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Wednesday, April 29, 2015

My review of The Chosen by Carol Lynch Williams

About the book:

Thirteen-year-old Kyra has grown up in an isolated community without questioning the fact that her father has three wives and she has twenty brothers and sisters. That is, without questioning it much—if you don’t count her visits to the Ironton County Mobile Library on Wheels to read forbidden books, or her secret meetings with Joshua, the boy she hopes to choose for herself instead of having a man chosen for her. But when the Prophet decrees that Kyra must marry her sixty-year-old uncle—who already has six wives—she must make a desperate choice in the face of violence and her own fears of losing her family forever.

My review:

I thought this book looked interesting when I picked it up at the store a few years ago. I put it on the shelf with my hundreds of other "to-be-read" books and decided to finally read it the other day. I flew through the pages because it was so intense and interesting. The crazy thing is there is an actual polygamist cult in Arizona that is way up northern border. A former coworker of mine (when I worked for CPS) said it's very dangerous to work up there due to the cults having guns and being very protective of their community. They are threatening to outsiders. In short, it sounded very much like the book. So that intrigued me even more.

I loved the author's "voice" and how she tells the story in the first person point of view. I also appreciated how well the other showed the women's fear and how trapped the families were inside the cult. To try to leave pretty much guaranteed you'd get hurt or go missing (and possibly killed.) Some of the young women had been raised in the cult and it was all they knew. People outside the cult, according to their leader, were Satan and must be avoided to prevent them from being negatively influenced. In truth, it was to keep them from finding out their way of life was abusive and morally wrong. But most of the women had been part of the cult for several generations. So they tolerated abuse to protect the ones they loved. The most offensive practice was the marrying off of young girls (ages 13 and 14) to older men (like in their 60s.) Those young girls were still growing up themselves but they had no choice but to obey, or be beaten and lose contact with their loved ones. Very sad stuff.

There is one last thing I have to share that I thought was pretty cool. The author showed how because Kyra was still strong and had not been broken in spirit, she had strength enough to recognize something wasn't right about "The Chosen" cult. Her greatest sin was reading books (that wasn't allowed) by borrowing them from a bookmobile. She also fell in love with another boy close to her age. Because she read books, she knew that there was another reality besides the cult that she lived in. She also knew that loving a boy close to her age seemed right, and marrying an old man who was also her uncle, was very wrong. In short, her strength came from the little things she did to rebel and keep her own identity. Those are the things that kept her spirit strong enough to fight and not just blindly submit to the leaders. Great story!

The Chosen was published by St Martin's Griffin and released in 2010.

Saturday, April 18, 2015

My review of The Tapestry by Nancy Bilyeau

 About the book:

 The next page-turner in the award-winning Joanna Stafford series takes place in the heart of the Tudor court, as the gutsy former novice risks everything to defy the most powerful men of her era.

After her Dominican priory in Dartford closed forever—collateral damage in tyrannical King Henry VIII’s quest to overthrow the Catholic Church—Joanna resolves to live a quiet and honorable life weaving tapestries, shunning dangerous quests and conspiracies. Until she is summoned to Whitehall Palace, where her tapestry weaving has drawn the King’s attention.

Joanna is uncomfortable serving the King, and fears for her life in a court bursting with hidden agendas and a casual disregard for the virtues she holds dear. Her suspicions are confirmed when an assassin attempts to kill her moments after arriving at Whitehall.

Struggling to stay ahead of her most formidable enemy yet, an unknown one, she becomes entangled in dangerous court politics. Her dear friend Catherine Howard is rumored to be the King’s mistress. Joanna is determined to protect young, beautiful, naïve Catherine from becoming the King’s next wife and, possibly, victim.

Set in a world of royal banquets and feasts, tournament jousts, ship voyages, and Tower Hill executions, this thrilling tale finds Joanna in her most dangerous situation yet, as she attempts to decide the life she wants to live: nun or wife, spy or subject, rebel or courtier. Joanna Stafford must finally choose.
My review:

This ended up being as fantastic and compulsively  readable as the prior book in the series, "The Chalice." If I had more spare time I probably would have read it straight through. Now I have to go back and read the first book. I enjoy reading this author as much as I enjoy reading Elizabeth Chadwick and Philippa Gregory. Historical fiction is my favorite genre and this era tops the list as my preferred century. Nancy Bilyeau has given me my fix and I want more.

The interesting thing about this author is her ability to make me care about the welfare of the characters. Even though there is less romance in this book than I typically find in historical fiction, I couldn't stop reading it. Joanna Stafford is a complex, likeable character. You understand her fear, her dilemmas, and her difficult choices. There are enough bad guys in this book to make you want to nibble on your nails as you read.

Her description of King Henry VIII during his latter years was well done. I could picture him in my mind as an overweight, indulgent and diabetic man living in an age where there was no treatment. So his mood swings made total sense. No one could predict what he would do next. They just hoped he targeted someone else. I could smell the rotting flesh on his leg, not that it was pleasant, but it was realistic. It made me truly feel for Catherine Howard's plight. There were enough interesting characters in this book to make it compelling, but not overwhelming.

