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.








Friday, 19 July 2019

Review of "Blood On The Stone" by Jake Lynch - Oxford during Charles II comes to life during a murder investigation

March 1681. Oxford is hosting the English Parliament and King Charles the Second with his whole court. The country is in an uproar over the supposed Papist Plot and the king seems too lenient towards his Catholic brother according to some. Do keep in mind that a few generations ago Bloody Mary burned the protestants.

In this powder keg that is about to explode a Member of Parliament is found stabbed to death and Luke Standys, Chief Officer of the Oxford Bailiffs and brother of one of the king's officers has to solve the case and diffuse the situation.

This is not an easy novel. It is full with British English period words. So if you are an American who cannot survive anything away from your own American English do not complain just skip. For all the people up for a challenge: I liked having to look things up with the online dictionary or Wikipedia. Yes English is not my mother language but nevertheless I am near native. The novel also paints an extensive background of the culture, the landmarks and the political situation in those days in Oxford. Not surprisingly because the novel is written by an academic from Oxford.

The novel made me feel like I timetravelled because it paints the situation so vividly. The writer also described Luke in detail. You really get to know him.

But all of this make it a novel that reads slowly. So if you were looking for just an easy who-done-it that you can finish in a few hours look elsewhere. If you are really interested in history you will like the novel.

A 5 stars out of 5 and the novel is very cheap on Amazon



AMAZON
March 1681. Oxford is hosting the English Parliament under the ‘merry monarch’, King Charles II. As politicians and their hangers-on converge on the divided city, an MP is found murdered, triggering tensions that threaten mayhem on the streets.
Luke Sandys, Chief Officer of the Oxford Bailiffs, must solve the crime and thwart the plot. On his side is the respect for evidence and logic he absorbed in his student days, as a follower of the new science. On the other, a group of political conspirators are stirring up sectarian hatreds in their scheme to overthrow the Crown.
Struggling to protect all he holds dear, Luke leans heavily on his cavalry officer brother, his friends, and his faithful deputy, Robshaw. But he has a secret, which may be clouding his judgement. At the moment of truth, will he choose love or duty?

Preview / Review of "The Woman in the Veil" by Laura Joh Rowland - a detective novel set in Victorian era London

London, June 1890. Just after the death of Prince Albert and the infamous Ripper case. Sarah Bain, a photographer, and her friends homosexual Lord Hugh Staunton and former street urchin Mick O'Reilly are crime scene reporters for the Daily World newspaper who do a bit of sleuthing on the side.

One night they are called to the bank of the Thames where the body of a naked woman is found by a whore and her punter. On close examination however Sarah discovers that the woman is still alive and she is rushed to hospital. But with a disfigured face and amnesia the next question is her identity and who has left her for dead. Sarah's fiancé Detective Sergeant Barrett is given the case to solve.

But are the people claiming to know her speaking the truth? Is Sleeping Beauty really unaware of who she is?

On the background there is also the mystery in Sarah's own life.

The central theme of the novel is the (lack of) love of parents and the yearning of children for love.

The story is entertaining and has a good plot. The characters however are not that much fleshed out. It keeps pace and you can finish it in a day or two.

4 stars out of 5. This is an ARC review

Pub Date

Thursday, 18 July 2019

Review of "In the Shadow of the Storm" by Anna Belfrage - a romantic adventure of two people trying to survive a revolt in medieval England

England around 1321: King Edward the Second is a weak king who is heavily influenced by male favourites. The current favourite is Hugh Despenser the Younger and the barons of the realm despise the man.

In those days England had a feudal system with the king as the big boss and under him and sworn loyal to him the higher nobility. Under those lords and loyal to them there were knights who would own a few manors that were like large farms and who served like officers in the army of the lords. In case of war these knights would bring their men-at-arms to act as soldiers. This whole system was tied together by sworn allegiances of the lower ranked to the one a step higher on the ladder.

Kit and her mother lived on such a manor in a very rural area. Just after the death of her mother she is snatched from home and forced to marry a knight who was chosen by his lord to marry his mistress. That mistress turns out to be Kit's legitimate half-sister (she finds out a knight is her true father) and her double ganger who has run away with a lover. The wife of her father wants to keep that a secret and threatens Kit to kill her and her tenants if she does not do as she is told end pretends to be her half-sister.

