Wednesday, December 30, 2015

A Long Shade by Corinne West

The year is 1911 in drought-stricken rural Southern Alberta, and although times are hard, young Brian Dance’s future seems full of promise. But when tragedy strikes, one loss follows another, and words are spoken that can never be taken back. Many years later, as a grown man, Brian returns to the small town of his youth thinking he has left his past—and his pain—behind him. Instead, he finds that he is troubled about many things, in particular his deepening affection for the sister of an estranged childhood friend. Spiritually and emotionally bereft, he runs from the love he desperately needs. But a man can only go so far before coming to the end of himself. 

Set against the stark beauty of the prairies and the lofty majesty of the Rockies, A Long Shade traces a journey from the burgeoning centers of a young province to the rarefied mountain retreats of affluent jazz-age internationals. West explores both our yearning for meaningful connection and the buried reasons that drive us to resist it. 

In her debut novel, Corinne West has brought to life the turbulence of the early 1900's in the Canadian prairies. From Medicine Hat to Banff, West takes us on an unbelievable journey of sadness, despair, betrayal, love, and redemption. Brian Dance is a fascinating protagonist, troubled, solitary, enigmatic. Surrounded by a strong cast of colorful supporting characters, the story comes alive with credibility and poignancy. In this fascinating character driven story, the reader is swept into a rustic country setting and becomes immersed in the lives and troubles of the unforgettable characters. The author delves deeply into their mindset, their passions, their mistakes and the impact upon others. Reconciliation is a strong theme throughout. 

Corinne West is an excellent writer. A native Albertan, her research is thorough and accurate. There is a lot of factual information in the story, but it is incorporated seamlessly into the story and through dialogue. She is able to set a mood, a gentle but steady pace until the story's satisfying ending. Poignant scenes throughout evoke emotion - sometimes I laughed, sometimes I cried. From first page to last, this was a thoroughly compelling and engrossing tale. Highly recommended, especially for those with a passion for Canadian historical fiction. 

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Bohemian Gospel by Dana Chamblee Carpenter

Set against the historical reign of the Golden and Iron King, Bohemian Gospel is the remarkable tale of a bold and unusual girl on a quest to uncover her past and define her destiny.
Thirteenth-century Bohemia is a dangerous place for a girl, especially one as odd as Mouse, born with unnatural senses and an uncanny intellect. Some call her a witch. Others call her an angel. Even Mouse doesn’t know who―or what―she is. But she means to find out.
When young King Ottakar shows up at the Abbey wounded by a traitor's arrow, Mouse breaks church law to save him and then agrees to accompany him back to Prague as his personal healer. Caught in the undertow of court politics at the castle, Ottakar and Mouse find themselves drawn to each other as they work to uncover the threat against him and to unravel the mystery of her past. But when Mouse's unusual gifts give rise to a violence and strength that surprise everyone ―especially herself― she is forced to ask herself: Will she be prepared for the future that awaits her?
A heart-thumping, highly original tale in the vein of Elizabeth Kostova's The Historian, Bohemian Gospel heralds the arrival of a fresh new voice for historical fiction.

Review by Mirella Patzer
Also visit History and Women

The stunning cover of Bohemian Gospel shelters a wonderfully unique tale about a poor young girl of unknown birth circumstances named Mouse who saves King Ottakar's life and swiftly becomes his most trusted personal healer. But Mouse is no ordinary girl. She possesses numerous gifts - the gift of foresight, the gift of healing, the gift of unusual hearing and sight, name a few. She is reluctantly swept into court life with its many political machinations and intrigues. King Ottaker becomes her protector and a forbidden love burgeons between them.  

The first section of the novel was fast paced and gripping. As the story progressed, the pace did slow a little, but it did still managed to hold my interest. In many ways, Mouse was a sympathetic character, but she had too many "gifts" to make her completely credible. For me, this diminished the historical feel and gave the story a more fantasy/magical atmosphere. 

For those who are historical fiction purists, this novel many not completely please. However, for those readers who love historical fantasy, then this is definitely a blockbuster! Well written, wonderfully creative, and with plenty of twists and turns, this is one novel that should be on your to be read list.

