Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Greays Hill by Jon Beattiey


Back Cover Description

The Border country - a wild moorland barrier between the Scots and English - had, in the late 18th century started to settle down after years of lawlessness. Reivers, the vagabond thieves who plundered across the Cheviots, had all but disappeared. Jack Charlton is an independent drover, herding cattle across the fells of Northumbria, living largely on his wits with his companion, Phillips, a feisty red haired Scot. On a grim stormy night in an out-of-the way hostelry, he hears of the passing of his Aunt Meg, a spinster owning a hundred acres of rough farmland and a dwelling, Greays Hill - a small fortified farmhouse. Jack accepts the challenge of his inheritance and begins his integration with the local community and the realisation that he needs a wife. Murder, mischief, intrigue and skulduggery abound alongside Jack's conquests, including the flirty and conniving Squire's daughter. Along the way he discovers whose son he really is - and has to deal with the tragic consequences. The narrative flows across the fells, from the Tyne to Jedburgh, explores bygone farming practices and the value of good sandstone, reveals both harsh realities and staunch friendships, brings the colour and flavour of the Northumbrian way of life and tells how the love of a girl can help a drover overcome all.

Review

Author Jon Beattiey has penned a enthralling tale about a young man who struggles to establish his life in the borderlands between Scotland and England. The story starts simply enough, but the plot begins to augment itself with several subplots. First, he must find a wife to help manage his dwelling called Greay’s Hill and three women attract his attention. Alison, Susan, and Tomassina, the squire’s daughter. As he learns more about each woman, and their characters are slowly revealed, he comes across a silver buckle and a set of silver spurs that his dead Aunt Meg had preserved. The land Greay’s Hill sits upon is rich with sandstone setting off greed and skullduggery amongst some of his neighbours.

What is most enjoyable about this novel was the setting and the way the mystery unfolds. The author’s ability to bring to life a lesser known area and culture enriches the tale. Secrets are slowly revealed, subplots become more complex, and the tension increases as the reader turns each page, culminating in an exciting, unpredictable ending. The characters are beautifully developed, especially Jack Charlton who is a likeable ladies man with a sensitive heart and logical decision maker.

My only caveat is that the dialogue in the novel is written in the Scottish vernacular of the borderlands, making reading the novel a bit of challenge, and as I neared the climax of the novel, when I was riding the high tide of excitement and wanted to keep flipping pages because long buried secrets and truths were revealed, the heavy dialect detracted and had me frustrated.

Nevertheless, this novel is definitely an excellent, highly recommended story with enough tension and mystery to keep readers interest from start to finish. Beautiful prose, lovely descriptions, and the realities of the harshness of life in the era and setting make this top-notch historical fiction. 

Monday, November 26, 2012

Detroit Breakdown by D.E. Johnson


Back Cover Blurb

Will Anderson and Elizabeth Hume are called to the vast Eloise Insane Asylum outside of Detroit, where Elizabeth’s cousin Robbie is a patient and now a murder suspect. The victim, like three others before him at the asylum in recent months, was killed with the infamous “Punjab lasso,” the murder weapon of the Phantom of the Opera.


Certain of Robbie’s innocence, they begin an investigation with the help of Detective Riordan. Will has himself committed to the asylum to investigate from the inside, and Elizabeth volunteers at Eloise and questions people outside the asylum. While Will endures horrific conditions in his search for the killer, Elizabeth and Riordan follow the trail of a murder suspect all the way to Kalamazoo, where they realize the killer might still be at Eloise, putting Will in extreme danger. They race back to Detroit, but will they arrive in time to save Will and bring the killer to justice?


Filled with Johnson’s trademark roller-coaster plot, nuanced characters, and brilliant historical research, Detroit Breakdown is a compelling, dark mystery set in the once- flourishing Paris of the West.

Review

Detroit Breakdown is a mystery/suspense novel, the third in a series featuring Elizabeth Hume and Will Anderson. The novel is set in the early 1900’s in the city of Detroit where the two main characters are embroiled in a murder mystery in a notorious mental institution. There are plenty of twists and turns to the story, which held my interest to the very end. Secondary characters are never all that they appear to be when first introduced, adding intrigue and interest. Most fascinating of all however, were the horrible medical practices practiced on mental patients. The author also brought Detroit’s burgeoning motor and transportation industry.

