Twelve year old Alek Dunahew is sent to spend the summer of 1965 with his grandmother Alma in West TablI reviewed this book for www.luxuryreading.com.
Twelve year old Alek Dunahew is sent to spend the summer of 1965 with his grandmother Alma in West Table, Missouri and hopefully begin to mend the long standing hurt between Alma and Alek’s father, John Paul. During this visit Alma tells Alek about the devastating Arbor Dance Hall explosion of 1929 that claimed forty-two people, including Alma’s beloved sister, Ruby, as well as her suspicions and beliefs as to what caused the devastation that would continue to haunt this small town for generations.
The Maid’s Version is one of those novels that draws you in with its languid and conversational language and keeps you reading to see what secrets will be revealed between the banter. The narrator, Alek, is such a delightful storyteller that I sometimes forgot he was relaying a story about cruel, severe poverty, violence, war and injustice. The dialect and writing style can be hard to process at times – I found myself occasionally having to go back and read long passages again to better grasp their meaning – but once I began to ease into the manner I found it fit with the rough and tumble story perfectly.
While the book is quite short the various characters are all developed well enough to give you a good feel for not only each individually but them as a whole community trying to eke out an existence together. The peeks into each of their lives not only showcased the secrets inherent in a small town but the devastation and loss these sorts of secrets can render.
The Maid’s Version is my first novel by Daniel Woodrell but I’m excited to read more from him. His way of depicting very real and very relatable characters in such a harsh and unforgiving background is something I won’t soon forget. ...more
It’s 1492 and young, beautiful Giulia Farnese is preparing for the adventure of her life. She is exciteI reviewed this book for www.luxuryreading.com.
It’s 1492 and young, beautiful Giulia Farnese is preparing for the adventure of her life. She is excited to become the wife of the handsome and rich Orsino Orsini and is ready to live the luxuriant life of one of her status. Imagine her surprise when she discovers her marriage was a sham and orchestrated solely so she could become the mistress to the powerful, charismatic Cardinal Borgia. Without consent, Giulia finds herself living in the home of Orisino’s mother, cousin to the wolfish Cardinal, and separated from her would-be husband while being actively courted and pursued by the man who would be Pope. Try as she might, it is only a matter of time before Giulia relents under the passion and constant attention from such a powerful, charming man. Giulia soon becomes Rodrigo Borgia’s willing concubine and, when he becomes Pope Alexander VI, the Venus of the Vatican.
Being the Pope’s mistress isn’t all opulent splendor, however, and Giulia discovers there are many who think of her as nothing more than a glorified whore while others seek to use her for her connection to her keeper, all while realizing her position is anything but certain. Finding unlikely confidantes in a select few servants, including a sharp tongued cook named Carmelina and a vindictive dwarf bodyguard named Leonello, both of which are hiding plenty of secrets themselves, Giulia and her entourage will have to learn the rules in this viper’s nest if they plan on surviving this twisted, sinful world of the Borgias.
Memorable characters, exciting, twisting plots and true to life situations are attributes of historical fiction that keep me coming back time and time again and The Serpent and the Pearl has all of this and more. It is impossible not to feel compassion for Giulia as she finds herself married to a man she cannot have and pursued by a powerful one she never expected to love. Somehow Giulia keeps her sense of humor and kindness through it all and I genuinely enjoyed seeing her grow into a woman and a mother navigating a glittery, dangerous world few could imagine.
The secondary story lines presented by both Carmelina and Leonello were even more entertaining, especially given the intelligent, snarky commentary and the slow unraveling secrets and mysteries they presented. Their perspectives helped flesh out the underbelly of this seemingly opulent time and place and gave a well-rounded viewpoint of not only the seedier side of Italy during this time but of the extended Borgia children, including sweet yet spoiled Lucrezia and the dark, exceedingly dangerous Cesare.
While The Serpent and the Pearl did not have as much conflict or danger as I imagined it would have, this is the first book in a series and leaves off on quite the uncertain cliff hanger for all three characters, leaving me to believe there is much more excitement to come. I, for one, am impatiently twiddling my thumbs in anticipation of what will befall this motley crew next. ...more
Royal Inheritance presents a unique viewpoint of the ever shifting Tudor world as well as the politicsI reviewed this book for www.luxuryreading.com.
Royal Inheritance presents a unique viewpoint of the ever shifting Tudor world as well as the politics and schemes that swirl around those with the potential to have even a drop of royal blood. Using the real life circumstances of a laundress’s daughter rumored to have potentially been the bastard offspring of Henry VIII, Kate Emerson spins a remarkable tale of a young woman kept guessing as to her true identity and her dangerous fight to not only find the truth but to determine her own future in a world where women have little say in the course of their lives.
Weakened by a fever she contracted in the summer of 1556, Audrey Harington sets out to tell her young daughter, Hester, the truth about Audrey’s parentage, upbringing and marriage to her husband, Jack. Not knowing how much longer she might have, Audrey is determined to make sure her own daughter doesn’t remain ignorant to the facts of her heritage as she herself spent much of her life being.
Born the daughter of a poor laundress working in Windsor Castle, Audrey is removed from her abusive home at the age of four and placed in the home of John Malte, Henry VIII’s tailor, who claims to be her father. However, after accompanying her father to court and coming face to face with the King, his attentions seem odd to young Audrey. She is further confused when he demands she continue to accompany her father to court, presents her with various gifts and orders she receive lessons not extended to her other sisters, all very unusual for a simple merchant’s daughter. Furthermore, her father is given gifts beyond his station, land and properties given jointly to John Malte and Audrey. After meeting the King’s youngest daughter, the Princess Elizabeth, and noting the remarkable likeness to herself, Audrey begins to suspect that John Malte might not be her biological father after all.
I admittedly cannot get enough of reading about the Tudors from various vantage points. While the greater goings on of Henry VIII, his wives and his children do play a part in Royal Inheritance, Audrey’s attempts to navigate through life and find her true place in the world takes center stage. I found this particularly interesting as novels dealing with the Tudors tend to focus on the glitz and glamour of the court and not the day to day goings on of those outside the realm of the nobility. I enjoyed seeing London from the viewpoint of someone raised in the bustle of normal life there.
