Sunday, April 20, 2014

Sylvia, Queen of the Headhunters: An Eccentric Englishwoman and Her Lost Kingdom by Philip Eade

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆
Obtained from: Netgalley
Read: April 15, 2014

Sylvia Brooke was one of the more exotic and outrageous figures of the twentieth century. Otherwise known as the Ranee of Sarawak, she was the wife of Sir Vyner Brooke, the last White Rajah, whose family had ruled the jungle kingdom of Sarawak on Borneo for three generations. They had their own flag, revenue, postage stamps, and money, as well as the power of life and death over their subjects—Malays, Chinese, and headhunting Dyak tribesmen. The regime of the White Rajahs was long romanticized, but by the 1930s, their power and prestige were crumbling. At the center of Sarawak’s decadence was Sylvia, author of eleven books, mother to three daughters, an extravagantly dressed socialite whose behavior often offended and usually defied social convention. Sylvia did her best to manipulate the line of succession in favor of her daughters, but by 1946, Japan had invaded Sarawak, sending Sylvia and her husband into exile, ending one of the more unusual chapters of British colonial rule. Philip Eade's Sylvia, Queen of the Headhunters is a fascinating look at the wild and debauched world of a woman desperate to maintain the last remains of power in an exotic and dying kingdom.

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Sylvia's husband, Charles Vyner Brooke,
  the third and last White Rajah of Sarawak
I've a confession to make folks. As much as I hate to admit it, I had no idea who Sylvia Brooke was prior to picking up Philip Eade's biography and to be entirely honest, I couldn't've found Sarawak on a map if my life depended on it. I knew nothing about this volume except that it sounded interesting.  

Flying blind, I had no idea what to expect in terms of subject matter and was pleasantly surprised by the colorful eccentricities of Sylvia, her friends and relations. Eade's depiction of her dysfunctional home life, unconventional lifestyle and colorful personality illuminate much of her character and make a lasting impression on the reader. 

That said, I found Eade's writing difficult to appreciate. The material is entertaining, but his prose is both dry and plodding. The most engaging passages are quotes lifted directly from family journals and/or correspondence, a fact which made the book quite difficult to get lost in. I was also irritated by Eade's tendency to recap every detail of his extensive research as his inability to streamline his findings made navigating the text rather tedious.

When all is said and done, Sylvia, Queen of the Headhunters proves an interesting biography, but the format and style fail to deliver the engaging and richly provocative story its cover suggests. Not a waste of time, but not any way essential. 

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'She rules over one of the wildest countires in the world,' it was reported, 'swarming with tigers, venomous snakes 15 feet long, boa constrictors many feet longer and the most dangerous wild beasts and reptiles known in the Asiatic jungle.'
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Saturday, April 19, 2014

A Whisper in Time by Elizabeth Langston

Rating: ★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆
Obtained from: Netgalley
Read: April 19, 2014

Rescued from a life of servitude by the boy she loves, Susanna Marsh escapes across two centuries, only to be plunged into a world she's ill-prepared to face. Unable to work or go to school, Susanna finds herself dependent on others to survive. Immersed in the fun and demands of his senior year of high school, Mark Lewis longs to share his world with the girl who's captured his heart. But first he must tackle government bureaucracy to prove Susanna's identity. Overwhelmed by her new home, Susanna seeks refuge in history and in news of the people she left behind. But when she learns that danger stalks her sister, Susanna must weigh whether to risk her own future in order to save Phoebe's happiness.

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I'm sorry folks, I tried, but I am done with the Whisper Falls series. I was willing to overlook my concerns after book one, but book two, A Whisper in Time, gives me little hope for book three so I am opting out here and now.  

Like book one, the narrative is remarkably lopsided. Susanna and her younger sister, Phoebe, are hugely sympathetic characters, but Langston's leading man, for the second time, falls short of the competition. His story arc isn't remotely comparable to Susanna's and the disparity in their maturity levels undermine the authenticity of the relationship they share. 

Another problem I have? Consistency. Langston follows up with Susanna's mother, but doesn't reference Mr. Shaw, the fiancé she was about to marry at the conclusion of book one. I'm pretty sure Mrs. Lewis is bipolar as her character is drastically transformed. Langston even reimagined the parameters of traversing the space time continuum in ways that actually contradict the first novel. This is a follow-up, there is an obligation to build on the established foundation and Langston's decision to veer off course made her story very difficult to swallow. 

My tolerance was tested further by the wealth superfluous plot points. Gabrielle Stone was an entirely unnecessary addition to the cast. Whatever is going on with her boyfriend is never really explained, but the same could be said of Marissa's relationship woes one shouldn't be surprised by the lack of clarity. No one seems to care that Mark has lost interest in competitive biking which is odd since his training was so dominantly portrayed in Langston's debut and don't get me started on Susanna's quest for contemporary identification.

