Tuesday, November 29, 2016

The Alice Network by Kate Quinn

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★
Obtained from: Publisher
Read: November 16, 2016

1947. In the chaotic aftermath of World War II, American college girl Charlie St. Clair is pregnant, unmarried, and on the verge of being thrown out of her very proper family. She's also nursing a desperate hope that her beloved cousin Rose, who disappeared in Nazi-occupied France during the war, might still be alive. So when Charlie's parents banish her to Europe to have her "little problem" taken care of, Charlie breaks free and heads to London, determined to find out what happened to the cousin she loves like a sister. 1915. A year into the Great War, Eve Gardiner burns to join the fight against the Germans and unexpectedly gets her chance when she's recruited to work as a spy. Sent into enemy-occupied France, she's trained by the mesmerizing Lili, the "Queen of Spies", who manages a vast network of secret agents right under the enemy's nose. Thirty years later, haunted by the betrayal that ultimately tore apart the Alice Network, Eve spends her days drunk and secluded in her crumbling London house. Until a young American barges in uttering a name Eve hasn't heard in decades, and launches them both on a mission to find the truth... no matter where it leads.

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Do you know what happens when one of your favorite authors leaves her usual stomping grounds and tackles your favorite period of world history? First, you geek out like the nerd you are. Then worry sets in and you start to psyche yourself out over whether or not the novel will live up to your inflated expectations. After that, you vacillate back and forth between the two. This continues until you actually get opportunity to read the book and are put out of your misery. I know because that’s exactly what happened when I discovered Kate Quinn was writing about World War II.

It was horrible. The highs and lows of my anticipation put Tim Curry to shame, but I was offered an unexpected reprieve in the form of a simple blue ARC. My copy lacked the author’s notes and the attractive jacket, but the story was there and that was all I needed. I inhaled the book in single sitting and then, just because I could, I read it again. I didn’t take notes on the first pass which is unusual for me. I intended to, but my infamous notebook was actually blank when I finished the final page and looking back, I’m glad I didn’t write my review then and there as my thoughts on my first read were remarkably different than those on my second.

Quinn’s signature humor was abundant, but the rhythms of The Alice Network are very different than those of her earlier works. I was confused by that on my first pass, but I grew a deep appreciation for it on my second. I loved the characters, Eve, Lili, and Finn had me rolling on floor more often than I care to admit, but the thematic ideas Quinn played with over the course of the novel felt larger and more comprehensive than anything I’d seen from her before.

I was tickled by the appearance of a Legonda LG6, but the car itself was a superficial detail that could have been dropped into any story. The fabric of the narrative, however, speaks to a much deeper understanding of the period than the car and/or cover description suggests. Half the narrative takes place during World War I while the other unfolds just after World War II. Anyone who has studied the politics will tell you the two conflicts are intrinsically related, but as a fan of war era fiction, I can attest that few authors attempt to illustrate the relationship in a single narrative. Though she avoids deep diving into the political side of things, Quinn treats the two wars as continuing chapters in the lives and experiences of her cast and while I’m not sure every reader will appreciate the subtle nuance, I was personally very impressed with the thematic parallel.

I freely admit that some portions of the narrative are slower than others. In terms of tension, Quinn’s work can’t be compared to spy novels like Code Name Verity, but the personal journeys and conflicts faced by each character offer a different sort of intrigue. There are moments, carefully scattered throughout the story, that leave one on edge of their seat, but it is the characters and how they are shaped by their experiences that captivates the imagination.

Would I recommend the book? Whole-heartedly and without hesitation. I expected this novel to be well-written and I expected an exhaustive level of research to be evidenced in the final product. Quinn delivered on both, but she also managed level of creativity, depth and authentic human emotion that caught me entirely off guard.

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"It is my job to find people with certain skills - the ability to speak French and German, for example. The ability to lie. Outward innocence. Inward courage. To find them and put them to work, ferreting out what the Boches have planned for us. I think you show potential, Miss Gardiner. So, let me ask: do you wish to stand for England?"
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Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Cover Cliché: The Painted Parasol

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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On November 9, 1938—Kristallnacht—the Nazis unleash a night of terror across Germany that paves the way for Hitler’s “Final Solution.” Meanwhile, the Japanese Imperial Army continues to rampage through China and tighten its stranglehold on Shanghai, a besieged and divided city that becomes the last haven for thousands of desperate European Jews.

Dr. Franz Adler, an Austrian Jew and renowned surgeon, is swept up in the wave of anti-Semitic violence washing over Vienna and flees to China with his daughter. There, at a Shanghai refugee hospital, Franz meets an enigmatic nurse, Soon Yi “Sunny” Mah. The chemistry between them is intense and immediate, until Sunny’s life is shattered when a drunken Japanese sailor attempts to rape her and murders her father.

