Friday, May 22, 2015

(Review) The Grip of God: The Tiger and The Dove Book One by Rebecca Hazell

Publication Date: July 23, 2013.
Publisher: Create Space Independent Publishing Platform.
Genre: Historical Fiction, Mongol Empire, Kievan Rus' (Eastern European Slavic Tribes), Genghis Khan family, military battles, 13th century.
Pages: 380.
Source: Free copy from Rebecca Hazell in exchange for a review.
Rating: 5 stars for excellent.

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About the Author
Rebecca Hazell is a an award winning artist, author and educator. She has written, illustrated and published four non-fiction children’s books, created best selling educational filmstrips, designed educational craft kits for children and even created award winning needlepoint canvases. She is a senior teacher in the Shambhala Buddhist lineage, and she holds an honours BA from the University of California at Santa Cruz in Russian and Chinese history.

Rebecca lived for many years in the San Francisco Bay Area. In 1988 she and her family moved to Halifax, Nova Scotia, and in 2006 she and her husband moved to Vancouver Island. They live near their two adult children in the beautiful Cowichan Valley.

Visit Rebecca:


Summary:
The Grip of God is the first novel in an epic historical trilogy, The Tiger and the Dove. Set in the thirteenth century, its heroine, Sofia, is a young princess of Kievan Rus. She begins her story by recounting her capture in battle and life of slavery to a young army captain in the Mongol armies that are flooding Europe. Not only is her life shattered, it is threatened by the bitter rivalries in her new master's powerful family, and shadowed by the leader of the Mongol invasion, Batu Khan, Genghis Khan's grandson. How will she learn to survive in a world of total war, much less rediscover the love she once took for granted? Always seeking to escape and menaced by outer enemies and inner turmoil, where can she find safe haven even if she can break free? Clear eyed and intelligent, Sofia could be a character from The Game of Thrones, but she refuses to believe that life is solely about the strong dominating the weak or about taking endless revenge. Her story is based on actual historical events, which haunt her destiny. Like an intelligent Forrest Gump, she reflects her times. But as she matures, she learns to reflect on them as well, and to transcend their fetters. In doing so, she recreates a lost era for us, her readers.
My Thoughts:
The Grip of God is one of the most fascinating historical fiction books I've read. The main reason is I was unacquainted with Chinese, Mongol, and Genghis/Chinggis Khan history. Reading The Grip of God has led me to read several articles online about the Genghis Khan, his family, and the Mongol Empire. The Grip of God is a historical history that has rarely been written about. Further, I know of no other historical fiction books on this history. Most people are loosely aware of Genghis Khan, but they do not know about the military campaigns, nor the people groups and countries destroyed and eliminated. Becoming aware through a fiction story of this period in history is the first reason I've given The Grip of God 5 stars for excellent. 
Further reasons are:

  • The main character and voice in the story is Sofia. When the story begins she is age 12. She is an only child, the precious jewel of her father. She is precocious, intelligent, strong-willed, determined, observant, and intuitive. The other characters in the story felt drawn to Sofia and this was infectious to me. I felt an investment in the story from the first page, because I felt Sofia was a unique character and was destined for a unique life journey.
  • Sofia is a character that has internal struggles with her belief system. Her belief system is the religion and culture and society of her people group. She also struggles with finding a balanced attitude with the Mongol people group. In the beginning her attitude is hate and mistrust. But as the story progresses she wrestles with positive feelings for these "dog speech" people.  
  • The Mongol society and culture was absorbing. I've read many stories of people living in western society during the Middle Ages, but reading about eastern Asian people during the Middle Ages felt foreign and exotic. 
  • The ending of The Grip of God left me wondering what Sofia's next life journey will bring. 
I've read other reviewer's remark they did not like the abuse of women in the story. I don't either. I cannot imagine any reader liking it. But, this is a strong point in accurately depicting the Mongol Empire and how the Khan warriors treated women. I don't consider 12 years of age to be a woman. However, Henry VII's mother, Margaret Beaufort, was barely 14 when he was born. I also thought about the women and girls who were raped when the Russians moved into Germany at the end of World War II. My point is throughout the centuries of history invading armies have abused the female population. It is horrid and frightening.

I struggled with whether to give The Grip of God 4 or 5 stars. What pushed up the rank to 5 stars is I cannot stop thinking about nor wondering what is in store for Sofia in book two.

Links of interest:
National Geographic magazine article.
Biography.com.



