Friday, June 23, 2017

Golden Hill by Francis Spufford


WINNER OF THE COSTA FIRST NOVEL AWARD
NAMED “NOVEL OF THE YEAR” BY THE UK’S SUNDAY TIMES


“Nothing short of a masterpiece.” The Guardian



The spectacular first novel from acclaimed nonfiction author Francis Spufford follows the adventures of a mysterious young man in mid-eighteenth century Manhattan, thirty years before the American Revolution.



New York, a small town on the tip of Manhattan island, 1746. One rainy evening in November, a handsome young stranger fresh off the boat arrives at a countinghouse door on Golden Hill Street: this is Mr. Smith, amiable, charming, yet strangely determined to keep suspicion shimmering. For in his pocket, he has what seems to be an order for a thousand pounds, a huge sum, and he won’t explain why, or where he comes from, or what he is planning to do in the colonies that requires so much money. Should the New York merchants trust him? Should they risk their credit and refuse to pay? Should they befriend him, seduce him, arrest him; maybe even kill him?

Rich in language and historical perception, yet compulsively readable, Golden Hill is a story “taut with twists and turns” that “keeps you gripped until its tour-de-force conclusion” (The Times, London). Spufford paints an irresistible picture of a New York provokingly different from its later metropolitan self but already entirely a place where a young man with a fast tongue can invent himself afresh, fall in love—and find a world of trouble.

REVIEW

There is much to laud with this novel. First, the author did an exceptional job at bringing to life 18th century New York city. Secondly, there is the intriguing plot - the premise of a stranger landing on the shores with a vast amount of money and then being robbed of it shortly thereafter and his dire circumstances landing him in gaol not once, but twice. Thirdly, there are numerous fascinating characters with plenty of quirks. Altogether, these three points made the story unforgettable. 

I have to admit, it took me several tries to begin reading this book. My biggest obstacle was the extremely long, rambling opening sentence (about 1 page long). It was a bit of a struggle to convince myself to keep reading. The next obstacle I struggled with was the "rich prose" which made engaging with the story a bit challenging. In between plot twists, sometimes the story dragged a bit. An abundance of uncommon words and complex sentences throughout the book kept pulling me out of the story to look up words or to re-read passages. 

Having said that, I was captivated by the story. I can see why it is an award winning novel. I also can see why the prose is considered so rich. The descriptions and use of humor and a bit of sarcasm truly overcame the complexities of the words, sentences, and phrases. I loved all the main characters, but my favorite was the smelly, drunk prisoner, Capting! I enjoyed the twists and turns, the betrayals, and the ever evolving characters that always managed to surprise me. Despite my criticisms, this is a wonderful book, well worth reading. I definitely recommend it!


Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Death in the Castle by Pearl S Buck


A “thrilling” historical mystery about impoverished British aristocrats from the New York Times–bestselling author of The Good Earth (Boston Herald).


Sir Richard Sedgeley and Lady Mary are broke and without an heir to the castle that’s been in their family for centuries. Tourists are infrequent, and the offers they’ve received are not ones they can live with: a state-run prison or a museum in America. What is the remedy, and is it true that there’s treasure hidden somewhere under their noses? Featuring a cast of outsize characters—timid Mary, her possibly mad husband, Wells the Butler, and his mysterious daughter Kate—Death in the Castle is a suspenseful delight by the author of The Good Earth.
This ebook features an illustrated biography of Pearl S. Buck including rare images from the author’s estate.

REVIEW

Pearl S Buck is an extraordinary, award winning author, and so it was with great anticipation that I began reading this book. The setting is England in the early 1900's. Sir Richard Sedgeley and his wife Mary own a castle, but can no longer maintain its upkeep. Opening up the castle to tourists has done little to help replenish the family's fast depleting coffers. Enter an eccentric but endearing rich American millionaire who wishes to dismantle the castle and rebuild it in America.

As expected with any novel written by Pearl S Buck, I found compelling characters and an intriguing plot premise. I thoroughly enjoyed the characters, especially because each character seems to have a touch of eccentricty. However, in my opinion, the story unfolds very slowly and ambled along in several different directions, with little happening that could grip me until the last third of the book. This is not one of her best works, but if you are a fan of this author, then you may likely find something to enjoy in this romantic-gothic-mystery tale. 

