Friday, December 30, 2011

The Printmaker's Daughter by Katherine Govier

A fascinating novel about a woman artist in Edo Japan


Recounting the story of her life, Oei plunges us into the colourful world of nineteenth-century Edo, in which courtesans rub shoulders with poets, warriors consort with actors, and the arts flourish in an unprecedented moment of creative upheaval. Oei and Hokusai live among writers, novelists, tattoo artists, and prostitutes, evading the spies of the repressive shogunate as they work on Hokusai’s countless paintings and prints. Wielding her brush, rejecting domesticity in favour of dedication to the arts, Oei defies all expectations of womanhood—all but one. A dutiful daughter to the last, she will obey the will of her eccentric father, the man who created her and who, ultimately, will rob her of her place in history.

Vivid, daring, and unforgettable, The Printmaker’s Daughter shines fresh light on art, loyalty, and the tender and indelible bond between a father and daughter.

Set in 19th century Japan, the Edo period, The Printmaker's Daughter is a fascinating rendering of life’s hardships for Japanese women and artists in that era. Oei is the favourite daughter of her famous master painter artist father, Hokusai. Despite Hokusai’s fame, his family was truly poor. Born to him late in life, she immediately enchanted him because of her aptitude for art and her vivid personality, unusual for Japanese women. When he leaves his family to pursue his art, he takes his favourite child with him. Despite the restrictions imposed on her, she served as a dutiful business partner to her father, keeping his accounts, helping his students, and even secretly completing some of his art projects. He struggled against strict government control and strong sentiments against artists. He took his daughter along with him in his travels, leaving her in the care of courtesans in the pleasure district so he could work. Oei struggles to find a balance between honing her talent as an artist and learning the womanly household arts expected of a young woman in such a strict culture. She also grapples with her allegiance to a father she equally resents is sometimes repulsed by – a man truly selfish in his pursuits with poor appreciation for the Oei’s own sacrifices.

In this dual biographical historical novel about Oei and Hokusai’s lives, readers will experience rich details of Japanese life. Told in first person narrative through Oei’s point of view, this is a beautifully written and well-researched story. As with most biographical historical novels, I did find the pace slow at various points in the story. This is normal and to be expected; after all, true life is not always filled with constant turmoil and conflict. Therefore, readers should understand this and enjoy the story for what it is - an accurate portrayal of two struggling artists who left an indelible mark upon history, art, and culture in Japan. The novel describes a world far removed from that which we know in the West.

Oei’s story is one of dauntless courage to overcome cultural restrictions for women of the time. Through beautiful prose, the writer evokes emotion and I could not help becoming fascinated with this exotic story, especially when given glimpses into the brothel life and prostitution.

The Printmaker's Daughter was published in Canada as The Ghost Brush.


Friday, December 23, 2011

Monday, December 19, 2011

Harem and Seraglio by Colin Falconer

History's most notorious woman
A gripping tale about one of the world's most wicked woman and the man who loved her.
Reprinted from Colin Falconer's Looking for Mr Goodstory Blog

Haseki Huerrem Sultan Roxelane

When  people think of bad, bad women they perhaps think of Isabella the First - the woman who commissioned Torquemada - or Bloody Queen Mary, the scourge of Protestant England. Few people have heard of Hürrem Haseki Sultan, or Roxelana, as she is better known in Europe. Yet she made Anne Boleyn, one of her contemporaries, look like a milquetoast. Anne, after all, fell out of favour with her king and ended up with her head on the block.  Roxelana married the Sultan of the Ottomans, had him throw out his entire harem, and kept him in her thrall the rest of her life.

By fair means or foul.

Roxelana was born in the Ukraine and at some time in her teens found herself a concubine in the harem of the Ottoman Sultan Suleiman, Lord of Lords, King of Kings, Possessor of Men's Necks. Her portraits suggest classical features and blazing red hair. Her history reveals a woman of ruthless ambition with the strategic intelligence of a chessmaster.

