Saturday, August 31, 2013

Brides of the Storm (Book 2 of the Galveston Hurricane Mystery Series) by Amanda Still: A Book Review

Brides of the Storm (Book 2 of the Galveston Hurricane Mystery Series)
Author: Amanda Still
Genre: Mystery & Suspense, Paranormal, Historical Fiction
Publisher: Gone Feral Publishing
Release Date: May 6th, 2013
Pages: 360
Source: This book was given to my by the author in exchange for an honest review.
Synopsis: One Too Many Brides One bride died a year before the wedding, drowned in the waters of the Great Galveston Hurricane of 1900. One fell in love and expects a quiet wedding and a peaceful life. They are both surprised when the confused groom is suspected of a brutal murder. The gruesome death of a local prostitute occurred just after the "dead" wife returned to town. Are the two events connected? Dash, a female attorney, must find out the truth to bring peace to her own home as her adopted daughters are now torn between their love for her and suspicion that their original mother did not die in the storm, but might return. As Dash hunts a killer, she finds the dead are more help than the living in this dangerous pursuit. BRIDES OF THE STORM is the second book in the ECHOES OF THE STORM, Galveston Hurricane Mystery Series.

      My Review: This book is part of the series, Galveston Hurricane Mystery Series, but it is also a stand-alone mystery novel. The novel takes place after the hurricane disaster in 1900. The series is narrated by Dash, a female attorney, who helps solve murder crimes with a Scottish private-detective, Barker. The novel starts off with Dash's friend, Winnie, who is getting ready to marry Abelard, a wealthy anatomy professor. However, Abelard's wife that was believed to be dead from the hurricane suddenly comes back to reclaim Abelard as her husband. Meanwhile, Dash and Barker have discovered the gruesome murder of a prostitute. Could these two events somehow be connected?


     I found the setting of Galveston to be an interesting idea for a mystery series. The Galveston hurricane was the deadliest hurricane in American history that caused a lot of deaths and destruction in the city. Because of the chaos, it is a great feast for the setup of these murder mysteries. The author, Still, does a great job in portraying how the devastation of the hurricane impacted her characters and the setting. Dash is emotionally-damaged from the storm because it killed her husband and her neighbors. In the novel, other characters have also lost someone precious to them, and each of them tries their best to rebuild their lives again, but the ghost of the storm still haunts their everyday lives.

     Dash is a likable heroine. She is compassionate, loyal, selfless, and spirited. She is a moralist, and sometimes can be judgmental, outspoken, and stubborn, when something contradicts with her morals. She is very loving and motherly to her adopted daughters and tries her best to be accepted by her girls, who still long for their real mother. Dash is also highly intelligent, which is why she and Barker make a great team. Both are them highly observant, intelligent, and evenly-matched. They help each other and make observances that sometimes the other does not see. They both need each other to help solve the crime.

     Overall, this novel was a fun fast-paced thriller. There are thrills at every turn, and the reader will find it hard to put this novel down. The novel is filled with suspense, romance, paranormal, and humor. The dialogue is witty, and the setting and characters are well-developed. In fact, this novel left me waiting for more. I liked this book so much that immediately after I finished it, I bought the kindle version of the first novel, Echoes of the Storm (Book 1 of the Galveston Hurricane Mystery Series). I am looking forward to reading it and the other forthcoming novels in this series. Brides of the storm will appeal to fans of Sherlock Holmes, Agatha Christie, Monk, and anyone who loves mystery.

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

   

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

The Last Queen: A Novel by C.W. Gortner: A Book Review

The Last Queen: A Novel
Author: C.W. Gortner
Genre: Historical Fiction
Publisher: Ballantine Books
Release Date: 2009
Pages: 400
Source: Personal Collection
Synopsis: In This Stunning Novel, C.W. Gortner Brings To Life Juana of Castile, the third child of Queen Isabel and King Ferdinand of Spain, who would become the last queen of Spanish blood to inherit her country's throne. Along the way, Gortner takes the reader from the somber majesty of Spain to the glittering and lethal courts of Flanders, France, and Tudor England.

     Born amid her parents' ruthless struggle to unify and strengthen their kingdom, Juana, at the age of sixteen, is sent to wed Phillip, heir to the Habsburg Empire. Juana finds unexpected love and passion with her dashing young husband, and at first she is content with her children and her married life. But when tragedy strikes and she becomes heir to the Spanish throne, Juana finds herself plunged into a battle for power against her husband that grows to involve the major monarchs of Europe. Besieged by foes on all sides, Juana vows to secure her crown and save Spain from ruin, even if it costs her everything.


     My Review: Juana, the daughter of King Ferdinand of Aragon and Queen Isabella of Castile, has been known in history as the mad queen. Her nickname in history is Joan the Mad. She is best known as the Spanish princess, who was so in love and possessive of her husband, that when he died, she refused to be parted from his dead corpse, accompanying his coffin to Granada and forcing it to remain open so that all eyes could look upon his decaying corpse, traveling by night because she was so jealous that other women might be tempted by his "beauty" if they ever catch of glimpse of her beloved husband. Her mad plans were stopped when her father comes to rescue to save Spain. Both her father and son rule in her stead because Juana is so mad that she is incapable of ruling.


