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Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Review: Shadow of the Swords by Kamran Pasha

Shadow of the Swords by Kamran Pasha
Publisher: Washington Square Press (Simon & Schuster, Inc.)
Genre: Historical fiction, Crusades
Trade paperback, 379 pages
Book Source: FSB Associates
My Rating: 80/100

From the Author's website:

An epic saga of love and war, Shadow of the Swords tells the story of the Crusades—from the Muslim perspective.

Saladin, a Muslim sultan, finds himself pitted against King Richard the Lionheart as Islam and Christianity clash against each other, launching a conflict that still echoes today.

In the midst of a brutal and unforgiving war, Saladin finds forbidden love in the arms of Miriam, a beautiful Jewish girl with a tragic past. But when King Richard captures Miriam, the two most powerful men on Earth must face each other in a personal battle that will determine the future of the woman they both love—and of all civilization.

My Thoughts:

This is a story abut the Crusades from the Muslim point of view. A point of view which sadly, I have not read about until now. "History is written by the victorious" or more accurately written by the English speaking, Roman Catholic Western world. This would explain why most stories and movies of the Crusade represent the English point of view. At a very basic level, the Crusades are about three faiths, Roman Catholicism, Muslim, and Judaism, all fighting for the right to control and worship in Jerusalem. This city has special significance for all three faiths, and since no one can come to terms with this city being shared, there is always the chance of upheaval and strife.

There are three characters in this story who represent each of the faiths, Richard the Lionheart as Catholic, Saladin as Muslim, and Miriam, a fictional woman representing Judaism. You can not write about the Crusades without thinking or bringing religion into the picture, and I think Pasha does a good job avoiding the religious landmines and walking that fine line. Pasha does have history on his side, even though it is a history most people don't know about.

History and/or Hollywood tells us that Richard the Lionheart was a very chivalrous, romantic, jovial, fun-loving, sweetheart kind of guy. Books and other entertainment have only helped to cement this persona. In reality, Richard is a ruthless, blood thirsty, glory seeking, SOB. He had his reasons, and the author gives us that background when he introduces Richard. However, in my eyes this does not excuse his brutal behavior. That is the way Richard is portrayed in this book and its true. If you don't believe me, do some research and you will see. The History Channel also has an excellent special about the true Robin Hood and the Lionheart "myth" is included in the discussion.

Miriam, one of the other major characters in this story, is an intelligent, beautiful Jewish woman, who does her own thing and apparently turns every man on his head. They just seem to fall in love with her as soon as they lay eyes on her. Can you tell I'm not impressed? Miriam is a fictional character, and I understand the need or idea to include a feminine lead and love story. Spices up an otherwise manly story, and includes the third faith that holds Jerusalem dear. Although she possess some good qualities, Miriam was a bit too condescending for me.

The other major player in the Crusades was Saladin. He was by far, my favorite character. I think in the end he was the reason why I wanted to read this book. I wanted to learn more about him and what made him tick. I did get a sense of Saladin and the kind of person he was. Saladin was a fierce fighter on the battlefield but dispensed justice even handedly. He looked at both sides of a situation and tried to judge right and true. Saladin was fighting to protect his people, and felt that all men regardless of religion, were equal in God's eyes. Saladin was the epitome of chivalry whereas Richard was not. Funny, no?

Overall I had a tough time with this book due to Richard's behavior and my eventual dislike for Miriam. This book started out great, but all of the crazy bloodshed was too much for me. I know the Crusades were brutal and major atrocities were committed, I just didn't want to read about it so much. I was much more interested in Saladin and his point of view. I ended up reading the first half of the book and skimmed the rest. I would still like to find out more about Saladin and will search out some reading material about him. Although I wasn't crazy about this book, I still plan on reading Pasha's first book, Mother of All Believers. It has been sitting on my shelf since last year and I have yet to get to it. Pasha's writing is very descriptive and he evoked emotions in me with his characters, whether I liked them or not. Pasha made me think and see the Crusades from the other point of view and I appreciate that.

My Rating: 80/100. I'm torn on this because I half liked it, however I did skim the second half the book, and that can never be very good.

Thank you to Julie from FSB Associates for my review copy.

2010 Challenges Met: 100+, Historical Fiction


I am an Amazon Associate.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Review: The Thief by Megan Whalen-Turner

The Thief by Megan Whalen-Turner
Publisher: Puffin Books (Penguin)
Genre: YA
Paperback, 219 pages
Book Source: Free Library of Philadelphia
Recommended by: Avidbookreader
My Rating: 95/100

From the author's website:

The most powerful advisor to the King of Sounis is the magus. He's not a wizard, he's a scholar, an aging solider, not a thief. When he needs something stolen, he pulls a young thief from the King's prison to do the job for him.

Gen is a thief and proud of it. When his bragging lands him behind bars he has one chance to win his freedom-- journey to a neighboring kingdom with the magus, find a legendary stone called Hamiathes's Gift and steal it.

The magus has plans for his King and his country. Gen has plans of his own.

