Monday, June 29, 2015

Joan of Arc by Helen Castor

"I would rather die than do something which I know to be a sin, 
or to be against God's will."

"You say that you are my judge; I do not know if you are; 
but take good heed not to judge me ill, 
because you would put yourself in great peril."

"Get up tomorrow early in the morning, 
and earlier than you did today, 
and do the best that you can."

"Always stay near me, 
for tomorrow I will have much to do and more than I ever had, 
and tomorrow blood will leave my body above the breast."

 "Act, and God will act."

"I was in my thirteenth year when I heard a voice from God 
to help me govern my conduct. 
And the first time I was very much afraid."

 One life is all we have and we live it as we believe in living it. 
But to sacrifice what you are and to live without belief, 
that is a fate more terrible than dying."

 If I am not, may God put me there; 
and if I am, may God so keep me."

"Children say that people are hung sometimes for speaking the truth." 

Joan of Arc

The legend of Joan of Arc has endured through the centuries. How a young fourteen year old girl could overcome the social biases over her gender and not only gain the ear of the king, but lead an entire army (of men) in battle still astounds the world! Yup, it's hard to believe, but Joan of Arc accomplished every bit of it!

From the tender age of thirteen, she heard voices from Heaven that clearly assured her that she had been chosen to convince King Charles VII, who lacked confidence, that he could oust the English from the city of Orleans with her help. Not only was she to gain the King's confidence, but she was the one to lead the battle. 

Joan took the voices to heart. First, she gained the attention of the women in the King's court. Then she gained an audience with the king himself, and managed to convince him that she, a teenage girl, a virgin no less, untouched by man or the world, could free Orleans as long as he provided her with battle gear and an army.

"I am not afraid... I was born to do this," she said to the king.

And this she proved! Not only did she free Orleans, but the English fled back to their homeland. As a reward, she asked that her home town of Domremy pay no taxes. The king granted her this wish and for centuries thereafter, the town was tax-free.

Encouraged, the king wanted more from Joan. He wanted her to seize Paris from the English too. But this was not part of God's plan. The voices from Heaven were silent. As a result, Joan's army failed, and poor Joan was captured. And what did King Charles do on her behalf after she had come to his rescue when he needed her? Absolutely nothing! He deserted Joan in her hour of need. 

The English accused Joan of witchcraft and heresy and put her on trial. The evidence? Well, she wore men's clothing and armor! While imprisoned, she suffered horrendous abuse. 

They found her guilty and sentenced her to burn at the stake. The young Joan faced her death with courage, grace, and great dignity.

Twenty years later, the English king overturned the verdict and made amends to her family by granting them pensions and honoring them in numerous ways.

Five hundred years after her death, the Vatican canonized her as a saint.

Numerous movies and books have been created commenorating this courageous woman's life. She stands as a model of bravery, perseverence, and faith for all women to this very day. She continues to movitate and live in our hearts.

Helen Castor has now taken her turn at writing about this amazing young woman. She has written a comprehensive, believable, and vibrant novel, about Joan including insight into her doubts, her fears, her convictions, and her great love for her family. One of the best books I've read about this famous historical woman.

"It was the day of victory. First light dragged, cold and sodden, over a camp of exhausted men. Exhausted from unpredictable weeks of forced march, parrying the enemy's manoeuvres along the banks of the river Somme, or moving at speed to this urgent rendezvoux. Exhausted from a fear-filled day with the enemy in sight, waiting for a battle that had not come beore sundown. Exhauted, now, from a wet night bivouacked in the fields, or billeted nearby with the terrified villagers of Tramecourt and Azincourt. Exhausted, but expectant." Opening Paragraph.

From the author of the acclaimed She-Wolves, the complex, surprising, and engaging story of one of the most remarkable women of the medieval world—as never told before. Helen Castor tells afresh the gripping story of the peasant girl from Domremy who hears voices from God, leads the French army to victory, is burned at the stake for heresy, and eventually becomes a saint. But unlike the traditional narrative, a story already shaped by the knowledge of what Joan would become and told in hindsight, Castor’s Joan of Arc: A History takes us back to fifteenth century France and tells the story forwards. Instead of an icon, she gives us a living, breathing woman confronting the challenges of faith and doubt, a roaring girl who, in fighting the English, was also taking sides in a bloody civil war. We meet this extraordinary girl amid the tumultuous events of her extraordinary world where no one—not Joan herself, nor the people around her—princes, bishops, soldiers, or peasants—knew what would happen next. Adding complexity, depth, and fresh insight into Joan’s life, and placing her actions in the context of the larger political and religious conflicts of fifteenth century France, Joan of Arc: A History is history at its finest and a surprising new portrait of this remarkable woman. Joan of Arc: A History features an 8-page color insert.

