Wednesday, October 4, 2017

The Orphan of Florence by Jeanne Kalogridis


In this irresistible historical novel set in the turbulent world of the Medicis, a young woman finds herself driven from pick-pocketing to espionage when she meets a mysterious man.
Giulia has been an orphan all her life. Raised in Florence's famous Ospedale degli Innocenti, her probing questions and insubordinate behavior made her an unwelcome presence, and at the age of fifteen, she was given an awful choice: become a nun, or be married off to a man she didn't love. She chose neither, and after refusing an elderly suitor, Giulia escaped onto the streets of Florence.
Now, after spending two years as a successful pickpocket, an old man catches her about to make off with his purse, and rather than having her carted off to prison he offers her a business proposition. The man claims to be a cabalist, a student of Jewish mysticism and ritual magic, who works for the most powerful families in Florence. But his identity is secret—he is known only as "the Magician of Florence"—and he is in need of an assistant. She accepts the job and begins smuggling his talismans throughout the city.
But the talismans are not what they seem, and neither is the Magician. When Giulia's involvement with him ends with his murder, she's drawn into a treacherous web of espionage and deceit involving the forces of Rome, Naples, and a man known as Lorenzo the Magnificent. Accused of the Magician's murder, Giulia is pursued by the handsome policeman Niccolo, Lorenzo's henchmen, and foreign spies, and in order to survive, she must not only solve the mystery of the mystery of the Magician's murder, but that of her own past.

REVIEW

Giuliana is a 15 year old orphan living off the streets of Florence after being released from an orphanage. She takes responsibility for another young orphan named Tommasso who is 6 years old. As a pickpocket, it was safer for her to dress as a boy, hence she called herself Giuliano. One night, she picks the pocket of an old man who turns out to be the Magician of Florence. Instead of turning her in, he takes her into his fold, promising to teach her the secrets of Magic. It is there she meets Niccolo who was also raised by the Magician. It is then she is thrust into a world of intrigue, murder, dark secrets, and treachery at its worst.

Jeanne Kalogridis has once again spun an enthralling tale filled with enthralling characters who are unpredictable and ever evolving. Some are lovable and some are despicable. With detailed descriptions of city of Florence, its culture and politics, and the colourful dress of its inhabitants, an authentic, genuine setting was brought to life. The story moves along at a fast pace with plenty of twists and turns along the way. Expect the unexpected! Beautifully told, wonderfully creative, this is another lovely novel by one of my favourite authors of all time. Highly, highly recommended.

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

The Good People by Hannah Kent


Short-listed for the Walter Scott Prize for Historical Fiction

One of Entertainment Weekly's "Must-Read" books for Fall


From the author of Burial Rites, "a literary novel with the pace and tension of a thriller that takes us on a frightening journey towards an unspeakable tragedy."-Paula Hawkins, bestselling author of The Girl on the Train

Based on true events in nineteenth century Ireland, Hannah Kent's startling new novel tells the story of three women, drawn together to rescue child from a superstitious community. 

Nora, bereft after the death of her husband, finds herself alone and caring for her grandson Micheál, who can neither speak nor walk. A handmaid, Mary, arrives to help Nóra just as rumours begin to spread that Micheál is a changeling child who is bringing bad luck to the valley. Determined to banish evil, Nora and Mary enlist the help of Nance, an elderly wanderer who understands the magic of the old ways.


Set in a lost world bound by its own laws, THE GOOD PEOPLE is Hannah Kent's startling new novel about absolute belief and devoted loveTerrifying, thrilling and moving in equal measure, this follow-up to Burial Rites shows an author at the height of her powers.

REVIEW

I do enjoy a dark book, and this one definitely falls within that category. The story is set in 19th Century Ireland and is set on true events. 

In an isolated community where a physician's aid is difficult to come by, the people depend upon old wives tales, superstitions, and the help of a healer. Nora is the protagoist and when her husband suddenly and unexpectedly dies, she is left alone to raise their handicapped grandson. Unable to run the farm and take care of the invalid child, she hires the help of a young woman named Mary to care for the boy. At first Mary is shocked and struggles to find her comfort in her strange circumstances. Soon, however, her bond with the boy grows. Superstition abounds and Nora is convinced the boy is not her grandson but a changeling left by the mysterious, fairy, magical "good folk".  With the help of the local healer, an old woman who practices with superstition and herbs, the three women set about to return the child to the good people and seek the return of the real boy. 

What transpires is a fascinating tale of misguided intentions, false beliefs, and heart-wrenching circumstances. At times, especially during the middle of the book, it felt almost too hard to believe, nearly fantastical, but then I recalled how this is a story based on an actual occurrence and I read on, unable to put it down. Vividly real, flawed characters grace every page. 

This is a wonderfully dark tale not for the feint of heart. To say it is heart-wrenching is an understatement. This is a great book for book clubs and for Halloween. It will provide hours of discussion! Highly recommended. I loved it very much!

