Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Review-The Queen's Rival, In the Court of Henry VIII

Diane Haeger
New American Library, March 2011
$15.00 U.S./18.50 CAN.
416 pages

Review by Wisteria

Elizabeth “Bessie” Blount, through her uncle, Lord Mountjoy’s connections is given the opportunity to serve Katherine of Aragon as a maid of honor in King Henry VIII’s court.  She is bedazzled, a naive 14 year old, with unabashed enthusiasm and visions of endless possibilities. As a family favor she was granted the covetous position. Her appearance at court is not as she expected, she begins to feel unwanted and quickly realizes the allure of court life is a double edged sword. Gossip, innuendo and the quest for individual favor and power permeate the atmosphere, and life is quiet and dull.

When King Henry is in residence, his love and lustful pursuit of all pleasures makes the court bloom with joy. His pursuit of beautiful women is legendary as are his inevitable callous and ruthless breakups that cast aside his lovers.  Bessie Blount is different and Haeger portrays the vulnerability of the king as he struggles with his desire and need to be with this lover.  From the moment he meets her, his passion is stirred with unique desperation.  History will show that Bessie Blount did become King Henry’s mistress and their union did produce his son.

Haeger has a remarkable sense for creating believable characters. Although historical fiction, the story is teeming with facts. The Queen’s Rival is fascinating to read as most  characters are pulled from history sparking the curious mind to research further.  Henry Fitzroy was adored and loved by King Henry and spellbound by Bessie Blount. Haeger’s story is imaginative, seductive and just as spellbinding. The Queen’s Rival is less about the scheming and struggle for power that defined the Tudor Court as it is about Henry’s fairy tale love for Bessie Blount.

This review originally published March 2011 edition of Historical Novels Review.
The copy of this book was sent to me by HNR at no cost. 

© [Wisteria Leigh] and [Bookworm's Dinner], [2008-2011].

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Review-A Race to Splendor, Ciji Ware

Ciji Ware
Sourcebooks Landmark, April 2011
$16.99 U.S./£11.99 Trade Paperback,

On April 18th, 1906, San Francisco residents awoke to waves of destruction when a geological shift of earths pacific plates shift offshore. This April marks the 105th anniversary of the catastrophic earthquake that pummeled this city and destroyed nearly 400 city blocks.  The recent ruination of Japan by one of the worst earthquakes on record, and the subsequent wrath of the deadly tsunami, this historical fiction novel is an almost surreal reminder of our own frailty.

Ciji Ware has an admitted drive to tell the stories that weren’t told, those of the women who lived our past and contributed to the history. This story surrounds the life of a formidable woman, Amelia Bradshaw, an emerging architect who arrives stateside to claim her inheritance.  She is shocked to learn that her fool-hardy father, has gambled away her fortune, The Bay View Hotel in a winner take all card game. 
Her court battle to capture her legitimate right is defeated as the corrupt cronies working with the new charismatic owner J.D. Thayer ensure his victory. Forced to seek employment, Amelia is offered temporary work by her friend and mentor Julia Morgan.

After the earthquake insinuates itself into the lives of the residents, the race to rebuild from the rubble begins in earnest.  Amelia’s voice, tells the story and through the survivor’s lives prejudice and avarice embedded for years is unearthed.  Ware uses primary and secondary sources to support her opulent story of desire and greed. She sheds light on the influence of women professionals who, like Amelia and Julia had much at stake and much to prove during the turn of the century.

Ciji Ware continues to radiate the historical fiction genre with a spotlight on women’s accomplishments in history.  Highly recommended this novel glows with a careful blend of history and romance.

Review originally appeared in Historical Novels Review Magazine.  A copy of this book was sent to me by HNR magazine at no cost.

© [Wisteria Leigh] and [Bookworm's Dinner], [2008-2011].

Monday, June 27, 2011

Review: The Judas Field: A Novel of the Civil War, Howard Bahr

by Howard Bahr
July 2007
$14.00, $16.25 CAN, pb
304 pp.

Review by Wisteria

The Judas Field is an astounding work of historical fiction that will rip deep into your heart and settle into your soul like a haunting bad dream.    Howard Bahr provides a sharply detailed journalistic view of The Battle of Franklin through the eyes of Cass Wakefield, a soldier who is unable to reconcile the past.  His life is empty and emotionless, haunted by memories he would rather forget. When a childhood friend asks him to recover her kin who died in the infamous battle, he reluctantly agrees to help.

