Monday, 27 March 2017

Review of "Revolution" by Piet Hein Wokke - Brilliant novel set in the Middle East

One of the best novels I read in a long time! "Shepherds use religion to fight; sheep fight over religion". It is one of the great quotes in the novel written by Dutch historian Piet Hein Wokke (3 June 1985) who studied history in Groningen, focusing on contemporary conflicts and Middle Eastern history. Even when the book is set in a fictitious country called Beledar situated between Jordan and Iraq, the novel sheds light on many real things regarding the region while telling a captivating story in the meantime: What is the difference between the Sunni and the Shi'a muslims? Why did people call followers of Islam Mohammedans in the past and why do Muslims prefer to be called Muslims? (Because they think the term Mohammedans implies they worship Mohammed like Christians worship Christ). And when you are familiar with the history of the region you recognise elements of Jordanian and Iraqi historic facts in the tale of fantasy Beledar.

The story is about two young boys: Abdullah and Khalid who are just in their teens when the story starts and when young emir Jalal (who will become King later on) takes over the reign from his father. Still children both boys have to kill someone.

Abdullah is a street rat from the city who is given the chance to go and work for king Jalal. Khalid a younger son of a more or less well-to-do merchant from a desert oasis who runs away to the army with his brother and rises through the ranks.

We follow both boys growing up into men and in between we see short glimpses of King Jelal who in my opinion is the real hero of the story. A king who quotes Shakespeare, is aware he is a descendant of the prophet Mohammed but refuses to believe in a God as mankind is "shortsighted, self-centered and treacherous" and no God would create a species like that in his opinion. Although an Arab lord he is more British than anything else. Stiff upper lip and all.

Beledar is emerging into something more modern under King Jelal but not everyone likes that policy so under a prospering society currents of discontent are whirling.

In the end it is the conscience and courage of both Abdullah and Khalid that are tested. And unlike in his youth when revenge was brought upon someone here one of them says in the end: "Retribution for an injury is equal injury. However who forgives an injury and make reconciliation will be rewarded by God" and the other man feels the eyes of the king burning into his soul again.

I have the feeling the writer wants to continue the story in another book. Maybe that is one of the reasons some things are not crystal clear in the end. The writer choose sto show us a glimpse into the future of Beledar and our hero. I would have advised against that or to continue writing the whole story.

Nevertheless a brilliant book that had my Muslim colleague and I discussing it. I certainly can recommend buying it. I myself was given the opportunity of an advanced copy for the Netgalley-site.

Monday, 20 March 2017

Review of "The strings of the Lute" - a book about love and a view into Moroccan, American and French daily life

The lute in the title is the instrument Moroccan Larbi was given by an uncle to help him overcome his grief. Later on in his life he gives the instrument to a friend to help her cope with her loss.

This is a book about love: the love between two girl friends growing up together, the love between a Moroccan architect and a girl from the US, the love between parents and children and the lingering love for people departed.

The book starts slow and it took me awhile to start liking it - it is not so much a novel as someone telling you their lifestory - but it becomes a lot more interesting when she meets Larbi. The writer successfully brings the world in it to life. The French town, the Moroccan daily life. As the writer is living for decades in Morocco the book gives you in my opinion a real glimpse of Moroccan life. I wondered if some things were not more or less a personal memoir.

At first I had the feeling the writer ended the book too suddenly. I was annoyed how the girlfriend did not tell the husband about how happy his wife had been when she had discovered something. The limbo we as readers ended up in. But after a day or so - while I was still thinking about the novel - I think that limbo might be part of the charm.

Review of thrilling detectivenovel "Ghosts of the Sahara"

Thrilling detective novel set in Morocco: A girl is found dead in Morocco, an heiress disappeared and reporter Kennedy supposed to do an interview with a terrorist. But the terrorist who abducted the girl has a history with Kennedy. He held her hostage too but were they lovers?
The writer had a career in journalism what made the journalism world in the book believable. And the story successfully steers clear of the stereotypes.
The book opens with a scene that reminded me of the movie (and the novel) "The Sheltering sky".
I have never been in the deep south of Morocco so I cannot vouch for the authenticity of the setting, but the book is a joy to read anyways.

Tuesday, 14 March 2017

#Free on Amazon today: "The king's man" set in 13th century Wales

Ranulf Ombrier’s fame throughout 13th century England for his skill at swordplay is rivaled only by his notoriety as King Edward I’s favorite killer. Ranulf's actions have gained him lands, title, and a lasting reputation as a hired butcher. But after years of doing his king's bidding, he begins to fear for his mortal soul and follows his conscience away from Edward, all the way to the wilds of Wales.