     However, in Gortner's The Last Queen, Juana narrates the novel herself, and she gives the readers her side of the story. Contrary to popular belief of Juana, Juana is not a mad queen. Instead, she aspires to be an intelligent and capable ruler like her mother. However, because she is a woman, she is not taken seriously. She is betrayed by her husband, her father, and even her son, who wants the kingdom of Castile for themselves. In order to gain the throne, they propagandized Juana's "madness" to support their case. Juana must use her wits and her courage to fight for her kingdom.

     I was intrigued by Gortner's portrayal of Juana. Juana is at first a naive woman, who is infatuated by her husband. Over time, Juana becomes a self-assured woman of intelligence and courage. Juana is both a victim and an obstacle to the ambitious men in her life. We, readers, will grieve as she suffers betrayal after betrayal from those who were closest to her. She is a likable heroine, and readers will want her to succeed.

     Overall, this novel portrays a different perspective to the story of Juana. This novel is full of passion, betrayal, and suspense. This novel is also a psychological thriller, for not only is a battle for the Spanish throne, but a battle where Juana has to prove her sanity. This book is a great sequel to The Queen's Vow, which is about Juana's mother, Queen Isabella of Castile.

Rating: 5 out 5 stars

This the author's official book trailer of The Last Queen:

Monday, August 26, 2013

Caesar's Wives: Sex, Power, And Politics In The Roman Empire by Annelise Freisenbruch: A Book Review

Caesars' Wives: Sex, Power, and Politics in the Roman Empire
Author: Annelise Freisenbruch
Genre: Nonfiction, Biography, History
Publisher: Free Press
Release Date: November 2010
Pages: 368
Source: My State Public Library
Synopsis: In Scandals and Power Struggles obscured by time and legend, the wives, mistresses, mothers, sisters, and daughters of the caesars have been popularly characterized as heartless murderers, shameless adulteresses, and conniving politicians in the high dramas of the Roman court. Yet little has been known about who they really were and their true roles in the history-making schemes if imperial Rome's ruling Caesars--indeed, how they figured in the ride, decline, and fall of the empire.

     Now in Caesars' Wives: Sex, Power, and Politics in the Roman Empire, Annelise Freisenbruch pulls back the veil on these fascinating women in Rome's power circles, giving them the chance to speak for themselves for the first time. With immpeccable scholarship and arresting storytelling, Freisenbruch brings their personalities vividly to life, from notorious Livia and scandalous Julia to Christian Helena. Starting at the year 30 BC, when Cleopatra, Octavia, and Livia stand at the cusp of Rome's change from a Republic to an autocracy, Freisenbruch relates the story of Octavian and Marc Antony's clash over the fate of the empire--an archetypal story that has inspired a thousand retellings--in a whole new light, uncovering the crucial political roles these "first ladies" played. From there, she takes us into the lives of the women who rose to power over the next five centuries--often amid violence, speculation, and schemes--ending in the fifth century AD, with Galla Placidia, who was captured by Goth invaders (and married to one of their kings). The politics of Rome are revealed through the stories of Julia, a wisecracking daughter who disgraced her father by getting drunk in the Roman forum and having sex with strangers on the speaker's platform; Poppea, a vain and beautiful mistress who persuaded the emperor to kill his mother so that they could marry; Domitia, a wife, who had a flagrant affair with an actor before conspiring in her husband's assignation; and Fausta, a stepmother who tried to seduce her own stepson and then engineered his execution--afterward she was boiled to death.


     Freisenbruch also tells a fascinating story of how the faces of these influential women have been refashioned over the millennia to tell often politically motivated stories about their reigns, in the process becoming models of femininity and female power. Illuminating the anxieties that persist even today about women in or near power and revealing the female archetypes that are a continuing legacy of the Roman Empire, Freisenbruch shows the surprising parallels of these iconic women and their public and private lives with those of our own first ladies who become part of the political agenda, as models of comportment or as targets for their husbands' opponents. Sure to transform our understanding of these first ladies, the influential women who witnessed one of the most gripping, significant eras of human history, Caesars' Wives is a significant new chronicle of an era that set the foundational story of Western Civilization and hung the mirror into which every era looks to find its own reflection.


     My Review: The Roman Empire was one of the darkest and notorious eras in history. The emperors are known to be ruthless killers with an unquenchable lust for blood and gore. They are known for having gladiatorial games, persecuting Christians, and some are even known for burning down the city of Rome so that they can take the credit for "rebuilding" Rome. In Freisenbruch's novel, she recounts the Roman empire from the perspective of the lives of the Roman Empresses.

     The classical Roman sources written by men and are biased against women have stereotyped Roman women into two categories. The first stereotype is that of a good virtuous Roman wife, who is loyal to her husband, but when her husband or son died, she continues to mourn for her loved ones to the end of her life, never to get over her own grief. The second type of woman is a power-hungry schemer who carries poison and uses sex and murder as a means to attain their own ambition and power. In Freisenbruch's novel, these women who were considered masculine, (for instance being in the army frontlines of a battle and having power and influence over their husbands and sons) were seen as an offense to Roman men. Many were attacked and accused of crimes of sexuality just so they could be rid of. These accused women were sent into exile where were brutally beaten and died of starvation.

