Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Revolutionary Hearts by Pema Donyo: A Book Review

Revolutionary Hearts
Author: Pema Donyo
Genre: Historical fiction, Romance
Publisher: Crimson Romance
Release Date: 2015
Pages: 112
Source: This book was given to me by the author in exchange for an honest review.
Synopsis: Parineeta Singh has always known her purpose in life: to help exact revenge on the invading British and free India. She becomes a maid for General Carton in order to supply information to her brother's Indian revolutionary group. But when her employer is exposed as an American spy, she agrees to help him escape the British Raj. 

     She did not agree to lose her heart. 

     To complete his mission, Carton - aka undercover operative Warren Khan - must hide both his true objective and his part-Indian heritage. But once he meets the captivating Parineeta, who holds the key to both his freedom and capturing her brother, a suspected anarchist, he finds the subterfuge more difficult than anticipated. 

     Navigating between the lavish social circles of the British elite and the dense jungles of 1920s India on the brink of the country's revolution, the two must find a way to protect both their lives and their love. 

     My review: In order to help aid the revolutionaries cause of India’s independence, Parineeta agrees to spy on the British General, Carton by initially becoming his maid. Carton, humored by Parineeta’s outspokenness, decides to make her his assistant. However, Carton is actually an imposter and an American spy. When his charade is found and is being pursued by the British soldiers for treason, he bargains with Parineeta to help him get to Lucknow so he can escape to America safely and she in turn he will give her the information that will help aid the revolutionary cause. However, as they journey through Lucknow, they not only found themselves swept into the midst of the of the revolution, but also they didn’t plan on falling in love. 

     If it wasn’t for Parineeta, Carton would not have lasted long. Taken by her bluntness, Carton decides to make her his assistant and asks her to help with his escape. Parineeta is smart and resourceful for she not only knows how to get there, but she also knows how to survive. She knows how to build a fire, a skill that Carton lacks. She also has a plan to help them get to Lucknow, so that they would not have to walk on foot. She is also passionate for she supports India’s independence, and willing to do anything to make that happen. However, Parineeta is very vulnerable. She is half-white, and half-Indian, yet she feels that she doesn’t belong anywhere. She feels like she doesn’t have an identity. She is sad that nobody wants her because of her skin color, for she is too dark for a British soldier and too light for an Indian man. Yet, when she meets Carton, who looks at her as an equal, she is astounded, but at the same time she is afraid to fall in love with him for fear of being abandoned. 

     Carton, though he has many secrets, is really a kind man. He treats others with respect. While he focuses on escaping back to America, he becomes friends with Parineeta. He sympathizes with her and her cause. However, he is afraid to fall in love with her because he is trying to leave India, and thereby abandon her.

     Overall, this book is about secrets, friendship, family, romance, choices, and the love for one’s country. It is also a quest of searching for one’s identity and a sense of belonging. The book was very well-written. The setting of the Indian background was beautiful, and the author made the politics that was heavily discussed in this book very comprehensible to the reader. The characters are very complex. I recommend this story to anyone that is looking for a fast-paced action story with a strong romantic tension between the two leads.

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Monday, June 29, 2015

The Defiant Bride by Leslie Hachtel: A Book Review

The Defiant Bride
Author: Leslie Hachtel
Genre: Historical fiction, Romance
Publisher: CreateSpace
Release Date: 2015
Pages: 178
Source: This book was given to me by the author in exchange for an honest review.
Synopsis: Furious at being used as a political pawn, the Lady Dariana defies King Henry VII by faking her own death to avoid marrying a man she has never met. Praying the king will not retaliate against her father, she seeks refuge in the forest and learns to fend for herself. When William, a warrior knight, is felled by an arrow, she saves his life and arranges his rescue before fleeing to avoid discovery. 

     William awakes from his injury to be told he imagined the beautiful woman in the forest. Besotted and determined to make her his own, he hunts her down and tricks her into marrying him, intent on turning her defiance into love. But even as he begins to succeed, their enemies join forces to end the marriage—even if it means that Dariana must die. 

     When Dariana is abducted, William must track her down to fight for her life and their happiness. And, Dariana, once the most defiant of brides, must channel her own strength of will into survival, both for herself—and for the child she now carries. 