The danger escalates for Shanghai’s Jewish refugee community as the Japanese ally themselves militarily with Germany and attack Pearl Harbor. Soon, the Japanese overrun the European enclaves within Shanghai. Facing starvation, disease and the threat of internment—or worse—Franz struggles to keep the refugee hospital open while protecting his own family and fights to outwit the Nazis and save the city’s Jewish community from a terrible fate.

The Far Side of the Sky focuses on a short but extraordinary period of Chinese, Japanese and Jewish Second World War history, where cultures converged and heroic sacrifices were part of the everyday quest for survival.

In the bestselling tradition of Memoirs of a Geisha, a riveting saga of early twentieth-century China, where a mother and a daughter fight to realize their destinies in a world where women could still be bought and sold.

Lotus Feet. He would give his daughter the dainty feet of a courtesan. This would enhance her beauty and her price, making her future shine like a new coin. He smiled to himself, pouring fresh tea. And it would stop her from running away…

When the young concubine of an old farmer in rural China gives birth to a daughter called Li-Xia, or “Beautiful One,” the child seems destined to become a concubine herself. Li refuses to submit to her fate, outwitting her father’s orders to bind her feet and escaping the silk farm with an English sea captain. Li takes her first steps toward fulfilling her mother’s dreams of becoming a scholar — but her final triumph must be left to her daughter, Su Sing, “Little Star,” in a journey that will take her from remote mountain refuges to the perils of Hong Kong on the eve of World War II.

There’s an old Chinese proverb:
‘When the wind blows, the reeds must bend’

And so it is that Merry Hall, the family seat of the Beaumont family, has stood as a symbol of wealth and power for centuries, and dates back to William the Conqueror. Despite war and struggle it has always maintained a male heir; when the direct line disappeared a cousin from India had taken over. The Hall had gone into decline but the new male heir, Sir Thomas Beaumont, was determined to return the Hall to its former grandeur and to leave a good inheritance for his young sons.

The story begins in peacetime England in 1933, in the idyllic setting of a sumptuous family garden party. Pleasantries are exchanged but times are changing and the lure of the outside world is pulling the sons into different directions: the army, the Colonial Service and big business.

We are taken on a journey through Europe and the Far East, as the Second World War draws nearer and the world changes around the family.

Peter Rimmer paints a poignant picture in this epic tale which weaves a rich pattern of family life, interspersed with love, intrigue, hatred and desire.

In this mesmerizing new novel, Mingmei Yip draws readers deeper into the exotic world of 1930s Shanghai first explored in Skeleton Women, and into the lives of the unforgettable Camilla, Shadow, and Rainbow Chang.

When Shadow, a gifted, ambitious magician, competed with the beautiful Camilla for the affections of organized crime leader Master Lung, she almost lost everything. Hiding out in Hong Kong, performing in a run-down circus, Shadow has no idea that Camilla, too, is on the run with her lover, Jinying--Lung's son.

Yet while Camilla and Shadow were once enemies, now their only hope of freedom lies in joining forces to eliminate the ruthless Big Brother Wang. Despite the danger, Shadow, Camilla, and Jinying return to Shanghai. Camilla also has her own secret agenda--she has heard a rumor that her son is alive. And in a city teeming with spies and rivals--including the vengeful Rainbow Chang--each battles for a future in a country on the verge of monumental change.

Exotic Hong Kong takes center stage in this sumptuous novel, set in the 1940s and '50s. It's a city teeming with people, sights, sounds, and smells, and it's home to a group of foreign nationals who enjoy the good life among the local moneyed set, in a tight-knit social enclave distanced from the culture at large. Comfortable, clever, and even a bit dazzling, they revel in their fancy dinners and fun parties. But their sheltered lives take an abrupt turn after the Japanese occupation, and though their reactions are varied -- denial, resistance, submission -- the toll it takes on all is soon laid bare.

Enter Claire Pendleton from London. Months after her husband is transferred to Hong Kong in 1951, she accepts a position as a piano teacher to the daughter of a wealthy couple, the Chens. Claire begins to see the appeal of the sweltering city and is soon taken in by the Chen's driver, the curiously underutilized Will Truesdale. A handsome charmer with a mysterious limp, Will appears to be the perfect companion for Claire, who's often left to her own devices. But a further examination leaves her with more questions than answers.

An intricately woven tale of lives changed by historical events, Lee's debut brings this hothouse flower of a city alive with passion, and imagines characters both unforgettable and tragic.

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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. 

