Thursday, February 18, 2016

Sultana: The Pomegranate Tree by Lisa J Yarde

Book #5 of the Sultana series. In fifteenth-century Moorish Spain, Aisha, the descendant of the Sultans of Granada endures a life imperiled by dynastic warfare, loss, and cruel fate. Enemies descend on the kingdom from all sides and threaten to tear it apart. To preserve a fragile peace, Aisha suffers a sham marriage to a cruel tyrant, forever divided from the love that once ruled her heart. Years later, when a trusted confidante becomes a powerful rival, Aisha must fight for the future of the next generation or witness the destruction of her family and the last vestiges of Moorish rule in Spain. 

Snippet: “I spoke so you would never forget who you are again. You have a proud heritage and Nasrid pride, the pride of lions who lived and ruled for centuries before your existence, and the Sultanas who would not let fate or circumstance bend or break them. Their blood flows in your veins! Saad and his son have taken from you. Show them that you are as fierce as Jazirah, Butayna, Fatima, and even Maryam the viper. As strong as the lioness upon the plains. A lioness of Gharnatah. You have not forgotten. You do not forgive. You shall have recompense for the lives they have ruined and the blood they have shed."

If you are looking for a passionate, gut-wrenching, exotic historical fiction series to read, then start reading The Sultana Series by Lisa J Yarde. Each novel is set in different eras in Moorish Spain. Fastidious research into the family history of the Sultans of Granada and the Nasrid dynasty yielded these utterly compelling and engrossing tales of intrigue, love, massacre, poisonings, and murder. Sultana: The Pomegranate Tree is Book 5 in the series. The main protagonist in this novel is the last queen of Granada, Aisha al-Hurra. Hers became the last generation of the Nasrid dynasty as it was her son who relinquished the kingdom to the Catholic Queen Isabella and King Ferdinand. 

Sultana: The Pomegranate Tree depicts the life of Sultana Aisha's rise to power with all the passion and emotion she experienced among the court's intrigues and machinations. As always, the author's uncanny ability to express her heroine's most intimate inner thoughts and aspirations, truly bring to life this fascinating women. Through Aisha's narrative we experience her sense of fairness, her love for her family, her strength and convictions, and all this during a time of political chaos. 
Aisha lives in the harem in the Al Hambra, a dangerous world, where a wrongly uttered word or a careless act can result in death. Beautifully described surroundings and wonderfully realistic characters evolves into a larger than life tale that is nothing less than page-turning. There are eunuchs, sultans, slaves, concubines, guards, and powerful women who will do anything to garner the attention of the great Sultan and seize power. What I really enjoyed were the many descriptions and small reminders of past history (from past books) sprinkled throughout the story. It helped keep the entire series and history foremost in my mind. Like the other books in the series, this book explores themes of profound love, immense tragedy, deadly rivals, utter betrayal, and ultimate victories. Each story is rich with plot twists and complex characters that fascinate. Lisa Yarde writes with great lyrical beauty and compelling revelations. I have loved each and every books in the series and highly recommend them to everyone.  

Thank you to the author and publisher. I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

The Vintner's Daughter by Kristen Harisch

Loire Valley, 1895. When seventeen-year-old Sara Thibault's father is killed in a mudslide, her mother sells their vineyard to a rival family whose eldest son marries Sara's sister, Lydia. But a violent tragedy compels Sara and her sister to flee to New York, forcing Sara to put aside her dream to follow in her father's footsteps as a master winemaker. Meanwhile, Philippe Lemieux has arrived in California with the ambition of owning the largest vineyard in Napa by 1900. When he receives word of his brother's death in France, he resolves to bring the killer to justice. Sara has travelled to California in hopes of making her own way in the winemaking world. When she encounters Philippe in a Napa vineyard, they are instantly drawn to one another, but Sara knows he is the one man who could return her family's vineyard to her, or send her straight to the guillotine. This riveting tale of betrayal, retribution, love, and redemption, Kristen Harnisch’s debut novel immerses readers in the rich vineyard culture of both the Old and New Worlds, the burgeoning cities of late nineteenth-century America and a spirited heroine’s fight to determine her destiny.