Monday, June 19, 2017

The Scribe of Siena by Melody Winawer


Equal parts transporting love story and gripping historical conspiracy, debut author Melodie Winawer takes readers deep into medieval Italy, where the past and present blur and a twenty-first century woman will discover a plot to destroy Siena.

Accomplished neurosurgeon Beatrice Trovato knows that her deep empathy for her patients is starting to impede her work. So when her beloved brother passes away, she welcomes the unexpected trip to the Tuscan city of Siena to resolve his estate, even as she wrestles with grief. But as she delves deeper into her brother’s affairs, she discovers intrigue she never imagined—a 700-year-old conspiracy to decimate the city.

After uncovering the journal and paintings of Gabriele Accorsi, the fourteenth-century artist at the heart of the plot, Beatrice finds a startling image of her own face and is suddenly transported to the year 1347. She awakens in a Siena unfamiliar to her, one that will soon be hit by the Plague.

Yet when Beatrice meets Accorsi, something unexpected happens: she falls in love—not only with Gabriele, but also with the beauty and cadence of medieval life. As the Plague and the ruthless hands behind its trajectory threaten not only her survival but also Siena’s very existence, Beatrice must decide in which century she belongs.

The Scribe of Siena is the captivating story of a brilliant woman’s passionate affair with a time and a place that captures her in an impossibly romantic and dangerous trap—testing the strength of fate and the bonds of love.

REVIEW

Here's another fantastic Italian historical fiction tale. And it sure didn't disappoint. Imagine a modern day neurosurgeon with a passion for Italian medieval history travelling back into time, to the ancient city of Siena, where she discover a plot to destroy that city. Now, my opinion of time travel tales is that it's often hard for the author to pull it off so that it's believable. Melody Winawer definitely succeeded in creating such a credible, authentic story. An ancient mystery, passionate romance, intrigue, and murder grace this novels pages. There is much for everyone to enjoy. 

The main character is intelligent but with plenty of heart. When she stumbles upon true love in medieval Siena, she must decide whether to stay or return. Credible characters, brilliant descriptions, and a lovely writing style make this a highly enjoyable read where one can lose themselves within its pages. I highly recommend this novel, especially if you are a lover of Italian historicals like I am. A real treat!


Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Sleeping with the Enemy by Colin Falconer



Palestine 1933 — Jews flood into the country fleeing persecution in Europe, settling the land that has for centuries belonged to the local Arab muktars.

Sarah Landauer and Rishou Hass’an are divided by the barbed wire of the kibbutz and by their religion yet still fall in love. But as tensions rise in the country, the two are torn apart.

A decade later, Sarah works for the Haganah, the outlawed Jewish intelligence service; Rishou is in Jerusalem, trying to stay out of a war he does not believe in. But as the whole country descends into chaos, they find each other again, and cannot stay apart.

Then the British leave for good, and the Jews and Arabs prepare for the final battle of Jerusalem. Sarah and Rishou meet in secret, keeping their affair hidden even form those that they love. But finally, they must face their final agonizing destiny, forced to choose between their love for each other and their loyalty and duty to their own people.

What is the right choice?

REVIEW

International bestselling author, Colin Falconer continues to enthrall with another fascinating read! Sleeping with the Enemy tells a compelling story about two war-torn lovers while explaining in great detail the roots of the Palestinian and Jewish conflict. Forbidden love between Palestinian Rishou and Jewish Sarah is powerfully wrought, making both characters larger than life and glow with  an abundance of believability! It is a novel about life and death, love and hate, struggle and strife! 

If you've never read a book by this author before, then I highly encourage you to do so. He has a knack for telling stories in a bold, tell-it-like-it-is way, and sprinkled with plenty of love and humor along the way. His books are always memorable, always enjoyable, always a sure bet! Definitely highly recommended! 

