Saturday, February 25, 2012

All The Flowers in Shanghai by D. Jepson

Duncan Jepson brings us a haunting novel, All the Flowers in Shanghai about a young girl, Feng, in pre-Revolution China. Told solely in the first person, we learn immediately that Feng is writing to a daughter that she had claimed was stillborn but was apparently still alive and was now telling her the story of her life.

Feng was the second daughter. The "spare" to her parents, who are only called Ma and Ba. She has an older sister, only called Sister, who is being groomed to marry a man of a higher status and has been treated like a princess her entire life. Xaio Feng dresses like a peasant and spends her time roaming the gardens with her grandfather and knowing nothing of life aside from the Latin names of flowers.

As her sister is preparing to marry the rich Sang heir, Feng meets a village boy and falls immediately in like with him. They spend a lot of time together, but when Sister is suddenly unable to marry, it is up to Feng to fulfill the contract made with the Sang family.

But Feng was never groomed for any of it - she knew nothing of the ancient traditions and ceremonies involved in a wedding or marriage. She insults her new in-laws immediately, but doesn't seem to care because they took her away from the life she had known and enjoyed. And when her new husband clumsily forces himself on her, Feng turns bitter and angry.

Her mother-in-law's insistence for a male heir angers Feng, so when she does become pregnant she manages to detach herself from her developing baby and makes her maid swear to give the child away if it is a girl. Of course, the entire novel is a story she has written for a child she never knew, so when a girl is born, the reader is not surprised. Her maid takes the baby and gives it away to an older couple and Feng tells the family she had birthed a stillborn son.

The story continues from there - covering more than 30 years time in all and goes into the beginning of communist China where Feng makes some drastic and unforeseen changes in her life.

In the end, I did not feel connected to any of the characters in this book, except maybe the given-away daughter since the letter was to her. Feng goes from a sweet, unassuming innocent to a cold-hearted, angry and bitter woman. Feng's family simply abandons her without and any life lessons (though I'm assuming that's just how things were in depression-era China). Her husband I can only assume is a fool and simply does what he is told by his father, mother and then wife.

I also felt like Feng spent much of the book searching for a true parent figure. Her mother treated her cruelly, using her children only as pawns to move up in station. For many years Feng looked to her older maid as a mother figure, then sought out another mother-figure after that. It seems that Jepson gave Feng many women who could fill the role, but none who could fill the pain Feng felt.

Overall, I give All the Flowers in Shanghai 3.5 out of 5 stars. It was fairly easy to read, but some of the material was tough and at times the language more crass than I'm used to, but it certainly fit with the storyline.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

A Sense of Duty by Lisa Shea

I got A Sense of Duty as a free download for my Kindle and I have to admit to being intrigued from the beginning! I adore all things medieval, so I really hoped this book would live up to my expectations and it sure did.

It begins with a prologue outlining the unspoken love between Constance, the daughter of an English Lord, and Gabriel, her personal guard who had fought in the crusades. It's hard to believe that not even a chaste kiss has crossed between them, but they stand motionless for what seems like hours on the beach, Gabriel's arms protectively around Constance.
But sadly, Constance has been pledged in marriage ten years prior to a much older Lord Barnard and the time for their hand-fasting has come. And as much as she loves Gabriel, she needs to marry Barnard to ensure his protection over her parent's lands.
She tells Gabriel that their time together had been "amusing," crushing his heart, and she marries the older man.

Six years pass and Constance feels like a prisoner in her own home. With two stillbirths behind her and no living children, her husband has decided to see if any of the local women or maids can produce a child for him. Constance is scorned, hurt, but glad that the older man leaves her alone. She wistfully thinks of Gabriel. And she passes the time she works with an older man named Ralph who teaches her to wield a sword and dagger as protection against local bandits.

On a trip to see her elderly Aunt Silvia at a nunnery, her guards are killed and Constance is taken captive. She is locked away, though not broken. Constance knows that they have demanded ransom, but doesn't understand why her husband has not paid it. Perhaps her brother might. When she is saved by mercenaries known as the Angelus, Constance's curiosity is piqued, but she's too grateful to worry about it. She is returned to her brother's home to recuperate against her husband's wishes.

