Review: The Boleyn King by Laura Andersen

boleynkingTitle: The Boleyn King
Author: Laura Andersen
Published: May 14th 2013 (expected publication)
Publisher: Ballantine Books
Pages: 368
ISBN: 0345534093
Source: Netgalley

Synopsis
Laura Andersen brings us the first book in an enthralling trilogy set in the dramatic, turbulent, world-altering years of Tudor England. What if Anne did not miscarry her son in January 1536, but instead gave birth to a healthy royal boy? Perfect for fans of Philippa Gregory and Allison Weir.

Henry IX, known as William, is a 17-year-old king struggling at the restraints of the regency and anxious to prove himself. With the French threatening battle and the Catholics plotting at home, Will trusts only three people: his older sister, Elizabeth; his best friend and loyal counselor, Dominic; and Minuette, a young orphan raised as a royal ward by Anne Boleyn. Against an undercurrent of secret documents, conflicting intelligence operations, and private murder, William fights a foreign war and domestic rebellion with equal resolve. But when he and Dominic both fall in love with Minuette, romantic obsession menaces a new generation of Tudors. Battlefields and council chambers, trials and executions, the blindness of first love and the betrayal of true friendship…How far will William go to get what he wants? Who will pay the price for a king’s revenge? And what twists of fate will set Elizabeth on the path to her destiny as England’s queen?

Review
What if one important historical event hadn’t happened, or had turned out differently. What would the world look like then? These are fun things to speculate about, and this is exactly what The Boleyn King is all about. The story starts off on the premise that Anne Boleyn didn’t miscarry her second child, but had a healthy son instead. Because of this Henry VIII never had her executed and he remained married to her until his death. Their son Henry IX, who goes by William, became King at the tender age of 10, and this book follows his story starting when William is 17 years old. His uncle George Boleyn, Lord Rochford, is Lord Protector of the realm until William comes of age.

Life as a boy King is sometimes hard on William and he is wary of people in general. The only people he really trusts are his sister Elizabeth, his best friend Dominic, and Minuette, Elizabeth’s lady in waiting who happened to have been born on the same day as William.

This story is extremely well written and well researched, which you can tell by the in-depth way in which certain historical aspects have been changed. Many things in this alternate reality, if you will, are different, though certain historical aspects haven’t changed. The tension between the Catholic and Protestant nations of Europe is still there, England is facing difficulties with France and Spain, and Mary Queen of Scots is starting to pose a threat as well. And then there are difficulties within the Kingdom as well. Mary Tudor, who still considers her father’s marriage to Anne Boleyn to be invalid, refuses to make an appearance at court and goes out of her way not to be in the vicinity of Queen Anne, who she refers to as ‘that woman’.

The story switches between narrator quite often, though most of it is told from either Minuette’s or Elizabeth’s perspective, and a few times from Dominic’s perspective as well. Although the reader is never notified of this switch in the narrative it is always easy enough to pick up on, because the writing is very clear. Even though the novel is supposedly about William, it actually focuses a lot more on courtly life and the people closest to him. A great deal of the novel is focues on Minuette and her position at court, and also on Elizabeth and the role she will play in the ruling of the Kingdom.

Even though the story often doesn’t focus directly on the way ruling a Kingdom at such a young age affects William, it does show how he has to deal with a multitude of conflicts both at home and abroad. He goes to war against France which ends in a triumph, and he even manages to win some of the cities back that were lost during the reign of his father. But at the same time he discovers a secret plot, with the help of Minuette, aiming to put Mary on the throne by claiming that William was born from an incestuous relationship between his mother and her brother George, and is therefore not the legitimate heir to the throne. And on top of that he also finds himself caught in a love triangle when both he and his best friend Dominic fall in love with Minuette.

The story ends at rather a strange moment when William proposes marriage to Minuette, but this is because it is the first part of a trilogy. So it ends on a real cliffhanger, which leaves the reader wanting more. I am definitely eagerly awaiting the second instalment!

This book was extremely difficult to put down and I finished most if it in one sitting. It’s a story that will appeal to any fan of historical fiction, and especially to people with a fondness for Tudor history.

My rating: heartheartheartheart

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Review: Defiant Heart by Marty Steere

The author, Marty Steere, kindly provided me with a copy of his book. 