There is much to like about this historical mystery. I loved all the odd and unusual tidbits woven into the story. Due to the fact the author regularly mentions previous history between the two main characters into play, I recommend also reading the previous two books in the trilogy. Otherwise, this is a fast-paced, succinctly written, mystery is unpredictable, creative, well-researched, and definitely keep you on the edge of your seat.  

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Whorticulture by Marie-Anne Mancio


As a girl waits for the return of her disappeared father, the story of four migrant women unravels. In antebellum America: a daydreamer from the country gets an unexpected education on the Mississippi river; a storekeeper falls in love with a thief amid the chaos of Gold Rush San Francisco; a fugitive quadroon re-invents herself in a New York brothel; and a young bride is trapped on a Louisiana sugar plantation. Though they do not know it, their lives are inextricably linked by the men they encounter. Peopled by whores, tricksters, gamblers, do-gooders, liars, and fools, and with allusions to the coded language of flowers, Whorticulture is about prostitution in its myriad forms. Contains a helpful discussion guide for book groups and a flower dictionary.

Whorticulture is an anthology of four historical fiction stories about women who, for one reason or another, were forced to sell themselves physically or spiritually to men in order to overcome adversity in their lives. Each chapter is headed by a reference to a particular flower which provides a link to the individual and different stories.  

The women in the stories were fascinating, victims of their own particular era (albeit all set in the mid 1800’s in different locales). The novel is very well written and researched with plenty of details to really bring each setting to vivid life These four poignant stories are highly entertaining, giving readers a fascinating insight into the plight of women during this period in history.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

The Legendary Adventures of the Pirate Queens by James Grant Goldin

James Grant Goldin’s novel The Legendary Adventures of the Pirate Queens is a rousing, funny, high seas adventure about Anne Bonny and Mary Read, the infamous female pirates who sailed with Calico Jack Rackam. When Mary Read—forced to dress as a man named Martin Read—and Peter Meredith—the man she secretly loves—are captured by Rackam’s crew during a raid on a merchant ship, Mary comes face-to-face with both Calico Jack and the notorious Anne Bonny. That’s where the adventure truly begins.

Anne begins to fall for the person she believes is Martin Read, which naturally incites the jealousy of her current lover Jack Rackam. However, when Anne learns the true identity of Martin, both women are forced to band together to try to save Jack and the crew from Captain Charles Vane, who is hell-bent on revenge against Rackam for a prior mutiny. Anne’s former husband, the takeover of their pirate haven by Governor Woodes Rogers, the attacking Spanish, and just general pirate mayhem only add to the trouble facing Anne and Mary. Will the two pirate women triumph over the insurmountable task before them or fall prey to the hangman’s noose?

Self-published in 2012, The Legendary Adventures of the Pirate Queens is filled with wonderful historical characters who are relatable and a delight to read about. The settings are rich and believable, and the historical details are weaved beautifully throughout the story. Fast-paced and an absolute joy to read, the book is geared toward adults.

Although I’m a pirate historical buff, Goldin surprised me more than once with some of the splendid details and historical events in the story. He is a master storyteller, and I cannot wait to read his next novel, which will hopefully be a sequel to this book. I highly recommend this novel to any pirate lovers, historical buffs, and anyone who wants to read a truly entertaining story.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

The First Apostle by Katherine Pym

Camille Desmoulins, a pamphleteer and journalist, and a man devoted to his wife, Lucile, harbors a malevolent secret. His quill carries poisoned ink. He writes with misdirected passion that leads to the destruction of lives who come in contact with his writings. Impetuous, and filled with satirical wit, Camille runs in the same circles as Robespierre and Danton, but it is not until 1793 that he finally tires of the Terror and pleads for clemency. But will clemency save him and his loved ones from a terrible fate?

The guillotine on the front cover of this novel stands as an ominous reminder of one of the darkest periods of European history – The French Revolution. This novel is particularly interesting because it is told in the vantage point of view of the poor and the revolutionaries instead of the nobles whose lives were at constant risk – an interesting change. At the heart of the story is Camille, a writer and revolutionary, and close friend to Robespierre and other influential political figures of the time. This fascinating character is bold, often outrageous, a risk taker that had me shaking my head at his bold bravado. His written word on the political climate stirs carries might and stirs up public sentiment. He gains fame and notoriety, but his writing often leads to lost lives in the terror. As his actions return to haunt him, he must come to terms with his actions.