Friday, June 2, 2017

Seven Days in May by Kim Izzo


For readers of Kate Williams, Beatriz Williams and Jennifer Robson, a captivating novel of love and resilience during the Great War, inspired by the author’s family history.
As the First World War rages in continental Europe, two New York heiresses, Sydney and Brooke Sinclair, are due to set sail for England. Brooke is engaged to marry impoverished aristocrat Edward Thorpe-Tracey, the future Lord Northbrook, in the wedding of the social calendar. Sydney has other adventures in mind; she is drawn to the burgeoning suffragette movement, which is a constant source of embarrassment to her proper sister. As international tempers flare, the German embassy releases a warning that any ships making the Atlantic crossing are at risk. Undaunted, Sydney and Brooke board the Lusitania for the seven-day voyage with Edward, not knowing that disaster lies ahead.
In London, Isabel Nelson, a young woman grateful to have escaped her blemished reputation in Oxford, has found employment at the British Admiralty in the mysterious Room 40. While she begins as a secretary, it isn’t long before her skills in codes and cyphers are called on, and she learns a devastating truth and the true cost of war.
As the days of the voyage pass, these four lives collide in a struggle for survival as the Lusitania meets its deadly fate.

REVIEW

This is a novel about the sinking of the ship The Lusitania during World War I. At the heart of the story are 4 main characters, Sydney (a wealthy suffragette) and her sister (Brooke) who are travelling from New York to England with Brooke's aristocratic but penniless fiance, Edward, for Brooke and Edward's wedding. In England, a young woman named Isabel works as a secret decoder for the British government. In the course of her work, she learns the Germans have threatened to torpedo the Lusitania.

I found the pace of the first half of the book sluggish with small bits and pieces of conflict here and there. I almost dropped the book, but kept pushing on. I'm glad I did because the last third of the book was poignant with despair as the sinking of the ship and the fate of its passengers was depicted.

A good book, well written and well grounded in historical details pertaining to this famous doomed ship and its passengers, but be prepared to persevere a little through the first half to get to the real meat and potatoes of the tale.

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

The Witchfinder's Sister by Beth Underdown


Escape into the biggest historical debut of 2017: the true story of the 1640s Essex witch trials, for fans of The Miniaturist, Sarah Waters and The Essex Serpent.
'VIVID AND TERRIFYING' Paula Hawkins, author of The Girl on the Train
'If you loved The Essex Serpent...then you may have met your new favourite' Apple Books

'The number of women my brother Matthew killed, so far as I can reckon it, is one hundred and six...'
1645. When Alice Hopkins' husband dies in a tragic accident, she returns to the small Essex town of Manningtree, where her brother Matthew still lives.
But home is no longer a place of safety. Matthew has changed, and there are rumours spreading through the town: whispers of witchcraft, and of a great book, in which he is gathering women's names.
To what lengths will Matthew's obsession drive him?
And what choice will Alice make, when she finds herself at the very heart of his plan?

REVIEW

Although the story begins slowly, it ultimately picks up in the 2nd third. It is a tale about Alice and her brother Matthew. When Alice returns home pregnant after her husband's death, she finds a brother obsessed with the hunt for witches. Matthew truly is a vile villain, and is based upon a true historical figure who lived during the 17th century. 

The story evokes sympathy for the plight of women during that time - helpless to prevent blame for anything from the death of a person to soured milk. The author did an outstanding job with research and her prose is splendid. All in all, this was a very enjoyable novel that teaches us about the horrors of centuries past. Recommended!


Sunday, May 21, 2017

The Shadow Sister by Lucinda Riley



"Riley's engaging and mezmerizing story of self-discovery and love...can be perfectly read as a standalone. This book will appeal to readers of Edwardian novels and Jane Austen-style fiction." —Library Journal (starred review)


Travel through the lush English countryside and explore the magnificent estates of the British aristocracy in this next spellbinding love story in The Seven Sisters series by #1 internationally bestselling author Lucinda Riley.


Star D’Aplièse is at a crossroads in her life after the sudden death of her beloved father—the elusive billionaire, affectionately called Pa Salt by his six daughters, all adopted from across the four corners of the world. He has left each of them a clue to her true heritage, and Star nervously decides to follow hers, which leads her to an antiquarian bookshop in London, and the start of a whole new world.


A hundred years earlier, headstrong and independent Flora MacNichol vows she will never marry. She is happy and secure in her home in England’s picturesque Lake District—just a stone’s throw away from the residence of her childhood idol, Beatrix Potter—when machinations lead her to London, and the home of one of Edwardian society’s most notorious society hostesses, Alice Keppel. Flora is torn between passionate love and her duty to her family, but finds herself a pawn in a larger game. That is, until a meeting with a mysterious gentleman unveils the answers that Flora has been searching for her whole life...