So far the book reads like a romance novel. But then it turns into an action adventure.

Luckily for Kit the man she is forced to marry is a very nice person and also good to look at. But their happiness is threatened by what now is called the Despenser War. Her husband's lord and the one who saved him as a young boy from harm plans to lead a rebellion against the king and although Kit's husband thinks that is wrong he is pledged to follow his lord.

When I was a few pages in I realised I had read the book a few years ago but remembered it to be a very good story so read it again. As far as I can see it is also historically correct and it sheds a light on a part of English history I was not familiar with.. I can certainly recommend it.

5 stars out of 5




AMAZON: 
Adam de Guirande owes his lord, Roger Mortimer, much more than loyalty. He owes Lord Roger for his life and all his worldly goods, he owes him for his beautiful wife – even if Kit is not quite the woman Lord Roger thinks she is. So when Lord Roger rises in rebellion against the king, Adam has no choice but to ride with him – no matter what the ultimate cost may be.

England in 1321 is a confusing place. Edward II has been forced by his barons to exile his favourite, Hugh Despenser. The barons, led by the powerful Thomas of Lancaster, Roger Mortimer and Humphrey de Bohun, have reasons to believe they have finally tamed the king. But Edward is not about to take things lying down...

Adam fears his lord has over-reached, but Adam has other matters to concern him, first and foremost his new wife, Katherine de Monmouth. His bride comes surrounded by rumours concerning her and Lord Roger, and he hates it when his brother snickers and whispers of used goods.

Kit has the misfortune of being a perfect double of Katherine de Monmouth – which is why she finds herself coerced into wedding a man under a false name.

Domestic matters become irrelevant when the king sets out to punish his rebellious barons. The Welsh Marches explode into war, and soon Lord Roger and his men are fighting for their very lives. When hope splutters and dies, when death seems inevitable, it falls to Kit to save her man – if she can.

In the Shadow of the Storm is the first in Anna Belfrage’s new series, The King’s Greatest Enemy, the story of a man torn apart by his loyalties to his lord, his king, and his wife.


Monday, 10 June 2019

Review of "Six Women" by Victoria Cross

This is a book written in 1906 but the language is still very modern. However one can see how much is changed in a century by how women are regarded and treated. In the days the novel was published the content would have been regarded as highly scandalous. Not because of erotic behaviour described - it is not -  but it is hinted at and in those days your knickers were your "unmentionables" to paint a picture . But mostly because all six women are in a love affair with a man of a different race or religion.

Annie Sophie Cory (1 October 1868 – 2 August 1952) was a British author of popular, racy, exotic New Woman novels under the pseudonyms Victoria Cross(e), Vivian Cory and V.C. Griffin.
Cory's stories often detail behaviours and desires unusual in the Victorian period such as female cross-dressing, unbridled and unashamed sexual desire, longing for and fear of interracial sexual relationships, and questioning of traditional heterosexual gender roles for men and women. (Source Wikipedia)

When you read this article  https://victorianfictionresearchguides.org/victoria-cross/ she seemed to have been a weird person especially for those days and age. 

This book is a collection of short stories. Some are quite good - the first and the last - the rest is in my opinion a lot less. As the book is free you might just want to try it out of curiosity and because the first story is interesting. In that story an Englishman is told during his wedding night by his new wife that she wedded him for the position and that she does not want any sexual relationship. He accepts a job in India and they do not see each other in the next 20 years. But when he falls in love with an Indian dancing girl his wife goes on the warpath.


Preview of "Three remain" by R.A. Andrade

This science fiction novel had me on the tip of my toes or maybe rather on the edge of my seat and had me going to bed too late. It is a very entertaining read and suspense keeps very high throughout the whole story.

One morning when a lawyer goes to work he finds a woman who was in a carcrash. When they go into town they notice that there is no one around and phones, internet and electricity are not working. The only person they meet is a young girl and there is a huge fog bank blocking the road. Then things get dangerous.

To tell more would spoil your fun but if you like Steven King's novels this is one for you.

An additional plus of this story is that there is a lot of good humour in it although there were situations the teenager grated on my nerves.

This was a preview ARC from Netgalley. The novel will be published 23rd of September 2019.