My Thoughts:

This story begins with Gen in jail. He was caught because he boasted about a huge heist he did. (Hmm....why would he do something as stupid as that?) Gen winds up in the King's jail and it is not an easy existence down there in the bowels of the palace. Due to his reputation of being a great, yet boastful thief, the King's magus gets him released in order to perform an important and secret mission for the King, steal Hamiathes's Gift. The Gift has the power to affect the course of history for the three surrounding countries in this story, Sounis, Attolia, and Eddis.

Gen, the Magus and several companions embark on their secret journey to find the Gift and along the way we discover more about Gen, and more about this world that Whalen-Turner has created. It is very similar to ancient Greece in landscape, foods eaten, manner of dress, and religion of course. I came to adore Gen on this journey because he is such a smart ass. He knows how to get under people's skin and he enjoys it. But for all his stone breaking, when push comes to shove, Gen is there when you need him. And he has the back of his companions too, much to their surprise. Yes, Gen is quite the character.

That is all I want to say about the plot because you really must read this book for yourself. I want you to get lost in the story and experience as I did. I read this book so quickly because I couldn't wait to find out what happened next. There were also several surprises along the way, and I know more will be revealed in the next book. No cliff hanger, but the story is certainly not finished. The Thief is a fun adventurous read and I can't wait to pick up the next one in the series.

For more information please visit the author website:

2010 Challenges Met: 100+, Support Your Local Library


I am an Amazon Associate.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

One Question Interview with Mitchell James Kaplan author of By Fire, By Water

Yes, you read that correctly, one question was all Mitchell and I needed.  Once you read his response I think you will agree.  So, please give a warm welcome to Mitchell, the author of By Fire, By Water published earlier this year.

Growing up you were an avid reader and visited many medieval European places of interest. Are there any specific books or places that influenced you more than the others? Do you have any favorites? Why or why not?

So many of my most powerful memories are tied to my experience of books (and music) in various places. My parents separated during the year prior to my first year of high school. Their separation was the first phase of a long and bitter divorce. My mother took me and my sister to Europe as a way of getting away. She was emotionally fragile at the time, and I ended up traveling without her, for the most part with a friend who lived in London. At one point, we found ourselves in Leningrad – that is, in Soviet Russia – with my friend’s parents. The hotel was designed just for American tourists and was quite luxurious. My friend and I had a room together. We were both reading “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.” This was before the movie came out. Unlike the movie (which I hate), the book is narrated by the withdrawn, paranoid Chief Bromden, whose mind provides a filter through which we learn about the hierarchies of authority in the mental institution where he dwells, the mechanisms of mind control he perceives there and elsewhere, and Randle McMurphy’s heroic but doomed challenge to the system.

When I was in my teens and twenties, my mother lived in Munich, Germany, where she taught at a local university. My father lived in Los Angeles. I remember reading “Crime and Punishment” on the plane from LA to Munich. I believe it was te first time I ever visited her in that city. Despite my curiosity and her plans, I remember arriving at my mother’s apartment and telling her I wanted to finish the book before doing anything else. I stayed up all that night reading about the tortured and desperate Raskolnikov, his ideological confusion and haunting guilt.

Another powerful memory takes me back to high school. I attended the Cate School, a tiny boarding school in the hills south of Santa Barbara. I used to sit reading in the library – assigned books by Hawthorne, Thoreau, Emerson, Melville, and many others – but also many books of my own choosing. Like so many high school kids at the time, I became obsessed with Herman Hesse, Thomas Mann, and Kafka. I remember reading “Doctor Faustus,” “Steppenwolf,” and “The Trial” there, becoming so engrossed that I skipped meals and classes and delayed homework.

These are all vivid, happy memories. At the same time, you have probably noticed that the books I most loved dealt with wretched, tortured individuals confronted with a world that made no sense. Boy, did I relate to those characters.

A couple of other memories, from a little later. After I graduated from college, I went to live in France. I had studied French for only two years and although I could get by, I wanted to master not only the spoken language, but also the literature. I spent a huge portion of my limited funds on the beautiful three-volume Pleiades edition of Proust’s “A la recherche du temps perdu” and set about plowing through it, utterly entranced by the sound of the words. I copied lengthy portions into my notebooks and took up long-term residence in the world of Swann, Odette de Crécy, Monsieur de Charlus, and the Guermantes.

Later, I taught myself Spanish by reading Cervantes and others.

One final memory that combines travel with the arts. This one is not about a book, but about an experience of music. Back in the 1970s, my mother used to take me to the opera in Munich. One evening we attended a production of Schoenberg’s “Moses und Aaron.” It was incredibly intense. We were all on the edges of our seats from the beginning to the end. You can’t listen to this kind of music on a CD, but live it can be overwhelming. Afterward, the audience rose and gave the performers the longest standing ovation I have ever witnessed. I looked around. These were mostly men and women with grey hair, many of them in their fifties, sixties, and seventies. It occurred to me: These are the very people who labeled Schoenberg’s music “degenerate,” caused him to lose his position at the Prussian Academy in Berlin, and chased him to Paris and then to Los Angeles. Now they appear to be in love with him and his music. Indeed, they pay more attention to it than audiences in the United States. I wondered: What does this tell us about the human condition, about how we perceive each other, about how we change, about growth and forgiveness?

