Bibliophiliac is the space where one passionate, voracious reader reflects on books and the reading life. You will find reviews, analysis, links, and reflections on poetry and prose both in and out of the mainstream.

A book must be the axe for the frozen sea within us. Franz Kafka

Friday, July 13, 2012

Review: Jasmine Nights

Jasmine Nights: A Novel
Julia Gregson
Touchstone/Simon & Schuster
416 pages
Trade paperback, $16.00
ISBN: 978-1-4391-5558-5
a copy of this novel was provided by the publisher

Jasmine Nights has exotic settings, wartime romance, a beautiful singer moonlighting as a spy, and danger--what more could a reader ask for?

Julia Gregson's historical novel takes the reader from England, to Egypt to Turkey, following the path of Saba Turcan, a singer who is half-Turkish, and looking for a way to escape her narrow life in Cardiff, Wales. Her opportunity comes when she auditions for ENSA--the Entertainment National Service Association. At her audition is Dom Benson, a young fighter pilot who was instantly attracted to Saba when she performed at the hospital where he was being treated. Before their love affair gets off the ground, however, Saba is off to Cairo as part of a theatrical troupe sent to entertain soldiers in the desert.

Julia Gregson is adept at painting a picture of an exotic locale--or an intensely uncomfortable scene, like the desert where Saba has her first performance. Gregson is equally adept at painting her characters, major and minor. The members of the ENSA troupe are particularly winning--my favorite was Arleta, the aging trouper who befriends Saba. There are several sub-plots running through the novel: Dom's disappointed mother, who gave up a career as a musician, Saba's conflicted relationship with her traditional Turkish father. When Saba is recruited, secretly, to spy on a Turkish impresario and his associates, she is sent to Istanbul by the British Secret Service, endangering both her safety, and her romance with Dom.

Jasmine Nights is a satisfying historical novel that delivers romance, suspense, and a good story. Most readers will appreciate what Jasmine Nights delivers, while overlooking a couple of thinly constructed characters (Dom's father is something of a ghost) and a somewhat predictable resolution.

Historical fiction is a genre I dip into from time to time, but I definitely do not read as much of this genre as many other bloggers (some make a specialty of it). There is usually a romance involved, which is perfectly fine with me, but I don't generally like books that have only romance at their center. For historical fiction to be really satisfying, I find there has to be some really good writing, believeable and interesting characters, and some kind of compelling historical backdrop. Jasmine Nights has these essential ingredients; in fact, I liked this novel so much that I went on to read an earlier Gregson novel, East of the Sun, a gorgeous saga set in India--look for a review of East of the Sun next week.


bermudaonion said...

I don't read a lot of historical fiction either. This actually sounds like a book my mother would like.

bibliophiliac said...

@bermudaonion-my Mom and I pass books back and forth all the time-I guess reading is a family habit for both of us.

Natalie~Coffee and a Book Chick said...

I wish I had accepted this copy sooner when it was offered. It seems like such an intriguing story; I think it's all the exotic locations that snagged me.

Ryan said...

I love historical fiction but have never heard of this title or the author. Will make a point of checking them out.

Sam (Tiny Library) said...

I read Jasmine Nights this week too, and like you I enjoyed it. I felt that some parts were a bit too fluffy but overall I liked it enough to want to pick up East of the Sun too. Look forward to your review of that one.

bibliophiliac said...

@Natalie-I'm glad I took a chance on this one. And I liked East of the Sun even better....
@Ryan-if you like historical fiction I think you will really like Julia Gregson's books.
@Sam-sometimes fluffy is okay!