Friday, December 27, 2013

Left to Tell: Discovering God Amidst The Rwandan Holocaust by Immaculee Ilibagiza and Steve Erwin: A Book Review

Left to Tell: Discovering God Amidst The Rwandan Holocaust 
Author: Immaculee Ilibagiza and Steve Erwin
Genre: Nonfiction, Autobiography & Memoir, History, Christian
Publisher: Hay House
Release Date: 2007
Pages: 215
Source: Personal Collection
Synopsis: Immaculee Ilibagiza grew up in a country she loved, surrounded by a family she cherished. But in 1994 her idyllic world was ripped apart as Rwanda descended into a bloody genocide. Immaculee’s family was brutally murdered during a killing spree that lasted three months and claimed the lives of nearly a million Rwandans.

     Incredibly, Immaculee survived the slaughter. For 91 days, she and seven other women huddled silently together in the cramped bathroom of a local pastor while hundreds of machete-wielding killers hunted for them. 

     It was during those endless hours of unspeakable terror that Immaculee discovered the power of prayer, eventually shedding her fear of death and forging a profound and lasting relationship with God. She emerged from her bathroom hideout having discovered the meaning of truly unconditional love—a love so strong she was able seek out and forgive her family’s killers.

     The triumphant story of this remarkable young woman’s journey through the darkness of genocide will inspire anyone whose life has been touched by fear, suffering, and loss.

      My Review:  Immaculee Ilibagiza’s Left to Tell tells her story of survival and of her relentless faith in God during the Rwandan genocide in 1994. She survives by hiding in a tiny hidden bathroom with seven other women and young girls at a local pastor’s house for 91 days. The only concealment she has from being found out is a bookshelf that covers the bathroom door. During this time of terror, Immaculee finds peace, comfort, and hope of God’s boundless love. Immaculee believes that she will survive the genocide because of her faith in God, and begins to start planning for her future.

     In the beginning of the book, Immaculee came from a loving family with father, mother, and three brothers. Her parents raised them up without the knowledge of the discrimination of the different races. They believed that everyone in Rwanda were equal and that everyone was their brother and sister. However in fourth grade, Immaculee realizes the racial conflicts between the Tutsis and the Hutus, when her teacher called rolled by their races, and Immaculee didn’t know which race she was. She also found out that she was having a tough time getting into high school and college because she was a Tutsi.

     However, Immaculee experienced bloodshed, violence, and hatred when in her freshman year in college she came home for Easter vacation. There the genocide of Rwanda had begun. The Hutu army wanted to exterminate the Tutsis. Because Immaculee’s father was in a position of power and authority, he tried to make peace with the Hutus, but didn’t succeed. Hundreds of Tutsis came to Immaculee's yard for protection of the genocide. However, even though Immaculee's father and the Tutsis tried to defend themselves against the Hutus, they knew that they would not succeed. 

     In order to protect his family, Immaculee's father sent Immaculee, her two brothers, (one of her brother was in college out of the country) and her brother’s Hutu friend, who was staying with them for the holidays, to stay with a local Hutu pastor. When they got there, the pastor was left with a difficult choice. He could only protect women. He sent her brothers and her brother’s friend out of the house and told them to seek asylum elsewhere. Her parents, two brothers and brother’s friend would later be killed by the Hutus. Immaculee and seven other women and young girls hid in a bathroom with only a shower stall and toilet, and there was no place for a sink because of the small size. There they stayed, while many times the Hutus would come into the house looking for them, and they were afraid. Sometimes it was so risky that the pastor could not even bring food and water, and many times they were starving and dehydrated. They couldn’t move a muscle.

     During this time of fear and terror, Immaculee clutched to God. She was a Roman Catholic, and would pray the rosary. Sometimes she asked the pastor to bring a bible. Her prayers gave her peace. She then contemplated God’s word, and decided to forgive the Hutus for the genocide. She also started to plan for her future by trying to learn English from an English dictionary her pastor gave her.

     Overall, I felt this book to be an important book about faith and the love of God. It is through her hope and God’s infinite love that she found peace in a troubled time. It was her faith in God that helped her survive the Holocaust. The novel is thought-provoking and teaches us to forgive even people who have done us wrong. I encourage you to read this book for it will be a hopeful message of God’s love, and that where there is darkness, there is also hope.

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

This is an interview with CBS News as she talks about her book and her story of survival and forgiveness:



Thursday, December 26, 2013

I Am Malala: The Girl Who Stood Up For Education and Was Shot By The Taliban by Malala Yousafzai and Christina Lamb: A Book Review

I Am Malala: The Girl Who Stood Up For Education and Was Shot By The Taliban
Author: Malala Yousafzai and Christina Lamb
Genre: Nonfiction, Autobiography & Memoir, Modern History
Publisher: Little, Brown and Company
Release Date: October 8th, 2013
Pages: 352
Source: My State Public Library
Synopsis: “I come from a country that was created at midnight. When I almost died it was just after midday.”

     When the Taliban took control of the Swat Valley in Pakistan, one girl spoke out. Malala Yousafzai refused to be silenced and fought for her right to an education.

     On Tuesday, October 9, 2012, when she was fifteen, she almost paid the ultimate price. She was shot in the head at point-blank range while riding the bus home from school, and few expected her to survive. 

     Instead, Malala's miraculous recovery has taken her on an extraordinary journey from a remote valley in northern Pakistan to the halls of the United Nations in New York. At sixteen, she has become a global symbol of peaceful protest and the youngest nominee ever for the Nobel Peace Prize.

     I AM MALALA is the remarkable tale of a family uprooted by global terrorism, of the fight for girls' education, of a father who, himself a school owner, championed and encouraged his daughter to write and attend school, and of brave parents who have a fierce love for their daughter in a society that prizes sons.

     I AM MALALA will make you believe in the power of one person's voice to inspire change in the world.

     My Review: Malala came to worldwide media attention when she was 11 by writing a BBC Urdu blog under the name Gul Makai about her life under the Taliban rule. She made even more global attention when she was shot in the head by the Taliban for speaking up for girl’s education. Because of her heroic deed, she became the youngest to ever be nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize. In her memoir, with the help of her ghostwriter, Christina Lamb, Malala speaks with a passionate and active voice about the right of education for both boys and girls. With a fiery spirit, Malala greatly instills change and to be the voice for the voiceless.

     The story begins on October 9, 2012, the day Malala is shot. Her attacker sneaks onto the back of Malala’s school bus with a Colt .45 in his hand. He asked everyone on the bus a question, “Who is Malala?” Everyone turns to look at Malala, and he fires three bullets at her, one of them at her head. Malala didn’t have the chance to say anything to her attacker. She is critically injured, but survived the attempt on her life. Her story then jumps to her life in the Swat Valley of Pakistan, where she recounts the deeds of the Taliban and the cruel nature in which girls are treated there.