As Star learns more of Flora’s incredible journey, she too goes on a voyage of discovery, finally stepping out of the shadow of her sister and opening herself up to the possibility of love.


The Shadow Sister is the third in the sweeping Seven Sisters series, “soaked in glamour and romance” (Daily Mail) and perfect for fans of Downton Abbey and the novels of Kate Morton.

Review

This is the third novel in the Seven Sister series, but one doesn't have to read the books in order to understand the backstory as each book can stand alone. There are six sisters who were adopted from different parts of the world by a billionaire father. When he passes away, he sets each daughter on a journey of discovery to find her roots. The premise is fascinating, and I suspect the last sister will be revealed at the end of the series. This is the hook that will keep me reading each installment.
Star's story weaves back and forth in time with a woman of 100 years earlier. As the story unfolds, Star develops into a character of great strength. Although the first part of the novel is a tad slow, persevere a little and then the story will really take hold. A great little gem of a read! Looking forward to the next novel in the series. 


Saturday, May 20, 2017

The Most Beautiful Woman in Florence by Alyssa Palombo


"In the tradition of Tracy Chevalier’s Girl with a Pearl Earring, Palombo has married fine art with romantic historical fiction in this lush and sensual interpretation of Medici Florence, artist Sandro Botticelli, and the muse that inspired them all." - Booklist
A girl as beautiful as Simonetta Cattaneo never wants for marriage proposals in 15th Century Italy, but she jumps at the chance to marry Marco Vespucci. Marco is young, handsome and well-educated. Not to mention he is one of the powerful Medici family’s favored circle.
Even before her marriage with Marco is set, Simonetta is swept up into Lorenzo and Giuliano de’ Medici’s glittering circle of politicians, poets, artists, and philosophers. The men of Florence―most notably the rakish Giuliano de’ Medici―become enthralled with her beauty. That she is educated and an ardent reader of poetry makes her more desirable and fashionable still. But it is her acquaintance with a young painter, Sandro Botticelli, which strikes her heart most. Botticelli immediately invites Simonetta, newly proclaimed the most beautiful woman in Florence, to pose for him. As Simonetta learns to navigate her marriage, her place in Florentine society, and the politics of beauty and desire, she and Botticelli develop a passionate intimacy, one that leads to her immortalization in his masterpiece, The Birth of Venus.

Alyssa Palombo’s The Most Beautiful Woman in Florence vividly captures the dangerous allure of the artist and muse bond with candor and unforgettable passion.

My Opinion

Was there really a love between Simonetta and Sandro Botticelli? No one will ever know for certain. Although this is only deemed a rumor, author Alyssa Palombo explores this possibility. The prose is lovely, filled with wonderful descriptions of Florence with its location, fashions, and famous personages. The author truly did a fabulous job of weaving a fascinating tale, especially once the conflict kicked into high gear. Simonetta is truly a likable character, aware of her great beauty, but never vain, never one to flaunt it or use it to her advantage. Sandro Botticelli was portrayed as simply enchanting, honorable, respectful. But my highest praise is for the author who chose a lesser known woman in history and recreated her vibrant life. It was a real pleasure to read about someone other than the same over-used female figures such as the Tudor wives. Highly recommended!

Friday, April 28, 2017

The Last Neanderthal by Claire Cameron


From the bestselling author of The Bear, the enthralling story of two women separated by millennia, but linked by an epic journey that will transform them both.

40,000 years in the past, the last family of Neanderthals roams the earth. After a crushingly hard winter, their numbers are low, but Girl, the oldest daughter, is just coming of age and her family is determined to travel to the annual meeting place and find her a mate. But the unforgiving landscape takes its toll, and Girl is left alone to care for Runt, a foundling of unknown origin. As Girl and Runt face the coming winter storms, Girl realizes she has one final chance to save her people, even if it means sacrificing part of herself. In the modern day, archaeologist Rosamund Gale works well into her pregnancy, racing to excavate newly found Neanderthal artifacts before her baby comes. Linked across the ages by the shared experience of early motherhood, both stories examine the often taboo corners of women's lives. Haunting, suspenseful, and profoundly moving, The Last Neanderthal asks us to reconsider all we think we know about what it means to be human.