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Thursday, June 25, 2015

Spoils of Olympus by Christian Kachel

"The dream is a recurring one but I wish it were more frequent. I'm visited by my father and we speak of where he has been. I', told of the horrors death has in store for the unrighteous and he urges me to always defend my house and enjoy life's pleasures. My father certainly lived by the latter, sometimes to the detriment of the former, but I decided long ago that, overall, he was a good man." Opening Paragraph

Synopsis:  322 BC. The Macedonian Empire is on the verge of civil war following the sudden death of Alexander the Great. As a boy, Andrikos, watched as Alexander's army marched through his homeland of Greek Ionia after defeating the Persians at the Granicus River on their way to the total conquest of the Persian Empire. Soon he will be embroiled in their world, forced to flee his old life due to an unintentional crime. Thrust into the army, Andrikos struggles to cope with the brutal yet necessary training which his superiors put him through to prepare for the coming wars of succession as Alexander's surviving generals seek to divide and conquer the spoils of Olympus. But Andrikos is not destined to be a nameless soldier; by chance he is chosen for a clandestine mission - and is immersed in a world of intrigue, violence and brotherhood. The path that lies ahead of Andrikos requires him to shed his immaturity to defend Alexander's legacy from those who would usurp it.
Review by Mirella Patzer
History and Women

Alexander the Great is dead and those driven to succeed him begin their machinations towards seizing power. Amid the chaos is a young man named Andrikos. Like many young men without a purpose, his life consists mainly of drink and women and floating through life unchallenged. He gets mixed up with a group of ruffians where he gets into trouble and is forced to flee. He joins the army to avoid his past catching up to him. It is then that he is introduced to the brutalities of war, of training, of battles to the death, of treachery. And once enlisted, he cannot get out unless he is killed.  

For a debut novel, this is exceptional. No stranger to battle and war, the author has written a vivid and compelling portrayal of what it means to be embroiled in action. The author holds nothing back, so be prepared for the brutality contained within this novel's pages. Some scenes can be disturbing to the feint of heart. Thankfully, I'm not one of them, so I was able to enjoy the book without hesitation. The author knows has seen war, and he knows the heart of a warrior and he is able to implant this into his characters. He also took time to describe how war affects the civilians and the hardships they face after the last battle cry is heard.

I love novels about Ancient Greece and this one had a wonderful storyline weaved among the hair-raising battle and warrior scenes. Looking forward to Christian Kachel's next novel!

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Mistress Of The Court by Laura Purcell

Mistress of the Court


Orphaned and trapped in an abusive marriage, Henrietta Howard has little left to lose. She stakes everything on a new life in Hanover with its royal family, the heirs to the British throne. Henrietta’s beauty and intelligence soon win her the friendship of clever Princess Caroline and her mercurial husband, Prince George. But, as time passes, it becomes clear that friendship is the last thing on the hot-blooded young prince’s mind. 

Dare Henrietta give into his advances and anger her violent husband? Dare she refuse? Whatever George’s shortcomings, Princess Caroline is determined to make the family a success. Yet the feud between her husband and his obstinate father threatens all she has worked for. As England erupts in Jacobite riots, her family falls apart. 

She vows to save the country for her children to inherit – even if it costs her pride and her marriage. Set in the turbulent years of the Hanoverian accession, Mistress of the Court tells the story of two remarkable women at the centre of George II’s reign.


If anything, I enjoyed Laura Purcell’s second novel based on the lives of the Hanoverian court more than her first, Queen of Bedlam, a touching story of the unfortunate and misunderstood George III and how his illness impacted on his daughters.

Mistress of the Court is a deeply moving biographical story of Henrietta Howard, who was to become Countess of Suffolk. The loss of her father at a young age, followed by the deaths of her elder siblings, left Henrietta at the mercy of wealthier relatives. Through gratitude and duty, she married Charles Howard, a man who proved to be a disastrous choice, but her strong character made her determined to overcome both physical abuse and being one of a noble family but without the financial rewards.

