Trade Wind- M.M Kaye [Review]

”An enthralling blend of history, adventure and romance”

Not so long ago, I wrote a review about M.M. Kaye’s Shadow of the Moon. I did love that book, still do. After reading that my mum suggested Trade Wind. She guaranteed that I would love it also. By god she was right. Now I don’t know which one is better, Shadow of the Moon or Trade Wind? I cannot decide, they are both equally as good.

Whereas Shadow of the Moon was based in India during the Indian Revolution in 1856-7, Trade Wind is based in Zanzibar in 1859. Zanzibar was the last and largest centre of the slave trade. Hero Hollis, our main protagonist, is the niece of the American consul in Zanzibar and a passionate opponent of slavery. Her main mission is to travel from America to Zanzibar and try and stop the slave trade. Soon she involves herself in a revolt that sweeps the island, and then cholera breaks out.Trade Wind

A story full of action and drama. A book that I could not put down. Hero Athena Hollis is a handsome, courageous, wealthy American who travels to Zanzibar after her father’s death. Her journey to Zanzibar was anything but smooth. She finds herself caught in a storm and soon is thrown overboard, thought to be  dead by her fellow companions. She is then fished out from the harsh sea by a Captain Emory Frost. Rory Frost is scandalous, gun-runner and slave trader; everything Hero stands against. You want to hate him but you can’t. Rory delivers Hero to Zanzibar without realising what a beauty he has had on his ship, as Hero was battered, bruised and sick from her fall in the ocean. Probably for the best really! Once in Zanzibar, Hero finds herself joining a plot against the Sultan (with the best intentions as far as she is concerned)in order to throw him off the throne and his younger brother, Yabid Bargash, to take over.

M.M. Kaye’s story is rich in historical detail and background, the storylines have depth and scope. Kaye’s description of Zanzibar is just magical and so colourful. Images of an exotic paradise  of shimmering sand beaches, crystal waters, and perfumed with the scents of blooms and trees. But, there is also the horrible side of Zanzibar, that of squalor, filth and disease. When Hero arrives to Zanzibar she comes across with the sight of slaves being thrown overboard , being sold or just transported. She is horrified, and cannot believe a place as beautiful as this can be at the same time horrible and barbaric. The contrast between the eastern and western cultures is interesting and thought provoking. Hero soon comes to the conclusion that her noble mission to stop slavery might not be as simple as she hoped.

Hero can be seen as naive and spoilt. She thinks that she can change the world despite Rory Frost telling her it is not that easy. She soon realises that everything is not black and white as she originally thought and you get to see Hero mature throughout the book and gain a perspective that is more realistic. She becomes more open and warm. We also get to know Rory Frost’s background and the reasons that led him to be who he is and do what he does. Hero and Rory’s relationship is intriguing, and despite the fact that when you began reading the book, you could see their differences, slowly but steady you understand their attraction for each other and can see it developing into something more.

There is a particular scene in the book that a lot of readers were appalled by and in a way ruined the book for them. I am not going to say what the scene was in case I spoil it for anyone who wants to read this book but I will say this. I will acknowledge that this particular incident is very controversial, but for myself, I can see why M.M. Kaye put it in the story. If you think the context of the plotline, the time period  and maybe the motivation of the lead male character, I believe the action was well justified. I will be honest and say that when I first read this particular scene I was angry, frustrated and shocked. I did not know whether it would make me change my appreciation for the main male character. After thinking about it and when I read his reasons for doing so I could see the importance of ‘building of character’ and the necessity of it later in the story. However, I do understand if other readers will not agree with me.

The characters in Trade Wind are well drawn and some you hate and some you love. From the beginning of the book you know there is something strange with Hero’s fiancé, her uncle’s stepson, Clayton Mayo. He turns out to be exactly what you think and in some certain circumstances he will surprise you. Like in Shadow of the Moon there is always another female character who you dislike at the beginning but in the end turns out to be a respectable woman and a great friend to the main female character. After Rory Frost and Hero I think my favourite character would be Batty, a sailor on Captain Rory’s ship, who was a rogue through and through, but also has a heart. He is the loving uncle who would protect Rory as best as he could and tell him when he is being a scoundrel and wrong. The Sultan is also an interesting character. Rory Frost is his confidant and great friend and can manage to get away with a lot because of his connection with the Sultan.

