#51 – Jamrach’s Menagerie – Carol Birch

11010098London, 1857: meet Jaf, a young street urchin who survives an encounter with an escaped tiger in the city’s East End and stumbles into a job for its owner, Mr. Jamrach, a collector and seller of wild animals.

Commissioned by Jamrach to find and collect a half-mythical dragon, Jaf joins a whaling ship headed south and begins a wonder-filled voyage of discovery. But when disaster befalls the crew, Jaf ’s journey becomes a desperate survival tale that pushes love, friendship and humanity to their outermost limits.

Beautifully written and utterly spellbinding, Jamrach’s Menagerie conjures the smells, sights and flavours of the nineteenth century, from the squalor of Victorian London to the lush islands of the Dutch East Indies. A great, salty, historical adventure, with an extraordinary story of love and sacrifice at its core, this book is an astonishing literary achievement. – Publishers Website

I really enjoyed this novel.  With Jaf learning the animal trade as you would call it by being hands on, he realizes that he is doing something he enjoys, as well as learning about all sorts of new and unknown things.  Then comes the ship, with all of its quirky, but hard-working crew.  Some of the crew will never know just how much they gave.  It will only be two people on the boat who will fully know that.  Will they talk about it? Will they agonize over their dire straits and do the unthinkable?  You will just have to read the novel to find out just how much the crew sacrificed.  It was a bit unsettling for me, but Carol swept me up in the narrative, and ultimately spat me out, it was that good, between the long tales the crew told, the adventures, the drink, the animal (at least I think it was an animal) they search for, as well as the sacrifices they all give.  Will they come back the same as when they left?  You will have to be the judge about that.

Jamrach’s Menagerie was long-listed for the 2011 Orange Prize.


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#47 – Lyrics Alley – Leila Aboulela

lyrics-alley-by-leila-aboulelaIn 1950s Sudan, the powerful Abuzeid dynasty has amassed a fortune through their trading firm with Mahmoud Bey at its helm. But when Mahmoud’s son, Nur, suffers a debilitating accident, the family is suddenly divided in the face of an uncertain future.

As British rule nears its end, Sudan is torn between modernizing influences and the call of traditions past — a conflict reflected in Mahmoud’s two wives: Nabilah, who longs to escape the dust of “backward-looking” Sudan, and Waheeba, who lives traditionally within the confines of her open-air kitchen. It is not until Nur begins to assert himself outside the strict cultural limits that both his own spirit and the frayed bonds of his family can begin to mend.

This sweeping tale by the IMPAC and Orange Prize– nominated writer is one of the most accomplished and evocative portraits ever written about Sudanese society at the time of independence. – Publishers Website

This is the first of the long-listed books for the 2011 Orange Prize I intend to read in the next few months.  As you may or may not know, the winner of the prize will be announced on June 18, 2011.

I enjoyed getting to see a snapshot into 1950′s Sudan, while this family and many others were trying to establish their own voice.  Something of which is still happening in this area today.  The older parents and elders of the family already stuck in their own ways learnt from their elders, the young people learning those ways and incorporating their own amid turmoil, non acceptance from their parents, and war.

It was interesting how some things do change over time, and some do not.  The accident of Nur twists and turns the family apart and fighting to find their own voice, their way of dealing with the pain and uncertainty of what will be.

Leila’s Website

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#43 – The Linen Queen – Patrica Falvey

Abandoned by her father and neglected by her self-centered, unstable mother, Sheila McGee cannot wait to escape the drudgery of her mill village life in Northern Ireland.

Her classic Irish beauty helps her win the 1941 Linen Queen competition, and the prize money that goes with it finally gives her the opportunity she’s been dreaming of. But Sheila does not count on the impact of the Belfast blitz which brings World War II to her doorstep.

Now even her good looks are useless in the face of travel restrictions, and her earlier resolve is eroded by her ma’s fear of being left alone.

When American troops set up base in her village, some see them as occupiers but Sheila sees them as saviors–one of them may be her ticket out. Despite objections from her childhood friend, Gavin O’Rourke, she sets her sights on an attractive Jewish-American army officer named Joel Solomon, but her plans are interrupted by the arrival of a street-wise young evacuee from Belfast.

Frustrated, Sheila fights to hold on to her dream but slowly her priorities change as the people of Northern Ireland put old divisions aside and bond together in a common purpose to fight the Germans. Sheila’s affection for Joel grows as she and Gavin are driven farther apart. As the war moves steadily closer to those she has grown to love, Sheila confronts more abandonment and loss, and finds true strength, compassion, and a meaning for life outside of herself. – Publishers Website

I was looking forward to reading this, after I had read her first book The Yellow House.  I was a bit disappointed in this one.  It just didn’t have that wow factor like it did in her first novel.  Although, it does follow along the same lines, it just didn’t grab me as much as the Yellow House did.

