New York City, 1940: Flora Lewis has always loved learning about plants and flowers but has had to put her commitments to her parent’s bakery before a...moreNew York City, 1940: Flora Lewis has always loved learning about plants and flowers but has had to put her commitments to her parent’s bakery before any personal pursuits in order to help keep their family afloat. But now, with the threat of losing the bakery and the apartment above it looming over them, Flora agrees to travel to England to help an international ring of flower thieves locate a rare and valuable camellia plant, the Middlebury Pink. Excited for the adventure that lies ahead but apprehensive about her hidden agenda, Flora poses as a nanny at Livingston Manor where the last camellia is believed to be hidden within a beautiful orchard built for the recently deceased Lady Livingston.
New York City, 2000: Addison Sinclair has finally found the life she has been searching for. She is happily married to a charming and caring English writer, Rex. Her landscape design business is really taking off. Life seems perfect. But when her past – a dark past that she has kept hidden from everyone, even Rex – comes literally calling her back to it she convinces her husband this is the perfect time to escape to the home in the English countryside his parents have recently purchased. So off to Livingston Manor they go.
A beautiful yet eerie feeling seems to permeate every corner of the estate and its extensive gardens and the couple’s curiosity is instantly piqued. As they both start digging into the home’s past, looking for inspiration for Rex’s next book, they find information that points towards a malevolence that neither could have guessed. And when Flora's story begins to weave into the present Flora discovers just how heinous the secrets of Livingston Manor are.
The Last Camellia is one of those books that, once I’ve turned the last page, I just sit back and say “wow”. I am always thoroughly impressed to see an author be able to twist and weave the past and the present, slowly revealing all the facts until the various pieces neatly fit together. Combine this with disquieting characters, evil intentions and a big, creaky old house and it’s really hard to put the book down and do anything else.
My favorite aspect of the book is the underlying themes of regret and redemption. Both of our main characters are hiding secrets they are ashamed of and both will do whatever they can to do the right thing in the end. Now whether they are successful or not I will leave you to find out yourself.
The Last Camellia is an addicting kind of read and will fit perfectly in your beach bag or tucked up with you on a dark and stormy night. Bravo Sarah Jio!(less)
The Painted Girls is a phenomenal look at the truth hidden behind the supposed glitz and glamour of the...moreI reviewed this book for www.luxuryreading.com.
The Painted Girls is a phenomenal look at the truth hidden behind the supposed glitz and glamour of the Parisian Ballet. Just like Degas’ artwork, the story highlights the true struggle and ugliness of the poor of Paris during this time of great cultural change and serves to present the story of sisters born in the gutter but wanting nothing more than to rise above what they are told their life must be. It is entirely impossible not to feel for Marie and Antoinette and their deep need for something better. Also venturing into the realm of the belief that a person’s heredity and physical appearance determine what sort of person they will become – a poor, ugly person highlighting an ugly, vicious personality while a handsome or rich person more likely to be good natured – it was interesting to see the two sisters battle with their own personal demons to determine what sort of person they would become.
Beautifully written, The Painted Girls is a story of opposites: meek vs. strong, rich vs. poor, beautiful vs. ugly, good vs. bad. Anyone who is interested in learning more about the truth behind the glitzy veneer of the Parisian Ballet or anyone who just loves a complicated, endearing story of sisters would love this book. I now want to learn more about this time period and, for me, that is the true test of great historical fiction. (less)
There is just something about a Kate Morton novel that allows the reader to become completely immersed in her twisting, multi-layered story lines and...moreThere 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.(less)
When Emilie de la Martinieres’s mother dies she is left with a very difficult decision to make. As she...moreI reviewed this book for www.luxuryreading.com.
When Emilie de la Martinieres’s mother dies she is left with a very difficult decision to make. As she is the only heir to the great de la Martinieres fortune, her mother’s death leaves her rich and in the possession of her family’s historic chateau and vineyard which are in need of much time and repair to bring them back to the grandeur they deserve. Now she must decide between the relatively solitary but safe life she has established for herself and a new life that, while secure monetarily, will demand of Emilie her time, heart and openness to discover the truth of her family’s past and to make the best decisions for what remains of her legacy. With all of this now suddenly on her plate she isn’t even sure where to begin.
Her prayers seem to be answered when she meets a charming art dealer from England named Sebastian Carruthers and he not only helps begin the process of setting her life on track and getting the work begun on restoring the chateau but thoroughly steals her heart. When Sebastian relates that his late grandmother, Constance Carruthers, actually lived at the chateau for a time during WWII but never really discussed how or why, Emilie’s interest is peaked by this seeming coincidence and she sets out to discover the details of the two families’ connections.
Interspersed with Emilie’s story is that of Constance, a British office clerk turned Special Operations Executive sent undercover into France to aid the Resistance during WWII, and how she ended up living in the home of Edouard de la Martinieres, Emilie’s father, a prominent Frenchman who is also working to thwart the German enemy who has occupied his beloved country. As both story lines progress both women will have to use their hearts and their heads to determine who to trust and what they must do as life’s endless difficulties continue to assault them, sometimes with devastating consequences.
The Lavender Garden is a perfect example of the kind of novel I have come to love in the last few years, one that blends the past and the present together, slowly revealing shocking information and the various connections between story lines until the final revelations and resolutions are neatly laid before the reader. Both Emilie and Constance’s stories are exciting, shocking and touching in turns and don’t fail to twist around and keep the reader guessing. While certain aspects where somewhat predictable, the big secrets remained just that until the end and the author artfully left integral plot points hanging at the switch between story lines, keeping me unable to stop turning the pages so I could finally figure out what was really going on. I don’t want to give too much away because the characters and their struggles are captivating and quite sad at times but I will say that the ending was wrapped up very well and left me feeling satisfied and happy for the journey.
Just about anyone can find something to enjoy in The Lavender Garden. There’s history, war, love, loss and even a modern story line full of mystery and conflict. I am now a firm fan of Lucinda Riley. (less)
In March 1912, an American college student named David Graham writes a fan letter to a Scottish poet li...moreI reviewed this book for www.luxuryreading.com.
