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Monday, May 30, 2016

Book Review: A Debutante's Guide to Rebellion by Kathleen Kimmel

A Debutante’s Guide to Rebellion by Kathleen Kimmel
Book 1.5 in the Birch Hall series
ARC, e-book, 80 pages
April 19, 2016

Heat Rating:

Genre: Historical Romance, Novella

Source: Received from Publisher for Review at Romantic Historical Reviews
A bashful botanist and a reluctant debutante are about to discover that there may be a science to seduction after all...

London, 1815: Lady Mildred Weller (Eddie to her friends) has few prospects for marriage. If she can’t attract the available—though considerably older—Lord Averdale, she may be doomed to spinsterhood. She’s even willing to enter into that loveless union, if only to escape her mother’s stifling and increasingly desperate dominance. And she may have found the perfect person to help her achieve that goal.

Ezekiel Blackwood is a botanist as well as Lord Averdale’s nephew and heir. He is also a social disaster. Cross-pollination he understands; the fairer sex not at all. But in Lady Eddie, he discovers a kindred spirit. When she asks for his assistance in assessing Lord Averdale’s interest in her, Ezekiel is crushed. But naturally, he thinks, she could never fall in love with someone like him. Ezekiel’s matchmaking cousin is only too happy to arrange a discreet rendezvous for their conspiracy—a greenhouse. Of course in such a setting, it’s only natural that feelings might begin to bloom...

**This Review was Previously Posted at Romantic Historical Reviews**

A lot happened in this brief 80 pages so that it felt much longer than it actually was; if I didn’t know better I would have thought this was just a slightly shorter-than-normal length novel. Novellas can sometimes fall into a trap where the pacing feels too fast or characters are left underdeveloped, but not here! Kathleen Kimmel carefully utilizes each word to move the plot forward or flesh out her characters.

Within just a few short pages I felt very sure of my feelings for Lady Eddie and Co. Lady Eddie and Ezekiel are not your beautiful, elegant, stars of the ball, but rather studious and even strange to the ton. Their fish-out-of-water nature at these grand Season events made for some comical scenes. Thinking back on it, these would be two people I would probably fit right in with if I was back in that time! Lady Eddie’s mother is certainly not someone to mess with, and that makes it all the more exciting when Lady Eddie does exactly that; even the best laid and devious plans often go awry! Although she might seem a little over-the-top, I’m sure people like her mother certainly existed then as they do now.

The romance element here was sweet and very unexpected for the couple involved; by that I mean that as the reader you see it coming, but the characters not so much. Ezekiel is not interested in looking for love, but eventually decides that a wife could be useful in some ways, while Lady Eddie’s marriage prospects has been laid out by her mother and she is given no say in the matter. It was refreshing to see these two novices in the world of the Season that seems filled with those who are playing the game and that naiveté played into some funny moments that endeared the characters to me.

This was a novella where I felt my time was well-spent. It was an enjoyable, light-hearted romp and I was impressed with how much I cared for these characters over just the short amount of time I had to spend with them. I would love to see them appear in another piece of this series. Regarding the fact that this is a series, I did not notice any time where I felt I was missing something by not having read any of the other books previously. I haven’t yet pieced together how the books in the series actually connect with each other as it doesn’t appear to be an obvious continuation or interconnected characters or setting. However, based on my enjoyment of Kimmel’s writing style, I will definitely be exploring her other titles.

Reviews of this book by other bloggers:
Buy the Book: Amazon | Barnes & Noble

Also by Kathleen Kimmel:

A Lady’s Guide to Ruin (Birch Hall Book 1)

A Gentleman’s Guide to Scandal (Birch Hall Book 2)

Find Kathleen Kimmel: Website | Facebook | Twitter


Copyright © 2016 by The Maiden’s Court

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Book Review: The Strong One by Vivi Holt

The Strong One by Vivi Holt
Book 2 of the Cutter’s Creek Series
ARC, e-book, 105 pages
Amazon Digital Services
May 14, 2016

Heat Rating:

Genre: Historical Fiction, Western, Romance

Source: Received from the Author for Review
Sarah Songan is a woman on the run.

In an attempt to find peace with their neighbors, the Apsáalooke chief has promised her hand to a soldier at Fort Smith, and Sarah’s determined not to be traded or bartered like an ornament. She strikes out on her own, leaving behind everyone and everything she has ever known.

However, a woman travelling alone in 1866 Montana territory can fall prey to unscrupulous men. Sarah must confront her fears and draw on an inner strength she didn’t know she had, as well as a new-found hope in God, if she is to survive.

