Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Review: Wild Wood by Posie Graeme-Evans

Title:  Wild Wood

Publisher: 1st April 2015 by Simon & Schuster Australia
Pages: 464 pages
How I Read It: ARC ebook
Genre: historical fiction, cultural-Scotland
My Rating:  three cups


For fans of Diana Galbaldon’s Outlander series comes a gripping and passionate new historical novel. Intrigue, ancient secrets, fairy tales, and the glorious scenery of the Scottish borders drive the story of a woman who must find out who she really is.

Jesse Marley calls herself a realist; she’s all about the here and now. But in the month before Charles and Diana’s wedding in 1981 all her certainties are blown aside by events she cannot control. First she finds out she’s adopted. Then she’s run down by a motor bike. In a London hospital, unable to speak, she must use her left hand to write. But Jesse’s right-handed. And as if her fingers have a will of their own, she begins to draw places she’s never been, people from another time—a castle, a man in armor. And a woman’s face.

Rory Brandon, Jesse’s neurologist, is intrigued. Maybe his patient’s head trauma has brought out latent abilities. But wait. He knows the castle. He’s been there.

So begins an extraordinary journey across borders and beyond time, a chase that takes Jesse to Hundredfield, a Scottish stronghold built a thousand years ago by a brutal Norman warlord. What’s more, Jesse Marley holds the key to the castle’s secret and its sacred history. And Hundredfield, with its grim Keep, will help Jesse find her true lineage. But what does the legend of the Lady of the Forest have to do with her? That’s the question at the heart of Wild Wood. There are no accidents. There is only fate.

My thoughts:

Wild Wood appears an intriguing story of one family’s existence and their home through the ages. It is a story of dual timelines – present day 1981 with Jesse and 1321 at the Scottish Borderlands with Bayard.  As often happens with dual timelines, the shining grace of this story was the historical one – a dark and dramatic tale, illustrating that time period wonderfully well and clearly outshone the modern story.

The intriguing component comes from trying to discover the link between the present and past – what is the connection. ‘Hundredfield’ – not far from the border between Scotland and England is a hard and unforgiving home with many secrets hidden in its walls.

The modern tale found the characters lacking in depth and at times got a bit repetitive and odd. For example, Alicia (current Hundredfield owner) swung dramatically in her emotions and I found myself wanting to give Jesse a good shake and tell her to toughen up a bit. It was slow to unfold and the final twist was somewhat predictable. Unfortunately this leads to mixed emotions regarding the book as a whole – a good historical story partnered with a weak modern one.

The historical story of Bayard, was far more appealing. Although hardened through many battles, and being a younger son, he was endearing, caring and compassionate given the time. A definite highlight. To draw comparisons with the famous ‘Outlander’ series is real stretch – Scotland about the only tangible link. There is no time travel and the introduction of the folklore mysticism was never really explored which was a shame. The beginnings are there but never fully explained to entice the reader in further.

It was an average read, enjoyable but not captivating. It keeps you going because you want to understand Jesse’s connection to Hundredfield. With a bit of mystery and a bit of romance in both timelines, it is the good historical drama of Wild Wood that will see you through to the end.

This review is based on a complimentary copy from the publisher and provided through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. The quoted material may have changed in the final release.

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Review: Lone Star by Paullina Simons

Title:  Lone Star

Author: Paullina Simons
Publisher: 1st April 2015 by Harper Collins Australia
Pages: 627 pages
How I Read It: ARC ebook
Genre: historical fiction, romance, young adult
My Rating:  two cups


From the bestselling, acclaimed author of Tully and The Bronze Horseman comes the unforgettable love story between a college-bound young woman and a traveling troubadour on his way to war—a moving, compelling novel of love lost and found set against the stunning backdrop of Eastern Europe.

Chloe is just weeks away from heading off to college and starting a new life far from her home in Maine when she embarks on a great European adventure with her boyfriend and two best friends. Their destination is Barcelona, but first they must detour through the historic cities of Eastern Europe to keep an old family promise.

Here, in this fledgling post-Communist world, Chloe meets a charming American vagabond named Johnny, who carries a guitar, an easy smile—and a lifetime of secrets. From Treblinka to Trieste, from Karnikava to Krakow, from Vilnius to Venice, the unlikely band of friends and lovers traverse the old world on a train trip that becomes a treacherous journey into Europe’s and Johnny’s darkest past—a journey that jeopardizes Chloe’s plans for the future and all she ever thought she wanted.

