Wednesday, October 28, 2015

The Visitant: A Venetian Ghost Story by Megan Chance

Opening Sentences: Only in my dreams had I ever imagined I might come to Venice. And, given the nature of dreams, I had always pictgured the city sunny and warm, with gentle, salt-tinged breezes and melting colors and a handsome gondolier to row me about and serenade me as he declared his undying love.

Synopsis: A crumbling palazzo in nineteenth-century Venice holds a buried secret.
After she nearly ruins her family with a terrible misstep, Elena Spira is sent to Venice to escape disgrace and to atone by caring for the ailing Samuel Farber. But the crumbling and decaying Ca’ Basilio palazzo, where Samuel is ensconced, holds tragic secrets, and little does Elena know how profoundly they will impact her. Soon she begins to sense that she is being watched bysomething. And when Samuel begins to have hallucinations that make him violent and unpredictable, she can’t deny she’s in mortal danger.
Then impoverished nobleman Nero Basilio, Samuel’s closest friend and the owner of the palazzo, arrives. Elena finds herself entangled with both men in a world where the past seeps into the present and nothing is as it seems. As Elena struggles to discover the haunting truth before it destroys her, a dark force seems to hold Samuel and the Basilio in thrall—is it madness, or something more sinister?

Review by 

The Visitant by Megan Chance is a delightful gothic tale set in Venice. Elena Spira travels from the U.S. to Basilio Palazzo to work as a private nurse for an epileptic man named Samuel Ferber. The mood is set with the crumbling palazzo and its location in a less than desirable, neglected area of Venice ripe with crime and plagued with filth. Further, an old aunt and a female servant and their suspicious, untoward behavior adds curiosity and tension to the story as it progresses. Once there, Elena encounters an impoverished nobleman named Nero Basilio (whose family owns the decrepit palazzo). Seizures, ghost sightings, addiction, family secrets, and loyalties are revealed throughout. The ending was definitely an unexpected surprise. This was a truly enjoyable cozy gothic mystery. Definitely satisfying!

Thank you to the author and publisher. I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

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Monday, October 26, 2015

The Sea Keeper's Daughters by Lisa Wingate

Opening Senences: Perhaps denial is the mind's way of protecting the heart from a succker punch it can't handle. Or maybe it's simpler than that. Maybe denial in the face of overwhelming evidence is a mere byproduct of stubbornness. 

Synopsis: From modern-day Roanoke Island to the sweeping backdrop of North Carolina’s Blue Ridge Mountains and Roosevelt’s WPA folklore writers, past and present intertwine to create an unexpected destiny. Restaurant owner Whitney Monroe is desperate to save her business from a hostile takeover. The inheritance of a decaying Gilded Age hotel on North Carolina’s Outer Banks may provide just the ray of hope she needs. But things at the Excelsior are more complicated than they seem. Whitney’s estranged stepfather is entrenched on the third floor, and the downstairs tenants are determined to save the historic building. Searching through years of stored family heirlooms may be Whitney’s only hope of quick cash, but will the discovery of an old necklace and a Depression-era love story change everything?

Review by Mirella Patzer
History and Women

Whitney and her cousin own two restaurants that are failing. As she struggles to keep them afloat, her attention is drawn by an old hotel she has inherited and her elderly, ailing stepfather who lives there alone. Could the hotel be sold to prop up her restaurants and save them from failure? When she arrives, she discovers old letters that when pieced together, provide her with details of an old romance and a long buried secret. 

Whitney is the protaganist and there are two men who she becomes embroiled with - each with different intentions regarding the hotel. All the characters were well drawn, their personalities and motivations clear throughout the tale. I especially enjoyed the cantankerous stepfather, Clyde, who evolves with the story. He added loads of fun and frustration. The real root of the story, however, are the letters. They were well done, revealing bits and pieces of the historical mystery as the story unfolds. Brilliant! And like all good novels, there is a love connection too that was really well done and comes about slowly, realisticaly. My favourite part of this book is the surprise ending I didn't see coming. 

Yup, there is definitely lots to like with this book. A definite recommendation for women's fiction, book clubs, and/or simply a good tale to fall into and forget the world for a few hours. 

Thank you to the author and publisher. I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

The Cult: A Novel of Two Norman Kingdoms by Richard Devlin

Opening Sentences: It happened so quickly - one moment she was kneeling at a shrine in Clarington Cathedral praying for her ailing aunt, the next, a pair of black-robed arms had seized her and a second pair had tied a gag around her mouth. At first, she was too stunned to struggle. By the time she did, it was too late; she was bound hand and foot in a windowless room beneath the tower of the cathedral.

Synopsis: A meeting of two worlds. A tale of forbidden love. A chronicle of heresy and crime. Set in the late twelfth century in England and Arab-Norman Sicily, The Cult is a beautifully written novel that follows the fates of Elise, Edmond, and Martin, three pupils of a learned English teacher. Early in the story, all three friends become caught in a web of deceit and threatened by an ancient Gnostic cult reincarnated in a new and monstrous form. Pledged to each other, Elise and Edmond strive to keep their love alive despite great opposition. One by one, each for a different reason, all three come to Arab-Norman Sicily, a rich and brilliant realm where Christians, Jews, and Muslims live in peace. In cosmopolitan Palermo, minarets rise beside church towers, the Norman king keeps a harem, and Muslims work with Christian clerics to recover classic texts. Here Martin meets Khalil al-Din, the Arab scholar who will change his life. As their imperiled lives unfold, all three friends struggle against both the evil of the cult and the oppressive prohibitions of their time. Their intimate stories bring to life an epic age whose conflicts closely parallel our own.