Comparing two sheikh romances: the friendship turns into love-type and the hanky panky-type

With hotty Sheikh Hamdan from Dubai now married his millions of female instagram followers have to look elsewhere to dream.











And that can be done with the new book by Leslie North that I was asked to review for Netgalley.

The Sheikh's Surprise Heir


I have seen other planecrashes with sheikhs on Amazon but this kind of novellas guarantee a relaxed read on an afternoon waiting for a plane, on the beach or with a cold in bed.

In this story the female heroine is working as a stewardess with a private plane company. One day the client is a Middle Eastern prince who definitely was born with too many silver spoons in his mouth. The guy is annoying in extremis. but is also the only one aboard who bothers saving her after the plane has crash landed. While waiting for his bodyguards to return with help - why do you need them when you can send them all away while you wait with a wounded woman? - she is not that hurt that they cannot play a game of "can we connect on a non-spiritual  level by inserting this part of mine into yours?" Their meeting ends very fruitful with a lot of money and a surprise a bit further on the road as hey why would you use a condom as there is no HIV is there in fairyland. Years later he is the king and they meet again.

A well written easy romance story that has no pitfalls.You do have to like the concept of bed before love though.

A 3 stars out of 5

For sale her on Amazon https://amzn.to/2KDEYGs



To do some comparing I borrowed the one below with my Kindle Unlimited

The Sheikh's Tempted Protectress by Holly Rayner

The Amazon blurb states: "Beth Coolidge has a new assignment: as personal bodyguard to the notoriously hedonistic playboy Sheikh Osman Al-Haddeni, the ex-navy veteran knows she has her work cut out, but she never thought it’d be this tough. The party-loving Sheikh seems to want to regard her more as a pretty-faced status symbol, than a legitimate protector of his life."

Beth recently left the navy and still unemployed when a former boyfriend suggests a stint as the bodygueard of a sheikh. At first she is appalled by the world of glitter but when she gets to know her boss under all the trappings he is a real nice guy who spends days with her in hiding playing boardgames and cooking. It seems a lot more natural that these people fall in love and the novel is not about sex at all. There is also an amount of thriller/suspense in the story as somehow people want him dead.

In this range of novellas a 4 star out of 5.


For sale on Amazon: https://amzn.to/2WQUKEz





Sunday, 9 June 2019

Sunday's free books: A mystery by Edie Claire "Never buried"

First in the USA-Today and Kindle Top Ten bestselling Leigh Koslow Mystery Series! Advertising copywriter Leigh Koslow doesn't pack heat--just a few extra pounds. And she doesn't go looking for trouble. When she moved into her cousin Cara's refurbished Victorian house, she wasn't planning on discovering a corpse--certainly not one that had been embalmed ten years before.

 But as anyone in the small Pittsburgh borough of Avalon could tell her, her cousin's house has a history attached. A history dating back to two mysterious deaths in the summer of 1949.
Someone wants Leigh and Cara out of the house--someone who has something to hide. But that someone doesn't know Leigh's impetuous cousin, and when Cara digs her heels in, Leigh looks to her old college chum, local policewoman Maura Polanski, for help. But the answers the trio find only point to more questions. Were the scandalous deaths of fifty years ago really an accident and a suicide? Or were they murder?
The nearer the women get to the truth, the more desperate someone becomes. Because some secrets are better off kept. Especially when they hit close to home!
"A thoroughly delightful debut. Bright, breezy, and witty. I couldn't put it down."--Tamar Myers
Originally published in mass market paperback by NAL/Penguin, Putnam, Inc. in 1999. Large-Print Edition published by Thorndike, 2002.


For Kindle: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B004GKNLMY?tag=fbsyemailwwm-20


For KOBO: https://www.kobo.com/us/en/ebook/never-buried


Saturday, 8 June 2019

Review of "Occupation secret" by Mario Reading - an SS officer and a French farmgirl bond over music

After having survived the horror of the Eastern Front German SS commander Count Maximilian von Aschau is transferred to rural France where he and his men have to occupy a village and be ready to repel an invasion when it will come. En route to the small town battle hardened but still a devout catholic 28-old Max sees a young woman shelter from the rain in a small roadside chapel. He offers her a lift but the soaked girl refuses.

