Review: Heaven in His Arms by Lisa Ann Verge

Title: Heaven in His Arms

Author: Lisa Ann Verge

Genre: Adventure, Historical Romance

First Published: 1995

Year of Publication of this Edition: 2014

Published by Bay Street Press LLC

Rating: 4/5 stars

Note: I purchased this book as a freebie. However, this aspect didn’t influence the review I wrote or the rating I gave this book.  In this review, you will find only my honest thoughts and opinions about the book I’ve read! This book contains adult themes and language!

“All single men in the colony must marry within a fortnight of the arrival of the king’s girls. If they don’t, they’ll be denied their precious fur trading licenses.” (Loc. 500-501)

For today’s post, I’ve chosen to write a review for an adventure/historical romance entitled Heaven in His Arms, written by Lisa Ann Verge, which is set in Quebec in the 17th century, a place of which I’ve never read anything before.

Genevieve Lalande’s past is filled with grief, terrible events and circumstances that led her to a miserable existence on the streets of Paris. Her only chance to escape from the wretched underbelly of the French society and to begin a better life is to switch places with a king’s girl (Marie Duplessis) in order to become a mail-order bride and to be sent to Quebec, the newest colony in King Louis XIV’s possession.

“Every year since she’d arrived in the Salpêtrière, dozens of girls had been given a dowry by the king and sent off to the Caribbean islands or to the northern settlements of New France, to marry and settle in the colonies.” (Loc. 61-62)

Even if Genevieve will be forced to marry a stranger when she arrives in Quebec, she accepts to do so because anything seems better than a life of poverty, theft and constant humiliations. She went through a lot of hardship in the past to be afraid of the unknown, whether it is the place where she will be settling down or the man who will choose her as his bride.

Meanwhile, in Quebec, André Lefebvre has to marry and settle down into the colony, due to an ordinance sent from France, if the fur trader wants to keep his license. Obviously, André hates this new law because he is a man who loves freedom, pleasures of all kinds, venturing into the unknown parts of New France, and he’s not at all interested in raising a family of his own. Though André tries to avoid such a marriage of convenience, he reluctantly obeys the ordinance for his trade’s sake, picks up the sickly Genevieve and quickly marries her, secretly hoping she will die soon. So much for a warm welcome, eh?

But André doesn’t know that Genevieve can play dirty too and he can’t fool her that easily because she’s also tenacious – she looks for him and insists to go with him on the voyage he planned for so long. Even though André doesn’t want her around, partially because he lusts for her and partially because he’s afraid she won’t survive the journey, Genevieve’s presence is actually useful sometimes because she has skills that surprise her husband who thought that she would have a hard time adapting to the expedition.

In fact, Genevieve somehow belongs in the wilderness because she is a free-spirited, courageous woman like the native Indian women and even though she makes silly or apparently innocent mistakes, she knows what she is doing most of the time. I think that her attitude and adaptability to any unexpected situation is a lesson for misogynistic André, who wrongly compares her to the whiny Frenchwomen who needed comfort, protection and coquetries to be happy: “This woman was as unpredictable and as stubborn as this great stretch of untamed land. A man could spend a lifetime making love to her, and it would be like riding these rapids—wild, exhilarating, bordering on the brink of control.” (Loc.1852-1853).

I’m glad that I’ve read this book. I don’t have many complaints about it, except for Genevieve’s pet name – Genny – that sounds very American to me and not quite French and the sex scenes after André, Genevieve and their crew arrived at their destination. I understand that the purpose of those scenes is to show that the relationship strengthened and that the two lovers had their duties as a married couple, but sometimes these sex scenes dragged a little. However, the rest of the story was very interesting and I didn’t expect to enjoy it this much.

Overall, it was a pleasant read that made me imagine what Canada looked like before the country we all know today. The characters made this fictional journey pass very fast, in good company, and Genevieve and André’s relationship made the experience steamy and unique.

Review: The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum

Book 1 of Oz

 

Title: The Wonderful Wizard of Oz

Author: L. Frank Baum

Genre: Children’s Books, Fairy Tal, Adventure

First Published in 1900

Year of Publication of This Edition: 2012

Public Domain Books

Series: Oz

Rating: 5/5 stars

“You have plenty of courage, I am sure,” answered Oz. “All you need is confidence in yourself. There is no living thing that is not afraid when it faces danger. The true courage is in facing danger when you are afraid, and that kind of courage you have in plenty.” (p. 102)

I recently found myself in the mood to read The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, written by L. Frank Baum, a childhood favourite I’ve read in Romanian and partially in English. As most of you already know, it is a fairy tale about a poor little girl named Dorothy, who lives in Kansas with her aunt and uncle. Her dull life changes when a cyclone makes their house rise up into the air and drops it into the magical Land of Oz.

