When Giulia Farnese, concubine of Rodrigo Borgia, now Pope Alexander VI, returns home to her luscious pI reviewed this book for www.luxuryreading.com.
When Giulia Farnese, concubine of Rodrigo Borgia, now Pope Alexander VI, returns home to her luscious palazzo in Rome after being captured then released by the French army, she hopes to return to the love and security she has felt these past two years with her lover. But much has changed during that time and Giulia is now more aware then ever of the dangers that can befall those close to the papal throne. As the glittering veil Giulia has been seeing through begins to slip and she slowly moves back from the center of this viper’s nest, she starts to see that the danger comes not only from the Borgia’s enemies but from within the Borgia brood itself.
Giulia, along with her whip-smart and deadly dwarf bodyguard Leonello and her iron-willed cook Carmelina, will have to use every ounce of charm, skill and intelligence to figure out how to survive this vicious, clawing pit surrounding them. If they decide to leave this deadly world they have each found themselves entrapped in will the Borgias let them go? Do they even have a choice?
The Lion and the Rose picks up right where its prequel, The Serpent and the Pearl, leaves off and, just as its predecessor, never slows its thrilling pace. While I wouldn’t say it is necessary to read The Serpent and the Pearl first I highly recommend it as both books are marvelous, action-packed and witty novels and the Serpent and the Pearl really gives the reader a good understanding of the feelings and foibles of the various characters they will encounter in The Lion and the Rose.
Kate Quinn does an excellent job of creating characters that you can easily love or can’t help but hate. Giulia, by far, was my favorite character and displayed more grace and kindness as the “Bride of Christ” then any of the more “proper” characters. Leonello and Carmelina are both such determined, sharp characters that hide soft hearts and they, along with Giulia, are characters impossible to forget. On the flip side, the Borgia children – cruel, murderous Juan, cunning and deadly Cesare, selfish and whiny Lucrezia and the ever sniveling Joffre – are horrid people and their Pope father is the worst of all as he refuses to see any of their faults. It isn’t hard when reading these characters to sympathize with anyone who had to face that bullish, grasping family.
My favorite aspect of The Lion and the Rose would have to be the breathtaking pace and the sudden, jarring actions that would stop me cold and had me going back time and time again to reread passages just to make sure I had read them correctly. Without giving anything away there are a number of murders that came out of nowhere and some very surprising twists of fate for our characters (especially for Leonello whom I love!) that made for a completely entertaining and exciting reading experience.
The Lion and the Rose is the third book by Kate Quinn I have read and I have thoroughly enjoyed each one. She has a seamless way of combining intriguing real history with compelling dramatic and often comical additions that make her books must reads. If you are a lover of historical fiction and haven’t read Kate Quinn’s books yet you are really missing out. ...more
One of my favorite past times for the chillier, darker evenings of this time of year is curling up withI reviewed this book for www.luxuryreading.com.
One of my favorite past times for the chillier, darker evenings of this time of year is curling up with a hot cup of tea, thick, soft blanket and a spooky story that presents dark mysteries stretching back and forth between the present and the past. After reading and enjoying Wendy Webb’s The Fate of Mercy Alban I knew she would be an author to look for when these sorts of nights presented themselves. She does not disappoint with her newest thrilling mystery The Vanishing.
After Julia Bishop’s husband swindles millions from strangers and friends alike in a Ponzi-scheme and then kills himself, leaving her alone to face the consequences of his heinous actions, Julia wants nothing more than to disappear and get a fresh start. When Adrian Sinclair arrives on her doorstep and offers her the opportunity to do just that by coming with him and serving as his mother’s companion she jumps at the chance. Sure, it is a little disconcerting that Amaris Sinclair, the famous horror novelist who Julia has always idolized and everyone believes has been dead for years, has instead been living in a secluded estate in the middle of the wilderness near Lake Superior. But this chance to leave her past behind might not happen again. Besides, what could possibly go wrong?
As it happens it doesn’t take long for Julia to realize the beautiful estate of Havenwood, and its various occupants, are hiding quite a bit. She cannot shake a distinct feeling of déjà vu around every corner and everyone seems almost too nice, accommodating and familiar. The figures in the paintings seem to whisper to her and strange visions keep presenting themselves. Julia cannot decide if she is hallucinating or Havenwood is actually haunted. As more and more strange occurrences keep happening and Julia demands answers from Amaris, Adrian and the charming man due to inherit Havenwood, Drew McCullough, she discovers a dark and ominous presence also resides at Havenwood, one that reaches far back into Julia’s family history and one that her presence has once again awakened.
The Vanishing has all the elements that make for a wonderful eerie mystery: secrets slowly unraveled, things that go bump in the night, strange noises around every corner. While I had a vague idea where the story was leading there were still elements that ended up surprising me, which always makes for an enjoyable reading experience. The characters are delightfully well written, especially Julia and Amaris Sinclair, and I would have loved to read even more about their backgrounds and experiences that lead each of them to Havenwood. The pacing was spot on as well and I was often surprised to look up and see that I had been reading for far longer than I had intended to. I just kept trying for one more chapter to see what new information would be presented.
My only complaints with The Vanishing were the fact that certain descriptions – such as a chill running up Julia’s spine and her stomach churning – were repeated a little too often until I had a slight sense of déjà vu myself. Also I found the epilogue strange and wasn’t quite sure what it was supposed to mean for the future of the characters. Still, these small issues mean very little when presented next to the deep foreboding feeling and development of the story.
The Vanishing is a great book for anyone looking for a spooky story mixing mystery, history and the occult. It is a quick read and one perfect for a cold, gloomy weekend. I am now a firm follower of Ms. Webb and will be keeping an eye out for her next novel. ...more
Growing up on the dense, lush island of Martinique, young and naive Rose Tascher longed to leave behindI reviewed this book for www.luxuryreading.com.
Growing up on the dense, lush island of Martinique, young and naive Rose Tascher longed to leave behind the disapproval and constraints of her home and sail away to the excitement and freedom of Paris. Witnessing the unhappy and unfaithful marriage of her parents, Rose resolved to marry for love or not to marry at all: she will settle for nothing less than pure devotion and adventure. Yet the reality she finds herself in is far from her ideal.
What she hoped would be a marriage of mutual adoration and appreciation quickly becomes one of loneliness. Her handsome, sophisticated soldier husband, Alexander, proves to be a cruel, adulterous and inattentive husband who refuses to accompany his young wife around Paris and soon enough abandons her with two small children. Forced to learn how to support her family, Rose uses her wits, connections and learned refinement to advance herself within the Parisian elite and charm various men in order to survive. Then the horrors of the French Revolution come crashing through Rose’s circle of privilege and she finds herself near death in a Parisian prison.
When the political tides turn once again Rose is released, barely having survived the inhumane conditions and humiliations. Now charged with a renewed appreciation for preservation and independence she resolves to do whatever it takes to make sure her and her children’s futures are secure. But amidst finding that freedom she comes into contact with an arrogant, unnervingly intense man who nonetheless finds a way to capture her heart: Napoleon Bonaparte. Marrying this passionate yet demanding man, Rose reinvents herself as Josephine Bonaparte and finds herself at the pinnacle of success as the Empress of France, with all the security and wealth that entails. But the balance between power and freedom, love and loss, will prove difficult for Josephine and she will have to decide what she is willing to live with and what she will have to fight for.
Having very little knowledge of the history of France after the French Revolution, I found Becoming Josephine to be a vivid, close up look at not only the shifting tides of power before, during and after the French Revolution but an in depth study of the woman who was Napoleon Bonaparte’s first wife. Told from Josephine’s point of view the reader gets to see the precarious position a woman of Josephine’s status lived in and the fight such a woman would have to find security, freedom and faithful love in one man. While Josephine came off at times as slightly selfish and spendthrift, I couldn’t help but ache for her as she continued to be hurt and used by men with little recourse. She wanted more than anything a true and faithful love but seemed to have the worst time finding it. The roller coaster highs and lows she experienced during her life were simply mind boggling and her sheer determination to survive and ultimately find happiness in the life she had worked so hard to cultivate was mesmerizing and inspiring.
Becoming Josephine is a superbly written historical novel highlighting a woman seemingly relegated by history to the shadow of her power hungry husband. I found it utterly fascinating and I’m excited to read more about this captivating woman. ...more
Still struggling to cope with the death of her husband two years prior, Audra Hughes is desperate to fiI reviewed this book for www.luxuryreading.com.