M.M. Kaye has a beautiful way with words. Her knowledge of the far East shines throughout the book. She stays as historically accurate as she can and she does not hold back when it comes to the customs of Zanzibar, the slave trade and the cholera epidemic. Once again, just as she did in Shadow of the Moon, M.M. Kaye shows us how different the west and east are. How they both have completely different cultures and traditions and will probably never see things the same way. Trade Wind is a beautiful tale that will get you hooked from the first page. I would recommend to any historical fiction lovers, any M.M. Kaye lovers or to anyone who wants to try something new.

Shadow of the Moon – M. M. Kaye [Review]

Once in awhile I will ask mum what should I read next as she always has a great taste in books. I remember the first time she recommended one of her books- I was looking at her bookshelf scanning the thousand titles. She comes in and asks me what I am I doing. I told her that I finished my book and don’t know what to read next. She came by me and looked at her books and produced a copy of Wish you Well by David Baldacci. She gave it to me and assured me that I would love it. She was right. From then on I went to her when I needed to read something different or really good and so far all her recommendations have been brilliant. This time she recommended M. M. Kaye books and told me to start with Shadow of the Moon. I just finished it today and I LOVED it! Mum was right once again. I got hooked from the first page and was transported back to India in 1856-7.

Shadow of the Moon is the story of Winter de Ballesteros, a beautiful half Spanish- half shadow of the moon2English heiress who was born in India, but raised in England after being orphaned at a young age. Winter has never known kindness from her English family, with the exception of her great-grandfather, and longs to return to India where she was the most happiest. When she was seventeen she was visited by an acquaintance of the family named Conway Barton. Conway was tall, blonde and handsome and was kind to Winter.He was stationed in India and reminded Winter of all the wonders of India. Soon she becomes engaged to Conway, she thinks it’s love but he is after her inheritance. Shadow of the Moon is also the story of Captain Alex Randall, her escort  back to India and protector, who works for her betrothed and knows that he is not the man she once knew and that he has become a debauched  wreck of a man. When India bursts into flaming hatred and bitter bloodshed, the reader soon gets caught into the politics of the Indian mutiny and becomes part of the horrors that come with a revolution. Alex and Winter are thrown into the brutal and vital struggle of survival.

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M. M. Kaye

M. M. Kaye was born in India, where she lived most of her life. Her love for that country is evident in her writing and brilliant descriptions of India. As someone has already pointed out, her assessment of Anglo-Indian relations during the time of the British Raj is ”infused in the characters of her spellbinding novel. With exotic, mid-eighteenth century India as a backdrop for most of this engrossing story, the reader is swept away by its beautifully descriptive narrative”. Kaye is undoubtedly a gifted author who has a way of creating beautiful imagery and invoking the sounds, smells and sights that transport the reader into the world of her characters and her beloved India. Winter is not the typical English Rose and while she will never rival her cousin Sybella’s classic and fashionable beauty, a few select men prefer Winter to Sybella (more so for her fortune than anything else!). When she was a child Winter was described as a plain creature, not beautiful and it was commented that her fortune was her only positive feature. However, she grew into a lovely, slender woman with enormous dark eyes, silky black hair reaching to her knees when unbound, and a heart-shaped face with ivory skin. She knows four languages, as she kept speaking the Indian language even when she moved away to England. It is remarked that Winter does not admire her beauty which makes you like her even more. As far as Captain Alex Randall is concerned. Oh Alex! He is the perfect hero in this story. He’s brave, hardworking, sometimes brutally honest (which is needed in some cases), sensual, handsome and extremely intelligent. His ability with languages ensures that he can pass as a member of India’s Pathan minority and might save his life in certain occasions. In addition, Alex has the rare ability to see all sides of an issue, and sometimes empathizes more with the Indians than with the British, which makes you love him even more.

