Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Obedience by Jacqueline Yallop

A haunting story of forbidden love in a convent



Overview

In a convent in rural France, three ageing nuns remain. Cloistered within her failing faith and her failing body, Sister Bernard navigates each day by the simple markers domesticity; but when the convent is threatened with closure the soft threads of piety and daily existence unravel. What lies beneath are Sister Bernard's terrible memories of wartime disgrace; of a German soldiers' bet turning lust into a love that deafened the heavens, of the full horror of both war and motherhood, and of a furious God who begun to sulk. Obedience is the story of a woman in a spinning world, and her attempts to keep her bearings. It draws its power from the grey spaces between guilt and innocence, the power of memory and how the aching need to love, and be loved, can cause good people to do terrible things.

In 20th century France, an ancient convent is scheduled to be forever closed. Only three, elderly nuns, who have lived nearly their entire lives in the confines of its cloister, remain to pack things up and prepare to move on to new living arrangements. Sister Marie suffers from dementia and is unable to comprehend the life-altering move she must soon make. Sister Therese is eager to embrace the future and opt for less restrictive life. Sister Bernard has lived almost 75 years in the convent. Memories of the past haunt her, sweeping the reader into a time long forgotten; when the war forever altered her life and Germans occupied the convent.

Sister Bernard hears the voice of God and she strives to heed it. As a young nun, she is naive and slow to adapt to cloistered life. When one of the young German soldiers occupying the convent shows an interest in her, God stops talking to her. Sister Bernard is lured by the sweet young man’s attentions. But what she doesn’t know is that his interest is merely to win a wager. Nevertheless, she begins to meet with him in secret and is soon seduced by him, breaking her vow of chastity. As their relationship progresses, she soon betrays others and the impact will be felt for generations to come.

This passionate, but powerful story explores forbidden love and the loss of innocence. The author delves deep into the personality of each character, leaving the reader with a sense of their imperfections. Their complexities are revealed through a smooth narrative, filled with vivid details and deep instrospection.

I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book for its uniqueness, complexity, and its ability to provoke thought. The characters remained in my thoughts long after I finished reading it, a testament to the powerful prose of the author. This gut-wrenching tale makes for great fiction, especially for those who like novels that explore the human spirit with all its sins and sorrows. I highly recommend it.







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Obedience by Jacqueline Yallop

A haunting story of forbidden love in a convent



Overview

In a convent in rural France, three ageing nuns remain. Cloistered within her failing faith and her failing body, Sister Bernard navigates each day by the simple markers domesticity; but when the convent is threatened with closure the soft threads of piety and daily existence unravel. What lies beneath are Sister Bernard's terrible memories of wartime disgrace; of a German soldiers' bet turning lust into a love that deafened the heavens, of the full horror of both war and motherhood, and of a furious God who begun to sulk. Obedience is the story of a woman in a spinning world, and her attempts to keep her bearings. It draws its power from the grey spaces between guilt and innocence, the power of memory and how the aching need to love, and be loved, can cause good people to do terrible things.

In 20th century France, an ancient convent is scheduled to be forever closed. Only three, elderly nuns, who have lived nearly their entire lives in the confines of its cloister, remain to pack things up and prepare to move on to new living arrangements. Sister Marie suffers from dementia and is unable to comprehend the life-altering move she must soon make. Sister Therese is eager to embrace the future and opt for less restrictive life. Sister Bernard has lived almost 75 years in the convent. Memories of the past haunt her, sweeping the reader into a time long forgotten; when the war forever altered her life and Germans occupied the convent.

Sister Bernard hears the voice of God and she strives to heed it. As a young nun, she is naive and slow to adapt to cloistered life. When one of the young German soldiers occupying the convent shows an interest in her, God stops talking to her. Sister Bernard is lured by the sweet young man’s attentions. But what she doesn’t know is that his interest is merely to win a wager. Nevertheless, she begins to meet with him in secret and is soon seduced by him, breaking her vow of chastity. As their relationship progresses, she soon betrays others and the impact will be felt for generations to come.

This passionate, but powerful story explores forbidden love and the loss of innocence. The author delves deep into the personality of each character, leaving the reader with a sense of their imperfections. Their complexities are revealed through a smooth narrative, filled with vivid details and deep instrospection.

I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book for its uniqueness, complexity, and its ability to provoke thought. The characters remained in my thoughts long after I finished reading it, a testament to the powerful prose of the author. This gut-wrenching tale makes for great fiction, especially for those who like novels that explore the human spirit with all its sins and sorrows. I highly recommend it.






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Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Interview With Guido Henkel

Today I was privileged to conduct an interview with Guido Henke, autor of the Jason Dark Ghost Hunter series and "The Curse of Kali." Thank you so much for taking the time to do this interview, Mr. Henkel.