What was a harem like? Victorian paintings depict dream-like canvases of half naked young women soaping each other in what look like Asiatic day spas. In reality the old harem of Suleiman's time was a grim and twilight maze of dark panelled rooms where the sun seldom penetrated. It was a snake pit; imagine, if you will, a cross between a Miss World contest and a reality show, where the winner becomes an Empress and the other three finalists are drowned in a sack. Oh, and all the runners-up never ever get to leave the house.

Which leads us to the story of Suleiman the Magnificent and Roxelana. Her influence over him from moment she replaced his long term favourite, Gulbehar, was pervasive. Yet she would have known that his throne would pass to the oldest male heir, and the Osmanli Code of Laws allowed the Sultan elect to execute all his brothers to secure it. In other words she knew that she, and all her children, were just a heartbeat away from catastrophe.

Then three things happened that historians cannot rationally explain. First, the harem conveniently burned down, which meant that Roxelana and her entire entourage had to move into Suleiman's palace, until a new harem could be built. But it never was, and Roxelana stayed right where she was.

The second occurrence was no coincidence; it was, quite simply, astonishing. The Sultan married her. A Sultan had not taken a queen since the Ottomans lived as nomads on the plains. Then, to compound the amazement of all Stamboul, he resigned his entire harem. 

To this point it reads like a Hollywood screenplay; a powerful and potent man giving up everything for the woman he loves. Pretty Woman with sherbets and turbans. But Roxelana had another agenda entirely, and it had nothing to do with love. Historians can only speculate why and how she did what she did next. But as a novelist, it's not that hard to imagine.

It resulted in one of her sons, Selim the Sot, a drunkard and a lecher and the least able man in Suleiman's entire circle, inheriting the Sultanate. It happened because, like a great Shakespearian tragedy, all the other candidates had been murdered.

But Roxelana herself never reached absolute power, though her scheming was to affect the Ottoman empire for centuries to come. She died before Selim's moment of glory. Suleiman himself mourned her until his own death eight years later.

Money, power, conquests; it seems none of it guarantees happiness in the end. What happened after Suleiman married Roxelana is one of the most tragic stories of any prince, from east or west. They now share a tomb  in the garden of the Suleimaniye mosque in Istanbul. A grapevine of blood-red amaranthus flowers straggles over the the tomb. The flower is known locally as 'love lies bleeding.'

Go there on a quiet summer's day and I swear you'll hear him whisper the words of one of his poems:

"What men call empire is worldwide strife and ceaseless war. 
In all the world the only joy lies in a hermit's rest."

Photograph: Giovanni dall'Orto

There has been much written about the Tudors and their scheming. But Roxelana made the Boleyn sisters look like the Sisters of Charity. Henry and Suleiman were contemporaries but Henry VIII was lucky. He only had six wives to contend with. Suleiman had three hundred - and picked out the worst of the lot.

HAREM is available on

Harem Overview 

He had everything a man might dream of; wealth, power and the choice of hundreds of the most beautiful women in his Empire. Why then did he forsake his harem for the love of just one woman, and marry her in defiance of the centuries-old code of the Osmanlis?

This is the astonishing story of Suleiman, the one they called the Magnificent, and the woman he loved. From medieval Venice to the slave markets of Algiers, from the mountains of Persia to the forbidden seraglio of the Ottoman's greatest sultan, this is a tale of passion and intrigue in a world where nothing is really as it seems.

Suleiman controlled an empire of thirty million people, encompassing twenty different languages. As a man, he was an enigma; he conquered all who stood against him with one of the world's first full time professional armies - yet he liked to write poetry; he ravaged half of Europe but he rebuilt Istanbul in marble; he had teams of torturers and assassins ready to unleash at a whim - yet history remembers him as a great lawmaker.