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#28 – To Kill A Mockingbird – Harper Lee

Harper Lee‘s classic novel of a lawyer in the Deep South defending a black man charged with the rape of a white girl.

One of the best-loved stories of all time, To Kill a Mockingbird has earned many distinctions since its original publication in 1960. It won the Pulitzer Prize, has been translated into more than forty languages, sold more than thirty million copies worldwide, and been made into an enormously popular movie. Most recently, librarians across the country gave the book the highest of honors by voting it the best novel of the twentieth century. – Publishers Website

I so loved this classic novel ! At the time I finished it, I also watched the movie adaptation as well.  I have to say in my honest opinion the movie should be remade.  As I watched it, it seemed to me it just wasn’t the same.  The time in which the book was placed couldn’t have been more lopsided in the movie.  The staging and props for the movie I felt were more of like a 1960′s period of time instead of the 1930-1935 timeline as told in the novel.  I did love the brashness of the town, the people, the situation.  On its 50th Anniversary of being published and being voted as the best novel of the 20th century, as well as the many other accolades this novel and the author have received,  this novel will be in my vast collection of books for life.  I will read it again and again.  Just a fabulous book.  If you haven’t already read it or have read it previously, go and re-read it, it is just that wonderful of a book.

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#20 – The Midwife of Venice – Roberta Rich

Hannah Levi is known throughout sixteenth-century Venice for her skill in midwifery. When a Christian count appears at Hannah’s door in the Jewish ghetto imploring her to attend his labouring wife, who is nearing death, Hannah is forced to make a dangerous decision. Not only is it illegal for Jews to render medical treatment to Christians, it’s also punishable by torture and death. Moreover, as her Rabbi angrily points out, if the mother or child should die, the entire ghetto population will be in peril.

But Hannah’s compassion for another woman’s misery overrides her concern for self-preservation. The Rabbi once forced her to withhold care from her shunned sister, Jessica, with terrible consequences. Hannah cannot turn away from a labouring woman again. Moreover, she cannot turn down the enormous fee offered by the Conte. Despite the Rabbi’s protests, she knows that this money can release her husband, Isaac, a merchant who was recently taken captive on Malta as a slave. There is nothing Hannah wants more than to see the handsome face of the loving man who married her despite her lack of dowry, and who continues to love her despite her barrenness. She must save Isaac.

Meanwhile, far away in Malta, Isaac is worried about Hannah’s safety, having heard tales of the terrifying plague ravaging Venice. But his own life is in terrible danger. He is auctioned as a slave to the head of the local convent, Sister Assunta, who is bent on converting him to Christianity. When he won’t give up his faith, he’s traded to the brutish lout Joseph, who is renowned for working his slaves to death. Isaac soon learns that Joseph is heartsick over a local beauty who won’t give him the time of day. Isaac uses his gifts of literacy and a poetic imagination—not to mention long-pent-up desire—to earn his day-to-day survival by penning love letters on behalf of his captor and a paying illiterate public.

Back in Venice, Hannah packs her “”birthing spoons”—secret rudimentary forceps she invented to help with difficult births—and sets off with the Conte and his treacherous brother. Can she save the mother? Can she save the baby, on whose tiny shoulders the Conte’s legacy rests? And can she also save herself, and Isaac, and their own hopes for a future, without endangering the lives of everyone in the ghetto? – Publishers Website

I really enjoyed this book.  From the strong women who portray the characters to the historic references to not only Venice but to Malta as well gave me a sense of the time period, the sacrifices that women made for their families, and people they knew.  Her decision to help deliver a Christians baby was one of life and death for not only the baby, but for herself being a Jew.  It just wasn’t heard of during that time.

Roberta’s Website

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Reading Group Guide

#15 – The Birth House – Ami McKay

The Birth House is the story of Dora Rare, the first daughter to be born in five generations of Rares. As a child in an isolated village in Nova Scotia, she is drawn to Miss Babineau, an outspoken Acadian midwife with a gift for healing. Dora becomes Miss B.’s apprentice, and together they help the women of Scots Bay through infertility, difficult labours, breech births, unwanted pregnancies and even unfulfilling sex lives. Filled with details as compelling as they are surprising, The Birth House is an unforgettable tale of the struggles women have faced to have control of their own bodies and to keep the best parts of tradition alive in the world of modern medicine. – Publishers Website

I really enjoyed this book.  With the strong women, the harshness of Atlantic Canada while it was growing and finding it true name for itself.  In the background, the explosion of Halifax, the intertwining lives of all in a small town, their dreams, their fears, trying to live their lives they way they choose while attempting to getting used to more modern times.

This happens to be a contender in the latest Canada Reads 2011.  The debates started this morning, and by the sounds and looks of it, the gloves are off, they are all passionately defending their own picks while one book was voted off today.  If you haven’t already heard, go to the CBC Canada Reads Website and find out which one. I really did love this book, but it isn’t the one I am rooting for, although it is a close second.

