Thursday, October 27, 2016

WRITTEN IN THE ASHES by K. Hollan Van Zandt

"Written in the Ashes is one of those rare novels that sets 'history' afire, to bathe readers in the glow of a greater, hotter truth. Fans of The Mists of Avalon will find this romantic/alchemical/feminist/spiritual epic equally captivating."—Tom Robbins, bestselling author of Tibetan Peach Pie: A True Account of an Imaginative Life and Villa Incognito
In the bloody clash between Christians and pagans in fifth-century Alexandria, a slave girl becomes the last hope for preserving peace in this evocative and thrilling tale reminiscent of The Mists of Avalon. A blend of history, adventure, religion, romance, and mysticism, this shares the untold story of the events that led to the burning of the Great Library of Alexandria.
After she is abducted from her home in the mountains of Sinai, Hannah is enslaved and taken to Alexandria, where she becomes the property of Alizar, an alchemist and pagan secretly working to preserve his culture. Revered for her beautiful singing voice, the young slave is invited to perform at the city's Great Library, where she becomes friends with the revered mathematician and philosopher, Hypatia, as well as other pagans who curate its magnificent collections. Determined to help them uphold pagan culture and traditions, Hannah embarks on a dangerous quest to unite the fractured pieces of the Emerald Tablet—the last hope to save the pagans and create peace.
On this odyssey that leads her to the lost oracles of Delfi and Amun-Ra and to rediscovered ancient cities and rituals, Hannah will experience forbidden loves, painful betrayals, and poignant reunions. But her efforts may be in vain. Returning to Alexandria, Hannah finds a city engulfed in violence, even as her own romantic entanglements come to a head. Now, it's not only her future, but the fate of all Alexandria that is at stake.

OPINION:

Alexandria in the 4th century was tumultuous period in history. Christians and Jews were persecuted and slavery abounded. Life was harsh and cruel. Many died cruel, torturous deaths. Danger was everywhere. The author did a fabulous job of capturing all the turmoil and violence, along with themes of love and survival. I loved the author's take on how the world came to worship and adore Mary, Christ's mother. 

I loved the female protaganist. She tread a fine line throughout, and faced numerous adversities. The tension culminates with the burning of the Alexandria's Great Library, a part of history I knew little about. Religions, politics, and mysticism Combine to give the reader a shapshot of what life was like in Alexandria in the centuries after Christ. Terrific historical fiction!

THE GIRL IN THE CASTLE by Santa Montefiore

"Nobody does epic romance like Santa Montefiore." - JOJO MOYES
International sensation Santa Montefiore presents the first book in a trilogy that follows three Irish women through the decades of the twentieth century—perfect for fans of Kate Morton and Hazel Gaynor.
Born on the ninth day of the ninth month in the year 1900, Kitty Deverill is special as her grandmother has always told her. Built on the stunning green hills of West Cork, Ireland, Castle Deverill is Kitty’s beloved home, where many generations of Deverills have also resided. Although she’s Anglo-Irish, Kitty’s heart completely belongs to the wild countryside of the Emerald Isle, and her devotion to her Irish-Catholic friends Bridie Doyle, the daughter of the castle’s cook, and Jack O’Leary, the vet’s son, is unmatched—even if Jack is always reminding her that she isn’t fully Irish. Still, Jack and Kitty can’t help falling in love although they both know their union faces the greatest obstacles since they are from different worlds.
Bridie cherishes her friendship with Kitty, who makes her feel more like her equal than a servant. Yet she can’t help dreaming of someday having all the wealth and glamour Kitty’s station in life affords her. But when she discovers a secret that Kitty has been keeping from her, Bridie finds herself growing resentful toward the girl in the castle who seems to have it all.
When the Irish revolt to throw over British rule in Southern Ireland, Jack enlists to fight. Worried for her safety, Jack warns Kitty to keep her distance, but she refuses and throws herself into the cause for Irish liberty, running messages and ammunition between the rebels. But as Kitty soon discovers, her allegiance to her family and her friends will be tested—and when Castle Deverill comes under attack, the only home and life she’s ever known are threatened.
A powerful story of love, loyalty, and friendship, The Girl in the Castle is an exquisitely written novel set against the magical, captivating landscape of Ireland.

OPINION:

THE GIRL IN THE CASTLE has to be one of the best books I've read in a long time. It's the first book in a trilogy about two Irish families and the estate they inhabit. It's an intense family saga with a handful of fascinating characters who evolve and change as circumstances dictate. 