The Battle of Seattle by Douglas Bond

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆
Obtained from: Netgalley
Read: November 18, 2016

It’s 1855 in the Pacific Northwest, and hostility between white settlers and native tribes is rising quickly, leading to deaths on both sides. As tensions mount, young William Tidd joins Charles Eaton’s Rangers on a mission to hunt down Chief Leschi of the Nisqually. If they can stop him, they may be able to end the bloodshed before it gets worse . . . but not everyone wants peace with the enemy. Is all-out war inevitable? Through skirmishes, raids, close calls, and betrayal—William’s assumptions, beliefs, courage, and friendships will all be challenged in a few breakneck weeks.

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Battle of Seattle by Emily Inez Denny
Douglas Bond’s The Battle of Seattle jumped out at me because of its unusual subject matter. I wasn't overly familiar with the history on which it was based, but the story promised to take me into the unknown and I was more than ready to venture into an unfamiliar chapter of American history.

Looking back on the piece, I can honestly say that I appreciate Bond’s effort to chronicle the life and experiences of William Tidd, an express rider who carried dispatches in the Puget Sound Indian War. I’ve a sneaking suspicion that locals will find the text more illuminating than this Southern California reviewer, but I did enjoy the material and found myself intrigued by the politics of the conflict and the social elements that played into the fabric of the narrative.

That said, I found Bond’s presentation difficult to navigate and somewhat tedious. The author obviously put a lot of research into the novel, but I often felt I was being told more than I was shown. I found the characters interesting, but that recognize that fell into well-known and overused tropes. My greatest concern, however, was how distracting I found the religious undertones of the story. Please don’t misunderstand, I took no offense at the author’s message, but I didn’t feel theme and plot came together as they should. I recognize this is a matter of taste, but I really needed the two to be more integrated and intertwined.

When all is said and done, I’m happy to have sampled Bond’s work and will likely read him again, but I think The Battle for Seattle caters to a very specific audience and is best suited to those readers with a vested interest in the history of the Pacific Northwest and/or faith based fiction.

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He was in despair. It was all his fault. William know that his testimony, far from helping to clear Charlie, would be used instead to convict the Indian of a crime he did not commit. William was sure of it. But he was equally sure that in the aftermath of the Indian war, Charlie was guilty in the minds of those who sat in judgement on him.
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Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Cover Cliché: Uncommon Valor

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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A Christian military romance set during World War II that will touch your heart

Matthew Finley and William Sawyer have become fast friends as they face the realities of being US soldiers in 1944 Germany. One dark, cloudy night, with everything to lose, they face an enemy-populated Hürtgen Forest. But Matthew has brought a weapon more powerful than any gun could ever be. He has brought his faith.

Matthew’s sister, Grace, is a combat nurse working in a fast-paced field hospital along the front lines. Her body is tired and bruised, and her mind is exhausted from the non-stop barrage of new patients, but her spirit has held steady. She finds herself constantly saying small prayers for the men in her care. She always feels that her prayers are heard, until one day when she gets two letters with life-changing news.

As William and Matthew plot out coordinates for a special mission, the two men are walking ever closer to a moment that can never be changed. Under the cover of trees, William’s life is about to change forever. But, as William will soon find out, one ending is only the spark to a new beginning.

Grace has lived to see the end of the war in Europe, but the war in her heart is still going on. Staying on to help the last soldiers get home, Grace finds a handsome soldier with his head wrapped in bandages sitting in her final hospital.
When William leaves Europe for US soil, he is certain he will never see the beautiful nurse again…

Frontline Angel takes its readers from 1940s Wisconsin to the Philippine Islands just prior to World War 2 and through the Japanese occupation and liberation. It tells the tale of Eliza-a small-town Midwestern girl with dreams of travel and adventure who enlists with the United States Army Nurse Corps despite her parents’ protests. Eliza will find the fun and adventure she desired as well as an unexpected romance with a handsome soldier. Yet all changes overnight as war destroys her tropical paradise. Our heroine must quickly adapt in order to survive the harsh, unforgiving jungle climate, and become a skilled combat nurse on the frontline. The story will take you from the fall of the islands through the terrible conditions suffered by those placed in internment camps and their struggle for liberation. Can Eliza find the strength and courage needed to survive such horror and still emerge with her spirit unbroken?

After losing her fiancé to a German blitz, British Air woman Yvonne Huxley volunteers for a post in Scotland and falls for Edward Morrison, a Canadian flight lieutenant, after he sneaks through a window and into the NAAFI dance that she’s attending with her friends. They are instantly attracted to each other and decide to marry a week later. However, when Edward is posted to Tempsford and Yvonne discovers that she’s pregnant, she finds herself on unfriendly Canadian soil with strange in-laws, struggling to find a sense of happiness.

With Into the Storm, Lisa Bingham wove a spellbinding romance set during the Blitz. Now, she turns her eye to the Pacific in this gorgeous WWII tale of courage, fear, and love on an island doomed to fall.

