August 18, 2014

Henna House by Nomi Eve


An evocative and stirring novel about a young woman living in the fascinating and rarely portrayed community of Yemenite Jews of the mid-twentieth century, from the acclaimed author of The Family Orchard.

In the tradition of Anita Diamant's The Red Tent, Henna House is the enthralling story of a woman, her family, their community, and the rituals that bind them.

Nomi Eve’s vivid saga begins in Yemen in 1920, when Adela Damari’s parents desperately seek a future husband for their young daughter. After passage of the Orphan’s Decree, any unbetrothed Jewish child left orphaned will be instantly adopted by the local Muslim community. With her parents’ health failing, and no spousal prospects in sight, Adela’s situation looks dire until her uncle arrives from a faraway city, bringing with him a cousin and aunt who introduce Adela to the powerful rituals of henna tattooing. Suddenly, Adela’s eyes are opened to the world, and she begins to understand what it means to love another and one’s heritage. She is imperiled, however, when her parents die and a prolonged drought threatens their long-established way of life. She and her extended family flee to the city of Aden where Adela encounters old loves, discovers her true calling, and is ultimately betrayed by the people and customs she once held dear.

Henna House is an intimate family portrait and a panorama of history. From the traditions of the Yemenite Jews, to the far-ranging devastation of the Holocaust, to the birth of the State of Israel, Eve offers an unforgettable coming-of-age story and a textured chronicle of a fascinating period in the twentieth century.

Henna House is a rich, spirited, and sensuous tale of love, loss, betrayal, forgiveness, and the dyes that adorn the skin and pierce the heart.

Henna House is a deep and provocative tale about the life of a Jewish family in Yemen at the start of the 20th century. To be Jewish in Yemen during this era meant every facet of their lives was strictly controlled. Everything from what type of work was acceptable to how to ride a donkey. Failing to adhere to any of these standards meant harsh penalties. At the heart of the story is Adela whose own mother is cold and distant to her and whose father’s failing health threatens her safety. Yemeni law decrees that any child whose father dies, will be taken from the mother and given away to a Muslim family to raise, unless she is married. Despite the fact that Adela is a child under the age of 10, while her mother begins to seek a groom, Adela is introduced into the world of henna drawing by relatives.

Graced with lyrical prose, the pages of this story truly come alive with vivid details about everyday life and the art and superstitions of henna drawing. The author gives us a vibrant glimpse into a brutal regime and a harsh culture where not even the children can be safe and women are traded into marriage like sheep at the auction block. The author does not hide the cruelty and difficulties families faced. What left me moved was how women had little or no control over their fates. A great storyline, wonderful detail, and political and cultural themes are seamlessly weaved together in this poignant novel about a young girl struggling to make sense of her life and create a future for herself. A wonderful, insightful family saga! 


Advanced Reading Copy provided by Netgalley.

The House of the Four Winds by Mercedes Lackey and James Mallory (Book 1 of One Dozen Daughters)


Book Synopsis

Mercedes Lackey is the New York Times bestselling author of the Valdemar series and romantic fantasies like Beauty and the Werewolf and The Fairy Godmother. JAMES MALLORY and Lackey have collaborated on six novels. Now, these New York Times and USA Today bestselling collaborators bring romance to the fore with The House of Four Winds.

The rulers of tiny, impoverished Swansgaard have twelve daughters and one son. While the prince’s future is assured, his twelve sisters must find their own fortunes.

Disguising herself as Clarence, a sailor, Princess Clarice intends to work her way to the New World. When the crew rebels, Clarice/Clarence, an expert with rapier and dagger, sides with the handsome navigator, Dominick, and kills the cruel captain.

Dominick leads the now-outlawed crew in search of treasure in the secret pirate haven known as The House of Four Winds. They encounter the sorceress Shamal, who claims Dominick for her own—but Clarice has fallen hard for Dominick and won’t give him up without a fight.