Lucie Léré.is a poor farmgirl with no education who never has been far away from home and is courted by a neighbour boy who was disfigured during the fighting when Germany invaded France. Her mother is supposed to send lunch to the German SS commander and sees an opportunity to earn an extra franc by pushing her daughter towards the lonely officer.

The two enemies who are worlds apart however bond over their mutual love for music. Danger however lurks around the corner.

This could be the script for a soppy romance story but it is written by a man and a bestselling author and although it is about the love affair between the two enemies it only occasionally mentions sex and deals with a lot more than just them. We also witness one of the biggest SS warcrimes and the violent ways of the Maquis and of civilians who have an account to settle.

There was one thing lacking in my opinion. The part of the Eastern Front depicts the Soviets as cruel adversaries - and they were - but the SS were no choirboys either and that is not that much mentioned. It is reasoned that Max had to join the SS to keep the Nazies away from their country estate as their neighbour was forced out of his due to his lack of support of the regime (I know a real case where they planned a motorway around a castle as a way of revenge) but I wonder if nobility would not have opted for a more traditional role in the Wehrmacht.

The story is a very good story. Although towards the end it feels a bit rushed (like the massacre at
the ruins of Oradour sur Glane

This was the real commander in that area
Oradour sur Glane  but maybe that feels like that to me as I have visited the site) and I would have liked the ending to have happened a bit later. A good epilogue would have been interesting. I wondered if that was due to the fact that this was a posthumous novel.

The cover however feels wrong. Max is described as a tall and thin guy with light blonde hair. The man on the cover is none of that. He also seems to wear the surcoat of the Wehrmacht. Was the SS uniform not black? And the woman on the cover looks like a lady while in the story Lucie is very young, very short and wearing poor cloths. What is worse is that it looks like the cover of another book with the same kind of plot but the more soppy variety and  at first I thought that book had been republished. So I would advice to change it so their age difference will be more clear and he will look more "scary" because that is what he is to the people who do not know him well.


Review: "The count of Monte Christo" as a manga

I remember reading the story as a child in the comic book Donald Duck but not as a comic but as a adaptation summarizing it by three pages each week. I was wondering if I had read the original novel as well. Probably. I do remember seeing a movie. So I knew the story.

The fun for me in reading this adaptation was that it was the first manga I ever read and very much liked the way the creative team explained how to read a mango but even better told about their decisions in adapting a classic novel to a Japanese style of comic book. How she scanned society pages looking for a man who could be the inspiration to the count and such.

Manga is not my favourite style of comic book though. The way people are pictured is too childish for my taste. But for an experiment I really liked this well researched and imagined version of the classical tale. It is also a great way of introducing literature to people who will not be enthusiastic about the more old fashioned, many pages original. And remember I was introduced to this great story by a comic book too.

A four stars out of 5

This book is published the 6th of June 2019






Thursday, 23 May 2019

Preview of "Destiny's tide" by J.D. Davies: a town disappearing beneath the waves and the disturbing life in Henry the 8's England

16th century England: Dunwich is a town in decline - figuratively and literally. Once a town that rivalled London strong winter storms at the beginning of the small Ice Age have blocked the harbour by dumping shingle and the changing sea current is now eating away the cliffs the town is built on. Of the many prosperous churches several have already crumbled and vanished under the waves. But with King Harry dissolving the monasteries the income from the Iceland Fisheries has also disappeared. With his father in the leper hospital and his wife dead Jack Stannard has to manage their shipping industry and surviving not only Big Harry's wars in Scotland and France but also scheming neighbouring villages. 

I have to admit it took me a very long time to start to identify with the main characters in the story. But what the book makes so very interesting is that it feels like we as a reader time travel. The writer states that he has been teaching Tudor history for many years and that shows in all the details. 

This is a story not of mighty kings but of the civilians: the greyfriar who looses his livelihood as a monk and is forced to pick up his sword as a soldier once again, the beggar who must have once been educated and prosperous but now sits begging in the street blind, the child who thinks her new stepmother must be a witch because as old as she is (I believe 26) she still has all her teeth.

It also illustrates the big changes that happened in those days. Ships are at first fighting with arrows and boarders but later on the first cannon is introduced. While the mighty orders like the Benedictines were given a pension, later on the Franciscans were just evicted what meant old monks died in the gutter and not only abbeys but also schools and hospitals were closed. The common folks saw their church rituals changed bit by bit like removing dooms and introducing English liturgy. That close look of day to day life in that era makes this novel so interesting. 

And the more I read about Henry the 8th the more I think he was a sociopath. Like how he executed someone for treason in such a gruesome way that the father of that person who was wrongly convicted lost his mind.



Publishing date June 27th 2019

A roadtrip through Afghanistan and Iran in 1978 lead to a detective story in 2007: Review of "Vanished" by N.V. Baker



Cassie is travelling with her boyfriend from Bangkok to Afghanistan in 1978. En route she exchanges letters with a Phd student in the States who is a few years older than she is. In Kabul they meet an American and a Canadian, both young men who also plan to go to Iran. (Then called Persia and not speaking Arabic - the only slips I noticed).

Thirty years later the pen pal is a professor and rediscovers those letter while packing his office to move buildings. He had till then always assumed she ended her friendship with him but on the brink of a divorce he finds out someone had done that for him. Curious he googles her and finds out she vanished. (And we are still reading her adventures in 1978 and are none the wiser but are looking out for clues).

The book is an interesting roadstory - I even told my Afghan refugee students the words in Dari I learned from it. The other storyline is about a middle aged scientist who turns detective.

Can really recommend it.






Tuesday, 30 April 2019

Review of "The Fragrant Concubine" by Melissa Addey - an Uygur legend and a conflicting Chinese one.

The novel is based on a Chinese and an Uygur legend from the days that China invaded the Uygur region. Even today we see people applying from asylum blaming to be oppressed by the now communists Chinese government but in those days it was also a battle of beliefs where a Buddhist empire conquered a Muslim principality.


Lets start with a look at Wikipedia:


Fragrant Concubine

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia


Khoja Iparhan/Fatimah binti Ali Khojam
和卓.伊帕爾罕
Consort Rong dressed in Manchu Clothes.JPG
Portrait of the Fragrant Concubine by Giuseppe Castiglione
Born11 October 1734
Died24 May 1788 (aged 53)
SpouseQianlong Emperor
HouseXojam (by birth)
Aisin Gioro (by marriage)
The Fragrant Concubine (Chinese: 香妃; pinyin: Xiāng Fēi; Uyghur: ئىپارخان‎ / Iparxan / Ипархан) is a figure in Chinese legend who was taken as a consort by the Qianlong Emperor of the Qing dynasty in the 18th century. Although the stories about her are believed to be mythical, they may have been based on an actual concubine from western China who entered the imperial harem in 1760 and received the title "Imperial Consort Rong" (容妃; Róng Fēi). Han Chinese and Uyghur tellings of the legend of the Fragrant Concubine diverge greatly, and her experience represents a powerful symbol for both figures. The story became greatly popular during the early 20th century and has since been adapted into several plays, films, and books.

Chinese legend

Although accounts vary as to some details, the basic story among Han Chinese recounts the discovery by the Qianlong Emperor of a Uyghur woman named Iparhan ("Musky Woman"), the granddaughter of Afaq Khoja, a local leader in the oasis city of Kashgar. Even more remarkable than her beauty was the scent her body naturally produced; captivated, the emperor sought her as an Imperial Consort for his harem. She was given as a gift to the emperor and carefully escorted all the way to the imperial palace in Beijing, washing every day along the road in camel's milk to preserve her mysterious fragrance.
Upon her arrival at the imperial palace, the Fragrant Concubine was given a garden and a luxurious room as a sign of the Qianlong Emperor's devotion. Homesick and distraught, she remained disconsolate as the emperor made ever-increasing efforts to recreate her distant village, building her a mosque, miniature oasis, and bazaar outside her windows in an effort to bring her happiness. Finally she relented and came to love him when he sent messengers to Kashgar to return with a jujube tree bearing golden fruit, and the Fragrant Concubine became the emperor's cherished consort until her death. An enduring symbol of national unity and reconciliation, her body was brought back to her home of Kashgar, where she is now entombed, in a procession of 120 bearers in a journey that took over three years.

Uyghur legend

Contemporary Uyghur renditions of the legend are considerably less romantic. She was the child of the ruler of the Yarkent Khanate and her name was Nur Ela Nurhan.[1] Taken away to the imperial palace in Beijing by the Qianlong Emperor, Iparhan arms herself with daggers up her sleeves, on guard against the hated advances of the emperor, until finally she was poisoned.[2]

Apak Khoja and Fragrant Concubine Tomb

Imperial Consort Rong's tomb in the Eastern Qing tombs
The Afaq Khoja Mausoleum (mazar) located outside Kashgar was built in 1640 and, in addition to encompassing a larger complex that includes a functioning mosque and madrasa, houses the coffins of five generations of the Afak Khoja family, including what is purported to be the body of the Fragrant Concubine. In fact, the real Imperial Consort Rong died of illness on 24 May 1788 and was buried in an imperial tomb in Beijing; the legend of the Fragrant Concubine first became closely associated with the Kashgar tomb in the late 19th century, and the connection has since been officially established and endorsed through a proliferation of signs and guided tours.[citation needed]

Source Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fragrant_Concubine

The Novel "The Fragrant concubine" by Melissa Addey

Writer Melissa Addey wondered how both legends could be so vastly different even when you consider the political implications of the era. She wondered if there could be a version in which both are true.

In the story Iparhan is a Muslim princess who sees her country invaded by the Chinese on the eve of her wedding and in no time she looses her home and her parents. Longing to take revenge on the emperor she hopes to swap places with a cousin who is sent to the Chinese court as a concubine for the emperor. But when that is no longer possible she captures a beggar girl who looks remarkably like her.

Someone once said that revenge is a double-edged sword. Her drive for revenge turns Iparhan into a crazy woman, I think, who destroys everyone who cares for her, and becomes a ruthless killer.

The girl she captures is dead poor and in the beginning does not object that much to the idea of a life in luxury but then is more and more scared by the madwoman.

Things get really complicated when Hidligh is at court and realises she loves the emperor and made good friends and wants to do everything to keep them save but on the other hand will lose her own life if it ever comes clear she was send to the palace to spy. The result is a very thrilling tale with dangers lurking everywhere.

I am not so familiar with Chinese history so the whole setting was intriguing as well. The Forbidden City is nothing like a Middle Eastern harem: all the concubines have their own palaces and most of the time the emperor will come to have dinner there and some horizontal sport. The women are also less secluded. What sounded so alien to me was that one's name changed with promotions and the emperor was not mentioned by his name after he had become emperor.

Life could be tragic or blissful depending on what the women wanted: some are completely forgotten by the emperor and really lonely and miserable others share a happy lesbian life glad he is not paying them any attention. Others cling to power because they want their child to be the next emperor. Or like the Empress and Hidligh are in love with the man but that is not necessary mutual.

In the end the writer composed the solution for both legends.

I really liked the novel. The story is thrilling and nerve-racking and the cultural setting is interesting.

A 5 stars out of 5.







A selection of Native American romance novels (All read for free with my Kindle Unlimited subscription)

Confined to bed with an inflamed larynx and a dose of penicillin  I tried to get my mind occupied by something entertaining to read. The theme is love stories involving Indians.


Captive by Colleen French

A few weeks before the outbreak of the war between England and France in America Tess is kidnapped by Mohawks. After she manages to escape she befriends Raven who is a Lanape. He promises to bring her back to her home. But then prejudice and war get in the way.
Well written romance with a lot of things happening in it that keep you reading. Some bedscenes but in small doses. Takes time to explain the political situation of those days - we even see George Washington passing by - and how the whites dealt with women who had been captured by the natives.

4 stars out of 5




Forbidden Caress by Colleen French

This novel by the same author and set in the same setting is less interesting. The daughter of an English reverent follows her fiance to the colonies. En route to his home he ransacked an Indian burial site and when the Indians attack him for doing that he leaves his fiancee behind and runs off. The fiancee is taken prisoner and the first half of the novel is spend on does he loves me or does he not and vice versa. What I found quite unbelievable is the idea to go and live all alone in a cabin while severely handicapped and with roaming hostile Indian tribes in the area. Safety in numbers and all. For an American romance novel it is kind of surprising to see gay people mentioned and a transsexual a revered friend and that in a novel written in the 1980ties according to Goodreads although Amazon mentions 2017. (By the way I have read years ago that transsexuality was not frowned upon amongst the Indian).