In March 1912, an American college student named David Graham writes a fan letter to a Scottish poet living in Skye named Elspeth Dunn. As their correspondence continues over the next five years a tender yet persistent love grows. Through their letters they confess all: that David feels like a failure and adrift in a world that he doesn’t quite fit into; that Elspeth is married yet extremely lonely on her loved yet isolated island. They push each other to face their fears and try to find true happiness, hopefully someday with each other. But their love is complicated, not only by distance but by Elspeth’s marriage and David’s need to find adventure and satisfaction. When David joins the American Field Service Association as an ambulance driver during World War I life becomes even more desperate as Elspeth must now worry about whether he will even survive to give them a chance at the future they both want. As their lives twist and turn they continue to keep each other strong through their letters. Until the letters stop coming.
In 1940, Elspeth’s daughter, Margaret, is working to transport children out of the more dangerous cities facing nightly bombing to the relative safety of the Scottish countryside. When Elspeth learns her daughter has fallen in love with a pilot in the Royal Air Force she warns her daughter not to lose her heart during war time, that sometimes that love will come to only heartache. Margaret is confused by her mother’s response, never having been told about her mother’s life before she was born or even about her own father. When their home is damaged during a nightly air raid and letters that have been well hidden are scattered across the bedroom Margaret is further perplexed by her mother’s emotional response and refusal to acknowledge who they are from. Then Elspeth disappears and Margaret is left with only one letter from an American to try and find not only her mother but the key to her mother’s past.
Please excuse me while I gush over Letters from Skye. I absolutely loved it! Written exclusively as letters to and from various people, the reader is able to see directly into the hearts and minds of the letter writers, which really makes them endearing characters. Letters seem to give security to the writer, allowing them to share their lives and discuss topics and feelings that they might not otherwise feel comfortable sharing. This is apparent in the blossoming love between Elspeth and David and I ached along with them as they struggled to figure out how to make it work. The continual backdrop of war made their obvious issues even more difficult and you really can’t help but want them to find a way to be happy and together.
Margaret’s search for the secrets of her mother’s past is also incredibly poignant as you can feel her need to understand the past and where she comes from. There are a lot of twists that develop throughout the story but I don’t want to give too much away…you need to read the book and discover the journey for yourself.
The descriptions of Skye really drew me in as well as I have been there and it truly is a magical, beautiful place. It is easy to see this sometimes bright, sometimes stormy story set against such a rustic, ever changing background. That and the destruction and urgency of war combined with the character developments really keep you turning the pages. I couldn’t put the book down and continued to read it until the last page turned and I was shocked and disappointed it was over.
While I found the books epistolary style to be perfect for the story, others might not like a book written only in letters. Even if you aren’t sure this is for you I would recommend giving it a try. This is my favorite read of the year so far. (less)
On Thursday, July 15th, 1976, during a typical breakfast with his wife, Gretta, at their home in London...moreI reviewed this book for www.luxuryreading.com.
On Thursday, July 15th, 1976, during a typical breakfast with his wife, Gretta, at their home in London, Robert Riordan leaves to get the paper and doesn’t return home. He takes their money out of their bank account and seemingly disappears. Over the course of the next few days all three of Gretta’s children return home to assist in finding their father, a near miracle in itself as the three siblings haven’t had much to do with each other over the last few years.
As this shattered family searches for Robert in the midst of the worst heatwave any of them have dealt with they will no longer be able to keep all of their secrets to themselves and will have to come clean and be honest with each other, including Gretta who has been hiding the biggest secret of them all, one that will change the very dynamics of this family. It is only with this naked truth that any of them can hope to come back together and be a family again.
I absolutely adore anything Maggie O’Farrell writes and Instructions for a Heatwave is no exception. She takes this fictional family, one that could seemingly be any typical Catholic family, and exposes them to their barest bones and turns the very ordinariness of their lives into compelling and dramatic prose. It so perfectly highlights the fact that everyone keeps secrets from even those they claim to be closest to and that it is only when that wall of secrecy is finally brought down that they can truly be as close as they might wish to be. The ending is rather abrupt but even this seems a plus as it is clearly the journey that this family goes on and not the ultimate destination that is meant as the heart of the story. Their growth is what is important, not the outcome.
I would recommend Instructions for a Heatwave, and really any of Maggie O’Farrell’s writing, to anyone looking for a compelling story that brings exquisite twists and turns to what appear to be very common place lives. She is truly one of my favorite authors of all time and her newest does not disappoint. (less)
Nicola Marter has created quite a life for herself, working in a Russian art gallery in London and work...moreI reviewed this book for www.luxuryreading.com.
Nicola Marter has created quite a life for herself, working in a Russian art gallery in London and working very hard to appear, and be, as normal as possible. But Nicola is hiding a secret: when she touches an object she can catch glimpses into the lives of the people who touched it before. Having been devastated and shamed by people that didn't understand her gifts she decided years before to hide that part of herself and to distance herself from anyone who knew.
When a lonely and desperate woman comes into the gallery to try and sell a small carving of a Firebird, one she claims was given to her descendant by Empress Catherine of Russia, Nicola touches the carving and sees instantly that she’s telling the truth. But when the woman cannot produce any evidence to prove her story, Nicola knows she must do whatever she can to help this woman prove her claim. And she’s going to need to use her powers, and those of Rob, the man she has tried unsuccessfully to forget, to make that happen.
Weaving back and forth between time and place, Nicola and Rob’s story is interspersed with that of Anna Moray, the woman who received the Firebird carving from the Empress. As Nicola and Rob continue to track Anna in the hopes of finding some way to prove her connection to the Empress Catherine, Rob patiently yet adamantly pushes Nicola to use her gifts and accept and be happy with the woman she really is, one he clearly cares for. And as they continue to track Anna from Scotland to Russia they see her grow from a brave small girl who must be hidden away from her own family for safety into a strong, determined young woman who would do anything for what she believes to be right and to protect those she loves. Both these women must learn that, to be truly happy, they will need to not only accept themselves completely for who they really are but will need to put down their defenses and open up their hearts to let true love in.
The Firebird is the second book by Susanna Kearsley I have read and, if it is even possible, I loved this book more than the last. Her ability to effortlessly go back and forth between timelines and to describe the settings, whether historic or modern, so that the reader is right there along for the joyride is just amazing. Her characters are so real and raw that you can almost imagine that you have a little bit of Nicola’s gift and are actually seeing them through the pages. It takes quite a lot of skill to have a reader turn the last page of an over 500 page book and only wish that there were 500 more pages to go, and that is exactly how I felt when I finished The Firebird.
