Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Wishlist Reads: September 2017

Like many readers, my TBR grows faster than it shrinks. I find a subject that interests me and titles start piling up one right after the other. With so many bookmarked, I thought it'd be fun to sort through and feature five titles a month here at Flashlight Commentary. 

I'm feeling a little homesick and nostalgic so I decided to dedicate my wishlist to fiction set in my home state. Montana is a popular setting for romance writers, but fiction writers have not been as open to it so it took longer than expected to compile the following. That said, I can't wait to get my hands on these books!

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In the spring of 1898, A. E. (Alexandria) Bartram--a spirited young woman with a love for botany--is invited to join a field study in Yellowstone National Park. The study's leader, a mild-mannered professor from Montana, assumes she is a man, and is less than pleased to discover the truth. Once the scientists overcome the shock of having a woman on their team, they forge ahead on a summer of adventure, forming an enlightening web of relationships as they move from Mammoth Hot Springs to a camp high in the backcountry. But as they make their way collecting amid Yellowstone's beauty the group is splintered by differing views on science, nature, and economics. In the tradition of A. S. Byatt's Angels and Insects and Andrea Barrett's Ship Fever, this delightful novel captures an ever-fascinating era and one woman's attempt to take charge of her life.




In 1886, Gretta Pope wakes one morning to discover that her husband is gone. Ulysses Pope has left his family behind on the far edge of Minnesota’s western prairie with only the briefest of notes and no explanation for why he left or where he’s headed. It doesn’t take long for Gretta’s young sons, Eli and Danny, to set off after him, following the scant clues they can find, jumping trains to get where they need to go, and ending up in the rugged badlands of Montana.

Gretta has no choice but to search for her sons and her husband, leading her to the doorstep of a woman who seems intent on making Ulysses her own. Meanwhile, the boys find that the closer they come to Ulysses’ trail, the greater the perils that confront them, until each is faced with a choice about whom he will defend, and who he will become.

Enger’s breathtaking portrait of the vast plains landscape is matched by the rich expanse of his characters’ emotional terrain, as pivotal historical events--the bloody turmoil of expansionism, the near total demise of the bison herds, and the subjugation of the Plains Indians--blend seamlessly with the intimate story of a family’s sacrifice and devotion.




One morning in 1943, close to eighty men descended into the Smith coal mine in Bearcreek, Montana. Only three came out alive. “Goodbye wifes and daughters . . .” wrote two of the miners as they died. The story of that tragic day and its aftermath unfolds in this book through the eyes of those wives and daughters—women who lost their husbands, fathers, and sons, livelihoods, neighbors, and homes, yet managed to fight back and persevere. Susan Kushner Resnick has uncovered the story behind all those losses. She chronicles the missteps and questionable ethics of the mine’s managers, who blamed their disregard for safety on the exigencies of World War II; the efforts of an earnest federal mine inspector and the mine union’s president (later a notorious murderer), who tried in vain to make the mine safer; the heroism of the men who battled for nine days to rescue the trapped miners; and the effect the disaster had on the entire mining industry. Resnick illuminates a particular historical tragedy with all its human ramifications while also reminding us that such tragedies caused by corporate greed and indifference are with us to this day.




A stirring novel about idealism laid waste and the haunting, redemptive bonds of friendship

Deirdre McNamer has won praise for the intelligence, beauty, precision, and sweep of her fiction. Her first novel in seven years, Red Rover tells the story of three Montana men who get swept up in the machinations of World War II and its fateful aftermath. As boys, Aidan and Neil Tierney ride horseback for miles across unfenced prairie, picturing themselves as gauchos, horsemen of the Argentine pampas. A hundred miles away, Roland Taliaferro wants only to escape the violence and poverty of his family. As war approaches, Aidan and Roland join the FBI. Roland serves Stateside while Aidan—in a gesture as exuberant as a child in a game of Red Rover—requests hazardous duty and is sent as an undercover agent to Nazi-ridden Argentina. Neil becomes a B-29 bomber pilot.

Aidan returns to Montana ill, shaken, and divided from Roland over the FBI’s role in the war. On a cold December day in 1946, he is found fatally shot, an apparent suicide. The FBI stays silent. Only when Neil and Roland are very old men, meeting by chance in a rehabilitation facility, does Aidan’s death become illuminated, atoned for, and fully put to rest. This beautifully crafted, far- ranging novel will catch readers up in the grace and hard truths of the lives it unfolds.




A classic portrait of America's vast frontier that inspired the Western genre in fiction.

Originally published more than fifty years ago, The Big Sky is the first of A. B. Guthrie Jr.'s epic adventure novels set in the American West. Here he introduces Boone Caudill, Jim Deakins, and Dick Summers: traveling the Missouri River from St. Louis to the Rockies, these frontiersmen live as trappers, traders, guides, and explorers. The story centers on Caudill, a young Kentuckian driven by a raging hunger for life and a longing for the blue sky and brown earth of big, wild places. Caught up in the freedom and savagery of the wilderness, Caudill becomes an untamed mountain man, whom only the beautiful daughter of a Blackfoot chief dares to love. 


