I have a dilemma with this novel. The writing is excellent and the story engaging. Zimmerman brings this period to vivid life, from the man-tainted wa...moreI have a dilemma with this novel. The writing is excellent and the story engaging. Zimmerman brings this period to vivid life, from the man-tainted wastelands of Virginia City, Nevada to the false glitter of Gilded Age New York City. The characters aren't very sympathetic, honestly, and the longer the story went on, the more I disliked them. However, Zimmerman kept me guessing until the end.
I'm going against the crowd in my rating for this book. I loved it. Honestly, I didn't think a book about the Napoleonic invasion of Russia would floa...moreI'm going against the crowd in my rating for this book. I loved it. Honestly, I didn't think a book about the Napoleonic invasion of Russia would float my boat (despite my history appreciation), but it did. I loved the mix of military history and murder mystery. I think that the well-done characterization was a deciding factor in gaining my interest. I found the fact that the main characters are part of Napoleon's Army, thus, sort of on the bad guy side, and I rooted for them to survive what history tells me was a devastating campaign added to my high rating. I'm sure that some reviewers could find more things to pick apart in this book, but I found it fascinating. I also give points for the fact that it was very coherent, considering it was translated from French to English. Not a quick read by any means, but a fulfilling one.
Young baker's daughter, Robin forms a group that stands up to fight against the tyranny of an unjust king who is overtaxing the populace of Co...moreSynopsis
Young baker's daughter, Robin forms a group that stands up to fight against the tyranny of an unjust king who is overtaxing the populace of Cordovia, while children go hungry and without basic necessities. Having learned the warrior arts of swordfighting, riding, and excelling at archery, she dresses in men's clothing and leads her band of Robin's Rebels to hold up the taxmen as they pass through the forest, and in other ways subvert the King's unjust policies. Robin meets fellow young rebel, Daniel, who also leads his own band of men who work against the government and help the unfortunate. After a challenge to see who has the most skills, they agree to work together. It doesn't take very long for Daniel to realize that Robin is a woman, and he respects her for being a strong person who stands up for what she believes. With each moment they spend working side by side, Robin and Daniel fall deeper in love. Their mutual desire to improve their country's welfare only fuels the fire of the growing affection for each other.
The Rebels of Cordovia is a historical fiction novel that teams a sweet love story with a light adventure tale about people standing up for others and for what is right, against a corrupt governmental system that exploits its population of rights and dignity and ignores their basic needs. Robin is a very lovable heroine, both endearing and admirable. She's caring, strong in character, and very good-hearted. Robin is a true believer who is not afraid to stand up for others. Daniel is a great match for her. He shares many of her traits, and has a grace that strong man born into privilege might not necessarily possess. Instead of taking advantage of the weak and assuming himself naturally superior, he views people whose stations in life differ from his with respect. I especially liked that he treated Robin as an equal and didn't dismiss her because of her sex. While he finds her attractive, he doesn't objectify her or make assumptions about her based on being a woman. Daniel is a really nice guy, with a lot of honor and class, but also an appealing although roguish sense of humor. The author makes it very believable that these two would fall in love. The camaraderie with other characters in this book charmed me, and I loved the caring, open relationships that Robin and Daniel share with their parents, and the esteem that their band of rebels show for them and each other.
While this was a very enjoyable read, I did have a few issues. It took a while to get immersed in the story. While Robin is clearly a very capable warrior, I was disappointed that she didn't have more fighting scenes. Although I liked that the rebels rarely resorted to violence, I feel that Robin should have been depicted in more of the hand-to-hand fighting, with added opportunities to acquit herself in physical confrontations. Also the narrative lacked a sense of grounding in the historical period. Some of the language was too modern-sounding and the descriptions could have been more detailed. As a result, the world-building was tenuous and didn't feel very authentic for a historical novel, even with its fictional setting. Additionally, the villains were not as well-developed. A point of view by the King would have enhanced this read.
Despite some minor issues, The Rebels of Cordovia is a novel that readers who enjoy the stories of freedom fighters like Robin Hood and Zorro will appreciate. The fact that the lead is a strong and self-actualized heroine is a great bonus. This is a feel good novel that makes you glad to see that intrepid heroines and heroes are out there, doing their part to make their world a better place.
A good 'what if' book about the period when 18-yr-old William Shakespeare comes to London to begin his career as an actor/playwright, and the incredib...moreA good 'what if' book about the period when 18-yr-old William Shakespeare comes to London to begin his career as an actor/playwright, and the incredible young woman who could have been his muse.