Queen Anne is reaching the end of her reign, and despite poverty and a drunken wastrel of a husband, Henrietta takes him to Herrenhausen and the court of Sophia of Hanover. Using her noble contacts and discreet manners, Henrietta secures positions for both herself and Charles. Within months, Sophia is dead, but this is quickly followed by Queen Anne, making Sophia’s son George King of England.

Henrietta returns to her homeland in triumph, though her feckless husband’s behaviour threatens to ruin them both. Nor is she to be left alone to enjoy her achievement, and instead, has to fight for everything she has, and fight again when circumstances contrive to deprive her of all that she loves.

Manoeuvred into a position at court she never sought, subject to the jealousies of others, the violent spite of her husband and the resentment of her royal mistress, Caroline of Ansbach, Henrietta remains serene, aristocratic and unaffected – at least to the outside world.

Written in a realistic, but unsentimental way, this is a fictional, but chillingly accurate account of Henrietta’s misery among the luxury of court life, while clinging to the belief that one day, she will be free to have a life entirely her own. Ms Purcell’s knowledge of the intimate life of the Hanoverians is stunning, and in this novel she has brought a remarkable, and unappreciated heroine to gritty, heart-breaking life. A definite keeper.

Anita Davison also writes as Anita Seymour, with a 17th Century biographical novel Royalist Rebel and The Woulfes of Loxsbeare series. Her latest venture is an Edwardian cozy mystery, Murder on the Minneapolis released by Robert Hale.





TWITTER: @AnitaSDavison

The Temple of Light by Daniela Piazza

"The Forest, Duke Giovanni Maria's favorite hunting grounds, was cloaked in the thickest darkness. A thin fog rose from the castle moat, shrouding the band of armed men, making them almost invisible, furtive specters in the dark. Not a star shone in the sky." Opening Paragraph

Synopsis: On the brink of death, the Duke of Milan entrusts his only heir to the church, which is guarding a thousand-year-old secret

It is the early fifteenth century, and the Italian peninsula is ravaged by war. While Milan fights for its political and economic life, Duke Filippo Maria Visconti lies on his deathbed with no heir to succeed him. But the old nobleman has a secret: He has a son.

Visconti hands over the one-year-old child to the archdeacon Onorio, who agrees to keep him safe. Little does young Niccolò know that when he comes of age, he will inherit the great Visconti fortune and become the city’s next duke.

Years later, in the shadows of a new cathedral, the members of a secret brotherhood practice alchemy and plot court intrigues, working to fulfill the ancient prophecy of the goddess Belisama. The brothers, sustained by blind faith, will do whatever it takes to achieve their Grande Opera, but first they need peace in the city, and Niccolò is the only one who can help. But when he starts to witness mysterious rites and killings, Niccolò will be forced to reconsider his destiny.

Author Daniela Piazza has written a beautiful novel about the construction of the Duomo di Milano and all the famous persons in the era. The noble Visconti family is in constant battle with other families of the era. Numerous political maneuvres, romantic liaisons, and a centuries old secret are at the heart of this story. The main character is a young man named Niccolò who has been raised by a group of monks. Only a few know who he truly is, and he must guard the secret of his true identity or his life is at risk. He knows that when the time is right, he will take his real place in the world. 

Daniela Piazza has taken historical detail, real personages of the 15th century, and a touch of fantasy, and weaved them seamlessly together in this brilliant, sweeping new novel. Well developed characters, both good and villainous, made the story very enjoyable for me. The plot had constant twists and turns that kept me guessing. It was also fascinating to read all about the financial troubles faced when constructing the cathedral that still stands today, and which I have visited several times. Terrific descriptions, an unforgettable storyline, and compelling characters make this a book you must read. I loved it! Definitely recommended for everyone who loves Italian history. 

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Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Watch the Lady by Elizaveth Freemantle

Penelope Devereux

One of the great beauties of her day, Penelope Devereux was no shrinking violet. She was impulsive, tenacious, and was unafraid to scheme and plot and flirt with danger with the best! Soon, she became an attendant at the queen's court. Once there, she was noticed by many because of her lovely singing voice and her dancing skills. Her blonde hair and beautiful eyes also helped her gain notice and popularity.
Her father, the Earl of Essex knew he was dying and he was eager to tie up any loose ends, so to speak. One of those loose ends was to see his daughter, Penelope, well married and taken care of before he died. 