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INTERESTED IN MORE WISHLISTS?
CHECK OUT WHAT MY FRIENDS HAVE BOOKMARKED:

Stephanie at Layered Pages
Magdalena at A Bookaholic Swede
Heather at The Maiden's Court

Monday, September 18, 2017

Cover Cliché: Plunging V

Sometimes, while browsing the virtual shelves on Amazon and Goodreads, I see jacket art that gives me a disconcerting sense of deja vu. I know I've not read the book, but I am equally certain I've seen its image somewhere before.

This phenomenon is what inspired Cover Clichés. Image recycling is fairly common as cover artists are often forced to work from a limited pool of stock images and copyright free material. The details vary cover to cover, but each boasts a certain similarity and I find comparing the finished designs quite interesting.

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For readers of The Paris Wife and Z comes a vivid novel full of drama, passion, tragedy, and beauty that stunningly imagines the life of iconic fashion designer Coco Chanel—the ambitious, gifted laundrywoman’s daughter who revolutionized fashion, built an international empire, and become one of the most influential and controversial figures of the twentieth century

Born into rural poverty, Gabrielle Chanel and her siblings are sent to orphanage after their mother’s death. The sisters nurture Gabrielle’s exceptional sewing skills, a talent that will propel the willful young woman into a life far removed from the drudgery of her childhood.

Transforming herself into Coco—a seamstress and sometime torch singer—the petite brunette burns with ambition, an incandescence that draws a wealthy gentleman who will become the love of her life. She immerses herself in his world of money and luxury, discovering a freedom that sparks her creativity. But it is only when her lover takes her to Paris that Coco discovers her destiny.

Rejecting the frilly, corseted silhouette of the past, her sleek, minimalist styles reflect the youthful ease and confidence of the 1920s modern woman. As Coco’s reputation spreads, her couturier business explodes, taking her into rarefied society circles and bohemian salons. But her fame and fortune cannot save her from heartbreak as the years pass. And when Paris falls to the Nazis, Coco is forced to make choices that will haunt her.

An enthralling novel of an extraordinary woman who created the life she desired, Mademoiselle Chanel explores the inner world of a woman of staggering ambition whose strength, passion and artistic vision would become her trademark.





One summer night in 1930, Judge Joseph Crater steps into a New York City cab and is never heard from again. Behind this great man are three women, each with her own tale to tell: Stella, his fashionable wife, the picture of propriety; Maria, their steadfast maid, indebted to the judge; and Ritzi, his showgirl mistress, willing to seize any chance to break out of the chorus line.

As the twisted truth emerges, Ariel Lawhon’s wickedly entertaining debut mystery transports us into the smoky jazz clubs, the seedy backstage dressing rooms, and the shadowy streets beneath the Art Deco skyline.



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Which cover strikes your fancy and why? What colors draw your eye? Do you think the image appropriate next to the jacket description? Leave your comments below!

Have you seen this image elsewhere? Shoot me an email or leave a comment and let me know. 


Friday, September 15, 2017

Kiss of Life by Debbie Viguié

Rating: ★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆
Obtained from: Personal Kindle Library
Read: September 13, 2017

The Baron has lived for hundreds of years, a vampire who makes the most of his immortal life. Having personally learned the value of freedom, he has lately been using his exceptional fighting skills to assist the Union Army in the American War Between the States. When two ladies are kidnapped by ruthless guerrilla fighters who call themselves the Raiders, he agrees to help not just because he may be the only one who can save them, but because he owes a debt that he has been repaying for centuries. A companion short story to New York Times bestselling author Debbie Viguie's Kiss Trilogy, this e-book exclusive also includes an extended preview of the first novel in the series, Kiss of Night.

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I discovered Debbie Viguié’s Kiss of Life while browsing Amazon’s extensive selection of historic fiction. The author was new to me and I’d no experience with the Kiss trilogy, but felt the premise vaguely interesting. I was curious, but after checking the prices, I felt the short complementary piece the safest investment. No point spending $6 when I could test drive the author for only $1 after all.

There’s a stereotypical joke to be made about cheap Scots here, but I’m not in the mood to poke fun at my heritage. I’ve shared this story to illustrate how I buy books and while I can’t claim to represent any particular demographic, it seems fair to say that at least some portion of the population treat shorts as writing samples. I’m not saying it’s a crime for a short to complement a larger series, but I think it important for writers to remember they’ve no control over how or why a reader picks up their work. They might have written it for their established fanbase, but anyone can download it and at the end of the day new readers shouldn’t feel cheated for taking interest.

