Saturday, 31 March 2018

"The Stolen girl" and "the French sultana" both explore the legend of Naksidil the French woman in the Turkish imperial harem

According to legends two French girls in the West Indies had their fortune told and were both assured they would be queens. Years later one of them becomes the wife of the French emperor Napoleon Bonaparte. Her niece however disappears during a sea voyage. She ends up being sold into the imperial harem in Istanbul. Although there is hardly any historical evidence to this legend it is told in many books.

The first novel is a story about a French woman who became the favourite of two sultans and the mother of a third. The history of that era is known and described in book 2. This however is the romanticised prequel to real history and it is a delight to read if you like historical romance novels. The first wife however would in real life have ended up on the bottom of the Bosporus.

The second novel in the series somehow reads different. Maybe because the writer had to stick to history and maybe because it spans many years.  I am quite familiar with this era in Turkish history what influenced the suspense side of the story. In general it feels more like a history book than a novel. What makes Selim so attractive? How do the women react on sharing the same man? Not that much explored. The people do not really come to life. But if you are interested in history it is a lovely way to catch up on Napoleon and France and on the lives of the sultans.

 More then 20 years ago I read another novel about this legend - serialised in a magazine - and that was a lot better.

Monday, 26 March 2018

"Reign of the Marionettes": a history book disguised as a novel - review

When I opted to review "Reign of the Marionettes" I was under the impression is was a historical romance. When I was a few chapters in, I thought it would be an adventure story. It is not. "Reign of the Marionettes" is the account of the real lives and history of a group of people living around 1680 and deals with plotting and scheming.It is more a history book disguised as a novel.

Sometimes this can make the book slow and particularly in the beginning it is full with dialogues (talking heads) and many, many different people. But when you arrive at the second half the stage is set and as a lawyer it had me fascinated how difficult it turned out for people to prove they were innocent.

Imagine yourself in the England of those days. You have grown up in a country ruled by a Puritan dictator who came to power after the king was beheaded in a civil war in which the Catholic French queen of that king was the opposition of the party that won. Catholics are not the most popular people in a situation like that. But to make matters worse your family lore will still tell about Bloody Mary, the queen who ruled when the grandparents of your parents lived and who burned protestants in droves at the stake. And not only her but in continental Europe the same happened. You will fear Catholics because when they would come to power what would happen to you?

And now the royal house is restored on the throne, the queen is barren and the next in line, the brother of the king, marries a Catholic!!!!! Italian princess. You might trust that Prince James but what of his heirs?

This is the situation in the period the book is set in. Britain is a parliamentary monarchy: parliament has to give power to the king. He is not an absolute king like for instance the French ones. One of his closest advisors discovers he is not informed about a secret treaty with France and regards the king from now on an enemy.

Titus Oates
In the meantime some nasty piece of shit, called Titus Oates, tries to get himself elevated by telling lies about people and stabbing people who helped him in the back.

The result is what is called the "Popist Plot" and all of a sudden every Catholic but also everyone else has to fear for his life.

Opposite of the "bad guys" we follow Elisabeth countess of Powis who has to fight to save her husband's life.

Because of the multitude of people in the novel it is, particularly at the beginning, difficult to identify with one. Only because I looked something up on Wikipedia (I am not British) I discovered that everyone in the book is a real person and that the novel follows history, That discovery made me look quite different at this novel and I would suggest the publishers to made this very clear at the beginning of the book and in the sales description. It really makes you appreciate it a lot more. (You do not see the byline on the cover on Kindle)

The book made me look different at king Charles II. For me as a Dutch person he is the one who after he had a safe place of refuge for years in Holland to start multiple wars against Holland as soon as he was king of England. He also seemed a very mercurial man who changed alliances as another person changes socks. Here we see also glimpses of Charles the husband. Yes he had a lot of mistresses and illegitimate children. But when he can save his royal house by divorcing his barren queen he bluntly refuses and refuses and refuses. He had acknowledged his bastards and gave them a decent royal upbringing and made sure his mistresses were looked after. In those days a mistress was regarded quite a normal thing to have. Remember most marriages were once of convenience and only done for diplomatic purposes. But when you study history a bit more it seemed Charles really cared for his Portuguese wife. I had tears in my eyes when people are gossiping in the story that the queen is seen in the royal nursery cuddling and playing with the royal bastards. Imagine to have to live as a queen who fails the only thing she has to do: birth an heir and longing so much for a child you go and cuddle the children your husband has with other women.

