Friday, 27 May 2022

Out of the Lion's Maw - Witold Makowiecki and Tom Pinch (Review)

Date of Reading: 25/5/2022
Author: Witold Makowiecki
Translator: Tom Pinch
Publisher: Mondrala Press
Source: NetGalley
Rating: 4.5/5

About the book:

A European bestseller, un-put-down-able since 1946, now for the first time in English.

An elderly Zoroastrian priest and his teenage apprentice, a dark plot to foment a civil war. Can the two thwart it?

570 BC. The Old Mountain Lion, the predatory king of Babylon, Nebuchadnezzar, has destroyed empires, razed cities, and driven whole nations into slavery. Now, he sews discord in the Mediterranean to soften up another victim for a surprise attack. It is up to the two unlikely heroes to try to foil the plot, and persuade kings, priests, bureaucrats, and generals to change their course. They race against the clock across the Mediterranean, pursued by spies, assassins, and eventually the whole state apparatus of eternal Egypt.

A classic tale of high adventure, full of white-knuckle twists and turns, cliffhangers and last-minute escapes, engaging characters, and sparkling humour. Continuously in print across Eastern Europe since 1946, it has been compared to The Treasure Island and The Three Musketeers.

Review:

       This was a moment of self realisation. For one, I never thought my knowledge of ancient civilisations was. . . ah . . . poor. I waded through different Mediterranean nations along with our protagonists with no idea of their present identities. When it comes to the Gods, the footnotes helped a lot. And here I am, awfully glad that I chanced upon this wonderful Polish work because of a random search in NetGalley recommendations.
        Since the blurb above doesn't give much on the story, let me enlighten you. Nehurabhed is a Medean high priest and envoy of the King and he is being held captive in Carthage. He escapes with the help of a Greek sailor, Kalias. Before fleeing Carthage they both save a boy who was sold to slavery. Melicles was captured by the pirates and had tried to escape from his plight many times. Finally Gods had answered his prayers. Nehurabhed finds in him an ally and helper and so the adventures of the duo begin.
        The combination of a wise, old man and a young, naive boy makes this story really a marvel. Nehurabhed's strange ways of finding solutions to each crisis make for many humorous and surprising twists while sixteen-year-old Melicles has a penchant for helping others. The journey opens new worlds to him and we, the readers, share his wonder and joy.
        There is no doubt that this is a timeless classic for both young and the old. Thanks to Tom Pinch we finally have an English translation. Highly recommended!

Meet the author:

Witold Makowiecki (born 1903 in Warsaw, Poland, died 1946 in Radomsk, Łódź province, south-central Poland) is a Polish agricultural engineer and writer, author of popular books for children and young adults, some of which are on the required reading list for Polish elementary schools today. Agricultural engineer by training, he had to abandon his profession for health reasons. Under German occupation during world war II, he took up writing for the young. He is the author of two popular adventure novels set in ancient Mediterranean world, written with his children in mind: Przygody Meliklesa Greka (The Adventures of Melicles the Greek) and Diossos. His books, written in the swashbuckling style, have helped to propagate familiarity with classical Greek civilization. Each book is a stand-alone volume, but the two are bound together by the appearance of the characters of Melicles the Milesian and Kalias the Syracusan. Due to their superior literary quality, both books have remained in print since their original publication in 1946.

Sunday, 22 May 2022

Elizabeth of York: The Last White Rose - Alison Weir (Blog Tour & Review)

Date of Reading: 21/05/2022
Author: Alison Weir
Publisher: Headline Review
Publication Date: May 12, 2022
Source: NetGalley
Rating: 5/5

(This review is part of the blog tour organised by Random Things Tours)

About the book:

AN ENGLISH PRINCESS, BORN INTO A WAR BETWEEN TWO FAMILIES.

The eldest daughter of the royal House of York, Elizabeth dreams of a crown to call her own. But when her beloved father, King Edward, dies suddenly, her destiny is rewritten.

Her family's enemies close in. Two young princes are murdered in the Tower. Then her uncle seizes power - and vows to make Elizabeth his queen.

But another claimant seeks the throne, the upstart son of the rival royal House of Lancaster. Marriage to this Henry Tudor would unite the white rose of York and the red of Lancaster - and change everything.

A great new age awaits. Now Elizabeth must choose her allies - and husband - wisely, and fight for her right to rule.