Debbie Travis is defending this particular book, she is doing a fabulous job of it!

The Birth House The Reading Guide Read an Excerpt

If you missed today’s live debate, you can watch it here

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# 2 – The Dressmaker – Posie Graeme-Evans

Ellen Gowan is the only surviving child of a scholarly village minister and a charming girl disowned by her family when she married for love. Growing up in rural Norfolk, Ellen’s childhood was poor but blessed with affection.

Resilience, spirit, and one great talent will carry her far from such humble beginnings. In time, she will become the witty, celebrated, and very beautiful Madame Ellen, dressmaker to the nobility of England, the Great Six Hundred.

Yet Ellen has secrets. At fifteen she falls for Raoul de Valentin, the dangerous descendant of French aristocrats. Raoul marries Ellen for her brilliance as a designer but abandons his wife when she becomes pregnant. Determined that she and her daughter will survive, Ellen begins her long climb to success. Toiling first in a clothing sweat shop, she later opens her own salon in fashionable Berkeley Square though she tells the world – and her daughter – she’s a widow.

One single dress, a ballgown created for the enigmatic Countess of Hawksmoor, the leader of London society, transforms Ellen’s fortunes, and as the years pass, business thrives. But then Raoul de Valentin returns and threatens to destroy all that Ellen has achieved. - Publishers Website

I really enjoyed this book.  Not because it was chick lit, but because it showed the ingenuity and drive of a woman who had nothing become something of her self against all odds, with a child and help from the family she never knew she had.  Then to have her most wanted dream come true – love.

Simon and Schuster / Atria Books

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The Debba – Avner Mandelman

David is returning to Israel.  He just received word that his father was attacked in his shoe store where he makes custom shoes as well as repairs,  has died.  When he returns to the country he has known for most of his life,  given up his citizenship for because of bad memories and experiences.

There is a catch with his fathers will.

David doesn’t want to be in Israel for many reasons.  Strange things start to happen once he arrives, his bad nightmares return with force.  The history of the country he gave up on, his experiences in the Army, his father’s experiences throughout his life.

In his father’s will, there is a stipulation that David must produce a play that his father wrote which could turn violent, while dredging up a lot of the past that he has tried so hard to forget – as well as the people of his country have suffered, and of course the real reason why he is there.

I really enjoyed this novel.  In a place where so much has happened, so much conflict in the past as well as the present between the Israelites, The Jews, and the Arabs.

Avner incorporates the grim reality of living in the area, some laughter, personal reflections into a gripping suspenseful novel that will have you turning each page and devouring every word.

The Debba was long listed for the 2010 Giller Prize

Random House – Other Press

Avner’s Website

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The Best Art You’ve Never Seen – Julian Spalding

Across the globe, there are hundreds of beautiful and unusual works of art that are largely unseen or fail to receive the critical acclaim they deserve.

Why, You ask?

From Peru to Papua New Guinea, this book uncovers neglected wonders in obscure corners of the world, or shut away in either private collections, museums store rooms, or just plain inaccessible because of where they are located – rock falls, shifts in trade routes, or just to avoid destruction of for use in the afterlife.

Many are hidden by changes in taste, marginalized because they don’t fit into the already established norms of art, demands of conservation.  Many are still waiting to be re-discovered for the first time.

The author brings you into this part of the world throughout the amazing photography, alone with a detailed back stories about each work of art, the controversies behind the pieces that are unfamiliar to most to gain a fresh perspective.

I think this would be a great idea to plan a trip to see some of the more accessible pieces as part of a holiday or even as a holiday to see the pieces among the cities and places that take advantage of the art as they walk by on a street, or just fail to see the beauty.

DK Publishing

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The Distant Hours – Kate Morton

Edie works for a small publishing house in London.  After breaking up with her boyfriend and needing a new place to move into, for the meantime, her partner at work offers her his sofa until she can find a better option.

As she is at her parents house for those obligatory sunday dinners, she doesn;t tell her parents right away that she has broken up with her boyfriend and needs a new apartment.  Her mother receives a letter that was lost long ago from 1941, when she was sent to the countryside as the war started.

Meredith was staying at Milderhurst Castle, home of the author of “Mud Men” and his three daughters.  Edie loved the book as a child, who has had a long time obsession with the book.  As she is driving back from a meeting, she comes across Milderhurst Castle on her way back to London.  Memories come back to her as she sees the gates.

As present day gives way to the past, Edie makes her way to the castle, although, not in its former glory for a tour.  She has no idea what secrets are inside, the suffering all of them who live at the castle have gone through.  But as she is going through the castle itself, she can hear voices, conversations from long ago, although, the sisters now quite old say it is part of the castle, the history, all of it.

There are secrets that are about to merge the past with the present, and possibly finally laid to rest.

This is where Edie unravels her Mother’s past – her passion for writing, the things she once adored, now a distant memory, her life taken another path.