Getting back to the story, I’ve no trouble admitting that Kiss of Life disappointed me. The whole of the plot is dependent on Jeanette’s being a lady of Bryas which may or may not be a spoiler in need of marking. The problem, you see, is that Viguié doesn’t bother explaining the concept and I’ve no idea in hell what it means. One could argue that I should read Kiss of Night to learn more, but I’m not actually inclined to spend $6 on a book by an author I know prone to plot holes...

Great cover art, but not recommended to those unfamiliar with the larger canon. Forgettable and without closure.

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"You are an abomination," Erik said. "And I refuse to release you on the world..."
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Caroline: Little House, Revisited by Sarah Miller

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆
Obtained from: Edelweiss
Read: September 13, 2017

In this novel authorized by the Little House estate, Sarah Miller vividly recreates the beauty, hardship, and joys of the frontier in a dazzling work of historical fiction, a captivating story that illuminates one courageous, resilient, and loving pioneer woman as never before—Caroline Ingalls, "Ma" in Laura Ingalls Wilder’s beloved Little House books. In the frigid days of February, 1870, Caroline Ingalls and her family leave the familiar comforts of the Big Woods of Wisconsin and the warm bosom of her family, for a new life in Kansas Indian Territory. Packing what they can carry in their wagon, Caroline, her husband Charles, and their little girls, Mary and Laura, head west to settle in a beautiful, unpredictable land full of promise and peril. The pioneer life is a hard one, especially for a pregnant woman with no friends or kin to turn to for comfort or help. The burden of work must be shouldered alone, sickness tended without the aid of doctors, and babies birthed without the accustomed hands of mothers or sisters. But Caroline’s new world is also full of tender joys. In adapting to this strange new place and transforming a rough log house built by Charles’ hands into a home, Caroline must draw on untapped wells of strength she does not know she possesses. For more than eighty years, generations of readers have been enchanted by the adventures of the American frontier’s most famous child, Laura Ingalls Wilder, in the Little House books. Now, that familiar story is retold in this captivating tale of family, fidelity, hardship, love, and survival that vividly reimagines our past.


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I have vivid memories of my first experience with Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House books. I was
seven, maybe eight, and my cousin and I were taking turns reading aloud from Little House in the Big Woods. I’d come to a line about Pa’s ax, but my tongue wouldn’t cooperate and we’ve made jokes about Pa’s ass ever since. I doubt many readers relate, but the humor of the moment created a treasured family memory and inspired a lingering interest in the story that afforded it.

As a biographic fiction, Sarah Miller’s Caroline played to that interest. Laura created her own legacy and one could make a solid argument for Michael Landon’s iconic portrayal of Charles, but Caroline was regulated to a supporting role in both the books and television series so I was naturally interested in seeing what sort of depth Miller’s novel might bring her character. Could such a story compete with the existing canon and cultural memory? There was only one way to find out.

Looking back, I have to say that I love how Miller chose to approach Caroline. The role of mother is often stereotyped and stale, but Miller gifted the Ingalls matriarch a complexity that is difficult to ignore. She’s a wife and mother, but more than that, she is woman with spirit, conviction, emotion, and dare I say it, a sex drive. Ground-breaking ideas, right? As a thirty-one-year-old mother of two, I could relate to this character and that’s pretty amazing when one considers how much has changed in the century and half that separates me from the world Caroline knew and experienced.

Unfortunately, characterization cannot carry a novel on its own. I adored Miller’s heroine, but I struggled with the pacing of the narrative. Much as I hate admitting it, the novel is slow and I often found it difficult to remain engaged in what was happening. I enjoyed the material, but I knew where this story was going before I picked it up and wish Miller had done more to counter the lack of mystery in the plot.

Recommended for fans of the Little House book, frontier and womens fiction.

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Those she could not bear to leave sat close around her, yet as she looked backward through the keyhole of canvas at the blur of waving hands, Caroline could not help but wonder whether Charles and the girls would be enough.
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Thursday, September 14, 2017

Cover Crush: Wild Whistling Blackbirds by Allen Kent

We all know we shouldn't judge a book by its cover, but in today's increasingly competitive market, a memorable jacket can make or break sales.

I am not a professional, but I am a consumer and much as I loath admitting it, jacket design is one of the first things I notice when browsing the shelves at Goodreads and Amazon. My love of cover art is what inspired Cover Crush, a weekly post dedicated to those prints that have captured my attention and/or piqued my interest. Enjoy!

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If my cover crush selections have proved anything, it's that I'm a sucker for layered silhouettes. I love detailed images, but blank space does something to the imagination and sparks a curiosity I find impossible to ignore. 

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Did this week's cover catch your eye? Do you have an opinion you'd like to share? Please leave a comment below. I'd love to hear from you!

