Saturday, May 30, 2015

The Grazia dei Rossi Series of books by Jacqueline Park

"If I were a queen, my son, I would grant you vast lands and great wealth. If I were a goddess, I would bestow upon you an honorable wife and a tribe of healthy children -- female as well as male. But I am a scholar and a scribe, so the best I have to offer you is a document." Opening Paragraph of The Secret Book of Grazia dei Rossi. 


The Secret Book of Grazia dei Rossi is a sweeping tale of intrigue and romance set in a time rife with court politics, papal chicanery, religious intolerance, and inviolable social rules. Grazia, private secretary to the world-renowned Isabella d'Este, is the daughter of an eminent Jewish banker, the wife of the pope's Jewish physician, and the lover of a Christian prince. In a "secret book," written as a legacy for her son, she records her struggles to choose between the seductions of the Christian world and a return to the family, traditions, and duties of her Jewish roots. As she re-creates Renaissance Italy in captivating detail, Jacqueline Park gives us a timeless portrait of a brave and brilliant woman trapped in an unforgiving, inflexible society.

"After a long and successful career in the service of the great andpowerful, Judah del Medigo was not surprised when out of the blue a courier arrived in Rome ordering him to report immediately to his new master, Suleiman the Magnificent, at Topkapi Palace in Istanbul." Opening Paragraph of The Legacy of Grazia dei Rossi 

Set in 16th-century Istanbul during the illustrious Ottoman Empire, The Legacy of Grazia dei Rossi chronicles the fate of Grazia’s son, Danilo, and his forbidden love affair with Princess Saida, the Sultan’s beloved daughter. Judah del Medigo, Jewish physician to the Sultan at the Ottoman court and husband of Grazia dei Rossi, has been misinformed that his son, Danilo, perished at sea on the way to Istanbul. When the two are eventually reunited, Judah’s first thought is to resign from the Sultan’s service to devote himself to his son’s recovery. But the Great Suleiman is not about to give up his valued Chief Body Physician. A ruler accustomed to getting his way, the Sultan proposes a bargain: he offers the boy a place in the harem school for royal children, plus the services of his own mother as guardian while the doctor is absent during campaign season in Baghdad. It is an opportunity that Judah cannot deny his son. A tantalizing look at life in the Ottoman court, The Legacy of Grazia dei Rossi is a sweeping historical romance and the long-awaited follow-up to the international sensation The Secret Book of Grazia dei Rossi. 

Review by Mirella Patzer

Finally! From international bestselling author, comes the sequel to The Secret Book of Grazia dei Rossi. I read and loved this book many years ago, and it was with great pleasure that I eagerly accepted both books to read and review. The most impressive thing of these two books is the meticulous research that Jacqueline Park did in order to write this wonderfully rich and comprehensive novel. She travelled throughout the country, researching not only the politics of 16th century Renaissance Italy, but church laws, Jewish history, fashion, food, and culture of the era. With such intensive research, she put together the story of a Jewish woman whose only legacy to her sole son is a book she wrote detailing her life. And what a sweeping story both books are! And there is a third book to come too!

I highly recommend that you read the books in order so that you have a clear knowledge and understanding of the characters and their interactions with each other. The second book, The Legacy of Grazia dei Rossi follows the lives of the heroine's son and father who have fled Jewish persecution in Italy to the safety of Turkey and the Ottoman empire. Both books come complete with glossaries and author's notes.

Both books give a realistic view of how Jews were vulnerable, how they were treated prejudiciously and unfairly, how they could lose all their posessions at the whim of others, and how life and death hung in the balance. Stirring, poignant, and beautifully told, I highly recommend this novel to those who love a good story while expecting the highest quality of historical detail. I eagerly await the third installment of the series, entitled Son of Two Fathers. A wonderful series to add to your historical library!

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Thursday, May 28, 2015

The Witch of Leper Cove by Deborah Bogen

It's the 13th century and The Church is under attack. In response Pope Honorius creates The Holy Inquisition, sending his Dominicans out into the world to root out heresy. Even the tiny English hamlet of Aldinoch is not safe. 

Alice, Aldinoch's healer and young Lily Bigges' mentor, has been accused of heresy. She languishes in the dank dungeon beneath Guildford Castle, awaiting her fate. 

Lily and her brothers, Wyll and Edric, realize they must free Alice, but what can they do? In this tale of betrayal, adventure and courage, chances are taken and unexpected allies are found...will that be enough to save the Witch of Leper Cove?

Review by Mirella Patzer

Lyllie, Edric, and Wyllym suddenly find themselves orphaned and alone in the town of Aldinoch, England in the 13th century. The siblings are separated and given to local residents to raise. Lily finds herself under the guidance of Alice, the town's healer, while Wyll is sent to work hard and Edric enters the Church. Alice is kind and wise, and she tends to a group of lepers who are isolated from the community. The lives of the three siblings continue to intertwine as they each struggle to adjust to their new circumstances. A local cleric who is bent on rising to power within the church commits a fraud and he sets Alice to take the blame. What follows is an exciting, spellbinding, rush of conflict that kept me flipping pages, hooked completely on the story.

