Susan Meissner has become an author I love to read for her ability to weave together storylines set in the past and the present, twisting and turning them around each other and finally showing how the past actions have impacted the present. She does not disappoint with Secrets of a Charmed Life, a stunner that plops the reader in the heart of the utter horrors that occurred during the Blitz on London and showcases how decisions made out of longing, fear and guilt can have dire and unexpected consequences.
The present storyline with Kendra Van Zant, a history major hoping the essay she plans to write about Isabel McFarland's experiences during World War II will be selected by her professor for publication in a newspaper, serves to push the narrative back into the past and to slowly but surely bring all the facts and mysteries together until the reader is able to piece together what really happened. These portions of the story were much shorter and farther apart than those dealing with the past but were quite compelling, especially seeing Isabel celebrating her 93rd birthday and finally being able to discuss her rather secretive past for the first time in order to give voice to those who no longer can (and some who never could). Ending the story in the present left me satisfied if saddened by all that had occurred, but also with that sense of release and relief that, in the end, all came out into the light. With all this being said, however, the true gem of Secrets of a Charmed Life are the portions dealing with Emmy and Julia Downtree and their unbelievable experiences during World War II.
I could not help but ache for Emmy, a 15 year old at the start of her story, caught between wanting to make her indifferent and slightly cold mother proud and wanting to break away from a home that is far from happy and go after her dreams of becoming a designer of bridal gowns. Sketching gowns has served as a sort of balm for her unsatisfactory life and given her a glimpse of a normal life that she has never had. Her tense relationship with her mother topped with the pressure and responsibility placed on her shoulders to take care of her younger sister, Julia, pushes her to make rash decisions that will have unbelievable consequences that follow her like a shadow the rest of her life.
Mixed in with Emily's story are journal entries from Julia, entries that perfectly show how trauma and war can so completely shape a life into something filled with guilt, fear and grief that paralyzes a person emotionally and makes it hard to move on from what they experienced as well as a need to control whatever parts of life they can after having so little control over life as it broke apart around them. I found Julia's inner turmoil and struggle to be simply heartbreaking but so vital to give the reader the true experience of someone who had gone through what Julia and Emmy went through.
London itself as well as its citizens play a huge part in this story as well. The depictions of London before and after the Blitz are absolutely consuming and the realistically gruesome descriptions of the carnage and destruction is heart stopping. The abject fear and eventual PTSD of the people is fascinating and horrifying at the same time and I felt completely drawn in to all they experienced until I felt like I was slightly in shock myself.
Dealing with topics I haven't read much about before - the evacuation of London's children during the war and the emotional toll this took on England's population, the social and moral stringencies of the time, the complete decimation of London during the Blitz - I was thoroughly engrossed in Secrets of a Charmed Life from the very beginning until the last page. It is a remarkable story of survival and learning to forgive not only others but yourself for mistakes made as well as learning to let the past go in order to have a future. A must read for anyone who reads historical fiction! ...more
Princess Elizabeth’s Spy continues the story of spunky Maggie Hope, first introduced in Mr. Churchill’sI 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....more
The Secret Keeper, the second book in the Ladies in Waiting series by Sandra Byrd, brings to life the glittering beauty and heartpounding treachery ofThe 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....more
The Painted Girls is a phenomenal look at the truth hidden behind the supposed glitz and glamour of theI 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. ...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
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 theThis 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. ...more
A woman of many contradictions, Isabella of Castile is one of the most formidable and powerful queens iI 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. ...more
Rich in detail and texture, The House of Velvet and Glass by Katherine Howe is bursting with history, mI 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!...more
While I have a number of Anne Easter Smith’s novels on my bookshelves, Royal Mistress is the first of hI 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. ...more
A story of unlikely friendships and the imprints those can leave on people’s lives, The Baker’s DaughteI 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....more
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 eI 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....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
1553: King Edward VI has died and the battle for the throne of England begins. Katharine Grey and her sI 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. ...more
In the summer before the First World War, Clarissa Granville is living the ideal life of a sheltered yoI 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. ...more
The Purple Shroud, the follow up to Stella Duffy’s Theodora: Actress, Empress, Whore, begins five yearsI 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.
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, conIn 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! ...more
This book is absolutely breathtaking! It is composed of page after page of gorgeous pictures, advertisements and assorted other memorabilia that, alonThis book is absolutely breathtaking! It is composed of page after page of gorgeous pictures, advertisements and assorted other memorabilia that, along with the typed scraps of paper, tell the story of Frankie Pratt, an ambitious girl from New Hampshire who sets her sights on becoming a writer. We follow Frankie to Vassar College, a scholarship girl amongst over-privileged girls who are looking for a husband, not a career. She travels to New York, Paris and back to New Hampshire, all the time learning about life, love and what it really means to live.
The appeal of the scrapbook makes you feel like you are sharing something personal and sacred with Frankie and that you really know what is going on in her heart and mind. You cheer for her, sympathize with her and ultimately feel you are leaving her content and happy at a new stage of life when you turn the last page. The inclusion of famous and infamous people, places and businesses bring you right into the mix of the roaring 20's. This is a book unlike anything I have seen before and I cannot WAIT to see if the author writes another one like it!...more
When Emilie de la Martinieres’s mother dies she is left with a very difficult decision to make. As sheI 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. ...more
Nicola Marter has created quite a life for herself, working in a Russian art gallery in London and workI 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. ...more
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 deciphI 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! ...more
If you are a parent you must read this book. It is hard, and you will cry, but it is a wonderful read. Even if you aren't a parent you will enjoy thisIf you are a parent you must read this book. It is hard, and you will cry, but it is a wonderful read. Even if you aren't a parent you will enjoy this book, but I have to say that reading it as a young mother really allowed me to relate to the plot of the story. Ms. Larson tore my heart open and then pieced it back together again with this story....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
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 first reviewed this book for the blog luxuryreading.com.