But the lifelong bonds Chloe and her friends share are about to be put to the ultimate test—and whether or not they reach Barcelona, they can only be certain that their lives will never be the same again.

A sweeping, beautiful tale that mesmerizes and enchants, Lone Star will linger long in the memory once the final page is turned.

My thoughts:

Paullina Simons, you frustrate me so. Some books are absolute winners  (the first two books of her Bronze Horsemen trilogy were brilliant); a couple more Simons books that I read were not enjoyable reads. I thought to give it one more go. I wish I hadn’t. First, I think this book clearly needs to be labeled as ‘Young Adult’, because the bickering and tantrums really were far from pleasurable adult reading. It was childish. The first part of the novel is written from the main character, Chloe’s, point of view. Laying the foundations for this European ‘coming of age’ trip took forever. The first one hundred pages or more are really slow with the inclusion of so many mundane details given in excruciating proportions. For example, pages on why the mother changed her name to Chloe Divine.

In part two, the quartet make it to Europe and if you can see past their whining and teenage selfishness, the story takes an interesting turn when Johnny Rainbow comes on the scene. Their longed for pre-College trip to Barcelona, quickly dissolves into one of chaos in the first degree. I understand that it’s a coming of age novel and for that the focus really should have solely centred on Chloe. This is her story and the decisions she will make that shape her future:

“Chloe just wanted to know who she was. Not who she wanted to be. But who she actually was…..

“You think you can drift on the train from Spain to France not knowing where your next stop will be in the fervent hope that you’ll come closer to an answer to that most profound of human questions?”

“And what question is that, Mom?”
“Who you are, of course”.
Was there ever a mother more infuriatingly on point that her mother!”

Despite some flashes of the wonderful writing we know Simons capable of, I found Lone Star to be boring and tedious. The narrative is so long with so many irrelevant inclusions, that I even began to question her writing style. At one point I found it almost undecipherable! For example:

“When yesterday? … Yes yesterday….I don’t remember yesterday, it was today I said I’d wait…You said tomorrow…Yes. Today was tomorrow yesterday…..But you said you don’t remember yesterday….I meant today. When did you get here?.....Yesterday”.

Also, part two saw a change in writer’s point of view (POV). Suddenly we had passages from each of the four travelling adolescents and this made for a bit of confusion. Firstly, because for the first part of the book, the writing had me picturing them a certain way. Yet, when the author wrote for each of them, I struggled to match that with what I had initially pictured. For example, I pretty much tagged Blake as the ‘Jock’ but he proved me wrong:

“I just want to stumble around and be stunned by the whole thing. But I pretend to have a plan…..I want nothing. Truly. Except just to be”.

Secondly, the change in POV didn’t really work for me because these four friends, having planned the trip of a lifetime, were suddenly and constantly, at each other’s throats:

“And yet here we are, ladies and gentlemen, our dream vacation and no one’s talking to anyone”.

Thirdly, the change in POV also was difficult to follow because sometimes it was written in first person, then switched to second person and then finally third person, all within the turning of a page. I found myself often having to skip back to see who was talking about whom.

Finally Simons also uses this story as a platform to detail loads of information on the Holocaust. Obviously, without doubt very interesting, but alternately very hard to align with this desperate young adult angst each page confronted you with. Pages of information, especially on the village of Treblinka, were very interesting but at times felt like an information dump:

“In 1942 at the moment Hitler felt most invincible that he began his long-planned construction of the six death camps”.

Paullina Simons is a writer of epic proportions. If this tale had been edited and zoned in on the coming of age of one young girl, it would have been a worthy read. All up it felt that Simons tried to pull together too many characters, too many threads and the essence of it was lost in the wordy dialogue and information.

This review is based on a complimentary copy from the publisher and provided through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. The quoted material may have changed in the final release.

