Wednesday, 20 December 2017

The horrible reality of being a slave in America. Review of The Prodigy Slave

In my country the last time slavery was legal the Romans still ruled. So American slavery is something I know only from reading "Uncle Tom's cabin" as a schoolgirl. In this novel The Prodigy Slave it comes as a shock that even when a white master would be sympathetic to his slaves even he would be more or less powerless against the system: a child born out of a slave would be a slave, marrying a free negro would turn that one back into a slave and punish also the white husband, free negroes were not allowed to own land hand out medicine and not only the slave but also the master was punished when the slave were given an education. A complete hopeless existence!

Lily is the daughter of a black slave and her white master but her father feels no love for his child and sells her at a young age. Her new owner and his eldest sons are cruel men but the lady of the house and the youngest son are better persons. The child Lily and the youngest son even develop a close friendship as children but things change for the worse when they turn 16. All she has left is her music. Playing it in secret on the piano in the living room.

At first the story is told from Lily's point of view but later it reverts back to what that son was thinking or doing. And this happens a couple of times more in the story. That makes the pace of storytelling sometimes extremely slow - even too slow - but it makes us feel the tension and insecurity of the people involved.

It seems the story is drawn out over several novels. This is not a stand alone one. I would advice the writer to bundle her novels into one book. The story is too gripping to damage by cliff hangers.

I wonder how historically correct the story is. It is a romance story after all although I think it surpasses that level of storytelling because it is that good. However when I read that James is bedding girls while at university my mind thinks "in the 19th century women did not study and the only women who did run the risk to sleep around were whores as a pregnancy would destroy a woman's reputation."

A lost scroll and secrets on Crete: Review of "The last messenger"

Richard is a British man in I think his thirties who works in intelligence for the British government. Not the James Bond type just manning the Greek desk.. His father disappeared on 9/11 and is assumed to be killed in the World Trade Centre attacks while Richard himself almost died due to a suicide killer in Iraq. In the beginning of the novel he is in the Tube (underground railway in London) when one of the 7/7 suicide bombers blows himself up taking many with him. One of the mortally wounded seems to recognise Richard and gives him something what triggers a quest for answers and a lost item.

The story switches sometimes to World War Two Crete were Richard's own grandfather was helping the Greek fighting the Germans.

The writer manages to give us an intriguing puzzle. Unlike in many adventure novels the people's characters are really three dimensional.

A really good read!

Tuesday, 5 December 2017

Abelard and Héloïse? Was he not that guy who got castrated?

"Abelard and Héloïse? Was he not that guy who got castrated?" That was the first thing that came to mind. And that they had joined a monastery afterwards summed up all I knew.

The novel is in fact three stories that intertwine:
- The story of Abelard and Héloïse in 12th century France;
- The story of Jewish Rachel and her father the professor in and around Paris during the Second World War;
- The story of the Father Mike, a priest in New York, of Irish decent who meets Rachel in 1950.

This novel is written by a former Catholic priest who has written a couple of non-fiction books about the history and concepts of Christianity and the relationship of the church with the Jews through history. This book however is a novel but prepare yourself to a lot of debate about theology. I am raised as a protestant but even when you do not know a thing about that religion this book will shake up your braincells. It is no easy read. Philosophy / theology: we see Abelard teaching at university or defending his opinion in front of the bishops. What is important: the intention or the result? Can someone do a bad thing out of good intentions? Had a God who is love according to Jesus really sent his son to earth to die a gruesome death? If the Jewish people were God's beloved people how can Christians kill them?

In the meantime we see Father Mike reflect on his job as a priest. He likes his work but he feels alone in the middle of his fellow priests. He also starts to doubt how the church works.
When he meets Rachel who feels very guilty about what happened  during the war, the questions that Abelard put to his students 800 years prior have to be answered by the two of them to make sure they will find inner peace.