     Freisenbruch's second half of the novel focuses on the less violent reign of the Christian emperors. It starts with Helena, the mother of Constantine (the first Christian emperor). Helena started the tradition of the empresses to go on a holy pilgrimage to Jerusalem and founded the true cross. Her successors have donated money to the Church, and three sisters of a Christian emperor decided to devote their life to God by being virgins and living a monastic life, though one of the sisters was forced to get married in order to help ensure the dynastic survival (but still kept her vow to God having her marriage remain unconsummated). The author gives a detail about how the Christian era had given women the freedom that had once been denied to them, and we can see why Christianity had appealed to them, and why some men criticized the Christian religion.

     The Emperors of Rome, with the exception of Marcus Aurelius and the Christian emperors, are portrayed in a negative light. Most of them cruel tyrants. Some are portrayed as weak, allowing their wives and mothers to have power and influence. Most have murdered their rivals to the throne. Some have even committed fratricide. Others, like Nero, have ruthlessly killed their mothers, who had raised them and help them become emperors, just so they could marry a beautiful woman.

     Overall, this book is full of treachery, betrayal, danger, scandal, passion, and intrigue. We get to know the women that have been shrouded by the emperors. However, I would suggest to anyone interested in this book that before they read it, they should have some prior knowledge of the history of the early Roman empire, or watch an episode of HBO's Rome or BBC's I, Claudius, for the author has mentioned these two tv shows frequently, and the way her book is written, it is assumed that the reader is meant to have some knowledge of Roman history. Readers that do not have any prior knowledge of Roman history would most likely get lost, may find it a frustrating read, and will give the reader a giant headache. This book will appeal to fans of soap operas, The Godfather movies, The Sopranos, Mad Men, and the tv historical dramas like The Tudors and The Borgias.

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars






Thursday, August 22, 2013

Chronicle of the Queens of Egypt: From Early Dynastic Times To The Death Of Cleopatra by Joyce Tyldesley: A Book Review

 Chronicle of the Queens of Egypt: from Early Dynastic Times to the Death of Cleopatra
 Author: Joyce Tyldesley
Genre: Nonfiction, Biography, History
Publisher: Thames & Hudson
Release Date: 2006
Pages: 224
Source: My State Public Library
Synopsis: This fascinating saga spans 3,000 years of Egyptian queenship from Early Dynastic times until the suicide of Cleopatra in 30 BC. Starting with the unique role of Egypt's women in the ancient world, the book goes on to present a biographical portrait of every queen, supplemented by a wealth of pictorial detail, datafiles, genealogical trees, timelines, and special features--from Childbirth to Wigs--highlighting different aspects of Egyptian culture.

     The queen of Egypt was, first and foremost, a supportive wife and mother, but in times of dynastic crisis she was expected to act as her husband's deputy. The queen might be required to marshal troops, or to rule on behalf of an infant son. She might even be called upon to rule in her own right in the absence of a suitable king. The female pharaohs Hatshepsut and Tawosret, the sun queens Tiy and Nefertiti, the beautiful Nefertari and Cleopatra: many of Egypt's queens have left an indelible mark on their country's history.


     And what of Egypt's lesser queens, the numerous wives and daughters maintained in pampered seclusion in the harem palaces? These anonymous women occasionally stepped from the security of the harem to influence the royal succession, and their stories, too, are told.


     Chronicle of the Queens of Egypt is both a popular history and a superb work of  reference that will appeal to travelers, museum visitors, and anyone intrigued by the life and times of the ancient Egyptians. 


     My Review: In Chronicle of the Queens of Egypt, Tyldesley's novel of the history of ancient Egypt is told from a different perspective, the queens of Egypt. The queens that have been shrouded in the background and eclipsed for centuries by their more-powerful and more-famous husbands, the pharaohs of Egypt, now take center stage in this biography. Spanning for 3,000 years of Egypt's history, Tyldesley's novel gives an intriguing biography of each queen.


     Among these amazing stories of these queens are the biographies of the famous women: Hatshepsut, Nefertiti, Ankhesenamun (King Tut's wife), Nefertari, and Cleopatra VII (the last Egyptian pharaoh), and along with the other less well-known queen consorts. Each of these consorts were powerful in their own right and played a vital necessary role in serving the pharaoh, participating in both political and religious roles of ancient Egypt. Some of these queens had as much power as their husbands, were recognized as their equals, and ruled alongside as co-regents. Some of the queens were regents and female kings (some of them like Sobeknefru, Hatshepsut, and Tawosret were both). Some were the King's Mother, who was given more power and authority than a queen's consort.

     Tyldesley also gives the reader detailed information about the women of ancient Egypt for example, women's health and childbirth, women's hygiene, and hairdressing, and women in literature. She also talks about the religion of ancient Egypt, the roles of the Egyptian priestesses, and the roles of the female deities. She also mentions the obscure secondary wives of the pharaohs, wives who were not queen consorts. Unlike the hegemonic discourse of harem women sitting idly in the palace, these women actually had to work for their keep. Some of the harem queens became King Mothers (a title to given to mothers of the king). Tyldesley mentions one harem queen, Tiy, who plotted to kill her husband, Ramesses III, so her son could rule as Egypt's next king. The plan ultimately backfired, and Queen Tiy and her son were forced to commit suicide.