     In Malala’s memoir, she describes the beauty of her homeland, and the customs and hospitality of her people. She also describes the love, support, and encouragement her parents gives her to help give her courage in the face of great adversity as she speaks’ for women’s education. She also talks about the politics and history of Pakistan. She tells us about the establishment of the Taliban, how they came into her valley unnoticed, and her life under the Taliban. She describes that time as a time of fear. Yet even though there was fear and terror under the oppression of the Taliban, Malala felt bravery and courage to speak up. In a time when she felt the hatred of man, she also experienced God’s limitless love for her and her people.

     Overall, I felt this book to be one of the most important book I have read. It is thought-provoking, and it makes us realize the privileges and freedom we have in the United States. Malala encourages us readers to speak up and to be a voice for those who do not. Malala proves that anyone no matter how young or small can make a difference to their community, their country, and ultimately their world.  I recommend this book to anyone.  Read it, and you will never again forget to appreciate the blessings of literacy and freedom we have.

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

This is an interview of Malala with Diane Sawyer as she talks about her book:



Sunday, December 22, 2013

Elizabeth of York: A Tudor Queen and Her World by Alison Weir: A Book Review

Elizabeth of York: A Tudor Queen and Her World
Author: Alison Weir
Genre: Nonfiction, Biography, History
Publisher: Ballantine Books
Release Date: December 3rd, 2013
Pages: 608
Source: Netgalley/Publisher in exchange for an honest review.
Synopsis: Many are familiar with the story of the much-married King Henry VIII of England and the celebrated reign of his daughter, Elizabeth I. But it is often forgotten that the life of the first Tudor queen, Elizabeth of York, Henry’s mother and Elizabeth’s grandmother, spanned one of England’s most dramatic and perilous periods. Now New York Times bestselling author and acclaimed historian Alison Weir presents the first modern biography of this extraordinary woman, whose very existence united the realm and ensured the survival of the Plantagenet bloodline.

      Her birth was greeted with as much pomp and ceremony as that of a male heir. The first child of King Edward IV, Elizabeth enjoyed all the glittering trappings of royalty. But after the death of her father; the disappearance and probable murder of her brothers—the Princes in the Tower; and the usurpation of the throne by her calculating uncle Richard III, Elizabeth found her world turned upside-down: She and her siblings were declared bastards.

      As Richard’s wife, Anne Neville, was dying, there were murmurs that the king sought to marry his niece Elizabeth, knowing that most people believed her to be England’s rightful queen. Weir addresses Elizabeth’s possible role in this and her covert support for Henry Tudor, the exiled pretender who defeated Richard at the Battle of Bosworth and was crowned Henry VII, first sovereign of the House of Tudor. Elizabeth’s subsequent marriage to Henry united the houses of York and Lancaster and signaled the end of the Wars of the Roses. For centuries historians have asserted that, as queen, she was kept under Henry’s firm grasp, but Weir shows that Elizabeth proved to be a model consort—pious and generous—who enjoyed the confidence of her husband, exerted a tangible and beneficial influence, and was revered by her son, the future King Henry VIII. 

      Drawing from a rich trove of historical records, Weir gives a long overdue and much-deserved look at this unforgettable princess whose line descends to today’s British monarch—a woman who overcame tragedy and danger to become one of England’s most beloved consorts.

      My Review: Elizabeth of York is the only English queen to have been a daughter, sister, niece, wife, and mother to English kings. She is also the first Tudor queen. Unlike her granddaughter, Mary Tudor, who is the first sovereign queen of England, the first sovereign queen would have been her grandmother, Elizabeth of York. However, in a time where women were seen as unfit rulers to the crown, Elizabeth merely became a queen consort to another English claimant and king, Henry VII, the founder of the Tudor dynasty. 

     Despite Elizabeth’s colorful and personal history, she is often shrouded in the background. Most of the attention goes to her father, her uncle, and her husband. In fact, she is unfairly most known as the mother of Henry VIII. Alison Weir’s biography makes an attempt to bring Elizabeth from the background and into the spotlight. However, doing her best to highlight her accomplishments, it is often due to lack of primary sources the Elizabeth is still in the background and is outshined by the presences of the English kings. 

     Elizabeth was born in a time of an English civil war, known as the War of the Roses. At that time, there were two kings and two queens on the English throne. Elizabeth was the daughter of Edward IV and Elizabeth Woodeville, who was the first commoner queen in England. Her father Edward IV defeated the other English king, Henry VI, and there were no more claimants to the throne, except for one nominally small voice, Henry Tudor. After Edward IV’s death, Elizabeth’s brother Edward V, who was later joined by Richard, Duke of York, went to live in the Tower at his coronation. Within days, her uncle Richard III proclaimed Elizabeth and her siblings illegitimate, and crowned himself king. Her brothers mysteriously disappeared in the Tower. Eventually, at the Battle of Bosworth, Richard III was defeated by Henry Tudor. Henry Tudor became king and later married Elizabeth of York, thus ending the War of the Roses.

     In spite of the lack of primary sources regarding Elizabeth of York, Weir tries her best to bring Elizabeth’s personality to light. I felt like it was a personal story for Elizabeth, one that touched her deeply because the death of her of her father, and the disappearance of her brothers in a few short months, and also with the death of her son, Arthur. Weir does a good job in trying to portray how Elizabeth must have felt and reacted to the tragic events of her life. Elizabeth is also known to be pious, sweet, and generous. Therefore, while she goes through a lot of grief, she devotes herself to her faith and trust in God.

     Overall, Weir’s biography of Elizabeth of York shows her a strong woman of faith and virtue. She is portrayed as a loving sister and devoted wife and mother. This biography is filled with romance, danger, mystery, and court intrigue. The writing can be dry at times, and sometimes read like a textbook. However, Elizabeth of York deserves some attention because she helped change England.

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Friday, December 20, 2013

The Romanov Bride: A Novel by Robert Alexander: A Book Review

The Romanov Bride: A Novel
Author: Robert Alexander
Genre: Historical Fiction
Publisher: Viking
Release Date: 2008
Pages: 336
Source: Personal Collection
Synopsis: As the Russia of Nicholas and Aleksandra rushes full speed toward catastrophe, The Romanov Bride follows the lives of two revolutionary souls, that of Grand Duches Elisavyeta (or Ella), sister of the tsaritsa Aleksandra, and that of Pavel, a simple village man yearning for more.
The life of Grand Duchess Elisavyeta begins like a fairy tale - born a princess of Germany, she marries the Grand Duke Sergei of Russia and enters the most lavish and magnificent court in the world, that of the mighty Romanovs, where she is renowned for her sumptuous fashion, jewels, and beauty, not to mention her kind heart. Her husband, however, possesses no such grace, and he rules Moscow as he does his wife, with a cold, hard fist.

