Hidden Voices is the tale of Anetta, Luisa and Rosalba, three orphaned girls; their desires, their failures and suc...moreHidden Voices by Pat Lowery Collins
Hidden Voices is the tale of Anetta, Luisa and Rosalba, three orphaned girls; their desires, their failures and successes give life anew to Venice and the music of Antonio Vivaldi.
This book is filled with the power of young love, passion and music. Because of Mrs. Collins’ deft characterization skill, as well as my own musical background, I had a hard time putting it down.
The three girls, Anetta, Luisa, Rosalba and several of the lesser characters are written with such telling, pointed dialogue and actions that there was no one in this book who didn’t “pop” into real life. Just as important, Baroque Venice also comes alive. See the Punchinello plays, Carnival, the Commedia dell’Arte, consume fritelle and Italy with these girls. Viva Italia.
Was the book perfect? Perhaps not if one prefers a straight forward, genre-esque plot. There’s no need to save the world or even Venice in “Hidden Voices.” I do not want to give any spoilers, so I will simply say that the hope of requited love is stretched throughout the book for all three characters, though happy ever after is never the point.
Read Hidden Voices and witness a vibrant culture that’s not normally the focus of historical novels. You won’t be sorry, and when you leave this book behind, you’ll say, as I did, “Brava, Maestra. Brava.”
To win a free copy of this book, please leave a comment.(less)
This is my third novel from author Jeannie Lin – fourth story – and I'm happy to say I continue to enjoy myself.
“Concubine” is the story of Yan Ling,...moreThis is my third novel from author Jeannie Lin – fourth story – and I'm happy to say I continue to enjoy myself.
“Concubine” is the story of Yan Ling, a tea house serving girl, and Chang Fei Long, the “Professor Higgins” of this take on My Fair Lady.
Here's the back cover blurb of the plot, though I'll give away a bit more: Yan Ling tries hard to be servile—it's what's expected of a girl of her class. Being intelligent and strong-minded, she finds it a constant battle.
Proud Fei Long is unimpressed by her spirit—until he realizes she's the answer to his problems. He has to deliver the emperor a "princess." In two months can he train a tea girl to pass as a noblewoman?
Yet it's hard to teach good etiquette when all Fei Long wants to do is break it, by taking this tea girl for his own...
The reason Fei Long has to deliver a "princess" is because his family promised to do so in exchange for enough money to negate the family's debt. Only the girl they'd intended to use skips town before the book begins. Throughout the book, the reader is intensely aware that Fei Long cannot act on his love for Yan Ling without putting his entire household, family and servants, into servitude forever. Yan Ling, who loves the household as if they were her own family, feels the same way. The tug of duty versus desire is palpable and exquisite.
I'd have to say I was aware while reading that this was a remake of a much later, non-Asian story. The novel doesn't feel as firmly settled during the Tang era as the Dragon and The Pearl – Lin's previous book – but, that did not distract me. Perhaps in large part because Lin's grasp of unattainable heart-rending desire was more realized in this story than in her other novels.
One part of the story's conclusion was given away earlier than I would have liked. It reduced the tension. But there were enough other questions still at large by the end of the story, that one reveal was pretty minor. The competition at the end of the book was pure enjoyment and delight, as were so many other points.
For instance, the first thing our heroine does upon meeting Fei Long is deliberately throw a pot of tea in his face. How can you not love that beginning? Just you wait, 'enry 'iggins, just you wait....
No empires or dynasties were threatened during the writing of this novel and that sort of additional tension wasn't necessary to the story. It's simply a joy to read – with or without Julie Andrews opining about “someone's 'ead restin' on my knee, warm an' tender as 'e can be. 'oo takes good care of me, aow, wouldn't it be loverly?”
