Wednesday, November 16, 2016

The Secrets of Westborough Hall by Felicity Knight


Book Summary 

In 1936, Thea Cavendish has a rude awakening when she discovers the death of her father in the newspaper and the double life he led. Banned from his funeral, she secretly attends his internment, where she meets her half-brother, the new Earl of Westborough, Piers Devine. She is welcomed into the Devine Family by Piers but is shunned by the Dowager Countess Clarissa Devine. Over time a series of events lead her into the unravelling of her past origins, all played out against the backdrop of World War II. Thea's happiness will be ultimately defined by what she discovers when her own family give up their secrets...

Opinion

From the moment I opened this book, I was hopelessly hooked. It is a wonderfully written family saga in the vein of Downtown Abbey, but in this case, it truly is as good or better than the award winning television series. 

It opens with Thea who live alone with her mother. One morning, she opens the newspaper to see a picture of the man she has always known as her father. It is a death announcement. What is even more shocking, the obituary lists him as the Earl of Westborough! It is then she learns that her father had been living a double life with two different families - her mother his mistress, and she a bastard child.  
The family lawyer reveals the truth and Thea and her mother are well provided for, but she secretly is intrigued by her father's other family. It is then she goes to the funeral and meets her half-brother, the new Earl, Piers. What follows is a tale of love, forgiveness, and acceptance, with many more secrets and difficulties yet to come. 

This was beautifully written, captivating in all its aspects, with larger than life characters who are so real, I felt I had known them for years. Each character has their own journey, their own difficulties to overcome, and this is what makes the story such a page turner. 

Bar none - this is one of the best historical family sagas I have ever read!  Read it and see for yourself.

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

A Warrior of the People by Joe Starita


On March 14, 1889, Susan La Flesche received her medical degree―becoming the first Native American doctor in U.S. history. She earned her degree thirty-one years before women could vote and thirty-five years before Indians could become citizens in their own country.
By age twenty-six, this fragile but indomitable Indian woman became the doctor to her tribe. Overnight, she acquired 1,244 patients scattered across 1,350 square miles of rolling countryside with few roads. Her patients often were desperately poor and desperately sick―tuberculosis, small pox, measles, influenza―families scattered miles apart, whose last hope was a young woman who spoke their language and knew their customs.
This is the story of an Indian woman who effectively became the chief of an entrenched patriarchal tribe, the story of a woman who crashed through thick walls of ethnic, racial and gender prejudice, then spent the rest of her life using a unique bicultural identity to improve the lot of her people―physically, emotionally, politically, and spiritually. 


A Warrior of the People is the moving biography of Susan La Flesche’s inspirational life, and it will finally shine a light on her numerous accomplishments.


The author will donate all royalties from this book to a college scholarship fund he has established for Native American high school graduates.

OPINION

I am always thrilled to discover a woman of history who broke barriers and rose above insurmountable odds to achieve a lofty goal even in today's terms. Susan La Flesche did just that. Despite all her amazing achievements, little is known about the details of her life. 

Author Joe Starita has conducted intricate research to recreate the path of this wonderous woman's life. He portrayed her honorably, in a way that showed off her fortitude and determined intelligence. She was a woman dedicated to her people and to improving their lives. Teacher, healer, scholar, wife, mother, and physician, she forged through barriers to become the first American Native woman to become a doctor. 

Definitely worth reading - it will inspire and motivate you! 

Monday, November 7, 2016

The Witches of New York by Ami Mckay


In the vein of Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell, comes a new novel from historical fiction maven Ami McKay that transports readers to the heart of Victorian New York, where three witches practice their craft—to the delight of some—but at their own peril.
Respectable Lady Seeks Dependable Shop Girl. Those averse to magic need not apply.
New York in the spring of 1880 is a place alive with wonder and curiosity. Determined to learn the truth about the world, its residents enthusiastically engage in both scientific experimentation and spiritualist pursuits. Séances are the entertainment of choice in exclusive social circles, and many enterprising women—some possessed of true intuitive powers, and some gifted with the art of performance—find work as mediums.

Enter Adelaide Thom and Eleanor St. Clair. At their humble teashop, Tea and Sympathy, they provide a place for whispered confessions, secret cures, and spiritual assignations for a select society of ladies, who speak the right words and ask the right questions. But the profile of Tea and Sympathy is about to change with the fortuitous arrival of Beatrice Dunn.