Gwenllian of Ruardean, Welsh daughter of a powerful Marcher lord, has every reason to leave Ranulf for dead when one of her men nearly kills him. As a girl she was married by proxy to a man Ranulf murdered, only to become a widow before she ever met her groom. In the years since, she has shunned the life of a lady, instead studying warfare and combat at her mother’s behest. But she has also studied healing and this, with her sense of duty to knightly virtues, leads her to tend to Ranulf’s wounds.

Saving her enemy’s life comes with consequences, and Gwenllian and Ranulf are soon caught up in dangerous intrigue. Forced together by political machinations, they discover a kinship of spirit and a surprising, intense desire. But even hard-won love cannot thrive when loyalties are divided and the winds of rebellion sweep the land.

(source: Amazon)

I have not read it yet. 

Sunday, 5 March 2017

This Scottish girl jumps not to the past but another realm - book review of "The Source of Magic"

Delightful story with quite a few surprises. Jilian comes back to Scotland after her father's death. In the night she hears a voice calling her. A day later a stranger appears from thin air who hauls her into another realm. It seems her help is paramount to save that country.
The writer has a very pleasant style of writing and succeeds in building a world for us that comes to life on the pages.

Sunday, 26 February 2017

A great fantasy saga (2 books) "The reluctant concubine" and "The accidental sorceress"

With a title like this you would not expect a Game of Thrones like story.

At the beginning of the two books Tera is I guess 16 or something. She and her father live on a beach and have fallen into deep poverty since the death of her mother who was a famous healer. She trained as a healer too but apart from administering herbal treatment she is still unable to heal by magic. When she would bed a man before that gift comes to her she probably will never develop it.

Sold into slavery she ends up in a society alien to her. It is a kind of warrior state where women are either concubines or slaves to be used by the warriors. But after a year or so in the service of a cruel household of a local noble the high lord of the country makes her his only concubine without ever touching her.

She does everything to regain her freedom so she can return home but then stumbles on an old secret.

While book 1 read as a romance story with fantasy elements book 2 is a fantasy adventure about a war but with a love aspect.

 Book 2

Tera is now the favourite concubine of the High Lord Batumar and his city is rebuilding after the siege. However her safe home is now threatened by another enemy and Tera feels very insecure about how Batumar feels about her. (And after having read book 1 you know the man is someone you would want to have fall in love with you.) But then Batumar wants to embark on a dangerous journey to forge alliances and takes her with him.

The story does a great job in painting us a vast world and in describing love and loss. Where many books will treat grief as a temporary thing here two things really wound her and are still hurting later on on several occasions like it would in the real world.

We can witness Tera grow into a leader. She is really a character you bond with. Her bodyguard Orz brings tears to one's eye.

Very good book. I will recommend it to my friends.

There were however some thing that kept me wondering: (***** some minor spoilers)
- Why would the High Lord leave his realm to go on such a mission on his own and not send a trusted warrior or diplomat? Because that one is already dead? Is there no other? I mean even with a second in command in place it will leave his country without the highest leader. Even if he maybe thinks he can accomplish it in two weeks or so it is very dangerous;
- Why does Tera not heal Orz with her healing magic? Somewhere she says he would be angry. Why? Because it would kill her as he is so hurt? But now his injuries make him unable to do his job.
- He cannot speak and then suddenly he can? Is that just a way of him getting healed over time?
Many reviewers on Amazon say there will be a third novel but I doubt it. As the last couple of sentences are exactly what Tera has been hoping for.

Worth the money. A 5 out of 5 stars!

Monday, 20 February 2017

Review "Ebb Tide" - A nautical Zombie novel that keeps you hooked

Only 0.99 cents. Totally scary. Death around every corner. I had trouble falling asleep. As English is a foreign language for me and I am all thumbs some of the technical stuff I did not grasp but the story is great. (The writer lives on a yacht in the Pacific just like Matai). The story is set in the near future. A pandemic flu has killed 90% of the world's population. 5% survived and the other 5% turned into a kind of zombies. Matai the female hero lives on the sailing yacht that used to be her parent's. Initially the family survived because they were at sea when the illness struck. The book starts with Matai finding a Chinese cargo ship that ran aground on an atoll. She suspects it to be full of hidden treasures to bring home to the island she and her survivor friends live but she is also scared to death that the dark cargo holds might be full with Typhoid Maries. The story is told partly in flash backs.