I, Eliza Hamilton by Susan Holloway Scott



In this beautifully written novel of historical fiction, bestselling author Susan Holloway Scott tells the story of Alexander Hamilton’s wife, Eliza—a fascinating, strong-willed heroine in her own right and a key figure in one of the most gripping periods in American history.

“Love is not easy with a man chosen by Fate for greatness . . .”
As the daughter of a respected general, Elizabeth Schuyler is accustomed to socializing with dignitaries and soldiers. But no visitor to her parents’ home has affected her so strongly as Alexander Hamilton, a charismatic, ambitious aide to George Washington. They marry quickly, and despite the tumult of the American Revolution, Eliza is confident in her brilliant husband and in her role as his helpmate. But it is in the aftermath of war, as Hamilton becomes one of the country’s most important figures, that she truly comes into her own.  
In the new capital, Eliza becomes an adored member of society, respected for her fierce devotion to Hamilton as well as her grace. Behind closed doors, she astutely manages their expanding household, and assists her husband with his political writings. Yet some challenges are impossible to prepare for. Through public scandal, betrayal, personal heartbreak, and tragedy, she is tested again and again. In the end, it will be Eliza’s indomitable strength that makes her not only Hamilton’s most crucial ally in life, but also his most loyal advocate after his death, determined to preserve his legacy while pursuing her own extraordinary path through the nation they helped shape together.

REVIEW

I am passionate about reading historical biographical novels about the lesser known women of history. I am especially thrilled when authors break away from the over abundance of novels about the same women over and over again - i.e. Cleopatra, the Tudors, Marie Antoinette, etc. to name a few.

So I was thrilled to read about Eliza Hamilton, a woman deeply in love with one of the most brilliant writers and politicians in the time of George Washington and Benedict Arnold. The novel begins with the start of a strong physical and emotional chemistry between Eliza and Alexander Hamilton, a ruthless soldier and military aid. The author has researched this era completely, putting together a tale true to the times, complete with the actual politics and politicians and famous personages. What results is a true picture and analysis of the times. But beyond the political atmosphere, we meet a strong, determined woman who loved her husband, with all his qualities and faults. 

There is much to laud about this wonderfully told story through the point of view of a determined, supportive woman who stood by her man despite scandals, political intrigue, and the financialo struggles they faced.

Highly recommended!

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

A Dangerous Woman from Nowhere by Kris Radish



Briar Logan is a loner who has already survived a wretched childhood, near starvation, and the harsh western frontier in the 1860s. Just when she is on the brink of finally opening her heart to the possibilities of happiness, the love of her life is kidnapped by lawless gold miners―and she steels herself for what could be the greatest loss of her life.

Desperate to save her husband and the solitary life they have carved out of the wilderness, Briar is forced to accept the help of a damaged young man and a notorious female horse trainer. Facing whiskey runners, gold thieves, unpredictable elements, and men who will stop at nothing to get what they want, the unlikely trio must forge an uncommon bond in order to survive. Full of lessons of love, letting go, and the real meaning of family, A Dangerous Woman From Nowhere is a timeless western adventure story about courage, change, risk, and learning how to unlock damaged hearts and live in the sweet moments of now.

REVIEW

In the mid 1800's when Briar Logan, known to others as Mika, is kidnapped, his wife Briar sets off to rescue him. She dubs herself "a dangerous woman" and gathers all the tools and weapons to bring about Mika's rescue. 

The prose is lush and vividly detailed, sweeping the reader into the era and setting. As I read along, I watched Briar transform herself from ranch wife to warrior woman, fearless, courageous, tenacious. 

From her forlorn childhood as an orphan, Briar is bent on keeping all that she has worked for all her life, along with the love of her dear husband. Deep point of view and rich prose brought deep into the heart of this woman, giving insight and admiration for how she managed to survive her plight.

An excellent western that is credible and filled with characters that are larger than life. Highly recommended. 

Thursday, September 21, 2017

The Unquiet Grave by Sharyn McCrumb


From New York Times bestselling author Sharyn McCrumb comes a finely wrought novel set in nineteenth-century West Virginia, based on the true story of one of the strangest murder trials in American history—the case of the Greenbrier Ghost.

Lakin, West Virginia, 1930
Following a suicide attempt and consigned to a segregated insane asylum, attorney James P. D. Gardner finds himself under the care of Dr. James Boozer. Fresh out of medical school, Dr. Boozer is eager to try the new talking cure for insanity, and encourages his elderly patient to reminisce about his experiences as the first black attorney to practice law in nineteenth-century West Virginia. Gardner's most memorable case was the one in which he helped to defend a white man on trial for the murder of his young bride—a case that the prosecution based on the testimony of a ghost.