Still struggling to cope with the death of her husband two years prior, Audra Hughes is desperate to find another job and life far from the constant reminders and memories of their life together. But as Audra and her young son, Jack, begin a plane ride on their way to a job interview Jack becomes uncontrollable and must be restrained and removed from the plane. Once such a sweet and affable boy, Jack’s erratic and strange behavior continues to get worse, with violent night terrors, drawings of burning planes and Nazis and even speaking German – a language he has never been taught – to a young U.S. Army veteran, Sean Malloy, who he has never met before. When Audra and Sean work to try and piece together Jack’s actions with information they learn about WWII they begin to believe he might be experiencing past life memories. But as Jack becomes more withdrawn his odd behavior starts to attract the attention of others and some begin to question Audra’s parenting capabilities. Audra soon finds herself in a battle to not only discover what is happening to Jack but to even keep him within her care. She will have to draw on every ounce of strength, open-mindedness and love she has to try and help her son.
Alternating with Audra and Jack’s story is that of Vivian James, a young American woman living with her parents in London on the eve of WWII. She finds herself in love with a young American man of German descent named Isaak who will do everything he can to not only protect his family still living in Germany but Vivian as well. When Vivian is made to leave London for America Isaak is unable to accompany her but promises to do everything he can to be with her again. This begins a roller coaster ride for the rest of their lives that will test their loyalties and love to the breaking point.
As these two stories wrap around each other Kristina McMorris does a stellar job of keeping the tension mounting and the mysterious connections between the two just beyond reach. It isn’t until The Pieces We Keep comes to an end that the reader can fully grasp the various connections and the immense journeys these characters have been on, as well as the vast growth they have gone through to reach the end. The characters and settings are perfectly written and I was completely drawn into the fluctuating emotions and actions of each and every one.
More than anything else, however, the intricate and varied look at memory and how it affects each person was simply fascinating. From Audra trying to keep her memories of her husband away to Sean fighting to regain his memories after an injury in Afghanistan to Jack possibly experiencing strange memories from an entirely different life there is just so much to think about and question. There is so much to enjoy about this book I think any reader who enjoys history, mystery or an exploration of how we as humans cope with life’s unexpected and painful bumps will eat this up. ...more
I received this book as part of the Goodreads first-read program.
There is just so much to enjoy about this book! On the surface it is an incredibly toI received this book as part of the Goodreads first-read program.
There is just so much to enjoy about this book! On the surface it is an incredibly touching story of John Saturnall, an Englishman in the 17th century who grows from nothing to become a well-renowned chef who's dishes grace the palates of kitchen boys and kings alike. As a child John grows up in a small, rural, highly superstitious village and is ridiculed and feared by many due to the fact that some believe his mother to be a witch. After John and his mother are run out of their village his mother begins to teach him the secrets of an ancient feast. As his hunger for knowledge and revenge - as well as his hunger for actual food - burns within him, his mother tries to teach John about not only the history and recipes of the feast but of the need to use his knowledge and advanced skills to keep the feast for everyone. But before John has all the answers he needs and craves, his mother dies and he finds himself sent to Buckland Manor, the great house of Sir William Fremantle, and finds himself moving up the ranks of the kitchens there. As the years pass, John discovers his mother had reasons she never told him for sending him to Buckland Manor. Mixed in with his search for the past is the development of his future, one that will find him at the head of the kitchens, on the fields of war, and in the arms of Sir William Fremantle's daughter, Lucretia. As the world continually changes around him, John will learn what he must fight for and what he must let go of if he is to not only accomplish what his mother wanted for him but survive to keep the feast.
John Saturnall's Feast is one of the most descriptive novels I have ever read. There are long passages dedicated to every aspect of cooking and preparing food. At times it feels like you can actually hear the crackle of various types of roasting meats as they brown on the spit and smell the delicate sugared concoctions as they cool. It is absolutely mouthwatering. Any foodie would love this book, even if they aren't that interested in the history. As the history takes a decided backseat to the food and character development, I wouldn't see this being a problem.
My favorite aspect of the novel would have to be the seemingly doomed relationship between John and Lucretia. Meeting as children they instantly dislike each other. John is angry and grieving his mother and Lucretia is snooty and still grieving her own mother (or the hole her mother's death left at Buckland Manor) who died giving birth to her. As they age a tentative relationship grows into something much more. But as Lucretia's marriage is the key to keeping Buckland in the hands of the Fremantles, there is little hope for her in being able to marry a mere cook, even if he is talented beyond all others. This storyline is quite bittersweet and I enjoyed watching John and Lucretia find a small bit of happiness in a terribly violent, chaotic world, even if that happiness might not last forever.
Not to be left out are the gorgeous drawings and snippets of recipes at the beginning of each chapter. I had a wonderful time looking over these and found them to add to the ancient feeling that reading about John's book of the feast gave to the story.
John Saturnall's Feast is sure to please history and food lovers alike. I highly recommend it! ...more
Cora, the Countess de Chevalier de Saint Leger Lawson, swore decades ago that she would never return toI reviewed this book for www.luxuryreading.com.
Cora, the Countess de Chevalier de Saint Leger Lawson, swore decades ago that she would never return to England, the land of her birth. Having left England behind as a child to accompany her aunt to Rome so they could start a new life, Cora has lived the glamorous, somewhat mysterious life of an expatriate traveling throughout Europe, dividing her time primarily between France and Italy: she has been the muse of artists; she has loved deeply and lost much; she has molded her own life into the story she wanted it to be. It is only when Cora’s last surviving relative, her grandson Jack, loses his mother in 1911 that she decides to finally go back to England. Having always kept her private life private, Cora hopes to finally tell Jack the true story of his family, something she has never told anyone and, now reaching the end of her life, has trouble at times remembering herself.
Upon her arrival in the small English village of Bramley, Cora soon finds that her reputation precedes her. The village gossips have written her life to be even more scintillating than the truth and enchant one young woman, Cecily Chadwick, into hoping to learn more about the many adventures of this fascinating woman. But Cora’s companion, Sylvia, a successful writer who has known Cora since her early days in Rome and who is quite possessive of Cora and her story, is quick to discourage Cora from interacting with Cecily and begins filling in the holes of what she already knows about Cora herself under the guise of writing Cora’s memoirs.
Cora has long lived secure within the various versions of her life floating about, most only hinting at the truth. But as the ghosts of her past continue to get closer the longer she lives in Bramley, as a sweet new love between Jack and Cecily begins before her eyes, reminding her of a love she had so long ago, as Sylvia’s insistent questions open up new pathways in Cora’s memories and as the walls she has put up within her mind begin to crumble with age, Cora will have to face the facts of her life – horrendous as some parts are – head on before it is too late to let that truth be known.
The Memory of Lost Senses is a compelling story dealing with the many ways our memory of events can be altered over time from what really happened and how we use these various mental safeguards to survive. As the story unfolds it becomes quite apparent that Cora’s history holds some devastating secrets and the tiny hints dropped about as Cora fights to keep her story from completely unraveling are delicious. Sylvia’s fabrication of the past, which she continually states is to protect Cora, shows how someone can consciously alter what they remember in order to protect themselves and justify their actions. The idea that our minds can also subconsciously hide traumatic memories from our conscious mind for survival is engrossing. This ends up not only being something Cora struggles with but Jack as well after he is involved in a horrible accident during WWI and ends up losing his memory of most of his past. I have long been fascinated with the coping mechanisms of the mind and The Memory of Lost Senses deals with so many of them.
The Memory of Lost Senses has so much to offer any reader. Combining what is discussed above with a look at history from the perspectives of a compelling, well traveled woman coming to the end of her life, a young, modern woman just beginning hers as the world around her continues to change and a young man thrust into war without fully realizing what that involves, it is a look at history unlike any other I have read before. Judith Kinghorn has become a writer I can’t get enough of....more
In general I don’t read a lot of short story collections. I tend to gravitate towards long, gripping saI reviewed this book for www.luxuryreading.com.
In general I don’t read a lot of short story collections. I tend to gravitate towards long, gripping sagas and involved series that take their time with character and plot development. However I was excited by the prospect of reading David-Michael Harding’s The Cats of Savone: 8 Short Novels for Busy People. I’ve enjoyed Mr. Harding’s full length novels and was intrigued when I read that readers could go to Mr. Harding’s website and vote for which short story they wanted to be made into a full length novel. What a great opportunity, to get a taste of a compelling story and influence, even in a small way, the author in expanding it. I was in!
