Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Anna and the King of Siam by Margaret Landon


Based on the incredible true story of one woman’s journey to the exotic world of nineteenth-century Siam, the riveting novel that inspired The King and I.
 
In 1862, recently widowed and with two small children to support, British schoolteacher Anna Leonowens agrees to serve as governess to the children of King Mongkut of Siam (present-day Thailand), unaware that her years in the royal palace will change not only her own life, but also the future of a nation. Her relationship with King Mongkut, famously portrayed by Yul Brynner in the classic film The King and I, is complicated from the start, pitting two headstrong personalities against each other: While the king favors tradition, Anna embraces change.
 
As governess, Anna often finds herself at cross-purposes, marveling at the foreign customs, fascinating people, and striking landscape of the kingdom and its harems, while simultaneously trying to influence her pupils—especially young Prince Chulalongkorn—with her Western ideals and values. Years later, as king, this very influence leads Chulalongkorn to abolish slavery in Siam and introduce democratic reform based on the ideas of freedom and human dignity he first learned from his beloved tutor.
 
This captivating novel brilliantly combines in-depth research—author Margaret Landon drew from Siamese court records and Anna’s own writings—with richly imagined details to create a lush portrait of 1860s Siam. As a Rodgers & Hammerstein Broadway musical and an Academy Award–winning film, the story of Anna and the King of Siam has enchanted millions over the years. It is a gripping tale of cultural differences and shared humanity that invites readers into a vivid and sensory world populated by unforgettable characters.

Opinion:

I've always been fascinated with the story of Anna Leonowens who traveled to Siam to be a tutor for King Mongkut's children. The book is nicely written and easy to enjoy. The book is a bit controversial and it is bringing up some strong reader reaction. Why? Well because the King is not portrayed as the smart, wekll-educated, and enriched man that he was. Rather, Anna is given credit for influencing him, when it is suspected she rarely met with him.

So bearing the above in mind, and you're more into reading an entertaining story than one that is steeped in historical fact, you will find this book highly entertaining. The details of the surroundings and life in Siam during that era are stunning. So there is much to enjoy.

I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. Thank you for visiting my blog, http://greathistoricals.blogspot.ca, where the greatest historical fiction is reviewed! For fascinating women of history bios and women's fiction please visit http://www.historyandwomen.com.

Monday, September 26, 2016

Three Sisters, Three Queens by Philippa Gregory


“There is only one bond that I trust: between a woman and her sisters. We never take our eyes off each other. In love and in rivalry, we always think of each other.”

From the #1 New York Times bestselling author behind the upcoming Starz original series The White Princess, a gripping new Tudor story featuring King Henry VIII’s sisters Mary and Margaret, along with Katherine of Aragon, vividly revealing the pivotal roles the three queens played in Henry VIII’s kingdom.

When Katherine of Aragon is brought to the Tudor court as a young bride, the oldest princess, Margaret, takes her measure. With one look, each knows the other for a rival, an ally, a pawn, destined—with Margaret’s younger sister Mary—to a sisterhood unique in all the world. The three sisters will become the queens of England, Scotland, and France.

United by family loyalties and affections, the three queens find themselves set against each other. Katherine commands an army against Margaret and kills her husband James IV of Scotland. But Margaret’s boy becomes heir to the Tudor throne when Katherine loses her son. Mary steals the widowed Margaret’s proposed husband, but when Mary is widowed it is her secret marriage for love that is the envy of the others. As they experience betrayals, dangers, loss, and passion, the three sisters find that the only constant in their perilous lives is their special bond, more powerful than any man, even a king.


OPINION:

I discovered Phillippa Gregory when I read her first novel, Wideacre. I've been hooked ever since. In Three Sisters, Three Queens, Phillippa is a biographical novel about Margaret Tudor who was the sister of King Henry VIII and who became Queen of Scotland when she married James IV. She is the main focus of the story, but the story is intricately linked to Katherine of Aragon, her brother's wife, and Mary, the Dowager Queen of France, her younger sister. Hence the name Three Sisters, Three Queens. 

What I found most intriguing, is that Katherine of Aragon is not painted as the highly virtuous woman that other novelists describe her as. Rather, Phillippa shows how she was shrewd, unrelenting, and often chastising. Mary is depicted as a definite follower, weakest of the three, who allowed herself to be guided by Katherine. Even Margaret is not without fault - she often compared herself to Katherine and Mary and focused on outperforming them rather than caring for her own affairs.

Historical fiction is fascinating because it allows the author to provide readers with a different perspective, and this book definitely does that. I thoroughly enjoyed the author's point of view while painting a colorful mosaic of medieval life in the Tudor court. A fascinating and most enjoyable read! Highly recommended.  