Héloïse has the last word in. She did not want to be openly married to Abelard as it would mean the end of his teaching post at the religious institute that university then was. But at the end of her life when she is a famous mother superior of a convent she instructs the nuns to bury her with her wedding ring on her finger for the first time.

The title "The cloister", points to a museum in New York where Rachel and Father Mike meet. It is a convent that was transported from France to the USA by Rockefeller. It is partly a real monastery from the same era in which Abelard and Héloïse lived.

Some original writings by Abelard and Héloïse have survived the centuries. After he was castrated and both lived in their own monastery they kept writing each other letters. In one of them, quoted in the book, she writes that when you have a very close intellectually connection you can be very happy and it will not leave room for other passions. They must have loved each other very much.

(I was given this book for free to read by Netgalley providing I would write a review. Thanks for the opportunity)

Monday, 4 December 2017

"A matter of loyalty" - review of a great detective novel set in post war Britain

What a great book! It reminded me of the tv-series "Foyle's war" and this novel is certainly tv-series material. It is 1954 and the Cold War is on. In the rural English countryside, Hugo Hawksworth, is posted at a backwater office of the British Intelligence Services, when a scientist working for an also hushhush nearby facility for atomic research goes missing. As Hugo is close he is put on the case together with an annoying policeman. But did the scientist go to the Russians? There seems not a hint towards communism in his background.

In the meantime we are treated to interesting characters. Hugo is sharing not an apartment but a whole castle (the war destroyed a lot of houses) with his orphaned niece, an American professor who is the new earl and his daughter and the half-sister of that earl who is a secret writer of detective stories (what is told with glee).

The story is entertaining and shows us normal life in the countryside just after the war. Landed gentry vs modern city dwellers, families still suffering the losses from the war, arty types.

The book is a joy to read. The book is part 3 around Hugo and his friends. I will certainly read part 1 and 2 as well. Unfortunately the writer died so we will never know if he will marry her.

This was a review for Netgalley.

"Aphrodite's tears - a gorgeous setting to a mediocre love story

(This is a review I wrote for Netgalley). The story is set in the 1970-ties on a Greek Island. The book is freshly written but oozes the style of the old fashioned romance novels written in that era. Apart from one thing: here the main characters sleep with each other or pleasure each other manually and in the yellowed paperbacks I inherited the lights just faded. Still, the "I can only sleep with the man who loves me, can I?" idea is still prevailing here. And because at the beginning of the story she looses her virginity exactly with that guy I was wondering why having a good time with him later on is seemingly so complicated. Not that I am so morally loose that I would say jump in the sack with every juicy dish you see but this Oriel was annoying. Even her love interest voices it at a certain time by stating she has to make up her mind as he is not interested in a woman who pushes him away all the time and then just uses him in bed to push him away again.

This girl was so annoying there was only one reason I finished the book: the gorgeous setting. I am sure the writer had a great time once visiting the Greek Isles on a holiday. National holidays,customs, landscapes and sites are lovingly depicted and with a Greek neighbour that kept me reading. In the story Oriel, in the seventies still the rare female senior archaeologist,  goes to Helios to work at the site of an archaeological wreck.

At the end the book picks up speed when the mysteries around deaths in the past are solved.

All in all I think the book has potential but could do with a bit of weeding in the middle section of the romantic developments.

Sunday, 3 December 2017

Three novels following a workingclass family living in or near Cordoba in the haydays of the Caliphate when Spain was an Umayad Muslim Kingdom

The three novels follow a workingclass family living in or near Cordoba in the heydays of the Caliphate. Their lives are intermingled with the lives of the ruling family.

