Across a Bridge of Dreams

I have just finished reading the last of my four books for Transworld Historical Reading Challenge. I chose the last book by Lesley Downer as it was set in Japan during the time of the Samurai warriors. I know very little of the time period and my own awareness of Samurai warriors and geisha girls is from the movies The Last Samurai and Memoirs of a Geisha. I was hoping this book would enlighten me more and it definitely achieved my knowledge and interest being updated but also encouraging me to read much more on this time period.

The book was called Across a Bridge of Dreams and the description of the plot is :-
In the brave new Japan of the 1870s, Taka and Nobu meet as children and fall in love; but their relationship will test the limits of society.
Unified after a bitter civil war, Japan is rapidly turning into a modern country with rickshaws, railways and schools for girls. Commoners can marry their children into any class, and the old hatred between north and south is over – or so it seems.
Taka is from the powerful southern Satsuma clan which now dominates the country, and her father, General Kitaoka, is a leader of the new government. Nobu, however, is from the northern Aizu clan, massacred by the Satsuma in the civil war. Defeated and reduced to poverty, his family has sworn revenge on the Satsuma.

Taka and Nobu’s love is unacceptable to both their families and must be kept secret, but what they cannot foresee is how quickly the tables will turn. Many southern samurai become disillusioned with the new regime, which has deprived them of their swords, status and honour. Taka’s father abruptly leaves Tokyo and returns to the southern island of Kyushu, where trouble is brewing.
When he and his clansmen rise in rebellion, the government sends its newly created army to put them down. Nobu and his brothers have joined this army, and his brothers now see their chance of revenge on the Satsuma. But Nobu will have to fight and maybe kill Taka’s father and brother, while Taka now has to make a terrible choice – between her family and the man she loves …

From the moment I started reading this book , I knew I was going to like it as the two main characters Taka and Nobu leapt off the page and into my heart. I really hoped that their relationship would develop into happiness that I felt they both deserved.
The divide in their two clans caused so much pain and distress as they fell deeper into love , yet realised the hurdles that were in their way.
Taka was a feisty, young lady. Over time she learnt not only how her Mother’s pride and relationship with her father was a love so strong, but also how it defined her not only a daughter of a Geisha, but also a daughter of a Samurai warrior. She learned how she had to behave responsibly to her family, but also had fallen in love with Nobu from an opposing clan – leading her to be tormented over her desire to be a good daughter and also being in love with someone who will not be accepted because of his rank in society.
Taka was a pleasant character that I liked immensely , and was glad she had the ending that she deserved. Her growth in character throughout the book, was a joy as I continued reading. I also really liked Taka’s mother Fujino , who never forget her love and did anything to be near him in the most graceful manner. Her time as a Geisha was beautifully described.
Nobu was a fascinating character torn between love and duty to his family and the need for revenge after the defeat by the Satsuma Clan. He was loyal to both , when divided in so many ways. Nobu for me, was a quiet and yet strong character who thought that he was losing everything, only to come out strong and happy at the end. I liked his bravery and resolution to protect Taka and his understanding of the need for their discreet behaviour even at a time when the war was ending.
Lesley Downer has written a beautiful love story wrapped in a fascinating historical period , full of excitement and wonderful characters. The description of the food , lifestyle and of the scenic lands described were stimulating my imagination joyfully. The description of the volcano alone, had me desiring to further my knowledge of Japan and to read more around the subject.

Hereward

1062: While the ailing King Edward, known as the Confessor, wastes his final days building monuments to God, across the Channel the brutal William the Bastard of Normandy plots to swamp all England in a tide of blood. The war drums are beating, the ravens are gathering. But with the king’s closest advisors scheming and squabbling, any hope of resistance to the Norman duke lies with just one man. Hereward is the King of Terror. Hereward is a warrior, trained in the lethal art of spear, axe and sword, a master tactician, a mercenary, and, to both ally and enemy, the devil in human form – as adept at slaughter as the foes gathering to claim Edward’s throne. Yet the men who need him most have made him outlaw, and Hereward must carve a bloody swathe from the frozen hills of Northumbria to the war-torn fields of Flanders just to stay alive. Here, during the darkest age in history, are the early days of the man who would be forged into one of England’s greatest heroes. It is the story of two mismatched allies, Hereward the Warrior and Alric the Monk, one fighting to save the land he loves, the other to save his friend’s soul. This is the story of the last Englishman, the first terrorist…the forgotten hero.