Review

        Before reading this book, I had never given much thought to this Yorkist Queen who united the houses of York and Lancaster. Considering her husband's temperament and her meek nature, I can see why historians didn't spare much time with her. The drama unfolded by her dear son is enough to fill the pages on Tudors, so a pious and charitable queen who always sees the good in others has been put backstage. 
        If the white rose of York represents purity, then Elizabeth embodies it. Not one to question the authority or the established traditions, she was taught to accept her destiny from childhood itself. Not much of a heroine figure, if you ask me. Her subservient nature and abhorrence of confrontations cost her the opportunity to share the power with her husband, Henry VII. On the other hand, her taking a step back in everything resulted in a peaceful marriage. 
        As you can see she is not a model woman for the present age. When you think back to the influential role her contemporary Queen Isabella played in Spain, she surely is a pitiable character. She never had much voice, not even when it comes to the lives of her own mother and sisters. Weir has captured quite vividly how the shifting power balance affects the lives of women. They are mere pawns in political transactions, denied even the freedom of a common woman to marry for love or continue in a marriage that they have come to love.
        Elizabeth's life may not be legendary, but she survived one of the most turbulent times England had undergone. What this novel offers is a captivating and unique picture of the Tudor era that is laying its foundations.

Meet the author:


Alison Weir is the bestselling female historian in the United Kingdom and has sold over 3 million books worldwide She has published twenty history books. Alison is also the author of twelve historical novels, including the highly acclaimed Six Tudor Queens series all of which were Sunday Times bestsellers. The complete short story collection, In the Shadow of Queens, accompanies this series. Alison is a fellow of the Royal Society of Arts and an honorary life patron of Historic Royal Palaces.

Monday, 2 May 2022

A Magic Steeped in Poison - Judy I. Lin (Blog Tour & Review)

Date of Reading: 2/5/2022
Author: Judy I. Lin
Publisher: Feiwel and Friends
Publication Date: March 29, 2022
Source: NetGalley
Rating: 3.5/5

(This review is part of the blog tour organised by Colored Pages Tours)

About the book:

I used to look at my hands with pride. Now all I can think is, "These are the hands that buried my mother."

For Ning, the only thing worse than losing her mother is knowing that it's her own fault. She was the one who unknowingly brewed the poison tea that killed her—the poison tea that now threatens to also take her sister, Shu.

When Ning hears of a competition to find the kingdom's greatest shennong-shi—masters of the ancient and magical art of tea-making—she travels to the imperial city to compete. The winner will receive a favour from the princess, which may be Ning's only chance to save her sister's life.

But between the backstabbing competitors, bloody court politics, and a mysterious (and handsome) boy with a shocking secret, Ning might actually be the one in more danger.

Review:

        I have been waiting to read this book for a long time. For one, even though this is part of a duology (I hate cliffhangers, by the way), the sequel is only months away from being released. And it is all about the art of tea making and the magic brewed with it. That is something I cannot say no to. Glad to say that the story doesn't disappoint.
        Ning is on a mission to save her sister from the brink of death. Her mother has already succumbed to the poison found in the tea leaves provided by the imperial coffers. Her only chance lies in winning the competition organised by the princess. Am I the only one here getting the 'Hunger Games' and 'Goblet of Fire' vibes? Well, don't expect something that nerve-racking; except for the last part, the story follows an even pace as soothing as the morning tea.
         That brings us to the most interesting part: the magic of the shennong-shi, masters adept in the art of tea-making. In a palace riddled with mysteries where every step could lead to danger, the competition adds another layer to the political intrigue. Not everything or everyone is what they seem. As Ning progresses through each round we are introduced bit by bit to the beauty of this art and when the shennong-tu's hands wield the tea, all the chaos seems to recede.
        The story explores the power of female relationships and thus all the major characters are women, except for Kang - the adopted son of the banished prince. His background is still shrouded in mystery, that is something to wait for in the sequel. Their sudden progress from friends to lovers might have taken me by surprise, still, I am rooting for this duo.
        A beautiful story that will ensnare you from the very beginning. Drinking tea will never be the same anymore.

Favourite quotes:

"Grief has a taste, bitter and lingering, but so soft it sometimes disguises itself as sweetness"

"The nice thing about getting old is you realize everything circles back on itself"

"Human hands make mistakes, Ning, but they are the hands the gods gave us. We use them to make amends, to do good things"

"We all have people we care about, those we would give our lives for. It puts us in danger, or makes us dangerous"

"There is a difference between living the suffering and reading about it"

Meet the author:

Judy Lin was born in Taiwan and moved to Canada when she was eight years old. She grew up with her nose in a book and loved to escape to imaginary worlds. She now divides her time between working as an occupational therapist and creating imaginary worlds of her own. She lives on the Canadian prairies with her husband and daughter.