     Overall, Tyldesley's biography of each Egyptian queen is a fascinating and much needed account. The novel is written in a comprehensive style for the general reader. It is complete with timelines and genealogical trees that helps the reader understand and not get lost. It is filled with fascinating pictures of the archeological findings of the majority of the queens, for instance, some of the queens' jewelry, statues of the queens, pictures of their tombs, and even pictures of their mummies. The stories themselves are very easy to read and enjoyable. The reader will also gain an accessible, quick, and detailed account about the history of the Egyptian empire that spanned for 3,000 years. My only complaint about this book is that the names are hard to pronounce, and I wish that there was a pronunciation guide included. This novel is a tribute to not only the Egyptian queens but also to all women in Ancient Egypt.

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Monday, August 19, 2013

Hatchepsut by Joyce Tyldesley: A Book Review

Hatchepsut: The Female Pharaoh
Author: Joyce Tyldesley
Genre: Nonfiction, Biography, History
Publisher: Viking
Release Date: 1996
Pages: 304
Source: My State Public Library
Synopsis: Queen--or, as she would prefer to be remembered King--Hatchepsut was a remarkable woman. Born the eldest daughter of King Tuthmosis I, married to her half-brother Tuthmosis II, and guardian of her young stepson-nephew Tuthmosis III, Hatchepsut the Female Pharaoh, brilliantly defied tradition and established herself on the divine throne of the pharaohs to become the female embodiment of a man, dressing in male clothing and even sporting the pharaoh's traditional false beard. Her reign was a carefully balanced period of internal peace, foreign exploration, and monumental building, and Egypt prospered under her rule. After her death, however, a serious attempt was made to obliterate Hatchepsut's memory from the history of Egypt. Her monuments were either destroyed or usurped, her portraits were vandalized, and, for more than two thousand years, her name was forgotten.

     The political climate leading to Hatchepsut's unprecedented assumption of power and the principal achievements of her reign are considered here in detail, and the vicious attacks on Hatchepsut's name and image are explored in full. By combining archaeological and historical evidence from a wide range of sources, Joyce Tyldesley's groundbreaking biography provides the reader with an intriguing insight into life within the Theban royal family of early 18th Dynasty Egypt. At last, the Female Pharaoh has been restored. 


     My Review: Hatchepsut has fascinated the popular imagination by cross-dressing as a man, donning a man's kilt, wearing a false beard, and claiming herself as a king rather than a queen. While Hatchepsut was definitely not the first nor the last female pharaoh, she is the most successful of the female kings. Her powers and success eclipsed the later more famous queen, Cleopatra VII. Tyldesley's unbiased biography highlights Hatchepsut's accomplishments to show that Egyptian women were capable of ruling as the male pharaohs.


     Hatchepsut was the Egyptian princess of Pharaoh Tuthmosis I and Queen Ahmose. She married her half-brother Thutmosis II, at tweleve years old and had a daughter named Neferure. After her husband's death, Hatchepsut became queen regent to the child Tuthmosis III. A few years later, she decided to rule as Pharaoh of Egypt instead. The author portrays Hatchepsut as a young woman between the age of fifteen and thirty years old, when her husband died. She also portrays Hatchepsut as a woman who at first did not want to be pharaoh but was comfortable in her role to be a conventional queen regent. One of the explanations that she gives for Hatchepsut's decision to be pharaoh is because the young child king Tuthmosis III may die before he reached adulthood. Because of Hatchepsut's young age, we find that we can relate to her prudent decision to become Pharaoh of Egypt.

     Unlike the common myth of Tuthmosis III hating his step-mother for usurping his throne, Tyldesley states that there was no evidence for his hatred. Tuthmosis did not make any attempt to oppose Hatchepsut during her reign, but instead allowed her to be the dominant pharaoh. Tyldesley explains that this may be because he was most likely waiting for her to die off.

     The author gives a great introduction into the history of the 18th dynasty. We learn that women had far more freedom than that of the other contemporary kingdoms. Tyldesley also gives a comprehensive account about the everyday life of ancient Egypt. The biography also discusses the history of the archeological findings regarding Hatchepsut.

     Overall, this book is more of a history of archeological work of how Hatchepsut has been interpreted since her discovery than of Hatchepsut herself. The work is dry, poorly structured, and redundant. However, the author highlights Hatchepsut's accomplishments as pharaoh, and we are able to glimpse how striking a woman she truly was. While it was fascinating at times to see how Hatchepsut has been viewed since the discovery of her in the nineteenth century (for thousands of years her name has been erased from history because she was a successful female king), the archeology is not near as fascinating as the living, breathing Queen/King of Egypt. This novel is a great introduction for readers who would like to learn about Hatchepsut and the ancient Egyptian empire.

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

Friday, August 16, 2013

Cleopatra's Moon by Vicky Alvear Shecter: A Book Review

Cleopatra's Moon
Author: Vicky Alvear Shecter
Genre: YA, Historical Fiction
Publisher: Arthur A. Levine Books
Release Date: 2011
Pages: 368
Source: Personal Collection
Synopsis: Princess of Egypt

     Cleopatra Selene is the only daughter of the brilliant Queen Cleopatra of Egypt and General Marcus Antonius of Rome. She's grown up with jewels on her arms, servants at her feet, and all the pleasures of a palace at her command, and she wants only to follow in her mother's footsteps and become a great and powerful queen.