At the dawn of WWII, the Philippines is a haven for those intent on shedding their pasts and reinventing themselves. Lt. Riley Gilhouley―The Great Gilhouley―keeps the troops well stocked in contraband as he seeks the attention of Maj. Rosemary Dodd, a by-the-book officer who leads her nurses with expert care. Ex-priest John Macklin searches for absolution, but finds himself tangling with Glory Bee O’Halloran, a stripper hired to take off just enough clothing to throw the troops into a frenzy.

But when, mere hours after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, the Japanese attack the Philippines, the island haven explodes into the chaos of battle.

Thrown from the passion of Gilhouley’s arms into the harsh realities of war, Rosemary begins to question everything she once held dear. As their stolen moments together blossom into something more, Gilhouley’s secret missions behind enemy lines threaten to end what has only begun. Trapped, Glory Bee has nowhere to run, putting herself and her secret, unborn child in danger. All too quickly, the only thing separating her from the advancing enemy is a fallen priest with a haunted past who promises to keep her safe. The two of them are drawn together in a desperate bid for survival, but John knows his growing love for Glory Bee is at odds with his need to strike back at an old enemy.

Set amid the heartbreak of a besieged country waiting in vain for help to arrive, this stunning novel blends a meticulous eye for history with limitless heart. Bingham, a master of the genre, has penned a novel that will stand the test of time.

On December 7th 1941, hundreds of Japanese fighter planes carried out a devastating surprise attack on the American naval base at Pearl Harbor in Hawaii and changed the face of World War II.

This wide-ranging collection of eight stories by a diverse group of authors, who write wartime fiction, commemorates the 75th anniversary of the Battle of Pearl Harbor. Few people's lives were unaffected in some way by that fateful day and these stories reflect this.

Some of them are set at Pearl Harbor itself, in other parts of the United States and in Singapore. Other stories take place in Europe: occupied France, Germany and Northern Ireland. They explore the experiences of U.S. servicemen and women, a German Jew, Japanese Americans, a French countess, an Ulster Home Guard, and many others.

The authors invite you to step into December 1941 with them.


Deadly Liberty by R.V. Doon:
Connie Collins, a navy nurse on the hospital ship, USS Solace, takes liberty the day before Pearl Harbor. Her budding romance wilts, an AWOL nurse insists she find a missing baby, and she's in the harbor when WWII erupts. Under fire, she boards the ship--and witnesses a murder during the red alert chaos. When liberty turns deadly, shipmates become suspects.

The List by Vanessa Couchman:
A high-ranking German officer is assassinated in Western France and 50 hostages are shot. Fifty more will be executed if the killers are not handed over. Jewish communist Joseph Mazelier is on the list. Will Countess Ida agree to help him escape?

Christmas Eve in the City of Dreams by Alexa Kang:
On his last night in New York, a young grifter sets out to turn the table on those who shorted him before he leaves for the draft. Will he win or lose?

Allies After All by Dianne Ascroft:
Although their nations are allies, from their first meeting American civilian contractor Art Miller and Local Defence Volunteer, Robbie Hetherington loathe each other. But Northern Ireland is too small a place for such animosity. What will it take to make the two men put aside their enmity and work together?

Time to Go by Margaret Tanner:
A young sailor, who died at Pearl Harbor, finally meets his soulmate on the 75th Anniversary of the battle. Will she be prepared to leave the 21st century with him? Or will they forever remain apart?

Turning Point by Marion Kummerow:
Eighteen-year-old German Jew Margarete Rosenbaum is about to be sent to a labor camp, when a bomb hits the building she lives in. Emerging from the rubble she's presented with an unexpected opportunity. But how far is she willing to go to save her life?

I am an American by Robyn Hobusch Echols:
Ellen Okita and Flo Kaufmann are high school seniors in Livingston, California. Ellen is a first generation American who lives in the Yamato Colony, composed of about 100 families of Japanese descent. Flo's father is a first generation American. After Pearl Harbor, the war hits home fast and brings unforeseen changes to them and their families.

A Rude Awakening by Robert A. Kingsley:
Singapore, December 1941; the fortress sleeps, believing its own tales of strength and invulnerability. A rigidly class based society throws garden parties and dines sedately, disregarding the slowly growing number of warning signals. Suddenly, the underestimated enemy ferociously attacks and the myth of invincibility is shattered forever.

Seeking adventure, shy Kitty Greenlee joins the Women’s Army Corps. In 1944 England, as secretarial support to the 8th Air Force, she encounters her dream man, a handsome lieutenant who only has eyes for her blonde friend. Uncomfortable around men, Kitty doesn’t think the handsome officer could want someone like her.