Greenbrier, West Virginia, 1897
Beautiful, willful Zona Heaster has always lived in the mountains of West Virginia. Despite her mother’s misgivings, Zona marries Erasmus Trout Shue, the handsome blacksmith who has recently come to Greenbrier County. After weeks of silence from the newlyweds, riders come to the Heasters’ place to tell them that Zona has died from a fall, attributed to a recent illness. Mary Jane is determined to get justice for her daughter. A month after the funeral, she informs the county prosecutor that Zona’s ghost appeared to her, saying that she had been murdered. An autopsy, ordered by the reluctant prosecutor, confirms her claim.

The Greenbrier Ghost is renowned in American folklore, but Sharyn McCrumb is the first author to look beneath the legend to unearth the facts. Using a century of genealogical material and other historical documents, McCrumb reveals new information about the story and brings to life the personalities in the trial: the prosecutor, a former Confederate cavalryman; the defense attorney, a pro-Union bridgeburner, who nevertheless had owned slaves; and the mother of the murdered woman, who doggedly sticks to her ghost story—all seen through the eyes of a young black lawyer on the cusp of a new century, with his own tragedies yet to come.

With its unique blend of masterful research and mesmerizing folklore, illuminating the story’s fascinating and complex characters, The Unquiet Grave confirms Sharyn McCrumb’s place among the finest Southern writers at work today.

REVIEW


Sharyn McCrumb returns with a haunting tale based upon actual true life events. It is about the murder of a young wife and the subsequent trial of the accused, her husband. What makes the tale fascinating is the convicting testimony came from the victim's mother who gave evidence that her daughter's ghost led her to discover the death was actually a murder. This resulted in the exhumation of the corpse and the subsequent charges and trial. 

Set in the late 1800's, the novel explores the victim, accused, and family. In addition, time is spent on the backgrounds of the prosecutor and defence lawyers. Known as the case of the Greenbriar Ghost, the author has researched the case in great detail, drawing on photos, maps, and legal certificates of those involved. Another historical fact is that the defence lawyer was the first black attorney in Virginia. 

The first half of the book is fast paced and gripping. A bit of momentum is lost in the second half as the conversation between the defence lawyer and his psychiatric doctor in the mental institution revealing details of the case dragged a bit.

Nevertheless, the story and characters kept me enthralled to the end. A nice mix of mystery and folk tale! Definitely recommended.

Monday, September 18, 2017

The Trust by Ronald H Balson


The newest novel from Ronald H. Balson, the international bestselling author of Once We Were Brothers, finds private investigator Liam Taggart returning to his childhood home for an uncle's funeral, only to discover his death might not have been natural.


When his uncle dies, Liam Taggart reluctantly returns to his childhood home in Northern Ireland for the funeral—a home he left years ago after a bitter confrontation with his family, never to look back. But when he arrives, Liam learns that not only was his uncle shot to death, but that he’d anticipated his own murder: In an astonishing last will and testament, Uncle Fergus has left his entire estate to a secret trust, directing that no distributions be made to any person until the killer is found. Did Fergus know, but refuse to name, his killer? Was this a crime of revenge, a vendetta leftover from Northern Ireland’s bloody sectarian war? After all, the Taggarts were deeply involved in the IRA. Or is it possible that the killer is a family member seeking Fergus’s estate? Otherwise, why postpone distributions to the heirs? Most menacingly, does the killer now have his sights on other family members?

As his investigation draws Liam farther and farther into the past he has abandoned, he realises he is forced to reopen doors long ago shut and locked. Now, accepting the appointment as sole trustee of the Fergus Taggart Trust, Liam realises he has stepped into the center of a firestorm.

REVIEW

When Liam Taggart receives an ominous phone call to return to Ireland for the funeral of an estranged uncle, he knows his life will be forever altered. Regretting the problems that divided him from his Irish family, he returns only to learn his uncle has been murdered. During the reading of the will, he learns he has been made sole trustee and all inheritances to family members must be kept secret until he is able to discover who the murderer is. This sets him at odds with his uncles, aunts, and cousins. True to his word, Liam begins to investigate, but soon learns other family members, including himself and his wife and child in American are targeted and being threatened. 

This novel is definitely a page turner. With its intricately fascinating plot and its many twists and turns, and the fascinating cast of characters, this book consumed me. I read far into the night, unable to put it down, eager to read on. If you like a good whodunnit, then this is a brilliantly written one! Definitely a great choice and highly recommended! I truly loved it. 

Saturday, September 16, 2017

Twelve Days at Bleakly Manor by Michelle Griep



A mysterious invitation to spend Christmas at an English manor home may bring danger...and love?

England, 1851: When Clara Chapman receives an intriguing invitation to spend Christmas at an English manor home, she is hesitant yet feels compelled to attend—for if she remains the duration of the twelve-day celebration, she is promised a sum of five hundred pounds.

But is she walking into danger? It appears so, especially when she comes face to face with one of the other guests—her former fiancé, Benjamin Lane.