''Harem' literally means 'Forbidden': Forbidden to men. Once the Sultan was the only man - the only complete man - who could pass through its iron-studded doors. But what was that world really like? For a woman living in the Harem the only way out was to somehow find her way into the Sultan's bed and bear him a son. But the young Sultan was often away at war and when he did return he neglected his harem for just one favourite wife. But one young Russian concubine inside his seraglio was not content to allow fate decide the course of her life. She was clever and she was ruthless. And she had a plan.

Into this world are drawn two unforgettable characters; a beautiful young Italian noblewoman, captured by corsairs and brought to the Harem as a concubine; and the eunuch who loved her once, long ago, in Venice.

Loved her? He still stopped loving her. Far from the imagined world of steamy baths and languorous sensuality, the real Harem was a world of intrigue and despair. This is a story of a man who has everything, striving to find a measure of happiness; it is also about a slave who had nothing, but wants only to be a better man.

Seraglio Overview

Suleiman has the world at his feet; he has an Empire to rival that of any Caesar, and now his Vizier even wants to take his armies against the great infidel, the Pope, in Rome.

But the Sultan is a man in conflict with himself; he has the soul of a poet but the responsibility for jihad; he has a dream of building a great city while his advisers want him to tear cities down; his generals urge him to war when he wants only to spend his summers with Hurrem, the love of his life.

He is the most envied man in the world, yet he can no find peace. History itself records how Suleiman resolved all these dilemmas; but what he did in the end defies rational explanation. So what really happened behind the doors of the Sublime Porte?

Suleiman is still a young man when he is forced to face the circumstances of his own death. The law of the Osmanlis says that when his eldest son, Mustapha, succeeds to the throne he has the right to execute the three boys Suleiman has fathered with the woman he adores. Mustapha says he will never invoke the law. But can he trust him?

Meanwhile his army of wardogs strains at the leash. His lifelong friend and Vizier urges him to march on Rome. He is sick of war but has a duty to God to conquer in His name. His favoured wife, Hurrem, argues for love over his faith.

Has the most powerful man in the world no power over his own life?

But there are wheels within wheels; in the Italian colony, two men and a woman inextricably enmeshed in the politics of the Harem struggle with similar questions of life and the passions of the heart; how far should we go to make someone love us?

Can they find the peace that eludes Suleiman, the man they call the Lord of Life? 

This is the astonishing conclusion to the story begun in HAREM; from the shadowed cloister of the seraglio to the mountain fastnesses of Persia; from the private steam baths of pashas to the dusty battlefields of the steppe; from the Sultan's palace to the midnight docks at Galata this is a tale of vengeance and devotion, ruthlessness and compassion, as astounding as it is true. 

My Review

If you haven’t read one of Colin Falconer’s novels, then I promise you are in for a real roller-coaster ride of never ending intrigue with both these novels.

Set in the 16th century, Harem, and its sequel Seraglio, weave a spectacular, haunting tale of malice, obsession, and zeal set in the magnificent Harem of Sultan Süleyman the Magnificent, Lord of Lords of this World, Possessor of Men’s Necks, Allah’s Deputy, and absolute ruler of the mighty Ottoman Empire.

Based on the true-life story of Roxelana (called Hürrem in the novels) and Sultan Suleyman the Magnificent, Colin Falconer lends his interpretation to the machinations of a most vile villainess who strives to gain power while captive in the sultan’s harem. Ruthless, manipulative, vengeful, clever, and power hungry, Hürrem stops at nothing to gain the upper hand in a violent world where women and slaves are worth little. With one nod, the Sultan can brutally take a life and danger is rampant around every corner.

Bestselling author Colin Falconer writes with succinct prose. Each chapter ends with a gripping cliff-hanger that makes the book irresistible and unputdownable. Although both books can stand alone, I strongly recommend you read both books to enjoy the full impact of the story. He delves deep into the thoughts and motivations of his characters, truly making them seem larger than life.