Bill Hanover is a tired and lonely cowboy. After four long years fighting in the War Between the States, he returns to his family ranch in Montana only to discover it’s no longer his home. He heads south to Cutter’s Creek, where he encounters a beautiful woman whose feisty spirit takes his breath away. But she’s hiding a secret, and her past is about to catch up with her. Bill turns to God for help and guidance, and encounters a new kind of love.

Set in beautiful, wild, and untamed nineteenth century Montana, this novella will take you on a journey back in time to the perilous life of a pioneer on the western frontier.
I have read several western set novels and novellas lately and almost all of them have involved some sort of mail-order bride scenario – and Vivi Holt does write these types of books too – but this novel in the Cutter’s Creek series is a little bit different. Both of our main characters, Bill and Sarah can be considered long-time residents of the west, but they are also new to their surroundings. Sarah is the child of a Native American and a white soldier who has grown up with her mother’s tribe. She sets out from her home upon hearing some less-than-favorable news about her future to make her way in one of the nearby towns. After running from a few scary situations with local men, she finally finds a place with a nice couple (Sam and Estelle) that are willing to give her shelter for a while. Bill has been away fighting a war that his family didn’t support and are unwilling to let him return to their home and he must set out to make a new way for himself.

There was a lot of action in this story for the length and it started out fairly quickly from the first few pages. I appreciated the pacing of the story as it was always moving it forward and it never felt stagnant. This actually made the story feel much longer than a short novella.

There was also a lot of character growth and development. They are both in a fish-out-of-water situation, especially Sarah as she tries to navigate the waters of life in a town and the differences in some customs. Bill was an excellent hero, but Sarah wasn’t always a damsel that needed rescuing – she had her own strength too. There were a few times where I became frustrated with Sarah and her blindness in some scenarios with regards to Bill, but she ultimately redeems herself in the end (with just a little bit of pushing from Estelle). I would also have loved to have had the ability to have a little more backstory for both Bill and Sarah – and that might have been due to the length. I want to know why Bill went to the war when it wasn’t his family’s fight (not just that he did) and I would love to know about Sarah’s life being a child of a mixed relationship but living in the tribe (not just that she was).

This is a sweet romance novel, so nothing untoward happens here, it’s just a sweet relationship growing over time.

Buy the Book: Amazon

Also by Vivi Holt:

Mail Order Bride: Christy

Mail Order Bride: Ramona

Mail Order Bride: Katie
[My Review]

Of Peaks and Prairies (Paradise Valley #1)
[My Review]

Find Vivi Holt: Amazon Page | Facebook | Twitter | Newsletter

Other Books in the Cutter’s Creek Series:
The Cutter’s Creek series is a loosely interconnected series of novellas that all take place in Cutter’s Creek, Montana, each written by a different author.

The Healing Touch by Kit Morgan (Book 1)

New Beginnings by Annie Boone (Book 3)

A Lily Blooms by Kari Trumbo (Book 4)

Copyright © 2016 by The Maiden’s Court

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Book Review: Beneath the Heart of the Sea by Owen Chase

Beneath the Heart of the Sea by Owen Chase
ARC, e-book, 112 pages
Hesperous Press
April 1, 2015

Genre: Memoir

Source: Received from Publisher via Netgalley
A tragic yet riveting narration of life and death and man against the elements, this is an extreme account of shipwreck survival. On the morning of November 20, 1820, in the Pacific Ocean 2,000 miles from the coast of South America, an enraged sperm whale rammed the Nantucket whaleship Essex. As the boat began to sink, her crew of 20, including first mate Owen Chase, grabbed what little they could before piling into frail boats and taking to the open seas. So began their four-month ordeal and struggle for survival. This is a bleak story, only eight men survived having endured starvation and dehydration, giving in to cannibalism, murder, and insanity. Owen Chase recorded the extraordinary account in his autobiography, originally published in 1821.
When I read on a subject, especially if it is about some type of disaster, I like to try to read books that approach the subject from different angles if possible: non-fiction, fiction, memoir, film, etc. I had my eye on reading In the Heart of the Sea by Nathaniel Philbrick and knew that there was a film of the same name that was being released – but until seeing this one while browsing the Netgalley shelves, I had no idea that anyone who had survived wrote about the events surrounding the wreck (there are actually 2, the other is Thomas Nickerson a survivor in the same boat with Owen Chase).

I approach this review in the same manner that I approach one of the classics because they share the similarity that they were written in another time and in a very different style than we expect today. Additionally, it being a memoir, I do not feel comfortable judging the style of the retelling as this is a man recounting what was the worst experience of his life – it just doesn’t feel proper. However, I do have a few thoughts.

