Friday, March 27, 2015

In the Shadow of Winter by Lorna Gray

Rating: ★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆
Obtained from: Netgalley
Read: February 20, 2015

The Cotswolds. The relentless winter of 1947 holds post-war Britain in its deadly grip, and Eleanor Phillips rides out from her beleaguered Cotswold farm to rescue a stranger lost in the storm. But the near-dead man is no stranger and when she recognises Matthew Croft, the old ties of a failed romance tug deeply. Her sweetheart has returned from the war... Suspicion, the police and the panicked flight of a desperate man beat a path to her door. And with a wanted man hidden in her home and stealing back into her heart, Eleanor must be on her guard—for the net is closing in on them both and enemies are all around... 

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My head hit my desk fifty pages into Lorna Gray's In the Shadow of Winter. I don't mean to be dramatic, but it's true. I honestly looked at the page count and groaned. I was bored with the novel's sluggish pace and generic romantic premise. I was visibly frustrated and things didn't get much better moving forward. 

I suppose my major complaint is the lack of tension. I know HarperImpulse means to take women's fiction in new directions, but I can't say I fancied this particular excursion. This kind of story require tangible suspense and nothing about this piece played on my emotions. In point of fact, I found the narrative exceedingly predictable. Gray attempts a couple of curve balls, but I saw them coming and called each resolution long before it was actually revealed. 

The book is also very light on detail. I understand it's a romance, but I think Gray could have done a lot more in terms of developing the atmosphere and backdrop on which her story unfolds. Gray's is a superficial approach and that's fine, but the fact is, I can't see myself recommending this piece on its historic merit.

I'd high hopes going in, but the reality fell flat in my eyes. It's a nice beach read, but when push comes to shove, In the Shadow of Winter didn't deliver the sort of drama I both expect and crave. 

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He gave a laugh then, and leaned back in his chair. “You really are quite something these days, aren’t you? The girl I used to know would have been frightened, upset, confused, but no, not you – you’re livid.”
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Spotlight: The Prince’s Doom by David Blixt

Flashlight Commentary and Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours are pleased to celebrate The Prince’s Doom by David Blixt!

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The long-awaited explosive fourth novel in the Star-Cross’d series! Verona has won its war with Padua, but lost its war with the stars. The young prodigy Cesco now turns his troubled brilliance to darker purposes, embracing a riotous life and challenging not only the lord of Verona and the Church, but the stars themselves. Trying desperately to salvage what’s left of his spirit, for once Pietro Alaghieri welcomes the plots and intrigues of the Veronese court, hoping they will shake the young man out of his torpor. But when the first body falls, it becomes clear that this new game is deadly, one that will doom them all.

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‘For anyone who has yet to read David’s novels, you are about to hit the literary lottery. Yes, he’s that good.’ - Sharon Kay Penman, The Sunne In Splendour

‘This is one of the most exciting, and satisfying, reads that I have immersed myself in for a long time. David Blixt is a gem of a writer.’ - Helen Hollick, The Pendragon Chronicles

'Be prepared to burn the midnight oil. It's well worth it.'  - Historical Novel Society

'A novel of intricate plot, taut narrative, sharp period detail and beautifully realized characters.' - Publisher's Weekly

‘David Blixt is a master of historical fiction. Dramatic, vivid, superbly researched, this series captures Renaissance Italy in all its heady glamour and lethal intrigue.’ - C.W. Gortner, The Tudor Conspiracy

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Author and playwright David Blixt’s work is consistently described as “intricate,” “taut,” and “breathtaking.” A writer of Historical Fiction, his novels span the early Roman Empire (the COLOSSUS series, his play EVE OF IDES) to early Renaissance Italy (the STAR-CROSS’D series, including THE MASTER OF VERONA, VOICE OF THE FALCONER, FORTUNE’S FOOL, and THE PRINCE’S DOOM) up through the Elizabethan era (his delightful espionage comedy HER MAJESTY’S WILL, starring Will Shakespeare and Kit Marlowe as inept spies). His novels combine a love of the theatre with a deep respect for the quirks and passions of history. As the Historical Novel Society said, “Be prepared to burn the midnight oil. It’s well worth it.” Living in Chicago with his wife and two children, David describes himself as “actor, author, father, husband. In reverse order.”