Not for me and not something I'd recommend readers in any age bracket. 

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The decision was made. I would return to the past. Yet I would do more than merely warn my sister against the dangers faving her. I would leave behind a cure. >
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Friday, April 18, 2014

Whisper Falls by Elizabeth Langston

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆
Obtained from: Netgalley
Read: April 17, 2014

While training for a mountain bike race, high-school senior Mark Lewis spots a mysterious girl dressed in odd clothing, standing behind a waterfall in the woods near his North Carolina home. When she comments on the strange machine that he rides, he suspects something isn’t right. When Susanna claims to be an indentured servant from 1796, he wonders if she's crazy. Yet he feels compelled to find out more. Mark enters a ‘long-distance’ relationship with Susanna through the shimmering--and temperamental--barrier of Whisper Falls. Curious about her world, Mark combs through history to learn about the brutal life she's trapped in. But knowledge can be dangerous. Soon he must choose between the risk of changing history or dooming the girl he can't stop thinking about to a lifetime of misery.

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I can't remember every book I've ever read, but I have a soft spot for Caroline B. Cooney's Time Travelers series. My cousin and I read the books together as tweens and I've always remembered them fondly which probably explains my nostalgic interest in Elizabeth Langston's Whisper Falls. 

A young adult piece, the book actually has a lot going for it in terms of content. Langston does a wonderful job illustrating the plight of the indentured servant and the desperation suffered by those mistreated by their employers. I particularly liked how Langston countered the harsh realities of Susanna's existence with the moments of joy and the contrast that brought to larger picture of her life with the Pratt family.

Unfortunately, Langston's inexperience is blatantly obvious and while I acknowledge this is her debut release, I think it clear she has room to grow and develop her skills. For one, there is a gross imbalance in terms of character development. On a scale of one to ten, Susanna dominates the competition with a perfect score, but Mark, our male lead, falls somewhere between a five and six. Primary supporting cast members like Mr. Pratt and Mrs. Lewis collect around four, but individuals like Carlton, Alexis, Keefe, Marissa, Dorcas and Jedidiah felt so vague and half-hearted that I can't even calibrate their scores which is disappointing as Langston's heroine proves she is capable of so much more.

Langston's tendency to introduce conflict that never evolves is another point of concern. Do Marissa and Mrs. Lewis ever figure it out? What kind of person is Fletcher? How did Carlton get mixed up with Mark's ex? Is Jedidiah a friend or foe? How does Susanna's mother fair with Mr. Shaw? Did John recover from his obscure head wound? Langston dropped the ball in failing to provide closure to her subplots, leaving readers to wonder at their necessity in the finished narrative.

When all is said and done, I found myself wondering where the editor was with this piece. Both of my previously mentioned points should have been easy enough to recognize, but there also continuity issues that should have been caught before this piece went to print. 
It was a good thing the research assistant could make copies, because I hadn’t thought to bring a camera. I’d take her up on her offer. For now, I was consumed by my first real exposure to Susanna’s master.
Langston's already made it clear Mark has a cell, he whipped it out of his pocket to show Susanna in the cave behind the falls, and since built-in cameras are a typically standard feature... I'd stop there, but this blunder is further emphasized in book two, where we find Mark taking photos of Phoebe’s journals in the archive basement with his phone.

Langston's target age bracket will probably appreciate Whisper Falls, but I personally found the haphazard construction left much to be desired. 

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I persisted, ignoring the velvet voice of my dream demon. Swiftly, I pushed through the tall grasses, then plunged into the darkening woods toward the home of my master.
Behind me, the falls whispered: come back
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Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Giveaway: Stephanie Thornton's Daughter of the Gods (Round One)

It's that time again! Flashlight Commentary is pleased to offer fans of historic fiction a chance to win a free edition of Stephanie Thornton's Daughter of the Gods! 

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Egypt, 1400s BC. The pharaoh’s pampered second daughter, lively, intelligent Hatshepsut, delights in racing her chariot through the marketplace and testing her archery skills in the Nile’s marshlands. But the death of her elder sister, Neferubity, in a gruesome accident arising from Hatshepsut’s games forces her to confront her guilt…and sets her on a profoundly changed course. Hatshepsut enters a loveless marriage with her half brother, Thut, to secure his claim to the Isis Throne and produce a male heir. But it is another of Thut’s wives, the commoner Aset, who bears him a son, while Hatshepsut develops a searing attraction for his brilliant adviser Senenmut. And when Thut suddenly dies, Hatshepsut becomes de facto ruler, as regent to her two-year-old nephew. Once, Hatshepsut anticipated being free to live and love as she chose. Now she must put Egypt first. Ever daring, she will lead a vast army and build great temples, but always she will be torn between the demands of leadership and the desires of her heart. And even as she makes her boldest move of all, her enemies will plot her downfall... Once again, Stephanie Thornton brings to life a remarkable woman from the distant past whose willingness to defy tradition changed the course of history.

