Over the course of this trilogy Stephanie Dray has laid out the life of Cleopatra Selene from captive of Caesar Augustus to wife of Juba II and Queen...moreOver the course of this trilogy Stephanie Dray has laid out the life of Cleopatra Selene from captive of Caesar Augustus to wife of Juba II and Queen of Mauretania, daughter of Isis and mother, for readers to appreciate the heart and soul, strength and frailties of this amazing woman and I've loved every minute. Daughters of the Nile is an epic conclusion, fitting for one such as Cleopatra Selene.
I was moved to tears quite a few times, that's no mean feat for an author, after all it's history, being aware of the how and why sometimes lessens the emotional impact. Not so with Daughters of the Nile, as Ms Dray mentions in her author's note, not a lot has been documented of Cleopatra Selene but with meticulous research of the time period, raw emotion and fictional flare she's brought Selene to life with poignant intimacy .
The Roman Empire political machinations continue, as does Augustus' manipulation of Selene (despite her independent stand) and the playing off of key players as they climb and fall from favour. But the focus is really on Selene's relationships and her growing self awareness.
So much to love ... I loved the exploration of Selene's relationships, it took this installment to new heights, the bond between Selene and her mage, Euphronius, Greek freedwoman Chryssa, Berber attendant, Tala and her relationship with daughter, Isadora, Julia (Augustus' daughter) and Octavia (Augustus' sister) to name just a few.
Selene is a doting and protective mother, I loved that the love and safety of her children and niece came first, above all, even deep-seated ambitions. I loved that Selene finally opened her heart to love with Juba, with so much tragedy and heartache in her life, it was heartwarming to read she found a safe harbour in Juba's arms. I adored the mysticism and dark magic, I guess it sounds like I'm mentioning it in passing but it's deftly woven into the story with both intricacy and a delicate touch.
Recommend: Highly ... Stephanie Dray's writing is richly atmospheric, exquisitely detailed and emotionally wrenching. Big and lush, it's a story to savour. (less)
I fell in love with Sarah Jio's beautiful writing style while reading The Bungalow. Morning Glory has that same languid, atmospheric feel, pa...more4.5 stars
I fell in love with Sarah Jio's beautiful writing style while reading The Bungalow. Morning Glory has that same languid, atmospheric feel, part love story, part mystery and I just adored feeling part of the houseboat community on Lake Union's Boat Street, Seattle.
Dark clouds are rolling in all around, and the rain's intensity increases as we paddle back across the lake, which looks like wrinkled gray velvet. By the time we reach my dock, we're soaked, but somehow, I don't mind.
The dual story line and time frame of Ada Santorini (present day) and Penny Wentworth (1959) is connected by houseboat number 7; seamlessly executed and equally captivating. One of my many favourite parts was the heartwarming role Penny's unassuming recipe book played in the story, both for a reader sharing Penny's passion for baking and for Ada. There's a couple of recipe's included that I'd love to try; Cinnamon Rolls is top of my list.
Cinnamon Rolls (Dex's Favourite) makes 1 dozen
Ingredients: 3/4 cup milk 1/4 cup butter, softened 3 1/4 cups all-purpose flour 1/4 cup white sugar 1 package yeast 1/2 tsp salt 1 egg 1/4 cup water
For Filling: 1 cup brown sugar, packed 1 tblsp ground cinnamon 1/2 cup butter, softened
Preparation: Heat the milk in a small saucepan until it bubbles, then remove from stove. Mix in butter, stir until melted. Let cool slightly.
In a large mixing bowl, combine 2 1/4 cups flour, sugar, yeast and salt; mix well. Add egg, water and the milk/butter mixture. Beat well. Add the remaining flour, 1/2 cup at a time. Knead dough until smooth. About 5 mins.
Let dough rise for about an hour or more. Meanwhile in a small bowl, mix together brown sugar, cinnamon, and softened butter for filling.