This book cuts right to the chase – there are two short chapters about the events of the trip leading up to the sinking of the ship and their subsequent struggle for survival. Even during the chapter of the sinking and survival, there are no frills or tangents – just the facts, so it can be a little dry at times. Even when he recounts how afraid or ecstatic the crew were, you don’t feel the emotion. But I got through this with the fact that it was a man of the 19th century writing this and of course wanting to show himself in a certain way – however it never felt like he was trying to paint himself the hero.

The one thing that did bug me throughout the read was how he recounted what happened on each day and recounted the longitude and latitude measurements of certain things happening when they were at sea. Chase tells the reader early on after they escaped in the whale boats that he had paper and pen, but did not record the events because it would have been too difficult with the nature of the sea and that the paper and ink would have been ruined by the water. I’m sure that there would have had to have been a loss of track of time during 90+ days being stranded at sea with the effects of hunger/thirst/and exposure constantly upon them. So I think the inclusion of the dates and measurements was a little overstepping and I took them all with a grain of salt.

I found this to be a well detailed account of the events that these men experienced without added flourishes or color commentary. A quick, straightforward, read if you are looking to round out your experience before or after reading In the Heart of the Sea. Also, for the record, if you are interested in the account by Thomas Nickerson, it is titled The Loss of the Ship Essex, Sunk by a Whale published by Penguin Books. It would have been interesting to see the ordeal told from a man in one of the other rescued boats, since the two had been separated, but at least this way you can compare how two people who had the same experience saw the events.

Reviews of this book by other bloggers:
Buy the Book: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | RJ Julia


Copyright © 2016 by The Maiden’s Court

Monday, May 23, 2016

Book Review: In the Heart of the Sea by Nathaniel Philbrick

In the Heart of the Sea: The Tragedy of the Whaleship Essex
by Nathaniel Philbrick
Unabridged, 10 hr. 3 min.
Penguin Audio
Scott Brick (Narrator)
June 20, 2005
★★★★ ½☆

Genre: Non-Fiction, History

Source: Purchased the audiobook through Audible
In the Heart of the Sea brings to new life the incredible story of the wreck of the whaleship Essex—an event as mythic in its own century as the Titanic disaster in ours, and the inspiration for the climax of Moby-Dick. In a harrowing page-turner, Nathaniel Philbrick restores this epic story to its rightful place in American history.
In 1820, the 240-ton Essex set sail from Nantucket on a routine voyage for whales. Fifteen months later, in the farthest reaches of the South Pacific, it was repeatedly rammed and sunk by an eighty-ton bull sperm whale. Its twenty-man crew, fearing cannibals on the islands to the west, made for the 3,000-mile-distant coast of South America in three tiny boats. During ninety days at sea under horrendous conditions, the survivors clung to life as one by one, they succumbed to hunger, thirst, disease, and fear.
In the Heart of the Sea tells perhaps the greatest sea story ever. Philbrick interweaves his account of this extraordinary ordeal of ordinary men with a wealth of whale lore and with a brilliantly detailed portrait of the lost, unique community of Nantucket whalers. Impeccably researched and beautifully told, the book delivers the ultimate portrait of man against nature, drawing on a remarkable range of archival and modern sources, including a long-lost account by the ship's cabin boy. At once a literary companion and a page-turner that speaks to the same issues of class, race, and man's relationship to nature that permeate the works of Melville, In the Heart of the Sea will endure as a vital work of American history.
I have had several of Nathaniel Philbrick’s books on my TBR for quite some time and have not had the chance to get to any of them until recently. I’m really happy that I chose In the Heart of the Sea as my first book of his to read for a few reasons (none of these were reasons that I actually chose to pick up the book, however):
  1. It was coming out as a film in December 2015 (a few months after the time I started the book) starring Chris Hemsworth and I have this thing about reading a book before seeing a film
  2. I was traveling to Nantucket later during the month in which I was reading it and this book provides a lot of history of the island. I had no idea that this tiny island was so important in whaling history
  3. It reads like an adventure story
Like many today, I had never heard about the attack on the whaleship Essex, so that was one of the things that caught my attention right away. Of all of the subjects Philbrick writes on, this was the one that I had absolutely no experience with before, so I figured it would be interesting to learn something new. Spending my entire life in New England, the history of the whaling industry is not something new to me. We learned about it in school during all those history lessons on the state (Connecticut’s state animal is even the sperm whale because of its historical importance) and I have been to Mystic Seaport many times where I have climbed aboard historic whaleships. So, while not familiar with the actual event, I was familiar with the subject matter and had adequate context.