Imprisoned unjustly, Ben wants revenge on whoever stole his honor. When he’s given the chance to gain his freedom, he jumps at it—and is faced with the anger of the woman he stood up at the altar. Brought together under mysterious circumstances, Clara and Ben discover that what they’ve been striving for isn’t what ultimately matters.

What matters most is what Christmas is all about . . . love.

Pour a cup of tea and settle in for Book 1 of the Once Upon a Dickens Christmas series--a page-turning Victorian-era holiday tale--by Michelle Griep, a reader and critic favorite.

REVIEW

What a great, clever little read! Twelve Days at Bleakly Manor is best described as a mix between Charles Dickens and Agatha Christie. The story is told through the point of view of Clara and Ben, former lovers who were separated at the altar before taking their vows and each one blaming the other for being abandoned. They, and along with other fascinating and quirky characters, receive secret invitations to spend the twelve days of Christmas at Bleakly Manor with a reward for them if they are able to remain there the full twelve days. What transpires are mysterious happenings, life threatening accidents, and a great deal of intrigue and mystery.

A splendid whodunnit with plenty of surprises and a great love story intertwined! Definitely worth reading at any time of the year! 

Thursday, September 14, 2017

The Silk Weaver's Wife by Debbie Rix



A heart-wrenching and unforgettable story of two women – centuries apart – linked by the hidden secrets of a beautiful woman in a Venetian painting. 

Venice 1704: Anastasia is desperate to escape her controlling father and plans to marry her childhood sweetheart. But instead of the life she has always dreamed of, she finds herself trapped in Venice, the unwilling wife of a silk weaver.

Anastasia seeks comfort in painting and draws strength from her talents. Despite her circumstances, two women reach out to her and give Anastasia a reason to hope. And together they make a momentous decision which will change all of their lives…

London 2017: Millie wants more from her relationship and more from her life. So when her boss Max abruptly ends their affair, she takes the opportunity to write a feature in Italy.

Staying in a gorgeous villa, Millie unexpectedly falls in love with the owner, Lorenzo. Together they begin to unravel an incredible story, passed down through generations of women. 

And Millie finds herself compelled to discover the identity of a mysterious woman in a portrait…

A richly evocative and utterly page-turning story about lost secrets, family heirlooms and love against all odds. The Silk Weaver’s Wife is perfect for readers who enjoyed Island of Secrets, The Secret Wife and Amy Snow.

REVIEW

The Silk Weaver's Wife by Debbie Rix is a novel about two women who lived 300 years apart in Venice. 

In 1700 Veneto, Anastasia Balzarelli's father forces her to abandon Marco. the man she attempted to elope with in order to wed a wealthy man in the silk industry. He takes her to his home in Venice and locks her up an upper bedroom for months. Each night he rapes her, hoping to beget a child. Deprived of her freedom, she spends long hours each day drawing insects. 

In contemporary times, Millie is a journalist in love with a married man who has just dumped her to return to his wife. Heartbroken she is sent from her home in the UK to Italy to report on the country's silk industry. She is booked into a beautiful country villa near Venice and is escorted about by the handsome owner, Lorenzo. Millie finds joy and contentment - that is until her ex-lover shows up repentant and ready to lay claim to her again. An old portrait of a beautiful young woman haunts Millie and she sets off to discover who she was and how her portrait came to hang in Lorenzo's villas. 

Both of the women's stories kept me enthralled and turning pages. The novel is rich with plot twists, secrets, and ever evolving characters who intrigued me. Author Debbie Rix has done a great job in researching the Veneto region (my family's own roots) with accurate descriptions that lent a great deal of atmosphere to the story's setting. Definitely a must read!

Monday, September 11, 2017

The Cardinal's Man by M.G. Sinclair


With enemies advancing on all sides and Cardinal Richelieu's health failing, France is at breaking point. Yet salvation may arrive in the most unlikely form...

Born into poverty and with terrible deformities, Sebastian Morra is a dwarf with the wit of Tyrion Lannister and three foot, four inches of brazen pluck. Through a mixture of brains and luck, he has travelled far from his village to become a jester at the royal court. And with a talent for making enemies, he is soon drawn into the twilight world of Cardinal Richelieu, where he discovers he might just be the only man with the talents to save France from her deadliest foes.
'Intelligent, cunning and occasionally reckless, Sebastian Morra lights up The Cardinal's Man with his zest for survival. The excesses and squalor of 17th century France are brought viscerally and vividly to life in this engaging, beautifully researched novel'
VICTORIA BLAKE, author of The Return of the Courtesan

REVIEW

I love a good book where the underdog not only survives, but triumphs. This is one such book. At the heart of the story is Sebastian, a dwarf. He is bullied, beaten, cheated, cast out, and struggles to survive. With is cunning wit and wily courage, he is able to survive the depths of poverty when he is forced to live on the streets. It is there that he learns how to dodge trouble or face it with true grit. 

