Friday, June 23, 2017

Golden Hill by Francis Spufford


“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.


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.


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.


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?


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.


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.