Layout 1Title: Defiant Heart
Author: Marty Steere
Published: April 15th 2013 (expected publication)
Publisher: Penfield Publications
Pages: 382
ISBN13: 9780985401436
Source: Marty Steere

Synopsis
Two extraordinary characters. One unforgettable love story.

In the spring of 1941, young Jon Meyer’s family dies in a tragic accident, and he is sent to live in a small Indiana town. He arrives to find himself unwanted and shunned.

Mary Dahlgren is the mayor’s daughter. A pretty girl, she could have the pick of the boys in town, including Vernon King, the star of the vaunted high school basketball team. To the chagrin of her friends, though, Mary has always been more interested in books than boys. That is, until she meets Jon.

But Jon and Mary are kept apart through the efforts of Mary’s father, who perceives their relationship a threat to his political aspirations, and Vernon, to whom Jon is a rival for Mary’s affections. For months Jon is subjected to a painful ostracism. Then, just when the young man’s earnestness and perseverance begin to win over many of the townsfolk, and it appears that love may conquer all, tragedy strikes.

As the country is caught up in war, so too are the young lovers swept up in events beyond their control, leaving both fighting for their very lives. If, against the odds, they are to be together, each will need to find the strength, the courage and the resourcefulness that beat only in a defiant heart.

Review
I didn’t have any real expectations when I started reading this book, because to me it wasn’t quite clear what exactly it was going to be about. So two things could happen: I could either be left disappointed, or I could be in for a pleasant surprise. Fortunately for me it was the latter, because I really enjoyed this book. It tells the story of sixteen-year-old Jon who, after being the only one in his family to survive a disastrous accident, is sent to live with his grandmother, whom he has never met before, in the small town of Jackson, Indiana. While he’s trying to cope with the loss of his parents and brother he has to find his way in an unfamiliar town, all the while dealing with his grandmother who gives him the cold shoulder and prefers to acknowledge his existence as little as is humanly possible.

Soon after his not quite successful start at his new school things take a turn for the worse when word gets out that Jon is Jewish. It’s 1941 and as America is about to be sucked into WWII people are wary of Jews. Not only is he treated as a pariah at school, he also gets fired from his job at the local hardware store because of his religion. Luckily his life isn’t all bad, and by accident he meets Ben, a man of middle age who used to be in the army and whose hobby it is to fly his own private plane. He takes a liking to Jon and teaches him how to fly, something Jon appears to have a talent for.

Next to his flying lessons he also finds the time to fall in love with Mary, the mayor’s daughter. He explicitly forbids the two of them to be in contact with each other but in spite of this, Jon and Mary keep seeing each other. They manage to keep their relationship under wraps for a few months until things go very wrong.

Jon gets accused of a crime he didn’t commit, and Mary is severely wounded and ends up in a coma. Mary’s father, who is trying to make his big break in politics, doesn’t want to be associated with a crime involving a Jew, so rather than standing trial Jon is forced to enlist in the army. At only 17 years of age his life suddenly becomes a lot more interesting, but also a lot more dangerous. But the question is: will Jon and Mary find their way back to each other?

What I really liked about this book is that it’s not a typical romantic, and somewhat soppy love story. On the contrary, for the best part of the novel the relationship between Jon and Mary isn’t even a very prominent factor. You see a boy change into a man over the course of two years, and it is very interesting to see how he develops and keeps it together even in the most difficult of circumstances. Another thing that I liked is that Mary isn’t a stereotypical girl; she isn’t shallow or vain, she doesn’t really care about clothes or boys, but is very smart and hard working and is determined to make her own way in the world. She’s independent and free-thinking, and that’s what I like about her.

You can tell that this story is well researched because it’s very detailed, both with regards to the war and with regards to aviation. The characters are interesting and well developed, and once you get into the story it’s difficult to put down.

Marty Steere has managed to write a beautiful love story that even people like me who don’t like romantic novels will enjoy very much. I can recommend it to anyone who loves a good love story, a bit of mystery, and a fair amount of history.