The Judas Field, is based on the events surrounding the actual Battle of Franklin.  It has been called, “The Gettysburg of the West.” and lasted only about five hours. It took place in the yard of the Carter Family, while the family hid in the house during the fight. When silence settled over the area, the casualties combined were over 9,000.

As you travel north to Tennessee from Mississippi with Cass,  the reader will without a doubt empathize with Cass when his painful past insinuates itself into the safe cocoon of reflection he prefers. Uninvited images flash momentarily. War is loud. The repeated pounding and thunderous cacophony of canon fire and the constant ping and ring from ricochetted stray bullets whiz capriciously overhead. The ammunition is meant to kill and maim and bayonets are drawn.   Sometimes, when a prayer is answered a bedraggled soldier will be spared.  It doesn’t matter which side, the bullets and cannonballs originate, they are meant to kill, meant to deafen the sensitive ears and meant to produce the piles of bloody bodies that carpet the hellish landscape. All sense of beauty erased as the scavengers claim clothes, shoes, food and weapons from the dead.

War is quiet. The animals know to flee. The residents of the house disappear from view. as their property and yard become a battlefield. They huddle in a cellar, a barn, or escape to a cave or copse of trees, any shelter in hopes they will be spared. This is ground zero and a there is a still, eerie quiet , so quiet it is as both sides stopped breathing.  The stillness hovers over terrified soldiers as they wait for the engagement of another day. One of many that they have seen and one of the many they will face again.

Howard Bahr has a wondrously rich and picturesque style.  You can’t get much closer to being a true witness than you will with the acutely sensitive descriptions that make his story tangible.  Howard Bahr’s writing allows the reader to visualize, hear and feel the battle. You will witness a slaughter from the soldiers’ point of view. You will see the the nefarious images they encounter of the dead and grossly maimed. It is an unworldly place to be.  Likewise he is sensitive to the emotional pain and thoughts of his characters with phrases that will wrap around you like a warm hug. His prose is poetry.

It is the memories of those who survived, yet are slowly dying of the past that this story is about. The journey, whether the past will win is what makes this story so unique. If you have not read The Judas Field, it comes with my recommended high praise.  I will treasure my copy.

Special note to bloggers who are participating in the 2011 Civil War Challenge at War Through the Generations will want to read this one.

 I purchased my copy of this book while traveling in Gettysburg.

© [Wisteria Leigh] and [Bookworm's Dinner], [2008-2011].

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Review-Jerusalem Maiden, Talia Carner

Jerusalem Maiden
by Talia Carner
Harper Collins
June 2011
$14.00, 464 pp.

 Review by Wisteria

Strong women heroines who defy the expectations and gender limits that define their culture amaze and often inspire.  If not for women who question their place, seek to achieve more and refuse to accept the status quo, the world would be static and dull. Generic role models provide fine examples and offer direction, but what about those women who question and seek more?

Jerusalem Maiden is a sensitive and poignant novel about Esther Kaminsky, an Ultra-Orthodox woman who lives in Jerusalem. Her lifelong conflict between her expected role and her desire to fulfill her artistic passion is arduous and painful.  Her future is God’s will, a script that leaves no room for improvisation. She is expected to marry, produce sons with the hope that she will deliver the Messiah.  One day, her French teacher notices her sketches have promise. From then on she secretly takes art lessons as her religious dogma wavers. The stage is now set for an enormous fissure of faith that will become a defining struggle for Esther.

Talia Carner’s prose is expressive and flows with ease.  The setting is imaginatively realized with a photographer’s eye.  Esther will be remembered as a tangible heroine with an indomitable presence. Easily, a top pick for 2011.  Highly recommended.

Book provided by Library Thing. (Early Reviewers)

© [Wisteria Leigh] and [Bookworm's Dinner], [2008-2011].

Thursday, June 23, 2011

TLC Blog Tour-Miss Timmins' School for Girls, Nayana Currimbhoy

Nayana Currimbhoy
Harper Collins Publisher
June 12, 2011


Mystery lovers will discover this debut author’s fine skill as a mystery writer edgy and dramatic, but it takes a tenacious reader to find out. This novel had a slow beginning for me that would benefit from some serious edits. There is too much time and emphasis on Charulata’s family life with little relationship to the plot.  The beginning is wordy and requires frequent reference for translations available in a glossary at the back of the book. However, having said that I still recommend Miss Timmins’ School for Girls
because it has a dynamic second half.

Fortunately midway the pace suddenly changes with an uplifting point of view change.  Through Nanadita’s voice the author’s skill morphs into an entirely different style, adding a new spark.  Like the promise of a sunny dawn it has brilliance, color and energy that emerges with the introduction of the “Rule Breakers Club”. 