When seventeen-year-old Beatrice leaves the safety of her village to answer an ad that reads "Respectable Lady Seeks Dependable Shop Girl. Those averse to magic need not apply," she has little inclination of what the job will demand of her. Beatrice doesn't know it yet, but she is no ordinary small-town girl; she has great spiritual gifts—ones that will serve as her greatest asset and also place her in grave danger. Under the tutelage of Adelaide and Eleanor, Beatrice comes to harness many of her powers, but not even they can prepare her for the evils lurking in the darkest corners of the city or the courage it will take to face them.

OPINION:

The Witches of New York is a novel about three mystical women who practice the art of witchcraft in a small teashop in the city of New York during Victorian period in the late 1800's. Between the three they offer seances, tarot card readings, midwifery, love spells, and herbal cures, as was popular during the era. There are also ghosts and magic sprinkled throughout.  

There is a strong magical element to this story, which may push historical fiction purists beyond their comfort zone. But if you can allow your imagination to believe, then I promise you will be charmed! Along with the white/good magic, there is also some darkness and evil in the form of a jealous husband and a religious zealot bent on making their lives miserable. The middle portion of the book was a little slow, but at the 2/3rd mark, the story definitely picks up. The author truly did a marvelous job at recreating the New York of the times with its culture, norms, and sights and sounds.

Ami McKay is a lovely writer. Her heroines are always strong and assertive. The storyline is both dark and pleasant with a touch of mystery and paranormal. Definitely a charming, fun read!  

Child of the River by Irma Joubert


A compelling coming of age story with an unlikely and utterly memorable heroine, Child of the River is a timeless tale of heartbreak and triumph set in South Africa at the dawn of apartheid.
Persomi is young, white, and poor, born the middle child of illiterate sharecroppers on the prosperous Fourie farm in the South African Bushveld. Persomi’s world is extraordinarily small. She has never been to the local village and spends her days absorbed in the rhythms of the natural world around her, escaping the brutality and squalor of her family home through the newspapers and books passed down to her from the main house and through her walks in the nearby mountains.
Persomi’s close relationship with her older brother Gerbrand and her fragile friendship with Boelie Fourie—heir to the Fourie farm and fortune—are her lifeline and her only connection to the outside world. When Gerbrand leaves the farm to fight on the side of the Anglos in WWII and Boelie joins an underground network of Boer nationalists, Persomi’s isolated world is blown wide open. But as her very small world falls apart, bigger dreams become open to her—dreams of an education, a profession, a native country that values justice and equality, and of love. As Persomi navigates the changing world around her—the tragedies of war and the devastating racial strife of her homeland—she finally discovers who she truly is, where she belongs, and why her life—and every life—matters.
The English language publication of Child of the River solidifies Irma Joubert as a unique and powerful voice in historical fiction.
International bestselling author IRMA JOUBERT was a history teacher for 35 years before she began writing fiction. Her stories are known for their deep insight into personal relationships and rich historical detail. She is the author of eight novels and a regular fixture on bestseller lists in The Netherlands and in her native South Africa. She is the winner of the 2010 ATKV Prize for Romance Novels.

Five Things You Need to Know:

1.            Child of the River was originally written in Afrikaans as Pérsomi and was published in South Africa in 2010. The story is set in South Africa in the years 1938 to 1968. Americans will be familiar with the two historical themes: the poor white challenge and Apartheid. South Africa’s poor whites of the 1930’s and 1940’s can be compared to the American Dust Bowl experience of the 1930’s  – the “Okies” of Oklahoma, Colorado, Kansas, Texas and New Mexico. The second theme is the South African Apartheid system of the 1950’s and 1960’s, not unlike the segregationist ways then prevalent in the American South.  And the third and most prominent theme is the unlikely relationship between Pérsomi, the sharecropper’s daughter, and Boelie, the wealthy landowner’s eldest son.

