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.

Monday, April 13, 2015

Decorum by Kaaren Christopherson

"In the time it had taken Francesca to raise the field glasses to her eyes, the yacht was gone. In its place a spike of fire had shot skyward, followed by a blast of flaming debris and a spreading mantle of black smoke. An eternity had passed before an explosion tore the silence and the shock wave had jetted across the lake and left her flat upon the dock." Opening Paragraph


Kaaren Christopherson's brilliantly observed novel captures the glamour and grit of one of the world's most dazzling cities during one of its most tumultuous eras--as seen through the eyes of a singularly captivating heroine. . .In 1890s New York, beautiful, wealthy Francesca Lund is an intriguing prospect for worthy suitors and fortune hunters alike. Recently orphaned, she copes by working with the poor in the city's settlement movement. But a young woman of means can't shun society for long, and Francesca's long-standing acquaintance with dashing Edmund Tracey eventually leads to engagement. Yet her sheltered upbringing doesn't blind her to the indiscretions of the well-to-do. . .

Among the fashionable circle that gathers around her there are mistresses, scandals, and gentlemen of ruthless ambition. And there is Connor O'Casey--an entirely new kind of New Yorker. A self-made millionaire of Irish stock, Connor wants more than riches. He wants to create a legacy in the form of a luxury Madison Avenue hotel--and he wants Francesca by his side as he does it. In a quest that will take her from impeccable Manhattan salons to the wild Canadian Rockies, Francesca must choose not only between two vastly different men, but between convention and her own emerging self-reliance.

Review by Mirella Patzer

New York, 1890, and the glitz and glamor of the time and setting, are the backdrop for this novel about a young heiress who suddenly finds herself alone in the world. I loved how each chapter began with a rule of etiquette based upon the societal norms of the time. The story gave me a glimpse of what it would have been like to live among the wealthiest and most prominent citizens. Of course, all is not perfect, for the heroine must maneuver her way through treachery, greed, and scandal to find which of the two men in her life is her true love. I thoroughly enjoyed how the characters interacted, and how authentic they felt to me. Lots of wonderfully rich descriptions of places and gowns really brought the era to life. There were an awful lot of characters and this always causes me to struggle a bit to recall them all. At times, I had to flip back through the pages because some scenes did not make sense, and I wish it had been edited a little more to ensure clarity. I definitely recommend this book to anyone who enjoys New York in the Gilded Age. A good historical read!

Thursday, April 9, 2015

At the Water's Edge by Sara Gruen

"The headstone was modest and hewn of black granite, granite being one of the few things never in short supply in Glenurquhart, even during the present difficulty." Opening Sentence


In this thrilling new novel from the author of Water for Elephants, Sara Gruen again demonstrates her talent for creating spellbinding period pieces. At the Water’s Edge is a gripping and poignant love story about a privileged young woman’s awakening as she experiences the devastation of World War II in a tiny village in the Scottish Highlands.

After disgracing themselves at a high society New Year’s Eve party in Philadelphia in 1944, Madeline Hyde and her husband, Ellis, are cut off financially by his father, a former army colonel who is already ashamed of his son’s inability to serve in the war. When Ellis and his best friend, Hank, decide that the only way to regain the Colonel’s favor is to succeed where the Colonel very publicly failed—by hunting down the famous Loch Ness monster—Maddie reluctantly follows them across the Atlantic, leaving her sheltered world behind. 

The trio find themselves in a remote village in the Scottish Highlands, where the locals have nothing but contempt for the privileged interlopers. Maddie is left on her own at the isolated inn, where food is rationed, fuel is scarce, and a knock from the postman can bring tragic news. Yet she finds herself falling in love with the stark beauty and subtle magic of the Scottish countryside. Gradually she comes to know the villagers, and the friendships she forms with two young women open her up to a larger world than she knew existed. Maddie begins to see that nothing is as it first appears: the values she holds dear prove unsustainable, and monsters lurk where they are least expected.
As she embraces a fuller sense of who she might be, Maddie becomes aware not only of the dark forces around her, but of life’s beauty and surprising possibilities.

Review by Mirella Patzer

Maddie is married to Ellis who comes from a wealthy family. Hank is Ellis' best friends and the two are inseparable. Because Hank has flat feet and Ellis is color blind, they were not called up to serve in World War II. The Colonel is Ellis' father, and he believes the flat feet and color blindness are just an excuse to escape serving. After a terrible family fight, the trio travel to Scotland deterimined to photograph the Loch Ness Monster, something the Colonel had attempted to do many years prior. In this way, Ellis hopes to reconcile with his father. 

It is when the three arrive in Scotland that matters begin to deteriorate. Ellis and Hank begin to drink very heavily. Maddie is often left alone at the inn where they are staying, where she is an outsider, and there is enmity towards any strangers. The heavy drinking begins to affect Maddie's marriage and Ellis' behavior turns cold and hateful towards her. 

What is strong within this novel is how the characters change and develop over time. All three of the main cast undergo tremendous alterations in personality, motivation, and behavior. Sometimes, the changes happened so swiftly, that it was hard to believe. Having said this, the story is still very engaging and I was fascinated by it. The author writes well and the storyline kept my interest throughout. A little bit on the dark side, it has a very rich plot and strong characterization. A very enjoyable story. 