Vivienne de la Mare is doing as many housewives do on the Isle of Guernsey in 1940: she is tI first reviewed this book for the blog luxuryreading.com.
Vivienne de la Mare is doing as many housewives do on the Isle of Guernsey in 1940: she is taking care of her family while her husband is away at war. She has her hands full: young Millie is full of life and curiosity and not adept at readily taking someone else’s words for fact; Blanche is trying to blossom into womanhood within the constraints and frustrations of wartime; Evelyn, Vivienne’s mother-in-law, is constantly longing for her son while her mind slowly begins to slip away.
Then Guernsey is attacked and becomes occupied by the German army. These stilted, foreign men begin to requisition anything they choose and a tenuous balance is established between the islanders and the Germans. Many think you are letting your side down if you so much as speak to these invaders, while others do what they need to for work or survival.
When an officer begins to show Vivienne kindness, she isn’t immediately sure what to do. How can she trust this person who is a part of something that has done so much harm? Her feelings for Captain Gunther Lehmann are soon too much to fight and she begins a love affair like nothing she had ever thought possible. Within her candlelit room at night, they try to shut out the war and suffering outside and just enjoy the precious times they have together.
With the repercussions that could follow the revelation of their relationship, they decide to keep it secret. This tender time with Gunther becomes harder and harder to enjoy as the conditions around them begin to get worse. With supplies so low everyone seems to be living a continuously hungry, exhaustive existence. The establishment of work camps on the island brings the cruelty and death right to her doorstep and she can no longer look away or shut the reality of life from their nighttime meetings. When Millie befriends a skeletal prisoner from the work camp Vivienne must decide how far she is willing to go to help those suffering around her. How far can she push the family’s safety, and how much can she really trust this enemy she has grown to love? In this madness of wartime, what is right is no longer easily seen.
I cannot begin to fully express how much I loved The Soldier’s Wife! The descriptions are eloquent and atmospheric and you cannot help but become immersed in the surroundings: lazy bumblebees float through the thick, heady scented air and the bright flowers often seem in huge contrast to the dark goings on. Only the harsh winters and tossing sea seems to mirror the general life on the island. The streams have voices and the wind whispers to Vivienne, and you are lost in the story. Vivienne’s biggest fear is for her children to be left motherless as she had been, and this showcases how strong her feelings are, for Gunther and for those suffering around her. As she fights to discover what is right, you will do the same. This book isn’t for history or historical fiction lovers alone. This is for anyone who likes a brilliant story that just won’t let go. ...more
When Marielle decided to marry Carson Bishop she knew there would be some challenges. She woulI read and reviewed this book for www.luxuryreading.com.
When Marielle decided to marry Carson Bishop she knew there would be some challenges. She would be moving across country, leaving her family and friends behind in Arizona to become an instant mother to Carson’s two children in Fredericksburg, Virginia. As if this wasn’t enough, they would be living at Holly Oak, the childhood home of Carson’s first wife, Sarah, who died four years earlier. The home that Sarah’s grandmother, Adelaide, still lives in. Carson convinces Marielle that living at Holly Oak will be good for all of them: the kids wouldn’t have to face another huge change, Adelaide wouldn’t be left alone at such an old age and Marielle would have some company while trying to get acclimated to her new environment.
But as Marielle begins to spend more time at Holly Oak, trying to decide if she can survive in her new roles as wife and mother, she learns that something is different about this house. Some believe a curse lies over the women of Holly Oak. Others think it is haunted by Susannah Page, Adelaide’s great-grandmother who some suspect was a Union spy during the Civil War. Adelaide believes the house is seeking retribution for all the death and destruction that has happened there over the years, and that it has been her job to try and keep the house at peace. Marielle isn’t sure what to believe but she knows one thing for sure: if she is going to make a life there and forge a family within its walls, she is going to have to find the answers somehow.
When Adelaide lets it be known that she gave letters that Susannah wrote to her Northern cousin during the Civil War to her daughter, Caroline, Marielle realizes the key to what haunts her home might be hidden within those letters. The problem is Caroline abandoned her own daughter, Sarah, at Holly Oak as an infant and has been drifting in places unknown for years in a haze of drugs. When the mysterious Caroline eventually shows up at the house ready to settle her score with her family and their familial home, she gives Marielle the chance to read through Susannah’s letters and see for herself that what appears to be the history of Holly Oak is not what it seems at all.
A Sound Among the Trees is the second book by Susan Meissner I have had the pleasure of reading. Once again, I was blown away by her ability to seamlessly meld the past and present in a way that allows each timeline to stand alone as a compelling story line while also allowing them to twist together to bring the central story full circle.
Each woman at Holly Oak is brilliantly flawed and it is the way they influence each other that eventually allows them all to heal and grow. It is impossible to encompass all the details of this story into one small review, but suffice it to say it is a story of love, loss, and making amends for wrongs done, real or imagined. I recommend A Sound Among the Trees to anyone who loves a little history in their contemporary fiction or anyone who just want to sit back and enjoy a good read. ...more
I have read all three books in Sandra Byrd’s Ladies in Waiting series and, while I have really enjoyedI 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. ...more
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, dramatiI 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. ...more