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Monday, May 18, 2015

Dunaway's Crossing by Nancy Brandon

"Miss Bea Dot! You all right? What happen to you?" California's husky voice penetrated the darkness, first as a tinny, distant sound, as if on the other end of a telephone line, but gradually growing clearer. No one ever had trouble hearing California. Bea Dot's mind cleared at the warmth and gentle pressure of her housekeeper's wide palm on her back. Opening Paragraph

Synopsis:

Finalist for the 2013 Georgia Author of the Year Award

Bea Dot Ferguson has a life many in Savannah envy: a wealthy husband, a luxurious house, a baby on the way. But appearances are deceiving. To hide a terrible secret, Bea Dot married a man she didn’t love—only to suffer his brutality later on. When her cousin Netta invites her for a visit in rural Pineview, Georgia, Bea Dot jumps at the chance to escape. But she soon learns she’s traded one perilous situation for another—Pineview has been infected with deadly Spanish influenza. As the epidemic escalates, Bea Dot and Netta must fight for survival. With the help of Will Dunaway, a recently returned Great War veteran, Bea Dot draws upon strength she never knew she had. As she and Will desperately try to avoid contagion, their mutual attraction grows, making them both the target of her husband’s wrath. A sweeping Southern tale of hope and betrayal, love and loss, Dunaway’s Crossing is a moving testament to the strength of the human spirit.

Review by Mirella Patzer

Dunaway's Crossing by Nancy Brandon is a novel of the American south, in and around Savannah Georgia, in the aftermath of World War I. In this poignant tale of love and flight from domestic abuse, the author evokes a time and mood unique to the unusual setting. There is plenty to laud about this story. First, it's simply told and an easy read. I was able to sit back and let the story sweep me away without struggling to comprehend or difficult vocabulary. Second, I loved the unique setting. The American south truly is unique and any story that can churn up the feel and mood of the times, truly is a work of art. This book definitely does that. And third, it's a nice story, well paced, richly told, and one that is believable and realistic. Complex characters face numerous challenges both personal and societal. it's not hard to see why this book finalled in a writing contest. A nice easy read with plenty of depth. Lots to enjoy here!
 

Friday, May 15, 2015

Never Isn't Long Enough by F. Diane Pickett

The rebuilding of the South after the Civil War brought industrialization, urbanization, and technological advances to rural American farms. "Never Isn't Long Enough" captures how these transformations affected the romance between a young farm girl and a wealthy older man called to God and commerce. "Life on the farm, the coming of the automobile, moonshiners, the Roaring Twenties, the movie house ... they're all here! 

The Civil War had a devastating impact on the south. Author F. Diane Pickett has written an entertaining and informative novel about the aftermath of war and the rebuilding of lives and the restoration of the American south. Based on her own family history, we see the south through the eyes of characters who were forced to endure and adapt and progress.  

At times poignant, at times humorous, there is plenty of historical detail and accuracy that brings the era alive. At the heart of the story are a manly mountain man named Pick and a young adventurous woman named Faye. 

At times, the novel reads more like non-fiction than fiction, however the tale is so endearing, it kept me reading to the end. A nice historical story!

Review by Mirella Patzer
Historical Novel Review

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Tides of Honour by Genevieve Graham

A novel of love, loss, and honour amidst the horrors of war and its aftermath.

In the summer of 1916, Private Daniel Baker marches into battle with the boys of Nova Scotia’s 25th Battalion. Out of brutal necessity, Danny has steeled himself against the trials and horrors of war, but he is completely unprepared to meet the love of his life in war-torn France.

Audrey Poulin has the soul of an artist. She lives alone with her grandmother in the quiet French countryside, where her only joy is in her brush and palette. When, by chance, she encounters Danny, the handsome young soldier captures her heart and inspires her painting. The young lovers believe that only together can they face the hardships the war brings.

But love is just the beginning. Mere months later, Danny is gravely wounded at the Battle of the Somme, and his future is thrown into uncertainty. Soon, he and Audrey find themselves struggling to build a new life in Halifax, a city grieving its lost men. As the grey winter of 1917 sets in, Danny’s lack of purpose and Audrey’s isolation continue to mount, pulling the two apart just as a new catastrophe threatens their existence.

Heartrending and enthralling, Tides of Honour is a novel of love and second chances set against Halifax’s most devastating moment of the First World War.

Review by Mirella Patzer

France, 1916. When Audrey Poulin encounters a troop of Canadian soldiers, she gives them shelter and food for the night. Among them is Private Daniel Baker. An instant enchantment arises between them and by the time he has to depart, they are deeply in love with each other. As the war rages, the young lovers exchange letters and they promise to wed as soon as Danny can return. But destiny intervenes and Danny is severely wounded. He releases Audrey from her pledge to marry him. But Audrey's deep love for Danny won't allow it. She travels from France to Nova Scotia, a vastly different life and setting from the French countryside where she grew up, and there she falls in love with the village and her new family. The aftermath of war is far reaching and Danny grows ever more despondent, bringing conflict and loss into their lives. It takes a major Canadian disaster for the two lovers to find themselves once more.