Website ❧  Blog ❧  Facebook ❧  Twitter ❧  Goodreads

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Based on the plays of William Shakespeare, the poetry of Dante, and the history of Italy, the Star-Cross’d Series is a tale of wars won, friendships lost, and conspiracies both mortal and stellar, an epic journey into the birth of the Renaissance that recalls the best of Bernard Cornwell and Dorothy Dunnett.

The Master of Verona is a sweeping historical novel that takes place, primarily, in early 14th Century Verona. It is the story of Pietro Alaghieri - the eldest surving son of the poet Dante - who gets caught up in the sweep of history:  the war between Padua and Verona; the rise of Verona's Captiano, Cangrande della Scala, Dante's increasing fame since the publication of The Inferno, an infernal plot against Cangrande's bastard son, and the rivalry of his two best friends over the affections of a girl, a rivalry that will severe a friendship, divide a city, and ultimately lead to the best-known tragic romance in history. In 1312, the exiled poet Dante and his two sons, seventeen year old Pietro and fourteen year old Jacopo (“Poco”), travel to Verona at the invitation of Verona's leader, the legendary Franceso “Cangrande” della Scalla.  While there, a sneak attack on Vincenza, Verona's client city, leads Pietro into his first battle, into the confidences of the charaismatic Cangrande, and into a tight friendship with Mariotto (“Mari”) Montecchi  and Antonio (“Antony”) Capuletti.  But hidden forces are at work against Cangrande - a series of attempts against a male baby, named Francesco and adopted by Cangrande's sister, widely believed to be his bastard son and possible heir.

Italy, 1325. Eight years after the tumultuous events of THE MASTER OF VERONA, Pietro Alaghieri is living as an exile in Ravenna, enduring the loss of his famous father while secretly raising the bastard heir to Verona's prince, Cangrande della Scala. But when word of Cangrande's death reaches him, Pietro must race back to Verona to prevent young Cesco's rivals from usurping his rightful place. With the tentative peace of Italy at stake, not to mention their lives, Pietro must act swiftly to protect them all. But young Cesco is determined not to be anyone's pawn. Willful and brilliant, he defies even the stars. And far behind the scenes is a mastermind pulling the strings, one who stands to lose - or gain - the most. Born from Shakespeare's Italian plays, in this novel we meet for the first time Romeo, Juliet, Tybalt, the Nurse, as well as revisit Montague and Capulet, Petruchio and Kate, and the money-lending Shylock. From Ravenna to Verona, Mantua to Venice, this novel explores the danger, deceit, and deviltry of early Renaissance Italy, and the terrible choices one must make just to stay alive.

Italy, 1326. While the brilliant and wily Cesco is schooled in his new duties at the hand of a hard master, Pietro Alaghieri travels to Avignon, current seat of the Papacy, to fight his excommunication and plead for Cesco's legitimacy. He doesn't know an old foe has been waiting to ruin Pietro's life and seize control of Verona for himself. Back in Verona, separated from everyone he trusts, Cesco must confront his ambitious cousin, a mysterious young killer, and the Holy Roman Emperor himself. A harrowing series of adventures reveal a secret long hidden, one that threatens Cesco's only chance for true happiness.

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Format: Print & eBook
Publication Date: December 23, 2014
Released by: Sordelet Ink
Length: 772 pages
ISBN: 0615894437
Series: Book Four, Star Cross’d Series
Genre: Historical Fiction

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Check Out David Blixt's All the Stops of The Prince’s Doom Blog Tour Schedule