Full of swashbuckling adventure, buoyant magic, and irrepressible charm, The House of the Four Winds is a lighthearted fantasy romp by a pair of bestselling writers.

Review
by

The beautiful and dramatic cover of this novel instantly drew my attention. I enjoy historical fantasy novels where the worlds recreated are realistic and close to real history, so this book was a perfect fit for my tastes. The tale is set in a 17th or 18th century world. The prologue, which reads like a Grimm’s fairy tale, describes the premise behind the series, where twelve princesses must make their way in the world due to a lack of funding for their dowries. The first of the princesses to set out is Clarice, talented with the sword and rapier. Disguised as a young man named Clarence, she hopes to sail to the new world to make her fortune. Unfortunately, her choice of ship is not a lucky one and she soon finds herself embroiled with pirates, a power struggle between a powerful sorceress, and Dominick, one of the leading sailors, in a relentless quest for a missing treasure. 

I enjoyed the story because it was realistic and believable with only a touch of fantasy. It was a great light read and a fabulous escape. The ship and its workings was realistically written, and the characters seemed authentic too. I loved the fairytale style premise of the twelve princesses that will launch further stories as each of the princesses come of age and make their way out into the world. This novel had plenty of fight scenes, intrigue, and a slow burgeoning romance that did not overpower the story. I would have liked the facts surrounding the treasure to be made more apparent as to what it was and what it would be used for. The story held my interest to the very end and it was very well written, and I will most definitely read a future book in the series. A great book by two wonderfully talented writers.
    

August 14, 2014

The Wayfaring Stranger by James Lee Burke




In his most ambitious work yet, New York Times bestseller James Lee Burke tells a classic American story through one man's unforgettable life—connecting a fateful encounter with Bonnie and Clyde to heroic acts at the Battle of the Bulge and finally to the high-stakes gambles and cutthroat players who ushered in the dawn of the American oil industry.

In 1934, sixteen-year-old Weldon Avery Holland happens upon infamous criminals Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow after one of their notorious armed robberies. A confrontation with the outlaws ends with Weldon firing a gun and being unsure whether it hit its mark. 

Ten years later, Second Lieutenant Weldon Holland barely survives the Battle of the Bulge, in the process saving the lives of his sergeant, Hershel Pine, and a young Spanish prisoner of war, Rosita Lowenstein—a woman who holds the same romantic power over him as the strawberry blonde Bonnie Parker, and is equally mysterious. The three return to Texas where Weldon and Hershel get in on the ground floor of the nascent oil business.


In just a few years’ time Weldon will spar with the jackals of the industry, rub shoulders with dangerous men, and win and lose fortunes twice over. But it is the prospect of losing his one true love that will spur his most reckless, courageous act yet—one that takes its inspiration from that encounter long ago with the outlaws of his youth. 

A tender love story and pulse-pounding thriller that crosses continents and decades of American history, Wayfaring Stranger “is a sprawling historical epic full of courage and loyalty and optimism and good-heartedness that reads like an ode to the American Dream” (Benjamin Percy, Poets & Writers).

A Wayfaring Stranger is set during the Great Depression in the state of Texas. A young boy, Weldon Holland, lives with his mentally ill mother and grandfather. At an early age, he meets Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow as they hid out on his grandfather's property. Haunted by Bonnie's beauty, and when his grandfather shot at their fleeing vehicle, he never forget this  encounter as it helped shape his future. As Weldon matures he leaves Texas to fight in World War II and in a concentration camp, he rescues a woman named Rosita, whom he falls in love with her, and after losing contact, he sets out to search for her again, and marries her, unaffected by her Jewish / Communist background. Together, they set up their lives in Texas.  

Weldon meets the wealthy businessman Roy Wiseheart, recognized as a war hero despite the questionable circumstances. Their liaison with Roy and his wife Clara, sets of a dramatic chain of events that snowballed with each page and kept me gripping the edge of my seat until the very satisfying ending. Every character is highly complex, larger than life, with profoundly detailed backstories. Astounding dialogue, myriad twists and turns, multiple shocks and surprises, an endearing love story, and brilliant prose kept me so thrilled that I did not want to put the book down. 

