Thursday, April 2, 2015

Tregian's Ground by Anne Cuneo


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.


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.

I did think this novel was very long, only because the same these 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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Tuesday, March 31, 2015

The Boy Who Granted Dreams by Luca Di Fulvio

"At first there were two of them watching her grow up -- the mother and the padrone. One of them watched with dread, the other with a lazy lustfulness. But before she could become a woman, the mother made sure that the padrone wouldn't look at her anymore." Opening Paragraph


New York, 1909: Fifteen-year-old Cetta arrives on a freighter with nothing but her infant son Natale: strikingly blond, dark-eyed, and precocious. They've fled the furthest reaches of southern Italy with the dream of a better life in America. But even in the "Land of the Free," the merciless laws of gangs rule the miserable, poverty-stricken, and crime-filled Lower East Side. Only those with enough strength and conviction survive. As young Natale grows up in the Roaring Twenties, he takes a page from his crippled mother's book and finds he possesses a certain charisma that enables him to charm the dangerous people around him... 

Weaving Natale's unusual life and quest for his one true love against the gritty backdrop of New York's underbelly, Di Fulvio proves yet again that he is a master storyteller as he constructs enticing characters ravaged by circumstance, driven by dreams, and awakened by destiny.

Review by Mirella Patzer

By far, this is one of the best novels about Italian/American life I have ever read. It begins with a young Sicilian girl named Cetta who suffers a rape, despite her mother's attempts to keep the eyes of men from leering at her. With her bastard child, Natale, Cetta sails for America to start a new life, but the cost of her voyage is to endure the sexual advances of the captain. Upon arriving in America, the captain hands her over to a pimp by the name of Sal and Cetta begins work in a brothel. Natale, or Christmas, as he has become known, grows up in the streets of New York, among thieves and gangs. Despite the influence of crime and criminals that surround him, he manages to walk a fine line on the right side of the law. One day, he saves a young girl named Ruth from a brutal rape. She comes from a wealthy Jewish family, and although they are grateful to Christmas for saving her life, they do their best to keep them separated as their love for each other becomes evident. There are numerous other subplots and characters that feed the storyline to make this one of the richest, most engrossing novels I have ever read. I was enthralled from first page to last,

At 630 pages, this is a very long book, and I couldn't have been more happy. This was a book I did not want to put down. It kept me reading long into the night. I never wanted it to end. So its length is a definite plus! The author is very talented. His scenes are highly creative, unique, compelling, and sometimes shocking. His characters are so complex, so well developed, that they definitely seem real! I cannot say enough good things about this awesome, powerful story. I wish I could give it 10 stars. Luca Di Fulvio deserves it! Utterly compelling!

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The World Before Us by Aislin Hunter

In the tradition of A. S. Byatt's Possession, a hauntingly poignant novel about madness, loss, and the ties that bind our past to our present. 

Deep in the woods of northern England, somewhere between a dilapidated estate and an abandoned Victorian asylum, fifteen-year-old Jane Standen lived through a nightmare.  She was babysitting a sweet young girl named Lily, and in one fleeting moment, lost her. The little girl was never found, leaving her family and Jane devastated. 

Twenty years later, Jane is an archivist at a small London museum that is about to close for lack of funding. As a final research project--an endeavor inspired in part by her painful past--Jane surveys the archives for information related to another missing person: a woman who disappeared over one hundred years ago in the same woods where Lily was lost. As Jane pieces moments in history together, a portrait of a fascinating group of people starts to unfurl. Inexplicably tied to the mysterious disappearance of long ago, Jane finds tender details of their lives at the country estate and in the asylum that are linked to her own heartbroken world, and their story from all those years ago may now help Jane find a way to move on. 

In riveting, beautiful prose, The World Before Us explores the powerful notion that history is a closely connected part of us--kept alive by the resonance of our daily choices--reminding us of the possibility that we are less alone than we might think.

Opening Sentences:  The Whitmore Hospital for Convalescent Lunatics sat along a carriage track most people travelled only once. Imagine late summer: sunlight splayed over the rutted road and the copper peaks of the buildings, its warmth nested in the crowns of the trees and sinking into the bright-green lawn of the viewing mound. 

My Review

For those who love haunting, gothic tales, this book is sure to please. It is a story of obsession and madness set in an insane asylum. The novel’s protagonist is a young woman named Jane who is troubled by a tragedy that happened in her past when Lily, a young child she was tending, mysteriously disappeared while the child was in her charge and they were on an outing together. This sinister event has haunted her into adulthood. Jane works as an archivist at a London Museum and is tasked with researching the circumstances surrounding a young woman who went missing from a Victorian asylum near where Lily went missing. The novel is also narrated by several ghosts – an idiot, a boy, and a theologian, ghosts that were once inmates of the insane asylum. 

The World Before Us is a highly imaginative, spooky tale with great depth and thought-provoking insight into the effect tragic circumstances have upon people and the thin line that exists between sanity and insanity. This novel is wonderfully complex, not a light read, but very profound in a psychological and contemplative way. As the story unravels, I could not help but become totally engrossed in this very unique gothic ghost story very much, and I hope you will too!