      My review: When King Henry VII orders Dariana to wed a Spanish nobleman, Dariana defies the king and her father by faking her own death to avoid leaving England and marry a man she has never met. Through the help of her friend, Lady Tamara, Dariana seeks refuge in the king’s forest and learns to survive on her own. A year later, William, a knight, is wounded by an arrow near where Dariana takes refuge.  Dariana saves him but not before William has catch sight of her. When William awakes from his injury, he remembers the woman who saved him and is determined to wed her as his bride. He finds out Dariana’s true identity, kidnaps her and marries her against her will. Can Dariana learn to forgive her husband and learn to love him?

     Dariana is a strong heroine. She is smart, spirited, stubborn and passionate. She wants to live a life of her own choosing, and she is determined to do whatever she can to have it. She loves her family and her friends, which is why she faked her death so they will not be traitors to the crown once the king learns she rebelled against him. It is obvious that she is a survivor for she has learned to live on her own in a forest for a year. She has a compassionate heart, for she wants to save the injured knight, and tries her best to save him. Even though she is attracted to William, she stubbornly refuses to give in to his will because of his swift way he has handled her. Dariana was not only a challenge to William, but also to the men around her in the story. Indeed her willfulness astounds them, for they are not used to strong-willed woman, and because of it, she has earned the admiration and respect from those around her.

     William is a traditional knight. He is arrogant, and is used to having things done his way. However, he is not a man without honor. He married her swiftly to help save Dariana’s and her family’s reputation because they are traitors to the crown. He waits patiently for Dariana to love her back. It is clear that he loves Dariana and is clearly devoted to her. He also has a deep love towards his sister. His sister is his confidant, and he wants her happiness.

     The other supporting characters are well-developed, but one that strikes me is Henry VIII. I have read many books set in the Tudor era, and all that I have read do not portray Henry in a positive light. In this book, Henry is just like Theseus, the Duke of Athens in A Midsummer Night’s Dream. He is young and handsome. He is a king that is loyal to his friends. He is also merciful. He is the problem-solver that gives a happy solution to William and Dariana. He is also like King Arthur, for reign seems to be portrayed as joyful and hopeful. However, the book warns us that while things may be like that for now, kings may change.

     Overall, the book is about family, love, friendship, trust, and hope. The story is filled with intrigue, romance, and suspense. The story has a bit of mystery for it has the question: who shot William and why? The romantic scenes are very repetitious and occasionally boring, but the plot moves along quickly with action-packed scenes. The heroine is definitely not a damsel in distress, and we applaud her triumph as she overcomes every obstacles. The message of this book is that love conquers all and to never give up. I recommend this story to not only fans of historical fiction or romance alike, but to anyone who is looking for a light-hearted and a fairy-tale like story with a happily ever after.

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Sunday, June 28, 2015

The Settling Earth by Rebecca Burns and Shelly Davies: A Book Review

The Settling Earth
Author: Rebecca Burns and Shelly Davies
Genre: Historical fiction, Short Stories
Publisher: Odyssey Books
Release Date: 2014
Pages: 128
Source: Netgalley/Publisher in exchange for an honest review.
Synopsis: Marriage transplants Sarah thousands of miles from home; a failed love affair forces Phoebe to make drastic choices in a new environment; a sudden, shocking discovery brings Mrs Ellis to reconsider her life as an emigrant-The Settling Earth is a collection of ten, interlinked stories, focusing on the British settler experience in colonial New Zealand, and the settlers' attempts to make sense of life in a strange new land. Sacrifices, conflict, a growing love for the landscape, a recognition of the succour offered by New Zealand to Maori and settler communities-these are themes explored in the book. The final story in the collection, written by Shelly Davies of the Ngātiwai tribe, adds a Maori perspective to the experience of British settlement in their land.

      My review: The Settling Earth is a collection of short stories about the daily lives of colonial British settlers in New Zealand. The stories are told from the viewpoint of ten characters, as they go through their personal problems and how they are confronted by their secrets. Most of the people in the story are from the viewpoints of women, with a little from the men’s side. While most of the characters are British, the last character is a Maori that works on a farm. The short stories are all connected with one another, and each of them must learn to cope with living in New Zealand.

