Friday, April 28, 2017

The Last Neanderthal by Claire Cameron


From the bestselling author of The Bear, the enthralling story of two women separated by millennia, but linked by an epic journey that will transform them both.

40,000 years in the past, the last family of Neanderthals roams the earth. After a crushingly hard winter, their numbers are low, but Girl, the oldest daughter, is just coming of age and her family is determined to travel to the annual meeting place and find her a mate. But the unforgiving landscape takes its toll, and Girl is left alone to care for Runt, a foundling of unknown origin. As Girl and Runt face the coming winter storms, Girl realizes she has one final chance to save her people, even if it means sacrificing part of herself. In the modern day, archaeologist Rosamund Gale works well into her pregnancy, racing to excavate newly found Neanderthal artifacts before her baby comes. Linked across the ages by the shared experience of early motherhood, both stories examine the often taboo corners of women's lives. Haunting, suspenseful, and profoundly moving, The Last Neanderthal asks us to reconsider all we think we know about what it means to be human.

REVIEW

Novels set in prehistoric times are rare, so I couldn't resist reading this one. The story unfolds through the points of view of two main characters - "Girl" who is a Neanderthal in prehistoric times, and Rosamund Gale, a modern day archaeologist. During an archaeological dig, Rosamund discovers the bones of a Neanderthal and a human in a grave face to face. The story shifts back and forth between the two characters, highlighting not only the complications in their lives, but also their two pregnancies.

Like most novels set in prehistorical eras, I did find a lot of detail and description, but that is to be expected as it is necessary to fully flesh out the early historical period. As for the contemporary setting, there were a number of characters that played minuscule roles in the story and this sometimes stood in the way of allowing the main characters to be fully developed. I also was hoping for a romantic link between the persons the bones belonged to. Despite that, the book was well written and held my interest to the end. A great easy read.

Feast of Sorrow by Crystal King



Set amongst the scandal, wealth, and upstairs-downstairs politics of a Roman family, Crystal King’s seminal debut features the man who inspired the world’s oldest cookbook and the ambition that led to his destruction.

On a blistering day in the twenty-sixth year of Augustus Caesar’s reign, a young chef, Thrasius, is acquired for the exorbitant price of twenty thousand denarii. His purchaser is the infamous gourmet Marcus Gavius Apicius, wealthy beyond measure, obsessed with a taste for fine meals from exotic places, and a singular ambition: to serve as culinary advisor to Caesar, an honor that will cement his legacy as Rome's leading epicure.

Apicius rightfully believes that Thrasius is the key to his culinary success, and with Thrasius’s help he soon becomes known for his lavish parties and fantastic meals. Thrasius finds a family in Apicius’s household, his daughter Apicata, his wife Aelia, and her handmaiden, Passia whom Thrasius quickly falls in love with. But as Apicius draws closer to his ultimate goal, his reckless disregard for any who might get in his way takes a dangerous turn that threatens his young family and places his entire household at the mercy of the most powerful forces in Rome.

REVIEW

Ancient Rome is skilfully blended with the history of Roman cuisine in this fabulous new debut novel by author Crystal King. With colorfully faulted characters, she weaves a tale to include every aspect of the dark side of ancient Roman culture: slavery, violence, murder, poisonings, and intrigue. 

The story's main characters are Apicius, an extremely wealthy and wasteful man who desires fame through culinary extremism, and the talented slave named Thrasius who can fulfill his dreams. 

The prose flows easily and it is easy to fall into the story. The characters' personalities leap off the pages. The food descriptions tantalize as well as repulse with its numerous unusual ingredients. There were plenty of machinations and subplots that kept me riveted to the end. I love Ancient Rome and this was a great read. 


The Half Wives by Stacia Pelletier




Over the course of one momentous day, two women who have built their lives around the same man find themselves moving toward an inevitable reckoning.


Former Lutheran minister Henry Plageman is a master secret keeper and a man wracked by grief. He and his wife, Marilyn, tragically lost their young son, Jack, many years ago. But he now has another child—a daughter, eight-year-old Blue—with Lucy, the woman he fell in love with after his marriage collapsed. 