What I enjoyed most, however, would be the fact that most of the people and events seemed to be true to history. The back of Royal Inheritance includes a “Who Was Who at the English Court: 1532 – 56” and this helped flesh out the facts from the fiction used to advance to story. Even my least favorite part of Royal Inheritance, the somewhat unrequited love between Audrey and Jack, appears to be supported by known facts. While this relationship made for a rather bitter sweet tone to the end of Audrey’s story, I appreciate the fact that Kate Emerson stayed as true to history as she could.
Anyone interested in viewing the Tudors from a slight distance and learning more about those on the fringes of the court will really enjoy Royal Inheritance. I plan on looking further into these real life characters to see what else I can learn. ...more
When Elsie Porter asked her new husband, Ben Ross, to pick her up some Fruity Pebbles at the store she had no idea what would happen next. Flushed witWhen Elsie Porter asked her new husband, Ben Ross, to pick her up some Fruity Pebbles at the store she had no idea what would happen next. Flushed with the love of their whirlwind romance, her life is instantly devastated seemingly beyond repair when her husband is hit by a truck and killed on impact. While trying to process this agonizing news at the hospital she comes face to face with Ben's mother, Susan, a woman who didn't even know Elsie existed.
As both women attempt to cope with the day to day life without Ben they begin to find that having each other might be the only way to get through this loss and find a life for themselves on the other side of heartbreak.
There is no other word for what Elsie and Susan go through in Forever, Interrupted then heartbreaking. I found myself breaking down numerous times in the beginning of the book just reading what these characters were going through. Elsie is beyond comfort in the beginning and can't see how she can possibly continue without Ben, even as she feels embarrassed that they were together such a short time that neither of their families even knew about it. Susan is angry - angry at Ben for not telling her about Elsie, angry at Elsie for just being there - but soon realises that Elsie isn't the enemy. It was really informative and cathartic to see how the two women worked through their recurring grief (or, in some instances, didn't) and I could completely relate to both women's anger at the world and there confusion at why this had to happen to them. There are even some relatively humorous moments when Elsie's grief manifests in less than ideal ways and her outbursts are directed at the wrong person!
Alternating with Elsie and Susan's present story is the story of Ben and Elsie's developing relationship. Starting on New Year's Day we see them come together with a quick and endearing passion that results in them eloping in May. Nine days after they elope is the accident that ends it all. This storyline not only helped firm up the real deep rooted love between Ben and Elsie, which otherwise would be hard to define since they had been together a short amount of time, but helped hightlight the fact that we never know when the ones we love will be taken away from us and that we should make the most of it while we have them.
Anyone who has ever loved someone so much that they cannot imagine their life without them or someone who has actually lost that love and survived the torrential grief that lose illicited will be able to appreciate Elsie and Susan's story. The underlining theme that, with the love and support of those closest to us, we can survive something so devastating really touched a nerve with me. I can't wait to see what Taylor Jenkins Reid writes next!
For Such a Time is a remarkably vivid look at the horror and deprivations that those of Jewish faith suffeThis was reviewed for www.luxuryreading.com.
For Such a Time is a remarkably vivid look at the horror and deprivations that those of Jewish faith suffered at the hands of the Nazis during WWII. The reader is within the walls of the Auschwitz transit camp Theresienstadt in 1944, feeling the abject hunger, fear, humiliation and misery that occurred during this dark time in World history. You cannot help but suffer along with the main character Stella as she struggles with her unwanted position of having to try and save her people while having so little control over how to do so. The sweet and unexpected relationship between Stella and Aric, the Kommandant of Theresienstadt, was also an enjoyable addition to not only the complications Stella was facing but to the overall progression of the story. While at first it seemed like just one more complication for Stella to overcome it ended up feeling to me like a little ray of hope in a time when hope was hard to come by.
What was less enjoyable to me were the constant references to religion. While I can completely understand and appreciate the religious struggles that the characters went through it was discussed on nearly every page and started to feel forced and overbearing. It ended up distracting me from the rest of the story when, developed with a more delicate hand, would have otherwise been a powerful component. The reader is also expected to take many leaps of faith themselves within the story as certain situations and developments didn’t seem plausible in the real world. There were a number of times when I had to pause and question whether what I was reading would have really happened given the history. In the end, to enjoy the story, I just had to put my analytical side away and read the story for what it is, a fictional story with historical components. Doing this ended up making it a more enjoyable reading experience.
For Such a Time has some great components and some less enjoyable ones, but as a whole is a heartfelt story of one woman’s struggle to find her faith and live up to the potential given her. It’s wonderfully descriptive and suspenseful with a nice little touch of romance. If you can put the sometimes unrealistic situations and heavy handed religious references to the side I think it will appeal to any lover of WWII history or those looking for a brave and captivating heroine. ...more
When Giulia Farnese, concubine of Rodrigo Borgia, now Pope Alexander VI, returns home to her luscious pI reviewed this book for www.luxuryreading.com.
When Giulia Farnese, concubine of Rodrigo Borgia, now Pope Alexander VI, returns home to her luscious palazzo in Rome after being captured then released by the French army, she hopes to return to the love and security she has felt these past two years with her lover. But much has changed during that time and Giulia is now more aware then ever of the dangers that can befall those close to the papal throne. As the glittering veil Giulia has been seeing through begins to slip and she slowly moves back from the center of this viper’s nest, she starts to see that the danger comes not only from the Borgia’s enemies but from within the Borgia brood itself.
Giulia, along with her whip-smart and deadly dwarf bodyguard Leonello and her iron-willed cook Carmelina, will have to use every ounce of charm, skill and intelligence to figure out how to survive this vicious, clawing pit surrounding them. If they decide to leave this deadly world they have each found themselves entrapped in will the Borgias let them go? Do they even have a choice?
The Lion and the Rose picks up right where its prequel, The Serpent and the Pearl, leaves off and, just as its predecessor, never slows its thrilling pace. While I wouldn’t say it is necessary to read The Serpent and the Pearl first I highly recommend it as both books are marvelous, action-packed and witty novels and the Serpent and the Pearl really gives the reader a good understanding of the feelings and foibles of the various characters they will encounter in The Lion and the Rose.
