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REVIEW:  The Harem Midwife by Roberta Rich

REVIEW: The Harem Midwife by Roberta Rich

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The Imperial Harem, Constantinople, 1578. Hannah and Isaac Levi, Venetians in exile, have overcome unfathomable obstacles to begin life anew in the Ottoman Empire. He works in the growing silk trade, and she, the best midwife in the capital, tends to the hundreds of women in Sultan Murat III’s lively and infamous harem. One night, Hannah is unexpectedly sum­moned to the extravagant palace and confronted with Leah, a Jewish peasant girl who was violently abducted. The sultan favors Leah as his next conquest and wants her to produce his heir, but if the spirited girl fails an important test, she faces a terrible fate. Taken by Leah’s tenacity, Hannah risks everything to help her. But as Hannah agonizes over her decision, an enchanting stranger arrives from afar to threaten her peaceful life with Isaac, and soon Leah too reveals a dark secret that could condemn them both.

Dear Ms. Rich,

When I’ve enjoyed an author’s book(s), I’ll try and keep an eye open for new releases. “The Midwife of Venice” was one of my happy discoveries in 2012 so when I saw this book had been released and that it’s a continuation of Hannah and Isaac’s story, of course it went on my want list.

One thing I noticed immediately is that the pace and “feel” seemed off. Chapter One is a violent yet strangely emotionally unmoving opening to the story. A young girl’s life is upended but I never felt my heart catch. She acts as if her feelings are blunted – shock, I guess – but the way the scene is written my response was more ho-hum than Oh-dear-God. After this, the action moves to Constantinople where Hannah and Isaac now live after the events of “Venice.” Hannah is a midwife to the Sultan’s harem and Isaac is now a silk merchant. Hannah is called to the palace and more time gets spent describing the journey there and the palace rather than what happens after. Lots of things about the city, palace and court are described but all of it seemed more a well integrated college lecture instead of pulling me into a “you are there in this splendid world.”

The main point of view is told by Hannah yet the opening chapter is from Leah’s view though it’s the only time this happens in the book. I wanted more. What were her feelings during her journey from her capture to the Seraglio? If we’re only going to get her past tense feelings as related to Hannah, why have the first chapter at all? The villain, Cesca, is fascinating to dive into early in the story but after some scenes giving her more depth and a background which explains her drive in life, we only get two short POV chapters much later in the tale. And poor Isaac who was such a delight to read about in the first book is little more than a life size cardboard cutout from whom we get nothing.

No wait we do get something from Isaac. We get actions that swing wildly depending on what the plot needs at that moment rather than anything that feels like a real character. We need to see how happy Isaac and Hannah are in their new life? Isaac is on automatic as a kissing fool. When Hannah is needed to be seen as unsure of her life, suddenly Isaac appears to be falling for another woman. When that part of the plot is resolved, just as quickly he’s back to his old self almost as if a fairy waved a wand. None of it felt real.

Lots of aspects of the plot get rushed over too. It’s almost as if the plot skipped over water like a stone. “Two months later…” “several weeks had passed…” and I feel as if I’m getting glimpses of a story that got drastically edited down. Seemingly major issues would loom largely, get truncated build-ups and then, whoosh, they’re over with little drama. The whole has a curiously flat feel. I thought “this is it??” In addition, lots of the plot is already laid out and revealed so that I already knew what was going to happen without even peeking at the end. That took a lot of the suspense right out of it.

The finale reminded me in a way of a bad mystery/crime story in which a lot of villain exposition occurs to wind things up and explain all the things needed for closure. And rather than having Hannah or Isaac take charge as they did in “Venice,” another character serves as the all powerful judge who dictates everyone’s actions. It was all too neat, too pat and too easy.

After my delight in “Venice,” I have to say that “Harem” was a sad disappointment. From the way certain events are left, I can tell that the plan is for another book to wrap them up. However, I’m not sure I’ll be eagerly waiting since this book certainly won’t be one I’ll probably think much about after a week or so. It’s rare that I say I’m glad I bought a book at used book prices but for this one, I am. It does have a pretty cover, though. D

~Jayne

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REVIEW:  Return of the Viking Warrior by Michelle Styles

REVIEW: Return of the Viking Warrior by Michelle Styles

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The Viking Claims his Wife

Kara Olofdottar thanked the gods when she married her childhood hero Ash Hringson. But this fearless raider has been gone so long, his proud arrogance is the only memory she retains of him. Now she must remarry to protect her lands for her son.

But then, on her wedding day, the conquering warrior returns to gasps of horror and surprise! After all, Ash was supposed to be dead, though to Kara’s starved gaze he seems very much flesh and blood…and less than impressed to find his beautiful wife intent on marrying someone else!

Dear Ms. Styles,

Recently Robin mentioned a new exhibit at the British Museum about Vikings and how it confounds so much of what we think about them today. When I saw your latest book listed at Harlequin I took it as a Sign and hustled to buy and read it. I should have enjoyed this different take on life in 790s Norway. Let’s just say, I didn’t.

Ash and Kara have a lot going on. Ash headed off years ago to seek Adventure and Riches leaving his (unknown to him) pregnant bride to face life with his horrible father. But Kara survived, bore a son, defended him against those who would have exposed the weak baby and now seeks a second marriage with a steady man who will defend her and her son and protect her son’s land. Until Ash arrives just at that moment in a wedding when the question is asked, “Does anyone know why this marriage can’t take place.” Ash unloads a hell of a reason, the ceremony comes to a crashing halt and the wedding feast is hastily renamed a homecoming party.

But Ash’s Uncle wants the land and sulks offstage after uttering threats. Ash and Kara hiss at each other, grind their teeth over the situation and huff around a lot. They talk, they talk, they talk, they argue in undertones, slam their own fists together a lot and then argue in hushed tones some more. They can think a situation to death and strive to repress what they’re thinking until they’ve stood and thought about it a few more times. The plot moves at a glacial pace as these two manage to do very little over the course of the first 80% of the book. Yes, I calculated that.

Every once in a while, the evil Uncle gets a brief mention just so I don’t forget he and his threat exists but basically there’s a lot of very little actually happening to keep me awake. Until finally! Uncle makes his move and I think, “Yippee, some action.” Only there isn’t. Action that is. Just more talking. No, wait… yes a battle! Fighting with swords at last. Alas, that bit of excitement is over too soon and we’re back to Kara and Ash fussing over patching up Ash’s wounds. Sigh… The story ends with more talking and I finish it with the thought that if you’re looking for a verbose, moody Viking novel this is it. If you want some excitement though, keep going. D

~Jayne

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