Thursday, February 26, 2015

City of God by Cecilia Holland

"Night had come. Nicholas Dawson, waiting on the stony shore of the Tiber, began to shiver in the cold. He tucked his hands into the folds of his coat and swayed a little from one foot to the other, and cast a look around him, from the river to the swampy meadow behind him, stinking of rot." 
Opening Paragraph

Synopsis:  A self-serving political player in sixteenth-century Rome is caught up in the ruthless and powerful Borgia family’s deadly intrigues of murder and betrayal

It is known as the City of God—but Rome at the dawn of the sixteenth century is an unholy place where opulence, poverty, and decadence cohabitate sinfully under the ruthless rule of Rodrigo Borgia, the debauched Pope Alexander VI. Englishman Nicholas Dawson is secretary to the ineffectual ambassador of Florence and, as such, finds himself linked to Borgias’ murderous machinations, specifically the brutal power plays of the warlord Cesare, the pope’s bastard son. A skilled liar, conspirator, spy, and manipulator—a man drawn to power and the pleasures of excess—Dawson coolly plays his part in Rome’s draconian political dramas with an eye to personal gain and no true allegiance to any side or player. But his attraction to a beautiful and very dangerous young man soon threatens to bring Dawson’s secret enterprises crashing down around him, dooming him to a brutal and ignoble fate.
 
The great Cecelia Holland is acclaimed as one of America’s premier creators of historical fiction. With City of God she brings a remarkable epoch and a legendary family of scoundrels and murderers to breathtaking life—the corrupt patriarch pope; the suspiciously widowed and incestuous daughter, Lucrezia; Cesare, the bloodthirsty conqueror; and the tragically imprisoned and damned Caterina Sforza. Holland has written a stunning tale of betrayal, deception, and blood.

City of Gods is a suspensful novel set in Rome during the time the Borgia family rose to power. Nicholas Dawson is an assistant to the Ambassador of Florence. He is also a bit of an introvert, and gay. Through his work he becomes entangled with the dastardly man, the Duke of Valentino and the Borgia pope, Alexander. The novel is full of political machinations, intrigue, evil, and corruption. Most of the characters have a very dark side, making this one of Cecelia Holland's darkest novels yet. Despite all the wickedness and evil intent, Nicholas is a charasimatic characters who manages to weave through the despicableness of the Borgia reign. An interesting take of this fascinating era in history.


Mad Worlds by Bill Douglas

"In the night, John hears Da shouting, Ma cryng. He sees Dave - in the moonlight by the half-open door - poised, neck straining. He creeps from the bed to join his bruv in listening, but he can't make out what Da's shouting. He tiptoes back to bed." Opening Paragraph. 

Synopsis:  Young teacher John Chisholmis hanted by a past tragedy and, believing his wife no longer loves him, begins to experience a nervous breakdown. He is forcibly removed to Springwell, a harsh mental institution where he endures and witnesses abuse – some of this 'in the name of treatment' – and makes new, eccentric friends. He is certified and detained indefinitely. Although suicidal at times, he is determined to survive and escape. 

John’s wife Heather Chisholm, who has recently battled post-natal depression, is distraught. Left to care for their baby, she struggles to rally support from friends and family. Encountering John’s hostility on visiting him, and horrified at the conditions in which he is hopelessly trapped, she finds herself vulnerable to Sam Newman, an overworked Mental Health Officer instrumental in John’s detention. But he’s not the only one with his eye on her… 

Can Heather resist not only Sam, but also Sarge Parker, the sadistic and ambitious Charge Nurse who targets John for abuse? Will John ever escape the harsh environment in which he has been imprisoned? Will his relationship with Heather survive? And can Jamie Macdonald, the new Medical Superintendent, really transform Springwell into a caring community? 


Mad Worlds is a novel set in an era when England still operated under harsh, stigmatising Victorian legislation in the field of mental health. Readers are invited to eavesdrop on realistic scenarios, both within and outside a mental asylum of the 1950s. With flashes of dark humour, this is a curious, sometimes terrifying tale suitable for fans of historical fiction and those who are interested in the issues of mental health, relationships and loss.

In 1950's England, mental illness was misunderstood. In Mad Worlds, author Bill Douglas delves deep into many of the philosophies and treatments asylum inmates were subjected to. The novel begins with a young teacher named John Chisholm whose emotional breakdown lands him in a mental institution. From there, things go from bad to worse. The story becomes dark, sometimes hopeless, sometimes shocking. It is a portrayal of a how miserable and difficult life could be for those who suffered from a mental illness. 

