The Chocolate Maker’s Wife
27 Aug, 2019

The Chocolate Maker’s Wife

/ posted in: Book ReviewFoodies ReadReading The Chocolate Maker’s Wife The Chocolate Maker's Wife by Karen Brooks
on August 20, 2019
Pages: 608
Genres: Fiction, Historical
Published by William Morrow Paperbacks
Format: Paperback
Source: Book Tour, From author/publisher
Setting: England

Australian bestselling novelist Karen Brooks rewrites women back into history with this breathtaking novel set in 17th century London—a lush, fascinating story of the beautiful woman who is drawn into a world of riches, power, intrigue…and chocolate.

Damnation has never been so sweet...

Rosamund Tomkins, the illegitimate daughter of a nobleman, spends most of her young life in drudgery at a country inn. To her, the Restoration under Charles II, is but a distant threat as she works under the watchful eye of her brutal, abusive stepfather . . . until the day she is nearly run over by the coach of Sir Everard Blithman.

Sir Everard, a canny merchant, offers Rosamund an “opportunity like no other,” allowing her to escape into a very different life, becoming the linchpin that will drive the success of his fledgling business: a luxurious London chocolate house where wealthy and well-connected men come to see and be seen, to gossip and plot, while indulging in the sweet and heady drink.

Rosamund adapts and thrives in her new surroundings, quickly becoming the most talked-about woman in society, desired and respected in equal measure.

But Sir Everard’s plans for Rosamund and the chocolate house involve family secrets that span the Atlantic Ocean, and which have already brought death and dishonor to the Blithman name. Rosamund knows nothing of the mortal peril that comes with her new title, nor of the forces spinning a web of conspiracy buried in the past, until she meets a man whose return tightens their grip upon her, threatening to destroy everything she loves and damn her to a dire fate.

As she fights for her life and those she loves through the ravages of the Plague and London’s Great Fire, Rosamund’s breathtaking tale is one marked by cruelty and revenge; passion and redemption—and the sinfully sweet temptation of chocolate.

 

 

Goodreads

Purchase Links: 

HarperCollins | Amazon | Barnes & Noble

 

Let me just start this review by saying that I really liked this book.  It was over 600 pages but it flew by.  I felt fully immersed in the world of 1660s London.  However, this book also really made me angry.  The reason for that is the treatment of the female characters. 

The story starts with Rosamund, as a teenager, working as a serving girl in the inn that her mother and stepfather own.  You quickly find out that her stepfather and two stepbrothers have been sexually abusing her since she moved in with them years earlier.  This is not spelled out in detail but is made clear from their interactions. 

In an attempt to run away from her brothers to avoid being raped again, she meets a wealthy man.  He offers to take her to London with him for reasons that he doesn’t make clear.  Her mother sees this as an opportunity to get her daughter away from the men in her life and get her a better life.  She arranges a fast marriage ceremony and then sends Rosamund away with orders never to return. 

Her new husband turns out to be a controlling man who owns slaves and who tells her that he doesn’t want to her any opinions or ideas from her.  Her job is to learn to make chocolate.  Her husband is going to be opening a chocolate house and he wants her to serve the chocolate.

You learn a lot of chocolate at this time in England.  It is just being introduced.  It is considered a very racy drink.  The English are started to add sugar and milk and herbs to it to fit their tastes instead of drinking it straight like Central Americans and Spaniards. 

Rosamund is an anomaly.  She is in the chocolate house.  She is seen in public.  So of course in the minds of the men in the area she is up for grabs.  There are more attempted rape just because she is on the street.  In the chocolate house she is molested and called all kinds of names just for existing in public.  The attitude of the men of the era is completely repulsive.  I want to shove this book into the hands of everyone who tells me that women had it better when they lived at home and were protected.  This is what it was like to have zero rights even as a noblewoman.  It is even worse for the few other female characters.  There is a widow who cleans the chocolate house, there is a young girl who starts working there, and there is a female slave in the household of Rosamund’s new husband. Add the sexism into the hatred of the poor and into the racism of the time and these women were just hanging on. 

Real events of the time period like outbreaks of plague and the Great Fire are detailed to show how this affected people living in London at the time.  I really did learn a lot in this book.  I appreciate a book that can make me angry at the injustices that fictional characters are faced with.  So, read this book – just don’t be surprised if you feel like yelling at men afterwards.

 


About Karen Brooks

Karen Brooks is the author of twelve books, an academic of more than twenty years’ experience, a newspaper columnist and social commentator, and has appeared regularly on national TV and radio. Before turning to academia, she was an army officer for five years, and prior to that dabbled in acting.

She lives in Hobart, Tasmania, in a beautiful stone house with its own marvellous history. When she’s not writing, she’s helping her husband Stephen in his brewery, Captain Bligh’s Ale and Cider, or cooking for family and friends, travelling, cuddling and walking her dogs, stroking her cats, or curled up with a great book and dreaming of more stories.

Find out more about Karen at her website, and connect with her on Facebook and Twitter.

 

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Review Stops

Tuesday, August 20th: BookNAround

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Thursday, September 5th: bookish bliss and beauty

Friday, September 6th: Real Life Reading

 

The Lost Vintage
16 Aug, 2019

The Lost Vintage

/ posted in: Book ReviewReading The Lost Vintage The Lost Vintage by Ann Mah
on June 19, 2018
Pages: 384
Genres: Fiction, Historical
Published by William Morrow
Format: ARC
Source: Book Tour, From author/publisher
Setting: France

To become one of only a few hundred certified wine experts in the world, Kate must pass the notoriously difficult Master of Wine Examination. She’s failed twice before; her third attempt will be her last. Suddenly finding herself without a job and with the test a few months away, she travels to Burgundy, to spend the fall at the vineyard estate that has belonged to her family for generations. There she can bolster her shaky knowledge of Burgundian vintages and reconnect with her cousin Nico and his wife Heather, who now oversee the grapes’ day-to-day management. The one person Kate hopes to avoid is Jean-Luc, a neighbor vintner and her first love.

At the vineyard house, Kate is eager to help her cousins clean out the enormous basement that is filled with generations of discarded and forgotten belongings. Deep inside the cellar, behind a large armoire, she discovers a hidden room containing a cot, some Resistance pamphlets, and an enormous cache of valuable wine. Piqued by the secret space, Kate begins to dig into her family’s history—a search that takes her back to the dark days of the Second World War and introduces her to a relative she never knew existed, a great half-aunt who was teenager during the Nazi occupation.

As she learns more about her family, the line between Resistance and Collaboration blurs, driving Kate to find the answers to two crucial questions: Who, exactly, did her family aid during the difficult years of the war? And what happened to six valuable bottles of wine that seem to be missing from the cellar’s collection?

Goodreads

Purchase Links

HarperCollins | Amazon | Barnes & Noble


I’ve read Ann Mah’s nonfiction about french food while traveling through France, so I jumped at a chance to read her fiction about a vineyard in Burgundy.

This book was inspired by stories of what happened to French women following D-Day.  Many were treated as traitors for having collaborated with the Germans.  This was mob justice so no investigations were done to see who was innocent and who wasn’t.  No distinctions were made for women who willingly were sleeping with German soldiers and those who were raped.  Women who had nothing to do with the Germans were turned in as collaborators by angry neighbors. 

There is a lot going on in this book.  The present day story involves a woman who is studying for a wine test.  She goes to a family vineyard where the current generation is trying to modernize against the will of the older generation.  There is an ex-fiance next door.  There is a potential new love interest who may be up to no good.  (I felt like that was a story line that could have been taken out.)  She finds a hidden area in the wine caves with evidence of a relative that no young people have heard of and no older people will discuss.

I found the historical fiction aspect of the story more interesting.  Helene-Marie’s story is told mainly through her journal.  They find out that she was denounced as a collaborator after D Day.  This causes some issues in the family because no one wants to think of their family helping the Nazis.  Do they want to dig deeper into what really happened?

This is an interesting point to raise.  We all want to think that we (and by extension our families)would be on the right side of history but that obviously isn’t true.  I think about this a lot.  I want to be on the morally correct side of conflicts, not just a bystander who let things happen because they weren’t affecting me directly. 

Using a journal as a story telling device lets the author dive deeply into what life was like in occupied France.  It shows clearly how much there was to gain by collaborating with the Germans.  Do you starve with your morals intact or do you live through actions that you might have previously disapproved of?  Do you let your family starve?  What were the risks of working with the Resistance? 


 

About Ann Mah

Ann Mah is a food and travel writer based in Paris and Washington DC. She is the author of the food memoir Mastering the Art of French Eating, and a novel, Kitchen Chinese. She regularly contributes to the New York Times’ Travel section and she has written for Condé Nast Traveler, Vogue.com, BonAppetit.comWashingtonian magazine, and other media outlets.

Find out more about Ann at her website, and connect with her on FacebookInstagramTwitter, and Pinterest.


