I confess...I was a bit nervous when I picked up The Oracle of Stamboul by Michael David Lucas. I'd reviewed books for Harper before (they supply a free book in return for a promised review) and have always been honest in my reviews. Harper has NEVER asked me to do otherwise and they didn't here, but I was invited to be part of a "Blog Party" so it just felt weightier. Luckily, my worries were dispelled once I started reading...it's a five star book and I'm happy to give it praise. I'd probably go 4.5 if given the option but am rounding up...which I'm normally more hesitant to do at the 5 star level but I know this book will shine on re-reading so feel comfortable with the 5.
In this debut novel, the author introduces us to Eleanora, a girl whose 1877 birth is accompanied by signs and who grows into a precocious and talented young girl. She is born as her small town is being invaded and her mother dies moments after naming her daughter. Eleanora is raised by her father and step-mother (her mother's sister) in a small town until she stows away to accompany her father on a trip to Istanbul. Her story there intersects with a low-level statesman, an American professor, and the Sultan of the fading Ottoman empire.
The book is simply lovely. The prose is well-crafted and the characters multi-faceted. I want to share tea and scones with Eleanora, a brilliant young lady who does not fully understand her gifts and who is looking for stability and familial love. I can relate to Eleanora's love for reading and passion for the characters in the books she read (furtively at first, thanks to her aunt's ideas of educating girls). The author clearly shares this joy of books and it comes through at every turn. He has crafted a tale for book lovers and for people who believe in the power of the written word and the spirit of wisdom.
On a side note, my book is an advance reader's edition so it might not hold true in all cases, but I appreciated the book's physicality as well. It is a 300 page paperback and its rough-cut edges feel perfectly matched to the content and spirit of the book.
Highly recommend. If you want other opinions, check out some other bloggers who are part of the Harper review project (again, they do NOT limit/control what we say...they send us the books and let us review them as we see fit...). The three tour stops before me are: http://medievalbookworm.com/, http://bibliophibian.blogspot.com/ and http://onegirlcollecting.blogspot.com/. The three after me are: http://booksiesblog.blogspot.com/, http://abookbloggersdiary.blogspot.com/, and http://webereading.com/. They have dates on the Blog Tour between the 9th and the 11th so may not all have reviews up when this post goes live.