The Lioness of Morocco— review

The Lioness of Morocco is quite a saga. I mean that in a positive way, but some readers may not be ready for a yarn that covers this many years. I, on the other hand, relished it, like a home cooked meal after a long stint of eating fast food.

This story reminds me of the “mini-series” that were once a staple of television networks: a multi-part yarn that covers much of the adult life of an interesting main character, often with a lengthy list of co-stars. Such sagas usually combined romance, suspense, and mystery, and The Lioness of Morocco does that fairly well. The protagonist, Sibylla Spencer, is a good (if not fabulous) character, sufficiently well developed that readers should want to follow along with her travels and travails. Although the story begins in England, before long her adventuresome nature, combined with her father’s shipping business, leads her and her new husband to Mogador, Morocco, where she grows into an even more bold woman, sometimes called “The Lioness” in part due to her mane of golden hair.

< a few spoilers follow>

As an Englishwoman, Sibylla could either cling to all things British, from her clothing and her companions, to her language. Or, she could learn more about the Moorish population, learn their language, and (perhaps) do a bit of business with them. She follows the second course of action, which does cause her more straight-laced neighbors to be a bit put out with her. However, she is well-mannered and well-bred and manages to keep both sides of her world reasonably happy with her most of the time.

The novel is set in a tumultuous time, so there are plenty of plot twists, but the reader is never rushed, as this story happens over a number of years. Much of the Moroccan culture is revealed via detailed descriptions, which I genuinely enjoyed. Several crises occur, from the time her husband is accused of trafficking slaves to being the family being involved in trade wars and political wars. However, Sibylla and her children seem to rise to the occasion, whatever comes their way.

I did find this to be a very satisfying novel, rich in history and culture, if not a compelling read. For anyone who hasn’t enjoyed a saga recently, I suggest this novel. It is available as a paperback and in eBook form.

Up to Date— a quick review of a quick read.


Very light romance is not normally my thing, but a friend suggested that if I would “like” Gemma Halliday on Facebook that I could get a freebie on Friday. So, one of the recent choices was a romance novella called Up to Date, which is also billed as Better Date than Never series, Book #8.

When I began Up to Date by Susan Hatler, I was immediately hooked. The main character’s name is Ginger. Her sister is named Mary Ann. And, yes, their dad was a big fan of Gilligan’s Island. The tone of this book kinda goes along with that… a bit romantic and quite a bit of comedy. This version of Ginger is miserable in her job, because being an office manager is a real snoozefest. Her home life lacks stability, because flighty sister Mary Ann never seems to have money to pay rent, but has lots to spend on frivolous social matters. Ginger is artistic and highly interested in home decor, so her true calling is to be an interior decorator. Knowing this, and knowing her talent for it, a friend suggests that Ginger donate her design services as a prize in a charity auction. The winner of the auction is a guy who wanted to date Ginger, but in typical romance fiction style, Ginger doesn’t care for him. Or maybe she does.

Anyway, I really enjoyed this light romance and urge those who enjoy the genre to download Up to Date. I read the Kindle version, and it is a most pleasant way to spend an evening.

Bertrice Small’s The Kadin

Author Bertrice Small’s obituary in the New York Times piqued my interest in her writing. I’m not sure if I read any of her books back when I read historical romance, but somewhere in a stack of books that a friend passed along to me is her Skye O’Malley. Quite honestly, it is on a shelf downstairs, with a lot of other books that I may never get around to reading. However, a brief look at Small’s book list led me to begin with her debut novel, a “harem” romance called The Kadin. I downloaded it from the Kindle store, and there are a few rough spots where the file didn’t translate too well, but over all, it was in good shape.

I was prepared to not like the novel. The reviews on Goodreads (something like 1900 plus) were mostly good, but there were any number of bad ones. Actually, the reasons for the bad reviews are some of the aspects that I liked best. Instead of being a slice of life, The Kadin is the whole life of Lady Janet Leslie; at least from the age of four, when her father legitimizes her, the offspring of an affair with a local peasant; until her death. Thus, it is far more than a romance. When our main character is a young teenager, her father is appointed ambassador to some obscure Middle Eastern nation and while there she is abducted and sold as a slave. Her purchaser is the chief eunuch of a harem, and young Janet, renamed Cyra, is groomed to be the young sultan’s favorite. For the most part, the eunuch’s plan goes well, but there is sufficient political intrigue between Cyra and her Selim, as well as Cyra and the other harem inhabitants that the plot never really drags, and the novel is some 400 plus pages.

