Thursday, January 22, 2009

Review: Seer of Egypt, Volume Two of The King's Man Trilogy by Pauline Gedge

This has really been a slow month for me, hardly any posts for January. I have had the book blogging blahs, I've been avoiding the computer like the plague. Has this happened to anyone else out there in blogland? I've been reading instead (which I love) and now I have quite a pile of completed books stacked up and no desire to write a review. What's up with that? Aaargh. Here's hoping I can pull myself out of my doldrums and get those reviews rolling again...

This series fictionalizes the life of Huy, who was a famous seer and healer in Ancient Egypt. He was born into a peasant family from a small town in Egypt's fertile Delta region. Volume One of this series, The Twice Born, relates Huy's childhood and the shocking event that would shape his entire life to come. As a small boy his wealthy Uncle paid for Huy to attend a well known school. While he was there, Huy was taunted by some of the other students due to his peasant birth. One day a fellow student hit Huy in the head with a throwing stick. Huy was knocked out and fell into a deep pool of water. He drowned. While he was unconscious (make that dead), he had a strange dream in which the Gods of Egypt asked him to read and understand the Book of Thoth, Ancient Egypt's spiritual text, that was closely guarded by the priests. He awakens five days later in the house of the dead. His body has been awaiting the embalmers and his whole family is in mourning for him. The Gods have exacted a terrible price for Huy's life, they have given him the "gift" of seeing the future and healing the sick. Use of his "gift" leaves him with a terrible headache and has made him permanently impotent, but Huy does his best to put his new talent to use for the benefit of the poor people of Egypt.

When Seer of Egypt opens, Huy has moved into a small estate that Pharaoh has given him. He lives with his childhood friend, Ishat, who he has trained as his scribe. Huy is deeply in love with her but can never be a true partner to her, or give her the children she longs for. Together they care for the huge amounts of people who come seeking Huy's help and advice.

Huy has built a nice life for himself, with good friends and trustworthy servants. But he is not happy, he cannot have a true life partner and he worries constantly for the future of Egypt. Ishat eventually leaves his home to marry his best friend. Huy is heartbroken but goes on as best he can in his solitary, lonely, but successful life.

Eventually Huy realizes that he is shirking his promise to the Gods to understand the Book of Thoth. He hasn't even thought about it in many years, indeed he has done his best not to think of it at all. But he is beginning to see patterns in his visions. There are several occasions when he has a vision of danger to a friend or loved one. When he warns the person and encourages them to avoid the danger, the scenario always plays itself out anyway, but another innocent life is affected instead. The Gods always extract their due. He sees dire portents for the land of Egypt, too. He struggles, trying to decide what it is that the messages are trying to tell him.

Years pass and Huy is entrusted with the second Prince's education for a few months each summer, at Huy's estate. He grows to love the boy, who is like the son that Huy will never have. When the Price becomes Pharaoh, Huy is ordered to the Palace to be at the new King's right hand. With his future assured, Huy is in position to become one of the most powerful men in Egypt.

I have been a Pauline Gedge (and an Ancient Egypt) fan since I read her novel, Child of the Morning, many years ago. She was my first taste of Historical Fiction set in Ancient Egypt and I have loved it ever since. I have read all of her previous books and was thrilled to receive this one for review. I did enjoy it but I found it to be a little bit slow in places. It is like a bridge between the breathtaking events of The Twice Born and the concluding volume that will deal with the later years of Huy's life, when he gained great power and renown. While this novel has the author's wonderful descriptions of Ancient Egypt, from the peasant towns of the Nile to the palaces of the Pharaohs, it covers a period of over twenty years of Huy's life and there are sections where not very much is happening.

I do recommend it, as well as the rest of the Egypt novels by Pauline Gedge. But definitely read Volume One first so you have Huy's whole story and then you won't mind accompanying him through his middle years, probably the last peaceful time that he will have in his long life. (Did I mention that his "gift" also seems to keep him from aging? It is very sad for him to see his friends and loved ones aging, sickening, dying, while he stays looking like a fit twenty-something.) The author has created a fascinating character in Huy and I felt for him in his continuing struggle with a "gift" that is both a blessing and a curse. I'm looking forward to the final volume in this interesting series.

If you would like to try a Paulie Gedge book that stands alone, I would point you to Child of the Morning, my favorite of all her books, or Lady of the Reeds, another wonderful novel.

Visit the website here.

Seer of Egypt is published by Penguin Canada. ISBN 978-0-14-305293-7

Order Seer of Egypt from Amazon

Order The Twice Born from Amazon

Order Child of the Morning from Amazon

Order Lady of the Reeds from Amazon

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Review: Love and Other Natural Disasters by Holly Shumas

In the middle of a family Thanksgiving, Eve Gimbel overhears her husband, Jon, on the telephone. She can tell by the tenderness in his voice that he is talking to another woman. She is devastated. Ten years together and she never had a clue that Jon might be losing interest. Their life has seemed exactly the same as it always was. They have a young son and Eve is only a month from giving birth to their second child.

Jon immediately denies any physical infidelity, but he has been building a relationship with this woman through email and phone calls for more than a year. Without Jon knowing, Eve accesses his email records and reads everything that he and the other woman have written to each other. The knowledge she gains compel her to insist on a trial separation.

While they are apart both Jon and Eve eventually discover that their marriage wasn't what it should or could have been. They both fell into easy roles that, like a bad habit, became second nature to each of them. They learn that a dynamic relationship takes real work and they must decide if they are willing to invest that in each other and their family.

What is cheating? That is the interesting question that Holly Shumas poses in this novel. Is an emotional betrayal worse than a physical one? In our society, infidelity is generally considered to be a sexual affair. In this case, though, Eve is most hurt that Jon is giving the light, fun part of himself, that she knew in their early days together, to someone else. To her, a physical fling might even have been easier to forgive than his emotional entanglement with another woman.

I thought this was a smart, well written story that educates in the guise of entertainment. It imparts the important message that communication, self-awareness and honesty are vital for a successful relationship. It is one of those things that is difficult in practice, which is why there are professionals out there to help with rough patches. Holly Shumas is a licensed marriage and family therapist and her knowledge shines through in her novel. Her website is here.

This would be a fantastic book for reading groups, there is plenty of material for discussion! The Reading Group Guide is here.

Love and Other Natural Disasters is published by 5 Spot. ISBN 978-0-446-50477-5

Order Love and Other Natural Disasters from Amazon

See what everyone else thought! Here's the list of the blog tour participants:

Friday, January 9, 2009

Review: The Misadventures of Oliver Booth: Life in the Lap of Luxury by David Desmond

Poor Oliver Booth. He's big. He's sweaty. He's the proprietor of an antique shop in Palm Beach but his taste is questionable and his antiques are...well... not. He desperately wants to be part of high society but they know an outsider when they see one and he has no hope of breaking in. He can't keep an assistant, either, because his basic nature tends toward grumpy, lazy and greedy.

The big New Year's Eve party at the Morningwood Club is a big night for Oliver. He plans to recoup the steep ticket price by being first in line at the buffet table. Unfortunately, the evening is a complete disaster for him. But he does meet a smart young waiter, Bernard, who agrees to be the replacement for Oliver's recently fired assistant.

When Margaret Van Buren, the doyenne of Palm Beach society, pays a visit to Oliver's shop, he is eager to sell her a large quantity of his inventory. She picks out the only nice piece in the place, which turns out to have been selected by Bernard. It seems he has quite an eye. She offers Bernard, and Oliver by default, a trip to Paris to buy furnishings for her guesthouse.

Bernard & Oliver have vastly different ideas of what they are going to buy. Bernard wants to buy quality pieces at thrifty prices. Oliver wants to make the biggest possible profit off of Mrs. Van Buren. The trip to Paris is a contest of wills that is hilarious, Oliver doesn't have a prayer.

I loved the following paragraph. If you have traveled to Europe and arrived early in the morning, you will appreciate the wry humor:

"It was 9:15 in the morning, the hour at which most American travelers are dropped at the doorsteps of European hotels like so many exhausted babies, hoping desperately that their accommodations would be ready only to find that the departing guests had not yet vacated their rooms and would not do so for hours. Most of these unfortunate travelers are forced to wander the streets aimlessly, with intermittent stops to refuel with double espressos that become decreasingly potent as the effects of jet lag begin to sink in. This journey ends when they return to the registration desk of the hotel exhausted, disheveled, and halitotic, to be presented--in most but not all cases--with that most satisfying of rewards, a key to a room."

This book is a fun, light read that pokes fun at the pretentious, at the rich, at the self-important. Common sense and honesty are rewarded, deviousness and greed are bested in the wittiest possible way. I really enjoyed it and am looking forward to reading the further misadventures of Oliver and Bernard.

Visit David Desmond's website here.

The Misadventures of Oliver Booth is published by Greenleaf Book Group Press. ISBN 978-1-929774-56-2

Order The Misadventures of Oliver Booth from Amazon

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Great Buddy Award!

I admit it, I am terrible about keeping up with memes. This year I have resolved to improve in that area and spread the love! Michele over at A Reader's Respite gave me this and made my whole week! She only has the coolest blog, the smartest reviews, the funniest posts out there in blogland. And she's a pretty awesome friend, too. So, right back at you Michele!

I would like to pass this right on to....

Amy at My Friend Amy....for being a Great Buddy to each and every one of us, creating and slaving over BBAW, (Don't know what that is? Well, click the link!) the single best boost we book bloggers have ever had!

Kathy at Bermudaonion....for feeding our minds with great reviews and feeding our bodies with fantastic recipes (that are even easy enough for me to master, which is saying a lot!)

Molly at My Cozy Book favorite new blog. Welcome to blogland, Molly, we are so happy you joined us!

Want to participate? Here are the guidelines:

1. Put the logo on your blog.
2. Add a link to the person who awarded you.
3. Award up to ten other blogs.
4. Add links to those blogs on yours.
5. Leave a message for your awardees on their blogs.

Monday, January 5, 2009

Review: My Splendid Concubine by Lloyd Lofthouse

Robert Hart, a young Irishman, came to China in 1854 to work for the British Consulate. He ended up spending his life there and becoming intricately involved in the development of modern China, helping to found the railroads, postal service and schools.

This novel fictionalizes Robert's first year or so in China. He is confronted almost immediately by the vast moral differences between eastern culture and the Christianity that he has grown up with. He has a hard time reconciling the Chinese practice of owning people, especially concubines, with his own beliefs. The Chinese system of status and rank is also difficult for a westerner to understand.

He originally decides to remain celibate, but once he meets and falls in love with the concubine Ayaou his problems seem to mushroom. He becomes caught up in the violent Taiping Rebellion where he witnesses terrible atrocities. Then Ayaou is bought by an American pirate who hates Robert and he must figure out a way to free her. In the process he ends up, almost accidentally, buying her younger sister, Shao-mei. He loves both women and his conscience is sorely tested by his situation. The only way to live the life he wants to live is to completely abandon his previous life and learn to be Chinese. Along the way he finds that he loves his adopted culture, their art and philosophy inspire him.

I enjoyed this book, particularly the setting and depictions of 1854 China. I felt for Robert and his inner conflicts and would like to know more about his life after the events of this novel. It would be interesting to read (perhaps in a sequel?) of his advancement within the Chinese system and his later family life.

Visit the authors website

Many thanks to Dorothy at Pump Up Your Book Promotion for sending me this book for review!

My Splendid Concubine is published by iUniverse. ISBN 978-0-595-45843-1

Order My Splendid Concubine from Amazon

Friday, January 2, 2009

Review: The King's Daughter by Sandra Worth

"I was one of them now. A Tudor queen. The first of a long line to come, if Henry had his way. I could not change what God had ordained, but I also knew that what Henry did for his throne would secure it for my own beloved Arthur. I had not sought queenship, nor did I relish it, but I was a pawn of Fate, and queenship was mine by destiny. Though I was an accessory to Henry's sins by virtue of my marriage, I had been a most unwilling participant with no power to alter the flow of events. All I could offer England was my best efforts in raising her future king and in teaching him the ideals in which I believed."

Elizabeth of York was the eldest daughter of King Edward IV and Elizabeth Woodville, his reviled queen. Her unhappy relationship with her own mother was only relieved by a brief happy period as lady in waiting to Queen Anne, Richard III's wife. Richard was dazzling to Elizabeth, a kind and good man whom she grew to love.

When Richard was killed in battle by the man who would become Henry VII, Elizabeth's heart was broken. She was forced to marry Henry because she embodied the end of the great Plantagenet line and lent authenticity to Henry's less-than-royal bloodline. They had one thing in common, though. Henry's scheming and domineering mother, Margaret Beaufort, is easily as hated as Elizabeth Woodville ever was.

Margaret Beaufort was the engineer of the Tudor reign. Without her, Henry would never had become king. She was Elizabeth's cross to bear for her entire marriage. Her mother-in-law oversaw every single aspect of her life. It was no better than imprisonment for Elizabeth.

But Elizabeth had a kind and loving nature, remembered by history as "Elizabeth the Good." She loved her children and did her best to instill in them the virtues of kindness and benevolence. Her love for England and its people led her to accept her position in life and to endure with grace and dignity, though she was sickened by her husband's bloody reign.

In The King's Daughter, Sandra Worth opens a window into the life of one of history's least known women. She was truly royal and that showed in her acceptance of the difficulties of her life. This is a detailed and well researched novel with engaging characters and rich background. I particularly liked her portrayal of Richard III as a clear thinking, honest man who never wanted the crown and whose heartbreak and grief over the loss of his wife and child drove him to throw his life away.

The King's Daughter is published by Berkley. ISBN 978-0-425-22144-0

Visit Sandra's website!

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Happy 2009!

Happy New Year!

Here's to a year filled with fun, family, and fantastic books (and plenty of time in which to read them)!

Thoughts from an Evil Overlord

Thank you!!

Thank you to Beth at Beth Fish Reads and to The Blogger Guide for helping me to customize my template and to Andrea at The Little Bookworm for improving my header!!

About Me

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New Hampshire, United States
Bibliophile, Anglophile, Traveller... I have been an avid reader all of my life, since I took the Dr. Seuss Dictionary away from my Mom when I was less than a year old because I wanted to read it myself. In college, where I earned my degree in English Literature, I was often asked "What are you going to do with it?" Now I finally have the answer to that question!!! Being employed as a Flight Attendant for twenty years has given me a lot of life experience and, better still, a lot of time to read. I love to travel for fun, too.