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

Monday, December 21, 2015

The Girl from the Train by Irma Joubert

Six-year-old Gretl Schmidt is on a train bound for Aushwitz. Jakób Kowalski is planting a bomb on the tracks.
As World War II draws to a close, Jakób fights with the Polish resistance against the crushing forces of Germany and Russia. They intend to destroy a German troop transport, but Gretl’s unscheduled train reaches the bomb first. Gretl is the only survivor. Though spared from the concentration camp, the orphaned German Jew finds herself lost in a country hostile to her people. When Jakób discovers her, guilt and fatherly compassion prompt him to take her in. For three years, the young man and little girl form a bond over the secrets they must hide from his Catholic family. But she can’t stay with him forever. Jakób sends Gretl to South Africa, where German war orphans are promised bright futures with adoptive Protestant families—so long as Gretl’s Jewish roots, Catholic education, and connections to communist Poland are never discovered. Separated by continents, politics, religion, language, and years, Jakób and Gretl will likely never see each other again. But the events they have both survived and their belief that the human spirit can triumph over the ravages of war have formed a bond of love that no circumstances can overcome.

This international bestseller has now been translated into English! This tale of World War II is a life and death tale about a young Jewish girl who escapes from a train bound for Auschwitz and encounters Jakob, a fighter for the Polish resistance who is determined to reunite her with her family. 

The story is steeped in historical fact as the two protagonists struggle to overcome the brutalities of war. There is an underlying Christian theme throughout that lends a tone of love and faith throughout. This is a lovely tale of inspiration and enduring strength with many fascinating layers. One cannot help but fall in love with Jakob and Gretl and their viewpoint over the war and resistance. Beautifuly written, easy to read, and poignant throughout, this is definitely one book to savor! Delightful in all its aspects.

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

Saturday, December 19, 2015

Whispers in the Reading Room by Shelley Bray

Lydia’s job at the library is her world—until a mysterious patron catches her eye . . . and perhaps her heart.
Just months after the closure of the Chicago World’s Fair, librarian Lydia Bancroft finds herself fascinated by a mysterious dark-haired and dark-eyed patron. He has never given her his name; he actually never speaks to a single person. All she knows about him is that he loves books as much as she does.
Only when he rescues her in the lobby of the Hartman Hotel does she discover that his name is Sebastian Marks. She also discovers that he lives at the top of the prestigious hotel and that most everyone in Chicago is intrigued by him.
Lydia and Sebastian form a fragile friendship, but when she discovers that Mr. Marks isn’t merely a very wealthy gentleman, but also the proprietor of an infamous saloon and gambling club, she is shocked.
Lydia insists on visiting the club one fateful night and suddenly is a suspect to a murder. She must determine who she can trust, who is innocent, and if Sebastian Marks—the man so many people fear—is actually everything her heart believes him to be.

Review by Mirella Patzer
Also visit my other blog: History and Women

This is a charming cozy mystery set in the era of the Chicago's World's Fair, the third book in a series. This novel stands alone and one does not need to read the previous two books to get the full benefit. I think this book captures many things which appealed to me - a charismatic heroine/librarian, an enigmatic hero who is endearing but comes with a secret or two, and of course, an intriguing murder mystery. 

The story unfolds at a steady pace and is an easy read, and it kept me rooting for Lydia and Sebastian and the romance that was developing between them despite the darkness of the murder. The author did an excellent job of building in atmosphere and creating likable characters. The novel has a light air to it, nothing to heavy or provocative or controversial. I liked the fact that the story didn't glamorize Chicago. Rather, we got to see some of the seedier side of the infamous city. It had a good mix of good and bad and rich and poor. 

I liked this book a lot. It's a wonderful cozy mystery/romance for curling up in front of the fire on a cold winter's night. 

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

Brooklyn by Colm Toibin

Colm Tóibín’s New York Times bestselling novel—soon to be a film starring Saoirse Ronan and Jim Broadbent from the award-winning team that produced An Education—is “a moving, deeply satisfying read” (Entertainment Weekly) about a young Irish immigrant in Brooklyn in the early 1950s. “One of the most unforgettable characters in contemporary literature” (Pittsburgh Post-Gazette), Eilis Lacey has come of age in small-town Ireland in the hard years following World War Two. When an Irish priest from Brooklyn offers to sponsor Eilis in America, she decides she must go, leaving her fragile mother and her charismatic sister behind. Eilis finds work in a department store on Fulton Street, and when she least expects it, finds love. Tony, who loves the Dodgers and his big Italian family, slowly wins her over with patient charm. But just as Eilis begins to fall in love, devastating news from Ireland threatens the promise of her future. Author “Colm Tóibín…is his generation’s most gifted writer of love’s complicated, contradictory power” (Los Angeles Times). “Written with mesmerizing power and skill” (The Boston Globe),Brooklyn is a “triumph…One of those magically quiet novels that sneak up on readers and capture their imaginations” (USA TODAY).