Any reader not familiar with the history behind Empress Catherine or the Jacobite movement that is predominant in Anna’s story need not worry because Ms. Kearsley does an exceptional job of bringing the reader up to snuff on the history in an easily understandable way throughout the story as well as in the highly informative “About the Characters” section at the back of the book. I can’t find a reason why anyone would not enjoy this book, as long as they are prepared to put everything else aside to read it as they won’t want to put it down and do anything else once they start. (less)
Continuing the streak of exemplary short stories, Beginning Again follows another thread in the interconnected lives found throughout the series. This...moreContinuing the streak of exemplary short stories, Beginning Again follows another thread in the interconnected lives found throughout the series. This time following Corrine Brown - Love, Accidentally's Ilsa's sister - we see a woman struggle to stay strong and continue to move forward into a new life when all she wants to do is go back to the old one.
Beginning on New Year's Eve at her sister's wedding to Griffin, Corrine cannot help but think of where she was just one year before. Then she was happy and married to her husband, Bruce. Now they are divorced, he has gone back to the first wife he never stopped loving and she has to move out of their home and into one all her own. How lonely she feels, even as she knows she has loved ones who are their to support her when she needs them. It just isn't the same, it seems, being all alone when everyone else goes home.
When searching for a new place she chances upon three young men who are looking for a female roommate. They have another woman moving in (Becca, Renee's sister, from These Girls!) and they want to find a second to keep her company. Young, disheveled and full of boundless energy, these "puppy boys" seem almost too much to handle. But won't they also serve to keep her from feeling alone?
Taking a chance and deciding to move in, Corrine soon finds a solid place from which to launch her new life. Even as she takes one step forward and two steps back, her roommates are there to support her - along with Ilsa and Griffin - to allow Corrine the space and experiences she needs to learn that she can be happy again, if she is only willing to keep moving forward into whatever life has waiting for her on the other side of loss.
There is nothing better to me than to find a great new character and to reacquaint myself again with other much loved ones. In Sarah Pekkanen's short story collection you get both! While Beginnng Again mainly follows Corrine, we get peaks into the lives of other characters from the series (such as Elise from All is Bright and Griffin and Ilsa from Love, Accidentally) as well as Becca from the full length novel These Girls. This helps to solidify questions left the last time we saw these characters as well as to see how they twist into the different lives of the various other characters.
Corrine is such an endearing character! Trying desperately to be strong and move on, it is hard to see her falter along her rocky and difficult road to accepting this new life she doesn't really want. Her roommates are delightful and I can only imagine that living with a lively and caring bunch of boys like that would lift anyone spirits! While the ending is definitely open ended and we don't necessarily see Corrine reach her "happy ever after", I have a feeling we will see more of her again. I am excited to see where this short story series goes next (please write more, Ms. Pekkanen!) and which new character thread will become the focus. (less)
I have read all three books in Sandra Byrd’s Ladies in Waiting series and, while I have really enjoyed...moreI reviewed this book for www.luxuryreading.com.
I have read all three books in Sandra Byrd’s Ladies in Waiting series and, while I have really enjoyed them all, Roses Have Thorns was by far my favorite. Being a huge fan of Tudor historical fiction, I was delighted to find a real member of Elizabeth’s court that I had never heard of. The relationship between Helena and Elizabeth is touching and they are presented as having both love and respect for each other. Through Helena’s eyes we see an Elizabeth that is not only smart, haughty and sometimes demanding but one that is compassionate and willing to set her own deep desire for romantic love and children aside for what is best for her country. We get to peek behind the hard mask of royalty to see the sad and lonely flesh and blood woman underneath.
The other aspect of Roses Have Thorns that I enjoyed was Helena’s struggles to juggle her demanding responsibilities at court with her responsibilities to her husband and children. While this is obviously at a different level, I think many working women will be able to see a little bit of themselves in Helena’s struggles and will be able to sympathize with the many sacrifices she will have to make in that ever shifting balance.
Roses Have Thorns hits on many of the tumultuous events surrounding Elizabeth’s reign that so many other books have as well, namely her extended battle with Mary, Queen of Scots, the constant struggle between the Catholic and Protestant factions within England, the continuous pressures to marry and produce an heir and her battle with Spain. What makes the book wholly unique to me is the humanization of the virgin queen and her close relationship with her Swedish lady in waiting. Any fan of historical fiction, especially surrounding the Tudors, will love this. (less)
In the summer before the First World War, Clarissa Granville is living the ideal life of a sheltered yo...moreI reviewed this book for www.luxuryreading.com.
In the summer before the First World War, Clarissa Granville is living the ideal life of a sheltered young woman of rank at her family’s country estate of Deyning. Knowing very little about the world beyond the gates of Deyning, Clarissa has been raised like most women of her class to believe that her future consists of parties, the search for a rich husband and a life raising children and caring for her home. That is until Tom Cuthbert, the housekeeper’s son, arrives at Deyning.
Over the next nearly 20 years the lives of Tom and Clarissa continue to come together and fall apart again and again. Separated by war, society, duty and so much more these two never lose the love for each other they secretly hold within their hearts. With the world they have always known falling apart around them how will these two ever be able to put the world aside and finally come together? And if they can, what sort of world can they have together given all the secrets and history that follows them?
I absolutely loved The Last Summer! Never being a big fan of romance, this book offers so much more than that. While the evolution of Tom and Clarissa’s relationship is center stage, this book will draw in lovers of history or fans of stories of war and its various consequences. Judith Kinghorn has an incredible descriptive skill and really allows the reader to see not just the glitz and glamour of the times but the fear and desperation underneath as well as the loss of innocence for this young, naïve generation and the growth into a more cynical and wary one. And with these changes come changes in their perceptions of the ever changing world around them and the breakdown of the hierarchy of the classes they have always had to live within. I have read books that showed the devastation of war but very rarely do you get both the perspective of the vast amount of young men going off to fight and die and the perspective of the devastated women left behind to live and mourn together.
With all these issues swirling around, our main characters are constantly drawn together and pushed apart again, their bond seeming to have an unbreakable hold on each of their hearts. It is a very poignant relationship that brilliantly highlights the changes happening around them all, and I could not get enough. The supporting characters, especially Clarissa’s mother who is hiding her own secrets, are just as well fleshed out and even Deyning seemed to have its own life and was forced to change over the years just as much as everyone else.