2.            As with The Girl From the Train, this novel is set in the northernmost part of South Africa, on a cattle ranch in the Bushveld. The Bushveld is a rugged, hot, dry area that was still largely pioneer country during the mid 20th century. During those years most Afrikaners were farmers (boers in Afrikaans). Electricity was unknown on the Bushveld farms of the 1940’s and 1950’s. Farmers used lamps or candles for lighting and wood stoves for cooking. To enjoy an early morning cup of coffee, they had to fetch water from the river and light the wood stove to bring it to boil. Farmers slaugtered their own cattle or game for meat and baked their own bread in a specially built mud oven.

3.            Child of the River is based on two true stories. At school I knew many Pérsomis: girls who sat with me on school benches, shared dormitories with me at boarding school. They had never before slept on a bed, bathed or showered in a modern bathroom, nor knew how to use a knife and fork. These were the needy children who were handed down charity clothing and who had to collect state subsidised textbooks in front of gawking class mates. Their fathers were drunk weekend after weekend and their sisters were pregnant by age fourteen. My heart went out to them instinctively. I also experienced the Apartheid years. Where I grew up, the Asian owned shops were in the middle of town. I knew Mr. Ravat, his cohort and their shops from a young age. But then these traders were banned to a place far out of town. Their shops and homes were bulldozed. All that remained was a wound in the middle of town, empty land where guilty consciences prevented people from building. They just left because they could no longer trade. I felt their story needed and deserved to be told.

4.            Many hours of research went into writing this book. Revisiting the town of my youth, people opened their hearts, retelling many heart-wrenching stories I had heard over the years, unselfishly unravelling the sorrow I had witnessed as a child, but never understood. Much of my research involves conversations with people who experienced events themselves, or whose parents told them the stories. So I spoke with Mr. Ravat, whom I knew as a child. Today, he is a very old man. But at the time of their forced removal he was an upcoming young shopkeeper whose family had been living and trading in the town for generations. Then the silent terror of Apartheid and the Group Areas Act was upon them. His family was torn apart. The Asian characters in my story were pieced together from his memories and based on court reports. I found it personally very fulfilling.

5.            A follow up of this novel is due for publication in the US in 2017. Readers can again encounter the main characters Pérsomi and Boelie, the self-centered Annabel de Vos (she just forced herself into my novel, as she would!), the ever charming De Wet Fourie, Antonio’s brother Marco all the way from Italy, and the most interesting character of all, the young Asian doctor, Yusuf Ismail.

OPINION:

Based on actual accounts, this is a sweeping novel that takes the readers straight into the heart of Apartheid in South Africa during the mid 1950's. At the heart of the tale is a young woman named Persomis, the daughter of a poor whie sharecropper. Her home life is dysfunctional. Her father is a drunk who beats his family. When Persomis's mother is taken away by the police, social workers step in and seize her younger siblings. They send Persomi to a boarding school, she then attends university and earns a law degree. 

When she returns home, she takes on a case to fight against a law that forces non-whites to leave their homes, neighborhoods, and businesses and move to a location strictly for non-whites. It is this work that brings new enlightening to Persomi that forever alters her life.

The author knows her material well, and it materialized in the splendid descriptions and relaying the South African political atmosphere of the times. I very much appreciated the glossary of South African terms at the start of the book. The author has a knack for delving deep into the psyche of her characters which makes them real and often larger than life. Their plight became my plight and my emotions were stirred in many directions throughout the reading of this important historical novel. 

Review of Murder on the Minneapolis by Anita Davison




 PUBLISHER'S BLURB

NEW YORK 1900. A thrilling, historical, murder mystery on-board the maiden voyage of the S.S. Minneapolis featuring series character Flora Maguire. For fans of Downton Abbey
Young governess Flora Maguire is on her way home from America on the maiden voyage of the S.S. Minneapolis with her young charge Eddy, Viscount Trent, when she discovers a dead body.
Unconvinced when the death is pronounced an accident, Flora starts asking questions, but following threats, a near drowning and a second murder, the hunt is on for a killer. Time is running out as the Minneapolis approaches the English coast.
Will Flora be able to protect Eddy, as well as herself, and uncover the identity of the murderer?
Is her burgeoning relationship with the handsome Bunny Harrington only a shipboard dalliance, or something more?

