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Wednesday, April 22, 2015

A Desperate Fortune by Susanna Kearsley

"My cousin didn't try to catch the bride's bouquet. She knew me well enough to know I wouldn't try to catch it either." Opening Sentence

Synopsis:

New York Times bestselling author Susanna Kearsley delivers a riveting novel that deftly intertwines the tales of two women, divided by centuries and forever changed by a clash of love and fate.

For nearly three hundred years, the cryptic journal of Mary Dundas has kept its secrets. Now, amateur codebreaker Sara Thomas travels to Paris to crack the cipher. Jacobite exile Mary Dundas is filled with longing-for freedom, for adventure, for the family she lost. When fate opens the door, Mary dares to set her foot on a path far more surprising and dangerous than she ever could have dreamed.

As Mary's gripping tale of rebellion and betrayal is revealed to her, Sara faces events in her own life that require letting go of everything she thought she knew-about herself, about loyalty, and especially about love. Though divided by centuries, these two women are united in a quest to discover the limits of trust and the unlikely coincidences of fate.

Review by Mirella Patzer

A Desperate Fortune is another winning novel by Susanna Kearsley. If you haven't read any of this author's books before, I encourage you to do so. Her novels are usual dual stories, one with a heroine in a contemporary setting, and the other in a historic setting. 

In this novel, the year is 1732. Mary Dundas is a young woman who was abandoned by her family when she was young. She has a talent for breaking ciphers, and is soon asked to assist the Jacobite king. This catapults her into a dangerous adventure where she becomes embroiled with a man called MacPherson who helps keep Mary safe on her journey.

In contemporay times, Sara Thomas has been asked to decode Mary's old diary. Sara has Asperger's Syndrome, which renders her unable to understand emotions and feelings in herself and in others. As she discovers that she is in love, Sara struggles with several relationships. 

As Sara's and Mary's stories entertwine, the reader is taken on a wonderful, insightful journey where these two heroines discover their potential, their love for their men, and their inner strength to overcome adversity. Susanna Kearsley's books never disappoint. Get your copy of this one right away. I promise you won't be disappointed.


Monday, April 20, 2015

The Dream Lover by Elizabeth Berg

New York Times bestselling author Elizabeth Berg has written a lush historical novel based on the sensuous Parisian life of the nineteenth-century writer George Sand—which is perfect for readers of Nancy Horan and Elizabeth Gilbert.
 
At the beginning of this powerful novel, we meet Aurore Dupin as she is leaving her estranged husband, a loveless marriage, and her family’s estate in the French countryside to start a new life in Paris. There, she gives herself a new name—George Sand—and pursues her dream of becoming a writer, embracing an unconventional and even scandalous lifestyle.
 
Paris in the nineteenth century comes vividly alive, illuminated by the story of the loves, passions, and fierce struggles of a woman who defied the confines of society. Sand’s many lovers and friends include Frédéric Chopin, Gustave Flaubert, Franz Liszt, Eugène Delacroix, Victor Hugo, Marie Dorval, and Alfred de Musset. As Sand welcomes fame and friendship, she fights to overcome heartbreak and prejudice, failure and loss. Though considered the most gifted genius of her time, she works to reconcile the pain of her childhood, of disturbing relationships with her mother and daughter, and of her intimacies with women and men. Will the life she longs for always be just out of reach—a dream?
 
Brilliantly written in luminous prose, and with remarkable insights into the heart and mind of a literary force, The Dream Lover tells the unforgettable story of a courageous, irresistible woman.

Review by Mirella Patzer

For female writers in the 19th century, it was difficult, if not impossible to get a book published. So many women used male names. This is exactly what Aurore Dupin did. She assumed the name George Sand to publish her books. But Dupin also liked to dress as a man while she hobnobbed with other famous persons who also lived in France at the same time. 

Author Elizabeth Berg has written a comprehensive biographical fiction novel about this author's life. She sweeps the reader into the decadence of Paris, into illustrious salons and restaurants and houses. The novel moves back and forth through various stages of George Sand's life, from childhood, to a failed marriage, to the later years of her life.