INTERESTED IN SEEING MORE?
CHECK OUT WHAT MY FRIENDS HAVE BOOKMARKED:

Magdalena at A Bookaholic Swede
Colleen at A Literary Vacation
Heather at The Maiden's Court
Holly at 2 Kids and Tired
Meghan at Of Quills & Vellum
Stephanie at Layered Pages


Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Cover Cliché: Echoes of the Past

Sometimes, while browsing the virtual shelves on Amazon and Goodreads, I see jacket art that gives me a disconcerting sense of deja vu. I know I've not read the book, but I am equally certain I've seen its image somewhere before.

This phenomenon is what inspired Cover Clichés. Image recycling is fairly common as cover artists are often forced to work from a limited pool of stock images and copyright free material. The details vary cover to cover, but each boasts a certain similarity and I find comparing the finished designs quite interesting.

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June 1963, Clematis Cottage, Stoke St. Mary, Herefordshire

I am really not sure why I am writing this. A foolish whim by a foolish old lady and it will probably sit in a box unread and decay much like its writer when Death makes his careless decision.

But perhaps someone will find it. Someone will care enough to read and somehow I know that will happen.

April 2000, Clematis Cottage, Stoke St. Mary, Herefordshire

Tired of her life in London, freelance illustrator Rachel buys the beautiful but dilapidated Clematis Cottage and sets about creating the home of her dreams. But tucked away behind the water tank in the attic and left to gather dust for decades is an old biscuit tin containing letters, postcards and a diary. So much more than old scraps of paper, these are precious memories that tell the story of Henrietta Trenchard-Lewis, the love she lost in the Great War and the girl who was left behind.





Torn from her beloved Italy, Teresa is brought to America by her abusive husband, Nico. She finds the new world harsh to immigrants, especially women, but is determined to make a better future for her children and herself. Trapped in a loveless marriage, she devises ways to build a small fund that she hopes will bring eventual independence. However, she underestimates her husband's ruthlessness. Then fate brings her into the lives of a special family, and a special man, who offer both opportunities and new complications. However, Teresa never loses sight of her determination to become independent and to make her future travels first class.





London on 3 September 1939 is in upheaval. War is inevitable. Into this turmoil steps Kate Sheridan newly arrived from Ireland to live with her aunt and uncle and look for work. When she meets Flight Lieutenant Charlie Butler sparks fly, but he is a notorious womaniser. Should she ignore all the warnings and get involved with a ladies man whose life will be in daily danger?

Charlie Butler has no intention of getting involved with a woman. But when he meets Kate his resolve is shattered. Should he allow his heart to rule his head and fall for a nineteen-year-old Irish girl while there is a war to fight?

Private conflicts and personal doubts are soon overshadowed. Will the horrors of total war bring Kate and Charlie together or tear them apart?




After the gloomy memorial, the formerly pampered 1929 characters mourn the loss of Aryl Sullivan. Claire, now a pregnant widow, is too devastated to cope and withdraws from the group, delving into a deep depression. Caleb drowns his own sorrow in a bottle of whiskey, and Jonathan becomes obsessed with finding the true cause for the boat’s explosion. And Ava anxiously awaits the birth of their child.

As the family and friends come to grips with Aryl’s death, the struggle to survive both emotionally and financially strains everyone in different ways.

So it’s up to Maura to see them past the worst of it, but she faces setbacks of her own when complications arise in her pregnancy. The new sheriff, Marvin, is working both sides of the law and takes advantage of Caleb’s state, getting him involved in bootlegging that threatens the business and his family. A concerned Patrick tries to help him, but stubborn as a mule, Caleb won’t listen.

But the gears of life slowly start to move again, and new friends are made and old enemies return. Claire finds refuge in Gordon, a widower, and the two find a common bond, finally allowing her to move on and accept her new life.

Until she’s met with a shocking surprise.


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Which cover strikes your fancy and why? What colors draw your eye? Do you think the image appropriate next to the jacket description? Leave your comments below!

Have you seen this image elsewhere? Shoot me an email or leave a comment and let me know. 


Monday, September 4, 2017

Searching for Irene by Marlene Bateman

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆
Obtained from: Netgalley
Read: August 23, 2017

What happened to Irene? When Anna Coughlin, a modern 1920’s woman, travels to the secluded hills of Virginia to work for wealthy Lawrence Richardson, she discovers that the previous secretary, Irene, has mysteriously disappeared. Upon arriving at the castle-like mansion, Anna finds that Lawrence’s handsome, but antagonistic son, Tyler, wants nothing more than to have her gone. And he isn’t the only one—Caught up in a maze of intrigue in a tormented and troubled household, Anna sets out to find the truth behind Irene’s disappearance. She is helped—and often hindered—by the temperamental Tyler Richardson, who—despite her best intentions—begins to steal her heart. But even as Anna begins to uncover dark secrets, she must continue to hide a significant one of her own. Then, her life is threatened, and Anna is left to wonder if she’ll be able to unravel the mystery before she disappears as mysteriously as the unfortunate Irene...