The truth lies in the distant hours, some by circumstance, haunted by memories will have you enthralled from the beginning right through to the end.

Simon and Schuster – Atria

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Kate’s Website

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Band of Angels – Julia Gregson

Catherine, A young woman who lives on a farm in Wales has had a prized childhood.  Being able to roam free racing ponies with her best friend and neighbour Deio, who is a cattle drover (cattle driver).

All of this changes when her parents forbid her to hang around Deio, citing it is some sort of impropriety.  She longs to leave and make her own mark on the world as she chooses.

When her mother dies in childbirth, the urge to leave is even moreso, she runs away disguised as a drover with Deio’s help on one of his trips to London.

When she arrives in London, a unfamiliar city, so large and busy, she lands a position in Florence Nightingale’s home for sick governesses.

As the country is gripping with the Crimean War, Catherine is determined to go and learn the skills to become a doctor or nurse.

Her life changes in an instant.  She is thrown into a living, breathing nightmare beyond all comprehension.

She has to grow up faster than she has ever imagined.  She not only learns about love, but the cruelty of war, as well as how far it will take you.

I loved the novel, I started it and finished it in about 24 hours time.

I have one difficulty with the book.  With my background in Nursing and knowing all about Florence Nightingale, what she did during this war, what she has done for nurses, I had a slight disagreement with how she was portrayed as an administrator, and not a hands on Nurse that revolutionized  the care of patients then and now.

Knowing this, I guess let me down a bit.  I realize that Julia had some editorial discretion in how she was portrayed, but then again it is Women’s Fiction.

Julia is a favorite author of mine, and I have read another of her books – East of the Sun last year.  I am looking forward to more of her future novels.

Simon and Schuster – Touchstone

Read an Excerpt – Chapter 1 and Chapter 2

Reading Group Guide

Julia’s Website

 

 

Coppermine – Keith Ross Leckie

In the middle of WWI, a Northwest Mounted Police Officer Jack Creed and his Inuit interpreter are sent out on a journey to go as far up north, near the shores of the Arctic Ocean to search for 2 Catholic Priests that have disappeared in the remote Arctic region known as Coppermine.

As they get closer to Coppermine, they start to hear stories & rumours about the priests – One who believes very much in his mission, and the second one who has an angry temper that may have gotten them both into trouble.

Possibly even more than they bargained for…

As they travel, it isn’t only the Priests who have secrets.  Why is it Jack has taken this particular assignment immediately after finishing one?  The Inuit interpreter also has a few secrets as well.

On top of it all this, is the brutal, dangerous, frigid expanse of the Arctic to tend with.

The fight for survival has never been so desperate to overcome.

I loved this novel, it is written as if you are standing right next to the characters in the book whether they are in the courtroom, on the frigid expanse of the Arctic, or snuggling together in a makeshift igloo to keep the cold at bay, trying to survive.

Will all of the characters get what they are looking for or are attempting to avoid?

This book will be great for men and women, there is a little bit of everything.  It is also based on real events.

Penguin – Viking

Keith’s Website – you can read an excerpt, as well as take a peek into what he is doing now

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Quickie Q and A with Author Anne Fortier

Usually, I have more than 5 questions for an author, but as Anne travels the internet, I was asked this time to only ask a max of 5.  Plus, with all of the writing she is doing on top of her book and those edits, I can say I don’t blame her one bit!

So, welcome Anne to Serendipitous Readings,  possibly you will be interested in what I had to ask her recently and what she had to say back!

You were raised in Denmark, Immigrated to the United States, You now live in Quebec, and consider Siena your second home, are there any other places where you would like to call home?  Anyplace that you have been dying to visit yet, but haven’t had the opportunity? –    Right now I can’t imagine living anywhere other than Canada, although I always do feel very much at home both in the US and Europe. When I was younger I had a dream of trekking through the Sahara, but I’m not sure I have the courage anymore. I would love to travel in the far North, although I would rather not travel through grizzly bear territory. Maybe a cruise to Alaska …

Why a Shakespearean tale set in Italy? What was it that made you want to do historical fiction, with many different drafts of Romeo and Juliet among a present day mystery, suspense, thriller all rolled into one? -   I wish we could ask Shakespeare why so many of his plays are indeed set in Italy. There is something magical about Italy, I think, and as an author I was drawn to the idea of mentally living in that beautiful country while I wrote my story. As for the combination of many genres, well, those are the kinds of books I like to read myself. And I knew that once I embarked upon a retelling of the Romeo & Juliet-story, it had to become partly an historical novel, and then, when I introduced the treasure-hunt into the mix, it became what I would call an “adventure” novel.

