Tuesday, 17 September 2019

Review of "Angles or Angles" by David Stokes

In what now is Northumbria in the north of England in 6th century Britain there were two kingdoms: Deira ruled by old king Aele and Bernicia ruled by the young king Æthelfrith. The Romans have left the island two centuries ago and in Deira people do not even remember them and think that the big stone buildings in York are build by giants. Building houses in stone and writing, it is all forgotten. Those areas are populated by immigrants from north Germany called the Angles.

In the West and the North the old British kingdoms and the Picts still prevail with some help from their Gaul cousins in Ireland.  Bernicia an Deira are rivals but with the old British kingdoms in Scotland and Wales as enemies who want to overthrow them the two kingdoms must unite. Acha, daughter of one king is chosen to act as ‘peace-weaver’ by marrying the rival leader. But before she can do so Æthelfrith marries a princess from the North who is part Pictish.

I really liked the book. The story is well written and seen from either Acha's, Æthelfrith's or brother Edwin's point of view and we learn a lot of daily life in those days. It is obviously a very well researched novel and at the end the writer takes time to explain what is historically correct to the letter and what parts were invented.

There is one mistake though. Frisia were not island off the coast of Holland. Frisia was and in some extend still is the northern parts of The Netherlands and Germany. Holland was the enemy!









Review of "King of Kings" by Wilbur Smith - the forming of Ethiopia and the Italian colony Eritrea just after the Mahdi rebellion in Sudan

Wilbur Smith is Africa and explorers to me. I have read many of his books when I was young. So was happy to discover he is still alive and writing new ones.

This one is situated in Cairo and the hills of Ethiopia on the border with what now is Eritrea I think. As I am teaching Dutch to ladies from Eritrea I had an extra investment in getting to know a bit more of the history of their country (and to tell them I read the book).

It is like all mr Smith's books an entertaining read. Some of the characters were a bit bland. I mostly liked Penrod the VC recipient who has to redeem himself and find a more caring part of his personality.

I wished I could have read part 1 first though as that would have made the story more a complete tale. Now the sister Rebecca was a bit of an enigma to me.


Review of "House on endless waters" by Emona Elon - Amsterdam Jews during the war

In this novel Israeli author Yoel Blum revisits the town of his birth Amsterdam. When a foreign author writes about your own country that can be tricky as every mistake in research will reveal itself. But this novel is at first a "feast of recognition" as we say in Dutch: the strict border patrol (I am an immigration lawyer and many client complain exactly like Yoel does), the street musicians playing under the arch of the Rijksmuseum, the tall houses divided in apartments along the canals, the hotels with all the tourist trinkets and all the bits of facts and history about Amsterdam and The Netherlands. But the story takes a turn to the serious side soon after.

While visiting the Museum of Jewish History Yoel discovers a video showing his parents with his sister and a till then it seems unknown brother. Back in Israel he calls his sister (both his parents are dead) and asks her about that boy. She tells him the story but we are not told what the story is.

Yoel decides to return to Amsterdam to fill in the blanks. We see him wander the city and write the story of his mother using elements of what he sees or does himself that day. Like when he is drawn to a painting in the Rijksmuseum he wonders why and incorperates that painting by hanging it in the house of his mother's upstairs neighbours.

In the meantime we get to know his mother better by reading the story he tells about her. She was married to a doctor from the Jewish hospital in Amsterdam and leading a happy life with him and their two small children and his best friend and his wife and child who were their upstairs neighbours thinking the war will soon end. But we see dark clouds packing on the horizon and bit by bit the life of the Jewish people in Amsterdam gets more and more dangerous. As a Dutch person I am quite familiar with that history but still it is unnerving to feel the noose tightening.

I was glued to my kindle wanting to know what did happen with little Leo. I had quite a suspicion but still.