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Marlene Bateman’s Searching for Irene caught my eye awhile back, but the reality of the novel failed to satisfy my tastes and I have to admit I’d have great difficulty recommending it forward.

I hate sounding so blasé, but I have this crazy idea that a whodunit should leave the audience wondering ‘who done it?’ for at least some portion of the narrative. The reader shouldn’t be able to peg the culprit the moment the character enters the story and they shouldn’t catch themselves yawning as the cast slowly pieces things together.

I kept reading in hope that Bateman would throw me a curveball or at least create a motive or twist I didn’t anticipate, but neither materialized and I finished the novel feeling cheated of the time I spent with it. The story wasn’t bad, but it never took off.

The novel is light on historic detail and the characterizations lack the depth and complexity I crave. The story isn’t bad, but it’s more of a beach read than it is suspenseful page-turner.

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His words kindles a fire that glinted in Anna's eyes. How dare he make such an assumption? It was difficult to hang on to her temper, but there was too much at stake to let his boorishness sidetrack her.
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Thursday, August 31, 2017

Cover Crush: Confession of the Lioness by Mia Couto

We all know we shouldn't judge a book by its cover, but in today's increasingly competitive market, a memorable jacket can make or break sales.

I am not a professional, but I am a consumer and much as I loath admitting it, jacket design is one of the first things I notice when browsing the shelves at Goodreads and Amazon. My love of cover art is what inspired Cover Crush, a weekly post dedicated to those prints that have captured my attention and/or piqued my interest. Enjoy!

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I love silhouettes. I'm serious, put a silhouette on the cover and I am there. Case in point, Mia Couto's Confession of the Lioness. The lion itself is fierce, but its strength is concealed by the soft colors and the overlay of the woman at the center of the image. The end result has great depth and piques the imagination. 

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Did this week's cover catch your eye? Do you have an opinion you'd like to share? Please leave a comment below. I'd love to hear from you!

INTERESTED IN SEEING MORE?
CHECK OUT WHAT MY FRIENDS HAVE BOOKMARKED:

Magdalena at A Bookaholic Swede
Colleen at A Literary Vacation
Heather at The Maiden's Court
Holly at 2 Kids and Tired
Meghan at Of Quills & Vellum
Stephanie at Layered Pages


Thursday, August 24, 2017

Cover Crush: The Midnight Dance by Nikki Katz

We all know we shouldn't judge a book by its cover, but in today's increasingly competitive market, a memorable jacket can make or break sales.

I am not a professional, but I am a consumer and much as I loath admitting it, jacket design is one of the first things I notice when browsing the shelves at Goodreads and Amazon. My love of cover art is what inspired Cover Crush, a weekly post dedicated to those prints that have captured my attention and/or piqued my interest. Enjoy!

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The Midnight Dance by Nikki Katz isn't my usual fare, but the jacket design is enough to tempt my interests. I love how the dancer and the clock merge into a seamless image that quite literally intimates the the novel's title. It is both intricate and simple, but flawlessly attractive just the same. 

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Did this week's cover catch your eye? Do you have an opinion you'd like to share? Please leave a comment below. I'd love to hear from you!

INTERESTED IN SEEING MORE?
CHECK OUT WHAT MY FRIENDS HAVE BOOKMARKED:

Magdalena at A Bookaholic Swede
Colleen at A Literary Vacation
Heather at The Maiden's Court
Holly at 2 Kids and Tired
Meghan at Of Quills & Vellum
Stephanie at Layered Pages


Wednesday, August 23, 2017

The Hamilton Affair by Elizabeth Cobbs

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆
Obtained from: Netgalley
Read: May 11, 2016

Set against the dramatic backdrop of the American Revolution, and featuring a cast of iconic characters such as George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and the Marquis de Lafayette, The Hamilton Affair tells the sweeping, tumultuous, true love story of Alexander Hamilton and Elizabeth Schuyler, from tremulous beginning to bittersweet ending—his at a dueling ground on the shores of the Hudson River, hers more than half a century later after a brave, successful life. Hamilton was a bastard son, raised on the Caribbean island of St. Croix. He went to America to pursue his education. Along the way he became one of the American Revolution’s most dashing—and unlikely—heroes. Adored by Washington, hated by Jefferson, Hamilton was a lightning rod: the most controversial leader of the American Revolution. She was the well-to-do daughter of one of New York’s most exalted families—feisty, adventurous, and loyal to a fault. When she met Alexander, she fell head over heels. She pursued him despite his illegitimacy, and loved him despite his infidelity. In 1816 (two centuries ago), she shamed Congress into supporting his seven orphaned children. Elizabeth Schuyler Hamilton started New York’s first orphanage. The only “founding mother” to truly embrace public service, she raised 160 children in addition to her own. With its flawless writing, brilliantly drawn characters, and epic scope, The Hamilton Affair will take its place among the greatest novels of American history.

