December 16, 2014

The Mascherari by Laura Rahme


In this late medieval tale of mystery and the supernatural, Laura Rahme evokes a Venice long forgotten. From the dark sottoporticos of the Arsenal, to the wealthy mansions of Castello, and deep within the secret passages of the Ducal Palace, The Mascherari is an occult tale rich with history. Venezia, 1422. Doge Tommaso Mocenigo is on his death bed. An evil has come to Venice. An evil that will set the course for the future of La Serenissima. The following day, the Venice Republic's security council, the most feared Council of Ten, summons the Florentine inquisitor, Antonio da Parma, to hold an inquest on a most baffling case. During a sumptuous banquet, four of the merchants, including Giacomo Contarini, have met a chilling death. Enter the dashing Esteban dell Valle, a formidable Dardi-trained swordmaster of Nubian origins. Esteban grieves his stolen inheritance and the death of his Catalan adopted father. He survives, mysteriously, through the influence of high ranking patricians. He never removes his mask and has sworn to reclaim his wealth. Noble Catarina Contarini has a sad tale to tell. Her husband's death weighs upon her and so too, do the scandalous accusations that have been made against him. In her grief, she confides in Antonio da Parma and reveals her shocking secrets. But Catarina's darkest secret concerns a witch; a Napoletana named Magdalena. Despite himself, Antonio da Parma is drawn ever closer to the magnetic Magdalena. He unveils the truth behind the merchants' murders and comes face to face with a machination of monstrous evil. Through this fascinating Magdalena, an enchanter of admirals and merchants alike, Antonio begins to realize that his true quest is one he could never have imagined.


The Mascherari is an epistolary gothic-occult mystery novel set in 15th century Venice, The story unfolds through the written testimony, journals, and letters of the main characters. This clever style allows the story to unfold, one exciting turn after another. This is a murder mystery with a luscious plot and a touch of the occult. Venice’s fame for mask making and disguises adds a magic touch to the grandiose vibrancy of the fascinating city known as La Serenissima. Page by page, as each character adds a new revelation to the story, a sinister truth is revealed. Author Laura Rahme is a talented writer who knows how to keep the suspense rising while unveiling a story so rich with atmosphere, decadence, political climate, and societal practices of this wealthy city. And boy what a climax! It is one that kept me flipping the pages so fast to devour every detail that culminated in great satisfaction. This is one author to keep an eye on, not only for her talent in writing style, but in her ability as a wonderful storyteller.

December 15, 2014

Thieving Forest by Martha Conway

One woman's desperate obsession to unite with her kidnapped sisters

2014 North American Book Awards Winner for Best Historical Fiction 



On a humid morning in 1806, seventeen-year-old Susanna Quiner watches helplessly from behind a tree while a band of Potawatomi Indians kidnaps her four older sisters from their cabin. With both her parents dead from Swamp Fever and all the other settlers out in their fields, Susanna rashly decides to pursue them herself. What follows is a young woman's quest to save her sisters and the parallel story of her sisters' new lives.

Fast-paced and richly detailed, THIEVING FOREST explores the transformation of all five women as the Quiners contend with starvation, slavery, betrayal, and love. It paints a fascinating new picture of pioneer life among Native American communities, while telling a gripping tale of survival.

Thieving Forest is an extraordinary story about four sisters who live in the wilds of Ohio. One day, native people wander onto their homestead and capture three of them. Susanna manages to evade detection. Alone, penniless, and with little help, she risks her own life to find her sisters. Obsessed with reuniting with her siblings, she enters into a journey that will have many twists, calamities, and devastation.

The author has done a great deal of in-depth research into the day to day life of native tribes in the area that gave the story much credibility and literally brings the characters to life. There is desperation, trust, betrayal, and much courage to endure the hardships of life in the wilds. The pace moves steadily along with plenty to keep the reader engaged. Most importantly, the novel explores the adaptability of the human spirit in the face of great adversity. Another underlying theme is one of finding happiness whatever the circumstance one finds themselves in. It is not surprising that this novel won such a prestigious award. Very well done and a wonderful reading/learning experience. It leaves you with a deep appreciation of what our pioneer ancestors endured to build the great country of the United States of America. 

