Tag Archives: France

The Orphan’s Tale by Pam Jenoff

The Orphan’s Tale by Pam Jenoff is a tale of survival for two women, each with something to hide from the Nazis. Noa at sixteen has been seduced by a leering eye and long after the German Soldier is gone she finds herself pregnant and homeless when her unforgiving father shows her the door. Her Dutch heritage, blond hair and blue eyes, allows her asylum in a home which nurtures unwed mothers, the right sort who can contribute their offspring to the utopia fostered by the motherland. Now Noa, once again homeless, finds employment at the local train station, earning a meager keep by cleaning the grounds. It is in this capacity that she discovers a train car full of screaming infants, taken from their mothers and in danger of dying from neglect and the cold elements. Not thinking, she grabs one and runs off through the bitter winter night, collapsing somewhere in the woods from exhaustion. Luckily she is found by some circus folk, whose performers are at their winter quarters preparing for the spring season. The kind hearted ringmaster takes her in along with her (circumcised) “brother” on the condition that she learns to become an aerialist for the trapeze act. Her teacher, Astrid, has her own sad saga. Born into a circus family, she fell in love and married a high ranking German Soldier. Unfortunately her Jewish faith eventually caused a problem for her husband with him being asked to “divorce” his wife. Returning home she discovers that her entire family has disappeared and the circus disbanded. Her carney neighbor, Herr Neuhoff, is still allowed to perform, providing entertainment in selected locations throughout Europe, and she is invited to stay. Adopting a stage name, she continues the career which she had followed since birth, hiding her Jewish heritage within the big top. At first Astrid resents the younger Noa, reluctantly teaching her the ins and outs of an act which normally takes years to develop. Eventually though they form a bond, protecting one another from an outside world which threatens harm on a regular basis.

Don’t expect a feel good story, this is, after all, the era of Nazi Germany where everybody’s life is in danger for one reason or another. However, the trappings of the circus make this tale somewhat unique and anyone who has been lucky enough to attend such a performance will be fascinated by the particulars of the daily doings necessary to run the show. The tale is alternately told from the viewpoint of the two female characters, but despite the interesting setting and some details based on true events, I felt the plot dragged at times with too many repetitive reflections of the angst facing the two women. While there is a lot of movement, especially towards the end of the book, there are also long drawn out passages where nothing important seems to be happening. This is a 300+ page book which could have been edited down and tightened up to make for a fast paced more enjoyable read. Three and a half stars

A thank you to Netgalley and Mira Books for providing this ARC in exchange for an honest review.

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Forbidden Knight by Diana Cosby

Forbidden Knight by Diana Cosby is a sweet little Scottish Medieval Romance, short enough to read in an afternoon, long enough to be chockful of action. Mistress Alesone MacNiven is under the protection of the rightful King of Scotland, Robert the Bruce, when she comes across a group of men on horseback. Not sure if they pay allegiance to Bruce or his mortal enemy, Lord Comyn, she sends a masterful warning shot with her arrow, barely missing the heart of Sir Thomas MacKelloch. Leary of each other’s intentions, Thomas binds the maiden to keep her from escaping so he can verify her story of being the King’s healer. Once truths are revealed, the two find themselves on the way to safety in Avalon to avoid a disaster which would tear Scotland apart. Each has a series of secrets which affect their outlook on life and both feel a growing affection which doesn’t fit into either of their future plans. The road is not easy, not just because of the tough terrain, but also because the enemy is on their tail, and anyone who helps them also becomes a target. While this Medieval tale is full of violence, it is tempered with love as Sir Thomas and Alesone both attempt to reconcile their pasts. Although this is Part 2 of the Forbidden Series, you don’t need to have read the plot of Book1 to gain an understanding of the moral codes of the times.

Although well written and despite the exciting fight scenes, there was a little too much repetition in the intimacy department as the two lovers agonize over their feelings and despair that this is a romance which can never happen. With a lot of teasingly passionate moments, in the end there’s a nice twist which promises a happily ever after in spite of their doubts. The historical background regarding the Knights Templar and the strife over who will rule Scotland is an added plus.