What is your favorite part about the book? Was there a special item in it that have you remembering fondly to a specific day or memory? -    I have a few favorite scenes, which I very much enjoyed writing. One of them is the balcony scene with Romeo and Giulietta, where I really felt they were talking “through” me, so to speak, and another is the scene where Julie and Alessandro have a long conversation at Fontebranda. It is such a playful scene, with so much emotion rippling just beneath the surface, and it was quite difficult to keep it short, because they just kept talking and talking … Apart from that, it was always lots of fun to write Janice’s dialogue, because she is such a wild card. Overall I would say I had a rollicking good time writing the book in general, and that I would write a sequel any day.

If you could go back to the 14th century, would you, what would you do while you were there? -  Well, first of all I think I would be very unromantic and hide in a barn throughout my stay, hoping not to catch the bubonic plague or get killed by highway gangs. If I couldn’t hide, I would probably try to find Maestro Ambrogio at work on a fresco somewhere and just sit and watch him. I might also try to experience the Palio horserace, probably from a spot in Piazza del Duomo, hoping that I would be a lot taller than my medieval buddies and actually able to see the finish line. Howsoever tempted I might be to taste the local wine and food … I had probably better not.

Who are your favorite authors and why? -  I love the classic, British tone of Jane Austen, Elizabeth Gaskell, and P. G. Wodehouse; I can read those again and again, simply to enjoy their turn of phrase. For a more modern voice, but equally exquisite, I am a great fan of Sara Gruen and absolutely love her new book, “Ape House”, which made me laugh out loud many times. As far as adventure books go, I was very inspired by Katherine Neville’s classic, “The Eight”, and pretty much devoured Jane Johnson’s recent book, “The Tenth Gift”.

So, check out The Savvy Reader for all of the other Canadian Blogs she will be visiting, and if you haven’t caught my review, it is here.

Anne’s Website

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Far To Go – Alison Pick

Based on actual events the authors own Grandparents took from their native Czechoslovakia, as well as my own Grandparents on my mother’s side, this book isn’t for the faint of heart.

Pavel and Anneliese Bauer, affluent secular Jews who are living in Czechoslovakia during Hitler’s invasion in WWII flee with their young son Pavel, and nanny Marta.

Between the horror of what is happening at that given moment, as well as to come, it is the Bauer’s who are thinking the people who help them are also loyal to them; only to find later their loyalty lasted only as long as the money did in some circumstances.  Pavel received a last-minute seat on the kinder transport, not knowing where he was going, who he was going to on the other end of the line.  Combing through letter in present day, retracing the steps they all took – their ultimate fates as the war raged on in Europe, and in the death camps.

Pavel’s journey is the key to finding out what ultimately happened to his parents and to Marta, along with a surprise or two when he meets someone who is researching what happened to him as well as his parents who has a surprise or two of her own.

Harrowing, Desperate to leave their homes, families, their possessions, their only way of life as they knew it in search of peace where ever they were allowed to go and ultimately be free.  How much would it take, the roadblocks after roadblocks of people to pay off, to gain access to things other had possibly taken for granted.

Although, my Grandparents weren’t Secular Jews, It still remains that urgency they must have felt when wanting to leave the only home and country they knew for one where they could start a new life.  I know they had spent weeks apart as my Grandfather came to Canada first, and then my Grandmother and Uncle some years later, so that he could find work and a place for them to live once they have arrived in Canada.  I do not know if it was because of the looming threat to war was the reason why they left Czechoslovakia, but, they did so for good reason.

Tumultuous, Traumatic, the things you want to forget, but keep you awake in your dreams at night, to be able to be free, to live your life as you wished to.

House of Anansi

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Alison’s Website or Blog

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Juliet – Anne Fortier

Of all the love stories ever told, Hers is perhaps the most famous.

To me, she is the key to my families fate.

To you, she is Juliet.

Julie Jacobs is doing her normal everyday things – working, eating, sleeping.  It is when her beloved Aunt dies and bequests a safe deposit box key in her will to her which is in Siena, Italy;  which could contain a family treasure which has been lost for decades.  She is told it could change her life forever.

Julie is drawn into the journey of one of the most famous plays ever written, and re written over time made famous by William Shakespeare, the history of her ancestor Giulietta, whose love for a man named Romeo turns the medieval town on its end.

As she gathers more information,  clues, past, legend, the trail becomes treacherous and at times even deadly as she deciphers them -  clues, writings, as well as the journey to what happened so long ago which affects her life in the present day.

As well as the old curse “A Plague on both your houses” between 2 families still has its hold on each of them, until of course if she finds the treasure or dies trying.  Will she find her one true love as well?

I loved this book.  Full of present day, the past, potions, curses, medieval wedding rituals, not to mention the beautiful,  breathtaking scenery and history of Siena, Italy.

Is love strong enough to conquer even death?

For any woman who is a fan of the historical, romantic, thriller genres, you will love this novel as much as I did, possibly even more!

HarperCollins

Anne’s Website

Anne’s Facebook Page

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EON Dragoneye Reborn – Alison Goodman

Look at this utterly fantastic cover !   It absolutely drips of what kind of action is inside the pages, I was mesmerized from page 1 !