I don't want to give away any plot points, but I can tell you that it read like a mystery but with a little suspense tossed in. The executions were descriptive and a bit gross, but the author did not make them disgusting. There were a number of very tense moments that had me on the edge. The ending left room for another book in the series but at the same time the author wrapped things up nicely.

So if you enjoy well-researched novels and want an insider's look at Joanna Stafford's somewhat fictionalized life, you'll enjoy this one. No one related to King Henry VIII was secure or safe. The tables could turn at any moment. That's all I'm saying.

The Tapestry (Joanna Stafford #3) was published by Touchstone Books and released March 24th, 2015.

Monday, March 30, 2015

My review of Rebel Queen by Michelle Moran

 About the book (description from Goodreads:) 

When the British Empire sets its sights on India in the 1850s, it expects a quick and easy conquest. After all, India is not even a country, but a collection of kingdoms on the subcontinent. But when the British arrive in the Kingdom of Jhansi, expecting its queen to forfeit her crown, they are met with a surprise. Instead of surrendering, Queen Lakshmi raises two armies—one male, one female—and rides into battle like Joan of Arc. Although her soldiers are little match against superior British weaponry and training, Lakshmi fights against an empire determined to take away the land she loves.

Told from the perspective of Sita, one of the guards in Lakshmi's all-female army and the queen’s most trusted warrior, The Last Queen of India traces the astonishing tale of a fearless ruler making her way in a world dominated by men. In the tradition of her bestselling novel Nefertiti, which Diana Gabaldon, author of the Outlander series, called “a heroic story with a very human heart,” Michelle Moran once again brings a time and place rarely explored in historical fiction to rich, vibrant life.

My review:

Rebel Queen was a fascinating and gripping tale about a different culture and a time in history that -- like many Americans -- I know little about. I haven't read many stories that included Queen Victoria, so that interested me. I have read a few books regarding the East Indian culture and their relationship with England during the early 1900s, all told from the Indian perspective. The contrast between the British culture and Indian culture during that time period is fascinating. I loved how the Indian men were appalled by the exposure of women's breasts, shoulders and necks from English fashion and the English couldn't understand the exposure of the waistline that was part of Indian fashion. Then again, you can't very easily use a corset on a bare waistline. How fortunate for the women of India.

The British Empire's insatiable thirst for more land showed in the narrative, but was skillfully woven and subtle in the approach. The point of view was flawless. All Sita knew about England came from reading English novels and authors like Shakespeare. The author was fair with the details and showed the horrors of what both people groups did to each other. The Indian rebels caused a lot of problems for the kingdom because of their aggression, but they were simply trying to oust the imperialistic people who decided India should be theirs, much like the Native Americans tried to defend their land using similar horrific means. Annexing another country to their empire often require nothing more than their presence. Intimidation by their occupancy and weaponry was effective indeed. I felt kind of bad for the people who didn't want to be there but were forced to occupy the land because they were enlisted and it was their assignment.

I found it sad how the Rani (Queen) and Sita both trusted England to respond positively to their appeal hoping that because they were women and also had a female regent, it would matter. They didn't fully understand the limitations caused by Parliament and the empire's greed. The treachery within the ranks of the Durgavasi was appalling as well. But you have to read the story to figure out what I mean by that. Anyway, I read this book fairly fast considering I don't have much reading time these days. The story was filled with culture and history and the author swept me out of this present day and into the past through her use of scenery, foods, clothing and decor. I love it when I can go to another place in my mind and feel grounded in that fantasy world. This isn't always the case with fiction, so the author did an exceptional job there.

I loved how the author told the story from Sita's perspective. That made the novel even more powerful because you got to see the Hindu influence as well as the Muslim influence of the culture during that time period. Women were not valued and seen as a liability due to the enormous dowry that was required for a marriage. The fact that young ladies were married off around ten was pretty disturbing too. At least the husbands traditionally waited for the young girl to turn into a young woman before consummating the marriage. Anyway, I found this book to be compelling and well told. I would definitely recommend it to anyone who enjoys a story that effectively takes you to another time and place in your mind.

Here is a link if you want to order it... Rebel Queen

Monday, March 16, 2015

My review of Choices by Melody Beattie

About the book:

From the New York Times bestselling author of Codependent No More, The Language of Letting Go, Finding Your Way Home, Journey to the Heart, and Stop Being Mean to Yourself, comes Choices: powerful wisdom and insight about how to make the best choices in our lives from the author who revolutionized how we look at relationships.

My review:

"Choices" by Melody Beattie is a unique non-fiction book. I've never encountered anything like it before. Normally it takes me forever to read non-fiction, but she sprinkles in stories and scenarios that are interesting to read and help her make the point in each chapter that she is trying to convey. "Choices" is filled with a lot of truth and many useful lessons about how we make choices all the time whether we realize it or not. Some parts (the stuff about reincarnation and spiritual journeys in Tibet) were kind of hokey because they contradicted the Judeo-Christian thoughts that made the most sense to me.