I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. Thank you for visiting my blog, http://greathistoricals.blogspot.ca, where the greatest historical fiction is reviewed! For fascinating women of history bios and women's fiction please visit http://www.historyandwomen.com.

Friday, September 23, 2016

Looking Through Walls by Hal Holbrook

LookingThrough Walls has 4.6 stars out of 5 on Amazon.com! An amazing true story about an architect and his wife against the vibrant backdrop of 20th century New York!

The year is 1916 and life of a man from humble beginnings and a woman he could have never envisioned would play such a huge role in his life are about to be tested, time and time again as tragic events unfold around them. Hailing from South Carolina, Harold Deal knows what it means to work hard and never lose sight of his small town values, but when the young architect accepts a position far from home, his life and the lives of those left behind are forever changed. 

Mae is instantly smitten when she meets handsome Harold. He’s unlike any man she’d ever met before. His drive and ambition are only matched by his warm heart and unwavering zeal for life. But, no sooner does their love affair begin when the world around them is rattled by a deluge of disturbing events. On top of that, another threat looms; this one, determined to disrupt their lives and pull them apart. 

Set against the backdrop of a time of great change in the United States and the world, a young couple struggle to hold onto their love in the face of turmoil, both on the home front and in the place Harold holds near and dear to his heart. Will their love withstand the strain or will the bond between mother and son prove to be too much for them to bear?

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Thursday, September 22, 2016

Monsoon Summer by Julia Gregson

By the award-winning author of East of the Sun, an epic love story moving from England to India, about the forbidden love between a young Indian doctor and an English midwife.

Oxfordshire, 1947. Kit Smallwood, hiding a painful secret and exhausted from nursing soldiers during the Second World War, escapes to Wickam Farm where her friend is setting up a charity sending midwives to the Moonstone Home in South India.

Then Kit meets Anto, an Indian doctor finishing his medical training at Oxford. But Kit’s light skinned mother is in fact Anglo-Indian with secrets of her own, and Anto is everything she does not want for her daughter.

Despite the threat of estrangement, Kit is excited for the future, hungry for adventure, and deeply in love. She and Anto secretly marry and set off for South India—where Kit plans to run the maternity hospital she’s helped from afar. 

But Kit’s life in India does not turn out as she imagined. Anto’s large, traditional family wanted him to marry an Indian bride and find it hard to accept Kit. Their relationship under immense strain, Kit’s job is also fraught with tension as they both face a newly independent India, where riots have left millions dead and there is deep-rooted suspicion of the English. In a rapidly changing world, Kit’s naivetĂ© is to land her in a frightening and dangerous situation...

Based on true accounts of European midwives in India, Monsoon Summer is a powerful story of secrets, the nature of home, the comforts and frustrations of family, and how far we’ll go to be with those we love.

OPINION

I have always been fascinated with relationships from two different cultures and all the conflicts that can arise from it. In MONSOON SUMMER, author Julia Gregson explores this topic.

The novel is set in the aftermath of India's victory for independence from British colonialism, in the year 1947. The political and governmental atmosphere is one of near scrambling to establish laws and processes and regulations. Kit is a nurse with experience in World War II, and aspires to specialize in midwifery. In England, she meets and falls in love with a handsome Indian doctor named Anto, and when they marry, they experience a bit of prejudice from her own family. When Kit travels to India to work, she leaves her family's disapproval behind only to encounter the same within his family who struggle to accept her. As Kit struggles to establish a midwifery clinic and practice, she struggles with Indian societal norms and expectations, and a heap of trouble soon plagues her.   

Julia Gregson did an outstanding job of making her characters real because of her strong understanding of the cultural differences between Britain and India. She was able to demonstrate each characters personality and beliefs shaped by societal taboos and practices. There was  plenty of discord between the various characters in the story too, and as each character evolved and changed, I experienced understanding and satisfaction with the story. The author skilfully explored racism, courage, betrayal, resilience and much, much more in this portrayal of a young woman determined to breach the limitations imposed upon her because of her sex. This a wonderful family saga that evokes the sights, smells, and painful struggles of India.

I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. Thank you for visiting my blog, http://greathistoricals.blogspot.ca, where the greatest historical fiction is reviewed! For fascinating women of history bios and women's fiction please visit http://www.historyandwomen.com.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Sawbones by Melissa Lenhardt

Outlander meets post-Civil War unrest in this fast-paced historical debut.