     For Pavel and his bridge, though, living in Sankt Peterburg means sharing a crowded cellar with other families, and being barely able to afford bread. Nevertheless, they are full of optimism, for their grandparents were serfs and this young couple is the first to leave the countryside to seek a better existence.
  
     However, after an explosive confrontation between peaceful demonstrators and tsarist soldiers, the lives of Ella and Pavel take two very different turns, but the fire of revolutionary Russia eventually links their fates forever.

     Robert Alexander once again masterfully combines the power of true history and riveting storytelling to bring this fascinating and legendary period to life.

      My Review: The Romanov Bride is a fictional biography about the life of The Grand Duchess Elisavyeta, the sister of the Tsarina Alexandra. It is set in the backdrop of imperial Russia that is on the brink of the Russian Revolution. The story tells the of the Grand Duchess Elisavyeta marriage to a Romanov to her sad tragic end. It also focuses on how the revolution greatly impacted the country of Russia. It is not only a period of darkness for the nobility but also for the common class.

     The story is told in vignettes depicting certain events from the life of the Grand Duchess Elisavyeta. It is told from Elisavyeta’s point of view, but also from Pavel, who is a Revolutionist and is her initial enemy. At first, it seems that Elisavyeta and Pavel are very different. Elisavyeta’s political views are for imperial autocratic rule, and Pavel’s believes that the power should be given to the people. When Elisavyeta’s husband is killed by the revolutionaries, she gives up her wealth and devote herself to live in poverty, and become a daughter of God, and help the poor, needy, sick, and wounded citizens of Russia. When Pavel’s wife is killed by the Imperial guards, he turns to revenge, anger, and hatred. He ruthlessly murders whoever gets in the way of the Revolution. Yet is seems that Ella is light, while Pavel is dark. Although they have taken different paths, they still are concerned about the fate of the country of Russia, and both of them are on a spiritual path of repentance.

     Overall, this story is about repentance and redemption. These two people are seeking for light in a country that is brutal and violent. the setting was well-developed. However, I found that while the characters had potential, I found that the way they were written fell flat and was poorly executed. Elisavyeta was one-dimensional. She is portrayed as a saint. There is nothing contradictory to her that made her seem realistic. We are more told of their personalities and actions rather than shown. I recommend this story to people interested in learning about the imperial Russia, the Russian Revolution, and the Romanovs.

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

Here is the author's official book trailer for The Romanov Bride:

Saturday, December 14, 2013

I, Mona Lisa: A Novel by Jeanne Kalogridis: A Book Review

I, Mona Lisa: A Novel
Author: Jeanne Kalogridis
Genre: Historical Fiction
Publisher: St. Martin’s Griffin
Release Date: 2006
Pages: 544
Source: Personal Collection
Synopsis: "My name is Lisa di Antonio Gherardini Giocondo, though to acquaintances, I am known simply as Madonna Lisa.  My story begins not with my birth but a murder, committed the year before I was born."

    Florence, April 1478: The handsome Giuliano de' Medici is brutally assassinated in Florence's magnificent Duomo. The shock of the murder ripples throughout the great city, from the most renowned artists like Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo, to a wealthy wool merchant and his extraordinarily beautiful daughter, Madonna Lisa.

     More than a decade later, Florence falls under the dark spell of the preacher Savonarola, a fanatic who burns paintings and books as easily as he sends men to their deaths.  Lisa, now grown into an alluring woman, captures the heart of Giuliano's nephew and namesake.  But when Guiliano, her love, meets a tragic end, Lisa must gather all her courage and cunning to untangle a sinister web of illicit love, treachery, and dangerous secrets that threatens her life.

     Set against the drama of 15th Century Florence, I, Mona Lisa is painted in many layers of fact and fiction, with each intricately drawn twist told through the captivating voice of Mona Lisa herself.

      My Review: Mona Lisa is one of Leonardo’s da Vinci’s most famous portraits. Her smile has captured the hearts of millions for centuries. Yet, it seems that the woman in the painting is more mysterious than her smile. It is because we do not know much about the life of Leonardo Da Vinci’s famous model. We know that she was an aristocrat, and that she married a silk merchant. However, Jeanne Kalogridis re-imagines the life of the model of Mona Lisa, and her story into a tale of mystery, thrills, and suspense.

     The story begins with the a murder of the brother of Lorenzo de Medici in Florence Duomo. This murder has a lasting stain on Florence, especially the Medici family and who vows vengeance on those against the murderers. The story then shifts to Lisa Gherardini’s story, and it is she who narrates the story. She falls in love with the son of Lorenzo de’ Medici and forms a friendship with Leonardo da Vinci, who is interested in painting her. It seems as if she is living in a fairytale. Her happiness is short-lived when she finds out that there is a plot to get rid of the Medici family.

     The setting of Florence is very grim. It is a city that has violence, conspiracies, and murders. The most influential man in Florence, besides the Medici family, is the fanatic priest Savonarola. He is against the Renaissance movement, and views it as an abomination to God. In fact, most of his scenes occur at night which enhances the dark atmosphere of Florence.

      Overall, this book is filled with danger, suspense, mystery, romance, friendship,and suspense. The plot is filled with twists and turns till the very end. It is a book that that cannot be put down until the very end. The characters are realistic, relatable, and well-developed. Lisa Gherardini is a smart, brave, and strong heroine. The friendship between Lisa and her painter, Leonardo da Vinci, is kind and sweet. He treats her as her mentor, and he is very knowledgable about the conspiracies in Florence. I recommend this book to anyone who is interested in Leonardo and his Mona Lisa. I also recommend this to anyone who is looking for a good thriller and suspense novel.

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars


Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Theodora: Empress of Byzantium by Paolo Cesaretti: A Book Review

Theodora: Empress of Byzantium
Author: Paolo Cesaretti
Genre: Nonfiction, Biography, History
Publisher: Vendome Press
Release Date: 2004
Pages: 384
Source: Personal Collection
Synopsis: Theodora of Byzantium, rising from the lowest ranks of Byzantine society, became one of the most important and powerful women in history. In this gripping biography, Theodora's full story is revealed for the first time, according her a well-deserved place in the pantheon of great women.

     Theodora's meager beginnings as the daughter of a bear-keeper could not have foretold her astonishing future as the wife of Justinian, the powerful ruler of the Byzantine empire. An actress at the time who was chastised for her scandalous performances, she eventually caught the attention of the young Justinian, who was no doubt charmed as much by her beauty as by her cunning.

     Justinian and Theodora ruled the empire together from their rich and bustling seat of power in Constantinople, making decisions regarding the fate of their kingdom that would reverberate for centuries to come. Time and time again, Theodora's wisdom and counsel to the emperor saved Justinian's empire and assured their place in history.

     Hailed by European reviewers as "Book of the Year" upon its publication in Italian, Paolo Cesaretti's book gives a balanced portrait of an intriguing figure who, in the face of those who tried to defame her, rose from the ranks of the poor to build an empire at the side of her ambitious husband.

