Tuesday, March 31, 2015

The Boy Who Granted Dreams by Luca Di Fulvio

"At first there were two of them watching her grow up -- the mother and the padrone. One of them watched with dread, the other with a lazy lustfulness. But before she could become a woman, the mother made sure that the padrone wouldn't look at her anymore." Opening Paragraph


New York, 1909: Fifteen-year-old Cetta arrives on a freighter with nothing but her infant son Natale: strikingly blond, dark-eyed, and precocious. They've fled the furthest reaches of southern Italy with the dream of a better life in America. But even in the "Land of the Free," the merciless laws of gangs rule the miserable, poverty-stricken, and crime-filled Lower East Side. Only those with enough strength and conviction survive. As young Natale grows up in the Roaring Twenties, he takes a page from his crippled mother's book and finds he possesses a certain charisma that enables him to charm the dangerous people around him... 

Weaving Natale's unusual life and quest for his one true love against the gritty backdrop of New York's underbelly, Di Fulvio proves yet again that he is a master storyteller as he constructs enticing characters ravaged by circumstance, driven by dreams, and awakened by destiny.

Review by Mirella Patzer

By far, this is one of the best novels about Italian/American life I have ever read. It begins with a young Sicilian girl named Cetta who suffers a rape, despite her mother's attempts to keep the eyes of men from leering at her. With her bastard child, Natale, Cetta sails for America to start a new life, but the cost of her voyage is to endure the sexual advances of the captain. Upon arriving in America, the captain hands her over to a pimp by the name of Sal and Cetta begins work in a brothel. Natale, or Christmas, as he has become known, grows up in the streets of New York, among thieves and gangs. Despite the influence of crime and criminals that surround him, he manages to walk a fine line on the right side of the law. One day, he saves a young girl named Ruth from a brutal rape. She comes from a wealthy Jewish family, and although they are grateful to Christmas for saving her life, they do their best to keep them separated as their love for each other becomes evident. There are numerous other subplots and characters that feed the storyline to make this one of the richest, most engrossing novels I have ever read. I was enthralled from first page to last,

At 630 pages, this is a very long book, and I couldn't have been more happy. This was a book I did not want to put down. It kept me reading long into the night. I never wanted it to end. So its length is a definite plus! The author is very talented. His scenes are highly creative, unique, compelling, and sometimes shocking. His characters are so complex, so well developed, that they definitely seem real! I cannot say enough good things about this awesome, powerful story. I wish I could give it 10 stars. Luca Di Fulvio deserves it! Utterly compelling!

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The World Before Us by Aislin Hunter

In the tradition of A. S. Byatt's Possession, a hauntingly poignant novel about madness, loss, and the ties that bind our past to our present. 

Deep in the woods of northern England, somewhere between a dilapidated estate and an abandoned Victorian asylum, fifteen-year-old Jane Standen lived through a nightmare.  She was babysitting a sweet young girl named Lily, and in one fleeting moment, lost her. The little girl was never found, leaving her family and Jane devastated. 

Twenty years later, Jane is an archivist at a small London museum that is about to close for lack of funding. As a final research project--an endeavor inspired in part by her painful past--Jane surveys the archives for information related to another missing person: a woman who disappeared over one hundred years ago in the same woods where Lily was lost. As Jane pieces moments in history together, a portrait of a fascinating group of people starts to unfurl. Inexplicably tied to the mysterious disappearance of long ago, Jane finds tender details of their lives at the country estate and in the asylum that are linked to her own heartbroken world, and their story from all those years ago may now help Jane find a way to move on. 

In riveting, beautiful prose, The World Before Us explores the powerful notion that history is a closely connected part of us--kept alive by the resonance of our daily choices--reminding us of the possibility that we are less alone than we might think.

Opening Sentences:  The Whitmore Hospital for Convalescent Lunatics sat along a carriage track most people travelled only once. Imagine late summer: sunlight splayed over the rutted road and the copper peaks of the buildings, its warmth nested in the crowns of the trees and sinking into the bright-green lawn of the viewing mound. 

My Review

For those who love haunting, gothic tales, this book is sure to please. It is a story of obsession and madness set in an insane asylum. The novel’s protagonist is a young woman named Jane who is troubled by a tragedy that happened in her past when Lily, a young child she was tending, mysteriously disappeared while the child was in her charge and they were on an outing together. This sinister event has haunted her into adulthood. Jane works as an archivist at a London Museum and is tasked with researching the circumstances surrounding a young woman who went missing from a Victorian asylum near where Lily went missing. The novel is also narrated by several ghosts – an idiot, a boy, and a theologian, ghosts that were once inmates of the insane asylum. 