When Dr. Catherine Bennett is wrongfully accused of murder, she knows her fate likely lies with a noose unless she can disappear. Fleeing with a bounty on her head, she escapes with her maid to the uncharted territories of Colorado to build a new life with a new name. Although the story of the murderess in New York is common gossip, Catherine's false identity serves her well as she fills in as a temporary army doctor. But in a land unknown, so large and yet so small, a female doctor can only hide for so long.

Opinion:

This book is a pleasant read about a young woman doctor who struggled to become a doctor and later becomes embroiled in an occurrence for which she is being blamed. She soon finds herself blamed for murder and forced to flee. With an assumed identity, she ends up in Texas and prepares to leave with a wagon train bound for Colorado Territory.  While she waits to leave, she works as a doctor at an army fort, but her identity and secret are at risk of discovery and trouble finds her anew.

I found myself completely absorbed by this story and Catherine's plight. There were plenty of surprises that kept me eagerly reading. The book ties off many of the loose ends, and leaves only one or two that will resume in the following book. My only concern is the misleading tagline of the book - it is nothing like Outlander by Diana Gabaldon except for the fact the heroine is trained in medicine. All will be well as long as you don't expect it to be similar. 

Definitely a 5 star read - interesting from first page to last.   

I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. Thank you for visiting my blog, http://greathistoricals.blogspot.ca, where the greatest historical fiction is reviewed! For fascinating women of history bios and women's fiction please visit http://www.historyandwomen.com.

Monday, September 19, 2016

The Propetic Queen by Mirella Sichirollo Patzer

Do you believe in prophetic dreams? I never used to believe in them, but then something happened that forever changed my mind and convinced me otherwise. I dreamed the lottery numbers. Yes, I did!

In my dream, a friend approached me with a lottery ticket we had purchased together. He told me that our ticket had won a $46 million dollar jackpot and that we would split it. In my dream I took the ticket into my hand and studied the numbers. 3, 18, 21, 38, and my excitement grew. That’s when I began to awaken, and as I slowly rose out of my slumber, I suddenly sprang out of bed in a frantic search for pen and paper. By the time I stumbled around the kitchen and found what I was looking for, I had forgotten the last two numbers and could only remember those precious first four numbers.

As a non-believer of prophetic dreams, I didn’t make too much of it. That was my first mistake! I did, however, go to the grocery store on my way to work that night and bought  lottery ticket. The jackpot was $10 million dollars. Of course I played those four numbers – 3, 18, 21, 38, but then used 46 and 23 as the missing numbers because they were the other two numbers mentioned in my dream – the $46 million divided by the two of us – hence $23. That was my second mistake. I should have bought enough tickets and played every combo of numbers to replace those two numbers I could not remember.
 
That entire day, I experienced very strong feelings that I was going to win. During my drive to work, I even planned what to do with the winnings. In the middle of my shift, I took a break and called the lottery line. The four numbers I recalled had won, but my choice of 46 and 23 were wrong. Instead of $10 million dollars, I won a mere $87.00.
I am now completely convinced in the veracity of prophetic dreams. Abraham Lincoln dreamed of his death. Albert Einstein’s theory of relativity came to him in a dream. Mark Twain dreamed of his brother’s death on a steamship. And there are many, many more examples throughout history.

It is no wonder that after my own personal experience, the topic of prophetic dreams has fascinated me for years. When I accidentally stumbled upon a bio of a little know woman of history named Matilde of Ringelheim, one phrase caught my attention – her prophetic dreams. It immediately sparked my imagination. The more I delved into her life, the more fascinated I became. In Matilde’s case, her dreams foretold of her family’s successes and their deaths. The most famous of her dreams happened when she lay upon her deathbed and was visited by her grandson. She had dreamed about his death and before he left her bedside, she insisted he take her last possession, her burial garments. A few days later, he died an accidental death.

I recently released a fictionalized biography about her life entitled THE PROPHETIC QUEEN. The book follows history as closely as possible, while exploring her thoughts, emotions, and reactions to her ability to prophesize the future through her dreams. A truly fascinating woman of history!


Friday, September 16, 2016

The House at the Edge of Night by Catherine Banner

A sweeping saga about four generations of a family who live and love on an enchanting island off the coast of Italy—combining the romance of Beautiful Ruins with the magical tapestry of works by Isabel Allende.
 
Castellamare is an island far enough away from the mainland to be forgotten, but not far enough to escape from the world’s troubles. At the center of the island’s life is a cafĂ© draped with bougainvillea called the House at the Edge of Night, where the community gathers to gossip and talk. Amedeo Esposito, a foundling from Florence, finds his destiny on the island with his beautiful wife, Pina, whose fierce intelligence, grace, and unwavering love guide her every move. An indiscretion tests their marriage, and their children—three sons and an inquisitive daughter—grow up and struggle with both humanity’s cruelty and its capacity for love and mercy.
 