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Alexander Hamilton
I understand trends and the rush to capitalize on Hamilton’s popularity, but I am not amused by Arcade Publishing’s decision to drape Elizabeth Cobbs’ The Hamilton Affair in artwork that was so obviously inspired by the musical’s playbill. I might be alone in this, but I get a ‘we don’t believe this book can succeed on its own merit’ vibe when looking at the jacket and I don’t think that’s quite the angle marketing was going for.

For the record, I live under a rock. I have not seen the show and I have never listened to the soundtrack which means my views are not colored by any sort of admiration for Lin-Manuel Miranda. I picked up Cobbs’ book because I appreciate revolution era fiction, but the reality of my experience with the novel proved so disenchanting that I can’t rouse much additional enthusiasm for the bandwagon’s worth of Hamilton titles that have magically appeared in bookstores across the country.

Cobbs’ passion for the material is obvious, but her approach struck me as rough and unpolished. I can only speculate, but I got the impression that she was so consumed with her own research that she forgot the basic mechanics of storytelling and neglected to realize how starting the story in 1768 hindered the development of the central relationship between Alexander and Elizabeth. You probably don’t have a copy to reference, but Cobbs’ leads don’t actually meet until Chapter 18 which seems a little late for a book meant to chronicle their love affair. Don’t get me wrong, the childhood anecdotes were interesting historically, but they felt unnecessary to the story at hand and left me somewhat annoyed with the first third of the narrative.

I should also note that Alexander and Elizabeth didn’t read as equals. Call me crazy, but Cobbs seems to have had more fun writing Elizabeth than she did Alexander. I can once again only speculate, but I think Cobbs’ creativity was stifled by the depth of her own research and that she was so focused on faithfully recreating the historic record, that she ignored the importance of character development. Little is known about Elizabeth so Cobbs was afforded more freedom, but Alexander is a different animal altogether. To be clear, the issue is not about likability or interpretation, I’d simply have preferred it if he’d read less like an automaton.

I will admit that I liked Ajax Manly, but I found myself at odds with Cobbs’ rationalization of the character and what he was meant to represent in the larger context of the narrative. In the Author’s Note, Cobbs states that Ajax “… is wholly fictional, though conjured out of Hamilton’s past to illuminate his lifelong opposition to slavery.” It’s an admirable statement, but I am disappointed that as a historian, Cobbs neglected to mention that Hamilton’s views are a subject of some debate. Cobbs stands with Michael D. Chan, David O. Stewart, Jerome Braun, and Ron Chernow, but there are those like Michelle DuRoss, Phillip W. Magness, Thomas J. DiLorenzo, and Ishmael Reed, who feel Hamilton’s abolitionist sentiments overstated. Reed went so far as to say that “Establishment historians write best sellers in which some of the cruel actions of the Founding Fathers are smudged over if not ignored altogether.” It’s an interesting idea and while I fully respect Cobbs’ decision to write a fictional story through whatever lens she likes, I can’t help being disappointed at her decision to paint the issue as an established and universally accepted fact in the footnotes of her work.

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It comforted Eliza that Alexander had atoned for his own mistakes years before, even though it flayed her pride at the time. She knew she would find her husband in Heaven. His sacrifices and generosity—his mercy even toward Burr—far outweighed his sins.
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Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Cover Cliché: Emilia in the Rosegarden

Sometimes, while browsing the virtual shelves on Amazon and Goodreads, I see jacket art that gives me a disconcerting sense of deja vu. I know I've not read the book, but I am equally certain I've seen its image somewhere before.

This phenomenon is what inspired Cover Clichés. Image recycling is fairly common as cover artists are often forced to work from a limited pool of stock images and copyright free material. The details vary cover to cover, but each boasts a certain similarity and I find comparing the finished designs quite interesting.

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One spring day, the Narrator of The Canterbury Tales rents a room at the Tabard Inn before he recommences his journey to Canterbury. That evening, a group of people arrive at the inn, all of whom are also going to Canterbury to receive the blessings of "the holy blissful martyr," St. Thomas à Becket. Calling themselves "pilgrims" because of their destination, they accept the Narrator into their company. The Narrator describes his newfound traveling companions.

The Host at the inn, Harry Bailey, suggests that, to make the trip to Canterbury pass more pleasantly, each member of the party tell two tales on the journey to Canterbury and two more tales on the journey back. The person who tells the best story will be rewarded with a sumptuous dinner paid for by the other members of the party. The Host decides to accompany the pilgrims to Canterbury and serve as the judge of the tales.




Thirteenth-century Wales is a divided country, ever at the mercy of England's ruthless, power-hungry King John. Llewelyn, Prince of North Wales, secures an uneasy truce by marrying the English king's beloved illegitimate daughter, Joanna, who slowly grows to love her charismatic and courageous husband. But as John's attentions turn again and again to subduing Wales---and Llewelyn---Joanna must decide where her love and loyalties truly lie.