Penelope's Father

Walter Devereux

1st Earl of Essex

From his deathbed, Walter Devereux sent a letter to Philip Sidney, asking him to marry Penelope.

Sir Philip Sidney
Poet and Composer 

Sidney wrote several sonnets about a woman named "Stella" said to be inspired by the lovely Penelope. In the 16th century, however, everything depended on inheritance, and possibly to preserve a future inheritance, Sidney broke off the betrothal. 

Soon another marriage was arranged for her. This time, to a man named Robert Rich, 3rd Baron Rich. he was young and eligible and had just succeeded to his title and considerable property. The match was a veritable disaster. He was a most unpleasant man, foul, vindictive, and with a nasty temper. Penelope Devereaux was forced to marry him. This was in spite of stamping her feet and refusing in the ceremony and having to be taken into the vestry by her uncle and persuaded by the threat that she would be turned penniless out into the street if she didn't. Ultimately, she was left no choice and lost the battle and became the Lady Rich. 

Trapped in an unhappy, loveless marriage, Penelope fell in love with Charles Blount, the 8th Baron Mountjoy and they began a secret affair. 

Sir Charles Blount
8th Baron Mountjoy

Penelope even bore Charles' children. But secrets are hard to keep and Lord Rich soon learned of his wife's betrayal. He couldn't do a thing about it, however, because of Penelope's brother Robert, the 2nd Earl of Essex, was a favourite of the queen.

Penelope's Brother
Robert Devereux
2nd Earl of Essex

Robert was involved in many a devious plot, which tainted Penelope by association. After his rebellion failed, he denounced Penelope as a traitor. He was later exectuted for treason. This is when her husband, Lord Rich made his move against her. He cast Penelope and her children by Mountjoy out! It was easy enough to do especially since Mountjoy was implicated in the Essex rebellion too. The queen intervened and granted them clemency. 

With nothing holding her back, Lady Penelope Rich now moved in with Mountjoy. They no longer hid their affair. In fact, Penelope remained in the queen's favor, become a Lady of the Bedchamber. Mountjoy became the Earl of Devonshire. Tired of his wayward wife, Rich sued for a divorce. Instead of contesting the divorce, Penelope welcomed it. There was nothing she wanted more than to marry Blount and legitimize their children. She publicly admitted to adultery and the divorce was granted. Sadly, her requests to remarry and legitimise her children were refused.

Ever defiant, and contrary to canon law, Penelope and Blount ignored the decree. They were secretly married by Chaplain William Laud who later became the Archbishop of Canterbury.  Disgraced, the couple were banished by King James. They continued to live together as husband and wife with their children until their deaths. 

Penelope Devereux's life has been recreated in a stunning new novel by Elizabeth Freemantle entitled Watch The Lady. It is comprehensive in detail and richly portrayed, bringing successfully to life, this fascinating woman. The novel is full of shocking events, scandalous happenings, treachery, power struggles, and ultimate betrayal. Plenty of machinations to keep the pages turning. A wonderful story that strives for historical accuracy!

"The wax sizzles as it drips, releasing an acrid whiff. Penelope presses in her seal, twisting it slightly to make it unreadable, wondering if it - this letter - is folly, if it could be construed as treason were it to fall into the wrong hands." Opening Paragraph

From “a brilliant new player in the court of royal fiction” (People), comes the mesmerizing story of Lady Penelope Devereux—the daring young beauty in the Tudor court, who inspired Sir Philip Sidney’s famous sonnets even while she plotted against Queen Elizabeth.Penelope Devereux arrives at Queen Elizabeth’s court where she and her brother, the Earl of Essex, are drawn into the aging Queen’s favor. Young and naïve, Penelope, though promised elsewhere, falls in love with Philip Sidney who pours his heartbreak into the now classic sonnet series Astrophil and Stella. But Penelope is soon married off to a man who loathes her. Never fainthearted, she chooses her moment and strikes a deal with her husband: after she gives birth to two sons, she will be free to live as she chooses, with whom she chooses. But she is to discover that the course of true love is never smooth.

Meanwhile Robert Cecil, ever loyal to Elizabeth, has his eye on Penelope and her brother. Although it seems the Earl of Essex can do no wrong in the eyes of the Queen, as his influence grows, so his enemies gather. Penelope must draw on all her political savvy to save her brother from his own ballooning ambition and Cecil’s trap, while daring to plan for an event it is treason even to think about.