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Secrets of the Tower by Debbie Rix

"It seemed to the man that he was floating. His hands, he noticed, caught the sunlight, and the almost imperceptible webs between his widely spread fingers glowed bright red shot through by the sun, revealing the complex pattern of veins moving blood around his body. Keeping him alive. The blood pumped harder now, pressing into his skull, restricting the brain until it hurt. Then nothing. A thud. And the birds, free-wheeling high in the sky, looked down on the body spread-eagled and lifeless in the shadow of the tower." Opening Paragraph


The world’s most iconic building…and the woman that history forgot. 

Pisa, 1999
Sam Campbell sits by her husband’s hospital bed. Far from home and her children, she must care for Michael who is recovering from a stroke. A man she loves deeply. A man who has been unfaithful to her. Alone and in need of distraction, Sam decides to pick up Michael’s research into the Leaning Tower of Pisa. Immersing herself in the ancient city, she begins to piece together the mystery behind the creation of the Tower, and discovers the woman that history forgot… 

Pisa, 1171
Berta di Bernardo, the wife of a rich merchant, sits in her chamber, dressing for a dinner party. A gathering that will change the course of her life and that of a young master mason, Gerardo, forever. A strong, intelligent woman, Berta’s passion for architecture also draws her closer to Gerardo. As she embarks on a love affair, her maid Aurelia also becomes spellbound by the same man. Yet for Berta, her heart’s desire is to see the Tower built, and her determination knows no bounds… A richly drawn and absorbing novel of passion and power, love and redemption that will captivate fans of Victoria Hislop, Tracy Chevalier and Kate Furnivall.

Review by Mirella Patzer

Secrets of the Tower is a wonderfully written novel about construction of the Tower of Pisa and two women - a 12th century woman obsessed with its construction and a 21st century woman obsessed with uncovering its history. 

It is evident, right from the start of the book, that a great deal of research went into the creation of this detailed work of art. Debbie Rix's rendering of the characters of the time was realistic and very well done. Most impressive were the architectural and building details. My favourite of all however, was the main characters, Berta di Bernardo of the 12th century, and Sam Campbell of modern times. The lives of the two women intertwine when Sam takes up her injured husbands work as a journalist writing about the Leaning Tower of Pisa. Both women were equally intriguing. And of course there is a love story involved for both these women which fills the story with plenty of inner conflict. At the end of the book, there is a chronological timeline of the history of the tower, from its inception to modern day.

For fans of Italian historical fiction, this is definitely a book to add to your library. Not only was it highly informative, but immensely entertaining.

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Wednesday, March 25, 2015

The Witch of Painted Sorrows by M.J. Rose

Possession. Power. Passion. New York Times bestselling novelist M. J. Rose creates her most provocative and magical spellbinder yet in this gothic novel set against the lavish spectacle of 1890s Belle Époque Paris.

Sandrine Salome flees New York for her grandmother’s Paris mansion to escape her dangerous husband, but what she finds there is even more menacing. The house, famous for its lavish art collection and elegant salons, is mysteriously closed up. Although her grandmother insists it’s dangerous for Sandrine to visit, she defies her and meets Julien Duplessi, a mesmerizing young architect. Together they explore the hidden 
night world of Paris, the forbidden occult underground and Sandrine’s deepest desires. Among the bohemians and the demi-monde, Sandrine discovers her erotic nature as a lover and painter. Then darker influences threaten—her cold and cruel husband is tracking her down and something sinister is taking hold, changing Sandrine, altering her. She’s become possessed by La Lune: A witch, a legend, and a sixteenth-century courtesan, who opens up her life to a darkness that may become a gift or a curse. This is Sandrine’s “wild night of the soul,” her odyssey in the magnificent city of Paris, of art, love, and witchery.

The Witch of Painted Sorrows is the first book in the Daughters of La Lune series. It opens with the first person narration of Sandrine Verlaine. After the death of her father, she learns her husband played a part in his death, and she flees to her grandmother in France to escape his cruelty. She arrives in Paris on the doorstep of her grandmother's mansion only to find it vacant and under renovation. Her grandmother, a famous and successful courtesan, welcomes her. But as Sandrine becomes more and more involved in art and comes under the influence of a spirit of one of her ancestors, her grandmother struggles to keep Sandrine safe. 

Just like M.J. Rose's other novels, this too has a dark, sad tone. I did enjoy the supernatural, ghostly element that gave this book a gothic feel, but sometimes, because I am a historical fiction purist, some of the events that occurred in the book did not strike me as believable. Her grandmother was first depicted as a strong, popular woman, but later in the book, her mental state deteriorates to such a degree that I felt it wasn't believable. Nevertheless, the story was engaging and kept me reading to the very end. I enjoyed the first person narrative even though I sometimes did not fully engage with Sandrine. Perhaps it was because she didn't take matters in hand, and instead, waited too long and let things happen to her, especially in the matter of her estranged husband. From the start, I also disliked her lover, Julien Duplessi, likely because he struck me as an opportunist and a man of low morals.

Despite these issues, there is still much to laud. The writing is good, the story keeps moving forward at a steady pace, and the plot is very interesting. This was definitely a fun, engaging read! 

