Tuesday, January 27, 2015

What the Lady Wants by Renee Rosen

She supposed she fell in love with him at the same time the rest of Chicago did. The Great Fire had raged on for two days, and the flamesdidn't discriminate: they devoured businesses and residences, mansions and shanties alike. In the end, miles of streets and buildings were ravaged. But from this smoldering ash, a handful of men came forward to rebuild the city. Marshall Field was one of them. Opening Paragraph   

Synopsis: In late-nineteenth-century Chicago, visionary retail tycoon Marshall Field made his fortune wooing women customers with his famous motto: “Give the lady what she wants.” His legendary charm also won the heart of socialite Delia Spencer and led to an infamous love affair. 

The night of the Great Fire, as seventeen-year-old Delia watches the flames rise and consume what was the pioneer town of Chicago, she can’t imagine how much her life, her city, and her whole world are about to change. Nor can she guess that the agent of that change will not simply be the fire, but more so the man she meets that night.… 

Leading the way in rebuilding after the fire, Marshall Field reopens his well-known dry goods store and transforms it into something the world has never seen before: a glamorous palace of a department store. He and his powerhouse coterie—including Potter Palmer and George Pullman—usher in the age of robber barons, the American royalty of their generation. 

But behind the opulence, their private lives are riddled with scandal and heartbreak. Delia and Marshall first turn to each other out of loneliness, but as their love deepens, they will stand together despite disgrace and ostracism, through an age of devastation and opportunity, when an adolescent Chicago is transformed into the gleaming White City of the Chicago’s World’s Fair of 1893.

Review by Mirella Patzer

As Delia hurries home from having witnessed the ravages of the Great Chicago Fire, she has no idea how her life will change. It Chicago in the late 1880's. She marries Arthur Caton, a lawyer, and at first they are happy. But as the wheels of time turn, the marriage begins to reveal its problems and secrets. Despite their troubles, they befriend Marshall Field and his wife who live around the corner. And before long, neither Delia nor Marshall can deny the powerful attraction they feel for each other. Soon, they are embroiled in a passionate affair, even though Delia remains loyal to her husband. Arthur is aware of his wife's affair, and their marriage soon becomes an open one as it frees him to pursue his own unusual interests. Despite all the gossip and scandal, and being ostracized from society, Delia holds her head high and offers no compromise to her life, finally overcoming all to ultimately marry Marshall in widowhood. 

It is evident the author has done her research for this story truly came alive. Never boring, the novel tantalized me to keep reading with each turn of the page. I was engrossed in the two marriages, the love that existed between Delia and the two men, and of course, the brilliant mind and honorable intentions of tycoon Marhsall Field. I could not help but be tottally enthralled with the characters. The setting, Chicago during the gilded age added much to enrichen the story line. I love works of fiction that are based on fact, and the novel did not disappoint. 
This is an exceptional story, which exceeded my expectations. Very highly recommended.

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Friday, January 23, 2015

The Historical Novel Review Presents - The Dreams of Kings by David Saunders

"Fourteen-year-old Simon Langford heard the sound of many horsemen approaching, and assumed that it was his father returning from battle. Full of excitement, he had dashed from the house towards the approaching dust cloud. As the horsemen came into view, he realised it was not his father's party, for they wore the colours of an unknown knight. The group rode compact and fast - each horse moving in smooth, fluid unison with those around it as if they had become of one creature - each a component part of this swift, sinister force." Opening Paragraph - The Dreams of Kings by David Saunders 

The Historical Novel Review is pleased to announce and feature the release of an exciting new novel about the key historical figures involved in the dramatic War of the Roses by British Author, David Saunders.  

Synopsis: In the year 1464, the Kingdom is engulfed by civil war as the renowned houses of Lancaster and York fight to the death for the crown of England. 

Richard, Duke of Gloucester, the future ‘Richard III’, arrives, aged twelve, for the safety of Middleham Castle to begin his training for knighthood. His new companions discover he can change from kindness to cold rage within the wink of an eye. Men, it was said, watched him with wary eyes, for they knew when the young pup found his teeth, he would make a dangerous enemy. 