Shadow of the Moon is richly plotted, peopled with well-drawn and unforgettable characters, bolstered by an incredible depth of background detail and historical fact throughout, and with overriding suspense which builds to a heart-breaking last 200 pages. Be prepared for some gory, though accurate, portrayal of the violence against the British (including women and children) during the rebellion. Once the mutiny starts you literary cannot put the book down as you know that many of the characters that you’ve come to love or hate might not survive in the end. But it’s so much more than simply a book about the Indian Mutiny. The author carefully brings us toward the shocking outbreak of violence and horror that is the Mutiny by building up quiet scenes of unrest and the growing relationship between our beloved main characters, Alex and Winter.

When reading various reviews of this book after I finished it, I came across this person called Hannah on goodreads.com and absolutely loved her review/comment for this book. I loved it so much, as well as agree with it, that I am going to re-write it in this post for many more to see. Hannah, rightly comments that ”If Gone with the Wind was Margaret Mitchell’s love letter to the old South, then Shadow of the Moon is M.M. Kaye’s to historic India”. M. M. Kaye manages to show us the unfolding beauty of India while slowly she is preparing us for the horrific Sepoy Rebellion.

I will finish this post by saying that Shadow of the Moon is both a wonderfully written work  of historical fiction and a beautifully told historical romance. Winter is a plucky heroine and Alex is a swoon worthy hero.  It’s a book that I am certain I will re-read in the years to come and a book that will stay with you for a few days after finishing it. The historical, political background is very engaging and interesting which would not disappoint any historical fiction readers. Even if you do not like historical fiction , I assure you that you will love this book.

”A closely interwoven story of love and war whose descriptive prose is so evocative that you can actually see and – much more – smell India as the country assaults you from the page”(Sunday Telegraph)

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— K.J. Koukas

The Island – Victoria Hislop [Review]

The Island by Victoria Hislop is a moving and dramatic tale of four generations, rent by

the island

war, illicit love, violence and leprosy, from the thirties, through the war, to the present day. The book is located in Elounda, a small fishing island in Crete which back then belonged to the municipality of Agios Nikolaos. Opposite Elounda is Spinalonga (or officially known in Greece as Kalydon), the island which was used as a leper colony.

Alexis Fielding longs to find out about her mother’s past. But Sophia has never spoken of it. All she admits to is growing up in a small Cretan village before moving to London. When Alexis decided to visit Crete, Sophia gives her daughter a letter to take to an old friend and promises that through her she will learn everything she wished to know. Upon arriving in Elounda, Alexis discovers that Spinalonga is right across and decides to visit the island before finding her mother’s friend. She soon finds a local old (mute) fisherman to take her over and come back for her in two hours.

After her visit to Spinalonga, Alexis finds Fotini (her mother’s friend) and at last hears the story that Sofia has buried all her life: the tale of her great-grandmother Eleni and her daughters and a family rent by tragedy, war and passion. She discovers how intimately she is connected with the island, and how secrecy holds them all in its powerful grip. We are then taken back to 1939 and we are told what really happened.

As Barbara Love from the Library Journal stated ‘It would be hard to imagine a more cheerless setting for a novel than a leper colony on a remote Greek island, but the community of Spinalonga provides a remarkable backdrop for this affecting, multigenerational saga.’ Hislop’s deep research, imagination and potent love of Crete creates a convincing portrait of times on the island. Coming from Greece myself I can tell you that all the traditions, religious festivals and way of life is spot on and when reading the book, I was transported back to Greece and its many festivals celebrating a saint’s name and their namedays. Hislop manages ‘to milk the dramatic potential of each unexpected twist and broken engagement’ (The Times review).

Despite the fact that each person who was diagnosed with leprosy will eventually die, Hislop shows us that for them life remains the same and will go on until the inevitable. Even though they are ostracised (as it were) on the island of Spinalonga, they still go about their daily chores and shopping as they would before they were diagnosed. Depth and colour is added to the description of Cretan life and in particular, the vividly detailed account of life on Spinalonga. Hislop gives us a way into a leper’s life and stresses the agonies, fears, loses and troubles that someone diagnosed with leprosy faces. We always thought leprosy as a disease and want to stay well clear from it, but we never stop to think what the person with leprosy feels like and what he or she will go through. The Island shows us both sides of the disease and the lives that it will affect.

Fortress of Spinalonga Island -Crete

One of my favourite parts of the book is when Alexis was left alone on the island of Spinalonga and describes of what she found and how is felt

her dependency suddenly felt like a millstone and she resolved to pull herself together. She would embrace this period of solitude- her few hours of isolation were a mere pinprick of time compared with the life sentence of loneliness that past inhabitants of Spinalonga must have faced….

When reading this particular passive I felt sad and my heart went for the lepers. No-one knows how lonely these people felt and as Alexis walked through the village where the lepers would have lived, we see through her eyes that they lived a normal way. There was a café with chairs and tables where the inhabitants would gossip and talk about the latest tales of the world. There was a school where the children would go and gain an education. Later on in the book we found out that they had their own mayor and through him they contacted the ‘outside world’ and bargained for supplies that might have made their life easier. There was a hospital where they were treated when the symptoms of leprosy took affect. It was a small community in itself, fair enough it was secluded from the rest of the world (as people from all around Greece came to Spinalonga), they were still people and a community that went on with their daily lives. ‘The story of life on Spinalonga, the lepers’ island, is gripping and carries real emotional impact. Victoria Hislop…brings dignity and tenderness to her novel about lives blighted by leprosy’ (Telegraph).

The Island is a page-turning tale that reminds us that love and life continue in even the most extraordinary of circumstances. The book is full of wonderful descriptions, strong characters and an intimate portrait of island existence. A must-read on any person’s book list.

— K.J. Koukas

The Last Telegram- Liz Trenow [Review]

“The war brought them together and then tore them apart”the last telegram

In the late 1930’s, Lily Verner had been planning to travel to Geneva to start living her life away from her home. A passionate and ambitious girl, she is frustrated with her father’s decision to work in the family’s silk factory as an apprentice. The minute she gets introduced to the magic touch of silk she is instantly enchanted with silk weaving. Soon WWII breaks and Lily encounters the arrival of three German Jewish refugees sent to England as part of the Kindertransport scheme. During the war her family’s factory produces parachutes for the British pilots and there is no room for mistakes. “Get it wrong and you got dead pilots”. Stefan, one of the German refugees, slightly older than perhaps what the records would state, also becomes part of Lily’s life. As the war goes on, and tensions mount, rumours circulate that someone might be tampering with the silk. Can their love survive the hardships of war? And will the Verner’s silk stand the ultimate test?

The Last Telegram is a beautifully written story about the hardships of war and love. Set against the background of WWII this novel will introduce love, friendship, tragedy as well as hope. Liz Trenow’s inspiration was from her own family’s silk factory that was running during the war and has been running for 300 years in the same family. She interviewed her parents about the mill and discovered so many stories. Her father even sponsored five Jewish ‘Kindertransport’ boys who were later interned. One of them returned to fight with the Allied forces and came back to marry his sweetheart, ending up as a senior manager in the company and lifelong friend of Trenow’s family. So therefore, despite the fact that Lily and her problems are entirely fictional, all the characters and what happen to them are inspired by real people and real events.

Once I started reading the book, I was captivated by Lily’s story and the hardships that she endured. From the moment that I picked up this book I knew that I would cry and love it and I was not wrong. I did cry, and laugh and felt happy for the characters and their fate. As we meet Lily for the first time as an old lady, our curiosity is irked about her years during the war. Stefan is a fantastic character and the plight of the German refugees is fascinating, the sensitive and dry Gwen was particularly interesting and you just end up loving her in the end. And of course the irritating smooth-talker Robbie is a wonderfully antagonistic character.

The Last Telegram is a well researched story, contains characters that you will care about and brings a tear to the eye. It will remain in your heart forever.

———– K.J. Koukas