Romance, Historical, Contemporary, Paranormal, Young Adult, Book reviews, industry news, and commentary from a reader's point of view

About Jayne S

Another long time reader who read romance novels in her teens, then took a long break before started back again about 15 years ago. She enjoys historical romance/fiction best, likes contemporaries, action- adventure and mysteries, will read suspense if there's no TSTL characters and is currently reading very few paranormals.

Posts by Jayne S:

REVIEW:  Mara – Daughter of the Nile by Eloise Jarvis McGraw

REVIEW: Mara – Daughter of the Nile by Eloise Jarvis...

Dear Readers,

I bought myself a copy of this book last year when I got “Catherine, Called Birdy.” I read “Birdy” but somehow “Mara” got set to the side and it drifted out of my mind. For years I’d heard it mentioned with enthusiasm by everyone who commented on it. With people looking for unusual historical settings and reading YA, I thought now would be a great time to give it a whirl.

MaraIt’s YA but Mara is not a sweet, gentle Disney Princess type of heroine. She’s not going to be helped by her pet friends Sobie the Crocodile and Anubie the Jackal. No, no. She’s smart, sarcastic and totally in favor of “Me, Myself and I.” She is her number one priority if only because, as an orphan slave, she has no one else who cares for her and if she doesn’t look out for No 1 then no one else will.

Who could blame her for grabbing it when she gets what she feels is the chance of a lifetime? A little spying, a little reporting of said spying, possibly having to use her sharp wits a time or two and she will have earned her freedom from slavery and a tidy amount of money to begin her new life. But just when she thinks she’s already got her problem solved and can count her golden deben, fate twists her dreams and gives her another schemer she has to answer to. Only this one is working for the other side. Mara has to use her intelligence and quick thinking to follow the bare bones instructions given to her by both of the men trying to pull her strings. Mara has her work cut out for her to keep her stories straight and all the players separate as she initially plays one side against the other with her death as a reward should she screw up.

The details of ancient Egypt come to life. I especially love the descriptions of the buildings of Thebes, the magnificent Golden palace of Pharaoh and the brilliant color washes of the sunrises and sunsets. Mara sees her homeland anew as she watches a foreigner come to know it. I hope Canaanite Princess Inanni gets to go home after all the drama ended. All of this isn’t just surface embellishment but is woven in the story. Sheftu goes on a heart stopping trip to the Dark River to gain the gold needed to fund the rebellion. It’s not terrifying merely because it’s dangerous to tomb rob but because for these people, doing this was the worst sin of their world. “Mara” conveys that these people truly believed in their gods and their universe and it’s done in a way that isn’t patronizing to their beliefs. Another favorite section of mine is the night scene watched over by Nuit – the Goddess of the Sky who causes stars to twinkle when she blinks.

The romance grows slowly and not always smoothly but the connection is shown from early on. Mara is a worldly wise 17 year old in an age when people would mature more quickly still kisses is as far as things go here. She’s been on her own for as long as she can remember with no one to care for her, so when she finally, reluctantly, starts to feel something for Lord Sheftu it seems natural that she has mixed emotions. Sheftu can slide from hot headed, rebel rouser through smooth talking young Lord to weary conspirator in the blink of an eye. Mara has to learn not only his moods but come to believe in the uprising he’s selling before the path of her future is all clear to her.

One thing that disappointed me was the view of Hatshepsut as nothing more than a greedy, scheming throne stealer more interested in the monuments to her own glory than her country. Hapshetsut is now seen as a good ruler who kept peace and expanded trade routes but young men are all about war and military might so it’s understandable how Sheftu and Thutmose would see Hatshepsut as they do. I wonder if the fact that the book was written in the early 1950s when women were being pushed back into traditional roles after WWII explains how Hapshetsut was shown.