I don't use the term brilliant much when I'm writing reviews. But this is the term that just keeps coming to mind about this book. I knew I'd apprecia...moreI don't use the term brilliant much when I'm writing reviews. But this is the term that just keeps coming to mind about this book. I knew I'd appreciate it, because I have an appreciation for Asian culture and people, and swordsmanship; and honestly, something about a book with a woman holding a sword on the cover just pulls me in.
This book speaks to me of a writer who loves Japan, both modern and ancient. Someone who has taken the time to investigate and learn the culture, even to the deepest levels. You can't gain that kind of authenticity any other way.
Bein has taken an idea about three swords crafted by a legendary swordsmith and created a beautifully rich novel around them. While this is labeled as fantasy, the fantasy element is that the swords have animus and their very natures affect the destiny of those around them. Bein cleverly unfolds his story with a combination of past and present narrative. I was a bit worried I would find the historical parts dry, but I didn't. It was fascinating. I realized how little I know about samurai and how bushido affects everything about their lives. The insight into this period was crucial in this novel, because the swords are over nine hundred years old. Since I haven't even lived in cities that old, I can't even conceive of owning something that old! But for a Japanese person, not such a stretch. Now add in the fact that these swords have shaped history in major ways!
It takes some skill to make an inanimate object sinister. But that's exactly what Beautiful Singer is. It's a sword that takes over the owner's mind and leads him hand and headfirst down the path of doom. This is why I don't go in for antiques! The other two swords have their own distinctive natures as well. What was interesting is that the swords can’t make you into something you’re not. They seem to work on the inherent nature of the person. This destiny attached to these swords brings Mariko Oshiro to the front door of elderly Professor Yasuo Yamada, who is the owner of a sword that a violent Yakuza criminal tried to steal. This twisted path could only be destiny, as all the forces send her in the direction of a deep bond with the nearly blind expert swordsman, who takes her on as a student. Because she is the only one who can stop Fuchida, a man who has been seduced by the voice of his own sword, Beautiful Singer.
This book is just so good. It’s amazing how the story just drew me deeper and deeper. I wanted to find out about how these three swords could draw people into relationship with each other from historical to modern times, and not always in a good way. But ultimately, the right people end up in the right places, until we end up in the present with Mariko and Yamada’s story.
If you’re looking for an over-the-top fantasy story with all kinds of out there scenes, this isn’t the book. If you want a book with an excellent narrative building on a concept that seems magical, if you don’t believe in swords that are blessed and cursed, then you’d enjoy this book.
The cultural aspects had major appeal. As I mentioned earlier, the look at bushido and historical samurai was a good learning experience. But equally important was the view into modern Japan. I especially appreciated that the main character was a Japanese woman, who dealt with a society which is profoundly sexist, and she was driven enough to fight for what she wanted and needed in life, even as she ran into stumbling blocks of prejudice within her own agency, the Tokyo Metropolitan Police Department. I admired her drive and determination. I also liked seeing the walls come down between her and Yamada, as she realized that this old man was what she was missing from her life, the companionship and the belief in her that he offered. Yamada, I adored him! No words! I can easily see why Mariko came to love him so much. Relationships can be pigeon-holed because it is the natural way of humans to classify what is hard to define. But they are so complex. They provide what we need in this life in a way that goes way beyond labels. That’s how Yamada and Muriko’s relationship impacted me. And also Keiji and Hayano’s back in the 40s. Heck, all the stories added so much texture to this book.
My feelings for this book are so intricate, that I’m having trouble putting them into words. So I’ll just end by saying I just loved this book so much. It may not hit you the same way, but I hope that others find something to offer them in Daughter of the Sword. (less)
Quite morose in tone, however I was drawn into this family drama of a novel that travels smoothly between the early 20th century and the last decade o...moreQuite morose in tone, however I was drawn into this family drama of a novel that travels smoothly between the early 20th century and the last decade of that same century. Very emotionally involving, although certain characters were hard to feel sympathy for. Recommended to readers who are interested in the WW1 years and the 1920s.
Liana is a young, transplanted Frenchwoman taken in by an older Native American when her father dies with his gold claim in the Yukon under di...moreSynopsis
Liana is a young, transplanted Frenchwoman taken in by an older Native American when her father dies with his gold claim in the Yukon under dispute. She has learned all the many lessons that Henry taught her to survive in the cold wilderness of the North. When Henry is murdered and she flees her pursuers, she will have to rely on that training, especially when she's stranded on a deserted narrow island in the middle of the raging, icy river. The days tick down slowly and her chances for survival narrow with each day with no food and limited shelter. Liana must face the unsympathetic, cruel force of nature, all alone on her frigid island of refuge.