I love the supernatural element in these books and even more, the unusual, non-European elements you utilize.  I’m assuming that you used the popular, well known setting of Victorian/Holmesian England to help ground your readers, but what compelled you to introduce the foreign supernatural elements?
As I am writing my stories, I always try to find interesting angles to familiar themes. Sometimes I end up giving the monsters abilities that are often overlooked, sometimes I simply pick a setting that is different from what you’d expect, and sometimes I will just make things up for the fun of it.
The hopping vampires in “Curse of Kali,” and even more prominently in “Fu Man Chu’s Vampire,” are a result of that approach. I didn’t want to write yet another vampire story. I had covered that territory with “Theater of Vampires” and felt that if I do vampires they needed to be unexpected. I am a big fan of the whole Fantasia/Wuxia movie genre out of Hong Kong, and while I was looking for a good angle on vampires, theJiang Shi - or hopping vampires - came to my mind. Clearly they were exotic enough to create a very different vampire story.
So, ultimately, it is really my desire to get away from overused stereotypes and clichés. While I love to use a gothic mood and atmosphere, and will often fall back on familiar imagery in the settings to evoke these emotions in the reader, when it comes to the bad guys and the stories themselves, I try to stay away from the off-the-shelf recipes.
Speaking as someone who gets easily tired by the "off-the-shelf recipes," I appreciate your approach. Do you plan on taking Jason Dark and Siu Lin to other locations?
I have thought about making them travel and having an adventure play on an island with Voodoo and all that. I have also thought of sending them to Hong Kong so that Siu Lin could go back to her home country for a visit. The problem for me is that traveling these distances during the Victorian time period took ages. It wasn’t a matter of sitting in an airplane and getting off a few hours later on the other side of the world. Traveling to China took months in those days. The problem that I encounter as a storyteller is that I have to accommodate for these long time lapses on the one hand while also explaining why my characters would even go through the painful tribulations of such a travel and how they could even afford to do these trips. How can they just up and leave for six months?
Still, the idea is very intriguing, of course, and I have no doubt it will be a plot device I will use in the future. For the time being I limit myself to the British Isles.
I definitely understand the time constraints required by traveling in historical fiction. I’m a comic book reader among other things and found myself wondering if D.C.’s character of Jason Blood had anything to do with the creation of Jason Dark. (Just curious, but would love to know the story if there is a connection.)
No, it had no impact at all. As a matter of fact, I am not at all familiar with Jason Blood. I am not a comic book reader - with the exception of Asterix, Lucky Luke and TinTin books. So, no, that character was no influence.
What was an influence was the German dime novel character “John Sinclair,” however. It is a series that I grew up with and devoured as a child, and it sort of spawned the idea of me creating my own dime novel horror series. As an homage to that series I named my character Jason Dark in reference to the pen name of the author who has been writing the John Sinclair series for the past thirty-some years. 
I had not heard of this series, so I guess both of us have new reading material to find now. LOL I know you’re a video game designer and I assume there’s some cross-pollination that goes on between your books and your games.  How do you see the two working together, either now or in the future?
I think there’s always cross pollination when someone works in a variety of creative areas. I am also a musician and it all washes together in one way or another. I always have had ideas for stories while developing games and vice versa. While I am writing I often think, “Hey, this would make a good game.” I make mental notes of it, naturally, but most of the time it is more something in the back of my head that unconsciously affects what I’m doing.
In the end it always comes down to the same thing. One day I will have an idea and it will set my mind aflame. When that happens I usually can’t let go of it. It will follow me for days and it simply will not go away. That is the moment I realize that this is the project I will have to do next because I won’t be able to get excited about anything else. It truly comes out of a passion.


Yes, it's practically impossible to keep your attention narrowed for the necessary length of time without passion to help you focus. How do you divide your time between these two task masters?
I usually don’t. I practically stopped making games the day I started writing “Demon’s Night,” the first of my Jason Dark supernatural mysteries. I was a little bored with doing games and wanted to try something new. I loved the experience and ever since, my books have been my main focus that I have devoted all my efforts to.
Every time I think about games these days, it is more in terms of something I could use to further the reach of the Jason Dark books. Like some kind of a promotional tool, almost. But to be honest, I can’t get excited about games all that much these days. The games industry has changed so much over the years, and not for the better, so that I have very little inclination to become active in it at this point.
I can’t even get excited about the major games that are being released these days. To me they are virtually all repetitive dribble, the same old unimaginative, testosterone-fueled, sophomoric stuff we did 25 years ago. The difference is that I’ve gotten a lot older and I really do not care all that much for the themes or the visual presentations of today’s games. Most of the time I just shake my head and wonder what they’ve been thinking when they made the game. There are only so many first-person shooters one can play… or at least that’s how I feel, especially when they all look, sound and feel the exact same for the past ten years.
I can certainly understand burnout. I think most of us can. So far, I see you’ve had Jason face off against vampires, mummies, ghosts, demonic forces, and a wide variety of undead. I loved the hopping vampires from China in The Curse of Kali. What other unusual, non-European supernatural enemies might we find Jason fighting?
I wish I could tell you. Really, but I don’t even know. The Jason Dark mysteries are not planned ahead, really, as a series. I finish one story, set it aside and then ask myself, What am I going to write about next? 
At that stage I will dig through ideas - I keep a Writer’s Journal and constantly jot down ideas and tidbits - and see what stands out. Sometimes one of those ideas will get me excited, but more often, in fact, something completely different will pop into my head and I will start fleshing it out.
It is highly unpredictable. Sometimes I’ll hear a line of lyrics from a song and it will spawn an image in my head, and I instantly have a key scene for a story in my mind. Sometimes it is something someone says. You know, just a few words, that lead me to a different association and leads me down a line of thoughts that ends up with some exciting idea. Occasionally, it is a book or a movie.
The other day I was in Vegas and one of the slot machine themes triggered a story idea. Sadly it is a vampire story and I don’t want to do another vampire book just yet, but nonetheless, it was a really exciting story with an interesting angle, I think. So it shows you how just about anything can serve as an inspiration for me.
I have just finished “Fu Man Chu’s Vampire” recently and right now  I am in the process of trying to find another story idea that really gets me going. I haven’t really found one yet, but I know, it could happen anytime. Who knows, maybe tonight, while I lie awake, trying to go to sleep, something may spark my imagination. If that idea should happen to revolve around some obscure Peruvian myth, all the better. If it revolves around hopping vampires, cool. I am really game for anything, as long as I find a way to rationally explain how these events could take place in Jason Dark’s universe.
The wonderful thing about London is the British Museum - they have so many artifacts from all over the word, any one of which might suddenly come to life.... Hee hee. When I read “Curse of Kali” I noticed that the hopping vampires served more as bookends to the story than actual parts of the story. Can you tell me more about that?
I knew that I wanted to bring Fu Man Chu back in some fashion. He appeared in “From a Watery Grave” already and I had set it up in such a way that it was clear he would want revenge eventually. In “Curse of Kali” I am finally setting those wheels into motion. However, I did not want to jump right into it and thought it would be nice to foreshadow his reappearance, build some anticipation before delivering a story that focuses completely on the conflict between the ghost hunters and Fu Man Chu. So I wrote the hopping vampire scenes in “Curse of Kali.”
As I mentioned earlier, however, I do not plan the series ahead a whole lot, and one of the interesting side effects of that was that I had absolutely no idea what to do in terms of a story for Fu Man Chu’s revenge. All I knew was that I wanted to call the book “Fu Man Chu’s Vampire,” because I felt it was an exceedingly cool title. 
So after finishing “Curse of Kali” I was completely clueless how to go about writing “Fu Man Chu’s Vampire,” and for months I just could not make heads or tails of it. I had painted myself in a corner. Finally, around Halloween, I had this idea how to make it all work, and the pieces fell into place. It set my imagination ablaze. I sat down and wrote the story, and interestingly enough, it was the fastest I had ever written a Jason Dark story, and to top it off, it also turned out to be the longest one to date.
(Clapping my hands in anticipation.) Is it available yet?
“Fu Man Chu’s Vampire” is currently undergoing the final edits and it should become available by the end of January.