Preheat oven to 375 degrees . Punch down dough, then roll out into a 12x9 inch rectangle. Spread filling mixture on dough. Roll up and pinch seam to seal. Cut into 12 equal-size pieces and place in greased 9x12 glass dish. Cover and let rise until doubled, about an hour.
Bake for 20 minutes, or until golden brown. Let cool, then drizzle with royal icing if desired.
You don't get a traditional, neatly-tied-up-with-a-bow ending with Sarah Jio's stories but it's a fitting ending ... bittersweet, sure to bring a tear to the eye and a smile to your face.
I know I may always ache for the past, for the two greatest loves of my life, but I want to be a bird now. I want to flap my wings through the rainstorms. I want to start my day with the earnestness of the morning glory, the way it blossoms open with the sunrise, ready to shine no matter what.
Another story enticingly revealed a piece at a time until you realise it's all so beautifully and deftly intertwined.(less)
My introduction to Deborah Swift's work was through her 2012 novel, The Gilded Lily. I thoroughly enjoyed her story telling ability and was keen to tr...moreMy introduction to Deborah Swift's work was through her 2012 novel, The Gilded Lily. I thoroughly enjoyed her story telling ability and was keen to try something else. A Divided Inheritance is another fascinating piece of historical fiction, a multi-layered, well researched tale of tenacity and adventure.
As much as I love Tudor England it certainly made a refreshing change to be immersed in another period, Jacobean London, the lace trade, Spain under King Phillip III's expulsion of the Moriscos, (Spanish Muslims) the religious turmoil in both countries. Deborah Swift covers it with a deft hand and page-turning pace.
Elspet and Zachary are interesting characters - Zachary easy to loathe, but better late than never, he displays some redeeming qualities and earned my respect. Elspet a woman shackled by the constraints on women of the era and yet strong, opinionated, doggedly fighting for what is hers. Without getting spoiler-ish I really enjoyed watching them grow into their 'familial' relationship and cheered as consideration and loyalty became a priority.
The small details were carefully balanced, nuanced, adding authenticity without getting bogged down or boring and surprisingly I really enjoyed the in-depth look at fencing, the philosophy of Heinrich Cornelius Agrippa and the dedication required to master the art.
I'd love to see a sequel, after becoming quite invested in Elspet and Zachary's lives, I'd like to see where life takes them next.
Recommend: Absolutely, for fans of historical fiction and those who just enjoy a good adventure. (less)
Forgetting Tabitha is the story of impoverished and orphaned children in New York City and the impact of the Orphan Train movement on their l...more3.5 stars
Forgetting Tabitha is the story of impoverished and orphaned children in New York City and the impact of the Orphan Train movement on their lives. Not all were adopted into loving homes, some became little more than hired help or indentured servants. It's a graphic and enduring tale of survival and hope.
Julie Dewey doesn't shy away from the harsh realities of the time. The squalor and despair for those who lived in the Five Points district assailed the senses, while the violence and often tragic outcomes were difficult to read.
The characters, especially 10 year old Tabitha, (Mary) Scotty and Gert wormed their way into my heart, children who've seen and suffered so much, old before their time. Their story is heartbreaking and sadly, real but I cheered their resilience and each hard-won triumph.
This my 3rd book featuring the Orphan Train movement at its core, so naturally my reading experience was coloured by the two previously read, brilliant books, my favourite being My Notorious Life by Kate Manning. For me, Forgetting Tabitha was a good read but it didn't reach superb heights.
That said that I'm keen to see what Julie Dewey delivers next :) (less)
I've had a fascination with Marie Antoinette for years and have loved Juliet Grey's trilogy covering her life with exemplary attention to det...more4.5 stars
I've had a fascination with Marie Antoinette for years and have loved Juliet Grey's trilogy covering her life with exemplary attention to detail and meticulous research. What made Confessions of Marie Antoinette my favourite of the trilogy was the sense of intimacy and urgency.
Knowing the history and Marie Antoinette's unfortunate fate didn't lessen the impact, I was astounded by the vividly detailed account of the later years of Marie Antoinette and Louis XVI. Striking detail and intensity combined with sensitivity ensuring a page turning read and my emotional investment throughout.