     Paolo Cesaretti, a professor of Byzantine studies, teaches at University of Chieti, Italy. In addition to many books on a variety of subjects related to Byzantine art and history, he regularly contributes to important Italian publications including Corriere della Sera.

         My Review: The first that I ever came across Empress Theodora was when I was a sophomore in high school, and we read her speech from Procopius's History of the Wars, where she is said to persuade her husband to stay rather than fleeing by saying, “Purple is a noble shroud.” I was then reintroduced to Theodora in my freshman college seminar, where we studied Byzantine art. Because of this, I wanted to find out more about her.  Paolo’s Ceasaratti’s Theodora: Empress of Byzantium is a very comprehensive biography of Empress Theodora. 

     Because I did not know much about her, it was fascinating how she rose up from humble beginnings to become an empress of the Byzantine empire. Theodora was the daughter of a bear trainer and a dancer and an actress. After the death of her father, Theodora had to become the main breadwinner of her family. She then became an actress, and later catches the eye of Justinian, who at the time was heir to the Byzantine Empire. They had to wait until Justinian became emperor because he was not allowed to marry an actress.

     There is very little information about the empress. Most of the information we have of Empress Theodora comes from Procopius, who is biased against Theodora and greatly disliked her. However, the author has made a great attempt to write a full biography of her. This author focused on Theodora's rise to become an empress and as a brave, intellectual ruler. For it was her advice that Justinian listened to and followed, when there was a revolt in Constantinople. The author also focused on her contributions to help women’s rights, for example women can divorce and own land. It also showed Empress Theodora as a woman who was deeply religious and pious. 

     Overall, this book portrays Empress Theodora as a complex but intriguing figure in history. She is shown as a woman that had made great contributions to women’s rights in her empire. She is also a woman that ruled equally with Justinian, and whom Justinian relied on as a partner and for inspiration. Therefore, I believe that Empress Theodora deserve great attention and study, for she is a woman of admirable accomplishments.

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

 

Saturday, November 30, 2013

The Fairytale Keeper: Avenging the Queen( Book #1 of the Fairytale Keeper series) by Andrea Cefalo: A Book Review

The Fairytale Keeper: Avenging the Queen (Book #! of the Fairytale Keeper series
Author: Andrea Cefalo
Genre: YA, Historical Fiction
Publisher: Scarlet Primrose Press/ Andrea Cefalo
Release Date: 2013
Pages: 268
Source: This book was given to me by the author in exchange for an honest review.
Synopsis: Adelaide’s mother, Katrina, was the finest storyteller in all of Airsbach, a borough in the great city of Cologne, but she left one story untold, that of her daughter, that of Snow White. Snow White was a pet name Adelaide’s mother had given her. It was a name that Adelaide hated until now. Now, she would give anything to hear her mother say it once more.

     A rampant fever claimed Adelaide’s mother just like a thousand others in Cologne where the people die without last rites and the dead are dumped in a vast pit outside the city walls. In an effort to save Katrina’s soul, Adelaide's father obtains a secret funeral for his wife by bribing the parish priest, Father Soren.


     Soren commits an unforgivable atrocity, pushing Adelaide toward vengeance. When Adelaide realizes that the corruption in Cologne reaches far beyond Soren, the cost of settling scores quickly escalates. Avenging the mother she lost may cost Adelaide everything she left: her father, her friends, her first love, and maybe even her life.


     My Review: The Fairytale Keeper: Avenging the Queen is the first novel in the series. It is a unique retelling of "Snow White" set in medieval Germany. While the story centers on Snow White, other Grimm fairy tales are interwoven into the story. Each of these fairy tales in the novel has a twist and unique ending. The fairytales do not only help drive the plot, but also help the motives of the main characters.


     The story begins with Adelaide’s mother telling her daughter a story, she calls her “little Snow White”. Two years later, her mother dies of a fever, and her father bribes Father Soren to give her a funeral to help save his beloved wife’s soul. However, Soren betrays them and turns out to be cruel and mistreats Adelaide’s mother. Father Soren’s act turns Adelaide towards anger and hatred for this priest. She then begins to plot to avenge her mother by giving the priest a just punishment she believes he deserves.

     The setting of the story is dark and grim. The story begins with a fog. Some people die of the fever and are not given their last rites. The citizens of the town are ruled by clergymen who are ruthless, ambitious, power-hungry, and desire material wealth rather than spiritual wealth. Indeed if a person rebels against the clergymen, then they will be subject to the harshest punishments.

     Adelaide  is a strong heroine. She is not a damsel in distress. Rather, she is the one that helps and saves others around her. She is caring and loyal. She is spirited and feisty. She is also stubborn, which helps drives the plot of the novel. She is also judgmental and temperamental. She is not afraid to speak her mind. She is not afraid to stand up to those she thinks makes wrong actions, even if it is her father.

     Overall, this novel is about  love, friendship, and family. It also questions and reminds us about the true costs of vengeance. The characters are well-developed and the plot is fast-paced. This novel leaves eagerly one anticipating the sequel to find out what happens next. I recommend this book to fans of fairy tales, and also to fans of the hit tv series, Once Upon a Time.

 Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

This is the author's official book trailer of The Fairytale Keeper: Avenging the Queen:



 

Thursday, November 28, 2013

The Ohana by C.W. Schutter: A Book Review

The Ohana
Author: C.W. Schutter
Genre: Historical Fiction
Publisher: River Ranch Press
Release Date: November 13th, 2013
Pages: 282
Source: This book was given to me by the author in exchange for an honest review.
Synopsis: A child is dying. Her life depends on an explosive secret her grandmother has kept from their Ohana (family). As Mary Han wrestles with the toxic revelations, she must finally face the past she fought so hard to forget. 

     The Ohana is a riveting retrospective of the social, political, and economic history of Hawaii told through a historical family saga spanning three unforgettable generations. From the young Korean, Han Chaul Roong, who murders the hated Japanese invaders who kidnap his sister and force her into prostitution, to the Japanese aristocrat Kazuko who abandons her life of wealth and privilege to live in poverty with the servant she loves, the Asians came to work the brutal cane fields of Hawaii under Patrick O'Malley, a refugee from the Irish famine who sailed on a coffin ship to the gang-infested streets of Boston and ended up in Hawaii after the bloody Civil War. 

     The immigrants meet in the sugar cane fields of Kohala, Hawaii where a savage, unthinkable crime and a failed strike draw the three families together in an uneasy alliance. 

     Sean Duffy, Patrick's nephew, climbs out of Boston's slums to the top of Hawaiian society by way of a loveless marriage to the sister of the woman he loves. Kazuko's beautiful daughter Mariko lives as a social outcaste in the whorehouses of Honolulu. Chaul Roong's son, George Han, the ruthless mob boss of the first Korean syndicate, builds an empire while hiding his love for his brother's wife. 