Monday, March 16
Review at Book Nerd
Spotlight at What Is That Book About
Wednesday, March 18
Review, Guest Post, & Giveaway at With Her Nose Stuck in a Book
Spotlight at CelticLady’s Reviews
Thursday, March 19
Excerpt at Becky on Books
Friday, March 20
Excerpt at The Never-Ending Book
Saturday, March 21
Spotlight & Giveaway at So Many Precious Books, So Little Time
Monday, March 23
Review at Griperang’s Bookmarks
Tuesday, March 24
Guest Post & Giveaway at Griperang’s Bookmarks
Wednesday, March 25
Spotlight & Giveaway at Let Them Read Books
Friday, March 27
Review at Svetlana’s Reads and Views
Spotlight at Flashlight Commentary
Monday, March 30
Excerpt at Buried Under Books
Tuesday, March 31
Spotlight at A Book Geek
Wednesday, April 1
Excerpt & Giveaway at Peeking Between the Pages
Thursday, April 2
Review at Quirky Book Reviews
Guest Post at Books and Benches
Friday, April 3
Spotlight at A Literary Vacation
Guest Post & Giveaway at Historical Fiction Connection

Thursday, March 26, 2015

GI Brides: The Wartime Girls Who Crossed the Atlantic for Love by Duncan Barrett & Nuala Calvi

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
Obtained from: Personal Library
Read: January 2, 2015

For readers enchanted by the bestsellers The Astronaut Wives Club, The Girls of Atomic City, and Summer at Tiffany’s, an absorbing tale of romance and resilience—the true story of four British women who crossed the Atlantic for love, coming to America at the end of World War II to make a new life with the American servicemen they married. The “friendly invasion” of Britain by over a million American G.I.s bewitched a generation of young women deprived of male company during the Second World War. With their exotic accents, smart uniforms, and aura of Hollywood glamour, the G.I.s easily conquered their hearts, leaving British boys fighting abroad green with envy. But for girls like Sylvia, Margaret, Gwendolyn, and even the skeptical Rae, American soldiers offered something even more tantalizing than chocolate, chewing gum, and nylon stockings: an escape route from Blitz-ravaged Britain, an opportunity for a new life in affluent, modern America. Through the stories of these four women, G.I. Brides illuminates the experiences of war brides who found themselves in a foreign culture thousands of miles away from family and friends, with men they hardly knew. Some struggled with the isolation of life in rural America, or found their soldier less than heroic in civilian life. But most persevered, determined to turn their wartime romance into a lifelong love affair, and prove to those back home that a Hollywood ending of their own was possible.

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A newly-engaged couple examine an engagement ring in a jeweller's shop
in London. War Bride- Everyday Life in Wartime London, March 1943
My interest in GI Brides: The Wartime Girls Who Crossed the Atlantic for Love by Duncan Barrett and Nuala Calvi was inspired by my paternal grandmother. She passed away while I was very young and while I've no memory her, I've often pondered her situation and the strength it must have taken to come to the United States with a child in one hand and a marriage certificate in the other. Her personal story is lost to me, but I'd hoped Barrett and Calvi's work might offer a degree of insight to her experience and I'm happy to say I wasn't disappointed.

Individually, I found Sylvia, Rae, Margaret and Lynn incredibly interesting and I feel these women very brave to have shared their stories. Their relationships were challenging in many ways and I love that the authors took pains to illustrate both the highs and lows of their marriages. More than seventy thousand woman followed GIs home after WWII and it would be a crime to assume that journey was easy, that distance meant little, that life in a foreign country came naturally or that a wedding band meant lasting happiness.

I wasn't particularly fond of the writing itself, but the scope of subject matter that appears between these pages is nothing short of extraordinary. It is a snapshot of living memory, four firsthand accounts of a time and circumstance that are still romanticized today. Hval chronicled dozens of couples in War Bonds, but of the two I think GI Brides more informative, authentic and engaging.