History is written by victors so I've always found it refreshing to read authors' accounts of maligned historical figures, bringing objectivity to the exaggeration and lies, humanising those who've been almost demonised and whilst this is historical fiction Juliet Grey doesn't stray far from the facts.
From the storming of Versailles in 1789, the vehement hatred and violence of the people towards their King and Queen, activities of the revolutionaries, the horror of the Reign of Terror, the appalling treatment of the Royal Family and those deemed Royalist, through to the Monarchs' laughable trials and executions in 1793. Not forgotten however, is the courage and loyalty of many, Marie Antoinette's compassion and dignity and the unconditional love for her children ... to the end.
Recommend: absolutely - a riveting and emotionally wrenching read!(less)
My Notorious Life is loosely based on the 19th century New York midwife and abortionist Ann Trow better known as Madame Restell. With stunning attenti...moreMy Notorious Life is loosely based on the 19th century New York midwife and abortionist Ann Trow better known as Madame Restell. With stunning attention to detail Kate Manning chronicles the life of Axie Muldoon, giving readers an unflinching and intimate view of a woman's lot in life in 19th century America.
I've read many novels about women in this period, their options and rights in relation to health and fertility sadly lacking regardless of social class, the high risk of sexual exploitation, responsibility and shame, often theirs alone to bear, women's bodies worn out by multiple pregnancies. My Notorious Life is one of the best I've read and it's an emotionally harrowing read.
Despite the heartache, this is still a novel of light and shade. I adored the passion, angst, trouble and laughs that Axie and fellow Orphan Train reject, Charlie, find in their marriage and life together. I loved watching their characters' grow, falter, pick up the pieces and mature.
Between Kate Manning's vivid writing and Axie's authentic and compelling voice, I could not have been more thoroughly immersed in a period in history ... the squalor, poverty, hunger, the disparity between social classes, desperation oozing from the page and Axie's compassion and sensibility at the risk of her own safety, entirely believable.
Manning’s descriptions of Axie’s medical & midwifery practices are alternatively fascinating and horrifying, hopeful and heartbreaking ... regardless of your views, pro-choice, pro-life or other, I'd be shocked if you felt anything but compassion for the plight of the women described within these pages.
I'm kicking myself for waiting so long to read a novel by Australian author Kate Forsyth. I purchased Bitter Greens in 2012 after reading a number of...moreI'm kicking myself for waiting so long to read a novel by Australian author Kate Forsyth. I purchased Bitter Greens in 2012 after reading a number of glowing reviews but *shame face* it's still unread ... I won't be stupid twice ;)
The Wild Girl is an exquisite package, an epic tale of love, war and fairytales, impeccably researched, deftly layered and beautifully wrought. Kate, you hoped I'd be enchanted ... I truly was.
My copies of the Grimm Brothers fairytales from childhood are well loved and enjoyed still but I've never actually read anything about Jakob and Wilhelm Grimm nor Henriette Dorothea (Dortchen) Wild, the girl who lived next door to the Grimm family, so for me this was a uniquely special experience. Age old fairytales, some familiar, some not, are seamlessly blended with the narrative, contributing authenticity, poignancy and magic.
Haunting, breathtaking, evocative The Wild Girl has a dark beauty that left me speechless and in tears more than once, in turn entranced, outraged, horrified and saddened.
Kate Forsyth captures the complexities of the human spirit with raw sensitivity ... frailties, cruelties on one hand, courage, selflessness and goodness on the other. Dortchen's father gave me nightmares, whilst I loved the detailed apothecary descriptions I was secretly hoping Dortchen would use her vast herbal knowledge and give her father a much needed dose of something lethal ... and painful!
Dortchen Wild fell in love with Wilhelm Grimm the first time she saw him. She was only twelve years old, but love has never been something that can be constrained by age. It happened in the way of old tales, in an instant, changing everything forever. It was a fork in the path, the turn of a key, the kindling of a lantern.