3 stars out of 5




Walks With Him: Comanche Bride (Native Brides Book 1) by Elle Marlow 

All stereotypes of the great plains Indians are mentioned horses buffalo hunts etcetera and I am not certain things are represented historically correct. Feels a bit as a young adult tale with some bedscenes. And to think you can understand a language in just a few days! I travelled the Middle East for 5 weeks and could come up with good morning, a few numbers and coffee and tea and thank you.

A 2 stars out of 5 








When The Wind Blows: A Story of Love by J.R. Case

Very well written story about a woman who sets off to the Dakota plains. She and her husband had been rich but he spent all their money. His new dream is homesteading in the West. She is in a very unhappy marriage but out in the wilderness Clive works hard and the rich girl starts to enjoy the project. But then she is left alone in the wilderness with only the sheriff visiting once a month and a mysterious Indian looking at her from afar. She never sees that man as a threat but considers him her visitor.
Unlike many of these novels no instant love but a story that builds up slowly and spends a lot of time on day to day chores. It becomes obvious how much work running a farm in the middle of nowhere was in those days and in that climate. (A friend of mine is from that area and always is telling about the harsh winters).  I found it interesting and endearing. There is explicit sexual activity and some of that might be a trigger for people who have a history of sexual violence.

Definitely a 5 stars out of 5



By the way did you know that quite a lot of guys read a romance novel when they can disguise it as a book their wife or girlfriend bought and left on the table? 

Monday, 22 April 2019

ARC review of "Of fire and lions" by Mesu Andrews - the story of the Jewish prince deported to Babylon

For those amongst us with a Jewish or a Christian upbringing the story of Daniel (in the lionpit) will be familiar. Young Jewish prince Daniel is deported to Babylon after the conquest of Jerusalem and become a high advisor of first the Babylonian king and later the Persian one.

In this novel mrs Andrews gives Daniel a (fictional) wife. We follow not only the known biblical events but also see their world from the eyes of the wife for instance as her serving as a high priestess of a local religion, the eunuch system in government and other things. And of course the events mentioned in the bible: the throwing in an oven, the illness of the king, the lionpit and all the dreams.

Although it is a book written by a Christian person it is not overdoing it like some American novels can what normally makes me sooner think of blasphemy. It is an entertaining read and if someone is inspired to read the original by it all the better.

A four stars out of 5

Of Fire and Lions
by Mesu Andrews
Pub Date: 05 Mar 2019 


Saturday, 20 April 2019

Review of "Bones of the Earth" by Eliot Pattison - a detective story set in occupied Tibet

A disgraced Chinese police detective is now released from the prisoncamp he was send to and allowed to serve as a constable in a village in Tibet. His son is however still in a camp and the high Chinese official who ordered his release has still a firm grip on his life. Near his town a hydro dam is built in a valley that has been sacred to the local people since all times and what is regarded by the local people as Gekho's roost, a local demon God. An executed Tibetan engineer, an American student who died in a car accident, a dead man in the sky train all seem to have a link with this hydro dam project. Chan is ordered to solve the case.

When I was on about 20% of the book I was thinking it reminded me so much of a novel I had read years ago. A fact finding discovery to my bookshelves produced the first novel in this series. This book is the 10th.

The series is set in Tibet and it is clear the writer has a lot of sympathy with the Tibetan people and their culture and detests the occupation and harsh suppression by Beijing.

It might sound strange but due to all the deities and demons and the for me unfamiliar Buddhist religion and Tibetan and Chinese culture and the harsh neglect of human rights and rule of law it felt most of the time as if I was reading a fantasy novel. But then remembering this is real and sometimes we see refugees from Tibet all the way in Europe.

The detective part of the story is nicely done but the real charm is the colour locale.



Friday, 19 April 2019

Review of "A String of Silver Beads (The Moorish Empire Book 2)" by Melissa Addey - Moroccan history centred in Marrakesh

Amazon Summary: North Africa, 1067. Kella is a girl disguised as a boy, travelling the trade routes and beating all comers in the camel races. When her true identity is revealed, she is sent home to the family desert camp to be taught women’s skills. But Kella yearns for her freedom and the excitement of life on the road and when a mighty army sets out on a holy mission, she risks marriage to its general, Yusuf. While Yusuf conquers the whole of North Africa, Kella finds herself a rival to his infamous queen consort, Zaynab, a powerful and jealous woman. Can Kella protect herself and her newborn son? Can she find the freedom she craves as well as love? Second in the Moorish Empire series, this is a new take on a dramatic period of history.