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Review Stops

Tuesday, August 6th: BookNAround

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Thursday, August 8th: I Wish I Lived in a Library

Friday, August 9th: Write – Read – Life

Monday, August 12th: Lesa’s Book Critiques

Tuesday, August 13th: Books and Bindings

Wednesday, August 14th: Iwriteinbooks’s blog

Thursday, August 15th: Ms. Nose in a Book

Friday, August 16th: Based on a True Story

Wednesday, August 21st: Into the Hall of Books

Thursday, August 22nd: Always With a Book

Friday, August 23rd: Bookapotamus

 

 

The Undertaker’s Assistant
02 Aug, 2019

The Undertaker’s Assistant

/ posted in: Book ReviewReading The Undertaker’s Assistant The Undertaker's Assistant by Amanda Skenandore
on July 30, 2019
Pages: 336
Genres: Fiction, Historical
Published by Kensington Publishing Corporation
Format: eARC
Source: Book Tour, From author/publisher

Set during Reconstruction-era New Orleans, and with an extraordinary and unforgettable heroine at its heart, The Undertaker's Assistant is a powerful story of human resilience--and of the unlikely bonds that hold fast even in our darkest moments.

"The dead can't hurt you. Only the living can." Effie Jones, a former slave who escaped to the Union side as a child, knows the truth of her words. Taken in by an army surgeon and his wife during the War, she learned to read and write, to tolerate the sight of blood and broken bodies--and to forget what is too painful to bear. Now a young freedwoman, she has returned south to New Orleans and earns her living as an embalmer, her steady hand and skillful incisions compensating for her white employer's shortcomings.

Tall and serious, Effie keeps her distance from the other girls in her boarding house, holding tight to the satisfaction she finds in her work. But despite her reticence, two encounters--with a charismatic state legislator named Samson Greene, and a beautiful young Creole, Adeline--introduce her to new worlds of protests and activism, of soirees and social ambition. Effie decides to seek out the past she has blocked from her memory and try to trace her kin. As her hopes are tested by betrayal, and New Orleans grapples with violence and growing racial turmoil, Effie faces loss and heartache, but also a chance to finally find her place . . .

Goodreads

The Reconstruction period after the Civil War was a time when the hopes of the newly freed African-Americans were built up and then dashed by the resurgence of white supremacy.  This book looks the life of a black woman during that period.

Effie is a fish out of water.  She escaped slavery as a child.  Her first memory is being taken in by a Union army camp.  She was cared for by an Army doctor who took her home with him to Indiana after the war.  She was raised as his ward and trained to help him with his new career as an undertaker.  Now as an adult she is drawn back to New Orleans to try to find out more about her life.  Did she have family?  Can she find them?

Her instinct is to stay to herself.  She has an introduction from her guardian to an undertaker who was a Union officer in the war.  She gets a job that takes up most of her time but she slowly starts to meet new people.  She gets involved in Republican politics after developing a crush on a black state senator.  This exposes her to the ambitions of people who were formerly enslaved.  She also meets a Creole woman and her mother.  They are biracial upper class women who mourn the loss of status and wealth that has come about because of the war.  These two groups of people allow the author to explore the effects of the end of slavery on several different classes of black and mixed race people.

I would have liked to known more about her employer.  He was a southerner who chose to fight the for Union and then came back south to his hometown.  Stress from the war and his unwelcome reception back in town have started him drinking.  Over the course of the book he works on acclimating back into upper class white society.  He needs to abandon the beliefs that would have led him to fight for the north to do this.  Because we don’t see his point of view, it appears very random and arbitrary.  I would have like to have seen this change explored more deeply.  

I loved this book.  It shows how historical fiction can be used to explore many points of view and experiences in the same time frame.  Using Effie as an outsider to all of them is a good device to see everyone clearly.  


About the Author

Amanda Skenandore is a historical fiction writer and registered nurse. Between Earth and Sky was her first novel. She lives in Las Vegas, Nevada. Readers can visit her website at www.amandaskenandore.com.

Facebook | Twitter | Goodreads

Blog Tour Schedule

Tuesday, July 23
Review at The Lit Bitch
Review at Broken Teepee

Wednesday, July 24
Review at Coffee and Ink
Review at Reading the Past
Interview at Jathan & Heather
Review at Suzy Approved Book Reviews

Thursday, July 25
Review at Jennifer Tar Heel Reader
Interview at Let Them Read Books

Friday, July 26
Review at Orange County Readers

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Feature at Donna’s Book Blog

Monday, July 29
Review at Macsbooks
Review at CelticLady’s Reviews

Tuesday, July 30
Review at Jorie Loves a Story
Review at Melissa Reads

Wednesday, July 31
Review at McCombs on Main
Interview at Jorie Loves A Story

Thursday, August 1
Review at A Chick Who Reads
Review at Clarissa Reads it All

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Review at Based on a True Story

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Feature at Mama’s Reading Corner

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Review at Bibliophile Reviews

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Review at 100 Pages a Day
Review at LadyJ’s Bookish Nook

Wednesday, August 7
Review at A Bookish Affair

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Review at Comet Readings

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Feature at What Is That Book About

Monday, August 12
Review at Cover To Cover Cafe

Tuesday, August 13
Review at Reader then Blogger
Review at So Many Books, So Little Time

Wednesday, August 14
Review at Amy’s Booket List

Thursday, August 15
Review & Interview at Passages to the Past

Giveaway

During the Blog Tour, we are giving away two signed copies of The Undertaker’s Assistant by Amanda Skenandore! To enter, please use the Gleam form below.

Giveaway Rules

– Giveaway ends at 11:59 pm EST on August 15th. You must be 18 or older to enter.
– Giveaway is open to the US only.
– Only one entry per household.
– All giveaway entrants agree to be honest and not cheat the systems; any suspicion of fraud will be decided upon by blog/site owner and the sponsor, and entrants may be disqualified at our discretion.
– The winner has 48 hours to claim prize or a new winner is chosen.

The Undertaker’s Assistant

 

The Day The World Came to Town
05 Jul, 2019

The Day The World Came to Town

/ posted in: Book ReviewReading The Day The World Came to Town The Day the World Came to Town: 9/11 in Gander, Newfoundland by Jim DeFede
Genres: Historical, Nonfiction
Published by HarperCollins
Format: eBook
Source: Owned
Setting: Newfoundland, Canada

When 38 jetliners bound for the United States were forced to land at Gander International Airport in Canada by the closing of U.S. airspace on September 11, the population of this small town on Newfoundland Island swelled from 10,300 to nearly 17,000. The citizens of Gander met the stranded passengers with an overwhelming display of friendship and goodwill.

Goodreads

I had heard the story of a small town in Canada where many airplanes had to land on 9/11 but I didn’t know the details.  

The reason all the planes went there was because Gander used to be a major airport.  When planes had to refuel before crossing the Atlantic, they went to Gander.  Private planes still do.  The U.S. military had a lot of planes here.  Because of the history of military use, the runways are long.  This allows it to be listed as a secondary landing area for the space shuttle in case of trouble on takeoff.  

This book details the lengths that people went to when they needed to suddenly accommodate an influx of people on an island.  They weren’t allowed to get their luggage off the planes so medications had to be found.  Clothes and toiletries were in short supply.  Bedding was collected from houses all around the island.  People opened their homes to let travelers take showers.  

All kinds of people were stranded.  There were government and military officials who needed to help coordinate emergency response so they needed to get out of Gander.  An executive for the clothing company Hugo Boss was horrified to have to buy new underwear at WalMart.  Refugees settling in the U.S. were confused to find themselves in a whole different country.  

I was particularly interested in the stories of the animals on the planes.  There were two bonobo apes moving to a new zoo.  They weren’t allowed out of their transport cages but they helped out by cleaning their own cages for the handlers and entertaining themselves by watching the dogs and cats near them.  

I’d recommend reading this book to take a glance at a little known slice of history.


Next week I’m going to see the musical Come From Away which is based on this story.  I wanted to make sure I finished this book ahead of time so I could be properly obnoxious with stories of, “Well, actually, what had happened was…”  I’ll report back with how close the musical is to the real story.

Resistance Women
28 May, 2019

Resistance Women

/ posted in: Book ReviewReading Resistance Women Resistance Women by Jennifer Chiaverini
on May 14, 2019
Pages: 608
Genres: Fiction, Historical
Published by William Morrow
Format: Hardcover
Source: Book Tour, From author/publisher
Setting: Germany

From the New York Times bestselling author of Mrs. Lincoln’s Dressmaker, an enthralling historical saga that recreates the danger, romance, and sacrifice of an era and brings to life one courageous, passionate American—Mildred Fish Harnack—and her circle of women friends who waged a clandestine battle against Hitler in Nazi Berlin.

After Wisconsin graduate student Mildred Fish marries brilliant German economist Arvid Harnack, she accompanies him to his German homeland, where a promising future awaits. In the thriving intellectual culture of 1930s Berlin, the newlyweds create a rich new life filled with love, friendships, and rewarding work—but the rise of a malevolent new political faction inexorably changes their fate.