REVIEW BY JENNIFER WELLS - author of The Liar from Aria Fiction

When I finished this book I felt as if I had just disembarked from a voyage on board an Edwardian passenger ship. I had not been aware that I had become so engrossed in the story.
This is an old fashioned type of mystery, much like those of Agatha Christie, yet the amount of period detail, especially that about the ship, gives the story an extra depth. The scene where the waves come crashing over the deck will stay with me for a long time.
The plot centres on governess, Flora, as she accompanies Eddy, her spirited charge, on a voyage back home to England. Flora is painfully aware that her first class ticket will not buy her acceptance among the upper class passengers, although she soon learns that several of her travelling companions are not what they seem.
Managing her precarious social standing among the other guests turns out to be the least of Flora’s worries when she discovers the body of a man who she alone believes did not die by accident. This assertion and her inquisitive nature drive her to discover more clues, another body, criminal activity and a society scandal. Yet Flora and the reader are left guessing the identity of the murderer right until the final scene.
I was surprised how involving this story became. I felt as if I really was on board the ship and mingling with the characters. When I put my Kindle down, I could still smell the sea air.

Jennifer Wells author of The Liar from Aria Fiction
Murder at Cleeve Abbey, the second book in the Flora Maguire Mysteries is scheduled for release on 1st December from Aria Fiction



Sunday, November 6, 2016

The Years that Followed by Catherine Dunn

Acclaimed international bestseller Catherine Dunne’s thrilling US debut is the story of two wronged women bent on revenge at all costs. Revenge is sweeter than regret...

Dublin. Calista is young, beautiful, and headstrong. When she falls in love with the charming, older Alexandros and moves to his native Cyprus, she could never imagine that her whirlwind courtship would lead to a dark and violent marriage. But Calista learns to survive. She knows she will find peace when she can finally seek retribution.



Madrid. Pilar grew up with very little means in rural Spain and finally escaped to a new life. Determined to leave poverty behind her, she plunges into a life of working hard and saving money. Enchanted by an older man, Pilar revels in their romance, her freedom, and accruing success. She’s on the road to achieving her dreams. Yet there is one thing that she is still searching for, the one thing she knows will make her truly happy.

Sweeping across the lush European backdrops of Spain, Greece, and Ireland, The Years That Followed is a gripping, modern telling of a classic story. As two wronged women plot for revenge, their intricately crafted schemes send shockwaves through their families that will echo for many generations to come.

OPINION:

Whenever I see the words "International Bestseller" I know that the book will be an excellent read. Such is the case here. I was hooked from the very first pages. The story unfolds around the lives of two women - Calista, the daughter of a well-to-do successful business man, and Pilar who flees her home after her mother's death to escape a life of poverty and servitude to her father and brothers. 

For Calista, what starts off as great loves, turns into something much darker and a bit sinister. For Pilar, she falls in love, but finds herself embroiled in difficulties as she works towards raising herself out of poverty. 

The author kept me guessing as to how these two women were connected until the very end. Their individual plights and struggles engaged me, reinforcing the understanding that each of us is responsible for their own destiny - and with effort and hope, we can each rise above whatever adversity we face in our own lives. Believable, powerful, and invigorating! All that is wrong, can be made right! Highly recommended! 

The Barbers by Katherine Pym


It is London 1663 and science flourishes in a mini-Renaissance. Celia Barber shares her father’s shop; he barbers, and she heals during a time when women are not allowed to practice medicine. 

As a licensed barber, Celia longs to visit the Royal Society or Surgeon’s Hall to see a dissection, but women are not allowed. She befriends a viscount who sneaks her into the Royal Society, where she sees an experiment and meets Robert Hooke, the great scientist of the day. Celia’s sister works as a domestic in Whitehall Palace, who finds an ancient coin. Will it lead to hidden treasure? 

Life in London is harsh. People sicken and die easily. As a healer, Celia sees tragedy. She cannot save all who come to her. Hardest of all, will she be able to save her brothers? 

OPINION:

During the 17th century, barbers were often also used as healers. In this story, Celia's father is the barber and Celia hones her skills as a healer. The story takes place in the aftermath of the execution of King Charles I, in the grimy streets of the seedier parts of London. I found this setting fascinating, especially because the author did not hesitate to bring out the crime and desperation. 