Unfolding over the course of two decades and told from the perspectives of Penelope and her greatest enemy, the devious politician Cecil, Watch the Lady chronicles the last gasps of Elizabeth’s reign, and the deadly scramble for power in a dying dynasty.

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Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Pastel Orphans by Gemma Liviero

"Nana tells me that Opa has died. I am not sure if I should cry, because death has never been discussed before, and Mama has to explain that Opa is now in the earth. The discovery of death is shocking, and I picture my grandfather lying alone in the ground, his ears full of soil. Death is too close - as close as the thinking chair for bad behavior. I can't see it from where I'm standing, but it waits for me quietly in the next room. It knows I will come eventually." Opening Paragraph

Synopsis:  In 1930s Berlin, young Henrik, the son of a Jewish father and Aryan mother, watches the world around him crumbling: people are rioting in the streets, a strange yellow star begins appearing in shop windows, and friends are forced to move—or they simply disappear.
After his father becomes gravely ill, Henrik and his little sister, Greta, are taken by their mother to Poland for safety. However, not even the pastoral surroundings of their new home can protect them from the terrors of war. When the Nazis invade and Greta is kidnapped, Henrik must shed his youthful innocence and search for his lost sister, a quest that will further reveal a harrowing landscape of violence and struggle―but also unexpected connections.
Uniquely told from the perspective of youth plunged into adult chaos, Pastel Orphans is a coming-of-age story that explores profound lessons in self-belief, kindness, and human endurance.

Review by Mirella Patzer

The cover tells much about the story contained in this book's pages. Two vulnerable young children, alone, running away into the unknown. There is much to love about this World War II story. As the Nazis gain power in Germany, half Jewish, Henrik, his Aryan mother, and his little blonde and blue eyed sister flee to Poland to live with a relative where they can be safe from the Germans. But soon, the German soldies infilitrate Poland too. They steal Greta from them, devastating Henrik's mother. Henrik makes it his mission to find and rescue his little sister from the clutches of the kidnappers. As he leaves home to begin his search, he becomes involved with members of the Resistence. And his life will never be the same as he risks life and death in his quest. 

Although stories involving World War II are my least favorite genre, I must admit that I was thoroughly pleased with this novel. I think it's because it is written from the point of view of the civilians who suffered rather than the military / political point of view. And this gave it a very poignant and human flavor. Love and hate, life and death, despair and hope, are all underlying themes. Easy to read, fascinating characters, treachery, and numerous plot twists made for quite a page turner. With it's highly satisfying ending, there is much here to entertain. Highly recommended.

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Friday, June 19, 2015

A Memory of Violets by Hazel Gaynor

"Mammy once told me that all flowers are beautiful, but some are more beautiful than others. "Same with babies," she said, 'cause I was after saying that little baby Rosie looked like a rotten old turnip, what with her face all purple and scrunched up. "All babies look like rotten old turnips at first," Mammy said. "She'll be all smoothed out by Lady Day. You wait and see." Opening paragraph

Synopsis:  The author of the USA Today and New York Times bestselling novel The Girl Who Came Home has once again created an unforgettable historical novel. Step into the world of Victorian London, where the wealth and poverty exist side by side. This is the story of two long-lost sisters, whose lives take different paths, and the young woman who will be transformed by their experiences.

In 1912, twenty-year-old Tilly Harper leaves the peace and beauty of her native Lake District for London, to become assistant housemother at Mr. Shaw’s Home for Watercress and Flower Girls. For years, the home has cared for London’s flower girls—orphaned and crippled children living on the grimy streets and selling posies of violets and watercress to survive.

Soon after she arrives, Tilly discovers a diary written by an orphan named Florrie—a young Irish flower girl who died of a broken heart after she and her sister, Rosie, were separated. Moved by Florrie’s pain and all she endured in her brief life, Tilly sets out to discover what happened to Rosie. But the search will not be easy. Full of twists and surprises, it leads the caring and determined young woman into unexpected places, including the depths of her own heart.

Review by Mirella Patzer

A Memory of Violets is set in London during the 1800's. It is a story of the enduring love between two sisters. Florrie and her little sister Rosie are young children who live in extreme poverty and sell flowers in some of the roughest markets in London. The first section of the book is heartwrenching and tragic as the sisters are separated and become lost to each other. This sets off a life-long quest on Florrie's part to find her sister and make amends for losing her. The two follow very different paths in life.