Recovering from wounds, Ted Kruger wants to forget about losing his closest friends and have fun before returning to danger as a bomber navigator. When Ted recognizes Kitty as the girl who rescued him two years before, he must choose between dating the sexy blonde or pursuing quiet, serious-minded Kitty even though he knows he’s not nearly good enough for her.

As the war gears up with the D-Day invasion, will Kitty and Ted risk their hearts as well as their lives?

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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. 

Thursday, November 10, 2016

Stars Over Clear Lake by Loretta Ellsworth

Rating: ★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆
Obtained from: Netgalley
Read: November 9, 2016

For the first time in decades, Lorraine Kindred has returned to the ballroom where she was swept away by the big bands during the 1940s - and by a star-crossed romance. As she takes in the magnificent energy and brassy sounds of her youth, the past comes to life, along with the fateful decision all those years ago that forced her to choose between personal conviction and social expectations, between the two men who had captured her heart. It had been a time of great music and love, but also of war and sacrifice, and now, trying to make peace with her memories, Lorraine must find the courage to face buried secrets. In the process, she will rediscover herself, her passion, and her capacity for resilience. Set during the 1940s and the present and inspired by a real-life ballroom, Stars Over Clear Lake is a moving story of forbidden love, lost love, everlasting love - and self love.

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I requested a copy of Loretta Ellsworth’s Stars Over Clear Lake for two reasons: the soldier on the cover and the 1940s reference on the back. I didn’t register the ‘star-crossed’ romance and didn’t give too much thought to the big band references in the jacket description. It was war lit and that was enough for me. Make no mistake, I’m enough of an enthusiast that I’d have read the novel either way, but had I paid more attention I’d have approached the book with a very different expectation.

Lorraine’s story begins in 2007 shortly after the death of her beloved husband. The narrative itself hinges on the identity of her spouse, but if one is a careful reader, there no need to speculate as the author drops an enormous clue in the dialogue of chapter one. Lorraine’s suiters are introduced in chapters two and three, but if the reader is paying attention, there is no contest between them. The end all is crystal clear and that reality made it exceedingly difficult for me appreciate the ‘drama’ that played out in the forty-five chapters that followed.

According to Ellsworth, “Not many people are aware that approximately seven hundred POW camps were scattered across the U.S. during World War II, housing more than four hundred thousand German soldiers by the end of the war.” I’m not sure how true that statement is, I’m a poor judge, but Ellsworth didn’t introduce me to the material. That credit belongs to Bette Greene’s award-winning Summer of My German Soldier, but if young adult fiction isn’t your thing I recommend googling Georg Gärtner. His story made headlines in 1985 and incorporates a lot of the themes Ellsworth attempted to illustrate over the course of her narrative. I don’t mean to nitpick, but I don’t feel the author made the most of the subject matter and felt her descriptions of Germanophobia pale alongside works like Karen White’s The Harvest Season.

To be entirely honest, I wish the author had focused on the Surf Ballroom and omitted the POW camp altogether. The elements don’t mesh well and the references to Glenn Miller, Jimmy Dorsey, Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens, and J. P. “The Big Bopper” Richardson felt needlessly contrived within the context of the narrative. I liked the material, but I feel Ellsworth’s attempt to tackle both the historic ballroom and the camp at Algona fell flat. There was simply too much material for a single story and I don’t think the final product did justice to either subject.

Long story short, I’d have difficulty recommending this piece. Stars Over Clear Lake boasts a few good ideas, but I felt the combined story lines clashed. The supernatural and historic elements of the story didn't appeal to my tastes and I couldn’t buy into the love triangle Ellsworth created for Lorraine.

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I let my gaze wander to the window, where billowy clouds are passing by, reminding me of the clouds that move across the Surf’s ceiling. The ones at the Surf aren’t real clouds, of course; just an illusion, like the ghosts I saw. Except they didn’t look like ghosts. They looked as real as the people standing next to them, laughing and talking. But they weren’t real. They couldn’t be.
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Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Cover Cliché: The Crimson Traveler

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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The Italian Chapel is a story of forbidden love, lifelong friendships torn apart, despair and hope, set against the backdrop of the creation of a symbol that is known around the world.

Amidst strikes, conflicts and untold hardships, the Italian prisoners of war sent to a tiny Orkney island during World War Two create a monument to the human spirit's ability to lift itself above great adversity. One artist falls in love with a local Orkney woman and leaves a token of his love in the chapel. It is still there today and, until now, no-one has ever known its true meaning . . .

A stirring novel of first love in a time of war and the unbearable choices that could tear sisters apart, from the celebrated author of The Kommandant's Girl.