     Prisoner of Rome


     Then the Roman ruler Octavianus, who has always wanted Egypt's wealth, launches a war that destroys all Selene has ever known. Taken to live in Octavianus's palace in Rome, she vows to defeat him and reclaim her kingdom at all costs. Yet even as she gathers support for her return, Selene finds herself torn between two young men and two different paths to power. Will love distract her from her goal--or help her achieve her true destiny?


     Epic in scope and ravishing in detail, this novel reveals the extraordinary life of a girl long hidden in history: the remarkable Cleopatra Selene.


     My Review: Cleopatra Selene has for centuries been eclipsed by her famous mother, Cleopatra VII, the last Pharaoh of Egypt. Now in Shecter's novel, Cleopatra Selene takes center stage as she narrates her young life. We are shown how remarkable a woman she truly is. Through Shecter's novel, we get to see the aftermath events of Cleopatra's famous suicide.


     Cleopatra Selene is the daughter of history's most famous star-crossed lovers, Marcus Antonious and Cleopatra VII. She is Princess of Egypt, and her father crowned her Queen of Cyrenaica and Crete. However, her perfect life has changed when Octavianus waged war on her mother. Octavianus emerges as the victor and invades Egypt. Rather than succumb to Octavianus, both Marcus Antonius and Cleopatra VII commit suicide to maintain their honor. Now orphaned, Cleopatra Selene and her two brothers are forced to leave their homeland and become captives to the new Roman Emperor. With danger at her every turn, Cleopatra must make decisions that will ensure her survival and eventually to achieve her ultimate goal to be Queen of Egypt. Along the way she finds love with another captive prince, Juba of Numidia, whose father had also committed suicide rather than submit to the Romans.

     I found Cleopatra Selene to be wise, intelligent, and ambitious. Cleopatra Selene is in every sense a survivor. She is a woman that is faithful to her homeland, yet at the same time, she adapts to her fate. I found that she was more successful than her mother because at the end, she greatly triumphed and was allowed to have her happy ending. I also loved her love interest, Juba. Juba was smart, kind, and very protective of Cleopatra Selene and aided her as much as he could. The two of them are a perfect match for each other because they are just alike.

     I also liked how the author has portrayed the Egyptian religion and customs. For instance, there is an Isis cult in Rome. I also liked how she talked about the notions of free will, which is the main theme of this book. In this novel, Cleopatra Selene is given the choice to make the right decisions. It is not the gods, but Cleopatra Selene who shapes her own destiny.

     Overall, this is a thrilling novel about the interesting but little known life of Cleopatra Selene. This novel is filled with danger, twists, and turns. It is filled with love, friendship, family love, and loyalty. Most of all, this is a young girl's story of survival who was forced to live among her enemies. This book will delight both fans of young adult and historical fiction.

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Strands of Bronze and Gold by Jane Nickerson: A Book Review

Strands of Bronze and Gold
Author: Jane Nickerson
Genre: YA, Historical, Mystery & Suspense,  Horror
Publisher: Alfred A. Knopf
Release Date: March 12, 2013
Pages: 352
Source: Personal Collection
Synopsis: When seventeen year-old Sophia Petherham's beloved father dies, she receives and unexpected letter. An invitation--on fine ivory paper, in bold black handwriting--from the mysterious Monsieur Bernard de Cressac, her godfather. With no money and fewer options, Sophie accepts, leaving her humble childhood home for the astonishingly lavish Wyndriven Abbey, in the heart of Mississippi. 

     Sophie has always longed for a comfortable life, and she finds herself both attracted to and shocked by the charm and easy manners of her overgenerous guardian. But as she begins to peice together the mystery of his past, it's as if, thread by thread, a silken net is tightening around her. And as she gathers stories and catches whispers of his former wives--all with hair as red as her own--in the forgotten corners of the abbey, Sophie knows she's trapped in the passion and danger of de Cressac's intoxicating world.


     Glowing strands of romance, mystery, an suspense are woven into this breathtaking debut-- a thrilling retelling of the "Bluebeard" fairy tale.


     My Review: "Bluebeard" is not your average classic fairy tale like, "Cinderella", "Beauty and the Beast", or "Rumpelstiltskin". Rather it is a less well-known fairy tale, a tale that is dark and grim like an old-wives tale. It's message is very clear: curiosity killed the cat. However, Jane Nickerson's retelling of "Bluebeard" reads more like a gothic fiction in the style of the Bronte sisters rather than the Brothers Grimm or Charles Perrault.


     Sophie, a young teenager, goes to Mississippi from her home in Boston to live with her wealthy and handsome godfather. Sophie comes from a very poor family, and when she got there, she had servants that came to her every beck and call. Her godfather showered her with handsome gifts, and she lived her life like a princess. Soon, she realized that things aren't as perfect as they seem to be. Her godfather can be volatile and possessive as well as extremely charming. He also keeps her from having friends, kills her pets, and prevents her from leaving her estate. Sophie is so troubled by her godfather's controlling behavior that she decides to embark on a quest to find out her godfather's mysterious past. She also finds love awakened when she secretly meets the kind, simple parson from the nearby town.