Thanks again, Mr. Henkel. "Kali" was a great fun read and I look forward to reading your other books. You can find more about the Jason Dark series at either the website: www.jasondarkseries.com, or the blog: www.guidohenkel.com

Monday, January 23, 2012

The Curse of Kali by Guido Henkel

For a fun romp through a pseudo-Victorian England murder mystery, you can't go wrong with The Curse of Kali.

There's enough tension and fast paced action, I read the book in a single afternoon. A Gothic feeling pervades the story and just to alert parents, violence is involved. It is a murder mystery, after all. "Kali" will especially appeal to teens or adults with a taste for supernatural horror, but think "X-Files" rather than "Friday the 13th."

There's a heroine who literally kicks more butt than the hero detective, Jason Dark, a revenge-driven not-quite-ghost, a murderous Hindu statue, hopping vampires (a true Chinese legend and ultra creepy) and more.

For instance, there's the somewhat gratuitous appearance of Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson. By "gratuitous," I don't mean I didn't enjoy their cameos. I did. I would have preferred that the characters continued to put in appearances throughout the book, which they don't. Yet it was still delightful to see them and agree with the other characters' assessments of Holmes.


The book does have some minor points to quibble over, though most readers won't care. There were a few moments when I stubbed my reader's eyes on anachronisms, but hey, there are vampires. There is no reason to expect total historical accuracy in a story when you know to expect supernatural or science fictional elements.


If you or your teens enjoy mysteries or the supernatural, this is a must-read and I can't wait to read the sequel, "Fu Man Chu's Vampire." Stay tuned for my interview with the author, Guido Henkel.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Sweet Glory by Lisa Y. Potocar

Reviewed by Ginger Simpson 
I just finished turning the last page of Sweet Glory, and I'm sad that the story ended, but elated to have had the opportunity to read such a strong, masterful accounting of female bravery during the Civil War.  The amount of research time the author spent before embarking on writing is amply displayed, both in the accuracy of her facts and the acknowledgments she shares.  This book placed first in the 'Young Adult' category of the 2009 Maryland Writers' and SouthWest Writers' contests, and although I'm far from that targeted age group, I can't imagine being more engaged in an historical novel.  Ms. Potocar has created a fabulous way to teach our youngsters about an important period of history while making them feel as though they've experienced the journey personally. 

Jana Brady drags her feet at her parents' suggestion that she become a lady, but when it comes to standing up for her country, she can't restrain her eagerness.  Running away from home, cutting her hair, and dressed as a boy, Jana joins the Union army, the only way she knows to fight for the rights she cherishes.  When she meets up with another young woman, Leanne Perham, who has joined under the same disguise, they assume the names of Leander and Johnnie.

Secondary characters, Keeley, a handsome Irishman, and twelve-year-old Charlie, who lied about his age to join the unit to support his Ma, join Johnnie and Leander in forging a friendship that sees them through troubled times.  Though Charlie is eventually transferred to a safer environment, working in a hospital, Keeley is captured and Johnnie is determined to free the man she's come to love.  While trying, she's taken prisoner, is sentenced to death, and her true gender is revealed.

The descriptions in this book are amazingly real and emotional.  I love a novel that puts me in the characters shoes, or in this case, boots, and lets me see the story through the roleplayer's eyes.  Sweet Glory certainly did that for me.  I cried at the misery, pain and suffering and laughed with joy of discovery, love, and hope.  The breeze caressed my cheeks, the honeysuckle pleased my senses and dimmed the stench of blood and rotting limbs in the crowded hospital tents right before the hangman's noose chafed my throat.  You must experience this story for yourself and present it to a young adult so they can see for themselves the difference between telling and showing a story.  Kudos Lisa Potocar, you've written something wonderful.

Treat yourself to a copy of this book at Tate Publishing and available for preorder on Amazon.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Much Ado About Marshalls by Jacquie Rogers

Wendy Laharnar’s Book Review of Much Ado About Marshalls by Jacquie Rogers

Hysterical, Historical Western. 5 stars.

This Historical Western Romance set in 1885, Oreana, Idaho. is a hoot. It’s hot, funny, and romantic; in others words this is a seductive read. I couldn’t put it down. Guilty secrets, love triangles, mistaken identity, forbidden love, Shakespeare couldn’t have given us more, but Jacquie Rogers does. She includes bank robbers, a wannabe lady detective and a whole town full of memorable characters who take us on a rollicking ride in the Wild West.

Warmth of innocence and true love are endearing qualities in the main characters.
Cole Richards living a lie as the Marshal Sidney Adler is loveable because, as well as his fear of capture for his unintentional part in a bank robbery, it’s his sense of honour and commitment to his new role and his love for the Mayor’s daughter that prevents him revealing his true identity. The marshal clearly understands the difference between true love and lust.