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The Accidental Empress by Allison Pataki

"Empress, we are ready for you." She turns, a small nod and a flourish of her hand. "Time to assume the role." She slips her arms through the sleeves. The silken fabric, expertly stitched and tailored, molds around her curves. My, but she has never quite grown accustomed to how heavy these things are. Heavier it seems, than her own tired frame." Opening Paragraph

Synopsis: New York Times bestselling author Allison Patai follows up on her critically acclaimed debut novel, The Traitor’s Wife, with the little-known and tumultuous love story of “Sisi” the Austro-Hungarian Empress and captivating wife of Emperor Franz Joseph. The year is 1853, and the Habsburgs are Europe’s most powerful ruling family. With his empire stretching from Austria to Russia, from Germany to Italy, Emperor Franz Joseph is young, rich, and ready to marry. Fifteen-year-old Elisabeth, “Sisi,” Duchess of Bavaria, travels to the Habsburg Court with her older sister, who is betrothed to the young emperor. But shortly after her arrival at court, Sisi finds herself in an unexpected dilemma: she has inadvertently fallen for and won the heart of her sister’s groom. Franz Joseph reneges on his earlier proposal and declares his intention to marry Sisi instead. Thrust onto the throne of Europe’s most treacherous imperial court, Sisi upsets political and familial loyalties in her quest to win, and keep, the love of her emperor, her people, and of the world. With Pataki’s rich period detail and cast of complex, bewitching characters, The Accidental Empress offers a captivating glimpse into one of history’s most intriguing royal families, shedding new light on the glittering Hapsburg Empire and its most mesmerizing, most beloved “Fairy Queen.”

I truly enjoy reading books by author Allison Pataki and this one was no exception. She strikes a wonderful balance between presenting historical descriptions and moving the story forward. The prose is always effortless and the story always interesting. Her depiction of Sisi is terrific. She is charismatic, vivacious, energetic, a woman who grips life and is not afraid. Slowly, Sisi evolves from a passionate woman deeply in love with her husband, to a sad young woman who feels abandoned due to the politics that pull her husband away, creating a vast distance between them. Her domineering mother-in-law is harsh, and one cannot feel bad for poor Sisi who does her best to walk a fine line between duty and personal freedoms. 

I enjoyed the tidbits of mystery, forbidden love, the passion Sisi had for horses and riding. I loved Franz Josef too, how he fell for Sisi, and how he over-ruled his mother to marry Sisi instead of her sister, the bride that had been chosen for him. The Accidental Empress by Allison Pataki is one of the best historical fiction versions I have read about this fascinating woman's life. Beautifully rendered!

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Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Rodin's Lover by Heather Webb

She was a fireball and a prodigy. He was a genius. Their art was revolutionary. Sparks flew between and around them...She burnt out much too soon.

At the turn of the nineteenth century, seventeen year-old Camille Claudel dreams of becoming a famous sculptor, but becoming a female artist means pushing the boundaries of convention a little too far.

In Paris Camille will be able to attend art school and possibly have an atelier of her own. Thus, the Claudel family relocates in search of better opportunities for their two most talented offsprings.

Camille soon overshadows her classmates in art school, and her private tutor, a renowned sculptor, sees greatness in her. When he wins a prestigious prize and must leave Paris for Rome, he convinces his friend Auguste Rodin to nurture Camille's talent. But what's with this fiery young beauty who manages to make Rodin feel so uncertain yet capable of tackling anything?!

Rodin's Lover reverberates with intensity. I could picture the unfolding story in my mind as if I were watching a movie.
I have read passages of a book on Mendeleev's quest to organize the chemical elements into a reasonable system. The book is after my own heart, but I have never been able to finish it because I become overwhelmed by emotion to the point that I feel I am on fire, blood pumping in my ears, and bells tolling in my chest. That was the effect Rodin's Lover had on me. I felt uncomfortably aglow, feeling intensely the chemistry between Rodin and Camille--not only the measure of their desire for each other but their intellectual compatibility as well.

Heather Webb has managed quite a feat: to penetrate the mind of a genius, shed light on the chaos that sometimes reigns inside, and expose his creative process. Rodin has come alive in all his glory and complexity: his desires, his dreams, his energy and all-consuming passion...And so has Camille. Webb has zeroed in on how it must have felt as a talented woman to work in a field dominated by men and be overshadowed by them. It is an issue as timely in this day and age as it was at the end of the nineteenth century.