There, Dorothy and her little dog Toto encounter the inhabitants of this place: the Munchkins, the Witches and other outlandish beings, but also the three friends who accompany them on the way to the Emerald City, where the Great Wizard of Oz lives. The strange creatures that Dorothy befriends are the Scarecrow, the Tin Woodman and the Cowardly Lion. I think that it is redundant to tell you more about this story because it is a beloved children’s classic and that says already a lot about it.

Dorothy’s adventures in the Land of Oz made me feel like a child again and I’m glad I read it once more. Though I love the movie as well, I think that the book is more complex than it because there are more adventures and characters in the book than in the 1939 film. Even though the dialogue is a bit repetitive sometimes and Dorothy’s three talking friends are less developed than the characters from the fantasy novels of our times, I enjoyed this classic fairy tale.

Review: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by C. S. Lewis

Book 2 of The Chronicles of Narnia 

Title: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe

Author: C. S. Lewis

Illustrator: Pauline Baynes

Genre: Adventure, Fantasy, Children’s Books

First Published in 1950

Year of Publication of this Edition: 2009

Publisher: HarperCollins Children’s Books

Series: The Chronicles of Narnia

Rating: 5/5 stars

I’m almost sure that many of you love C. S. Lewis’ fantasy book series The Chronicles of Narnia, so I wanted to surprise you with my review for the second book: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. I haven’t read the rest of the books, but you can write in the comment section why you love this series or which book is your favourite.

As you already know, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe is a fantasy novel which revolves around the lives of four siblings (Peter, Susan, Edmund and Lucy Pevensie) who are sent to the countryside to escape the Blitz. While they explore the old house of Professor Digory Kirke, the children find an empty room where the only item of furniture is a wardrobe, which is actually a secret passage to the enchanted land named Narnia. It’s always winter there, but Christmas never comes. Gradually, each of the four siblings enters into this fairy-like world, where they encounter Tumnus the faun, Jadis the White Witch or the self-proclaimed Queen of Narnia, Mr and Mrs Beaver, Aslan the Lion or the true King of Narnia, and other magical and mythical creatures.

The kids initially go on a mission to save Tumnus from the witch’s castle, but when some old prophecies need to be fulfilled and spells to be broken, the siblings undergo adventures they have never dreamt of. I also want to add that there are very obvious religious symbols in this fantasy novel, but I won’t get into that. If you are interested in this topic, please check out Raluca’s article posted in two parts about J. R. R. Tolkien’s literary masterpiece The Lord of the Rings.

Though I loved the movie and watched it a few times before actually reading the novel, I also enjoyed most of the book for the depiction of Narnia, its characters, but also for the beautiful writing and plotline. Until next time!

Review: Blue Sun Yellow Sky by Jamie Jo Hoang

Title: Blue Sun Yellow Sky

Author: Jamie Jo Hoang

Genre: Contemporary, Romance, Travel

First Published in 2014

Published by HJ Publishing

Rating: 4/5 stars

A few months ago I received a message from an indie author who spoke about her debut novel on Twitter. I was so impressed with the subject of the book that I really wanted to read it, but I was also wondering whether it was going to be a heavy/emotional read or if it was going to be counterbalanced by something else. Here are my thoughts on it.

Blue Sun, Yellow Sky is a contemporary novel written by Jamie Jo Hoang, that revolves around the life of Aubrey Johnson, a twenty-seven-year-old painter, who was recently diagnosed with Retinitis Pigmentosa, a disorder which will gradually affect her sight and make her go blind in a matter of weeks. We learn that Aubrey is an independent woman who struggled to make a living as a young artist and now she will be forced to overcome her fear of going blind and of losing control of her life in order to keep her career going.

As it usually happens when someone receives bad news regarding their health, Aubrey realises that the clock is ticking and she regrets that she hasn’t explored more of the world’s wonders until now. She accepts to go with Jeff Anderson on a one-way ticket around the world. The two childhood friends re-encounter one another by chance after years of growing apart, which is a great occasion to bring back funny and heart-breaking memories and to catch up with each other’s lives.