The book is written by a talented author, however, I struggled a bit with the over abundance of characters and the slow pace at the start of the book. It was a good book, but it did not grab me as I'd hoped it would. For those who wish to learn more about this fascinating author, then the book will provide great insight into this talented and prolific writer's life. 

Thursday, April 16, 2015

The Shepherdess of Siena by Linda Lafferty

Raised by her aunt and uncle amidst the rolling hills of the Tuscan countryside, young orphan Virginia Tacci has always harbored a deep love for horses—though she knows she may never have the chance to ride. As a shepherdess in sixteenth-century Italy, Virginia’s possibilities are doubly limited by her peasant class and her gender. Yet while she tends her flock, Virginia is captivated by the daring equestrian feats of the high-spirited Isabella de’ Medici, who rides with the strength and courage of any man, much to the horror of her brother, the tyrannical Gran Duca Francesco de’ Medici.
Inspired, the young shepherdess keeps one dream close to her heart: to race in Siena’s Palio. Twenty-six years after Florence captured Siena, Virginia’s defiance will rally the broken spirit of the Senese people and threaten the pernicious reign of the Gran Duca. Bringing alive the rich history of one of Tuscany’s most famed cities, this lush, captivating saga draws an illuminating portrait of one girl with an unbreakable spirit.

Author Linda Lafferty propels readers into the Italian Renaissance in the Tuscany Region. It is an epic saga and adventure, a wonderfully rich and complex story with many layers and fascinating characters. 

The story surrounds a young, innocent shepherdess who develops a strong fondness for horses and an uncanny ability to understand them. The tale sweeps us into the heart of Tuscany and allows readers to get to know the royals of the era along with members of the Medici family.

The author has done a great deal of research into the era, especially concerning the popular sport, the Palio. She gives us a glimpse into the competitivemess, the politics, the training, and the passion of this equestrians port that is still played today!

There are plenty of twists and turns, and even though there is no terribly strong romance, there is a love connection. From the hills of Tuscany, to the streets of Siena, to the hidden abbey's and convents scattered throughout the area, this is one story that kept me spell bound to the very end. Betrayal, murder, kidnapping, love, and much, much more, fill every page. Definitely a tale for the horse lover in all of us.

Monday, April 13, 2015

Decorum by Kaaren Christopherson

"In the time it had taken Francesca to raise the field glasses to her eyes, the yacht was gone. In its place a spike of fire had shot skyward, followed by a blast of flaming debris and a spreading mantle of black smoke. An eternity had passed before an explosion tore the silence and the shock wave had jetted across the lake and left her flat upon the dock." Opening Paragraph

Synopsis:

Kaaren Christopherson's brilliantly observed novel captures the glamour and grit of one of the world's most dazzling cities during one of its most tumultuous eras--as seen through the eyes of a singularly captivating heroine. . .In 1890s New York, beautiful, wealthy Francesca Lund is an intriguing prospect for worthy suitors and fortune hunters alike. Recently orphaned, she copes by working with the poor in the city's settlement movement. But a young woman of means can't shun society for long, and Francesca's long-standing acquaintance with dashing Edmund Tracey eventually leads to engagement. Yet her sheltered upbringing doesn't blind her to the indiscretions of the well-to-do. . .

Among the fashionable circle that gathers around her there are mistresses, scandals, and gentlemen of ruthless ambition. And there is Connor O'Casey--an entirely new kind of New Yorker. A self-made millionaire of Irish stock, Connor wants more than riches. He wants to create a legacy in the form of a luxury Madison Avenue hotel--and he wants Francesca by his side as he does it. In a quest that will take her from impeccable Manhattan salons to the wild Canadian Rockies, Francesca must choose not only between two vastly different men, but between convention and her own emerging self-reliance.

Review by Mirella Patzer

New York, 1890, and the glitz and glamor of the time and setting, are the backdrop for this novel about a young heiress who suddenly finds herself alone in the world. I loved how each chapter began with a rule of etiquette based upon the societal norms of the time. The story gave me a glimpse of what it would have been like to live among the wealthiest and most prominent citizens. Of course, all is not perfect, for the heroine must maneuver her way through treachery, greed, and scandal to find which of the two men in her life is her true love. I thoroughly enjoyed how the characters interacted, and how authentic they felt to me. Lots of wonderfully rich descriptions of places and gowns really brought the era to life. There were an awful lot of characters and this always causes me to struggle a bit to recall them all. At times, I had to flip back through the pages because some scenes did not make sense, and I wish it had been edited a little more to ensure clarity. I definitely recommend this book to anyone who enjoys New York in the Gilded Age. A good historical read!

