Daughter of Jesusalem: a novel

Title: Daughter of Jesusalem: a novelcover20948-medium
Author: Joan Wolf
ISBN: 9781936034673
Publisher: Worthy Publisher
Source: Advance copy from publisher via NetGalley
Release Date: April 16, 2013
Rating: 4 out of 5

Synopsis:

Daughter of Jerusalem is a fictional story of Mary Magdalene  In this novel, Mary Magdalene is portrayed as an ordinary woman who goes through some very unfortunate events in her life which put her in the path of Jesus.

My Review:

Mary Magdalene is perhaps the most famous woman from the Bible and hers is the most fascinating story. Who was she and what was her relationship with Jesus? Daughter of Jerusalem shows her as an unfortunate woman who tries to make the best of her circumstances. She is kind, generous, intelligent and is perhaps ahead of her time. She is sold into an unhappy marriage when she is in love with another man. We read about her experiences in her own words and you instantly relate to this woman.

We see the world through her eyes, travel with her and learn about her experiences and adventures. She eventually meets Jesus of Nazareth and meeting him changes her life.

This is a work of fiction and I don’t know how accurate this is to facts but nevertheless it is a positive portrayal of Mary who is often depicted negatively. It is an interesting read.

The Florentine Emerald

Title: The Florentine Emerald
Author: Agustín Bernaldo Palatchi
ISBN: 9781453264126
Source: Advance copy from publisher via NetGalley
Release Date: December 18, 2012
Rating: 3 out of 5

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Synopsis: Cardona Castle, 1478. A condemned man reveals the secret of his concealed Jewish ancestry to his son, and tells him of a priceless ring that has been in the family’s possession for centuries. After his father’s execution, Mauricio is forced to flee Barcelona and travel to Florence in the hope of selling the ring. In the city of the arts he meets some extraordinary characters—including Lorenzo de Medici, Marsilio Ficino, Pico della Mirandola, and Leonardo de Vinci—but nobody will make affect him as strongly as Lorena Ginori, a young woman who has been condemned to marry a man who disgusts her. Clouded in danger, conspiracies, plagues, and invasions, when the city comes under the wing of a visionary monk, everything seems poised to go up in smoke. And just as Florence must look to the past to find the key to the future, Mauricio and Lorena must journey through the hidden roots of their family trees to discover the truth about themselves in this enthralling journey through time.

My Review:

I wanted to read this book for its setting – the Renaissance era Florence, its landscape, beauty, and the life of the common man. We go along with Mauricio and Lorena on their journey through life as they face tragedies and triumphs – their life in Florence and their interaction with the Medicis.

Maybe it is the translation or the writing itself but I couldn’t feel any emotion in the story. The protagonists couldn’t make themselves endearing to me and I couldn’t rejoice or feel sad with their experiences. It is a slow brewing plot and though it could have been a great book, I felt it was rather flat for my taste.  The content and context are rather exciting but not really my cup of tea. Even though I knew it is fiction, I couldn’t really come to accept the interaction of the protagonist with legendary characters like Da Vinci and Columbus.

All that I am

…by Anna Funder.

Ruth Becker is living out her last days in the Eastern suburbs of Sydney. In another lifetime away in 1939, Ernst Toller recounts his life sitting in a New York hotel room. When Toller’s story arrives at Ruth’s doorstep, she is caught up in the memories of their shared past. Of when Hitler came into power. And Ruth along with her outspoken cousin Dora, Ruth’s husband Hans, Toller, and others escaped Germany to seek refuge in neighbouring European countries while at the same time attempting to fight his reign. The four of them find refuge in London and continue to take risks. However, things are not safe even in England. And following several threats and break-ins, the ultimate betrayal by one they trust will tear their lives apart…

Inspired by true events and based on real characters, this piece of historical fiction is brilliantly penned. While initially it takes a little while to get into, it speeds up dramatically as you go on. The chapters move from Ruth reminiscing in 2001 about the events prior to 1939 to Toller recounting the same events in 1939. Dora is the main character around whom both their memories revolve. Brave, passionate and determined, this feisty young girl tries to stand up against the tyranny of Nazism. Half-way through the book, I had an idea about who would be the betrayer and I was right. But that didn’t take away the drama and suspense which had me holding my breath. And in the end I think I was gobsmacked more so because these are based on true life events. Dora was a real person. As were Ruth, Toller and Hans. And that’s what made it even more chilling.

A highly recommended read, I give it a rating of 4.

Until next time,

Cheers!!!

Note: This was originally published on my personal blog

Written in the ashes

…by Kaia Hollan Van Zandt.