Author Katherine Pym has written an intensely gripping novel of a time of true terror, where victims were sentenced to death on the whim of an incomplete and incompetent judicial system. She does not sugar-coat the realities of that terrible time and gives us insight as to the true terror and implications of all those who suffered. Starvation, poverty, greed, power-lust, betrayal, and a good love story garnish the pages of this very poignant novel. One cannot help but be moved. It is an excellent example of historical fiction at its best. 

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Khamsin, The Devil Wind of the Nile by Inge H. Borg


Inge H. Borg’s Khamsin, The Devil Wind of the Nile is a sprawling tale set in ancient Egypt before the epoch of pyramid building began. The heart of the conflict lies between two men, prince-turned-priest Ramose and Ebu al-Saqqara, the ambitious vizier to King Aha. Each knows powerful secrets that could destabilize the regime.

As the novel opens, a clash between Egypt and its neighbors looms. General Ali el-Barum receives word of a gold mine along the disputed border. Barum sends a message to his superior Grand General Makari, via the royal archer Pase. The chief priest Rahetep also learns of the same rich source and dispatches his aide, Tasar to another venerated high priest, Badar. Both couriers accomplish their goal, but their varied paths lead to fateful meetings and intended consequences. The vizier al-Saqqara intercepts Pase, who reaches the capital half-dead. Tasar’s arrival offers a rare glimpse into Aha’s royal household through the heiress Nefret, the king’s headstrong, beautiful daughter. Ramose watches over the young princess, orphaned by her mother in childbirth and by an easily manipulated king. On the pretext of initiating Nefret into her future position, Ramose prepares to confront enemies outside and within Egypt, while al-Saqqara attempts to secure his future. A slew of advisors, retainers and servants, each with their own loyalties and weaknesses, have roles to play in the two men’s schemes.      

In his dual position as vizier and royal quartermaster, the chief minister al-Saqqara’s wants to rule Egypt in Aha’s place. He can dare claim an unwilling Nefret to secure his tenuous hold or extend his influence over her malleable brother and rival, Dubar. Ramose intends to protect the willful Nefret from herself and the vizier’s aims. The intricate maneuvers between the Ramose and al-Saqqara, as each tries to outwit the other, are engrossing. The novel’s other great strength lies is in the details of Egyptian life. The author shows great skill in portraying an ancient time. Every description feels authentic and transports readers to the period. While to her credit, the author provided detailed personalities and full backgrounds for each figure, at times the large cast of characters slowed the pace and generated some distracting POV switches. 

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Fame and Infamy: Adventures of an American Maid in Paris by Iva Polansky


Is it hard to be famous in 1870's Paris? Ask the sharp-shooting contest winner Miss Nelly McKay, formerly of Butte, Montana. She is already walking the thin line between fame and infamy when she is noticed by Chancellor Bismarck and the German Secret Service. Yet all she ever wanted was to marry a gentleman! 

Fame and Infamy is an entertaining blend of comedy, mystery, romance and hard facts. Sarah Bernhardt and Victor Hugo are among the celebrities who share the scene with gritty characters emerging from the bohemian Latin Quarter. Paris, mopping up after the twin calamities of war and. revolution, provides a background for this hearty clash of French and American cultures.


Author Iva Polansky thrusts readers into the heart of Paris in the late 1800’s with her colorful, adventurous heroine, Nelly McKay. Nelly is a sharpshooting, independent woman from the wild mining town of Butte Montana. An invitation to be a ladies maid brings some stability into her life with the added bonus of travelling to Paris. But things do not unfold as planned and soon Nelly finds herself embroiled in a love triangle and plenty of conflict.  


Fame and Infamy is a lushly decadent story, elegantly written, and sure to charm. The historic details pertaining to Paris were beautifully presented and easy to imagine. And of course, one cannot help but fall in love with Nelly, who is courageous and bold and fiercely liberated. It is easy to turn the pages of this novel because the plot keeps building and building in a stunning crescendo until all is revealed at the end. A highly entertaining story!