REVIEW

Novels set in prehistoric times are rare, so I couldn't resist reading this one. The story unfolds through the points of view of two main characters - "Girl" who is a Neanderthal in prehistoric times, and Rosamund Gale, a modern day archaeologist. During an archaeological dig, Rosamund discovers the bones of a Neanderthal and a human in a grave face to face. The story shifts back and forth between the two characters, highlighting not only the complications in their lives, but also their two pregnancies.

Like most novels set in prehistorical eras, I did find a lot of detail and description, but that is to be expected as it is necessary to fully flesh out the early historical period. As for the contemporary setting, there were a number of characters that played minuscule roles in the story and this sometimes stood in the way of allowing the main characters to be fully developed. I also was hoping for a romantic link between the persons the bones belonged to. Despite that, the book was well written and held my interest to the end. A great easy read.

Feast of Sorrow by Crystal King



Set amongst the scandal, wealth, and upstairs-downstairs politics of a Roman family, Crystal King’s seminal debut features the man who inspired the world’s oldest cookbook and the ambition that led to his destruction.

On a blistering day in the twenty-sixth year of Augustus Caesar’s reign, a young chef, Thrasius, is acquired for the exorbitant price of twenty thousand denarii. His purchaser is the infamous gourmet Marcus Gavius Apicius, wealthy beyond measure, obsessed with a taste for fine meals from exotic places, and a singular ambition: to serve as culinary advisor to Caesar, an honor that will cement his legacy as Rome's leading epicure.

Apicius rightfully believes that Thrasius is the key to his culinary success, and with Thrasius’s help he soon becomes known for his lavish parties and fantastic meals. Thrasius finds a family in Apicius’s household, his daughter Apicata, his wife Aelia, and her handmaiden, Passia whom Thrasius quickly falls in love with. But as Apicius draws closer to his ultimate goal, his reckless disregard for any who might get in his way takes a dangerous turn that threatens his young family and places his entire household at the mercy of the most powerful forces in Rome.

REVIEW

Ancient Rome is skilfully blended with the history of Roman cuisine in this fabulous new debut novel by author Crystal King. With colorfully faulted characters, she weaves a tale to include every aspect of the dark side of ancient Roman culture: slavery, violence, murder, poisonings, and intrigue. 

The story's main characters are Apicius, an extremely wealthy and wasteful man who desires fame through culinary extremism, and the talented slave named Thrasius who can fulfill his dreams. 

The prose flows easily and it is easy to fall into the story. The characters' personalities leap off the pages. The food descriptions tantalize as well as repulse with its numerous unusual ingredients. There were plenty of machinations and subplots that kept me riveted to the end. I love Ancient Rome and this was a great read. 


The Half Wives by Stacia Pelletier




Over the course of one momentous day, two women who have built their lives around the same man find themselves moving toward an inevitable reckoning.


Former Lutheran minister Henry Plageman is a master secret keeper and a man wracked by grief. He and his wife, Marilyn, tragically lost their young son, Jack, many years ago. But he now has another child—a daughter, eight-year-old Blue—with Lucy, the woman he fell in love with after his marriage collapsed. 

The Half Wives follows these interconnected characters on May 22, 1897, the anniversary of Jack’s birth. Marilyn distracts herself with charity work at an orphanage. Henry needs to wrangle his way out of the police station, where he has spent the night for disorderly conduct. Lucy must rescue and rein in the intrepid Blue, who has fallen in a saltwater well. But before long, these four  will all be drawn on this day to the same destination: to the city cemetery on the outskirts of San Francisco, to the grave that means so much to all of them. The collision of lives and secrets that follows will leave no one unaltered.

REVIEW

This is a very creatively unique novel. The story takes place of the course of one very important day in the lives of the main characters: Henry, his wife Marilyn, his lover/mistress Lucy and their daughter Blue. The setting is San Francisco in the early 1900's and pertains to an old pauper's cemetery where Henry and Marilyn's only child, Jack, is buried. Their toddler accidentally died on his birthday and that day torments the hcouple on each anniversary.

Despite his failing marriage, Henry cannot bring himself to leave Marilyn for Lucy and his illegitimate daughter Blue. Likewise, Lucy, unhappy with the status of her long-term relationship with a man who will never fully belong to her. 