My review:heartheartheartheart

Review: The Garden of my Imaan by Farhana Zia

17267943Title: The Garden of my Imaan
Author: Farhana Zia
Published: April 1st 2013 (today)
Publisher: Peachtree Publishers
Pages: Ebook (the hardcover is 192 pages)
ISBN: 1561456985
Source: Netgalley

Synopsis
Aliya already struggles with trying to fit in, feeling confident enough to talk to the cute boy or stand up to mean kids. The fact that she’s Muslim is just another thing to deal with. When Marwa, a Moroccan girl who shares her faith if not her culture, comes to Aliyas school, Aliya wonders even more about who she is, what she believes, and where she fits in. Should she fast for Ramadan? Should she wear the hijab? She’s old enough for both, but does she really want to call attention to herself?

Review
This book tells the story of Aliya, an Indian American girl of, I’m guessing, around 11 years old. She feels American through and through, just like her other school friends, but a few events that follow in quick succession make her begin to question her identity and where she stands in life. When she goes to Sunday school to learn about Islam she wears a headscarf and some of her friends there even wear the hijab, but during the rest of the week she doesn’t because her mother beliefs that modesty is not inherently linked to the covering of your hair. She doesn’t always fast during Ramadan either, because her parents believe her schoolwork will suffer if she doesn’t eat all day. Then a new girl arrives at her ‘normal’ school, a Moroccan girl called Marwa, and she wears the hijab. The headmistress asks Aliya to show her around and make her feel welcome, even though they’re not even in the same class. The reason why she asked Aliya and not another girl? Because she’s a Muslim too. Aliya doesn’t like the fact that she’s been singled out and made to feel different from her friends, because before Marwa’s arrival she was never regarded as “the Muslim girl”. At the same time she gets an assignment from her Sunday school to do a project about what Islam means to her, and she decides to keep a diary with letters addressed to Allah. In these letters she vents her frustration and misunderstanding of the world and the people around her, but after a while she finds that the manner of her writing begins to change, and her way of seeing the world begins to change for the better as well. She eventually befriends Marwa, and she shows Aliya that your identity and your religion is something to be proud of, and that it’s okay to be different. Marwa wears her hijab with pride and isn’t at all fazed by the comments people make about it. Many other things happen in Aliya’s life as well which I won’t go into because it’s too much to discuss here, but over the course of maybe 9 months you see the changes the young girl goes through and by the end she’s changed for the better. She no longer struggles with her identity as much, and she’s beginning to find her own way in the world.

I really enjoyed reading this book, especially because it’s written from a young girl’s perspective and I love the way children see the world. They don’t seem to care about different skin colours and religions unless it’s pointed out to them. And I think that this is what the author is trying to show, that being different is not a bad thing, in fact, it’s a good thing as long as people respect one another and allow other people to be themselves. I think it’s terribly important that children read books like this one, because if we want to create a respectful and understanding generation we need to start teaching them at an early age.

My rating: heartheartheartheart

Review: Roses Have Thorns: A Novel of Elizabeth I by Sandra Byrd

15763945Title: Roses Have Thorns: A Novel of Elizabeth I
Author: Sandra Byrd
Published: April 9th 2013 (expected publication)
Publisher: Howard Books
Pages: 352
ASIN: B008J4RQFG
Source: Netgalley

Synopsis
Like Philippa Gregory and Alison Weir, Sandra Byrd has attracted countless fans for evoking the complexity, grandeur, and brutality of the Tudor period. In her latest tour de force, she poses the question: What happens when serving a queen may cost you your marriage—or your life?

In 1565, seventeen-year-old Elin von Snakenborg leaves Sweden on a treacherous journey to England. Her fiancé has fallen in love with her sister and her dowry money has been gambled away, but ahead of her lies an adventure that will take her to the dizzying heights of Tudor power. Transformed through marriage into Helena, the Marchioness of Northampton, she becomes the highest-ranking woman in Elizabeth’s circle. But in a court that is surrounded by Catholic enemies who plot the queen’s downfall, Helena is forced to choose between her unyielding monarch and the husband she’s not sure she can trust—a choice that will provoke catastrophic consequences.

Vividly conjuring the years leading up to the beheading of Mary Queen of Scots, Roses Have Thorns is a brilliant exploration of treason, both to the realm and to the heart.

