Tag: history

Book Review and Blog Tour: The Orphan of Cemetery Hill, by Hester Fox

Image belongs to Harlequin/Graydon House.

Title: The Orphan of Cemetery Hill
Author:  Hester Fox
Genre: Historical Fiction
Rating: 4 out of 5

Boston, 1844.

Tabby has a peculiar gift: she can communicate with the recently departed. It makes her special, but it also makes her dangerous.

As an orphaned child, she fled with her sister, Alice, from their charlatan aunt Bellefonte, who wanted only to exploit Tabby’s gift so she could profit from the recent craze for seances.

Now a young woman and tragically separated from Alice, Tabby works with her adopted father, Eli, the kind caretaker of a large Boston cemetery. When a series of macabre grave robberies begins to plague the city, Tabby is ensnared in a deadly plot by the perpetrators, known only as the “Resurrection Men.”

In the end, Tabby’s gift will either save both her and the cemetery—or bring about her own destruction.

I really enjoyed this read. It had a little bit of a creepiness factor, some mystery, romance, and great characters to tie it all together. Caleb wasn’t my favorite, but at least he did show a bit of character growth.

Tabby has been through a lot—but she keeps trying to help those around her. I cannot imagine spending the night in a cemetery—as a child, no less—and not totally freaking out over the smallest sound. This is a very atmospheric novel and a solid historical read.

Hester Fox lives outside Boston. The Orphan of Cemetery Hill is her newest novel.

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

Book Review: A Life Once Dreamed, by Rachel Fordham

a life once dreamed
Image belongs to Revell.

Title: A Life Once Dreamed
Author: Rachel Fordham  
Genre: Historical Fiction, romance
Rating: 4.5 out of 5

Six years ago, a shocking secret sent Agnes Pratt running in search of a new start. She found it in Penance, a rugged town of miners and lumberjacks in the Dakota Territory, where she became Miss Aggie, respected schoolteacher and confirmed old maid. But the past has a way of catching up with people.

When childhood friend and former sweetheart James Harris accepts a position as the town doctor, Aggie’s pleasantly predictable days suddenly become anything but. James wants to know why Agnes left behind the life they had dreamed of creating for themselves–but he is the one person who can never know.

In the shadows of the Black Hills, can a healing light be shed on the past? Or will the secret Agnes can’t seem to outrun destroy her chance at happiness?

I thoroughly enjoyed this novel! I liked seeing how Aggie went from the life she had before—just the brief glimpse we had was enough to give an idea of her well-to-do background—to the challenging life on the frontier. I enjoyed the simple small-town life and Aggie’s interactions with the children and the townspeople.

James was a lot of fun, too, as he kept slipping aback into his old teasing ways from childhood, interspersed with his Doctor personality. This was sweet and refreshing, like a drink of sweet iced tea on a summer day.

Rachel Fordham lives in Washington state. A life Once Dreamed is her newest novel.

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

Book Review: Paris Never Leaves You, by Ellen Feldman

paris never leaves you
Image belongs to St. Martin’s Press.

Title: Paris Never Leaves You
Author:  Ellen Feldman   
Genre: Historical Fiction
Rating: 4.0 out of 5

Moving between wartime Paris crushed under the boot of the Nazi Occupation and 1950s Manhattan giddy with postwar abundance and optimism, Paris Never Leaves You is the story of one woman’s struggle to save her infant daughter and herself.

Running a bookshop in occupied Paris, a city darkened by blackouts, curfews, and constant fear; gripped by hunger, cold, and sudden roundups and deportations, Charlotte Foret walks a fine line between protecting her daughter and staying true to herself and her country; between her hatred for the enemy and her unwanted sympathy for a Wehrmacht physician tortured by his own lethal secret.

Charlotte endures and her daughter ultimately thrives, but the compromises she has made shadow her new life in postwar New York, where she works in a publishing house presided over with wry irreverence by a man haunted by his own war history. Their fates and that of the Wehrmacht physician who has fled to South America prove that though the war is over, the past is never past.

I have to admit, this book traumatized me a bit…and I’m not completely sure why. Yes, the basic setting and time period in history was awful, so that was part of it. And, Charlotte’s worry over her daughter and her struggle to keep her well and safe was terrible to imagine, but that wasn’t all of it either. Just the horrifying experiences of Charlotte and the doctor and everyone…

Honestly, I didn’t connect too well with Charlotte. The guilt she inflicted on herself was a lot, and I found it hard to relate to her. Her actions in the present weren’t that likable, either, but even the secondary characters weren’t terribly likable (Except the doctor. I liked him.). I just found this book more emotional than I was comfortable with at the time I was reading.

Ellen Hampton lives in New York. Paris Never Leaves You is her newest novel.

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

Book Review: Talland House, by Maggie Humm

talland house
Image belongs to She Writes Press.

Title:Talland House
Author: Maggie Humm
Genre: Fiction
Rating:  3.8 out of 5

Royal Academy, London 1919: Lily has put her student days in St. Ives, Cornwall, behind her―a time when her substitute mother, Mrs. Ramsay, seemingly disliked Lily’s portrait of her and Louis Grier, her tutor, never seduced her as she hoped he would. In the years since, she’s been a suffragette and a nurse in WWI, and now she’s a successful artist with a painting displayed at the Royal Academy. Then Louis appears at the exhibition with the news that Mrs. Ramsay has died under suspicious circumstances. Talking to Louis, Lily realizes two things: 1) she must find out more about her beloved Mrs. Ramsay’s death (and her sometimes-violent husband, Mr. Ramsay), and 2) She still loves Louis.

Set between 1900 and 1919 in picturesque Cornwall and war-blasted London, Talland House takes Lily Briscoe from the pages of Virginia Woolf’s To the Lighthouse and tells her story outside the confines of Woolf’s novel―as a student in 1900, as a young woman becoming a professional artist, her loves and friendships, mourning her dead mother, and solving the mystery of her friend Mrs. Ramsay’s sudden death. Talland House is both a story for our present time, exploring the tensions women experience between their public careers and private loves, and a story of a specific moment in our past―a time when women first began to be truly independent.

I’ve never read To the Lighthouse, but I did enjoy this book. However, it’s very slow-paced, almost dreamy—which seems sort of appropriate for Lily and her artistic mindset. I feel like she was a bit obsessive over everything in her life—Louis, Mrs. Ramsay, painting, nursing—and a bit clueless, too. However, this was an enjoyable read, even if the answer to the mystery was anti-climatic and downplayed quite a bit.

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

Book Review and Blog Tour: The Woman Before Wallis, by Bryn Turnbull

red sky over hawaii blog tour

 

the woman before wallis
Image belongs to Harlequin/MIRA.

Title:   The Woman Before Wallis
Author:   Bryn Turnbull
Genre: Historical fiction
Rating:   4.5 out of 5

In the summer of 1926, when Thelma Morgan marries Viscount Duke Furness after a whirlwind romance, she’s immersed in a gilded world of extraordinary wealth and privilege. For Thelma, the daughter of an American diplomat, her new life as a member of the British aristocracy is like a fairy tale—even more so when her husband introduces her to Edward, Prince of Wales.

 In a twist of fate, her marriage to Duke leads her to fall headlong into a love affair with Edward. But happiness is fleeting, and their love is threatened when Thelma’s sister, Gloria Morgan Vanderbilt, becomes embroiled in a scandal with far-reaching implications. As Thelma sails to New York to support Gloria, she leaves Edward in the hands of her trusted friend Wallis, never imagining the consequences that will follow.

This was such an excellent read! I was engrossed from the very first page and couldn’t stop reading! Thelma was an incredible character, and if I’ve ever known anything about the facts this novel is based on, I’ve totally forgotten them, so everything was fresh and new.

The life of wealth and privilege Thelma marries into is a bit mind-blowing—as are her wealthy new friends’ morals, but I enjoyed reading about the glitz and the glamour—and the royalty, even though the prince was a bit disappointing (His behavior, I mean. Not very princely when he dropped Thelma for Wallis.)

Bryn Turnbull lives in Toronto. The Woman Before Wallis is her debut novel.

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

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: 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.)