As the story unfolds in both novels, the reader will immerse themselves in a world ripe with an abundance of historical details, atrocities, brutality, dissension, forbidden love, ambition, and love and hate. The plot twists are plentiful and the story draws one in. Entertaining and shocking, Harem and Seraglio are intense and truly bring to life a turbulent period in the Ottomon Empire.

HAREM is available on



Thursday, December 15, 2011

The Devil's Dime by Bailey Bristol

A novel of corruption, madness, and mystery set in 1890's New York!


Investigative reporter Jess Pepper made it his life’s mission to use his column to expose those who lived on the devil’s dime. With his words he could defend the innocent and bring down corruption, one evildoer at a time. But when his column forces an innocent Samaritan into the public eye, and puts a target on his back, Jess must discover not only who wants this good man dead, but how to save the man’s daughter, who has captured his heart.

Violinist Adelaide Magee came to New York City with little more than a violin tucked beneath her chin and enough determination to launch her dream. Her women’s orchestra, the Avalon Strings, was fast becoming the city’s hot new item, until reporter Jess Pepper put the one man she loved in deadly peril.
Can Addie trust Jess to save this good man? Or will she have to do it herself?

Corruption and greed set the scene for this vividly drawn tale of danger, heartbreak, unexpected love and family found in 1890’s New York.


From its beautiful cover to the engaging tale that unfolds on this book’s pages, there is much to savour in this novel of suspense and heart-wrenching love. The hero is Jess Pepper, a struggling journalist who is investigating a series of mysterious murders that occurred twenty years prior. He meets Adelaide Magee, our heroine, as she performs with her ladies musical group at a local restaurant.

Adelaide is seeking her father, Ford Magee, who abandoned her when she was a small child, but their first meeting does not go well. In an effort to mend their relationship, he pens a letter to her explaining the circumstances of his absence and how he secretly kept a watchful eye on her as she grew up. But a secret diary reveals that Ford disappeared at the same time the murders were occurring. Suspicion falls upon Ford. Jess and Adelaide team up to unravel the mystery in order to prove Ford’s innocence. Step by step they encounter corruption, treachery, and family secrets.

Beautifully presented, the story was interesting with fascinating characters. The romance between Addie and Jess unfolded tenderly, realistically, and without the melodrama one usually finds in the romance genre. The twists and turns added to the story’s unrelenting suspense as the hero and heroine face one difficulty after another. I enjoyed the unique setting of 1890’s New York where the author added wonderful descriptions of landmarks and period facts. For a nice cozy mystery, this is definitely a great read!

The Devil's Dime is Book One of the Samaritan Trilogy, so keep an eye out for Jess and Addie to return!



Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Sultana and Sultana's Legacy by Lisa J. Yarde

Intrigue, deception, and murder in 13th century Moorish Spain



In thirteenth-century Moorish Spain, the realm of Granada is in crisis. The union of Fatima, granddaughter of the Sultan of Granada, with the Sultan’s nephew Faraj has fractured the nation. A bitter civil war escalates and endangers both Fatima and Faraj’s lives.

All her life, Fatima has sheltered in lavish palaces where danger has never intruded, until now. A precocious child and the unwitting pawn of her family, she soon learns how her marriage may determine her future and the fate of Granada. Her husband Faraj has his own qualms about their union. At a young age, he witnessed the deaths of his parents and discovered how affluence and power offers little protection against indomitable enemies. Guilt and fears plague him. Determined to carve his own destiny, Faraj struggles to regain his lost inheritance and avenge his murdered family.

Throughout the rugged frontiers of southern Spain, the burgeoning Christian kingdoms in the north and the desert states of North Africa, Fatima and Faraj survive ruthless murderers and intrigues.

They unite against common enemies bent on destroying the last Moorish dynasty. While Fatima and Faraj establish a powerful bond, the atmosphere of deceit creates opportunities for mistrust and tests their love.

Sultana’s Legacy


In thirteenth-century Moorish Spain, the Sultanate of Granada faces a bleak future, as a tyrant seizes control.