Monday, April 6, 2015

Review: Rebel Queen by Michelle Moran

Title:  Rebel Queen
Author: Michelle Moran
Publisher: 3rd March 2015 by Touchstone
Pages: 320 pages
How I Read It: ARC ebook
Genre: historical fiction, cultural-India, fiction-adult
My Rating:  four cups


From the internationally bestselling author of Nefertiti and Cleopatra’s Daughter comes the breathtaking story of Queen Lakshmi—India’s Joan of Arc—who against all odds defied the mighty British invasion to defend her beloved kingdom.

When the British Empire sets its sights on India in the mid-nineteenth century, it expects a quick and easy conquest. India is fractured and divided into kingdoms, each independent and wary of one another, seemingly no match for the might of the English. But when they arrive in the Kingdom of Jhansi, the British army is met with a surprising challenge.

Instead of surrendering, Queen Lakshmi raises two armies—one male and one female—and rides into battle, determined to protect her country and her people. Although her soldiers may not appear at first to be formidable against superior British weaponry and training, Lakshmi refuses to back down from the empire determined to take away the land she loves.

Told from the unexpected perspective of Sita—Queen Lakshmi’s most favored companion and most trusted soldier in the all-female army—Rebel Queen shines a light on a time and place rarely explored in historical fiction. In the tradition of her bestselling novel, Nefertiti, and through her strong, independent heroines fighting to make their way in a male dominated world, Michelle Moran brings nineteenth-century India to rich, vibrant life.

My thoughts:

I eagerly anticipated reading Michelle Moran’s latest book. Having read her previous novels, I was filled with anticipation and can safely say, she did not fail to deliver. Moran is a very talented writer of historical fiction involving strong female characters. You are very quickly swept away to 19th century India and all the turmoils that would befall it.

‘Rebel Queen’ details the final years of the Indian kingdom of Jhansi before Britain's conquest. It is recalled through the voice of ‘Sita', one of the Queen’s guards, and although some may beg to differ,  I feel this was a clever move on Moran’s part. To have the lead character be the ‘Rebel Queen’ would not have given her license to sway from fact and her critics would have been lining up. Instead, through the eyes of Sita, we are introduced to so much more about Indian life and culture at this time than would ever have been possible through the straight royal status of Queen Rani. That being said, the plight of the ‘Rebel Queen’ is somewhat secondary to the main character of Sita – and that is okay, for it is a grand story, told by a master storyteller.  Sita’s story, as I alighted to above, is one so moving that you see Moran seamlessly blend fact and fiction. It is a perfect balance. The reader grows with Sita from her early years at home, to training for the guards, to her place in the royal court. You will come to admire this lead character not only for her bravery and courage, but also for her inner strength and wisdom.

“I would survive this. I’d survived worse things. After all, I was bamboo, and bamboo bends. It doesn’t break”.

What Moran does so brilliantly is bring, in this case, 19th century India to life - everything from court life, diet, festivals and more. You feel as if you are sitting right along side them as they smell the spices or touch the silk saris. India is not a country I have read that much about so it was a revelation to feel so at one with such a rich time in history. All Moran books are rich in detail, this one maybe even more so due to the great cultural differences from Western society. I believe Moran does this in fine fashion conveying a strong connection between fact and fiction, between educating us on an unfamiliar culture and a mesmerising story – they compliment each other rather than run parallel tales. This world comes to life and the author leads you to understand the feelings and fears of women who are hidden from society and viewed as such a burden to their family. It was so interesting to read about India from their perspective at the time of the British occupation. The rich detail deepens your appreciation and understanding, something all history lovers will embrace. Some critics find it borders on information overload, but I beg to differ. Nothing is taken away from the narrative and in fact the explanations are needed to truly appreciate why certain actions might be deemed offensive.

“What gave these foreigners the right to destroy our kingdom? Our people lived here for five thousand years”.

Tie all this together and you have a very unique tale from an Indian woman’s perspective – how remarkable! Michelle Moran takes you on a journey through time and you come away from the reading experience having had a glimpse at a life and time so far removed from your own that you couldn’t help but be impressed.

Michelle Moran, I salute you:

“For nonreaders, life is simply what they touch and see, not what they feel when they open the pages of a play and are transported …. Where the world is full of a thousand colors for those who love books, I suspect it is simply black and gray to everyone else. A tree is a tree to them; it is never a magical doorway to another world populated with beings that don’t exist here”.

This review is based on a complimentary copy from the publisher and provided through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. The quoted material may have changed in the final release.