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The Siege Winter by Ariana Franklin

"It is a wood-paneled room of sumptuous size - the abbots of Perton have always done themselves well. The present incumbent, however, has stripped it of its tapestries and the gold leaf that once decorated the carved ceiling - they've been sold to benefit poor women of the parish. He's also replaced an elaborate, padded prie-dieu with a plain version that is hard on the knees." Opening Paragraph

Synopsis: A powerful historical novel by the late Ariana Franklin and her daughter Samantha Norman, The Siege Winter is a tour de force mystery and murder, adventure and intrigue, a battle for a crown, told by two courageous young women whose fates are intertwined in twelfth century England’s devastating civil war.

1141. England is engulfed in war as King Stephen and his cousin, the Empress Matilda, vie for the crown. In this dangerous world, not even Emma, an eleven-year-old peasant, is safe. A depraved monk obsessed with redheads kidnaps the ginger-haired girl from her village and leaves her for dead. When an archer for hire named Gwyl finds her, she has no memory of her previous life. Unable to abandon her, Gwyl takes the girl with him, dressing her as a boy, giving her a new name—Penda—and teaching her to use a bow. But Gwyn knows that the man who hurt Penda roams free, and that a scrap of evidence she possesses could be very valuable.

Gwyl and Penda make their way to Kenilworth, a small but strategically important fortress that belongs to fifteen-year-old Maud. Newly wedded to a boorish and much older husband after her father’s death, the fierce and determined young chatelaine tempts fate and Stephen’s murderous wrath when she gives shelter to the empress.

Aided by a garrison of mercenaries, including Gwyl and his odd red-headed apprentice, Maud will stave off Stephen’s siege for a long, brutal winter that will bring a host of visitors to Kenilworth—kings, soldiers . . . and a sinister monk with deadly business to finish.

Review by Mirella Patzer

The Siege Winter is a delightful historical fiction novel written by the late Ariana Franklin and completed by Samantha Norman, her daughter. It is set in the 12th century and begins with an abbot who lies on his death bed. Despite his frail health, he is clinging to life to reveal a murderous tale to a scribe before he dies. Through his narrative, we are taken from his death bed to scenes of his past. The voice is compelling, the story engrossing! 

It is the tale of Matilda and her cousin Stephen and their long, drawn out battle for the crown of England. Well researched, gripping, and historically accurate, I thoroughly enjoyed this novel from start to finish. There is plenty to laud within its pages - strong women, battle scenes, treachery, greed, love, and even a touch of humor. Easy to read, it moves along at a good clip. The authors take us on a journey through 12th century England with all its dangers, treachery, murders. A wonderfully told story! Definitely recommended. 

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Tregian's Ground by Anne Cuneo


The significance of the Fitzwilliam Virginal Book to our musical canon is well known; the remarkable story of its copyist and compiler, Francis Tregian, less so. Born into Cornish Catholic nobility and plumb into the choppy waters of the Elizabethan Age, he must rely on his surpassing skill as a musician to survive. In this Prix des Libraires (Booksellers Prize) winning novel, Anne Cuneo deftly recreates the musician's journey across Renaissance Europe, which sees him befriending Shakespeare, swapping partitions with William Byrd and Monteverdi, and playing in the court of Henri IV of France. The result is as gripping as it is authentic: an epic, transcontinental choreography in which Europe's monarchs tussle with pretenders to their thrones, and ordinary people steer between allegiances to God, nation and family.


This novel is based on the life of Francis Tregian the younger, described as ‘A Cornish Recusant’ born during the reign of Elizabeth I. His family suffered for their faith and lost most of their estates. With his father imprisoned at The Fleet for refusing to convert, young Francis was send abroad to study at the Catholic seminary in Douai. Although a gentleman, Francis loved music and had an ear for languages, both of which helped him forge a life outside England.

I am not sure how closely the author stuck to his actual life, but Francis’s story is fascinating, in that this was an age when musical scores weren’t printed, but hand written, passed from hand to hand and could be controversial. Knowing and playing certain songs could get you into a lot of trouble.

He cared little for money, status or religion, although he stuck to his Catholic upbringing, never regarding it as an obstacle to love, friendships or earning a living.

I found it difficult not to like Francis, with his compassionate nature and his altruistic outlook.

Ms Cuneo’s Francis played the spinet, virginals and the organ like an angel. During his hard times when he had to keep his identity a secret, music was his comfort and he could earn a living making instruments or playing the organ in churches. In fact a good part of the story is about which musicians he met in the countries he visited with an emphasis on sharing musical scores which opened doors everywhere.

This novel was very long, mainly because the same theme is repeated throughout the story, but with different characters and countries. However, Francis is a worthy main character and I wanted the best for him, even when I felt he made the wrong choices.