Eon has been a slave most of his life.  Between the salt mines, and now being focused on sword work and magical study,  he is attempting to become chosen as what is called a Dragon eye in his customs and life, where he will train alongside other Dragon eye’s  for twelve years, when a new one is chosen.

There is a slight problem..Eon is actually Eona.  Males are only permitted to work with the dragons, learn their energies, and secrets.  If Eona is found out to be female instead of male, the penalty is death.

As she is in the performance platform, something happens in the middle of her presentation.  One of the dragons that has been missing for the last 500 years returns.  Of course everyone is excited, but, this poses a problem – Another candidate has been chosen as well, one of her good friends.

As their paths take on this new life, Eona (Eon) and her friends and close acquaintances find out secrets that haven’t been heard of for many, many years.  Old enemies come to light, new alliances are discovered, war starts with the Emperor being killed by one of his own men.  Eon and a few adversaries have come to save the country, the palace, and of course the world of Dragon Eyes.  Will they have enough time and courage to do it all when it is needed ?

Non stop action, excitement, fear of the unknown, as well as courage to do something they haven’t ever done before.  This book blew me away.  Intended for juvenile fiction fans, which from what I have heard was a runaway hit when it was first published last year, is bound to have your child or even yourself glued to the pages until the last one is read wanting more.

You may have to wait a bit for the sequel.  Eona is coming sometime in the beginning of 2011.  I know I want to be first in line for the book when it is released ! If you are a fan of exotic fictional places, that take place a long time ago or even in a place you have never heard about before (fantasy) then this is the book for you.  It has been a long time since when I was swept up into a book packed from the first page the last with absolute non stop action and adventure.

Trust me – go and get the book !

Penguin – Puffin (Juvenile Fiction)

Read an excerpt

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The History Book – A Trip Through History From The Stone Age to The Digital Age – DK Publishing

The mightiest trip through time is about to begin, Are you ready to learn about one thing after another?!?

Buckle up and get ready for a really fascinating ride through the centuries and time with this incredible book!

From the stone age to the digital age, there are so many facets you will keep coming back to time and time again.

Major events that happened in history to plain ole stuff.  The way it is presented in this fun, full colour appearance makes history actually FUN and engaging.  Might I add possibly EVEN FUN!!

Because, really history doesn’t have to be boring, just because it may have happened a really long time ago, right?

Historical places to historical people and things that have changed the world we live in, something for everyone – something good, something bad, but you will understand none the less.

So who is ready ?!?

DK Publishing

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The Red Queen – Philippa Gregory

I was so excited when I received a copy of the 2nd installment of the Cousins War by Philippa Gregory in the mail.

The previous and first book The White Queen which was published last year was about Elizabeth Woodville.

The Red Queen is about the other queen – Margaret Beaufort, who wanted to be martyr of sorts like Joan of Arc growing up, a nun in the house of God, but all of that was changed forever as her life took a surprising turn.

At the age of 13, she is married off to a man twice her age, widowed after conceiving an heir with him.  The son, who after a year old is raised to become royalty.  She schemes and plots almost effortlessly for her son to become the rightful heir and King of England.

Through the schemes and plotting against the White Queen, the rumours of black magic, wars, and being widowed a second time, Margaret  is still as ruthless as she always has been, but, even more so when she meets and marries Lord Stanley who also has plans of his own to also align with Margaret’s.

Gambling everything she has, even with her son’s life on the line as he lies in exile on this one opportunity, will it work?!?

Conspiracy, passion and the cold-hearted ambition of a woman whose dreams of being what she wanted were shattered, only to be even more determined for her sons dreams to be recognized given the pride that comes from them and the mistakes in the past that have nearly cost them the throne.

Simon and Schuster

Read an excerpt

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Philippa’s Website

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Island Beneath The Sea – Isabel Allende

Tete is African, born on Saint Dominique who never knew her mother.  She was sold as a slave and grew up during the 18th century.  Slavery is at its highest – St. Dominique is later known as the island of Haiti.

Brutality and fear is an everyday occurence.

Tete finds comfort in the drums she hears from across the land she calls home along with the mysterious history and culture she hears from the local elders known as voodoo.

She is the slave to Toulouse Valmorian.  He travelled from France to help and eventually take control his families sugar plantation after his father dies.  The plantation does very well in Toulouse’s hands.  He yearns to return to civilization (France), but realizes that he is doomed to stay on the island.

He eventually marries a Cuban woman whom he does love until she becomes mentally ill, and eventually dying after giving birth to their one and only child.

The lives of Tete and Valmorian are inexplicably intertwined as master and slave live together, amid somewhat brutal circumstances.  Even after they leave the island for safety when riots erupt between whites and blacks for New Orleans.

To new lives, new connections, new situations, new loves for both.  Old situations, jealousies appear at the surface that were once forgotten or just not talked about give them each situations that they must face together and separately.