His life turns around when he finds himself as a dwarf entertainer in King Louis' court. Now with his own room and plenty of food and clothes, he finds a sense of contentment. But despite his comforts, he is not immune the the treacheries and machinations of the French court. His path crosses one of the most diabolical, hard men King Louis trusts - the Bishop Richelieu. It is then he is forced into working for the dangerous cleric. 

Sebastian was utterly charming and totally likeable, despite the fact he is flawed not only in looks but in character. It is this that makes him so fascinating. Wit, humour, cunning, and sarcasm are his weapons and he wields them throughout the many perils and twists and turns of the story.

Crisp, creative dialogue pepper each scene, as do the stories many villains and heroes. I found the historical detail intriguing and well researched so it felt as if I was truly in 17th century France with all its turmoil and terror.

This is one of the best books I've ever read of this particular era of history. I truly and highly recommend it! There is much to laud for all readers. 

Sunday, September 10, 2017

Someone you Love is Gone by Gurjinder Basran



"A beautiful, haunting story of one family, spanning generations and continents, as they face life's inevitable losses, struggle with grief, and reach for redemption." —Shilpi Somaya Gowda, New York Times bestselling author of Secret Daughter and The Golden Son

Haunted by visions of her recently departed mother...


Simran is unable to move on. Grappling with the growing estrangement of her sister and daughter as well as the disintegration of her marriage, she wonders how her life has come to this. As the life she has carefully constructed unravels, she is forced to confront one of her most painful childhood memories--her parents sending her younger brother away from home.


Woven throughout are memories of Simran's mother as a young woman in 1960s India. Her world had seemed beautiful and full of hope then. But when an unexpected event occurs, the results will have repercussions for generations to come.


As the ghosts from the past clamour for attention, the only way to put them to rest may be for Simran to dig deeper into her family history and close the circle that was left open when her family was torn apart.


Lyrical and heartbreaking, Someone You Love Is Gone is a mesmerizing tale of enduring love and family ties that defy time and space, weaving together the past and present, crossing continents and spanning generations.


REVIEW

Someone You Love is Gone by Gurjinder Basran is a highly emotional novel that delves deep into the psychology of grief, how it affects individuals, and how it affects those around them. The stages of grief are also explored, from shock to disbelief to anger and beyond. 

Flipping back and forth between past and present, Simran not only struggles to accept the loss of her mother, but also the buried secrets of her family's past. 
The book is an easy read and it definitely tugs on the heartstrings. There are several subplots that flip between different storylines and decades; a tragic love and romance, the love for siblings, and the disintegration of a marriage in addition to the loss of a beloved parent. There is also an exploration of reincarnation which I found fascinating. 


A beautifully written story about love, loss, and grief in all its many aspects and relationships. Very highly recommend. This book is destined to be a wonderful winner!

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

The Hidden Light of Northern Fires by Daren Wang


"Splendid—a distinctive clear-eyed perspective on a fresh corner of the Civil War." —Charles Frazier, New York Times bestselling author of Cold Mountain
"A wise and timely book." —Ron Rash, New York Times bestselling author of Serena
Rooted in the history of the only secessionist town north of the Mason Dixon Line, Daren Wang's The Hidden Light of Northern Fires tells a story of redemption amidst a war that tore families and the country apart.
Mary Willis has always been an outcast, an abolitionist in a town of bounty hunters and anti-Union farmers. After college, she dreams of exploring the country, but is obligated to take over the household duties and management of her family’s farm, while her brother Leander avoids his own responsibilities. Helping runaways is the only thing that makes her life in Town Line bearable.
When escaped slave Joe Bell collapses in her father’s barn, Mary is determined to help him cross to freedom in nearby Canada. But the wounded fugitive is haunted by his vengeful owner, who relentlessly hunts him up and down the country, and his sister, still trapped as a slave in the South.
As the countryside is riled by the drumbeat of civil war, rebels and soldiers from both sides bring intrigue and violence of the brutal war to the town and the farm, and threaten to destroy all that Mary loves.

REVIEW

It is 1859, and after graduating from college, Mary is an abolitionist. She begins to work with the Underground Railroad and hides a runaway named who fled because of his good master's son. At the same time, the Civil War is raging.

This is a wonderfully rich and complex novel about the anguish of slavery and the tragedies of war. Compelling make this novel so real and believable. There are plenty of subplots and twists that made this a real page turner. I was utterly fascinated with this tale from start to finish! I highly this decadent story to all lovers of historical fiction. 