There are so many seemingly unrelated and insignificant characters as the story begins. It is hard to sort out the many characters within the school, the staff, the students and family. Names, names, names. At times keeping everyone straight is confusing.I found it hard to get to know most of the characters where I could empathize with them. However, Nanadita was my favorite student. At first she challenges Charulata but becomes her advocate as circumstances unravel. 

It is fascinating how the author begins to superimpose a multi-layered map of everyones lives that merges into a complex novel of mystery and suspicion.  “The seemingly unrelated and insignificant characters” make sense. Doubt hovers like a fine fog that settles and won’t budge. Even when the story ends you will never be too sure.  A riddle that will leave the most ardent puzzle solver hanging makes Miss Timmins’ School for Girls a worthwhile read and notable debut.  

Publisher Synopsis and Press

A murder at a British boarding school in the hills of western India launches a young teacher on the journey of a lifetime
In 1974, three weeks before her twenty-first birthday, Charulata Apte arrives at Miss Timmins’ School for Girls in Panchgani. Shy, sheltered, and running from a scandal that disgraced her Brahmin family, Charu finds herself teaching Shakespeare to rich Indian girls in a boarding school still run like an outpost of the British Empire. In this small, foreign universe, Charu is drawn to the charismatic teacher Moira Prince, who introduces her to pot-smoking hippies, rock ‘n’ roll, and freedoms she never knew existed.
Then one monsoon night, a body is found at the bottom of a cliff, and the ordered worlds of school and town are thrown into chaos. When Charu is implicated in the murder—a case three intrepid schoolgirls take it upon themselves to solve—Charu’s real education begins. A love story and a murder mystery, Miss Timmins’ School for Girls is, ultimately, a coming-of-age tale set against the turbulence of the 1970s as it played out in one small corner of India.

About Nayana Currimbhoy

Nayana Currimbhoy was raised in India where she attended an all-girls boarding school in a fairly remote hill station. She moved to the U.S. in the early eighties, and has been a businesswoman and a freelance writer. She has written books, film scripts, and articles about many things, including architecture and design, and a biography of  India Gandhi. Miss Timmins School for Girls is her first novel. Nayana lives in New York City with her husband, an architect, and their teenage daughter.

© [Wisteria Leigh] and [Bookworm's Dinner], [2008-2011].

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

A Cautionary Tale About Heart Disease-Wednesday 21, 2011

A Cautionary Tale About Heart Disease


I was safe in my car but a bit anxious and in a state of panic. My thoughts were to get home, home was safe. With a forty minute drive ahead of me, my mind vacillated in between reality and denial. I wasn't thinking I had a heart problem, just a little stress from the party. As I approached my home, the burning subsided.  Scenes from the party flashed through my mind and I decided I needed to do some shopping. Yes, shopping always perks me up and so I headed to one of my favorite stores. I felt tired, but the burning was minimal and I kept thinking it would go away. I just needed to get my mind on other things. Keep busy.

So, I lingered and wandered through the store, picking up various year end presents for key people at school who helped me through-out the year.  I was in no rush and I found some totally appropriate and unusual gifts.: a bling calculator, a ceramic box with lid intricate patterns from India, notecards and a teapot. This was my favorite gift for a friend who has never had real tea brewed in a teapot. Can you imagine tea lovers?  There are people who use the microwave to brew tea? I know an absolute travesty to tea?  Yuck, it sends chills down my spine. LOL

Of course, I wasn't done. I had to look at shoes for myself and linens. These were totally non-essential and I was drawn to different items as I drifted down each aisle.  I took a few clothes to the fitting room to try on and that was when I started to worry.  I was annoyed by the return of that burning pain and along with it, I now I felt clammy and dizzy.  At this point, I knew I needed to leave the store, if I could. I thought about leaving the cart full of intended gifts and whispered, "No I really  I needed to get these."   I stepped up to the  the checkout desk and paid for my things. As I look back, this was a bad decision

I rushed to my car and thought, I should go to the hospital. I don't feel well. If this ever happens to you, don't wait. Just go. I on the other hand was still in denial about any heart problem and so my first concern before driving to the hospital was to let my dogs out and feed them dinner.  So I headed home, a 5 minute drive. By the time I got to the driveway I was sick and disoriented, but I managed to grab one bag of purchases and stumbled up my walkway. 
I greeted my dogs at the top of the stairs who were jumping and overjoyed to see me. Of course it could also have been they knew it was time to eat. I walked down a flight of stairs to let them out in their fenced area, a must with greyhounds.  I walked slowly back up the stairs to prepare their dinner and then another trip down the stairs to let them back in. I was totally wiped. I felt drained of energy and the burning started again. I didn't want to move but I had to take them out once they had eaten. I took them downstairs again,  hurried them back inside, walked back upstairs and collapsed in a chair.