Kate Quinn does an excellent job of creating characters that you can easily love or can’t help but hate. Giulia, by far, was my favorite character and displayed more grace and kindness as the “Bride of Christ” then any of the more “proper” characters. Leonello and Carmelina are both such determined, sharp characters that hide soft hearts and they, along with Giulia, are characters impossible to forget. On the flip side, the Borgia children – cruel, murderous Juan, cunning and deadly Cesare, selfish and whiny Lucrezia and the ever sniveling Joffre – are horrid people and their Pope father is the worst of all as he refuses to see any of their faults. It isn’t hard when reading these characters to sympathize with anyone who had to face that bullish, grasping family.
My favorite aspect of The Lion and the Rose would have to be the breathtaking pace and the sudden, jarring actions that would stop me cold and had me going back time and time again to reread passages just to make sure I had read them correctly. Without giving anything away there are a number of murders that came out of nowhere and some very surprising twists of fate for our characters (especially for Leonello whom I love!) that made for a completely entertaining and exciting reading experience.
The Lion and the Rose is the third book by Kate Quinn I have read and I have thoroughly enjoyed each one. She has a seamless way of combining intriguing real history with compelling dramatic and often comical additions that make her books must reads. If you are a lover of historical fiction and haven’t read Kate Quinn’s books yet you are really missing out. ...more
From the very first page of The Red Lily Crown the tension and desperation dragged me in and wouldn't let go until the very end. Chiara and her family are in such dire straits when the story starts and her need to do anything to feed them was so admirable that I instantly fell in love with her as a character. She is also outspoken, stubborn and snarky and, as the story progresses, determined to grasp what power she can, making her a well rounded, relatable person. She sets out to use Grand Duke Francesco de Medici as much as he wishes to use her, helping him with his alchemical experiments in the hopes of ultimately creating the Philosopher's Stone so she can become an alchemist in her own right - something not many women could claim - as well as to heal her terrible headaches and the demon voices she had heard in her head since being kicked by a horse as a young child. This all seems like a good and manageable plan until she finds herself within the heart of the Medici family and she sees first hand just how corrupt, vicious and vindictive they really are. And that is when the fun really begins!
Every single one of the Medici family are presented as absolutely terrifying and calculating in their own way. It becomes quite clear that none can be trusted, even when they seem relatively kind if spoiled as Isabella and her cousin Dianora come across, because every one of them will turn against anyone, even each other, to save their own skin and preserve or improve their power. Imprisonment, torture, even murder are not beyond their scope and the way they proceeded with such cool superiority no matter what diabolical act they had to sanction or do themselves chilled me. The descriptions of the violence and depravity are quite vivid and I couldn't help but keep reading to see just how far they would go. Watching Chiara slowly come to realize just how much danger she is in as the glittery film around the court falls away was mesmerizing and her growth and evolution so she was able to survive amidst all the manipulation and scheming was admirable.
Another aspect I found just fascinating was how Elizabeth Loupas incorporated how the deep and long lasting damage of a bad childhood can come to affect a person as they get older. Each of our main characters - Chiara, Francesco and Ruanno - had scarring childhoods filled with abuse of one kind or another and the effects of that abuse followed them into their adulthood in some strange and horrible ways. It made me wonder what might have been different if these people had had the opportunity to be nurtured as they needed. While some of the characters, especially Francesco's younger brother Pietro, would most likely have been mad no matter what sort of childhood they had received, it did make me think about the whole nature/nurture discussion and to think what difference a positive childhood might have made to these people individually and for history. While the reader will learn in the author notes that Chiara and Ruanno are fictional characters the Medici were very real and therefore might have been very difference given the circumstances. Although as deep as the craziness seemed to go possibly not.
Lastly, the slow, somewhat twisting yet satisfying relationship that developed between Chiara and Ruanno was very enjoyable to experience. With all the backstabbing going on you couldn't help but feel for Chiara as she tried to figure out how much she could trust Ruanno, a man who clearly hid many secrets of his own. I couldn't help but hope that Chiara would be able to find someone she could trust implicitly and whom she could count on to help her navigate through this treacherous landscape and hopefully be there for her if she was able to make it out safely. Did she find this someone? You will have to read the book to find out!
The Red Lily Crown has all the components I love in my historical fiction: historically accurate settings and people, intriguing and enigmatic characters, strong descriptions that allow me to feel like I am in the midst of the story and not reading it and, ultimately, a storyline that draws me in and holds my attention until the last page. Having previously read and enjoyed The Last Duchess by Ms. Loupas and now having enjoyed this book so much, I am a forever fan and am so excited to have found another author to keep on my radar....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
In 1907 Paris, Edith Wharton appears to have a perfect life. She is a wealthy woman and an accomplishedI reviewed this book for www.luxuryreading.com.
In 1907 Paris, Edith Wharton appears to have a perfect life. She is a wealthy woman and an accomplished writer. She is able to travel to her heart’s content and divides her time between New York, Paris and a large summer home in Massachusetts. She is constantly surrounded by cultured people and accomplished friends. But a closer look behind the glamour shows an unhappy woman.
At the age of forty six, bookish, prim and somewhat prudish Edith finally experiences the deep flush and electricity of pure passion in arms of a charasmatic journalist named Morton Fullerton and, for the first time in her life, feels truly happy. However this untoward love affair does not sit well with everyone and begins to drive a wedge between Edith and her governess turned secretary/confidante Anna Bahlmann as well as begins to drive her husband, Teddy Wharton, even further into his own personal madness. How much is Edith willing to risk for a love affair, and a man, that doesn’t turn out to be all she hoped for?