Daisy Gardiner is lovable because she knows what she wants and in her innocence she works out how to get it. She wants the marshal. Married to this handsomely sexy man she can be his helpmate and pursue her career as private detective, like the fictional Honey Beaulieu in her detective novels. But first she must nurse him back to health after the gunshot wound to his leg and prove her usefulness by helping to capture two unethical miners.

Ms Roger’s humour swings between slapstick (e.g. scenes with the boy and his dog) to irony (e.g. the proposed use of the medicinal “Dr Liebig’s Lost Manhood Restorer.”) She plays on Bosco Kunkle’s love of food which brings out the sweet and sad side of the lonely widows who fawn over him. She uses the naivety of young women in this by-gone era and has her reader smiling and laughing out loud.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Arriving by Corinne Jeffrey

A fascinating glimpse into life on the Canadian Prairies



Synopsis:

Corinne Jeffery’s Understanding Ursula trilogy vividly recreates the pioneer world of the Canadian prairies with a multitude of memorable characters. You’ll lose yourself between the pages as you watch them struggle to survive and flourish, always at the mercy of Mother Nature and the ever-changing seasons on the unfettered plains.

On July 1, 1909, the day after his eighteenth birthday, Gustav Werner takes the inaugural ride on the Grand Trunk Pacific Railway between Melville and Regina, to apply for a homestead grant at the Dominion Lands Office. He is eager to become the most thriving homesteader in the townships of Neudorf and Lemberg, Saskatchewan, set aside for Gustav’s people, the German Lutherans, by Sir Clifford Sifton in Canada’s “Last Best West” land deal. What he doesn’t realize is that beyond becoming a man and a landowner, life as he knows it is about to crumble from his grasp. Family drama and conflict plague Gustav as he learns English—the language that sparks hatred in his staunchly traditional father, Christian—and discovers that his parents have arranged his marriage to sixteen-year-old Amelia Schweitzer.

Review:
Arriving is the first of three novels recounting the trials and tribulations of German Lutheran immigrants to Canada in the early 1900’s. And what a pleasant treat this book turned out to be! Part memoir, part family saga, it follows one family as they struggle to make a living upon isolated farmland in the formidable Canadian prairies.

Author Corinne Jeffrey did a spectacular job with her research. Details of farm and town life in a sparsely populated region of Saskatchewan in the early years of the 20th century were beautifully portrayed. Most enchanting of all about this novel was that each character seemed real, full of faults as well as virtues. Their motivations, struggles, and yearnings as they clung to the old ways while trying to fit in within a new culture and society was very endearing. Betrayals, arranged marriages, secrets kept, language barriers, domestic hardships, and the help and support of good neighbours resound strongly throughout its pages.

As a Canadian author who has lived in Alberta all my life, I could strongly relate to the descriptions of warm and cold weather, landscapes, and small town life. Corinne Jeffrey delves deep into the psyche of each character, sharing insights and thoughts as they face their own unique struggles to find happiness.

The novel ends a bit abruptly, so it is obvious the author is hard at work preparing the second book in the series, which I now eagerly await. Well worth the read for a fantastic peek into the realities of life in early Canada.

Arriving by Corinne Jeffrey

A fascinating glimpse into life on the Canadian Prairies


Synopsis:

Corinne Jeffery’s Understanding Ursula trilogy vividly recreates the pioneer world of the Canadian prairies with a multitude of memorable characters. You’ll lose yourself between the pages as you watch them struggle to survive and flourish, always at the mercy of Mother Nature and the ever-changing seasons on the unfettered plains.

On July 1, 1909, the day after his eighteenth birthday, Gustav Werner takes the inaugural ride on the Grand Trunk Pacific Railway between Melville and Regina, to apply for a homestead grant at the Dominion Lands Office. He is eager to become the most thriving homesteader in the townships of Neudorf and Lemberg, Saskatchewan, set aside for Gustav’s people, the German Lutherans, by Sir Clifford Sifton in Canada’s “Last Best West” land deal. What he doesn’t realize is that beyond becoming a man and a landowner, life as he knows it is about to crumble from his grasp. Family drama and conflict plague Gustav as he learns English—the language that sparks hatred in his staunchly traditional father, Christian—and discovers that his parents have arranged his marriage to sixteen-year-old Amelia Schweitzer.

Review:
Arriving is the first of three novels recounting the trials and tribulations of German Lutheran immigrants to Canada in the early 1900’s. And what a pleasant treat this book turned out to be! Part memoir, part family saga, it follows one family as they struggle to make a living upon isolated farmland in the formidable Canadian prairies.

Author Corinne Jeffrey did a spectacular job with her research. Details of farm and town life in a sparsely populated region of Saskatchewan in the early years of the 20th century were beautifully portrayed. Most enchanting of all about this novel was that each character seemed real, full of faults as well as virtues. Their motivations, struggles, and yearnings as they clung to the old ways while trying to fit in within a new culture and society was very endearing. Betrayals, arranged marriages, secrets kept, language barriers, domestic hardships, and the help and support of good neighbours resound strongly throughout its pages.

As a Canadian author who has lived in Alberta all my life, I could strongly relate to the descriptions of warm and cold weather, landscapes, and small town life. Corinne Jeffrey delves deep into the psyche of each character, sharing insights and thoughts as they face their own unique struggles to find happiness.

The novel ends a bit abruptly, so it is obvious the author is hard at work preparing the second book in the series, which I now eagerly await. Well worth the read for a fantastic peek into the realities of life in early Canada.

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The Room with a Beehive by Comizia Bellocchi Scoccianti (Author) and Patrizia Argentieri (Translator)

An ancient world full of values and traditions gives way to a new society. During the difficult change, accentuated by the climate of World War II, a young woman firmly tackles life challenges with inventive, initiative and disarming grace. This true story is refreshing and poetic, inspirational and stirring.