Thursday, April 9, 2015

At the Water's Edge by Sara Gruen

"The headstone was modest and hewn of black granite, granite being one of the few things never in short supply in Glenurquhart, even during the present difficulty." Opening Sentence


Synopsis:

In this thrilling new novel from the author of Water for Elephants, Sara Gruen again demonstrates her talent for creating spellbinding period pieces. At the Water’s Edge is a gripping and poignant love story about a privileged young woman’s awakening as she experiences the devastation of World War II in a tiny village in the Scottish Highlands.

After disgracing themselves at a high society New Year’s Eve party in Philadelphia in 1944, Madeline Hyde and her husband, Ellis, are cut off financially by his father, a former army colonel who is already ashamed of his son’s inability to serve in the war. When Ellis and his best friend, Hank, decide that the only way to regain the Colonel’s favor is to succeed where the Colonel very publicly failed—by hunting down the famous Loch Ness monster—Maddie reluctantly follows them across the Atlantic, leaving her sheltered world behind. 

The trio find themselves in a remote village in the Scottish Highlands, where the locals have nothing but contempt for the privileged interlopers. Maddie is left on her own at the isolated inn, where food is rationed, fuel is scarce, and a knock from the postman can bring tragic news. Yet she finds herself falling in love with the stark beauty and subtle magic of the Scottish countryside. Gradually she comes to know the villagers, and the friendships she forms with two young women open her up to a larger world than she knew existed. Maddie begins to see that nothing is as it first appears: the values she holds dear prove unsustainable, and monsters lurk where they are least expected.
As she embraces a fuller sense of who she might be, Maddie becomes aware not only of the dark forces around her, but of life’s beauty and surprising possibilities.

Review by Mirella Patzer

Maddie is married to Ellis who comes from a wealthy family. Hank is Ellis' best friends and the two are inseparable. Because Hank has flat feet and Ellis is color blind, they were not called up to serve in World War II. The Colonel is Ellis' father, and he believes the flat feet and color blindness are just an excuse to escape serving. After a terrible family fight, the trio travel to Scotland deterimined to photograph the Loch Ness Monster, something the Colonel had attempted to do many years prior. In this way, Ellis hopes to reconcile with his father. 

It is when the three arrive in Scotland that matters begin to deteriorate. Ellis and Hank begin to drink very heavily. Maddie is often left alone at the inn where they are staying, where she is an outsider, and there is enmity towards any strangers. The heavy drinking begins to affect Maddie's marriage and Ellis' behavior turns cold and hateful towards her. 

What is strong within this novel is how the characters change and develop over time. All three of the main cast undergo tremendous alterations in personality, motivation, and behavior. Sometimes, the changes happened so swiftly, that it was hard to believe. Having said this, the story is still very engaging and I was fascinated by it. The author writes well and the storyline kept my interest throughout. A little bit on the dark side, it has a very rich plot and strong characterization. A very enjoyable story. 


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The Siege Winter by Ariana Franklin

"It is a wood-paneled room of sumptuous size - the abbots of Perton have always done themselves well. The present incumbent, however, has stripped it of its tapestries and the gold leaf that once decorated the carved ceiling - they've been sold to benefit poor women of the parish. He's also replaced an elaborate, padded prie-dieu with a plain version that is hard on the knees." Opening Paragraph


Synopsis: A powerful historical novel by the late Ariana Franklin and her daughter Samantha Norman, The Siege Winter is a tour de force mystery and murder, adventure and intrigue, a battle for a crown, told by two courageous young women whose fates are intertwined in twelfth century England’s devastating civil war.