Wednesday, May 20, 2015

(Review) The Spider and the Stone: A Novel of Scotland's Black Douglas by Glen Craney

Publication Date: October 27, 2013.
Publisher: Brigid's Fire Press. 
Genre: Historical fiction, Scotland, Black Douglas, Edward I, Edward II, Edward III, England, 14th century.
Pages: 432.
Source: Free ebook copy from Glen Craney in exchange for a review.
Rating: 4 stars for very good.

Available at Amazon. 

B.R.A.G. Medallion Honoree

Featured at English Historical Fiction Authors

Visit Glen Craney's website



Links of interest:
Education Scotland
Wikipedia
Rampant Scotland

Summary:
James Douglas was born in 1286 A.D. His father was William the Hardy, Lord of Douglas. He was a Scottish nobleman and fought alongside William Wallace. James was sent to Paris for safety when he was a boy. After returning to his homeland, he realized the family land was taken away by Edward I of England. This gave James Douglas a second reason for hating Edward I and his descendants.
James Douglas met Robert the Bruce. They became friends and allies. Douglas served Bruce with loyalty until the end.
The Spider and the Stone is a historical fiction story about the life of James Douglas. He was known by the English as the Black Douglas. He was known in Scotland as Good Sir, James Douglas.
In addition to the chronological life story, is a weaving of magic, the Templars, the three kings named Edward, a bittersweet romance, a yearning for Scotland's independence, and the expense of being a warrior.

My Thoughts:
There are moments when The Spider and the Stone has an Arthurian quality. When characters experienced apparitions, visions, or dreams. When sorcery and magic was utilized. I wondered if Craney had tried to create an ethereal atmosphere to the story?
James Douglas is the hero. He is the protective and conquering warrior risking his life for his country and loved ones. He is a moral person and near perfect. He is faithful and brave. He is a person who exhibits all that is endearing and admiring to people. On one hand, he is a hero that we look up to and hope to attain. On the other hand, it's beyond our grasp to reach.
While reading The Spider and the Stone, I thought how lovely it would be to hear the story read to me. I believe it is a story worthy of reading aloud. (Except for one particular part.)
Edward II's grotesque death is depicted. This is the only place in the story that I did not like. I've read other books where his form of death is debated as either fact or fiction. But I've not read until this book the sadist details of his torturous death. 

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Thoughts on Literature: What If Literature Was Only Accessible In Its Original Language?

Have you wondered what our world would be like without the ability to read literature in our known language? Further, would the absence of "world" literature change our ideals and values?
Without translation, these works would never be made available to a larger audience. That's where a translation software company like Smartling comes in, who's mission is to preserve and carry over the original intent and purpose of the text.

I've thought of four classic literature works originally written in another dialect or language other than modern English.
  1. The Odyssey by Homer.
  2. The Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer. 
  3. Les Miserables by Victor Hugo.  
  4. War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy.
The Odyssey, an epic poem by Homer, was written in 675-725 B.C.E.  It was intended to be read orally. It was written in Greek. The Odyssey was arranged in twenty-four books. The story is of Odysseus, king of Ithaca, and his ten year journey home after the Trojan War. His heroic journey is filled with mythical creatures and strange lands. His yearning for home and family is something all humans can relate to. 

The Canterbury Tales, a collection of short stories written by Geoffrey Chaucer in the 14th century. The stories were told by people on a pilgrimage to Thomas Becket's shrine at Canterbury Cathedral. The stories were written in Middle English. Middle English is the precursor of Modern English.(Middle English language, from Britannica. The link will present both Middle English and Modern English examples by quoting the opening lines of The Canterbury Tales.) The tales are humorous, bawdy, engaging, and meant to be a form of entertainment for the travelers. The tales reveal English society during the 14th century. 

Les Miserables by Victor Hugo. Les Miserables is a historical novel. It was written in French and published in 1862. The main character and theme is Jean Valjean and his journey to have liberty. His journey for liberty parallels France's journey for liberty. It parallels humanity's yearning for freedom and redemption. Valjean is both a hardened and stoic man because of the life he's lived, and a passionate and long-suffering man. The story has over-arching themes of grace and mercy, and they are in opposition to those who have hardened hearts.  

War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy. War and Peace is a historical novel. The story centers on several aristocratic families during the Napoleonic War of 1804-1814. The novel switches back and forth between the civilian society of the families and the men at war. The book shows the affects of war both during and afterwards. War and Peace was published in Russian in 1865-1869.

Without the collection of classic works I've mentioned, the world would be void of their contributions. They show the society and culture during these historical periods. They are tales of enchantment and entertainment. We are swept away to another place and time, where people live differently and speak differently; however, they are people just as we are, filled with thoughts of home, and yearnings for freedom and peace.
Reading world literature has a way of bringing together people of different races, religions, cultures, and societies. It is a reminder that humanity is more similar in traits than opposites.