Three and a half stars and a thank you to Netgalley for providing an ARC in exchange for an honest review.

This review also appears on Goodreads.

My Lady Jane by Cynthia Hand, Brodi Ashton, and Jodi Meadows

We all know that King Henry VIII was obsessed with his legacy which is one of the reasons he ended up with six wives. It also led to England’s break with the Pope who refused to annul Henry’s first marriage. When the King died, his only son Edward became the new King of England at the age of nine, with the crown being controlled by a series of “advisers” whose chief purpose was to line their own pockets, profiting from pilfered land and the titles and funds associated with those properties. Whether King Edward VI, at the age of fifteen, died of TB or was poisoned is still up to conjecture, but immediately prior to his death he signed a proclamation naming his cousin, Lady Jane Grey and her progeny, next in line to the throne in order to keep his older half sister, Mary, from taking control of the country. Mary had different ideas about the succession, imprisoning Lady Jane and eventually beheading her for treason. Jane’s total term as Queen lasted only nine days. Queen Mary I, a devout Catholic, sought revenge for her father’s persecution against the priesthood by beheading self proclaimed Protestants, earning her the title of Bloody Mary. After five years on the throne, Mary died childless, possibly of ovarian or uterine cancer, and her younger half sister Elizabeth ascended to power and ruled for forty five years undoing the damage of Mary’s fanaticism by encouraging the Protestant Church to grow and flourish.

Many writers have replicated these events in books and various theatrical events. However, when three YA authors got together, they decided it would be fun to create an alternative interpretation of these historic events and present an irreverent version of the fate befalling the Tudors in the 1550’s. Instead of dealing with a religious conflict in My Lady Jane, the authors, Cynthia Hand, Brodi Ashton, and Jodi Meadows, elected to bestow an alter ego to the population, allowing select individuals to have a separate “personality” in the form of an animal. These Edians were discriminated against by the Verities – those individuals who did not have the shape shifting gene.

In this fantasy, King Edward barely manages to escape a death by poison, changing into a kestrel and flying to safety. Lady Jane finds herself married to Lord G who is a horse by day, while she morphs into a ferret each night. Using their animal forms, the two are able to allude their executioners. Filling in the blanks with real and imaginary details, the three authors painstakingly paint an absurd portrait of love, romance, betrayal, and conflict as Edward seeks a path back to the throne. Unfortunately, the fantasy portion is in direct conflict with reality, so they also need to develop an imaginative conclusion which somewhat coincides with the realm of possibility.

The readers can tell the authors had a good time ad-libbing an amusing variant to English history. They did their research, visiting such locales as the Tower of London and interviewing historians about the sequence of events. They even threw in some salacious tidbits, such as the scandalous behavior of Lady Jane’s mother running off with the horse master, which sounds like fiction, but is actually true. Unfortunately, I found the entire book too silly for my taste, and at times annoying, especially since the plot dragged on and on for close to 500 pages. While I normally have a sense of humor, (I enjoyed Spelled by Betsy Schow, a twisted version of The Wizard of Oz) and am no stranger to books featuring shape shifters or alternate paths (Think Pride and Prejudice and Zombies by Seth Grahame-Smith), this book fell short.

Now don’t let me keep you from reading this novel. There are many who loved the premise and its implementation (it was even voted the Goodreads Choice Award for Young Adult Fantasy & Science Fiction in 2016), I’m just not one of them. However, kudos for introducing a whole generation of readers to the little known historical event where Lady Jane Gray served a brief stint in the monarchy of England. So for finding a unique way to educate the average reader – three stars. (If you want to read a superior fantasy, although not written to be humorous, that involves animals and humans – please check out Philip Pullman’s Dark Materials trilogy).