Spanning nearly a century, through secrets and mysteries, trials and sacrifice, this beautiful and haunting novel follows the lives of the Esposito family and the other islanders who live and love on Castellamare: a cruel count and his bewitching wife, a priest who loves scandal, a prisoner of war turned poet, an outcast girl who becomes a pillar of strength, a wounded English soldier who emerges from the sea. The people of Castellamare are transformed by two world wars and a great recession, by the threat of fascism and their deep bonds of passion and friendship, and by bitter rivalries and the power of forgiveness.
 
Catherine Banner has written an enthralling, character-rich novel, epic in scope but intimate in feeling. At times, the island itself seems alive, a mythical place where the earth heaves with stories—and this magical novel takes you there.

Opinion:

On a small island off the coast of Italy is a small close-knit community. Their society revolves around a cafe dubbed The House at the Edge of Night. It is run by the Esposito family. The story revolves around a young doctor who comes to Castellmare to begin his practice. There he meets and marries a young woman and raise a family. And so begins a tale that spans 100 years of the doctor's family as they face adversity by the economy, an unscrupulous count and his wife, and a colorful cast of townsfolk. 

If you like family sagas like I do, then this is one to read. With its authentic Italian flavor, beautiful descriptions, and ever-developing characters, this became one of my favourite sagas. I loved it! 


I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. Thank you for visiting my blog, http://greathistoricals.blogspot.ca, where the greatest historical fiction is reviewed! For fascinating women of history bios and women's fiction please visit http://www.historyandwomen.com.

Sunday, September 11, 2016

THE VALLEY by Helen Bryan


Left suddenly penniless, the Honorable Sophia Grafton, a viscount’s orphaned daughter, sails to the New World to claim the only property left to her name: a tobacco plantation in the remote wilds of colonial Virginia. Enlisting the reluctant assistance of a handsome young French spy—at gunpoint— she gathers an unlikely group of escaped slaves and indentured servants, each seeking their own safe haven in the untamed New World.
What follows will test her courage and that of her companions as they struggle to survive a journey deep into a hostile wilderness and eventually forge a community of homesteads and deep bonds that will unite them for generations.
The first installment in an epic historical trilogy by Helen Bryan, the bestselling author of War Bridesand The Sisterhood, The Valley is a sweeping, unforgettable tale of hardship, tenacity, love, and heartache.


OPINION:

After the death of her father, Sophia Grafton, inherits the estate of her father, who is an English lord. Before he died, her father invested heavily in a tobacco plantation in a remote loction in Virgina which ultimately ruined him financially. Penniless, except for the plantation, Sophie must travel to the New World to try to start her life anew and make a go of the plantation. She meets a French spy named Henri, a rogue, and she persuades him to work with her and help restore the plantation. 

The New World is full of hardship, struggle, hunger, danger, and wilderness. Over the years, Sophie manages to get by, although it was never easy.

I liked this novel. It's a long read, at over 600 pages, but the characters were highly developed and multi-faceted. They were constantly evolving, adapting, and courageous, behaving in ways that often surprised me. Sometimes the pacing slowed or rushed, but the tale fascinated all the same. Very entertaining! 

I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. Thank you for visiting my blog, http://greathistoricals.blogspot.ca, where the greatest historical fiction is reviewed! For fascinating women of history bios and women's fiction please visit http://www.historyandwomen.com.

Friday, September 9, 2016

The Courtesan by Alexandra Curry


Opening Sentences: It is the hour of the Snake, a time of day when the sun works hard to warm the earth. The black cockerel with the all-knowing eye struts, haunting the execution ground as he always does, and Lao Guzi is wondering what he always wonders: Is the man guilty?

Synopsis: A timeless novel of one woman who bridged two worlds in a tumultuous era of East meets West. The Courtesan is an astonishing tale inspired by the real life of a woman who lived and loved in the extraordinary twilight decades of the Qing dynasty. To this day, Sai Jinhua is a legend in her native land of China, and this is her story, told the way it might have been. The year is 1881. Seven-year-old Jinhua is left an orphan, alone and unprotected after her mandarin father’s summary execution for the crime of speaking the truth. For seven silver coins, she is sold to a brothel-keeper and subjected to the worst of human nature. Will the private ritual that is her father’s legacy and the wise friendship of the crippled brothel maid be enough to sustain her? When an elegant but troubled scholar takes Jinhua as his concubine, she enters the close world of his jealous first wife. Yet it is Jinhua who accompanies him--as Emissary to the foreign devil nations of Prussia, Austro-Hungary, and Russia--on an exotic journey to Vienna. As he struggles to play his part in China's early, blundering diplomatic engagement with the western world, Jinhua’s eyes and heart are opened to the irresistible possibilities of a place that is mesmerizing and strange, where she will struggle against the constraints of tradition and her husband’s authority and seek to find “Great Love.” Sai Jinhua is an altered woman when she returns to a changed and changing China, where a dangerous clash of cultures pits East against West. The moment arrives when Jinhua’s western sympathies will threaten not only her own survival, but the survival of those who are most dear to her. A book that shines a small light on the large history of China’s relationship with the West, The Courtesan is a novel that distills, with the economy of a poem, a woman’s journey of untold miles to discern what is real and abiding. 