But when you then have finished the book it still resonates. So I called my dad who is as old as Yoel Blum and also was a child during the war and studied psychology to become a teacher. The author explains in the book that many of the children that were hidden away from the Germans suffered from attachment problems after the war. When I was that age my mum got severely ill and I was fostered out to different aunties and even I notice how that effected me. Can you imagine an even worse situation during the war? The author in my opinion also describes the effect this all has on Yoel's mother. While she was a happy go lucky woman with friends in Holland later on in Israel she does not want friends. First I thought that was to keep her secret but I realised it was the aftershock of the way she was betrayed.

At the end of the story Tal, Yoel's grandson, says that Yoel's mum acted out of revenge. I think that is not true. I think she kept the secret out of love as it is obvious how much she loved him. Hints to that are all the Madonna sculptures in the museum.

Another layer in the book is how it shows us the live of a writer and how personal adventures end up in novels. How a novel is created. How a famous writer is approached by total strangers. I think that part must be based on the author's own life.

I think it was quite courageous to pick the topic of collaboration by the own Jewish community with the Nazies. I also liked that the Dutch non-Jewish community is shown realistic: some friends from school who become a policeman driving Jews from a park, others dying to save their Jewish fellow Dutch. No black and white cliches.

There is just one point of criticism and that is a case of "lost in translation" from Dutch to Ivriet to English. The word that was used for hiding for the Germans was "onderduiken ( a verb)" and it is translated as "dive (a noon)". Diving IN for instance water is duiken IN in Dutch. But when you want to hide under the blankets, want to pick something from under your desk you use in Dutch duiken ONDER (diving under). That is translated as hiding in or under and not as "Go diving" or "do a dive" I think. As far as I know I have never heard in Dutch the term Duik for the verb Onderduiken. But I am from years after the war.

It does not happen that often but in this case the Dutch translating is already published while we are reviewing the English one.


I am not sure what the title stands for. In the book a synagoge is described as built over water; Yoel's mother uses the proverb "Water under the bridge" often and I think in the Bible it is said that God's spirit was over the waters.



FREE BOOK: Sounds interesting and set in an alternate modern Russia surrounded by the still-powerful Ottoman Empire and the Chinese Empire of the Sun,

In an alternate modern Russia surrounded by the still-powerful Ottoman Empire and the Chinese Empire of the Sun, a dead girl in a pink sweater draws disillusioned Detektiv Alexander Kazakov into an investigation that even the girl’s mother wants him to abandon.

Driven by the truth and a slowly rising body count, Kazakov must traverse a landscape of snow and brothels, and a civilization frozen by history to catch a killer no one suspects.

After Yekaterina is the first in the Yekaterina Alternate History series set in the fictional Central Asian Country of Fergana.







Friday, 30 August 2019

Review of "Angel" by Susan Kinsey - mommy joins the mob

A recently divorce mother of end thirties saves a small girl from drowning. Her father turns out to "be connected". He tells her he will always help her because of that. She ends up working for him.

The story is like a series about the world of criminals although the criminal activities are vague sometimes.
You are never told what is really going on in their heads.

I had expected more of a romance novel.
Reviewed for Netgalley: 3 stars out of 5








Monday, 19 August 2019

Review of "In darkest days may blossom" by Leila Snow - injustice for the poor in 18th century London

In late 18th century England there was not much justice when you were a poor woman and that brings the author to light very well. It is a sad situation. She also shows the class differences and the struggle people have to live through. Being a Scotsman makes you frowned upon, being rich but heaven forbids had merchant parents keeps you out of the top circles, being poor have you committed to a workhouse and when employers are cruel there is no one to turn to.

The knight in shining armour is a the son of the magistrate who sees his father's constables about to beat a girl to death and steps in to save her.

There was two things I had doubts over: in those days and age you would not contemplate marrying someone so far below your social station. Maybe the idea that he really loved her and she him and the possibility to marry could have come up at the end.

The other thing is that I had the feeling the book ended a bit too soon. I think the writer wants to continue from the viewpoint of the other protagonists but I always think it is better to write a tome including the whole story. Hence the 1 star deduction.

Do not think you buy a sweet romance book this is more Dickens doom and gloom. But it had me spellbound (lawyer so I was interested in the whole misconduct of justice).


PS the vows are silly! No one would mention orgasms in that day and ages let alone in church!!!!