The World Before Us is a highly imaginative, spooky tale with great depth and thought-provoking insight into the effect tragic circumstances have upon people and the thin line that exists between sanity and insanity. This novel is wonderfully complex, not a light read, but very profound in a psychological and contemplative way. As the story unravels, I could not help but become totally engrossed in this very unique gothic ghost story very much, and I hope you will too!

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Secrets of the Tower by Debbie Rix

"It seemed to the man that he was floating. His hands, he noticed, caught the sunlight, and the almost imperceptible webs between his widely spread fingers glowed bright red shot through by the sun, revealing the complex pattern of veins moving blood around his body. Keeping him alive. The blood pumped harder now, pressing into his skull, restricting the brain until it hurt. Then nothing. A thud. And the birds, free-wheeling high in the sky, looked down on the body spread-eagled and lifeless in the shadow of the tower." Opening Paragraph


The world’s most iconic building…and the woman that history forgot. 

Pisa, 1999
Sam Campbell sits by her husband’s hospital bed. Far from home and her children, she must care for Michael who is recovering from a stroke. A man she loves deeply. A man who has been unfaithful to her. Alone and in need of distraction, Sam decides to pick up Michael’s research into the Leaning Tower of Pisa. Immersing herself in the ancient city, she begins to piece together the mystery behind the creation of the Tower, and discovers the woman that history forgot… 

Pisa, 1171
Berta di Bernardo, the wife of a rich merchant, sits in her chamber, dressing for a dinner party. A gathering that will change the course of her life and that of a young master mason, Gerardo, forever. A strong, intelligent woman, Berta’s passion for architecture also draws her closer to Gerardo. As she embarks on a love affair, her maid Aurelia also becomes spellbound by the same man. Yet for Berta, her heart’s desire is to see the Tower built, and her determination knows no bounds… A richly drawn and absorbing novel of passion and power, love and redemption that will captivate fans of Victoria Hislop, Tracy Chevalier and Kate Furnivall.

Review by Mirella Patzer

Secrets of the Tower is a wonderfully written novel about construction of the Tower of Pisa and two women - a 12th century woman obsessed with its construction and a 21st century woman obsessed with uncovering its history. 

It is evident, right from the start of the book, that a great deal of research went into the creation of this detailed work of art. Debbie Rix's rendering of the characters of the time was realistic and very well done. Most impressive were the architectural and building details. My favourite of all however, was the main characters, Berta di Bernardo of the 12th century, and Sam Campbell of modern times. The lives of the two women intertwine when Sam takes up her injured husbands work as a journalist writing about the Leaning Tower of Pisa. Both women were equally intriguing. And of course there is a love story involved for both these women which fills the story with plenty of inner conflict. At the end of the book, there is a chronological timeline of the history of the tower, from its inception to modern day.

For fans of Italian historical fiction, this is definitely a book to add to your library. Not only was it highly informative, but immensely entertaining.

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Wednesday, March 25, 2015

The Witch of Painted Sorrows by M.J. Rose

Possession. Power. Passion. New York Times bestselling novelist M. J. Rose creates her most provocative and magical spellbinder yet in this gothic novel set against the lavish spectacle of 1890s Belle Époque Paris.

Sandrine Salome flees New York for her grandmother’s Paris mansion to escape her dangerous husband, but what she finds there is even more menacing. The house, famous for its lavish art collection and elegant salons, is mysteriously closed up. Although her grandmother insists it’s dangerous for Sandrine to visit, she defies her and meets Julien Duplessi, a mesmerizing young architect. Together they explore the hidden 
night world of Paris, the forbidden occult underground and Sandrine’s deepest desires. Among the bohemians and the demi-monde, Sandrine discovers her erotic nature as a lover and painter. Then darker influences threaten—her cold and cruel husband is tracking her down and something sinister is taking hold, changing Sandrine, altering her. She’s become possessed by La Lune: A witch, a legend, and a sixteenth-century courtesan, who opens up her life to a darkness that may become a gift or a curse. This is Sandrine’s “wild night of the soul,” her odyssey in the magnificent city of Paris, of art, love, and witchery.

The Witch of Painted Sorrows is the first book in the Daughters of La Lune series. It opens with the first person narration of Sandrine Verlaine. After the death of her father, she learns her husband played a part in his death, and she flees to her grandmother in France to escape his cruelty. She arrives in Paris on the doorstep of her grandmother's mansion only to find it vacant and under renovation. Her grandmother, a famous and successful courtesan, welcomes her. But as Sandrine becomes more and more involved in art and comes under the influence of a spirit of one of her ancestors, her grandmother struggles to keep Sandrine safe. 