To me the main issue of the book is not really to be a romance. It’s more about Mara discovering a cause more important than her own needs, discovering family and a connection to others. Learning that it’s not just all about “me.” She does get her romance and her man but she gains so much more than that. She gains a sense of place and a sense of her own worth. B



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REVIEW:  Shanghai Love by Layne Wong

REVIEW: Shanghai Love by Layne Wong

“Peilin is betrothed to Kwan Yao, the only son of a wealthy pearl farmer. However months before their wedding, Yao is killed by the Japanese in the Nanjing Massacre. The Kwans insist on proceeding with the wedding and the beautiful Peilin is married to a ghost husband. When an uncle passes away, Peilin is sent to Shanghai to manage the Kwan family herbal shop.

Meanwhile in Berlin, Henri graduates from medical school just as Hitler rises to power and unleashes prejudice and violence against the Jewish population. He flees to Shanghai where he’s befriended by Ping, a young disfigured rickshaw driver. Ping introduces Henri to his sister Peilin. Through her kindness, Henri becomes fascinated with Chinese herbs as well as the exotic culture surrounding him.”

Dear Ms. Wong,

I was excited to get the chance to review this book because it has such an unusual setting – late 1930s Shanghai – and features a multicultural romance. For various reasons, unfortunately it didn’t work for me.

shanghai-loveThe story begins with separate locations for the two main characters. Peilin’s early life as she learns the science of Chinese herbal medicine from her grandfather is followed by scenes of her being matched with the son of a business associate who supplies her grandfather with pearl powder after which comes the wedding. This was actually fairly interesting and I read it closely.

Meanwhile around the world, Henri is a doctor in Berlin suffering under the increasingly restrictive laws against Jews. His escape is into the world of jazz and there he meets and falls in love with blonde, sultry singer Sophie. Their sexual affair is torrid and Henri makes the mistake of thinking this will overcome Sophie’s family’s objections to his religion. When his family is attacked on Kristallnacht by the gestapo lead by Sophie’s brother, Henri flees into the night with a hastily packed bag and a ticket to Shanghai given to him by his uncle – a place he’s been told will allow Jews without a visa to stay. While a little melodramatic in places, most of this was interesting too.

But while I found I was enjoying learning aspects of Chinese life I didn’t know and the ways Henri was getting around the anti-Jewish laws, it dawned on me that there’s a lot of telling going on here and that this is continued for most of the book. Too much telling – pages and pages and pages of telling – usually make me feel at arms length from a story. Personally, I find it very difficult to get caught up in the characters or feel much emotion for their issues or be interested in their HEA.

Yet this isn’t what started me skimming the book. Not even the fact that Henri and Peilin don’t actually meet until just before the halfway mark of the book did that. Two things happened that did this book in for me. Peilin’s family was murdered by the invading Japanese. Her brother witnessed it. At one point he erupts in pent up anger at what happened and Peilin seems amazed that he’s so angry. My jaw dropped. I know it’s the main responsibility of the son of the family to avenge anything done to the parents but to not understand why her brother is still enraged at what occurred seemed totally bizarre to me.

The second thing that flabbergasted me was Henri’s actions – or maybe I should say lack of actions – once he arrived in China. Here is a man whose father and brother were hauled off by the gestapo, whose uncle was left wounded by the same attack, who fled his homeland with little more than the clothes on his back and who is living among a flood of Jewish refugees who have also fled Nazi oppression and he seems remarkably calm about what might be the fate of his family. He’s sent a few unanswered letters but that’s all that is mentioned. He’s not shown to be scanning newspaper headlines or watching news reels – regardless of how old they might be by the time they get to Shanghai – or even questioning the new arrivals to the refuge center much less making any effort to get his family out of Germany. Nope, after 9 months, he’s just hoping all is well. Henri seems far more interested in Chinese herbal medicine than if his family is all right.

I. Was. Stunned.

To be fair, these issues do come up more in the second half of the book but by this time I was in full skim mode. The story had lost me after the actions of both Henri and Peilin in regard to these major issues didn’t seem realistic. I was not engaged in the telling romance and I had little interest in finding out how they would finally get together. Since I didn’t actually pay full attention to the second part of the book, I guess my grade should be DNF.


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