Tag: historical

Book Review and Blog Tour: The Black Swan of Paris, by Karen Robards

the black swan of paris
Image belongs to Harlequin/MIRA.

Title:   The Black Swan of Paris
Author:   Karen Robards
Genre:   Fiction
Rating:   4.5 out of 5

Paris, 1944

Celebrated singer Genevieve Dumont is both a star and a smokescreen. An unwilling darling of the Nazis, the chanteuse’s position of privilege allows her to go undetected as an ally to the resistance.

When her estranged mother, Lillian de Rocheford, is captured by Nazis, Genevieve knows it won’t be long before the Gestapo succeeds in torturing information out of Lillian that will derail the upcoming allied invasion. The resistance movement is tasked with silencing her by any means necessary—including assassination. But Genevieve refuses to let her mother become yet one more victim of the war. Reuniting with her long-lost sister, she must find a way to navigate the perilous cross-currents of Occupied France undetected—and in time to save Lillian’s life.

I recently read a novel about Coco Chanel’s time during the Nazi occupation—and Chanel is mentioned in passing at once point during this novel—but I found this story far more engrossing than that one. I liked Genevieve from the beginning, and she only grew more intriguing as more of her story was revealed.

I enjoyed the parts of the story about her singing and performances, her costumes, and her glitzy life, but the mysteries and intrigues she gets into were even more fascinating. I highly recommend reading this!

Karen Robards is a bestselling author. The Black Swan of Paris is her newest novel.

(Galley courtesy of Harlequin/MIRA in exchange for an honest review.)

Book Review: The Library of Legends, by Janie Chang

the library of legends
Image belongs to HarperCollins/William Morrow.

Title:   The Library of Legends
Author:   Janie Chang
Genre:   Historical fiction
Rating:   4.5 out of 5

China, 1937. When Japanese bombs begin falling on the city of Nanking, nineteen-year-old Hu Lian and her classmates at Minghua University are ordered to flee. Lian and a convoy of students, faculty and staff must walk 1,000 miles to the safety of China’s western provinces, a journey marred by the constant threat of aerial attack. And it is not just the refugees who are at risk; Lian and her classmates have been entrusted with a priceless treasure: a 500-year-old collection of myths and folklore known as the Library of Legends.

The students’ common duty to safeguard the Library of Legends creates unexpected bonds. Lian becomes friends and forms a cautious romance with the handsome and wealthy Liu Shaoming. But after one classmate is arrested and another one is murdered, Lian realizes she must escape before a family secret puts her in danger too. Accompanied by Shao and his enigmatic maidservant, Sparrow, Lian makes her way to Shanghai in the hopes of reuniting with her mother.

During the journey, Lian learns of the connection between her two companions and a tale from the Library of Legends, The Willow Star and the Prince. This revelation comes with profound consequences, for as the ancient books travel across China, they awaken immortals and guardian spirits who embark on an exodus of their own, one that will change the country’s fate forever.

From the very beginning, I was drawn into this story. I know zilch about this period of Chinese history, but I think it’s fascinating the Chinese government prized students so much in the midst of war. There are a lot of layers in this novel, all of them blended together seamlessly into an entrancing narrative sprinkled with magic in the midst of war.

Janie Change was born in Taiwan and now lives in Canada. The Library of Legends is her newest novel.

(Galley courtesy of HarperCollins/William Morrow in exchange for an honest review.)

Book Review and Blog Tour: Red Sky Over Hawaii, by Sara Ackerman

red sky over hawaii blog tour

red sky over hawaii
Image belongs to harlequin/MIRA.

Title:   Red Sky Over Hawaii
Author:   Sara Ackerman
Genre:   Historical fiction
Rating:   4.5 out of 5

The attack on Pearl Harbor changes everything for Lana Hitchcock. Arriving home on the Big Island too late to reconcile with her estranged father, all she can do is untangle the clues of his legacy, which lead to a secret property in the forest on Kilauea Volcano. America has been drawn into WWII, and amid rumors of impending invasion, the army places the islands under martial law. When they start taking away neighbors as possible sympathizers, Lana finds herself suddenly guardian to two girls, as well as accomplice to an old family friend who is Japanese, along with his son. In a heartbeat, she makes the decision to go into hiding with them all.