The book is not short on plot twists, and there is even a fabulous rags to riches thread that has left me hanging and waiting eagerly for the next book. The setting starts in Ireland in 1925 and moves forward at a steady pace. Lovely descriptions, incredible ever-developing characters, and an old beloved family castle lend an appeal that transcends each page and left me wanting more at the end. This the exact kind of book that I love. I am eagerly waiting for the next installment and I'm adding Santa Montefiore to my list of favorite authors! Loved, loved, loved this story!

THE SILVER BARON'S WIFE by Donna Baier Stein

The Silver Baron's Wife traces the rags-to-riches-to-rags life of Colorado's Baby Doe Tabor (Lizzie). 

This fascinating heroine worked in the silver mines and had two scandalous marriages, one to a philandering opium addict and one to a Senator and silver baron worth $24 million in the late 19th century. A divorcée shunned by Denver society, Lizzie raised two daughters in a villa where 100 peacocks roamed the lawns, entertained Sarah Bernhardt when the actress performed at Tabor's Opera House, and after her second husband's death, moved to a one-room shack at the Matchless Mine in Leadville. She lived the last 35 years of her life there, writing down thousands of her dreams and noting visitations of spirits on her calendar. Hers is the tale of a fiercely independent woman who bucked all social expectations by working where 19thcentury women didn't work, becoming the key figure in one of the West's most scandalous love triangles, and, after a devastating stock market crash destroyed Tabor's vast fortune, living in eccentric isolation at the Matchless Mine. An earlier version of this novel won the PEN/New England Discovery Award in Fiction.

OPINION:

I love rags to riches stories, especially if they are true. The Silver Baron's wife is definitely one that appeals to me. Lizzie is a young woman forced to make a living in a rough male mining environment. Scandals, a failing marriage to a terrible opium addicted husband, and her desire to work in the mines with the men, made this a fascinating read. When things could not get any worse, her life takes a turn and she marries a man of great wealth. Life is not always perfect however, and this time, Lizzie goes from riches to rags.

An utterly fascinating story about a spunky, gutsy, and proud woman whom fortune touched and then abandoned.

YESTERNIGHT by Cat Winters

From the author of The Uninvited comes a haunting historical novel with a compelling mystery at its core.  A young child psychologist steps off a train, her destination a foggy seaside town. There, she begins a journey causing her to question everything she believes about life, death, memories, and reincarnation.
In 1925, Alice Lind steps off a train in the rain-soaked coastal hamlet of Gordon Bay, Oregon. There, she expects to do nothing more difficult than administer IQ tests to a group of rural schoolchildren. A trained psychologist, Alice believes mysteries of the mind can be unlocked scientifically, but now her views are about to be challenged by one curious child.
Seven-year-old Janie O’Daire is a mathematical genius, which is surprising. But what is disturbing are the stories she tells: that her name was once Violet, she grew up in Kansas decades earlier, and she drowned at age nineteen. Alice delves into these stories, at first believing they’re no more than the product of the girl’s vast imagination.  But, slowly, Alice comes to the realization that Janie might indeed be telling a strange truth.
Alice knows the investigation may endanger her already shaky professional reputation, and as a woman in a field dominated by men she has no room for mistakes. But she is unprepared for the ways it will illuminate terrifying mysteries within her own past, and in the process, irrevocably change her life.

OPINION:

From first page to last, this novel held me enthralled. I do love a good gothic style story and YESTERNIGHT is gothic with a twist of the supernatural and reincarnation. 

The protaganist is Alice, a child psychologist, who arrives in a small Oregonian hamlet to administer IQ tests to children. There she meets a young girl named Janie who speaks about another life in Kansas. Slowly, the tale and truth are revealed, entwining two stories into one. 

Lots to love with this book. Plenty of twists and turns, mystery, and beautiful writing that adds to the eerie atmosphere. Highly recommended. 

THREADS OF SILK by Amanda Roberts


When I was a child, I thought my destiny was to live and die on the banks of the Xiangjiang River as my family had done for generations. 

I never imagined that my life would lead me to the Forbidden City and the court of China’s last Empress. Born in the middle of nowhere, Yaqian, a little embroidery girl from Hunan Province, finds her way to the imperial court, a place of intrigue, desire, and treachery. From the bed of an Emperor, the heart of a Prince, and the right side of an Empress, Yaqian weaves her way through the most turbulent decades of China’s history and witnesses the fall of the Qing Dynasty. Fans of Amy Tan, Lisa See, Anchee Min, and Pearl S. Buck are sure to love this debut novel by Amanda Roberts. This richly descriptive and painstakingly researched novel brings the opulence of the Qing Court to life as Yaqian and Empress Cixi's lives intertwine over six decades. 