References: Britannica, Wikipedia, The Literature Network,

Article written by Annette Kristynik.

An Interesting Interview of Orson Welles About Ernest Hemmingway






Saturday, May 16, 2015

(Review) Behind The Forgotten Front: A WWII Novel by Barbara Hawkins

Publication Date: August 22, 2014.
Publisher: Barbara Hawkins.
Genre: Historical fiction, World War II, Burma, India, China, Japan.
Pages: 309 in ebook format, 318 in paperback format.
Source: ebook provided for free from Barbara Hawkins in exchange for a review.
Rating: 5 stars for excellent.

e-book: ISBN 978-0-9915984-2-7 (309 pages)
Paperback: ISBN 978-0-9915984-1-0 (318 pages)


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Summary:
It’s 1942 and Harry Flynn enlists to fight in the war expecting to find the thrill of danger and honor of military service. He leaves behind the love of his life to journey into a world of tigers, elephants and Himalayan Mountains. Instead of a fighting position, Harry is sent to the Forgotten Front in the Indian subcontinent as an ordinary supply officer. There, General Joseph ‘Vinegar Joe’ Stilwell is constructing a ‘road to nowhere’ through Japanese-occupied Burma. The general will do anything to get the road built.
In this exotic world with Naga headhunters, opium-smoking Kachin tribesmen, and marauders who scorn both life and death, Harry forges unlikely friendships. He’s forced to obey orders that challenge his principles and is torn between being true to himself or ‘no man at all.’ Eventually, not willing to let Uncle Sam needlessly condemn the road crew to death, he rebels.
He tries to sabotage the road’s progress where an Afro-American construction regiment is losing a man a mile due to disease and crumbling mountain slopes. Then a commanding officer spots his unconventional skills. Immediately he’s transferred to America’s first guerrilla-supported unit: Merrill’s Marauders and later the Mars Task Force. Here, he must entrust his life to others. During a time when boys were forced to come of age on the battlefield, Harry must find what makes his life worth living or die.
The lessons learned in World War II apply to all wars, where men walk away carrying unspeakable memories and lives that ‘could have been’ haunt those that lived. Behind the Forgotten Front brings them all back to life and shows that history is about facts driven by passions and sometimes the mistakes of real people.

My Thoughts:
The war in the Pacific during World War II is of strong interest to me. I've read several books on the European Front during WWII, but only a few on the Pacific Front. Behind The Forgotten Front is the first book I've read in regards to the China-Burma-India Theater of World War II. In reading about World War II from all angles of the war, it becomes clear that the entire vast world was at war.

My reasons for giving Behind The Forgotten Front 5 stars for excellent.
  • The voice in the novel is Harry Flynn. He has a special girl back at home named Ruthie. The portrayal of Harry is realistic. Every part of his humanity is expressed in the story. From his thoughts and feelings, to his physical maladies. He is in essence the American GI. An All-American, saucy, independent, "no one is going to take me down" kind of guy. His special girl back at home is the source of his dreams and hopes. She is his escape during the dark days of war. 
  • It's been remarked by other reviewers that the language is too strong, coarse. The reality of war is that men and women are not using their best and proper language. This is not important. Food, water, dry socks, and ammunition is essential. In order to give reality to the people who took part in combat, realistic language matters.
  • The environment of vegetation, animals, geography of the land, and the people who live in this area of Asia was engrossing. 
  • There are several battle scenes realistically depicted. They are graphic and adrenaline pumping. I believe this is one of the hardest things to write. Only a person who has been in combat understands what it is like. Hawkins captured as real as can be accomplished in a battle scene.
  • Lastly, Hawkins towards the end of the story begins to sort through the affects of war on the men. What kind of civilian men will they be like? Will their families recognize them? These are questions all men and women wrestle with after they come home from war. 

 Author Bio: 
Author page @ Amazon
Website
Barbara Hawkins started writing a pseudo-memoir about her time spent in Guatemala during the 1970’s-1980’s civil war. It was too close to her heart, so she had to switch to something she wanted to tell a story about but also had a worthwhile message. Her father had always wanted to write a book about the time he’d spent in World War II but died before he could reach that goal. So she thought she’d give it a try.
She knew he was stationed in Sri Lanka, but she didn't find much to write about there. So she gravitated to what she knew best, engineering and jungles. The story of the Afro-American construction regiment building Stilwell’s Road grabbed her attention and who could not be mesmerized by American’s first guerrilla supported units: Merrill’s Marauders and the Mars Task Force? Half-way through the book her sister found her dad’s diary from the War. He was actually in the Mars Task Force. The scene with Lt. Jack Knight was taken from his diary and the ending was from a conversation she had with her dad just before he died. Having given a promise to keep his WWII missions a secret for fifty years, it was the only time her father spoke of the War.
Ms. Hawkins holds BS degrees from the University of Minnesota where she studied Botany and Mathematics. She taught mathematics and science in High School until she realized she hated being a disciplinarian. From there she traveled to jungles in Latin America collecting plant specimens for several universities. She also has a MS in Civil Engineering. For the last twenty-five-years she has worked as a professional engineer. Her hobbies vary from cooking and yoga to bicycling and adventure travel.
For more information visit Barbara Hawkins’ website.

Behind the Forgotten Front Blog Tour Schedule

Monday, May 11
Review at Flashlight Commentary
Interview at Boom Baby Reviews
Tuesday, May 12
Review at With Her Nose Stuck in a Book
Wednesday, May 13
Review and Giveaway at Forever Ashley
Spotlight at A Literary Vacation
Thursday, May 14
Spotlight at CelticLady’s Reviews
Friday, May 15
Review and Giveaway at So Many Precious Books, So Little Time
Saturday, May 16
Review at Impressions in Ink
Spotlight at Just One More Chapter
Monday, May 18
Review and Giveaway at Unshelfish
Tuesday, May 19
Spotlight and Giveaway at Passages to the Past


Praise for Behind the Forgotten Front

“Barbara’s debut novel is a compelling examination of man and war and the interaction between them. The miracle of this novel is how Barbara brings this `forgotten front’ to life. Barbara accomplishes her goals in this her debut – bringing to our attention the impact war has on all soldiers, no matter their assignment. She also sets a very high standard for her next book. Brava!” – Grady Harp, Amazon Reviewer

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Gone With The Wind Read-a-Long: Week One

Gone With The Wind theme music:


Week One (through May 16): The Author-
Who is Margaret Mitchell? 

Margaret Munnerlyn Mitchell was born in 1900, in Atlanta, Georgia. She died in 1949, also in Atlanta, Georgia. Mitchell's family was wealthy. Her father was an attorney. She attended a private girl's school. She was an avid reader and writer in her youth. She attended Smith College for one year. She was a strong-willed and irreverent flapper girl. Her first marriage began in 1922, ending in divorce. A second marriage was in 1925, and lasted until her death. She worked as a journalist at the Atlanta Journal. Her first and only novel was Gone With The Wind. While working on Gone With The Wind, she read and studied erotica. A novella and other writings from her early years have been published posthumously.

Why do you think she may have written this book?
From reading what her biographies have stated, she had the idea to write a historical fiction story, from the Civil War and Reconstruction true stories she'd heard as a youth. I believe her talent was in writing. She probably had a "gut-feeling" that she could turn-out a red hot romantic story. I don't believe she expected to win a National Book Award, nor a Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. I don't believe she expected the book would become a movie. I believe she hoped the book would bring in financial help.

What do I think about the slang terms, slave theme, and other hard to read subject matter?
Heavy sigh. Abuse is hard to read and harder to live through. 
Condescending words and phrases are used throughout the book. Indifferent and ignorant of the feelings and respect of others is just not an issue to white men at this period in history. Some men were involved in the push for freedom for all black men and women. Of course, the Indian Wars will not heat up until after the Civil War. Native American peoples have value and deserve to be free as well. 
I'm only 100 pages into the book and the war has not begun. The slaves that I've read about work in the plantation home at Tara. I have not read about those slaves working in the fields. I have not read about the break-up of families. Things so far are not "violent," but they are not free nor are they respected as humans. They are chattel. 


Links for further reading:
Wikipedia
Atlanta History Center
Biography
PBS American Masters



Gone With The Wind Read-a-Long

It was just a few weeks ago I finished another lengthy book, War and Peace.
War and Peace has 1,424 pages. Gone With The Wind has 960 pages.
I've seen the movie with Clark Gable and Vivien Leigh several times. I have the piano music to the movie. However, I've never read the book. I started to read the book a few years ago and became sidetracked by other things. I'm hoping this is the year to read and finish Gone With The Wind. 
My copy of the book is from Scribner, published 2007.
A Little Journal About Books is the host for the reading challenge.
This is the post for the Discussion Questions. 
This is the link for the post listing all of the posts on the read-a-long thus far.