Friday, 22 April 2022

Lost Property - Helen Paris (Blog Tour & Review)


Date of Reading: 21/04/2022
Author: Helen Paris
Publisher: Penguin
Publication Date: April 14, 2022
Rating: 4/5

(This review is part of the blog tour organised by Random Things Tours)


About the book:

Dot Watson has lost her way.

Twelve years ago her life veered off course, and the guilt over what happened still haunts her. Before then she was living in Paris, forging an exciting career; now her time is spent visiting her mother's care home, fielding interfering calls from her sister and working at the London Transport Lost Property office, diligently cataloguing items as misplaced as herself.

But when elderly Mr Appleby arrives in search of his late wife's purse, his grief stirs something in Dot. Determined to help, she sets off on a mission - one that could start to heal Dot's own loss and let her find where she belongs once more...

Review:

        This was a hard nut to crack, just like Dot Watson's life. Lost just like the items in the Lost Property, we are to pick up the clues just like a Sherlock Holmes mystery. A demanding task, considering the fact that Dot is an unreliable narrator. I felt her be too judgemental and prone to easy conclusions, most of them far from the mark too. Glad to see that I was right in the end.
        The first part of the book was a tad bit slow (was even thinking of giving up), but my perseverance was rewarded. Potential readers, consider yourself to be warned. The pain spikes up in the second part of the story. One by one, the mysteries of the past are revealed and we are left bereaving only to find hope when all doors seemed to be closed. 
        The uncanny similarity in the lives of Dot and Sylvia Plath is hard to be ignored. Dot had everything ready for the life ahead. She is proficient in multiple languages and her travel dreams are about to bloom. Everything is set off course when her father kills himself. Shelving her future plans, she takes a job at the lost property office, oblivious to the fact that the truth could be different from what she believes. This is her story of rediscovery, finally coming to terms with the grief and guilt she kept close to her heart.
        Aside from Dot, the one I liked most is Philippa. Being an elder sister, I could understand what she is going through from the very beginning. Protecting younger siblings from the harsh realities of the world tends to result in a backlash. As for their parents, they deserve a story of their own . . .  with a better ending that is.
        On the whole, a heartbreaking but inspiring story that pushes you to move forward. Well, don't forget to keep your tissues at hand, you are definitely going to need them.

Favourite quotes:

"Life gives us so much, . . . chance, excitement and hope. But woven through it all is loss. If you try to pull out that thread, the whole thing unravels. Loss is the price we pay for love"

". . . just as objects cannot replace people, guidebooks are not destinations. However, I will never forget their ability to inspire, to educate."

Meet the author:


Helen Paris worked in the performing arts for two decades, touring internationally with her London-based theatre company Curious. After several years living in San Francisco and working as a theatre professor at Stanford University, she returned to the UK to focus on writing fiction. As part of her research for a performance called 'Lost & Found', Paris shadowed employees in the Baker Street Lost Property office for a week, an experience that sparked her imagination and inspired this novel. 

Lost Property is her first novel.

Thursday, 17 March 2022

Kane & Abel - Jeffrey Archer (Review)

Date of Reading: 20/02/22
Author: Jeffrey Archer
Publisher: Pan McMillan
Publication Date: March 13, 2004
Rating: 3/5


About the book:

Born on the same day near the turn of the century on opposite sides of the world, both men are brought together by fate and the quest of a dream. These two men -- ambitious, powerful, ruthless -- are locked in a relentless struggle to build an empire, fuelled by their all-consuming hatred. Over 60 years and three generations, through war, marriage, fortune, and disaster, Kane and Abel battle for the success and triumph that only one man can have.

