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Sunday, September 13, 2015

My review of A Love Stronger than Death by GS Davis

About the book:

While Isabella is still mourning the loss of her father, she receives a letter from him, mailed three days after he died. As she unravels the mystery, she discovers her father had ulterior motives. Professional photographer, Wesley Powers, believes he's working on a book of images with a retired eye-doctor. What he doesn't realize is that same doctor has more than the mere publishing project in mind.

My review:

I really enjoyed this story. GS Davis has a way of tugging at your heartstrings by bringing the old and new together in a supernatural way. This is a story about two people who have made mistakes in love but were fortunate enough to have someone from their mutual past proactively trying to bring them together because he has a vision for their future. This story has a Nicholas Sparks feel to it with an inspirational twist. In fact, there were a few times the author had me in tears, but they were tears of joy.

I learned a lot about the occupations of the hero and heroine (photography and building environmentally friendly housing.) The descriptions were actually quite fascinating in regards to the detail that the author includes as part of their daily lives. These characters felt real to me and even the secondary characters were well done. Without giving away any spoilers I can tell you for sure that the author's writing pulls you in and the story will tug at your heart. Highly recommended!

A Love Stronger than Death was published by GS Davis and released in August 2015.

Monday, September 07, 2015

My review of The Auschwitz Escape by Joel C. Rosenberg

About the book:

A terrible darkness has fallen upon Jacob Weisz's beloved Germany. The Nazi regime, under the leadership of Adolf Hitler, has surged to power and now hold Germany by the throat. All non-Aryans -- especially Jews like Jacob and his family -- are treated like dogs.

When tragedy strikes during one terrible night of violence, Jacob flees and joins rebel forces working to undermine the regime. But after a raid goes horribly wrong, Jacob finds himself in a living nightmare -- trapped in a crowded, stinking car on the train to the Auschwitz death camp.

As World War II rages and Hitler begins implementing his "final solution" to systematically and ruthlessly exterminate the Jewish people, Jacob must rely on his wits and a God he's not sure he believes in to somehow escape from Auschwitz and alert the world to the Nazi's atrocities before Fascism overtakes all of Europe. The fate of millions hangs in the balance.

My review:

I discovered this book on the best books list for historical fiction on Goodreads. Because I enjoy WWII-era European fiction, and I know the author is an excellent writer, I decided to check out the book from the library. I found the story riveting, as expected. The author follows the lives of several main characters with the occasional POV of a villain thrown in to enhance the reader's distress. I loved this book. The story was not overly detailed, but gave enough information to understand the atrocities that happened. The author took a sensitive subject and pulled me into Jacob's world. Though Jewish by birth, Jacob knew very little about his culture and faith. Disillusioned by the death of all of his immediate family, he joined his uncle in a resistance movement and got much more than he bargained for.

The botched attempt to free prisoners from a cattle car allowed some people to escape certain death, while others were shot. Jacob ended up on the cattle car locked in with the others. This portion of the book was intense and emotional as Jacob sensed the people were being deceived into thinking they were going to see family and enter a camp that while incarcerating them, was at least a bit livable. He heard the subtle warnings in the letters as each family member wrote about something that was not true in their letters. An elderly man took him under his wing and he assumed the identity of the man's son who was one of the detainees who fled when the cattle car doors were opened. When he got off the train the horrors were much worse than anticipated. Jacob couldn't help wondering where God was and why he let the Jewish people experience such abuse simply because of their ethnicity.

Soon Jacob was too busy trying to survive to be angry with God. After nearly starving to death and being beaten like the others, one of the fellow prisoners slipped him some extra food and got him a better job. He ended up helping others escape as well as eventually escaping himself. My heart was pounding as he hid from their captors and did everything he could to stay alive and avoid capture. The action increased with their running for the border, but they were both sick and starving. Without God's intervention and the love of a few Christian people, Jacob would not have survived.