     The colliding worlds of the immigrants and their American-born children and grandchildren come to a head when an entire generation protests the Vietnam war and revolt against traditional values. 

     Now the families must put aside their lifetime prejudices and grudges to save a young girl. Will their Ohanas survive the startling truth behind the lies? 

     My Review: This novel sets in Hawaii, and it expands three generations of an immigrant family. The story begins with a young girl dying, and there is nothing to save her except a secret that her grandmother, Mary, has kept from the family. As Mary ponders whether to tell her family the secret, she surfs through her memories of a past that she wants to forget, but she knows that she must face it in order to save her granddaughter.

     The novel begins with the story of three different people from different families and cultures. The first person is the story of a Korean warrior who is arrested by the Japanese army. He escapes to Hawaii where he works as a plantation farmer. The second person is an Irish immigrant, who fought in the Civil War and ends up running a ranch in Hawaii. The third person is a Japanese samurai woman, who flees to Hawaii with her lover to escape an advantageous and loveless marriage and she can marry for true love. While it seems that these three people from different backgrounds and race are so random, it becomes clear that they are intricately connected and they are part of a family.

     The story is told from both the male and female’s perspectives, but it is clear that the central character is Mary. Mary’s mother is a Japanese widow, and she has a lot of siblings. At first she seems to be hopeful and naive, but she is forced to give up her hopes and dreams in order to support her family. Her mother sends her off to work for a cruel family, and it is there that Mary loses her innocence. Mary then endures many trials in order to support herself and her family.

     Overall, this story beautifully captures the hardships of the immigrant families. The novel has issues with racism and class. It also deals with tradition versus modernity.The novel also shows the diversity of the culture and ethnicity in Hawaii. The story explores the true meaning of family and love. I recommend this novel to anyone who is interested in Hawaii. I also recommend this story to anyone who wants to read powerful stories about a strong family.

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars





Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Dance the Moon Down by R. L. Bartram: A Book Review

Dance the Moon Down
Author: R.L. Bartram
Genre: Historical Fiction
Publisher: Authors OnLine
Release Date: 2011
Pages: 300
Source: This book was given to me by the author in exchange for an honest review.
Synopsis: In 1910, no one believed there would ever be a war with Germany. Safe in her affluent middle-class life, the rumors held no significance for Victoria either. It was her father's decision to enroll her at university that began to change all that. There, she befriends the rebellious and outspoken Beryl Whittaker, an emergent suffragette, but it is her love for Gerald Avery, a talented young poet from a neighboring university that sets the seal on her future.

     After a clandestine romance, they marry in January 1914, but with the outbreak of the First World War, Gerald volunteers but within months has gone missing in France. Convinced that he is still alive, Victoria's initial attempts to discover what has become of him, implicate her in a murderous assault on Lord Kitchener resulting in her being interrogated as a spy, and later tempted to adultery.

      Now virtually destitute, Victoria is reduced to finding work as a common labourer on a run down farm, where she discovers a world of unimaginable ignorance and poverty. It is only her conviction that Gerald will some day return that sustained her through the dark days of hardship and privation as her life becomes a battle of faith against adversity.

     My Review: Dance the Moon Down focuses on the women who were left behind in England in WWI. The protagonist of the story is Victoria, a newlywed whose husband left to fight in the war. When there is no word from her husband, she begins to fear that something bad has happened to him. Months later, there is still no word from her husband, and the English army believes that her husband is dead. Victoria still has hope that he may be alive, and continues to search for him. When her money is depleted for the resources of her husband’s search, the only job available is working at a farm. There, Victoria makes friends and experiences the value of friendship, while at the same time keeping a vigil for her husband’s return, who is believed by all but her to be dead.

     Victoria is a strong heroine. At first she is naive, but eventually grows wiser. She has an epic and passionate love for her husband, Gerald. She is very obstinate, but her obstinance and determination is the driving force in the novel. Another driving force is her faith and hope that Gerald is alive. There are times throughout the novel that she does doubt her faith, but her friends help encourage and renew her hope, faith, and belief that her husband will return to her. Her friends help Victoria during her darkest moments, and they help give her the strength she needs during her trials. 

     The author captures the setting of the story very beautifully. He portrays the political and social issues of England during WWI, such as the lower working class and the militant women in the suffragette movement. He also captures the women’s fears and worries as their husbands leave them behind and they await for their husbands return, and most of them never return. Some women believed that their husbands were dead, and they tried to pick up the pieces of their lives and remarry only to find the return of their husbands that were assumed dead. The author also paints a vivid description of the battleground in the frontlines.

     Overall, this novel is beautifully written. It is about love, friendship, hope, and faith. It is also about one woman’s neverending belief that her husband will one day return. The author paints a vivid portrait of WWI. This novel is a great tribute to the soldiers who fought in WWI, and the women who loved them.

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Monday, November 25, 2013

O, Juliet: A Novel by Robin Maxwell: A Book Review

O, Juliet: A Novel
Author: Robin Maxwell
Genre: Historical Fiction
Publisher: New American Library
Release Date: 2010
Pages: 352
Source: Personal Collection
Synopsis: A RICH TALE OF PASSION, REVENGE, AND TRAGEDY ON THE CUSP OF THE ITALIAN RENAISSANCE: A FRESH TWIST ON THE BARD’S BELOVED ROMEO AND JULIET

     Before Juliet Capelletti lie two futures: a traditionally loveless marriage to her father's business partner, or the fulfillment of her poetic dreams, inspired by the great Dante. Unlike her beloved friend Lucrezia, who looks forward to her arranged marriage into the Medici dynasty, Juliet has a wild, romantic imagination that takes flight in the privacy of her bedchamber and on her garden balcony.

     Her life and destiny are forever changed when Juliet meets Romeo Monticecco, a soulful young man seeking peace between their warring families. A dreamer himself, Romeo is unstoppable, once he determines to capture the heart of the remarkable woman foretold in his stars.

     My Review: Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet is perhaps one of Shakespeare’s most famous plays. Today, people cannot get enough of Shakespeare’s romantic poetry regarding the famous star-crossed lovers. Hollywood has recently released an adaptation of Shakespeare’s play starring Hailee Steinfeld and Douglas Booth. It is hard for any author to retell Shakespeare's famous love story. Yet, Robin Maxwell does a great job recounting the story of the star-crossed lovers. We are drawn to the romance of their fated meeting and are pulled into an enchanting journey as we feel the curtains draw on their tragic fate.

     Unlike Shakespeare’s play, the setting for the star-crossed lovers is not Verona. Rather, it takes place in Florence, ruled by the Medici family. The story is narrated by Juliet  Capelletti, whose father is a clothing merchant. She is engaged to Jacopo Strozzi, who will be the successor of her father’s business. Her best friend Lucrezia is marrying into the Medici family. Juliet’s life changes on the night of Lucrezia's engagement party when she meets and falls in love with the son of her family’s enemy, Romeo Monitcecco.