James Lee Burke is a talented author and he's written a book that has it all! It is very much a story about right and wrong, of standing by one's personal convictions, and of always being wary of strangers and their motives. Truly, this book is so visual, it plays out like a gripping movie. Very highly recommended!

Difficult Daughters by Manju Kapur



Set against the tumult of the 1947 Partition, Manju Kapur’s acclaimed first novel captures a life torn between family, desire, and love


The one thing I had wanted was not to be like my mother.

Virmati is the eldest of eleven children, born to a respectable family in Amritsar. Her world is shaken when she falls in love with a married man. Charismatic Harish is a respected professor and her family’s tenant. Virmati takes up with Harish and finds herself living alongside his first wife.

Set in Amritsar and Lahore and narrated by Virmati and her daughter, Ida, a divorcée on a quest to understand and connect with her departed mother, Difficult Daughters is a stunning tale of motherhood, love, and finding one’s identity in a nation struggling to discover its own.

Winner of the 1999 Commonwealth Writers’ Prize for best first book (Eurasia Region) and shortlisted for the Crossword Book Award in India.

Review
by

Difficult Daughters is a novel that sweeps you into a world where a young modern girl struggles against traditional values to forge a fulfilling life for herself. With strong dreams to be educated, Virmati falls in love with her new neighbor, an already married professor. Despite the struggles of her family to keep them apart, Virmati sacrifices everything so she can be with her beloved in their scandalous relationship. Her family turns against her and she finds herself alone, trying to hold her head high against societal normals. 

The story takes place in 1947 during a tumultuous period in India's history. Poignantly written and absorbing, I could not help but become absorbed and enchanted with a heroine who will risk all to be true to herself and forge a better path for women in her country. The plight of women trapped in stringent cultural norms is a strong theme throughout this lush novel. It is no surprise that this novel has won the prestigious Commonwealth Writer's Prize. My only concern was there was an overabundance of Indian words describing clothing and various items for which no glossary was provided, and which pulled me out of the story. This was especially evident in the earlier chapters and faded gradually as the story progressed. Despite this, readers should persevere, for the story is truly engaging and worth reading. Definitely recommended.  


August 13, 2014

The Fortune Hunter by Daisy Goodwin


Book Synopsis

Empress Elizabeth of Austria, known as Sisi, is the Princess Diana of nineteenth-century Europe. Famously beautiful, as captured in a portrait with diamond stars in her hair, she is unfulfilled in her marriage to the older Emperor Franz Joseph. Sisi has spent years evading the stifling formality of royal life on her private train or yacht or, whenever she can, on the back of a horse.

Captain Bay Middleton is dashing, young, and the finest horseman in England. He is also impoverished, with no hope of buying the horse needed to win the Grand National—until he meets Charlotte Baird. A clever, plainspoken heiress whose money gives her a choice among suitors, Charlotte falls in love with Bay, the first man to really notice her, for his vulnerability as well as his glamour. When Sisi joins the legendary hunt organized by Earl Spencer in England, Bay is asked to guide her on the treacherous course. Their shared passion for riding leads to an infatuation that jeopardizes the growing bond between Bay and Charlotte, and threatens all of their futures.

The Fortune Hunter, a brilliant new novel by Daisy Goodwin, is a lush, irresistible story of the public lives and private longings of grand historical figures.

Book Review
by

Although this novel is classified as a biographical novel, I believe this is only partially true. Yes, Empress Cisi is one of several main characters, but the book is truly about a romance between the fictionalized characters, Captain Bay Middleton and Charlotte Biard. Cisi's life is only partially, and not thoroughly depicted.