Philbrick did a phenomenal job with this tale of epic disaster. While it is non-fiction and reads almost like a narrative, I hesitate to outright call it narrative non-fiction, because it doesn’t quite fit. It is not entirely storytelling, but you get more into what is going on beyond the straight text of who did what and when. He has the ability to more accurately get into the minds of many of his characters because there are several accounts that exist from survivors of the actual shipwreck for him to work with. I think this plays heavily into why this book felt so real. Philbrick also spends time building up the context for the reader on the whaling industry as well as the history of Nantucket, where the Essex was out of (in case you are not from New England and do not have as much background on the whaling industry). As the ship was on a whaling voyage in the far South Pacific Ocean, we get background on many of the islands that they encountered and the eco-systems that they affected (some that are still struggling from those encounters).

There are some pretty gross moments in this book in the description of the processing of whales after being caught as well as in some of the descriptions of cannibalism that happened while the men were afloat at sea. Don’t be listening to the book while eating lunch like I was, just a warning!! I was very curious as to how much of this they were going to include into the film version. I would certainly not want to be shipwrecked, Philbrick makes their plight so real to the reader.

A note on the cover: I don’t like it. I think they were going for the somber, desolation of the open ocean on the minds of the shipwrecked crew, but in terms of drawing in a reader on a subject they are likely entirely unfamiliar with, it leaves something to be desired. I think it would be much better served with the inclusion of a whale or ship or something on the cover to clue the casual observer in to the fact that this is a book that has something to do with whaling or a shipwreck. If you just read the title (without the subtitle) and see the cover, you could easily mistake it for a mystery, love story, anything other than non-fiction about a whale attack in the 1800s.

Overall, I think Philbrick really hit this one (his first book) out of the park and I am looking forward to reading more from him as well as seeing the movie adaptation.

I have to put the narrator, Scott Brick, among my top tier of audio narrators. I have now listened to him read two books, In the Heart of the Sea and Salt by Mark Kerlansky, and he also happens to be the narrator of quite a few other books that just happen to be on my TBR. While in my previous review of Salt I described the audio production as “middling”, my issue was more with the book itself not being a good one to listen to because of the type of subject matter and way the book is written, rather than having any real issue with the narration itself. I found Brick’s narration during In the Heart of the Sea to be quite excellent. This is the type of non-fiction that lends itself well to the audio format because it reads like an action/adventure, which happens to be the type of book that Brick narrates more often (Cussler and Clancy are just a few of the author’s he has extensive work with). I thought that he had great pacing and tone to fit the needs of each passage and it kept me engaged with the material. His narration made the event even more dramatic (but not in a corny way) which I appreciated. I very much look forward to encountering his narration again in the future.

For more about narrator Scott Brick and his works, you can visit his website.

If you would like to preview In the Heart of the Sea before reading it, why not try out this excerpt of the book?

You can watch a segment from BookTV of the author discussing In the Heart of the Sea as well.

Reviews of this book by other bloggers:
Buy the Book: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | RJ Julia

Also by Nathaniel Philbrick:

Mayflower: A Story of Courage, Community, and War

The Last Stand: Custer, Sitting Bull, and the Battle of the Little Bighorn

Bunker Hill: A City, a Siege, a Revolution

Sea of Glory: America’s Voyage of Discovery, the US Exploring Expedition, 1838-1842

Valiant Ambition: George Washington, Benedict Arnold, and the Fate of the American Revolution

Why Read Moby Dick?

Find Nathaniel Philbrick: Website | Blog | Facebook | Twitter

Stay tuned for more Whaleship Essex related posts this week!


Copyright © 2016 by The Maiden’s Court

Friday, May 20, 2016

Book Review: Indiana Belle by John A. Heldt

Indiana Belle by John A. Heldt
Book 3 in American Journey Series
ARC, e-book, 295 pages
John A. Heldt
April 14, 2016

Genre: Historical Fiction/Time Travel

Source: Received from Author for Review at Romantic Historical Reviews
Providence, Rhode Island, 2017. When doctoral student Cameron Coelho, 28, opens a package from Indiana, he finds more than private papers that will help him with his dissertation. He finds a photograph of a beautiful society editor murdered in 1925 and clues to a century-old mystery. Within days, he meets Geoffrey Bell, the "time-travel professor," and begins an unlikely journey through the Roaring Twenties. Filled with history, romance, and intrigue, Indiana Belle follows a lonely soul on the adventure of a lifetime as he searches for love and answers in the age of Prohibition, flappers, and jazz.