Friday, September 1, 2017

The Wardrobe Mistress by Meghan Masterson


THE WARDROBE MISTRESS is Meghan Masterson's fascinating and visceral debut, an inside look at Marie Antoinette's luxurious life in Versailles remarkably juxtaposed against life in third estate as the French Revolution gains strength. A propulsive exploration of love, loyalty, danger, and intrigue...not to be missed.
It's Giselle Aubry's first time at court in Versailles. At sixteen, she is one of Marie Antoinette's newest undertirewomen, and in awe of the glamorous queen and her opulent palace life. A budding designer, it's a dream come true to work with the beautiful fabrics and jewels in the queen's wardrobe. But every few weeks she returns home to visit her family in Paris where rumors of revolution are growing stronger.
From her position working in the royal household, Giselle is poised to see both sides of the revolutionary tensions erupting throughout Paris. When her uncle, a retired member of the secret du roi, a spy ring that worked for the old King, Louis XV, suggests that she casually report the Queen’s actions back to him as a game, she leaps at the chance. Spying seems like an adventure and an exciting way to privately support the revolution taking the countryside by storm. She also enjoys using her insight from Versailles in lively debates with Léon Gauvain, the handsome and idealistic revolutionary who courts her.
But as the revolution continues to gain momentum, and Giselle grows closer to the Queen, becoming one of the few trusted servants, she finds herself dangerously torn. Violence is escalating; she must choose where her loyalty truly lies, or risk losing everything...maybe even her head.

REVIEW


With this novel, the author's first, she offers readers a new take on a dark period in French history. Through the point of view of a young under-tirewoman named Giselle, the author sweeps readers into the innermost sanctuary of Queen Marie Antoinette. France is ripe with fear and suspicion at every turn. Everyone is watching everyone, and Giselle is no exception. Her uncle uses her as a spy, thrusting Giselle on a very difficult path because of her fondness for the queen. Through Giselle we see the goodness and innocence of the much maligned Marie Antoinette. As Giselle's loyalty to her queen grows stronger, so does the treacherous plot she finds herself in.

I loved the intimacy of how the events of the French Revolution were relayed. Giselle's narrative is compelling and drew me in. There is suspense, romance, and many surprises along the way. A novel that kept me highly entertained. 

Thursday, August 31, 2017

The Address by Fiona Davis



THE NATIONAL BESTSELLER

Fiona Davis, author of The Dollhouse, returns with a compelling novel about the thin lines between love and loss, success and ruin, passion and madness, all hidden behind the walls of The Dakota—New York City’s most famous residence.

After a failed apprenticeship, working her way up to head housekeeper of a posh London hotel is more than Sara Smythe ever thought she’d make of herself. But when a chance encounter with Theodore Camden, one of the architects of the grand New York apartment house The Dakota, leads to a job offer, her world is suddenly awash in possibility—no mean feat for a servant in 1884. The opportunity to move to America, where a person can rise above one’s station. The opportunity to be the female manager of


The Dakota, which promises to be the greatest apartment house in the world. And the opportunity to see more of Theo, who understands Sara like no one else...and is living in The Dakota with his wife and three young children.

In 1985, Bailey Camden is desperate for new opportunities. Fresh out of rehab, the former party girl and interior designer is homeless, jobless, and penniless. Two generations ago, Bailey’s grandfather was the ward of famed architect Theodore Camden. But the absence of a genetic connection means Bailey won’t see a dime of the Camden family’s substantial estate. Instead, her “cousin” Melinda—Camden’s biological great-granddaughter—will inherit almost everything. So when Melinda offers to let Bailey oversee the renovation of her lavish Dakota apartment, Bailey jumps at the chance, despite her dislike of Melinda’s vision. The renovation will take away all the character and history of the apartment Theodore Camden himself lived in...and died in, after suffering multiple stab wounds by a madwoman named Sara Smythe, a former Dakota employee who had previously spent seven months in an insane asylum on Blackwell’s Island.

One hundred years apart, Sara and Bailey are both tempted by and struggle against the golden excess of their respective ages—for Sara, the opulence of a world ruled by the Astors and Vanderbilts; for Bailey, the free-flowing drinks and cocaine in the nightclubs of New York City—and take refuge and solace in the Upper West Side’s gilded fortress. But a building with a history as rich—and often tragic—as The Dakota’s can’t hold its secrets forever, and what Bailey discovers in its basement could turn everything she thought she knew about Theodore Camden—and the woman who killed him—on its head.

With rich historical detail, nuanced characters, and gorgeous prose, Fiona Davis once again delivers a compulsively readable novel that peels back the layers of not only a famed institution, but the lives—and lies—of the beating hearts within.

REVIEW

Fiona Davis’s is premised around The Dakota, a famous landmark hotel with a rich history in New York City. It was first built in the late 1800's and was destined to boast its opulence and convenience for the wealthiest citizens. It is a novel that flips back and forth between the 1900's and the 1800's, a tale of two women, Bailey and Sara, and their link to the architect of the building, a most intriguing man.

The details of how, why, and when the building came to be are skilfully intertwined with a rich story of greed, power, and rags to riches. The characters were ever evolving and at times, not what they seemed. This kept me flipping the pages until the secrets and conflicts came to a head at the brilliant end. 

I am very fond of this author. Having read The Doll House, I had high expectations of this novel. And she did not disappoint. Two very different stories, but each one engrossing! This is one author you need to follow! 

