Wednesday, October 4, 2017

The Orphan of Florence by Jeanne Kalogridis


In this irresistible historical novel set in the turbulent world of the Medicis, a young woman finds herself driven from pick-pocketing to espionage when she meets a mysterious man.
Giulia has been an orphan all her life. Raised in Florence's famous Ospedale degli Innocenti, her probing questions and insubordinate behavior made her an unwelcome presence, and at the age of fifteen, she was given an awful choice: become a nun, or be married off to a man she didn't love. She chose neither, and after refusing an elderly suitor, Giulia escaped onto the streets of Florence.
Now, after spending two years as a successful pickpocket, an old man catches her about to make off with his purse, and rather than having her carted off to prison he offers her a business proposition. The man claims to be a cabalist, a student of Jewish mysticism and ritual magic, who works for the most powerful families in Florence. But his identity is secret—he is known only as "the Magician of Florence"—and he is in need of an assistant. She accepts the job and begins smuggling his talismans throughout the city.
But the talismans are not what they seem, and neither is the Magician. When Giulia's involvement with him ends with his murder, she's drawn into a treacherous web of espionage and deceit involving the forces of Rome, Naples, and a man known as Lorenzo the Magnificent. Accused of the Magician's murder, Giulia is pursued by the handsome policeman Niccolo, Lorenzo's henchmen, and foreign spies, and in order to survive, she must not only solve the mystery of the mystery of the Magician's murder, but that of her own past.

REVIEW

Giuliana is a 15 year old orphan living off the streets of Florence after being released from an orphanage. She takes responsibility for another young orphan named Tommasso who is 6 years old. As a pickpocket, it was safer for her to dress as a boy, hence she called herself Giuliano. One night, she picks the pocket of an old man who turns out to be the Magician of Florence. Instead of turning her in, he takes her into his fold, promising to teach her the secrets of Magic. It is there she meets Niccolo who was also raised by the Magician. It is then she is thrust into a world of intrigue, murder, dark secrets, and treachery at its worst.

Jeanne Kalogridis has once again spun an enthralling tale filled with enthralling characters who are unpredictable and ever evolving. Some are lovable and some are despicable. With detailed descriptions of city of Florence, its culture and politics, and the colourful dress of its inhabitants, an authentic, genuine setting was brought to life. The story moves along at a fast pace with plenty of twists and turns along the way. Expect the unexpected! Beautifully told, wonderfully creative, this is another lovely novel by one of my favourite authors of all time. Highly, highly recommended.

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

The Good People by Hannah Kent


Short-listed for the Walter Scott Prize for Historical Fiction

One of Entertainment Weekly's "Must-Read" books for Fall


From the author of Burial Rites, "a literary novel with the pace and tension of a thriller that takes us on a frightening journey towards an unspeakable tragedy."-Paula Hawkins, bestselling author of The Girl on the Train

Based on true events in nineteenth century Ireland, Hannah Kent's startling new novel tells the story of three women, drawn together to rescue child from a superstitious community. 

Nora, bereft after the death of her husband, finds herself alone and caring for her grandson Micheál, who can neither speak nor walk. A handmaid, Mary, arrives to help Nóra just as rumours begin to spread that Micheál is a changeling child who is bringing bad luck to the valley. Determined to banish evil, Nora and Mary enlist the help of Nance, an elderly wanderer who understands the magic of the old ways.


Set in a lost world bound by its own laws, THE GOOD PEOPLE is Hannah Kent's startling new novel about absolute belief and devoted loveTerrifying, thrilling and moving in equal measure, this follow-up to Burial Rites shows an author at the height of her powers.

REVIEW

I do enjoy a dark book, and this one definitely falls within that category. The story is set in 19th Century Ireland and is set on true events. 