The Room with a Beehive is a family memoir that is set in the small Italian town, Le Marche, before and after World War II. It is a fascinating chronicle of day-to-day life when times were less complicated and more tranquil. What I found most fascinating was how people in the village seemed more like family than neighbors, where they were self-sufficient and people helped people. One of my favourite parts of the book describes how they raised silkworms to make their own silk that was considered superior to that of China.

As the memoir progresses, the author takes us through the events leading to World War II, the shortage of food and supplies, and how they managed to survive despite the vast numbers of men who were called to arms and the hardships born by the women left behind.

I found myself fascinated with the story because it brought to life the era in which my own parents lived in Italy and their stories about how they survived the horrendous events that affected their lives during the war. It swept me back to a simple time, where people depended and trusted each other for help and support. Lush with vividly detailed descriptions about people, places, food, and items, this book provided wonderful insight into Italian daily village life. This book is definitely a must read – especially for readers with Italian roots.


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The Room with a Beehive by Comizia Bellocchi Scoccianti (Author) and Patrizia Argentieri (Translator)

An ancient world full of values and traditions gives way to a new society. During the difficult change, accentuated by the climate of World War II, a young woman firmly tackles life challenges with inventive, initiative and disarming grace. This true story is refreshing and poetic, inspirational and stirring.

The Room with a Beehive is a family memoir that is set in the small Italian town, Le Marche, before and after World War II. It is a fascinating chronicle of day-to-day life when times were less complicated and more tranquil. What I found most fascinating was how people in the village seemed more like family than neighbors, where they were self-sufficient and people helped people. One of my favourite parts of the book describes how they raised silkworms to make their own silk that was considered superior to that of China.

As the memoir progresses, the author takes us through the events leading to World War II, the shortage of food and supplies, and how they managed to survive despite the vast numbers of men who were called to arms and the hardships born by the women left behind.

I found myself fascinated with the story because it brought to life the era in which my own parents lived in Italy and their stories about how they survived the horrendous events that affected their lives during the war. It swept me back to a simple time, where people depended and trusted each other for help and support. Lush with vividly detailed descriptions about people, places, food, and items, this book provided wonderful insight into Italian daily village life. This book is definitely a must read – especially for readers with Italian roots.

Shame the Devil by Debra Brenegan

Fanny Fern - A wickedly outspoken author!





Shame the Devil is based upon the remarkable and true story of 19th century novelist, journalist, and feminist, Fanny Fern, also known as Sara Payson Willis (1811 – 1872). She was born in Portland Maine. Her father, Nathaniel Willis, owned a newspaper. Early on, she chose the pen name of Fanny Fern because it reminded her of her mother as she picked ferns.


She attended a boarding school in Hartford Connecticut where she was dubbed as one of te worst behaved but most beloved girls. In 1837 she married Charles Harrington Eldredge, a banker. Fanny bore him three daughters. Tragedy struck eight years later when her eldest daughter died of meningitis and her husband died of typhoid fever. Willis was left nearly destitute. With little help from either her father or her in-laws or her brother, she struggled to support herself and her two surviving daughters. Her father encouraged her to remarry as a means to solve their financial difficulties.

So in 1849, she married a merchant by the name of Samuel Farrington. Right from the start, they faced difficulties due to her husband’s intense jealousy. Two years later, she left him, creating a scandal and divorced him.

On her own and with two daughters to support, Fanny began to write in earnest, publishing articles. She sent samples of her work under her own name to her brother Nathaniel, who owned a magazine, but he refused them and said her writing was not marketable. She kept her identity hidden as her abusive ex-husband continued to make strife by spreading vicious rumours. But this didn’t stop Fanny. Her work was accepted by newspapers and journals in New York where she wrote a witty column that proved highly popular.


In the 1850’s a children’s novel she wrote sold 70,000 copies in its first year, quite an achievement for the times. James Parton, editor for the Home Journal, a magazine owned by Fanny’s brother, published her columns. But when her brother discovered this, he forbade Parton from publishing any more of Fern's work. In protest, Parton resigned.

Fanny’s first book, Fern Leaves (1853), was a best seller. It sold 46,000 copies in the first four months, and over 70,000 copies the first year. With her royalties, she bought a house in Brooklyn and lived comfortably well. She soon became the highest paid columnist in the U.S.

Fern wrote about her happy first marriage, the poverty she endured after he died and lack of help from male relatives, and her struggle to achieve financial independence as a journalist. She did not hesitate to write unflattering portrayals of those who had treated her uncharitably when she most needed help, including her father, her in-laws, her brother N.P. Willis, and two newspaper editors. When Fern's identity was revealed shortly after the novel's publication, some critics believed it scandalous that she had attacked her own relatives; they decried her lack of filial piety and her want of "womanly gentleness" in such characterizations.

Author Nathaniel Hawthorne praised her work. He said, “...enjoyed it a great deal. The woman writes as if the devil was in her, and that is the only condition in which a woman ever writes anything worth reading."

Fanny died of cancer in 1872.

Author Debra Brenegan did an exceptional job writing this inspiring and engrossing biography. She not only writes with very vivid detail, but she did so in a way that truly made Fanny and her surroundings seem real. It is a poignant story of the struggles women faced to survive in a world where few opportunities existed.

This is a really, really great book.

Here is a brief sample of her sarcastic and sometimes vitriolic writing. This piece is entitled, I Can't.

I CAN'T

APOLLO!—what a face! Doleful as a hearse; folded hands; hollow chest; whining voice; the very picture of cowardly irresolution. Spring to your feet, hold up your head, set your teeth together, draw that fine form of yours up to the height that God made it; draw an immense long breath, and look about you. What do you see? Why, all creation taking care of number one;—pushing ahead like the car of Juggernaut, over live victims. There it is; and you can't help it. Are you going to lie down and be crushed?