Casanova's Secret Wife by Barbara Lynn-Davis



“Full of passion and rich historical detail . . . an enthralling read, impossible to put down.” —Phyllis T. Smith, bestselling author of I Am Livia and The Daughters of Palatine Hill

“This is Venice beneath the mask: A dark and fascinating love story hiding in the shadows of the golden city.” —Marina Fiorato, bestselling author of The Glassblower of Murano

Set in eighteenth-century Venice and based on an actual account by Giacomo Casanova—here is a lush tale of desire and risk, offering a little known portrait of the writer as a young man.

Caterina Capreta was an innocent girl of fourteen when she caught the attention of the world’s most infamous chronicler of seduction: Giacomo Casanova. Intoxicated by a fierce love, she wed Casanova in secret. But his shocking betrayal inspired her to commit an act that would mark her forever . . .

Now twenty years later on the island of Murano, the woman in possession of Caterina’s most devastating secret has appeared with a request she cannot refuse: to take in a noble-born girl whose scandalous love affair resembles her own. But the girl’s presence stirs up unwelcome memories of Caterina’s turbulent past. Tested like never before, she reveals the story of the man she will never forget . . .

Bringing to life a fascinating chapter in the history of Venice, Casanova’s Secret Wife is a tour de force that charts one woman’s journey through love and loss to redemption.

“Seductive and unforgettable” —Harmony Verna, author of Daughter of Australia

“Breathtaking, beautiful . . . will mesmerize readers." —Rosanna Chiofalo, author of Stella Mia

REVIEW

It is a little known secret that my favourite genre is Italian historical fiction. And this novel certainly did not disappoint. I was interested in seeing how a rake and con like Casanova would be portrayed and whether the author would make him a rogue or sympathetic. I was pleased that the author showed us his charm and likeability. Of course there were moments when I worried that he would turn sour on his relationship with Caterina, and although he did drift, he did his best to remain supportive and kind to her. 

Of course the novel was set in Venice and it the author created an excellent depiction of the time. locations, and social norms of the time. She brought to life the decadence, secrets, and rich way of life.

This story pleased me on many, many counts - its historical detail, the historical personages, and of course the beauty of La Serenissima! This was a great read and I highly recommend it!

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

The Mapmaker's Daughter by Katherine Nouri Hughes



A novel of the Venetian girl who became the most powerful woman in the Ottoman Empire—perfect for fans of Netflix’s Magnificent Century.



The Ottoman Empire was at the height of its power during the sixteenth century when Cecilia Baffo Veniero was kidnapped from her Venetian homeland and chosen to be the wife of Selim II, successor to Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent. She would be known as Nurbanu.


The Mapmaker’s Daughter vividly imagines the confession of Nurbanu as she lies on her sickbed narrating the spectacular story of her rise to the pinnacle of imperial power, determined to understand how her extraordinary destiny was shaped. With unflinching candor, Nurbanu reviews the desires and motives that have both propelled and harmed her, as she considers her role as a devoted yet manipulative mother, helping to orchestrate her son’s succession to the throne. Serving as the appointed enforcer of one of the empire’s most crucial and shocking laws, Nurbanu confronts the consequences of her loves and her choices—right up to one last shattering revelation.

REVIEW



Some claim Nurbanu was a Venetian woman named Cecilia Baffo Veniero abducted abducted from Paros island when it was captured by Barbarossa. Others say she was a Greek woman named Kale Kartanou from Corfu. To this day, no one knows for certain. Once in the folds of the Ottoman Empire, she became known as Nurbanu. Her destiny was to became favourite consort and legal wife of Ottoman Sultan Selim II and mother of Murad III.

Wherever she came from, she one day found herself the head of the Sultan's harem. Despite the Sultan's right to take as many concubines as he wished, Nurbanu was his favorite because of her sharp wit and breathtaking beauty. Because of her propensity for good judgement, he reated her as an advisor and respected her opinion in many matters.  

In return, she was a devoted wife and wonderful mother. When she gave birth to Murad, she knew that one day, when it came time to succession, he might be murdered, as had happened many times in the past where entire families were massacred. Nurbanu was determined never to let this happen. 

Murad was away serving as goveror of Manisa when her husband died in 1574. Nurbanu realized her life's son may be in danger by a usurper of power. Before anyone could learn of her husband's death, she hid his body in the harem in an icebox and then summoned her son to return home. Only when Murad made it home, did she announce her husband's death. In this way, Murad became the next sultan and she became the highest ranking woman in the sultanate and very powerful indeed. She managed the government and acted as co-regent with her son. 

Her reach was long. She was a pen pal of Queen Catherine de Medici of France and the Venetians proudly followed her reign, writing about her often. That's because she was good for the Venetian government. For as much as she was loved by the Venetians, she was spurned by their rivals, the Genoese who resented her unwavering support of all things Venetian. When she died in Istanbul on December 7, 1583, it was suspected she might have been poisoned by a Genoese spy. 