The Half Wives follows these interconnected characters on May 22, 1897, the anniversary of Jack’s birth. Marilyn distracts herself with charity work at an orphanage. Henry needs to wrangle his way out of the police station, where he has spent the night for disorderly conduct. Lucy must rescue and rein in the intrepid Blue, who has fallen in a saltwater well. But before long, these four  will all be drawn on this day to the same destination: to the city cemetery on the outskirts of San Francisco, to the grave that means so much to all of them. The collision of lives and secrets that follows will leave no one unaltered.

REVIEW

This is a very creatively unique novel. The story takes place of the course of one very important day in the lives of the main characters: Henry, his wife Marilyn, his lover/mistress Lucy and their daughter Blue. The setting is San Francisco in the early 1900's and pertains to an old pauper's cemetery where Henry and Marilyn's only child, Jack, is buried. Their toddler accidentally died on his birthday and that day torments the hcouple on each anniversary.

Despite his failing marriage, Henry cannot bring himself to leave Marilyn for Lucy and his illegitimate daughter Blue. Likewise, Lucy, unhappy with the status of her long-term relationship with a man who will never fully belong to her. 

The author used second person narrative which I found distracting and I disliked. Despite that, the story capture my attention and held it to the end. I recommend this novel for readers who enjoy uniquely written novels outside of the mainstream and for those who like to delve deep into the psyche of a book's characters. 

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

In the Name of the Family by Sarah Dunant



Bestselling novelist Sarah Dunant has long been drawn to the wonders of Renaissance Italy: power, passion, beauty, brutality, and the ties of blood. With In the Name of the Family, she offers a thrilling exploration of the House of Borgia’s final years, in the company of a young diplomat named Niccolò Machiavelli.

It is 1502 and Rodrigo Borgia, a self-confessed womanizer and master of political corruption, is now on the papal throne as Alexander VI. His daughter Lucrezia, aged twenty-two—already three times married and a pawn in her father’s plans—is discovering her own power. And then there is his son Cesare Borgia, brilliant, ruthless, and increasingly unstable; it is his relationship with Machiavelli that gives the Florentine diplomat a master class on the dark arts of power and politics. What he learns will go on to inform his great work of modern politics, The Prince. But while the pope rails against old age and his son’s increasingly maverick behavior, it is Lucrezia who must navigate the treacherous court of Urbino and another challenging marriage to create her own place in history.

Sarah Dunant again employs her remarkable gifts as a storyteller to bring to life the passionate men and women of the Borgia family, as well as the ever compelling figure of Machiavelli, through whom the reader will experience one of the most fascinating—and doomed—dynasties of all time.

REVIEW

Italian historical fiction is my favourite genre, especially the era of the Italian Renaissance. I have been a fan of Sarah Dunant's for a very long time. Her newest novel, In The Name of the Family is a wonderful book, full of intrigue, political machinations, and of course, poisonings. Her interpretation of the characters encompassing the Borgia family was unique and intriguing. Machiavelli took on a strong secondary role in the story, and I found him interesting and well depicted. Lucrezia, of course, is a shining gem in the story. Likable, but well used to further her family's interests, she made for an endearing lady of substance. 

Sarah Dunant never disappoints and this newest novel is sure to satisfy! Highly recommended. 


The Illusionist's Apprentice by Kristy Cambron


Harry Houdini's one-time apprentice holds fantastic secrets about the greatest illusionist in the world. But someone wants to claim them . . . or silence her before she can reveal them on her own.

Boston, 1926. Jenny "Wren" Lockhart is a bold eccentric--even for a female vaudevillian. As notorious for her inherited wealth and gentleman's dress as she is for her unsavory upbringing in the back halls of a vaudeville theater, Wren lives in a world that challenges all manner of conventions.

In the months following Houdini's death, Wren is drawn into a web of mystery surrounding a spiritualist by the name of Horace Stapleton, a man defamed by Houdini's ardent debunking of fraudulent mystics in the years leading up to his death. But in a public illusion that goes terribly wrong, one man is dead and another stands charged with his murder. Though he's known as one of her teacher's greatest critics, Wren must decide to become the one thing she never wanted to be: Stapleton's defender.