The Cats of Savone is a collection that does not fit neatly into any categories. The eight stories are a mix of so many things: historical fiction, contemporary fiction, western, coming-of age, even the paranormal fantasy genre is covered. There is a story to capture the attention of just about any reader regardless of their tastes. Each story is surprisingly well developed given the short length and each and every story has touching characters that are hard not to absorb into your heart.
For my part, being a huge fan of historical fiction, my favorite stories were Black Men in Bright Blue and Forever Beneath the Celtic. In Black Men in Bright Blue the Civil War is seen through the eyes of an intelligent, precocious and exceedingly tender hearted young Southern girl caught between what is expected of a rich young white girl of her station at this time and what she sees as the strange and brutal treatment of the slaves living on her father’s plantation. Our young heroine, Rachel, is a remarkable character and is able to follow what her heart tells her is right with bravery far above what you would expect for someone her age. It is truly heartbreaking and I would love to see this made into a full length novel. Forever Beneath the Celtic follows the crew of German submarine U-20 as they traverse the ocean depths and follow out their orders to sink enemy ships. But when the captain orders they sink the civilian passenger liner Lusitania the men will have their own internal battles between what they know to be their duty and what they can justify as necessary casualties of war.
These two stories are just the tip of the iceberg of what is offered in The Cats of Savone and I encourage readers to pick it up and see what else is on offer. I am so excited to see what story gets the most votes and is selected as the next full length novel from Mr. Harding. Any of them would make an excellent choice! ...more
After reading and enjoying Diane Setterfield’s The Thirteenth Tale a number of years ago I was so excitI reviewed this book for www.luxuryreading.com.
After reading and enjoying Diane Setterfield’s The Thirteenth Tale a number of years ago I was so excited to see she was coming out with a new novel, Bellman & Black. While I can’t say that I enjoyed Bellman & Black as much as her first novel, Ms. Setterfield does present another intriguing story, one that will lead the reader into an eerie world where a seemingly small occurrence will haunt a man for his entire life.
When a young William Bellman kills a rook with his slingshot he is briefly disturbed by what he has done but soon forgets about it and moves on with his life. The nephew of the owner of Bellman’s Mill, Will begins working for his uncle and soon becomes indispensable to the company. Will seems to be blessed with a remarkable blend of brains, luck and an incredible work ethic and as he continues on at the mill he gets married, has children and eventually becomes the mill’s owner. William Bellman is happy. Yet as his star rises those around him continue to fall and a sinister man in black seems to always be close by but out of reach. No amount of planning, studying or calculating can keep Will’s loved ones from dying, that is until this Mr. Black offers him a deal and he takes it.
Only having a vague sense of the deal he made with this dark stranger, Bellman opens a funerary emporium called Bellman and Black and works tirelessly to build a thriving business off of death, always saving for when Mr. Black comes for his payment. But when that occurs, what Mr. Black wants is not what Bellman could ever have envisioned.
Bellman & Black has a decidedly macabre feeling underlying the entire story, one that does not let up. While I will admit that this unsettling feeling makes for a tantalizing reading experience I wouldn’t categorize it as a ghost story as the cover would have you believe. It is more about a man grasping for life and, in doing so, actually missing out on living the life he has worked so hard to obtain. The strange character of Mr. Black actually only appears in snippets throughout the story while he served as more of a dark cloud over Bellman that he can’t quite get away from. The harder Bellman works the more he pulls away from the world around him and starts going mad with uncertainty of when Mr. Black will be back to collect whatever it is he wants. This slow unraveling was my favorite part of Bellman & Black.
What I enjoyed less, however, was the endless details given to the various business aspects of the Bellman empire. I found myself starting to glaze over slightly with the constant discussion of calculations, deals and workload but would perk up again when a death brought Mr. Black back in the picture. The way Mr. Black fits in with the killing of the rook was kind of odd to me as well but one I accepted as part of the general strangeness of the story.
Overall I enjoyed Bellman & Black for the otherworldly, old fashioned macabre story it is. It is a quick, spooky read and one I would recommend to anyone who enjoys a little unsettling chill in their reading. ...more
There is just something about a Kate Morton novel that allows the reader to become completely immersed in her twisting, multi-layered story lines andThere is just something about a Kate Morton novel that allows the reader to become completely immersed in her twisting, multi-layered story lines and to feel slightly sad when the story is over (I always wish it wouldn't end!)but also fully satisfied that everything came together by the last page. This is my second novel by Ms. Morton and I am once again just so impressed with the way she carefully drops small tidbits of the truth as the involved stories unfold and how these little clues come together so neatly to smack me over the head with the full revelation towards the end. As hard as I try I never can quite guess where the story is leading and that, along with her wonderful character and setting development, is why I love reading her books.
In The Secret Keeper, famous actress Laurel Nicolson is coming home to her family's farm in the waning days of her aging mother's life. While she has always loved the bustling, hectic memories of her childhood on the farm with her siblings and the magical quality her mother imparted on their life, a brutal and violent incident Laurel witnessed between her mother and a strange man when Laurel was a teenager has always left a shadow on her recollections. As her mother slowly drifts away from them all, Laurel sets out to discover what really happened all those years ago.
Weaving back and forth in time, from the present to WWII London, Laurel and the reader both learn the secrets that her mother has kept all these years and what her mother has sacrificed to try and make amends for her past.
One of the aspects I loved most about The Secret Keeper was the attention played to the ignorance of youth and the impetuous and selfish nature that seems to be inherent in the young. Like the characters in the book I remember thinking that my parents could not possibly understand my emotions or my need to break away and see what the world might hold, and I imagine my son will feel the same way some day. It just seems to be a stage of life and one that can have some severe consequences, depending on how that untouchable attitude is carried out.
The depictions of bombed out WWII London were incredible as well and really helped set the stage for the devastating actions that occurred between Laurel's mother and the people in her life at the time. The sense of urgency and unpredictability caused the deepest passions and emotions of the characters to bubble to the surface and this combined with the constant fear, hunger and loss provided the backdrop that allowed the story to unfold in a way that might have seemed overdone or melodramatic under other circumstances.
Kate Morton has fast become one of those authors that I get a little giddy when I see a new book is coming out from. She is a remarkable story teller (or story weaver might be more appropriate) and I only hope she continues to release more intricately woven stories out to her many fans....more
When I saw the movie version of The Book Thief was coming out I thought it was the perfect time to finally read my copy of the book that has been sittWhen I saw the movie version of The Book Thief was coming out I thought it was the perfect time to finally read my copy of the book that has been sitting on my shelf for some time. With all the lovely reviews I have read I was sure I would love it as well and I was definitely not disappointed. While I cannot say that it is a feel good read in any way it is an incredibly beautiful story and one who's characters I will never forget.
First and foremost the narrator of this incredible story is death himself. He's not the usual scythe and darkness death we have seen before but a death who is just doing his job and trying not to get too distracted by the strange lives of the living he passes by. There is a heart beating in that cold chest, one that cannot turn away from our main character, Liesel Meminger, a girl who refuses to let this horrid life she has been born into break her spirit. It might sound strange but, with all the war stories I have read in my lifetime, it is this book narrated by death that presents the most humane and heartbreaking story yet.
Liesel is another wholly unique character. Made to go live with foster parents when the Communist label attached to her family becomes too dangerous, Liesel's younger brother dies on the way to their new home. Finding a book in the snow by her brother's grave, Liesel steals the book and resolves to learn how to read it. It is with this first theft that Liesel resolves to steal words when the world takes things from her. However words become so much more to our young heroine: a bridge connecting her to her foster Papa, Hans Hubermann; a way to escape the horrors happening around her, both figuratively and literally; a way to emotionally relate and communicate to the young Jewish man the Hubermanns hide in their basement. For someone who love words as well I became very attached to Liesel and her various ways of dealing with the unpredictable, often hypocritical world she had to try and navigate. How else might a young German girl, a member of the local Hitler Young group, deal with the unwarranted hatred she sees being thrown at Jewish people like the young man in their basement she has come to love like family?
I couldn't end this review without mentioning the other unforgettable characters that saturate this story. By far my favorite character is Liesel's best friend, Rudy Steiner, a young boy always willing to do what his heart feels is right, regardless of the danger it might present for himself, and a boy who wants nothing more than a kiss from Liesel. I don't want to give too much away regarding their sweet, innocent relationship but I will advise you prepare and have some tissues when you begin reading the last 50 pages or so of the story. Another unforgettable character is Papa, a man who seems to have unlimited amounts of kindness and another character who refuses to let the propaganda of the Fuhrer dement what he knows to be the right way to be. There are so many more remarkable characters - Max, the young Jew in the basement, Liesel's harsh yet caring Mama, Rosa, the many colorful characters inhabiting Himmel Street - and this collection of humanity makes the ending of the book that much more poignant. I've never quite read anything like it.