Review
I absolutely adore historical fiction, and Tudor court novels are by far my favourites. I’ve read so many by now that I could easily write my very own detailed book about the Tudor monarchs. So why do I keep reading them then? A very good question, and I think it’s mostly to do with the fact that I love history, and also I just love the descriptions of life at court which is just so complex and other-worldly when you look at it from our modern perspective. And even though I’ve read so much about Elizabeth I, it was really nice to read her life story from another person’s perspective. I think it’s odd that I had never heard of Elin (later called Helena) von Snakenborg, even though she was one of the women who was closest to the Queen for the majority of her adult life. Elin travels from the Swedish court to England at a young age and, at the prospect of marriage and becoming a true Englishwoman, she decides to stay at the English court rather than return to Sweden. The book follows her life through the years as she marries, becomes a widow, remarries below her status, has children and so on. Her life at court in service of Queen Elizabeth is a very prominent factor all through the book.

What I really liked about reading this story from Elin’s perspective is that at times you could see the more human side of Elizabeth, as a woman rather than a Queen. These moments never lasted long, but it made her personality all the more likeable and ‘real’, rather than the fantastic and almost mythical ways in which she is usually described in the history books. I really liked Elin as a character as well. She’s very kind and caring, and she must’ve been such a good friend and confidante to Elizabeth, which is why I don’t understand why she isn’t better known. There is almost no mention of her in most historical novels that I’ve read, and if she was mentioned it was probably so fleetingly that I can’t even remember it.

The first 2/3 of the book were absolutely amazing and I read most of that in the same day because I just couldn’t put it down. After that the story seemed to stall a bit and, in my opinion, it lingered a bit too long on the question of Mary Queen of Scots. But luckily the story picked up again after that and I was actually disappointed when the book was finished.

I really enjoyed this book from start to finish, and it was refreshing not only to read a familiar story from someone else’s perspective, but also from another author who was unknown to me before.

My rating:heartheartheart

Review: The Dervish by Frances Kazan

17401697Title: The Dervish
Author: Frances Kazan
Published: April 12th 2013 (expected publication)
Publisher: Opus Book Publishers
Pages: Ebook (the hardcover is 256 pages)
ISBN: 1623160049
Source: Netgalley

Synopsis
The first Arab Spring: revolution and passion seethe and erupt in this action-packed romance during the dying days of the Ottoman Empire. Kazan’s novel takes us intimately behind the veil, to see and experience the Ottoman world,to let us view, from the “other” side, how the cultural and political antagonisms between the Occident and the Orient of the past century look. There are no easy villains or heroes in this story. Only ardent, unforgettable characters.

An American war widow seeks emotional asylum with her sister at the American Consulate in Constantinople during the Allied occupation in 1919. Through a cross-stitched pattern of synchronicity Kazan’s heroine becomes a vital thread in the fate of Mustafa Kemal (later Ataturk) and his battle for his country’s freedom. Based on firsthand accounts of the Turkish nationalist resistance, THE DERVISH details the extraordinary events that culminated in 1923 with the creation of the Republic of Turkey.

THE DERVISH is the dramatic culmination of Kazan’s acclaimed novel Halide’s Gift, the story of two sisters bound by an extraordinary friendship, and torn apart by their love of radically different men. Translated into seven languages, the novel, according to Publishers Weekly, uncovers “an Islamic world on the brink of change [that] is carefully detailed and convincing.” (Goodreads)

Review:
I love books about Turkey, especially when they’re set in Istanbul, so this in itself was already a real treat for me. The second thing that I really loved about the book is that it taught me a lot about a period that I didn’t know very much about. Last year I wrote my thesis on the Arab Revolt, but I had no idea of all the things that went on in Turkey as the last remnants of the Ottoman Empire slowly crumbled, and what it took before an independent Turkish state could be created. Amidst all this turmoil the main character Mary, an American artist, travels to Istanbul to join her sister and brother-in-law there after her husband was killed during WWI. She settles in fairly quickly and is amazed and enchanted by the wonderful city of Istanbul. But soon after her arrival she witnesses an assassination of a young Turkish man by Allied troops, and before she knows it she’s actively involved in the Turkish Nationalist Movement.