The hideaway house is not what Lana expected, revealing its secrets slowly, and things become even more complicated by the interest of Major Grant Bailey, a soldier from the nearby internment camp. Lana is drawn to him, too, but needs to protect her little group. With a little help from the magic on the volcano, Lana finds she can open her bruised heart to the children–and maybe to Grant.

Sometimes historical novels feel a bit slow for me—despite my love for classic novels, which are usually slower-paced compared to current novels—but I never felt that way with this novel. At heart, this is about a great American tragedy:  not the bombing of Pearl Harbor itself, but the persecution and imprisonment of Americans with Japanese heritage.

But this is also the tale of Lana as she deals with a personal tragedy in the midst of a larger one, and steps into the person she wants to become as she finds her strength and capabilities tested by the times she lives in. This is an excellent read!

Sarah Ackerman is a bestselling author. Red Sky Over Hawaii is her newest novel.

(Galley courtesy of Harlequin/MIRA in exchange for an honest review.)

Book Review: The Woman in the Green Dress, by Tea Cooper

the woman in the green dress
Image belongs to Thomas Nelson.

Title:   The Woman in the Green Dress
Author:   Tea Cooper
Genre:   Historical fiction
Rating:   4.0 out of 5

1853 Mogo Creek, NSW

Della Atterton, bereft at the loss of her parents, is holed up in the place she loves best: the beautiful Hawkesbury in New South Wales. Happiest following the trade her father taught her, taxidermy, Della has no wish to return to Sydney. But the unexpected arrival of Captain Stefan von Richter on a quest to retrieve what could be Australia’s first opal, precipitates Della’s return to Sydney and her Curio Shop of Wonders, where she discovers her enigmatic aunt, Cordelia, is selling more than curiosities to collectors. Strange things are afoot and Della, a fly in a spider’s web, is caught up in events with unimaginable consequences…

1919 Sydney, NSW

When London teashop waitress Fleur Richards inherits land and wealth in Australia from her husband, Hugh, killed in the war, she wants nothing to do with it. After all, accepting it will mean Hugh really is dead. But Hugh’s lawyer is insistent, and so she finds herself ensconced in the Berkeley Hotel on Hunter St, Sydney, the reluctant owner of a Hawkesbury property and an old curio shop, now desolate and boarded up.

As the real story of her inheritance unravels, Fleur finds herself in the company of a damaged returned soldier Kip, holding a thread that takes her deep into the past, a thread that could unravel a mystery surrounding an opal and a woman in a green dress; a green that is the colour of envy, the colour buried deep within an opal, the colour of poison… 

Usually I have a preference for one timeline over the other in a dual novel like this one, but this time I didn’t. I enjoyed both thoroughly! I will say, I don’t think I’ve ever read a book about a taxidermist, much less a female one, so that was an interesting twist.

Della was quite an intriguing character and I enjoyed how her story intertwined with Fleur’s.  I have to confess, I enjoyed the secondary characters the most, and I loved their character development as well. I did not like finding out what happened to the characters in the earlier timeline from Fleur’s viewpoint, but that’s my own preference. This was an enjoyable read, although it started off a bit slow.

Tea Cooper is an award-winning author. The Woman in the Green Dress is her newest novel.

(Galley courtesy of Thomas Nelson in exchange for an honest review.)

Book Review: A Study in Murder, by Callie Hutton

a study in murder
Image belongs to Crooked Lane Books.

Title:   A Study in Murder
Author:   Callie Hutton
Genre:   Mystery
Rating:   4.2 out of 5

Bath, England, 1890. Mystery author Lady Amy Lovell receives an anonymous letter containing shocking news: her fiancé, Mr. Ronald St. Vincent, has been dabbling in something illegal, which causes her to promptly break their engagement.

Two evenings later, as Lady Amy awaits a visit from Lord William Wethington, fellow member of the Bath Mystery Book Club, her former fiancé makes an unexpected and most unwelcome appearance at her house. She promptly sends him to the library to cool his heels but later discovers the room seemingly empty–until she stumbles upon a dead Mr. St. Vincent with a knife in his chest.

Lord Wethington arrives to find Lady Amy screaming and sends for the police, but the Bobbies immediately assume that she is the killer. Desperate to clear her name, Lady Amy and Lord Wethington launch their own investigation–and stir up a hornet’s nest of suspects, from the gardener who served time in prison for murder to a vengeful woman who was spurned by St. Vincent before he proposed to Lady Amy.

Can they close the book on the case before the real killer gets away with murder?