By all that is manly, no!—dash ahead! You have as good a right to mount the triumphal car as your neighbor. Snap your fingers at croakers. If you can't get round a stump, leap over it, high and dry. Have nerves of steel, a will of iron. Never mind sideaches, or heartaches, or headaches,—dig away without stopping to breathe, or to notice envy or malice. Set your target in the clouds, and aim at it. If your arrow falls short of the mark, what of that? Pick it up and go at it again. If you should never reach it, you will shoot higher than if you only aimed at a bush. Don't whine, if your friends fall off. At the first stroke of good luck, by Mammon! they will swarm around you like a hive of bees, till you are disgusted with human nature. "I can't!" O, pshaw! I throw my glove in your face, if I am a woman! You are a disgrace to corduroys. What! a man lack courage? A man want independence? A man to be discouraged at obstacles? A man afraid to face anything on earth, save his Maker? Why! I have the most unmitigated contempt for you, you little pusillanimous pussy-cat! There is nothing manly about you, except your whiskers.

Fanny Fern - Shame the Devil by Debra Brenegan

Fanny Fern - A wickedly outspoken author!





Shame the Devil is based upon the remarkable and true story of 19th century novelist, journalist, and feminist, Fanny Fern, also known as Sara Payson Willis (1811 – 1872). She was born in Portland Maine. Her father, Nathaniel Willis, owned a newspaper. Early on, she chose the pen name of Fanny Fern because it reminded her of her mother as she picked ferns.

She attended a boarding school in Hartford Connecticut where she was dubbed as one of te worst behaved but most beloved girls. In 1837 she married Charles Harrington Eldredge, a banker. Fanny bore him three daughters. Tragedy struck eight years later when her eldest daughter died of meningitis and her husband died of typhoid fever. Willis was left nearly destitute. With little help from either her father or her in-laws or her brother, she struggled to support herself and her two surviving daughters. Her father encouraged her to remarry as a means to solve their financial difficulties.

So in 1849, she married a merchant by the name of Samuel Farrington. Right from the start, they faced difficulties due to her husband’s intense jealousy. Two years later, she left him, creating a scandal and divorced him.

On her own and with two daughters to support, Fanny began to write in earnest, publishing articles. She sent samples of her work under her own name to her brother Nathaniel, who owned a magazine, but he refused them and said her writing was not marketable. She kept her identity hidden as her abusive ex-husband continued to make strife by spreading vicious rumours. But this didn’t stop Fanny. Her work was accepted by newspapers and journals in New York where she wrote a witty column that proved highly popular.


In the 1850’s a children’s novel she wrote sold 70,000 copies in its first year, quite an achievement for the times. James Parton, editor for the Home Journal, a magazine owned by Fanny’s brother, published her columns. But when her brother discovered this, he forbade Parton from publishing any more of Fern's work. In protest, Parton resigned.

Fanny’s first book, Fern Leaves (1853), was a best seller. It sold 46,000 copies in the first four months, and over 70,000 copies the first year. With her royalties, she bought a house in Brooklyn and lived comfortably well. She soon became the highest paid columnist in the U.S.

Fern wrote about her happy first marriage, the poverty she endured after he died and lack of help from male relatives, and her struggle to achieve financial independence as a journalist. She did not hesitate to write unflattering portrayals of those who had treated her uncharitably when she most needed help, including her father, her in-laws, her brother N.P. Willis, and two newspaper editors. When Fern's identity was revealed shortly after the novel's publication, some critics believed it scandalous that she had attacked her own relatives; they decried her lack of filial piety and her want of "womanly gentleness" in such characterizations.

Author Nathaniel Hawthorne praised her work. He said, “...enjoyed it a great deal. The woman writes as if the devil was in her, and that is the only condition in which a woman ever writes anything worth reading."

Fanny died of cancer in 1872.

Author Debra Brenegan did an exceptional job writing this inspiring and engrossing biography. She not only writes with very vivid detail, but she did so in a way that truly made Fanny and her surroundings seem real. It is a poignant story of the struggles women faced to survive in a world where few opportunities existed.

This is a really, really great book.

Here is a brief sample of her sarcastic and sometimes vitriolic writing. This piece is entitled, I Can't.

I CAN'T


APOLLO!—what a face! Doleful as a hearse; folded hands; hollow chest; whining voice; the very picture of cowardly irresolution. Spring to your feet, hold up your head, set your teeth together, draw that fine form of yours up to the height that God made it; draw an immense long breath, and look about you. What do you see? Why, all creation taking care of number one;—pushing ahead like the car of Juggernaut, over live victims. There it is; and you can't help it. Are you going to lie down and be crushed?
By all that is manly, no!—dash ahead! You have as good a right to mount the triumphal car as your neighbor. Snap your fingers at croakers. If you can't get round a stump, leap over it, high and dry. Have nerves of steel, a will of iron. Never mind sideaches, or heartaches, or headaches,—dig away without stopping to breathe, or to notice envy or malice. Set your target in the clouds, and aim at it. If your arrow falls short of the mark, what of that? Pick it up and go at it again. If you should never reach it, you will shoot higher than if you only aimed at a bush. Don't whine, if your friends fall off. At the first stroke of good luck, by Mammon! they will swarm around you like a hive of bees, till you are disgusted with human nature. "I can't!" O, pshaw! I throw my glove in your face, if I am a woman! You are a disgrace to corduroys. What! a man lack courage? A man want independence? A man to be discouraged at obstacles? A man afraid to face anything on earth, save his Maker? Why! I have the most unmitigated contempt for you, you little pusillanimous pussy-cat! There is nothing manly about you, except your whiskers.





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Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Under the Same Sky, by Genevieve Graham

Review by Lavender Ironside

Genevieve Graham’s debut novel, set dually in Colonial America and Scotland, is a sweet, inspiring romance spiked with just enough action and mystery to keep the reader turning pages just as fast as she can.