I enjoyed this book.  The translation was impeccable being translated from Spanish to English.  It kept the richness of the writing alive as you experienced Saint Dominique and New Orleans like you were there yourself.  The richness of the writing was there as well to keep the narrative smooth and flowing.

Cruelty, Love, detailed as if you were there in the cane fields of Saint Dominique or in early New Orleans talking to someone on the street in Creole.

Make sure you watch the video below, such a funny and articulate lady, stunning!

HarperCollins

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My Name is Mary Sutter – Robin Oliveira

How I loved this book, let me count the ways..

At the beginning of the Civil War, Mary Sutter is attempting to gain entrance into Medical School – Overcoming prejudices is one thing, getting admitted another.  Mary being the stubborn one in her family, she wont take no for an answer.  She is a midwife like her mother delivering babies, her mother taught her young, while garnering the reputation as the best and the one to go to another.

Heartbreak enters Mary’s family.  So, she travels down to Washington D.C. to become a doctor – Come hell or high water.

She comes across prominent people – The President, the Head of Nursing and Health, but one or two people will change her life forever.

Two doctors – one that teaches her, and the other from her past who will help train her and on her quest.

Pleas from Mary’s mother persist until Mary does go home for a visit.  The night she arrives, her twin sister is in labour about to give birth to her niece or nephew, but she has come too late.  After this happens, she has lost her confidence, will it ever come back to her to be able to do what she has always wanted?  Will she be able to realize her dreams of being a Doctor?

Loved this book, maybe because Mary reminds me so much of myself in the stubbornness category, and the drive to become a person who matters. and certainly doesn’t take no for an answer.

Her fortitude to become a doctor through dire circumstances, whose legend is known for miles and miles around.  During grim circumstances she does the impossible, war and death surrounds her as she is on the fields that men are fighting for.

This will be a favorite of mine for many, many years.

Penguin – Viking

Robin’s Website

Reading Group Guide Questions

Behind the Story of My Name is Mary Sutter

Dahanu Road – Anosh Irani

Zairvos is at a dilemma of sorts.  Modern day, he is trying to get advice from his 90 Yr old grandfather Shapur, but, he doesn’t want to talk about the past.

The past is too painful.

Dahanu is just outside Bombay.  Shapur and his father left Iran in the 1920′s from persecution and possible death for a better life for his small family.

With it came violence, secrets, and a clans beliefs.

So Zairous has to combat the beliefs, the past, the secrets and above all the cultural taboos between two different sects of people for what he finally realize he wants, but isn’t it too late?

From the past to present, the story had me turning the pages until the last one was finished to see what would unfold between what happens in the past and the present.

These are issues that I believe we all still deal with today on a daily basis, but, not on the scale that other countries still do.

Tradegy, love, cultural taboos going against the grain to have what you love, no matter the cost, would you do it, against all of the odds?

Random House / Doubleday

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The Help – Kathryn Sockett

I am probably the last person in the universe to have read this book.  Even though it is still on the best sellers list.

When Skeeter returns home from graduating College, from her mother’s perspective she is missing something – A wedding ring.  Not only that, but, her long time nanny / housekeeper isn’t there as well – Constantine who is gone, not even a word is said about her, or the circumstances why she left.

Skeeter is left with a huge gaping hole in her heart.  What makes the pain so virulent? No one will even tell her what happened or even where she is.

Abilene is a maid and is in the process of raising her 17th white  child.  Since her son was killed, something hasn’t been the same with her.  The woman she works for is one of those southern socialites, who, knows everything and anything about the people where she lives.  Abilene is so dedicated to her latest charge, she realizes that both of their hearts may be broken.

Minny is Abilene’s best friend.  Known not to keep her mouth and her nose out of people’s business, she’s lost yet another job.  When she does find a position, it is to a new family, that wants to be a part of society, but doesn’t know why she is being left out.  The secrets are just the tip of the iceberg.

Skeeter manages to bring all of these women together in a seemingly at first secret book she is writing.  She wants to become a writer, an author of books.  This book will not only break open the maids employers lives, but bring together some women who you wouldn’t imagine to come together.  Lines are crossed, secrets are revealed, people who were once friends won’t be friends any longer, others will come together.

I loved the interaction with the main characters.  From the beginning of Black’s gaining more rights, from the old ways breaking free to new rights, the truth setting you free, and the love that these maids show towards the children that they raise although they aren’t their own, I was intrigued and sympathetic to how and what they felt.

It is about how we view one another, how the town is changed, the way women which ever you call yourself – mothers, daughters, friends, caregivers view one another with the pain, the anguish, humour, hope and rebellion.

Every woman should read this book.

Kathryn’s Website

Penguin

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The Book Of Human Skin – Michelle Lovric

If I told you that this book is about unmitigated villany, love beset by obstacles, quack medicine, christian fundamentalism with a side of Napoleon Bonaparte all while taking place in the early 18th century would that spark your attention?  Quite possibly yes, and this is what the book is about.