The author used second person narrative which I found distracting and I disliked. Despite that, the story capture my attention and held it to the end. I recommend this novel for readers who enjoy uniquely written novels outside of the mainstream and for those who like to delve deep into the psyche of a book's characters. 

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

In the Name of the Family by Sarah Dunant



Bestselling novelist Sarah Dunant has long been drawn to the wonders of Renaissance Italy: power, passion, beauty, brutality, and the ties of blood. With In the Name of the Family, she offers a thrilling exploration of the House of Borgia’s final years, in the company of a young diplomat named Niccolò Machiavelli.

It is 1502 and Rodrigo Borgia, a self-confessed womanizer and master of political corruption, is now on the papal throne as Alexander VI. His daughter Lucrezia, aged twenty-two—already three times married and a pawn in her father’s plans—is discovering her own power. And then there is his son Cesare Borgia, brilliant, ruthless, and increasingly unstable; it is his relationship with Machiavelli that gives the Florentine diplomat a master class on the dark arts of power and politics. What he learns will go on to inform his great work of modern politics, The Prince. But while the pope rails against old age and his son’s increasingly maverick behavior, it is Lucrezia who must navigate the treacherous court of Urbino and another challenging marriage to create her own place in history.

Sarah Dunant again employs her remarkable gifts as a storyteller to bring to life the passionate men and women of the Borgia family, as well as the ever compelling figure of Machiavelli, through whom the reader will experience one of the most fascinating—and doomed—dynasties of all time.

REVIEW

Italian historical fiction is my favourite genre, especially the era of the Italian Renaissance. I have been a fan of Sarah Dunant's for a very long time. Her newest novel, In The Name of the Family is a wonderful book, full of intrigue, political machinations, and of course, poisonings. Her interpretation of the characters encompassing the Borgia family was unique and intriguing. Machiavelli took on a strong secondary role in the story, and I found him interesting and well depicted. Lucrezia, of course, is a shining gem in the story. Likable, but well used to further her family's interests, she made for an endearing lady of substance. 

Sarah Dunant never disappoints and this newest novel is sure to satisfy! Highly recommended. 


The Illusionist's Apprentice by Kristy Cambron


Harry Houdini's one-time apprentice holds fantastic secrets about the greatest illusionist in the world. But someone wants to claim them . . . or silence her before she can reveal them on her own.

Boston, 1926. Jenny "Wren" Lockhart is a bold eccentric--even for a female vaudevillian. As notorious for her inherited wealth and gentleman's dress as she is for her unsavory upbringing in the back halls of a vaudeville theater, Wren lives in a world that challenges all manner of conventions.

In the months following Houdini's death, Wren is drawn into a web of mystery surrounding a spiritualist by the name of Horace Stapleton, a man defamed by Houdini's ardent debunking of fraudulent mystics in the years leading up to his death. But in a public illusion that goes terribly wrong, one man is dead and another stands charged with his murder. Though he's known as one of her teacher's greatest critics, Wren must decide to become the one thing she never wanted to be: Stapleton's defender.

Forced to team up with the newly formed FBI, Wren races against time and an unknown enemy, all to prove the innocence of a hated man. In a world of illusion, of the vaudeville halls that showcase the flamboyant and the strange, Wren's carefully constructed world threatens to collapse around her. Layered with mystery, illusion, and the artistry of the Jazz Age's bygone vaudeville era, The Illusionist's Apprentice is a journey through love and loss and the underpinnings of faith on each life's stage.

REVIEW

From it's stunning cover to the spellbinding storytelling, this is one book that had me hooked. It's about the beginnings of the FBI and the shady business of Vaudeville. The main characters, Wren and Elliot, bring a realm of emotion into the story. Poignant backstories, heart-wrenching scenes, and plot twists held my interest to the very satisfying ending. The two lovers slowly come together, each slowly revealing more and more about themselves. 

Romance, danger, and secrets make this a worthwhile read! I also enjoyed the author's other book, The Ringmaster's Wife! I recommend them both. 

Monday, April 24, 2017

The Confessions of Young Nero by Margaret George


The New York Times bestselling and legendary author of Helen of Troy and Elizabeth I now turns her gaze on Emperor Nero, one of the most notorious and misunderstood figures in history.