OPINION:

From it's beautiful cover and compelling title, this is a lovey book. It's a biographical historical about China's Empress Cixi. It was a time of immense change and cultural divisions as the Western world with its new world ways was creeping into China's culture. The tale is not directly about Empress Cixi; rather, it is told through the point of view of a very poor, but talented child whose embroidery skills drew the attention of the Emperor. Thus the child was brought to the Forbidden City where she grew to womanhood.

Fraught with intrigue, espionage, and politics, Yaqian must maneuver through the danger to survive. And survive she does. Through wit and wisdom, honesty and loyalty, she earns the trust of the Empress.

A lovely, well researched story regarding China's political history and the beautiful skill of making silk and the lush silk embroidery. Love, relationships, perseverence, and courage are all themes woven into a fabulous tale. 


Saturday, October 22, 2016

THE LIAR by Jennifer Wells


What would you do if you saw a girl in a crowd whose face had the same, identical birthmark as your only child?

A child who, nearly ten years ago, you were told died?

It's 1935 and housewife Emma glimpses a face in a crowd – a little girl with a very unique birthmark.

Transfixed by the sight of a stranger; Emma becomes convinced that the girl is her long-lost daughter taken from her at birth. There is only one problem: Emma’s daughter is dead. So who is the stranger?

THE LIAR follows Emma’s journey as she tries to find out what really happened to her daughter - a journey that unearths secrets from the past and ends in obsession...

OPINION

Emma has never recovered from the death of her newborn daughter, Violet. Emma's husband George is a local doctor who doesn’t even try to understand his wife’s pain, or is that merely seeing things from Emma’s perspective?

My first clue was that Violet’s conception is shrouded in mystery, giving Emma a sense of not being deserving of a live child.

Emma, and Ruby, the child who becomes the focus of her obsession, narrate their own stories with their unique perspective on their lives which accentuate the vast differences between the lonely wife of an affluent doctor and the child who suffers a different kind of neglect in a home where the matriarch earns pennies from sewing aprons.

The writing is beautifully woven and evocative, in that things we all see, hear and smell but don’t necessarily register as we walk through life are brought to our attention. By doing so Ms Wells conjures a place which is familiar on many levels, and especially to those brought up in the suburbs of London pre-WWII.

Emma and Ruby have their own paths which the reader must tread to discover the truth of who in this story is the Liar. Emma, Ruby, George, Maud, or maybe life itself has skewed everyone's truth so it's no longer recognisable? An intriguingly enigmatic story and one not to be rushed.

I received a digital copy of this novel via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review

Anita Davison is author of The Flora Maguire Mysteries from Aria Fiction

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Friday, October 21, 2016

THE TEA PLANTER'S WIFE by Dinah Jefferies


#1 International bestselling novel set in 1920s Ceylon, about a young Englishwoman who marries a charming tea plantation owner and widower, only to discover he's keeping terrible secrets about his past, including what happened to his first wife, that lead to devastating consequences.

OPINION:

Whenever I see the label "International Bestseller" on the cover of a book, I always know I can buy it and never have any regrests! This fact alone, along with the stunning cover of this novel, made it a must read for me. And I was not disappointed. 

I adore family dramas, and this is one that is set in Ceylon in the early 1900's. Beautiful descriptions of scenery, customs, and characters, made the story spring into authentic life. First there is Gwen who travels from England to Ceylon to join her new husband on his plantation. Secondly, there is Verity, her needy sister-in-law who causes problems for Gwen and comes between her and her husband. Thirdly, there is her husband Laurence, whose love for her slowly cools for no obvious reason. And lastly, there is the raw political climate of Ceylon with all its cultural expectations and problems. To say Gwen experiences culture shock, is a gross understatement.

With plenty of underlying conflicts, some blatant, some subversive, this book became a real page turner for me. There was always something going on, something that engaged me, and something that drew upon my emotions. And slowly secrets are revealed as people put their own machinations into play.

Yup, this was entertaining at all levels. Definitely a fun, engaging book. It's no wonder it is an International Best Seller. Well worth it for entertainment value!  