**This Review was Previously Posted at Romantic Historical Reviews**

Indiana Belle has so many things going for it that it really defies a distinct categorization. It has a romance thread that runs throughout. It is packed with a little mystery, intrigue, and adventure from the earliest pages. There is the historical setting and some significant events. Oh, and let’s not forget the very critical element of time travel!

I have been a fan of Heldt’s works since I first read back-to-back The Mine and The Journey in 2013 (both are from his other book series, The Northwest Passage). All of his books include an element of time travel and that was one of the elements that originally drew me to them. In Indiana Belle the time travel element involves some tunnels, some gypsum crystals, and some scientific formulas. While time travel does require some level of suspension of reality, and maybe it’s presentation here isn’t what most would expect for a method time travel, I found it creative, possible, and achieved the point of bringing Cameron back to 1925. The novel also tackles the age old idea that if you travel back in time you must be careful to not change the past or it could affect the future. Cameron wrestles with this premise as he does not wish to let a historical murder happen on his watch. Seeing how he struggles with this and what decision he ultimately makes is one of the central concepts of this novel. Some of the best scenes of this book were with Cameron making continuity mistakes while back in 1925 – some were things that I would never have even thought of.

The romance element is a very light, but critical, part of the story. What happens if you fall in love with someone who isn’t from your time? It served as more of another obstacle to time travel and the completion of Cameron’s mission than anything else. The scenes were sweet and grew from a natural place.

Heldt does an excellent job here of bringing to life the Roaring Twenties; from the quiet mid-west town, to the speakeasy parties, to the big church revivals, it has it all. Cameron sees it as a simpler time initially, but it is full of its own problems, like the KKK and women’s struggle for rights. Some of these elements are obvious while others are atmospheric, but all contribute to a well-formed time. Heldt also tends to cover an event of significance in most of his novels and here we get a little bit of the Tri-State Tornado of 1925. Having survived a tornado myself, it felt very real.

There was only a small element that I questioned while reading, and I thought that it might resolve at some point in the novel, but ultimately wasn’t…Cameron comes from 2017. I wondered at the choice to set it in the near future at the time of publication instead of the current year. Additionally, how the difference in perception of that being a future date for us now, but come a couple years the entire novel will occur in the past. After reading, the resulting analysis: It didn’t seem to have an obvious purpose to me.

While Indiana Belle is the third book in the American Journey’s series, it certainly is successful as a standalone novel. I have not read the first two books yet (September Sky and Mercer Street) and did not feel like I was missing out on anything. I have a feeling Geoffrey Bell, the professor referenced in the book description, probably has connections to the first two books based on some allusions to other time travelers and maybe we learn more about him there, but you still come away with a full understanding and appreciation of Indiana Belle on its own.

There is a little something for everyone here and would appeal widely to both men and women!

Reviews of this book by other bloggers:
Buy the Book: Amazon

Also by John A. Heldt:

September Sky (American Journey #1)

Mercer Street (American Journey #2)

The Mine (Northwest Passage #1)
[My Review]

The Journey (Northwest Passage #2)
[My Review]

The Show (Northwest Passage #3)

The Fire (Northwest Passage #4)

The Mirror (Northwest Passage #5)

Find John A. Heldt:
Blog | Facebook | Twitter


Copyright © 2016 by The Maiden’s Court

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Wish List 5: WWII Novels

Once a month I am planning on sharing with you all 5 of my biggest wish list books broken up by theme. I know that you all need more on your TBR!!! This month's theme is a little bit of a continuation of last month's, World War II.  There are always more books to read on WWII.

The Runaway Family by Diney Costeloe

Germany 1937: Fear and betrayal stalk the streets. People disappear. Persecution of the Jews has become a national pastime.

When Ruth Friedman's husband is arrested by the SS, she is left to fend for herself and her four children. She alone stands as their shield against the Nazis. But where can she go? Where will her family be safe?

Ruth must overcome the indifference, hatred and cruelty that surrounds her as she and her family race to escape the advancing Nazi army's final solution...


The Lost Wife by Alyson Richman

A rapturous novel of first love in a time of war-from the celebrated author of The Rhythm of Memory and The Last Van Gogh. In pre-war Prague, the dreams of two young lovers are shattered when they are separated by the Nazi invasion. Then, decades later, thousands of miles away in New York, there's an inescapable glance of recognition between two strangers...

Providence is giving Lenka and Josef one more chance. From the glamorous ease of life in Prague before the Occupation, to the horrors of Nazi Europe, The Lost Wife explores the power of first love, the resilience of the human spirit- and the strength of memory.
All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr

From the highly acclaimed, multiple award-winning Anthony Doerr, the beautiful, stunningly ambitious instant New York Times bestseller about a blind French girl and a German boy whose paths collide in occupied France as both try to survive the devastation of World War II.