I realize I didn’t exactly answer your question about the places I've visited; but my failure to answer is an answer in itself, I think. Yes, I have visited many fascinating and beautiful towns, fortresses, and castles over many years: Neuschwanstein, the Alhambra, Jerusalem, Kyoto... But the worlds I have occupied as a reader and as a patron of the arts have been just as real, memorable, and enriching as anything I have experienced in so-called "reality.”

About By Fire, By Water:

Luis de Santángel, chancellor to the court and longtime friend of the lusty King Ferdinand, has had enough of the Spanish Inquisition. As the power of Inquisitor General Tomás de Torquemada grows, so does the brutality of the Spanish church and the suspicion and paranoia it inspires. When a dear friend’s demise brings the violence close to home, Santángel is enraged and takes retribution into his own hands. But he is from a family of conversos, and his Jewish heritage makes him an easy target. As Santángel witnesses the horrific persecution of his loved ones, he begins slowly to reconnect with the Jewish faith his family left behind. Feeding his curiosity about his past is his growing love for Judith Migdal, a clever and beautiful Jewish woman navigating the mounting tensions in Granada. While he struggles to decide what his reputation is worth and what he can sacrifice, one man offers him a chance he thought he’d lost…the chance to hope for a better world. Christopher Columbus has plans to discover a route to paradise, and only Luis de Santángel can help him.

Within the dramatic story lies a subtle, insightful examination of the crisis of faith at the heart of the Spanish Inquisition. Irresolvable conflict rages within the conversos in By Fire, By Water, torn between the religion they left behind and the conversion meant to ensure their safety. In this story of love, God, faith, and torture, fifteenth-century Spain comes to dazzling, engrossing life.

For more information about this book and the author please visit his website:

In October, in honor of Columbus Day, I will have a few more questions with Mitchell and a review of his book.


I am an Amazon Associate.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Excerpt from Shadow of the Swords

One of the books I am currently reading is Shadow of the Swords.  It is about the Crusades but from the Muslim point of view.  My review will be posted next week, so I thought I would share this excerpt with you in the meantime.  Enjoy :)


By Kamran Pasha,

Author of Shadow of the Swords: A Novel of the Crusades

Sinai Desert -- AD 1174

The Cross burned red against the soldier's white tunic.

Red had always been her favorite color, the little girl thought. The color of roses. Of the sun as it set over the shores of the sea near her home. The color of her mother's hair.

Her mother.

The girl felt the steel talons of memory tearing at her heart. She had seen her mother's hair for the last time that morning, before it had been tucked away inside the modest head scarf that all good Jewish women wore in Cairo. She was too young herself to hide away her own dark locks, as the scarf would become obligatory only after her cycles began. In that, the Jews and Muslims of Egypt were of a common opinion. Although her breasts had begun to bud earlier that spring, the dark flow of menstrual blood had not yet arrived to welcome her into the fold of womanhood. She had always been impatient and had begun to pray to God that the blood would at last be released and her life would begin anew.

And today God had heard her, and granted her prayer in a way she could never have expected or wanted. For the blood that had flowed this morning was not her own, but of those whom she loved. And her life had truly begun anew in the chaos of screams and death.

They were supposed to have been safe. The coastline of Sinai was guarded by the Sultan's men. The handsome new Sultan who had swept into Cairo and overthrown its ailing king, ending the Shiite dynasty of the Fatimids and restoring Egypt to the fold of Sunni Islam. She should have been too young to understand these complex matters of state, but her father had always insisted that Jewish children should be well versed in the politics of the day. For it was the curse of her people that the changing winds of nations inevitably brought with them storms of tragedy and exile.

There had been many who had feared that the new Sultan would persecute the Jews for supporting the heretic kings who had ruled Egypt in defiance of the Caliph of Baghdad. But he had proven to be a wise man, and had reached out in friendship to the People of the Book. The Jews had found in the Sultan a patron and a protector, and her own uncle had been welcomed into the court as the ruler's personal physician.

How she wished her uncle had been with them today. Perhaps he could have saved them from the warriors of Christ who had descended on their caravan like locusts. Stanched the flow of blood from amputated limbs. Applied his special salves on the burns inflicted by flaming arrows. Maybe if he had been with them, the others would have lived.

But in her heart, the girl knew that it would have made no difference. Her uncle would have been slaughtered with the rest. And perhaps he would have been forced to endure the horror of watching his sister -- her mother -- be violated by the very monster that stalked her now.

The monster whose face was streaked in blood as bright as the Cross he bore upon his breast. In that, the girl could find some solace, some cruel satisfaction, for the blood belonged to the killer and not his victims. And it was she who had drawn it out. A tiny act of revenge, forever scarring the young man's once handsome features. Whenever he looked in the mirror, he would remember the cost of the horror he had inflicted on her family.