Bertrice Small has the reputation of writing rather sexual romances, but The Kadin precedes that aspect of her writing. While her main character is very strong, she is swept away into the role of harem slave and never really protests that. Modern readers often bring modern mores into their analysis of fiction. Some of those one and two star reviewers seem to expect Janet/Cyra to rebel and somehow turn the sixteenth century into the twentieth at least, which amuses me. Others believe Small’s portrait of harem life, while quite fictional, has too many details. Who cares what they ate or wore? Well, actually, I care. Details help readers get into the story, and I really enjoyed getting into this novel. If it reminded me of anything, it has a lot in common with Angelique in Barbary, but that’s an even older story and is the best “harem slave” story I have ever read.

The Kadin is more than a romance and is almost diametrically opposed to modern chick lit. My time with it was a bit like watching great old movie that I had somehow missed seeing the first time around. I enjoyed it, and while it isn’t a great book, it is a really, really good one.

S. E. Smith’s Ha’ven’s Song (Curizan Warrior Book 1)

Lots and lots of readers give S.E. Smith’s books five-star reviews. Honestly, I just could not do that. This is my first read of one of her many novels. Really, there is much to like in it, including a heroine who needs so much that the reader wants her to finally have her HEA. Her life on earth went from great to troubled to “get me outta here,” and somehow she was brought to another planet (universe?) I’m not sure; that part was kinda fuzzy to me. However, there is plenty of action. Still, this is more fantasy than sci fi. There are auras, a goddess blessing the union, yadda, yadda. I’m a fan of science fiction, which has lots of themes, but I am not much of a fan of fantasy. Remember in the original Star Wars (now episode 4) where Han Solo tells Luke he’d rather have a blaster instead of relying on the Force? I am a blaster kind of gal.

Basically, it is a romance wearing SFF garb, with and emphasis on the second F. Oh, and if you like lots of good loving (with some sex) then this might be a treat. For me, sex is not a spectator sport.

Some characters and situations appear to be borrowed from other novels by this author, so fan of Smith might enjoy those, but it is a bit like being a friend at a family reunion. The book does stand alone, but some of the clutter of characters could be eliminated.

Escape from Zulaire

Image This new tale from Veronica Scott is a very good read, but it does share a lot (perhaps too much) with the last really good story by this author that I reviewed a few months back. The heroine is saved by a military trained hero, who is quite heroic, but not arrogant. The setting is far from earth, there are kids, natives, and a bit of spiritualism. There is action aplenty, and thus suspense, with sufficient romance to keep the core audience involved. That summary works for Escape from Zulaire, but it also works for the Wreck of the Nebula Dream.

I read the Kindle version, and it was in pretty good shape for a self published novel. There were only a couple of misspellings and the main character’s name was not capitalized once. Still, I have seen far worse, in books that cost more.

Both books work for me, but if I read this same plot again, I might start getting a bit frustrated. Ms. Scott, I love your writing, but change it up a bit. Please!

Freebies via Amazon’s Kindle Store

I’m really amazed at how much content is available for free these days. Since e-publishing began, there has been free (or super cheap) content, but much of it was not worth the storage space on my Palm Pilot.

Now, I read eBooks on my iPad, and I usually shop the Kindle store, although I have content through the Nook service as well. Authors can publish via Kindle direct, with little cost, so some of them are listing older content, or items that contain promotional content, for free. 

My two latest reads were free downloads. One was a full length novel by Lizzy Ford, called Rebel Heart, and it was better than I would have expected for a free read. Not a great book, but I have read worse books that actually cost real money. Rebel Heart is sorta of science fiction, somewhat romantic, with a heavy dose of political thriller thrown in for good measure. The characters, especially the hero, are worth reading about, and while the plot jumps and jerks like a kid learning to drive a stick shift, there was a good amount of originality in the story-line. Many self-published books suffer from problems with grammar, spelling, or punctuation, and there are few issues with those in this book. Instead, the problems are deeper, so Rebel Heart is a 2 star book.

The second freebie was quite well written, but the focus is not what I expected. 
How to Work for Yourself: 100 Ways to Make the Time, Energy and Priorities to Start a Business, Book or Blog by Bryan Cohen is more about time management than how to begin a business, write a book, or write a blog. And, there are some heavy doses of promotional material in the introduction and conclusion, but in a free book, that is quite forgivable. Actually, I really enjoyed this short read. Cohen has some great ideas on finding more time, and some of them are novel. If you want more time for whatever projects you have in mind, this little tome might be very helpful.

Both of these books made me think that Amazon’s free offerings are actually worth a look.