April 15, 2014

Silence for the Dead by Simone St. James


“Portis House emerged from the fog as we approached, 
showing itself slowly as a long, low shadow....”

In 1919, Kitty Weekes, pretty, resourceful, and on the run, falsifies her background to obtain a nursing position at Portis House, a remote hospital for soldiers left shell-shocked by the horrors of the Great War. Hiding the shame of their mental instability in what was once a magnificent private estate, the patients suffer from nervous attacks and tormenting dreams. But something more is going on at Portis House—its plaster is crumbling, its plumbing makes eerie noises, and strange breaths of cold waft through the empty rooms. It’s known that the former occupants left abruptly, but where did they go? And why do the patients all seem to share the same nightmare, one so horrific that they dare not speak of it?

Kitty finds a dangerous ally in Jack Yates, an inmate who may be a war hero, a madman… or maybe both. But even as Kitty and Jack create a secret, intimate alliance to uncover the truth, disturbing revelations suggest the presence of powerful spectral forces. And when a medical catastrophe leaves them even more isolated, they must battle the menace on their own, caught in the heart of a mystery that could destroy them both.

Silence for the Dead is a gothic style ghost story set in the early 1900’s right after World War I. The setting is an old family manor that has been turned into a recovery home for shell-shocked soldiers. The residence is isolated and difficult to get to. In addition, it was the sight of family murders years before. Kitty Weekes is a young woman eager to leave her life behind, so she applies for a position as nurse in the home, even though she is untrained and unqualified for the job. The recovering soldiers of the nursing home are all colorful characters, plagued by dastardly dreams and unique in their needs. There is an overly strict matron and her assistance that create problems for Kitty as she struggles to feign her nursing knowledge and abilities. One particular resident, Jack Yates, a national hero, not only comes to her rescue, but they soon become friends who work together to solve the mystery of the ghosts and unravel the truth about the past murders that took place there.

There is plenty to keep a reader entertained in this gothic style romantic paranormal story with numerous plot twists. Well written, I could easily picture the house, the scenery, and the characters as I read along. From start to finish, the book held my interest right up until the gripping climax. If you want to cozy up to a nice haunted house tale, then this is the book for you. It definitely gets my approval!

April 14, 2014

Virtual Book Tour - The Towers of Tuscany by Carol M Cram






Tour Hashtag: #TowersofTuscanyTourPublication Date: January 23, 2014
New Arcadia Publishing
Formats: Paperback, Ebook
Genre: Historical Fiction


Book Description

Set amid the twisting streets and sunlit piazzas of medieval Italy, the Towers of Tuscany tells the story of a woman who dares to follow her own path in the all-male domain of the painter’s workshop. Sofia Barducci is born into a world where a woman is only as good as the man who cares for her, but she still claims the right to make her own mistakes. Her first mistake is convincing her father to let her marry Giorgio Carelli, a wealthy saffron merchant in San Gimignano, the Tuscan city of towers. Trained in secret by her father to create the beautifully-crafted panels and altarpieces acclaimed today as masterpieces of late medieval art, Sofia’s desire for freedom from her father’s workshop leads her to betray her passion and sink into a life of loveless drudgery with a husband who comes to despise her when she does not produce a son.

In an attack motivated by vendetta, Sofia’s father is crushed by his own fresco, compelling Sofia to act or risk the death of her soul. The choice she makes takes her on a journey from misery to the heights of passion—both as a painter and as a woman. Sofia escapes to Siena where, disguised as a boy, she paints again. When her work attracts the notice of a nobleman who discovers the woman under the dirty smock, Sofia is faced with a choice that nearly destroys her.

The Towers of Tuscany unites a strong heroine with meticulously researched settings and compelling characters drawn from the rich tapestry of medieval Italy during one of Europe’s most turbulent centuries. The stylishly written plot is packed with enough twists and turns to keep readers up long past their bedtimes


Praise for The Towers of Tuscany

“The Towers of Tuscany is a delightful escape to the Siena we all love. Carol Cram has crafted a delicious story about a strong woman torn between her secret past, her love of painting and the forbidden charms of her rich patron. Hard to resist and highly recommended!” – Anne Fortier, Author of The Lost Sisterhood and the New York Times bestseller, Juliet

The Towers of Tuscany has all the elements of a wonderful historical novel―a talented, frustrated heroine, a treacherous, feckless husband, and a promise to a dying, much loved father who orders the heroine on a dangerous mission. Carol is a first rate storyteller. The research is well done. Every chapter displays a fine knowledge of painting technique of the 14th century, and customs and mores of the age. The details of dress, fabric, food, are flawless. The clever dialogue and fast pace make the novel zing along.” – Roberta Rich, Author of The Midwife of Venice and The Harem Midwife

“Sofia will set your heart racing as she attempts to find what we all, in our own ways, strive to seek: love, resolution, and artistic freedom. The legacy of this story will leave you yearning for more.” – Cathleen With, award-winning author of Having Faith in the Polar Girls’ Prison.

                                               Buy the Book


About the Author

Carol M. Cram has enjoyed a great career as an educator, teaching at Capilano University in North Vancouver for over twenty years and authoring forty-plus bestselling textbooks on business communications and software applications. She holds an MA in Drama from the University of Toronto and an MBA from Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh, Scotland. Carol is currently focusing as much of her attention as she can spare between walks in the woods on writing historical novels with an arts twist.

She and her husband, painter Gregg Simpson, share a life on beautiful Bowen Island near Vancouver, Canada.

Author Links


Review

by


The Towers of Tuscany is an excellent example of historical fiction at its finest. The story takes place in 14th century San Gimignano, Italy. Sofia is the heroine. Her father is a painter, but from a young age, she showed greater talent. But in medieval Italy, women were forbidden to paint. Her father takes credit for her work and sells them to the wealthiest citizens. As the story progresses, there are flashbacks into Sofia's past to the lessons she learned from her father. These words of wisdom have a far reaching effect, also providing wonderful life advice to the reader. Sofia suffers through an unhappy marriage with an abusive husband who only wants a son. She plans an escape and succeeds, creating a new life for herself which is not always without its own problems. 

The author has done a phenomenal amount of research not only into the period, but also into the location and the art of paint and mixing paints. The storyline has plenty of engaging twists and turns, while the heroine is completely believable and portrayed with credibility. There is plenty of depth in the writing and a good steady pace that will take the reader to a very satisfying ending. This is one book I very highly recommend! Especially for those who love the arts! Love, adversity, and a woman who chases her dream. What more could anyone want in a ripping good yarn.

Virtual Book Tour Schedule

Monday, April 14

Tuesday, April 15
Review & Giveaway at Kinx’s Book Nook

Wednesday, April 16
Spotlight & Giveaway at Passages to the Past

Thursday, April 17
Review & Giveaway at Peeking Between the Pages

Friday, April 18
Review at A Chick Who Reads
Guest Post & Giveaway at Just One More Chapter

Monday, April 21

Tuesday, April 22
Guest Post at Kincavel Korner

Wednesday, April 23

Thursday, April 24
Interview at Flashlight Commentary

Friday, April 25
Review & Giveaway at Words and Peace

April 10, 2014

The Red Lily Crown by Elizabeth Loupas


Book Summary

Elizabeth Loupas returns with her most ambitious historical novel yet, a story of intrigue, passion, and murder in the Medici Court...

April, 1574, Florence, Italy. Grand Duke Cosimo de’ Medici lies dying. The city is paralyzed with dread, for the next man to wear the red lily crown will be Prince Francesco: despotic, dangerous, and obsessed with alchemy.

Chiara Nerini, the troubled daughter of an anti-Medici bookseller, sets out to save her starving family by selling her dead father’s rare alchemical equipment to the prince. Instead she is trapped in his household—imprisoned and forcibly initiated as a virgin acolyte in Francesco’s quest for power and immortality. Undaunted, she seizes her chance to pursue undreamed-of power of her own.

Witness to sensuous intrigues and brutal murder plots, Chiara seeks a safe path through the labyrinth of Medici tyranny and deception. Beside her walks the prince’s mysterious English alchemist Ruanno, her friend and teacher, driven by his own dark goals. Can Chiara trust him to keep her secrets…even to love her…or will he prove to be her most treacherous enemy of all?

My Review

by
In The Red Lily Crown, author Elizabeth Loupas takes us to 16th century Florence in a tale of intrigue and suspense. The main character is Chiara, a feisty child of the streets who comes under the notice of the Medici duke who takes her into his home as a virgin assistant for his alchemy experiments. Swept into a world of wealth, poor Chiara soon finds herself surrounded by murder plots, cruelty, violence, poisonings, addictions, and revenge killings. The plot is a constant wave of twists and turns, exciting, and gripping. throughout the book, the author has a tendency to continual repeat long phrases and partial scenes that sadly slowed the pace and became annoying by the end of the book. Other than that, the book was fabulous to read, well researched, and with a very strong Italian flair. Definitely recommended... 


April 9, 2014

The Convictions of John Delahunt by Andrew Hughes



Dublin, 1841. On a cold December morning, a small boy is enticed away from his mother and his throat savagely cut. This could be just one more small, sad death in a city riven by poverty, inequality and political unrest, but this killing causes a public outcry. For it appears the culprit - a feckless student named John Delahunt - is also an informant and in the pay of the authorities at Dublin Castle. And strangely, this young man seems neither to regret what he did nor fear his punishment. Indeed, as he awaits the hangman in his cell in Kilmainham Gaol, John Delahunt decides to tell his story in this, his final, deeply unsettling statement . . .

Based on true events that convulsed Victorian Ireland, The Convictions of John Delahunt is the tragic tale of a man who betrays his family, his friends, his society and, ultimately, himself. Set amidst Dublin's taverns, tenements, courtrooms and alleyways and with a rich, Dickensian cast of characters, this compelling, at times darkly humorous, novel brilliantly evokes a time and a place, and introduces a remarkable new literary voice.

In the novel, The Convictions of John Delahunt, author Andrew Hughes takes us deep in the mind of a serial killer. Based on a true story, John Delahunt was a man who was convicted and hanged for the murder of a very young boy in England in the year 1842. He slashed the young boys throat. 

The story begins while John is in jail awaiting his execution. He is given an opportunity to write about his life and crimes. Through flashbacks, John reflects on his life and his crimes. Married and in love with Helen, a wealthy young woman whose family disowned her for marrying John. They live in poverty, where every day is an ordea. By chance, John becomes an informant and operative for the corrupt Dublin Castle, a semi-law enforcement agency with ruthless and evil tendencies, using extortion, and even murder to achieve their aspirations. As John becomes ever more dependent and involved in his machinations with Dublin Castle, he falls into a life of crime, and becomes a killer without remorse.

Although this is a very dark, sinister story about a violent and heartless killer, the character of John isn't completely hateful. His brutality is stark and ruthless, but sometimes he is a victim too, and there are moments when the reader will feel sympathy for the particular plight he finds himself in.

The story is not for the faint of heart, but for those who love being thrilled, gripped by an unputdownable book, and who loves reading about the dark side of life, then this is the book for them. This chilling novel is amazing and I loved every page. Simply fabulous.

April 1, 2014

New Release - Jim Hawkins and the Curse of Treasure Island by Frank Delaney


I'm very excited to introduce Frank Delaney's latest novel - a sequel to the beloved classic Treasure Island entitled JIM HAWKINS AND THE CURSE OF TREASURE ISLAND.

For regular readers of this blog, you'll know that Frank Delaney is one of my favourite authors, and I've reviewed his books here before. 

So here's a teaser for you all which includes a bit about the book and a free excerpt of the Prologue. 
Happy reading everyone!


Synopsis

Jim Hawkins, the cabin-boy hero of Treasure Island, has grown up. With his fortune from the South Seas, he has expanded and improved the family inn, the old Admiral Benbow, on the coast of Somerset, where, from behind the bar, he regales travelers with tales of Long John Silver, Ben Gunn, Billy Bones, and the parrot that shrieks "pieces of eight, pieces of eight"—Cap'n Flint. Then one day, the mail coach deposits a beautiful stranger and her young son, and asks Jim to help her find somebody—Joseph Tait, one of the pirates they left behind on Treasure Island.

About the Author


Frank Delaney has earned top prizes and best-seller status in a wide variety of formats—prolific author, television and radio broadcaster, journalist, columnist, screenwriter, lecturer, playwright and scholar. His podcast series, Re:Joyce, deconstructing, examining and illuminating James Joyce’s Ulysses line-by-line, in accessible and entertaining five-minute broadcasts, and posted each week on his website and iTunes, has just passed its first million downloads. A lifelong admirer of Robert Louis Stevenson, and originally publishing under the pseudonym, Francis Bryan, Delaney wrote Jim Hawkins & the Curse of Treasure Island as a work of affection and homage to the original Treasure Island


Excerpt

PROLOGUE: GROWN TO MAN'S ESTATE
  
Seven years after I returned from the sea I became twenty-one, a man's majority. My mother told me I should now become my father's successor beneath the sign of the Admiral Benbow. I embraced my inheritance and took over the running of the inn.

My ambition to become a good landlord was helped by the riches for which I had risked my life, and which we now began to use a little. With my dividend from Treasure Island I improved the inn, fitting brass and glass from Bristol, and purchasing tables and chairs made of Somerset yew. The old sea dog, Captain Billy Bones, whose fatal map caused us our misery and our adventure, said when he first came to us that the Admiral Benbow was "a pleasant sittyated grog-shop." I meant to make it more than that and I believe I have done so.

In those unhappy days we had lacked business. Our remoteness was foremost among the old pirate's reasons for coming to us. Yet, although his vile presence had brought great hardship to my mother and me, we acknowledged that Billy Bones had also been the cause of our wealth. His oilskin packet, with its map marked OFFE CARACCAS, brought us the treasure, and it helped to increase our trade—because upon my return the men of the district crowded the inn to hear my account. Whatever my youth and excitability, I believe I did not decorate the story too much; it needed no ornament. And my listeners drank much ale as they smacked their lips at the adventure.

Word of my yarns spread and we acquired customers from far beyond our boundaries. As the months and soon the years passed, almost every day brought a new visitor. Many of these were sailors, bound for Bristol or Plymouth with their haversacks. They sought out our inn because its young host had a wonderful tale to tell of pirates and treasure!

My mother felt unease at my stories and thought me immodest. I replied that she must think too of our trade, and how it had grown. The Admiral Benbow, once a lacklustre tavern in lonely Black Cove, had become a busy port of call. We often smiled—that Billy Bones, having chosen our inn as a quiet place to hide, became the cause of making it bustle. At such a moment my mother would murmur again that she prayed for his departed soul but feared it too blackened to be saved.

Whenever I thought of him and the other pirates, I was comforted by the feeling that it had all passed. No more would we hear Blind Pew and his dreadful tapping in the clear air of a frosty night. Nor would I wince again at the crushing force of his grip upon my arm; nor shudder at the great green shade over his empty eyes; nor ever more endure the sound of his cruel, cold, ugly voice. Nor should I need to scan the headlands for Long John Silver, the sea cook with one leg, whose spectre so frightened Billy Bones.

As we grew in substance, I hired sufficient help. This brought to an end my mother's daily burdens. She rested her body a little more, but not her mind—nor her tongue; her pronouncements from her upstairs parlour became more vigorous than I had known, yet she still guided rather than forced me towards good decisions. I bought two horses, one for me and one for our general purposes, and some land by the inn for the horses to graze upon, and against a day when we might think it necessary to build anew. (Indeed, we built straightaway—a stable, which we had never before been able to offer travellers.) The parish, which formerly pitied us behind their hands, looked to the young landlord of the Admiral Benbow and his dignified mother with interest and, I think, pride.

Our new fortunes also helped to honour my dear father. He lies in the churchyard overlooking the waves at Kitts Hole where I honoured him with a fine headstone. My mother shall lie beside him in the same plot, but not, I hope, for many years yet. Old Taylor, the gardener, who died during my absence in the South Seas, was buried nearby during the stormiest day my mother believes she ever saw.

That windswept little graveyard will be my last resting place too and I hope I will not be carried there until generations have passed. But that will be a vain hope unless I can cease taking risks, such as the adventure I am now about to relate.

My part in this new story still baffles me. Why would any sensible man, especially having known such fearful experiences as I had, ever leave our haven? Yet I did. Again I travelled to that island where I killed Israel Hands. Again I climbed those slopes where my friends once thought I had deserted them in favour of cutthroat mutineers. Indeed, were it not for the great bravery and loyalty of my comrades in those adventures, Dr. Livesey, Squire Trelawney and the redoubtable Captain Smollett, I might have died on Treasure Island—yet I revisited those frightful shores. It seems to go against the credible: why did I return to a place I hated and which haunted my worst dreams?

That is a question which you, my reader, may rightly ask. It was no desire to repeat such exploits that drove me back. Yes, we had left some treasure there—a considerable amount, because we had not had men enough to heave it nor space enough to stow it. But the lure of that trove played little part in my return. The truth is—new and powerful feelings drove me.

These began as compassion and soon grew to something more difficult to describe or name, something exciting, warm, overwhelming. There was also fear; one day, I found myself, of a sudden, trapped in circumstances where I was accused and in danger of the law's worst penalty. If I must be honest, my natural foolishness (which I try to control) also played a part.

Perhaps I hoped also to lay the ghosts of the old nightmares. Often, as I lay in my bed, the wind came up from the cove and raved near the chimneys. The windows rattled and as the inn sign swung and creaked, I heard in my dreams the surf along the island's horrid shore. On such nights the wretched words of Long John Silver's parrot cackled and droned across my brain: "Pieces of Eight! Pieces of Eight!"

So here I am, taking up my pen again. While I set down every awful thing that took place, I seek your judgement. Place yourself where I sat on a certain summer day in the year of grace 17———. Direct your thoughts towards the assistance asked—implored—of me. As you read my account, measure me against your own thoughts— judge me according as you think you, yourself, would have acted in such unexpected and difficult matters.

One Night in Winter by Simon Sebag Montefiore


Back Cover

Inspired by a true story, prize-winning historian and acclaimed novelist Simon Sebag Montefiore explores the consequences of forbidden love in this heartbreaking epic of marriage, childhood, danger, and betrayal that unfolds in Stalin's Moscow during the bleak days after World War II.
As Moscow celebrates the motherland's glorious victory over the Nazis, shots ring out on the crowded streets. On a nearby bridge, a teenage boy and girl—dressed in traditional nineteenth-century costumes—lie dead. But this is no ordinary tragedy, because these are no ordinary teenagers. As the son and daughter of high-ranking Soviet officials, they attend the most elite school in Moscow. Was it an accident, or murder? Is it a conspiracy against Stalin, or one of his own terrifying intrigues?

On Stalin's instructions, a ruthless investigation begins into what becomes known as the Children's Case. Youth across the city are arrested and forced to testify against their friends and their parents. As families are ripped apart, all kinds of secrets come spilling out. Trapped at the center of this witch-hunt are two pairs of illicit lovers, who learn that matters of the heart exact a terrible price. By turns a darkly sophisticated political thriller, a rich historical saga, and a deeply human love story, Montefiore's masterful novel powerfully portrays the terror and drama of Stalin's Russia.

Review by 

Based on actual events, ONE NIGHT IN WINTER by Simon Sebag Montefiore is a novel set in Russia during the dark days after World War II. On the heels of Russia’s victory over the Nazis, there is a special school for the children of Russia’s most elite political, noble, and wealthiest. A small group of these students form a club and they name it the Fatal Romantic Club based on the poetry of Aleksandr Pushkin. The students re-enact a duel from one of the author’s poems, but it goes awry and the duelists are killed. The wording of a handwritten note, misconstrued by the government, results in the arrest of numerous children from the school. What follows is an intense investigation that points to top officials in Stalin’s government, all based upon the words of children who are imprisoned and nearly tortured, who are forced to testify against their own parents and family members.     

The author has done an incredible amount of research, skilfully blending the facts with fiction. The story delves deep into the human spirit, its frailties, and loyalty, its betrayals, and fears, and love of family. The plot unfolds steadily and gains momentum with every page turn. Along the way, readers will be hopeful and disappointed as clue by clue, the story is peeled back to reveal the truth. The easy to read prose packs a punch and keeps potential readers totally engrossed with the fate of the children and their families. This unique story is sure to please and I highly recommend it. It is sure to become a bestseller.

March 30, 2014

Empress of the Night by Eva Stachniak


The follow-up to the #1 bestseller The Winter Palace
Perfect for the readers of Hilary Mantel and Alison Weir.

Catherine the Great, the Romanov monarch reflects on her astonishing ascension to the throne, her leadership over the world's greatest power, and the lives sacrificed to make her the most feared woman in the world--lives including her own...

Catherine the Great muses on her life, her relentless battle between love and power, the country she brought into the glorious new century, and the bodies left in her wake. By the end of her life, she had accomplished more than virtually any other woman in history. She built and grew the Romanov empire, amassed a vast fortune of art and land, and controlled an unruly and conniving court. Now, in a voice both indelible and intimate, she reflects on the decisions that gained her the world and brought her enemies to their knees. And before her last breath, shadowed by the bloody French Revolution, she sets up the end game for her last political maneuver, ensuring her successor and the greater glory of Russia.

Author Eva Stachniak has written a sequel to The Winter Palace, her first novel about Catherine the Great. The novel is told in present tense in Catherine's own point of view as the great empress lays dying and reflects upon her life.  She has suffered a massive stroke and death is imminent and near. The author did a wonderful job of getting deep into Catherine's head - her thoughts, her desires, her emotions.

There is a strong focus on her relationships with her children and grandchildren, what brought her joy, and what she regrets. As always, the research is thorough, along with wonderful descriptions of the era's clothing, sights, and smells.

The story is a sanitized version of her life that is presented in flashback mode, flitting back and forth between various points in her life in no chronological order. As a reader, I found this novel's focus challenging to understand and follow. Because of this, I highly recommend readers read The Winter Palace first to get a stronger grip on the storyline. For lovers of Catherine the Great and her impact on history, Eva Stachniak's novels are a great way to begin learning about this fascinating woman of history.

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