Tuesday, March 27, 2012


Published 2011, Simon & Schuster, ISBN 978-1-4516-1747-4; ISBN 978-4516-1749-8 (ebook)

The Dovekeepers is the first novel I've read by author, Alice Hoffman.  I was quite surprised to discover she is a prolific author, with over 25 novels to her name.  Her genres are typically fantasy, contemporary, young adult and children novels.  It purportedly took 5 years to research and write her historical fiction novel, The Dovekeepers.

It was 5 years well-spent.  The Dovekeepers is an intriguing, well-researched novel of four unique women whose lives converge at Masada, Judea.

I want to include a bit of background about Masada, which in itself is quite fascinating.  During the time period of The Dovekeepers, Summer 70 C.E. to Winter 73. C.E., the Roman Empire was in the final process of taking control of Israel.  Jerusalem had fallen, the Temple was destroyed and villages eradicated.  Jewish people either converted to Roman customs or were enslaved or slaughtered.
The Dovekeepers follows the journeys of Yael, Revka, Aziza and Shirah to the final stand by Zealots at Masada, a fortress built by Herod between 37 and 31 C.E.  Masada was considered impenetrable and used as a base for Jewish warriors to attack Roman legions and protection of women and children.  The image below shows the isolation of Masada and the incredible challenge of conquering such a fortress.

The Dovekeepers is sectioned into four segments, each passage relating the history of the four women told from their individual points of view.  All the women carry self-perceived sins, shame and secrets, which they take great care to keep hidden from each other and the refugees at Masada.  Should their deepest, intimate experiences be exposed, they face ostracism or worse. Their one common thread is they are dove keepers at Masada.

Despite their efforts to hide their pasts, as months pass and their situation at Masada becomes desperate, Yael, Revka, Aziza and Shirah slowly uncover each other's true natures.  When the Romans begin their final assault on Masada in 73 C.E., their loyalty and attachment forever cement each to the other.

An exceptional read about a period of time when women's lives were a mystery, not being considered worthy of ancient recording.  In fact, the only historian of the time was Joseph ben Matityahu, who became a Roman citizen and assumed the name of Josephus Flavius.

The following interview of Alice Hoffman sheds light on her fascination of the events at Masada and her overwhelming passion to honor those who sought refuge at Masada and committed the unthinkable:

Rating:  ***** (Exceptional)

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

A to Z April Blogging Challenge

You might have noticed a colorful widget on my right-hand sight; the bright orange one with the "Blogging From A to Z April Challenge 2012".  Well, I'm going to do my best to meet the challenge.

The blogs won't be long, maybe under 200 words, but I think my focus will be on historical fiction author bios and historical fiction novels I would like to read.

I am a bit worried about some of the letters although, such as "Q" and "Z".  They make take some imagination!

So, the blogs might not appear every day in April, but sometimes in groups.  Hope you follow me through my blogging challenge!

Wednesday, March 7, 2012



Published 2011, Doubleday (a Division of Random House), ISBN 978-0-385-66098-3, 507 pages

Diana Gabaldon's latest entry in the Lord John Grey series is The Scottish Prisoner, in which the dreamiest man in historical fiction, Jamie Fraser, features predominantly.  I've read a few of the previous Lord John Grey novels, but I find Grey just doesn't grab my interest as a sole protagonist.  His role in the Outlander series as an incilliary figure suits his character much better.

That said, I purchased The Scottish Prisoner because Jamie Fraser is a major player.  Gabaldon, over the years, has fleshed out an intricate thee-dimensenal Fraser, whereas Grey does not have the same depth.

In The Scottish Prisoner (if you have read Voyager in the Outlander series, you will be able to follow the time-line), Jamie Fraser is a paroled prisoner of war after the disastrous battle at Culloden and internment at Artsmuir Prison.  Grey is the officer in charge of his parole.

He labors in the stables of  remote Helwater, domain of Lord Dunsany, and keeps his head low.  He is tormented by the absence of Claire and fears for her safety and that of their child.  It has been 14 years since Claire returned through the stones.

His illegitimate son, William, by the Lord's daughter, Geneva, is his secret delight.  His son is officially acknowledged as the off-spring of Geneva's late husband, but there are a few who know the truth.

One day Fraser receives a message to meet an Irishman in an isolated place and, to his dismay, it is Tobias Quinn, a former upriser for the cause of Charles Stuart.  Fraser is determined to have nothing to do with any of Quinn's plans or the man himself.  His repudiation of Quinn is of no avail, however, as Quinn is intent on acquiring Fraser's involvement in the Cause's plots.  The man's "pernicious influence" surfaces throughout the novel.