It is a fascinating novel about a woman intelligent enough to manoeuvre about in a dangerous regime where a slip of the tongue or a wrong action could result in immediate death.

A Great Love of Small Proportions by Colin Falconer



Can a woman discover the beauty in an ugly man, even if he can’t see it himself?

Seville, 1489.

The end of the Reconquista.

Diego Sanchis is Seville's most famous painter; his tryptychs and murals fill every church in the city. He is also ugly, angry, possibly Jewish and a dwarf. Nobody but his father loves him and Diego likes it just that way.

Until one day he is asked to take on a new student.

Mercedes Goncalvez is the most beautiful young woman in the city, and her father is rich and powerful. What could such a woman possibly see in him?

But there are many ways to see beauty. And beyond the dungeons of the Inquisition; beyond betrayal and torture; and even as the guns pound the heavenly gardens of the Alhambra, and the Moors prepare to leave Spain forever, Diego finds true beauty among the ashes of his last hopes.

A story of love, art and genius just before the fall of the Alhambra in 149, perfect for fans of Philippa Gregory and Geraldine Brooks.

REVIEW

In this novel, author Colin Falconer sweeps readers into 15th century Seville after the Reconquista. At the heart of the story is Diego Sanchis, Seville's most sought after, most talented artist. His work is prolific and graces the walls of every church in the country. But what is most fascinating about this character is his faults - for he is ugly, bitter, and an outspoken dwarf. He has been bullied, shunned, abused, and made fun of all his life. His life experiences shaped him into a man with a vitriolic tongue and low self-esteem. It is only through his work that he gains respect and fame. Oh, and did I mention that he might be Jewish? A danger in itself and another strike against him. 

One day, he is tasked with teaching art to a beautiful young woman, Mencia Goncalvez, the daughter of a rich and powerful man. At first, he resents being her mentor and only wishes to put an end to his obligation. But soon, their relationship changes into something much more meaningful, more powerful.  

Colin Falconer delves deep into the psyche of both characters as they strive to live in a most dangerous era. History and romance combines in this highly entertaining novel. I fell in love with Diego and his biting sarcasm and propensity to be bluntly honest. He is real, loveable, and easy to sympathize with. Likewise is Mencia who struggles to break through the norms of the era to become an artist by her own right.

Another winning novel by Colin Falconer that is filled with wit and suspense! Beautifully rendered and highly recommended! 

Julien's Terror by Laura Rahme


In this chilling psychological tale set in revolutionary France, a young couple confront their darkest fears. Looming above them, between healing and oblivion, lies the French Republic's most shocking secret.
FRANCE, 1794 - The Reign of Terror
Julien d'Aureville, a young boy from a broken home in Paris, meets a fugitive aristocrat who changes his life. As the Terror subsides and Napoleon rises to power, Julien's fortunes improve.
Then he meets the mysterious Marguerite.

Upon her marriage to Julien, Marguerite Lafolye has all a Parisian woman could ever wish. Yet something is not quite right. Is Marguerite hiding a dark secret? When she attempts to see into Marguerite, even the celebrated fortuneteller, Marie Anne Lenormand, cannot read her cards.

From bourgeois Paris to the canals of Napoleon's Venice, Marguerite seems to be living a lie. Who is she really? What drives her obsession with the late Dauphin, Louis-Charles, son of Marie-Antoinette?
Could the answer lie in a memory - in Nantes' orphanage, or in the hidden undergound caves of war-torn Vendée, or else in the secret refuge of Gralas Forest, deep in Western France?
Or could the answer be right here, in Paris, within the forbidding walls of the Temple Prison that Napoleon threatens to destroy, and where the Dauphin tragically perished.
From the author of THE MING STORYTELLERS and THE MASCHERARI comes an historical psychological thriller that will defy all you knew of France's revolution.
In this confronting new novel, Laura Rahme paints the tragedies and triumphs of love in tumultuous and deadly times.
JULIEN'S TERROR is a suspenseful mystery where folklore and superstition meet with the horrors of the past.

REVIEW

Julien's Terrror is the latest novel by author Laura Rahme. It is a powerful tale that sweeps its reader into the dark atmosphere of the French Revolution. The story centres around two people - Julien and Marguerite - who both survived the reign of terror. They are drawn together inexplicably, powerfully, and with a touch of mystery and danger. 

The novel has a touch of the psychological, the paranormal with a Gothic feel and with a good mystery at its core. Most definitely it can be classified as a suspense thriller. Laura Rahme delves deep into the darkest circumstances of the revolution, bringing it to vivid clarity and revealing lesser known facts. Her research was thorough and rich indeed. Of all the novels I've read set during the revolution, this one had more detail than usual. It was the first I had read of the Nantes drownings, the refugees, the women rebels, and more. 

I've now had the pleasure of reading all of this author's novels - each one equally as enthralling. For certain, this is one author I urge you to follow! Highly recommended!