Through the Napoleonic Wars, poverty, sickness, abuse, Dortchen's love for Wilhelm is steadfast, her spirit crushed over the years by the oppressive control of her father, hope and longing remain palpable.
... the end came all too soon but weeks later I sigh as I remember the beauty.
The Wild Girl is a gift of storytelling about storytelling, it deserves to enter the exalted realm of classics.
I'm so in love with this series and coming from me that's high praise because dragons really 'aint my thing! Danger, adventure, love, hearta...more4.5 stars
I'm so in love with this series and coming from me that's high praise because dragons really 'aint my thing! Danger, adventure, love, heartache set against the historical backdrop of WWI, it's rich, emotive, haunting and bittersweet, The Deepest Night is one beautiful package.
I wish I could turn back the clock and start over, there's just something breathtaking about exploring a unique new world. I miss that 'newness' but there are different qualities to be excited about with the 2nd installment. What remains the same is Shana Abe's exquisite, intoxicating writing.
I loved them in The Sweetest Dark but there's a new depth to Lora and Armand in The Deepest Night, both individually and within their relationship. They embrace their magic, grow, adapt and shine, it's completely mesmerising and I was just a wee bit *cough* spellbound.
Nervous anticipation for the final book, I'm excited, hopeful, and just a little scared about how things are going to finish up.
Recommend: Screaming from the rooftop YES! YES!(less)
I'm a die-hard Jodi Picoult fan but her last few books have been hit and miss for me and the the endings have disappointed. Not so The Storyt...more4.5 stars
I'm a die-hard Jodi Picoult fan but her last few books have been hit and miss for me and the the endings have disappointed. Not so The Storyteller, I'm thrilled to say Jodi Picoult returns to form with this riveting story. Sadly we are not so far removed from the holocaust, history repeats itself with genocides today but we cannot hope to end these atrocities with ignorance ... these stories need to be told and read.
Sage's friendship with Josef opens a can of worms when he confesses his horrifying past. Possibly not the most plausible situation but the ethical and moral quandary and the exploration of forgiveness made for fascinating and thought provoking reading.
Sage's grandmother Minka is a holocaust survivor and her story is as emotionally harrowing and heartbreaking as I expected. What was unexpected was the narration by Suzanne Torin, this part of the story for me was the most compelling and moving, I really felt like I was bearing witness to the evil, Minka and her best friend Darija experienced at the hands of the SS.
I enjoyed the light and contrast that Justice Department investigator Leo Stein's gallows humour brought to the story, it seemed in keeping with his profession, giving not only him, but also the reader, brief respite from the darkness.
The dual time frame was seamlessly navigated but I'm not sure how I felt about the story within the story. I understood the allegorical slant to Minka's 'upior' from Polish legends however the conveyance felt a little jarring.
This story lends itself well to the audio format, the multiple narration was brilliant with accents and inflections spot on. I recommend The Storyteller on audio without hesitation. (less)
Flesh is a story of shades and contrasts, languid but intense, darkly detailed and quietly introspective, poverty and cruelty, love and sens...more3.5 stars
Flesh is a story of shades and contrasts, languid but intense, darkly detailed and quietly introspective, poverty and cruelty, love and sensuality.
Tai is a compelling narrator and Ha excels with characterisation, even minor characters are fully fleshed out. Both setting and scene are vivid, from jungle to opium den, beheading to small pox epidemic. What was forefront for me was the deep sense of family honour, duty and loyalty guiding Tai's actions.
I've loved my many visits to different south east Asian countries, I love the culture and the people. Khanh Ha's writing is so visceral you aren't just visiting Vietnam, you're immersed in the experience which is both beautiful and confronting. I certainly wished to be elsewhere when it came to the scene with the unfortunate monkey.
A unique and evocative read, it may not universally appeal but I appreciated the experience and look forward to Khanh Ha's distinctive writing in his next book.