Far in the north, Margaret of Anjou, warrior Queen to Henry VI, prepares to fight against the advancing armies of Edward IV. Why does she abandon her husband, and flee to France vowing never to return? Who blackmails her, seven years later, to join forces with her most hated enemy, to return and fight once again for the crown of England? 

King Edward IV, tall, handsome, and clever, is a brilliant warrior, whose Achilles' heel is women ‒ he loves them all. What dark forces drive him into a secret marriage that rips his kingdom apart? He is forced to fight Louis XI of France, and the mighty Earl of Warwick, not only for his crown but also his life. 

From the courts of Edward IV, Louis XI, and Margaret of Anjou, comes intrigue, betrayal, witchcraft, and love. The Dreams of Kings weaves plots and characters together to make a roller-coaster read of the period they call the ‘WAR of the ROSES’. 

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Thursday, January 22, 2015

Forgotten Objects by Carlos Rubio

"No one was surprised when Anna d'Amio agreed to marry Harry Wilson, a man many years her senior and not particularly good looking. Sole heir to a fortune whose origins could be traced to the steel mills around Pittsburgh, his wealth and social connections still made him, in the eyes of many, a great catch." (Opening Paragraph)

Synopsis:  Forgotten Objects traces the life of Anna d’Amio, daughter of opera singers Louis and Francesca d’Amio, from Mussolini’s Italy to the city of Pittsburgh during the mid sixties. The novel proper is made up of three parts: Italy, Cuba and United States. Married at seventeen and widowed at twenty, Anna leaves war-torn Italy to find her fortune in Cuba, she eventually meets Ramón Contreras, a wealthy tobacco grower who later becomes her second husband. The idyllic world that the couple had so laboriously built suddenly comes crashing down after the communist take over of the island and Ramón’s sudden and violent death. Now with two daughters under her care, Anna soon realizes that there is no future for them in Cuba, so she opts to send them to the United States through the Pedro Pan Program. Eventually she comes to the US herself, but by then the girls have been placed in foster homes. It is during this stage of her life, penniless and without influence, that she must make the greatest sacrifices to regain custody of her daughters. At the end of the novel, we find a series of letters, all dated 2005, that were exchanged by the sisters after their mother passed away. Anna left behind a box containing a collection of sundry items that she had collected throughout her life. Cognizant that these were significant for their mother, they attempt to piece together a sketch of her life through these forgotten objects.

Review by Mirella Patzer

Forgotten Objects by Carlos Rubino is a lush story about the life Anna d'Amio whose parents were opera singers and died when she was a very young woman. Alone at the age of 17, Anna must make her own way through life. With an incredibly rich and detailed prose that flows beautifully throughout the story, the story opens in Naples during Mussolini's rise to power at the cusp of World War II. Dangerous circumstances and death force Anna to leave behind the life and only home she knew in Naples, flee war-torn Italy, and cross the ocean for Cuba. Historical details and vibrant descriptions pepper each page as the reader is immersed first into the Italian culture, then Cuba, and finally America. The writing is so rich and profound, it truly feels as if you are watching a movie. 

Rich in historical detail, Anna who finds herself trapped between times of war and peace as she struggles to find happiness, success, and love. Forced to take risks, Anna faces her losses with amazing strength as she creates a livelihood for herself. She encounters love in three different countries and different times of war and peace. 

This sweeping novel's main themes are the struggle to survive, intense love, and binding relationships that shape our lives. The story evokes great emotion, as well as it entertains. With such incredibly human and complex characters, they truly came to life as I read. If you like novels that realistically sweep you into other countries with an engaging plot and immaculate writing, this novel is sure to fascinate. I cannot express enough how much I enjoyed this novel. Bravo Carlos Rubio! You have left us craving for more of your work!

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The Bracelet by Dorothy Love

“There are no secrets that time does not reveal.” 

Savannah, Georgia – 1858

Celia Browning dreams of the day when her childhood sweetheart Sutton Mackay comes home to Savannah after two years in Jamaica managing his family's shipping interests. Sutton has all but proposed, and their marriage will unite two of the city's most prominent families. But just as Sutton returns, a newspaper reporter arrives in town, determined to pry into twin tragedies that took place at the Browning mansion on Madison Square when Celia was a child.