Years later, in 1912, Tilly Harper, takes a job in a school for flower girls. In her room she discovers Florries old diary. Intrigued, she seeks to answer some of the questions Florrie had about her sister's whereabouts

The author did a very good job of bringing their dire existence to life, stirring all kinds of emotions. This novel is a very vivid tale, rich with emotion, compelling characters, and wonderful twists and surprises throughout. I'll definitely read more books by this fabulous writer. I truly loved this book!

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Thursday, June 18, 2015

To Win Her Favor by Tamera Alexander

"Steady, girl," Maggie whispered, peering down from the bluff, leather reins held taut. The thrum of spectators on the field below rose on the cool morning breeze, and she leaned forward to stroke the thoroughbred's neck." Opening Paragraph

Synopsis:  A gifted rider in a world where ladies never race, Maggie Linden is determined that her horse will become a champion. But the one man who could help her has vowed to stay away from thoroughbred racing forever.

An Irishman far from home, Cullen McGrath left a once prosperous life in England because of a horse racing scandal that nearly ruined him. He's come to Nashville for a fresh start, hoping to buy land and begin farming, all while determined to stay as far away from thoroughbred racing as possible. But starting over proves harder than he'd wagered, especially when Maggie Linden's father makes him an offer he shouldn't accept yet cannot possibly refuse.

Maggie is certain that her mare, Bourbon Belle, can take the top purse in the inaugural Peyton Stakes, the richest race ever run in America. Maggie only needs the chance to prove it. To give her that chance--and to save Linden Downs from being sold to the highest bidder--Maggie's father, aging, yet wily as ever, makes a barter. His agreement includes one tiny, troublesome detail--Maggie must marry a man she's never met. A man she never would have chosen for herself.

Review by Mirella Patzer

This was the first Tamera Alexander book I've read and I thoroughly enjoyed it. In this novel, she takes readers to the American South where horse breeding and horse racing is a major part of the culture. The characters are brilliantly portrayed. As a horse afficionado and having owned several show horses, I loved the connection with these beautiful creatures.

The plot is strong and multi-layered. There was plenty going on to keep me engrossed and turning the pages. I especially enjoyed the main characters, Cullen McGrath and Maggie Linden, who are people of high moral fibre with strong beliefs. I enjoyed how these characters grew closer together as the story progressed. The author's writing is so seamless yet detailed that it is easily envisioned in one's mind. Definitely talented, Tamera Alexander knows how to spin a good yarn, one the captivates, while putting the main characters through conflict. Discrimination and prejudice are also minor themes tackled in this book. It is a book that warms the heart, solidifies our personal convictions, and definitely entertains. Highly recommended! I'll definitely be reading more from this author.

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The Red Lily Crown by Elizabeth Loupas

"The prince was a Medici, richer than Satan, and people said he loved only two things - women and alchemy. To feed her Nonna and her two little sisters, Chiara would have sold herelf to him quck as a stray cat, but she wasn't very promising concubina material - her chest bones stuck out and hyer wrists and ankles were knobbly as a colt's fetlocks. True, she was fifteen and a virgin and had a braid of dark hair down to her hips, but on the other hand she had the curved scar on the left side of her head, just above her ear. Her hair covered the mark but she couldn't always hide the headaches and the falling-spells. Sometimes she heard demon's voices." Opening Paragraph 

Synopsis:  Elizabeth Loupas returns with her most ambitious historical novel yet, a story of intrigue, passion, and murder in the Medici Court...

April, 1574, Florence, Italy. Grand Duke Cosimo de’ Medici lies dying. The city is paralyzed with dread, for the next man to wear the red lily crown will be Prince Francesco: despotic, dangerous, and obsessed with alchemy.

Chiara Nerini, the troubled daughter of an anti-Medici bookseller, sets out to save her starving family by selling her dead father’s rare alchemical equipment to the prince. Instead she is trapped in his household—imprisoned and forcibly initiated as a virgin acolyte in Francesco’s quest for power and immortality. Undaunted, she seizes her chance to pursue undreamed-of power of her own.