Review by Mirella Patzer
Also visit my other blog, History and Women

For anyone who decides to read this award winning novel that has been made into a movie, you will find this novel's plot is most definitely character driven rather than plot driven. What this means is the plot unravels slowly, but if you persevere and focus on how the protagonist faces the struggles she faces, you will be rewarded with a fascinating, thought provoking story filled with engrossing characters and situations. The author is definitely talented with the ability to delve deep into the psyche of the people he has created, making them so human, so real, so believable!

I found that the heroine had a far easier immigrant experience than other Irish immigrants of the time. Nevertheless, the story is still credible in its own way. The more I read, the more I became absorbed by the story. It is the last quarter of the book that brings the satisfaction and a little conflict into the tale. Now that I've read the book, I most definitely want to see the movie. 

All in all, I found this to be a very solid read, albeit slow. For those who love character driven novels, and who love to explore the human psyche, this is one of the best. 

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

Friday, December 11, 2015

The Brethren and City of Wisdom and Blood by Robert Merle

The Brethren Synopsis:

Consisting of 13 books written across 26 years, the adventure-filled epic Fortunes of France is one of France's best-loved historical fiction series. Never before published in English, book one, The Brethren, makes its debut in the US in the spring of 2015, followed in the fall by book two, City of Wisdom and Blood.

Two veteran soldiers retire to a castle in the wildly beautiful Périgord of sixteenth century France. But the country is descending into chaos, plagued by religious strife, famine, pestilence, bands of robbers... and, of course, the English.

In the course of their story we are introduced to a slew of vivid characters, including the fiery Isabelle, mistress of the castle, refusing to renounce her religious beliefs despite great pressure; the petty and meal-mouthed Francois, unlikely heir to the estate; the brave and loyal Jonas who lives in a cave and keeps a wolf as a pet; the swaggering soldier Cabusse; the outrageously superstitious Maligou, and Sarrazine, who once roamed as part of a wild gypsy band.

A sprawling, earthy tale of violence and lust, love and death, political intrigue and dazzling philosophical debate, The Brethren is the first step in an engrossing saga to rival Dumas, Flashmanand Game of Thrones.

The City of Wisdom and Blood Synopsis:

Montpellier in 1566 is one of the greatest seats of learning of the age, a cradle of Renaissance humanism. But even this proud city of philosophers is not safe from the menaces that endanger the peace of France--the city militia are struggling to contend with the lawlessness and religious hatred that threaten to tear the whole country in two. Only fools walk the streets at night unarmed, while a profession of faith in the wrong company can lead to a knife in the back. 

Now an adult, Pierre de Siorac must leave the family stronghold of Mespech, and travel south on dangerous roads to the great university city, accompanied by his strapping but naive brother Samson and the crafty Miroul. Well-armoured, with swords and pistols at their belts, the trio are confident of repelling any bandits who cross their path, but their new life away from the safety of their home will bring with it many other new dangers and delights.

Following on from The Brethren, City of Wisdom and Blood is the second book the sweeping saga, Fortunes of France.

In Book 1, The Brethren, Robert Merle has written an intensive historical novel set in France during one of its most turbulent periods. In 16th century France, battle rages between the Huegenots and the Catholics with murderous results from both sides. At the heart of the story are two compelling protagonists - Siorac and Sauvterre who try to hide their Protestant roots from the world as they amass their fortune. They swore an oath to become brothers, hence the title of the first book - The Brethren.

Merle does an excellent job of interweaving accurate historical detail with an interesting plot. This is pure historical fiction - with a strong focus on historical fact! This novel teaches as well as entertains. There are violent scenes throughout, a testament to the times, as well as struggles each character faces. 

Book 2 takes the reader a little further into the future. The point of view character is a Huguenot nobleman named Pierre. With his half-brother, Samson struggle to study in Montpellier which is predominantly Catholic. The religious battles and troubles continue in the second volume.

Robert Merle's strength is in his character development. His characters literally leap off the pages because they are so authentic, so complex, so human! And he likes to throw in the odd humorous scene which only serves to endear one to the characters more fully. 