As Adolf Hitler and his Nazi Party wield violence and lies to seize power, Mildred, Arvid, and their friends resolve to resist. Mildred gathers intelligence for her American contacts, including Martha Dodd, the vivacious and very modern daughter of the US ambassador. Her German friends, aspiring author Greta Kuckoff and literature student Sara Weitz, risk their lives to collect information from journalists, military officers, and officials within the highest levels of the Nazi regime.

For years, Mildred’s network stealthily fights to bring down the Third Reich from within. But when Nazi radio operatives detect an errant Russian signal, the Harnack resistance cell is exposed, with fatal consequences.

Inspired by actual events, Resistance Women is an enthralling, unforgettable story of ordinary people determined to resist the rise of evil, sacrificing their own lives and liberty to fight injustice and defend the oppressed.

Goodreads

HarperCollins | Amazon | Barnes & Noble


This book chronicles the lives of different women living in Germany who find their lives and liberties slowly constricted as the Nazis seize control. They include an American expatriate married to a German man, the daughter of the American ambassador, a German woman trying to finish her doctorate, and a Jewish woman from a prominent family.

The author does a great job showing how people adapted to worse and worse conditions. It shows how people were squeezed out of their jobs. It reviews how the Nazis lied over and over to make people believe their propaganda.  This book could be hard to read and a few times I had to put it down to process it.  It could then be hard to pick back up because you knew that it was just going to get worse for the characters.

I’ve read almost all of Jennifer Chiaverini’s books to date but this is the first one that has strongly emotionally affected me. Reading this historical fiction account of the rise of the Nazi party and the descent of Germany into totalitarianism constantly reminds the reader of recent events in the US.   I hope that this book opens the eyes of people who may not be aware of the parallels between the history and current events. I think that is the wonderful power of historical fiction. It can draw in readers who may not be interested in reading a history book.  I was disappointed to read other reviews who are downgrading this book because they feel that she draws too many parallels between Trump and Hitler.  I’m writing this prior to reading the author’s note but I don’t feel that the text of the actual story does this at all.  She points out things that happened in Germany.  If your brain lights up because it sounds really familiar then maybe that should be a wake up call and not a reason to decide that she added things to try to make unwarranted comparisons.


About Jennifer Chiaverini

Jennifer Chiaverini is the New York Times bestselling author of several acclaimed historical novels and the beloved Elm Creek Quilts series. A graduate of the University of Notre Dame and the University of Chicago, she lives with her husband and two sons in Madison, Wisconsin.

Find out more about Jennifer at her website, and connect with her on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

Westside
13 May, 2019

Westside

/ posted in: Book ReviewReading Westside Westside by W.M. Akers
on May 7, 2019
Pages: 304
Genres: Fantasy & Magic, Fiction, Historical
Published by Harper Voyager
Format: Hardcover
Source: Book Tour, From author/publisher
Setting: New York

A young detective who specializes in “tiny mysteries” finds herself at the center of a massive conspiracy in this beguiling historical fantasy set on Manhattan’s Westside—a peculiar and dangerous neighborhood home to strange magic and stranger residents—that blends the vivid atmosphere of Caleb Carr with the imaginative power of Neil Gaiman.

New York is dying, and the one woman who can save it has smaller things on her mind.

It’s 1921, and a thirteen-mile fence running the length of Broadway splits the island of Manhattan, separating the prosperous Eastside from the Westside—an overgrown wasteland whose hostility to modern technology gives it the flavor of old New York. Thousands have disappeared here, and the respectable have fled, leaving behind the killers, thieves, poets, painters, drunks, and those too poor or desperate to leave.

It is a hellish landscape, and Gilda Carr proudly calls it home.

Slightly built, but with a will of iron, Gilda follows in the footsteps of her late father, a police detective turned private eye. Unlike that larger-than-life man, Gilda solves tiny mysteries: the impossible puzzles that keep us awake at night; the small riddles that destroy us; the questions that spoil marriages, ruin friendships, and curdle joy. Those tiny cases distract her from her grief, and the one impossible question she knows she can’t answer: “How did my father die?”

Yet on Gilda’s Westside, tiny mysteries end in blood—even the case of a missing white leather glove. Mrs. Copeland, a well-to-do Eastside housewife, hires Gilda to find it before her irascible merchant husband learns it is gone. When Gilda witnesses Mr. Copeland’s murder at a Westside pier, she finds herself sinking into a mire of bootlegging, smuggling, corruption—and an evil too dark to face.

All she wants is to find one dainty ladies’ glove. She doesn’t want to know why this merchant was on the wrong side of town—or why he was murdered in cold blood. But as she begins to see the connection between his murder, her father’s death, and the darkness plaguing the Westside, she faces the hard truth: she must save her city or die with it.

Introducing a truly remarkable female detective, Westside is a mystery steeped in the supernatural and shot through with gunfights, rotgut whiskey, and sizzling Dixieland jazz. Full of dazzling color, delightful twists, and truly thrilling action, it announces the arrival of a remarkable talent.

Goodreads

 

Purchase Links

HarperCollins | Amazon | Barnes & Noble


I was pulled in by the world building of this book from the first page.  The Westside of Manhattan has fallen under some type of spell or curse or something.  No one is sure what it is but people are disappearing.  A wall is built to keep the darkness out of the east.  The west is left to be reclaimed by nature and the darkness.

Gilda is a detective who only works on tiny mysteries.  She watched her father get obsessed by the big mystery of what was happening to the Westside and she isn’t going to let that happen to her.  She’s on the hunt for a missing glove when her whole world starts to unravel – literally and figuratively.  Now she is going to have to figure out what is happening to her city before everything is taken from her.

I loved the city and the factions that run the different parts of the Westside.  I would have totally moved to the Upper West.  It was much nicer there.  I liked the idea of little mysteries that are annoying enough to need solved.  I liked the characters who aren’t always what they seemed.

I wasn’t completely enamored of the big mystery though.  That was a disappointment for me since I loved all the components.  I wish it would have stayed with the small things.


Photo by W. M. Akers

About W.M. Akers

W. M. Akers is an award-winning playwright,†Narratively†editor, and the creator of the bestselling game†Deadball: Baseball With Dice.†Westside†is his debut novel. He lives in Brooklyn, New York. Learn more about his work at wmakers.net.

Bringing Columbia Home
25 Apr, 2019

Bringing Columbia Home

/ posted in: Book ReviewReading Bringing Columbia Home Bringing Columbia Home: The Untold Story of a Lost Space Shuttle and Her Crew by Michael D. Leinbach, Jonathan H. Ward
on January 2, 2018
Genres: Historical, Nonfiction
Format: eBook
Source: Owned
Setting: United States

Mike Leinbach was the launch director of the space shuttle program when Columbia disintegrated on reentry before a nation’s eyes on February 1, 2003. And it would be Mike Leinbach who would be a key leader in the search and recovery effort as NASA, FEMA, the FBI, the US Forest Service, and dozens more federal, state, and local agencies combed an area of rural east Texas the size of Rhode Island for every piece of the shuttle and her crew they could find. Assisted by hundreds of volunteers, it would become the largest ground search operation in US history.

For the first time, here is the definitive inside story of the Columbia disaster and recovery and the inspiring message it ultimately holds. In the aftermath of tragedy, people and communities came together to help bring home the remains of the crew and nearly 40 percent of shuttle, an effort that was instrumental in piecing together what happened so the shuttle program could return to flight and complete the International Space Station. Bringing Columbia Home shares the deeply personal stories that emerged as NASA employees looked for lost colleagues and searchers overcame immense physical, logistical, and emotional challenges and worked together to accomplish the impossible.

Featuring a foreword and epilogue by astronauts Robert Crippen and Eileen Collins, this is an incredible narrative about best of humanity in the darkest of times and about how a failure at the pinnacle of human achievement became a story of cooperation and hope.

Goodreads

I clearly remember aimlessly watching the news that included in passing a brief mention of the landing of Columbia.  There was a pause and then the notification that they had lost contact with the shuttle.  I remember my then husband coming out of the bedroom and telling him about it.  What I don’t remember is any stories about the aftermath.  The Iraq War started and drowned out the findings. 

I found this book for sale on BookBub and decided to give it a try.  It was wonderfully done. It was informative while being extremely respectful of the astronauts who died that day.  It communicates the deep grief everyone at NASA felt for the loss of the crew and also for the loss of the shuttle.  Columbia was over 20 years old. Many of the people who maintained her had been with her for their entire careers.

The author was in charge of the launch.  The book covers that and the immediate concern that something was seen falling and hitting the shuttle.  It doesn’t shy away from talking about how safety concerns were dismissed during the mission.  He was on hand when Columbia was supposed to land.  He describes what it was like to wait for the shuttle to appear in the sky and the gradual realization that it wasn’t coming.