The Last Summer is the sort of book that you can’t put down but you try to do anyways because you just don’t want it to end too quickly. I am very excited to see what the author comes up with next. (less)
While I have a number of Anne Easter Smith’s novels on my bookshelves, Royal Mistress is the first of h...moreI reviewed this book for www.luxuryreading.com.
While I have a number of Anne Easter Smith’s novels on my bookshelves, Royal Mistress is the first of her novels I have read. I am now kicking myself that I have waited this long! Her writing makes you feel like you are plopped down right in the center of late 15th century London, along for the roller coaster ride that was the end of the War of the Roses and the rise of the Tudors. While Jane’s point of view is central to the story structure, we get peaks into the minds and hearts of a number of characters – including Edward IV and his haughty Queen Elizabeth, Richard III and Will Hastings – and this allows for a thoroughly well rounded, full grasp of the events and feelings of all participants. For me, this helped humanize everyone involved and kept from dividing characters into clear good vs. bad categories.
Ms. Smith’s Jane Shore is an absolutely fascinating character and it is easy to see how she captured the hearts of not only these various high ranking men but also the very people of London she walked amongst. The author has taken what very little information history has provided us about Mistress Shore and has so fully fleshed her out that I cannot imagine her any other way. We are also given a very thorough Author’s Note section that clearly states what is known fact and what is interpretation or invention to build the story. This is incredibly important to me when reading historical fiction as I like to know what liberties the author has taken in presenting their story and what is historically accurate.
For lovers of historical fiction this is a must read. I think those readers who aren’t as interested in reading history might feel slightly lost or bogged down by the sheer volume of history discussed but even those not interested in the history will find it a fascinating story, however, and I highly recommend this to any and all readers looking for a delightful character that refuses to give up or live by other people’s standards. (less)
The Purple Shroud, the follow up to Stella Duffy’s Theodora: Actress, Empress, Whore, begins five years...moreI reviewed this book for www.luxuryreading.com.
The Purple Shroud, the follow up to Stella Duffy’s Theodora: Actress, Empress, Whore, begins five years into Justinian I’s reign as Emperor. It has been eleven years since Theodora was brought to the palace and her life irrevocably changed. She is now Empress, with all the riches, security and power that the title entails. She is greatly loved and respected by her husband and marginally so by the others that surround them, always seeking the ear and good wishes of the Augusts. Even though she finds the restrictions on her freedom stifling, she knows that her place beside her husband, a man she has grown to love greatly, is far more important than her ability to walk outside the palace's walls undetected. She now has the ability to make a difference in the world, an ability she does not take lightly.
Through destruction and plague, through growth and rebirth, Theodora stays by Justinian’s side and works tirelessly to align her husband’s goals with that of his people’s. Through it all she learns to open herself up and love those who care for her and distance herself from those that try to bring her down, those that can’t believe that a dancing whore from the streets – Theodora-from-the-brothel – could care for anything more than her own greed. Proving them wrong, Theodora not only improves life for the citizens of Constantinople during her lifetime but sets into motion changes for the future, such as the succession after Justinian, that firmly place her as one of the most influential women in the history of the Roman Empire.
While I enjoyed reading Theodora: Actress, Empress, Whore, I loved The Purple Shroud. The older, more mature Theodora is so much more compelling a character than the cynical, conniving young Theodora in the first book. She has learned to better control her temper and to use her sharp mind to make the changes necessary for the good of all, not just for her own survival. She shows real remorse for abandoning her daughter to be raised by her sister and seeks out a friendship with her. She tries to make amends for her previous selfishness with a good marriage that will secure her daughter’s place long after she is gone. Above all the love and respect between Justinian and Theodora comes across as truly genuine and Theodora herself comes across as a caring, humane person that I never would have expected after reading the first book.
The beginning of The Purple Shroud gives a short synopsis of Theodora’s early life, allowing the reader to pick it up without having to read Theodora: Actress, Empress, Whore first. While the first book is entertaining and will give the reader a firmer sense of where Theodora comes from, The Purple Shroud is by far the better book and can easily be read as a stand-alone. My only complaint is that there are no author notes guiding me towards what are the facts of Theodora’s life and what liberties the author took. That being said, any lover of historical fiction would be remiss to not read more about this incredibly dynamic woman, and The Purple Shroud is a great place to start.
Princess Elizabeth’s Spy continues the story of spunky Maggie Hope, first introduced in Mr. Churchill’s...moreI reviewed this book for www.luxuryreading.com.
Princess Elizabeth’s Spy continues the story of spunky Maggie Hope, first introduced in Mr. Churchill’s Secretary. Having proven herself to be reliable, intelligent and intuitive while working for Mr. Churchill, Maggie has now completed her MI-5 spy training and is eager to put her new found skills to the test behind enemy lines. Unfortunately, Maggie’s physical abilities, or lack thereof, make any drop into WWII Germany too dangerous and she is instead relegated to an undercover job at Windsor Castle, posing as a math tutor and glorified governess to the Princess Elizabeth.
Maggie soon learns that the cold, cavernous castle holds many secrets and the people within it often aren’t who they initially appear to be. Following the various clues, Maggie soon learns that keeping emotion and personal preferences out of her professional job isn’t as easy as she thought and can lead her down the wrong paths of discovery. Spy work, it seems, is anything but boring.
Maggie Hope might be one of my new favorite characters. She is sassy, smart and incredibly brilliant at both math and spy work. While it might take her some time to get used to figuring out who to trust, she is undoubtedly dedicated and ready to serve. With a host of wonderful supporting characters – her hilarious friend and roommate, David Greene, her coworker and possible new love interest, Hugh Thompson, and an endless supply of intriguing servants and gentry living at Windsor – there is someone for everyone to enjoy.
Having not yet read Mr. Churchill’s Secretary, I did find myself wondering about some of the relationships that were obviously developed in the first book. While I didn’t feel lost by not reading Mr. Churchill’s Secretary first, I would definitely recommend doing so so the characters and connections are better fleshed out before beginning Princess Elizabeth’s Spy.
I think my favorite aspect of the book was how well the author dropped little hints and left you guessing, right along with Maggie, as to who was innocent and who was working with the Germans. While I had an idea as to which characters were bad I did not see how they were all connected and was pleasantly surprised by the outcome.