The turbulent clashes of two disparate worlds and the destinies of the individuals caught between them spring to life in this magnificent novel of power and passion, loyalty and lies. The book that began the trilogy that includes Falls the Shadow and The Reckoning, Here Be Dragons brings thirteenth-century England, France, and Wales to tangled, tempestuous life.




It is England, in the fourteenth century -- a time of plague, political unrest and the earliest stirrings of the Reformation. The printing press had yet to be invented, and books were rare and costly, painstakingly lettered by hand and illuminated with exquisite paintings. Finn is a master illuminator who works not only for the Church but also, in secret, for John Wycliffe of Oxford, who professes the radical idea that the Bible should be translated into English for everyone to read. Finn has another secret as well, one that leads him into danger when he meets Lady Kathryn of Blackingham Manor, a widow struggling to protect her inheritance from the depredations of Church and Crown alike. Finn's alliance with Lady Kathryn will take us to the heart of what Barbara Tuchman once called "the calamitous fourteenth century."

Richly detailed and irresistibly compelling, Brenda Rickman Vantrease's The Illuminator is a glorious story of love, art, religion, and treachery at an extraordinary turning point in history.


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Which cover strikes your fancy and why? What colors draw your eye? Do you think the image appropriate next to the jacket description? Leave your comments below!

Have you seen this image elsewhere? Shoot me an email or leave a comment and let me know. 


Monday, August 21, 2017

Wishlist Reads: August 2017

Like many readers, my TBR grows faster than it shrinks. I find a subject that interests me and titles start piling up one right after the other. With so many bookmarked, I thought it'd be fun to sort through and feature five titles a month here at Flashlight Commentary. 

I usually have trouble coming up with themes for my monthly wishlists, so when an idea strikes me out of the blue, I tend to take notice. This one actually materialized last June while I was cruising Amazon looking for covers to crush in July. A book caught my eye and I clicked over, read the description, jumped over to Goodreads, added it to my TBR and wondered when I last read a book set in Wales. I don't know the answer, I'm too lazy to look it up as I am writing this and will very likely forget before I finish formatting the post, but I decided to see what I could find and just like that, a wishlist theme was born!

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In the aftermath of the Great War, Non Davies wakes one morning to find her husband crouching under the kitchen table in a cold sweat and with fear in his eyes, shouldering an imaginary rifle. During the intense heat of that summer she forces herself to sit and watch him, knowing she has to discover what has changed her Davey so completely. A mysterious letter addressed to Davey gives her the clue she needs and takes her to London in search of an answer. When she returns home Non realizes that the dark secrets of his behavior are working their way ever closer to the surface—secrets that will shatter the fragile happiness of their community if they ever become known. This wonderful piece of storytelling is rich in atmosphere and full of characters that leap from the page.




Owen Glendower is John Cowper Powys' brilliant re-imagining of the life and exploits of Wales's national hero.

It is the year 1400, and Wales is on the brink of a bloody revolt. At a market fair on the banks of the River Dee a mad rebel priest and his beautiful companion are condemned to be burned at the stake. To their rescue rides the unlikely figure of Rhisiart, a young Oxford scholar, whose fate will be entangled with that of Owen Glendower, the last true Prince of Wales-a man called, at times against his will, to fulfill the prophesied role of national redeemer. Psychologically complex, sensuous in its language, vivid in its evocation of a period shrouded by myth, Owen Glendower tells a compelling story of war, love, and magic.




1944. After the fall of Russia and the failed D-Day landings, half of Britain is occupied . . . Young farmer's wife Sarah Lewis wakes to find her husband has disappeared, along with all of the men from her remote Welsh village.

A German patrol arrives in the valley, the purpose of their mission a mystery. Sarah begins a faltering acquaintance with the patrol's commanding officer, Albrecht, and it is to her that he reveals the purpose of his mission - to claim an extraordinary medieval art treasure that lies hidden in the valley. But as the pressure of the war beyond presses in on this isolated community, this fragile state of harmony is increasingly threatened. 




1135 AD. Wales is a broken land. Many of its true-born rulers are in hiding, or married into noble English families. But, though low and dim, a flame of vengeance still burns…

In the southern kingdom of Deheubarth, Gerald of Windsor governs. Firm but fair, he commands the respect of those he reigns over, and the love of Nesta, his wife.

But then treachery strikes from the heart of the English ranks and peace and stability are quickly forgotten. Nesta, daughter of a long-dead prince, is more than what she seems. And when her family is threatened, she takes drastic action to protect it…

In the mountainous rebel heartland of Cantref Mawr, the Welsh resistance has found a new figurehead: a fearless warrior, born with a sword in her hand, and with vengeance in her heart.

The Warrior Princess is coming. And the English will know fear.




From the acclaimed writer Peter Ho Davies comes an engrossing wartime love story set in the stunning landscape of North Wales during the final, harrowing months of World War II.