“Our emergency plans assumed that a landing problem would happen within sight of the runway, where a failed landing attempt would be immediately obvious to everyone. Today, there was nothing to see, nothing to hear. We had no idea what to do.”

 

Columbia broke up over rural east Texas.  They were in no way prepared for a disaster of this magnitude.  No one was.  It took a while for people there to figure out what was happening when debris started falling from the sky.  The communities rallied though to host and feed the hoards of recovery workers who came in, to walk through brush and briars looking for the crew and debris, and to mislead the press about where the astronauts were being found.  Even two carpenters who were in the town jail got put to work building cubicles for the recovery team.  I hope they got time off their sentences for community service.

The book tells the story of the many people who came to help in Texas and then switches to sections on laying out the debris to determine the cause of the accident and what that meant for the space program as a whole.  

There was a lot of discussion about what the crew knew.  There was video of them happy in the cabin that stops about a minute and half before the accident.  I personally wouldn’t want my loved one to know that they were about to die.  A lot of NASA people felt that it was better if they did know there was a problem and they were attempting to fix it because that would mean that they weren’t helpless passengers.  I don’t see how that would be comforting for anyone to think about. 

Even if you aren’t into the space program, this is an interesting book about accident recovery and investigation and the toll it takes on people involved. It brings up a lot of issues I never considered like what do you do with a destroyed space shuttle.  I didn’t know that Challenger was sealed in a silo.  Columbia is available for researchers. NASA personnel are instructed to visit her to remember the responsibility they have to the crews that fly.

It is sobering and sad but also funny in parts and ultimately uplifting.

Mrs. Martin’s Incomparable Adventure
26 Mar, 2019

Mrs. Martin’s Incomparable Adventure

/ posted in: Book ReviewReading Mrs. Martin’s Incomparable Adventure Mrs. Martin's Incomparable Adventure (The Worth Saga) by Courtney Milan
on March 26, 2019
Genres: Fiction, Historical, Love & Romance
Format: eARC
Source: From author/publisher
Setting: England

Mrs. Bertrice Martin—a widow, some seventy-three years young—has kept her youthful-ish appearance with the most powerful of home remedies: daily doses of spite, regular baths in man-tears, and refusing to give so much as a single damn about her Terrible Nephew.

Then proper, correct Miss Violetta Beauchamps, a sprightly young thing of nine and sixty, crashes into her life. The Terrible Nephew is living in her rooming house, and Violetta wants him gone.

Mrs. Martin isn’t about to start giving damns, not even for someone as intriguing as Miss Violetta. But she hatches another plan—to make her nephew sorry, to make Miss Violetta smile, and to have the finest adventure of all time.

If she makes Terrible Men angry and wins the hand of a lovely lady in the process? Those are just added bonuses.

Author’s Note: Sometimes I write villains who are subtle and nuanced. This is not one of those times. The Terrible Nephew is terrible, and terrible things happen to him. Sometime villains really are bad and wrong, and sometimes, we want them to suffer a lot of consequences.

Goodreads

Any Courtney Milan book is going to be a delight but I was especially excited to hear that this novella was going to feature older women.  I’m a huge fan of stories that feature older heroines.  Why should we stop getting stories when we are over 30?

Miss Violetta Beauchamps has been fired by her employer just prior to being able to collect her pension.  He used her inability to collect rent from a boarder as an excuse even though he told her not to try because the boarder had a surety signed by his wealthy aunt.  Violetta needs money to live on so she decides to go collect the rent from the aunt herself.  She isn’t going to give it to her ex-employer.  It is going to fund her modest lifestyle through her old age.  It is just a little lie.

Mrs. Bertrice Martin was not what she was expecting.  She hates her Terrible Nephew.  She won’t even utter his name.  She isn’t going to pay his debts – not when he couldn’t even bother to spell her name right on the surety he forged.  She will pay Miss Beauchamps to help her make the Terrible Nephew’s life miserable though.

There is a time for well characterized, morally ambiguous villains and there is a time for just letting the world burn to annoy a horrible person.  This story is the latter and it is a glorious romp.  Bertrice knows that everything wrong in the world is the fault of men.  Even if she can’t really do anything systemically about it, she isn’t going to make it easy for them.  Sometimes you just need to hire a group of off-key carolers to follow a fellow around all day to make yourself feel better.

Bertrice appears to hold all the power with her wealth but it doesn’t make her safe.  Men still have all the legal power and her nephew can get her declared insane.  Her recent antics might just make his case for him.  Violetta can’t fight back against her unfair firing in a society that doesn’t give women any legal rights. 

I highlighted so many amazing bits of dialogue. 

“Fear at seventy years of age was different than fear at seventeen. At seventeen, Bertrice had been walking down the so-called correct path, trying not to stray with all her might. Her fears had not been her own; they had been gifts from her elders. They won’t think you’re proper if you do that. You might never find a match. Do you want to live in a garret alone for the rest of your life?

 

This might be my favorite.

“My husband, God rot his soul, used to bring prostitutes home all the time. After he’d finished with them, I’d serve them tea and double whatever he was paying them.”

“But why would you do that?”

“Why not? It’s good sense to be kind to people who are doing work for you.” Bertrice didn’t think that was so strange a proposition. “It was hard work fucking my husband. Trust me, I should know. I certainly didn’t want to do it.”

 

Bertrice respects the neighborhood prostitutes all through the story.  (I really want to read a story about Molly, the lace-worker turned prostitute turned philanthropist.)

This story is an absolute delight for anyone who has ever wanted to rage against the privilege given to men in society just for being born.  It is cathartic and will bring a smile to your face long after you finish reading.

 

About Courtney Milan

“C ourtney Milan’s debut novel was published in 2010. Since then, her books have received starred reviews in Publishers Weekly and Booklist. She’s been a New York Times and a USA Today Bestseller, a RITA® finalist and an RT Reviewer’s Choice nominee for Best First Historical Romance. Her second book was chosen as a Publishers Weekly Best Book of 2010.

Courtney lives in the Rocky Mountains with her husband, a marginally-trained dog, and an attack cat.

Before she started writing historical romance, Courtney got a graduate degree in theoretical physical chemistry from UC Berkeley. After that, just to shake things up, she went to law school at the University of Michigan and graduated summa cum laude. Then she did a handful of clerkships with some really important people who are way too dignified to be named here. She was a law professor for a while. She now writes full-time.” from her website

A Rebel at Pennington’s
08 Feb, 2019

A Rebel at Pennington’s

/ posted in: Book ReviewReading A Rebel at Pennington’s A Rebel at Pennington's by Rachel Brimble
on February 5, 2019
Genres: Fiction, Historical
Format: eARC
Source: Book Tour, From author/publisher
Setting: England

One woman's journey to find herself and help secure the vote. Perfect for the fans of the TV series Mr Selfridge and The Paradise.

1911 Bath. Banished from her ancestral home, passionate suffrage campaigner, Esther Stanbury works as a window dresser in Pennington's Department Store. She has hopes and dreams for women's progression and will do anything to help secure the vote. Owner of the prestigious Phoenix Hotel, Lawrence Culford has what most would view as a successful life. But Lawrence is harbouring shame, resentment and an anger that threatens his future happiness.

When Esther and Lawrence meet their mutual understanding of life's challenges unites them and they are drawn to the possibility of a life of love that neither thought existed. With the Coronation of King-Emperor George V looming, the atmosphere in Bath is building to fever pitch, as is the suffragists' determination to secure the vote.

Will Esther's rebellious nature lead her to ruin or can they overcome their pasts and look to build a future together?

Goodreads

This is the second book in an historical fiction series about a department store in Bath in the early 1900s.  The story from the first book continues in the background of this book so while it may not be absolutely necessary to read them in order, it will add to your understanding.

Esther is a young woman who is focusing on her career and her political activism.  She feels strongly that she is going to be unable to do this and have a marriage because she can’t conceive of a marriage where her activities would be well tolerated, let alone encouraged.  She meets a widower with two young children who has his own hang ups about introducing a new woman in his life.  How do these two stubborn and emotionally damaged people work out their issues?

I am enjoying this series.  It is interesting to see what is considered the height of modernity at this time period.  This book especially deals with the fallout of the suffrage movement in England which became much more violent than it did in the United States.  How did people choose how to align themselves?  How did it affect businesses?

This is a great book for people who love historical fiction because it covers a lot on the suffrage movement as well as the excitement over the coronation of a new King. 

 


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Author Bio – Rachel lives with her husband and their two daughters in a small town near Bath in the UK. Since 2007, she has had several novels published by small US presses, eight books published by Harlequin Superromance (Templeton Cove Stories) and four Victorian romances with eKensington/Lyrical.
In January 2018, she signed a four-book deal with Aria Fiction for a new Edwardian series set in Bath’s finest department store. The first book, The Mistress of Pennington’s released July 2018.
Rachel is a member of the Romantic Novelists Association and Romance Writers of America, and was selected to mentor the Superromance finalist of So You Think You Can Write 2014 contest. When she isn’t writing, you’ll find Rachel with her head in a book or walking the beautiful English countryside with her family. Her dream place to live is Bourton-on-the-Water in South West England.
She likes nothing more than connecting and chatting with her readers and fellow romance writers. Rachel would love to hear from you!