Anyone who loves reading history from an alternative viewpoint, especially history dealing with WWII, would be remise not to read this book. This is a powerful, beautiful, bittersweet story. It's the kind of story that you will not only never forget but one that, once you have read it, will make you forget what it was like to have not known and loved these characters. Truly a life changing story. ...more
Weaving back and forth between 1852 Virginia and modern New York, The House Girl presents a bitter sweeI reviewed this book for www.luxuryreading.com.
Weaving back and forth between 1852 Virginia and modern New York, The House Girl presents a bitter sweet story of determination, truth and the search for freedom in all its guises. Alternating between Lina’s and Josephine’s voices as well as letters of those working with the underground railroad to assist slaves like Josephine in their desperate flight to freedom, the story is at once both inspiring and utterly heartbreaking. Josephine’s story line is by far the most interesting and is a true testament to the horrible depravities of slavery as well as the glimmers of hope that can emerge when people shed their fears and do what is right, regardless of what consequences it might bring.
While I enjoyed seeing the similarities between Lina and Josephine – determined and strong women who both lost their mothers early in life – Lina’s progression and story line fell somewhat flat for me. The constant lawyer talk about billable hours became grating after a while and I had a hard time really sympathizing with her. Next to Josephine’s unbelievably beautiful story it was hard to feel for Lina and I kept rushing to get back to Josephine’s story. However, this might be an unfair statement as I found Josephine’s story so fascinating it would have taken a lot to not have me rushing to get back to it.
All in all The House Girl is a beautiful story and offers up so much for discussion. No matter your personal feelings towards the subjects discussed any reader would be hard pressed to not feel compassion and sadness for this dark mark on American history. While I won’t say that the story wraps up in a pretty, happy bow I will say that it leaves off with the feeling of hope for a better future if one is willing to let go of the past and fight for the future they want. It is only by facing the truth, regardless of what that might be, that contentment can be found. With The House Girl, Ms. Conklin makes the reader face all of these facts head on and does a wonderful job in doing so. ...more
When I first started reading The Luminaries I must admit I was a bit intimidated. This chunkster is 830I reviewed this book for www.luxuryreading.com.
When I first started reading The Luminaries I must admit I was a bit intimidated. This chunkster is 830 pages long, is broken up into twelve parts all labeled with a complicated looking astrological chart and location coordinates and has a classical, Victorian writing style to it. However, once I actually started reading it I found it hard to stop. This crime mystery set in 19th century New Zealand is unlike anything I have read before and, for that and many other reasons, was entirely entertaining and consuming.
The first part of The Luminaries is 360 pages all by itself and begins on a dark and stormy night in a small town on the coast of New Zealand. Walter Moody has fled his past and traveled to this remote location to find his future and, hopefully, his fortune in the goldfields nearby. Quite by accident he stumbles upon a secret meeting of twelve men, all seemingly very different but connected by things Mr. Moody has yet to discover. What follows in this first section is the history of each of these men and their separate connections to the strange events that have recently occurred all on the same night, namely the death of a reclusive drunk, the discovery of a vast fortune in gold hidden in the dead man’s home, the disappearance of a wealthy young man and the believed attempted suicide of a prostitute. Is it possible that all of these events happening simultaneously are a coincidence? As each man shares his knowledge and influence over these events it becomes quite clear that there is much they must discover if they will ever know the truth about what really happened on that fateful night.
The next three parts continue into the near future, showing how the men, now thirteen strong with the addition of Mr. Moody, try and put all the small and intricate pieces of these various puzzles together to discover the truth. As these events unfolded it was exhilarating to see how the pieces fit together and how so much of what had been perceived was in fact not what it appeared to be.
The remaining parts of The Luminaries go back in time to show the reader what really happened and come full circle back to the beginning of the story. I absolutely loved this structure and, for me, it helped bring closure to the events discussed as, whether for good or bad, the reader is finally given the facts as they are. By no means does the above description talk about everything going on in this book. The Luminaries is chock full of strange similarities as well as opposites: crime and justice; greed and generosity; love and hate; the mystical and the elemental. It has heavy astrological influences that, to be honest, I don’t believe I fully understand but which I find completely fascinating.
I think my favorite aspect of The Luminaries is the vast amount of time spent on character and setting development. I found it to be a completely immersive experience and the reader can’t help but feel like they are a witness to the complicated events unfolding.
It isn’t hard to see why The Luminaries recently won the Man Booker Prize. Any reader willing to give it the time it deserves will not be disappointed. ...more
From the very first page, The Tulip Eaters takes off like a shot of adrenaline and instantly draws theI reviewed this book for www.luxuryreading.com.
From the very first page, The Tulip Eaters takes off like a shot of adrenaline and instantly draws the reader in with the anticipation of a twisting mystery that hints at deep historical secrets. Then by page fifty the reader is told everything: who killed Anneke and why, who the dead mystery man is, who took Rose….and just like that the climax is over with 300 more pages to go in the story. I was so disappointed that the great mystery was over so quickly and kept waiting for some new twist to excite me again. That great new twist, unfortunately, never came. Instead we, the reader, are witnessing Nora searching for the information we already know while also witnessing the people who took Rose do everything to keep Nora from finding her.
The remainder of the book seems to just repeat the same basic series of information: a desperate mother cannot rest until she finds her daughter; the people who took Rose will do anything to keep her; Nora’s mother and father were not who she thought they were and were hiding secrets regarding what they did during those dark days of World War II. The story just kept dragging along without any new information seeming to be given. Even the romance between Nora and her old love seemed predictable. I just kept waiting for more.
What was fascinating about The Tulip Eaters was the historical information given regarding the Nazi occupation of the Netherlands during World War II, the Dutch Nazi party as well as the resistance fighters and the horrible treatment of the Jews during that time. Unfortunately this was only presented in small bits and pieces and left me wanting more real history and less of Nora running around. Even the title is barely referenced in the story.
Overall this story just fell flat for me. It has such a fascinating premise and taught me a bit about World War II that I had never heard of before. In the end, however, that just wasn’t enough to keep me entertained. ...more
When I picked up Warm Bodies I wasn't quite sure what I would get. I tend to stay away from YA novels, especially those that involve paranormal romancWhen I picked up Warm Bodies I wasn't quite sure what I would get. I tend to stay away from YA novels, especially those that involve paranormal romances that so often seem cheesy to me. But with the movie coming out I thought I would give the book a try. I'm really happy I did because Warm Bodies turned out to be wholly unique and a thought provoking look at what makes us human.
Warm Bodies looks at "R", a zombie that begins to change when he meets Julie Grigio, a girl he initially saves from becoming zombie food and who soon becomes someone he cannot "live" without. While I have always enjoyed movies dealing with zombies, especially this time of year, I have never heard of a movie or book that takes on the perspective of the zombie. This was just such a unique way to look at things and had me sympathizing with the zombies' plight even as I cringed with the more violent and gory aspects of their existence. Some parts of the story were even funny, something I wasn't expecting at all!
What I enjoyed most about the book was the way it really dug into what makes someone human. While "R" wasn't technically alive he brought more emotion, compassion and fight to the world than many of the still breathing humans running around. He and Julie were both ready to really live and fight for a world worth fighting for and weren't content to just survive until the inevitable end of civilization. And that is when things really began to change!
I'm really excited I gave this book a try. I think I might need to expand my reading a little more and see what other surprises are out there!...more
While Layla was born under an unlucky star her grandfather raised her to be educated and progressive, dI reviewed this book for www.luxuryreading.com.
While Layla was born under an unlucky star her grandfather raised her to be educated and progressive, determined to try and give her the freedom to make her own destiny in a traditional Indian world that saw her as having very few choices. And with her independent and intelligent spirit, Layla does just that. Marrying a man previously betrothed to another and leaving behind everything she has ever known to follow her new husband to his job as an assistant manager of a British tea plantation in Assam, Layla and Manik set off on the adventure of a lifetime to chart their own course in a world previously clearly mapped out. But with the freedom of choice comes consequences neither envisioned.