THE SPICE BOX LETTERS by Eve Makis

Katerina inherits a scented, wooden spice box after her grandmother Mariam dies. It contains letters and a diary, written in Armenian. As she pieces together her family story, Katerina learns that Mariam's childhood was shattered by the Armenian tragedy of 1915.
Mariam was exiled from her home in Turkey and separated from her beloved brother, Gabriel, her life marred by grief and the loss of her first love. Dissatisfied and restless, Katerina tries to find resolution in her own life as she completes Mariam's story – on a journey that takes her across Cyprus and then half a world away to New York.
Miracles, it seems, can happen―for those trapped by the past, and for Katerina herself.

OPINION:

Before reading this novel, I knew very little about the Armenian tragedy. This novel brings to life the heart-wrenching horrors and sufferings that took place in Turkey against the Armenian people. Despite all the horrors of war, a poignant story emerges of a young modern day woman who discovers her grandmother's wooden treasure box and the secrets that lie inside. 

How can I describe the emotions I felt while reading? Heartbroken, stunned, sad, and even angry at the injustices. And this is the sign of a great book. When the reader is able to pull out and twist the reader's emotions and make them think hard upon history, this is a book worth reading! The story is built from the points of views of family members, both past and present. Interesting, poignant, and joyous - that's what this book is!


FATES AND TRAITORS by Jennifer Chiaverini

The New York Times bestselling author of Mrs. Lincoln’s Dressmaker returns with a riveting work of historical fiction following the notorious John Wilkes Booth and the four women who kept his perilous confidence.

John Wilkes Booth, the mercurial son of an acclaimed British stage actor and a Covent Garden flower girl, committed one of the most notorious acts in American history—the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln.
The subject of more than a century of scholarship, speculation, and even obsession, Booth is often portrayed as a shadowy figure, a violent loner whose single murderous act made him the most hated man in America. Lost to history until now is the story of the four women whom he loved and who loved him in return: Mary Ann, the steadfast matriarch of the Booth family; Asia, his loyal sister and confidante; Lucy Lambert Hale, the senator’s daughter who adored Booth yet tragically misunderstood the intensity of his wrath; and Mary Surratt, the Confederate widow entrusted with the secrets of his vengeful plot. 
Fates and Traitors brings to life pivotal actors—some willing, others unwitting—who made an indelible mark on the history of our nation. Chiaverini portrays not just a soul in turmoil but a country at the precipice of immense change.

OPINION:

Author Jennifer Chiaverini takes us deep into the thoughts and motivations of one of America's most notorious murderers, John Wilkes Booth. Skillfully, she has recreated his world and the people closest to him to describe the events in his life that affected him that helps to explain why he did what he did. 

With a lovely narrative, I was given fascinating insight into this charismatic man gone wrong. To paint a compelling picture of this enigmatic man, she researched personal letters, articles, and memoirs of those who knew him. Through the eyes of the four women who touched his life, she has been able to recreate Booth's life and the events that led him to murder one of America's most respected presidents. And by bringing all these aspects together, the author has shown us the good side and the bad side of this murderer. 

Through Mary Surratt's voice, I came to see a different perspective of John Wilkes Booth. I longed to learn more about Mary, and why she helped Booth, a mistake that cost her her life. Perhaps the world will never know for sure. And that's one of the reasons why this portion of history continues to fascinate the world! A book worth reading! Beautifully rendered!

YELLOW HAIR by Andrew Joyce

FOR LOVERS OF AMERICAN HISTORY...

YELLOW HAIR documents the injustices done to the Sioux Nation from their first treaty with the United States in 1805 through Wounded Knee in 1890. 


Every death, murder, battle, and outrage written about actually took place. The historical figures that play a role in this fact-based tale of fiction were real people and the author uses their real names. Yellow Hair is an epic tale of adventure, family, love, and hate that spans most of the 19th century. This is American history.

Hey Readers, remember the novel Molly Lee that I raved about? Well, Andrew Joyce is back to tell us about his latest novel, YELLOW HAIR, and has offered us a fascinating tidbit of a tale about the Sioux People. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did...


Author
Andrew Joyce
Bio

My name is Andrew Joyce and I write books for a living. I would like to thank Mirella for allowing me to be here today to promote my latest, Yellow Hair, which documents the injustices done to the Sioux Nation from their first treaty with the United States in 1805 through Wounded Knee in 1890. Every death, murder, battle, and outrage I write about actually took place. The historical figures that play a role in my fact-based tale of fiction were real people and I use their real names. Yellow Hair is an epic tale of adventure, family, love, and hate that spans most of the 19th century.