1141. England is engulfed in war as King Stephen and his cousin, the Empress Matilda, vie for the crown. In this dangerous world, not even Emma, an eleven-year-old peasant, is safe. A depraved monk obsessed with redheads kidnaps the ginger-haired girl from her village and leaves her for dead. When an archer for hire named Gwyl finds her, she has no memory of her previous life. Unable to abandon her, Gwyl takes the girl with him, dressing her as a boy, giving her a new name—Penda—and teaching her to use a bow. But Gwyn knows that the man who hurt Penda roams free, and that a scrap of evidence she possesses could be very valuable.

Gwyl and Penda make their way to Kenilworth, a small but strategically important fortress that belongs to fifteen-year-old Maud. Newly wedded to a boorish and much older husband after her father’s death, the fierce and determined young chatelaine tempts fate and Stephen’s murderous wrath when she gives shelter to the empress.

Aided by a garrison of mercenaries, including Gwyl and his odd red-headed apprentice, Maud will stave off Stephen’s siege for a long, brutal winter that will bring a host of visitors to Kenilworth—kings, soldiers . . . and a sinister monk with deadly business to finish.

Review by Mirella Patzer

The Siege Winter is a delightful historical fiction novel written by the late Ariana Franklin and completed by Samantha Norman, her daughter. It is set in the 12th century and begins with an abbot who lies on his death bed. Despite his frail health, he is clinging to life to reveal a murderous tale to a scribe before he dies. Through his narrative, we are taken from his death bed to scenes of his past. The voice is compelling, the story engrossing! 

It is the tale of Matilda and her cousin Stephen and their long, drawn out battle for the crown of England. Well researched, gripping, and historically accurate, I thoroughly enjoyed this novel from start to finish. There is plenty to laud within its pages - strong women, battle scenes, treachery, greed, love, and even a touch of humor. Easy to read, it moves along at a good clip. The authors take us on a journey through 12th century England with all its dangers, treachery, murders. A wonderfully told story! Definitely recommended. 

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Tregian's Ground by Anne Cuneo



PUBLISHER’S BLURB

The significance of the Fitzwilliam Virginal Book to our musical canon is well known; the remarkable story of its copyist and compiler, Francis Tregian, less so. Born into Cornish Catholic nobility and plumb into the choppy waters of the Elizabethan Age, he must rely on his surpassing skill as a musician to survive. In this Prix des Libraires (Booksellers Prize) winning novel, Anne Cuneo deftly recreates the musician's journey across Renaissance Europe, which sees him befriending Shakespeare, swapping partitions with William Byrd and Monteverdi, and playing in the court of Henri IV of France. The result is as gripping as it is authentic: an epic, transcontinental choreography in which Europe's monarchs tussle with pretenders to their thrones, and ordinary people steer between allegiances to God, nation and family.

REVIEW BY ANITA

This novel is based on the life of Francis Tregian the younger, described as ‘A Cornish Recusant’ born during the reign of Elizabeth I. His family suffered for their faith and lost most of their estates. With his father imprisoned at The Fleet for refusing to convert, young Francis was send abroad to study at the Catholic seminary in Douai. Although a gentleman, Francis loved music and had an ear for languages, both of which helped him forge a life outside England.

I am not sure how closely the author stuck to his actual life, but Francis’s story is fascinating, in that this was an age when musical scores weren’t printed, but hand written, passed from hand to hand and could be controversial. Knowing and playing certain songs could get you into a lot of trouble.

He cared little for money, status or religion, although he stuck to his Catholic upbringing, never regarding it as an obstacle to love, friendships or earning a living.

I found it difficult not to like Francis, with his compassionate nature and his altruistic outlook.

Ms Cuneo’s Francis played the spinet, virginals and the organ like an angel. During his hard times when he had to keep his identity a secret, music was his comfort and he could earn a living making instruments or playing the organ in churches. In fact a good part of the story is about which musicians he met in the countries he visited with an emphasis on sharing musical scores which opened doors everywhere.

This novel was very long, mainly because the same theme is repeated throughout the story, but with different characters and countries. However, Francis is a worthy main character and I wanted the best for him, even when I felt he made the wrong choices.

I received a free copy of this novel in return for an honest review

Anita Davison author of ‘Royalist Rebel’ under the name Anita Seymour. Her latest venture is a Victorian cosy mystery scheduled for release in June 2015 from Robert Hale.
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