Witness to sensuous intrigues and brutal murder plots, Chiara seeks a safe path through the labyrinth of Medici tyranny and deception. Beside her walks the prince’s mysterious English alchemist Ruanno, her friend and teacher, driven by his own dark goals. Can Chiara trust him to keep her secrets…even to love her…or will he prove to be her most treacherous enemy of all?

Review by Mirella Patzer

The Red Lily Crown literally swept me away. I was totally engrossed with this fantastic story! I read the entire novel in less than 24 hours. Yup, it was that good! Italian historical fiction is my favourite genre, and the Renaissance is another source of fascination for me. Author Elizabeth Loupas did her research. Her story is full of twists and turns, murder plots, danger, and plenty of shocking turns of events. Florence and Milan truly came alive with her detailed descriptions of locations, buildings, and characters. The alchemy part of the novel was also fascinating as she weaved this magical element in a most believable way throughout the story.With a savvy, courageous heroine, plenty of terrible villains and duplicitous characters, and true love, this story has it all to keep anyone entertained for hours and hours. I loved it and it is one of my favourite all time novels! 

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Monday, June 15, 2015

Tiffany Girl by Deeanne Gist

"Reeve remembered everything about that morning. He remembered the scratchy wool of his short pants. His stiff collar and bow tie making it hard to swallow. The branches of the willow tree whipping against the window. The women sitting in the parlor, the air around them saturated with their homemade herbal fragrances." Opening Paragraph

Synopsis: From the bestselling author of It Happened at the Fair and Fair Play comes a compelling historical novel about a progressive “New Woman”—the girl behind Tiffany’s chapel—and the love that threatens it all. As preparations for the 1893 World’s Fair set Chicago and the nation on fire, Louis Tiffany—heir to the exclusive Fifth Avenue jewelry empire—seizes the opportunity to unveil his state-of-the-art, stained glass, mosaic chapel, the likes of which the world has never seen. But when Louis’s dream is threatened by a glassworkers’ strike months before the Fair opens, he turns to an unforeseen source for help: the female students at the Art Students League of New York. Eager for adventure, the young women pick up their skirts, move to boarding houses, take up steel cutters, and assume new identities as the “Tiffany Girls.” Tiffany Girl is the heartwarming story of the impetuous Flossie Jayne, a beautiful, budding artist who is handpicked by Louis to help complete the Tiffany chapel. Though excited to live in a boarding house when most women stayed home, she quickly finds the world is less welcoming than anticipated. From a Casanova male, to an unconventional married couple, and a condescending singing master, she takes on a colorful cast of characters to transform the boarding house into a home while racing to complete the Tiffany chapel and make a name for herself in the art world. As challenges mount, her ambitions become threatened from an unexpected quarter: her own heart. Who will claim victory? Her dreams or the captivating boarder next door?

Review by Mirella Patzer

Author Deeanne Gist takes readers back to the early 1900's when the world is preparing for the World's Fair and Louis Comfort Tiffany is earning a reputation for his brilliant glass works. Flossie Jayne is a young woman who leaves her family and home to forge her own way in the world. She ends up working for him as a "Tiffany girl" during the frantic preparations for the fair. The tale takes through troubles, love, and all the fascinating details of the time. 
Placed within the novel's pages were numerous historical photographs which definitely added to the story, giving me the opportunity to see the fashion, the characters, the items described in the novel. Poignant, funny, heart-warming, and emotion, this is a nice story with a good pace that held my interest from start to finish. Excellent writing!

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The Rocheforts by Christian Laborie

"The night sky was pitch black. The air was freezing, and the darkness absorbed all noise. Nimes was plunged into the heart of a harsh winter, the kind that rarely happened more than once in a decade. The ampitheatre was frozen under the dull glow of the moon. Church steeples rose up like giant crosses in a gloomy, unmoved sky. The world was petrified. Yet the narrow streets and wide boulevards were not covered in snow. The dry, icy winds had swept everything away, even the nauseating stench that usually rose from the seedier parts of town." Opening paragraph

Synopsis: Two very different families are bonded by scandal in this sweeping story of love, greed, and betrayal

Anselme Rochefort has built an empire manufacturing serge de Nîmes, or denim. His biggest client? Levi Strauss. As the craze for blue jeans begins to sweep the globe, Rochefort Industries seems poised for untold success. But Anselme can be as cruel and ruthless with his family as he is in business.

The Rocheforts’ neighbor Donatien Rouvière has one of the region’s most prosperous farms and is desperate for a son to carry on his legacy. After the births of three daughters, the Rouvières adopt an orphan from the Sisters of Charity convent and raise him as their own.