It is said that the line that divides genius and madness is a fine one; Webb has masterfully made it blurry. In Camille there is virtually no difference between a driven individual and an obsessed one.

"Camille dropped to her knees in the mud. Her skirts absorbed last night's rain and the scent of sodden earth. She plunged a trowel, stolen from her neighbor's garden, into the red clay and dug furiously, stopping only to slop hunks of earth into a wooden trough. She needed one more load to mod the portrait of Eugenie. The maid would sit for her again, regardless of her protestations." Opening Sentences. 

Rodin's Lover is a biographical novel about the life of French scuptor and artist, Camille Claudel. Despite her mother's interference, Camille's father arranged for her to study art in a time when women were banned from doing so. She came under the guidance of Auguste Rodin, and they soon fell in love and began an affair. After an unwanted abortion, Camille became paranoid and possibly schizophrenic, prone to outbursts. She voluntarily committed herself to a psychiatric hospital, but when doctors tried to release her, her mother intervened and insisted she be kept there. 

Set in France during the 1900's, Rodin's Lover is a comprehensive telling of a young woman who defied social norms and became a beloved sculptor. Like many biographical novels, the pace slows sometimes, but the story was compelling enough to keep me reading. The author portrayed Camille in a most sympathetic way, and I found her fascinating for her courage, dedication to her work, and willingness to learn. The author also did a thorough job of describing art techniques and the various historical characters in a very real, believable way. A lovely, but sad story. 

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The Sweetheart by Angelina Mirabella

"The Turnip and I have a history. Many decades ago, when he was a little boy and his folks were newly split, my sister left him with our parents and came to Memphis to live with me for a short while. It was only two months and just the medicine she needed, quite frankly, but he has held it against me ever since." Opening Sentences

Synopsis: A debut, coming-of-age novel in which a teenage girl from Philadelphia leaves her old life behind to become The Sweetheart, one of America’s most infamous female wrestlers. It’s 1953 and seventeen-year-oldLeonie Putzkammer is cartoonishly tall and curvaceous, destined to spend the rest of her life waiting tables and living with her widowed father, Franz, in their Philadelphia row house. Until the day legendary wrestling promoter Salvatore Costantini walks into the local diner and offers her the chance of a lifetime. Leonie sets off for Florida to train at Joe Pospisil’s School for Lady Grappling. There, she transforms into Gorgeous Gwen Davies, tag-team partner of legendary Screaming Mimi Hollander, and begins a romance with the soon-to-be Junior Heavyweight Champion Spider McGee. But when life as Gorgeous Gwen leaves her wanting, she orchestrates a move that will catapult her from heel to hero: she becomes The Sweetheart, a choice that attracts the fans she desires but complicates all of her relationships—with Franz, Joe, Spider, Mimi (who becomes her fiercest competitor), and even with herself. Angelina Mirabella’s surprising, affecting, and morally complex novel describes how a single decision can ripple through the lives of everyone around us. How Leonie sizes up the competition, how she triumphs, how she fails, and how she manages, somehow, to endure, holds promise: if she can, maybe we can, too. The Sweetheart showcases Mirabella’s breathtaking talent; it is daring, innovative, and powerful storytelling.

Review by Mirella Patzer

THE SWEETHEART is a very unique novel, not only due to the subject matter, but also because it is written in second person narrative. It's a coming of age story set in the 1950's where a gawky, awkward teenager is inadvertently drawn into the women's wrestling scene. It's a story about risk taking, self-confidence, and ambition. Most of all, it is about accepting yourself for who you are and for not being afraid to show it. This is fine women's fiction written in an unusual way, but that stirs plenty of emotion with a sprinking of humor and heartbreak along the way, 

Author Angelina Mirabella did an outstanding job of describing the wrestling matches, as well as the business side and all the politics that come with it. She did not shy away from the realities of the ring including the sustaining of injuries. Most of all, it is a love story. I found it easy to get wrapped up in the story which kept me entertained right up the satisfying ending. This is an excellent book to pick up if you like exploring different topics and clever writing styles. 


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The Witch of Napoli by Michael Schmicker

"Alessandra is dead. Sunday's edition should fly off the newstands, with the photos Giorgio shot, the stuff we discovered in Lombardi's diaries, the interviews we did with the Vatican and the police, the comments we've gathered from the rich and famous throughout Europe." Opening Paragraph.