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Saturday, 17 August 2019

Review of "In the Far Pashmina Mountains" - Raj India and the British Afghan war set in a historical novel

A highborn lady who is on the run to meet her lover leaves her baby behind. The child is raised by the poor family of the lighthousekeeper. She saves people when their ship has hit a nearby rock and one of the survivors will play an important part in her life. When she is a grown woman she joins her husband in India and ends up in the middle of the First Anglo-Afghan war. It was the first time in history the British conquered Kabul but it ended in a total disaster,

The lighthousekeeper's daughter part I did recognise as the real life story it was indeed inspired by but the Afghan disaster was new to me. It just made me realise that in our lifetime we made the same mistakes there.

I read that the author has been to India herself and that her ancestors were posted there. It is clear she did a lot of research in the subject. 

The book makes a very interesting read because although it is a historical novel it still keeps pretty close to the historical facts and you really hope the best for the heroine.

This was the real lighthousekeeper's daughter who saved the people who were shipwrecked: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Grace_Darling


















More about the Anglo Afghan war here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/First_Anglo-Afghan_War















William Brydon CB (10 October 1811 – 20 March 1873) was an assistant surgeon in the British East India Company Army during the First Anglo-Afghan War, famous for reportedly being the only member of an army of 4,500 men, plus 12,000 accompanying civilians, to reach safety in Jalalabad at the end of the long retreat from Kabul.








Review of "Tears of the Dragon" by Jean Moran - Hongkong WW2 - Japanese internment

Hongkong WWII: A female young doctor works at the army hospital in Hong Kong. The war makes travel oversees dangerous and in the Chinese hinterland the Japs are fighting the Chinese but so far Hongkong is a peaceful place.

One evening Rowena and nurse Alice take the ferry to Chinese Kowloon to have a drink at a bar they heard rumours of. In the bar they meet the owner, an Irishman who is stationed as a sergeant major in Hongkong and owns the bar together with his best friend and commanding officer major Harry. Connor is a gregarious man who plays the fiddle and sings but refuses to serve drinks to unaccompanied women.

A guest invites them to share a drink with him. He is Kim Pheloung, a rich businessman with Chinese and maybe other genes. Rowena thinks he is the most beautiful man she had ever seen.

In the days that follow she goes out with both of the men. Connor she likes a lot but Kim she is very attracted to.

Then disaster strikes and the Japanese attack Hong Kong and the world changes in a hell full of horror.

I really liked the novel. It can be very bloody and cruel without going into extreme detail. We witness the horrors of war and internment by the Japanese and also the time shortly after the war when victims try to pick up their lives again.

Although not "romantic" I did admire the way the writer dealt with a "fiftyshadesofgrey"-element. Because in real life most people will hate to be forced unlike all those romance novel girls. Because in books that is never depicted so grimly I think it added to the value of the story even if you keep hoping someone is the romantic hero.

What I think is a glitch is the attitude of her brother towards people of mix race because his own grandmother was Indian.

I would advice the publishers to change their blurb on Amazon as it is full of spoilers! I had not read that and that makes the shock factor of the story more intense.

Friday, 16 August 2019

Review of " The Kazak Contract by PAUL PURNELL " - fast action packed story in an exotic location

James Ballantyne, former army officer and now a diplomat and a covert spy, travels to Kazakhstan on a diplomatic assignment. He tells his local aide Ocksana Petrova that the new part of the capital feels like Brasilia the designer capital of Brazil. However officials wanting a bribe is still as old as time. His work almost finished he has a chat with an American in his hotel . This however changes things and James has to flee  the country.

The novel reads like watching a good action movie. The exotic setting of Kazakhstan and neighbouring countries is interesting.I really liked reading it

 It is not a very long novel. And that brings me to the only negative remark: the story ends abruptly and will continue in another novel. I definitely do not like cliffhangers and would recommend to combine those books into one John le Carre tome size one.