A Kiss of Lies by Bronwen Evans (Disgraced Lords Series, Book One)

Sarah Cooper breathed a sigh of relief when Christian Trent, the Earl of Markham, hired her as a governess for his ward, Lily, the orphaned daughter of his former business partner, Mr. Pearson. Sarah, really Lady Serena Castleton, needed to hide her true identity and get as far away from North America as possible to escape prosecution for murdering her abusive husband. The Earl had his own demons, after being scarred in a fire while fighting the French and then being impressed on a ship to Canada after a duke’s daughter accused him of rape. His disfigured face and the false charges lead him to Calgary, Canada, but now it is time to return to London and clear his name.

On The Doreen, Lord Markham’s ship, Christian finds himself attracted to the governess and plans to make her his mistress. Serena has had a secret infatuation for the Earl since before her come out when she would watch him from the stairway at her father’s, the Duke of Hastings, social events. Even though he is disfigured, Serena still considers him a handsome, virile man. When she hears his nightmarish screams, she goes to comfort him while he sleeps. This just spurs him to further his plans of seduction. However, Serena’s only experiences in sex were with her sadistic husband who not only treated her as a slave, but beat her. She and the Earl both have battle scars, physically and emotionally. Slowly Christian wins Serena’s trust and shows her how wonderful lovemaking can be. Despite her determination to maintain her distance, Serena finally agrees to be his lover, but only until they reach England. Lord Markham, not wanting to give her up, proposes marriage, but Serena doesn’t want him tainted by her criminal acts, so she refuses. Of course, once the truth is revealed, although hurt by her lack of trust, the Duke vows to protect his love. She returns the favor and protects him from his accusers.

A Kiss of Lies by Bronwen Evans is Book One in the Disgraced Lords Series where the Libertine Scholars are introduced. Christian is not alone in his struggles, and his friends assist him in clearing his name. Of course, they immediately recognize Lady Serena who was a debutante when the Earl was fighting in France. When they hear her dilemma they vow to speak out in her behalf, especially those who had witnessed the vile behavior of her former husband Peter Dennett. Evans explores the role of men and their domination over women, with the laws which ignored the human rights of even an abused wife.

While the author has an interesting premise, the delivery doesn’t meet the promised potential. Yes, there are some interesting plot twists, but the reader has to wade through too much repetition of the main characters angst. Their continuous professions of love and lamentations about their private issues gets annoying. Even their lovemaking is overdone to the point where it loses its effectiveness. Cut the repetition in order to pay more attention to the plot details and keep the readers’ interest. Some witty dialogue would also be a good addition. True love is a worthy subject, but not when it gets too sappy. Maudlin, love sick characters lack a sense of excitement. I was also put off by how selfish the main characters could be and how nasty Christian was, in various situations, to the love of his life. Serena was already brow beaten by one husband, she didn’t need to make excuses for the behaviors of another perspective spouse. Expanding and creating a more compelling plot with less introspection along with the addition of some clever interchanges would really spice up the story. A little more attention to the details of the Regency Period would also endear the author to fans of that era.

I’m willing to allow some leeway since this book sets up the premise for the rest of the series, introducing us to some of the featured characters. Since Christian’s friends have peaked my interest and the over riding mystery plot has potential, I’m looking forward to Sebastian’s story in A Promise of More.

2 1/2 Stars

The Cost of Courage by Charles Kaiser

WWII! Of course we studied it in high school. Everybody has read The Diary of Ann Frank and the current generation has read The Book Thief. When I was twenty one I read the entire Rise and Fall of the Third Reich and over the years I have watched various movies from Bridge on the River Kwai to The Great Escape to The Guns of Navarrone. I even had the privilege of hearing the 80 year old Elie Wiesel at the Chautauqua Institute speak about his experiences in German concentration camps during the war. I reread my purchased autographed copy of Night between his two talks (so I could save a good seat).

I grew up in a Brooklyn neighborhood where some of my friend’s parents had visible tattooed numbers on their arms as evidence of their war experiences. My father was a mine sweeper in the Pacific and survived two sinking ships, pulling one to shore and earning a medal for saving the Captain’s life. (My dad died less than twenty years later from a weak heart – the after effects of malaria and chain smoking). So even though, in a way, I grew up surrounded by the war, in reality, my knowledge is limited. When I began reading The Cost of Courage by former New York Times reporter Charles Kaiser, it was like reading a science fiction novel full of fantasy. Although I knew about the French Resistance, I didn’t know the particulars as retold by the author. Here is the down and dirty side of the French occupation by the Germans, not a story coached in politically correct descriptions, but an honest accounting of what happened from the eyes of the people involved. Just as my father rarely spoke of the war (and never to me), these folks were tight lipped as well. The horrors they experienced remained a taboo subject. Luckily Kaiser was able to convince them to share their memories as members of the Maquis, a tale which will all-to-soon be lost resulting in a world ignorant of the nitty gritty details of that era – a time which needs to be chronicled if only to allow us to understand how our past is effecting the future.

Nobody else could have written this book. Charles’ Uncle Henry Kaiser was an American Lieutenant who was invited to stay at the Boulloche home in Paris in 1944 after the Liberation of Paris and the return of Charles de Gaulle. Over the year he remained, Henry head the stories of Christiane, Jacqueline, and Andre and their experiences as a part of the French Resistance, which he later conveyed with a dramatic flair to his young nephew. Charles Kaiser first visited the Boulloche family in 1962 when he was eleven and over the years was able to frequent their gatherings. He considered the Boulloches his “French cousins” and became an “adopted” member of their extended family. Charles noticed that the past adventures relayed by his uncle were never mentioned. It is not surprising that after the senseless death of their parents (Jacques and Helene, and their older brother Robert) and the end of the war, the surviving three siblings married and started life anew, leaving the horrors of the war behind.

Finally, nearing the end of the century, Charles was able to convince Christiane, the only surviving sibling, that if her tale was not told the history would be lost to future generations. It would simply disappear if she failed to record it. For her it was a sense of obligation, so, at the age of 71, she began the emotionally difficult task of transcribing her experiences in a forty five page manuscript for her children and grand kids to read. Charles used this memoir, completed in 1999, as a starting point. He spent two and a half years in France researching and interviewing key players in the drama. This is a book which was fifty years in the making, beginning with the “stories” as retold by his uncle on up through to 2015 when this tome was finally published.

Charles, a journalist, relates the specifics of the European War from the rise of Hitler and the reactions of England and France to the German invasion of France to the Battle of Normandy where the allies began defeating the Germans to the final retaking of Paris continuing up until the end of the war. Within this historical background is the story of the French Resistance and the role the Bollouche siblings played in bringing down the Nazis. This book takes a straightforward unapologetic view of the reactions of the French citizens, especially the Parisians, to the German occupation. If this topic intrigues you there is also the 1969 documentary – The Sorrow and the Pity – which explores European life during this era. Despite the revealed depictions fraught with tragedy (all man made), there are also moments of success and ultimate victory. Kaiser rounds out this book with details about the postwar lives of the Boulloches and includes a list of characters, acknowledgements, notes, a bibliography, and an index along with an afterward and preface. The included photographs were a nice touch.

The author writes the story as if we are there and life is unfolding as we read. This telling in the present tense might be jarring for folks who would rather read about the past and not feel as if they were reliving events as they happened. It is, however, an effective tool to immerse the reader into the story to get a touch of the gut wrenching horror felt by the participants. In any case, while fascinating and well written, this is not an easy book to get through simply because there is just too much to take in. Just as when I read The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, I concede that even if I reread it a second time, I still would not be able to retain all the information. Yet, I perceive its essence and that is good enough for me. God bless Christiane, Jacqueline, and Andre (and their cohorts) for their fearless work on behalf of the French nation as well as the rest of the world. Thank you! Four stars.

I would like to thank Netgalley and Other Press for this ARC in exchange for an honest review. This review also appears on Goodreads.