Life is a constant struggle for the eighteen-year-old Nowak twins as they raise their three younger siblings in rural Poland under the shadow of the Nazi occupation. The constant threat of arrest has made everyone in their village a spy, and turned neighbor against neighbor. Though rugged, independent Helena and pretty, gentle Ruth couldn't be more different, they are staunch allies in protecting their family from the threats the war brings closer to their doorstep with each passing day.

Then Helena discovers an American paratrooper stranded outside their small mountain village, wounded, but alive. Risking the safety of herself and her family, she hides Sam—a Jew—but Helena's concern for the American grows into something much deeper. Defying the perils that render a future together all but impossible, Sam and Helena make plans for the family to flee. But Helena is forced to contend with the jealousy her choices have sparked in Ruth, culminating in a singular act of betrayal that endangers them all—and setting in motion a chain of events that will reverberate across continents and decades.

Set in small-town 1960s, The Country Doctor s contains four interweaving stories and portrays the scandals and tensions of a year in Everham. Follow Shelagh, a doctor with a desire to not only prove herself but to do what is right for her mother, Jenny & Tim, desperate for a child but unable to have their own, and Reverend Bolt and headteacher Jeremy North, who both become increasingly alienated by their spouses. In a town rife with gossip and rumors, just how far will others secrets and prejudices shape the daily lives of the townsfolk?


Seventeen-year-old Kitty is determined to 'do her bit'. She dreams of singing to the soldiers like her heroine, Vera Lynn, and wangles her way into ENSA. Three weeks later she and the entertainment troupe are sweltering in an army camp in Cairo.

Under a desert sky Kitty steps out on to the make-shift stage for the first time, and is paralysed with fear. Help comes from the handsome Ruggero Andreotti - an Italian prisoner of war and ex-aide to Mussolini. But Italians are the enemy - and the worst thing a young woman can do is to fraternise with them.

However, the war has other plans for Kitty. She steps on to a very different stage when she is selected to undertake an unexpected and unwelcome mission and has no choice but to obey orders, knowing full well it could jeopardise her future happiness.

Will she and her love meet again some day?

It is Paris, 1949. 27-year-old American detective and heiress, Slim Moran, is hired by a British spymistress to find Marie-Claire, a spy long presumed dead. Slim soon realizes that scores from the last war have not been settled. She races to find out what happened to this deeply troubled lost spy because if Marie-Claire is not dead, she will be soon.

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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. 

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Cover Cliché: The Painted Veil

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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Set in England and Hong Kong in the 1920s, The Painted Veil is the story of the beautiful but love-starved Kitty Fane. When her husband discovers her adulterous affair, he forces her to accompany him to the heart of a cholera epidemic. Stripped of the British society of her youth and the small but effective society she fought so hard to attain in Hong Kong, she is compelled by her awakening conscience to reassess her life and learn how to love.

The Painted Veil is a beautifully written affirmation of the human capacity to grow, to change, and to forgive.

In this collection of romantic stories, every single story will transcend the power of ordinary love as they will take you on a journey you are bound to cherish. Enjoy the breathtaking power of some of the most beautiful magical stories which are packed with drama, mistrust, hate, envy and more.

With the power of love woven strongly in these stories, you are sure to love this collection and enjoy the beauty which these stories evoke. The sexy stories of love will leave you smirking and reminiscing of the magic of love.

Let every tale in this epic collection romance your hearts and make you smile when you read these perfect tales that depict real love. Find how two people, completely diverse come together to have a steamy sexy time and then drift apart. Every story told powerfully by award-winning authors, packed in one single collection is sure to leave you amazed and you will love the perfect beauty of these stories.

Let love rule your heart one more time as the stories will bring your fantasies to life.

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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. 

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Sisi: Empress on Her Own by Allison Pataki

Rating: ★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆
Obtained from: Local Library
Read: October 27, 2016

In this sweeping and powerful novel, New York Times bestselling author Allison Pataki tells the little-known story of Empress Elisabeth of Austria-Hungary, the Princess Diana of her time. An enthralling work of historical fiction set during the Golden Age of the Habsburg court, Sisi is a gripping page-turner for readers of Philippa Gregory, Paula McLain, and Daisy Goodwin. Married to Emperor Franz Joseph, Elisabeth - fondly known as Sisi - captures the hearts of her people as their "fairy queen," but beneath that dazzling perception lives a far more complex figure. In mid-nineteenth-century Vienna, the halls of the Hofburg Palace buzz not only with imperial waltzes and champagne but also with temptations, rivals, and cutthroat intrigue. Sisi grows restless, feeling stifled by strict protocols and a turbulent marriage. A free-spirited wanderer, she finds solace at her estate outside Budapest, where she enjoys visits from the striking Hungarian statesman Count Andrássy, the man with whom she’s unwittingly fallen in love. But tragic news brings Sisi out of seclusion, forcing her to return to her capital and a world of gossip, envy, and sorrow where a dangerous fate lurks in the shadows. Through love affairs and loss, Sisi struggles against the conflicting desires to keep her family together or to flee amid the collapse of her suffocating marriage and the gathering tumult of the First World War. In an age of crumbling monarchies, Sisi fights to assert her right to the throne beside her husband, to win the love of her people and the world, and to save an empire. But in the end, can she save herself?