It’s 1849, and twelve-year-old Addie lives in the shipbuilding town of Essex, Massachusetts. Her father has left the family to seek gold on the West C...moreIt’s 1849, and twelve-year-old Addie lives in the shipbuilding town of Essex, Massachusetts. Her father has left the family to seek gold on the West Coast, and tragically the flux has ended the lives of her mother and baby brother, leaving Addie all alone. Fearful of being taken in as a servant, Addie flees from her house into the snowy woods, where she endures hunger and bitter cold until Nokummus, an elderly Wampanoag woman, coaxes Addie to her dwelling. Now living under the care of the mercurial old woman, Addie slowly recognizes the truth of her past. Through an intense ancient ceremony and by force of her own wits and will, Addie must come to grips with the facts of her newfound identity – and find the courage to build a future unlike any she could ever have imagined. Daughter of Winter was a heart rending read at times. The book begins:
Yesterday I washed their bodies as I’ve seen the women do
dressed them in their best, and laid them in a crypt of snow…
If that doesn’t catch your attention, for better or worse, you must be the one in the crypt. I was riveted after those first four lines, but I have to admit, Daughter of Winter was a hard read for me because of Addie’s agonizing search for her own identity and “real” mother.
You see, I’m an adoptive mother. My daughter is from China and though she’s still a little young for these questions, she will someday have them. Just like Addie, my child will want to know who her “real” mother is and I will have to contain my tears at the question. Tears for her loss; tears that she has to ask such a terrible thing because I am her real mother. I am just not the person who gave her life. This book managed to touch me in a deeply personal place, for which I’m grateful. I hope it will help me to be a better mother when these questions arise.
The novel’s conclusion is moving and fulfilling, but I hate spoilers and refuse to give away anything else. What I will do is whole heartedly recommend this novel to the general populace, but most especially to those people touched by adoption or foster situations. (less)
A local corrupt magistrate has proposed marriage to Wu Mei Lin and it's not an honorable proposal, but an offer to make her his second concubine. Thou...moreA local corrupt magistrate has proposed marriage to Wu Mei Lin and it's not an honorable proposal, but an offer to make her his second concubine. Though it will buy her family a certain amount of freedom, Mei Lin can't do it. She promises she will marry the man who can best her in a sword fight, never foreseeing the number of brutes her estranged suitor will send against her and her family. Then one day a handsome stranger comes to town....
I really enjoyed this story, but not just because of the quality of writing or plotting or anything "writerly," and not because the author is a friend. My enjoyment was for personal reasons.
Like Mei Lin, I have the same problem with my hair never staying out of my face. Neither Mei Lin nor I have ever felt particularly pretty, either. And then there was the following scene. It comes at the end of the hero and heroine's sword fight:
"You're good" he said. She parried and twisted his blade aside. "I don't need you to tell me." He grinned and pushed her further until she had to fight for balance. She wasn't done yet. Boldly she ventured closer to where his longer blade would be less effective. Most practitioners weren't comfortable there, but Shen Leung found her rhythm and flowed with her. The edge of his weapon broke through her guard.She stepped back, knowing it was too late. But he missed. The blade whistled past her ear. She stared at him in shock while he regained his stance and prepared for another advance. She had him. It had nothing to do with skill. They were closely matched in training, but there was so much more that went into a fight. The honorable Shen Leung was unwilling to hurt her. He didn't realize it yet, but the battle was hers if she wanted it. With her new confidence, she could see all the openings. A warrior had to be ruthless and strategic. That was what she had been taught. He became a series of targets in her eyes. All she needed to do was catch another moment of hesitation and she would break through. And once she won... what then? Someone else would come. Another one of Zhou's henchmen now that he was bent on revenge. Or maybe no one would ever defeat her or care to approach her with a serious marriage proposal. She'd have nothing but this speck of a town and the noodle stand. Shen Leung's arrival had broken through the clouds. She might never feel this way again about anyone. They said he was a good man, a just and courageous one. She decided then. She met his attack edge on edge, loosening her grip slightly with the impact of their blades and the strength of his next attempt wrenched the hilt from her grasp. A collective murmur went through the crowd when her sword fell to the dirt. For a second, it almost seemed they had been cheering for her. Supporting the local madwoman. Shen Leung's sword darted forward to stop just shy of her throat. She grew still beneath his gaze. He regarded her with admiration and something else, a fire she'd never seen before. He rested the tip of the blade gently against her collarbone, almost like a caress. "Do I need to draw blood, my lady?" he asked softly. He had already pierced her, deeper than he knew. It was Wang who broke the standoff. "Claim your prize, Master Shen!" "Prize?" The blade fell back. The exertion of the battle began to sink into her along with the oppressive heat of the afternoon. She wanted to wipe the perspiration from her face, but she didn't dare move. She didn't dare breathe as she watched Shen Leung's reaction. "Take your bride," Wang said. "From your battle, we can see your wedding night will be quite an adventure." His cronies hooted with laughter. She considered blackening both of Wang's eyes and perhaps breaking his nose as well. "Don't be ridiculous, brother Wang," Shen Leung looked embarrassed when he glanced back at her. "There will be no wedding." Her chest squeezed tight. Heat rushed up her neck and flooded her face while he bowed once more. The noble swordsman didn't want her. "Thank you for the match. Lady Wu is a formidable opponent." He turned to leave. The cronies chanted their congratulations and ushered him toward the taverns to celebrate. Mei Lin was left alone, her sword fallen in the dust. The curious eyes of the townspeople bore into her while the cruel sun beat down upon her back.