Marie-Laure lives with her father in Paris near the Museum of Natural History, where he works as the master of its thousands of locks. When she is six, Marie-Laure goes blind and her father builds a perfect miniature of their neighborhood so she can memorize it by touch and navigate her way home. When she is twelve, the Nazis occupy Paris and father and daughter flee to the walled citadel of Saint-Malo, where Marie-Laure’s reclusive great-uncle lives in a tall house by the sea. With them they carry what might be the museum’s most valuable and dangerous jewel.

In a mining town in Germany, the orphan Werner grows up with his younger sister, enchanted by a crude radio they find. Werner becomes an expert at building and fixing these crucial new instruments, a talent that wins him a place at a brutal academy for Hitler Youth, then a special assignment to track the resistance. More and more aware of the human cost of his intelligence, Werner travels through the heart of the war and, finally, into Saint-Malo, where his story and Marie-Laure’s converge.
Those Who Save Us by Jenna Blum

For fifty years, Anna Schlemmer has refused to talk about her life in Germany during World War II. Her daughter, Trudy, was only three when she and her mother were liberated by an American soldier and went to live with him in Minnesota. Trudy's sole evidence of the past is an old photograph: a family portrait showing Anna, Trudy, and a Nazi officer, the Obersturmfuhrer of Buchenwald.

Driven by the guilt of her heritage, Trudy, now a professor of German history, begins investigating the past and finally unearths the dramatic and heartbreaking truth of her mother's life.

Combining a passionate, doomed love story, a vivid evocation of life during the war, and a poignant mother/daughter drama,Those Who Save Us is a profound exploration of what we endure to survive and the legacy of shame.
Lilac Girls by Martha Hall Kelly

Inspired by the life of a real World War II heroine, this debut novel reveals a story of love, redemption, and secrets that were hidden for decades.

New York socialite Caroline Ferriday has her hands full with her post at the French consulate and a new love on the horizon. But Caroline’s world is forever changed when Hitler’s army invades Poland in September 1939—and then sets its sights on France.

An ocean away from Caroline, Kasia Kuzmerick, a Polish teenager, senses her carefree youth disappearing as she is drawn deeper into her role as courier for the underground resistance movement. In a tense atmosphere of watchful eyes and suspecting neighbors, one false move can have dire consequences.

For the ambitious young German doctor, Herta Oberheuser, an ad for a government medical position seems her ticket out of a desolate life. Once hired, though, she finds herself trapped in a male-dominated realm of Nazi secrets and power.

The lives of these three women are set on a collision course when the unthinkable happens and Kasia is sent to Ravensbrück, the notorious Nazi concentration camp for women. Their stories cross continents—from New York to Paris, Germany, and Poland—as Caroline and Kasia strive to bring justice to those whom history has forgotten.

Have you read any of these? Any other novels set in ancient lands you would add to this list?

Looking for some World War II novels I have read and reviewed?  Give these a try!

 The God's of Heavenly        Next to Love                  Galerie            
   ★★★★★                ★★★★☆              ★★★★☆    

Here are some of the wishlists from a few of my friends this month:

Copyright © 2016 by The Maiden’s Court

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Two Sides to Every Story: Crusaders and Infidels by Jennifer Laam

Today I have the wonderful opportunity to welcome Jennifer Laam, author of The Secret Daughter of the Tsar and the just recently released The Tsarina's Legacy, to The Maiden's Court with an awesome contribution to the Two Sides to Every Story series.  Laam, whose novels are set in Russia, brings us today a guest post about two of the great men in the fight for the Crimea.  I hope you will enjoy it - I learned a lot from reading it!

Crusaders and Infidels: Grigory Potemkin, Ghazi Hassan Pasha, and the Rise of the Russian Empire in the Crimea
Grigory Potemkin
Image Credit: Johann Baptist von Lampi the Elder [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons {{PD-old-100}}
On the day Catherine the Great seized the Russian throne, a lowly member of the horse guards dared to approach her with an impromptu gift. Twenty-two years old and keenly ambitious, Grigory Potemkin noticed that to complete her dashing soldier’s outfit, his new sovereign needed a sword knot or dragonne. From that moment on, Grigory Potemkin, the product of a provincial family of the minor nobility, would rise both in his career at court and in the affections of his new monarch. 

Years later, Grigory and Catherine would enjoy a short, but torrid, mid-life romance. Even after the affair ended, Grigory Potemkin retained a unique hold on Catherine’s heart and mind. They continued on as friends and Grigory became Catherine’s most influential advisor, forging a powerful personal and political alliance. Over the course of his illustrious career, Grigory was awarded various titles, including Grand Admiral and Prince of Tauride, the ancient name for the Crimea.