A thought to call 911 did cross my mind. However, I recalled the last time I called an ambulance and that time it took them over an hour to find my house. It's not like I live in a forest deep in the woods like those out of the way places you read in fairy tales, but prior to GPS, I guess people could misread signs and get lost. Yet, those resourceful kids better known as Hansel and Gretal knew how to take care of themselves didn't they?

So, I managed to get the dogs back in the house and settled. I grabbed my bag, thinking this is stupid, it is probably just an upset stomach, acid or heartburn. However,  I thought at that moment I had no choice. I could go to bed and sleep. Maybe by morning the pain would be gone. Fortunately, somehow my intuition kicked in and the brain chatter reasoned that I should go to the hospital. 
I arrived at my local hospital and  parked the car.  Of course I still had the foolish sense to be careful to find a spot that would protect my doors from dings. How ridiculous, I thought. 

I entered the ER and went to the desk and told them I have chest pain. They didn't even take any information. They hurried me into a room had me get on a bed and immediately hooked me up to equipment. I felt safe. I felt better just knowing I was in medical hands.  I still felt a little foolish, because I thought, this can't be my heart. All that was running though my mind were the visions from movies and television of people gripping their chests and holding their arms. This was not me. I just had burning in my chest. I never once felt pain in my arm, just a little in my jaw.

It didn't matter though, my decision had been made. I was at the hospital and I felt safe. If they found out it was only indigestion or anxiety, at least I would know.  I was exhaused and wanted to rest.  
(To be continued)

Heart Attack Poster

© [Wisteria Leigh] and [Bookworm's Dinner], [2008-2011].

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Sunday Salon-A Cautionary Tale


A Cautionary Tale About Heart Disease

The Party

Last Saturday I attended a family gathering to celebrate the first birthday of my nephew's daughter.  I began to feel a burning in my chest. Not acute, gripping, pain, but a nagging burn that I shrugged off.  I'm writing my recent story, to offer you life-saving wisdom that I have read often enough, but  never expected  in a million years I would have to experience any of these symptoms first hand. I even have a chart on the inside of my medicine cabinet, close at hand but of little concern.

Stress at these functions is the norm for me. You would think family parties would be stress-free. Not so for me, but that's another more private tale. I'm sure you have all experienced the angst of attending some of your own family gatherings. So as I finished the last bite of birthday cake, which by the way was absolutely delicious the burning persisted. I was concerned, but not alarmed and attributed the discomfort to a combination of nerves and too much picnic food.

Does anyone bake  from scratch anymore?  The demise of the home-made cake took place during my generation. First the convenient cake box mix appeared on the supermarket shelves. Thanks to Betty Crocker and Duncan Hines, everyone could now become a baker. Maybe you remember having an ice-cream cake that came from a local store. That was the best of both worlds, cake and ice-cream together.  What could be better?  Perhaps you remember the appearance of the ubiquitous and often silly cakes that donned a photograph sure to embarrass the recipient. Shortly followed by warehouse food sheet cakes that afforded convenience, customization, and for a reasonable cost.  To answer my original question, my sister makes the best cakes from scratch. Her recipes are on index cards,  a book and now frequently off the Internet.  She is a temptress of confection. She uses no cake mix, no canned frosting, just the basic ingredients that she blends together altering in some way with her own spin to make the most delicious desserts. Her cake at this party was one of those, a cake to die for.  No, I probably shouldn't say that under these circumstances, but each forkful was a yummy treasured treat I savored, since more than not I deprive myself of cakes and other sweets.

As the burn persisted, I realized, I was in trouble. I needed to leave. I felt so sick. Somewhat dizzy, but the burn radiating from my chest unsettled me.  This was not a gripping pain, it didn't  shoot down my arm.  There was nothing else bothering me but the burn in my chest. No jaw pain, no numbness.  It was a burn that was centralized in my chest and it would last about five to ten minutes. I thought if I could just get to my car and rest. I quickly said my goodbyes family members, but realized I would not be able to find everyone. Then, as I got to my car to drive the 45 minutes back to my house, the pain stopped. Great, I thought, I'm safe in my car and I can get home to rest. Trust me, the idea of a heart problem never crossed my mind.

To be continued.....

© [Wisteria Leigh] and [Bookworm's Dinner], [2008-2011].