When Anselme suggests uniting the two families by arranging for their children to marry, it seems like the perfect match. But as the lives of the two clans grow increasingly intertwined, dark secrets come to light, including the mysterious circumstances of the death of Anselme’s eldest daughter.

With The Rocheforts, Christian Laborie weaves a captivating tale of deceit, intrigue, and the dynamic tension between industrialization and a way of life rooted in the land.

Review by Mirella Patzer 

It's been a while since I've read a multi-generational family saga, so I was delighted when I found this one. This novel was originally published in France and has now made the transition into English. It is a tale of two family's - the wealthy denim textilers, the Rocheforts and the farming land holding Rouvieres. At the head of both families are the patriarchs, the ambitious villain Anselme Rochefort who marries off his son to Louise, the loving daughter of the family man, Donatien. 

Christian Laborie does an excellet job of portraying the fascinating characters, their passions, their betrayals, and he does it in a fast-paced, unwordy manner. His writing is simple, with a strong focus on plot instead of too much description. This is what keeps the story moving forward, the layers of the take peeled away page by page. I loved every bit of it. The characters kept me guessing, and I found myself incredibly involved with them. An excellent story! Long live the family saga! This was a great one, that's for sure.  

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Saturday, June 13, 2015

Still the Cicadas Sing by Gregory Gregoriadis

"On the Acropolis hill, in Athens where it all happened, the cicadas are still singing. Over a glass of wine in the old taverna at the edge of Parthenon's shadow, I watch the sun sinking beyond Eleusis, behind Aegaleon, the black mountain. And in the twilight, I see the ghosts. Victorious Greek soldiers back from ferocious battles. Rugfged, moustachioed faces parading in the streets of Pankration. Sounds of golden trombones and cornets, the triumphant clashing of cymbals. A sea of blue-white flags. In the cool light of a noon in December..." Opening sentences

Synopsis:  This is the story of a boy’s spirited survival within a world of Nazi darkness and pervading death.

Alkinoos, an Athenian boy, is growing up in the shadow of Parthenon, in his own innocent world.

It is the 1930s and Greece is ruled by the dictator Ioannis Metaxas. In October 1940 Mussolini demands passage of his armies through Greece. Metaxas refuses and Italy declares war. The Greeks are victorious, pushing the Italians back. Seeing his Axis ally Mussolini humiliated, Hitler invades Greece.

The dreamy world of Alkinoos turns into one of brutal occupation, of famine and executions. This is a story of the boy’s coming of age, of romance with the enemy, a German girl, a Circe with violet eyes. It is a story of things that are not what they seem to be. Of daring undertakings under the nose of the Gestapo, of Odyssean heroism, wiliness and wisdom… and of eventual tragedy. An ancient Hellenic world of pathos and nobleness revisited and relived.

Still the Cicadas Sing is the story of a boy’s spirited survival within a world of darkness and pervading death. It is a literary novel that will take the reader on a fascinating journey in Nazi occupied Athens, blending the history of Greece of that period, a little known chapter of the War, with adolescent love, with passion and intrigue.

Until I read this novel, I knew little about the impact of World War II on the country of Greece. Based on actual historical events, the novels is about a young boy named Alkinoos whose idyllic life comes to a grinding halt when Hitler and Mussolini's armies invaded and occupied Greece. What makes this novel so poignant is that it is told through this young boy's innocent eyes as he moves from childhood toward adulthood and love amid the horrors and hardships of war. 

This compelling point of view gives readers a glance at the starvation, life and death circumstances, and bravery the Greek people endured. As German and Italian soldiers pillaged food and anything of value, the Greek people suffered through a horrendous famine where thousands upon thousands became emaciated and died of starvation. 

The author did a marvellous job of truly making me experience the horrors of what the main character endured. The characters were credible and real, the plot utterly compelling. Easy to read, with a focus more on the lives of the Greek people than the politics of war, this book has left me with long-lasting sympathies and emotions on what happened. 

The author did a masterful job of introducing the plot and characters and weaving a unique perspective of plausible events around the suffering of Greece during WWII. The primary quality of the novel is its ability to make you care about its characters and experience their reality. This story will appeal to both men and women, not only for the war details, but also but the love story and family bonds the author so aptly brought to life. Highly recommended.