Now that the commercial is out of the way, we can get down to what I really came here to talk about: the Sioux people. The people we know as the Sioux were originally known as the Dakota, which means ally. The name Sioux came from the Chippewa and the French. The Chippewa called them Nadonessiou, which means adder, or enemy, and then the French shortened the name to Sioux.

Every culture has an origin myth. We in the West have Adam and Eve. The Ancient Greeks had Gaia. According to the Norse people, Odin and Ymir founded the earth. If you will allow me, I’d like to tell you the creation story of the Dakota.

In the beginning, before the creation of the earth, the gods resided in the sky and humans lived in darkness. Chief among the gods was Ta՜kuwakaŋ, the Sun, who was married to Haŋyetuwi, the Moon. He had one daughter, Wohpe. And there was Old Man and Old Woman, whose daughter, Ite, was wife to Wind, to whom she gave four sons, the Four Winds.

Of the other spirits, the most important was Iŋktomi, the devious trickster. Iŋktomi conspired with Old Man and Old Woman to increase their daughter's status by arranging an affair between the Sun and Ite. His wife’s discovery of the affair led Ta՜kuwakaŋ to give the Moon her own domain, and by separating her from himself, created time.

Old Man, Old Woman and Itewho was separated from Wind, her husband—were banished to Earth. Ite, along with her children, the Four Winds, and a fifth wind—the child of Ite but not of Wind—established space. The daughter of the Sun and the Moon, Wohpe, also fell to earth and later resided with the South Wind. The two adopted the fifth wind, who was called Wamŋiomŋi.

Alone on the newly formed Earth, some of the gods became bored. Ite prevailed upon Iŋktomi to find her people, the Buffalo Nation. In the form of a wolf, Iŋktomi went beneath the earth and discovered a village of humans. Iŋktomi told them about the wonders of the Earth and convinced one man, Tokahe, to accompany him through a cave to the surface. Tokahe did so and, upon reaching the surface, saw the green grass and blue sky for the first time. Iŋktomi and Ite introduced Tokahe to buffalo meat and showed him tipis, clothing, hunting clubs, and bows and arrows. Tokahe returned to the underworld village and appealed to six other men and their families to go with him to the Earth's surface.

When they arrived, they discovered that Iŋktomi had deceived Tokahe. The buffalo were scarce; the weather had turned bad, and they found themselves starving. Unable to return to their home, but armed with a new knowledge about the world, they survived to become the founders of the Seven Council Fires.

The Seven Council Fires . . . or Oćeti Šakowiŋ . . .  are the Mdewakanton, the Wahpeton, the Wahpekute, the Sisseton, the Yankton, the Yanktonai, and the Lakota.

After Tokahe led the six families to the surface of the earth, they wandered for many winters. Sons were born and sons died. Winters passed, more winters than could be counted. That was before Oćeti Šakowiŋ. But not until White Buffalo Calf Woman did the humans become Dakota.

Two scouts were hunting the buffalo when they came to the top of a small hill. A long way off, they observed the figure of a woman. As she approached, they saw that she was beautiful. She was young and carried a wakiŋ. One of the scouts had lustful thoughts and told the other. His friend told him that she was sacred and to banish such thoughts.

The woman came up to them and said to the one with the lustful thoughts, “If you would do what you are thinking, come forward.” The scout moved and stood before her and a white cloud covered them from sight.

When the woman stepped from the cloud, it blew away. There on the ground, at the beautiful woman’s feet, lay a pile of bones with worms crawling in and among them.

The woman told the other scout to go to his village and tell his people that she was coming, for them to build a medicine tipi large enough to hold all the chiefs of the nation. She said, “I bring a great gift to your people.”

When the people heard the scout’s story, they constructed the lodge, and put on their finest clothing, then stood about the lodge and waited.

As the woman entered the village, she sang:

‘With visible breath I am walking.
A voice I am sending as I walk.
In a sacred manner I am walking.
With visible tracks I am walking.
In a sacred manner I walk.’

She handed the wakiŋ to the head chief and he withdrew a pipe from the bundle. On one side of the pipe was carved a bison calf. “The bison represents the earth, which will house and feed you,” she said.

Thirteen eagle feathers hung from the wooden stem. White Buffalo Calf Woman told the chiefs, “The feathers represent the sky and the thirteen moons. With this pipe, you shall prosper. With this pipe, you shall speak with Wakaŋ Taŋ՜ka (God). With this pipe, you shall become The People. With this pipe, you shall be bound with the Earth for She is your mother. She is sacred. With this pipe, you shall be bound to your relatives.”

Having given the pipe to the People, and having said what she had to say, she turned and walked four paces from the lodge and sat down.