Built on the backs of those who fell before it, Julius Caesar’s imperial dynasty is only as strong as the next person who seeks to control it. In the Roman Empire no one is safe from the sting of betrayal: man, woman—or child.
 
As a boy, Nero’s royal heritage becomes a threat to his very life, first when the mad emperor Caligula tries to drown him, then when his great aunt attempts to secure her own son’s inheritance. Faced with shocking acts of treachery, young Nero is dealt a harsh lesson: it is better to be cruel than dead.
 
While Nero idealizes the artistic and athletic principles of Greece, his very survival rests on his ability to navigate the sea of vipers that is Rome. The most lethal of all is his own mother, a cold-blooded woman whose singular goal is to control the empire. With cunning and poison, the obstacles fall one by one. But as Agrippina’s machinations earn her son a title he is both tempted and terrified to assume, Nero’s determination to escape her thrall will shape him into the man he was fated to become—an Emperor who became legendary.
 
With impeccable research and captivating prose, The Confessions of Young Nero is the story of a boy’s ruthless ascension to the throne. Detailing his journey from innocent youth to infamous ruler, it is an epic tale of the lengths to which man will go in the ultimate quest for power and survival.

REVIEW

What was Emperor Nero really like? Was he as ruthless and murderous as history has said he was? Margaret George delves deep into history and breathes life into a man of legend? 

Margaret George has long been one of my favourite authors. Her books have always entertained me from start to finish and The Confessions of Young Nero is no exception. Although Nero never aspired to be as ruthless as Caligula or his mother Agrippa, he soon finds himself ascending the Roman throne. Alone he must learn whom to trust and whom to consider an enemy. This novel begins when he is a young boy and covers his life until early middle age. 

History has painted Nero as villainous and treacherous, however Margaret George has also provided a vision of his good qualities too, a difficult balance to strike against Ancient Rome's penchant for lurid sex, violence, brutal executions, and rampant poisonings, among a host of other vile vices. 

Like all biographical novels, not every chapter can be considered a gripper. Rather, I found the story to be a strong and steady climb to the ending, a reading journey that held my interest and fascinated me with an abundance of historical details. Another winning novel by a very talented author. 

Monday, April 17, 2017

An Uncommon Protector by Shelley Shepard Gray


Overwhelmed by the responsibilities of running a ranch on her own, Laurel Tracey decides to hire a convict—a man who’s just scary enough to take care of squatters and just desperate enough to agree to a one year post.
The years following the war have been hard on Laurel Tracey. Both her brother and her father died in battle, and her mother passed away shortly after receiving word of their demise. Laurel has been trying to run her two hundred acre ranch as best she can.

When she discovers that squatters have settled in her north pasture and have no intention of leaving, Laurel decides to use the last of her money to free a prisoner from the local jail. If she agrees to offer him room and board for one year, he will have to work for her to pay off his debt.
Former soldier Thomas Baker knows he’s in trouble when he finds himself jailed because he couldn’t pay a few fines. Laurel’s offer might be his only ticket out. Though she’s everything he ever dreamed of in a woman—sweet and tender-hearted, yet strong—he’s determined to remain detached, work hard on her behalf, and count the days until he’s free again.

But when cattle start dying and Laurel’s life is threatened, Thomas realizes more than just his freedom is on the line. Laurel needs someone to believe in her and protect her property. And it isn’t long before Laurel realizes that Thomas Baker is far more than just a former soldier. He’s a trustworthy hero, and he needs more than just his freedom—he needs her love and care too.

REVIEW

When Laurel Tracey inherits her father's ranch, she also inherits her step sister and step brother. Having lost their own inheritance, they now set their sites on Laurel's. Instead of helping her, they are leeches and are pushing her to sell. But Lauren is determined to hold on to her legacy. Even worse, squatters have set up their shacks, threatening to claim the land for themselves.

She soon learns that she can acquire a convict to work on her land for one year. Although wary, she knows this is her only choice to run her ranch profitably. The convict she chooses Sergeant Thomas Baker.

Thomas had a rough life, but had a penchant for doing the right thing. One mistake, a gambling debt, landed him in jail. When he learned he could work off his jail sentence by helping Laurel, he jumped at the chance. Soon after he takes on his duties, Laurel's cattle begins to mysteriously turn up dead -  a definite threat. He calls on the aid of a group of long lost military friends who come from various distances to aid him in helping save Laurel's ranch.