Forced to team up with the newly formed FBI, Wren races against time and an unknown enemy, all to prove the innocence of a hated man. In a world of illusion, of the vaudeville halls that showcase the flamboyant and the strange, Wren's carefully constructed world threatens to collapse around her. Layered with mystery, illusion, and the artistry of the Jazz Age's bygone vaudeville era, The Illusionist's Apprentice is a journey through love and loss and the underpinnings of faith on each life's stage.

REVIEW

From it's stunning cover to the spellbinding storytelling, this is one book that had me hooked. It's about the beginnings of the FBI and the shady business of Vaudeville. The main characters, Wren and Elliot, bring a realm of emotion into the story. Poignant backstories, heart-wrenching scenes, and plot twists held my interest to the very satisfying ending. The two lovers slowly come together, each slowly revealing more and more about themselves. 

Romance, danger, and secrets make this a worthwhile read! I also enjoyed the author's other book, The Ringmaster's Wife! I recommend them both. 

Monday, April 24, 2017

The Confessions of Young Nero by Margaret George


The New York Times bestselling and legendary author of Helen of Troy and Elizabeth I now turns her gaze on Emperor Nero, one of the most notorious and misunderstood figures in history.

Built on the backs of those who fell before it, Julius Caesar’s imperial dynasty is only as strong as the next person who seeks to control it. In the Roman Empire no one is safe from the sting of betrayal: man, woman—or child.
 
As a boy, Nero’s royal heritage becomes a threat to his very life, first when the mad emperor Caligula tries to drown him, then when his great aunt attempts to secure her own son’s inheritance. Faced with shocking acts of treachery, young Nero is dealt a harsh lesson: it is better to be cruel than dead.
 
While Nero idealizes the artistic and athletic principles of Greece, his very survival rests on his ability to navigate the sea of vipers that is Rome. The most lethal of all is his own mother, a cold-blooded woman whose singular goal is to control the empire. With cunning and poison, the obstacles fall one by one. But as Agrippina’s machinations earn her son a title he is both tempted and terrified to assume, Nero’s determination to escape her thrall will shape him into the man he was fated to become—an Emperor who became legendary.
 
With impeccable research and captivating prose, The Confessions of Young Nero is the story of a boy’s ruthless ascension to the throne. Detailing his journey from innocent youth to infamous ruler, it is an epic tale of the lengths to which man will go in the ultimate quest for power and survival.

REVIEW

What was Emperor Nero really like? Was he as ruthless and murderous as history has said he was? Margaret George delves deep into history and breathes life into a man of legend? 

Margaret George has long been one of my favourite authors. Her books have always entertained me from start to finish and The Confessions of Young Nero is no exception. Although Nero never aspired to be as ruthless as Caligula or his mother Agrippa, he soon finds himself ascending the Roman throne. Alone he must learn whom to trust and whom to consider an enemy. This novel begins when he is a young boy and covers his life until early middle age. 

History has painted Nero as villainous and treacherous, however Margaret George has also provided a vision of his good qualities too, a difficult balance to strike against Ancient Rome's penchant for lurid sex, violence, brutal executions, and rampant poisonings, among a host of other vile vices. 

Like all biographical novels, not every chapter can be considered a gripper. Rather, I found the story to be a strong and steady climb to the ending, a reading journey that held my interest and fascinated me with an abundance of historical details. Another winning novel by a very talented author. 

Monday, April 17, 2017

An Uncommon Protector by Shelley Shepard Gray


Overwhelmed by the responsibilities of running a ranch on her own, Laurel Tracey decides to hire a convict—a man who’s just scary enough to take care of squatters and just desperate enough to agree to a one year post.
The years following the war have been hard on Laurel Tracey. Both her brother and her father died in battle, and her mother passed away shortly after receiving word of their demise. Laurel has been trying to run her two hundred acre ranch as best she can.

When she discovers that squatters have settled in her north pasture and have no intention of leaving, Laurel decides to use the last of her money to free a prisoner from the local jail. If she agrees to offer him room and board for one year, he will have to work for her to pay off his debt.
Former soldier Thomas Baker knows he’s in trouble when he finds himself jailed because he couldn’t pay a few fines. Laurel’s offer might be his only ticket out. Though she’s everything he ever dreamed of in a woman—sweet and tender-hearted, yet strong—he’s determined to remain detached, work hard on her behalf, and count the days until he’s free again.