The characters are wonderfully quirky and nicely developed and believable. Most remarkable was the amount of research the author conducted into the various herbs, tinctures, and practices (both good and evil) of the healing arts of the time. I liked how the heroine demonstrated the strength and courage to maneuver among the prejudices against women healers and surgeons.  She dreams big - one day hoping to be accepted into the Royal Society of Surgeons. Her skill takes her from the streets of London into the Palace of Whitehall where her talents overcome her lower rank and allows her to hobnob with the nobility. It is there that she falls in love, but faces a life altering decision. 

This is not the first novel by Katherine Pym that I have read, and it definitely won't be the last. Why? Because she is able to take historical details and with great accuracy, weaves them into a enjoyable read! Her characters tug at the heart, her scenery so real you feel transported. Highly recommended!


Saturday, November 5, 2016

Erasmus T. Muddiman: A Tale of Publick Distemper by Katherine Pym

It is London 1665, a year fraught with strange and unearthly events. Comets fly low in the sky while merchants clamor for war. 


Eleven year old Erasmus T. Muddiman attends St Paul’s School with his younger brother. He enjoys Latin but hates to create Latin verses, preferring the new sciences as seen at the Royal Society. He plays football with the lads in Paul’s Yard, shimmies up the drainpipe outside his bedchamber window and he saves his brother, Desiderius, from all sorts of scrapes. 

Soon, Erasmus cannot avoid the rumors of war. Men and boys are press-ganged, taken to ships or the dockyards. Plague enters the city. As school fellows disappear, Erasmus and his family meet a terrible fate of survival. Who will live and who will die?



OPINION:

Of all the books I've read in my life, I have to say that I find the title of this novel the most creating and enchanting I've ever encountered. 

The year is 1665. Erasmus is the unlikely protagonist, a young teenage schoolboy living in London in the era before the time of the Great Fire of London. A horrendous plague is raging through the city, randomly killing hundreds. Even Erasmus's school is not immune as students succumb to the plague or are press-ganged into military ships. One such gang captures Erasmus and he soon finds himself at sea. 

As he struggles to get accustomed to sea life, the unpredictable happens. The ship blows up. Erasmus is badly burned and clings to life. Slowly, he recovers, and only one thought will not give him rest - to escape and return home to check on his family's welfare in the face of the plague.  

The author knows how to imbue a sense and flavor of the times on every page. The plight of Erasmus, a young boy thrust among men long before his time is most poignant. I couldn't help falling in love with his humanity and courage. The prose is highly readable and can transcend both gender and age! This is a wonderful adventure story packed with emotion. Highly recommended. 

The Witch House at Persimmon Point by Suzanne Palmieri

When Byrd Whalen returns to her family’s ancestral home to uncover secrets threatening to destroy a legacy she holds dear, she gets more than she bargained for. Over the course of one harrowing weekend, the dark haunted histories of the Amore women reveal themselves, leading Byrd to question everything she's ever believed about herself.
In 1890, Nan, the Amore family matriarch, was sent away to America with little more than a baby and a rocking chair, quickly finding work on the sprawling estate of the wildly eccentric Green family. This new life is one she wanted: loving and free with a family that understands and shares in her magic. But when tragedy strikes, destroying the mansion and the precious lives inside, Nan is left alone and pregnant with Reginald Green’s child. With nothing more than the deed to the property, she builds a house from the rubble and a new, pragmatic life. It would become a haunted life that would lead to other haunted lives. It would become a house both terrible and wonderful. It would become known as “The Witch House.”
An unforgettable family saga in the Gothic tradition, Suzanne Palmieri’s The Witch House of Persimmon Point is her most powerful novel yet.

OPINION:

What's not to love about a gothic style family saga with plenty of secrets, a haunted ancestral home, and a young woman on her own in life? It's a unique book, but not for the feint of heart. The cover looks as if this might be a book for youths and teens, but don't be fooled.  

The story is revealed through multiple points of view - the narratives of Byrd (our main protagonist) and other characters, some alive and some dead.  With so many characters, readers need to keep their wits about them to keep track of them all. Perhaps I struggled a little because I have not read the prior books in the series, so I do recommend you read the other books in the series in the order in which they are written. Collectively, the many characters reveal Byrd's dark family history. There is plenty of dysfunction, ghosts, suspicious deaths, and plenty of secrets.  