There is at least one more book in the series to come and Susan Elia MacNeal does a wonderful job of hinting at certain themes and cliffhangers to be resolved. I am excited to read Mr. Churchill’s Secretary next and will definitely be picking up all upcoming Maggie Hope mysteries to see where this dynamic character finds herself.(less)
The Secret Keeper, the second book in the Ladies in Waiting series by Sandra Byrd, brings to life the glittering beauty and heartpounding treachery of...moreThe Secret Keeper, the second book in the Ladies in Waiting series by Sandra Byrd, brings to life the glittering beauty and heartpounding treachery of the court surrounding Henry VIII's last wife, Kateryn Parr, through the eyes of a prophetic young woman, Juliana St. John. Risking everything for the love of her mistress, Juliana will not only work to keep the secrets of the Queen from those that wish to harm her, but will come across new secrets that shake the very core of her family.
Juliana grew up as the beloved, witty daughter of a prosperous knight in Marlborough. After her father dies she is left behind with an unloving mother and a future laid out for her that includes a boring marriage to the son of her late father's business partner, someone Juliana cannot imagine truly loving. What makes her life even more difficult is the fact that Juliana has prophetic dreams, dreams that have even her mother suspecting she is a witch. With this dreary life ahead of her a ray of promise shines through when Thomas Seymour comes to Marlborough to settle his dealings with her father's estate and decides that Juliana would make a good addition to the household of the woman he loves, Kateryn Parr. One thing tempers Juliana's excitement, however: she has had a vision of Thomas Seymour shredding the gown of a young woman while a third party holds the girl down. Why has this vision come to her, and what does God want her to do about it?
In Kateryn's kind person Juliana finds a true mother, something she has always longed for. She soon determines to serve her Queen and friend unwaveringly, doing all she can to keep her happy and safe, something not always easily done in the up and down world of the aging Henry VIII's court. This is especially difficult as Kateryn works to influence the king, and his children, in their beliefs and to support and spread the reformist viewpoint. Through it all Juliana stays true, even when Kateryn asks Juliana for a final favor, one that not only ties up Juliana's future but irrevocably changes all she has believed about her own past. With all the secrets Juliana has kept, will she be able to contain this final secret and fulfill the Queen's wish?
I absolutely love this series so far! While this is the second book in the Ladies in Waiting series, you do not have to read the first book - To Die For - before this one. Both books work as stand alone novels and while both are wonderful they do not have to be read in order. Juliana is a very sympathetic character as she searches for love - love of a mother and, eventually, love of a man - and it can be heartbreaking at times to see her struggle through the debauchery of court life all in the name of doing what she feels is right. I really enjoyed seeing Kateryn Parr and the events that surrounded her from this new perspective. For anyone who knows the history of Kateryn Parr, Henry VIII's sixth wife, her marriage to Thomas Seymour and the mystery of what happened to their daughter, Sandra Byrd works to fill in some of the blanks surrounding their lives by utilizing Juliana. What we end up with is an intriguing set of mysteries, exciting answers that are entirely plausible and a wonderful new heroine that I only can hope was as exciting in real life as she is in the pages of the book.
Being a firm lover of all things Tudor, The Secret Keeper was a wonderful addition that kept me turning the pages and wondering exactly how Sandra Byrd would weave the storyline through the known facts surrounding them. I cannot wait for the next book in the series and, as the series seems to get better and better, I anticipate another exciting romp through history.(less)
A woman of many contradictions, Isabella of Castile is one of the most formidable and powerful queens i...moreI reviewed this book for www.luxuryreading.com.
A woman of many contradictions, Isabella of Castile is one of the most formidable and powerful queens in history. Under her rule Spain became a united country and learning and exploration flourished. Her pious reign also brought about the Spanish Inquisition, which saw the Jews of Spain exiled or killed. So was she a saint or a villain? The Queen’s Vow lets Isabella tell her own story and what we find is a woman of faith, love and an endless devotion who wanted to ensure that her beloved Castile thrived in the ever expanding world around them.
This book is what all historical fiction should aspire to. Vivid in period details and full of action, adventure and romance it can be hard to remember that you are not actually experiencing the goings on but simply reading it. The depiction of Isabella as such an incredibly complicated woman is easy to understand when you realize what she had to go through just to secure what was rightfully hers and to do what she thought was necessary for her God, her husband and her people.
Isabella is not only a queen but a dutiful wife, a caring mother, a warrior, a defender of her faith and an advocate for her subjects. It would take an incredibly strong, brave woman to be able to do all that she did in the time period she lived in and she is shown as doing so with grace, courage, fairness and tenacity unlike anyone else surrounding her. It is hard not to love her even when her ultimate choices lead to devastating consequences for others as she is depicted as a woman who does not take her choices lightly and truly searches her soul for the right answer for all.
If you enjoy historical fiction you would be remiss not to read this book. Even if you usually do not read this genre there really is something for just about anyone to enjoy. I, for one, will be running out to read more about Isabella, Fernando and their family as well as more by Mr. Gortner, who might just be my new favorite author. (less)
1553: King Edward VI has died and the battle for the throne of England begins. Katharine Grey and her s...moreI reviewed this book for www.luxuryreading.com.
1553: King Edward VI has died and the battle for the throne of England begins. Katharine Grey and her sisters are thrust into the center of plotting as their royal blood makes them valuable pawns. When Katharine's cousin Queen Elizabeth comes to the throne the pressure continues to mount as Elizabeth sees her as a threat to her insecure claims. When Katharine marries for love without first seeking the Queen’s permission-something that poses a further threat to Elizabeth if the marriage produces a son – she quickly learns just how vicious a frightened Elizabeth can be.
1483: Kate Plantagenet enjoys a comfortable, privileged life in the country as the bastard daughter of Richard, Duke of Gloucester. This secluded life comes to an abrupt halt, however, when her father’s brother, King Edward IV, dies and the King’s underage son, Edward V, is to become King. Kate’s father rushes to serve as the young King’s Lord Protector but tongues start wagging when Richard continues to make dubious, sometimes violent choices to keep himself in power, including locking the young King and his brother and heir in the Tower of London. Kate cannot make sense of this loving father she has always known being the monster that so many believe he is and she determines to seek the truth to make sense of this life she has been born into. But how will she ever find the truth when the very base of court life is built on a fragile web of lies?