The Age of Desire is the first novel I can think of that is beautifully written and that I enjoyed but that presents a main character that I cannot help but dislike. Edith is spoiled, prideful, over dramatic and impatient with anyone that does not do what she wants when she wants it. Her disgust for her poor husband, Teddy, is quite sad as he seems to really love her and allowed her to set the rules of their marriage, which basically meant she put up with him only when she was required to. The loving and loyal Anna, who is by far the most sympathetic and enjoyable character, even experiences Edith’s cruelty when Anna cannot bring herself to condone Edith’s harsh treatment of Teddy and her affair with the equally selfish Morton Fullerton. Anna’s reward for her concern for Edith is to be sent away from the one place she has always felt at home: by Edith’s side. Even when Edith makes an effort to make amends for her past wrongdoings at the end of the book it doesn’t seem to be wholly unselfish and doesn’t really do much to change my opinion of her.
With all this said about Edith, The Age of Desire is still remarkably entertaining. The writing is lyrical and quite beautiful and it is easy to dip into the glitz and glamour of the time and places described. All of the characters, regardless of their importance, feel very real and true to the time period. Whether you like them or not, they are nothing if they are not entertaining!
Never having read any of Edith Wharton’s books and knowing nothing of her life or circumstances, it was very interesting getting a peak into the mind of the woman behind classics like The Age of Innocence and The House of Mirth and definitely prompts me to want to read her novels now. The author does not provide an author’s note explaining what is fact and what is fiction in The Age of Desire, but it would still be intriguing to read Ms. Wharton’s books and try to decipher what parts of her life she included in these stories. ...more
Confessions of Marie Antoinette, the final book in Juliet Grey’s trilogy about the life of the famed QuI reviewed this book for www.luxuryreading.com.
Confessions of Marie Antoinette, the final book in Juliet Grey’s trilogy about the life of the famed Queen consort of France, begins with the storming of Versailles on October 5th, 1789 and concludes with Marie Antoinette’s execution on October 16th, 1793. Told mainly through Marie’s point of view, the novel highlights a few of the underlying reasons for the French Revolution, the numerous governmental changes that occurred and the horrifying and inhumane treatment of the royal family, many members of the nobility and those deemed royalists.
While it is entirely possible to read Confessions of Marie Antoinette without reading the first two books in the trilogy, as I did, I would recommend reading the series in order. Not knowing that much about Marie Antoinette’s history, starting with this final book made me feel slightly lost as to what had transpired before the storming of Versailles and why the people felt so vehemently that all their issues were a result of Marie Antoinette’s actions. To see the utter hatred towards the royal family and the all consuming need to destroy them, it was hard to justify that against the royal family’s humanity as seen through Marie’s story.
The Marie that is presented in Confessions of Marie Antoinette is not perfect but is a loving and devoted mother, a wife that is determined to stand by her husband even when his indecision might put her own life in danger and a Queen that genuinely cares about her people. There were times when the constant bombardment and the various failed escapes began to feel redundant, but the fact is this is more an issue with the history and not the writing at all. There is a lot of information discussed throughout the book and it can be hard to keep all the people and changes in check but it is easy to see the vast amount of research that went into the story and that Ms. Grey did an extraordinary job staying true to the facts of this much maligned woman. Included in the back of the book is an extensive reader’s guide that gave more insight into the history and the people who lived after Marie Antoinette, which I found very enjoyable.
All this being said, I will definitely go back and read the first two books in this series. Marie Antoinette is a fascinating true character from history and Ms. Grey does an exceptional job of bringing her story to life.
When Emma Temple's life seems to hit rock bottom the perfect opportunity to heal and start over presentI reviewed this book for www.luxuryreading.com.
When Emma Temple's life seems to hit rock bottom the perfect opportunity to heal and start over presents itself when her mother bequeaths her a rundown villa in Valencia, Spain. Emma sets out to repair the home and her heart and possibly begin a new fragrance company using the local exotic scents, a skill and love she acquired from her mother. But Emma’s grandmother, Freya, and great-uncle, Charles, caution her not to go. Both are hiding secrets connected to their time serving in the Spanish Civil War and are terrified that Emma will uncover the truth of what happened in Valencia almost seventy years before, information that will change everything Emma thought she knew about who she is and where she belongs.
Weaving back and forth between the early 2000s and the late 1930s, The Perfume Garden shows the horror and brutality of a world at war but also the strength and courage of those that will fight for the truth even when everything else has been lost. It also highlights the devastation that can come from secrets and fear and the need for honesty and love to repair the damage life can cause.
Loving stories that mesh together the past and present I was very excited to read The Perfume Garden. The descriptions and story lines centered around the Spanish Civil War were vibrant and compelling. The horror and savagery of war was made even more poignant by humanizing it through Freya and Charles’s perspectives. These scenes are very realistic and hard to read at times but made so touching by the beauty – in butterflies and babies – the characters seem to find through the haze of horror. These portions were beautifully done.
I found Emma’s modern story line to be less interesting. While I understand that Emma remodeling the villa and meeting the people she does helped bring about the secrets Freya and Charles have been keeping for so long, I kept waiting for more from her, especially more dealing with her garden and the business of making perfume. I didn’t really connect with the romantic aspect of her story and the story ended rather strangely to me. I found myself hurrying through the modern story line to try and get back to the 1930s.
While I love history, I knew very little about the Spanish Civil War and The Perfume Garden did an excellent job of bringing that portion of history to life and making me want to read more. Even with the issues I had with Emma’s story line, I still enjoyed the story very much and would be interested in reading more from this author. ...more
Rutherford Park, the elegantly rambling estate of the Cavendish family in the Yorkshire countryside of England, seems a dream to those looking at it fRutherford Park, the elegantly rambling estate of the Cavendish family in the Yorkshire countryside of England, seems a dream to those looking at it from a distance. Money and manners nearly ooze from its well-tended walls and gardens and the family is delightfully steeped in the traditions and rules that govern those of the elitist class. But just peek a little more closely at the inhabitants of Rutherford Park and you will see that not everyone is happy in this long standing status quo and just about everyone under its roof are hiding secrets.
As the lives of the Cavendish family are exposed along with those of the servants that live below stairs the reader is able to see just how twisted and complicated their lives can be, regardless of rank or money. If the family is to have any chance of surviving they must be able to bend the traditions binding them together and learn to adjust to the ever changing world swirling around them, even as eminent war threatens to change their lives once again.