Yet it was not personal charisma nor his chemistry with Catherine alone that allowed Grigory to rise. Prince Grigory Potemkin was a decorated hero of the first and second Russo-Turkish Wars, the ongoing conflicts between the Russian and Ottoman Empires which began in the eighteenth century. The first war took place when he was still a young man, affording Grigory a prime opportunity to stand apart from other ambitious courtiers and attain glory. He distinguished himself on the field and used this newfound stature as a means to elevate himself politically and rise in Catherine’s estimation. Russian victories meant strategic access to the Black Sea and domain over the Crimea, where Grigory’s greatest accomplishments occurred: the development of Russia’s formidable Black Sea Fleet and the establishment of towns and burgeoning industries in the region. By the time of the second war, when the Ottoman Empire attempted to regain control of the Black Sea, Grigory Potemkin was both a seasoned statesman and a veteran military leader who commanded forces and won brutally decisive victories against the Ottomans, further securing his hold on power.

To some extent, the Russo-Turkish Wars were viewed by Russians as a Christian crusade. From Grigory Potemkin’s point of view, the expansion of Russian territory to the south and east had a spiritual imperative. Grigory and Catherine were enmeshed in an intriguing if ultimately unsuccessful plot known as “The Greek Project” or “Greek Scheme” to reclaim Constantinople. If the plan had reached fruition, Catherine’s second born grandson, Constantine, would eventually inherit and reign over this part of the Russian empire.

Yet for all of these grand ambitions, Prince Potemkin was hardly a fanatical religious crusader. On the contrary, Grigory Potemkin had a curious, tolerant, and highly respectful attitude toward those of other faiths. He instituted protective measures for the Muslim Tatars of the Crimea who would prove to be strategic allies, made financial donations to mosques, and ensured that prominent Tatars were given titles and the right to own land. Both Catherine and Grigory took appointments with muftis. Eventually, Tatars used the Koran to swear allegiance to the Russian Empress Catherine. Furthermore, as part of negotiations near the close of the second war, Prince Potemkin proposed construction of a mosque in Moscow itself.

The Russo-Turkish Wars granted Grigory Potemkin an esteemed and constant place in Empress Catherine’s court and the chance to engage Muslim people in the life of the Russian Empire. It was a key component of his political strength and historical legacy. For those on the opposite side of the struggle, however the Russo-Turkish Wars had a far different effect.

By the mid-eighteenth century, the Ottomans still ruled a vast empire. In contrast to Russia, however, which had been energized by Peter the Great and his successors, including Catherine, the transnational empire of the Turks showed hints of decline. While still all powerful, sultans were limited by Islamic fundamentalism and their own military-political complex. The second Russo-Turkish War might never have happened were it not for the badgering of European powers hoping to limit the influence and stretch of the rising Russian Empire. Whereas the conflict allowed Potemkin first to rise and then to flourish, ambitious and talented men on the other side of the battle field were destined to be destroyed.
Ghazi Hassan Pasha
By Cobija (Own work) [CC0], via Wikimedia Commons

Ghazi Hassan Pasha, sometimes referred to as “Hassan of Algiers” was one such great man. Once enslaved and a one-time pirate of the Barbary Coast, the ambitious and talented “Capitan-Pasha” or Grand Admiral had risen to the top of the Ottoman ranks. By the time of the second Russo-Turkish War, he was also known as “The Crocodile of Sea Battles,” a longstanding warrior for his sultan who had blockaded Acre and suppressed internal revolts against the empire in Egypt. In the first Russo-Turkish War, he saved his own forces from the otherwise disastrous battle of Chesme. The conflict took on a religious cast for the Ottomans as it had for the Russians, and the name “Ghazi” stuck to the admiral as the result of his honorable fighting against the “great infidels,” the Russians. Still, similarly to Grigory Potemkin, Ghazi Hassan Pasha’s personal view of religion was likely nuanced; his own father had been Georgian and reportedly of the Orthodox faith.

Like Grigory Potemkin, Ghazi Hassan Pasha left the battlefields of the first Russo-Turkish War a military hero. After defeat in that first war, Ghazi Hassan Pasha took charge of restructuring the Ottoman Navy. In a manner comparable to what Catherine’s historical precursor, Peter the Great, had undertaken in Russia, he sought to utilize the skills of the western powers to the benefit of his empire. Ghazi Hassan Pasha established new shipyards and schools, employed French engineers and English ship-designers, and hoped to professionalize the service. Though his Golden Horn Shipyard would later evolve into the Turkish Naval Academy, at the time his educational efforts met with limited success. For the most part, officers were still appointed not by virtue of merit or training, but via corrupt systems and political intrigue. This failure to install effective leadership would eventually return to haunt the admiral.