Fatima, the daughter of a Sultan, and her devoted husband Faraj have enjoyed years of peace and prosperity. Now, a power-hungry madman claims the throne. He murders almost everyone Fatima holds dear. His reign fractures a weakened Sultanate, under siege from Christian kingdoms to the north and Moorish dynasties in the south.

Fatima must preserve the legacy of her forefathers at all costs. She risks everything, even the love and trust of her husband. Amidst treachery and intrigue, she stands alone against her adversaries, determined to avenge terrible losses. Can she survive the test of divided loyalties and shocking betrayals?


Sultana and its sequel, Sultana’s Legacy, are wonderful historical fiction novels set in 13th century Moorish Spain. It is a tale of a young royal woman named Fatima, the Sultan’s granddaughter, her husband Faraj, and an extended family fuelled by personal ambition and discord. Together, the novels span their entire lives. As one reads, one fully experiences how the characters evolve and are driven by circumstances that ultimately destroy family loyalties.

Author Lisa Yarde brings to life an ancient world filled with beautiful description and vibrant characters. One cannot help but enjoy this rich story because of its beautiful prose and exotic setting. Filled with betrayal, plenty of suspense, and vengeance, this well-conceived and well-executed story is ripe with intrigue and speaks to the resilience of the human spirit.

Sultana and its sequel, Sultana’s Legacy, are the culmination of years of research, travel, and writing - a tale that is spellbinding because of its passion and intrigue. The author travelled extensively to the Al Hambra, walking its corridors and grounds getting a sense of the surroundings in which the heroine, Fatima, lived. This is why these novels resound with readers. It is the type of novel that will sweep you away into another world and time, and will keep you reading long past bedtime. I loved both of these novels, and I highly recommend them! A must read.


Sunday, December 4, 2011

The Time in Between by Maria Duenas

The inspiring international bestseller of a seemingly ordinary woman who uses her talent and courage to transform herself first into a prestigious couturier and then into an undercover agent for the Allies during World War II .

Between Youth and Adulthood . . .
At age twelve, Sira Quiroga sweeps the atelier floors where her single mother works as a seamstress. At fourteen, she quietly begins her own apprenticeship. By her early twenties she has learned the ropes of the business and is engaged to a modest government clerk. But everything changes when two charismatic men burst unexpectedly into her neatly mapped-out life: an attractive salesman and the father she never knew.

Between War and Peace . . .
With the Spanish Civil War brewing in Madrid, Sira leaves her mother and her fiancé, impetuously following her handsome lover to Morocco. However, she soon finds herself abandoned, penniless, and heartbroken in an exotic land. Among the odd collection of European expatriates trapped there by the worsening political situation back on the Continent, Sira reinvents herself by turning to the one skill that can save her: her gift for creating beautiful clothes.

Between Love and Duty . . .
As England, Germany, and the other great powers launch into the dire conflict of World War II, Sira is persuaded to return to Madrid, where she takes on a new identity to embark upon the most dangerous undertaking of her career. As the preeminent couturier for an eager clientele of Nazi officers’ wives, Sira becomes embroiled in the half-lit world of espionage and political conspiracy rife with love, intrigue, and betrayal.

Already a runaway bestseller across Europe, The Time In Between is one of those rare, richly textured novels that enthrall down to the last page. María Dueñas reminds us how it feels to be swept away by a masterful storyteller.

The Time in Between is a novel that became an international bestseller in Europe through the power of word-of-mouth. This comes as no surprise; the story unfolds with a luscious first person narrative and detail that truly creates some incredibly vivid scenes.

In 1920’s Spain, Sira Quiroga is the daughter of a poor seamstress who must work alongside her mother in order to earn a scant living. Through painstaking tutelage, she hones her skills. Although engaged to marry a well-established, kind-hearted man, she leaves him for an extremely handsome and charismatic man who sweeps her off her feet with his romantic attentions. Against her mother’s better judgement, she moves in with him, without the benefit of marriage.