Any fan of Downton Abbey or Upstairs/Downstairs will love this glimpse into a privileged yet highly fractured family. You have the strict, unbending traditionalist father, the stifled wife longing for some freedom of her own, the more modern children ready to break free from the binding responsibilities of the class they were born into, the servants who dutifully serve those beyond the green baize door while being divided between those wanting to stay true to their never ending duties and those that believe they deserve more; everyone is here.
The story ends only slightly settled and with enough left unanswered that I can only hope Elizabeth Cooke will provide a sequel that shows how the characters have moved on and grown after the events in Rutherford Park. Did William learn to loosen his hold on tradition and show his wife that he does in fact love her? Will Harry serve his country well and learn to take responsibility for his actions? What kind of woman will Charlotte grow up to be? I only wish I knew! ...more
Shortly after graduating high school, Teddi Overman set off to find her destiny. Loving nothing more thI reviewed this book for www.luxuryreading.com.
Shortly after graduating high school, Teddi Overman set off to find her destiny. Loving nothing more than taking discarded, unloved furniture and breathing new life back into it, Teddi refuses to take her mother’s harsh yet practical advice to find a secure, stable future and drives instead into an unknown one that holds the promise of happiness and adventure. Finding that future in Charleston, she keeps her eye on the ultimate dream of owning her own antiques shop and, with great determination and hard work, eventually realizes that dream.
As Teddi’s life unfolds she learns that within each person’s heart there are secrets that aren’t always revealed until you least expect it, sometimes after the person has already left this world and can no longer hold on to them, and sometimes never. And with these revelations and many more, Teddi must decide what she should hold on to and what she must ultimately let go of in order to be at peace with this life she has made for herself.
Looking for Me is the best kind of southern fiction, combining unforgettable, often quirky characters with a touch of mysticism and a heavy dose of loss and sadness. Teddi is a remarkable character and I was continually amazed at her ability to forgive and to seek forgiveness when she was the one who truly seemed to have been wronged. The vivid imagery of her family’s farm in Kentucky and the historic streets of Charleston really helped immerse me in the story and I found Teddi’s eclectic shop to be a wonderful place to linger. There are so many enjoyable secondary characters that really fleshed out Teddi’s life and helped make the story feel real and familiar. Even her beloved dog Eddie stole my heart!
The only character I didn’t enjoy was Teddi’s mother, who was continually negative and, at times, downright cruel. Even when her back story was told I didn’t feel her disappointments justified the animosity for life she spewed on her children. I can completely understand her wish to try and shield Teddi from disappointment by trying to force her to find a secure future where she could take care of herself but the years of distance and nastiness just turned me off of her character.
While I also enjoyed the romantic relationship Teddi develops in Looking for Me I didn’t feel it was necessary for the story line and materialized too late in the book. I was happy to see Teddi find love but it felt more like story filler than crucial to her journey.
Looking for Me is the perfect read for this time of year: something to immerse yourself in for a delightful escape while relaxing under the sun or wiling away the hours inside on a rainy afternoon. I look forward to spending some more time in one of Beth Hoffman’s worlds in the future. ...more
As the new year of 1481 emerges, Marisol Garcia’s life begins to rapidly change. The Inquisition is comI reviewed this book for www.luxuryreading.com.
As the new year of 1481 emerges, Marisol Garcia’s life begins to rapidly change. The Inquisition is coming to Seville and, in an effort to protect her family, Marisol’s mother – a Christian conversa – commits suicide to avoid any further suspicion or danger to Marisol or her father. Marisol has long been ashamed of the Jewish blood she inherited from her mother, further complicated by the hideous treatment she has seen some Old Christian’s inflict on New Christians of Jewish descent. Only one boy from a well-connected Old Christian family, Antonio Vargas, has shown her the love and respect she longs for. But when Antonio goes off to school and stops writing to Marisol she begins to believe he has abandoned her and, after her mother’s death and at her father’s insistence, she marries Gabriel Hojeda, a civil lawyer working for the Inquisition that might be able to keep Marisol safe. This is no happy marriage, however, and her vows are only the beginning of what will become an unraveling nightmare for Marisol and everyone she loves.
After finishing The Inquisitor’s Wife I’m torn as to whether I really enjoyed it or not. On the positive side, it was fascinating learning more about the hideous treatment inflicted on the conversos in Seville during the Inquisition and seeing the true motivations behind it. I’m always shocked to see how horrible people will act against those that don’t believe what they do and how greed, power and politics can turn people into true monsters. The author holds nothing back in showing the fierce manipulation and torture inflicted and this really helps the reader immerse themselves in this bleak world. The romance between Marisol and Antonio was also a little bit of sweetness in this otherwise incredibly dark story and helped keep me from feeling utterly depressed by all the horror surrounding their lives.
However, I found the story to be slow and plodding at times. For example, between the snippets of the unhappy wedding ceremony and Marisol’s memory flashes, it takes 60 pages for the wedding to end and the plot to move on. It ended up being a fast read but these slow moments did make me long for the more action packed portions that seemed to happen in the latter half of the book. The ending also left much to be desired as it seemed to cut off too quickly and with only a vague sense of resolution. I was left feeling like I wished the author put less effort into the slow moving beginning and relegated some of that energy to wrapping up the story.
While I can’t say The Inquisitor’s Wife is one of my favorites, it did keep me turning the pages to see how the story would unfold and I look forward to reading something else by Jeanne Kalogridis to get a better feel for her writing style. For any reader already a fan of the author or someone particularly interested in historical fiction based during the Spanish Inquisition this would probably be a worthwhile read. For others I might suggest starting with one of her other novels which readers seem to have really enjoyed, such as The Borgia Bride. ...more
In March 1912, an American college student named David Graham writes a fan letter to a Scottish poet liI 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. ...more
After her mother's sudden death, Grace Alban returns to her childhood home of Alban House after having been gone for 20 years. The expansive home andAfter her mother's sudden death, Grace Alban returns to her childhood home of Alban House after having been gone for 20 years. The expansive home and gardens, built by her great-grandfather in the 1800s by materials he imported from his homeland of Ireland, are breathtaking but haunting and stir so many memories for Grace, both heartwarming and exceedingly painful. Now the last Alban, Grace must take over the many responsibilities the head of the rich and influential family inherits, whether she wants to or not. So, with mixed feelings, Grace and her teenage daughter, Amity, move in.