When you have concluded the novel take some time to google Elisabeth Powis, Titus Oates and the others to find out what happened afterwards (AND to see what they looked like as there are plenty of paintings). My thoughts were that I am very glad I did not live in those days in Britain.

Interesting read though (as a history book) and the price for the Kindle is very friendly.

Friday, 23 March 2018

"Indiscretion" transports us to 1950ties Franco Spain - book review

Alexandra de Falla is half English and half Spanish.She has lived quite a sheltered life in London. She has been raised by her English aunt as her mother divorced her Spanish father and died and then the war happened.

When the novel starts has Alexandra already written two novels that made her financially independent and when her father asks her to come and at last meet her Spanish family she sees it as at least an opportunity to do background research for a novel.

And that is how the writer of this book works as well. She has experienced Spain and weaves with her own travelmemories the background for this story. Resulting on us - while safely tucked in bed with a cold in my case - experiencing the Semana Sancta in Seville, going to a masked ball or attending a bull fight.

Although the book as far as I know never says it is 1950 the writer tells that in an included interview. We can deduct it by the fact that rationing in England just ended, it is 20 years after the Spanish civil war and Brigitte Bardot is an up and coming movie star.

Spain in 1950 is a lot more conservative than England in those days. Still one is supposed to be chaperoned for instance.

While the book is about the love affair between Alexandra and her adopted cousin Salvador it is even more about discovery of her cultural background.

The writer paints Spain vividly. The family members are colourful though one dimensional people but that does not matter that much apart from an in my opinion a very absent father.

With a title like indiscretion you would expect a book full of hot scenes but that is not the case. However the smouldering love between the two cousins is palpable even when there is only a stolen kiss once and awhile.

It is a very believable story and you really root for Salvador and Alexandra. You can feel the despair.

A really good book that I can also recommend to people who normally do not read a book around a love story, Because it is so much more. But you have to be interested in reading a lot about Spain and Spanish  culture.

***** 5 stars!

"The unkillable Kity O'Kane" -review. Eye witness to early 20th century history

I am a big fan of this writer and have read many novel written by him. This one did not do it for me.

When you are not familiar with history between say 1900 and 1925 the book might be an interesting read as Colin sends his heroine to all mayor events in that timeframe: the poverty in Ireland and the resulting emigration, the sinking of the Titanic, the suffragettes, another sinking, the Russian revolution, gangster and bootleggers in the US etc. Thing is I know my history and that caused the feeling of impending doom and gloom while reading the book.

I had also problems identifying with Kitty. I am not a socialist so her enthusiasm for her causes was lost to me. Also as a result of the episode style of the book it reads more like a history book than a novel that sucks you into a situation.

Thursday, 22 March 2018

Review of "Sparkles of Blue". A fantasy novel that needs a bit of polishing

This fantasy novel starts off quite intriguing The main character works in an office in London and suspects himself to have a bit of autism. He is not good in group and a real loner.

One night he dreams so be in a kind of medieval land and finds out he is the ruler there. It scares him to bits.

He is glad to wake up but the next night he dreams he is back there again and the next.

He wonders what is causing those weird dreams. They are quite draining because he is not the man who likes to be the centre of attention of have to lead.

Then he gets the feeling he is followed during the day and to his horror discovers that wounds received in his dreams are still there in the morning. So those dreams are also real!

So far quite good.