Almost completely isolated in a strictly regimented colonial world, Layla must learn how to interact with the English men and women who have their own preconceived notions of her, the Indian servants she is now in charge of as well as the wild and often dangerous animals in her very own backyard. Even when Layla and Manik find deep love and contentment in the world they have chosen the ground shifts again as India in the late 1940s begins to fight for its own independence against British rule. In an insecure world that places the Debs on the knifes edge of an ever changing social, political and cultural divide, Layla will have to use every bit of ingenuity and bravery her grandfather instilled in her to survive the world crumbling around her and keep this life she has worked so hard for intact.
Teatime for the Firefly is absolutely mesmerizing. The writing provokes such vivid and beautiful imagery that it is easy to get lost in the language and lose track of time. From the brightness of the fireflies and the colorful saris to the stark savagery of the vicious environment that surrounds the tea planters I couldn’t tear myself away.
Knowing very little about India during this time, I also loved getting a peek into traditional Indian culture, the English influences on that culture and the various shifts and changes that occurred as the country was driven into the modern world. Both Layla and Manik refused to let tradition determine their futures and it was such a treat getting to see the good and the bad that resulted from going against tradition. Top all of this with unexpected humor and a tender yet powerful love story and Teatime for the Firefly is the full package. ...more
I am always intrigued to discover the inspirations that lead an author to write a book. It seems thereI reviewed this book for www.luxuryreading.com.
I am always intrigued to discover the inspirations that lead an author to write a book. It seems there are nearly unlimited sources to draw from – conversations, research, accidental occurrences – but my favorites happen to be personal experiences and family history. When I decided to read The Aftermath I had no idea the author drew on his grandfather’s experiences in war torn Germany after World War II or even the complicated dynamics men like his grandfather faced trying to rebuild this decimated land and its equally affected people while also trying to find justice for the crimes done to those countries tasked with the reconstruction. Amongst other acts of humanitarianism, the author’s grandfather, a British Colonel in charge of reconstructing part of Hamburg, Germany, decided to have the German family whose house was being requisitioned for the Colonel’s family stay and live with them. He refused to find fault with this family simply because they were Germans and this act of kindness opened up the door for the brilliant story that would become The Aftermath.
In 1946 Hamburg, Colonel Lewis Morgan is placed in charge of beginning the process of rebuilding the devastated city as well as the rehabilitation and training of its battered and displaced people. When a beautiful house on the River Elbe is requisitioned for Colonel Morgan and his family – his wife, Rachael, and their son, Edmund – the Colonel makes the radical decision to let the owners of the home – Herr Lubert, architect and widower, and his teenage daughter, Freda – stay and live with them. In the beginning this merging of two opposing worlds is anything but easy. Rachael is still mourning the loss of her eldest son, killed during bombings in England, and fights with her feelings of loss and her strained love for the husband who has become little more than a stranger to her. Herr Lubert is mourning his own loss, that of his wife, as well as the loss of control over most aspects of his life. Freda is angry against these intruders of her country and her home and seeks redemption in dangerous ways. Edmund, young and largely unaware of the hatred and fear of those around him, seeks his parents love and admiration in the wake of his brother lost too soon. And Colonel Morgan, fighting everyday with the ever tipping balance between justice and revenge, must now also find a way to balance his difficult and all consuming job with the needs and responsibilities of his family.
As the families continue to live and interact with each other they will be forced to look beyond their own feelings of prejudice, guilt and sorrow and seek some truce and solace in the new world remaining amongst the rubble. By the end of the bitterest winter on record, each person living at Villa Lubert will have faced their own demons, made mistakes and come out the other side bruised yet sure of the person they want to be and the world they want to live in.
The Aftermath is so beautifully written that at times I found myself reading passages over and over again just to enjoy the lyrical language. The majority of the story is stark and heartbreaking but underlying it all is a feeling of hope for a better future. I had personally never heard of the feral children left homeless and parent-less, just roaming around the city digging for scraps to eat or cigarettes to sell, but these damaged children really helped bring home the idea of the battered and innocent people forced to pay for the evil done by some of their German countrymen. This was a side of history I had never learned before and in the skilled hands of Rhidian Brook it is something I will never forget....more
I decided to pick up Help for the Haunted after hearing the author do an online chat with another author, long time favorite Jodi Picoult, and hearingI decided to pick up Help for the Haunted after hearing the author do an online chat with another author, long time favorite Jodi Picoult, and hearing that this book was a combination of ghost story, mystery and coming of age. Now having finished the book I realize that it is indeed all of those things and so much more, most noticeably a look at what makes a person "haunted" and how someone's perception of that characteristic can influence their actions, sometimes in devastating ways.
Growing up the children of parents dedicated to helping "haunted" people find peace, Sylvie Mason and her older sister, Rose, have never had lives that most would find normal. Their home is one that is not only open to the various paranormal possibilities but one that is also intensely devout, leading many outside their small family to either keep their distant or strike out against what they don't understand. Sylvie, the "good daughter" has gone along with their parents' unusual practices with little complaint while Rose, the wilder one, has bucked against the constraints her parents placed on them. Then one night their parents are murdered and everything changes in a flash.
Sylvie, the only witness to what happened that night, is left to not only attempt to pick up the shattered pieces of her life but to figure out what really happened. Left with a distant, secretive and angry Rose as her guardian, Sylvie will have to learn to trust in her own inner strength and abilities and to let go of everything she thought she knew about her parents, her sister and the greater world they lived in if she will ever be able to discover the facts of their lives and move on to create a new life from the rubble.
My first impression after finishing Help for the Haunted is that it isn't quite as scary as I thought it would be, at least not in the sense I anticipated. Like so many other factors within the book, once the truth is discovered and the deceptions laid aside the reality of the spookier aspects seem much more rational. What makes it truly frightening is the realization that believing in something and wanting it to be true can lead people to do some devastating things. When it comes to love, hate, jealousy, revenge and a laundry list of other intense motivators, sometimes these feelings can lead someone to do heinous things all while they justify the actions as necessary. When all the pieces finally came together at the end of the book, these facts are what caused the lasting chills for me.
Sylvie is a remarkable heroine and one I think most people will be able to sympathize with. So much pressure is on her small shoulders to do and say what others expect of her, to be the "good" one all the time. On the flip side, Rose at first came across as completely unlikeable, earning her place as the "bad" one. However, once I discovered what was really going on in her life and what she has had to put up with, I couldn't help but feel for her as well. What I come away with is the realization that every single character is influenced and motivated by external sources that shape and distort who they become, leaving everyone a little "haunted".
I don't want to give too much away as part of the excitement of this book is discovering the facts from the perceptions. However, I think most people will find various aspects of this book fascinating and quite a surprise. I am always happy to find myself completely shocked when the final page is turned and I discover I had no idea what was really going on. Help for the Haunted is one of those books and I am now really excited to go read more by John Searles. ...more
A few years ago I remember reading an article about a rich old woman whose family suspected the peopleI reviewed this book for www.luxuryreading.com.
A few years ago I remember reading an article about a rich old woman whose family suspected the people surrounding her – her medical staff, lawyers, etc. – were keeping her removed from the outside world and working to get her to give them all of her money. While I don’t remember much else about the article I do remember thinking, “How is that even possible?”, and feeling horrible for this used elderly woman and her family. Then I started reading Empty Mansions: The Mysterious Life of Huguette Clark and the Spending of a Great American Fortune and realized that Huguette was the woman from the article and that there was a lot more to her story than I could ever have imagined. As the authors put it, her story is a fairy tale in reverse, a woman born into great wealth and privilege that eventually hid herself away from the opulent life she was born into and all but the bare minimum of human contact.
The first part of Empty Mansions deals with Huguette’s father, W.A. Clark, a man that seemed to personify the American dream: coming from humble beginnings and building a vast empire using good old fashioned hard work, intelligence and a heavy dash of luck.After his first wife died, sixty-two year old W.A. Clark married twenty-three year old Anna LaChapelle, a shy woman who would become mother to Huguette and her older sister, Andree.
Growing up in unimaginable splendor, Huguette’s life wasn’t all glamour and gold. Losing her sister and closest friend Andree and her beloved, exuberant father at a young age, Huguette seemed to get stuck in a childlike state, one she never really grew out of. After a very short and seemingly unromantic marriage she lived with her mother until her mother’s death, never venturing far and choosing to spend the majority of her time with either her paintings or her intricate, expensive dolls.It wasn’t until her face became riddled with cancer and she had no other choice but to reach out to a friend for help that Huguette left her home for medical care at the hospital. She would never go back to her home – or any of the lavish properties she owned – or leave the hospital again even though she would continue to live in relatively good health for a number of decades.