When she arose, she was a red-and-brown buffalo calf. She walked on, lay down and came up as a black buffalo calf. Walking still farther, she turned into a white buffalo and stood upon a hill. She turned to bow in the four directions of the four winds and then she vanished.

Because of White Buffalo Calf Woman, the Dakota honor our mother the Earth; they honor their parents and their grandparents. They honor the birds of the sky; they honor the beasts of the earth. They know that Wakaŋ Taŋ՜ka resides in all animals, in all trees and plants and rocks and stones. Wakaŋ Taŋ՜ka is in all. They know that Wakaŋ Taŋ՜ka lives in each of us.

Because of White Buffalo Calf Woman, they have become Dakota.

To learn more about Andrew Joyce and his books, visit: http://andrewjoyce76.com/.

Andrew Joyce left high school at seventeen to hitchhike throughout the US, Canada, and Mexico. He wouldn’t return from his journey until decades later when he decided to become a writer. Joyce has written five books, including a two-volume collection of one hundred and fifty short stories comprised of his hitching adventures called BEDTIME STORIES FOR GROWN-UPS (as yet unpublished), and his latest novel, YELLOW HAIR. He now lives aboard a boat in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, with his dog, Danny, where he is busy working on his next book, tentatively entitled, MICK REILLY.

Friday, October 7, 2016

The Six by Laura Thompson

“Riveting. The Six captures all the wayward magnetism and levity that have enchanted countless writers without neglecting the tragic darkness of many of the sisters’ life choices and the savage sociopolitical currents that fueled them.” – Tina Brown, The New York Times Book Review
The eldest was a razor-sharp novelist of upper-class manners; the second was loved by John Betjeman; the third was a fascist who married Oswald Mosley; the fourth idolized Hitler and shot herself in the head when Britain declared war on Germany; the fifth was a member of the American Communist Party; the sixth became Duchess of Devonshire. They were the Mitford sisters: Nancy, Pamela, Diana, Unity, Jessica, and Deborah. Born into country-house privilege in the early years of the 20th century, they became prominent as “bright young things” in the high society of interwar London. Then, as the shadows crept over 1930s Europe, the stark—and very public—differences in their outlooks came to symbolize the political polarities of a dangerous decade. The intertwined stories of their stylish and scandalous lives—recounted in masterly fashion by Laura Thompson—hold up a revelatory mirror to upper-class English life before and after WWII.The Six was previously published as Take Six Girls.

OPINION:

The Six is a very ambitious biography/memoir steeped in historical detail and family heritage. To biographize all six sisters into one book was likely not an easy task. The author provided a complete family tree, which helped keep track of the various personages included in the book.  

As a writer myself, I have to applaud the efforts made by the author to write six different biographies demonstrating how the sisters interacted with each other and how their decisions affected their family. The way they were raised was fascinating and troublesome, and it is no wonder that they were each affected by it. A poignant memoir for sure!

Thursday, October 6, 2016

The Ballroom by Anna Hope

From the internationally acclaimed author of Wake comes a haunting story of love, insanity, and revolution set at the brink of the Great War.


Yorkshire, England, 1911: After a moment of defiance at the factory where she has worked since she was a child, Ella Fay finds herself an unwilling patient at the Sharston Asylum. Ella knows she is not mad, but she might have to learn to play the game before she can make a true bid for freedom. John Mulligan is a chronic patient, frozen with grief since the death of his child, but when Ella runs towards him one morning in an attempt to escape the place where he has found refuge, everything changes. It is in the ornate ballroom at the centre of the asylum, where the male and female patients are allowed to gather every Friday evening to dance, that Ella and John begin a tentative, secret correspondence that will have shattering consequences, as love and the possibility of redemption are set against one ambitious doctor's eagerness to make his mark in the burgeoning field of eugenics, at all costs. Set over the heatwave summer of 1911, at a time when England was at the point of revolt, The Ballroom is a tale of unlikely love and dangerous obsession, of madness and sanity, and of who gets to decide which is which.

OPINION:

I have always held a fascination for asylums of old, those secret places where the mentally afflicted were housed away from society. The Ballroom by Anna Hope gave me a glimpse inside such a place. The asylum is set near the Yorshire moors and takes place in the early 1900's. Wonderful descriptions and utterly fascinating characters made this story truly bloom. 

Sharston asylum is a bleak, dreary place, rampant with abuses. And not everyone who is housed within is insane. 