One day, the father she has never known mysteriously summons her. Due to the turbulent political situation, he is fearful of his life and is prepared to flee from Spain. He hands her an incredible amount of money and jewellery to take care of her future.

Her lover convinces her to move with him to Tangier and Tetouan on a business scheme. There they live the high life until the day Sira learns she is pregnant. When she returns home to tell her lover, she discovers he has abandoned her, taking all the money and jewels, and leaving her without a penny to pay the extensive hotel bill.

Devastated, Sira struggles to pay off her debts and earn a decent living, enough so that she can bring her mother out of the dangerous political situation in Spain. She opens shop as a seamstress and soon attracts a cliental of rich German women. Soon, she is lead into a dangerous role ad risks her life spying against Hitler’s growing regime.

The appeal of this novel is definitely the human portrayal of a brave heroine who must overcome insurmountable circumstances. Add to that the politics of a volatile world on the eve of World War II, and you have a novel with a fascinating plot. Filled with peril, deception, poverty, corruption, and excessive wealth, we feel as if we are actually experiencing the heroine’s pain and troubles with each page turn.

Written with vivid prose that evokes deep emotion in its reader, The Time in Between is a timeless novel of treachery, duplicity, and bravery.


Saturday, December 3, 2011

The Winter Palace by Eva Stachniak

Catherine the Great's story told through the eyes of a spy!


From award-winning author Eva Stachniak comes this passionate novel that illuminates, as only fiction can, the early life of one of history’s boldest women. The Winter Palace tells the epic story of Catherine the Great’s improbable rise to power—as seen through the ever-watchful eyes of an all-but-invisible servant close to the throne.

Her name is Barbara—in Russian, Varvara. Nimble-witted and attentive, she’s allowed into the employ of the Empress Elizabeth, amid the glitter and cruelty of the world’s most eminent court. Under the tutelage of Count Bestuzhev, Chancellor and spymaster, Varvara will be educated in skills from lock picking to lovemaking, learning above all else to listen—and to wait for opportunity. That opportunity arrives in a slender young princess from Zerbst named Sophie, a playful teenager destined to become the indomitable Catherine the Great. Sophie’s destiny at court is to marry the Empress’s nephew, but she has other, loftier, more dangerous ambitions, and she proves to be more guileful than she first appears.

What Sophie needs is an insider at court, a loyal pair of eyes and ears who knows the traps, the conspiracies, and the treacheries that surround her. Varvara will become Sophie’s confidante—and together the two young women will rise to the pinnacle of absolute power.

With dazzling details and intense drama, Eva Stachniak depicts Varvara’s secret alliance with Catherine as the princess grows into a legend—through an enforced marriage, illicit seductions, and, at last, the shocking coup to assume the throne of all of Russia.

Impeccably researched and magnificently written, The Winter Palace is an irresistible peek through the keyhole of one of history’s grandest tales.


The Winter Palace by Eva Stachniak is a novel about a young woman named Barbara (or Varvara for the Russian version). She was the daughter of a Polish bookbinder who, through fate, finds herself an orphan and is sent to work in the palace of the elderly Empress Elizabeth. Before long, a marriage is arranged between a young princess named Sophie to Elizabeth’s only heir, her nephew. Princess Sophie is then renamed as Catherine she befriends Sophie. Behind the scenes, Barbara is left with no choice but to become a spy within the palace and soon she is trapped by intrigues and divided loyalties.

Told in first person narrative voice of Barbara, the novel quickly engaged me. Catherine and Elizabeth were portrayed as difficult antagonists, which added a continual thread of conflict from start to finish. Their personalities continually evolved and kept me interested. The author wrote a beautifully researched novel about the rise of a fascinating woman of history. Readers need to be aware that this is novel is only indirectly about Catherine the Great told through the eyes of another woman.


Friday, December 2, 2011

Marguerite de Valois Quote

We shall all be perfectly virtuous when there is no longer any flesh on our bones.
Marguerite de Valois