In an isolated community where a physician's aid is difficult to come by, the people depend upon old wives tales, superstitions, and the help of a healer. Nora is the protagoist and when her husband suddenly and unexpectedly dies, she is left alone to raise their handicapped grandson. Unable to run the farm and take care of the invalid child, she hires the help of a young woman named Mary to care for the boy. At first Mary is shocked and struggles to find her comfort in her strange circumstances. Soon, however, her bond with the boy grows. Superstition abounds and Nora is convinced the boy is not her grandson but a changeling left by the mysterious, fairy, magical "good folk".  With the help of the local healer, an old woman who practices with superstition and herbs, the three women set about to return the child to the good people and seek the return of the real boy. 

What transpires is a fascinating tale of misguided intentions, false beliefs, and heart-wrenching circumstances. At times, especially during the middle of the book, it felt almost too hard to believe, nearly fantastical, but then I recalled how this is a story based on an actual occurrence and I read on, unable to put it down. Vividly real, flawed characters grace every page. 

This is a wonderfully dark tale not for the feint of heart. To say it is heart-wrenching is an understatement. This is a great book for book clubs and for Halloween. It will provide hours of discussion! Highly recommended. I loved it very much!

I, Eliza Hamilton by Susan Holloway Scott



In this beautifully written novel of historical fiction, bestselling author Susan Holloway Scott tells the story of Alexander Hamilton’s wife, Eliza—a fascinating, strong-willed heroine in her own right and a key figure in one of the most gripping periods in American history.

“Love is not easy with a man chosen by Fate for greatness . . .”
As the daughter of a respected general, Elizabeth Schuyler is accustomed to socializing with dignitaries and soldiers. But no visitor to her parents’ home has affected her so strongly as Alexander Hamilton, a charismatic, ambitious aide to George Washington. They marry quickly, and despite the tumult of the American Revolution, Eliza is confident in her brilliant husband and in her role as his helpmate. But it is in the aftermath of war, as Hamilton becomes one of the country’s most important figures, that she truly comes into her own.  
In the new capital, Eliza becomes an adored member of society, respected for her fierce devotion to Hamilton as well as her grace. Behind closed doors, she astutely manages their expanding household, and assists her husband with his political writings. Yet some challenges are impossible to prepare for. Through public scandal, betrayal, personal heartbreak, and tragedy, she is tested again and again. In the end, it will be Eliza’s indomitable strength that makes her not only Hamilton’s most crucial ally in life, but also his most loyal advocate after his death, determined to preserve his legacy while pursuing her own extraordinary path through the nation they helped shape together.

REVIEW

I am passionate about reading historical biographical novels about the lesser known women of history. I am especially thrilled when authors break away from the over abundance of novels about the same women over and over again - i.e. Cleopatra, the Tudors, Marie Antoinette, etc. to name a few.

So I was thrilled to read about Eliza Hamilton, a woman deeply in love with one of the most brilliant writers and politicians in the time of George Washington and Benedict Arnold. The novel begins with the start of a strong physical and emotional chemistry between Eliza and Alexander Hamilton, a ruthless soldier and military aid. The author has researched this era completely, putting together a tale true to the times, complete with the actual politics and politicians and famous personages. What results is a true picture and analysis of the times. But beyond the political atmosphere, we meet a strong, determined woman who loved her husband, with all his qualities and faults. 

There is much to laud about this wonderfully told story through the point of view of a determined, supportive woman who stood by her man despite scandals, political intrigue, and the financialo struggles they faced.

Highly recommended!

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

A Dangerous Woman from Nowhere by Kris Radish



Briar Logan is a loner who has already survived a wretched childhood, near starvation, and the harsh western frontier in the 1860s. Just when she is on the brink of finally opening her heart to the possibilities of happiness, the love of her life is kidnapped by lawless gold miners―and she steels herself for what could be the greatest loss of her life.

Desperate to save her husband and the solitary life they have carved out of the wilderness, Briar is forced to accept the help of a damaged young man and a notorious female horse trainer. Facing whiskey runners, gold thieves, unpredictable elements, and men who will stop at nothing to get what they want, the unlikely trio must forge an uncommon bond in order to survive. Full of lessons of love, letting go, and the real meaning of family, A Dangerous Woman From Nowhere is a timeless western adventure story about courage, change, risk, and learning how to unlock damaged hearts and live in the sweet moments of now.