As she regains her strength, Constance realizes that her beloved Gabriel is closer than she thought - he is a neighbor of her brother! Gabriel is in her childhood home once again, but this time flirting with the younger sister of Constance's sister-in-law. She does her best to ignore him, choosing instead to play with her young nieces and nephews - relishing in the ability to be with children. As time passes, her sister-in-law, Alison, realizes that Constance is not as she imagined and apologizes profusely for not visiting and for leaving Constance without the affections of her own family. However, Constance's jealous husband wants her to have nothing to do with her brother, his family, or the tall, handsome man who keeps stealing glances at his wife.

Through a harrowing series of events, Constance and Gabriel finally admit their love for one another, as expected, and Barnard flies into a rage. It is revealed that Gabriel is at the head of the mercenaries called the Angelus and Constance figures our that Barnard himself is at the helm of the bandits who have been robbing people and leaving them for dead the last several years.

When Gabriel is sentenced to hang - along with his men - and Constance is forced to return to her husband's keep, will they be able to unveil Barnard's deception and save the men of the Angelus?
Of course - the answer should be obvious!

A Sense of Duty is full of twists and turns - some expected, many not. There is just too much to try to cover in a quick book review! But if you like romance (not steamy stuff, but stories of finding your true love) and you like Medieval or Regency novels, I really think you will enjoy this one. I could barely put it down! I give Lisa Shea's book 4.5 out of 5 stars!

(PS - it is still free as of 2/14/12! Get it now!)

Monday, February 6, 2012

Kathleen Morgan is quickly becoming one of my favorite authors and Child of the Mist certainly doesn't disappoint.
Set in the 16th century Scotland Highlands, the story opens with a grim scene. That of Naill Campbell watching helplessly as his beloved wife and child die in childbirth. We later learn that it had been their fourth stillborn child.
Then the tale jumps a year to the life of beautiful MacGregor clan heir Anne MacGregor who is known throughout her lands as a healer - though some call her a witch because of her Old Ways of healing.
One evening she is sent to the home of a peasant couple having their first child. While she is attending to the laboring mother, cattle thieves raid the town - men from the hated Campbell clan. When one sees her breath life in to the still young babe, he calls her a witch and wants to kill her. She stands her ground and is then released by a kind - yet still hated - Campbell warrior.
Soon the same Campbell man who saved her life - who also happens to be the Campbell clan heir - is captured by the MacGregors. Anne tells her father that the man saved her life and she was honor bound to save his in return. So instead of killing the man, the MacGregor chieftain gives him his daughter - Anne - in an effort to end their decades-long feuding.
Anne and the Campbell heir, who of course of Naill from the first scene, are handfasted. Meaning they are like-married for a year and a day. After that time they may either have a real marriage or they may go their separate ways. Anne doesn't want to be married - let alone to a thieving, murdering man like Naill Campbell (who is called the Wolf). And Naill had only lost his beloved wife a year before and is not ready to commit to another, let alone love her, at all.
Naill and Anne set forth for Campbell land where they face many challenges. One being Naill's handsome cousin Iain, who fancies himself in love with Anne and thinks his cousin is a rake and will treat her poorly. The second - and biggest problem - is that someone on the inside of the Campbell clan has betrayed Naill and wants to see him dead.
Who is the traitor? Naill suspects many. His cousin Iain tops his list because of his affections for his psuedo-bride and Naill is jealous. But his Uncle Duncan would be second in line behind Naill himself for the title of Chieftain. Hugh, a cousin, is also in the heir line-up, as is another cousin, Malcolm. Any one could be working against Naill and trying to claim the Chieftainship for himself.
Of course, many problems arise for our young couple. At first they hate each other. Then of course, they fall in love but their own stubborn prides get in the way and despite loving each other, they do not trust each other. Thrown in the fact that many townspeople, Naill's family included, call Anne a witch, and it's a recipe for a disastrous relationship except for the love the couple have for each other even though they refuse to admit it or do anything about it.

In the end, what will happen? Will Naill discover who the traitor is before he loses not only his life and title, but the woman he has grown to love? Will Anne's homeopathic healing abilities get her arrested for being a witch? And of course, will love prevail and the couple wind up together or will the traitor, Iain's affections and the couple's own differences come between them?

Child of the Mist is a very quick-paced book and a fairly easy read. I thoroughly enjoyed it and look forward to reading more of her series called These Highland Hills. She also as a series called the Brides of Culdee Creek, of which I have read Book 1 and loved.

I give Child of the Mist 4 out of 5 stars and highly recommend the author to anyone who likes romance without the smut. Right now it's FREE for the Kindle (as of 2/6/12), so scoop it up and read it!