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Thursday, March 19, 2015

The Prince by Vito Bruschini

"The night of the damned" was how the inhabitants of the Salemi valley would recall that night in late July when the massacre at Borgo guarine took place. There was no moon to illuminate the vast fields of the large Sicilian landed estrate, but the pitch-black sky was studded with billions of points of light." Opening Sentences

Synopsis:  A web of love, betrayal, and murder is at the heart of this riveting story of the Mafia’s beginnings.

In this remarkable novel based on a true story, author Vito Bruschini brilliantly evokes the charismatic figure of Prince Ferdinando Licata, a wealthy Sicilian landowner who uses his personal power and charm to placate Sicilian peasants and fight off Mussolini’s fascists. As tensions rise in Italy during the 1930s, with increasingly violent consequences, Licata attracts many friends and far more enemies. Eventually implicated in a grisly murder, the prince flees to America, where he ends up navigating a turf war between Irish and Italian gangs of the Lower East Side.

Violence explodes in unexpected ways as Licata gains dominance over New York, with the help of a loyal townsman with blood ties to the prince who is forced to abandon his fiancée in Sicily. The two men return to their native land at the height of World War II in an outrageously bold maneuver engineered by Licata and mobster Lucky Luciano. Both the prince and his kinsman assist US naval intelligence during the invasion of Sicily and, once they are back on their native soil, they proceed to settle unfinished business with their enemies and unravel old secrets in a stunning and sinister finale.

Through a spellbinding story and unforgettable characters, Bruschini depicts in visceral detail the dark intertwining roots of loyalty and betrayal, poverty and privilege, secrets and revelations that contributed to the rise of the Mafia in Sicily.

Review by Mirella Patzer

The Prince is a novel based upon true events depicting the rise of the Mafia in Sicily and then America. The story opens with a massacre in the Sicilian valley of Salemi. There is a colorful cast of characters, each with their own ambitions, agendas, and problems. Slowly and intricately, they link together, creating enemies and allies. The story switches back and forth betweeen some decades, which at first caused me some confusion at first, but I soon settled into the story, becoming completely and utterly engrossed. No Mafia story is without its share of violence, and this novel is no exception, but it was not in the forefront and was never gratuitous. The story has a lot of characters and plenty of twists and turns. It was engrossing and kept me reading long into the night. Easy reading, compelling characters, and a fascinating topic makes it easy to understand why this novel will end up as the basis for film very soon! Loved it!

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Mist of Midnight by Sandra Byrd

"They were gone now, every last one of them. Gone, but not completely gone. I still saw them at midnight. I surrendered too, by leaving. The ship pulled from the shore whilst I beheld the distancing plumage of saris - azure and emerald and flame - the soft brown arms, necks, and noses circled with gold, like exquisite birds of paradise. A threadbare charity dress trhe Lord Mayor of London had provided, to me and to all survivors who had nothing of their own to claim, pasted to my skin with a familiar fine grit of dust and sweat." Opening Sentences

Synopsis: In the first of a brand-new series set in Victorian England, a young woman returns home from India after the death of her family to discover her identity and inheritance are challenged by the man who holds her future in his hands.

Rebecca Ravenshaw, daughter of missionaries, spent most of her life in India. Following the death of her family in the Indian Mutiny, Rebecca returns to claim her family estate in Hampshire, England. Upon her return, people are surprised to see her...and highly suspicious. Less than a year earlier, an imposter had arrived with an Indian servant and assumed not only Rebecca's name, but her home and incomes. 

That pretender died within months of her arrival; the servant fled to London as the young woman was hastily buried at midnight. The locals believe that perhaps she, Rebecca, is the real imposter. Her home and her father's investments reverted to a distant relative, the darkly charming Captain Luke Whitfield, who quickly took over. Against her best intentions, Rebecca begins to fall in love with Luke, but she is forced to question his motives—does he love her or does he just want Headbourne House? If Luke is simply after the property, as everyone suspects, will she suffer a similar fate as the first “Rebecca”? 

A captivating Gothic love story set against a backdrop of intrigue and danger, Mist of Midnight will leave you breathless.

What a book! Mist of Midnight is another winning novel by author Sandra Byrd! Definitely one of her best! It is the first book in the new Daughters of Hampshire series. Set in Victorian England, this gothic novel echoes the work of Jane Eyre. There is everything - an old manor, a mysterious past, suspense, romance, and a definite haunting atmosphere from cover to cover. 

A young woman, Rebecca Ravenshaw, has survived the Indian Mutiny alone. Her missionary parents were both killed. She retuns to her family home in Hampshire only to find that an imposter had previously claimed her inheritance. After the mysterious death of the imposter, a distant relative, the handsome and kind, Captain Luke Winfield, had since inheritted the estate. Of course, Rebecca's sudden appearance only sheds doubt on who is the real Rebecca Ravenshaw.    

Crafty characters, a blooming romance, an elegant old manor that has seen better days, and a courageous, forthright heroine grace the pages of this wonderful book. Everything about this novel impresses - from its cover to the rich story that unfolds!  I could not put this book down! Yup, it was that good!

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