Just like M.J. Rose's other novels, this too has a dark, sad tone. I did enjoy the supernatural, ghostly element that gave this book a gothic feel, but sometimes, because I am a historical fiction purist, some of the events that occurred in the book did not strike me as believable. Her grandmother was first depicted as a strong, popular woman, but later in the book, her mental state deteriorates to such a degree that I felt it wasn't believable. Nevertheless, the story was engaging and kept me reading to the very end. I enjoyed the first person narrative even though I sometimes did not fully engage with Sandrine. Perhaps it was because she didn't take matters in hand, and instead, waited too long and let things happen to her, especially in the matter of her estranged husband. From the start, I also disliked her lover, Julien Duplessi, likely because he struck me as an opportunist and a man of low morals.

Despite these issues, there is still much to laud. The writing is good, the story keeps moving forward at a steady pace, and the plot is very interesting. This was definitely a fun, engaging read! 

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Thursday, March 19, 2015

The Prince by Vito Bruschini

"The night of the damned" was how the inhabitants of the Salemi valley would recall that night in late July when the massacre at Borgo guarine took place. There was no moon to illuminate the vast fields of the large Sicilian landed estrate, but the pitch-black sky was studded with billions of points of light." Opening Sentences

Synopsis:  A web of love, betrayal, and murder is at the heart of this riveting story of the Mafia’s beginnings.

In this remarkable novel based on a true story, author Vito Bruschini brilliantly evokes the charismatic figure of Prince Ferdinando Licata, a wealthy Sicilian landowner who uses his personal power and charm to placate Sicilian peasants and fight off Mussolini’s fascists. As tensions rise in Italy during the 1930s, with increasingly violent consequences, Licata attracts many friends and far more enemies. Eventually implicated in a grisly murder, the prince flees to America, where he ends up navigating a turf war between Irish and Italian gangs of the Lower East Side.

Violence explodes in unexpected ways as Licata gains dominance over New York, with the help of a loyal townsman with blood ties to the prince who is forced to abandon his fiancée in Sicily. The two men return to their native land at the height of World War II in an outrageously bold maneuver engineered by Licata and mobster Lucky Luciano. Both the prince and his kinsman assist US naval intelligence during the invasion of Sicily and, once they are back on their native soil, they proceed to settle unfinished business with their enemies and unravel old secrets in a stunning and sinister finale.

Through a spellbinding story and unforgettable characters, Bruschini depicts in visceral detail the dark intertwining roots of loyalty and betrayal, poverty and privilege, secrets and revelations that contributed to the rise of the Mafia in Sicily.

Review by Mirella Patzer

The Prince is a novel based upon true events depicting the rise of the Mafia in Sicily and then America. The story opens with a massacre in the Sicilian valley of Salemi. There is a colorful cast of characters, each with their own ambitions, agendas, and problems. Slowly and intricately, they link together, creating enemies and allies. The story switches back and forth betweeen some decades, which at first caused me some confusion at first, but I soon settled into the story, becoming completely and utterly engrossed. No Mafia story is without its share of violence, and this novel is no exception, but it was not in the forefront and was never gratuitous. The story has a lot of characters and plenty of twists and turns. It was engrossing and kept me reading long into the night. Easy reading, compelling characters, and a fascinating topic makes it easy to understand why this novel will end up as the basis for film very soon! Loved it!

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Mist of Midnight by Sandra Byrd

"They were gone now, every last one of them. Gone, but not completely gone. I still saw them at midnight. I surrendered too, by leaving. The ship pulled from the shore whilst I beheld the distancing plumage of saris - azure and emerald and flame - the soft brown arms, necks, and noses circled with gold, like exquisite birds of paradise. A threadbare charity dress trhe Lord Mayor of London had provided, to me and to all survivors who had nothing of their own to claim, pasted to my skin with a familiar fine grit of dust and sweat." Opening Sentences

Synopsis: In the first of a brand-new series set in Victorian England, a young woman returns home from India after the death of her family to discover her identity and inheritance are challenged by the man who holds her future in his hands.

Rebecca Ravenshaw, daughter of missionaries, spent most of her life in India. Following the death of her family in the Indian Mutiny, Rebecca returns to claim her family estate in Hampshire, England. Upon her return, people are surprised to see her...and highly suspicious. Less than a year earlier, an imposter had arrived with an Indian servant and assumed not only Rebecca's name, but her home and incomes. 