The warrior was coming closer to her hiding place, his broadsword held aloft, black with gore and entrails from the massacre he had unleashed. The girl pushed herself farther into the shadowy crevices of the cave. She could feel something crawling on her back. A spider, or perhaps a scorpion. For a moment she hoped it was the latter, and that its lethal sting would take her before the bloodied knight could finish what he had begun. Her loins still burned from his brutal attack, and she could smell the sickly odor of his seed drying on her thighs.

The soldier's bright eyes scanned the desert plain, like a wolf searching for a wounded lamb. Her footprints should have given her away. But the area was littered with camel tracks from another caravan that had passed the day before, and her markings were lost in the confusion of upturned earth. The red hills were rugged and lined with boulders large enough to hide a girl of her size. It would take hours to search through all the crags and crevices of this forsaken land.

He should have turned back and rejoined his men, who even now were dividing up the booty from the successful raid. The caravan had been headed to Damascus laden with bountiful items for trade -- gold and ivory from Abyssinia, beautiful woolen shawls woven by the Berber nomads to the west -- and the haul had made these murderers rich men. If her hunter had been wise, he would have forgotten a wayward little girl and focused his attention on securing his share of the wealth.

But she could see in his eyes no sign of wisdom. No sign of humanity. Just a darkness that terrified her more than the cruel sheen of his blade. It was a hatred so visceral, so pure in its ugliness, that he no longer looked like a man, but a demon that had escaped from deep within the bowels of Gehenna.

And the demon was almost upon her. She could hear him breathing, the air sounding like the hiss of a snake as it escaped his lungs. And for a second she imagined that she could even discern the terrible drum of his heart, thundering in its call for revenge.

His eyes fell upon the dark opening to the cave, the crevice covered in shadows from the heavy curtain of rocks all around. And she saw a smile cross his face, his teeth glistening in the harsh desert light.

And so the end had come. And yet somehow she felt no fear. In fact, she felt nothing at all. Her heart was empty of all emotion, and she could not even remember what it felt like to laugh or cry. All of that had been taken away from her in the horror of the attack, in watching her loved ones torn to shreds by men who saw themselves as the warriors of God. The same God that her own people believed had chosen them for a great destiny.

All the terrible stories her father had told her of her people's past had finally become real to her that day. The stories she had dismissed as tragic fables of the ancients were all true. In fact, they were the only truth for a people who had been singled out by a God that demanded a price for His love that was too great.

In that moment, as the bloodstained warrior moved closer to her tiny refuge, she hated God for choosing her people. For placing upon the Jews the curse of being special, a burden that brought with it nothing but sorrow and loss. It was because of her people that this foreigner with his pale skin and strange language even knew of the God of Abraham, and yet that knowledge had not made him a better man. Indeed, it had inflamed in him a righteous anger that brought only suffering into this world. Her people had taught mankind about God, and in return men only became devils in that God's name.

She wanted to curse God, to renounce Him even as he had renounced His own people, had expelled them from their homeland and left them to wander the world as the most hated of clans. And she would have done so, had she not seen it.

The necklace.

A simple stone of jade held in a silver clasp lined with sparkling beads. It had belonged to her mother, had been torn from her defiled body by this monster only an hour before. And he was wearing it around his neck like a savage trophy. At that instant, she wanted to leap out from the shadows and tear the necklace from around his throat. It would mean her death, but at least she would die holding this precious little trinket that her mother had loved so much.

The fire in her heart burned into a savage rage, and the girl curled her fingers into claws, ready to strike. She would put out this murderer's eyes with her tiny fingers, rip open his neck with her teeth like a lioness bringing down its prey. He was not a human being, and neither was she anymore. The savagery that the girl had witnessed today had ended any illusions about that. Despite the Torah's call for men to be better than the angels, the truth was all men were animals and would never be anything more. The God of her people had failed them, and now she would show Him what He had wrought.

She bent forward, her knees pressed to her chest, poised to spring as the soldier came closer to the cave. She had to move now, to leap out like a cheetah, to use the advantage of surprise to bring down her prey.

But as she prepared to move, she saw a small flash of light, like a star glittering on the man's chest. It was the necklace, the jade stone reflecting the sun in its desert fury. And then her eyes fell on the symbols carved on the jade. Four Hebrew letters -- Yod, He, Waw, He.

The Tetragrammaton.The sacred name of God.

The holy word, which could not be pronounced or spoken aloud, shimmered like an emerald against the warrior's white tunic. As she stared at those mysterious letters, the girl felt something strange happen to her. The fury that was within her subsided. And in its place, she felt a remarkable upwelling of peace and serenity. Gazing at the name of a God she no longer believed in, the girl found herself remembering all the gentle nights she had looked up at her mother as she sang them both softly to sleep. When the girl saw that necklace, that sacred stone, she suddenly felt safe again, as she had always felt resting in her mother's arms.