It's one thing to be sought after without wanting the attention. It's quite another to make your choice as to where you will go and with whom, only to find out you're unwanted. I've been in that situation and wouldn't wish it on anyone. At the end of this scene which is also the end of Chapter One, I had wet cheeks. In short, I had a strong character identification within a few paragraphs. And isn't that one definition of quality writing?
The fight scenes are filled with realistic action and the love scenes are tastefully done, but after the opening scene, what grabbed me most unexpectedly about this story was the humor. I noticed I smiled a lot while reading, which is always something I cherish. Making me smile or laugh aloud is a far more difficult trick than making me cry and Jeannie Lin accomplished both. I’ll share one of the fun situations tomorrow, so make sure you tune in. (I typed it up today and ended up re-reading the entire scene because it still makes me laugh.)
In closing, I wish more time had been given over toward character development and showing us the world these characters live in. Not because the story lacked those things, but because I could have happily lived there far longer. Fortunately, this was the first of at least two Jeannie Lin adventures set in the Tang Dynasty. "The Taming of Mei Lin" is the romance of a character who also appears in Jeannie Lin's "Butterfly Swords," but you don't have to read Mei Lin's story first; just make sure you do read them both. "The Taming of Mei Lin" is available from Amazon.com (via kindle), E-Harlequin, and on the Nook. "Butterfly Swords" will be in bookstores on October 1st, but you can order it from Amazon.com now.
Finally, make sure you head over to Jeannie Lin's blog for other book and story coverage and to her contest page (http://www.butterfly-swords.com) for upcoming opportunities to win all sorts of prizes including twin butterfly swords!
Coming later this week, a guest blog from Jeannie Lin, author of "The Taming of Mei Lin" and "Butterfly Swords."(less)
City of Tranquil Light is a novel based on the lives of the author’s relatives. The fictional story of Will an...moreThis was an unearthly, beautiful novel.