When he brought evidence of the horrors of the camp and the massive killings and genocide of the Hungarian Jews, the apathy of so many people amazed him. The truth is the Russians ended up liberating the people of Auschwitz and by the time they arrived there were only a few thousand still alive. The story remained true to history and the characters were likable. Their characterization made sense. I would highly recommend this book to fans of WWII fiction. It amazes me how people survived such conditions and some lived to share their stories. 

The Auschwitz Escape was published by Tyndale House and released in March 2014.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

My review of Mistress of Rome by Kate Quinn

About the book:

Thea is a slave girl from Judaea, passionate, musical, and guarded. Purchased as a toy for the spiteful heiress Lepida Pollia, Thea will become her mistress's rival for the love of Arius the Barbarian, Rome's newest and most savage gladiator. His love brings Thea the first happiness of her life-that is quickly ended when a jealous Lepida tears them apart.

As Lepida goes on to wreak havoc in the life of a new husband and his family, Thea remakes herself as a polished singer for Rome's aristocrats. Unwittingly, she attracts another admirer in the charismatic Emperor of Rome. But Domitian's games have a darker side, and Thea finds herself fighting for both soul and sanity. Many have tried to destroy the Emperor: a vengeful gladiator, an upright senator, a tormented soldier, a Vestal Virgin. But in the end, the life of the brilliant and paranoid Domitian lies in the hands of one woman: the Emperor's mistress.

My review:

Have you ever read a tragically beautiful story that made you want to sigh at the end? Even though historians will know the general outcome of a story because of their knowledge of history, Quinn still makes it compelling to read. I'd thought the only compelling author of fiction set in Ancient Rome was Francine Rivers. Quinn is just as good, but without the inspirational twist you'll get in Rivers's books. At the same time, while bloody and realistic, I didn't feel like Quinn went over the top in sensuality or brutality. Most of the story was subtle in regards to Quinn's description of Roman depravity and none of it felt titillating to me. I found that facet of this mainstream novel refreshing.

The cool thing about this story is by sheer accident I read the second book in the series first, but the first book in the series actually takes place after the second book. Then from the description of the third book, it follows the first book. Not to confuse you, but if you like to read things in the order that they historically occurred, then I would read the second book first (Daughters of Rome) followed by the first book (Mistress of Rome) and end with the third book, which I have yet to read. But it's on my must-read list.

If you've read The Mark of the Lion series by Francine Rivers, you'll want to get a copy of this book.  While the stories are different, the setting and themes are similar. The main heroine is a Jewish slave girl who escaped the Masada massacre, and the main hero is a gladiator. The author uses other characters' points of view as well. But there weren't so many that it became confusing. The pace of the novel excited me in an edge-of-your-seat manner. I had a hard time putting it down, but I have a full-time job, so when I wasn't working, or exhausted, I picked up this book to read. I am now a fan of Kate Quin and will be reading more of her books in the future. If you love Roman history, you'll want to read this book.

Mistress of Rome was published by Berkley Books and released in 2010. This was Kate Quinn's debut novel.

Saturday, July 18, 2015

My review of Daughters of Rome by Kate Quinn

About the book:

A.D. 69. Nero is dead.

The Roman Empire is up for the taking. With bloodshed spilling out of the palace and into the streets of Rome, chaos has become the status quo. The Year of Four Emperors will change everything—especially the lives of two sisters with a very personal stake in the outcome….

Elegant and ambitious, Cornelia embodies the essence of the perfect Roman wife. She lives to one day see her loyal husband as Emperor. Her sister, Marcella, is more withdrawn, content to witness history rather than make it. Even so, Marcella has her share of distinguished suitors, from a cutthroat contender for the throne to a politician’s son who swears that someday he will be Emperor.

But when a bloody coup turns their world upside down, Cornelia and Marcella—along with their cousins, one a collector of husbands and lovers, the other a horse-mad beauty with no interest in romance—must maneuver carefully just to stay alive. As Cornelia tries to pick up the pieces of her shattered dreams, Marcella discovers a hidden talent for influencing the most powerful men in Rome. In the end, though, there can only be one Emperor … and one Empress.