Weaving back and forth between the two story lines, the two women’s circumstances are eerily similar. Both find true love in men they cannot have and both will do anything to try and hold on to that love for as long as possible. Both find that having royal blood in your veins means a life on the knife’s edge of privilege and destruction. And both will ultimately find that, while they might not have control over the outcome of their lives, their actions and decisions are their own if they are willing to accept the consequences of those actions.
A hefty tome of over 500 pages, A Dangerous Inheritance is a must read for any lover of English historical fiction. It is hard not to become entirely engrossed in the lives of these two women and the great injustices done to them simply because they are women of noble blood. While it could be difficult to keep track of the vast number of people and the various ways they mixed together, the handy family trees at the beginning of the book did much to assist with this. The authors notes at the end were also very helpful as they explained where Ms. Weir stuck to history and were she ventured into fiction to advance the story line and to fill in the holes now lost to history (such as much of the Kate story line).
A Dangerous Inheritance is my favorite kind of historical fiction: knowledgeable writer, great plot lines and a little mystery thrown in to keep me turning the pages. I have long been a fan of Alison Weir and this book does much to solidify not only that admiration but my continued passion for history. (less)
A story of unlikely friendships and the imprints those can leave on people’s lives, The Baker’s Daughte...moreI reviewed this book for www.luxuryreading.com.
A story of unlikely friendships and the imprints those can leave on people’s lives, The Baker’s Daughter by Sarah McCoy is the harsh yet tender story of a German baker at the end of her life and a young journalist just coming into her own. Spanning from Nazi Germany in 1945 to the border town of El Paso, Texas in 2008, the book’s unforgettable characters go through so many hardships to come out the other side. They demonstrate the essential fact that to have a life worth having one must face the darkness of their past, seek forgiveness, forgive where necessary and move past that darkness into the light of the future.
Reba Adams is beginning to get that stifling, dissatisfied feeling again. Having left behind her family and unhappy childhood memories in Virginia for the sunny, unblemished world of Texas – creating an entirely new life for herself in the process – she has been quite content with her job as a journalist and her fiancé, U.S. Border Patrol agent Riki Chavez. But after Riki proposes and begins questioning his own actions deporting those seeking a better life in America, Reba begins to feel her unhappiness coming back and the impulse to run again growing stronger.
When Reba’s latest assignment to write a “Christmas around the world” article brings her to a German bakery, she comes into contact with the owner and head baker, Elsie Schmidt Meriwether, and both of their lives are irrevocably changed. Elsie and her daughter, Jane, become like family to Reba and teach her, through their example and their kindness, that running from her past and putting up walls in order to block out the fear of more pain will only keep her from experiencing the joy of the present. And with Reba’s ardent inquisitiveness and determination to get to the heart of her story, Elsie is forced to remember the events of the winter of 1945, events that she has not only kept hidden from those she loves but has attempted to keep hidden from herself as well.
Moving back and forth between Elsie’s backstory in Germany and Reba and Elsie in present-day Texas the reader gets to experience the various hidden secrets that every character is carrying and, in most cases, the release of these secrets and the great freedom that comes from facing what they most fear. I thoroughly enjoyed every aspect of this story, especially learning more about Nazi Germany from the perspective of a German living on the periphery of the party. I found the writing to be very honest and sincere, which could be painful at times to read given the hard and emotional topics discussed. However, the love and humanity that was also shown really helped cut through the bitter and left a feeling of triumph with a few emotional tears mixed in. The idea that you cannot run away from your past is clearly evident throughout and I would definitely recommend this to anyone who loves stories that meld history and the present and for anyone who just enjoys an emotionally touching story.(less)
This spinoff to the short story All Is Bright was just as enjoyable as its predecessor. In this story we hear from Ilsa, the woman who takes over the...moreThis spinoff to the short story All Is Bright was just as enjoyable as its predecessor. In this story we hear from Ilsa, the woman who takes over the space in Griffin's heart now that Elisa (the heroine in All Is Bright) has vacated. She instantly feels an electric chemistry with Griffin from the moment they meet. Their relationship is a whirlwind and it doesn't seem strange, at first, that Griffin proposes to her just six weeks after they started dating. That is until she starts wondering how much Griffin might still feel for Elise.
When Griffin and Ilsa go home to meet his parents a few weeks after becoming engaged, she realizes just how engrained in their family dynamic Griffin's ex girlfriend truly is. She is already a part of the family and the way they purposely try not to discuss her makes Ilsa feel like an outsider. She cannot help the jealousy that surfaces or her ultimate need to meet this woman and see for herself what Griffin had given up.
I think most people can relate to the feeling that they are treading on already covered ground when dating someone who has either recently broken up with someone else or has had a long term relationship before them. How Ilsa handles these feelings and her ultimate meeting with Elise show her as a vulnerable yet enigmatic character and one I hope Sarah Pekkanen writes more of in the future. (less)
In Never Let Me Go, Kazuo Ishiguro gives us a contemporary world where there are cures for cancer and other diseases and organs for transplant and stu...moreIn Never Let Me Go, Kazuo Ishiguro gives us a contemporary world where there are cures for cancer and other diseases and organs for transplant and study are readily available when needed. This burst in scientific advancement is due in large part to a cloning program that creates clones – or students as they are known in the book – to donate as needed until their death. This seemingly horrific misuse of human life takes a decided backseat in the story, however, to the lives and lessons of the students, three in particular. Through their education, growth and discovery of what they are and what they mean to the larger world around them, we get a heartbreaking look at what makes a person human and how to find out what makes you unique in a world that is strictly laid out for you from birth.
Narrated in first person by Kathy H. we get a glimpse into the life and mind of a student of Hailsham, an exclusive boarding school in the English countryside. Reminiscing back on her life, in particular her connections to two other students, Ruth and Tommy, she sorts through her memories as she comes to the time in her life when she will stop being a carer (a student who assists and comforts donors until they die) and will begin her donations. At times the narrative begins to ramble, but it is through these periods that the truth of what the students of Hailsham really are is revealed in small tidbits, making for a thoroughly unsettling feeling. The true emotional experience, however, comes as these three students struggle with the same issues all of us can relate to (finding out who you are, finding love, growing up and away from our childhoods) only on a much deeper and darker scale.