That pretender died within months of her arrival; the servant fled to London as the young woman was hastily buried at midnight. The locals believe that perhaps she, Rebecca, is the real imposter. Her home and her father's investments reverted to a distant relative, the darkly charming Captain Luke Whitfield, who quickly took over. Against her best intentions, Rebecca begins to fall in love with Luke, but she is forced to question his motives—does he love her or does he just want Headbourne House? If Luke is simply after the property, as everyone suspects, will she suffer a similar fate as the first “Rebecca”? 

A captivating Gothic love story set against a backdrop of intrigue and danger, Mist of Midnight will leave you breathless.

What a book! Mist of Midnight is another winning novel by author Sandra Byrd! Definitely one of her best! It is the first book in the new Daughters of Hampshire series. Set in Victorian England, this gothic novel echoes the work of Jane Eyre. There is everything - an old manor, a mysterious past, suspense, romance, and a definite haunting atmosphere from cover to cover. 

A young woman, Rebecca Ravenshaw, has survived the Indian Mutiny alone. Her missionary parents were both killed. She retuns to her family home in Hampshire only to find that an imposter had previously claimed her inheritance. After the mysterious death of the imposter, a distant relative, the handsome and kind, Captain Luke Winfield, had since inheritted the estate. Of course, Rebecca's sudden appearance only sheds doubt on who is the real Rebecca Ravenshaw.    

Crafty characters, a blooming romance, an elegant old manor that has seen better days, and a courageous, forthright heroine grace the pages of this wonderful book. Everything about this novel impresses - from its cover to the rich story that unfolds!  I could not put this book down! Yup, it was that good!

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Sisters of Shiloh by Kathy and Becky Hepinstall

"Libby waited for her dead husband in the woods, her breath making clouds in the cold night air. Her hair was cut short above her ears, and her neck was cold. Her wool uniform itched her. She had not slept in two days. She leaned against a bay tgree as the fog moved through the woods. She closed her eyes and began to drift. She heard the crackle of a footstep and opened her eyes. The fog cleared and Arden stood in front of her, pale and somber, the red stain of his stomach wound still fresh and spreading out across his grey jacket." Opening Paragraph

Synopsis: In a war pitting brother against brother, two sisters choose their own battle. Joseph and Thomas are fresh recruits for the Confederate Army, daring to join the wild fray that has become the seemingly endless Civil War, sharing everything with their fellow soldiers—except the secret that would mean their undoing: they are sisters. Before the war, Joseph and Thomas were Josephine and Libby. But that bloodiest battle, Antietam, leaves Libby to find her husband, Arden, dead. She vows vengeance, dons Arden’s clothes, and sneaks off to enlist with the Stonewall Brigade, swearing to kill one Yankee for every year of his too-short life. Desperate to protect her grief-crazed sister, Josephine insists on joining her. Surrounded by flying bullets, deprivation, and illness, the sisters are found by other dangers: Libby is hurtling toward madness, haunted and urged on by her husband’s ghost; Josephine is falling in love with a fellow soldier. She lives in fear both of revealing their disguise and of losing her first love before she can make her heart known to him. 
In her trademark “vibrant” (Washington Post Book World) and “luscious” (Atlanta Journal-Constitution) prose, Kathy Hepinstall joins with her sister Becky to show us the hopes of love and war, the impossible-to-sever bonds of sisterhood, and how what matters most can both hurt us and heal us.

Review by Mirella Patzer

I like historical fiction novels that deliver unique perspectives on a particular period in history, and this novel does just that. It is written by two sisters and is about two sisters who disguise themselves as men in order to fight for the south in the American Civil War. It is a story of one woman who has lost her husband in the war. The loss is more than she can bear and her mind becomes fragile, fraught with haunting visions of her dead husband. She is set on avenging his death and enlists. Her sister, concerned, follows her in this dangerous mission as a means to protect her. This novel allows us a glimpse into the thin line between sanity and madness, and how it can become so easily blurred. If you love books about the civil war, especially those with strong heroines, then this is one to get. A very poignant read indeed.