Young Esther Evans has lived her whole life within the confines of her remote mountain village. The daughter of a fiercely nationalistic sheep farmer, Esther yearns for a taste of the wider world that reaches her only through broadcasts on the BBC. Then, in the wake of D-day, the world comes to her in the form of a German POW camp set up on the outskirts of Esther's village.

The arrival of the Germans in the camp is a source of intense curiosity in the local pub, where Esther pulls pints for both her neighbors and the unwelcome British guards. One summer evening she follows a group of schoolboys to the camp boundary. As the boys heckle the prisoners across the barbed wire fence, one soldier seems to stand apart. He is Karsten Simmering, a German corporal, only eighteen, a young man of tormented conscience struggling to maintain his honor and humanity. To Esther's astonishment, Karsten calls out to her.

These two young people from worlds apart will be drawn into a perilous romance that calls into personal question the meaning of love, family, loyalty, and national identity. The consequences of their relationship resonate through the lives of a vividly imagined cast of characters: the drunken BBC comedian who befriends Esther, Esther's stubborn father, and the resentful young British "evacuee" who lives on the farm -- even the German-Jewish interrogator investigating the most notorious German prisoner in Wales, Rudolf Hess.


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INTERESTED IN MORE WISHLISTS?
CHECK OUT WHAT MY FRIENDS HAVE BOOKMARKED:

Stephanie at Layered Pages
Magdalena at A Bookaholic Swede
Heather at The Maiden's Court

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Cover Crush: Between Earth and Sky by Amanda Skenandore

We all know we shouldn't judge a book by its cover, but in today's increasingly competitive market, a memorable jacket can make or break sales.

I am not a professional, but I am a consumer and much as I loath admitting it, jacket design is one of the first things I notice when browsing the shelves at Goodreads and Amazon. My love of cover art is what inspired Cover Crush, a weekly post dedicated to those prints that have captured my attention and/or piqued my interest. Enjoy!

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Amanda Skenandore's Between Earth and Sky is clean, classy, and timeless. The color scheme is light and the artist didn't rely on complex patterns or embellishments. It's a deceptively simple design, but one stands out just the same. 

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Did this week's cover catch your eye? Do you have an opinion you'd like to share? Please leave a comment below. I'd love to hear from you!

INTERESTED IN SEEING MORE?
CHECK OUT WHAT MY FRIENDS HAVE BOOKMARKED:

Magdalena at A Bookaholic Swede
Colleen at A Literary Vacation
Heather at The Maiden's Court
Holly at 2 Kids and Tired
Meghan at Of Quills & Vellum
Stephanie at Layered Pages


Friday, August 4, 2017

Daughter of the Sky by Michelle Diener

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆
Obtained from: Netgalley
Read: August 3, 2017

The Victorian Empire has declared war on the Zulus if they don't accede to their outrageous demands. The clock is ticking down to the appointed hour. With no idea why the British are marching three massive columns of men and guns towards them, one Zulu general is prepared to take an impossible risk. But the life he's gambling with isn't his own... The sole survivor of a shipwreck off the Zululand coast, 15 year-old Elizabeth Jones is taken in by the Zulus, the people of the sky. Six years later, her white skin becomes useful to the Zulu army as they try to work out why the Victorian Empire has pointed their war-machine at the Zulu nation. Elizabeth is suddenly Zululand's most important spy. While infiltrating the British camp, Elizabeth's disguise as a young soldier is uncovered almost immediately by Captain Jack Burdell. However, he believes the tale she spins of searching for a missing brother and shields her from discovery, allowing her to bunk in his tent and giving her a job as his batman. Burdell is war-weary and disillusioned - no longer willing to follow regulations at all costs. But as Elizabeth and Jack explore their growing attraction to each other, the two armies move towards their inevitable clash. Elizabeth is torn between the guilt of betrayal and her fierce loyalty to her Zulu family, and when Zulu and British meet on the battlefield, both she and Jack find their hearts and their lives caught in the crossfire.

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Michelle Diener’s Daughter of the Sky was new territory for me. I knew virtually nothing about the Anglo-Zulu War prior to reading the book, but I was intrigued by the prospect and couldn’t help taking interest in the novel. Looking back, however, I have to admit to feeling the novel’s characters and themes outshone the history on which it was based.

I don’t mean to discount Diener’s illustration of the British invasion of Zululand or the Battle of Isandlwana, but politics don’t take centerstage here and I don’t want to mislead readers by implying otherwise. Elizabeth and Jack are caught up in the conflict, but their stories hinge on the morality of their circumstances, how they identify themselves, and the decisions they make when their loyalties are torn.

Daughter of the Sky is not standard fare by any means and while the story was lighter than I’d hoped going in, the narrative proved well-worth my time and I definitely recommend it to fellow readers.

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She’d been a spy for minutes and was already a failure. The only way out now was pleading. Or running.  
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