City of Tranquil Light is a novel based on the lives of the author’s relatives. The fictional story of Will and Katherine Kiehn is so moving that I devoured the first 111 pages in a single sitting. After that, I continued to read, but many times with the greatest agony. Not because the writing turned to a lesser quality, but because they chose to name their daughter Lily, which also happens to be the name of my daughter. And their little girl died. As the couple work through their grief, there are questions raised with such honest poignancy that I could not read more than one paragraph at a time because I wept so hard. Anyone who has ever grieved deeply will feel the depth of Katherine’s despair in her talk with God: “We buried our daughter yesterday, and I am brought up short by the harshness of Your ways. I have given my all for You and in return you have taken the gift I love most – my sweet child. But perhaps I loved her too much I am mistaken; perhaps I haven’t given my all, but have held something back. Did I love her more than You? I know you are a jealous God, but are You that jealous, that You would take the other object of my devotion? I feel broken, as though there is a great gash inside of me, and my only prayer is a question: ‘What have You done?’ I ask not from anger, but from confusion, for I truly do not understand. Perhaps You are a flawed God, imperfect as we are. We are, after all, made in your image. Perhaps it was not Your intention to take Lily, but your inattention. Did You look away for a moment? Was your mind elsewhere? Many times a day I ask myself what else I could have done and search for some mistake I made. But perhaps You are at fault, not I. It seems there is so much You could have done.” Who among us who has met with loss hasn’t asked these questions? It is the first of many tragedies they live through, but Mrs. Caldwell allows us to see the glory and wonder of how God can work. The man who stole the medicine that might have saved Lily’s life comes to Will Kiehn and demands – at gun point – that Will treat his son. Will knows what this man’s banditry has cost him and I’m sure many of us might tell this bandit where he and his murderous son could go. Will doesn’t. He heals the son and the bandit’s men and earns their trust and gratitude before he’s allowed to return to his wife. Before he does so, he shares the Lord’s Good News with his captors both through the bible and through his actions, but forgiveness is a long way away. Time continues and the bandit’s son goes on a murderous rampage, after which he is captured, tortured and executed. The bandit returns to Will and in an amazing scene filled with the bereft father’s sorrow and humiliation, the bandit chief turns himself in as justice for having raised a shameful son. He is beaten and awaiting trial when Will brings him food and medical treatment. Neither man expects the bandit to survive, but he does and escapes after seeking forgiveness from God. Their lives continue to intertwine throughout the novel, which is a must read for anyone interested in China, missional history or the mission field. If the tremendous losses in City of Tranquil Light kept me by my tissue box, the heroism, faith and selflessness displayed by Caldwell’s characters kept me reading.
Butterfly Swords Review Butterfly Swords is not the sort of book I think of when I look at Harlequin Romances. I expect lots of hot and heavy breathin...moreButterfly Swords Review Butterfly Swords is not the sort of book I think of when I look at Harlequin Romances. I expect lots of hot and heavy breathing, but no whistling blades arcing into flesh. I certainly don’t expect Tang dynasty China. Yet Butterfly Swords carries itself with all the confidence of its warrior class heroine through scenes both sensual and blood-stirring, and all of it set within a tumultuous period of China’s history: the later Tang Dynasty (760s). The story does tweak history a bit in that the rebellion described is loosely based on the An Lushan rebellion, but the book's events are fictional. In that sense, Butterfly Swords is an historical romantic fantasy. I read most of the book in one sitting, enjoying the flow and power of the author’s language. Then I decided I had read it too quickly to do it justice in a review, so I sat down a few days later and picked it up again. Darned if I didn’t get halfway through before remembering why I had decided to re-read it! It grabs and pulls in ways I can’t begin to describe. I can only appreciate the skill used. Consider the following scene where the heroine Ailey has agreed to a friendly duel with Ryam, the hero. If he wins, he will receive one kiss. If she wins, he has to take her to her family home in Changan. Ryam couldn’t resist the promise of a kiss to keep him company on the cold journey back to the frontier. It might even be worth the risk of facing Imperial soldiers again – not that he intended to lose. Ailey stood across from him, poised and still. She shook the hair from her eyes with a slight toss of her head and her braid whipped over her shoulder. When she focused again on him, the young woman disappeared and a warrior stood in her place. The fight started here, at the moment of decision, long before his sword ever reached striking distance. Ailey radiated more determination than many a seasoned fighter. She bowed formally, bending slightly at the waist with her eyes trained on him. He considered, for a brief moment, whether Ailey had been bluffing all along. ‘Ready?’ he murmured. She flew at him. In a flash of silver, the butterfly swords cut tight lines through the air. He deflected in two sharp clashes of steel, surprised by the strength of the attack. ‘I thought this was a friendly match – ‘ The next swipe of her blade whistled by his throat. Ailey pushed inside his defense without fear, without caution. For a second she darted within arm’s reach. He considered simply grabbing her and wrestling her to the ground. Pin her beneath him. The image lingered dangerously. Definitely not honourable. He had to jump back to avoid her knee as she drove it upwards. ‘I can’t take you to Changan if you kill me.’ He twisted her next attack aside only to have her spring back, eyes dark with intent, a hint of green sparking within them. She left no room, no time to recover. His heart pumped hard as instinct took hold of him. According to her rules, he could only defend and not attack. He side-stepped and angled the strikes away. Ailey knew what she was doing, keeping him close so he couldn’t use his reach against her. She danced around him with deadly elegance, matching him toe to toe. The rhythm of it almost sexual. Better than sexual. ‘Ten,’ he announced. ‘Show me what you have,’ she retorted.