She leaned back, the tension in her body disappearing. The man could come inside, could take her body and her life, and ultimately it would make no difference. Her people would go on, and her name would be added as another sad yet beautiful note in her nation's song.

Strangely, considering her uncharitable feelings about the Deity, an old prayer entered her heart. She felt the words of the Shema coming to her lips, and she mouthed them silently.

Hear O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is One.

The wind rose and sand swirled outside, a curtain of dust rising between her and her enemy. A sandstorm was upon them, blotting out the light of the sun.

She closed her eyes, allowed herself to fall into the shadows, to let the dark embrace her. She did not know what world she would awaken to, or if indeed there was any world beyond this one that had reached its end. But she did not care.

In silence, there was peace.
* * *

The above is an excerpt from the book Shadow of the Swords: A Novel of the Crusades by Kamran Pasha. The above excerpt is a digitally scanned reproduction of text from print. Although this excerpt has been proofread, occasional errors may appear due to the scanning process. Please refer to the finished book for accuracy.

Copyright © 2010 Kamran Pasha, author of Shadow of the Swords: A Novel of the Crusades

Author Bio

Kamran Pasha was a writer and producer of the highly acclaimed television shows Sleeper Cell and The Bionic Woman. He was also a writer on NBC's Kings, a modern retelling of the biblical tale of King David. Born in Pakistan, he came to the United States at the age of three, growing up in Brooklyn, New York.

For more information please visit and follow the author on Twitter.

I am an Amazon Associate.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Review: Shattered Mirror by Amelia Atwater-Rhoads

Publisher: Delacorte Press (Random House) 2001
Genre: YA, paranormal
Hardback 240 pages
Book Source: book swap at work
My Rating: 90/100


It's not easy being a vampire-hunting witch, but Sarah Tigress Vida has learned from the best. The witches of the Vida family line have been successfully stalking and staking the undead for centuries, and Sarah is immensely proud of her ancestry. So, the last thing she would ever do is befriend one of the enemy. She has always faithfully followed the golden Vida rule of vampire hunting: "Knowing your prey can cause hesitation, and when one is a vampire hunter, hesitation ends in death." Then she meets artistic, sweet Christopher. A benign vampire, Christopher lives off of animal blood or the blood of willing human donors, and begins to gently woo Sarah with his poetry and drawings.

Completely against her slayer instincts, Sarah reluctantly begins to care for Christopher... until she discovers that his twin is the vampire Nikolas, infamous for his habit of carving his name into the flesh of his victims. Sarah has always sworn to be the Vida to take Nikolas out, but her feelings for Christopher have allowed her to hesitate--a hesitation that may cost her not only her family's sterling reputation, but her mortal soul.

My Thoughts:

"Haven't you ever once wanted someone you could talk to about something besides killing?  Someone who has no idea about your power and is simply a friend?" pg. 45

Vampire-hunting witch Sarah Vida is starting a new school, and struggling to deal with the myriad of complications her paranormal life throws at her.  She can only have certain types of friends and forget about being friends with vampires.  It's against the rules, which are some of the strictest ones I have heard of before.  Sarah's life is nothing but discipline, training and hunting and killing of vampires.  And then she meets one of the sweetest vampires ever, Christopher. 

Christopher and his just as sweet sister Nissa, are passive vamps in that they do not feed from humans.  A choice they made a long time ago.  Sound familiar?  Anyway, becoming friends with these two causes Sarah to think and question what her life has become.  Yes, she has an allegiance to her family, but as the quote above demonstrates, her family does not fill all of her needs, especially her need for friends and possibly a "normal" life that doesn't involve hunting.  Events happen and Sarah must soon make a choice between her friends and family.  A mistake she makes actually cause her path to be chosen for her, but I think in the long run it is for the best.

This was a super fast read.  I could have finished this in a day, but I have to work so it took me 2 days to finish.  The story is 240 pages, but the book is so small that it's a quick 240.  The story made me want to find out what happened next and now.  Some of the characters may not be as developed as some would like, but it's a YA book.  To me this is not unexpected.  Now that I think about it, some are developed more than others, like Nissa.  How she becomes a vampire is told in the story, and I have to admit, she is one tough cookie.  Family is everything to her.  Interesting theme there.  And the twins...Christopher and Nikolas well all of their issues would make for an interesting book.

Another interesting theme here, is how similar some of the scenes are to another infamous teen vampire story.  For example, Sarah enters one of  her classes and instantly recognizes a vampire there, and oh yeah, he is hot.  Then she has to sit next to him because it's the only open seat available.  He stares at her, and makes small conversation.  She flounces out of the room, tries to avoid him, but then meets his super sweet sister.  Look, all I'm saying is that I felt as though I read some of these scenes before.  I looked up the publishing date of Twilight.  It's 2005.  Shattered Mirror is 2001.  Not saying that someone plagiarized, however I just find it odd that they are so similar.  Sorry but I have to put it out there.

Oh yes, and Sarah is kissing cousins with the Buffy story, but it's differnet enough to not have the same coincidences.

The author Amelia Atwater-Rhoads received quite a bit of fan fare when this story was published.  She has two other books as well, and I will definitely be looking out for those.  Not sure if this story is picked up again, but Miss Amelia might want to consider continuing Sarah's story.  With today's thirst for all things paranormal, she may do well.

My Rating: 90/100

2010 Challenges Met: 100+, Read Your Own Books (RYOB)


I am an Amazon Associate.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Review: The Dark Rose by Cynthia Harrod-Eagles

The Dark Rose by Cynthia Harrod-Eagles
Publisher: Re-issue by Sourcebooks Landmark 2010
Genre: Historical Fiction
Trade Paperback, 592 pages
Book Source: Sourcebooks
My Rating: 83/100


The second book in the epic bestselling Morland Dynasty series which spans from the Wars of the Roses to Queen Victoria's long reign into the courts of kings and the salons of the Regency, onto the battlefields of Culloden and the Crimea, and beyond. The turbulence of Henry VIII's reign brings passion and pain to the Morlands as they achieve ever greater wealth and prestige. Paul, great-grandson of Eleanor Morland, has inherited the Morland estates, and his son is set to be his heir.
But Paul fathers a beloved illegitimate son, and jealousy causes a destructive rift between the two half-brothers which will lead to death. 

Paul’s niece Nanette becomes maid-in-waiting to Anne Boleyn, and at the court of Henry VIII witnesses first hand the events leading up to the rift with Rome, her mistress’s execution, and the further efforts of the sad, ailing king to secure the male succession.  Through birth and death, love and hatred, triumph and heartbreak, the Morlands continue proudly to claim their place amongst England's aristocracy. 

My Thoughts:

Paul the new master of the Morland estates is quite an interesting character.  He loathes his stepbrother Jack, thinking Jack is not really his father's issue.  You almost want to believe Paul, because the brothers are night and day.  Paul is mean, unfriendly, and sorely unhappy, whereas Jack who handles the business side of the wool company is jovial, friendly, and everybody loves him.  Paul looks at this and just seethes with jealously.  It is quite sad really, especially since Jack does his best to be kind and good to Paul, even trying to ensure others don't think ill of Paul.  However once tragedy strikes the Morland household, and Jack and his family are nearly wiped out, does Paul realize what he has lost, a true brother.  Paul finally begins to change his ways and grows in the process.

What is really interesting with Paul, is that he does exactly what he thinks Jack is.  Paul has an illegitimate son with the woman he truly loves.  Another interesting item, is that Paul's great grandmother, Eleanor from book 1, had at one time silently questioned Paul's legitimacy.  Eleanor thought Paul's mother trapped Ned, his father, into marrying her.  However for the good of the family, Eleanor kept her thoughts to herself and made sure Paul was readied for his eventual inheritance.  Basically nothing good comes from men not behaving themselves and this family is quite a mess when it comes to spousal faithfulness and such.

I generally liked the story that was taking place on the Morland estates.  I enjoyed reading about the goings on within the family as well as country life.  It was Nanette's side of the story that I could have done without.  All the Tudor talk and aspects of King Henry VIII 's court bored me.  I believe I am Tudored out.  I was also not crazy with the portrayal of Anne Boleyn.  Not enough fire or oopmph for my taste.  I liked Nanette, but her situation I could have done without.

In light of the Tudor aspect, I stopped reading about 65% of the way through and skimmed the last 35% of the book.  I just couldn't do it anymore.  Sorry Miss Harrod-Eagles.  I knew the series may have a clunker or two, it's the law of averages.  Not every one can be a gem.  I just didn't expect it to be this soon.  This does not deter me from continuing on with these series though.  I am still curious about what will happen with the Morlands through the ages.

For  more information about Cynthia Harrod-Eagles and her series, please visit her website:

Thanks to Danielle from Sourcebooks for sending me a review copy.
2010 Challenges Met: 100+, Historical Fiction


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Thursday, July 8, 2010

My tale of woe and WTF???

Now I have never published a photo of myself on this blog because I don't take very good pictures.  Pictures of me are either very good or very bad.  I was going to take one and post for this award I received and never posted about,but the timing was off.  Then I had a huge pimple on my chin, and this spot above my right upper lip.  Well I knew I was having the spot removed, because it was a minor skin cancer, so I figured I would wait. 

Well, my tale of woe is about that removal.  My original derm guy said it need removal by MOHS, which is an all day affair.  The procedure is described as follows (for your future reference): the physician removals the offending spot in layers, making sure he only takes what he needs.  When he is done this first time, he personally checks the slides to ensure he removed all of the cancer.  If he didn't, you go back in and he removes some more.  The closure is done via a skin advancement technique.  This ensures the skin isn't pulled tightly together for closure, since it is a wide area that is removed.  Plus it is aesthetically pleasing on the face.  Minimal scarring.  I didn't really care about the scar.  To me scars are a part of life, and I am really not that vain.