     The short stories are beautifully told. The main message in the novel is that even though women lived far away from Britain, they are not treated with respect to men. Women are very powerless. This evident by the way that the women have been treated. Sarah’s husband views her as nothing but property and often neglects her and doesn’t bother to care about her. One husband abuses his stepdaughter. The viewpoints from the male colonial settlers are portrayed negatively.  While they don’t respect their women, they also don’t respect anyone but themselves. They are arrogant, selfish, and cruel. However, one man is portrayed in a positive light, and that is the Maori. He is mostly looked down upon, and he witnesses the difference between his culture and the foreign one. He feels hates how the foreigners treat their women and the land.

    Overall, the story is about how a group of people cope by living far from their homeland. It is also about choices and sacrifice. while there are dark stories, there are also stories of hope, redemption, and the blossoming of friendship. The writing is very beautiful and the setting is well-developed. Sometimes I wish that the stories was longer because they always ended in cliffhangers. I recommend these to anyone, who is interested in learning about the early colonial settlement of New Zealand, or looking for a good short story to read.

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Princess of Thorns by Stacey Jay: A Book Review

Princess of Thorns
Author: Stacey Jay
Genre: YA, Fantasy
Publisher: Delacorte Press
Release Date: 2014
Pages: 400
Source: Netgalley/Publisher in exchange for an honest review.
Synopsis: Game of Thrones meets the Grimm’s fairy tales in this twisted, fast-paced romantic fantasy-adventure about Sleeping Beauty’s daughter, a warrior princess who must fight to reclaim her throne.

  It’s been ten years since Princess Aurora’s mother, the Sleeping Beauty, sacrificed her life to give her daughter her magical powers. Aurora knows that magic is never free. The price for hers is that she will never know romantic love. 

     Prince Niklaas is living on borrowed time. Unless he is able to convince a princess to marry him before his eighteenth birthday, he will meet the same terrible fate as his ten older brothers.

     When Niklaas and Aurora meet under unusual circumstances, they must race to prevent the fulfillment of an ogre prophecy foretelling the end of human life. But will they be able to break their curses?

My review: The story is a mashed-up fantasy story based off of the original fairy-tales. The hero of this story is Sleeping Beauty’s daughter, Aurora, who through her mother’s sacrifice, is gifted with strength and skill in combat so she can reclaim her kingdom that was stolen from her by the evil ogre queen, Ekeeta, and rescue her brother, who is held prisoner. In order to accomplish her task and to keep her identity hidden, Aurora disguises herself as a boy. Along the way she meets, Nicklaas, a prince from a neighboring kingdom, who is hoping to marry Princess Aurora to save himself from a terrible fate. Not realizing that she is the princess he is looking for, he becomes her companion hoping that she will lead him to Aurora, not really knowing what he is really bargaining for. Will the two of them be able to defeat the ogre queen and help save the kingdom? Or, most importantly, can the two of them be able to love another and trust each other once their lies are revealed?

This story is told through the eyes of Aurora, Niklaas, and with a little bit of the villain, Ekeeta. Aurora is both blessed and cursed. Aurora is strong, yet at the same time she is vulnerable. She is stubborn, loving, merciful, passionate, and smart. She also has her faults; she can be manipulative, selfish, and downright ruthless. She is capable of doing the most cruelty in order to get what she wants, which is to save her brother, and later on Niklaas. Still this makes her human, and because she is spirited and witty, she is a lovable character. She makes mistakes and learns from them. At first, I didn’t like Niklaas for he was selfish, narcissistic, and arrogant. However, in the end, Niklaas grew on me. It turns out that he actually has a heart of gold. Niklaas is that way because his father hates him. Niklaas grows a lot throughout the book. He beings to care for others besides himself, and he becomes more mature and responsible. He is a great fit for Aurora.

The book mostly has no action until the ending of the book. The book involves them traveling trying to find an army that is willing to fight against the ogre queen. Throughout that time, it mostly focuses on the relationship between the two leads. However, the dialogue is funny and witty. Their relationship started as friendship, and soon began to care for one another. Two thirds of the book, it felt rushed. It felt like the author wanted to hurry up and end the story. It felt like their romance was forced, and I wished the author had written the story a bit longer, so that the romance felt more natural.

Overall, the story is about friendship, love, forgiveness, and redemption. The story is very slow-paced, and has a very predictable plot. There is no action until the last few pages of the book. Until then. the author’s pace is reminiscent of a long, scenic road trip. However, there is a lot of fun surprises along the way, including some encounters of our beloved fairy-tale characters. This is a fun, light-hearted story that will be sure to delight fairy-tale lovers.