Paris Hop by Margie Blumberg, illustrated by Renee Andriani

Grandmother and grand daughter have just one day to see Paris. The goal is to make it to the Eiffel Tower before sundown, but with so many sights to see, can they squeeze it all in? Paris Hop by Margie Blumberg is full of rich illustrations as well as a glossary of the numerous French words peppered throughout the book (including the correct pronunciations). The entire story is written in rhyme – a little off meter but still charming. The activities are perfect for the two generations including having their “portrait” painted by street artists and enjoying a view of the Notre Dame Cathedral while on a boat ride down the Seine. Must “to do’s” include a visit to the Louvre to see the Mona Lisa and a stop at a boulangerie to grab a baguette for breakfast. Trying on gowns at a boutique and watching an outdoor Punch and Judy puppet show at the park are two other fanciful activities to be enjoyed. When they finally reach the Eiffel Tower, the sun is setting, but the bright lights of Paris become a special bonding memory for grandmother and grandchild to share, rounding out the perfect day.

While Blumberg has written a cute picture book highlighting the sights of Paris, it is the illustrations by Renee Andriani which steal the show. Andriani’s phenomenal representations of Paris are finely detailed and almost fool the reader into believing that they have been transported overseas and are touring the city along with the grandma and child. Unfortunately, the illustrations simply overwhelm the text, making me wish that there was a little more substance to the story. I will be on the outlook for future artistic endeavors by this illustrator. Three stars for the written portion, five stars for the art work, leaving an averaged total of four stars.

A thank you to Netgalley and MB Publishing for providing this ARC in exchange for an honest review. This review also appears on Goodreads.

Manga Classics: Les Miserables (by Victor Hugo), story adaptation by Crystal Silvermoon, art by SunNeko Lee

I must admit that I’ve never read Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables, although I have seen bits and pieces of the musical, enough to know the basic idea of the story, but not enough to give an outline of the plot. That is why I was excited to receive Manga Classics: Les Miserables as a free ARC from Udon Entertainment and Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. I was not disappointed. I felt the author (story adaptation by Crystal Silvermoon) and illustrator (art by SunNeko Lee) did a fine job of retelling the story of Jean Valjean, whose life is spent helping others, often with disastrous results.

Taking place in France in the 1800’s, Jean Valjean, while trying to help feed his sister’s children, is thrown into prison for stealing a loaf of bread. On his release, he is forced to steal again to survive and would have been returned to his cell if not for a kindly monk who urges him to change his ways. Selling the silver allows Jean Valjean to start life anew. With a fresh identity he builds a factory and provides work for the impoverished villagers, eventually becoming their respected Mayor. Enter Fantine, a poor woman working in the factory in order to make enough money to support her young, fatherless child who she left living with two scoundrels that are bleeding her dry. When it is discovered she is an unwed mother, Fantine is kicked out of her place of employment and forced to sell her body, including her beautiful hair and teeth. Jean Valjean discovers her near death and, after hearing her story, vows to find and assist her daughter Cosette. Unfortunately, Jean Valjean’s past has caught up with him. Inspector Javert, a driven, single-minded officer of the law, is determined to find Jean Valjean and return him to jail. The cycle of chase, capture, and escape dominates the plot of this story. Eventually Jean Valjean rescues young Cosette and raises her as if she were his own, taking on the role of father. He remains constantly on the run to escape the clutches of Inspector Javert, but continues to help the poor and unfortunate even though he must deal with the twists and turns of fate which seems to haunt his very existence.

Of course, there is a reason this book is a classic, dealing with emotions such as pride, fear, courage, anger, love, pain, devastation, grief. The author did an excellent job of culling the original novel in order to give the reader a good slug of the plot, although many of the details and backstory had to be omitted. There were a few spots I found confusing and had to reread, although if I were familiar with the original book I would have known what was happening. The illustrations were exceptional. The detailed drawings give us women who are soft and pretty, men who are viral and strong, and two villains who are accurately portrayed as bumbling fools whose greed results in destruction.

I definitely plan to pick up Victor Hugo’s book and read the entire text and I’m sure many others who read the Manga will do the same. (Well, at least the ones who aren’t scared off by novels over a thousand pages long.) However, even if they don’t, it is a good way to introduce youth to those wonderful tales which have stood the test of time. That is why we call them classics. Well done. Four stars.