I don’t think I’ve ever read any of Callie Hutton’s novels, but I found this one charming and engrossing. Amy—and her aunt, too—is a fascinating, quirky character, independent and strong-willed, but smart enough to know sometimes she has to fulfill conventions.

I was just as invested in their unofficial murder investigation as Amy and William were, and I disliked the police just as much, too. I’ve always enjoyed characters who flout convention and society’s rules, so Amy was a great, fun character, and I recommend this delightful read.

Callie Hutton is a bestselling author. A Study in Murder is her newest novel, the first in the A Victorian Book Club Mystery series.

(Galley courtesy of Crooked Lane Books in exchange for an honest review.)

Book Review and Blog Tour: The Talking Drum, by Lisa Braxton

the talking drum
Image belongs to Inanna Press.

Title:   The Talking Drum
Author Lisa Braxton
Genre:   Fiction
Rating:   4 out of 5

In 1971, the fictional city of Bellport, Massachusetts is in decline with an urban redevelopment project on the horizon. The project promises to transform the dying factory town into a thriving economic center, with a profound effect on its residents. Sydney Stallworth steps away her law degree in order to support her husband Malachi’s dream of opening a cultural center and bookstore in the heart of their black community, Liberty Hill. Across the street, Della Tolliver has built a fragile sanctuary for herself, boyfriend Kwamé Rodriguez, and daughter Jasmine, a troubled child prone to frequent outbursts.

Six blocks away and across the Bellport River Bridge lies Petite Africa, a lively neighborhood, where time moves slower and residents spill from run-down buildings onto the streets. Here Omar Bassari, an immigrant from Senegal known to locals as Drummer Man, dreams of being the next Duke Ellington, spreading his love of music and African culture across the world, even as his marriage crumbles around him and his neighborhood goes up in flames. An arsonist is on the loose. As more buildings burn, the communities are joined together and ripped apart. In Petite Africa, a struggling community fights for their homes, businesses, and culture. In Liberty Hill, others see opportunity and economic growth. As the pace of the suspicious fires pick up, the demolition date moves closer, and plans for gentrification are laid out, the residents find themselves at odds with a political system manipulating their lives. “It’s a shame,” says Malachi, after a charged city council meeting, where residents of Petite Africa and Liberty Hill sit on opposing sides. “We do so much for Petite Africa. But still, we fight.”

I enjoyed The Talking Drum. So much cultural diversity made it a very vivid read. I think I enjoyed Omar’s story the most, but all of the characters were believable and powerful, as they struggled against overwhelming odds without a lot of hope or support.

The drums were a powerful thread running through the narrative, and I loved how they held everything together, echoing the message of the story.

Lisa Braxton is an essayist, short story writer, and novelist.

(Galley courtesy of Inanna Press in exchange for an honest review.)

Book Review: Masquerade at Middlecrest Abbey, by Abigail Wilson

madquerade at middlecrest abbey
Image belongs to Thomas Nelson.

Title:  Masquerade at Middlecrest Abbey
AuthorAbigail Wilson
Genre:  Regency, mystery, romance
Rating:  5 out of 5

When the widowed Lord Torrington agreed to spy for the crown, he never planned to impersonate a highwayman, let alone rob the wrong carriage. Stranded on the road with an unconscious young woman, he is forced to propose marriage to protect his identity, as well as his dangerous mission.

Trapped by not only the duty to her country but her limited options, Miss Elizabeth Cantrell and her illegitimate son are whisked away to Middlecrest Abbey by none other than the elder brother of her son’s absent father. She is met by Torrington’s beautiful grown daughters, a vicious murderer, and an urgent hunt for the missing intelligence that could turn the war with France. Afraid of what Lord Torrington might do if he learns of her son’s true identity, Elizabeth must remain one step ahead of her fragile heart, her uncertain future, and the relentless mystery person bent on her new family’s ruin.

I thoroughly enjoyed reading this! Sometimes, Regency novels are hard for me to read, with all the rules and constrictions that women were subjected to, but Elizabeth is independent-thinking enough to have a mind of her own and enough courage to make her own choices.

Adrian Torrington was also not your typical Regency hero. He’s a bit older with a past he’s not proud of and a determination to change things for the better. I like that he allows Elizabeth to be herself—without compromising either of their values. This is the first thing I’ve read by this author, but I will definitely be reading more!