This multi-layered novel and its intriguing subplots makes this one of the best novels I've read this year. It's more than a love story. The tale successfully incorporates World War I, the Halifax explosion, and two different countries and blends it with subthemes of love, art, family, loss, PTSD. Rich, compelling, and totally engrossing - this novel is definitely one to read! Historically accurate and brilliantly researched, the story is alive and vivid. Loved this novel and I highly recommend it to everyone from all nations, but especially to Canadian readers! 

Monday, April 27, 2015

A Stranger's Secret and Laurie Alice Eakes' Traditional Cornish Pastie Recipe!

"The storm left more than missing roof tiles and downed tree branches in its wake. A mast, splintered like a twig in the hands of a giant's child and tossed upon the beach, a handful of spars, and masses of tangled rigging bellowed a tale of desruction. That not a box, barrel, or chest floated on the returning tide amidst the skeleton of the wrecked ship testified to destruction well beyond the ravages of the sea." Opening Paragraph
Synopsis:

As a grieving young widow, Morwenna only wants a quiet life for herself and her son. Until a man washes ashore, entangling her in a web of mystery that could threaten all she holds dear.

Lady Morwenna Trelawny Penvenan indulged in her fair share of dalliances in her youth, but now that she's the widowed mother to the heir of the Penvenan title, she's desperate to polish her reputation. When she's accused of deliberately luring ships to crash on the rocks to steal the cargo, Morwenna begins an investigation to uncover the real culprits and stumbles across an unconscious man lying in the sea's foam—a man wearing a medallion with the Trelawny crest around his neck.
The medallion is a mystery to David Chastain, a boat builder from Somerset. All David knows is that his father was found dead in Cornwall with the medallion in his possession after lying and stealing his family's money. And he knows the widow who rescued him is impossibly beautiful—and likely the siren who caused the shipwreck in the first place—as well as the hand behind whoever is trying to murder David.
As Morwenna nurses David back to health and tries to learn how he landed on her beach, suspicion and pride keep their growing attraction at bay. But can they join together to save Morwenna's name and estate and David’s life? Can they acknowledge the love they are both trying to deny?

Review by Mirella Patzer

Young and widowed, Morwenna Penvenan struggles to maintain her estate for her young son. Before she married, Morwenna was a bit of a wild child. Marriage to her husband provided her with security and comfort, but after his death, Morwenna is on the verge of losing everything due to poverty and some criminality occurring on her property. Someone is sending false signals to ships which sends them crashing onto her beach. The thieves then steal the cargo. And suspicion falls on her. On one such occasion, she encounters a nearly drowned man, badly beaten, who has washed up on her shore. His name is David Chastain and he wears a medallion with her family crest. She runs to get help, and when she returns, the man is still there, but the medallion is gone. She takes him to her home and begins nursing him back to health. As he recovers, Morwenna learns he is searching for answers to his father's death. Bit by bit, their destinies become entangled, and soon they become each other's allies. As suspicion threatens Morwenna, it is David who is the only one who believes her. 

I thoroughly enjoyed this novel. Its pages are filled with secrets, mystery, betrayal, and blosomming love. Morwenna is a wonderfully strong heroine, courages in the face of adversity, honest among thieves and liars, honorable in her interactions. Written in an easy to read, and pleasing prose, it was a quick, romantic read! A beautiful love story with an unforgettable heroine. Highly recommended!   

I'd like to extend a very warm welcome for historical fiction author, Laurie Alice. She has provided us with a traditional recipe for Cornish Pasties and explains a little about her latest novel I just reviewed above. It truly is one of the best books I read this year. 


Cornish Pastie

Cornwall: The Fascination with a Recipe

Once upon a time, a librarian gave a teenaged bookworm girl a book called Jamaica Inn by Daphne DuMaurier. Dubious because of the title, the girl took the book politely, settled in a chair . . . and barely came up for air until she finished the last word. What fourteen-year-old girl could resist a story about a young woman cast upon the world, a mysterious dark stranger, and smugglers? Not this one, that’s for sure. Thus was born my lifelong fascination with Cornwall.

Cornwall, I learned over the next many years of reading novels, legends, and nonfiction set in that land, is a county at the far southwest corner of England. It’s a peninsula thrusting a finger into the Atlantic Ocean, with the English Channel to the south and the Bristol Channel to the north. Along the eastern border is the Tamar River, which runs nearly from sea, to sea, stopping short of making this land an island. I say “land” rather than county, for many years, Cornwall was separated from Britain by language, dress, and culture. The people thought of themselves as Cornish, not English. After all, this was the land that gave rise to King Arthur. Cornishmen spoke a Celtic language rather than one derived from Saxon, as did those in the counties east of the Tamar. Cornishmen even had their own foods. The Pastie

When I discovered this, I felt a personal connection with Cornwall. To me, a pastie was something I had eaten. We have pastie shops in Michigan where I grew up. Cornishmen settled in my native state, especially the northern area where the copper mines exist. A pastie is essentially a meat pie and something my family still makes. With all this interest in and connection to (however loosely) Cornwall, how could I not write books set in this intriguing county? Smugglers? Wreckers? Ancient mines and natural caves tangling and twisting beneath the rocky soil. My imagination runs wild just thinking about this wild land. Until around 1700, Cornwall possessed it’s own language. Although that language had been considered dead for several decades before the setting of my Cliffs of Cornwall books, I hunted high and low to find a Cornish-English dictionary to get a feel for the people’s background. I bought books on Cornish names and read through them hunting for ones that translated well into English and weren’t too weird in their native incarnation.

When I asked my critique partners about some potential names for my hero in A Lady’s Honor, the names were so foreign-sounding my widely read fellow authors told me those sounded like the names of aliens in a science fiction novel. So I did change the spelling of Ruan, to Rowan for the sake of the reader. By the nineteenth century, Cornwall was fairly civilized. Fairly, not completely. Britain was at war with France only a hundred miles away across the English Channel and Cornwall possessed miles of unguarded coastline with inlets for tucking boats and caves for hiding goods like silk, tea, and brandy, making smuggling a common and lucrative practice.

As for the wrecking—the practice of luring ships to their doom in order to plunder the cargo—so much a part of A Stranger’s Secret, I found conflicting resources on whether or not it took place. Some Cornishmen claim it never did. Others in original sources from the time period, declare it absolutely did. From what I have read of Cornish history, especially with the staggering poverty as mine after mine paid out and closed, I suspect wrecking was what kept many a family supplied with food and clothing in a harsh climate little good for farming.Smuggling and wrecking are lawless and dangerous activities and not in the least romantic. Struggling against these rebellions in a wild land steeped in legend and bombarded by the sea, however, calls to my romantic soul.

Pasties

Crust

2 c flour
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
2/3 cut shortening (I use butter)
1 tbsp lemon juice
1 egg
½ c. water

Mix with fork until soft and crumbly.

Chill.

Filling

1 lb ground beef (I prefer chopped steak)
3 smallish potatoes cut into Cubes
3 carrots chopped
Whole onion chopped
1 tsp salt
½ tsp black pepper

Divide dough and roll into 8 inch circles.

Fill with ½ cup filling and fold dough in half

Pinch edges to seal.

Place (I use a spatula to lift them) onto a Greased cookie sheet

Pierce several holes in the top with a fork. Sprinkle with salt if desired.

1 hour at 350

Remove from oven and let stand for a few minutes so they don’t’ fall apart.

Makes about 8 pasties.

Note: Pastie shops in Michigan offer a variety of fillings including vegetarian ones. 

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

A Desperate Fortune by Susanna Kearsley

"My cousin didn't try to catch the bride's bouquet. She knew me well enough to know I wouldn't try to catch it either." Opening Sentence

Synopsis:

New York Times bestselling author Susanna Kearsley delivers a riveting novel that deftly intertwines the tales of two women, divided by centuries and forever changed by a clash of love and fate.

For nearly three hundred years, the cryptic journal of Mary Dundas has kept its secrets. Now, amateur codebreaker Sara Thomas travels to Paris to crack the cipher. Jacobite exile Mary Dundas is filled with longing-for freedom, for adventure, for the family she lost. When fate opens the door, Mary dares to set her foot on a path far more surprising and dangerous than she ever could have dreamed.

As Mary's gripping tale of rebellion and betrayal is revealed to her, Sara faces events in her own life that require letting go of everything she thought she knew-about herself, about loyalty, and especially about love. Though divided by centuries, these two women are united in a quest to discover the limits of trust and the unlikely coincidences of fate.

Review by Mirella Patzer

A Desperate Fortune is another winning novel by Susanna Kearsley. If you haven't read any of this author's books before, I encourage you to do so. Her novels are usual dual stories, one with a heroine in a contemporary setting, and the other in a historic setting. 

In this novel, the year is 1732. Mary Dundas is a young woman who was abandoned by her family when she was young. She has a talent for breaking ciphers, and is soon asked to assist the Jacobite king. This catapults her into a dangerous adventure where she becomes embroiled with a man called MacPherson who helps keep Mary safe on her journey.

In contemporay times, Sara Thomas has been asked to decode Mary's old diary. Sara has Asperger's Syndrome, which renders her unable to understand emotions and feelings in herself and in others. As she discovers that she is in love, Sara struggles with several relationships. 

As Sara's and Mary's stories entertwine, the reader is taken on a wonderful, insightful journey where these two heroines discover their potential, their love for their men, and their inner strength to overcome adversity. Susanna Kearsley's books never disappoint. Get your copy of this one right away. I promise you won't be disappointed.


Monday, April 20, 2015

The Dream Lover by Elizabeth Berg

New York Times bestselling author Elizabeth Berg has written a lush historical novel based on the sensuous Parisian life of the nineteenth-century writer George Sand—which is perfect for readers of Nancy Horan and Elizabeth Gilbert.
 
At the beginning of this powerful novel, we meet Aurore Dupin as she is leaving her estranged husband, a loveless marriage, and her family’s estate in the French countryside to start a new life in Paris. There, she gives herself a new name—George Sand—and pursues her dream of becoming a writer, embracing an unconventional and even scandalous lifestyle.
 
Paris in the nineteenth century comes vividly alive, illuminated by the story of the loves, passions, and fierce struggles of a woman who defied the confines of society. Sand’s many lovers and friends include Frédéric Chopin, Gustave Flaubert, Franz Liszt, Eugène Delacroix, Victor Hugo, Marie Dorval, and Alfred de Musset. As Sand welcomes fame and friendship, she fights to overcome heartbreak and prejudice, failure and loss. Though considered the most gifted genius of her time, she works to reconcile the pain of her childhood, of disturbing relationships with her mother and daughter, and of her intimacies with women and men. Will the life she longs for always be just out of reach—a dream?
 
Brilliantly written in luminous prose, and with remarkable insights into the heart and mind of a literary force, The Dream Lover tells the unforgettable story of a courageous, irresistible woman.

Review by Mirella Patzer

For female writers in the 19th century, it was difficult, if not impossible to get a book published. So many women used male names. This is exactly what Aurore Dupin did. She assumed the name George Sand to publish her books. But Dupin also liked to dress as a man while she hobnobbed with other famous persons who also lived in France at the same time. 

Author Elizabeth Berg has written a comprehensive biographical fiction novel about this author's life. She sweeps the reader into the decadence of Paris, into illustrious salons and restaurants and houses. The novel moves back and forth through various stages of George Sand's life, from childhood, to a failed marriage, to the later years of her life.

The book is written by a talented author, however, I struggled a bit with the over abundance of characters and the slow pace at the start of the book. It was a good book, but it did not grab me as I'd hoped it would. For those who wish to learn more about this fascinating author, then the book will provide great insight into this talented and prolific writer's life. 

Thursday, April 16, 2015

The Shepherdess of Siena by Linda Lafferty

Raised by her aunt and uncle amidst the rolling hills of the Tuscan countryside, young orphan Virginia Tacci has always harbored a deep love for horses—though she knows she may never have the chance to ride. As a shepherdess in sixteenth-century Italy, Virginia’s possibilities are doubly limited by her peasant class and her gender. Yet while she tends her flock, Virginia is captivated by the daring equestrian feats of the high-spirited Isabella de’ Medici, who rides with the strength and courage of any man, much to the horror of her brother, the tyrannical Gran Duca Francesco de’ Medici.
Inspired, the young shepherdess keeps one dream close to her heart: to race in Siena’s Palio. Twenty-six years after Florence captured Siena, Virginia’s defiance will rally the broken spirit of the Senese people and threaten the pernicious reign of the Gran Duca. Bringing alive the rich history of one of Tuscany’s most famed cities, this lush, captivating saga draws an illuminating portrait of one girl with an unbreakable spirit.

Author Linda Lafferty propels readers into the Italian Renaissance in the Tuscany Region. It is an epic saga and adventure, a wonderfully rich and complex story with many layers and fascinating characters. 

The story surrounds a young, innocent shepherdess who develops a strong fondness for horses and an uncanny ability to understand them. The tale sweeps us into the heart of Tuscany and allows readers to get to know the royals of the era along with members of the Medici family.

The author has done a great deal of research into the era, especially concerning the popular sport, the Palio. She gives us a glimpse into the competitivemess, the politics, the training, and the passion of this equestrians port that is still played today!

There are plenty of twists and turns, and even though there is no terribly strong romance, there is a love connection. From the hills of Tuscany, to the streets of Siena, to the hidden abbey's and convents scattered throughout the area, this is one story that kept me spell bound to the very end. Betrayal, murder, kidnapping, love, and much, much more, fill every page. Definitely a tale for the horse lover in all of us.