Meanwhile, back in London, Grey has received a packet of damning documents, written by a former lover on his deathbed who was a soldier under the command of one Major Gerald Siverly alleging corruption.  Grey turns the packet over to his brother, Harold, Duke of Purdloe.  Amongst the packet is a poem written in the ancient Irish language, Erse.

Grey retrieves an unwilling Fraser from Helway in the hopes he can translate the poem and unlock its mysteries.  Fraser is able to understand the majority of the poem but, provides a translation without including a pertinent detail, to Grey and the Duke. Fraser purposely holds back this detail as it involves plots he wants no part of.

The Duke dispatches Grey and Fraser to Ireland to bring Silverly back to answer for his crimes.  The trip to Ireland is fraught with dangers, old enemies, murder and the ever-purposeful Quinn.  Unexpectedly, for both Fraser and Grey, developments in their view of each other slowly evolve.

Gabaldon, as is her speciality, packs her main plot with subplots and conundrums.  It is remarkably easy to lose oneself in this book and keep reading long after the light should be turned off.

The language in this historical fiction novel is grittier than Gabaldon normally uses, however, as it is written in a man's world, it is not inappropriate.

I enjoyed this book as much as I relish diving into the latest Outlander novel ("Written in My Heart's Own Blood" due out in 2013).

While cruising Gabaldon's website, I came across an interesting tibit.  Apparently, a musical stage production based on the Outlander series is in the process of being developed in the UK.  A CD containing original 14 original songs that will be incorporated into the production is available.  For more information, go to http://www.outlanderthemusical.com/

One more note:  if you've read the graphic novel "The Exile", do your best to get the depiction of Jamie Fraser out of your mind and revert to your imagination!  Personally, I felt the image of Fraser came nowhere close to my fantasy. 

RATING:  **** (Excellent)

Tuesday, March 6, 2012


Published 2011, Penguin Group, ISBN 978-0-425-23877-6, 430 pages

"It is the man, and not the king, I love".  These are the only recorded words of Lady Catherine Gordon and, upon which statement, Sandra Worth composed her latest historical fiction novel, Pale Rose of England.

Aside from her marriages, King Henry VII's consuming passion for her and the locations of her manor home and burial place at St. Nicholas Church, history tells us virtually nothing of a woman who passionately loved and wholeheartedly believed her first husband was Richard Plantagenet, Duke of York, one of the "lost" princes in the Tower of London.

Richard, Duke of York, was known most famously by the name of Perkin Warbeck or The Pretender to the 15th century world.  He met Catherine Gordon in Scotland and they married for love (and political reasons) soon after.

Sandra Worth created a woman who naively believed Richard could remove the usurper, Henry VII, and rightfully assume the throne of England and rule with grace and compassion.  As we all know, this did not happen.

Rather, her husband was taken prisoner and her infant son pulled out of her arms and never returned to her.  Thus, Henry VII removed threats to his throne.

Sandra Worth's Pale Rose of England, Catherine Gordon, is portrayed as a woman with incredible loyalty, courage and convictions.  She rebuffed Henry VII's attempt to woo her and, upon her husband's death, his marriage proposal.  She suffered great torment on behalf of her husband and her only kidnapped child.  She wore black for the rest of her life after her husband and child were lost to her.

Catherine was an intelligent woman who carefully assessed situations to determine the best cause of actions.  She was the reason I was drawn to read this historical novel (well, that plus the fact Sandra Worth is the author).  I had never heard about Catherine before and I was intrigued to read about a historical figure novelists largely ignore.  Of course, much of Worth's characterization is conjecture owing to the lack of information on Catherine Gordon.

Pale Rose of England presents plausible arguments that Perkin Warbeck was actually Richard Plantagenet.  In her Author's Note, Sandra Worth sets out facts and research resources on which she relied for the plot of Pale Rose of England.

We'll likely never know whether Perkin Warbeck was actually Richard Plantagenet, but Sandra Worth left me considering the possibility. I'll leave it to you as to whether Sandra Worth convinces you.

Members of the Richard III Society are most likely are pleased by this novel.  Richard III has been vilified by history as the perpetrator of the deaths of the lost Princes.  If you are interested in reading more about Richard III, the lost Princes and the War of the Roses http://www.richardiii.net/ is an excellent resource.

Rating:  **** (Excellent)