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

Friday, June 26, 2015

Catherine the Great: Portrait of a Woman by Robert K. Massie: A Book Review

Catherine the Great: Portrait of a Woman
Author: Robert K. Massie
Genre: Nonfiction, Biography, History
Publisher: Random House
Release Date: 2012
Pages: 672
Source: Personal Collection
Synopsis: Pulitzer Prize winner Massie offers the tale of a princess who went to Russia at 14 and became one of the most powerful women in history. 

     Born into minor German nobility, she transformed herself into an empress by sheer determination. Possessing a brilliant, curious mind, she devoured the works of Enlightenment philosophers, and reaching the throne, tried using their principles to rule the vast, backward empire. She knew or corresponded with notable figures of her time: Voltaire, Diderot, Frederick the Great, Maria Theresa of Austria, Marie Antoinette & John Paul Jones. 

     Wanting to be the “benevolent despot” Montesquieu idealized, she contended with the deeply ingrained realities of Russian life, including serfdom. She persevered, and for 34 years the government, foreign policy, cultural development and welfare of the Russian people were in her hands. She dealt with domestic rebellion, wars & the tides of political change and violence inspired by the French Revolution. Her reputation depended on the perspective of the speaker. She was praised by Voltaire as like the classical philosophers. She was condemned by enemies, mostly foreign, as “the Messalina of the north.” 

     Her family, friends, ministers, generals, lovers and enemies are vividly described. These included her ambitious, scheming mother; her weak, bullying husband, Peter (who left her sexually untouched for nine years after their marriage); her unhappy son & heir, Paul; her beloved grandchildren; and her favorites — the young men from whom she sought companionship and the recapture of youth as well as sex. Here, too, is Gregory Potemkin, her most significant lover & possible husband, with whom she shared a correspondence of love & separation, followed by 17 years of unparalleled mutual achievement. 

     All the qualities that Massie brought to Nicholas & Alexandra and Peter the Great are present: historical accuracy, deep understanding, felicity of style, mastery of detail, ability to shatter myth & a genius for finding and expressing a human drama. 

     My review: Catherine the Great was Russia’s longest reigning female ruler. The fact that she did not inherit Russian by birth because she was of German descent makes her story all the more fascinating. She helped modernize Russia. After her reign, her son Paul made a law that a woman could not inherit the throne.

     This biography of Catherine the Great is very intimate. It tells the tribulations and faults for Catherine, but at the same time is very sympathetic. The biography portrays her to be intelligent, and a capable ruler, but while she made many accomplishments, she was a very lonely woman. Her personal life was very unhappy with her strained relationship with her son Paul, which is the reason why she had many lovers to help satisfy her loneliness.

     Catherine was an insignificant German princess, who was given a chance to marry the tsarevich of Russia. She took it. However, her life with Peter was not happy and for many years she could not bear a son. Finally, she bore one, which the author suggests it is most likely illegitimate, and Catherine’s position was secure. Because she was politically savvy, she realized that the military was a powerful ally and with their help she was able to construct a coup d'etat and became the ruler of Russia herself.

     This book is constructed into two parts, her life till she became queen, and her reign. While in her reign the author mentions her accomplishments, he also mentions her faults. For instance, she was more for the nobility than the peasants. This was comprehensible for it was in chronological order and it helped depict an intimate portrait of the queen, whom we could empathize with.

     The writing was very engaging and it helped answered some questions about Catherine the Great. It also debunks the popular myths of Catherine the Great. While the book is long, it didn’t really feel long. Instead, it was a quick read, and I found myself wanting it to not end. I would greatly love to reread the book again.

     Overall, this is a very intimate depiction of the queen. It gives us a glimpse into the personal life of Catherine the Great. It is clear that the biographer loves his subject. The book is very comprehensible to the reader, and the writing is very engaging and reads like a soap opera. There is betrayal, scandal, and drama, yet at the heart it is about a woman who was able to rise against the odds to become a strong and capable ruler in her own right. I recommend it those who are interested in learning about Catherine the Great, for it shows her in a very sympathetic light.