     Juliet is very educated. She and her best friend, Lucrezia were entitled to a Renaissance education. She loves poetry and her ambition is to be a poet. She is also a romantic. She is willing to move the heavens and the mountains to live a life of love, and not a life that her parents and society has for her. Romeo is her match in the novel, and both of them are well-matched. Romeo is also a romantic. He is willing to do anything to be with Juliet. Both he and Juliet have the same common love for the poet, Dante, who they viewed as a romantic. One thing that I dislike about this novel is Maxwell’s claims of Dante being a food of romance for these two star-crossed lovers. Having read Dante’s Inferno in college, it is hard to believe that he would play the part of a romantic poet, whose poetry inspired these two lovers who try everything they can to be together.

     Overall, the novel is not as good as Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, but it is nevertheless a poignant and beautiful retelling. The setting and the society’s customs and conventions in Renaissance Florence was believable. The lovers are likable. Another thing I dislike about the book is that Jacopo’s character was one-dimensional. He was a stock villain. I feel that the author should have made him a more complex character. Still, I feel that this novel is a great tribute and homage to the infamous bard.

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

This is a video about the author talking about the premise of the novel:

Thursday, November 21, 2013

The Treason of Mary Louvestre by My Haley: A Book Review

The Treason of Mary Louvestre
Author: My Haley
Genre:  Historical Fiction
Publisher: Koehler Books
Release Date: 2013
Pages: 338
Source: This book was given to me by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.
Synopsis: From the widow and collaborator of Alex Haley, award-winning author of Roots, comes a new American epic from the Civil War. The Treason of Mary Louvestre is based on the true story of a seamstress slave from the Confederate town of Norfolk, Virginia. When her owner gets involved with modifications to the ironclad CSS Virginia, Mary copies the plans and sets out to commit treason against the South. Facing certain death as a spy if caught, she treks two hundred miles during the bitter winter of 1862 to reach the office of Union Secretary of the Navy Gideon Welles, where she hands over the plans. Mary's act of bravery is ably told by Haley, using a rich narrative and characters drawn from that pinnacle era of American history. First there was Roots, now there is The Treason of Mary Louvestre.

     My Review: Mary Louvestre, mostly known in history as Mary Touvestre, is famous for being a spy for the Union and for aiding the Union’s navy. She was a freed slave in Norfolk who worked as a housekeeper to an engineer and listened in on his plans of the building of the newest Confederate ship the CSS Virginia. After stealing the plans of the new ship she then fled to Washington to give the plans to Secretary of the Navy, Gideon Welles. My Haley has re-imagined Mary Louvestre’s dangerous epic journey of her quest to help aid the Union.

     Mary has been a slave for the Louvestre’s ever since she was twelve years old. Even though she is a slave, she is living a life of luxury. She has a nice four-poster bed in a mansion. She enjoys good food from talented cooks. She has been educated to read and write from her masters. She has made friends, and her masters seem to give her everything she has ever asked for. She is also on the rise to fame for being a fashion designer. However, Mary eventually learns that her seemingly perfect life is a facade.

     For in Southern society, she is still a slave, and is regarded even by her masters as being three-fifths human. She is treated as a pet and nothing more. The author provides a good motivation for why Mary had to commit treason for the South. At first, she wants the South to win, until she realizes how she and the slaves are being viewed and treated by the Southerners finally hits home. She realizes that by being in the South she can never have the respect she deserves because they view her as property rather than a human being. She does love the South, but she believes that by aiding the north, than not only will other slaves be better treated, but that the South will be a better place for whites and coloreds.

     Overall, this is a beautiful novel that is filled with friendship, romance, and adventure. It is about a brave woman that embarks on a dangerous journey because she believes that is the right thing to do. The only thing that I did not like about the novel is that the villains are one-dimensional. They are pure evil and there is nothing good in them. This novel takes its place alongside Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin, and Toni Morrison’s Beloved.

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars


Friday, November 15, 2013

The Least of These by Scott Zachary: A Book Review

The Least of These
Author: Scott Zachary
Genre:  Historical Fiction
Publisher: Mahalas Press
Release Date: November 15th, 2013
Pages: 70
Source: This book was given to me by the author in exchange for an honest review.
Synopsis:  Molly Gregor was not a temperate woman.

     The daughter of a murdered Catholic nobleman, and the wife of a Protestant
landowner, she imagines herself a stranger in her own land. Rash, proud, and
headstrong, she has carved her way through life with a bold determination that often
places her at odds with those closest to her.

     When a band of Irish Travellers come to her small town, Molly finds herself torn
between helping the wayfaring strangers and the cruel prejudices of her neighbors.
Will she find the courage to defend these, the least of all people?

     Set in the turbulent spring of 1709, The Least of These is a haunting, yet inspiring
story of questioned faith, restored hope, and the true price of charity.

     
     My Review: Set in Ireland in the spring of 1709, this novellette explores the character and faith of an emotionally damaged woman who tries to find peace, happiness, and the good things in life during her sad times. Molly is a Catholic woman whose father was murdered in her youth, and she became a public outcast when she married a Protestant Scottish nobleman and a drunkard. One day, she meets a group of poverty-stricken, passing travelers. However, the travelers are met with great hostility by the villagers’ who form a mob to try to cast them out. Molly is driven by faith that as a Christian woman she must try to help these travelers. Molly must fight against her fellow villager’s rage in order to defend these strangers.

     Molly’s character is very human. She is a very broken woman and very sad. She often seeks faith and questions her relationship with God. She often wonders why  God lets bad things happen to her. Sometimes, she gets angry and blames God. She tries to do what is right, and tries to help others as much as she can. She is also very loving and generous. She has an interesting relationship with the priest Father Roark. Father Roark is Molly’s spiritual mentor, and he tries to preach to her that even though there is a lot of evil in the world, there is still some good in the world. Sometimes, Father Roark struggles with doing what he preaches, but with Molly reminding him of the scriptures, he, in the end, practices what he preaches. Molly also has a loving relationship with her husband. Their love is unwavering and devoted to each other. Molly’s husband supports and helps her even when the village is against her.  Despite his flaws, it is obvious that he wants to be his best self with Molly.

     Overall, this novelette is about love, hope, charity, and choices. It is also about a woman who is seeking peace, happiness, and contentment within herself.  This is a beautiful and well-told story. The writing is lyrical, and the characters are well-developed and realistic. We can relate to Molly’s emotions and thoughts as she tries to cope with her situations. I would recommend this book to anyone interested in Irish history, Christianity in general, or any fan of strong heroines.

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars


Thursday, November 14, 2013

Juliet by Anne Fortier: A Book Review

Juliet
Author: Anne Fortier
Genre:  Historical Fiction, Contemporary, Mystery & Thriller
Publisher: Ballantine Books
Release Date: 2011
Pages: 464
Source: Personal Collection
Synopsis:  When Julie Jacobs inherits a key to a safety-deposit box in Siena, Italy, she is told that it will lead her to an old family treasure. Soon she is launched on a winding and perilous journey into the history of her ancestor, Giulietta, whose legendary love for a young man named Romeo rocked the foundations of medieval Siena. As Julie crosses paths with the descendants of the families immortalized in Shakespeare’s unforgettable blood feud, she begins to realize that the notorious curse-- “A plague on both your houses!” is still at work, and that she is the next target. It seems that the only one who can save Julie from her fate is Romeo--but where is he?
   
     My Review:  I have always been a fan of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. I’ve always found it romantic that they loved each other so much that they gave their lives to be with one another. However, Anne Fortier took the classic, Shakespeare Juliet and a modern day Juliet and interwove their stories together with a flair of a mystery and a spice of a thriller treasure hunt. Anne Fortier keeps you guessing throughout most of the book as to who some of the characters really are in relationship to others, and what their motives are. I could guess correctly some of the time, and others provided a nice twist.

     The story moved at a good pace, with the storyline altering between Italy in the 14th century and the modern day. Out of the two lines, I found myself a bit more drawn in by the ancient tale.  The modern day mystery was good, but it just didn’t quite grip me the way the characters in the ancient times did, which was supposedly the real people behind Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. Fortier goes beyond the Shakespeare’s play and draws upon other versions of the classic tale. The best part of the book, for me, though, was the way Fortier brings Italy to life.  Her descriptions of the buildings and the countryside made me see Italy as I imagine it would be.

     The two Juliets have distinct personalities. I felt more drawn to the medieval Juliet for she was bold and vengeful. She has lost all her family, except her married sister, and wants revenge on the man who is responsible for their deaths. However, the modern day Juliet was meek and passive. She is not the driving force of the novel. Rather, she is outshone by her sister, Gianozza, who is spontaneous and brave. The author portrays a great contrast between about how Western women were viewed in medieval Italy to how they are treated in our modern day society. For while the medieval Juliet had no choice to how she would live her life and is forced to resign to her fate by the decisions of others, the modern day Juliet does have a choice of how she would like to live her life.

     Overall, this book is filled with romance, mystery, tragedy, family, and adventure. I recommend this book for readers of mystery novels (especially along the lines of the Da Vinci Code), romance novels, Shakespeare fans. I also thought this book reminded me of fans of the movie, Romancing the Stone. This is a perfect book for anyone vacationing to Italy and wants something to read while sipping coffee outside of a cafe.

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

This the author's official book trailer of Juliet:

Monday, November 11, 2013

The Sixth by Avery Hays: A Book Review

The Sixth
Author: Avery Hays
Genre:  Historical Fiction, Mystery
Publisher: Mariner Books
Release Date: Oct. 31, 2013
Publisher: Diadema Press
Pages: 362
Source: NetGalley/Publisher in exchange for an honest review.
Synopsis: Florbela Sarmentos is 21 and knows what she wants: art, romance, and to free her father from the prison of Portugal's despotic King Manuel II.  Born in Lisbon, educated in London and at a painting academy in Cherbourg, France, the cosmopolitan Florbela moves to Paris and takes up residence in the wildly bohemian enclave of La Ruche, there to pursue a creative life.

     Some of the yet-to-be-discovered artists living in her building are Diego Rivera, Amadeo Modigliani and Marc Chagall.  By day she paints, and by night she attends parties with the residents of La Ruche, who introduce her to collectors and creative spirits in Paris's fabled Sixth Arrondissement.  Along the way, Florbela attracts several hot-headed admirers, two of whom become so inflamed with jealousy that they become each other's deadly enemies.

     But Florbela's fledgling artistic and social life is soon eclipsed, when she can no longer escape the political shadow of her father, a Portuguese writer imprisoned in Lisbon for criticizing the corrupt monarchy.
            
     Florbela tries to find news of her father through Portuguese political exiles and sympathizers in Paris -- with alarming results.  When she contacts a friend of her father, Professor Almeida, he turns up dead, killed by an assassin from the pro-monarchist society Ordo Crucis Incendio -- the Order of the Burning Cross.  Professor Almeida's dying words lead Florbela to a secret, encrypted painting that might save her father and overthrow the king. Now, Florbela is the assassin's next target.

    With the help of Armand, a dashing French rebel, Florbela fights to bring the secret painting to the Portuguese resistance fighters.  It just might save her country... and her life.
     
     My Review: Set in Paris in 1910, Florbela is the daughter of a Portuguese rebel, and decides to have a life in exile as an artist in Paris with her sculptor roommate, Irene. There she meets Diego Rivera, his first wife Angelina, and Amedeo Modigliani. She is also next door neighbors with Marc Chagall, whom she calls by his real name Moishe. However, her blissful life is turned upside down when she stumbles upon a dying man, who is a rebel for a Portuguese rebel cause, and gives her a painting that has a crypted message. She makes an alliance with the Freemasons, and a secret organization of rebels. She finds out that the King of Portugal has sent an assassin to kill her and to get her painting. Florbela reluctantly realizes that she must make a choice to either to live her life in Paris as an artist or to aid the rebellious cause to overthrow the king and save her father.

     Most of the story is about the daily life of the painters. Florbela spends most of the novel painting and going to parties. It shows how the painters get discovered by going to parties of great benefactors, who if they like a work, they will buy it and promote it. The book focuses a great deal on Moishe’s rise to fame from a penniless painter. He is portrayed to be a talented painter whom all these famous artists admire and benefactors are thoroughly invested in his work. Florbela, on the other hand, struggles for no one is interested in her work.

     Florbela is stubborn, often prone to jealousy, and also very nosy. She likes to get involved with the other characters’ situations that doesn’t concern her. She is also very self-centered. She also doesn’t give a thought to the dangers surrounding her or even to her father, who is languishing in a Portuguese prison while she paints and goes out to parties to have a good time.

     Overall, this story is slow-paced. The plot of the story takes place at the end of the novel. There is very little action until the last few chapters of the book. Until then, the author goes on a pace reminiscent of the way an artist brings a painting to life. The background and sketches often take a long time to form, but in the end, a clear and nice painting is created. For there is mystery, romance, adventure, and a thriller included in these last few pages. I recommend this book to fans of mysteries, thrillers, art history, and to fans of Dan Brown’s Da Vinci Code.