For the most part this book was helpful and could be life-changing for people who feel stuck in their lives. We are not just victims of negative circumstances, but can use our life experiences to grow as a person. She says that we get the most out of life when we take our eyes off ourselves and use our hard-earned lessons to help others. This is a very Christian principle. I've found it to be true in my life.

I highlighted a lot of things on my kindle that she wrote because I wanted to ponder them later. Life is a journey that we can enjoy or fall victim to in our minds. What we think about, what we dwell on, and the choices we make are ours alone. They do influence us on a daily basis. Faith is a key to unlocking all of the above.

I found this book to be inspirational and compulsively readable. I read over the reincarnation stuff but didn't find it to be helpful because it contradicts and confuses the other message. Melody is a fantastic writer and has a lot of useful insights. I would recommend this book as a tool for people to help them change their perspective. It contains a lot of nuggets of truth that are worth digging up. I feel more empowered as a person because of this book, and that makes it a book worth reading.

  "Choices" was published in 2009 by Harper Collins, and yes, I actually bought this book for my kindle after reading the first few chapters.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Enjoyable story that I actually finished - first novel I've completed in a long time.

About the book:

Amid the lush valleys and fragrant wildflowers of Provence, Marguerite, Eléonore, Sanchia, and Beatrice have learned to charm, hunt, dance, and debate under the careful tutelage of their ambitious mother—and to abide by the countess’s motto: “Family comes first.”

With Provence under constant attack, their legacy and safety depend upon powerful alliances. Marguerite’s illustrious match with the young King Louis IX makes her Queen of France. Soon Eléonore—independent and daring—is betrothed to Henry III of England. In turn, shy, devout Sanchia and tempestuous Beatrice wed noblemen who will also make them queens.

Yet a crown is no guarantee of protection. Enemies are everywhere, from Marguerite’s duplicitous mother-in-law to vengeful lovers and land-hungry barons. Then there are the dangers that come from within, as loyalty succumbs to bitter sibling rivalry, and sister is pitted against sister for the prize each believes is rightfully hers—Provence itself.

From the treacherous courts of France and England, to the bloody tumult of the Crusades, Sherry Jones traces the extraordinary true story of four fascinating sisters whose passions, conquests, and progeny shaped the course of history.

My review:

This story was intriguing and somewhat tragic toward the end. What the four young women's mother intended for good - to have each of the sisters marry well and hopefully bring about peace between warring countries - didn't necessarily turn out that way. All were ambitious in their own way. All were also very powerless because they didn't have a choice regarding their husbands. They reigned in the shadow of their spouses and often weren't taken seriously by the men in their lives even though these women had wisdom to offer. I found Sanchia's tale to be particularly tragic. She just wanted to be a nun and was forced to marry so she spent her whole life feeling like she had betrayed Christ, whom she'd married in her heart.

The story of Marguerite was tragic as well. The White Queen, her mother-in-law, had her son under her thumb for years and Marguerite was scorned in many ways. She had eleven children and outlived most of them. All she wanted was the inheritance that she was promised when she married, yet all she got was grief when she tried to obtain it.

Beatrice was the most misunderstood of them all. In the end they realized she had a good heart and they hadn't appreciated her when she was around. They saw her as manipulative, ambitious, and selfish. The end of the story had a shocking revelation about Sanchia, her sister, and what she'd done to protect her. Eleanore, the queen of England and mother of King Edward I, had her own tragic tale as well.

Overall, I found this book enjoyable. I haven't finished a novel - especially one of this length - in quite a while. I think the fact that it hopped around and alternated the women's perspectives kept me reading because nothing had the chance to drag out much. I would recommend this book to people who enjoy historical fiction. I'm not sure how many of the details were true other than their births and deaths, but the conjecture from the author fit the story nicely regardless.

Four Sisters, All Queens by Sherry Jones, was published by Simon and Schuster (Gallery Books) and released in 2012.

Wednesday, March 04, 2015

My review of Love Comes Calling by Deborah Piccurelli

About the book:

The day new Christian, Derek Spencer, shows up on Charlie Parkes’s doorstep to make up for what he’d done, is the very day he falls in love with her. But Charlie’s sister mistakes him for a home improvement contractor, and he decides to play along until he finds a way to reveal who he really is.

Charlie is attracted to Derek, but knows the attention he pays her is only flattery. How could such a great-looking guy fall for someone with a face like hers? Nevertheless, the two form a relationship that brings a joy to Charlie that’s way beyond her wildest dreams.

But what will happen when Derek’s true identity is revealed?

My review:

This is a classic romance (man meets woman, man loses woman, man ultimately wins woman's heart,) but with a strong faith element. If you enjoy inspirational romances that have forgiveness as a key element to the story, this one is for you. It's hard to post much without giving away a spoiler, so I'll summarize the heart of the story. The emphasis is on the heroine's emotional healing and the hero's part in it. There is some deception at first, but of course, being a Christian novel, the secrets must come out.

Deborah has crafted an enthralling story. It's very well-written and I enjoyed the inspiring tale about how love, compassion, and forgiveness are the glue that holds male/female relationships together.

This romance releases March 20th and it's only $2.99 on Amazon. Plus you can pre-order it on Amazon today if you click on this link.
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