This is the kind of book that all will enjoy - young adults as well as adults. The history was well researched and weaved into the story with veracity. It is an enduring tale of love and loss, danger and victimization. More importantly, it is about strength and the will to survive despite the adversity life can throw at us. A truly lovely story! One to savor and enjoy. I loved it!

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Monday, May 25, 2015

Gwnedolen by Diana Souhami

Gwendolen, an exceptionally beautiful, young upper-class Englishwoman, is gambling boldly at a German resort (winning big, then losing just as soundly) when she learns from her twice-widowed mother that their fortune has been lost. The eldest in a family of sisters, Gwendolen is now responsible for all of them, and, though a fine archer and rider, she has little more than her good looks to offer. When an extraordinarily wealthy aristocrat proposes marriage, she accepts, despite her discovery of an alarming secret about his past.

This novel is Gwendolen's passionate later-life letter to the man she did not marry, and reveals what happened across the brutal and transformative years of her early twenties. That she is also the heroine of George Eliot's novel Daniel Deronda (and is writing to Deronda) will intrigue and delight legions of Eliot fans, but debut novelist Diana Souhami has brilliantly and movingly breathed fresh life into a classic in ways that will appeal to readers entirely unfamiliar with Eliot's fictions.

Review by Mirella Patzer

Gwendolen by Diana Souhami is based upon the classic novel, Daniel Deronda by George Eliot. The novel is written in an epostilatory style as the main character, Gwendolen, is writing a letter to the man she has been obsessively in love with for years. In her story, she reveals the horrors of her unhappy and abusive marriage. I have never read the classic, so I have no pre-conceived expectations about the story. 

The first half of the novel started off well, introducing Gwendolen who is gambling and meets Daniel Deronda for the first time. Their first encounter introduces Gwendolen's unrequited love that will endure an entire lifetime. Her love is never fulfilled, however, when she learns her family has become impoverished and she must marry well in order to take care of her widowed mother and younger sisters. She marries a wealthy and titled nobleman who soon becomes overly controlling and very abusive. 

I found the first half of the book gripping and definitely a page turner. The pace in the second half of the story slows down a bit and changes course from action to deep introspection and self-appraisal on Gwendolen's part. She reflects on her life, her love, her husband, her fate. The character of Daniel Deronda was never fully developed, but I found him interesting and I would love to have learned more about him. This was a very interest, albeit unusual novel. It has intrigued me enough to read one of George Eliot's novels.  

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Contrition by Maura Weiler

In this sweeping, heart-wrenching and inspiring tale, twin sisters separated at birth reconnect through art, faith and a father who touched the world through his paintings.

When journalist and adoptee Dorie McKenna learns that her biological father was a famous artist, it comes with another startling discovery: she has a twin sister, Catherine Wagner, who inherited their father's talent. Dorie is eager to introduce her sister's genius to the public, but Catherine is a cloistered nun with a vow of silence who adamantly refuses to show or sell the paintings she dedicates to God. 
Hoping to get to know her sister and research the potential story, Dorie poses as an aspiring nun at the convent where Catherine lives. Her growing relationship with Catherine helps Dorie come to terms with her adoption, but soon the sisters' shared biological past and uncertain futures collide as they clash over the meaning and purpose of art. Will they remain side-by-side for the rest of their lives, or will their conflicts change the course of the future?

Find out in this beautifully detailed story that takes you on a spellbinding journey of the heart. 

Review by Mirella Patzer

Contrition is a fabulous debut novel about twin sisters separated when they were small children. A talented, but struggling artist, stuggles to raise his twin daughters alone. Dorie he gives up for adoption, and Catherine he keeps. Catherine has inherited her father's talent for art, while Dorie works as a journalist. In search of the secrets of her past, Dorie searches for her sister and finds her, a nun in a convent. But when she meets her sister, she is met with silence. Catherine has taken a vow of silence and has not spoken a word for years. While visiting at the convent, Dorie discovers that her sister is an incredibly talented author, but Catherine refuses to sell or let anyone beyond the cloister's walls see her work. 

As their two lives collide, the two sisters must delve deep into their hearts to discover the key for happiness. It is a journey of reckoning, ultimate forgiveness, deep understanding, and most of all love. With its stunning ending, the story pulls at the heartstrings, poignant and unforgettable. An unforgettable tale written with insight. A great newcomer in the genre of women's fiction!