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Friday, March 13, 2015

Fiercombe Manor by Kate Riordan

"Fiercombe is a place of secrets. They fret among the uppermost branches of the beech trees and brood at the cold bottom of the stream that cleaves the valley in two. The past has seeped into the soil here like spilt blood. If you listen closely enough, you can almost hear what's gone before, particularly on the stillest days. Sometimes the very air seems to hum with anticipation. At other times it's as though a collective breath has been drawn in and held. It waits, or so it seems to me." Opening Paragraph

Synopsis:  In this haunting and richly imagined dual-narrative tale that echoes the eerie mystery of Rebecca and The Little Stranger, two women of very different eras are united by the secrets hidden within the walls of an English manor house.
In 1933, naive twenty-two year-old Alice—pregnant and unmarried—is in disgrace. Her mother banishes her from London to secluded Fiercombe Manor in rural Gloucestershire, where she can hide under the watchful eye of her mother’s old friend, the housekeeper Mrs. Jelphs. The manor’s owners, the Stantons, live abroad, and with her cover story of a recently-deceased husband Alice can have her baby there before giving it up for adoption and returning home. But as Alice endures the long, hot summer at Fiercombe awaiting the baby’s birth, she senses that something is amiss with the house and its absentee owners.
Thirty years earlier, pregnant Lady Elizabeth Stanton desperately hopes for the heir her husband desires. Tormented by the memory of what happened after the birth of her first child, a daughter, she grows increasingly terrified that history will repeat itself, with devastating consequences.
After meeting Tom, the young scion of the Stanton family, Alice becomes determined to uncover the clan’s tragic past and exorcise the ghosts of this idyllic, isolated house. But nothing can prepare Alice for what she uncovers. Soon it is her turn to fear: can she escape the tragic fate of the other women who have lived in the Fiercombe valley . . .

Fiercombe Manor, a quaint home nestled away from the beaten path, becomes a new temporary residence for Alice, who has turned up pregnant and unwed, a place to wait out her pregnancy until the child is born and can be given away for adoption. Under the watchful eye of the long time housekeeper, Alice entertains herself, and stumbles upon the fascinating history of the previous grand dame of the manor, a woman named Lady Elizabeth Stanton. What she uncovers is a tale of lies and secrets, long buried. 

I cannot express how much I enjoyed reading this novel. First, there is a touch of the gothic sprinkled with a fascinating mystery. Damaged relationships, forgiveness, and healing, are all underlying themes. Old letters, secret places, and closed off rooms, add to the atmosphere. Then there is a touch of romance, and of course, finally, the reconciling of past and present. Every page, from start to finish, captured my imagination. The story held me enthralled until the most satisfying ending. The author did a wonderful job of describing furnishings, secret hiding places, and tantalizing the reader by keeping the mystery slow to unravel. It is the kind of book you will clutch to your chest, and breath a heavy sigh of satisfaction when the last page is read. One of my favourite books, for sure!

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The Apothecary's Widow by Diane Scott Lewis



Who murdered Lady Pentreath? The year is 1781, and the war with the American colonies rages across the sea. In Truro, England Branek Pentreath, a local squire, has suffered for years in a miserable marriage. Now his wife has been poisoned with arsenic. Is this unhappy husband responsible? Or was it out of revenge? Branek owns the apothecary shop where Jenna Rosedew, two years a widow, delights in serving her clients. Branek might sell her building to absolve his debts caused by the war—and put her out on the street. Jenna prepared the tinctures for Lady Pentreath, which were later found to contain arsenic. The town’s corrupt constable has a grudge against Branek and Jenna. He threatens to send them both to the gallows.

Can this feisty widow and brooding squire come together, believe in each other’s innocence— fight the attraction that grows between them—as they struggle to solve the crime before it’s too late?


Set in 18th Century Cornwall, all Jenna Rosedew’s husband left her was an adolescent apprentice and a struggling apothecary shop. When Lady Pentreath’s death is deemed murder, Jenna is the first person to come under suspicion as she prepared all the dead woman’s medicine.

But why would Jenna poison someone at the risk of her own livelihood? Branek Pentreath has reason to call on Jenna  to inform her he is forced to increase up the rent of her shop, or does he too think she killed his wife? Jenna finds herself attracted to the man, but any connection between them could be construed as motive for murder.

Ms Scott Lewis’ portrayal of a couple trying to come to terms with conflicting emotions in an unsympathetic setting is thoroughly enjoyable. Jenna is no simpering female with no clue as to where to turn, she has her own methods of protecting her livelihood, and being accused of killing one of her clients isn’t something she is going to accept without a fight.

Branek Pentreath is also gravely misunderstood. He is not simply a heartless, ruthless mine owner, but a man of principal struggling with a failing business, suspicion from his neighbours and a growing attraction to a woman he shouldn’t even have noticed.

Ms Scott brings all the threads of this heart-warming story together into a satisfactory ending. I hope to hear more about Branek and Jenna.

Anita Davison is the author of  ‘Royalist Rebel’ and has also written two novels in The Woulfes of Loxsbeare series. Her latest venture is Murder On The Minneapolis, an Edwardian cozy mystery scheduled for released in June by Robert Hale.
BLOG: http://thedisorganisedauthor.blogspot.com
FACEBOOK: http://www.facebook.com/anita.davison?
GOODREADS: http://www.goodreads.com/AnitaDavison
TWITTER: @AnitaSDavison

Thursday, March 12, 2015

The Shape of Sand by Marjorie Eccles


Life at Charnley is blessed for the Jardine children, Harriet, Vita and Daisy, who live in an idyllic Edwardian country manor with their loving parents, Beatrice and Amory. But one night, after a party celebrating their mother's birthday, their dreams of a propitious future suddenly come crashing down when a family scandal catapults them into the headlines. Nearly four decades pass by and still the exact events of that fateful night remain a mystery. But when an old diary detailing their mother's voyage to Egypt is unearthed it finally seems as though some of the answers are within reach - until the shocking discovery of a mummified corpse in the ruins of their old home. Beautifully written, evoking the life of the Edwardian upper classes, bomb-scarred post-war England and the sultry Egyptian landscape, The Shape of Sand is a compelling novel you will wish was as long as the Nile.


The premise of this story is quite simple, in that in 1910, after a lavish country house birthday party, Beatrice Jardine's teenage daughters,  husband and sun are shocked by the fact that to all appearances, she has run away with an exotic Egyptian visitor she met ten years before.

Of course the truth is far more complicated, and Ms Eccles weaves a multi-layered tapestry of emotions experienced by the diverse characters in the Jardine children, each of whom carry their own demons of their mother’s abandonment into WWII and beyond, suffering their own tragedies and getting their lives in order.

The events of the past are teased out with contrived slowness, combined with the emotions of the present which can be distracting in parts, but which made me feel this author’s deep and insightful writing requires close attention. This is not a book to be rushed, in that every personality is deeply drawn, leaving the reader to decide for themselves which of them have harboured a secret for forty years. Needless to say the story flows to a satisfying conclusion and wasn't spoiled for me at all by the fact I had guessed the ending.

I’m delighted to see there are plenty more of Ms Eccles’ books in which I can lose myself.

Anita Davison is the author of  ‘Royalist Rebel’ and has also written two novels in The Woulfes of Loxsbeare series. Her latest venture is Murder On The Minneapolis, an Edwardian cozy mystery scheduled for released in June by Robert Hale.

BLOG: http://thedisorganisedauthor.blogspot.com
FACEBOOK: http://www.facebook.com/anita.davison?
GOODREADS: http://www.goodreads.com/AnitaDavison
TWITTER: @AnitaSDavison

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

The Glassblower by Petra Durst-Benning (The Glassblower Trilogy Book 1)

"Ruth had already gone upstairs twice that morning to try to wake Johanna. Both times her sister had grumbled something that led her to believe -- wrongly, as it turned out -- that she really was going to get up." Opening Sentence

Synopsis: In the village of Lauscha in Germany, things have been done the same way for centuries. The men blow the glass, and the women decorate and pack it. But when Joost Steinmann passes away unexpectedly one September night, his three daughters must learn to fend for themselves. 

While feisty Johanna takes a practical approach to looking for work, Ruth follows her heart, aiming to catch the eye of a handsome young villager. But it is dreamy, quiet Marie who has always been the most captivated by the magic—and sparkling possibilities—of the craft of glassblowing. As the spirited sisters work together to forge a brighter future for themselves on their own terms, they learn not only how to thrive in a man’s world, but how to remain true to themselves—and their hearts—in the process.

Review by Mirella Patzer

Originally published in German in 2003, The Glassblower by Petra Durst-Benning is the delightful first installment in an exciting new trilogy entitled, The Glassblower Trilogy. The book was translated into English by Samuel Willcocks and now English speaking countries can enjoy this wonderful unique story. 

The joy of reading historical fiction lies in its ability to take readers to lesser known periods of history and learn about the way of life during that time. This book does this splendidly. The story takes place in a small town in Germany called Lauscha where the main industry is glassblowing. The craft is reserved for male artisans only, of course, with women completely excluded. Three young women, Johanna, Ruth, and Marie are the daughters of one such glassblower. Indulged and beloved by their doting father, their life is suddenly turned upside down when he dies suddenly. Penniless, they must find a way to sustain themselves in order to survive. What transpires is a fabulous story, filled with hardship, determination, and tenacity as the three women fight for their rights and seek to show off their talents in a world that frowns upon the work of women. 