The Vintner’s Daughter is a lush family saga set in France and America's Napa Valley grape growing regions. The era is the late 1800's where a young woman, Sara Thibault, is passionate about her family's vineyards, and spends her days learning her craft in the hopes of increasing her family's reputation as exceptional vintners. When her father tragically dies, the family faces a tenuous future. Sara is determined to do what it takes to keep her father's dream alive. Her mother, however, sells the vineyards to a rival and their eldest son, Bastien, marries Sara's older sister, Lydia. His murder sends both sister fleeing France for America where Sara is determined to build a new life in the Napa Valley. Fate brings her into the direct path of Bastien's younger brother, Philippe, and she fights hard to keep her past from being exposed to him. 

I found myself fascinated with the story and the characters, eager to return to my book each night to see what Sara would face next. The book moves along at a steady pace, interspersed with details about the grape growing and wine-making business along the way. For a debut novel, the author has done a wonderful job. I am currently reading the sequel, The California Wife, which is a continuation of this compelling family saga. The Vintner’s Daughter is a very good book and highly recommended!

Thank you to the author and publisher. I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Only the Stones Survive by Morgan Llywelyn

For centuries the Túatha Dé Danann lived in peace on an island where time flowed more slowly and the seasons were gentle--until that peace was shattered by the arrival of invaders. The Gaels, the Children of Milesios, came looking for easy riches and conquest, following the story of an island to the west where their every desire could be granted. They had not anticipated that it would already be home to others, and against the advice of their druids, they begin to exterminate the Túatha Dé Danann.
After a happy and innocent childhood, Joss was on the cusp of becoming a man when the Gaels slaughtered the kings and queens of the Túatha Dé Danann. Left without a mother and father, he must find a way to unite what is left of his people and lead them into hiding. But even broken and scattered, Joss and his people are not without strange powers.
Morgan Llywelyn weaves Irish mythology, historical elements, and ancient places in the Irish landscape to create a riveting tale of migration, loss, and transformation in Only the Stones Survive.

Only the Stones Survive takes readers into an ancient, Celtic fantasy world. On the island of Eire lives an ancient, peaceful, magic tribe named Tuatha Dé Danann. Their peaceful nature has made them a bit reclusive and they shun visitors or invaders. Joss is a young man within the tribe who narrates this tale. Their peaceful existence is crudely interrupted when a boat full of people from Iberia arrive to make a new life on Eire. This tribe are more barbarians, ready to fight, with a more savage mentality. And so begins a tale of two cultures who conflict head on. Neither culture is perfect or imperfect in characteristic. Gradually, life becomes more harsh, more violent, more tragic.

Filled with lovely prose and colorful descriptions, the author's vivid imagination creates a world filled with fascination. There are many characters to keep track of which I found very challenging, and to tell you the truth, I nearly set the book aside out of frustration. But I am a big fan of Morgan Llewelyn so I persevered. I'm glad I did because when I realized that the story was not about the characters but about what happens when two different cultures struggle to live side by side with all their vast differences, that I found my stride and understood the meaning behind the story. It is very much a tale of survival, of change, of adaptation. A challenging, but satisfying read!
Thank you to the author and publisher. I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Goddess of Fire by Bharti Kirchner

Moorti - widowed at just 17 and about to be burned on her husband's funeral pyre - is saved from the fire by a mysterious Englishman. Taken to safety and given employment by her saviour Job Charnock, Moorti, renamed Maria, must embrace her new life amongst the English traders. But the intelligent and talented Maria is not content to be a servant for the rest of her life, and seizes the opportunity to learn English. This, she hopes, will bring her closer to the kind and gentle Job. But with so many obstacles in her path, will she be able to overcome adversity and danger in the pursuit of her dreams? Filled with the heat and beauty of India, Maria's story of compassion, hope and love lingers long after the final page.

One of the most reprehensible customs of old India is the practice of Sati. This is where a widow, no matter the age, is forced by family (usually the deceased husband's relatives) to throw herself upon the burning pyre while her husband is being cremated. This is how GODDESS OF FIRE opens. As 17 year-old Moorti is about to be placed upon her husband's funeral pyre, she is rescued by an Englishman named Job, an English trader. They escape the village and Moorti enters a new life, one that is filled with hard work and poor surroundings. She is passionate about learning English and son, Job falls in love with her, and she enters a new, more exciting, more privileged life. But this too, brings great risk for the couple because of racial and cultural prejudices. 

The best part about this book is that Goddess of Fire is based on real characters. It makes a strong statement about the prejudices and turmoil between the English and Indians while giving readers a detailed glimpse into the more exotic India of old as the nation and its people must come to terms with tumultuous changes set aflame by English traders. 

Thank you to the author and publisher. I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.