Review by Mirella Patzer - http://www.historyandwomen.com
The exotic setting of old China has always fascinated me. This novel is set in the Qing Dynasty of the 1880's and opens with the execution of 7 year old Sai Jinhua's father. Her mother was a concubine who died in childbirth. Her father remarried, but he has been executed for political reasons. Unwanted, Jinhua's stepmother sells her to a brothel where she will live until she is old enough to begin work as a prostitute. The life there is very harsh and Sai Jinhau is subjected to having her feet bound. At twelve, Sai Jinhua loses her innocence and joins the other prostitues in their work. The novel follows her life and her rise when she is sold to Hong, a Chinese Diplomat who is beguiled by her resemblance to his first wife who committed suicide.  Together, they travel to Vienna where Jinhua is a novelty. There, she experiences freedom and knowledge and gains self-confidence. But Hong dislikes her newfound strength and empowermentis and more and more he keeps her locked away from society.  

Nicely researched, I thought the complexities of the Qing Dynasty were aptly described. The early life of this poor orphan who faced such horrendous circumstances was fascinating. I found the first half of the book unputdownable, and the pace slowed a bit thereafter, and I became a bit detached from the story. Some of the magic was lost, but the story still held my interest enough to get to the ending. A nice novel that swept me into a time and a world of long ago. A fascinating woman of history indeed!


Thank you to the author and publisher. I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.



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Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Mata Hari's Last Dance by Michelle Moran



From the international bestselling author of Rebel Queen and Nefertiti comes a captivating novel about the infamous Mata Hari, exotic dancer, adored courtesan, and, possibly, relentless spy.

Paris, 1917. The notorious dancer Mata Hari sits in a cold cell awaiting freedom…or death. Alone and despondent, Mata Hari is as confused as the rest of the world about the charges she’s been arrested on: treason leading to the deaths of thousands of French soldiers.

As Mata Hari waits for her fate to be decided, she relays the story of her life to a reporter who is allowed to visit her in prison. Beginning with her carefree childhood, Mata Hari recounts her father’s cruel abandonment of her family as well her calamitous marriage to a military officer. Taken to the island of Java, Mata Hari refuses to be ruled by her abusive husband and instead learns to dance, paving the way to her stardom as Europe’s most infamous dancer.

From Indian temples and Parisian theatres to German barracks in war-torn Europe, international bestselling author Michelle Moran who “expertly balances fact and fiction” (Associated Press) brings to vibrant life the famed world of Mata Hari: dancer, courtesan, and possibly, spy.

My Opinion:

Mata Hari is a fascinating person who many people, especially women, will not like. Not every protaganist has to be liked, and Mata Hari is not a usual type of heroine we find in books. Promiscuous and a notorious flirt, she was a woman who fell on hard circumstances who had no choice but to use her beauty and body to earn a living. She pushed the limits in dance and in chasing and using men for her own benefit. One constancy in the novel was her love and regrets pertaining to her daughter. And this helped humanize her, redeem her a bit in the reader's eyes. 

The book is perfect length and an easy read. Michelle Moran balances Mata Hari's passions and motivations in a realistic way. I did begin to like her and feel sorry for her and the mess she had made of her life. Of course, the novel did not dwell too heavily on the trial and convinction, but the execution scene was heart-wrenching and poignant. The book left me feeling more like Mata Hari was used as a scapegoat and I did not fully believe she was calculating enough to be such a dangerous spy. I had a sense that politics and cover-ups may have been at play as other readily blamed her to save their own skin. 


This is an excellent historical biography about a notorious woman of history and left me feeling unconvinced about the hand that fate dealt her. Highly recommended. 

I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. Thank you for visiting my blog, http://greathistoricals.blogspot.ca, where the greatest historical fiction is reviewed! For fascinating women of history bios and women's fiction please visit http://www.historyandwomen.com.