Synopsis:  Italy 1899: Fiery-tempered, seductive, medim Alessandra Poverelli levitates a table at a Spiritualist séance in Naples. A reporter photographs the miracle, and wealthy, skeptical, Jewish psychiatrist Camillo Lombardi arrives in Naples to investigate. When she materializes the ghost of his dead mother, he risks his reputation and fortune to finance a tour of the Continent, challenging the scientific and academic elite of Europe to test Alessandra’s mysterious powers. She will help him rewrite Science. His fee will help her escape her sadistic husband Pigotti and start a new life in Rome. Newspapers across Europe trumpet her Cinderella story and baffling successes, and the public demands to know – does the “Queen of Spirits” really have supernatural powers? Nigel Huxley is convinced she’s simply another vulgar, Italian trickster. The icy, aristocratic detective for England’s Society for the Investigation of Mediums launches a plot to trap and expose her. Meanwhile, the Vatican is quietly digging up her childhood secrets, desperate to discredit her supernatural powers; her abusive husband Pigotti is coming to kill her; and the tarot cards predict catastrophe. Inspired by the true-life story of controversial Italian medium Eusapia Palladino (1854-1918), The Witch of Napoli masterfully resurrects the bitter,19th-century battle between Science and religion over the possibility of an afterlife, while earning praise from Kirkus Reviews as an "enchanting and graceful narrative that absorbs readers from the first page." 

Review by Mirella Patzer

When Tommaso Labella is given the opportunity to photograph the famous Neopolitan medium, Alessandra Poverelli, he never dreamed his photograph would stir such interest. That is because he snapped it while the table was levitating. Tommaso becomes intrigued and falls for the lovely woman who can raise the dead and who games fame with every passing day. 

The photograph and news of Alessandra's talent soon catches the attention of Camillo Lombardi, a scientist/psychiatrist who studies mediums. He makes Alessandra a rich offer to travel outside of Italy and undergo intensive testing. So Tommaso and Alessandra agree. News of this new medium reaches the ears of Nigel Huxley of England's Society for the Investigation of Mediums and he is bent on proving her false. This sets off an intriguing chain of events. 

The Witch of Napoli is based on the famous Italian medium, Eusapia Palladino. It is a rag to riches story about one woman with a rare talent who struggles to gain credibility in an ever doubtful field filled with numerous fraudsters and charlatans. I thoroughly enjoyed Alessandra who is strong and determined, unafraid to stand up for herself, yet still vulnerable to the tricks of men. 

This was nicely written in an effortless prose that made it easy to follow the story and allow the reader to immerse themselves completely. Michael Schmicker is a talented author and I look forward to reading more of his work. 


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The homes from our most beloved classic books!

Wouldn't it be fascinating to see how the houses from our favourite literary classics look like? Well a company from the UK, Terry's Fabrics has done just that. How fascinating! Enjoy!

  Homes of Classic Literature by Terrys Fabrics
Homes of Classic Literature by Terrys Fabrics

Saturday, February 21, 2015

The Magician's Lie by Greer MacAllister

"Tonight I will do the impossible. The impossible is nothing new to me, I will make people believe things that aren't true. I will show them worlds that never existed, events that never happened. I will weave a web of beautiful illusiomn to snare them, a glittering trap that drags them willingly with me into the magical, false, spellbinding world." Opening Paragrah

Synopsis:

Water for Elephants meets The Night Circus in The Magician's Lie, a debut novel in which the country's most notorious female illusionist stands accused of her husband's murder - and she has only one night to convince a small-town policeman of her innocence.

The Amazing Arden is the most famous female illusionist of her day, renowned for her notorious trick of sawing a man in half on stage. One night in Waterloo, Iowa, with young policeman Virgil Holt watching from the audience, she swaps her trademark saw for a fire ax. Is it a new version of the illusion, or an all-too-real murder? When Arden's husband is found lifeless beneath the stage later that night, the answer seems clear.

But when Virgil happens upon the fleeing magician and takes her into custody, she has a very different story to tell. Even handcuffed and alone, Arden is far from powerless-and what she reveals is as unbelievable as it is spellbinding. Over the course of one eerie night, Virgil must decide whether to turn Arden in or set her free... and it will take all he has to see through the smoke and mirrors.

An engaging whodunnit set in the early 20th century! Ada Bates, aka The Amazing Arden, is an illusionest whose main act is to place a man in a box and saw him in half. One particular night, after the performance, a dead man is found in the box. She becomes the sole suspect and is accused of the murder. But Virgil Holt, a lawman who watched the performance, is not so sure. He steps in to try to unravel the mystery. Page by page, through his investigation, secrets of Ada's past are revealed.