Any Old Diamonds
07 Feb, 2019

Any Old Diamonds

/ posted in: Book ReviewReading Any Old Diamonds Any Old Diamonds (Lilywhite Boys #1) by K.J. Charles
on January 30, 2019
Pages: 320
Genres: Fiction, Historical, Love & Romance, Romance
Published by KJC Books
Format: eARC
Source: From author/publisher

Lord Alexander Pyne-ffoulkes is the younger son of the Duke of Ilvar, with a bitter grudge against his wealthy father. The Duke intends to give his Duchess a priceless diamond parure on their wedding anniversary—so Alec hires a pair of jewel thieves to steal it.

The Duke's remote castle is a difficult target, and Alec needs a way to get the thieves in. Soldier-turned-criminal Jerry Crozier has the answer: he'll pose as a Society gentleman and become Alec's new best friend.

But Jerry is a dangerous man: controlling, remote, and devastating. He effortlessly teases out the lonely young nobleman’s most secret desires, and soon he’s got Alec in his bed—and the palm of his hand.

Or maybe not. Because as the plot thickens, betrayals, secrets, new loves, and old evils come to light. Now the jewel thief and the aristocrat must keep up the pretence, find their way through a maze of privilege and deceit, and confront the truth of what's between them...all without getting caught.

Goodreads

K.J. Charles is one of the romance authors that I found out about on Twitter and now is an autobuy for me.  I was thrilled when she offered ARCs of this book to readers.

A lot of her books that I’ve read previously have focused on people who aren’t part of the gentry.  That has been a major part of the appeal for me.  This one crosses class lines into upper crust society and I think that wasn’t as enjoyable for me as her previous books.  Still, the premise is inventive.

An upper class man has abandoned his children because they vocally opposed his second marriage.  The children are adults and they are living in poverty with some terrible consequences.  Alec decides to get back at his father by hiring thieves to steal the showy anniversary present that his father plans to give his wife.  However, to get close to his father he’ll have to pretend to abandon his principles to get back to a life of leisure.  This is going to alienate him from his siblings who don’t know that he has another motive.

This conflict between what he believes and the pretense that he needs to keep up tears at him.  He has no practice or talent at being underhanded at all.  For help he’s reliant on the con man he hired to coach him and who he is very drawn to.

I like more slow burn and not much sex on the page in my romance books.  That’s definitely not what you get in these books.  This relationship has a dominance-submission aspect to it.  It is handled well and respectfully to both parties.  I would recommend this book if you like historical romances that aren’t just ladies looking for dukes.

The Gown
15 Jan, 2019

The Gown

/ posted in: Book ReviewReading

The Gown

The Gown The Gown: A Novel of the Royal Wedding by Jennifer Robson
on December 31, 2018
Pages: 400
Genres: Fiction, Historical
Published by William Morrow Paperbacks
Format: ARC
Source: Book Tour, From author/publisher

From the internationally bestselling author of Somewhere in France comes an enthralling historical novel about one of the most famous wedding dresses of the twentieth century—Queen Elizabeth’s wedding gown—and the fascinating women who made it.

“Millions will welcome this joyous event as a flash of color on the long road we have to travel.”—Sir Winston Churchill on the news of Princess Elizabeth’s forthcoming wedding

London, 1947: Besieged by the harshest winter in living memory, burdened by onerous shortages and rationing, the people of postwar Britain are enduring lives of quiet desperation despite their nation’s recent victory. Among them are Ann Hughes and Miriam Dassin, embroiderers at the famed Mayfair fashion house of Norman Hartnell. Together they forge an unlikely friendship, but their nascent hopes for a brighter future are tested when they are chosen for a once-in-a-lifetime honor: taking part in the creation of Princess Elizabeth’s wedding gown.

Toronto, 2016: More than half a century later, Heather Mackenzie seeks to unravel the mystery of a set of embroidered flowers, a legacy from her late grandmother. How did her beloved Nan, a woman who never spoke of her old life in Britain, come to possess the priceless embroideries that so closely resemble the motifs on the stunning gown worn by Queen Elizabeth II at her wedding almost seventy years before? And what was her Nan’s connection to the celebrated textile artist and holocaust survivor Miriam Dassin?

With The Gown, Jennifer Robson takes us inside the workrooms where one of the most famous wedding gowns in history was created. Balancing behind-the-scenes details with a sweeping portrait of a society left reeling by the calamitous costs of victory, she introduces readers to three unforgettable heroines, their points of view alternating and intersecting throughout its pages, whose lives are woven together by the pain of survival, the bonds of friendship, and the redemptive power of love.

Goodreads

I love historical fiction that pulls you in from the beginning. This is the story of two women from very different backgrounds who meet in the embroidery workshop of a dress designer in London immediately after World War II.

Ann is English. She lost her parents before the war and her brother during the Blitz.  She lives with her sister-in-law, trying to scrape by.

Miriam is a French Jew who was in a concentration camp for part of the war.  No one in England knows about this part of her life.  All they know is that she is a skilled embroiderer who worked in a design house in Paris. 

Fast forward to 2016 and a woman in Toronto gets a box of pictures and embroidery from her recently deceased grandmother.  She knew her grandmother was from England but she never talked about her life there.  She also didn’t know how to sew as far as her granddaughter knew.  Why does she have all this?

This is a great story of female friendship and support.  It also shows you the amazing amount of handwork that goes into couture dresses.  I like stories based on unknown women who have had a part, however small, in historical events. 

I had never really looked at the dress before.  It is so detailed with both embroidery and applique.  I can’t imagine doing that day in and day out.  (I hurt my hands just trying to hand sew one quilt.)  They only had a few weeks to get that all finished.  It is amazing. 


Purchase Links

HarperCollins | Amazon | Barnes & Noble

Photo by Natalie Brown/Tangerine Photo

About Jennifer Robson

Jennifer Robson is the USA Today and #1 Toronto Globe & Mail bestselling author of Somewhere in France, After the War is Over and Moonlight Over Paris. She holds a doctorate from Saint Antony’s College, University of Oxford. She lives in Toronto with her husband and young children.

Find out more about Jennifer at her website, and connect with her on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.

 

 

Blog Tour

Monday, December 31st: Instagram: @ladyofthelibrary

Monday, December 31st: Reading Reality

Wednesday, January 2nd: Instagram: @my_book_journey_

Wednesday, January 2nd: 5 Minutes For Books

Thursday, January 3rd: Bloggin’ ‘Bout Books

Friday, January 4th: Into the Hall of Books

Monday, January 7th: BookNAround

Monday, January 7th: InkyMoments

Tuesday, January 8th: Jessicamap Reviews

Wednesday, January 9th: Instagram: @giuliland

Thursday, January 10th: A Chick Who Reads

Monday, January 14th: Instagram: @ciannereads

Tuesday, January 15th: Instagram: @sjwonderlandz

Tuesday, January 15th: Based on a True Story

Wednesday, January 16th: Always With a Book

Wednesday, January 16th: Instagram: @tbretc

Thursday, January 17th: Instagram: @somekindofalibrary

Thursday, January 17th: Doing Dewey

Thursday, January 17th: Instagram: @theunreadshelf

Friday, January 18th: Broken Teepee

Tuesday, January 22nd: A Bookish Way of Life

Friday, January 25th: As I turn the pages

 

Tony’s Wife
03 Jan, 2019

Tony’s Wife

/ posted in: Book ReviewReading Tony’s Wife Tony's Wife by Adriana Trigiani
on November 20, 2018
Genres: Fiction, Historical
Published by HarperAudio
Format: ARC
Source: Book Tour, From author/publisher

Set in the lush Big Band era of the 1940s and World War II, this spellbinding saga from beloved New York Times bestselling author Adriana Trigiani tells the story of two talented working class kids who marry and become a successful singing act, until time, temptation, and the responsibilities of home and family derail their dreams

Shortly before World War II, Chi Chi Donatelli and Saverio Armandonada meet one summer on the Jersey shore and fall in love. Both are talented and ambitious, and both share the dream of becoming singers for the legendary orchestras of the time: Glenn Miller, Tommy Dorsey, Benny Goodman. They’re soon married, and it isn’t long before Chiara and Tony find that their careers are on the way up as they navigate the glamorous worlds of night clubs, radio and television. All goes well until it becomes clear that they must make a choice: Which of them will put their ambitions aside to raise a family and which will pursue a career? And how will they cope with the impact that decision has on their lives and their marriage?

From the Jersey shore to Las Vegas to Hollywood, and all the dance halls in between, this multi-layered story is vivid with historical color and steeped in the popular music that serves as its score. Tony’s Wife is a magnificent epic of life in a traditional Italian family undergoing seismic change in a fast paced, modern world. Filled with vivid, funny and unforgettable characters, this richly human story showcases Adriana Trigiani’s gifts as a storyteller and her deep understanding of family, love and the pursuit of the American dream.

Goodreads

You know what you are getting into if you’ve read this author previously.  This is the story of an Italian family told from the time the protagonists are teenagers until their deaths.  The writing is sparse.  Small pieces of time will be discussed in detail and then years will pass between paragraphs.

I was intrigued by the premise, especially this line from the blurb – “Which of them will put their ambitions aside to raise a family and which will pursue a career?”  I was hoping this was going to be a book that discussed the stereotypical gender roles of a post-WWII marriage and possibly subverted them.  My hopes were high as the beginning of the book shows Chi Chi was infinitely more talented and more ambitious than Tony.

All this was swept aside quickly though once the marriage happened.  I’m not even sure why it happened.  I found their “courtship” incredibly uncomfortable as he basically badgers her into giving up her dreams because he decided that he was in love with her when in her mind they were just old friends.  This is followed by affair after affair until a divorce and then she still supports him through several more marriages all the while closing herself off completely to the idea of finding love. 

“Duty-bound love is the Italian girl’s area of expertise.  The Italian woman is a master craftsman at the art of sacrifice.”

I don’t think that this is a good thing.  This story is about a woman who sacrificed everything that she was to a man who couldn’t be bothered to care.  I found it infuriating and ultimately depressing to read about.  I understand that this is much more likely to be historically accurate than a book about people supporting each other in their careers.  That is part of the reason why this book made me so angry.  This is about a time and attitudes that we have hopefully begun to move past. 

About Adriana Trigiani

Adriana Trigiani is the bestselling author of 17 books, which have been published in 36 countries around the world. She is a playwright, television writer/producer and filmmaker. She wrote and directed the film version of her novel Big Stone Gap, which was shot entirely on location in her Virginia hometown. She is co-founder of the Origin Project, an in-school writing program that serves more than a thousand students in Appalachia. She lives in Greenwich Village with her family.

Visit Adriana at her website: www.adrianatrigiani.com, like her on Facebook, and follow her on Twitter and Instagram.

06 Sep, 2018

Matrimonial Advertisements

/ posted in: Book ReviewReading Matrimonial Advertisements The Matrimonial Advertisement by Mimi Matthews
on September 4, 2018
Series: Parish Orphans of Devon #1
Genres: Fiction, Historical, Love & Romance
Format: eBook
Source: Book Tour, From author/publisher
Setting: England


She Wanted Sanctuary...

Helena Reynolds will do anything to escape her life in London, even if that means traveling to a remote cliffside estate on the North Devon coast and marrying a complete stranger. But Greyfriar's Abbey isn't the sort of refuge she imagined. And ex-army captain Justin Thornhill--though he may be tall, dark, and devastatingly handsome--is anything but a romantic hero.


He Needed Redemption...

Justin has spent the last two decades making his fortune, settling scores, and suffering a prolonged period of torture in an Indian prison. Now, he needs someone to smooth the way for him with the villagers. Someone to manage his household--and warm his bed on occasion. What he needs, in short, is a wife and a matrimonial advertisement seems the perfect way to acquire one.

Their marriage was meant to be a business arrangement and nothing more. A dispassionate union free from the entanglements of love and affection. But when Helena's past threatens, will Justin's burgeoning feelings for his new bride compel him to come to her rescue? Or will dark secrets of his own force him to let her go?

Goodreads

I have pretty strict rules about the historical romances that I will read. Generally they need to be recommended by some trusted sources on Twitter.  When I pick them myself I tend to get horrible books that I DNF.  That’s why I’m so excited about this book.  I chose this one from the description on the book tour and I absolutely loved it!

Helena is on the run but she isn’t flighty or impetuous.  Her escape from her family has been well planned.  She needs to get married in order to wrest control of her inheritance from her relatives.  She is unable to control it herself because she is a woman so she is in desperate need of a husband.

Justin returned from being a prisoner of war in India and in an act of pure spite, managed to seize control of the largest house from its impoverished gentleman owner.  Now he is hated by the community and just wants to be left alone.  His secretary and a lawyer friend though have advertised for a bride for him.  He’s ignored them up to now when his friend in London sent him a woman who is obviously in trouble.

I loved that these were both sensible, no-nonsense people.  There was a real threat that Helena was running from based on newspaper accounts of the time.  This was a great way to get actual historical issues into the story. 

This book felt comfortable from the opening pages.  I was pulled directly into the story.  This is the type of historical romance that I love and I’m looking forward to reading more of this series. 


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03 Sep, 2018

Mistress of Pennington’s

/ posted in: Book ReviewReading Mistress of Pennington’s The Mistress of Pennington's by Rachel Brimble
on July 1, 2018
Genres: Fiction, Historical
Format: eBook
Source: Book Tour, From author/publisher
Setting: England

Elizabeth Pennington should be the rightful heir of Bath's premier department store through her enterprising schemes and dogged hard work. Her father, Edward Pennington, believes his daughter lacks the business acumen to run his empire and is resolute a man will succeed him.

Determined to break from her father's iron-clad hold and prove she is worthy of inheriting the store, Elizabeth forms an unlikely alliance with ambitious and charismatic master glove-maker Joseph Carter. United they forge forward to bring Pennington's into a new decade, embracing woman's equality and progression whilst trying not to mix business and pleasure.

Goodreads

This book takes place in 1910 in Bath.  I read a lot of historical fiction but I don’t see many books set in this time period.  I was interested to read about a woman who is trying to take over her family business at a time when this was not an acceptable thing to do.  This is also a time of great changes in retail.  Ready to wear clothing is becoming more popular.  Being able to touch the merchandise without a clerk helping you is a new idea.

I had a bit of a hard time getting into this book.  In the beginning the writing was a bit clunky.  There was a whole lot more description of what people were thinking than showing their actions on the page.  I set the book aside for a while because of this.  I don’t know if I would have picked it back up if it wasn’t a review book for me and if I wasn’t really interested in the premise.

I’m not sure if the writing improved as I got into the story or if I just accepted it as I went along but it didn’t bother me as much as I got deeper into the book.  There are several conflicts here:

  1. The heroine who wants to run the store versus her father who wants her to marry and live the life of a rich housewife.
  2. The hero who wants to expand from a small family store to selling their merchandise in department stores over his father’s objections.
  3. There was conflict between the heroine and hero’s families in the past.
  4. Should department stores continue to cater to the wealthy or should they bring in lower price clothing for the new middle class customers?  Would the wealthy continue to shop there if you let lower classes in the same stores?

 

It was interesting to see the ideas that were considered so progressive (and potentially alarming) that are commonplace now. The anti-woman rhetoric was as expected. Women aren’t smart enough to be in business. Suffragettes are just rabble-rousers causing the downfall of society.

This is a good book for anyone who loves historical fiction where you learn a lot about a topic.

The Mistress of Penningtons Full Banner

02 Aug, 2018

The Daughter of the River Valley

/ posted in: Book ReviewReading The Daughter of the River Valley The Daughter of River Valley by Victoria Cornwall
on July 17th 2018
Pages: 329
Series: Cornish Tales #3
Genres: Fiction, Historical
Published by Choc Lit
Format: eARC
Source: Book Tour, From author/publisher

Cornwall, 1861

Beth Jago appears to have the idyllic life, she has a trade to earn a living and a cottage of her own in Cornwall’s beautiful River Valley. Yet appearances can be deceptive …

Beth has a secret. Since inheriting her isolated cottage she’s been receiving threats, so when she finds a man in her home she acts on her instincts. One frying pan to the head and she has robbed the handsome stranger of his memory and almost killed him.

Fearful he may die, she reluctantly nurses the intruder back to health. Yet can she trust the man with no name who has entered her life, or is he as dangerous as his nightmares suggest? As they learn to trust one another, the outside threats worsen. Are they linked to the man with no past? Or is the real danger still outside waiting … and watching them both?

Goodreads

This novel explores the dynamics of people from different classes.  Beth Jago lives outside a mining town in an cabin in a valley.  She lived with her grandfather who recently died.  Since then she has been receiving eviction notices.  She is dealing with this by ignoring them until the threats become physical.

Many historical romances are about the English gentry but they don’t explore the often unsavory ways these people made and maintained their fortunes.  This book looks at the motivations of the men who own the mines that the area depends on to survive.  Closing a mine can look good on paper when you don’t care about the welfare of a town built around it.

I appreciated the fact that this heroine is allowed to make her own choices in this novel.  She is able to prove to herself and others that she is able to provide a living for herself.  It was important to her to know that she was going to choose to marry because she wanted to live with that man instead of marrying because it was an economic necessity.  I believe this is one of the few historical romances that include characters in such extreme poverty that going into a workhouse at several points in their life is required.   I’m finding that I like historical romances that feature working class main characters or other marginalized characters that don’t often feature in traditional historical romances.

There is a storyline about an adult mentally disabled man that will be disturbing to some readers.  I don’t think that it is unrealistic for the time but it will be upsetting to modern readers.

This is the third book of a series but works as a standalone novel.

The Daughter of River Valley Full Banner

25 Jul, 2018

Unfit to Print

/ posted in: Book ReviewReading Unfit to Print Unfit to Print by K.J. Charles
on July 10, 2018
Pages: 145
Genres: Fiction, Historical, Love & Romance
Format: eBook
Source: Owned
Setting: England

When crusading lawyer Vikram Pandey sets out in search of a missing youth, his investigations take him to Holywell Street, London’s most notorious address. He expects to find a disgraceful array of sordid bookshops. He doesn’t expect one of them to be run by the long-lost friend whose disappearance and presumed death he’s been mourning for thirteen years.

Gil Lawless became a Holywell Street bookseller for his own reasons, and he’s damned if he’s going to apologise or listen to moralising from anyone. Not even Vikram; not even if the once-beloved boy has grown into a man who makes his mouth water.

Now the upright lawyer and the illicit bookseller need to work together to track down the missing youth. And on the way, they may even learn if there’s more than just memory and old affection binding them together...

Goodreads

I read this book immediately after A Gentleman Never Keeps Score.  The two fit together nicely because they share the theme of sexual abuse/exploitation of teenage boys due to poverty.

Gil is a bastard child of a rich family.  When his father died, his older half-brother cut off his education and funds.  In order to survive he was a prostitute.  Now he runs a bookstore that sells pornography, which is illegal.

Vikram is a lawyer who takes some pro bono cases in London’s Indian community.  He knew Gil at school where they bonded over being the only dark-skinned people.  He has always wondered what happened to his friend when he suddenly left school but no one would answer his questions.  Vikram is investigating the disappearance of an Indian teen who worked as a prostitute.  The only clue is a studio photo that the boy’s parents had.  There is no way he could afford to have bought it.  Vikram guesses he may have been modeling for erotic photographers and was given the formal portrait as partial payment.

There is a bit of over the top serendipity in the main characters meeting.  It is like, “I’m searching for this lost boy because it reminds me of my former best friend who went missing.  I’ll go to this bookstore.  Oh, look!  There is my missing best friend.  Imagine that!”

Vikram wants to renew his friendship with Gil but has a very hard time accepting the world Gil lives in.  He is uncomfortable with the life his friend was forced to lead while he continued his comfortable life in school and university.  Gil is cynical about Vikram’s desire to help people because in his life he hasn’t seen many people with that motivation.

This is a novella but there is a good amount of character growth in it.  It was interesting to find out all about the Victorian pornography trade.  I haven’t seen that as a basis for a romance before.  

24 Jul, 2018

A Gentleman Never Keeps Score

/ posted in: Book ReviewReading A Gentleman Never Keeps Score A Gentleman Never Keeps Score by Cat Sebastian
on July 10th 2018
Pages: 384
Genres: Fiction, Historical, Love & Romance
Published by Avon Impulse
Format: eBook
Source: Owned
Setting: England

Once beloved by London's fashionable elite, Hartley Sedgwick has become a recluse after a spate of salacious gossip exposed his most-private secrets. Rarely venturing from the house whose inheritance is a daily reminder of his downfall, he’s captivated by the exceedingly handsome man who seeks to rob him.

Since retiring from the boxing ring, Sam Fox has made his pub, The Bell, into a haven for those in his Free Black community. But when his best friend Kate implores him to find and destroy a scandalously revealing painting of her, he agrees. Sam would do anything to protect those he loves, even if it means stealing from a wealthy gentleman. But when he encounters Hartley, he soon finds himself wanting to steal more than just a painting from the lovely, lonely man—he wants to steal his heart.

Content Warning from Author: This book includes a main character who was sexually abused in the past; abuse happens off page but is alluded to.

Goodreads

It is not strictly necessary to read the first book in this series to understand this book but it helps to gain understanding of the family background.  Hartley is the oldest brother.  He tried to make a prosperous life for his brothers by attaching himself to a rich man who was interested in him.  At the time Hartley was a teenager and the relationship was abusive.  At the beginning of the book, he has inherited his abuser’s house in London.  Relatives of the abuser let details of the relationship out and Hartley is now shunned in society.  He is living in a house where most of the servants have left because of the scandal.  He is dealing with the psychological aftermath of an abusive relationship.  

I love Cat Sebastian’s writing.  Her plots are original and include people and situations that aren’t often seen in traditional historical romances.  Sam is a black man who formerly was a boxer.  He is trying to make a living running a pub but he is being harassed by a policeman who is convinced that there are illegal boxing matches in the bar.  His brother wants to marry a woman but she is stalling.  She tells Sam that she once posed for a naked painting for a rich man.  She doesn’t feel right marrying a respectable man when that painting is still out there somewhere.  Sam decides to track down the painting to steal and destroy it.  The trail leads him to Hartley’s house because it was painted for his abuser.  

This book highlights found family.  Hartley assembles a rag tag staff of people from London’s underworld who have nowhere else to go.  His valet is a former male prostitute.  The valet brings home a cook/maid who was thrown out of her house for being pregnant.  Slowly he realizes that piecing his life back together doesn’t mean that it has to look the same as it did before.  He looks to rebuild his ability to trust and love that was severely damaged in his previous relationship.  He needs to deal with the anger he has about being forced to prostitute himself for his family, who are uncomfortable with him now because of it. 

I love all the characters in this story.  The author does a wonderful job of making them each well-drawn, three dimensional people.  No one is just a side character there to advance the plot.  I’m looking forward to the next installment of this series.

03 Apr, 2018

Lady Helena Investigates

/ posted in: Book ReviewReading Lady Helena Investigates Lady Helena Investigates on March 14, 2018
Pages: 391
Genres: Fiction, Historical, Mystery & Detective
Format: eBook
Source: Book Tour, From author/publisher
Setting: England

1881, Sussex. Lady Helena Scott-De Quincy’s marriage to Sir Justin Whitcombe, three years before, gave new purpose to a life almost destroyed by the death of Lady Helena’s first love. After all, shouldn’t the preoccupations of a wife and hostess be sufficient to fulfill any aristocratic female’s dreams? Such a shame their union wasn’t blessed by children . . . but Lady Helena is content with her quiet country life until Sir Justin is found dead in the river overlooked by their grand baroque mansion.

The intrusion of attractive, mysterious French physician Armand Fortier, with his meddling theory of murder, into Lady Helena’s first weeks of mourning is bad enough. But with her initial ineffective efforts at investigation and her attempts to revive her long-abandoned interest in herbalism comes the realization that she may have been mistaken about her own family’s past. Every family has its secrets—but as this absorbing series will reveal, the Scott-De Quincy family has more than most.

Can Lady Helena survive bereavement the second time around? Can she stand up to her six siblings’ assumption of the right to control her new life as a widow? And what role will Fortier—who, as a physician, is a most unsuitable companion for an earl’s daughter—play in her investigations?

Goodreads

AMAZON | BARNES AND NOBLE

 


04_Lady Helena Investigates_Blog Tour Banner_FINAL

I loved Helena.  At the beginning of the book she has just been widowed for the second time although she is only in her early 20s.  She is the youngest daughter in a large family.  Because of that she has always been treated as a child.  They even call her “Baby” although her brother is younger than her. 

Helena is shocked by the death of her husband and is starting to get angry about the way her family has swooped in assuming that she is a problem that needs to be managed again.  She declares that she is not going to be married off again.  She is going to manage her own estate.  She is not going to be pushed out of her own life any more. 

Then her late husband’s doctor tells her that he doesn’t believe his death was accidental but that the other men on the inquiry panel ruled against him.  Most of those men are related to her.  What are they trying to hide?

There are several plot lines in this book.

  • How did Helena’s husband actually die?
  • Helena standing up for herself with her family
  • A tenant farmer’s death

I enjoyed reading about Helena’s relationships with each of the people in her large family.  She’s always accepted the surface version of things but now that she’s starting to dig deeper into her life, things aren’t always as she assumed.  Her little brother is overbearing and too enamored of his status as the head of the family but he isn’t always wrong about what she should do with her life.  Her mother and father may not have had the idyllic marriage that Helena imagined.  There may be more to her free-spirited artist sister than she expects.  All these relationships set up storylines that can continue into other books in the series. 

The book dives into disability during this time period also.  Helena’s mother is in the late stages of dementia.  She has a full time nurse but the mental toll on family members and on Helena’s mother is discussed in ways appropriate to the time period.  Helena’s brother reads as autistic.  At this time, that wasn’t a described condition so he is mostly considered odd and sometimes offputting.  But, his wife loves him and understands him and helps him interact with his family and the rest of the world.  Helena has a physically disabled nephew who she loves but who is treated as feeble-minded by his parents even though he is not.  She helps him learn to stand up for himself as she learns it for herself.