From Venice to colonial Peru in the midst of the small pox epidemic these 5 characters tell their stories about the same one in their unique voices, one by one.

From being beautiful, cripple, madwoman, nun, and then what she’s always wanted to be – A wife to a poor Doctor and mother to her children that once took care of her.

The Problem?!?

Her older brother whose  villany has caused one sister already to die, a mother holed up in her room, a father to abandon his “original” family to leave for business in Peru to have a 2nd family and die all for the family fortune.

Told between these 5 different people, Marcella, her brother, an artist friend, her poor doctor, and a servant who can see everything in clear view, but cannot tell anyone as fast as it is happening.  They tell the story in their own words, which not only brings hilarity, but the whole picture together – of how these people who helped Marcella manoeuver her way out of her brother’s grip, for her to fully live her life to the fullest and how she wants to.

Oh, and there are a few books mentioned…made of human skin too

Interesting, Hilarious, Scary, Engrossing

Penguin

Double Post – The Dakota Cipher and The Barbary Pirates – William Dietrich

If you are a fan of historical/action/adventure books with some great writing, then you have found your author for that.

I had read The Rosetta Key and Napoleon’s Pyramids about 2 years ago, since then there have been 2 more added to the Ethan Gage Adventures.

The third in the series is entitled The Dakota Cipher, where Ethan who should have learned his lesson the first few times he befriended Napoleon Bonaparte, the US and British armies to be able to further his investigations around the world.  This time Bonaparte has asked him to return to the United States to check o a place called Louisiana ( which isn’t yet a state, or really a part of the US).

Accompanying him is Norseman Magnus Bloodhammer who is on a quest of his to find out if some of the land was first inhabited by the Norse.  (there has been big speculations about this as to who came first).  Whether the Native Indians, the Norse, the French or British came first.

So, after befriending some French Canadians that are doing fur trading in the lush area where fur can be found and then traded and then sold to be made into luxurious garments – yes, the mayhem that is Ethan Gage begins.

In the latest escapades of Ethan and all who accompany him on his adventures, have all said it; Ethan gets himself into more trouble than he can handle, and then some.

He is journeying across the seas this time once again for treasure of sorts, a mysterious dome.  Guess who is hot on his path once again, yep, the Egyptian Rite.

As he travels the canals of Venice, the caves of Santorini, the dungeons of Tripoli, to meet treachery on the high seas of the Mediterranean.

His long-lost love Astiza whom he lost while in Egypt miraculously returns with such a surprise that Ethan cannot even believe until he is put to the test.

The real historical fasts in each and every novel is one of brilliance.  To be able to write about a place so far in the past is one of long hours of research, and a creative monsoon of sorts.  Oh yeah, and will he be able to destroy the Egyptian Rite once and for all?

The Dakota Cipher Browse Inside

Harper Collins

The Barbary Pirates Browse Inside

Harper Collins

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The Very Thought Of You – Rosie Alison

This book absolutely flowed like poetry from start to finish!

Anna and her family live in London just before the start of WWII.  During this time when her father enlists in the army, her mother does what many mothers do at the time who are worried about their children being injured or killed when the fighting does get quite bad, she sends them on a train to secure their lives aren’t lost in the war, once it hits London.

Unbeknownst to her, Anna isn’t sent to a coastal place like she had envisioned.  She is sent to Ashton Place which is in the countryside.  Travelling by train and then by bus with only her meager belongings; she forgot her treasured teddy bear at home.

The owners of the countryside mansion are the Ashton’s.  They have opened their home to the countless children who would be in dangers way, or overcrowded somewhere else.  Since the Ashton’s are childless, they thought inviting the children would liven up their home and their lives.  For a time it does, but it fades as their love for one another has in one way or another.

As the years pass, secrets from both Anna’s and the Ashton’s side emerge.  The Ashton’s are unhappy, and have been for a time, waiting or wanting to open up to one another, lacking initiative has irrevocably blocked it – afraid of being seen as silly or selfish.  Anna’s mother although satisfied with her married life, is missing the intimacy of another’s presence.

Both sides have affairs, nearing the end of the affairs, disastrous results.

What is love?  Do you know what love really is ?  Have you ever literally ached for one person to the point that they consume their thoughts from the moment you wake until the moment you fall asleep?

Would we risk hurting of feeling abandoned by one to be truly happy?

Have we realized that our one true love has slipped through your fingers?

This novel flows like poetry, much like the poetry that is inside the novel, its ebbing and flowing, until you are at the end, wanting more, when there is none.

This book was shortlisted for the Orange Prize.

Random House – Anchor

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** The E-book is available now from Random House.  I was able to secure a ebook from the British Publisher before the Canadian Publisher was publishing the novel.  The Trade Paperback of the novel will be available on July 27, 2010 here in Canada.  The book cover is depicting the European Cover.