While you are waiting, the area is covered with a loose bandage and you are in a separate non-public waiting room.  For me first time was a charm, but I had to wait to be closed, because it was busy.  Eventually I get called back in for closure/reconstruction.  I wait an hour and the closure takes an additional hour.

I get finished, and I have basically a tampon type pressure bandage on my face:  non graphic picture below and that red stuff is ketchup from a burger not blood.

I go get my pain meds filled because I know my anesthetic will be wearing off, and I am by myself.  I told the hubby I would be fine never realizing I would soon be a basket case.  About five minutes before I get my meds, I'm sitting in the pharmacy at the hospital and my face starts hurting...bad.  I feel like crying but no, I won't do it.  Get meds, leave, walk across two bridges between buildings (no, no, no I will not cry), pick up car at valet, and I am out.  15 minutes to drive home. 

I no sooner get in the car and I loose it.  I cried the whole way home, with a tampon pressure bandage on my face.  I do not do pain well at all.  I am a super weinie and I fully admit it.  They gave me super low dose oxycontin for pain, but I wait until I get home.  Never took them before and have no idea how they will affect me.  I get home, sniffling and crying into the door, my husband hugs me, and I am a mess.  I take two oxy and an antibiotic and 1 hour later I am as high as a kite.  Almost got sick too. 

So what is my problem?  After all of this I finally look at what is going on on my face and this is it the next day.  Might be graphic so scroll down if you like:

Difficult to eat or drink, and I don't want to get the bandage dirty.  The stitches go around my mouth along the lip line, to hide that scar.  That's where they took the advancement flap from.  It's swollen and a pain in the butt.  And yes, I want to bitch about it.  It's not that I'm vain or anything, but WTF???  I was not expecting this.

My physician was a sweet dermatologist, we chatted the whole time, and I would definitely recommend him.  Here's the deal though: either he didn't fully explain or took for granted I knew (because he knows I work there and have a pretty good medical understanding) or I wasn't paying attention.  Any ones of these is possible.   I was just not prepared for this thing, and it is much worse than my previous surgical experience of last year.  (If you ever need a lumpectomy, email me and I'll give you the scoop.)

I go back next Tuesday and get the stitches the removed, so hopefully things will be better next week.
I'll keep you posted.  Thanks for letting me vent guys.  I appreciate it.

Until then Jenny Scars signing out!  Ahoy there matey!!!

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Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Review: Lumby's Bounty by Gail Fraser

Lumby's Bounty by Gail Fraser (Book 3) Publisher: New American Library (Penguin Books)
Genre: Fiction
Trade Paperback, 329 pages
Book Source: FSB Associates
My Rating: 95/100
[My review of Book 1 and Book 2]

From the author's website:

When a silly scheme commits Lumby to building a balloon for the regional festival it must host in twelve short weeks, the town's worthies take up the challenge, wreaking havoc along the way as test balloons suffer hilarious fates. But two foreigners who are visiting Saint Cross come to their rescue; Kai, a sincere young man who discovers his destiny is not in the priesthood, and his brother, Jamar, who brings his own brand of charismatic mischief to the scene and involves several locals in a wildly romantic real estate venture. As the festival approaches, the monks of Saint Cross Abbey, now nationally known for their good works, struggle to deal with the masses of devotees-and more than a few nutcases-flocking to take up residence on the monastery grounds. But in the end, the skies clear and The Bounty of Lumby, breathtaking in color and size, lifts off the ground and floats gently over Montis Inn.

My Thoughts:

This is the third book in Fraser's Lumby series, and it continues to give the reader a hilarious glimpse of life in the small town of Lumby.  The usual suspects are back: the Walkers, the monks of the abbey, Joshua and Brooke; these characters are the main cast in every book so far.  They are involved with whatever the main event of the story is.  The event, in this case a hot air balloon festival, also brings in other Lumby residents or visitors to the story.  So in case you are wondering whether you would be bored reading about the same people over and over, you won't.

This time around we meet brothers Kai and Jamar, two visitors from the island of Coraba in the Indian Ocean.  Boy oh boy are these two night and day.  Kai is serious and Jamar is quite the free spirit.  Luckily for Lumby they know all about hot air balloons, and generously offer their expertise to the town.
We also get to know some of the locales a little better, like Brian Beezer, the town mischief.  Apparently he is very creative.  He sees a situation and figures out a way to make it work to his advantage.  Sounds misguided but it's not.

All in all I enjoyed my time in Lumby.  These books always pull me out of my reading slump, and remind me what life could be all about.  Don't sweat the small stuff and be nice to others.  Simple but rules to live by.  Reading these books are like sitting down with friends over a cup of coffee and a slice of cheesecake.

By the way, if  you haven't read these books and are curious as to why I love them so, go check out the newsletter that Gail Fraser has started.  It's called Simply Lumby and you can read the latest issue here: newsletter )

There are contests, giveaways, recipes, gardening articles and a taste of Gail's writing.  The back issues are listed at the bottom of the web page.  So please, go see for yourself, why I would move to Lumby in a heartbeat.

Thanks to Caitlin from FSB Associates for my review copy.