What I liked about this novel and its main character is that this isn’t a story about someone who sets out to make a difference in the world, but rather about an ordinary person who, per chance, gets involved in some extraordinary events. When the situation calls for it she proves to be anything but ordinary, but rather a very determined and courageous young woman. While the rest of the Americans prefer to stay safe within the perimeters of the American Embassy, Mary chooses to go out by herself and observe the world around her. She doesn’t care much for Embassy parties and socialising with other Westerners, but prefers to make friends with the locals. She quickly becomes friends with some of the most prominent members of the Nationalist Movement, something she didn’t know about at first, and as the fight for self-governing begins to take flight she decides to stay and fight alongside them. In all this turmoil she even manages to find love, if only for a short time.

The Dervish is a beautifully written book about love, friendship, loyalty, and the fight for freedom. I would recommend it to anyone with a fondness for Turkey, the Middle East, or history in general.


My rating: heartheartheartheart

Coming Soon

My blogging powers have been at a low ebb this week, mainly because I’ve let myself be distracted by television way too much. At the moment I’m totally in love with the Classic Doctor Who series – I’m currently on the Fourth Doctor & Sarah Jane Smith – and I’ve discovered the ITV series Scott & Bailey which I absolutely adore, so that’s taken up most of my time.

However, I do have a lot of titles piled up to be read and reviewed. Most of them I’ve received through Netgalley, and a few from self-published authors. I can’t wait to read all of them 😀

I’m currently reading The Dervish by Frances Kazan, one of the books I requested on Netgalley. It’s set in Istanbul just after WWI and so far I’m really enjoying it!
17401697

And these are the other books that are to be read and reviewed soon:
15763945 15767359 16000331 16293347 17267943 Layout 1 john-a-heldt-the-journey boleynking

Review: Daughter of Jerusalem, A Novel of Mary Magdalene by Joan Wolf

16389838

I kindly received a review copy of this book through Netgalley

Title: Daughter of Jerusalem, A Novel of Mary Magdalene
Author: Joan Wolf
Published: April 16th 2013 (expected publication)
Publisher: Worthy Publishing
Pages: 320
ISBN: 1936034670
Source: Netgalley

Synopsis
“At the time of Christ, the spoken language was Aramaic. The characters in this book are supposedly speaking Aramaic. The book is a modern English translation of the language.It’s the story of Mary Magdalene. Part One: Mary meets her first love at age 14. Part Two: Mary meets Marcus, Part Three: Mary encounters Jesus.”

In Daughter of Jerusalem, readers will quickly identify with Mary Magdalene– a woman of deep faith who used her wealth and influence to serve Jesus. This fictionalized story of Mary Magdalene is, in the truest sense of the word, an inspirational novel for modern people who are looking to renew in themselves the message of Christ. It’s the greatest story ever lived, told by one of the most famous women who ever lived, and it’s a page-turner. Joan Wolf’s years of success as a novelist enable her to combine storytelling and a faith plot in this beautifully written biblical fiction.

My review
Even though I am not a religious person myself, I am very much interested in the various world religions and their origins. I also adore reading historical books, so I was definitely looking forward to reading this book. And I have to say I really enjoyed it. It may be surprising to hear that this isn’t an overly religious book, in spite of the fact that the main character is Mary Magdalene, and a large part of the book is focused on Jesus and everything he brought about. The way I see it, this is more a book describing the life of a young girl whose life took a few unexpected turns, and who happened to come into contact with an exceptional man. Throughout history, Mary has often been depicted rather negatively, which isn’t the case in this book. She’s described as being a kind, caring, and more than anything a very intelligent woman who was ahead of her time, and dared to think for herself and hold an opinion contrary to the masses. The fact that this book has a first person narrative, Mary’s, helps I think to establish her as a free thinking individual, and it makes her likeable. We see the world through her eyes, and it is very refreshing to see a few iconic events of this world through the eyes of a woman, rather than from a man’s perspective which is customary.

To what degree the story of her early life is accurate I couldn’t say, since I don’t know that much about Mary Magdalene and I had never read a book before that was specifically focused on her life’s story. But to me that didn’t really matter to be honest, because I found it a very interesting read and I know, like with any work of fiction that is based on real people and actual events, that you always need to take what’s been written with a grain of salt. The overall story will have many realistic elements, but many of the details will be either hearsay, or completely made up by the author to fill in the gaps and make the story coherent and interesting. And that’s okay, because it’s a work of fiction and not a text book. In my opinion there is nothing wrong with historical fiction containing some inaccuracies because there are a lot of things we simply don’t know, especially when the events described happened centuries ago, and there are things that just don’t work well and need to be altered or left out in order to make a story readable and coherent. Like I already said, it’s a work of fiction, and as long as that is made clear I see no problem with the author deviating from the facts.