News of the World by

National Book Award Finalist—Fiction
It is 1870 and Captain Jefferson Kyle Kidd travels through northern Texas, giving live readings to paying audiences hungry for news of the world. An elderly widower who has lived through three wars and fought in two of them, the captain enjoys his rootless, solitary existence.
In Wichita Falls, he is offered a $50 gold piece to deliver a young orphan to her relatives in San Antonio. Four years earlier, a band of Kiowa raiders killed Johanna’s parents and sister; sparing the little girl, they raised her as one of their own. Recently rescued by the U.S. army, the ten-year-old has once again been torn away from the only home she knows.
Their 400-mile journey south through unsettled territory and unforgiving terrain proves difficult and at times dangerous. Johanna has forgotten the English language, tries to escape at every opportunity, throws away her shoes, and refuses to act “civilized.” Yet as the miles pass, the two lonely survivors tentatively begin to trust each other, forging a bond that marks the difference between life and death in this treacherous land.
Arriving in San Antonio, the reunion is neither happy nor welcome. The captain must hand Johanna over to an aunt and uncle she does not remember—strangers who regard her as an unwanted burden. A respectable man, Captain Kidd is faced with a terrible choice: abandon the girl to her fate or become—in the eyes of the law—a kidnapper himself. Exquisitely rendered and morally complex, News of the World is a brilliant work of historical fiction that explores the boundaries of family, responsibility, honor, and trust.

OPINION:

By 1870, Captain Jefferson Kyle Kidd spent his entire life in battle against the Indians and the Civil War. He is a widower and has left his two daughters in the south. He has become a loner and a wanderer, moving from one Texas town to the next. He discovers he can earn his way by reading stories from newspapers to folk he encounters. It won't make him rich, but he enjoys doing it. 

His life is turned upside down when he is hired to deliver a young ten year old that was captured by Indians four years prior and deliver her back to her family. But the child is unhappy to be pulled away from her Indian family and can no longer speak English or German. Basically, she has completely forgotten everything about the white world, from prayers to cutlery, clothing and food. Instead, she has become strong and able to make fire and cook. Most of all, she wants to return to her tribe who sold her to white settlers and who ultimately hired Kidd to take her back to her aunt and uncle.   

And so begins a dangerous journey, fraught with perilous people, weather, and landscape. It is this journey that draws love for the child out of Kidd's heart. This is a story of love and perseverance, and the ability to endure. Heart-wrenching, soul-stirring, and highly emotive, this book is a wonderful read.

News Of The World has been selected as a National Book Award finalist. And it deserves that honor. My only comment is to forewarn readers that the author uses no quotation marks throughout the book, and this made for some uneasy reading on my part as I continually had to re-read lines and paragraphs to comprehend that it was dialogue rather than narrative. Other than that, this book was perfection!

The Autumn Throne by Elizabeth Chadwick

The Son She Loved. The Betrayal She Faced. 
The Legend She Became.
The stunning conclusion to the Eleanor of Aquitaine trilogy!

Imprisoned by her husband. Separated from her children. If King Henry II thought these things would push his queen into submission, he was wrong. Eleanor of Aquitaine refused to give into his tyranny. Freed by his death, she became dowager Queen of England. But the competition for land and power that Henry bred among his sons had grown into a dangerous rivalry that Eleanor must skillfully control. Eleanor would need every ounce of courage and fortitude as she crossed the Alps in winter to bring her son Richard his bride, ransom him from imprisonment and deal with his brother John's treachery. Her indomitable spirit would be tested to its limits as she attempted to keep the peace between her warring sons, fend off enemies, and negotiate a magnificent future for a chosen granddaughter.

Opinion:

Very few authors are able to bring to life from the middle ages as well as Elizabeth Chadwick can. She has a gift for creating deep understanding of her character's thoughts, desires, and motivations. Years of meticulous research into all aspects of medieval life allows the author to enrich the reader's experience through minute details and rich descriptions regarding everyday medieval life, not only of the nobles, but of all social ranks of the time. 

The Autumn Throne is the concluding book in the trilogy of Eleanor of Aquitaine. Although you do not necessarily have to read the first two to understand the third book, I preferred to read the entire series to get a well-rounded view of Eleanor of Aquitaine's life. 



Highly recommended. Another 5 star book by this wonderful author who has long been one of my favorites.