While the journalist pursues his story, someone is trying to frighten Celia. When she receives a series of anonymous notes, and a bracelet imbued with a chilling message, Celia realizes that her family’s past has the power to destroy her future.

As the clouds of war gather over Savannah, and her beloved father’s health worsens, Celia determines to uncover the truth about what really happened all those years ago.

Inspired by actual events in one of Savannah’s most prominent 19th-century families, The Bracelet is the story of a young southern woman whose dreams fracture under the weight of her family’s tragic past.

The Bracelet by Dorothy Love is a historical romance set in Savannah, Georgia in the year 1858. The author has based the story on true events surrounding an actual family in that year and place. The novel centers around two sisters and their separate marriages, one who married into wealth and the other who was married to a man she did not love. Both women died at an early age, with each leaving behind a daughter. The two children, Celia and Ivy were raised together, but by very different fathers, one who was doting and the other who bothered very little with his child. The two girls are very close, but they are very different in personalities. When a nasty journalist arrives to question the mysterious circumstances behind a death at the family mansion, dark secrets slowly unravel, putting the two sisters at odds with each other. 

I enjoyed the storyline and the family mystery, especially the journalist, a sinister character who was very intriguing. With plenty of plot, the storyline moved along at a good quip with enough twists and turns to hold a reader's interest. A great little family saga / romance of the American south on the cusp of the Civil War. Nicely written.

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Tuesday, January 20, 2015

The Boston Girl by Anita Diamont

When Addie Baum's 22-year old granddaughter asks her about her childhood, Addie realises the moment has come to relive the full history that shaped her. Addie Baum was a Boston Girl, born in 1900 to immigrant Jewish parents who lived a very modest life. But Addie's intelligence and curiosity propelled her to a more modern path. Addie wanted to finish high school and to go to college. She wanted a career, to find true love. She wanted to escape the confines of her family. And she did. Told against the backdrop of World War I, and written with the same immense emotional impact that has made Diamant's previous novels bestsellers, The Boston Girl is a moving portrait of one woman's complicated life in the early 20th Century, and a window into the lives of all women seeking to understand the world around them.

Opening Sentences:  Ava, sweetheart, if you ask me to talk about how I got to be the woman I am today, what do you think I'm going to say? I'm flattered you want to interview me. and when did I ever say no to my favorite grandchild? I know I say that to all of my grandchildren and I mean it every single time. That sounds ridiculous or like I'm losing my marbles, but it's true. When you're a grandmother, you will understand. 

Review by Mirella Patzer:

The Boston Girl is a sumptuous story of a grandmother named Addie Baum who describes the details of her life to her beloved granddaughter. It is a book about the vast wisdom that can only be acquired through age and experience, hardships and successes, courage and perseverance. Addie is a young Jewish girl who lives and grows up in Boston in the early 20th century. In a realistic, simple but brilliant prose, Addie tells her granddaughter of her achievements and failures. It is poignant, real, and wonderfully creative, full of little secrets and wisdoms! This is a great book for mothers and daughters to share, or for women’s book clubs. I highly recommend it! Outstanding!

                   Amazon USA   Amazon Canada   Amazon UK  

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

A Flower for the Queen by Caroline Vermalle

England, 1770. Young gardener Francis Masson i aked by the King to search for a rare orange blossom in South Africa. As his ship departs, Masson has no idea that he's about to embark on the adventure of a lifetime. During his hunt for the mysterious flower, he doesn't anticipate the untamed nature of the African continent, nor the subtle scheming of competing plant hunters. As he makes the acquaintance of eccentric botanist Carl Thunberg and his elegant accompaniment, Masson's fate once again takes an unexpected turn. 

A lively adventure novel set against the vibrant backdrop of the South African countryside.

Opening Sentences:  

"If I write one more obituary, I swearit will be the death of me," said Jack Grant, the corners of his young, purple-lipped mouth turned downwards in a petulant frown. 
   The travelling coach and its team of horses rumbled and snorted in reply to the coachman's whip, ripping a tear through the bleached silence of a November morning on the road from Montreal to Pointe-Claire. 

