“Close Your Eyes: A Fairy Tale” by Chris Tomasini

Genre: Fantasy/Historical Fiction Close your Eyes
Publisher: December 16, 2021
Pub. Date: Amazon Kindle Direct

In this feel-good, offbeat historical fiction, the reader is transported to the medieval Kingdom of Gora. Here we meet kings, queens, princes, princesses, storytellers, cooks, and jesters. The book’s central theme is love, but it takes a while for this to emerge. Born a dwarf, Samuel serves as the court jester. We are told the story through his eyes as the first-person narrator. The novel reads like a fairy tale for adults, which is appealing if you enjoy magical adventures. I am not a fan of surreal stories. I continued reading, though, because I do enjoy historical fiction. In addition, laughter, wisdom, and melancholy are skillfully woven into the plot.

With a kingdom histrionic outburst, the author’s wit shines from the outset.  In the prologue, we learn that the kingdom’s people woke up in distress one day. “Neighbors question each other about the reason for the hysteria. The most widely believed rumor was that forces of the Holy Roman Empire were preparing to attack our king.” There was no army coming. There was no plan to harm the king. The disturbance had nothing to do with anything political or religious.  It seems that the kingdom had its priorities. What is life without good food and storytelling? The reason for the commotion was that “the King’s cook and the storyteller had fled the castle.”  The novel is often outrageously funny. Another example is when a widow told a group of scholars, “The Greek included passages concerning the sexual proclivities of each animal. You may find a lover capable of replacing your horse.” 

Here is another occurrence that had me laughing out loud. While still in his teens, Samuel worked as a traveling jester. He collaborated with Troyden, a man who stands seven feet tall. The two went by the name “High and Low.” They despised each other. Samuel thought, “Troyden was a genius upon a stage, but in daily life, he was the most asinine dullard I have ever known.” One night they broke character during scenes, “a genuine, and bitter, argument erupted between us.”  Since they believed it was a part of their act, the audience laughed even harder while watching an oddly tall and abnormally short man “quarreling viciously.” The images the reader sees are absurd and hysterical—Slapstick humor at its best.    

The two parted ways, and Samuel goes on to be “the private clown for the children of King Pawel of Gora.” This is where he meets his good friend Tycho, the king’s storyteller. Tycho is a likable scamp blessed with good looks and natural charm. He believes that having a never-ending supply of eager ladies who desire to sleep with him makes up for his lack of affection throughout his formative years. This makes him a fun character to read. The book’s title gets its name from him. “On this night, he said ‘Close Your Eyes,’ and just as I did, I saw that his eyes were bright, were shining.” Samuel is also an engaging character. While Tycho is looking for the meaning of love, intelligent Samuel explores the lessons one can learn from life experiences.

“Fairy Tale” captures the full spectrum of medieval society. Look for a twist with the character, Bishop Tonnelli. Despite not being my cup of tea, the book can be lively and absorbing with its sly humor, flair for characterization, and rich examination of the human condition. This is evident, particularly in the character of Samuel. The novel’s length and added complexity is my most significant criticism. Although the writing is good, it can be disjointed, leaving me sometimes confused. However, the epilogue did explain much of what I initially didn’t get. Tomasini would have written a superior book if he had written this as a collection of short stories or novellas. Still, if you enjoy the genre and can ignore the bulkiness, you will probably eat this one up. Moreover, you might disagree with me that the novel is bulky. Sometimes it is all a matter of taste.

I received this novel at no cost from the author in exchange for an honest review.

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“The Secret Wife of Aaron Burr” by Susan Holloway Scott

Genre:  Historical FictionThe Secret Wife
Publisher:  Kensington Books
Pub. Date:  September 24, 2019

Susan Holloway Scott has written a well researched, epic tear-jerker novel that was inspired by a real-life enslaved woman, Mary Emmons. You will not find her in the many biographies of Aaron Burr. She has been forgotten by history. The author weaves together truth and fiction to tell her story and that of the American Revolution. The novel is told through Emmons’ voice to highlight the cruelty and hypocrisy of the founding fathers. They fought for liberty and freedom while they owned slaves and continued to own slaves even after they won their freedom from the English.

This is not your typical slave story of life on a big plantation. We meet Mary when she is a child in India. At the age of eight, her uncle sells her to a French woman. Her owner is unbearably cruel. Holloway Scott’s writing will make you cringe for the child. She is whipped many times and wore a collar around her neck worthy of any instrument of torture. She is then bought by the husband of Theodosia Provost of New Jersey. This is how she came to live in the American colonies. Theodosia is a kinder, but not a kind owner. When Theodosia husband dies she later marries Aaron Burr.

Mary is very bright and since she is brought to the colonies on the eve of revolution she becomes politically astute by reading the newspapers. She is taught to read by a black freeman friend who will later become more to her than a friend. The love scenes between them are tender, sweet and sad as she is not a free woman. This is when she sides with the rebels over the loyalists  because she longs for her own freedom believing their promise that if they win then all blacks will be freed.

The reader will learn so much more about Burr then what most remember of him: the duel that killed his rival Alexander Hamilton and ended Burr’s political career. The author shows as many sides of Burr as she could find. This reviewer appreciated the length of pages in the endnotes. Burr was a very interesting man—loving, determined, unbending and most of all commanding. Holloway Scott also gives us much detail regarding the two children that he and Mary had together. The reason for this is that the author found more facts on them than she could find on their mother.

Of course, the author takes liberties in Mary and Burr’s highly complicated relationship. He was her master and she was his slave. They loved one another in a way that is hard to understand. One immediately thinks of Thomas Jefferson and his relationship with Sally Hemings, his slave mistress of forty years. The author does a good job of showing how Mary and Aaron loved one another without minimizing the imbalance of power.

If you enjoy romance in your history—maybe a tad too much for those who do not (such as myself)—you will enjoy “Secret Wife.” But make no mistake, you will experience the undeniable pain that comes with war. You will also feel as if you were part of the American Revolution, getting more than a glimpse into the personalities of the famous men behind the Boston Tea Party. You may also chuckle at these constantly bickering men who drafted the Constitution. They can remind you of current times in the White House.

I received this Advance Review Copy (ARC) novel from the publisher at no cost in exchange for an honest review.

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