I really enjoyed this book. the character’s of Hereward, and his wife Turfrida had such great chemistry and their love and strength gave so much to the book. My favourite character was Balthar, and even though he was torn between the sides of the English and the Vikings , he was a very enjoyable part of the book.
I learnt so much of this historical period thanks to the author James Wilde , I knew very little of the story and was surprised to see the added plot of witchery and the tormenting of witches in the book. This part of the storyline added so much to the plot and made me more sympathetic to the vikings and especially Turfrida.
The way the author described the battle kept me really enthralled and though it was aggressive in places, this was inline with the plot all the way through.
The characters were well written and both sides of the Vikings and English battles and determination to win were equally told in a satisfactory way. I had no clear favourite side at the beginning, but by the end I was glad to see Hereward triumphant. The surprise betrayal of Redwald and his conspiring with the enemy was a brilliant twist and I think my favourite part of the book.
I know this book was a great read, as the time when Balthar was killed was so heartfelt and had me close to tearful at his demise. I can’t thank the author enough for writing a great historical novel and for introducing me to a whole new set of books that I would like to read.

Book 2 The King’s Spy

I really enjoyed this book. The time period of the Civil War and the domination of Cromwell made it an interesting historical novel.

The main character Thomas Hill , was interesting, clever and a rather surprising person, alongside his friend Simon de Pointz.

From the moment I finished the first chapter, I knew that I was going to enjoy this book immensely. The beginning chapter was in your face excitement as you met Thomas Hill for the first time.
The supporting characters Jane , Abraham and the King made the book flow along nicely.Thomas Hill was the most interesting character, not only because of his clever deciphering of the codes but also his determination and bravery in discovering who the traitor was. The intrigue of code breaking, romance , treachery and murder made this a most exciting read.

The code breaking was a surprise to the plot for me, as I never realised that it was used in the English Civil War by the Roundheads and Cavaliers. The demonstration in the book helped me to understand how the main character was deciphering the codes, even if I didn’t understand the exact process.
It was lovely to read a book that was set in a familiar area that I knew so well. This helped the book to feel like an old friend.
I could not put this book down , and I am so glad that i chose this book as one of my Historical Reading Challenge picks. Andrew Swanston should be proud of a good historical novel. I have recommended this to several friends by word of mouth and the internet sites Goodreads and Twitter.

The Queen’s Secret

I finished the first of my Transworld Historical Fiction Challenge read last night, and as part of the challenge I need to submit a review.

The Queen’s Secret by Victoria Lamb is set during Tudor times as Queen Elizabeth I reigns. The book cover suggests that  ” Desire and power collide in the court of Elizabeth I” , and this was covered throughout the novel.

The plot stats with Queen Elizabeth and her court travelling to Kenilworth Castle, the home of her close friend and suspected lover Robert Dudley, the Earl of Leicester. As you are introduced to Queen Elizabeth I and Robert Dudley, also known as Robin – you can feel the chemistry between them as Victoria Lamb  explores and expands on  their relationship.

The introduction of the third wheel in the relation  Lettice , the married Countess of Essex not only risks Robert Dudley’s place in court , but brings about jealousy and revenge from the queen.The one fact that is affecting the would be relationship of Queen Elizabeth I and Robert Dudley, is her reluctance to give herself wholly to him. The main reason is the risk of her loosing the throne and her status as Queen of England if she marries Robert Dudley. This is a huge bone of contentment and a driving force in the ongoing relationship that Robert Dudley has with Lettice.The Queen and Lettice are both jealous of each other, but Lettice also is envious of the Queen’s entitlement to the throne and has a resentful attitude to her for this as well as her flirtatious and  very private relationship with Robert Dudley and her influence over him. In the background of the plot , whilst the Queen and her court are at Kenilworth Castle there are attempts on her life continuously that Robert Dudley is aware of . Dudley tries to discover who is behind the attacks on the Queen’s life and this is were you are  introduced to an integral character to the story Lucy Morgan. a young black singer and court entertainer.

Lucy Morgan has Master Goodluck as her guardian. Master Goodluck has a travelling troupe of players and acrobats , and is adept in disguising himself when needed and is known as a spy. Master Goodluck becomes involved in trying to discover who has a plot against the Queen’s life, that not only riskes his life, but also his ward Lucy.