This is the opening book in an exciting new trilogy entitled the Abraxas Chronicles, and it is a true stunner. The opening sentences hooked me until the story's ultimate conclusion. All the elements I love are included: an old abbey, a gothic feel, a multi-layered romance, murder, and an exciting plot! The secrets of an ancient old cult thrust the lives of three young persons into peril and force their separation, affecting them each in diverse ways. It was all so very fascinating and intriguing. 

Beautifully written, brilliantly plotted, this is a must read, especially for fans of Ken Follett, or aficionados of books set in the medieval era. It is much more than a murder myster, much more than a saga, much more than a romance. It is rich in every way. Loved it! Will definitely read more from this author. You should read it too! I am eagerly anticipating book 2 in the trilogy. 

Thank you to the author. I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

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Wednesday, October 14, 2015

The Sisters of Versailles by Sally Christie

Opening Sentences: We were five sisters and four became mistresses if our king. Only I escaped his arms but that was my choice. I may be eighty-four years old, and all that I speak of may have happeneed in the far distance of the past, but in a woman vanity is eternal. So I need to tell you: I could have. Had I wanted. Because he - the king - he certainly wanted.

Synopsis:  Goodness, but sisters are a thing to fear! Court intriguers are beginning to sense that young King Louis XV, after seven years of marriage, is tiring of his Polish wife. The race is on to find a mistress for the royal bed as various factions put their best feet—and women—forward. The King’s scheming ministers push sweet, na├»ve Louise, the eldest of the aristocratic Nesle sisters, into the arms of the King. Over the following decade, she and three of her younger sisters—ambitious Pauline; complacent Diane, and cunning Marie Anne—will conspire, betray, suffer, and triumph in a desperate fight for both love and power as each becomes the king’s favorite for a time. In the tradition of The Other Boleyn Girl, The Sisters of Versailles is a clever, intelligent, and absorbing novel that historical fiction fans will devour. Based on meticulous research on a group of women never before written about in English, Sally Christie’s stunning debut is a complex exploration of power and sisterhood—of the admiration, competition, and even hatred that can coexist within a family when the stakes are high enough. 


The Sisters of Versailles is a biographical fiction novel about the five Nesle sisters, four of which became the mistresses of King Louis XV. They are Louise, Pauline, Adelaide, Hortense, and Marie Anne. The novelist did an excellent job of recreating the grandeur of the 18th century French court of the "Sun King". She aptly describes the lush glittering palaces, luxurious gowns, the cruel and painful intrigues, and disturbing cramped living conditions some of the lesser members of the court endured. The novel is written in the first person point of view of the sisters, which clearly brought to life their personalities and differences. The characters each developed uniquely, brilliantly, and in sometimes unpredictable ways. 

As with all biographical novels, there are times when the pace slows a bit, but in this case, the interest in court life kept me reading with keeness. This is the introductory book of a planned trilogy about these fascinating sisters, and I'm definitely looking forward to the next two installments, which swill bring to life some of the king's more notorious mistresses. 

Thank you to the author and publisher. I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

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Friday, October 9, 2015

Spirit of the Highway by Deborah Swift


England has been engaged in a bitter Civil War for nearly ten years. Ralph Chaplin, a farmer’s son, has fallen for beautiful copper-haired Kate. There is only one problem – he is a Roundhead soldier and she is a Royalist lady. Told by Ralph’s ghost, Spirit of the Highway is the stand-alone second part of the Highway Trilogy based on the real life and legend of Lady Katherine Fanshawe, Highwaywoman.


The character of Katherine Fanshawe, the reputed lady highwayman has always fascinated me, so I was intrigued to see Deborah Swift has written a YA trilogy about her.  Was Lady Katherine simply a wealthy lady bored with her cushioned life, or did she have a darker reason to turn to the dangers of the road and highway robbery?

Spirit of the Highway is No 2 in the Highway Trilogy but can be read as a stand-alone novel.

England in late 1651 has seen the final defeat of the Royalist cause at Worcester, after which the Parliamentarian farmer Ralph Chaplin has returned to Markyate Manor. He still carries a torch for the grand lady of
the manor, Lady Katherine Fanshawe, a fellow sympathiser, although her husband is a Royalist. 

The story opens from an unusual standpoint, in that the main character is actually dead. Ralph is confronted on the battlefield by the Cavalier Copthorne out for vengeance, whose malice follows him long after the battle is over. 

Both families have to cope with the aftermath of the devastating years of war which left behind chaos and famine for the ordinary man that would last years, not to mention the ingrained prejudices between classes more difficult to change. That the author's villagers believed there would no longer be any more lords and ladies was a bit chilling, which didn’t bode well for Lady Katherine.

A beautifully written and impressively researched novel, with characterisation easy to get involved with: from the survivor opportunist Downall, the selfish Elizabeth whom I loved to hate and the needy Cutch who only wanted to belong.  

An excellent introduction for younger readers which outlines the causes and effects of the English Civil wars, a very complicated and changing time in England’s history. In her usual succinct and colourful way, Ms Swift also outlines the principals and aims of the Diggers movement which advocated claiming rights to and farming on common land.

The story puts a good case of how life changed at both ends of the scale, but I won’t spoil the ending for future readers. I now want to read the first book in the trilogy, Shadow of the Highway, and shall also look out for the third book  to see what happens next to ‘Ralph's Kate’.

Anita Davison author of ‘Royalist Rebel’ under the name Anita Seymour. Her latest venture is Murder On The Minneapolis, a Victorian cosy mystery from Robert Hale Publishing.
TWITTER: @AnitaSDavison

Thank you to the author and publisher. I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.