit.

I had a look at Ms Morton’s Amazon page and see there is a sequel - Perfiditas - Can’t wait to read it and these covers are beautiful!