The Caliphate of Córdoba  was a state in Islamic Iberia along with a part of North Africa ruled by the Umayyad dynasty. The state, with the capital in Córdoba, existed from 929 to 1031. The region was formerly dominated by the Umayyad Emirate of Córdoba (756–929). The period was characterized by an expansion of trade and culture, and saw the construction of masterpieces of al-Andalus architecture. In January 929, Abd-ar-Rahman III proclaimed himself caliph (Arabic: خليفة) of Córdoba in place of his original title, Emir of Córdoba (Arabic: أمير قرطبة 'Amīr Qurṭuba). He was a member of the Umayyad dynasty, which had held the title of Emir of Córdoba since 756. The caliphate disintegrated during a civil war (the Fitna of al-Andalus) between the descendants of the last caliph, Hisham II, and the successors of his hayib (court official), Al-Mansur. In 1031, after years of infighting, the caliphate fractured into a number of independent Muslim taifa (kingdoms). (

The first book "THE SHINING CITY" introduces us to German Isolde whose village is raided by the Vikings and she ends up being sold as a slave in Medina al Sarah, the new capital built by the Caliph a day's journey from Cordoba. While she is being auctioned young Omar, the son of the potter, sees her and falls madly in love with her. His need to see her again and if possible run away with her endangers not only them but his family and friends.
While this girl sold into a harem is a familiar Orientalist theme here I think it is used well because we get to see the Caliphate through the eyes of a stranger to it like us. While at the same time we will see how Omar's family and friends live their day to day lifes. Like his soldier brother - Al Jundi - who goes on a campaign with the son of the Caliph and saves that man's life. As a reward the Caliph makes him personal bodyguard.
That son is I think someone I would have liked to know. A very good general who however was way more interested in his big scientific library and who was gay.

In the second book "THE EYE OF THE FALCON" 11-year old Al-Hashim, the grandson of the Caliph in book 1, wakes up to the news his father al-Hakim has just died. His mother queen Subh sets up a regency with her lover and righthand man (and some others in the beginning) to rule while he is not of age. A time of court intrigues starts and young Al-Hashim is alone and forgotten in the palace in Medina al Zahra while court has returned to Cordoba.
Al Jundi realises how lonely he is and introduces the boy ruler to his own son Ahmad who is training to be a falconer. The boys bond over the birds but then something becomes clear that will separate them.
In flash backs we will get to know more of the past of queen Subh. As a Christian slave she is placed in the harem of the heir of the Caliph. Al Hakim is a nice person but no matter how well the girls dance he only speaks with them out of politeness and then sends them away. The girls do not realise the prince is homosexual. His mother does and he needs an heir so she picks young Subh who looks very boyish and hopes her son can fool himself in believing Subh, who they cloth and rename as a boy, is a man. They hope to arouse him that well that he will be able to get her with child. That project works and to everyone's surprise al-Hakim and Subh become the best of friends.
This is a book around the court intrigues of Al Mansur the regent. As I know about those historical events it was less interesting to me as I knew what was coming.

In the third novel "THE RING OF FLAMES" the falconer Ahmad, his brothers Qasim the doctor and Rafiq the soldier are middle aged men and fathers. Al Hisham the Caliph lives forgotten in his palace. The dictator al Mansur has died and his son is more or less the ruler.
Ahmad's daughter, her Jewish best female friend Rachel and her friend from England, a monk, work together in the big library of Cordoba where they copy books.
Then the city becomes under siege and Ahmad has to save his family and their friends.
Personally I liked this one best. It makes clear how multicultural this society was. Muslims, Jews and Christians and also the Berber immigrants from Morocco. The fact that women went to university and worked. The quite modern hospitals and libraries. But also the shaky security system with dictators and invaders. Where your head could end up on a stake. It was interesting to read how warfare was done in those days. How people survived sieges. I can really recommend the book.

All books can be easily read as stand-alones.

Saturday, 2 December 2017

Review of "Imperial lady" - a historical novel about a Chinese woman sent to the Mongols

Without ever been to China but after having done extensive research in the timeperiod and culture an elderly lady wrote two novels. This is book one.

A daughter of a disgraced and exiled Ch'in (Chinese) general spends a wild youth in the North near the wall. Due to her father's downfall she is unmarriagable. Then all of a sudden she and 500 other girls are summoned to the capital.

Story loosely based on a Chin queen who was send to Mongolia to bring peace.