Huguette’s years in the hospital are probably the hardest part of this peculiar and excessively eccentric woman’s life for me to understand. From most accounts she seemed content to live in a small, sparse room with few luxuries and give lavish and expensive gifts to the few people she came into contact with. Even with the authors’ clearly balanced and well researched information I could not wrap my head around anyone giving millions upon millions in gifts to her nurses, doctors, lawyers, etc. while refusing to even see the people who had been her friends and family her whole life, even if the family members weren’t exactly close. The resulting fight over her $300 million fortune after her death was not surprising but something I just found extremely sad. It seemed that most people were more interested, at least in the end, in Huguette’s money then in what was best for her or what she wanted her inheritance to be.
Empty Mansions is a fascinating true story of a life of extremes: excessive wealth, intense shyness and obsessive behavior that few can relate to but most will find intriguing. It reads like fiction and is highly entertaining even as it presents a unique woman and an in-depth look at the growth of America from the mid 1800s through to the present. I highly recommend this to anyone who enjoys a true story about the epitome of an eccentric millionaire and the good and the bad that comes with all that entails. ...more
When Sophie Lefevre’s artist husband, Edouard, goes off to fight for France during WWI she decides to lI reviewed this book for www.luxuryreading.com.
When Sophie Lefevre’s artist husband, Edouard, goes off to fight for France during WWI she decides to leave Paris and return to her family’s hotel in the small town of St. Peronne in Northern France and assist her sister in running it. When the town falls to the Germans their occupation leads to increasing restrictions and depleted rations as well as suspicions and gossip amongst neighbors. When the German Kommandant becomes enraptured with one of Edouard’s paintings of Sophie called The Girl You Left Behind, and Sophie learns Edouard has been captured and is being imprisoned in one of their camps, she decides to risk everything – the love of her family, her good name in St. Peronne, her very integrity – for the chance to be with Edouard again.
Nearly a century later, Liv Halston is still struggling with her husband’s sudden death four years previously. His death has left her bereft and lonely, with a designer house she cannot afford and the painting of Sophie that her husband bought for her during their honeymoon. With her life now stagnant, The Girl You Left Behind makes Liv feel connected to the love she has lost. Then she meets Paul and Liv begins to think she can live again. That is until Paul reveals he is working for the Lefevre family who believes The Girl You Left Behind was stolen by the Kommandant during the war and that they deserve it back. As The Girl You Left Behind has become so much more than a painting to Liv she refuses to let this happen.
As the court case surrounding the ownership of the painting heats up, Liv continues to learn more about the fate of the enigmatic Sophie and, in turn, more about what she wants for her own life. But as the world begins to collapse around her, Liv will have to stay as strong as Sophie did against the often negative opinions of others in order to stay true to what she feels is right and to try and give Sophie the honor she deserves.
I absolutely loved The Girl You Left Behind! The first part of the book is exclusively Sophie’s story and it is intense. I had no idea that northern parts of France were occupied by the Germans during WWI or that such atrocities, many that were replicated not that far in the future during WWII, were happening during that time. Sophie is presented as such a strong, determined woman, ready to do anything and take any abuse just for the chance to see the love of her life again. While we don’t get to see too much of Edouard, their love story is one for the ages. I think what surprised me the most during this part of the book was the quick hatred of Sophie’s neighbors when they believed anyone could even possibly be collaborating with the enemy. The fact that someone could be doing nothing wrong and find themselves without any kindness from supposed friend or foe is just heartbreaking to me.
The second part of the book mainly deals with Liv’s struggles with some smatterings of Sophie’s story as more and more is learned about her fate. It was quite interesting to see Liv experience some of the same general issues – although admittedly on a much smaller scale – as Sophie and to see how she continued to change as she came closer and closer to the truth. Everyone seemed to turn on Liv when she decided to fight for the painting, assuming they knew her reasons for doing so, and Liv has to also decide how far she is willing to go for love. While the love between Liv and Paul wasn’t quite as earth shattering for me as Sophie and Edouard it was still quite touching.
There are just so many wonderful things going on in this book that it is hard for me to even classify it – it’s got WWI history, two romances, a courtroom drama and two incredibly compelling heroines that are hard to forget. Everyone should read this book, it was just that amazing. ...more
The Wild Roses is a fun, quirky sort of story that finds three beautiful women in the role of MusketeerI reviewed this book for www.luxuryreading.com.
The Wild Roses is a fun, quirky sort of story that finds three beautiful women in the role of Musketeers. As I don’t know very much about this time period in France and no author’s notes were given detailing what is factual and what is fiction, I am hesitant to say how true to life the story really is. There were many times when I had to turn off my instinct to second guess the accuracy of the history and just enjoy the story for what it was. I had to do this with the language style as well, as it seemed to be very modern at times before transitioning back to what I would think better fit the setting. This being said, the adventures of Charlotte, Racine and Gabrielle were quite funny at times and I enjoyed their story line more than any other part of the book.
My biggest complaint with The Wild Roses would have to be that there were quite a few editing errors that kept pulling me out of the story and made for a disjointed and awkward reading experience at times. Missing words, double words and odd word placement kept throwing me off and making me reread the sentences to figure out what was going on. This might not be a problem for all readers but has always been a pet peeve of mine.
Overall The Wild Roses is a fast, exciting adventure that pits three remarkable and entertaining women at the forefront of what most would consider a male-dominated world. It was unconventional and thrilling and is sure to be enjoyed by anyone interested in a female Three Musketeer sort of story. ...more
A sad yet universal truth seems to be that, as humans age and interact and grow, they inevitably face tI reviewed this book for www.luxuryreading.com.
A sad yet universal truth seems to be that, as humans age and interact and grow, they inevitably face the sadness and loneliness of losing someone they love. We lose friends, parents, spouses, children, sometimes under devastating circumstances and nearly always before we are ready to let go. Many of these losses leave us completely bereft or riddled with guilt of one kind or another. But what if we were able to see those loved ones again, given the chance to make different choices or simply appreciate them in a way we didn’t the first time around? Would we be able to finally find the closure denied us in the past, even as we struggled with how long we might have these loved ones in the present? In The Returned, Jason Mott presents a story where this incredibly alluring premise becomes a reality, with actions and consequences both delightful and devastating.
When Harold and Lucille Hargrave’s only son Jacob drowned at his eighth birthday party in 1966 they were utterly heartbroken. Harold blamed himself for telling his young son wild stories about treasures found near the water and turned his back on the God that would allow his son to be taken. Lucille turned even further into her Baptist beliefs in search of an answer that never quite came. However, as decades past and they continued their lives in the small town of Arcadia, North Carolina, their sorrows receded and they moved on, even if they never forgot. Then the dead started popping back up all around the world, looking and acting exactly as they did the last time they were alive, and their sweet and precocious eight year old Jacob arrives at their door, scared but happy to be home.
Interspersed with the Hargraves’ story are small snippets into the lives of some of the Returned struggling like everyone else to figure out why they are there and to try and resume the lives they had before they died, something that proves harder than they would imagine. Between these glimpses into the lives of the Returned, those that have had their loved ones returned to them and those that find the Returned frightening and a sign of the end of the world as they know it, the reader is forced to understand and appreciate each side even as they struggle to determine exactly how they would feel if thrust into the same situations. Would you embrace this previously dead person and try to resume the life you had with them or would you turn them into the government that is quickly rounding up these Returned people into little better than prison camps? Would you work to try and protect these previously dead people who are just trying to move on or would you turn your back on them in fear? So many of these questions will touch the heart of the reader and will make for intense and excitable book group discussions.
While faith and religion do play a part in The Returned it is anything but preachy. The story is much more about the emotional and psychological journey than about the particular devoutness of the characters or the reader. I found myself heartbroken at the sometimes heinous actions taken against these strange people even as I could understand why someone would be so scared by their very presence. I tend to be someone who feels pretty strongly about most situations, and I was continually surprised by how emotional I got at the various responses to these characters. The Returned is tender and violent in turns and completely unlike anything I have read before, nor a story I will soon forget. ...more
Reading books set during times of war never seem to fail to point out either the horrors experienced by those brave men fighting for their countries oReading books set during times of war never seem to fail to point out either the horrors experienced by those brave men fighting for their countries or the sacrifices and activities of the women left home to worry for their loved ones. Unravelled is the first book I can think of that combines both a husband's experiences and inner workings and that of his wife, with all the loneliness, hurt and healing that is sure to happen with the continual ebb and flow of uncertainty.