Monday, May 18, 2015

Dunaway's Crossing by Nancy Brandon

"Miss Bea Dot! You all right? What happen to you?" California's husky voice penetrated the darkness, first as a tinny, distant sound, as if on the other end of a telephone line, but gradually growing clearer. No one ever had trouble hearing California. Bea Dot's mind cleared at the warmth and gentle pressure of her housekeeper's wide palm on her back. Opening Paragraph


Finalist for the 2013 Georgia Author of the Year Award

Bea Dot Ferguson has a life many in Savannah envy: a wealthy husband, a luxurious house, a baby on the way. But appearances are deceiving. To hide a terrible secret, Bea Dot married a man she didn’t love—only to suffer his brutality later on. When her cousin Netta invites her for a visit in rural Pineview, Georgia, Bea Dot jumps at the chance to escape. But she soon learns she’s traded one perilous situation for another—Pineview has been infected with deadly Spanish influenza. As the epidemic escalates, Bea Dot and Netta must fight for survival. With the help of Will Dunaway, a recently returned Great War veteran, Bea Dot draws upon strength she never knew she had. As she and Will desperately try to avoid contagion, their mutual attraction grows, making them both the target of her husband’s wrath. A sweeping Southern tale of hope and betrayal, love and loss, Dunaway’s Crossing is a moving testament to the strength of the human spirit.

Review by Mirella Patzer

Dunaway's Crossing by Nancy Brandon is a novel of the American south, in and around Savannah Georgia, in the aftermath of World War I. In this poignant tale of love and flight from domestic abuse, the author evokes a time and mood unique to the unusual setting. There is plenty to laud about this story. First, it's simply told and an easy read. I was able to sit back and let the story sweep me away without struggling to comprehend or difficult vocabulary. Second, I loved the unique setting. The American south truly is unique and any story that can churn up the feel and mood of the times, truly is a work of art. This book definitely does that. And third, it's a nice story, well paced, richly told, and one that is believable and realistic. Complex characters face numerous challenges both personal and societal. it's not hard to see why this book finalled in a writing contest. A nice easy read with plenty of depth. Lots to enjoy here!

Friday, May 15, 2015

Never Isn't Long Enough by F. Diane Pickett

The rebuilding of the South after the Civil War brought industrialization, urbanization, and technological advances to rural American farms. "Never Isn't Long Enough" captures how these transformations affected the romance between a young farm girl and a wealthy older man called to God and commerce. "Life on the farm, the coming of the automobile, moonshiners, the Roaring Twenties, the movie house ... they're all here! 

The Civil War had a devastating impact on the south. Author F. Diane Pickett has written an entertaining and informative novel about the aftermath of war and the rebuilding of lives and the restoration of the American south. Based on her own family history, we see the south through the eyes of characters who were forced to endure and adapt and progress.  

At times poignant, at times humorous, there is plenty of historical detail and accuracy that brings the era alive. At the heart of the story are a manly mountain man named Pick and a young adventurous woman named Faye. 

At times, the novel reads more like non-fiction than fiction, however the tale is so endearing, it kept me reading to the end. A nice historical story!

Review by Mirella Patzer
Historical Novel Review

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Tides of Honour by Genevieve Graham

A novel of love, loss, and honour amidst the horrors of war and its aftermath.

In the summer of 1916, Private Daniel Baker marches into battle with the boys of Nova Scotia’s 25th Battalion. Out of brutal necessity, Danny has steeled himself against the trials and horrors of war, but he is completely unprepared to meet the love of his life in war-torn France.

Audrey Poulin has the soul of an artist. She lives alone with her grandmother in the quiet French countryside, where her only joy is in her brush and palette. When, by chance, she encounters Danny, the handsome young soldier captures her heart and inspires her painting. The young lovers believe that only together can they face the hardships the war brings.

But love is just the beginning. Mere months later, Danny is gravely wounded at the Battle of the Somme, and his future is thrown into uncertainty. Soon, he and Audrey find themselves struggling to build a new life in Halifax, a city grieving its lost men. As the grey winter of 1917 sets in, Danny’s lack of purpose and Audrey’s isolation continue to mount, pulling the two apart just as a new catastrophe threatens their existence.

Heartrending and enthralling, Tides of Honour is a novel of love and second chances set against Halifax’s most devastating moment of the First World War.

Review by Mirella Patzer

France, 1916. When Audrey Poulin encounters a troop of Canadian soldiers, she gives them shelter and food for the night. Among them is Private Daniel Baker. An instant enchantment arises between them and by the time he has to depart, they are deeply in love with each other. As the war rages, the young lovers exchange letters and they promise to wed as soon as Danny can return. But destiny intervenes and Danny is severely wounded. He releases Audrey from her pledge to marry him. But Audrey's deep love for Danny won't allow it. She travels from France to Nova Scotia, a vastly different life and setting from the French countryside where she grew up, and there she falls in love with the village and her new family. The aftermath of war is far reaching and Danny grows ever more despondent, bringing conflict and loss into their lives. It takes a major Canadian disaster for the two lovers to find themselves once more.

This multi-layered novel and its intriguing subplots makes this one of the best novels I've read this year. It's more than a love story. The tale successfully incorporates World War I, the Halifax explosion, and two different countries and blends it with subthemes of love, art, family, loss, PTSD. Rich, compelling, and totally engrossing - this novel is definitely one to read! Historically accurate and brilliantly researched, the story is alive and vivid. Loved this novel and I highly recommend it to everyone from all nations, but especially to Canadian readers!