December 10, 2014

Book Giveaway - The Betrothal by Mirella Patzer

Leave a comment to win a copy!
Contest expires January 7th!
eBook version only and open to internatinal candidates!

An absorbing novel about wicked intentions, murder, obsessive love, undisclosed secrets, unstoppable destinies, and the woman whose secret will either destroy or restore lives. 
In a world filled with danger, one secret will change everything!

Book Giveaway - Blackmail, My Love: A Murder Mystery by Katie Gilmartin

A scintillating noir mystery! Leave a comment to win a copy!

Winner will be announced the first week of January! 

First-time novelist Katie Gilmartin breaks into noir fiction with her brilliantly conceived, illustrated thriller, Blackmail, My Love: A Murder Mystery. With a doctoral background in Queer Studies, Gilmartin reveals secret histories of San Francisco's mid-century queer underground as we follow her into a world of corruption, coercion, murder, and mystery. Josie O'Conner travels to San Francisco in 1951 to locate her gay brother, a private dick investigating a blackmail ring targeting lesbians and gay men. Jimmy's friends claim that just before he disappeared he became a rat, informing the cops on the bar community's nascent resistance to raids, graft, and brutality. Josie adopts Jimmy's trousers and wingtips as well as his investigation, battling to clear his name, halt the blackmailers, and exact justice for the mounting number of Queer corpses.
Set in such legendary locations as the Black Cat Cafe, the Fillmore, the Beat movement's North Beach, and the sexually complex Tenderloin,the novel's action is fueled by a 1951 California Supreme Court ruling that homosexuals have a right to congregate: the decision incited tavern owner resistance to customary payoffs in exchange for police protection, but provoked new tactics to justify raids and extortion. Blackmail, My Love distills fiction and queer history into a singular, visually stunning experience.
Katie Gilmartin received a Ph.D. in cultural studies from Yale, with an emphasis in queer history. After teaching the history of sexuality and queer studies for a decade at the University of California, Santa Cruz, the University of California, Berkeley, and The New College, she became a printmaker. Her prior publications are academic essays based on interviews she conducted with lesbians about their lives in the 1940s and 1950s. This is her first work of fiction. Gilmartin lives in San Francisco.

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November 26, 2014

The Barefoot Queen by Idelfonso Falcones

Book Synopsis

A romantic and thrilling historical adventure from the internationally bestselling author whose work Diana Gabaldon has called "Enthralling".

Spain, 1748. Caridad is a recently freed Cuban slave wandering the streets of Seville. Her master is dead and she has nowhere to go. When, by chance, she meets Milagros Carmona—a spellbinding, rebellious gypsy—the two women become inseparable. Caridad is swept into an exotic fringe society full of romance and art, passion and dancing.

But their way of life changes instantly when gypsies are declared outlaws by royal mandate and their world as a free people becomes perilous. The community is split up—some are imprisoned, some forced into hiding, all fearing for their lives. After a dangerous separation, Caridad and Milagros are reunited and join in the gypsies’ struggle for sovereignty against the widespread oppression. It’s a treacherous battle that cannot, and will not, be easily won. 

From the bustle of Seville to the theatres of Madrid, The Barefoot Queen is an unforgettable historical fresco filled with characters that live, suffer, and fight for the lives of those they love, and for the freedom they can’t live without. 


The Barefoot Queen is one of the best novels I've ever read. It has become an all-time favourite of mine. The setting is 18th century Spain, a brutal era where the gypsy people were persecuted, bringing to the forefront prejudics, adversity, and courage. The main characters are two women - Caridad, a freed slave who has always suffered abuse and neglect, and Milagros, who has always been surrounded by love and family. These two vastly different women are drawn to each other and soon, their worlds will collide bringing grave danger and immense changes to both their lives. The story culminates in a fabulously satisfying ending, with each subplot brought successfully to a close. 

Mr Falcones holds nothing back in recreating this violent period in history. He does not shirk away from describing the brutality, the sexual abuse of women, the murder of innocents. He tells the tale with a wonderful writing style that is rich and en pointe. The characters are so real, they were so memorable, I will never forget this story. This is a novel that will become a classic - it will endure for years and years to come. Truly brilliant!

November 24, 2014

The Brewer's Tale by Karen Brooks

Book Synopsis

It had been Mother's secret and mine, one passed down through the de Winter women for generations. I would ensure it was kept that way, until I was ready to pass it on.

When Anneke Sheldrake is forced to find a way to support her family after her father is lost at sea, she turns to the business by which her mother's family once prospered: brewing ale.

Armed with her Dutch mother's recipes and a belief that anything would be better than the life her vindictive cousin has offered her, she makes a deal with her father's aristocratic employer: Anneke has six months to succeed or not only will she lose the house but her family as well.

Through her enterprise and determination, she inadvertently earns herself a deadly enemy. Threatened and held in contempt by those she once called friends, Anneke nonetheless thrives. But on the tail of success, tragedy follows and those closest to her pay the greatest price for her daring. 

Ashamed, grieving, and bearing a terrible secret, Anneke flees to London, determined to forge her own destiny. Will she be able to escape her past, and those whose only desire is to see her fail?

A compelling insight into the brewer's craft, the strength of women, and the myriad forms love can take.


From its very first page, I thoroughly enjoyed this novel by author Karen Brooks. It is about a young woman, who through the death of her father, finds that she is to lose not only the only home she has ever known, but is penniless while still having to care for her younger siblings. She recalls her Dutch mother's old beer and ale recipes that have been handed down through the generations. Throwing caution to the wind, she approaches her father's employer and landlord and convinces him to give her a chance to pay the rent on their estate for six months so that she and her family have somewhere to live. It is a huge risk but she is optimisitic and sets up her brewery.

Ale is strictly controlled and a group of nearby monks have control of the entire market through threats and intimidation of ale house owners, and suppliers. It does not take long before they make their appearance at Anneke's brew house bent on destroying her. Incredibly kind and wise, Anneke fights battle after battle to keep her enterprise afloat despite the protestations from her brother who is a squire to the landlord's sons. 

The author has done an outstanding job learning and describing the brewing process. She has weaved these details into a marvellously gripping, intricate plot that has plenty of twists and turns. Just when you think things cannot get any worse, bang - another blow. The character of Anneke is realistic and highly likeable - a strong heroine who never gives up and faces adversity head on. 

This is a rather long novel, so be prepared to cozy up with it for several days. Although there is a short span where the story does lag in some places, the story soon picks up again and builds huge momentum for a hold your breath ending! Well written, educational, and an awesome tale!

November 21, 2014

Silent We Stood by Henry Chappell

Book Synopsis

2014 Western Writers of America Spur Award Winner, Best Western Historical Novel

On July 8, 1860, Dallas, Texas burned. Three slaves were accused of arson and hanged without a trial. Today, most historians attribute the fire to carelessness.

Texas was the darkest corner of the Old South, too remote and violent for even the bravest abolitionists. Yet North Texas newspapers commonly reported runaway slaves, and travelers in South Texas wrote of fugitives heading to Mexico.

Perhaps a few prominent people were all too happy to call the fire an accident.

Silent We Stood weaves the tale of a small band of abolitionists working in secrecy within Dallas’s close-knit society. There’s Joseph Shaw, an undertaker and underground railroad veteran with a shameful secret; Ig Bodeker, a charismatic, melancholic preacher; Rachel Bodeker, a fierce abolitionist, Ig’s wife, and Joseph Shaw’s lover; Rebekah, a freed slave who’ll sacrifice everything for the cause; Samuel Smith, a crypto-freedman whose love for Rebekah exacts a terrible cost; and, towering above them all, a near-mythical one-armed runaway who haunts area slavers and brings hope to those dreaming of freedom.

With war looming and lives hanging in the balance, ideals must be weighed against friendship and love, and brutal decisions yield secrets that must be taken to the grave.


From the moment I began reading this book, I clearly understood why it won such a prestigious award. Author Henry Chappell has taken historical fact and weaved it into a fictionalized storyline that grips from first page to last. What makes this book special is not only the fascinating historical details, but how the characters are so real, so compelling, so believable! What a wonderful way to learn about this tumultuous era in Amercan history. It is an honest, intense, and vivid depiction of life as it was for slaves and slave holders before the civil war. I definitely recommend this book to everyone! It won the award for very good reason.