Review by Mirella Patzer:

A Flower for the Queen is a lively adventure story about a young botanist who, through unusual circumstances, finds himself embarking on a voyage of discovery with Captain Cook. His job is to find a particular rare flower in Africa on behalf of the King and Queen. The story immediately drew me in with its fascinatingly real characters and unusual, intriguing plot. It is filled with twist after twist as the story weaves from one adventure to another. 

The story is told through the eyes of an old man - it is is his own story and adventure of when he was young. He describes hazards and danger, the wilds of Africa, the famous personages who arranged for his voyage, and Captain Cook himself. 

This was a very enjoyable story that kept my interest from start to finish. Multi-layered and very entertaining indeed.

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Bone and Blood by Margo Gorman

Hard to tell. Hard not to tell. Now it’s too late. I didn’t want to burden you with such a story. I didn’t want understanding, pity or disgust from anyone then. I don’t want it now. But I wanted you one day to have the letters I never posted.

Bone and Blood opens in Berlin August 2005 as the death of Brigitte’s daughter, Katharina brings back memories of her conception in 1945 when Brigitte was imprisoned in Ravensbrück Concentration Camp. Brigitte has never told her story of the war years but is challenged by Aisling, her great-niece and a student from Dublin, who arrives for the funeral.

Aisling takes possession of a collection of unposted letters, written by Brigitte during war, and commandeers a laptop she finds in Katharina’s room. She gradually becomes hooked on images conjured up by the letters. They forge a relationship bonded by Brigitte’s memories and Aisling’s future, and Aisling learns as much about herself as about the past.

Bone and Blood is the compelling story of two strong women, their difficult memories and the bonds of love and fear.

Opening Sentences:  Hard to tell. Hard not to tell. Now it’s too late. I didn’t want to burden you with such a story. I didn’t want understanding, pity or disgust from anyone then. I don’t want it now. But I wanted you one day to have the letters I never posted.

Review by Mirella Patzer:

Bone and Blood is a multi-generational story about a woman's experience in a concentration camp in World War II. It is told through the perspective of Katharina as she reveals the secrets of her mother-daughter relationship with her dead daught to Aisling, her grand-neice. It is a poignant story of family relationships, mistakes, and enduring love. It touches upon the complexities of mother-daughter relationships that feels so real that I believed I came to know the characters on a personal basis. Moving and insightful. A lovely read!

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Friday, January 9, 2015

Sweet Damage by Rebecca James

From the internationally bestselling autho of Beautiful Malice comes a captivating novel of psychological suspense about love and friendship, loyalty and betrayal—perfect for readers of S. J. Watson and Lisa Unger.
Tim Ellison feels lucky when he finds a cheap place to rent in his dream location, close to the restaurant where he works as a chef, and even closer to his favorite surf spot at Sydney’s popular Manly Beach. But the cavernous house is infused with a sense of foreboding, and his furnished room there comes with a condition: He must look after the mansion’s mysterious owner.
Anna London is withdrawn and frail, a twenty-year-old with the inexplicable demeanor and habits of an elderly woman. From her grand home on the hill, she can see the city and the ocean, but she can never leave. Her anxieties keep her locked inside, unable to face the outside world.
As Tim settles in, he struggles to get to know the person who depends on him for food and care. Slowly, Anna reveals glimpses of herself—her history, her sadness, her crippling fears. And then strange things begin to happen: loud banging in the night, unexplained figures in the shadows, sinister messages on the walls. Tim is startled to find that even as his unease about the house grows, he is increasingly attracted to its hauntingly beautiful owner. But is Anna London someone to pity, someone to love, or someone to fear?
Taut and intense, Sweet Damage is an addictive novel about vulnerability, obsession, and duplicity, with a modern Gothic twist.

Opening Sentences: I still dream about Fairview. In my dreams the house is more than it was in life: the building taller and more imposing, the hallways longer and more labyrinthine, the inside colder and darker than the real thing ever was. In my dreams Fairview is a maze of dark passages and shadows, steep staircasews that twist and turn in nightmarish knots. 