An Island Between Two Shores is a tale of survival that brings back my memories of reading stories by Jack London in which humans travel to the frozen North and pit their wills against the unforgiving wilderness. The story of the struggle between man and nature is not a new one. In this case, it is woman against nature. I appreciated that because gender is no factor in having the skills to survive in the wilderness. It's about knowledge, will, and sometimes just sheer luck. In this case, Liana's education in living on the land in the North comes from the best, and other than that, it's up to her wits against nature.
The writing was crisp and clear, taking the reader to this place of brutal cold and harsh elements. It had a vividly realistic feel. Williams paints a bleak picture, but there is beauty in the descriptions of nature, even at its most fierce. Liana herself appreciates the beauty of nature as she waits for the ice on the river to freeze so she can leave the island. With little to do except rest in her improvised shelter, she has time to observe it. She sees the Northern Lights and all the constellations in all their unpolluted glory. In the wilderness, man (or in this case, woman) is alone with herself and the forces of nature. Self-knowledge is unavoidable in this process. Liana's inner dialogue as the days count down and she realizes that she is growing weaker wrenched at my psyche.
This story grabbed at my gut. I wanted to keep reading, hoping all the while that she would survive, yet fearing that she would not. The sheer enormity of Liana's struggle to survive, and the bleak nature of her predicament hit home with me. I could feel the grinding ache of the fierce cold, as well as the horrible emptiness of the starvation that Liana suffered. An Island Between Two Shores will stay with me a long time. In a profound way, I identified with this young woman, who just wanted to survive the cruel, indifferent wilderness that preys on both the strong and the weak.
As much as I enjoyed this story and appreciated the writing, I felt the ending was weak and robbed this book of some of its impact because it was too quick and a bit predictable. Otherwise, this is a well-written novel. I believe those who enjoy survival tales will probably appreciate An Island Between Two Shores as much as I did.
I give the author credit for putting a lot of heart, soul and energy into this story. It has a lot of authentic-feeling details, although I had troubl...moreI give the author credit for putting a lot of heart, soul and energy into this story. It has a lot of authentic-feeling details, although I had trouble with the initially slow-moving narrative. I really liked the intricate infusion of The Divine Comedy into the story. I would like to rate this higher, but it was just too hard for me to get into the story initially, and I didn't love the conclusion overall.
For that reason, I'd have to rate it 3.25/5.0 stars. It's hard when you don't love something someone has written with love. However, I have the feeling that this book will resonate with some readers.
I'm going to put this book in the 'not bad, but could have been better' classification. I have my own perceptions about how young Sherlock Holmes woul...moreI'm going to put this book in the 'not bad, but could have been better' classification. I have my own perceptions about how young Sherlock Holmes would be and this one isn't real close to my ideas. Yeah, I'm not sure I can clarify that right now, so I won't try. I just found the book disappointing in how it did craft young Holmes.
I did like the fact that Holmes has a mentor in an American who brings to mind a cross between Mark Twain and Wyatt Earp/Doc Holiday. Mr. Crow helps to develop Holmes' signature traits, deductive reasoning and a keenly analytical mind. It was interesting seeing how Holmes went from being a 'whatever/why is this important?' kid to the man who has an insatiable curiosity about the world and the burning desire to solve any puzzle that he encounters. I also liked Holmes' sidekick Matty Arnett. I have a feeling he will be accompanying Sherlock on more adventures in this series, and I'm very cool with that. I'd also like to see more of Mr. Crow. His daughter, Virginia, doesn't have quite as concrete a role, other than the horse-mad hoyden, would-be love interest, and perhaps, her tendency to bring out the impulsive adventurer in Sherlock.
What surprised me was how violent this book is. Personally, I would be wary about letting a child younger than thirteen read this. There are some fairly descriptive acts of brutality that I think would be a bit much for a younger reader. I was concerned that the exceedingly villainous bad guys who would torture a kid with a bullwhip in a book for a younger audience. It's a pretty drawn out scene too. Not to mention a nasty fist fight that Sherlock finds himself involved in, along with numerous altercations with the Big Bad's minions who have no qualms about murdering youngsters.
The main bad guy is suitably majestic, and really quite outre' in his madness and character quirks, almost over the top, in fact. I guess that could be fun, but his bombastic speech about wreaking vengeance against the British Empire was a bit tedious. Sometimes I get impatient with the "I am an Evil Overlord" speeches.