     The author creates interesting characters. Sophie is at first innocent and naive, but gradually begins to grow wiser, more cautious, and curious of what is going on at her godfather's estates. It is through her eyes that we see that the estate is not as it appeared to be. The author does a good job portraying the contrast between the dark, handsome, seductive, and manipulative godfather to the simple, honest, plain, kind parson. These men symbolize the light vs the dark and good vs evil.

     Overall, the story is slow-paced, and the plot is very predictable. There are no real twists until the last few pages of the book. Until then, the author goes at a pace reminiscent of a languorous Southern afternoon. If you stay invested in the characters, though, the payoff is worth it. Her characters are well-developed. The heroine is definitely not a damsel in distress. The climax is terrifying, thrilling, and well worth waiting for. This book will definitely delight fans of Jane Eyre and gothic fiction.

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

Monday, August 12, 2013

Jezebel: The Untold Story of the Bible's Harlot Queen by Lesley Hazelton: A Book Review

Jezebel: The Untold Story of the Bible's Harlot Queen
Author: Hazelton, Lesley
Genre: Nonfiction, Biography, History, Religion
Release Date: 2007
Pages: 272
Publisher: Doubleday
Source: Personal Collection
Synopsis: There is no woman with a worse reputation than Jezebel, the ancient qeen who corrupted a nation and met one of the most gruesome fates in the Bible. But what if this version of her story is merely one her enemies wanted us to believe? What if Jezebel, far from being a conniving harlot was, in fact, framed?

     In this remarkable biography, Lesley Hazelton shows exactly how the proud and courageous queen of Israel was vilified and made into the very embodiment of wanton wickedness by her political and religious enemies. The epic and ultimately tragic confrontation between sophisticated mentalism, and is, without exaggeration, the original story of the unholy marriage of sex, politics, and religion. 


     Here at last is the real story of the rise and fall of this legendary woman a radically different portrait with startling contemporary resonance in a world mired once again in religious wars.

      My Review: History is written by the victors, and Jezebel is no exception. Throughout all of history, Jezebel is known as a promiscuous and villainous Israelite queen, whom we all despise, and we feel that she was given her just desserts when Jehu threw her out her palace window and her body was fed to the dogs. If any woman is the most hated, it is indeed Jezebel, for her name alone is the very symbol of a femme fatale. However, Hazelton presents Jezebel as a victim, for because of her different religious beliefs, she was propagandized by her enemies to ensure their victory was a just cause.


     This biography begins with Jezebel as a Phoenician princess who lives in the capital city of Tyre, a prosperous coastal town. She grows up in an polytheistic culture, where the principal deity was Baal. She has an arranged marriage with the Israelite king, Ahab. What is ironic is even though she is so despised in The Book of Kings, Jezebel's wedding song is Psalm 45. This psalm is filled with joy, welcome, and celebration, and the narrator is happy that Jezebel is married to the Israelite king. Unlike the dominant Christian belief, Jezebel was faithful to her husband. She begins to have influence over her husband, and when she becomes queen regent, she exerts her control and authority.

     The real reason why she caused dissent among her enemies is because of her polytheistic religion. She was faithful to the polytheistic religion because of her cultural upbringing. With her marriage, she brought pagan priests, priestesses, and deities that created uproar in the monotheistic Israel. Her main rival is Elijah, who fights to make monotheism Israel's only religion. It becomes a war against Jezebel and Elijah, polytheism against monotheism, but Elijah and monotheism wins. Jezebel ultimately lost both in battle and coincidentally in history.

     Overall, Jezebel is a much maligned and misunderstood woman, who because she lost a religious battle was given a bad reputation. She is portrayed as an intelligent, faithful, and capable ruler. I also liked how Hazelton has given us a view of how Jezebel is portrayed in the past to the present. For instance, Jezebel's grandniece is Dido, queen of Carthage, who in Virgil's Aeneid throws herself into the funeral pryre when she finds out that Aeneas had abandoned her. We also learn that Jezebel's Phoenician name is transformed into Isabella, which means lover of Baal. Therefore, this novel reveals the true story of the Bible's most hated queen. Read this book, and you will never see Jezebel in the same light again.

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars


Sunday, August 11, 2013

Empress: A Novel by Evelyn McCune: A Book Review

Empress: A Novel
Author: McCune, Evelyn
Genre: Historical Fiction
Release Date: 1994
Pages: 500
Publisher: Ballantine Books
Source: Personal Collection
Synopsis: Young Jao is a tomboyish thirteen, the culturally insignificant second daughter of a nobleman's second wife, when she is summoned to the imperial palace as one of the Emperor's new concubines. Jao's straightforward ways and logic, her innocence, and her beauty earn her the great warrior Emperor Taitsung's respect, attention, and finally, his love. But his death finds her banished to a convent until his son, Emperor Kaotsung, realizes his passion for Jao. Recalled to the palace, Jao discovers a place so entrenched in enmity and malice that she is forced to fight for power and just rule.