Rating 5 out of 5 stars

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Victoria: A Life by A.N. Wilson: A Book Review

Victoria: A Life
Author: A.N. Wilson
Genre: Nonfiction, Biography, History
Publisher: Penguin Press
Release Date: 2014
Pages: 656
Source: My State Public Library
Synopsis: When Queen Victoria died in 1901, she had ruled for nearly sixty-four years. She was a mother of nine and grandmother of forty-two and the matriarch of royal Europe through her children’s marriages. To many, Queen Victoria is a ruler shrouded in myth and mystique, an aging, stiff widow paraded as the figurehead to an all-male imperial enterprise. But in truth, Britain’s longest-reigning monarch was one of the most passionate, expressive, humorous and unconventional women who ever lived, and the story of her life continues to fascinate.
A. N. Wilson’s exhaustively researched and definitive biography includes a wealth of new material from previously unseen sources to show us Queen Victoria as she’s never been seen before. Wilson explores the curious set of circumstances that led to Victoria’s coronation, her strange and isolated childhood, her passionate marriage to Prince Albert and his pivotal influence even after death and her widowhood and subsequent intimate friendship with her Highland servant John Brown, all set against the backdrop of this momentous epoch in Britain’s history—and the world’s.
Born at the very moment of the expansion of British political and commercial power across the globe, Victoria went on to chart a unique course for her country even as she became the matriarch of nearly every great dynasty of Europe. Her destiny was thus interwoven with those of millions of people—not just in Europe but in the ever-expanding empire that Britain was becoming throughout the nineteenth century. The famed queen had a face that adorned postage stamps, banners, statues and busts all over the known world.

     Wilson’s Victoria is a towering achievement, a masterpiece of biography by a writer at the height of his powers.

     My review: Queen Victoria is Britain’s longest reigning monarch. Her reign symbolized the expansion of the British empire and gave her the title Empress of India. Also events in her reign included but were not limited to The Great Exhibition, Jack the Ripper, Charles Darwin’s Theory of Evolution, and the popularity of Sherlock Holmes made the Victorian era seem captivating and alluring. Queen Victoria’s era made people interested in learning about the monarch more in detail.

     While Victoria’s reign is really interesting, this book was not. This book was very dry and read like a college textbook. The book was so boring that instead of reading it during the daytime, I read it in bed at nighttime and it helped put me to sleep really fast. The 656 pages seemed like forever, and by page 100 I was really bored and disappointed. I picked this book because I wanted to learn more about Queen Victoria because she has always been a mysterious figure to me because of how popular culture has portrayed her.

      This book did not do the queen justice. This book is not really about her, but that of her prime ministers, Melbourne, Peel, Palmerston, and Disraeli. This book focused more on the politics of her reign rather than on Victoria herself. Much of Victoria’s personal life was glossed over, and seemed like a mere footnote. After reading the book, I felt that I did not know Victoria, and that the book did not give me any new details that I didn’t already know about the Victorian era. Most of the accomplishments, like the Great Exhibition, were only given mention for a few pages. Also, the personal relationship between Albert and Victoria was not discussed much in the book, only talking about Albert’s taking over politics while Victoria was mostly busy with childbearing. This biography mostly showed Victoria’s faults and criticisms rather than her good qualities. I believe that the biographer should have featured a balance of both.

     I also didn’t like how the book was structured. I don’t think this biography was well organized. It was not in chronological order, and jumped many times all over the place. It was not neat and it was not comprehensible to the reader. Many times I had to reread the page or the paragraph to understand what was going on. 

     Overall, I was very disappointed in this biography. The book was dry, disorganized, and really did not give a good portrait of Queen Victoria. He did not really answer the questions about Victoria very well, like the queen's dislike of John Conroy and her relationship with John Brown. This to me was very poorly written. And because the biographer had access to many materials that other biographers didn’t, I feel that this should have been a better biography and to have new groundbreaking material. Sadly, there was nothing new and it was basically a rehash of information about the Victorian era. This book is not comprehensible to the general reader. The reader has to know a certain knowledge of the Victorian era to understand this book. For those who are interested in learning about the politics of the Victorian era, this would be a good book for you. For those who are interested in learning about Victoria herself and her accomplishments, skip this biography and read other biographies about her instead. I recommend Victoria R.I by Elizabeth Longford or Lytton Strachey’s Queen Victoria.

Rating: 2 ½  out of 5 stars 

Here the author's talks about his book, Victoria: A Life: