Tag: history

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.)

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.)

Book Review: The Engineer’s Wife, by Tracey Enerson Wood

the engineer's wife
Image belongs to Sourcebooks Landmark.

Title:  The Engineer’s Wife
AuthorTracey Enerson Wood
Genre:  Historical fiction
Rating:  3.5 out of 5

Emily Warren Roebling refuses to live conventionally―she knows who she is and what she wants, and she’s determined to make change. But then her husband Wash asks the unthinkable: give up her dreams to make his possible.

Emily’s fight for women’s suffrage is put on hold, and her life transformed when Wash, the Chief Engineer of the Brooklyn Bridge, is injured on the job. Untrained for the task, but under his guidance, she assumes his role, despite stern resistance and overwhelming obstacles. Lines blur as Wash’s vision becomes her own, and when he is unable to return to the job, Emily is consumed by it. But as the project takes shape under Emily’s direction, she wonders whose legacy she is building―hers, or her husband’s. As the monument rises, Emily’s marriage, principles, and identity threaten to collapse. When the bridge finally stands finished, will she recognize the woman who built it?

Interestingly enough, the big subplot of this novel:  the love triangle between Emily, Wash, and PT Barnum isn’t even mentioned in the synopsis. Nor is the women’s suffrage movement, also a significant part of the story. Both of these things gave more depth to the storyline, and PT Barnum was arguably the most interesting character in the novel.

I found Emily herself likable enough, if a bit self-absorbed. She fought a hard battle and that came through clearly, although I felt her strength was overshadowed by her lack of awareness of how her actions affected others. Wash was also self-absorbed, but his willingness to put his own feeling aside in favor of Emily’s wishes was a nice touch of character.

Tracey Enerson Wood has always loved writing. The Engineer’s Wife is her new novel.

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

Book Review: Miss Austen, by Gill Hornby

miss austen
Image belongs to Flatiron Books.

Title:  Miss Austen
AuthorGill Hornby
Genre:  Historical Fiction
Rating:  4 out of 5

Whoever looked at an elderly lady and saw the young heroine she once was?

England, 1840. Two decades after the death of her beloved sister, Jane, Cassandra Austen returns to the village of Kintbury and the home of her family friends, the Fowles. In a dusty corner of the vicarage, there is a cache of Jane’s letters that Cassandra is desperate to find. Dodging her hostess and a meddlesome housemaid, Cassandra eventually hunts down the letters and confronts the secrets they hold, secrets not only about Jane but about Cassandra herself. Will Cassandra bare the most private details of her life to the world, or commit her sister’s legacy to the flames?

I love Jane Austen’s works, so this was a natural choice for me to read. It started off a bit slow—and, honestly, was never what I’d call fast-paced—but that’s fitting for this particular story. The reader is immersed in the lives of Cassandra and Jane as young ladies, but also experiences life with Jane via flashbacks and letters, and also Cassandra’s life as an older, single woman on her own.

This novel is rich in historical detail and will appeal to readers who are Austen fans and want to learn more about their literary heroine’s life. I found Cassandra’s life to be deeply sad—but she’s happy, and that’s what really matters.

Gill Hornby lives in England. Miss Austen is her newest novel.

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

Book Review: The Deep, by Alma Katsu

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Image belongs to Penguin Group/Putnam.

Title:  The Deep
AuthorAlma Katsu
Genre:  Historical, psychological thriller
Rating:  4 out of 5

The Titanic is haunted. Sudden deaths, mysterious disappearances, objects that aren’t where they’re supposed to be, and visions…something is plaguing the ship. Annie Hebley serves on the maiden voyage of the celebrated ship, assigned to care for Mark Fletcher and his family. Early in the voyage, Annie realizes something strange is going on with the Fletchers—but then disaster strikes.

Years later, Annie, having miraculously survived the Titanic’s sinking, finds herself working on its sister ship, The Britannic, a hospital ship during the war. Memories of that other fateful voyage haunt her, then she sees a wounded soldier on the verge of death—Mark Fletcher, whom she thought died years ago in the frigid waters around Titanic. Annie doesn’t know how he survived, and soon comes to believe he didn’t.

Whatever haunted The Titanic is now on board The Britannic. And it wants what it lost.

I found The Deep a little hard to follow, as there was so much disjointedness in both time periods. Annie was an unreliable narrator—but so was everyone else—so knowing what was really going on wasn’t easy. I’ve always been fascinated and saddened by stories of The Titanic, so that was part was wonderful, but some of the secondary characters here—the boxers—seemed…kind of pointless to the storyline.

Alma Katsu lives outside Washington, D.C. The Deep is her newest novel.

(Galley courtesy of Penguin Group/Putnam in exchange for an honest review.)