Abigail Wilson lives in Texas. Masquerade at Middlecrest Abbey is her newest novel.

(Galley courtesy of Thomas Nelson in exchange for an honest review.)

Book Review: The Jane Austen Society, by Natalie Jenner

the jane austen society
Image belongs to St. Martin’s Press.

Title:   The Jane Austen Society
Author:   Natalie Jenner
Genre:   Fiction
Rating:   4.5 out of 5

Just after the Second World War, in the small English village of Chawton, an unusual but like-minded group of people band together to attempt something remarkable.

One hundred and fifty years ago, Chawton was the final home of Jane Austen, one of England’s finest novelists. Now it’s home to a few distant relatives and their diminishing estate. With the last bit of Austen’s legacy threatened, a group of disparate individuals come together to preserve both Jane Austen’s home and her legacy. These people—a laborer, a young widow, the local doctor, and a movie star, among others—could not be more different and yet they are united in their love for the works and words of Austen. As each of them endures their own quiet struggle with loss and trauma, some from the recent war, others from more distant tragedies, they rally together to create the Jane Austen Society.

This was such a lovely read! I enjoyed reading each of the characters and their thoughts, and I think Ms. Jenner did her love for Jane Austen credit with this novel. Honestly, this felt almost like an Austen novel, with its village charm and intriguing characters. It’s wonderful to see such a diverse cast of characters—a farmer, a doctor, a movie star, a domestic worker—all brought together by their love of Austen.

Go read this as soon as possible!

Natalie Jenner has been a lawyer, a career coach, and founded an independent bookstore. The Jane Austen Society is her debut novel.

(Galley courtesy of St. Martin’s Press in exchange for an honest review.)

Book Review and Blog Tour: The Paris Hours, by Alex George

TheParisHours_300
Image belongs to Flatiron Books.

Title:  The Paris Hours
AuthorAlex George
Genre:  Fiction
Rating:  3.5 out of 5 

One day in the City of Light. One night in search of lost time.

Paris between the wars teems with artists, writers, and musicians, a glittering crucible of genius. But amidst the dazzling creativity of the city’s most famous citizens, four regular people are each searching for something they’ve lost.

Camille was the maid of Marcel Proust, and she has a secret: when she was asked to burn her employer’s notebooks, she saved one for herself. Now she is desperate to find it before her betrayal is revealed. Souren, an Armenian refugee, performs puppet shows for children that are nothing like the fairy tales they expect. Lovesick artist Guillaume is down on his luck and running from a debt he cannot repay—but when Gertrude Stein walks into his studio, he wonders if this is the day everything could change. And Jean-Paul is a journalist who tells other people’s stories, because his own is too painful to tell. When the quartet’s paths finally cross in an unforgettable climax, each discovers if they will find what they are looking for.

Told over the course of a single day in 1927, The Paris Hours takes four ordinary people whose stories, told together, are as extraordinary as the glorious city they inhabit.

This was…slower than I would have liked. It had a dreamy, floaty feel to it for me, and I just couldn’t make myself care about the characters. To be fair, I’m not generally a big fan of literary fiction, so that was probably the main problem.

Excellent writing and the setting was so vivid, as were some of the secondary characters (Proust), but in the end, this just wasn’t a good fit for me.

Alex George was born in England but now lives in America. The Paris Hours is his newest novel.

(Galley courtesy of Flatiron Books in exchange for an honest review.)

Book Review: The Queen of Paris, by Pamela Binnings Ewen

the queen of paris
Image belongs to Blackstone Publishing.

Title:  The Queen of Paris
AuthorPamela Binnings Ewen
Genre:  Historical fiction
Rating:  4 out of 5

Coco Chanel doesn’t care about the war. She cares about keeping her secrets and the rights to her legendary perfume. But the Nazis have other ideas, and when they occupy Paris during the war, Coco finds she has much more at stake than she ever imagined. And even more secrets to hide.

I love a good historical fiction read, although the subject of this was a little bit outside my wheelhouse. An interesting look at how Coco grew up—and how she became the icon she became. The writing was vivid and well-done, but the character herself was a bit off-putting to me, being mainly focused on herself and her concerns, with no self-awareness or interest in anything outside her own little bubble.

Pamela Binnings Ewen lives outside New Orleans. The Queen of Paris is her newest novel.

(Galley courtesy of Blackstone Publishing in exchange for an honest review.)