My review:  When you are interested in the history of Morocco but like it told in a good novel this is the book for you. The setting is the founding of the Almoravid dynasty.

The Almoravid dynasty was an imperial Berber Muslim dynasty centered in Morocco. It established an empire in the 11th century that stretched over the western Maghreb and Al-Andalus. Founded by Abdallah ibn Yasin, the Almoravid capital was Marrakesh, a city the ruling house founded in 1062. The dynasty originated among the Lamtuna and the Gudala, nomadic Berber tribes of the Sahara, traversing the territory between the Draa, the Niger, and the Senegal rivers.
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Almoravid_dynasty


Yusuf, his cousin Abu Bakr and Zaynab are all historical figures and are important figures in the conquest of the Mahgreb by the Almoravids dynasty.

The earliest reference to Zaynab is in the anonymous 12th-century text Kitab al-Istibsar, where it says "In her time there was none more beautiful or intelligent or witty ... she was married to Yusuf, who built Marrakech for her"
Her example and the fact that she assisted in creating the dynasty and its customs had great impact on the situation of women in Almoravid Morocco. In the tradition and example of her, women in Morocco had high status during the reign of the Almoravid dynasty; princesses was allowed to participate in state affairs; women in Morocco did not wear veils; the education of women was accepted and normal, with notable women such as Hafsa Bint al-Hajj al-Rukuniyya holding courses for the women of the palace; at least two women known to have been doctors, and, finally, princess Fannu famously participated in the defense of the capital during the dynasty's downfall in 1147 (Wikipedia)


"Zainab was praised for her matchless beauty as well as her skills in governance matters. Though many women lived in the shadow of their husbands at that time, historians report that Zainab Nafzaouia was highly influential in the process of decision making especially in public affairs.
Lotfi Bouchentouf de Zamane reports that Zainab Nafzaouia  has repeatedly intervened in politics. For instance she urged her husband Yusuf Ibn Tachfin to change his status from a mere deputy of Abu Bakr to the title of “Amir al Mouminin”, the prince of believers.
Women living under the Almoravids rule were relatively emancipated in public life. They held a prominent role in society as they were entrusted with governance issues in their households."
https://www.moroccoworldnews.com/2012/09/56284/zainab-nafzaouia-legendary-queen-of-the-almoravid-dynasty/

Yusuf is portraited in history as a wise and fair man.

In this novel Zaynab is portrayed as a woman who sleeps herself to power and who is terribly jealous. Well the first part seems to be true as she keeps marrying another candidate who seems to qualify for the ruler of the Maghreb but if she was a bad person we will never know.

I think the fictional Kella is described in a genuine way: a girl who saw a lot of the world as a child and teenager and who suddenly is confined to the role of a peasant woman in a camp and who yearns for freedom and travel will be fascinated by a general with a vision to conquer the world. Yusuf seems to be the kind of man who is attracted to smart women who share his vision. But where Kella is a young nomad girl Zaynab is the older and experienced woman and he falls madly in love with her.

I do not agree with the end conclusion in the book on their relationship and the relationship Kella has with her friend from home. Because the book is very detailed apart from the sexual relationship Kella has it is a bit difficult to fathom how intense their bond is. I think Kella was besotted and yes Yusuf was more feeling tenderness towards her while he seems madly in love and under the spell of Zaynab. But the other relationship seems only to me to be love from one side. The ending feels a bit too convenient.

The book is very entertaining and keeps you guessing which of the women will prevail. The story seems to be a romance but towards the second half it is more about the founding of Marrakesh and the power struggles in the new realm. For someone who likes history it was a nice way to get acquainted with Moroccan / Maghreb history of that era.

The title by the way is a reference to the jewellery Kella wears as a Touareg woman. Every chapter is named after an item of  traditional jewellery that is given for certain occasions. The string of silver beads is the only present Kella can give to someone she loves very much.

A 4 stars out of 5