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Empress Elisabeth
*** NOTE: This review contains spoilers. Please take heed and proceed at your own risk. 

I love the Hapsburgs. Their history fascinates me and I was understandably intrigued when I learned that Allison Pataki had chosen to feature Empress Elisabeth as a fictional heroine. I was overjoyed to get an ARC of The Accidental Empress, but the reality of the novel didn’t live up to my expectations. That said, my two year experience with the first book proved I was too addicted to the subject matter to walk away from the series and challenged me to approach the sequel, Sisi: Empress on Her Own, with a more open mind. Resolved to give the author the benefit of the doubt, I jumped straight into the latter and did my best to remain objective. Did the effort pay off? Sort of. The novel incorporated a number of references and I enjoyed the game I made of picking out historically relevant cameos, but I fell into old habits and quickly found myself wrestling to rectify the fiction against my own inner dialogue and understanding of the royal family. Fair warning folks, what follows is a soapbox series of complaints by an exceedingly nitpicky reader. I’m bias and make no apologies for it, but please keep in mind my ‘enthusiasm’ relates to my passion for the material and is not necessarily even-keeled. Spoilers abound in the following paragraphs. Consider yourself warned.

I feel the strongest moments of the narrative were the scenes relayed from Luigi’s point of view, but I am frustrated to report that these passages couldn’t have played out as presented in the book. Pataki’s illustration of Sisi’s assassination includes an evening of premeditation that contradicts the timeline. Luigi’s intended target was Philippe, Duke of Orleans, but a change of plans meant the Duke was elsewhere. Frustrated, Luigi looked for a new mark and settled on Sisi after finding her name in the local paper. The paper was published on September 10th, the same day Sisi was assassinated which means Luigi could not have meditated on her death the night before and while that observation means little in the grand scheme of things, I couldn’t help feeling the dramatic shift in context minimized the tragedy of the Empress’ death. She was selected as a target only hours before the attack which made it a crime of opportunity and I am not comfortable with the liberty taken in white washing that fact as it gave Sisi’s assassin far more credit than he is due.

I also struggled with the lack of complexity between Elisabeth and Franz. Pataki’s interpretation is very black and white, but I have reason to believe the marriage was in fact much more complicated. In a letter to his mistress, Franz Joseph wrote the following: “We are quite well physically. The Empress has taken up her lessons again... and she devotes herself to the study of modern Greek with her usual zeal, in her room and in her walks in the garden. It is a necessary distraction for her, and Valerie reads to her in the evenings before we retire, while I fall off to sleep in a very comfortable reclining chair. Otherwise, the Empress is composed, and occupied only with her concern for my welfare and for cheering me, but still I notice how utterly the deep, secret grief fills her. She is a great, rare woman!” Their history is convoluted and while their union did not have the hallmarks of a passionate romance, the Emperor’s correspondence appears to indicate that despite their difficulties, the two were companionable, warm, and mutually supportive of one another. 

Those familiar with my comments on Daisy Goodwin’s The Fortune Hunter understand that I was a not a fan of the novel. The idea of Sisi doning her famed star jewels for an informal evening tryst in the stables of an English country estate still makes me laugh, but the fact remains that  Goodwin spent a lot of time researching Sisi’s beauty regime and the details she worked into her novel earned her a degree of admiration from yours truly (Details on Goodwin’s firsthand research can be found here). Pataki, by contrast, makes no mention of Sisi’s extreme dedication to her physical appearance and I couldn’t help asking myself why. Sisi’s features and fashion choices made her a legend in her own lifetime and I found it difficult to understand how such an intense routine could be so completely omitted from a story centered on the ‘most beautiful woman in the world,’ especially when said rituals are referenced in the historic notes at the end of the novel in question.

Mayerling makes its first appearance as the setting for a meeting between Elisabeth and Andrassy just after the World Fair in 1873. Pataki paints it as a royal property, but here again I found myself nitpicking. The notorious locale was acquired by Rudolf in 1887 from the Abbey of Heiligenkreuz which had owned it since 1550. This understanding being firmly rooted in my mind, I couldn't see the fictional scene as plausible and consequently assume it was invented to draw a tragic parallel between mother and son. I'll grant it's a creative idea, but I personally found it distasteful. After the incident, Franz Joseph ordered the property be converted to a convent and the Empress commissioned a striking and oddly prophetic Madonna for the chapel. In my eyes, the existence of this memorial is evidence of the deep and unrelenting pain Sisi associated with Mayerling and I don’t think the fiction recognizes those emotions.