Review:

        I could still remember the first Archer book I found in the library. A battered, old copy of 'First Among Equals' that rarely gets the chance to be on the shelf even with its bulkiness. And it is only recently (on a random GoodReads browsing session) that I realised, it is not even his most popular work. It doesn't even make the top ten to be exact. 
      As you can guess I started this with high expectations. When it comes to storytelling Archer doesn't disappoint. Two boys, born at the same time in different parts of the world. Their social status might be vastly different, but both have their own demons to conquer. I knew they were going to be rivals but didn't pick a side (in the beginning anyway). Still, it's hard not to lean towards Abel or Wladek as he was then called.
        Well, all that changed soon enough. Am I the only one who thought their rivalry was based on a baseless issue? Let's look at the facts. William was not able to persuade his board into supporting Abel's friend which eventually led to his death. How did Abel come to the conclusion that William is responsible for this? It is not like he had his share of grievances. If he really wanted revenge, shouldn't that be against the Germans who killed his father or the Russians who raped his sister? Well, since he cannot touch them, it is better to direct the pent up anger to someone nearby. Great logic! I can't fathom how twisted his mind is.
    And the portrayal of these two is quite disturbing. On one side there is William Kane, upright, clever and steadfast in his beliefs. Then there is Abel Rosnovski blinded by hate. What is his excuse for all this stupidity? "We Polish are a sentimental lot". Ah! so it is his ethnicity that is to blame. Would never have guessed that one!!!
       I closed the book filled with a sense of loss, grieving for a story that went astray. 

Meet the author:


Jeffrey Howard Archer, Baron Archer of Weston-super-Mare (born 15 April 1940) is an English author and former politician.

He was a Member of Parliament and deputy chairman of the Conservative Party, and became a life peer in 1992. His political career, having suffered several controversies, ended after a conviction for perverting the course of justice and his subsequent imprisonment. He is married to Mary Archer, a scientist specialising in solar power. Outside politics, he is a novelist, playwright and short story writer.

Wednesday, 23 February 2022

The Red Palace - June Hur (Review)


Date of Reading: 11/02/2022
Author: June Hur
Publisher: Feiwel & Friends
Publication Date: January 25, 2022
Rating: 5/5

About the book: 

Joseon (Korea), 1758. There are few options available to illegitimate daughters in the capital city, but through hard work and study, eighteen-year-old Hyeon has earned a position as a palace nurse. All she wants is to keep her head down, do a good job, and perhaps finally win her estranged father's approval.

But Hyeon is suddenly thrust into the dark and dangerous world of court politics when someone murders four women in a single night, and the prime suspect is Hyeon's closest friend and mentor. Determined to prove her beloved teacher's innocence, Hyeon launches her own secret investigation.

In her hunt for the truth, she encounters Eojin, a young police inspector also searching for the killer. When evidence begins to point to the Crown Prince himself as the murderer, Hyeon and Eojin must work together to search the darkest corners of the palace to uncover the deadly secrets behind the bloodshed.

Review:

        Crime mysteries are not really my go-to genre, but this one grabbed my attention with its Korean setting. The story gives the feeling of walking straight into a K drama world and the historical elements just add to the sheen. Rest assured, my knowledge of Korean history is practically zero, but that is not a hurdle at all.
        Still, I was not without reservations. Can I really enjoy a historical mystery set in a time sans mobile phones and DNA tests? That too when the protagonist is no martial artist. Well, palace nurse Hyeon has proved that swords are not always necessary to protect oneself and our loved ones. The ending was unexpected (I was never really this bad in the guessing game, sigh!) and it left me reeling in the realisation that I am biased towards my own gender.
        The author hasn't skipped the romance part instead, it progresses and merges so beautifully with the main story that you are left enthralled. Hyeon and Eojin possess the wits of a different era and one may wonder whether both are transmigrated from the modern age. More than a mystery, the novel deftly gives us a glimpse of a bygone era that has its drawbacks along with its glory.
        One of the major victims of this era is definitely the crown prince. Prince Sado might not be a familiar figure to those of us who are strangers to Korean history, and I must confess to spending some hours digging up his story. As the author's note clearly states at the end, it is not easy to judge him and I am happy June Hur has chosen to portray him sympathetically.  
        It won't be an exaggeration to say that this is one of the best stories I have chanced upon at the beginning of this year. 2022 has much to look forward to!

Meet the author:


June Hur is the bestselling author of YA historical mysteries The Silence of Bones, The Forest of Stolen Girls, and The Red Palace. In addition to being nominated twice for the prestigious Edgar Awards, she’s been featured on Forbes, NPR, and the CBC. Her fourth novel A Crane Among Wolves comes out in 2024. Born in South Korea and raised in Canada, she studied History and Literature at the University of Toronto. She currently lives in Toronto with her husband and daughter.
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