However towards the end the story becomes quite "magical / fantasy" and that is a bit overdone for my taste.

There was one weird thing though: he does not ask people what is going on or sets of to do research. Who was the prince before he started dreaming? What happened to him? Does he look different in his dreams?

And when all the pieces are set and one expects to find out what is really happening the book suddenly ends :(  You do not have to cut fantasy stories or even whatever other novel in separate books. I have read novels that were 1000 pages.

So good start but would suggest some rewrite towards the ending.

3 stars out of 5

Monday, 12 March 2018

A travelogue - mystery - cooking - detectivenovel set in Florence Tuscany "Treachery in Tuscany (Jordan Mayfair Mystery)"

What a joy reading this book was! American architect and amateur sleuth Jordan (early fifties?) and her elderly uncle Alex travel to Florence so he can do research for his new travelguide and she is looking forward to do some cooking classes and enjoy sightseeing the monuments and museums. They check in at an old convent in the middle of town and set about seeing the sights.

 The town is described so vividly that the book reads like a travelogue. You can picture the churches and I even looked up the famous David statue as I had never realised he was so big (no not that part).

 When Jordan takes a Masterclass in Italian cuisine at a villa in the hills the book turns into cookbook. We learn how to make tiramisu with strawberries and that ravioli should be cooked in a broth.

But then someone drops dead in front of Jordan and the book turns detective.

Oh wait there is also a French love interest with a daughter from hell.

The writer did such a good job that it feels like you have gone to Florence yourself and had slept in an old convent meeting all the different types of people you do while on holiday.

Maybe because I could identify with Jordan. The characters never become unrealistic.

A very enjoyable book that I can certainly recommend.

5 stars out of 5

Now reading: That Great Lucifer: A Portrait of Sir Walter Ralegh

Sir Walter Ralegh was one of the most divisive figures of the Tudor period; instrumental in the colonisation of North America, the destruction of the Spanish Armada, and the popularisation of tobacco in England, he is held up as a symbol of the tumultuous ambition of the Elizabethan age. Known in the Tudor Courts as much for his immoral attitude as for his expansive achievements, Sir Anthony Bagot dubbed him ‘the best-hated man in the world’.

It reads like a novel......................  will keep you posted

Sunday, 11 March 2018

A book about the fall of Palmyra in Syria written by a Syrian-Polish writer. 12+

In 1999 I visited Palmyra in Syria. It is an oasis town in the middle of a huge desert. Fabulous ruins were everywhere. A huge castle overlooking the town. The temple of Baal (remember from the Bible) still standing. What I noticed were the very friendly people living there. Many surprisingly redhaired with blue eyes. I was told that when the Romans conquered the town it was left empty till the ancestors of the people living there in 1999 came to the town  as Russian refugees in the 19th century .

Fast forward: Newspapers full of horror stories of IS in Palmyra. The curator of the museum hanged, the temple and monuments destroyed, people killed. My heart bled. All of a sudden people from that country walked all the way to mine.

Around that time I was given this book to review. It took me a bit before I opened it.

It is written by a Syrian-Polish doctor now living in the United States. The book was listed on NetGalley as a children's book but I would suggest to list it as "young adults - teenagers". It is perfect material to use in class during a history project or for Latin classes. However also for adults interested in Palmyra it is a nice read.

It’s the year 272 A.D. In the book we follow three different girls: one the daughter of the queen, one a dancer who is in love with the boy king the brother of the other girl and a servant girl working in the palace.

Palmyra is at its power zenith.  Zenobia rules from Egypt to Armenia and is at first seen as a Roman alley but then tensions grow between Rome and Palmyra.

In the end the Romans conquer the town. The three girls see their lives completely turned upside down and have to take matters in their own hands.

They grow into strong women.

The book is quite short and for adult readers it might be a bit shallow in the emotions department. I however think that might reflect the ages of the main characters. A young person probably will just go with the flow and not worry if they will love someone still when he is not a king anymore.