Under the Same Sky follows the lives of two people destined to be lovers, though they are separated by a vast distance.  Maggie is the eldest daughter of a poor farming family in South Carolina, gifted with “the Sight” -- the ability to dream the future, and sometimes the present as well.  She is also able to summon up images of a boy her age living in an unknown place, and she and the dream-boy grow up together, constant companions who never the less have not yet met. 

The dream boy is Andrew, a Scottish lad of the MacDonnell clan.  As Andrew and Maggie grow to adulthood, he, his brothers, and father are swept into the war with England; meanwhile, Maggie’s family is devastated by the murder of their mother and the girls’ capture and attempted sale into sexual slavery.  Unthinkable tragedies befall Maggie’s family and Andrew’s, and the two set out to build new lives for themselves, still maintaining their mystical connection and the comfort that their strange friendship brings.

Maggie’s path leads her to take up with the local Cherokee village, where she is allowed to hone her skill with the Sight without fear of being burned as a witch.  Andrew, meanwhile, feels compelled to leave Scotland and head for the New World – partly to seek out Maggie, whom he can feel calling to him.

Graham’s prose at the beginning of the novel is absolutely rapturous, full of lush imagery and a quietly confident voice that had me hooked immediately.  My one quibble with the book is that after a few chapters that lovely prose settled into a plainer, more straightforward storytelling style – not an authorial crime by any means, but I did find myself wishing for more of that delicious prose as I read to the novel’s final scene.  In spite of that one complaint, Under the Same Sky is a well-paced book, switching deftly between the two point-of-view characters at just the right moments and never lagging too long between scenes of tension or action.

Ultimately, this is a novel about redemption – either Maggie or Andrew could have turned sour after the tragedies they’ve faced, but both choose to turn to the promise of love instead, and both take comfort and find purpose in caring for people in need.  They are inspiring characters, and it is a delight to watch their romance develop.  Genevieve Graham is one to watch for historical romance readers.

Trencarrow Secret by Anita Davison

Review by Wendy Laharnar
This Victorian novel rates among the best of the Romance books I’ve read. The vivid detail and tense love story had me turning the pages well into the night and first thing in the morning. This is a colourful, well researched story driven by aristocratic attitudes and relationships.

The engagement of beautiful, wealthy Isabelle Hart to the self-assured Jared Winters will be announced at Isabelle’s Twenty-First Birthday Ball. The match has been anticipated from childhood, but circumstances begin to pile up which cause Isabelle to question her readiness for marriage and her true feelings for Jared. Complications involve her courageous mother who is terminally ill, her adored father whom Isabelle sees kissing her mother’s nurse and the arrival of the gorgeous Lord Strachan, a houseguest who attracts Isabelle. Lord Strachan and Isabelle appear to have many interests in common and he obviously likes her. This is more apparent to the reader and the other characters than it is to Isabelle. The handsome nobleman seeks a wife, but since Isabelle is spoken for, her friend Ellie, once engaged to Isabelle’s brother David, hones in on the lord.

In Trencarrow’s beautiful Manor House, Ms Davison spins her intrigue, weaving threads of deception, misunderstandings and insecurity. Cads clash with admirable men, and manipulating women befriend genteel ladies, but at the heart of Trencarrow is gut wrenching sorrow and unconditional love.

All of the characters are distinct individuals with their own needs and agendas. All of them brought something substantial to the story. Trencarrow Secret tugs at the heartstrings on many levels, and, most unexpectedly, my heart broke for one of the women whose true story becomes suddenly evident at the end. Try as I might I could not hold back the tears.

Trencarrow Secret begins and ends in its maze, at the centre of which is a treasure some might consider more valuable than gold, and the maze gives up more than one secret. A symbol of wrong paths, fear and claustrophobia, the maze also symbolizes achievement, satisfaction and victory. Ms Davison provides all of these elements in Trencarrow Secret and its haunting atmosphere remains long after the book is closed.

If you love Historical Romance, you’ll love the characters and the story of the beautifully crafted Trencarrow Secret.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

The Crown by Nancy Bilyeau

A fascinating mystery about an ancient crown of King Athelstan's! 

Synopsis:

An aristocratic young nun must find a legendary crown in order to save her father—and preserve the Catholic faith from Cromwell’s ruthless terror. The year is 1537. . .


Joanna Stafford, a Dominican nun, learns that her favorite cousin has been condemned by Henry VIII to be burned at the stake. Defying the sacred rule of enclosure, Joanna leaves the priory to stand at her cousin’s side. Arrested for interfering with the king’s justice, Joanna, along with her father, is sent to the Tower of London.


The ruthless Stephen Gardiner, Bishop of Winchester, takes terrifying steps to force Joanna to agree to spy for him: to save her father’s life she must find an ancient relic—a crown so powerful, it may hold the ability to end the Reformation. Accompanied by two monks, Joanna returns home to Dartford Priory and searches in secret for this long-lost piece of history worn by the Saxon King Athelstan in 937 during the historic battle that first united Britain.


But Dartford Priory has become a dangerous place, and when more than one dead body is uncovered, Joanna departs with a sensitive young monk, Brother Edmund, to search elsewhere for the legendary crown. From royal castles with tapestry-filled rooms to Stonehenge to Malmesbury Abbey, the final resting place of King Athelstan, Joanna and Brother Edmund must hurry to find the crown if they want to keep Joanna’s father alive. At Malmesbury, secrets of the crown are revealed that bring to light the fates of the Black Prince, Richard the Lionhearted, and Katherine of Aragon’s first husband, Arthur. The crown’s intensity and strength are beyond the earthly realm and it must not fall into the wrong hands.


With Cromwell’s troops threatening to shutter her priory, bright and bold Joanna must now decide who she can trust with the secret of the crown so that she may save herself, her family, and her sacred way of life. This provocative story melds heart-stopping suspense with historical detail and brings to life the poignant dramas of women and men at a fascinating and critical moment in England’s past.