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

This is the author's official book trailer of The Sixth:

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Queen of Scots: The True Life of Mary Stuart by John Guy: A Book Review

Queen of Scots: The True Life of Mary Stuart
Author: John Guy
Genre:  Nonfiction, Biography, History
Publisher: Mariner Books
Release Date: 2004
Pages: 608
Source: Personal Collection
Synopsis: In the first full-scale biography of Mary Stuart in more than thirty years, John Guy creates an intimate and absorbing portrait of one of history’s greatest women, depicting her world and her place in the sweep of history with stunning immediacy. Bringing together all surviving documents and uncovering a trove of new sources for the first time, Guy dispels the popular image of Mary Queen of Scots as a romantic leading lady — achieving her ends through feminine wiles — and establishes her as the intellectual and political equal of Elizabeth I.

     Through Guy’s pioneering research and superbly readable prose, we come to see Mary as a skillful diplomat, maneuvering ingeniously among a dizzying array of factions that sought to control or dethrone her. Queen of Scots is an enthralling, myth-shattering look at a complex woman and ruler and her time.


     Note: Awards for this novel: Winner of the Whitbread Award for Biography and National Book Critics Circle Award Finalist
   
     My Review: Mary, Queen of Scots has captured many imaginations today. Indeed, the latest historical tv drama, Reign, focuses on the young life of Mary, Queen of Scots. She is portrayed in history as a femme fatale who uses her beauty and charms and manipulates those around her to get the throne of England. She is also portrayed as a failed ruler whose country would have been better had she never been queen at all. However, in John Guy’s biography of Mary, Queen of Scots portrays her as a woman of intelligence, and was educated and trained to rule her country skillfully enough. She tries to incorporate her Renaissance ideals into her reign and on Scotland, only to be met with great hostility from the powerful Protestant nobles of her court who plot to dethrone her because she is a woman and a Catholic. Mary then must use her wits to maneuver her way through the labyrinth of a plethora of conspiracies that wish her downfall to try to be Scotland’s successful queen.

     Mary, Queen of Scots was queen at only six days old when her father James V died in battle against the English. Because Mary was too young to rule, and because it was dangerous to stay in Scotland, Mary’s mother and regent of Scotland, Marie of Guise, sends her to France to live with the royal family. At the French court,  she was immersed in Renaissance culture and had a great education where she studied the classics. As a teenager she married the dauphin of France, Francis II, and eventually she became queen of France. After Francis II died, she decided to be go back to Scotland and rule her country rather than staying.  However, once she arrived in Scotland, Mary is met with enemies, one of those who is the leader of the Protestant Reformation, John Knox. Across the Scottish border, Mary also has another enemy, Elizabeth I. Mary then strives to fight to assert her reign over Scotland.

     Overall, this is a sympathetic account of Mary, Queen of Scots. Her reign is filled with betrayal, murder, religion dominance, and political intrigue. Although the book is very readable, it can be dry at times. It tends to tell every detail of Mary, Queen of Scots’s everyday life. However, it has a very detailed account about the mystery of the murder of Lord Darnley. The book also answers all the questions of Mary, Queen of Scots. I recommend this book to those who are interested in learning about Mary, Queen of Scots, the Elizabethan, Tudor, and the Renaissance era.

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Saturday, November 2, 2013

The Melody of Secrets: A Novel by Jeffrey Stepakoff: A Book Review

The Melody of Secrets: A Novel
Author: Jeffrey Stepakoff
Genre: Historical fiction
Publisher: Thomas Dunne Books
Release Date: October, 29th 2013
Pages: 272
Source: I got this from NetGalley as an invitation from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.
Synopsis: Jeffrey Stepakoff's The Melody of Secrets is an epic love story set against the 1960s U.S. space program, when deeply-buried secrets could threaten not just a marriage, but a country.

     Maria was barely eighteen as WWII was coming to its explosive end. A brilliant violinist, she tried to comfort herself with the Sibelius Concerto as American bombs rained down. James Cooper wasn't much older. A roguish fighter pilot stationed in London, he was shot down during a daring night raid and sought shelter in Maria’s cottage.

     Fifteen years later, in Huntsville, Alabama, Maria is married to a German rocket scientist who works for the burgeoning U.S. space program. Her life in the South is at peace, purposefully distanced from her past. Everything is as it should be—until James Cooper walks back into it.

     Pulled from the desert airfield where he was testing planes no sane Air Force pilot would touch, and drinking a bit too much, Cooper is offered the chance to work for the government, and move himself to the front of the line for the astronaut program. He soon realizes that his job is to report not only on the rocket engines but also on the scientists developing them. Then Cooper learns secrets that could shatter Maria’s world...

     
     My Review: Huntsville, Alabama is popularly known as “Rocket City,” for it is known for its research in space and for having the largest space camps in the U.S. Stepakoff’s novel, The Melody of Secrets, takes place in Huntsville at the early stages of the space program’s development. After many failed attempts at launching the rockets, Colonel Adams has no choice but to employ German and former Nazi scientists to help build a successful rocket that will launch into space. 

     There are two storylines in the novel that switch back and forth. The first storyline takes place in 1945 almost at the end of WWII in Germany. During the bombings of her town, Maria is preparing for death and playing a solemn tune on her violin. Suddenly, in walks an American pilot, James Cooper, who is not only her enemy but the one who is responsible for the bombing of her town. James Cooper is a fallen pilot on enemy grounds and has sought refuge in a cabin, where Maria lives.

     The second storyline takes place twelve years later in 1957, when Maria is comfortably living in Huntsville, Alabama. Maria is the wife of a scientist and a mother. She likes to hang out with her friends who are the wives of German scientists and military pilots. She is a skilled violinist in the Huntsville Orchestra Symphony and is on the rise of becoming a regional star. However, her simple comfortable life turns complicated when James Cooper re-enters her life.

     Stepakoff writes beautifully about Huntsville’s social environment in the aftermath of the war. There are still prejudices against the German. For example, when Maria was at the gas station, a serviceman refused her service because she was German. Stepakoff also talks about the segregation. Maria believes that the right thing is to be desegregated, but when she makes any attempts, she is met with great hostility and there is prejudices on both sides. There is also a fear of communism. There is also a fear that Russians may have war with the U.S, and they are building bomb shelters in their homes for protection.

     Maria is a strong heroine, and is very relatable. She is a woman that uses her wits to solve problems. She is a loving mother. She is emotionally-damaged from WWII, and often at times she feels vulnerable. She does her best to hide her vulnerabilities. However, she is constantly haunted by her past. She is filled with questions and regrets. She wonders what the present and the future might have been like had she made choices in her past differently. Maria is a woman that strives to make the right decisions.

     Overall, this book is about lost love, choices, and regrets. Stepakoff writes with magic, for each word he writes eloquently flies off the page. Immediately, you are enchanted under his spell--drawing you in, and pulling you deeper into the story and his characters. The characters are beautiful and poignant. Each of them have flaws and dark secrets, but they are still good people. This makes the characters very human and realistic. You are also swept away by Maria’s and Cooper’s bittersweet romance. This is a story that will still linger with you long after you have read the last word on the last page.

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars