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Wednesday, March 25, 2015

The Witch of Painted Sorrows by M.J. Rose

Possession. Power. Passion. New York Times bestselling novelist M. J. Rose creates her most provocative and magical spellbinder yet in this gothic novel set against the lavish spectacle of 1890s Belle Époque Paris.

Sandrine Salome flees New York for her grandmother’s Paris mansion to escape her dangerous husband, but what she finds there is even more menacing. The house, famous for its lavish art collection and elegant salons, is mysteriously closed up. Although her grandmother insists it’s dangerous for Sandrine to visit, she defies her and meets Julien Duplessi, a mesmerizing young architect. Together they explore the hidden 
night world of Paris, the forbidden occult underground and Sandrine’s deepest desires. Among the bohemians and the demi-monde, Sandrine discovers her erotic nature as a lover and painter. Then darker influences threaten—her cold and cruel husband is tracking her down and something sinister is taking hold, changing Sandrine, altering her. She’s become possessed by La Lune: A witch, a legend, and a sixteenth-century courtesan, who opens up her life to a darkness that may become a gift or a curse. This is Sandrine’s “wild night of the soul,” her odyssey in the magnificent city of Paris, of art, love, and witchery.

The Witch of Painted Sorrows is the first book in the Daughters of La Lune series. It opens with the first person narration of Sandrine Verlaine. After the death of her father, she learns her husband played a part in his death, and she flees to her grandmother in France to escape his cruelty. She arrives in Paris on the doorstep of her grandmother's mansion only to find it vacant and under renovation. Her grandmother, a famous and successful courtesan, welcomes her. But as Sandrine becomes more and more involved in art and comes under the influence of a spirit of one of her ancestors, her grandmother struggles to keep Sandrine safe. 

Just like M.J. Rose's other novels, this too has a dark, sad tone. I did enjoy the supernatural, ghostly element that gave this book a gothic feel, but sometimes, because I am a historical fiction purist, some of the events that occurred in the book did not strike me as believable. Her grandmother was first depicted as a strong, popular woman, but later in the book, her mental state deteriorates to such a degree that I felt it wasn't believable. Nevertheless, the story was engaging and kept me reading to the very end. I enjoyed the first person narrative even though I sometimes did not fully engage with Sandrine. Perhaps it was because she didn't take matters in hand, and instead, waited too long and let things happen to her, especially in the matter of her estranged husband. From the start, I also disliked her lover, Julien Duplessi, likely because he struck me as an opportunist and a man of low morals.

Despite these issues, there is still much to laud. The writing is good, the story keeps moving forward at a steady pace, and the plot is very interesting. This was definitely a fun, engaging read! 

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Thursday, March 19, 2015

The Prince by Vito Bruschini

"The night of the damned" was how the inhabitants of the Salemi valley would recall that night in late July when the massacre at Borgo guarine took place. There was no moon to illuminate the vast fields of the large Sicilian landed estrate, but the pitch-black sky was studded with billions of points of light." Opening Sentences


Synopsis:  A web of love, betrayal, and murder is at the heart of this riveting story of the Mafia’s beginnings.

In this remarkable novel based on a true story, author Vito Bruschini brilliantly evokes the charismatic figure of Prince Ferdinando Licata, a wealthy Sicilian landowner who uses his personal power and charm to placate Sicilian peasants and fight off Mussolini’s fascists. As tensions rise in Italy during the 1930s, with increasingly violent consequences, Licata attracts many friends and far more enemies. Eventually implicated in a grisly murder, the prince flees to America, where he ends up navigating a turf war between Irish and Italian gangs of the Lower East Side.

Violence explodes in unexpected ways as Licata gains dominance over New York, with the help of a loyal townsman with blood ties to the prince who is forced to abandon his fiancée in Sicily. The two men return to their native land at the height of World War II in an outrageously bold maneuver engineered by Licata and mobster Lucky Luciano. Both the prince and his kinsman assist US naval intelligence during the invasion of Sicily and, once they are back on their native soil, they proceed to settle unfinished business with their enemies and unravel old secrets in a stunning and sinister finale.

Through a spellbinding story and unforgettable characters, Bruschini depicts in visceral detail the dark intertwining roots of loyalty and betrayal, poverty and privilege, secrets and revelations that contributed to the rise of the Mafia in Sicily.

Review by Mirella Patzer

The Prince is a novel based upon true events depicting the rise of the Mafia in Sicily and then America. The story opens with a massacre in the Sicilian valley of Salemi. There is a colorful cast of characters, each with their own ambitions, agendas, and problems. Slowly and intricately, they link together, creating enemies and allies. The story switches back and forth betweeen some decades, which at first caused me some confusion at first, but I soon settled into the story, becoming completely and utterly engrossed. No Mafia story is without its share of violence, and this novel is no exception, but it was not in the forefront and was never gratuitous. The story has a lot of characters and plenty of twists and turns. It was engrossing and kept me reading long into the night. Easy reading, compelling characters, and a fascinating topic makes it easy to understand why this novel will end up as the basis for film very soon! Loved it!

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Mist of Midnight by Sandra Byrd

"They were gone now, every last one of them. Gone, but not completely gone. I still saw them at midnight. I surrendered too, by leaving. The ship pulled from the shore whilst I beheld the distancing plumage of saris - azure and emerald and flame - the soft brown arms, necks, and noses circled with gold, like exquisite birds of paradise. A threadbare charity dress trhe Lord Mayor of London had provided, to me and to all survivors who had nothing of their own to claim, pasted to my skin with a familiar fine grit of dust and sweat." Opening Sentences


Synopsis: In the first of a brand-new series set in Victorian England, a young woman returns home from India after the death of her family to discover her identity and inheritance are challenged by the man who holds her future in his hands.

Rebecca Ravenshaw, daughter of missionaries, spent most of her life in India. Following the death of her family in the Indian Mutiny, Rebecca returns to claim her family estate in Hampshire, England. Upon her return, people are surprised to see her...and highly suspicious. Less than a year earlier, an imposter had arrived with an Indian servant and assumed not only Rebecca's name, but her home and incomes. 

That pretender died within months of her arrival; the servant fled to London as the young woman was hastily buried at midnight. The locals believe that perhaps she, Rebecca, is the real imposter. Her home and her father's investments reverted to a distant relative, the darkly charming Captain Luke Whitfield, who quickly took over. Against her best intentions, Rebecca begins to fall in love with Luke, but she is forced to question his motives—does he love her or does he just want Headbourne House? If Luke is simply after the property, as everyone suspects, will she suffer a similar fate as the first “Rebecca”? 

A captivating Gothic love story set against a backdrop of intrigue and danger, Mist of Midnight will leave you breathless.

What a book! Mist of Midnight is another winning novel by author Sandra Byrd! Definitely one of her best! It is the first book in the new Daughters of Hampshire series. Set in Victorian England, this gothic novel echoes the work of Jane Eyre. There is everything - an old manor, a mysterious past, suspense, romance, and a definite haunting atmosphere from cover to cover. 

A young woman, Rebecca Ravenshaw, has survived the Indian Mutiny alone. Her missionary parents were both killed. She retuns to her family home in Hampshire only to find that an imposter had previously claimed her inheritance. After the mysterious death of the imposter, a distant relative, the handsome and kind, Captain Luke Winfield, had since inheritted the estate. Of course, Rebecca's sudden appearance only sheds doubt on who is the real Rebecca Ravenshaw.    

Crafty characters, a blooming romance, an elegant old manor that has seen better days, and a courageous, forthright heroine grace the pages of this wonderful book. Everything about this novel impresses - from its cover to the rich story that unfolds!  I could not put this book down! Yup, it was that good!

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Sisters of Shiloh by Kathy and Becky Hepinstall

"Libby waited for her dead husband in the woods, her breath making clouds in the cold night air. Her hair was cut short above her ears, and her neck was cold. Her wool uniform itched her. She had not slept in two days. She leaned against a bay tgree as the fog moved through the woods. She closed her eyes and began to drift. She heard the crackle of a footstep and opened her eyes. The fog cleared and Arden stood in front of her, pale and somber, the red stain of his stomach wound still fresh and spreading out across his grey jacket." Opening Paragraph

Synopsis: In a war pitting brother against brother, two sisters choose their own battle. Joseph and Thomas are fresh recruits for the Confederate Army, daring to join the wild fray that has become the seemingly endless Civil War, sharing everything with their fellow soldiers—except the secret that would mean their undoing: they are sisters. Before the war, Joseph and Thomas were Josephine and Libby. But that bloodiest battle, Antietam, leaves Libby to find her husband, Arden, dead. She vows vengeance, dons Arden’s clothes, and sneaks off to enlist with the Stonewall Brigade, swearing to kill one Yankee for every year of his too-short life. Desperate to protect her grief-crazed sister, Josephine insists on joining her. Surrounded by flying bullets, deprivation, and illness, the sisters are found by other dangers: Libby is hurtling toward madness, haunted and urged on by her husband’s ghost; Josephine is falling in love with a fellow soldier. She lives in fear both of revealing their disguise and of losing her first love before she can make her heart known to him. 
In her trademark “vibrant” (Washington Post Book World) and “luscious” (Atlanta Journal-Constitution) prose, Kathy Hepinstall joins with her sister Becky to show us the hopes of love and war, the impossible-to-sever bonds of sisterhood, and how what matters most can both hurt us and heal us.

Review by Mirella Patzer

I like historical fiction novels that deliver unique perspectives on a particular period in history, and this novel does just that. It is written by two sisters and is about two sisters who disguise themselves as men in order to fight for the south in the American Civil War. It is a story of one woman who has lost her husband in the war. The loss is more than she can bear and her mind becomes fragile, fraught with haunting visions of her dead husband. She is set on avenging his death and enlists. Her sister, concerned, follows her in this dangerous mission as a means to protect her. This novel allows us a glimpse into the thin line between sanity and madness, and how it can become so easily blurred. If you love books about the civil war, especially those with strong heroines, then this is one to get. A very poignant read indeed.

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Friday, March 13, 2015

Fiercombe Manor by Kate Riordan

"Fiercombe is a place of secrets. They fret among the uppermost branches of the beech trees and brood at the cold bottom of the stream that cleaves the valley in two. The past has seeped into the soil here like spilt blood. If you listen closely enough, you can almost hear what's gone before, particularly on the stillest days. Sometimes the very air seems to hum with anticipation. At other times it's as though a collective breath has been drawn in and held. It waits, or so it seems to me." Opening Paragraph


Synopsis:  In this haunting and richly imagined dual-narrative tale that echoes the eerie mystery of Rebecca and The Little Stranger, two women of very different eras are united by the secrets hidden within the walls of an English manor house.
In 1933, naive twenty-two year-old Alice—pregnant and unmarried—is in disgrace. Her mother banishes her from London to secluded Fiercombe Manor in rural Gloucestershire, where she can hide under the watchful eye of her mother’s old friend, the housekeeper Mrs. Jelphs. The manor’s owners, the Stantons, live abroad, and with her cover story of a recently-deceased husband Alice can have her baby there before giving it up for adoption and returning home. But as Alice endures the long, hot summer at Fiercombe awaiting the baby’s birth, she senses that something is amiss with the house and its absentee owners.
Thirty years earlier, pregnant Lady Elizabeth Stanton desperately hopes for the heir her husband desires. Tormented by the memory of what happened after the birth of her first child, a daughter, she grows increasingly terrified that history will repeat itself, with devastating consequences.
After meeting Tom, the young scion of the Stanton family, Alice becomes determined to uncover the clan’s tragic past and exorcise the ghosts of this idyllic, isolated house. But nothing can prepare Alice for what she uncovers. Soon it is her turn to fear: can she escape the tragic fate of the other women who have lived in the Fiercombe valley . . .

Fiercombe Manor, a quaint home nestled away from the beaten path, becomes a new temporary residence for Alice, who has turned up pregnant and unwed, a place to wait out her pregnancy until the child is born and can be given away for adoption. Under the watchful eye of the long time housekeeper, Alice entertains herself, and stumbles upon the fascinating history of the previous grand dame of the manor, a woman named Lady Elizabeth Stanton. What she uncovers is a tale of lies and secrets, long buried. 

I cannot express how much I enjoyed reading this novel. First, there is a touch of the gothic sprinkled with a fascinating mystery. Damaged relationships, forgiveness, and healing, are all underlying themes. Old letters, secret places, and closed off rooms, add to the atmosphere. Then there is a touch of romance, and of course, finally, the reconciling of past and present. Every page, from start to finish, captured my imagination. The story held me enthralled until the most satisfying ending. The author did a wonderful job of describing furnishings, secret hiding places, and tantalizing the reader by keeping the mystery slow to unravel. It is the kind of book you will clutch to your chest, and breath a heavy sigh of satisfaction when the last page is read. One of my favourite books, for sure!

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The Apothecary's Widow by Diane Scott Lewis

 

PUBLISHER'S BLURB

Who murdered Lady Pentreath? The year is 1781, and the war with the American colonies rages across the sea. In Truro, England Branek Pentreath, a local squire, has suffered for years in a miserable marriage. Now his wife has been poisoned with arsenic. Is this unhappy husband responsible? Or was it out of revenge? Branek owns the apothecary shop where Jenna Rosedew, two years a widow, delights in serving her clients. Branek might sell her building to absolve his debts caused by the war—and put her out on the street. Jenna prepared the tinctures for Lady Pentreath, which were later found to contain arsenic. The town’s corrupt constable has a grudge against Branek and Jenna. He threatens to send them both to the gallows.


Can this feisty widow and brooding squire come together, believe in each other’s innocence— fight the attraction that grows between them—as they struggle to solve the crime before it’s too late?


REVIEW BY ANITA

Set in 18th Century Cornwall, all Jenna Rosedew’s husband left her was an adolescent apprentice and a struggling apothecary shop. When Lady Pentreath’s death is deemed murder, Jenna is the first person to come under suspicion as she prepared all the dead woman’s medicine.

But why would Jenna poison someone at the risk of her own livelihood? Branek Pentreath has reason to call on Jenna  to inform her he is forced to increase up the rent of her shop, or does he too think she killed his wife? Jenna finds herself attracted to the man, but any connection between them could be construed as motive for murder.

Ms Scott Lewis’ portrayal of a couple trying to come to terms with conflicting emotions in an unsympathetic setting is thoroughly enjoyable. Jenna is no simpering female with no clue as to where to turn, she has her own methods of protecting her livelihood, and being accused of killing one of her clients isn’t something she is going to accept without a fight.

Branek Pentreath is also gravely misunderstood. He is not simply a heartless, ruthless mine owner, but a man of principal struggling with a failing business, suspicion from his neighbours and a growing attraction to a woman he shouldn’t even have noticed.

Ms Scott brings all the threads of this heart-warming story together into a satisfactory ending. I hope to hear more about Branek and Jenna.



Anita Davison is the author of  ‘Royalist Rebel’ and has also written two novels in The Woulfes of Loxsbeare series. Her latest venture is Murder On The Minneapolis, an Edwardian cozy mystery scheduled for released in June by Robert Hale.
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BLOG: http://thedisorganisedauthor.blogspot.com
FACEBOOK: http://www.facebook.com/anita.davison?
GOODREADS: http://www.goodreads.com/AnitaDavison
TWITTER: @AnitaSDavison
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Thursday, March 12, 2015

The Shape of Sand by Marjorie Eccles


PUBLISHER'S BLURB

Life at Charnley is blessed for the Jardine children, Harriet, Vita and Daisy, who live in an idyllic Edwardian country manor with their loving parents, Beatrice and Amory. But one night, after a party celebrating their mother's birthday, their dreams of a propitious future suddenly come crashing down when a family scandal catapults them into the headlines. Nearly four decades pass by and still the exact events of that fateful night remain a mystery. But when an old diary detailing their mother's voyage to Egypt is unearthed it finally seems as though some of the answers are within reach - until the shocking discovery of a mummified corpse in the ruins of their old home. Beautifully written, evoking the life of the Edwardian upper classes, bomb-scarred post-war England and the sultry Egyptian landscape, The Shape of Sand is a compelling novel you will wish was as long as the Nile.


REVIEW BY ANITA

The premise of this story is quite simple, in that in 1910, after a lavish country house birthday party, Beatrice Jardine's teenage daughters,  husband and sun are shocked by the fact that to all appearances, she has run away with an exotic Egyptian visitor she met ten years before.

Of course the truth is far more complicated, and Ms Eccles weaves a multi-layered tapestry of emotions experienced by the diverse characters in the Jardine children, each of whom carry their own demons of their mother’s abandonment into WWII and beyond, suffering their own tragedies and getting their lives in order.

The events of the past are teased out with contrived slowness, combined with the emotions of the present which can be distracting in parts, but which made me feel this author’s deep and insightful writing requires close attention. This is not a book to be rushed, in that every personality is deeply drawn, leaving the reader to decide for themselves which of them have harboured a secret for forty years. Needless to say the story flows to a satisfying conclusion and wasn't spoiled for me at all by the fact I had guessed the ending.

I’m delighted to see there are plenty more of Ms Eccles’ books in which I can lose myself.




Anita Davison is the author of  ‘Royalist Rebel’ and has also written two novels in The Woulfes of Loxsbeare series. Her latest venture is Murder On The Minneapolis, an Edwardian cozy mystery scheduled for released in June by Robert Hale.

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BLOG: http://thedisorganisedauthor.blogspot.com
FACEBOOK: http://www.facebook.com/anita.davison?
GOODREADS: http://www.goodreads.com/AnitaDavison
TWITTER: @AnitaSDavison
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