I received a free copy of this novel in return for an honest review

Anita Davison author of ‘Royalist Rebel’ under the name Anita Seymour. Her latest venture is a Victorian cosy mystery scheduled for release in June 2015 from Robert Hale.
BLOG: http://thedisorganisedauthor.blogspot.com
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Tuesday, March 31, 2015

The Boy Who Granted Dreams by Luca Di Fulvio

"At first there were two of them watching her grow up -- the mother and the padrone. One of them watched with dread, the other with a lazy lustfulness. But before she could become a woman, the mother made sure that the padrone wouldn't look at her anymore." Opening Paragraph


New York, 1909: Fifteen-year-old Cetta arrives on a freighter with nothing but her infant son Natale: strikingly blond, dark-eyed, and precocious. They've fled the furthest reaches of southern Italy with the dream of a better life in America. But even in the "Land of the Free," the merciless laws of gangs rule the miserable, poverty-stricken, and crime-filled Lower East Side. Only those with enough strength and conviction survive. As young Natale grows up in the Roaring Twenties, he takes a page from his crippled mother's book and finds he possesses a certain charisma that enables him to charm the dangerous people around him... 

Weaving Natale's unusual life and quest for his one true love against the gritty backdrop of New York's underbelly, Di Fulvio proves yet again that he is a master storyteller as he constructs enticing characters ravaged by circumstance, driven by dreams, and awakened by destiny.

Review by Mirella Patzer

By far, this is one of the best novels about Italian/American life I have ever read. It begins with a young Sicilian girl named Cetta who suffers a rape, despite her mother's attempts to keep the eyes of men from leering at her. With her bastard child, Natale, Cetta sails for America to start a new life, but the cost of her voyage is to endure the sexual advances of the captain. Upon arriving in America, the captain hands her over to a pimp by the name of Sal and Cetta begins work in a brothel. Natale, or Christmas, as he has become known, grows up in the streets of New York, among thieves and gangs. Despite the influence of crime and criminals that surround him, he manages to walk a fine line on the right side of the law. One day, he saves a young girl named Ruth from a brutal rape. She comes from a wealthy Jewish family, and although they are grateful to Christmas for saving her life, they do their best to keep them separated as their love for each other becomes evident. There are numerous other subplots and characters that feed the storyline to make this one of the richest, most engrossing novels I have ever read. I was enthralled from first page to last,

At 630 pages, this is a very long book, and I couldn't have been more happy. This was a book I did not want to put down. It kept me reading long into the night. I never wanted it to end. So its length is a definite plus! The author is very talented. His scenes are highly creative, unique, compelling, and sometimes shocking. His characters are so complex, so well developed, that they definitely seem real! I cannot say enough good things about this awesome, powerful story. I wish I could give it 10 stars. Luca Di Fulvio deserves it! Utterly compelling!

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The World Before Us by Aislin Hunter

In the tradition of A. S. Byatt's Possession, a hauntingly poignant novel about madness, loss, and the ties that bind our past to our present. 

Deep in the woods of northern England, somewhere between a dilapidated estate and an abandoned Victorian asylum, fifteen-year-old Jane Standen lived through a nightmare.  She was babysitting a sweet young girl named Lily, and in one fleeting moment, lost her. The little girl was never found, leaving her family and Jane devastated. 

Twenty years later, Jane is an archivist at a small London museum that is about to close for lack of funding. As a final research project--an endeavor inspired in part by her painful past--Jane surveys the archives for information related to another missing person: a woman who disappeared over one hundred years ago in the same woods where Lily was lost. As Jane pieces moments in history together, a portrait of a fascinating group of people starts to unfurl. Inexplicably tied to the mysterious disappearance of long ago, Jane finds tender details of their lives at the country estate and in the asylum that are linked to her own heartbroken world, and their story from all those years ago may now help Jane find a way to move on. 

In riveting, beautiful prose, The World Before Us explores the powerful notion that history is a closely connected part of us--kept alive by the resonance of our daily choices--reminding us of the possibility that we are less alone than we might think.

Opening Sentences:  The Whitmore Hospital for Convalescent Lunatics sat along a carriage track most people travelled only once. Imagine late summer: sunlight splayed over the rutted road and the copper peaks of the buildings, its warmth nested in the crowns of the trees and sinking into the bright-green lawn of the viewing mound. 

My Review

For those who love haunting, gothic tales, this book is sure to please. It is a story of obsession and madness set in an insane asylum. The novel’s protagonist is a young woman named Jane who is troubled by a tragedy that happened in her past when Lily, a young child she was tending, mysteriously disappeared while the child was in her charge and they were on an outing together. This sinister event has haunted her into adulthood. Jane works as an archivist at a London Museum and is tasked with researching the circumstances surrounding a young woman who went missing from a Victorian asylum near where Lily went missing. The novel is also narrated by several ghosts – an idiot, a boy, and a theologian, ghosts that were once inmates of the insane asylum. 

The World Before Us is a highly imaginative, spooky tale with great depth and thought-provoking insight into the effect tragic circumstances have upon people and the thin line that exists between sanity and insanity. This novel is wonderfully complex, not a light read, but very profound in a psychological and contemplative way. As the story unravels, I could not help but become totally engrossed in this very unique gothic ghost story very much, and I hope you will too!

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