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Memory of Bones by Alex Connor


 R E L E A S E D   T O D A Y

PUBLISHER'S BLURB

The head of Francisco Goya was stolen from his tomb in the wake of his death. No one has ever known what happened to it. Until now. Leon Golding has always been ignored by the art world he loves, but he's finally going to make his name as the man who found the skull of Goya. But he's asked the wrong people to help him prove he's right. Now everyone wants to own the most prized piece of art history ever to come to light ... And they're ready to kill for it.
The head of Goya has been missing for centuries. The most valuable - and dangerous - relic the world has even known.
When the art historian, Leon Golding, finds Goya's skull his rivals gather: a ruthless female collector in New York; an immoral scion of the notorious Ortega family; and a killer hired by the most dangerous man in London.
All of them are after the skull - and the man who has it.


REVIEW

Like all Alex Connor’s books, the history is so fascinating, and unique, I always rush to look it up and read as much as I can about the background. This was exactly true with Memory of Bones. Goya was interred at the cemetery of the Chartreuse of Bordeaux, in April 1838. However sixty three years later, in 1901 the Spanish Government requested his remains moved to a grave beneath the floor of the church of San Antonio de la Florida in Madrid. When his body was disinterred, the skull was found to be missing, and has not been located since.

Ben Golding finds himself thrown into the murky world of those who seek world recognition in the art world and are willing to pay anything to achieve it. Ben and Leon's parents died when they were young and they were raised in Spain by their nurse, Detita, a woman who instilled in the boys a belief in a voodoo like spiritualism that Ben can take or leave, but Leon takes to heart. When Leon tells his brother he has been handed the lost skull of Goya,  and that he has a theory about why Goya painted his famous and enigmatic ‘Black Paintings,’ Ben is sceptical but agrees to have the skull examined.

The story moves between Leon’s farmhouse in Madrid, to the Whitechapel Hospital in London, and becomes increasingly more sinister when the body count starts mounting and the skull goes missing – again.

Ben would like to walk away and concentrate on his work as a plastic surgeon and taking care of his girlfriend, Abigail, but fate and loyalty to his dead brother won’t allow him to ignore that although everyone believed Leon was disturbed, he was mortally afraid when he died, and his so called girlfriend, Gina, doesn’t appear as heartbroken as she should be either.

However, Ben Golding is not experienced in subterfuge and deceit and although he unearths some startling evidence, he also makes a few near fatal mistakes which make the chase for the skull more dangerous – for him.

Alex Connor is a master at keeping the pace moving and just when you think the story is beginning to take a predictable turn, the plot takes a surprising route that keeps you turning the pages even though you promised yourself to put the light out fifteen minutes ago! I thoroughly enjoy all her work, and even though I wasn’t, enthralled with the personality of Goya himself, the final conclusion was compelling.

Anita Davison is a Historical Fiction Author whose latest release, ‘Royalist Rebel’ a biographical novel set in 17th Century England, is being released by Claymore Books in early 2013 under the name Anita Seymour
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Sunday, November 4, 2012

Song of the Eight Winds by Peter Kerr


A young man caught up in the Spanish conquest of Muslim Mallorca during the thirteenth century uncovers secrets of his past in Peter Kerr’s Song of the Eight Winds. Pedro Bl├ánes is the helmsman of a ship carrying the ambitious king of Aragon, Juame. The king intends to capture the island from its Moorish ruler. Pedrito or Little Pedro has less lofty ambitions. All he wants to do is return to his family’s farm on Mallorca. He has been absent for five years, forced into a harsh existence as a galley slave chained to the oars. The king’s venture offers him a chance to reunite with his family and ensure their safety. Juame relies on him for his knowledge of the island. Pedrito remains mindful of the differences between them and keeps a level head as he guides the king to his destiny.    

Pedrito reaches his family’s farm and discovers the truth of their fate. While he is hopeful the conquest will allow him to keep his hands bloodless, he cannot help but suffer the consequences. In the aftermath of brutal battles, he witnesses the savagery on both sides. At the king’s command, he enters the city and meets the maimed Farah who has ties to his past and a beautiful young woman of the Moorish court, Saleema. As the trio come to know more about each other, emerging knowledge tests Pedrito’s commitment to the king’s cause.