Tim Ellison has yet to decide what to do with his life. He works at his father's restaurant and spends his free time surfing. His only real desire is to get back together with his ex-girlfriend, Lilla, who has kicked him out of her apartment. Lilla finds him an incredibly wonderful place to rent. He is to be a roommate to a young woman named Anna London and share living quarters in her large mansion called Fairview. But not all is as it seems. First, Anne is an agoraphobic introvert and there are many secrets within the walls of the lush mansion. Strange events happen. Anna has some very odd friendships, especially with the two young lawyers she is close to. Later by layer, dark ambitions and buried secrets surface, culminating in an explosive, satisfying ending.

Rebecca James' new novel, SWEET DAMAGE, certainly hits the mark as a modern day gothic mystery! The tale is revealed mostly through Tim's point of view and readers experience his confusion, his growing interest in his room mate Anna, and the slow burgeoning of his deep caring and respect for her.  The other characters in the story, Lilla, Fiona, and Marcus, keep the reader on edge - as their true motivations are cleverly disguised until the end. There is a great pace and lots of interesting plot twists to keep the reader engaged. A nice, engaging read, especially for those who love stories about old mansions and family secrets!

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Secret of a Thousand Beauties by Mingmei Yip

Set against the vibrant and intrigue-laden backdrop of 1930s China, Mingmei Yip's enthralling novel explores one woman's defiant pursuit of independence.Spring Swallow was promised in marriage while still in her mother's belly. When the groom dies before a wedding can take place, seventeen-year-old Spring Swallow is ordered to become a ghost bride to appease his spirit. Under her in-laws' protection, she will be little more than a servant, unable to know real love or bear children. Refusing to accept her fate as a "bad-luck woman," Spring Swallow flees on her wedding day.

In the city of Soochow, Spring Swallow joins a community of renowned embroiderers. The women work for Aunty Peony, whose exquisite stitching once earned her the Emperor's love. But when Aunty Peony agrees to replicate a famous painting--a lucrative assignment that will take a year to complete--betrayal and jealousy emerges within the group. Spring Swallow becomes entangled in each woman's story of heartbreak, even while she embarks on a dangerous affair with a young revolutionary. On a journey that leads from the remote hillsides around Soochow to cosmopolitan Peking, Spring Swallow draws on the secret techniques learned from Aunty Peony and her own indomitable strength, determined to forge a life that is truly her own.

Opening Paragraph: It was my wededing day. I was horrified. Because my soon-to-be-lawful-and-awful husband was not even a man. He was a ghost. Well, a man, but a dead one! A sinister being, his cold hands reaching toward me from the yin world... 

Review by Mirella Patzer 

The opening paragraph of Secret of a Thousand Beauties is powerful and gripping. It definitely lures you further into the story. Despite the fact that the groom is dead, Spring Swallow must fulfill a marriage promise made when the two were mere children. Stepping in to represent her dead groom is a rooster. After the wedding she is obligated to serve her groom's family for the rest of her life. Marrying the dead is an ancient tradition and based upon honor. But Spring Swallow is strong and determined to ensure her life is a happy one, so this is a story of how she bolts, and breaks away from tradition to make her own way in life. 

Told in first person narrative through the voice of Spring Swallow, the author does a wonderful job of interjecting history and culture into the bittersweet, fascinating storyline. She finds work as an embroideress with a woman named Peony, who takes in stray girls to learn the craft. Although she has food and shelter, her life is one of toil and Spring Swallow soon finds herself as trapped as her ghostly marriage. Briefly, she is able to escape to a mountain top where she writes her thoughts on rocks. Soon someone is responding to her writing and she falls in love with Shen Feng, a rebel. 

This is a tale of one woman's struggle for freedom in a world where tradition and ancient beliefs still hold a great deal of power. I enjoyed the easy prose and poignancy of the tale. The characters were three dimensional and not predictable in the least. Although there is a tone of sadness in this novel's pages, it is what makes it most credible, mirroring real life. An excellent book! Definitely one to add to your collection.