Romance novels with an entertaining mystery - two reviews

Sometimes you just like to read a romantic story. When the writer combines that with a good mystery it will have the reader enthralled.

Let us start with "Gray's Promise"

This novel starts of with a very promising start. Young Grayson and Zoey just declared their love for each other when she goes off to celebrate her birthday. Next time Gray sees her her whole family is killed and she is brutally raped. His own brother is wounded. But to make things even more shocking it seems his brother and Zoey are engaged. She refuses to see him and Gray and we the readers are wondering what the hell could have happened.

Ten years later she returns  to Gray as her trauma is effecting her work as a neonatal surgeon and she wants to find out what happened that night because it turns out that Zoey suffers from amnesia.

So far the book is very good.. Then the story slows down and turns into "sticks item a into hole B.". Which is entertaining but the mystery solving pushed to the background there.. Luckily the story picks up again and the mystery starts to unravel.

It is an entertaining read until I realised a bit later it has a HUGE plothole. I might have missed something but as far as I know you cannot guarantee amnesia. So it means a potential witness is left alive who could bring the killer to the electric chair.  But maybe the writer can share her light on this for us.

3 stars out of 5

The second novel is "The Art of going home"

When she is 9 years old Madison's twinnsister was murdered. Almost 20 years later Madison returns to her hometown for a burial. She does not dare tell people she hears her sister talking to her in her head urging her to find the killer (Trauma???)

Ok story. In this novel there is a childhood crush as well. The nephew of her former housekeeper who was a kind of mother for her is now a lawyer and is very attracted to her. 

Lots of romance here as well but the detective part is nicely done and the persons are more realistic. The large Hispanic family really comes to life.

4 stars out of 5

In my opinion the second novel wins.

Friday, 2 March 2018

A timetravel fantasy book written by a Russian writer that has high potential "First Lessons."

Have you ever wondered what you would do if you suddenly would be transported to a place in the past while you had all your modern knowledge?

In this Russian fantasy novel medical student Aliya dies in a carcrash and then somehow wakes up in another body in another world that is very much like our Middle Ages.

This Russian novel is a bit different. At first I thought it was a story meant for highschool students but nevertheless was so attracted by the synopsis I volunteered to review. The thing is that although the heroine is a medical student I think the targeted readers might be found in 18+. Not that the story is steamy: it is not! No because of the serious way the whole situation is handled.

In most timetravel stories people just blend in. If there is the fact that they know more than the people surrounding them then it is in that they know the future. It is not so much that they would share advanced technology. Here there is no knowledge of the future: it is a different world not the past. But Aliya now countess Lilian has a wide share of knowledge how to make things and how to cure people and she sets off to monetise that and improve her village. It made me wonder what I would do and I realised my knowledge is not suitable at all in a situation like that (I am a lawyer).

So what to say about this novel?

The writer is very apt in worldbuilding. The world described sounds real. Countess Lilian lives in a would with many similarities to medieval Europe. You recognise the Vikings, the Jews and the Arabs, but the church is just different. Laws are different. And similar.

Sometimes the writing style seems a bit different to me but that might be because it is a Russian novel that is translated. Things like that can somehow show different cultures of writing styles. It is not annoying.

The book really has potential to be great but seems to break off just when the stage is set for action. I would advice to publish it together with part 2 (I expect there is one). I think it will be received better that way. Lots of the better fantasy stories are heavy tomes that has the reader reading for days on end so there is no need to cut the story into different volumes. Now we end up with a clever exercise how to keep yourself afloat in the Middle Ages and we see storm brewing on the horizon but the thunderclaps have not been heard yet. All the action has yet to come.

It could be done like this if this part would be for free but when you want to charge a fee I think customers might grumble because it feels like you are reading a good book and suddenly someone grabs it and takes it away.

PS: I really liked the fact that the heroine is a heavy set lady who kicks ass (I am no feather either)