The main theme throughout the books is the religious conflict that plagued France during the 16th century. Merle's novels are very strong in historical detail which sometimes overpowers the plot/storyline. For those who love rich historical fiction, this series is definitely for you!

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

Thursday, December 10, 2015

The Lemoncholy Life of Annie Aster by Scott Wilbanks

Annabelle Aster doesn't bow to convention-not even that of space and time-which makes the 1890s Kansas wheat field that has appeared in her modern-day San Francisco garden easy to accept. Even more peculiar is Elsbeth, the truculent schoolmarm who sends Annie letters through the mysterious brass mailbox perched on the picket fence that now divides their two worlds.

Annie and Elsbeth's search for an explanation to the hiccup in the universe linking their homes leads to an unsettling discovery-and potential disaster for both of them. Together they must solve the mystery of what connects them before one of them is convicted of a murder that has yet to happen...and yet somehow already did.

Scott Wilbanks has written a unique, one of a kind story that captured my heart. It is a tale of two women who find themselves locked together in a specific time described as a "hiccup" in the universe. They soon stumble upon a murder and a mystery that binds them together. I liked the numerous little plot twists and the way the mystery was carefully revealed. The author writes in an easy to read format, while describing breath-taking vibrancy. A brilliant, creative little book that will ultimately entertain! Highly recommended. Thank you to the author and publisher. I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

The Serpent and the Staff by Barbara Wood

Ugarit, Syria, 1450 B.C.E. Eighteen-year-old Leah, the eldest daughter of a wealthy winemaker, is past the traditional age of betrothal. Vowed to wed the wealthy but cruel shipbuilder Jotham, Leah declines his offer of marriage after discovering that he and his family suffer from “the falling sickness.” Enraged by her refusal and his ruined reputation, he blackmails Leah’s father, a punishment forgiven only by offering Leah’s hand in marriage. With no more options for another suitor and no male heir for her family, Leah must seek out the cure for Jotham’s sickness or her family will face permanent ruin.

During her quest Leah begins to burn with desire for Daveed, the handsome household scribe whose culture forbids their union. Daveed has been called by the gods to restore the Brotherhood, an elite fraternity of guardians at the great Library of Ugarit, rumored to contain the secret symbol of immortality within its ancient archives. If his plan succeeds, it may also save Leah’s family from disaster. But even Daveed and Leah cannot fathom the extent of Jotham’s sinister schemes to make Leah his bride once and for all.

With rich historical detail, The Serpent and the Staff is a sweeping tale of love, betrayal, and how one family's faith can overcome the obstacles that life has in store for them.

Ancient history never ceases to fascinate me and this novel set in 15th century B.C. in Syria is no exception. At the heart of the tale is a love story between Daveed and Leahd, and a spurned potential spouse who unleashes the full extent of his wrath upon Leah and her father. The revenge lasts for years, ultimately devastating Leah's family, financially and otherwise. It is the slow degradation of family life that kept me turning the pages. Just when I thought matters could not possibly become worse, BAM! They did! The characters are so real, they leap off the pages, stirring emotions with each turn of the page. This is one unforgettable story! Compelling and rich, told in a clean, easy style of writing. Highly recommended!  

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

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Gideon Smith and the Mask of the Ripper by David Barnett

In an alternate nineteenth century where a technologically advanced Britain holds sway over most of the known world and the American Revolution never happened, young Gideon Smith is firmly established as the Hero of the Empire.

Back in London, Gideon and his colleagues: journalist Aloysius Bent, airship pilot Rowena Fanshawe, and Maria, the mechanical girl to whom Gideon has lost his heart, are dragged into a case that is confounding the Metropolitan Police. For the city is on the edge of mass rioting due to the continuing reign of terror by the serial killer known only as Jack the Ripper, who is rampaging though London's less salubrious quarters.
While chasing the madman, a villain from their past strips Gideon Smith of his memory and is cast adrift in the seedy underbelly of London, where life is tough and death lurks in every shadowy alley.
With mob rule threatening to engulf London, the Empire has never needed its hero more...but where is Gideon Smith?
Gideon Smith and the Mask of the Ripper is the latest in David Barnett's riproaring steampunk adventures about a Britain that never was...but should have been.