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Her time in America hadn't been easy, but with her husband at her side she felt truly happy.
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Sleep in Peace Tonight by James MacManus

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆
Obtained from: Netgalley
Read: January 22, 2015

It’s January 1941, and the Blitz is devastating England. Food supplies are low, Tube stations in London have become bomb shelters, and U-boats have hampered any hope of easy victory. Though the United States maintains its isolationist position, Churchill knows that England is finished without the aid of its powerful ally. Harry Hopkins, President Roosevelt’s most trusted adviser, is sent to London as his emissary, and there he falls under the spell of Churchill’s commanding rhetoric---and legendary drinking habits. As he experiences life in a country under attack, Hopkins questions the United States’ silence in the war. But back home FDR is paranoid about the isolationist lobby, and even Hopkins is having trouble convincing him to support the war. As Hopkins grapples with his mission and personal loyalties, he also revels in secret clubs with newsman Edward R. Murrow and has an affair with his younger driver. Except Hopkins doesn’t know that his driver is a British intelligence agent. She craves wartime action and will go to any lengths to prove she should be on the front line. This is London under fire, and it’s only when the night descends and the bombs fall that people’s inner darkness comes to light. In Sleep in Peace Tonight, a tale of courage, loyalty, and love, and the sacrifices one will make in the name of each, James MacManus brings to life not only Blitz-era London and the tortuous politics of the White House but also the poignant characters and personalities that shaped the course of world history.

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News photo of Hopkins departing
for Britain, January 1941
I was genuinely excited about reviewing James MacManus' Sleep in Peace Tonight. A self-described WWII junkie, I couldn't help getting worked up over the title. Unfortunately the book didn't quite match my expectations and while I enjoyed many aspects of the piece, I admit I wasn't as enthralled by the story as I'd initially hoped.

I think the idea here fabulous and looked forward to watching MacManus' characterization of Harry Hopkins fall for Churchill's commanding rhetoric, but looking back I don't think the author played the angle to its best advantage. Churchill is legendary, but I often felt MacManus relied on the Prime Minister's persona to carry the story. His interpretation of the famous Brit never jumped from the page which I found incredibly disappointing as so much of the plot relies on the character's influence and charisma. 

I'd offer comment on Harry, but if I'm honest, MacManus' portrayal of Roosevelt's adviser wasn't particularly memorable either. I liked how his position allowed the author to explore foreign affairs, American neutrality, and British politics, but the character himself didn't make much of an impression on this particular reader. 

Leonora Finch on the other hand, proved fascinating beginning to end and I'm not saying that because she's a woman. Unlike her counterparts, Leonora stepped straight from the author's imagination and I think the freedom that allowed played to MacManus' strengths as a storteller. There is emotion in her role, intrigue, desperation and passion. The ending, with its detour to Ravensbrück, was a bit slapdash for my tastes, but I greatly appreciated what MacManus did with her arc and storyline. 

Would I recommend the book? If it was a slow day. That said the novel was easily overshadowed by two follow reads, Kristin Hannah's The Nightingale and Richard J. Evans' The Third Reich in History and Memory.

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"It wasn’t love, of course; it was just frightened people clinging to each other in blacked-out hotel rooms, on creaking beds, while the shrapnel rattled on the roof and the windows blew in. They called it love because it sounded better, because love somehow justified their betrayal, and they were both traitors, weren’t they? Perhaps a few lonely, frightened souls had truly fallen for each other in those long nights. But not him; he was no different from the rest. All he had wanted was the pleasure of a warm, womanly body after the sirens had sounded and the whisky glow had begun to fade into fear."
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The Tapestry by Nancy Bilyeau

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
Obtained from: Netgalley/Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours
Read: March 18, 2015

The next page-turner in the award-winning Joanna Stafford series takes place in the heart of the Tudor court, as the gutsy former novice risks everything to defy the most powerful men of her era. After her Dominican priory in Dartford closed forever - collateral damage in tyrannical King Henry VIII’s quest to overthrow the Catholic Church - Joanna resolves to live a quiet and honorable life weaving tapestries, shunning dangerous quests and conspiracies. Until she is summoned to Whitehall Palace, where her tapestry weaving has drawn the King’s attention. Joanna is uncomfortable serving the King, and fears for her life in a court bursting with hidden agendas and a casual disregard for the virtues she holds dear. Her suspicions are confirmed when an assassin attempts to kill her moments after arriving at Whitehall. Struggling to stay ahead of her most formidable enemy yet, an unknown one, she becomes entangled in dangerous court politics. Her dear friend Catherine Howard is rumored to be the King’s mistress. Joanna is determined to protect young, beautiful, naïve Catherine from becoming the King’s next wife and, possibly, victim. Set in a world of royal banquets and feasts, tournament jousts, ship voyages, and Tower Hill executions, this thrilling tale finds Joanna in her most dangerous situation yet, as she attempts to decide the life she wants to live: nun or wife, spy or subject, rebel or courtier. Joanna Stafford must finally choose.