The author took her time in setting up scenes, describing illusions, painting vivid pictures of the rich decor and costuming and lights on stage and behind it. She even reveals the secrets of how some illusions are accomplished. The Magician's Lie has much to like - suspense, mystery, and plenty of drama until all is revealed in a fantastic ending. If you like mysteries, especially whodunits, and magician's tricks, then this is one book you might want to read. 


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Thursday, February 19, 2015

An Appetite for Violets by Martine Bailey

"As Kitt tramped on alone towards the villa, unease clung to him like the rancid sweat that soaked his shirt. He was weak-headed, sure enough, after five days of throwing up over the boat rail. At Leghorn, his port of arrival in Italy, he had disdained the other disembarking English passengers. They had jostled and jawed in gaudy Paris costumes, their ruddy faces peering into \mr Nugent's Grand Tour." Opening Sentences 

Synopsis: "That’s how it is for us servants. No one pays you much heed; mostly you're invisible as furniture. Yet you overhear a conversation here, and add a little gossip there. Then you find something, something you should not have found.” 


Irrepressible Biddy Leigh, under-cook at forbidding Mawton Hall, only wants to marry her childhood sweetheart and set up her own tavern. But when her elderly master marries young Lady Carinna, Biddy is unwittingly swept up in a world of scheming, secrets, and lies. Forced to accompany her new mistress to Italy, she documents her adventures and culinary discoveries in an old household book of recipes, The Cook’s Jewel. Biddy grows intrigued by her fellow travelers, but her secretive and unconventional mistress is the most intriguing of all. In London, Biddy finds herself attracted to her mistress’s younger brother. In France, she discovers her mistress’s dark secret. At last in Italy, Biddy becomes embroiled in a murderous conspiracy, knowing the secrets she holds could be a key to a better life, or her downfall. Inspired by eighteenth-century household books of recipes and set at the time of the invention of the first restaurants, An Appetite for Violets is a literary feast for lovers of historical fiction. Martine Bailey's novel opens a window into the fascinating lives of servants, while also delivering a suspenseful tale of obsession and betrayal.
Review by Mirella Patzer

Biddy Leigh is a young woman who works as an undercook at Mawton Hall for the elderly Lord Geoffrey and his young new wife, Lady Carinna. She is content with her life and dreams of marrying Jem one day and together opening up a tavern where she can indulge her passion for cooking her cherished family recipes. When Lady Carinna decides to travel to Italy, Biddy is obliged to accompany her, along with the bitter lady's maid, the shady steward, and a captured slave owned by her mistress.

The story is told through Biddy's point of view. This colorful cast of characters collide amid dangerous secrets, dark ambitions, and a touch of intriguing cultures and their cuisines. Not all is as it seems and the characters are ever evolving, and always surprising. The novels pages contain plenty of nice plot twists that kept me interested to the very end. I thoroughly enjoyed this novel! It's definitely a favourite of mine, appealing in every way. 


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Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Esther: A Dangerous Beauty by Angela Hunt

"You may think you know me, but how could you? Others have related my story, and  most of them paint a pretty picture. But unless a woman is allowed to speak for herself, no one will every fully understand the events of a lifetime...and the secret recesses of a woman's heart." Opening Sentences 

Synopsis:

When Xerxes, king of Persia, issues a call for beautiful young women, Hadassah, a Jewish orphan living in Susa, is forcibly taken to the palace of the pagan ruler. After months of preparation, the girl known to the Persians as Esther wins the king's heart and a queen's crown. But because her situation is uncertain, she keeps her ethnic identity a secret until she learns that an evil and ambitious man has won the king's permission to exterminate all Jews--young and old, powerful and helpless. Purposely violating an ancient Persian law, she risks her life in order to save her people...and bind her husband's heart.

Review by Mirella Patzer

I have read several novels about Esther, but this one stands out as one of the best. This Biblical historical woman continues to fascinate readers today!

It is a rag to riches story of a poor Jewish girl who is inadertently discovered by the king of Persia's palace officials, and through sincerity, cunning, and wisdom becomes his queen. The story is told through the point of view of Esther and the king's closest advisor, a trustworthy eunuch. Throughout her rise to power, Esther had to keep her Jewish roots secret, for the Jews were persecuted and disliked. This added a great deal of tension to the story as Esther was constantly at risk of being discovered. 


The prose is as beautiful and lyrical as the exotic setting - an era of brutality and harsh circumstances. Nicely researched, well paced, and with plenty of twists and turns to keep one reading to the end, I loved this version of her story. I highly recommend it. Besides, how can you not pick up this book - the cover is absolutely stunning! This is one case where it's safe to judge the book by its cover.