Set in 410 C.E (Common Era), Written in the Ashes follows the journey of Hannah, a young Jewish girl who is kidnapped and sold as a slave in Alexandria. She is bought by Tarek who is mesmerised by her beauty. Once there, she is adopted as a slave by Tarek’s master, Alizar. Alizar has plans for Hannah which involve educating her. An honour for a slave who is woman. In addition to having a good grasp over education and being beautiful, Hannah also has a divine voice that can capture a person’s heart. As a result, she starts to perform in front of an audience due to listen to a lecture by Hypatia, one of the greatest female philosophers of the time and keeper of the Great Library of Alexandria. However, these are tumultuous times. The Christians led by Bishop Cyril are in the process of killing those they consider pagans. And that includes anyone who is not Christian. Hannah soon becomes the bishop’s target and is sent away in to hide in the Temple of Isis. She is torn between two men she loves and at the same time embarks on a journey to find The Emerald Tablet to help protect the pagans. The journey eventually leads to the Great Library being burnt. And although everything seems lost after that, it may not necessarily be the case.

Written in Ashes is a historical fiction novel inspired by true events. The Great Library did get burnt. But no one really knows how. The history also has its share of mythology which makes it even more interesting. The book is a whopping 400 pages but is captivating to keep you going at a stretch. For a person who is not really into historical fiction, I enjoyed this journey. Reading about Ancient Greek and Egypt and the rise of religious extremism through this book was extremely enlightening. It took me back to my days of studying about Ancient Greek, Rome and Egypt in school. The only history I actually liked. The author has developed all the characters beautifully. Both the good and bad. You can’t help but feel what they are feeling and you will find yourself holding your breath and feeling their fear. Hannah is a wonderful character. Endearing and strong. Confused yet clear. Intelligent yet rash. She is a mix of so many positives and flaws that make her what she is.  The author’s writing style is also very captivating. She took 10 years to write this book and one can see why. It involves a lot of research! In the end, she manages to keep you hooked.

This is a work of true literature.

My rating is a 4.

Note: This was originally posted over at my personal blog. You can win a copy of this book by entering a giveaway on my blog as well.

Wanting

‘Wanting’ is a book by Australian author Richard Flanagan. The year is 1839. The setting is Van Diemen’s land (Tasmania, as it is known today). A young Aborginal girl by the name of Mathinna attempts to get help from the Protector for her dying father. Fast forward twenty years on. Charles Dickens, the most prolific author of his time, is dealing with a dead end marriage and lack of interest in life. Until he is approached by the person connecting the two stories together. Lady Jane Franklin, the wife of one of the most famous explorers, Sir John Franklin.

In 1841, Sir John Franklin was the governor of Van Diemen’s land and lived in the convict colony with his wife. Lady Jane is enamoured by Mathinna and decides to adopt her as part of an experiment to ‘civilise’ the ‘savage’ child. The underlying belief of the times is that by controlling one’s passion and wanting, one will be civilised. It is apparently the ‘savages’ who give in to the passion and wanting. Thus, Lady Jane, being the civlised person that she is, does not give in to her needs to hug or comfort the child. On the other hand, Sir John eventually finds himself living for the time spent with Mathinna. Thus drawing ridicule from his peers. Lady Jane’s experiment fails and Mathinna is left back in Van Diemen’s land in an orphanage. Sir John Franklin disappears on an exploration which is rumoured to have ended in cannibalism. A scandalous suggestion for the times. Lady Jane requests Dickens’ help to put an end to these rumours. As Dickens get into the story, he ends up producing and starring in a play inspired by Sir John Franklin. His belief is that discipline and strong will can help conquer yearning and desire. Except, through the play, he meets Ellen Ternan and finds himself unable to conquer his own wanting.

The central theme of course, is wanting. The belief of the era that giving in to your longings and wants is something a ‘savage’ would do and not a gentleman or lady. The book looks at how there are consequences of giving in to ones wants and that is seen through the characters of Dickens, John Franklin and even Mathinna while similarly, you can have negative consequences by not giving in to your desires as is depicted through Lady Jane. Flanagan also explores the colonisation of the Aboriginals. How there was a belief that they needed a ‘protector’ or someone who could make them more ‘civilised’. Through Mathinna’s character, you see the ill that was done by the British and the whites to the Aboriginal population of Australia. The stolen generation rings out loud even though this book was before the time. The sad thing is that the repercussions of this colonisation is seen till today with the Aboriginal population. Mathinna’s character is endearing and the conflict she feels after being abandoned by the Franklins between her race and the white race is one that is very relatable. You feel for the pain she goes through. The writing is quite exquisite and the chapters move between Dickens and Franklin/Mathinna, thus keeping you engrossed to know more. The author warns that it is not a novel of history. But to me, it was enlightening to learn about the past.

I give it a  rating of 4.

Note: This post has been cross-posted on my personal blog.

Until next time,

Cheers!!!

Chanakya’s Chant

… by Ashwin Sanghi


Two thousand years ago , there existed this brilliant king-maker, economist and tactician. After his father’s murder under an egotistical king, he made it his life’s purpose to unite Bharat into a single sovereign under a worthy ruler. He was VishnuGupta , better known as Chanakya ,the son of Chanak. In an unstable Bharat which is facing the imminent threat of the invincible Alexander , the comprising kingdoms are busy fighting among themselves leaving their subjects to the mercy of the Gods. Chanakya identifies potential in the son of the chief army general and takes it upon himself to make ChandraGupta the ruler of Bharat. He plots mercilessly to meet this goal. He brews trouble between kingdoms , manipulates many people and tweaks a lot many circumstances to achieve this aim.