I am torn between giving this 3.5 or 4 stars, but I’m leaning more towards giving the book 4 stars because it was a well written, obviously well researched and detailed story, and I enjoyed reading it very much.

My rating:heartheartheartheart

Review: The Mine (Northwest Passage #1) by John A. Heldt

The author of this book, John A. Heldt, kindly sent me a copy of this book and the second one in the series, which I will read and review soon. So a big thank you to Mr. Heldt, as his was the first review request I received for my blog!

TheMine1Title: The Mine (Northwest Passage #1)
Author: John A. Heldt
Published: February 12th 2012
Publisher: John A. Heldt
Pages: 285
ASIN: B0078S9B6G

Synopsis
In 2000, Joel Smith is a cocky, adventurous young man who sees the world as his playground. But when the college senior, days from graduation, enters an abandoned Montana mine, he discovers the price of reckless curiosity. He emerges in May 1941 with a cell phone he can’t use, money he can’t spend, and little but his wits to guide his way. Stuck in the age of Whirlaway, swing dancing, and a peacetime draft, Joel begins a new life as the nation drifts toward war. With the help of his 21-year-old trailblazing grandmother and her friends, he finds his place in a world he knew only from movies and books. But when an opportunity comes to return to the present, Joel must decide whether to leave his new love in the past or choose a course that will alter their lives forever. THE MINE follows a humbled man through a critical time in history as he adjusts to new surroundings and wrestles with the knowledge of things to come. (Amazon.com)

**This review contains minor spoilers**

Review
I have to admit that this is one of those books that took me by surprise. When asked if I wanted to review this book I thought the synopsis sounded reasonably interesting, but not like the kind of book I’d normally pick up myself. Still, at the beginning of the year I decided that I should broaden my horizons when it comes to the genres I read, so I felt that this was a good place to start. And I was about to be pleasantly surprised.

The story starts of in an intriguing manner, but I can’t say the first 15% (I read this on my Kindle) were terribly exciting, though interesting enough for me to want to continue. Joel, a 21 year old guy from Seattle, goes on a road trip to Montana with his friend Adam just a few weeks before graduation. When he goes off to inspect an abandoned mine just outside Helena, he mysteriously gets transported back to 1941. Even after Joel finds himself stranded in 1941 the story doesn’t pick up immediately. It is a slow burn, but so worth it in the end.

Joel decides to go to Seattle, where he hopes to find some sort of familiarity in a decade that is completely alien to him. The only problem is that a credit card and 21st century dollars won’t get him very far in 1941, which means he’s facing the rough life of the streets. After rescuing a complete stranger from a fight outside a bar, he befriends the young man, called Tom, and his life takes a turn for the better and he begins to make a life for himself. This isn’t your straightforward, predictable time travel story. The protagonist isn’t panicking about the fact that he’s stuck in another era, nor do you find him sobbing helplessly in a corner somewhere. He takes everything that happens to him in his stride, and tries to make the most out of the unique situation he’s found himself in. He makes friends, finds a job, and even manages to fall in love. For the best part of the story he isn’t even thinking about going home. He enjoys life in the early 40s, and regards everything with a sense of nostalgia the way only someone from the 21st century can (for more on Nostalgia mode I’d suggest reading Fredric Jameson). For this he occasionally needs to be grounded by his friends; war is looming after all, and everything is not as picturesque and idyllic as it seems.

Joel adapts well to life in the 40s, and when he’s faced with the opportunity to return to his own time he has an important and difficult decision to make: will he stay and make the most of his life, or will he go back home?

I will not give away the ending, but what I will say about it is that it took me by surprise. It is not what I had expected, but I do think that it was the best ending for the story. What I really liked is that Joel didn’t start questioning whether his life in the 40s had been real or not until the very end. He didn’t think he was dreaming, or that he was still lying in the mine in a comatose state or something like that. He really believed that he was there, and it wasn’t until the end of the story that he started doubting this.

I thoroughly enjoyed this story, and I would recommend it to anyone who wants to read a very refreshing and different take on a time travel story.

My rating: heartheartheartheart