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“Daughter of the Gods is a wonderfully intimate and dramatic evocation of Ancient Egypt, where one headstrong young woman dares to become pharaoh. Stephanie Thornton vividly portrays the heat and the danger, the passion and the heartbreak of Hatshepsut’s struggle, as she defies even the gods to ensure success on the throne of Egypt. A touching love story combines with a thrilling tale of death, courage and political intrigue to produce a superbly researched and powerfully written novel. This is the kind of book that grabs you by the throat and doesn’t let go. A remarkable story, remarkably told.” -Kate Furnivall, author of Shadows on the Nile

“Stephanie Thornton’s heroines are bold, brave, and powerful–they make me want to stand up and cheer!” -Kate Quinn, author of Lady of the Eternal City

“Daughter of the Gods is a full-out, total immersion experience of ancient Egypt. From her moving love affair with a commoner to her fierce and unwavering commitment to Egypt as a female Pharaoh, Hatshepsut crackles with fascinating complexity. Her ka must be grinning with pleasure at this richly textured account of her life, one that is worthy of the great queen herself. “ -Vicky Alvear Shecter, author of Cleopatra’s Moon “An epic saga that brings ancient Egypt to life with vivid imagery and lovely prose. Stephanie Thornton is a rising star!” -Stephanie Dray, author of Lily of the Nile

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Stephanie Thornton is a writer and history teacher who has been obsessed with infamous women from ancient history since she was twelve. She lives with her husband and daughter in Alaska, where she is at work on her next novel.

“The Secret History: A Novel of Empress Theodora” is available from NAL/Penguin, and “Daughter of the Gods: A Novel of Ancient Egypt” will hit the shelves May 2014 and “The Tiger Queens: A Novel of Genghis Khan” will follow in Fall 2014.

Website ❧ Facebook ❧ Twitter

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Format: Paperback & eBook
Publication Date: May 6, 2014
Released by: NAL Trade
Length: 448 pages
ISBN-10: 0451417798
Genre: Historical Fiction

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In accordance with Flashlight Commentary's promotional guidelines, this giveaway is limited to residents of the US and Canada only.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Giveaway: H.H. Miller's Inscription

It's that time again! Flashlight Commentary and Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours are pleased to offer fans of historic fiction a chance to win a free edition of H.H. Miller's Inscription!

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The year is 1851 and the Grand Guard is ravaging Mainland. Arrests. Floggings. Swift executions. Twenty-year-old Caris McKay, the beautiful heiress of Oakside Manor, is sent to live with distant relations until the danger has passed. It's no refuge, however, as Lady Granville and her scheming son plot to get their hands on Caris's inheritance with treachery and deceit. Soon, alarming news arrives that the ruthless Captain James Maldoro has seized Oakside and imprisoned Caris's beloved uncle. And now he's after her. Caris escapes with the help of Tom Granville, the enigmatic silver-eyed heir of Thornbridge. But when a cryptic note about a hidden fortune launches them on a perilous journey across Mainland, Caris and Tom must rely on wits, courage, and their growing love for each other if they hope to survive. Filled with adventure, intrigue, and romance, Inscription will transport you to a historically fictional world you'll never want to leave.

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"Great fun for lovers of historical romantic fiction. Filled with memorable characters, skillfully written descriptions of European-like setting and atmosphere, breathless pace and plenty of twists and surprises..."
- booklover, Goodreads Reviewer

"This fast paced adventure hooked me in the first few pages. Each new twist drew me in deeper untill I couldn't put it down. The story is romantic and thrilling, excites the imagination."
- mombo, Amazon Reviewer

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H. H. Miller is the author of the novel Inscription, a historically fictional romantic adventure. In real life, she’s content director at Stoke Strategy, a brand strategy firm in Seattle, Washington, where she specializes in transforming what some might call “boring” technology jargon into compelling, readable, memorable stories. Her favorite escape is Manzanita, Oregon – a place of beautiful beaches, wild storms, chilly nights around the bonfire (even in July), and time to enjoy life with her husband and three children.

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Format: Print & ebook
Publication Date: January 9, 2014
Released by: H.H. Miller
Length: 278 pages
ISBN-10: 0615944418
Genre: Historical Fiction

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In accordance with the promotional guidelines set forth by Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours, this giveaway is limited to residents of the US and Canada only.

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