The writing is simple yet lyrical, and flows effortlessly when reading. The characters are vivid and credible, uniquely beguiling. The story never lags and there are plenty of twists and turns to keep a reader's interest throughout. It is a tale of power and aspiration, where three women rise up from the dust of hopelessness into one of success. This is wonderful women's historical fiction, highly recommended! Highly enjoyable! Highly readable! 

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Will Starling by Ian Weir

"A man standing straddle-legged, pelvis outthrust and one-eyed lad in hand, braced on the lip of merd-urinous Fleet ditch in the blackness of a cool spring night with an aaaahhhh. That's where it all began to turn - assuming that anything can really be said to begin anywhere, and isn't one great tangle of consequence snarling all the way back to Adam's first rumpety-bump with Eve." Opening Sentences

Synopsis:  The Reckoning of WM. STARLING, Esq., a Foundling, concerning Monstrous Crimes and Infernal Aspirations, with Perpetrators Named and Shrouded Infamies disclosed to Light of Day, as set down by his Own Hand in this year 1816

London, 1816. The Napoleonic War is over, Romanticism is at its high tide, and the great city is charged with the thrill of scientific discovery and Regency abandon. The nineteen-year-old foundling Will Starling returns from the Continent, having spent five years assisting military surgeon Alec Comrie, and now is helping Comrie build a civilian practice in London's rough Cripplegate area. This means entering into an uneasy alliance with the Doomsday Men: grave robbers who supply surgeons with cadavers for dissection. There are wild rumors about Dionysus Atherton, an old university friend of Comrie's and the brightest of London's emerging surgical stars, whispers of experiments on corpses not quite dead, in a bid to unlock the mystery of death itself. Will works obsessively to ferret out the truth; the investigation twists and turns through brothels and charnel houses and the mansions of Mayfair.

Review by Mirella Patzer

The Novel, Will Starling, takes readers back in time to London's darkest alleys where bawdiness rules and death prevails. It is a dark tale sprinkled with grave robbing and the seedier side of life in London during the early 1800’s.

Will Starling is a well developed character, intriguing, entertaining, clever. The author did a wonderful job of bringing him to life. I loved the dry, sharp wit of this character, and the writing, and how it broke up some of the darkness. 
Although I enjoyed the story, I found the book to be a challenging read as there is quite a bit of vernacular and slang. It took some getting used to, but if you slow down your reading pace, it will make sense. My other comment was that there was an overabundance of characters, something which I am not fond of as it bogs down the story and makes reading less enjoyable. Also, for those who are historical fiction purists, be warned that there is a paranormal element in this novel, but it was well done and didn’t sensationalize. As I read along there were moments of great suspense as well as areas where the pacing lagged somewhat. Overall, it was an interesting novel and worth the read as long as you are prepared for the challenges.   

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Sunday, March 8, 2015

Satan's Lullaby by Priscilla Royal

"The north wind bit with the sharpness of an angry dog's teeth. The afternoon sun, weary of its summer reign, had grown pale. Although winter would soon besiege this East Anglican coast with glittering ice and deceptively soft snow, all knew that the Prince of Darkness could chill hearts in ways deadlier than a bitter hoarfrost." Opening Paragraph

Synopsis:  It is the autumn of 1278. The harvest is in. Te air is crisp. Dusty summer breathes a last sigh before the dark seasons arrive. For Prioress Eleanor, dark times arrive early in Norfolk. The head of her order, Abbess Isabeau, has sent Father Etienne Davoir from its headquarters in France to inspect all aspects of Tyndal Priory from its morals to its roofs. Surely the Abbess would not have chosen her own brother for this rare and thorough investigation unless the cause was serious and she had reason to fear intervention from Rome. Prioress Eleanor knows something is terribly amiss. The situation turns calamitous when Davoir’s sick clerk dies from a potion sent by Sister Anne, Tyndale’s sub-infirmarian. Is Sister Anne guilty of simple incompetence—or murder? Or, Davoir asks, did Prioress Eleanor order the death to frighten him away before he discovered the truth behind accusations she is unfit for her position? When Davoir himself is threatened, the priest roars for justice. Even expectant father Crowner Ralf, the local representative of the king’s justice, has lost all objectivity. The most likely suspects are Anne, the woman Ralf once loved, the prioress he respects, and the Tyndal monk, Thomas, who is his closest friend. Who among the French and English assembled at Tyndal has succumbed to Satan's lullaby?