Never Let Me Go is a brilliant look into the complexities of human growth and the various implications scientific advancement can have on all our lives, even those very ones it creates. It is heartbreaking, thought provoking and shudder inducing in turns and it is not hard to see how it became a Man Booker Prize finalist. (less)
Getting the opportunity to review books for blogs has been wonderful. Some books fall short of my expectations but most are books that I really enjoy...moreGetting the opportunity to review books for blogs has been wonderful. Some books fall short of my expectations but most are books that I really enjoy and, a select few, becomes books I truly love. The Unseen is one of those books and I am so excited I got the chance to review it for www.luxuryreading.com.
The Unseen is told in two alternating storylines: one deals with Leah Hickson trying to discover the identity of a 100 year old soldier's body in 2011 and the other deals with the various people living at The Old Rectory in the village of Cold Ash Holt during 1911, concentrating on the Reverend Canning and his wife, their fiery maid, Cat, and their house guest the Theosophist Robin Durrant. As the alternating storylines continue to unravel Leah not only uncovers who her mystery soldier is but what connection he had to the rectory and what devastating tragedy occurred there. Befriending the living relative of the Cannings living at the rectory, she begins to feel a need to find out what really happened and let that truth be known. Through her discoveries Leah is able to not only put to rest the mysteries of the past but put her own present back into order.
The Unseen is a remarkable combination of historical and mystery that works to slowly untangle the various threads of the story and keep the reader guessing. Going back and forth between the timelines helped build the suspense, making me guess as to what would happen in 1911 and what that had to do with the dead soldier in the contemporary story line. While I was able to guess at some of the mystery the big discoveries came as a complete shock. I would recommend this to anyone who enjoys a story that mixes the past and present together or a good mystery slowly revealed. (less)
Rich in detail and texture, The House of Velvet and Glass by Katherine Howe is bursting with history, m...moreI reviewed this book for www.luxuryreading.com.
Rich in detail and texture, The House of Velvet and Glass by Katherine Howe is bursting with history, mysticism and adventure that transport the reader across the globe and through time, from 1860s Shanghai to early 1900s Boston, onto the opulent decks of the Titanic and to the deep trenches of WWI. While wrapping the reader in a story thick with wonder a solid theme shines through: regardless of what fate has waiting for us, the choices we make in our lives ultimately determines the person we become.
Sybil Allston’s life is far from the one she envisioned having. At twenty-seven she is unmarried and running her family’s home in Boston after her mother and younger sister died aboard the Titanic two years before. Her floundering brother Harlan has just moved back home with his lover, an actress named Dovie, after being expelled from Harvard and her father is distant and disapproving. As Sybil works to put her family back together the man she once hoped to marry, Benton Derby, reenters her life, set to assist her in helping Harlan get back on track.
When Dovie learns that Sybil has been attending seances in the hopes of reconnecting with her mother and sister she takes Sybil to an opium den. Under this drugs influence Sybil begins to see images in a scrying glass, images she believes to be of the Titanic. Hoping to learn more about what happened that fateful night she continues taking the drug, glimpsing a little bit more each time. When her visions begin to change she isn't sure what to believe anymore, especially when the visions begin to show horrifying images of Harlan. Should she believe Benton that the visions are just a side effect of this deadly new addiction, or should she trust that what she is seeing is real? And if the visions are real, what should she do with this information?
My limited abilities cannot possibly do justice to the wonderment that is The House of Velvet and Glass. This is by far my favorite read of the year to date. It has something for everyone: history, romance, mysticism, adventure, characters bursting to create their own lives as well as those finally laying old ghosts to rest. I thoroughly enjoyed how Katherine Howe not only gave us the central story of Sybil and her family but also Sybil’s father’s backstory in Shanghai as well as her mother and sister’s point of view aboard the Titanic. The story highlights how important it is to live in the present as opposed to being bogged down in the past or what might happen in the future. This is a thoroughly enjoyable read!(less)
I reviewed this book for luxuryreading.com and was so excited to get the chance to do so! I just love this author's writing style and try to pick up e...moreI reviewed this book for luxuryreading.com and was so excited to get the chance to do so! I just love this author's writing style and try to pick up everything I can from her.
In a place like New York City it's possible to create a new life, be whoever you want to be. The vibrant city allows you to show whatever face you want to the world and keep whatever secrets you have buried as deep down as you wish. This is the case for three roommates - Cate, Renee and Abby. Each is presenting only part of themselves to the world, at least at first. But as these girls begin to let a little of their guard down and trust in the others, they soon discover that their happiness will only be found when they become true to themselves.
As these three women get closer and begin to open up about their families, their lives and what they have really been through, the weight of their secrets begins to lift. Each will have to tackle their problems on their own, but having the others for support will make it that much easier to handle.
Sarah Pekkanen has quickly become one of my favorite authors to follow. Her characters are so real and raw that it's not hard to place yourself in their situations. I could especially relate to Renee who is vivacious, funny and friends with just about everyone. Even as she lifts everyone else up and tells them how beautiful and special they are she just cannot seem to see that same beauty in herself. All the women are funny, dynamic and perfectly flawed so you can find yourself laughing at them one minute and crying along with them the next.
As women's fiction goes she is top caliber, and These Girls does not disappoint. If you love authors like Jennifer Weiner and Sophie Kinsella, or just want a great read to keep you entertained, These Girls is for you.(less)
In The Roots of Betrayal, the sequel to James Forrester’s Sacred Treason, William Harley, Clarenceux King of Arms and known to most as Clarenceux, con...moreIn The Roots of Betrayal, the sequel to James Forrester’s Sacred Treason, William Harley, Clarenceux King of Arms and known to most as Clarenceux, continues his struggles to keep himself and his family safe against the schemes of government swirling around England and to stay true to his Catholic faith. But will his hope to live a happy, simple and free life ever become a reality? Not anytime soon it seems!
The Roots of Betrayal picks up six months after Sacred Treason and begins with Clarenceux reunited with his wife and daughters. While life seems to have settled down he still cannot feel completely safe with the knowledge that he is hiding a secret document for William Cecil, Queen Elizabeth’s Secretary and chief advisor, a document that calls into question the Queen’s legitimacy and that has caused many deaths in the attempt to secure it. Clarenceux is also disturbed by his continued feelings for Rebecca Machyn, the widow of Henry Machyn - the man who brought Clarenceux into the twisted web surrounding the document - and the woman who helped him secure and hide it. On top of this, the Knights of the Round Table – the Catholic men who know of this document and wish to use it to bring down the Protestant Queen – have been pressuring Clarenceux to take action with this “Catholic Treasure”. Wanting peace between other Catholics like himself and the Protestants, Clarenceux has withheld using the document knowing it will only bring a religious revolution that will see many more killed. But how long will he be able to hold it safe and hidden before someone on either side of the divide finds a way to get their hands on it?