Ella was brought there because she broke a window in the mill where she worked because the windows were painted over to prevent workers from looking outdoors. 


Charles is the bandmaster at Sharston. He is not an inmate, but an employee who prefers being a musician rather than taking his exams to be a doctor. 


Clemency was brought there by her father and brother because she refused to marry the man they had chosen for her. 

And then there's John, a loner who is housed in the chronic ward where there is little hope inmates will heal enough to be released. He is tasked with digging the graves for inmates - six coffins atop each other per grave. When he's not digging, he's working the asylum's farm. 

Within the asylum's hopeless and dark corridors resides a gem - an elegant ballrom where certain patients are rewarded with a social dance. It is there where the four characters interact and meet, their futures colliding.

If you want to read a book that will tweak your emotions, then this is the book for you. Highly recommended.

Staircase to the Moon by Elizabeth Haran


Perth, Western Australia, 1913: When her conservative family tries to force Emily into an arranged marriage with a much older, wealthy man, she decides to take destiny into her own hands and escape her strict father and overbearing brothers. 



She embarks on a ship to North-Western Australia to take up employment as a private seamstress for a large and rich farming family, who welcome her with open arms. Surrounded by the breathtakingly beautiful and remote landscapes of the Kimberly region, Emily starts to believe that happiness and love really are possible in her new life. But storm clouds are gathering, and as the men of Kimberley march off to war in Europe, Emily must step up to prove herself against all the odds. And that's when things start to turn out different than she ever could have imagined ...

OPINION:

The cover and the setting of the Australia Outback in the early 1900's greatly appealed to me. Emily is the protagonist, a young woman who is overly oppressed by the overbearing males in her family. She longs to escape to somewhere she can be free. Instead, her family attempts to marry her off to a man she finds abhorant. What does she do? Well she escapes to a remote area of Australia and begins work as a seamstress for a lady and three daughters in a large manor house. As her time with the family runs out, and war threatens, Emily finds herself facing numerous adversities.    

There is a really good story to be found in the pages of this book, but unfortunately, I could not finish it. I really wanted to like this book, but I have to admit I struggled with the primitive writing, typing errors, and overly modern prose that kept throwing me out of the story.   

For more book reviews, please visit my blog, http://greathistoricals.blogspot.ca, where the greatest historical fiction is reviewed! For fascinating women of history bios and women's fiction please visit http://www.historyandwomen.com.

The Secret Book of Kings by Yochi Brandes

In the tradition of The Red Tent from internationally bestselling author Yochi Brandes comes the stories of the struggles of King David and King Saul in the early days of the Kingdom of Israel, seen through the eyes of Michal, Saul’s daughter and David’s abandoned queen
Stories are deadlier than swords. Swords kill only those who stand before them, stories decide who will live and die in generations to come.
Shelomoam, a young man from the tribe of Ephraim, has grown up in the shadow of dark secrets. He wonders why his father is deathly afraid of the King’s soldiers and why his mother has lied about the identities of those closest to him. Shelomoam is determined to unearth his mysterious past, never imagining where his quest will ultimately lead him.
The Secret Book of Kings upends conventions of biblical novels, engaging with the canonized stories of the founding of the Kingdom of Israel and turning them on their heads. Presented for the first time are the heretofore unknown stories of the House of Saul and of the northern Kingdom of Israel, stories that were artfully concealed by the House of David and the scribes of the southern Kingdom of Judah.
Yochi Brandes, one of Israel’s all-time bestselling novelists, enlists her unique background in both academic Jewish scholarship and traditional religious commentaries to read the Bible in an utterly new way. In this book, a major publishing phenomenon in Israel and one of the bestselling novels in the history of the country, she uncovers vibrant characters, especially women, buried deep within the scriptures, and asks the loaded question: to what extent can we really know our past when history is written by the victors?

OPINION:

It is no wonder that The Secret Book of Kings by Yochi Brandes is an International Bestseller. It is a Biblical based novel about the historical Jewish tribes of the Old Testament. The author's fictional recounting and interpretation of persons and events truly was enlightening and highly entertaining. I have always preferred the New Testament, so I was eager to read this book. 

The tale begins with a young boy who cannot explain his fear of soldiers. He is soon immersed into a world of brutal bloodshed and war. Slowly he begins to realize that his family keeps a dark secret and sets about discovering what it is. What he learns alters his life forever, turning his life's path in the opposite direction of what he had always believed. 

Thought-provoking and rich in detail, the finely honed characters are fully believable, and as real as if I could reach out and touch them. This book is a magnificent rendering of Jewish legend and history, and a must read! 