Lucy is swept up into the court of Queen Elizabeth’s and becomes a go-between for Robert Dudley and Lettice at Dudley’s request and during some of these delievring of notes and messages, she  risks her life as she discovers spies and threats on the queen by accident. When introduced to the Queen by Robert Dudley, the Queen asks or commands her to spy on dudley and Lettice, and to report back to her of any events or messages that occur or delivered. Lucy struggles with this as she is torn by her loyalty between the queen and Dudley . During her time at Kenilworth Castle Lucy starts to grow into a young woman as she meets Tom a fellow black servant working for Robert Dudley, and a friendship starts to blossom , verging onto a relationship.

The book for me has been a lovely read, the characters insightful, interesting and all leaping off the page. I feel that Victoria Lamb has captured the torturous and risky relationship between Queen Elizabeth I and Robert Dudley in my mind perfectly.. Her reluctance to give up her throne to a man, demonstrates her strong opinions and stubborn determination that only she will be a ruler of England in her own right.  Their relationship is displayed as sexy, frustrative not only for their emotional and sexual needs , but also in relation to court etiquette and how they are expected to behave as Queen and Earl of Leicester.

The relationship between Lettice and Dudley is well written, and you cannot but help to feel sorry for the manipulative Lettice as her world falls apart in so many ways. Her emotional hold on Dudley is threatened as his status in court and relationship with the Queen is continually fragile and somewhat destructive at his own hands.

Queen Elizabeth is portrayed just as I imagined her. A powerful monarch and woman, who knows what she wants and won’t let it be risked however much it affects her. You can see that she loves Robert Dudley, but there is also an element of distrust of his loyalty to her. The private scenes in the Queen’s chamber are evocative , and subtly written and hints at a sexual relationship between Queen Elizabeth I and Dudley , leading to a sensitive moment of personal pleasure on both their parts. This however leads Dudley into false security, that is ruined by the Queen’s jealousy and his hot temper and the need for more,

The attempted assasination plot is slow going, and I feel that it never rose to the climax I was expecting. I would liked to have seen more decription and adventure occuring , though the experiences and situations that Lucy appeared to get herself in, were instrumental to the plot. 

Though I enjoyed the book, I would like to have seen more in the plot about the attempts on the Queen and maybe less of the relationship of Dudley and Lettice. The introduction of Lucy and the author’s develpment of her character was lovely. The character was likeable, and had a moralistic  view for someone so young, especially when placed as spy in two different situations.. Lucy was placed into a difficult position by the Queen and Dudley, yet throughout she stayed true to herself and her beliefs.

The descriptions of Tudor time and of the way court life was experienced was fascinating as you got to see the many different social standings and how they crossed over at times. As a a reader fascinated by Tudor history and King’s and queen’s of England, this book satisfied my thirst for contiuned knowledge of how that time period could of been lived. The ending has been left open, maybe for a continuation of the storyline of Queen Elizabeth I and Robert Dudley! If another book by Victoria Lamb appears on the bookshelf contuining the story of their relationship, then I would gladly read it. However I did find the ending intriguing as the identity of the assassin was a unexpected surprise , as was the loss of a loved character.

I would recommend this book to anybody who wants to read it, if they are a fan of historical notes or in general the life and times of Queen E lizabeth !.

The jump into the epilogue felt a little rushed and unexplained as the court arrived back into London , but some loose ends were tied up , ensuring that the book could be finished with satisfaction for the reade.

Transworld Historical Reading challenge

Just like last year I have registered and started a reading challenge for Transorld Publishing. This time the books are all of an historical theme, including my favourite historical period the Tudor era. Last year I did a crime reading challenge and enjoyed reading and reviewing the books so much. I was delighted to see a new challenge and in one of my favourite reading genres too.

Book no.1 arrived the middle of last week and I started reading it on Friday. The first book is Victoria Lamb’s The Queen’s Secret , set during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I.  So far I  am enjoiying it immensely, the writing  style is easy and the characters are well written. The adding of characters Lucy, Tom and Goodluck to the story have brought excitement so far in the way they are being used b y people important to the queen.

The added interest of the fight for Robert Dudley by Queen Elizabeth and her cousin Lettice is nicely handled and also the risk of Queen Elizabeth’s life and the threat to the throne of England . Dudley’s continuing battle to have him declared husband and King of England makes a fascinating part of the storyline.