REVIEW

In the mid 1800's when Briar Logan, known to others as Mika, is kidnapped, his wife Briar sets off to rescue him. She dubs herself "a dangerous woman" and gathers all the tools and weapons to bring about Mika's rescue. 

The prose is lush and vividly detailed, sweeping the reader into the era and setting. As I read along, I watched Briar transform herself from ranch wife to warrior woman, fearless, courageous, tenacious. 

From her forlorn childhood as an orphan, Briar is bent on keeping all that she has worked for all her life, along with the love of her dear husband. Deep point of view and rich prose brought deep into the heart of this woman, giving insight and admiration for how she managed to survive her plight.

An excellent western that is credible and filled with characters that are larger than life. Highly recommended. 

Thursday, September 21, 2017

The Unquiet Grave by Sharyn McCrumb


From New York Times bestselling author Sharyn McCrumb comes a finely wrought novel set in nineteenth-century West Virginia, based on the true story of one of the strangest murder trials in American history—the case of the Greenbrier Ghost.

Lakin, West Virginia, 1930
Following a suicide attempt and consigned to a segregated insane asylum, attorney James P. D. Gardner finds himself under the care of Dr. James Boozer. Fresh out of medical school, Dr. Boozer is eager to try the new talking cure for insanity, and encourages his elderly patient to reminisce about his experiences as the first black attorney to practice law in nineteenth-century West Virginia. Gardner's most memorable case was the one in which he helped to defend a white man on trial for the murder of his young bride—a case that the prosecution based on the testimony of a ghost.

Greenbrier, West Virginia, 1897
Beautiful, willful Zona Heaster has always lived in the mountains of West Virginia. Despite her mother’s misgivings, Zona marries Erasmus Trout Shue, the handsome blacksmith who has recently come to Greenbrier County. After weeks of silence from the newlyweds, riders come to the Heasters’ place to tell them that Zona has died from a fall, attributed to a recent illness. Mary Jane is determined to get justice for her daughter. A month after the funeral, she informs the county prosecutor that Zona’s ghost appeared to her, saying that she had been murdered. An autopsy, ordered by the reluctant prosecutor, confirms her claim.

The Greenbrier Ghost is renowned in American folklore, but Sharyn McCrumb is the first author to look beneath the legend to unearth the facts. Using a century of genealogical material and other historical documents, McCrumb reveals new information about the story and brings to life the personalities in the trial: the prosecutor, a former Confederate cavalryman; the defense attorney, a pro-Union bridgeburner, who nevertheless had owned slaves; and the mother of the murdered woman, who doggedly sticks to her ghost story—all seen through the eyes of a young black lawyer on the cusp of a new century, with his own tragedies yet to come.

With its unique blend of masterful research and mesmerizing folklore, illuminating the story’s fascinating and complex characters, The Unquiet Grave confirms Sharyn McCrumb’s place among the finest Southern writers at work today.

REVIEW


Sharyn McCrumb returns with a haunting tale based upon actual true life events. It is about the murder of a young wife and the subsequent trial of the accused, her husband. What makes the tale fascinating is the convicting testimony came from the victim's mother who gave evidence that her daughter's ghost led her to discover the death was actually a murder. This resulted in the exhumation of the corpse and the subsequent charges and trial. 

Set in the late 1800's, the novel explores the victim, accused, and family. In addition, time is spent on the backgrounds of the prosecutor and defence lawyers. Known as the case of the Greenbriar Ghost, the author has researched the case in great detail, drawing on photos, maps, and legal certificates of those involved. Another historical fact is that the defence lawyer was the first black attorney in Virginia. 

The first half of the book is fast paced and gripping. A bit of momentum is lost in the second half as the conversation between the defence lawyer and his psychiatric doctor in the mental institution revealing details of the case dragged a bit.

Nevertheless, the story and characters kept me enthralled to the end. A nice mix of mystery and folk tale! Definitely recommended.