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Henry VIII seated beneath a tapestry cloth of state
circa 1545.  Artist unknown.
I've a confession folks, one I'm almost afraid to admit. I love historic fiction and there isn't a lot that doesn't interest me, but the truth is I'm all but burnt out on Henry VIII. I wish it were otherwise, but I've grown reluctant to pick up pieces involving the mercurial monarch and his scandal ridden court. With so many titles on the market it's difficult to imagine a writer bringing anything new to the table and I know sex sells, but I'm frankly bored with the salacious twists writers of this particular period have come to favor.

Having said that, one might wonder why I'd tackle Nancy Bilyeau's The Tapestry. I myself questioned my sanity on accepting the title for review, but something in the back of my mind prompted me to put my doubts aside. Make no mistake, I waited till the last possible moment to crack the book open, but when I finally did, I conceded my skepticism had been misplaced. 

The market may be overrun, but Bilyeau's work has a feel and flavor few can rival. Her attention to detail is practically flawless and I love the balance she strikes between personal and political drama. Joanna Stafford is not the typical Tudor heroine and Bilyeau never loses site of that. The character's background and convictions dictate her actions and I like that her principles often find her at odds with the royal family. Bilyeau's characterizations of historic figures like Henry VIII, Catherine Howard, Jane Boleyn and Thomas Culpeper defy the stereotypes and bring a refreshing degree of originality to well-known events while her illustration of textiles and the art of tapestry add an unexpected glimpse at a fascinating cultural element of sixteenth century life. 

At the end of the day, I'm glad I took exception for the third installment of Bilyeau's Joanna Stafford series. Like its predecessors, the book proved both original and entertaining and while there were a few slow moments, I can't say the time I spent with this piece left me disappointed. 

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As much as it was possible to plan in a time of chaos, I planned to lead a quiet life: weave tapestries, honor friends, submit to God’s will. It would be an honorable existence; after all, I was the daughter of Sir Richard Stafford and Isabella Montagna. Living without honor was unthinkable. But there would be no more dangerous quests or conspiracies. My fervent hope was never again to hear the word prophecy, nor to find myself among spies, seers, and necromancers. That was the world of fear, of darkness. I wanted only light.
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Check Out All the Stops on Nancy Bilyeau's The Tapestry Blog Tour Schedule

Monday, March 16
Review at Peeking Between the Pages
Review & Interview at Words and Peace
Tuesday, March 17
Review at A Bookish Affair
Review at The Eclectic Reader
Review at Let Them Read Books
Wednesday, March 18
Review at Writing the Renaissance
Review at Oh, For the Hook of a Book
Thursday, March 19
Review at A Book Geek
Review & Interview at Tea at Trianon
Interview at Writing the Renaissance
Friday, March 20
Review at Impressions in Ink
Monday, March 23
Review at CelticLady’s Reviews
Review at Flashlight Commentary
Tuesday, March 24
Review at The Lit Bitch
Review at Broken Teepee
Wednesday, March 25
Review at Luxury Reading
Guest Post at Oh, For the Hook of a Book
Thursday, March 26
Review at She Reads Novels
Monday, March 30
Review at Bibliophilia, Please
Tuesday, March 31
Review at The True Book Addict
Guest Post at Bibliophilia, Please
Wednesday, April 1
Review at Library of Clean Reads
Interview at Oh, For the Hook of a Book
Thursday, April 2
Review at Ageless Pages Reviews
Friday, April 3
Review at Layered Pages
Review & Guest Post at Always With a Book
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