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Monday, February 16, 2015

Vanessa and her Sister by Priya Parmar

What if Virginia Woolf’s sister had kept a diary? For fans of The Paris Wife and Loving Frank comes a spellbinding new story of the inseparable bond between Virginia and her sister, the gifted painter Vanessa Bell, and the real-life betrayal that threatened to destroy their family. Hailed by The New York Times Book Review as “an uncanny success” and based on meticulous research, this stunning novel illuminates a little-known episode in the celebrated sisters’ glittering bohemian youth among the legendary Bloomsbury Group.


London, 1905: The city is alight with change, and the Stephen siblings are at the forefront. Vanessa, Virginia, Thoby, and Adrian are leaving behind their childhood home and taking a house in the leafy heart of avant-garde Bloomsbury. There they bring together a glittering circle of bright, outrageous artistic friends who will grow into legend and come to be known as the Bloomsbury Group. And at the center of this charmed circle are the devoted, gifted sisters: Vanessa, the painter, and Virginia, the writer. 

Each member of the group will go on to earn fame and success, but so far Vanessa Bell has never sold a painting. Virginia Woolf’s book review has just been turned down by TheTimes. Lytton Strachey has not published anything. E. M. Forster has finished his first novel but does not like the title. Leonard Woolf is still a civil servant in Ceylon, and John Maynard Keynes is looking for a job. Together, this sparkling coterie of artists and intellectuals throw away convention and embrace the wild freedom of being young, single bohemians in London. But the landscape shifts when Vanessa unexpectedly falls in love and her sister feels dangerously abandoned. Eerily possessive, charismatic, manipulative, and brilliant, Virginia has always lived in the shelter of Vanessa’s constant attention and encouragement. Without it, she careens toward self-destruction and madness. As tragedy and betrayal threaten to destroy the family, Vanessa must decide if it is finally time to protect her own happiness above all else. The work of exciting young newcomer Priya Parmar, Vanessa and Her Sister exquisitely captures the champagne-heady days of prewar London and the extraordinary lives of sisters Vanessa Bell and Virginia Woolf. 

Review by Mirella Patzer

The tragic life of English writer, Virginia Woolf, continues to fascinate today. A brilliant talent, Virginia suffered from mental illness (likely bipolar disease) and depression for most of her life. Despite her afflictions, she churned out beautiful literature that is still popular in our modern era. She was a member of the Bloomsbury Group, a group of gifted writers, intellectuals, philosophers and artists. 
Author Priya Parmar has written a fascinating accounting of a brief period of Virginia's life through the point of view of her sister in the form of a diary. This epostilatory novel delivers a poignant retelling of one of the most tumultuous periods of Virginia's life, when she was at the height of her troubles. 
At the heart of the story are Virginia and her three siblings, Thoday, Vanessa, and Adrian. The story is full of dramatic encounters, minor scandals, and the social life of the main characters and the ever growing circle of intellectuals that comprised the Bloomsbury Group. Through postcards, letters, and numerous conversations, the story unfolds in a gracious, leisurely manner. 
This is a character driven novel, not a plot driven one. So, if you're looking for a fast paced story, this story might not be for you. Rather, the author took her time to illustrate the Edwardian era, the intricacies and complications of the characters' personalities, and how they interacted with each other. It is a story of how one woman struggled to come to term with her life, her mental illness, her talent, and how it affected those around her. The cast of characters is huge and I struggled to recall them and their roles as I read along. This did take away a little from being able to fully immerse myself in the story as it caused me some frustration. But I persevered by focusing on the 4 main characters and their personal strifes and ignoring all the other characters who didn't offer much to the story. In this way, I was able to finish the novel, and came to enjoy it. 


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Friday, February 6, 2015

Things in Half Shadow by Alan Finn

For lack of a better starting point, I shall begin this particular tale on a foggy morning in April of 1869. the mist rose off the water in thick, brownish puffs that reminded me of cannon smoke. It moved in the same skittish manner--an ever-shifting curtain of haze that offered fleeting glimpses of Petty's Island as the fog approached the dock. I felt a familiar, unwelcome shudder of dread when the fog crashed over us. Tucked in its rolling tendrils was a heady stew of familiar odors. Damp earth. Dirty water. Decay. Opening Paragraph

Synopsis:  Postbellum America makes for a haunting backdrop in this historical and supernatural tale of moonlit cemeteries, masked balls, cunning mediums, and terrifying secrets waiting to be unearthed by an intrepid crime reporter.