When Edward Jamieson received an invitation to travel from Canada to France for the dedication of a monument to those brave men who served and died fighting during WWI he isn't sure whether he and his wife, Ann, should go or not. Edward has never fully recovered from the trauma and horror he experienced and doesn't see what good going back to the scene and letting himself remember those events will do. He has never fully told Ann about what he went through and isn't sure he will be able to keep himself sane. Beyond that, he isn't sure he is ready to see if the woman he loved, and later lost, will be there at the dedication. What will he do if he sees the woman who got away?
When Edward comes face to face with Helene, the woman who helped him heal after the war, he makes some series mistakes that put his own marriage in jeopardy. Working tirelessly to put his marriage back on track both he and Ann begin to experience some of the trust and intimacy they experienced in the early years of their marriage. That is until WWII hits.
When Edward is enlisted to be a part of some very top secret spy training for the Allies, he is forced to tell no one of his actions and to once again close part of himself off from Ann. With secrecy once again swirling around their marriage and a wall of lies between them, Ann seeks a companion and confidante in another man, a man who is willing to make her feel desirable and wanted instead of neglected like Edward. As war continues to rage on and Edward and Ann continue drifting farther and farther apart, will they ever be able to find themselves again in a marriage that seems doomed to continue to unravel?
I was continually impressed with the obvious research that went into writing Unravelled. The descriptions of war - both the planning and training aspects as well as the actual fighting - were fascinating and incredibly vivid. M.K. Tod did a fantastic job of balancing both this raw physicality with the emotional and mental goings on of the characters. Getting inside the head of both Edward and Ann you can completely understand why each made some of the decisions they did while you still see how their actions could have devastating consequences for their lives. This, if nothing else, really helped me see how the utter chaos of war can influence people to make some incredibly severe and rash decisions just to try and survive with their hearts and minds intact.
If I had any complaint about Unravelled it would be that I wish it was broken into two (or maybe three) books. I think it would have been wonderful to have the first half of the book - dealing with Edward's experiences in WWI, he and Ann's trip to France and the horrible consequences of Edward meeting up again with Helene - as its own book and the second half - dealing with Edward's secret work during WWII, Ann's affair and their attempt to find a way back to each other after WWII ended - as a completely separate book. I think this would have allowed for even more development of an already wonderful and intriguing storyline and leave it open (if I had my own way of course) for a third book that dealt with whether or not the two are able to find a way back to each other for good.
Anyone who enjoys books set during both world wars as well as books that show the difficult and often ugly give and take of a marriage falling apart and coming back together again should give Unravelled a try. I am definitely glad I did and now have my interest piqued to read more about both wars and the affects it has on those left standing when the rubble settles. ...more
Royal Inheritance presents a unique viewpoint of the ever shifting Tudor world as well as the politicsI reviewed this book for www.luxuryreading.com.
Royal Inheritance presents a unique viewpoint of the ever shifting Tudor world as well as the politics and schemes that swirl around those with the potential to have even a drop of royal blood. Using the real life circumstances of a laundress’s daughter rumored to have potentially been the bastard offspring of Henry VIII, Kate Emerson spins a remarkable tale of a young woman kept guessing as to her true identity and her dangerous fight to not only find the truth but to determine her own future in a world where women have little say in the course of their lives.
Weakened by a fever she contracted in the summer of 1556, Audrey Harington sets out to tell her young daughter, Hester, the truth about Audrey’s parentage, upbringing and marriage to her husband, Jack. Not knowing how much longer she might have, Audrey is determined to make sure her own daughter doesn’t remain ignorant to the facts of her heritage as she herself spent much of her life being.
Born the daughter of a poor laundress working in Windsor Castle, Audrey is removed from her abusive home at the age of four and placed in the home of John Malte, Henry VIII’s tailor, who claims to be her father. However, after accompanying her father to court and coming face to face with the King, his attentions seem odd to young Audrey. She is further confused when he demands she continue to accompany her father to court, presents her with various gifts and orders she receive lessons not extended to her other sisters, all very unusual for a simple merchant’s daughter. Furthermore, her father is given gifts beyond his station, land and properties given jointly to John Malte and Audrey. After meeting the King’s youngest daughter, the Princess Elizabeth, and noting the remarkable likeness to herself, Audrey begins to suspect that John Malte might not be her biological father after all.
I admittedly cannot get enough of reading about the Tudors from various vantage points. While the greater goings on of Henry VIII, his wives and his children do play a part in Royal Inheritance, Audrey’s attempts to navigate through life and find her true place in the world takes center stage. I found this particularly interesting as novels dealing with the Tudors tend to focus on the glitz and glamour of the court and not the day to day goings on of those outside the realm of the nobility. I enjoyed seeing London from the viewpoint of someone raised in the bustle of normal life there.
What I enjoyed most, however, would be the fact that most of the people and events seemed to be true to history. The back of Royal Inheritance includes a “Who Was Who at the English Court: 1532 – 56” and this helped flesh out the facts from the fiction used to advance to story. Even my least favorite part of Royal Inheritance, the somewhat unrequited love between Audrey and Jack, appears to be supported by known facts. While this relationship made for a rather bitter sweet tone to the end of Audrey’s story, I appreciate the fact that Kate Emerson stayed as true to history as she could.
Anyone interested in viewing the Tudors from a slight distance and learning more about those on the fringes of the court will really enjoy Royal Inheritance. I plan on looking further into these real life characters to see what else I can learn. ...more
Twelve year old Alek Dunahew is sent to spend the summer of 1965 with his grandmother Alma in West TablI reviewed this book for www.luxuryreading.com.
Twelve year old Alek Dunahew is sent to spend the summer of 1965 with his grandmother Alma in West Table, Missouri and hopefully begin to mend the long standing hurt between Alma and Alek’s father, John Paul. During this visit Alma tells Alek about the devastating Arbor Dance Hall explosion of 1929 that claimed forty-two people, including Alma’s beloved sister, Ruby, as well as her suspicions and beliefs as to what caused the devastation that would continue to haunt this small town for generations.
The Maid’s Version is one of those novels that draws you in with its languid and conversational language and keeps you reading to see what secrets will be revealed between the banter. The narrator, Alek, is such a delightful storyteller that I sometimes forgot he was relaying a story about cruel, severe poverty, violence, war and injustice. The dialect and writing style can be hard to process at times – I found myself occasionally having to go back and read long passages again to better grasp their meaning – but once I began to ease into the manner I found it fit with the rough and tumble story perfectly.
While the book is quite short the various characters are all developed well enough to give you a good feel for not only each individually but them as a whole community trying to eke out an existence together. The peeks into each of their lives not only showcased the secrets inherent in a small town but the devastation and loss these sorts of secrets can render.
The Maid’s Version is my first novel by Daniel Woodrell but I’m excited to read more from him. His way of depicting very real and very relatable characters in such a harsh and unforgiving background is something I won’t soon forget. ...more
When Elsie Porter asked her new husband, Ben Ross, to pick her up some Fruity Pebbles at the store she had no idea what would happen next. Flushed witWhen Elsie Porter asked her new husband, Ben Ross, to pick her up some Fruity Pebbles at the store she had no idea what would happen next. Flushed with the love of their whirlwind romance, her life is instantly devastated seemingly beyond repair when her husband is hit by a truck and killed on impact. While trying to process this agonizing news at the hospital she comes face to face with Ben's mother, Susan, a woman who didn't even know Elsie existed.
As both women attempt to cope with the day to day life without Ben they begin to find that having each other might be the only way to get through this loss and find a life for themselves on the other side of heartbreak.
There is no other word for what Elsie and Susan go through in Forever, Interrupted then heartbreaking. I found myself breaking down numerous times in the beginning of the book just reading what these characters were going through. Elsie is beyond comfort in the beginning and can't see how she can possibly continue without Ben, even as she feels embarrassed that they were together such a short time that neither of their families even knew about it. Susan is angry - angry at Ben for not telling her about Elsie, angry at Elsie for just being there - but soon realises that Elsie isn't the enemy. It was really informative and cathartic to see how the two women worked through their recurring grief (or, in some instances, didn't) and I could completely relate to both women's anger at the world and there confusion at why this had to happen to them. There are even some relatively humorous moments when Elsie's grief manifests in less than ideal ways and her outbursts are directed at the wrong person!
Alternating with Elsie and Susan's present story is the story of Ben and Elsie's developing relationship. Starting on New Year's Day we see them come together with a quick and endearing passion that results in them eloping in May. Nine days after they elope is the accident that ends it all. This storyline not only helped firm up the real deep rooted love between Ben and Elsie, which otherwise would be hard to define since they had been together a short amount of time, but helped hightlight the fact that we never know when the ones we love will be taken away from us and that we should make the most of it while we have them.