But when cattle start dying and Laurel’s life is threatened, Thomas realizes more than just his freedom is on the line. Laurel needs someone to believe in her and protect her property. And it isn’t long before Laurel realizes that Thomas Baker is far more than just a former soldier. He’s a trustworthy hero, and he needs more than just his freedom—he needs her love and care too.

REVIEW

When Laurel Tracey inherits her father's ranch, she also inherits her step sister and step brother. Having lost their own inheritance, they now set their sites on Laurel's. Instead of helping her, they are leeches and are pushing her to sell. But Lauren is determined to hold on to her legacy. Even worse, squatters have set up their shacks, threatening to claim the land for themselves.

She soon learns that she can acquire a convict to work on her land for one year. Although wary, she knows this is her only choice to run her ranch profitably. The convict she chooses Sergeant Thomas Baker.

Thomas had a rough life, but had a penchant for doing the right thing. One mistake, a gambling debt, landed him in jail. When he learned he could work off his jail sentence by helping Laurel, he jumped at the chance. Soon after he takes on his duties, Laurel's cattle begins to mysteriously turn up dead -  a definite threat. He calls on the aid of a group of long lost military friends who come from various distances to aid him in helping save Laurel's ranch.

I loved this story because of the strong upstanding hero and the good men who are loyal to him. Laurel is a strong, determined heroine who did not hesitate to take a risk to save her legacy. An excellent romance that is not to sweet, but inspirational and filled with real creative characters! This book kept me reading at a furious pace. A true secret pleasure. 

Stolen Beauty by Laurie Lico Albanese


“A powerful and important tale of love and war, art and family…I was transported.” —Allison Pataki, New York Times bestselling author

“Stolen Beauty is a work of art itself—one that is simultaneously alarming and comforting.” —Wall Street Journal


From the dawn of the twentieth century to the devastation of World War II, this exhilarating novel of love, war, art, and family gives voice to two extraordinary women and brings to life the true story behind the creation and near destruction of Gustav Klimt’s most remarkable paintings. 

In the dazzling glitter of 1900 Vienna, Adele Bloch-Bauer—young, beautiful, brilliant, and Jewish—meets painter Gustav Klimt. Wealthy in everything but freedom, Adele embraces Klimt’s renegade genius as the two awaken to the erotic possibilities on the canvas and beyond. Though they enjoy a life where sex and art are just beginning to break through the façade of conventional society, the city is also exhibiting a disturbing increase in anti-Semitism, as political hatred foments in the shadows of Adele’s coffee house afternoons and cultural salons. Nearly forty years later, Adele’s niece Maria Altmann is a newlywed when the Nazis invade Austria—and overnight, her beloved Vienna becomes a war zone. When her husband is arrested and her family is forced out of their home, Maria must summon the courage and resilience that is her aunt’s legacy if she is to survive and keep her family—and their history—alive. 

Will Maria and her family escape the grip of Nazis’ grip? And what will become of the paintings that her aunt nearly sacrificed everything for? Impeccably researched and a “must-read for fans of Kristin Hannah’s The Nightingale and Paula McLain’s Circling the Sun” (Christina Baker Kline, #1 New York Times bestselling author), Stolen Beauty intertwines the tales of two remarkable women across more than a hundred years. It juxtaposes passion and discovery against hatred and despair, and shines a light on our ability to love, to destroy, and above all, to endure.

REVIEW

Set in the twilight years of the Hapsburg Empire, Stolen Beauty is a spellbinding Viennese tale at the start of the twentieth century. The novel explores the tales of two women. The first is about a woman named Adele Block-Bauer who is an the love interest and inspiration of a famed Viennese artist Guistav Klimt. The second tale is about Maria, the niece of Adele during the tie of the holocaust and beyond. The famous painting "Woman in Gold" binds the two women together. 

Stolen Beauty forms the base for the movie "Woman in Gold". With its stunning prose, fast pace, excellent research, and detailed descriptions, this one story not to be missed. From the Holocaust to modern day, there is plenty to love about this intense, emotional story. I definitely recommend it!