A lot of magic and that makes me decide against giving it 5 stars. But later I discovered that fox(spirits) were in those days in China was we in Europe would know as werewolves. Although a werewolf was an evil creature the foxspirits were powerful beings who could be good or evil.

In the beginning very slow. However I do understand that that is done to build up a character that will be a believable queen.

Bespaar continu

"AZTEC: the most extraordinary love story never told" - the Spanish conquest of Middle America

Many of us will know the story of the Spaniard Cortes who with a very small army conquered the Aztec Empire in Mexico. Some of you will know that he had a mistress who translated for him

This is mainly the story of her although we get to know Cortes, the emperor and a Mayan girl and her Spanish master / lover as well.

Even when you know the history of the conquest by Cortes I like the way the writer tries to explain why the Aztects lost against such a small army:
- They had never seen horses;
-  According to a religious story one of the gods would come back from over the sea (I was thinking "earlier explorer, probably Christian" as according to legend he was against the human sacrifices) so people thought Cortes might be that god;
-  The extreme hatred the Aztec invaders had forged with the other tribes who happily joined the Spanish;
- An emperor who is too hesitant to act.

Cortes his Indian lover really hates the Aztecs (seems we have the name wrong. They were called Mexica. In the book her father was killed by the Aztecs and she as a princess was sold by her mother as a slave to the Mayans. She sees Cortes for most of the story as a God but starts to have doubts at the end.

Some things in the book seem a bit free with the historical truth like when the emperor dies. But well that kept it interesting for someone who knew the general story. Although I am now wondering if I am mixing things up with the conquest of the Inca's.

Some of the secondary people are interesting too. The man who lived for many years as a slave amongst the Mayans and has troubles adjusting to his own Spanish countryman. The Mayan friends of Dona Maria who is given to another Spanish conqueror who really falls in love with her.

One thing I think is a glitch. How can a Mayan girl survive during a siege amidst people whose language she does not speak and who will know she was with the invaders?

All in all an interesting read for the historical side of the story. I somehow did not get a connection with Dona Maria nor with Cortes.

Friday, 1 December 2017

Free today: Natural Remedies: How To Use The Power Of Mother Nature To Heal And Protect Yourself (Natural Recipes)

Peppermint oil to soothe a sore throat, baking soda to calm a heartburn attack, and garlic for a bee sting, these are just a few examples of the many helpful natural remedies you’ll find in “Natural Remedies How To Use The Power Of Mother Nature To Heal And Protect Yourself.”

In the hustle and bustle of today’s world, we tend to rely heavily on the quick fix of over the counter medicines and prescription drugs without giving what’s in them a second thought. It’s almost as if we, as a society, have had it ingrained in our minds that these typical “medicines” are what we have to choose in order for us to get over whatever is ailing us.
Rarely do we question the antibiotic that may be doing more harm than good, or the drugstore antacid that has artificial flavorings and colors. And so it becomes a habit, making these traditional “cures” our form of go to for mostly everything.

Alternative Medicines

However, there are alternatives to these chemically manufactured drugs…go the natural remedy route. There’s already so much in nature offering a more organic and less harsh way of healing. Now more than ever is the time to switch to a more natural way of dealing with life’s everyday ailments from a cough and cold to arthritis and muscle aches

Free on the 2rd of December: ICEQUAKE

Residing in a station known as Shackleton, they are studying the seismic activity of the region. An eruption of the nearby volcano, Mount Erebus, soon sends quakes throughout the continent with devastating results.

All radio communication has been disabled by the breakdown of the magnetic field. Evacuation is unlikely. No one knows whether they survived the icequake, and their station is now moving 2 kilometres north each day with the strong aftershocks. They are on their own, with limited food and resources.

Do they stay put and risk being caught in the next series of icequakes and avalanches? Or do they pack up and trek over dangerous territories to the neighbouring station?

Icequake is a gripping and prophetic sci-fi disaster novel, full of excitement and danger in every chapter.