I loved this story because of the strong upstanding hero and the good men who are loyal to him. Laurel is a strong, determined heroine who did not hesitate to take a risk to save her legacy. An excellent romance that is not to sweet, but inspirational and filled with real creative characters! This book kept me reading at a furious pace. A true secret pleasure. 

Stolen Beauty by Laurie Lico Albanese


“A powerful and important tale of love and war, art and family…I was transported.” —Allison Pataki, New York Times bestselling author

“Stolen Beauty is a work of art itself—one that is simultaneously alarming and comforting.” —Wall Street Journal


From the dawn of the twentieth century to the devastation of World War II, this exhilarating novel of love, war, art, and family gives voice to two extraordinary women and brings to life the true story behind the creation and near destruction of Gustav Klimt’s most remarkable paintings. 

In the dazzling glitter of 1900 Vienna, Adele Bloch-Bauer—young, beautiful, brilliant, and Jewish—meets painter Gustav Klimt. Wealthy in everything but freedom, Adele embraces Klimt’s renegade genius as the two awaken to the erotic possibilities on the canvas and beyond. Though they enjoy a life where sex and art are just beginning to break through the façade of conventional society, the city is also exhibiting a disturbing increase in anti-Semitism, as political hatred foments in the shadows of Adele’s coffee house afternoons and cultural salons. Nearly forty years later, Adele’s niece Maria Altmann is a newlywed when the Nazis invade Austria—and overnight, her beloved Vienna becomes a war zone. When her husband is arrested and her family is forced out of their home, Maria must summon the courage and resilience that is her aunt’s legacy if she is to survive and keep her family—and their history—alive. 

Will Maria and her family escape the grip of Nazis’ grip? And what will become of the paintings that her aunt nearly sacrificed everything for? Impeccably researched and a “must-read for fans of Kristin Hannah’s The Nightingale and Paula McLain’s Circling the Sun” (Christina Baker Kline, #1 New York Times bestselling author), Stolen Beauty intertwines the tales of two remarkable women across more than a hundred years. It juxtaposes passion and discovery against hatred and despair, and shines a light on our ability to love, to destroy, and above all, to endure.

REVIEW

Set in the twilight years of the Hapsburg Empire, Stolen Beauty is a spellbinding Viennese tale at the start of the twentieth century. The novel explores the tales of two women. The first is about a woman named Adele Block-Bauer who is an the love interest and inspiration of a famed Viennese artist Guistav Klimt. The second tale is about Maria, the niece of Adele during the tie of the holocaust and beyond. The famous painting "Woman in Gold" binds the two women together. 

Stolen Beauty forms the base for the movie "Woman in Gold". With its stunning prose, fast pace, excellent research, and detailed descriptions, this one story not to be missed. From the Holocaust to modern day, there is plenty to love about this intense, emotional story. I definitely recommend it!


Friday, March 31, 2017

The Dog Who Was There by Ron Marasco


No one expected Barley to have an encounter with the Messiah. He was homeless, hungry, and struggling to survive in first century Jerusalem. Most surprisingly, he was a dog. But through Barley’s eyes, the story of a teacher from Galilee comes alive in a way we’ve never experienced before.
Barley’s story begins in the home of a compassionate woodcarver and his wife who find Barley as an abandoned, nearly-drowned pup. Tales of a special teacher from Galilee are reaching their tiny village, but when life suddenly changes again for Barley, he carries the lessons of forgiveness and love out of the woodcarver’s home and through the dangerous roads of Roman-occupied Judea.

On the outskirts of Jerusalem, Barley meets a homeless man and petty criminal named Samid. Together, Barley and his unlikely new master experience fresh struggles and new revelations. Soon Barley is swept up into the current of history, culminating in an unforgettable encounter with the truest master of all as he bears witness to the greatest story ever told.

REVIEW

For those who love Christian fiction and animals, especially dogs, this is a novel that will warm the heart. Told from the point of view of a dog who follows Jesus, the reader is treated to a moving tale about how people can change through love and forgiveness. A quick and easy read that will take you on a roller coaster of emotions! Brilliant and unique.