A big issue I did have was the pacing. I don't know. It just seemed uneven. I liked the action bits, for the most part, but I wasn't keen on how long it took Sherlock to figure things out. I realize that he's a young kid and he's just in the beginning of his long career as a detective, but I think he could have been a bit brighter in some circumstances. Happily, there is a good progression in his character over the course of the book.
Yeah, I know it, it's a problem of having too high expectations. Why do I do that to myself? That can burst a bubble or two for a reader. Would I recommend this? Hmmm, only if you really want to read about a young Sherlock Holmes, and your expectations aren't too grand. If you happen to be at the library and you can't find another book with a young detective to read, then you could reach for this one and it wouldn't be too much of a waste of your free time to read.
Ms. Solomons took me back to the time around the beginning of WWII through the eyes of a girl who is a stranger in a strange land, and in such a way t...moreMs. Solomons took me back to the time around the beginning of WWII through the eyes of a girl who is a stranger in a strange land, and in such a way that my heart was completely affected by this story. Descriptive, nostalgic, and highly evocative.
**spoiler alert** First of all, I want to thank Emery Lee for the opportunity to read her book. This was not a typical read for me, since I don't tend...more**spoiler alert** First of all, I want to thank Emery Lee for the opportunity to read her book. This was not a typical read for me, since I don't tend to read a lot of historical fiction that is not romance. The Highest Stakes was a good stepping stone for me into the historical fiction genre, with a good, strong love story for my romance-loving palate.
I have to confess I did not grow up with horses. I actually never really had contact with them until I was in college. So, I became a equine aficionado later in my life. Without a doubt, The Highest Stakes is a book for horse-lovers. It is very clear that Ms. Lee loves, understands, and respects horses; and is very much an equestrienne. I appreciate the detail that she put into describing people firmly immersed in horse culture, and in giving this horse-racing novice a crash course into the horse-racing industry. Now, don't expect me to be down at the horse tracks every weekend. That's not going to happen. But I must say, I have a lot more respect for what goes into horse-racing. I am just as much a horse-lover as I ever was, maybe a little more after this book. In fact, I loved reading about the details of equine husbandry. I can certainly see how it becomes an obsession that can drive people in many ways, like it did with the three main characters in this story: Robert, Charlotte, and Philip.
On top of the foundation of horse-racing, this is a story about human nature: the dark sides, and the fundamental urges within people that drive them to achieve what they want most in life. For Robert and Charlotte, they just wanted each other. A mutual love of horses was their intial connection, and a great love blossomed between them from that starting point. Their road to happiness was a very crooked, even heartbreaking path. Many times, I felt like I was being twisted into painful knots as I read about all the troubles that this couple faced. I wanted to keep reading, crossing my fingers that things would work out; and at times, I was afraid to read one more page, for fear that their love would be driven past the point of survival. Fate seemed against them at many turns, although there was also a providential guiding hand that kept them working and striving towards their future together. I came to love and respect them both very deeply. I respect Ms. Lee that she was not afraid to put this couple through so much over the course of this book, even if it didn't always make for comfortable reading for me.
Philip was by far the most complex character. I must confess I still don't quite have him figured out. He manages to be a very self-serving person, but at the same time, he has a core of honor. Towards the end of the book, I really wanted to hate him, but I found I could not, because he was such a fascinating person, and truly did want to be a good man. He made some wrong decisions that really hurt two people that he cared about. At the same time, he played an important role in their destinies, and in some ways, helped to drive them to achieve the successes they obtained in the horsebreeding fields. One thing was for certain, he came very close to stealing the show, despite the fact that I really loved Robert and Charlotte's characters.
The writing was very good. Ms. Lee firmly establishes the Georgian period, and she doesn't have to spend a lot of detail describing what the characters wore, or what their houses looked like. Instead, she weaves in a time table of important events that occur in the background of this story, and which involve Robert and Phillip to no small extent. It felt very authentic, yet she always kept this book readable. To be honest, I am not sure that this book would appeal to readers who have no interest in horses. But that's okay. I am glad that Ms. Lee wrote a book about a subject that she clearly has a lot of passion for, and did it well; for her passion for horses is quite infectious to those who have the slightest inclination in that direction.