I’m not a fan of books where lay people investigate crimes unless the story sets up a good reason why the authorities can’t be involved.  In this case the authorities of the area are all family members who may be involved.  The doctor is French and may be a spy.  You never know quite who you can trust. 

I will definitely read the next book in this series. 

 


Giveaway

During the Blog Tour we will be giving away two eBooks of Lady Helena Investigates by Jane Steen! To enter, please enter via the Gleam form below.

Giveaway Rules

– Giveaway ends at 11:59pm EST on April 13th. You must be 18 or older to enter.
– Giveaway is open to US residents only.
– Only one entry per household.
– All giveaway entrants agree to be honest and not cheat the systems; any suspect of fraud is decided upon by blog/site owner and the sponsor, and entrants may be disqualified at our discretion.
– Winner has 48 hours to claim prize or new winner is chosen.

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About the Author

Jane Steen was born in England and, despite having spent more years out of the British Isles than in, still has a British accent according to just about every American she meets.

Her long and undistinguished career has included a three-year stint as the English version of a Belgian aerospace magazine, an interesting interlude as an editor in a very large law firm, and several hectic years in real estate marketing at the height of the property boom. This tendency to switch directions every few years did nothing for her resume but gave her ample opportunity to sharpen her writing skills and develop an entrepreneurial spirit.

Around the edges of her professional occupations and raising children, she stuck her nose in a book at every available opportunity and at one time seemed on course to become the proverbial eternal student. Common sense prevailed, though, and eventually she had the bright idea of putting her passion for books together with her love of business and writing to become a self-published author.

Jane has lived in three countries and is currently to be found in the Chicago suburbs with her long-suffering husband and two adult daughters.

For more information, please visit Jane Steen’s website. You can also find her on FacebookTwitterPinterest, and Goodreads.

Blog Tour Schedule

Monday, March 12
Feature at Passages to the Past

Tuesday, March 13
Feature at To Read, Or Not to Read

Wednesday, March 14
Review at Pursuing Stacie

Thursday, March 15
Feature at Encouraging Words from the Tea Queen

Friday, March 16
Interview at Let Them Read Books
Feature at What Is That Book About

Tuesday, March 20
Feature at Donna’s Book Blog

Wednesday, March 21
Review at Rachael’s Ramblings
Feature at The Lit Bitch

Tuesday, March 27
Review at View from the Birdhouse

Wednesday, March 28
Feature at Susan Heim on Writing

Friday, March 30
Review at History From a Woman’s Perspective

Tuesday, April 3
Review at Based on a True Story

Wednesday, April 4
Review at SilverWood Sketches

Thursday, April 5
Feature at A Bookaholic Swede

Wednesday, April 11
Review at What Cathy Read Next
Feature at A Literary Vacation

Thursday, April 12
Feature at Teaser Addicts Book Blog

Friday, April 13
Tour Wrap Up at Passages to the Past

 

17 Mar, 2018

Ecstasy

/ posted in: Book ReviewReading Ecstasy Ecstasy by Mary Sharratt
on April 10th 2018
Pages: 400
Genres: Fiction, Historical
Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Format: eARC
Source: Book Tour, From author/publisher

In the glittering hotbed of turn-of-the-twentieth-century Vienna, one woman’s life would define and defy an era
Gustav Klimt gave Alma her first kiss. Gustav Mahler fell in love with her at first sight and proposed only a few weeks later. Bauhaus founder Walter Gropius abandoned all reason to pursue her. Poet and novelist Franz Werfel described her as “one of the very few magical women that exist.” But who was this woman who brought these most eminent of men to their knees? In Ecstasy, Mary Sharratt finally gives one of the most controversial and complex women of her time the center stage.
Coming of age in the midst of a creative and cultural whirlwind, young, beautiful Alma Schindler yearns to make her mark as a composer. A brand-new era of possibility for women is dawning and she is determined to make the most of it. But Alma loses her heart to the great composer Gustav Mahler, nearly twenty years her senior. He demands that she give up her music as a condition for their marriage. Torn by her love and in awe of his genius, how will she remain true to herself and her artistic passion?
Part cautionary tale, part triumph of the feminist spirit, Ecstasy reveals the true Alma Mahler: composer, author, daughter, sister, mother, wife, lover, and muse.

Goodreads

I received this book from Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours.

Alma Mahler was a very interesting woman. She was ambitious in a time and place that did not reward that in upper class white women.  She wanted to be a composer but was told that she couldn’t if she wanted to marry the man she wanted.

This book does a good job of highlighting the mental cost of requiring a woman to be a wife and mother if that is not their desire. Her depression and their martial troubles in the face of his refusal to see her as a creative human being was well written.

I wish this book had pulled me deeper into the story emotionally.  Great historical fiction should immerse you in the time and place.  It should take a little effort to get your focus out of that world when you put the book aside. This reading experience felt very surface level which is a shame. Early 20th century Vienna and the artistic world there could be a very lush setting for a novel.

I enjoyed learning about this woman that I had not previous been aware of.

06 Feb, 2018

Deborah Calling

/ posted in: Book ReviewReading Deborah Calling Deborah Calling by Avraham Azrieli
on July 25, 2017
Genres: Fiction, Historical
Format: eARC
Source: Book Tour, From author/publisher
Setting: Jordan/Israel

Deborah’s father dreamed that, one day, she would become a prophet—a seemingly impossible dream for a woman in a patriarchal society. To see her father’s dream come true, Deborah made the cunning decision to become a man and sought out a mysterious elixirist who can turn women into men.
Under the elixirist Kassite’s tutelage and training, Deborah learns the essential traits of masculinity and steadily grows stronger, building muscle and willpower. But Kassite requests something in return: he needs Deborah's help to escape the tannery and return to his homeland. It is the beginning of another thrilling adventure through the desert—a cat and mouse chase between Deborah and her violent fiancé who still hunts her, a chance meeting with an ancient healer with a prophetic message, and a revelatory spiritual experience in an abandoned cave.
As she continues on the path God has laid before her, Deborah witnesses the darkness that can take hold in the hearts and souls of men—evil that causes her to reflect on the wisdom, insight, and inspiration she has gained from the women in her life. Will becoming a man truly help her become a prophetess, or might there be another path? Visionary dreams, a mysterious eagle, and an extraordinary band of ex-slaves will help Deborah find the answer . . . and ultimately her calling.

Goodreads

I haven’t read the first book in this series that imagines the life of Deborah from the biblical book of Judges.  I received this book as part of a blog tour but it was not difficult to understand what had come before.  We know in the bible Deborah is leading the tribes of Israel but how did a woman get to this position of authority?  This story posits that her father had a dream that said that she would be a prophet.  She can not imagine how this could happen as a woman so she decides to take a potion that would turn her into a man.  Obviously, hormone therapy wasn’t available then so she is getting scammed by the people who are supposedly helping her.

She has a lot of internalized misogyny.  This isn’t surprising given the thoughts about women in her time.  But the men who are supposedly helping her keep drilling it into her head.  Women are stupid and emotional.  Men are in all ways superior.  I started highlighting these comments as they came up in the book.

“Girls aren’t stupid.” “It is not a matter of stupidity, but of destiny. Women exist to keep the home—make food, sew clothes, bear children, care for infants. That is why the gods made women fit for domesticated submission—passive, temperamental, small-minded, and anxious.


Deborah’s face flushed with shame. The mere sight of someone resembling Zariz had caused her to cast off all masculine strength and posture, instantly regressing to the foolish girl she had once been.


Kassite might view it as yet another manifestation of feminine weakness.

 

There are more but that is the general idea.  They keep telling her that she needs to search inside herself to get the final inspiration to complete her transformation to a man.  I was hoping that this led to her realizing her strength as a woman and deciding that she didn’t need to change herself externally in order to be able to be a prophet.  The book could have easily had that be the outcome.  I thought that was what it was leading to.  Instead she decides to embrace her life as a woman because she has a magical dream where she sees herself dispensing justice as a woman.  What?

When she declares this to her “mentors”, they dismiss her ideas and no longer accord her the same respect as when she was trying to be masculine.

“I am disappointed,” Kassite said. “You still think like a girl.”

Obviously the constraints of the time and place restrict how “Smash the Patriarchy” the story can go but I wanted more realization of feminine strength than was seen in this book.

This is part of a continuing series.  You don’t know at the end how she rises in power.  This is a story that I would love to hear but I’m not sure that I will be satisfied with this author’s imagining of the story. This book works fine as an adventurous historical fiction tale but it was worrisome to read this much internalized misogyny that isn’t disputed in the text from a male author.

There are also some anachronisms in the story especially in regard to the horses.  I’m a horse history nerd so that might not bother anybody else.

 

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