Soon the worst has happened and the document is stolen, he believes by the woman he cares so much for, Rebecca. But as he begins his search to find her and the document he discovers that there are many more people involved in its theft and more betrayals than he could ever imagine. How will he ever find the document – and Rebecca – when every step he takes seems to lead him in so many different directions? And when so many people seem to think he is involved in the document’s disappearance (including a cutthroat pirate!) and continue to use interrogation, torture, imprisonment and even kidnapping in their attempts to use Clarenceux to find the very document he is also searching for, will he even be able to stay alive long enough to find out the truth of who took the document and where it is? When everyone seems to be turning against you, who can you trust?
As with Sacred Treason this novel starts with a bang! From the very beginning there is endless action, the plot twists and turns and twists again, until it is seemingly impossible to know where the story is leading. When the truth is finally revealed the reader is able to sit back, take a satisfying deep breath and look back over the adventure to realize the great lengths they have gone along with the incredibly brave and moral Clarenceux. Watching him struggle with his beliefs and his need to do the right thing, whatever that ends up being, is a great journey on its own. Add in the action packed and sometimes incredibly dangerous aspects of the adventure and it is hard to set the book aside to do anything else.
One of my favorite facets of this story was the inclusion of Raw Carew, the ruthless pirate that, at times, seemed to have a heart of gold. He lived by his own set of rules and he never wavered from that strict code of conduct he expected all men who followed him to live by. While he did much that was dastardly he also had many admirable, kind qualities that made Clarenceux, and the reader, question what makes a man good or bad. If they are godless, as Carew was, does that make them a bad person? What if that same person saves your life while putting their own in danger? These sorts of questions pop up throughout the story and really make the reader sit back and think before jumping back into the continuous danger and action.
The Roots of Betrayal has so much to offer a reader that I cannot think of someone who would not enjoy it. Whether you love history, adventure, action, conspiracy theories, complicated love stories or just stories that keep you guessing until the very end there really seems to be something for everyone. While you don’t have to read Sacred Treason to jump into this novel I would highly recommend it as that book is just as wonderful as this one. I am really looking forward to read the final book in the series, The Final Sacrament, as soon as I can get my hands on it! (less)
I reviewed this book for luxuryreading.com and it is another book I am so glad I got the chance to read! The Book of Lost Fragrances is dense, dramati...moreI reviewed this book for luxuryreading.com and it is another book I am so glad I got the chance to read! The Book of Lost Fragrances is dense, dramatic and full of excitement. So many themes are tackled that it is hard to discuss them all in one small review. It deals with reincarnation and the Chinese government’s attempt to regulate it, with the concept of fate vs. choice and belief vs. fact, and delves into the ideas of how far someone should go for what they believe in and when they should let go. My favorite aspect of the book dealt with the theme of soul mates and the idea that these joined souls would find each other in each lifetime. It highlights love’s many faces and showcases, although not as extensively as I might have liked in some instances, some truly remarkable pairings.
This is one of those books that you want to take your time and savor. With all of the heavy themes explored it is not something to be rushed and it will likely make you think about what you believe about the topics. This is my first time reading an M.J. Rose novel and I have to say that this magical, sensory experience will ensure this is not my last. (less)
A sad yet universal truth seems to be that, as humans age and interact and grow, they inevitably face t...moreI 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. (less)
I won this book from the Goodreads First Reads program.
This book is a gothic suspense of the highest calibre, one that challenges the reader to deciph...moreI won this book from the Goodreads First Reads program.
This book is a gothic suspense of the highest calibre, one that challenges the reader to decipher between what your mind and eyes want you to see and what is actually happening. The reader has to wonder what connections the mind is joining and what connections are occuring in reality, and it isn't always easy to guess right.
When Eve meets Dom in a garden labrynth by Lake Geneva she cannot believe her good fortune. She has been feeling bored and unmoored from her current job and life and has been wondering what she was really supposed to be doing with her life. Dom is older, rich and at free to do as he wishes when he sold his business for a great profit. He is kind and seems to really enjoy spending his time with Eve. When he alerts her that he is moving to the French countryside in Province she feels it is the right thing to do to go with him. After all, it will be so exciting renovating and repairing the derelict hamlet called Les Genevriers Dom as purchased and it will give her the chance to work on her dream project: translating some little known French gem of a text into English.
One point seems to be quite a thorn in Dom and Eve's relationship, however: Dom's ex-wife Rachel. He refuses to speak about her beyond saying that thier relationship ended badly and demands that Eve drop her from all conversations. When Dom lets slip that Rachel had been to Les Genevriers a black shadow seems to slowly begin to fall over them. Why has Dom brought her to this isolated but lovely hamlet? Where is Rachel and what happened between her and Dom?
As Eve and Dom's story unfolds and as their fresh beginnings of the summer begin to chill into the wintery landscape, Even begins to feel that she doesn't really know Dom at all. A local Provencal business woman, Sabine, seems intent on leading Eve down a path towards what happened to Rachel. But who is Eve to trust, when she is stuck out in a lonely countryside and not sure that she truly knows the man lying next to her? And what of the strange occurences that seem to be happening just outside of Eve's understanding? Are they not alone at Les Genevriers?
Interspered with Eve's story is the story of Benedicte Lincel, former occupant of Les Genevriers. Her family had owned the house and land for many generations, but a dark cloud hung over them as well. With a psychotic brother and a loving but sometimes distrant blind sister, Benedicte is left to try to keep Les Genevriers and her family from destruction. But when her brother demands that the farm and land be sold after the death of their parents and neither sister wishes to do so, how far will he go to get what he wants? Will Benedicte ever be able to forgive herself for her believed part in the destruction of their family?
I cannot recommend this book enough for anyone who loves a good mystery into what goes bump in the night and what our mind deciphers of the darkness in each corner. The descriptions of the landscape and the history of the harsh hillside life of France was simply breathtaking. If you don't smell the lavendar and feel the sharp stones underfoot than you aren't reading the same book. I cannot wait to see what Deborah Lawrenson has next to offer! (less)