Quite frankly, this book came very close to being a five star book. I think that for readers who don't mind some very complicated obstacles between the hero and heroine, it probably would be a five star book. Unfortunately, I just don't like when the hero and heroine are together while they are married to other people. I really regretted that Robert and Charlotte's first time together occurs after she is forced to marry Philip. I can see that this was a realistic choice for Ms. Lee to make in plotting her story, but it just left a bad taste in my mouth. I would have preferred for Robert and Charlotte's happy ending to be unmarred by this. I freely admit that adultery is my huge pet peeve and it's hard to get past that when I am reading a romantic story. Despite that fact, I cheered on the couple for being able to get their happy ending. My other issue was that I found the ending to be a little abrupt. I was very glad to see Robert and Charlotte to achieve many of their life goals, but I would have preferred to see a little more page time spent on their reunion and how they dealt with Phillip. I did like the letter. It was a nice, and very fitting way for some of the denouement to be incorporated into the story.
The Highest Stakes was an excellent book. I was emotionally and intellectually involved with this story. It is very clear that Ms. Lee put a lot of heart and soul into this book, making for a great reading experience. Highly recommended to horse-lovers, fans of historical fiction, and those who love a good star-crossed romance.
Review of The Ice Palace by Bill Haworth Genre: Historical Fiction, Romance Rating: Three Tombstones
As I read this book, I was drawn into this story abo...moreReview of The Ice Palace by Bill Haworth Genre: Historical Fiction, Romance Rating: Three Tombstones
As I read this book, I was drawn into this story about Mikhail, who is a prince in a country where princes are quite numerous, Russia, during the 18th Century. He possesses a modest fortune, but not enough to continue living richly in Russia. So he takes on the ambassador position offered by the Tsaritsa. This leads him to Italy, where he invests in a road-building enterprise and falls in love with the beautiful but sickly daughter of the mayor and his business partner, who he marries.
Unfortunately, his marital bliss doesn't last very long, because the cruel, vain, selfish, dictatorial Tsaritsa Anna Ivanovna sends men after him and arrests Mikhail for marrying outside of his faith and without her permission. In the process, this puts stress on his young bride's already weak and taxed heart, and she subsequently dies. This might seem like a spoiler, but this is really just the setup for this story. Life goes downhill very quickly for Mikhail, for he is forced to go to Russia by land, which is a long, arduous trip. When he gets back, he is punished by the Tsaritsa (for what she considers spurning his advances since he has been an object of her lust for some time) by being forced to play the fool/jester in her court. The good thing about this situation is Mikhail has lots of time to think about his life, and to realize that he is very lucky, compared to others. In addition, Mikhail earns the admiration of others for his good-natured acceptance of his ill-treatment by the Tsaritsa, while the growing dislike of the populace is her just reward for her bad behavior. Although Mikhail never came off as shallow and selfish, you do get to see him grow as a person. Fortunately, this enables him to see the inner beauty and goodness in a very ugly servant that the Tsaritsa forces him to marry (again out of spite). At first, he was horrified by her ugliness. But his intrinsically good heart causes him to treat her kindly despite his repulsion to her poor looks. This story gives a little history background about the severe winter of 1739, where most of the lakes and rivers freeze over. People are struggling to stay warm , while the selfish Tsaritsa throws extravagant parties, eating excessive amounts of unhealthy and rich food and drinking too much vodka. She gets the idea to have an ice palace built and decides to christen it by making Mikhail and his bride Avdotoya, spend the night in it. Were it not for a little assistance from a long-lost friend, they would have died, because of the extreme brutal cold of a Russian winter night. The experience of spending the night together, fighting for survival brings the unlikely couple together, and they quickly fall in love. Mikhail is able to see the inner beauty, the sweet nature, the wisdom, and the intelligence of his new bride, and know that she is his true soulmate. While reading the story, The Ice Palace, I felt as though it had an identity crisis. It wanted to be so many things: serious historical fiction, comedy, romance, a treatise on good eating habits, and a little bit of a fairy tale. At times, it was hard to keep up with the different changes in tone that happened rather abruptly. I feel that it would have flowed better if the author had established one tone for the story, and avoided veering away from it more than necessary, and unless it was to emphasize a message. The rapid changes from serious to humorous and back left me feeling confused, and made it harder to take the narrative seriously. Another issue I had was the anachronistic language. There were modern colloquial phrases used that took me out of the historical setting and distracted me. Also, I felt that the author was a bit too preachy with his thinly veiled message about healthy eating habits. Numerous times in the story, he criticized the heavy, fatty diet of Russians, and how it contributed to bad health. Although I have no problem with his message, I felt that a more subtle approach would have been just as effective, and less like an obvious public service announcement. Despite the issues I mentioned, The Ice Palace was an enjoyable read that kept my interest. It gives a glimpse into what was happening in Russian during one of the worst winters on record. It also shows us the power of perseverance and looking beyond the surface and into the heart, a lesson that never loses its power. (less)