Having said this, I truly enjoyed this novel. It was well written, lush in its descriptions of the era as it pertained to surroundings, fashion, and glamour, and poignant enough to capture my interest until the very last page. The author did an excellent job of describing traditional fox hunts and equestrian skills. I especially enjoyed the quippy and comical interactions with Queen Victoria. Although I'm not sure that the story adheres to historical facts, it does not take away from the enjoyment of the novel. The story gains momentum as it nears a very satisfying ending.As long as readers are aware this isn't a true to form biographical novel about Empress Elisabeth, there is much to recommend this wonderful story. 


August 11, 2014

A Triple Knot by Emma Campion

The marital escapades of Joan of Kent



The critically acclaimed author of The King's Mistress brings another fascinating woman from history to life in an enthralling story of political intrigue, personal tragedy, and illicit love.

Joan of Kent, renowned beauty and cousin to King Edward III, is destined for a politically strategic marriage. As the king begins a long dynastic struggle to claim the crown of France, plunging England into the Hundred Years’ War, he negotiates her betrothal to a potential ally and heir of a powerful lordship.
 
But Joan, haunted by nightmares of her father’s execution at the hands of her treacherous royal kin, fears the king’s selection and is not resigned to her fate. She secretly pledges herself to one of the king’s own knights, one who has become a trusted friend and protector. Now she must defend her vow as the king—furious at Joan’s defiance—prepares to marry her off to another man. 
 
In A Triple Knot, Emma Campion brings Joan, the “Fair Maid of Kent” to glorious life, deftly weaving details of King Edward III’s extravagant court into a rich and emotionally resonant tale of intrigue, love, and betrayal.


Book Review
by


In A Triple Knot, author Emma Campion has successfully brought to life the early years of Joan Kent's life. Although the first two chapters of this novel were a little too heavy in backstory and the introduction of far too many names and characters, once I read past this slow beginning, the story started to build and truly captured my interest. The characters are majestically and realistically brought to life, as are the politics and court intrigues of King Edward III's court. Through clever dialogue and rich descriptions, Joan of Kent’s life takes center stage in a most compelling and believable way. 


Joan was recreated in an honorable way, showing either her great affection or great distate for her three husbands. Her plight as a pawn is poignant, especially when she risks all to follow her heart instead of her duty to England. And all this while she was in her early teens. Despite all the political minefields she must tread carefully through, Joan was a woman who remained true to herself. 

The author's depiction of Joan of Kent and those closest to her was nothing short of delightful. I highly recommend this novel! 


August 9, 2014

The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern



PUBLISHER'S BLURB

The circus arrives without warning. No announcements precede it. It is simply there, when yesterday it was not. The black sign, painted in white letters that hangs upon the gates, reads: Opens at Nightfall Closes at Dawn. As the sun disappears beyond the horizon, all over the tents small lights begin to flicker, as though the entirety of the circus is covered in particularly bright fireflies. When the tents are all aglow, sparkling against the night sky, the sign appears. Le Cirque des Reves The Circus of Dreams. Now the circus is open. Now you may enter.

REVIEW

This novel opens with the enticing statement that The Night Circus appears without warning and opens at midnight – after than the reader is drawn into a magical world where nothing is as it appears to be.  

This is a Victorian love story that spans many years, beginning with a six-year-old girl who can put broken objects back together and a young boy with no family who is plucked from an orphanage to become a magician’s protégé. The characters are all fascinating in their own way, some gentle and captivating, others cold, even callous, while some like Bailey and the Murray twins Poppet and Widget, charm and fascinate.

All of them become part of the creation of the black and white circus where every element is a combination of mechanics, dreams, magic and illusion. However this is a story which cannot be adequately described – the reader must discover its secrets and mysteries for themselves but whatever your views about circuses, illusion and magic, you won’t be disappointed.

I’m not surprised to discover that David Heyman (producers of Harry Potter series) bought the rights to adapt the book into a movie – I cannot wait.

Anita Davison is a Historical Fiction Author whose latest release, ‘Royalist Rebel’ a biographical novel set in 17th Century England, is released by Claymore Press under the name Anita Seymour

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