This is the first book with David Barnett's memorable character, Gideon Smith, that I've read. This book can stand alone so it wasn't necessary to read the first two books in the series, A bit mystery, a bit gothic, a bit steampunk, is the best way to describe this novel. Gideon Smith is a daring character who sets off on an adventure to find The Ripper. The setting is an alternative, or dystopian Victorian London. 

There are plenty of fascinating plot twists that kept me reading as Gideon encounters one crisis after another while prostitutes are being horrendously murdered. Compelling characters are often not what they appear to be, and each chapter has something new to offer. Every once in a while, the author injects some humor amid all the dark mystery. The steampunk/dystopian setting may not appeal to all readers, but it is entertaining as long as one allows themselves to fall into the story. 

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

Molly Lee by Andrew Joyce

Molly is about to set off on the adventure of a lifetime . . . of two lifetimes. 
It's 1861 and the Civil War has just started. Molly is an eighteen-year-old girl living on her family's farm in Virginia when two deserters from the Southern Cause enter her life. One of them--a twenty-four-year-old Huck Finn--ends up saving her virtue, if not her life. 
Molly is so enamored with Huck, she wants to run away with him. But Huck has other plans and is gone the next morning before she awakens. Thus starts a sequence of events that leads Molly into adventure after adventure; most of them not so nice. She starts off as a naive young girl. Over time, she develops into a strong, independent woman. The change is gradual. Her strengths come from the adversities she encounters along the road that is her life. 
We follow the travails of Molly Lee, starting when she is eighteen and ending when she is fifty-six. Even then Life has one more surprise in store for her.

I loved the premise of this book - a young woman named Molly Lee is saved by a charismatic hero named Huck Finn - the same Huck Finn out of the pages of the famed Mark Twain novel. But Huck is a wanderer and he leaves. Molly, desperately in love with him sets off alone to find him. And thus begins her quest / adventure.

Her journey is fraught with pitfalls and danger, for a woman alone is a target. She is attacked and then rescued by the town Madame who helps her learn the ropes of the world's oldest profession. In Molly's travels she is also sold to an Indian chief, commits a murder or two in self-defense, and acquires and loses several fortunes! But Huck proves to be illusive, no matter where she wanders. Just as she's about to give up, Huck re-enters her life. 

This is a wonderfully fun book about a courageous young woman forced to endure every mishap that befalls her. Great storytelling in an easy to read style, credible characters, and plenty of plot twists make this western a sure win! Definitely recommended!

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

In Love and War by Alex Preston

In Love and War weaves fact and fiction to create a sweeping portrait of a city at war. The novel is told through the eyes, letters and journals of Esmond Lowndes, who comes to Italy a lost and lonely young man in the shadow of his politician father. Through his friendships with a striking cast of contemporary characters, from the poet Ezra Pound to Alice Keppel, a former royal mistress, Esmond begins to leave his early disappointments behind him. On the cobbles of Florence's many-storied streets, he deepens his appreciation of art and literature, and falls in love.
With the coming of war, Esmond finds himself stranded in a city of enemies, hunted by the malevolent Mario Carità, head of the Fascist secret police. He retreats into the hills above Florence, taking with him a painting that has come to assert a profound hold over him. When the Nazis arrive, Esmond is drawn into Giustizia e Libertà, the Resistance movement, and is soon helping to spirit refugees to safety, to hide the city's Jews. With his lover, Ada, at his side, he is at the centre of assassination plots, shoot-outs and car chases, culminating in a final mission of extraordinary daring.
In Love and War is a novel that will take you deep into the secret heart of history, meticulously researched and full of period detail. It is a novel of art and letters, of bawdy raconteurs and dashing spies. With Esmond Lowndes you will see the beauty of Florence as never before, and feel the horror of war as it sweeps over the city's terracotta rooftops. Inspired by a host of real-life stories, In Love and War is both epic and intimate, harrowing and heartwarming.

In Love and War is a tale that is set in Florence during the years prior and during World War II. The author writes in such a way that it evoked the sights, smells, and sentiment of the time of a city rich with culture and untarnished by modernity. 

The novel is multi-layered with several intriguing subplots and a bevy of colorful characters. Through their eyes, and their interaction through letters, radio programs, and telegrams, the tale unfolds with poignancy. The author was able to evoke many emotions where the brutal realities of war was skillfully intermixed with themes of love, endurance, and family. It is not an easy read because of its rich complexities, but one that should be taken seriously and read at leisure to learn and experience Italy and how its people suffered and survived World War II. 

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