The year is 1869, and the Civil War haunts the city of Philadelphia like a stubborn ghost. Mothers in black continue to mourn their lost sons. Photographs of the dead adorn dim sitting rooms. Maimed and broken men roam the streets. One of those men is Edward Clark, who is still tormented by what he saw during the war. Also constantly in his thoughts is another, more distant tragedy—the murder of his mother at the hands of his father, the famed magician Magellan Holmes...a crime that Edward witnessed when he was only ten.

Now a crime reporter for one of the city’s largest newspapers, Edward is asked to use his knowledge of illusions and visual trickery to expose the influx of mediums that descended on Philadelphia in the wake of the war. His first target is Mrs. Lucy Collins, a young widow who uses old-fashioned sleight of hand to prey on grieving families. Soon, Edward and Lucy become entwined in the murder of Lenora Grimes Pastor, the city’s most highly regarded—and by all accounts, legitimate—medium, who dies mid-séance. With their reputations and livelihoods at risk, Edward and Lucy set out to find the real killer, and in the process unearth a terrifying hive of secrets that reaches well beyond Mrs. Pastor.

Blending historical detail with flights of fancy, Things Half in Shadow is a riveting thriller where Medium and The Sixth Sense meet The Alienist—and where nothing is quite as it seems…

Review
by

This novel is a luminously crafted journey into the world of mediums during the Victorian era, in which speaking to the dead through séances was an obsession. The novel immediately draws the reader into the story. Oddly eerie, full of magic and tricks, and unusual characters, this is one awesome tale with its numerous subplots that twist and turn kept me flipping pages at a furious pace. And the story culminates into an utterly satisfying conclusion!

The narrative is wonderfully descriptive and lyrical. I also loved the setting which takes place in Philadelphia after the American Civil War when there was an abundance of bereft mothers and widows seeking closure after the deaths of their loved ones. The character of Lucy was very well depicted – a bodacious charlatan with plenty of guts and brash readers cannot help but adore. And at the heart of the story is burgeoning romance. This book has it all – suspense, romance, occultism, revenge, and mystery. A definite must read!


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The Sultan and the Khan by Richard Warren Field

The long awaited sequel to the award winning, and internationally acclaimed novel, THE SWORDS OF FAITH, has been released. THE SULTAN AND THE KHAN is not only a well-told story, it is a  sweeping journey into a turbulent era and a glimpse into the lives of the powerful men who dreamed of ruling this world.  

"They won't leave a soul alive, not a one of you,"the young student said from the doorway. Piles of scrolls and bound volumes cluttered the dimly lit room." Opening Sentences


Synopsis

The year is 1258. Mongol invaders have destroyed Baghdad, the spiritual capital of Islam. Resistance consists of small Muslim armies. Christianity, having seen its influence in the area weakened over the years due to the ultimately unsuccessful Crusades, faces the decision as to which side to support. 

The Sultan and The Khan dramatizes a tale of diverse characters swept up in bloody battlefields and political turmoil. This is the sequel to The Swords of Faith, winner of the Bronze Medal in the 2011 Independent Publisher Book Awards, and finalist in both the 2010 USA Book News Award and the 2010 International Book Awards in the category of Historical Fiction.



Review
by

It is with great anticipation and that I have awaited the release of THE SULTAN AND THE KHAN by the late Richard Warren Field. For those of you who have read THE SWORDS OF FAITH, you will not be disappointed with this sequel. 

Hulegu Khan, the grandson of Genghis Khan, and his hoard of mongol warriors is threatening to seize control of Baghhad, one more Islamic city to add to their ever-growing grasp on power. From Russia to Eastern Europe, many cities have fallen victim and no one has been able to stop them. A Turkish slave soldier named Baybars is a man bent on vengeance. All he wants is to return to Egypt and seize power from Qutuz, the man who drove Baybars into exile. But his plans are thwarted as the Egyptian army prepares to face off with the fast approaching Mongol army. 