Review by Mirella Patzer

I have never read a medieval mystery by Priscilla Royal before. This particular novel is the 11th in a series about Priorewss Eleanor and Brother Thomas and others in the cast. Although this is a series, I do not think you need to read them in any particular order. The author did a pretty good job of sprinkling in small tidbits of past history should it be necessary to the plot.

The story's setting is Tyndal Priory in Norfolk during the 13th century. The priory is a joint male/female religious house, with Eleanor at its helm.

The basic plot is about Father Etienne Davoir, who is the brother of an Abbess in France who is in charge of the priory. He is there to oversee the priory to ensure the finances and its running is in accordance with the abbess's dictates. When he uncovers a rumor about some improprieties between two members, and he discovers a clerk murdered, the story really takes off.

The story has several shady, but fascinating characters, lots of twists, and an interesting plot. The author is knowledgeable and comfortable in this particular medieval period, so the book is informative as well as entertaining. This book was an excellent read and I will definitely follow up by reading some of the earlier books in the series.

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Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Hagridden by Samuel Snoek-Brown

"The women waited, their weapons never far from hand, but for days on end the only sound in the marsh was the wind in the rushes. Those who knew how to discern them might have made out other sounds, the soft splash of a gator slipping from the prairie grass into the much and water, the rustle of ducks breaking for the sky or the dip of a heron beak as it fished the shallows." Opening Sentences


As the Civil War winds violently down, fears of the South’s uncertain future fuse with its unraveling traditions. Against the backdrop of this post-apocalyptic landscape, so littered with corpses and mythology and desperation, two women, stranded and alone in the Louisiana bayou, fight to survive.

Review by Mirella Patzer

Hagridden means “Afflicted by nightmares of anxieties” and this novel really hits hard in the full context of its meaning. 

It's the end of the Civil War. Many men have been killed in action, many have deserted, others have gone rogue, maddened by bloodlust. The orderliness of both sides of the military have disappeared and chaos reigns. The south is devastated, its people hungry, suffering, and poor. This is the backdrop of this very dark, haunting story. 

There are two women at the heart of the story - the mother of a son who was killed in action, and her daughter-in-law. They survive by killing soldiers, regardless of whether they are Confederate or Union, stripping them of any possessions, and then selling or trading them for food or supplies. When the best friend of the old woman's son returns, she struggles to keep her daughter-in-law from leaving her to be with him. 

There is much to like about this novel. The writing is haunting, simple, and blunt. The characters are colorful and three-dimensional, always surprising, even shocking. There is a lot of killing in this book, so you'd better have a hard stomach. I looked beyond the continual violence to take note of how devastating, how stripped, how desperate life for those in the south who survived the war had to endure. There is even a villain who is bent on revenge and murder. 

If you like your stories dark and that embrace violence, then I'm sure you'll enjoy this very unique novel. It's definitely a gripper!

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This Side of the River by Jeffrey Stayton

"We chose him. We needed a champion in the plague year 1865. And since all the good Georgia men were either too dead or shattered beyond recognition, we chose a Texas Ranger no older than myself to lead us orth to Ohio--to burn that blackguard Sherman's home to ashes." Opening Sentences  

At the end of the Civil War, a group of young, angry Confederate widows band together, take up arms, and march north to Ohio intent to burn down the home of General William Tecumseh Sherman. 

Review by Mirella Patzer

Near the end of thre American Civil War, many women are left widowed and in poverty. Filled with rage and a burning need for revenge, a group of Confederate widows form their own small army determined to kill General Sherman. The man leading them is named Captain Cat Harvey. Although he is no more than 19 years old, he is suffering from "nostalgia" or "soldier's heart". Today we call it Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. At first, the widows are happy to have him as their leader, but as they become aware of just how deeply disturbed he really is, many begin to have second thoughts and try to leave. Deserters in this surreal women's army are hung or shot. What unfolds is a dark story of death, abuse, madness, murder, forced sex, and hatred. 

The writing is very unique and will require some focus as it is written in the southern American vernacular. The tale unfolds through the point of view of a handful of characters, all of which are very intriguing. This is a profound tale with many underlying themes, some dark and depressing, others about hope and reconciliation. The author did a brilliant job of delving deep into the human psyche to explore the fragility of the human mind and how it can break after having participated in war. A theme prevalent in today's society. I recommend this book very much. It's not very long, and is a bit challenging to read, and if you can handle a bit of violence and abuse, it is worth reading to get a clear understanding of the aftermath of war.

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