Review:

Believable characters, heart-wrenching scenes, and a strong determined heroine named Joanna Stafford make this a very engrossing read. Author Nancy Bilyeau has penned a fascinating story set during the Henry the VIII's reign when angry at the Catholic Church, he he dissolved monasteries and religious houses, scattering nuns and priests throughout the country. Although the novel is set during the Tudor period, it is not about the Tudors. Rather, it is a historical mystery that centers around a fascinating search for a crown. I very much enjoyed the historical facts surrounding King Athelstan and the crown, the ancient relic that once belonged to him.

The plot had plenty of intrigue and emotion. I enjoyed the characters, especially the nuns who were not always what I expected and made wonderful antagonists. Excellent writing, plenty of historical detail to really make the era come alive, and a tale with enough twists and turns to keep me reading to the very end. For those who are tired of the Tudors but love the era, this book is perfect. A truly enjoyable story well put together! There is a sequel, and I eagerly await it!

The Crown by Nancy Bilyeau

A fascinating mystery about an ancient crown of King Athelstan's! 

Synopsis:

An aristocratic young nun must find a legendary crown in order to save her father—and preserve the Catholic faith from Cromwell’s ruthless terror. The year is 1537. . .


Joanna Stafford, a Dominican nun, learns that her favorite cousin has been condemned by Henry VIII to be burned at the stake. Defying the sacred rule of enclosure, Joanna leaves the priory to stand at her cousin’s side. Arrested for interfering with the king’s justice, Joanna, along with her father, is sent to the Tower of London.


The ruthless Stephen Gardiner, Bishop of Winchester, takes terrifying steps to force Joanna to agree to spy for him: to save her father’s life she must find an ancient relic—a crown so powerful, it may hold the ability to end the Reformation. Accompanied by two monks, Joanna returns home to Dartford Priory and searches in secret for this long-lost piece of history worn by the Saxon King Athelstan in 937 during the historic battle that first united Britain.


But Dartford Priory has become a dangerous place, and when more than one dead body is uncovered, Joanna departs with a sensitive young monk, Brother Edmund, to search elsewhere for the legendary crown. From royal castles with tapestry-filled rooms to Stonehenge to Malmesbury Abbey, the final resting place of King Athelstan, Joanna and Brother Edmund must hurry to find the crown if they want to keep Joanna’s father alive. At Malmesbury, secrets of the crown are revealed that bring to light the fates of the Black Prince, Richard the Lionhearted, and Katherine of Aragon’s first husband, Arthur. The crown’s intensity and strength are beyond the earthly realm and it must not fall into the wrong hands.


With Cromwell’s troops threatening to shutter her priory, bright and bold Joanna must now decide who she can trust with the secret of the crown so that she may save herself, her family, and her sacred way of life. This provocative story melds heart-stopping suspense with historical detail and brings to life the poignant dramas of women and men at a fascinating and critical moment in England’s past.

Review:

Believable characters, heart-wrenching scenes, and a strong determined heroine named Joanna Stafford make this a very engrossing read. Author Nancy Bilyeau has penned a fascinating story set during the Henry the VIII's reign when angry at the Catholic Church, he he dissolved monasteries and religious houses, scattering nuns and priests throughout the country. Although the novel is set during the Tudor period, it is not about the Tudors. Rather, it is a historical mystery that centers around a fascinating search for a crown. I very much enjoyed the historical facts surrounding King Athelstan and the crown, the ancient relic that once belonged to him.

The plot had plenty of intrigue and emotion. I enjoyed the characters, especially the nuns who were not always what I expected and made wonderful antagonists. Excellent writing, plenty of historical detail to really make the era come alive, and a tale with enough twists and turns to keep me reading to the very end. For those who are tired of the Tudors but love the era, this book is perfect. A truly enjoyable story well put together! There is a sequel, and I eagerly await it! 


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Aztec by Colin Falconer

A beautiful tale of conquest and a fall of the great empire.

Book Description:

The daughter of a prophet and the child slave of Spanish adventurer Hernan Cortes, the life of the Aztec princess Malinali is one of the most enduring legends of Mexico. Her role in history divides opinion even today. Reviled by some as a traitor responsible for the destruction of the Indians, worshiped by others as a heroine and symbolic mother of the nation, hers is the most extraordinary story in the history of the Americas.

The legendary Aztec civilization is here brought to life in blazing colour, as the author traces the story of the enigmatic Malinali who held for a moment the future of an entire country in her hands. Contradictory, sensuous and fiercely intelligent, Malinali became the key to Cortes’ conquest of Mexico. It is a story of impossible odds, unimaginable cruelty, extraordinary courage, and craven betrayal. Who were the heroes and who the villains?

Today the Aztecs are a distant memory. But Malinali's name lives on. This book spent four months on the bestseller lists in Mexico, re-igniting debate yet again about the true heritage of a people and the very nature of western colonization of the natural world.

My Review:

In the novel AZTEC, Spanish conquistador, Hernán Cortés, leads an expedition into Mexico to bring it under the rule of the King of Castile during the early 1500’s. He encounters a young, courageous slave woman named Malinali who was an once an Aztec princess sold into slavery to the Mayans when she was a child. Malinali becomes an interpreter and guide and consort to Cortés on his journey to speak to the greatest leader of Mexico.

This book is a remarkable novel, not only for its fascinating historical details, but because author Colin Falconer holds nothing back in recounting the pagan brutality and horrendous cruelties of this exotic land and time. He brings the legendary character of Malinali to life. She stands out as a paragon, a woman of virtue and enigmatic strength who will definitely appeal to feminine readers. Although there is a romantic element between Malinali and Cortés, it does not overpower the story. Rather, it acts as a comfort, soothing the reader’s mood after some of the more shocking, brutal scenes.

A fast-paced read, Aztec fascinated me from start to finish. As with all of Colin Falconer’s novels, his characters have depth and credibility, moving the story forward through their often unpredictable actions. His work takes the reader through a never-ending labyrinth of twists and turns that grips and entertains. You must get this book. It is a magnificent piece of work!

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