History comes to life through Kerr’s skill as a storyteller. I enjoyed the author’s excellent ability to pace the storyline the most. He revels in building up the tension, whether it is in the protagonist’s growing awareness of his heritage or the anxiety on the eve of every clash or the ensuing siege. Farah is an especially sympathetic character, but I wish the author could have developed her relationship with Pedrito further. Altogether, Song of the Eight Winds is a satisfying read.         

Saturday, November 3, 2012

The Secret Keeper by Kate Morton


From the New York Times and internationally bestselling author of The Distant Hours, The Forgotten Garden, and The House at Riverton, a spellbinding new novel filled with mystery, thievery, murder, and enduring love.

During a summer party at the family farm in the English countryside, sixteen-year-old Laurel Nicolson has escaped to her childhood tree house and is happily dreaming of the future. She spies a stranger coming up the long road to the farm and watches as her mother speaks to him. Before the afternoon is over, Laurel will witness a shocking crime. A crime that challenges everything she knows about her family and especially her mother, Dorothy—her vivacious, loving, nearly perfect mother.

Now, fifty years later, Laurel is a successful and well-regarded actress living in London. The family is gathering at Greenacres farm for Dorothy’s ninetieth birthday. Realizing this may be her last chance, Laurel searches for answers to questions that still haunt her from that long-ago day, answers that can only be found in Dorothy’s past.

Dorothy’s story takes the reader from pre–WWII England through the blitz, to the ’60s and beyond. It is the secret history of three strangers from vastly different worlds—Dorothy, Vivien, and Jimmy—who meet by chance in wartime London and whose lives are forever entwined. The Secret Keeper explores longings and dreams and the unexpected consequences they sometimes bring. It is an unforgettable story of lovers and friends, deception and passion that is told—in Morton’s signature style—against a backdrop of events that changed the world.

Kate Morton has written yet another endearing family saga novel set in an English country manor. The story begins in 1961 when a young Laurel witnesses her mother commit a shocking crime. Over the years, Laurel puzzles over what she witnessed that awful day. Now that she has reached her fifties, her mother is dying and as the family gathers, Laurel begins to question what she witnessed so long ago. Her questions take her into past decades, to the 30’s and 40’s to her present time of the 60’s. Slowly, motives and secrets are unearthed. 

What I enjoy most about Kate Morton’s work, is that beneath the surface, characters are never what they first appear. As one turns the pages, the story’s details unfold, shedding just enough light to keep one intrigued, but never enough to reveal all. Complex relationships, a touch of humor, a fabulously romantic setting, and dark secrets kept my interest, but it wasn’t until the last quarter of the book where I was truly gripped. A shocking revelation that made me rethink all that had been previously revealed. A great story and book to cuddle up with.!

Thursday, November 1, 2012

The Ruins of Lace by Iris Anthony



Lace is a thing like hope.
It is beauty; it is grace. 
It was never meant to destroy so many lives.

The mad passion for forbidden lace has infiltrated France, pulling soldier and courtier into its web. For those who want the best, Flemish lace is the only choice, an exquisite perfection of thread and air. For those who want something they don't have, Flemish lace can buy almost anything-or anyone.

One of the benefits of reading historical fiction is that not only is there a good story to be told, but it is also a learning experience. This was exactly the case with Ruins of Lace. When lace was invented, it was a rarity, a luxury for the likes of kings and queens, and the wealthiest of society. And even if lace could be afforded by the lower classes, the nobility banned it to keep it exclusive. Those talented enough too learn the art, were forced to work under horrendous conditions where they suffered extreme eye strain and strict discipline by their masters or mistresses. And when lacemakers lost their eye sight and could no longer work, they were kicked out of the facility in which they worked – their only hope to become prostitutes to earn a living.

Just like the complexities and intricacies in the making of the delicate lace, this story unfolds in the same way. Set in 17th century, Ruins of Lace is about a young girl named Lisette who is one of the best lace-makers in all of France. When she accidentally burns a lace cuff that belongs to a visiting nobleman, and her family is too poor to replace it, it sets off a chain of events with far reaching impact to herself and her family.

Told through the voices of seven characters, slowly their stories become linked into one, making a very strong story. Lace smuggling, treachery, obsession, and love are all themes that are threaded throughout the novel. Vibrant prose, a fascinating story-line, bigger than life characters, and rich historical detail make this a very appealing story. Highly recommended.