My review:

I love reading novels set in first century Rome. The culture of that day seems almost parallel to the 21st century. While it isn't the first book I've read about the Roman Empire, it's one of the better novels set during that time period. This novel had very realistic characters, and while there was some sexual tension at times, they fit the story and was not there to merely titillate the reader. It reminded me of how much I adore Francine Rivers's writing style and how much I enjoyed reading her "Mark of the Lion" series back in the mid 1990s.

The unique thing about this novel was that it took place during the year of the four emperors. I've read historical accounts of the ancient Roman Empire and some were set around 69 AD, but this is the first book I've read that fictionalized true life events. The perspectives shifted between four cousins, all women, who grew up together and were from prominent families. The politics of the time period were intriguing as were the parties (where people ate so much they had to throw up in order to indulge in more food,) chariot races and gambling, arranged marriages for political gain, and hostile takeovers by people craving power. I found it interesting how fickle the people of Rome were, but how they also had to shift alliances each time their was a new Emperor in Rome.

This author put and interesting fictional twist to this historical tale and suggested that a scheming woman may have been behind the changes in power. I found that intriguing, especially how in the end she was caught in a trap of her own making. That part of the theme made me think of monarchies in England and how people were often afraid for their lives when the king changed from one blood line to the next. Those were intriguing times as well.

I loved all of the characters in this novel and the tension in their relationships. I also loved how women had power, and at the same time, they were ruled by men. A woman's only hope for true happiness would be to have a good man in their life because an evil man could use and abuse them and other than possibly getting divorced, there wasn't much they could do to protect themselves. Anyway, I love this author's voice and style, I got a copy of Mistress of Rome, which is her first book, and plan to read that next. The back cover description sounds like my kind of story. 

Daughters of Rome was published by Berkley Books and released in 2011. 

Monday, June 15, 2015

My review of Hugh and Bess: A Love Story by Susan Higgbotham

About the book:

Forced to marry Hugh le Despenser, the son and grandson of disgraced traitors, Bess de Montacute, just 13 years old, is appalled at his less-than-desirable past. Meanwhile, Hugh must give up the woman he really loves in order to marry the reluctant Bess. Far apart in age and haunted by the past, can Hugh and Bess somehow make their marriage work?
Just as walls break down and love begins to grow, the merciless plague endangers all whom the couple holds dear, threatening the life and love they have built.

Award-winning author Susan Higginbotham's impeccable research will delight avid historical fiction readers, and her enchanting characters will surely capture every reader's heart. Fans of her first novel, The Traitor's Wife, will be thrilled to find that this story follows the next generation of the Despenser family.

My review:

I am not sure when or where I got this book, but I decided to pick it out of my collection and read it this month. I really enjoyed the way this novel was written. The author's voice is very unique and as a result I couldn't help but continue reading until I got to the end. There was never a dull moment or any parts that dragged or felt melodramatic. I fully "escaped" into Bess and Hughs' world in my mind and it was a delight! It was a combination of history and love story mixed together. The closest thing I can compare it with is a story by Alexa Schnee called Shakespeare's Lady. You can find my review of Alexa's book on Goodreads HERE.

I loved the historical aspects of the novels and the way the author described the trials they faced during that time. If your family was wealthy, a spouse was chosen for you. Typically it was to increase the other family's estate. Bess was so young and so against the marriage at first, but she did as she was told. Like many mail-order-bride stories, she had a period of time to get to know him before their relationship became physical, mainly due to her young age. I enjoyed experiencing the budding love between them and how they grew to respect each other. The time period was during the era when the Black Death (or Pestilence) was ripping through Europe, though that part didn't really hit them until the last quarter of the story. All in all a very intriguing and compulsively readable book. I thoroughly enjoyed it. Anything that can pull me in to where I enter a different time in my mind is a great book.

Hugh and Bess was published by Sourcebooks Landmark and released in 2009.
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