I really like how Aubrey and Jeff’s friendship is revived, though the two seem to be opposites. Aubrey is a strong and independent person, she has mood swings as artists usually have, she is a little self-absorbed, and she sometimes needs to be alone to paint or just to meditate on her life and future. Jeff has always been a mature person, who chose reason over feelings, but that didn’t stop him from being a caring and generous friend. Aubrey can rely on him and be quirky around him. Things get a bit complicated along the way and the two will be forced to face their true feelings sooner or later and to reveal the secrets they were afraid to share with each other. I think that it’s somewhat easier to overcome life’s obstacles when you have a friend by your side and Jeff reappeared in Aubrey’s life when she needed help the most.

The pacing of the story is a bit slower than in other books I read, but it’s not a bad thing, because it symbolizes Aubrey’s wish to stay a little longer in the present, in order to capture as many details as she can and mentally reconstruct the places she visits, in order to use them as inspiration for her paintings. I adore the chapters about Aubrey’s travelling experiences, the descriptions of each of the Seven Wonders of the Modern World, the emotions they trigger, the local food and culture, the friends they meet or re-encounter, and the tensions which appear between Aubrey and Jeff or the internal conflicts within the protagonist’s heart and mind. I liked the writing, even the technical parts which are linked to painting, architecture and photography because they helped me connect with Aubrey’s work and creative process. There are also flashbacks showing the past, whether it is Aubrey’s, Jeff’s or someone else’s backstory, something which adds meaning to the story piece by piece.

Before I wrap this up, I want to add that the message of this book was empowering, it brought me hope, as weird as this may sound, and I began to accept myself as I am. I feel more motivated to pursue my dreams, to accept self-doubts, but to keep them under control, and it made me wish to explore more of the magnificent places Aubrey visited. In the end, I think that we don’t need to wait for something life-threatening to happen in order to realise how precious life is.

Review: Dawn of Rebellion by Michelle Lynn

Book 1 of Dawn of Rebellion

                                                           

Title: Dawn of Rebellion

Author: Michelle Lynn

Genre: Adventure, Dystopia, Young Adult

Year of Publication: 2013

Published by Creativia

Series: Dawn of Rebellion

Rating: 3/5 stars

Ever since I’ve begun writing book reviews, I heard about books and genres which are popular among different categories of readers. Because I’m a curious person, I’m experimenting with various genres to discover what I like and what is not quite my cup of tea. Therefore; today I’m going to review the first instalment in Michelle Lynn’s young adult dystopian adventure trilogy entitled Dawn of Rebellion, which was sent to me by the author through Twitter.

In short, this is the story of two teenage sisters (Dawn and Gabby) who live in a dystopian and segregated version of London, where soldiers march on the streets, people are divided into three classes of citizens, and if you’re breaking the law, you are sent to the colonies to work in some kind of concentration camps. There, you are tortured or put to death in “the box” which made me think of a gas chamber. After Gabby steals a bracelet for her sister’s birthday and the authorities decide to send her to the colonies, Dawn along with Gabby’s boyfriend (Drew) embark on a risky journey to save Gabby. The adventures that await all three teens will shape both sisters and teach each one of them to develop sides of their personalities they didn’t know they had. They will also meet new friends and discover secrets buried in their past.

Though I have a complicated relationship with young adult novels, I admire the strong devotion and love the two sisters have for each other despite their totally opposed personalities: Dawn is quiet and studious, while Gabby is outgoing, confident and stubborn. The memories they have of their childhood and parents made me sad and sorry for the abandonment from their parents’ part and the way those memories are narrated broke my heart. This novel also gave me some strange vibe because of the constant presence of the soldiers, the gloomy atmosphere and pure terror lurking in the shadows. I found the adventures interesting, suspenseful and very realistic with all the beatings and the story of how the US lost its identity. The writing was pretty good, though I had some trouble understanding some British words I’ve never heard before.

The story is narrated through three perspectives (Dawn, Gabby and Drew) of which I personally preferred Gabby’s because she is more independent, stronger and more courageous than Dawn, but Dawn learns to get out of her comfort zone too with Drew’s and her new friends’ help. When it comes to romance, it’s not really the focus of the story, but this doesn’t mean that it’s non-existent. The thing that I didn’t particularly like was the moment when Drew couldn’t make up his mind who he really loved – Dawn or Gabby?

In the end, I have some mixed feeling about this book and about dystopias in general because they are not something I particularly enjoy reading, but, on the other hand, the author did a pretty good job depicting both the oppressive fictional British regime and the Texan rebels who still called themselves Americans.

Review: Gates of Heaven by Pamita Rao

A Fantasy Action Adventure Series

Book 1 of Balthasar Family Saga

 

Title: Gates of Heaven

Subtitle: A Fantasy Action Adventure Series

Author: Pamita Rao

Genre: Fantasy, Adventure

Year of Publication: 2015

Published by P.S.R. Publishing Limited

Series: Balthasar Family Saga

Rating: 3/5 stars

I received a free copy of this book after I signed up for the author’s no-spam newsletter.

Warning: This book contains mature content not suitable for children!

“It was a myth well known to anyone in Tireol that the enchanted forests hid the gates of heaven created by gods. The gods used the gates to travel between various realms to observe and guide the life force that they helped create.” (Loc. 165-166)

Gates of Heaven is the first instalment in the fantasy adventure series Balthasar Family Saga written by Pamita Rao.  On Planet Myrth, King Creed reigns over the entire land, but his thirst for power didn’t quench with the vast territory he already owns; he also wants to conquer other realms beyond Myrth. To make his greedy wish come true, he needs to pass through the gates of heaven, which are located somewhere in the enchanted forests, but they reveal themselves only to enlightened people.

Though Creed learned to use dark magic from the sages while he was exiled by his father, King Balthasar, he has never found the magic gates like the former king did many years ago. When Queen Elora gives birth to a son, Creed’s trusted sage’s prediction comes true. Neelahaim will possess more powers than his father and he will be able to pass through the gates to unknown lands. What would a twisted totalitarian ruler like Creed do to make sure that he will not let the opportunity to go through the gates of heaven slip through his fingers? To plot the killing of his newborn son, of course, by performing a dangerous ritual through which his son’s powers would be transferred to him!

However, the queen senses what Creed is up to, so she has a plan of her own, meant to keep him safe with the help of her estranged family. Here’s where Alaira and Horace (Elora’s sister and brother) step into the picture; they are as skilful and intelligent as the queen herself, but they are more like tricksters. There are also Freddic and Klink who help their friends not only to get into the castle but also to return safely to Nimah.

Creed, the King of Tireol, is the main villain of this story even if most of the time he seems evil without reason. An explanation would be his belief that King Balthasar loved his subjects more than him. I said before that Creed is a tyrant, a greedy person who uses his power and dark magic to get what he wants without caring if he causes suffering or destruction around him, and for some strange reason I compared him with Emperor Nero because they are both cruel and selfish.

In contrast, Queen Elora is a skilled warrior and an intelligent woman, but she accepts to marry Creed in order to keep her family safe. Even if she doesn’t love the King, she has strong motherly feelings towards her son, for whom she risks and sacrifices everything including her freedom. Though Elora wasn’t able to see her family again after marrying Creed, she can’t ask anyone but her dear sister to protect and take care of her child.

As for Alaira, I don’t have a lot to say, though she’s the protagonist of the story. She is brave like her elder sister, skilled in the arts of swordsmanship and archery, a true trickster, but a girl with strong family bonds and a soft heart for her father (Reddan), siblings and her nephew. She promises to protect the child even if it means risking her life to let him live.

The plot follows different characters, that’s why we have multiple points of view: Freddic (Alaira’s friend and love interest), Creed (King of Tireol), Queen Elora, Alaira, Horace etc. The pacing is fast, the story is very visual, but there were some weird word choices especially in the first half of the book, which made it difficult for me to focus on the story. Here are a few examples just to give you an idea: “she sensed darkness in him” (Loc. 372), “You do not deserve to rule this throne” (Loc. 553), “she turned her to him” (Loc. 564), “to sneak the prince from under the king’s nose” (Loc. 652). The main themes of the story are: good vs. evil, love for one’s family, courage, devotion, and the sense of belonging to a community.

Now let’s talk about world-building. On Planet Myrth, which initially made me think of a science-fiction setting, we have Tireol, Taelk, Griesmal and Nimah. People work in small but loving communities; they trade goods with the aristocrats for protection (as Freddic’s family did). In this world there are also slaves and servants, who are beaten by the guards and noblemen, there are sages like Drahim, and magical creatures like trolls and Ghimish. There are myths, pretty vague beliefs in gods, history of Tireol (the story about Balthasar) and some politics, an essential part of every fantasy novel. Even though the book can be read like a fairytale, it has mature content such as macabre or death scenes which are not suitable for younger readers.

To wrap it up, I hope that my review stirred your interest in reading Gates of Heaven. It was a pretty interesting book for me, though there were some things I didn’t understand or resonate with, but if you’re a fan of high fantasy or adventure, give it a chance.

Review: The Necklace of Goddess Athena by Effrosyni Moschoudi

A New Adult Supernatural Mystery

 

Title: The Necklace of Goddess Athena

Subtitle: A New Adult Supernatural Mystery

Author: Effrosyni Moschoudi

Genre: Adventure, Fantasy, New Adult, Paranormal, Time Travel

Year of Publication: 2013

Year of Publication of this Edition: 2014

Self-Published

Rating 5/5 stars

Time ….” Poseidon shook his head. “You mortals! You’re bound to it and keep forgetting it is only an illusion.” (Page 305)

“Man was made of flesh and bone on purpose! Time is his prison but also his best friend. He cannot make sense of his feelings, his accomplishments or his losses without it.” (Page 327)

If you’re in the mood for adventure, fantasy, mystery and Greek myths, I recommend author Effrosyni Moschoudi’s novel The Necklace of Goddess Athena: A New Adult Supernatural Mystery, which has elements of all these genres blended in. The result is a page-turning book with characters and situations which can stir the interest and imagination of readers of all ages who love Greek myth retellings or placed at the threshold of two very different worlds.

Time travelling siblings Phevos and Daphne are sent by their father, Efimios on a mysterious journey which takes them from ancient times to modern-day Athens and the only rule they have to obey is to follow the signs Athena will send them. After they land in an orchard, Phevos and Daphne meet its owners, other two siblings, Ksenia and Manos, who will befriend them, due to the coincidental loss of their parents in the same period as Efimios’ wife. Do Phevos, Daphne, Ksenia and Manos have to unknowingly go on the same path to seek the truth about their parents? What secrets will surface from the past and how will they affect the children’s lives?  Only by reading the book you will find out.

This is a coming of age story especially for Phevos, who has to learn to understand and to interpret the signs the two gods send him through dreams, riddles or other kinds of signs which we would consider being pure coincidences, but Phevos was taught not to believe in coincidences. The gods always know when it’s the perfect time to show the way, in order to make the divine plans come true. Until all the signs are revealed one at a time, Phevos and Daphne have to adapt to modern life in Athens, to find a job, and they will even fall in love with other characters from this peculiar world. However, sooner or later, the two worlds will meet and memories from the past will help both characters and readers understand how they shaped the present and how they will influence the future.

The main themes of this novel are faith (if Phevos didn’t have faith that the gods will guide him through, he would have definitely missed the signs), love in many of its forms (motherly love, brotherly love, platonic love, etc.), loss and longing (which are the main reason some of the characters suffer, whether it’s about missing their parents, their spouse or a child) However, the book has also many moments of humour. I love the way Phevos is struggling at first to speak and understand Modern Greek, not to mention the fact that he doesn’t understand the meaning of words like tourist, shower or hotel. And there are also gorgeous gems of philosophy sprinkled here and there, which work perfectly as inspirational quotes for the reader.

I know that some people are not fond of poetic writing, but I enjoyed it very much because it felt like a melody to my ears. Besides the interweaving of magical elements in the story, I also adored the depiction of Athens with its people and their everyday life, the vegetation and the cityscape, which seemed so accurate that it brought me back to places I visited in Greece two years ago. Though most of the characters don’t have many flaws, I grew fond of them, their good nature and their ability to adapt to harsh situations life threw their way. I know it sounds very odd, but I would have liked to meet some of them in person and to befriend them because I had a wonderful time learning about their lives and observing how they reacted in different situations.

The Necklace of Goddess Athena is an easy read for readers of all ages who still believe in fairy-tales, myths and the power of love that helps you find the truth about one’s disappearance and the way to bring them back in your life if that’s possible. Reality and fiction meet in fairy-tales and myths, and Mrs Moshoudi’s novel is no exception. Hop on this wondrous journey from Antiquity to present-day Athens, befriend most of the characters and be prepared to see Athena and Poseidon appear in front of your eyes and hear them speak in prophetic tones.