The book had one surprising moment for me. The heroine's first goal is to return to her family and reveal the treachery of her fiance, the treacherous General Tao. With the hero's help, Ailey meets with her father and discovers that he's aware of the General's political ambitions. Her father requires her to marry Tao anyway and for some reason, the book's path from then on took me to unexpected places. Not that I minded; I was simply surprised. The plot does move a little slowly as the hero debates whether he can have the life he wants with Ailey. After he concludes that he can't, the villain captures Ailey. After a book's length of errors, our hero decides to stand up for himself and what he wants. The actions he takes at that point moved me and fulfilled what I want from a book. Since this is a romance, you know you get a happy ever after. I won't tell you how, but I can tell you a border guard's love and desire for an imperial princess is satisfied in a realistic, but unsappy fashion. Make no mistake, this is not your mother’s Harlequin. This is the sort of romance that has crossover appeal (potentially) to both sexes, to readers of straightforward history and to the fantasy crowd who tend to love history.
The Duke and the Pirate Queen was a fun roll in the hay, the ocean, the sex-fiend infested island and numerous other unlikely locations.
I have to admi...moreThe Duke and the Pirate Queen was a fun roll in the hay, the ocean, the sex-fiend infested island and numerous other unlikely locations.
I have to admit, I won this book from Goodreads and thought there would be more exotic setting and characterizations. I'd have to say those things are not the book's strong points. There was more eroticism than I'd expected and erotic romance is not my normal read. At times I wanted the story to move forward without the interruption of one more sex scene.
However, if you lust after a steamy adventure and voyeurism on the high seas, this book is a must read. Leave a comment and one lucky winner will receive a free copy.(less)
On the banks of the ageless Nile, from a palace of gold and lapis lazuli, the young Caliph Rashid al-Hasan rules as a figurehead over a crumbling empi...moreOn the banks of the ageless Nile, from a palace of gold and lapis lazuli, the young Caliph Rashid al-Hasan rules as a figurehead over a crumbling empire. Cairo is awash in deception. In the shadow of the Gray Mosque, generals and emirs jockey for position under the scheming eyes of the power grand vizier. In the crowded souks and narrow alleys, warring factions employ murder and terror to silence their opponents. Egypt bleeds. And the scent draws her enemies in like sharks: the swaggering Kurd Shirkuh, who serves the pious Sultan of Damascus and Almaric, the Christian king of Jerusalem, whose greed is insatiable and whose knights are hungry for battle.
And yet all is not lost. There is an old man who lives on a remote mountainside in a distant land. He holds the power of life and death over the warring factions of the Muslim world – and decides to come to the Caliph’s aid. He sends his greatest weapon into Egypt. He sends a single man. An Assassin. The one they call the Emir of the Knife…
The strength of the book is, perhaps best demonstrated by how many “rules” Oden breaks within the first two pages and yet, you won’t be able to put the book down. The novel starts with the much-villain-ized prologue. If you're a writer, you might have heard about that rule on not starting a novel in the middle of a fight because the reader won’t know who to cheer for? Yup, he breaks that rule, too. And by the end of that four page fight scene, I couldn’t have cared less how many rules Mr. Oden broke as long as one intriguing tool – the knife – was explained.
Mr. Oden did not disappoint me in that or any other aspect of the book. In fact, he managed to surprise me. Oden killed off a few characters I had come to like and did not expect to die. However, their deaths have meaning and power. Assad, the Assassin or Emir of the Knife, is probably considered an antihero in that he rejects every core value of the normal human except for loyalty to his master. He is not particularly likeable, but he is compelling. When he entered a scene, I could not put the book down until he disappeared again and because of that, I felt like I liked him by the end of the book. Would I like to meet him in an alley? No. Way. But as a character, I still can’t wait for his return.
Lion of Cairo is an amazing tapestry of faith, betrayal, loss and just a little bit of love. If you enjoy books centered around warfare and political intrigue, run, don’t walk to the bookstore and buy this one. (less)
In previous books, Jack Fletcher sailed to Japan with his father only to lose him to the wave of anti-Christian sentiment sweeping the island nation....moreIn previous books, Jack Fletcher sailed to Japan with his father only to lose him to the wave of anti-Christian sentiment sweeping the island nation. When the Ninja who murdered his father steals Jack's father's logbook, Jack's only possession and an invaluable guide to the world's oceanic trading paths, Jack vows to retrieve the book. I assume that's where the last book in the series ended, but I'm not positive as I jumped into this book without ever having read the first novel.
I have to say, my lack of previous experience in Jack's story did not stop me from enjoying this book, which is surely a rarety among sequels: an outstanding standalone novel. (Since writing the above, I’ve done my research. Not only is there a book before this one, there’s a series. I have a lot of catch up to do!)
In Way of the Warrior, the story still winds around Jack, the lost logbook and Jack's efforts to become a samurai, but the war against foreigners and the other Daimyo (provincial rulers) now takes center stage. In fact, the latter half of the book rates as among the most moving pieces of YA or warfare reading material I've been privileged to read. The self sacrifice of Jack's classmates moved me beyond words at times.
If you have boys looking for good reading material, I can’t think of anything much better than this book. As someone who hates reading series, it surely speaks volumes that I want to read Mr. Bradford’s other work.(less)
Well, it took me WAY too long to buy this book, for which I can only offer my profuse apologies to the author. I had wanted to do a review while the b...moreWell, it took me WAY too long to buy this book, for which I can only offer my profuse apologies to the author. I had wanted to do a review while the book was still in stores, but October escaped me. Obviously, November did, too. Before I tell you about this book, I think I will remind you about my review policies and admit that yes, I know the author and consider her a friend. That has nothing whatsoever to do with the nature of my reviews. I do not hold punches. If I’m uncomfortable posting a favorable review on this blog, I won’t do it. I also try to be honest about likes and dislikes. It speaks volumes for this book that you won’t find any mention of “dislikes” below. So, I’m almost two months late, but the book was worth the wait. “The Dragon and the Pearl “ is a stand-alone novel by Jeannie Lin, however it does pick up where “Butterfly Swords” left off. “Dragon’s” cast includes Li Tao, the antagonist of Butterfly Swords, as the hero of “Dragon,” and his backstory gives us a much wider vision of the author’s Tang Dynasty China. Now I loved “Butterfly Swords” (click the link to see my review), but you can see Lin’s skill as an author has increased since the first book. She has sunk herself into this world, making the characters rounded, fleshed and highly sexual. More than that, her political and social structure is more solid than the Kunlun mountains. She needed that solidity as we find out how both the court and the seedy underground culture of Tang dynasty functioned. Thanks to that background structure, we discover why Li Tao is the stern and unyielding man you met before, but we also find the heart beneath that exterior. That said, he never breaks character. His is one of the strongest, most well rounded characterizations I’ve ever seen. In many ways, Lin’s characterizations and dialogue reminded me of works by my favorite author, Guy Gavriel Kay. Those of you who know me will recognize I mean that as the greatest compliment I can give. If you enjoyed the dainty appetizer of “Butterfly Swords,” you will love the full course spread that is “The Dragon and the Pearl.”(less)
If you've got toddlers/early readers, you have to read this series. My daughter and my nieces have loved them all. My daughter is rewriting them so no...moreIf you've got toddlers/early readers, you have to read this series. My daughter and my nieces have loved them all. My daughter is rewriting them so now it's, "Don't Let the Flowerpot Drive the Bus!" and all sorts of silliness. They're a great series and, as an adult, so much fun to read to her.(less)