3.5 stars Anne O'Brien gives readers insight into the life and heart of Katherine de Valois, neglected daughter of King Charles VI of France and Isabea...more3.5 stars Anne O'Brien gives readers insight into the life and heart of Katherine de Valois, neglected daughter of King Charles VI of France and Isabeau of Bavaria and largely forgotten Queen to King Henry V and grandmother to the Tudor dynasty.
When Henry dies leaving Katherine widowed at 21, her Valois bloodline and position as Dowager Queen and mother to young King Henry are sacrosanct. According to Gloucester and the Royal Council Katherine's conduct must be morally exemplary, ensuring her son's Kingship and stability of the kingdoms of England and France.
The Forbidden Queen is seen through Katherine's eyes as she follows her heart. Her determination is not expended for power or position but in her quest for happiness and intense yearning to be loved.
I found the time spent on Katherine's infatuation with the weasel Edmund Beaufort a little repetitive and melodramatic but I was completely captivated when she fell in love with Owen Tudor, Welsh squire and Master of the Queen's Household. Scandalous yes but I cheered them on as they defied Parliament and married, standing together in the fight for true love.
Since this was Katherine's story not an account of the political and religious struggles of the time what I really wanted was more of Owen and Katherine's story, sadly their happiness was squeezed into the last quarter of the novel.
On a side note: Katherine's mother, Isabeau is portrayed as a heartless mother and promiscuous, ruthlessly ambitious Queen Consort to mad King Charles. Accurate or powerful woman maligned? ... I'd love to read more.(less)
Garden Of Stones was an inexplicably moving account of the internment of Japanese-Americans during WWII after the bombing of Pearl Harbour. It's a tal...moreGarden Of Stones was an inexplicably moving account of the internment of Japanese-Americans during WWII after the bombing of Pearl Harbour. It's a tale of love, sacrifice, survival and the unfathomable cost of fear and social prejudice on innocents.
Miyako Takedo and her daughter Lucy are just 2 of the thousands of innocent Americans forcibly detained in prison camps for their Japanese ancestry. Sophie Littlefield draws from first person accounts, journals and interviews of internees so the detail felt credible and held my attention completely.
I was unbelievably shocked at Miyako's desperate act to keep her daughter safe. I'm not passing judgement but it's beyond heartbreaking that a mother feels she is left with no choice but the one she makes.
The effects ripple through generations, fast forward to 1978 and it's Lucy's daughter, Patty focusing on her mother's past and secrets. I'm not giving any more away, it's a slow reveal and one you just have to read yourself.
Manzanar's appalling conditions, cruelty, sexual harrassment and abuse is harrowing to read but a nation's failure of conscience should be compulsory reading. (less)
Impeccably detailed The Gilded Lily drops the reader right in the poverty and squalor of 17th century London. So vivid are the descriptions you can al...moreImpeccably detailed The Gilded Lily drops the reader right in the poverty and squalor of 17th century London. So vivid are the descriptions you can almost smell the stench, see the overwhelming gulf between the rich and dirt poor, experience the bitter cold and terrible hunger. With research and passion Deborah Swift has excelled with conveying time and place.
The dynamic between sisters Ella & Sadie is pivotal to the story, giving it momentum but honestly my hand was itching to slap Ella for her callous selfishness. The Gilded Lily is short on likeable characters, thankfully Sadie and her 2 friends, Dennis & Corey are endearing characters with heart. Fortunately I didn't have to like the rest of the cast to enjoy the read.
I loved the 17th century dialect and it was refreshing to take a look at the professions of commoners; perruquiers, (wig makers) pawn brokers, maids and shop assistants and read more about the 'secrets' of womens' beauty during this era, the use of ceruse, white lead face paint or powder. It added a fascinating authenticity to Restoration London without bogging down the story with unnecessary detail.
At 460 + pages I was pleasantly surprised by the pace. The Gilded Lily is quite a bleak read but the dark ambiance, seedy undercurrent and ever-present danger kept me turning the pages, anxious for the outcome and the redemptive ending contributes some light and goes a little way to restoring faith in humanity.
Recommend: Absolutely! I'll definitely be reading more from Deborah Swift. (less)