The Sultan and the Khan is a wonderfully rich tale set amidst this turbulent, unforgettable historic confrontation. The story is told through five different viewpoints - Baybars, Hulegu, Hulegu’s general Kitbuqa, a Muslim scholarm and a Christian adventurer. Author Richard Warren Field's meticulous research and encompassing knowledge of this particular era adeptly brings to life this exotic story of religious turmoil. The brutality of the era, and the life or death choices each character makes are magnificently portrayed. It is very much about the search for truth and the religious paths followed. Who is right? Who is wrong? With his amazing insight into human emotion, the author clearly understood the trains of thought experienced by these historical figures. In an easy-to-read, flowing prose, I could not help but be completely absorbed by this wonderful, epic tale. Richard Warren Field has truly written one of the great books of our era. He knew how to breathe life into the characters, to make them sympathetic as well as hateful, and make them larger than life. And he did it with carefully chosen words, succinct, but vibrant.   

I first met Richard Warren Field through a critique group I ran for historical fiction. At the time, he was posting chapters of Swords of Faith. I was enthralled by his writing from the very first chapter, and eagerly followed each installment. In this way, I came to know this gentle, intelligent, kind man, and I became his biggest fan. When the novel was finally finished, it was with great joy that I congratulated him on its release, and I was very proud when I was asked to be read and review the book. When I learned SWORDS OF FAITH won the Bronze Medal in the 2011 Independent Publisher Book Awards, and was a finalist in both the 2010 USA Book News Award and the 2010 International Book Awards in the category of Historical Fiction, I knew I was not alone in praising his work. Then, sadly, in June 2014, I learned of his passing. THE SULTAN AND THE KHAN was his last work. The world has lost a wonderfully gifted author, but the gifts of his work will live on in these two books. I urge you to read them both. They truly are unforgettable stories!

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Thursday, February 5, 2015

Stella Mia by Rosanna Chiofalo

"My earliest childhood memory is of a song. I remember lying in my crib and hearing the soothing sounds of a sweet voice singing to me. Many people don't believe that I can have such an early childhood memory, but I know it is real. For my father has told me that my mother sang this song to me from the first time she held me in her arms after I was born up until the day she walked out of my life." Opening Paragraph

Synopsis: Rosanna Chiofalo's poignant, beautiully written new novel evokes the stunning scenery of Sicily and the Aeolian Islands and tells of mothers and daughters, love and sacrifice--and the choices that resound across continents and through generations. Julia Parlatone doesn't have much to remember her Italian mother by. A grapevine that Sarina planted still flourishes in the backyard of Julia's childhood home in Astoria, Queens. And there's a song, "Stella Mia," she recalls her mother singing--my star, my star, you are the most beautiful star--until the day she left three-year-old Julia behind and returned to Italy for good.

Now a happily married school teacher, Julia tries not to dwell on a past she can't change or on a mother who chose to leave. But in an old trunk in the family basement, she discovers items that belonged to her mother--a song book, Tarot cards, a Sicilian folk costume--and a diary. Sarina writes unflinchingly of her harsh childhood and of a first, passionate love affair;of blissful months spent living in the enchanting coastal resort town of Taormina and the unspoiled Aeolian Islands north of Sicily as well as the reasons she came to New York. By the diary's end, Julia knows she must track down her mother in Italy and piece together the rest of the complex, bittersweet truth--a journey that, for better or worse, will change her own life forever.

Review by Mirella Patzer

Once in a while, I stumble across a book so exceptional, I know it will become one of my lifetime favourites. Stella Mia is one such book. The stunning cover alone will draw you in. This book has everything - a fabulous and emotional storyline, unforgettable characters, a beautiful setting, and even a collection of wonderful Italian recipes at the end. From its lush cover to every wonderful page, it kept me spellbound and I could not put it down. 

In Astoria New York, a young woman named Julia discovers the diaries of her mother who abandoned her in childhood. From its pages, she discovers the secrets of her mother, Sarina's, past. 

In Sicily during the 1960's, a young girl named Sarina lives in severe poverty with her parents and siblings. Her father is an extremely violent, abusive man directing most of his physical beatings on her and her mother. Set to work doing laundry and caring for her younger siblings since she was a small child, Sarina dreams of saving her family from her cruel drunkard of a father. She knows she must escape and when she turns seventeen, manages to run off for a nearby resort town named Taormina where she struggles to find work. Near starving, she is taken in by a family of gypsys where she learns to dance and read tarot cards. It is then that she meets and falls in love with a young man.   

What unfolds is an incredibly poignant, multi-faceted love story of two women and their lives. Heartbreaking at times, loving at others, the novel is a roller-coaster ride of emotion, entertainment, and delight. Rich details make it feel as if you are travelling in Sicily. The characters are so real, you can reach out and touch them. They provide the fodder for a fascinating plot that culminates in utter and complete satisfaction. Definitely one of the best books I've ever read - and I read hundreds! Very highly recommended!


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