Monday, 12 August 2019

Free book: set in Amsterdam

Rituals of the DeadBy Jennifer S. Alderson

 
In Amsterdam, a 60-year-old mystery is revived when museum researcher Zelda uncovers the story of an anthropologist who vanished in New Guinea. And a mysterious killer will stop at nothing to keep her from the truth…    A museum researcher must solve a decades-old murder before she becomes the killer’s next victim in this riveting dual timeline thriller set in Papua and the Netherlands.

Agats, Dutch New Guinea (Papua), 1961: While collecting Asmat artifacts for a New York museum, American anthropologist Nick Mayfield stumbles upon a smuggling ring organized by high-ranking members of the Dutch colonial government and the Catholic Church. Before he can alert the authorities, he vanishes in a mangrove swamp, never to be seen again.

Amsterdam, the Netherlands, 2018: While preparing for an exhibition of Asmat artifacts in a Dutch ethnographic museum, researcher Zelda Richardson finds Nick Mayfield’s journal in a long-forgotten crate. Before Zelda can finish reading the journal, her housemate is brutally murdered and ‘Give back what is not yours’ is scrawled on their living room wall.

Someone wants ancient history to stay that way—and believes murder is the surest way to keep the past buried.

Can she solve a sixty-year-old mystery before decades of deceit, greed, and retribution cost Zelda her life?
  

Saturday, 10 August 2019

Indian Raj : Review of Beneath an Indian Sky: A heartbreaking historical novel of family secrets, betrayal and love by Renita D'Silva

Three young children are friends in 1930ties India: a poor Muslim boy, a rich Hindu girl and an English one. The Indian girl yearns for knowledge and freedom and the English one is given that but too shy to grasp it.

When they grow up one of them will get a great opportunity and grasps it while the other does a leap of faith and looses all. 

While one is clinging to all she has and lives in fear, the other mourns but uses her life as a testament  of love.

We follow both women's life story. A story that is very emotional and sad oozes a great loss. I was in tears.






Friday, 2 August 2019

Review of "Paramedic to the Prince: An American Paramedic's Account of Life Inside the Mysterious World of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia"

The American EMS who worked in Saudi for about 10 years tells his memoirs. The story might jump from one thing to the other but it gives us a glimpse of that hidden world.

Not the best writing style but an interesting subject. And it makes the culture class evident. How he and his friends would dive in a wetsuit not caring how that looked and on the other hand men then masturbating. How the prince - later king - he works for is nice to his employees and how other people just crap in an operating room expecting others to clean it. Bear in mind it describes the situation of 15 years ago and the aftershocks of 9/11.








 

Indian Raj Romance novels: Review of "A Jasmin Wife" by Jane Coverdale

A Jasmine Wife was the name for a British young woman in her full bloom who would follow her husband to India and then in a short time whiter away.

But Sara Archer is not new to India when she comes to join her husband there at the beginning of the 20th century. She was born in India but lost at a young age both parents and was raised in a rather loveless household of a paternal aunt and uncle. When a bachelor seems to be interested in her and who moreover is stationed in India she falls head of heels for him. But is it him or India she is in love with? In his case it seems he sees marriage more as advantages to his career.

Upon arrival in India she barges into half French - half Indian Ravi Sabran who keeps shocking the circles of polite British society in Madras by living in sin with the wife of an Indian Maharaja who ran from her husband and being filthy rich and a bit of a bandit and who keeps ignoring the fact that the British matrons cannot overlook his Indian ancestry.

The British in Madras are more old fashioned and stuck in the Victorian times as what she experienced in England and are showing not the best characters. For instance when the local Maharadja visits they all try to get jewels off him by praising them.

In India Sara starts looking for her own past and information about her own parents and by doing this meets Ravi again.

We see a ugly naive countrygirl slowly develop in a  in dependant beautiful woman.

The novel digs into the prejudice of those days. It has also a hint of mr Collins and Lady Catherine de Bourgh from "Pride and Prejudice" due to the fact that Charles cannot stop praising the local leading lady in the British circle. That element is often very funny.

It is a light romance novel that guarantees a day of pleasant reading. And right from the start you expect who will end up with whom but that is always the case with this kind of novels.