Anyone who has ever loved someone so much that they cannot imagine their life without them or someone who has actually lost that love and survived the torrential grief that lose illicited will be able to appreciate Elsie and Susan's story. The underlining theme that, with the love and support of those closest to us, we can survive something so devastating really touched a nerve with me. I can't wait to see what Taylor Jenkins Reid writes next!
As the foreword to Cherokee Talisman states, "History is written by the victorious". Nothing was more plainly clear to me as I read this book and compAs the foreword to Cherokee Talisman states, "History is written by the victorious". Nothing was more plainly clear to me as I read this book and compared what I had learned in my history classes about the burgeoning United States of America and its influence and interactions with the Native American people already living on the land and what I was reading in this book. It's a story of a proud, respectful culture being slowly extinguished and the brave members continuing to fight the inevitable outcome. This story is vicious, violent and exceedingly compelling.
Cherokee Talisman follows the changing world of the Cherokee Nation and some of its brethren nations such as the Shawnee, Creek and Seminole from 1775 through 1821. Seen mainly through the eyes of Totsuhwa, a Cherokee warrior and shaman, and his extended family members I was absolutely stunned at the various evils done against the Native American people. We see so called "American heros" like Daniel Boone and Andrew Jackson try to trick the leaders of the Indian tribes into signing away the land they had lived on since human feet touched it and, if that didn't get them what they wanted, see them slaughter at will every Native American man, woman and child they came into contact with. I was stunned at the continued attempt by the Native Americans to adapt and change in the best possible attempt to survive and retain the history and culture of their ancestors. They switched allegiances when necessary and did their own slaughtering of innocent settlers if they stepped foot on their land, but while I didn't find this to be something they should have done none of their atrocities seemed to even come close to the horror done to them.
With all the war and fighting I found my favorite parts of the story dealt with the portions within the Indian villages and the family interactions between Totsuhwa, his wife Galegi and his son Chancellor. These portions gave some much needed sweet to the tang of the rest of the story and was how I learned the most about the Native American history and folklore as well as how tender and kind these Indian warriors could be when not fighting for their rights.
Readers should be warned that Cherokee Talisman is quite graphic and violent at times, but given what is being described I think it would be a travesty against the story if it wasn't raw and vicious as was the truth. I will never look at the plight of the American Indian the same way again and look forward to seeing where the next book in this series might take them....more
It’s 1492 and young, beautiful Giulia Farnese is preparing for the adventure of her life. She is exciteI reviewed this book for www.luxuryreading.com.
It’s 1492 and young, beautiful Giulia Farnese is preparing for the adventure of her life. She is excited to become the wife of the handsome and rich Orsino Orsini and is ready to live the luxuriant life of one of her status. Imagine her surprise when she discovers her marriage was a sham and orchestrated solely so she could become the mistress to the powerful, charismatic Cardinal Borgia. Without consent, Giulia finds herself living in the home of Orisino’s mother, cousin to the wolfish Cardinal, and separated from her would-be husband while being actively courted and pursued by the man who would be Pope. Try as she might, it is only a matter of time before Giulia relents under the passion and constant attention from such a powerful, charming man. Giulia soon becomes Rodrigo Borgia’s willing concubine and, when he becomes Pope Alexander VI, the Venus of the Vatican.
Being the Pope’s mistress isn’t all opulent splendor, however, and Giulia discovers there are many who think of her as nothing more than a glorified whore while others seek to use her for her connection to her keeper, all while realizing her position is anything but certain. Finding unlikely confidantes in a select few servants, including a sharp tongued cook named Carmelina and a vindictive dwarf bodyguard named Leonello, both of which are hiding plenty of secrets themselves, Giulia and her entourage will have to learn the rules in this viper’s nest if they plan on surviving this twisted, sinful world of the Borgias.
Memorable characters, exciting, twisting plots and true to life situations are attributes of historical fiction that keep me coming back time and time again and The Serpent and the Pearl has all of this and more. It is impossible not to feel compassion for Giulia as she finds herself married to a man she cannot have and pursued by a powerful one she never expected to love. Somehow Giulia keeps her sense of humor and kindness through it all and I genuinely enjoyed seeing her grow into a woman and a mother navigating a glittery, dangerous world few could imagine.
The secondary story lines presented by both Carmelina and Leonello were even more entertaining, especially given the intelligent, snarky commentary and the slow unraveling secrets and mysteries they presented. Their perspectives helped flesh out the underbelly of this seemingly opulent time and place and gave a well-rounded viewpoint of not only the seedier side of Italy during this time but of the extended Borgia children, including sweet yet spoiled Lucrezia and the dark, exceedingly dangerous Cesare.
While The Serpent and the Pearl did not have as much conflict or danger as I imagined it would have, this is the first book in a series and leaves off on quite the uncertain cliff hanger for all three characters, leaving me to believe there is much more excitement to come. I, for one, am impatiently twiddling my thumbs in anticipation of what will befall this motley crew next. ...more
The first book in C.W. Gortner's Spymaster Chronicles, The Tudor Secret introduces the reader to Brendan Prescott, a foundling raised in the Dudley hoThe first book in C.W. Gortner's Spymaster Chronicles, The Tudor Secret introduces the reader to Brendan Prescott, a foundling raised in the Dudley household and one who's very blood hides a secret many would do anything, even kill, to keep hidden.
When Brendan arrives at court in the summer of 1553 to be squire to Robert Dudley, he finds his life instantly turned on its head when he begins working as a spy for William Cecil, Princess Elizabeth's most trusted advisor. He is charged with finding out what has happened to King Edward VI, who is apparently very ill but who has not been seen for some time, and what the despicable Dudleys are plotting as the head of the family, the Duke of Northumberland, spins his web to keep control over England. They are plotting something that might bring down both the Princesses Mary and Elizabeth and Brendan must help Cecil discover what. In exchange Cecil will help Brendan discover who he really is, information he might wish he had left hidden away.
The Tudor Secret really sets up a wonderful cast of characters for this series, ones that meld real history with fiction in a combination that is just fascinating. There is never-ending action that goes from gilded rooms of the palaces to slimy walled dungeons. And Brendan, our seemingly fearless guide, is ready to face any foe or fight that comes his way to protect the Princess Elizabeth who he comes to love very much by the end of the book.
What I found the most interesting was how menacing and loathesome some of the real life people were depicted...just eerily evil, especially The Duchess of Northumberland and Lady Dudley. This really helped showcase how power and corruption can eat away at someone who seeks only the highest echelons at a place that is teeming with envy.
I have also read the second book in the series, The Tudor Conspiracy, and I cannot wait to see where the story heads next! I only hope that Brendan finds some real happiness and contentment by the end! ...more
The Tudor Conspiracy is the second book in C.W. Gortner’s The Spymaster Chronicles and I would highly rI reviewed this book for www.luxuryreading.com.
The Tudor Conspiracy is the second book in C.W. Gortner’s The Spymaster Chronicles and I would highly recommend anyone interested in this series start with the first book, The Tudor Secret. Without first reading The Tudor Secret the intricate and weaving relationships between the characters cannot be fully appreciated. Hinted at past wrongs and the heartfelt reunions just don’t seem as poignant when you haven’t read what happened before. For me, I like to feel fully absorbed in what is going on. And this is a great series to become absorbed in!
While Brendan Prescott is fictional he is a wonderfully entertaining character to have as that crucial person able to go between Mary and Elizabeth’s intimate circles as well as into the underbelly of London. He is intelligent, tough and snarky when he needs to be and it seems like he can blend in to most surroundings, even when he becomes increasingly injured in his dealings with those that would happily see him and the woman he serves dead. He is able to witness people in different lights – whether vulnerable behind closed doors or strong and determined in front of others – and this well rounded view allows the reader to see that most people Brendan comes into contact with are usually not all good or bad. This also makes it harder to determine who is telling the truth and who isn’t, as well as why they might be lying, all of which adds to the suspense and mystery permeating the story.
So much is written about the Tudors and it can be hard to find stories that haven’t been told a hundred times before. The Tudor Conspiracy deals with the immediate time before, during and after the Wyatt Revolt of 1544, a time and situation that has been discussed in other books I’ve read but not used as the central conspiracy. There is so much to love here, with suspense, action, history, intrigue and even a little bit of romance that it would be hard not to find something to enjoy. This is a must read for anyone who loves a dramatic Tudor story. ...more