For more book reviews, please visit my blog, http://greathistoricals.blogspot.ca, where the greatest historical fiction is reviewed! For fascinating women of history bios and women's fiction please visit http://www.historyandwomen.com.

The Dollhouse by Fiona Davis


Fiona Davis's stunning debut novel pulls readers into the lush world of New York City's glamorous Barbizon Hotel for Women, where in the 1950's a generation of aspiring models, secretaries, and editors lived side-by-side while attempting to claw their way to fairy-tale success, and where a present-day journalist becomes consumed with uncovering a dark secret buried deep within the Barbizon's glitzy past.
 
When she arrives at the famed Barbizon Hotel in 1952, secretarial school enrollment in hand, Darby McLaughlin is everything her modeling agency hall mates aren't: plain, self-conscious, homesick, and utterly convinced she doesn't belong—a notion the models do nothing to disabuse. Yet when Darby befriends Esme, a Barbizon maid, she's introduced to an entirely new side of New York City: seedy downtown jazz clubs where the music is as addictive as the heroin that's used there, the startling sounds of bebop, and even the possibility of romance.
 
Over half a century later, the Barbizon's gone condo and most of its long-ago guests are forgotten. But rumors of Darby's involvement in a deadly skirmish with a hotel maid back in 1952 haunt the halls of the building as surely as the melancholy music that floats from the elderly woman's rent-controlled apartment. It's a combination too intoxicating for journalist Rose Lewin, Darby's upstairs neighbor, to resist—not to mention the perfect distraction from her own imploding personal life. Yet as Rose's obsession deepens, the ethics of her investigation become increasingly murky, and neither woman will remain unchanged when the shocking truth is finally revealed.

OPINION:

In 1952, the Barbizon Hotel in New York City was a safe place to live for many young woman who were alone and entering the job market. Darby McLaughlin leaves behind the Midwest to make a career for herself in secretarial school. Due to lack of vacancy, instead of being placed on the floor with other young women pursuing similar careers, she is given space with the models. There she is an outsider, intimidated by the beautiful and assertive models. She does make a friend however. Esme is a spirited woman who takes Darby under her protection and introduces her to nightclub, jazz, and dances! 

The story then switches to the modern day. Most of the rooms in the Barbizon are now condos and she lives there with her boyfriend. When her boyfriend evicts her to return to his wife, Rose finds herself house-sitting a dog that belongs to Darby. She stumbles upon the legend and mystery of Esme and Darby and seeks to learn the dark secrets. 

Both storylines are very rich with complexity, and growing with conflict as each of the women's struggles become ever more challenging. Tension continually ramps up with each page turned. It's easy to follow both the present and the past storylines without being jarred from the story. As the excitement builds, the ending is unpredictable and satisfying! I loved this book.


For more book reviews, please visit my blog, http://greathistoricals.blogspot.ca, where the greatest historical fiction is reviewed! For fascinating women of history bios and women's fiction please visit http://www.historyandwomen.com.

Between Two Fires by Mark Noce

Saxon barbarians threaten to destroy medieval Wales. Lady Branwen becomes Wales' last hope to unite their divided kingdoms when her father betroths her to a powerful Welsh warlord, the Hammer King. But the fledgling alliance is fraught with enemies from within and without as Branwen becomes the target of assassination attempts and courtly intrigue. A young woman in a world of fierce warriors, she seeks to assert her own authority and preserve Wales against the barbarians. But when she falls for a young hedge knight named Artagan, her world threatens to tear itself apart.
Caught between her duty to her people and her love of a man she cannot have, Branwen must choose whether to preserve her royal marriage or to follow her heart. Somehow she must save her people and remain true to herself, before Saxon invaders and a mysterious traitor try to destroy her.
Branwen's story combines elements of mystery and romance with Noce's gift for storytelling.

OPINION:

Mark Noce takes readers deep into medieval Wales during a great period of conflict - invasions by Saxon barbarians. Lady Branwen, like many women of her era, are used as pawns and betrothed to men to form powerful alliances between families and royal houses. In Branwen's case, she is betrothed to a rough and brutal warlord named the Hammer King. When she encounters a young knight named Artagan, an abiding love blossoms between them. 
The world recreated by Mark Noce is fraught with danger, intrigues, and battles, and it gives the reader a very real experience into this dark, medieval period. There is plenty of action and betrayal, assassinations and mystery, and a wonderful love story! As a lover of medieval stories, I loved this novel very much. Definitely recommended.