2010 Challenges Met: 100+


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Monday, July 5, 2010

Review: Drake's Bay by T.A. Robert

Drake's Bay by T.A. Robert
Publisher: The Permanent Press
Genre: Mystery
Hardback 239 pages
Book Source: Free Library of Philadelphia
My Rating: 93/100
Recommended By: Jenna A from Luxury Reading

From Goodreads:

On a quiet Sunday morning in San Francisco, scholar Ethan Storey and his girlfriend are touring an open house in the hills. It is an archive of rare books and Ethan comes to believe that the rarest of the rare may be here: the logbooks of the 1577–1580 world voyage of Sir Francis Drake. These have been lost to history—suppressed by Queen Elizabeth, who thought they contained the state secrets of the Northwest Passage. Where had Drake sailed? A brass plate purportedly left behind by Drake near San Francisco Bay and found in the 1930s had been accepted as genuine, then exposed as fraud, re-validated and exposed again. It was always suspected that the actual records of the voyage might still exist, and if found would make the plate, validated, a treasure for its owner. But if the powerful California family that held the “plate of brass” was desperate for cash, yet would rather destroy the logbooks than see them made public, something else must be going on.

The logbooks are the nexus of a contemporary story of greed as violent and conspiratorial as anything in the sixteenth century. As Ethan, a university professor in midlife with doubts about his much younger lover, searches for the logs, he also discovers much more about her, his emotionally detached father, and the power of historical events to shape our lives.

My Thoughts:

I read a review of this book over at Luxury Reading and instantly requested it from the library.  I was not disappointed.  The story opens with an innocent tour of an odd looking house, the Williams Institute in the hills of San Francisco.  The Institute has an extensive private book collection, which is in dire need of a historian to help assess its value.  In the blink of an eye history professor Ethan Storey decides to help and just as quickly he is drawn into a mystery regarding Sir Francis Drake's lost log books.

The action is pretty fast, and some of the things that happen were quite surprising.  As for character development, I never felt like I got to know Storey's wife, Kay.  Even when I was finished I still wasn't sure about her.  As a matter of fact, I'm not that fond of her either.  Ethan I liked and thought he was pretty developed.  I got to know him and his quirks, and he was quite endearing.  If there is another book that features Professor Storey, I would definitely read it.

There was a slow spot in the beginning when Storey (love the name) is sailing his boat up the coast and the descriptions are nautical like sails and stuff.  I did not have a clue as to what he was talking about, and almost considered putting the book down.  However, I sucked it up and these pages passed quickly until the end of the story where there is a, I guess you could say, high speed chase across the waters surrounding San Francisco.  Those parts I read eagerly and straight through until finished due to the suspense and anticipation of what was going to happen next.  Apparently I could figure out the nautical jargon enough so you can too.  Don't let those beginning few pages dissuade you.  Consequently, I was late for work the next day, so thanks Mr. Robert! 

All in all this was a delightful book and I was surprised at how the mystery worked out.  I will certainly look into the author's previous books and if Professor Storey makes another appearance, I'm there.

2010 Challenges Met: 100+, Support Your Local Library, 


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Sunday, July 4, 2010

Happy Birthday America!

Happy 4th of July!  Hope you are all enjoying the long holiday weekend.  Be safe and happy reading.
Stay cool too :)

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Thursday, July 1, 2010

Thoughts in my Head: What is Historical Fiction?

What is historical fiction (HF)?  Is it defined as stories that take place in certain time period?  Does it have to be a X amount years old?  Is it strictly story telling or can it be mystery, romance, etc.?

I am sometimes perplexed by book designations, because some of the books I have read recently feel like HF books.  For example The Making of the Duchess.  Yes, it is considered a romance, but the writing included historical elements.  The romances of Georgette Heyer can be viewed in the same manner.  Both writers and others include such detailed descriptions of social conventions and activities, that they evoke the very time period they are writing about.  Some books scream HF, such as novels by  Elizabeth Chadwick's , Alison Weir, and Philippa Gregory to name a few.  But should any novel considered to be HF, be judged against the likes of these?

Time period is another aspect which can be confusing.  Sure, something written about the 1970's doesn't seem that historical but what about WWII or the Roaring 20's?  Would you consider novels set in these era as HF?  I would.  Novels set in medieval times or during the Renaissance are absolutely HF, but I don't think HF should be defined by how old the setting of the story is. 

I think we are seeing a great degree of  genre blurring.  Many of the book genres we have grown up with have changed and expanded to include many sub-genres.  Sci-fi and fantasy have paranormal and paranormal romance, and then there is the whole question of what constitutes YA.  Lets not even go down that road. 

Books can no longer be defined by their genres.  Sure, in a bookstore they can be shelved into broad categories, like sci-fi, literature, teen, but anymore the genre lines are so blurred, that one book can be classified as many things.  At the end of the day, a book is a book but don't necessarily judge a book by the time period it is set in. 

What are your thoughts?  Can books have multiple classifications?  Is it just me or do you often wonder what exactly that you're is?


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