As Grace attempts to plan her mother's funeral and decide what to do with Alban House, the very walls seem to whisper to her and the spirits of those that have lost their lives there - from Grace's mother to her brothers and father - seem to surround her. But overlaying it all is something much more sinister and as Grace digs deeper into her family's secretive history she begins to discover some shocking truths that have been hidden for years, even from her. The secrets point to what really happened at a party at Alban house one summer's night in 1956, a night that saw the death of a famous author and the disappearance of her aunt. But even as Grace learns what really happened that night, there are still much darker truths for her to uncover. As more and more is revealed to her she begins to realize that the famous Alban curse might be true. If it is, it will take all of Grace's strength and insight to find a way to save herself and her daughter from becoming its next victims.
First off, let me just say wow! It has been a while since I have read a book that actually spooks me enough to turn more lights on and peak behind me to make sure nothing is lurking there. The Fate of Mercy Alban is quite eery and has that old school haunted corners feel to it that always scares me so much more than gore or violence. The opulent old mansion, hidden passageways behind the walls, a sinister series of family secrets that includes insanity, witchcraft and murder....what more could you want in a story like this. Add to that the slowly released secrets and the gradual build up to what is really going on at Alban House and you have a truly entertaining story. Even as I continually thought I had figured it all out, something else would be revealed and I would be shocked and excited all over again. And the ending....oh the ending!
My one and only complaint with the book is that certain phrases were used over and over again, for example "a chill ran up my spine" or "my thoughts were going in several directions at once". While this did not detract from the story to me I did notice it and thoughts I should mention it as I could see that it might bother certain readers.
All in all The Fate of Mercy Alban was top notch gothic suspense and has given me quite the itch to read more like it. As Wendy Webb's first novel, The Tale of Halcyon Crane, is currently on my To Be Read shelf I might need to start there. I feel like being spooked some more!
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 aNew 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!...more
Whenever I see a new book by Sarah Pekkanen is coming out I am sure of two things: (1) I will be reading it soon after it comes out and (2) I will lovWhenever I see a new book by Sarah Pekkanen is coming out I am sure of two things: (1) I will be reading it soon after it comes out and (2) I will love it! There are only a few authors I have come across that seem to be able to actually make me laugh and cry over and over again throughout the story and that can create characters that either feel like they are inside my head, experiencing the same feelings and issues I am, or are people that I wish I was friends with. None are perfect but all feel very real. The characters in The Best of Us are no exception.
When an invitation to celebrate their college friend Dwight's 35th birthday on an all expense paid trip to Jamaica is received, neither Tina, Allie or Savannah can think of a good reason to turn it down. Tina, a mother of four that finds herself exhausted the moment her eyes open every morning, is hoping some relaxation and time alone with her husband, Gio, will allow her to feel like a woman again, not just a mother who is constantly failing everyone. Her best friend, the always optimistic and caring Allie, needs something to take her mind off a devastating revelation regarding her birth father, information that could mean a painful, debilitating future for her and which is making it hard for even her to keep her spirits up. She hasn't been able to confide her worries to her husband, Ryan, and is hoping the trip will clear her head and allow her a week to forget about the future. And their spunky friend, Savannah, is trying her best to get over her husband's infidelity and her possible divorce by making herself even sexier than usual in an attempt to make herself feel desirable again. Maybe a Jamaican fling is just the thing to get her groove back!
When Tina, Gio, Allie, Ryan and Savannah arrive at the airport they are beyond excited to discover they will be traveling on a private plane and that Pauline, Dwight's wife, has spared no expense to make this trip as wonderful as possible for all of them. Every tiny detail has been carefully planned and, while the others find Pauline to be haughty and hard to get to know, she is determined to make sure everyone has a great time. She figures if Dwight, a man who has always seemed on the outside of every other group, is able to have a once in a lifetime birthday with his friends, he might not realize that Pauline, and their marriage, are not all they appear to be.
While this group of old friends celebrate a week in paradise, with endless supplies of gourmet food and the best booze you could hope for, old secrets and desires begin to surface and everyone's carefully constructed facades begin to crumble. By the time a hurricane sweeps through to clear the landscape around them, mistakes have been made, deep seeded truths have been revealed and each of the woman have reevaluated everything they thought about their lives and those of the people around them. With all the uncertainty that swirls around them, even as they board the plane to head back home, it seems one thing is glaringly true for all of them: unless you can be honest with yourself and accept who you really are, you cannot be truly happy or be all you can be for those you love.
I am always shocked at how relatable Sarah Pekkanen's characters are! While I do not agree with all the choices the characters in The Best of Us made I can say that, seeing the situation through their eyes, I am able to at least understand why they made those choices. My favorite character and the one I related to the most was Tina. Being a mother who often feels like I am somehow failing someone no matter what I do (when I'm at work I don't have as much time for my son and husband, when I'm home and doing stuff around the house I am missing out on something my family is doing, God forbid I try to take an hour for myself...it can be exhausting!) and I can completely relate to her feelings of wanting to escape it all and then the guilt that instantly encompasses her. I also felt such kindred spirit when she was incredibly excited to be on vacation with other adults one minute and then instantly home sick for her children the next. I have felt that a number of times and it was usually through Tina that I experienced my weepy moments reading the book. The other tear worthy moments for me revolved around Pauline's storyline involving her disabled sister, Therese, and it really helped explain her more prim, closed off personality.
While so much of the story is heartfelt and tender, there were also plenty of the witty, snarky character moments I have come to love in Ms. Pekkanen's stories and they really helped to level the heavier actions and moments. Savannah is the life of the party and that friend that everyone seems to have, the one that has to always be the center of attention but that you love anyways because she has a big heart. She made a lot of mistakes and seemed to be at the center of every late night drinking binge, but when the reader gets a peek into her battered heart and mind after her husband's infidelity, you just cheer her on in discovering who she really wants to be.