In the present day we have Pandit Ganagasagar , a lowly history teacher , who learns the rope of politics and vows to counter the corruption , poverty and waywardness plaguing India. He finds a suitable candidate in young Chandni Gupta. While grooming her for the post of the Premier, he works very hard to build a new political party and garner enough support to wield power at the central level. He employs a repertoire of political gimmicks like manipulating oppositions , blackmailing high-placed officials and even smoothing international relations!

The book basically comprises of two stories narrated in a parallel manner to the reader ,of course each of them pausing at tantalizing moments. The protagonists are wily teachers who do not want to hold the reins to great power. As Chanakya guides ChandraGupta , Gangasagar grooms Chandni for the highest power in India.  What follows is a series of cleverly plotted events that ultimately leads to success in both the stories. The pitfalls and the master-plans are detailed in a very realistic and well researched manner. The games of politics and the idea that every event can be controlled is laid bare in front of the reader. But the best thing about the storylines are that instead of each of the gurus mirroring each other, we have both of them coming up with different but suitable plans for their wards advancement in their present eras. This makes for a lot of unpredictability in the story and good thrills for the reader.

Political intrigue is the crux of the book. Being straight and naive will not get you anywhere , the author seems to say. One has to manipulate every circumstance and luck plays zero part in these games. If you have strategized well enough then everything will definitely go through your way. Necessary sacrifices for the greater good are ruthlessly made in the stories. Just as Chanakya gives up his love for the country , Gangasagar does not tolerate anyone who tries to tarnish Chandni’s reputation.

Reading this review you may get alarmed at the ruthless power hunger , but these king makers do not, for one minute, forget that they are doing this for the good of the country and the society , to bring in a ruler and a time which the common man deserves. This aspect , I must say, has been beautifully captured by the author.  This may not be the best of the books I have read , but kudos to the author for the masterful plot and the obvious research of current and ancient politics. The events in the book are very much plausible and give a true insight of a real life power struggle.

A definite must read.

My Rating – 4

The Immortals of Meluha

(Review by Pavithra)

Amish Tripathi

The central theme of the book is that Hindu mythology may just be an extension of real life incidents and real life people in the past. The author believes that the praises for historical heroes were sung so high that they came to be known as Gods. The object of the book is to bring forth a fictional representation of a wild tribal leader transforming into the mighty Lord Shiva that all Hindus revere.

Meluha is the name given by the author to the ancient Indus valley civilization. It is the great time in India when cities were structured perfectly , men followed the code of honor and duty to the letter. But this mighty civilization is under massive terrorist threat from evil forces. Their own perfect system of conduct has held their population in check while the enemy has greatly outnumbered them. Meluha believes a legend which says that they will be saved from this situation , that all evil will be vanquished by a new Mahadev , the Neelkanth. This savior is of course our hero. The story then narrates the life transformation Shiva undergoes to accept and fulfill his destiny.

The characters in the book all have the names of gods and demigods that Hindus are familiar with. Nandi is Shiva’s most trusted friend instead of a proverbial bull. Parvateshwar is Sati/Parvati ‘s godfather. Brahaspathi is one of the brilliant scientists of Meluha. The best characterization in this book is about Lord Ram. Instead of being a God , he is portrayed as an actual ruler who brought together peace and balance to the people of Meluha. his established empire or “Ram Rajya”  have the doctrines that are told in our myths. Due to his deeds and bravery, the people of Meluha treat his memory on par with the Gods. The author s idea of paralleling with Shiva s destiny gives us an idea of what to expect in Shiva’s future.

The concept of the book is a fresh one. Bringing the Hindu mythology to life through believable incidents is an excellent venture. And the story too is well thought out and well researched so as to bring together reality and supernatural. But the narration itself is very very mediocre. American phrases and slangs thrown in make it all the more hideous. Shiva uttering words like “Bloody Hell” does not justify his character. The writing is also so-so and does not describe the situation and goings on very well. It is sad that what is a brilliant story concept has been treated in a shabby way. In fact the character introduction and descriptions even get a tad monotonous after a while.

The humor in the book is extremely pathetic and the romance also is pretty predictable.

Only the story is the savior of this book.

I picked up the book purely impressed by the cover art shown above. Also the author has done some major marketing by releasing a video trailer and having a website even.

Pick it up if you are interested in the myth-reality confluence of Hindu history. But don’t expect to read the works of a great writer  in it, just a good story. Also , this book is a part of a trilogy called “Shiva trilogy” . So I would pick up the other books out of curiosity hoping that the writing improves and the sequels live up to the expectations and don’t deviate from the story line.

My Rating 3*