     Sweeping through exotic, turbulent seventh-century China, Empress is the captivating epic of one extraordinary woman who would become the only female emperor in all of China's history. The story of Wu Jao, set against the backdrop of medieval China, reveals not only an age of horrifying barbarism, daring treachery, and precarious power, but also an eternal culture of sophistication and enlightenment.


      My Review: This historical fiction novel about China's only female emperor is filled with romance, betrayal, and court intrigue. The story starts off as Jao, a young 13 year old, leaves to become the concubine of the Chinese Emperor. When she arrives, she is thrust into a position in which she and the other concubines are rivals for the Emperor's attention. Wu Jao use her intelligence, her beauty, honesty, and virtues to embark on a quest for power. When the Emperor dies, Jao is forced to live as a Buddhist nun for the rest of her life. However, her fate changes when the new Emperor realizes his love for Jao and sends her back to the palace. She competes for the title of Empress to the new Emperor. Eventually, she rises to become China's only female Emperor.

     Before I read this book, I didn't know much about Chinese history. However, this novel gives a great introduction into the Chinese Medieval era. Because McCune writes vivid details of Imperial China, I felt as if I was walking alongside Jao (Emperor Wu). This book is also filled with Chinese customs, beliefs, and philosophy. It also discussed medieval Chinese politics that were later important to Emperor Wu's reign. I liked how McCune was very sympathetic to Emperor Wu. History has not been kind to China's only female emperor. Instead, she is criticized for being a ruthless power hungry schemer who plots to get rid of her rivals in order to become Emperor. McCune however, paints Jao as a victim rather than a cold-blooded murderer. It is others around her that are plotting to destroy her, and she must act to ensure her survival.

     Overall, this book is a great account for those who are interested in Chinese history. McCune is very sympathetic to  Wu Jao, and tries to justify her actions through her novel. McCune makes the readers want to learn about Emperor Wu Jao and Medieval China. This book is a little slow when Jao is Emperor, but it is still interesting to read about her reign. This novel is full of treachery, betrayal, court intrigue, and romance. Most of all, it is about an insignificant girl's journey who rises from her humble origins to become the most powerful person in China. Wu Jao's story is remarkable and astounding. This book will surely delight fans of Philippa Gregory and historical fiction lovers.

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Eleanor of Aquitaine: A Life by Alison Weir: A Book Review

Eleanor of Aquitaine: A Life
Author: Weir, Alison
Genre: Nonfiction, Biography, History
Release Date: 1999
Pages: 441
Publisher: Ballantine Books
Source: Personal Collection
Synopsis: Renowned in her time for being the most beautiful woman in Europe, the wife of two kings and the mother of three, Eleanor of Aquitaine was one of the great heroines of the Middle Ages. At a time when women were regarded as little more than chattel, Eleanor managed to defy convention as she exercised power in the political sphere and crucial influence over her husbands and sons. In this beautifully written biography, Alison Weir paints a vibrant portrait of this truly exceptional woman, and provides new insights into her intimate world. Eleanor of Aquitaine lived a long life of many contrasts, of splendor and desolation, power and peril, and in this stunning narrative, Weir captures the woman--the queen--in all her glory. With astonishing historical detail, mesmerizing pageantry, and irresistible accounts of  royal scandal and intrigue, she re-creates not only a remarkable personality but a magnificent past era.

      My Review: Eleanor of Aquitaine is one of the most influential woman in the Middle Ages. Because of her influence, she has been the symbol of romanticism for centuries. Eleanor defied the standard conventions of her time by her living her life as she pleased. She becomes duchess to wealthiest kingdom in France, queen to both France and England, and queen mother to Richard the Lionheart, known in literature as the hero, and King John, who has been depicted in literature as a villain. Eleanor was also known as a warrior queen accompanying her husband, King Louis VII of France, in the Second Crusade.


     Weir's biography of Eleanor is very sympathetic. It is clear that is passionate about Eleanor. She is portrayed as strong-willed, intelligent, captivating, ambitious, and sometimes ruthless. Because of her influence over her weak-willed and saintly husband, King Louis VII of France, she criticized by men to be a Devil's pawn and a femme fatale.

      Weir captivates the reader about life in the medieval times. She captures the medieval people's beliefs on curses and superstitions so vividly that it seemed as if the medieval era was alive once again. She paints the romanticism of the era and of the courtly love of the troubadours with colorful flair.

     In her biography, we get meet the famous idealistic Abelard, who is known in history for his ill-fated romance with his pupil, Heloise. We get to meet the charismatic Saint Bernard, whose monkish image captured the fascination of people in medieval times. We also get to meet the saintly Thomas Becket, who because he chose God over the king was brutally murdered by King Henry II of England. Weir also takes the reader from France to Jerusalem and to England. She portrays the start of the Second Crusade with pageantry and flair that filled the crusaders with hope, valor, and courage only to turn out that the crusade proved to be a suicide mission and a drastic failure.

     Overall, Weir's biography of Eleanor of Aquitaine shows her as a strong-willed woman in a turbulent era. In a world where women were supposed to be subordinate to men, Eleanor would not be ruled by any man. She was a woman that made her own decisions and gained the influence with both her husbands and her sons. This novel is filled with romance, betrayal, court intrigue, and danger. Eleanor of Aquitaine deserves attention and study for it she that changed England dramatically.