Reading a Sarah Pekkanen novel can be a very cathartic experience: you will laugh, cry, then laugh some more and, by the time you turn the last page, you have not only gone on an adventure with her characters but have gotten the chance to put youself in their shoes and maybe thought a little bit more about what you might be going through at that particular point in time. Set against the idealic paradise of a private villa in Jamaica, The Best of Us is a vacation in a bottle and a chance for every reader to vicariously enjoy the trip while also possibly thinking of how they might react experiencing the same problems as the characters.
Blood Between Queens is my first journey into the Thornleigh saga and let me tell you, there is a lot tI reviewed this book for www.luxuryreading.com.
Blood Between Queens is my first journey into the Thornleigh saga and let me tell you, there is a lot to love! Barbara Kyle does an exceptional job of bringing a reader new to the series up to speed on what has happened in the previous books. While this makes it easy to read Blood Between Queens as a stand-alone novel, there is so much emotion and drama that has obviously occurred in the previous books that I wish I had read the series from the beginning and I plan on going back and doing so. There is a lot of information packed into this story and while the conflict between Queens Elizabeth and Mary are the historical center the Thornleigh/Grenville family feud is definitely the main story line. Secrets, deception and hatred abound but I enjoyed how a ray of hope was let in to pierce this vicious feud while keeping some conflict to continue into future books in the series (fingers crossed). And good luck being able to put the book down once the real action starts towards the end of the book. All I can say is wow!
Dealing with a number of conflicts – Thornleigh vs. Grenville, Queen Elizabeth vs. Queen Mary, Catholic vs. Protestant, England vs. Spain and more – Blood Between Queens is a rich, absorbing historical adventure that does a superb job of melding true history with fictional characters that are even better than the real ones they interact with. This is a must read for anyone who has read the previous books in the series and an enjoying journey for any lover of English historical fiction or exciting family dramas. ...more
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 was such a fun read! I am a huge fan of Downton Abbey so was excited to find a book that seemed to revolve around this period drama. While the reThis was such a fun read! I am a huge fan of Downton Abbey so was excited to find a book that seemed to revolve around this period drama. While the residents of the Alexander do attend viewing parties for the show and begin their friendships while watching it, it is really away from the show that their bonds grow and they are able to give each other the support and backbone (when needed) to face the serious issues affecting them all.
I enjoyed aspects of all three of the main female characters. Claire, the writer with the perfect year off to write her next big novel, gave such a fascinating peek into the mind and daily routine of a writer, especially the difficulties of one experiencing a heavy dose of writer's block. I was a little bit aggravated with Brooke, a woman who had trouble looking others in the eyes let alone standing up to her horrific ex husband, but once she got a little bit of confidence she was a funny, motherly and admirable character. Samantha's character was a little harder to relate too, being a rich woman who was scared to even hint to her husband that she truly loved him, but her strong personality and ability to manage others was admirable. Her brother and sister were completely selfish and vicious but she and her husband were a sweet couple once they started to actually open up to each other.
My favorite character by far was actually Edward Parker, the British concierge who brought the women together and seemed to serve as the mediator/peacekeeper of the apartments. Hints into a secret life and love back in England were given but didn't seem to really go anywhere, making me hope that there will be a sequel to While We Were Watching Downton Abbey. Otherwise it wasn't really necessary.
Anyone thinking of starting this book should really watch the show first as many references are made that would be better appreciated if the show has been seen first (and it is a wonderful show besides). This was a quick, fun read that I would recommend throwing in the beach bag or into the back of the car on any trips taken this summer. It will definitely keep you entertained, especially for anyone who already enjoys Downton Abbey or anyone who reads chick lit.
After her husband’s death, elderly Lily Verner is determined to make the most of her remaining years on earth and put her life in order. Bu3.5 stars.
After her husband’s death, elderly Lily Verner is determined to make the most of her remaining years on earth and put her life in order. But as she begins to pack up the various detritus of her past she cannot help but remember back to the painful times she experienced during World War II and the guilt and anger that remains from the events that she has kept secretly tucked away from those around her.
At eighteen, willful Lily is ready to venture out into the world and experience life for herself. When her plans fall through and she finds herself apprenticing at her father’s silk factory Lily is convinced it is just a short detour until she can determine what she really wants to do. But Lily is soon enamored with the beauty and resilience of the silk they make and in sheer awe of the tedious, intricate work that goes into making each type.
When grumblings of war begin to break out around Europe, the Verner factory is commissioned by Robbie Cameron, a charismatic parachute manufacturer and designer, to make parachute silk, keeping the factory going when many are forced to close. As they work tirelessly to perfect the difficult process of making safe and efficient parachute silk the Verners decide to sponsor three young Jewish men fleeing Germany and to give them positions at the factory.
While Robbie Cameron pursues Lily, with full approval from her parents, she begins a relationship with one of the German boys, Stefan. When their young love is discovered, Lily quickly learns that anti-German fervor is running strong and their relationship is strictly forbidden. As the hatred reaches its zenith the innocent German boys are rounded up as “male enemy aliens” and sent to an internment camp in Australia. While Lily continues to keep in touch with her love through letters she is given more and more responsibilities at the factory and becomes indispensable to its smooth, efficient running.
As war continues, the pressure on the Verner factory to keep pushing out perfect parachute silk continues to build. When Robbie Cameron threatens to pull his contract if Verners cannot produce the large amount of parachute silk he demands, Lily is forced to make a hasty decision that could have grave consequences if discovered. And when the worst happens and Lily is thrown into deep despair she will spend over half a century regretting the decisions she made during these fearful days of war. But will she be able to resolve her issues and make amends for what she feels she has done before it is too late?
The Last Telegram is by no means a feel good story. There is so much loss, destruction – both physically and emotionally – and fear that you cannot help but feel the pressure of the times. Liz Trenow does an excellent job of placing the reader right in the thick of the London air raid bombings and conveying the anxiety Lily and others would have been surrounded by. It was also very interesting to learn about the Australian internment camps were the English sent their enemy aliens, something I had never heard about before. Seeing a woman running a large company like Verners silk factory at this time of history was also intriguing and The Last Telegram was a real eye opener in a number of ways, which is always an exciting discovery in a world were the same historic subjects are often regurgitated with little difference.
While I understand the importance of silk in the storyline and in the life of the characters, I found the discussions involving the various components of silk – the types, weaves, machinery, etc. – to be my least favorite aspect of the story. Liz Trenow is obviously knowledgeable in every aspect of the silk making process (the author information explains that the author’s family have been silk weavers for over three hundred years) but I just kept finding myself skimming over this information to get back to the human experience aspect of the character’s lives. I also found the inclusion of a complicated relationship between Lily and a female worker and friend at the factory unnecessary to the overall storyline and was left wondering why it was even included.
Anyone looking for a raw, dark look at the devastation of war, the many consequences that can come from the rash decisions made under duress or a gentle yet sad love story will enjoy The Last Telegram. Anyone also interested in the history and processing of silk will most likely love this story that shows that a small gleam of hope can even survive after unbelievable loss.
On Thursday, July 15th, 1976, during a typical breakfast with his wife, Gretta, at their home in LondonI 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. ...more
Weaving back and forth between 1852 Virginia and modern New York, The House Girl presents a bitter sweeI reviewed this book for www.luxuryreading.com.
Weaving back and forth between 1852 Virginia and modern New York, The House Girl presents a bitter sweet story of determination, truth and the search for freedom in all its guises. Alternating between Lina’s and Josephine’s voices as well as letters of those working with the underground railroad to assist slaves like Josephine in their desperate flight to freedom, the story is at once both inspiring and utterly heartbreaking. Josephine’s story line is by far the most interesting and is a true testament to the horrible depravities of slavery as well as the glimmers of hope that can emerge when people shed their fears and do what is right, regardless of what consequences it might bring.
While I enjoyed seeing the similarities between Lina and Josephine – determined and strong women who both lost their mothers early in life – Lina’s progression and story line fell somewhat flat for me. The constant lawyer talk about billable hours became grating after a while and I had a hard time really sympathizing with her. Next to Josephine’s unbelievably beautiful story it was hard to feel for Lina and I kept rushing to get back to Josephine’s story. However, this might be an unfair statement as I found Josephine’s story so fascinating it would have taken a lot to not have me rushing to get back to it.
All in all The House Girl is a beautiful story and offers up so much for discussion. No matter your personal feelings towards the subjects discussed any reader would be hard pressed to not feel compassion and sadness for this dark mark on American history. While I won’t say that the story wraps up in a pretty, happy bow I will say that it leaves off with the feeling of hope for a better future if one is willing to let go of the past and fight for the future they want. It is only by facing the truth, regardless of what that might be, that contentment can be found. With The House Girl, Ms. Conklin makes the reader face all of these facts head on and does a wonderful job in doing so. ...more
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
So just how did India Black, madam and sometimes British spy, come by the funds to purchase LotusI reviewed this ebook for www.passagestothepast.com.
So just how did India Black, madam and sometimes British spy, come by the funds to purchase Lotus House, her elegant and high end brothel? Well, she’d be happy to tell you….
When Philip Barrett, one of India’s regular clients at Mother Moore’s brothel, invites her on an excursion, the sassy, witty tart can’t resist. Always drawn to adventure, the idea of a weekend in the country posing as Philip’s blushing bride while he attempts to close a deal with a brash, rich American sounds like a delightful diversion. The promised spoils if Philip closes the deal aren’t bad either.
Eyes wide open, India soon gets the feeling everything, and everyone, isn’t as it first appears at the small gathering in Devon. When a valuable jewel, the Rajah’s Ruby, disappears, along with Philip, India is left behind to try and pick up the pieces. But India is smarter than any of them imagine, and the fun is just beginning…
India Black and the Rajah’s Ruby is my first introduction to the enigmatic and quick-witted India Black and I am so glad I started with this fun and exciting short story! A prequel to the India Black series, this is a fast read that has India telling how she acquired the funds to open her own brothel, Lotus House, and highlights just how sharp and worldly this beautiful character can be. Never one to fall for a handsome face, India is able to solve the mystery of the missing ruby even before it truly is a mystery and is able to spin this to her advantage. Who wouldn’t love a character like that?
India’s expressions and snarky comments throughout the story are just delightful and her straightforward manner makes her a character to be reckoned with. The fact that she weaves in a sexy, saucy attitude in with her astute mind makes her all the more enjoyable. I am really excited to go back and read the book series from the beginning as India Black is already a character I love. I can’t wait to see how she becomes a spy and how her various innate abilities will work for her in this new line of work. Already knowing India, I am sure it will be a romping adventure! ...more
Sisters. Arguably one of the most complicated types of relationships, these siblings seem to embody theI reviewed this book for www.luxuryreading.com
Sisters. Arguably one of the most complicated types of relationships, these siblings seem to embody the love/hate archetype. Lucinda Rosenfeld’s The Pretty One gives us just such a relationship in the Hellinger sisters: three sisters ready to undermine and outshine each other at every opportunity while also being unable to live without the others.
Now I must admit that I don’t have any sisters. However, I have always been fascinated by this relationship. Seeing friends with sisters, it appeared that there is no one they loved more and no one they loved more to hate. In The Pretty One, this relationship seems heavily skewed towards the love to hate side. All three sisters whine almost constantly about the limits they face within the personality boxes they have grown up in while also seeming to relish the security these well defined expectations give them. Each looks at the others as an interloper on their time and happiness while also lamenting how easy the others have it, making them all seem exceedingly selfish. This combined with the fact that they seem to exaggerate everything made it hard to relate to any of them.
This being said, The Pretty One does do a good job of highlighting how the expectations and stereotypes we all grow up with rarely define who we really are. It also shows how much pressure these definitions place on a person trying to live up to being “the one”. In this the Hellinger sisters are perfect examples and I am sure many sisters will be able to find parts of themselves in the characters. For me, however, The Pretty One made me secretly happy to just have a brother. ...more