Ghazi Hassan Pasha understood the threat Catherine’s territorial ambitions posed and how severely Russia’s annexation of the Crimea had undermined Ottoman strength. His reforms were thus geared toward preparing Ottoman forces for reengagement with the Russian intruders. However, by the time political and popular opinion, bolstered by the European powers, swung once again, in favor of reengaging the “great infidels,” he advised caution. Ghazi Hassan Pasha felt, sensibly, that the empire first needed to contain internal threats. Furthermore, while Great Britain and Prussia were eager for the chance to weaken Russia, and had offered moral support to the Ottoman Empire, Ghazi Hassan Pasha argued, they had not offered manpower, nor treasure.

Nonetheless, when the decision was made to engage in war to regain the Crimea, Ghazi Hassan Pasha, now well into his eighties, was once again engaged in the thick of the battle. Despite his efforts to reinvigorate his naval forces, he suffered fatal losses, including a failure to protect the waters surrounding the crucial fortress of Ochakov, which was later subject to a prolonged siege and brutal attack by Russian forces commanded by Grigory Potemkin.

While the second round of the Russo-Turkish Wars helped solidify Grigory Potemkin’s hold on power, the elderly Ghazi Hassan Pasha was politically devastated by his humiliating defeats and lost the popular support he once enjoyed in Constantinople. Pushing for peace in his final role as grand vizier to the sultan, he was involved in negotiations with Grigory Potemkin’s agents. However, before a treaty could be finalized, Ghazi Hassan Pasha died in 1790 under suspicious circumstances. He is widely believed to have been poisoned by the sultan’s order, for his failures in battle and because the Ottomans had decided to abandon the peace talks with Russia. Upon news of the great admiral’s death, Catherine even advised Grigory Potemkin to take care lest he be the next victim of one of the sultan’s assassins.

As a novelist, I can only speculate as to the true nature of the relationship between these military rivals. I wonder if Grigory Potemkin had lingering guilt over his direct role in the brutality of the wars and his indirect role in his rival’s death. At the very least, I believe Prince Potemkin would have acknowledged how easily he might have been on the losing side of the conflict and suffered as a result, if not poisoned by his own empress for his shortcomings, then at least banished to a lowly civilian life outside the court. When the prince died in 1791, on a hillside in Bessarabia, he was surrounded by an entourage of religious figures that included muftis. I can’t help but think Prince Potemkin was quite capable of seeing both sides of any story.

Jennifer Laam is the author of The Secret Daughter of the Tsar and The Tsarina’s Legacy, as well as the forthcoming Lady Pushkin, all from St. Martin’s Press. She is represented by Erin Harris at Folio Literary Management. Jennifer earned her undergraduate degree in History and Russian Studies at the University of the Pacific, and her master’s degree in History from Oakland University in Michigan. She has lived in Los Angeles and the suburbs of Detroit, and traveled in Russia and Europe. She currently resides in Northern California, where she spends her time writing, reading, and line dancing.  You can find Jennifer on the following social media sites: Website | Blog | Facebook | Twitter | Pinterest | Goodreads

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Book Blurb:
Then...Grigory "Grisha" Potemkin has had a successful long association with the powerful Empress Catherine of Russia. But Catherine and Grisha are older now and face new threats, both from powers outside of Russia and from those close to them. Haunted by the horrors of his campaign against the Muslim Turks, Grisha hopes to construct a mosque in the heart of the empire. Unfortunately, Catherine's much younger new lover, the ambitious Platon Zubov, stands in his way. Grisha determines that to preserve Catherine's legacy he must save her from Zubov's dangerous influence and win back her heart.
Now...When she learns she is the lost heiress to the Romanov throne, Veronica Herrera's life turns upside down. Dmitry Potemkin, one of Grisha's descendants, invites Veronica to Russia to accept a ceremonial position as Russia's new tsarina. Seeking purpose, Veronica agrees to act as an advocate to free a Russian artist sentenced to prison for displaying paintings critical of the church and government. Veronica is both celebrated and chastised. As her political role comes under fire, Veronica is forced to decide between the glamorous perks of European royalty and staying true to herself.
In Jennifer Laam's The Tsarina's Legacy, unexpected connections between Grisha and Veronica are revealed as they struggle to make peace with the ghosts of their past and help secure a better future for themselves and the country they both love.

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