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars


   

   

Friday, August 9, 2013

The Queen's Vow: A Novel of Isabella of Castile by C. W. Gortner: A Book Review

The Queen's Vow: A Novel of Isabella of Castile Author: Gortner, C.W. Genre: Historical Fiction Release Date: June 12, 2012 Pages: 400 Publisher: Ballantine Books
Source: Personal Collection
Synopsis: "No one believed I was destined for greatness.”

So begins Isabella’s story, in this evocative, vividly imagined novel about one of history’s most famous and controversial queens—the warrior who united a fractured country, the champion of the faith whose reign gave rise to the Inquisition, and the visionary who sent Columbus to discover a New World. Acclaimed author C. W. Gortner envisages the turbulent early years of a woman whose mythic rise to power would go on to transform a monarchy, a nation, and the world. Young Isabella is barely a teenager when she and her brother are taken from their mother’s home to live under the watchful eye of their half-brother, King Enrique, and his sultry, conniving queen. There, Isabella is thrust into danger when she becomes an unwitting pawn in a plot to dethrone Enrique. Suspected of treason and held captive, she treads a perilous path, torn between loyalties, until at age seventeen she suddenly finds herself heiress of Castile, the largest kingdom in Spain. Plunged into a deadly conflict to secure her crown, she is determined to wed the one man she loves yet who is forbidden to her—Fernando, prince of Aragon. As they unite their two realms under “one crown, one country, one faith,” Isabella and Fernando face an impoverished Spain beset by enemies. With the future of her throne at stake, Isabella resists the zealous demands of the inquisitor Torquemada even as she is seduced by the dreams of an enigmatic navigator named Columbus. But when the Moors of the southern domain of Granada declare war, a violent, treacherous battle against an ancient adversary erupts, one that will test all of Isabella’s resolve, her courage, and her tenacious belief in her destiny. From the glorious palaces of Segovia to the battlefields of Granada and the intrigue-laden gardens of Seville, The Queen’s Vow sweeps us into the tumultuous forging of a nation and the complex, fascinating heart of the woman who overcame all odds to become Isabella of Castile. My Review: Queen Isabella is a fascinating sovereign queen of Spain in her own right. She is famous in history for sponsoring Christopher Columbus's expeditions to America, but she was also known for uniting a divided Spanish kingdom. She is often criticized for starting the Spanish Inquisition and for her violent crusade in driving the Muslims out of Granada. Gortner's biographical novel is told in first person by Queen Isabella herself. The author portrays the Spanish queen as both a human woman that is plagued by her inner conscience and her unrelenting faith. Gortner shows the motivations behind those actions that were criticized, starting from her early beginnings as an impoverished princess of Castile. Queen Isabella is a woman that is driven by her faith in God. Her early life as a princess is a difficult one, a path filled with danger at every turn. In the beginning of the novel, her life as a princess of Castile is shattered when her father dies, and her half-brother, Enrique IV, becomes King of Castile. She, along with her mother and younger brother, Alfonso, are forced to live in poverty and are barely acknowledged by her half-brother, the king. However, danger comes to both Isabella's and Alfonso's front door when a group of power hungry noblemen want to rebel against King Enrique and install Alfonso as king in his stead. Isabella finds herself in a dangerous situation, and must make the ultimate choice to be loyal to King Enrinque or Alfonso, whom she had always looked after. Isabella is a brave and intelligent woman. She chooses to be loyal to her king and country because she believes that it is God's will. However, King Enrique IV does not trust her, and instead tries to undermine Isabella's influence by using her as his pawn. He prevents her to marry her love, Prince Ferdinand of Aragon, and threatens to take away her succession to the Castilian crown. In order for Isabella to get both her kingdom and her prince, she must use her intelligence, her courage, and her unyielding faith in God. I was fascinated with Gortner's novel of Isabella. Isabella is a woman who believes that because God has granted her many gifts, her kingdom and her prince, tries to please God and to be His devoted servant in return for what God has done for her. Isabella was a woman of the early Renaissance era. Therefore, she followed the Catholic Church's doctrines and preachings that only Christians are granted entry into the kingdom of Heaven. Because of the Church's philosophy, Isabella believes that to be a true servant of God, she must purify Spain. To do that, she believes that she had to convert the Jews and drive the Muslims out of Spain. Overall, the author writes an in-depth psyche about Isabella and her actions. Isabella is a strong and complex woman whose actions are driven by a desire to do God's will. This novel is filled with court intrigue, suspense, and romance. This book will appeal to fans of Phillippa Gregory. Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

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


Thursday, August 8, 2013

Home

     Hello, and welcome to my blog!

      Most of history is told from a male's perspective. My intent of this blog is to show history from a different perspective, a woman's. These books that I am going to review are about women in historical eras. These are both nonfiction and fiction and can fit into any genre: historical, YA, mystery, fantasy, etc.

     It took me a week to create this blog. I would like to thank my parents for helping me and for their encouragement.

     I would also like to thank my friend and computer wiz, Allen, for putting this blog up on the website. Without his help, this blog would most likely not be up right now for I do not understand computer software. I greatly appreciate his availability and kindness to help me.

     Last, but not least, I would like to thank those who visited my website. So enjoy my blog! I'll be updating consistently! :)