Politically speaking, Sisi character shows significant inconsistencies. There are discussions with Franz, Andrassy, Ludwig that show her as possessing a great deal of political acumen. I personally agreed with this interpretation, but my opinion on that point is entirely irrelevant. I’d have been just as happy if Sisi had been painted as an independent, self-indulgent, social butterfly, but the fact that she flits back and forth between the two was difficult to swallow. Sisi couldn’t have been fiercely passionate about her role as Empress and repelled by execution of her imperial duties at the same time and as a reader, I found the inherent contradiction disorienting.

I understand Sisi to have been a complicated and deeply troubled soul with a host of personal demons, but Pataki’s Sisi was largely preoccupied with and defined by her love life. I struggled with that, but at the end of the day I don't hold it against the author. Pataki's understanding differs from my own, but I'd vowed to let go of my own preconceptions and at least try appreciate the character as Pataki envisioned her. I made a point of examining the contrasts Pataki created in Sisi's relationships with Franz, Andrassy, and Bay and ultimately appreciated those themes a great deal. On a similar note, I was also deeply impressed with Pataki's illustration of the Emperor's relationship with Katharina Schratt.

Chapter Fifteen was not my favorite as it omits much and peddles a number of anachronisms, but this review is long enough and I think I've illustrated my feelings well enough. When all is said and done, Sisi: Empress on Her Own is stronger than its predecessor and I'm glad to have  read it, but that said, I found the completed work both unconvincing and inconsistent and would have difficulty recommending it forward. 

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“Death is to be my constant companion until it becomes my master… “
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Tuesday, October 25, 2016

The Accidental Empress by Allison Pataki

Rating: ★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆
Obtained from: Netgalley
Read: October 25, 2016

New York Times bestselling author Allison Pataki follows up on her critically acclaimed debut novel, The Traitor’s Wife, with the little-known and tumultuous love story of “Sisi” the Austro-Hungarian Empress and captivating wife of Emperor Franz Joseph. The year is 1853, and the Habsburgs are Europe’s most powerful ruling family. With his empire stretching from Austria to Russia, from Germany to Italy, Emperor Franz Joseph is young, rich, and ready to marry. Fifteen-year-old Elisabeth, “Sisi,” Duchess of Bavaria, travels to the Habsburg Court with her older sister, who is betrothed to the young emperor. But shortly after her arrival at court, Sisi finds herself in an unexpected dilemma: she has inadvertently fallen for and won the heart of her sister’s groom. Franz Joseph reneges on his earlier proposal and declares his intention to marry Sisi instead. Thrust onto the throne of Europe’s most treacherous imperial court, Sisi upsets political and familial loyalties in her quest to win, and keep, the love of her emperor, her people, and of the world. With Pataki’s rich period detail and cast of complex, bewitching characters, The Accidental Empress offers a captivating glimpse into one of history’s most intriguing royal families, shedding new light on the glittering Hapsburg Empire and its most mesmerizing, most beloved “Fairy Queen.”

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*** NOTE: This review contains spoilers. Please take heed and proceed at your own risk. 

An ARC of Alison Pataki’s The Accidental Empress sat on my kindle for nearly two years. Howard Books granted me a copy sometime before the novel was released in February 2015, but the first chapter of the book left such a bad taste in my mouth that despite multiple attempts, I was unable to reach chapter two. I’ll grant that Maximilian was a womanizer, but I felt Pataki’s depiction of the man as drunk and slovenly boob clashed with the historic record which evidences him as a cultured patron of the arts. I was flat out appalled by the author’s illustration of Karl calling his sisters whores, but it was Duchess Ludovika’s declaration that she’d “never allowed [herself] to hope” that one of daughters might marry the emperor that caused my jaw to clench.

It’s of little consequence to the average reader, but long story short, this line drew the author’s research into question and led me to abandon the novel several times over. Excuse me for pointing it out, but records show there were more than thirty marriages between the Hapsburgs and the Bavarian Wittlesbachs. It’s a pretty significant trend when looking at the family histories so the idea that Ludovika hasn’t considered the prospect is pretty preposterous. I found equally difficult to believe this fact could have been overlooked as the consequences of these marriages are pretty significant. In my mind, the research either wasn’t done or the facts were being ignored and I wasn’t entirely comfortable with either explanation. Similar instances throughout the book gave me reason to pause and I found it an uphill battle to ignore the inconsistencies I recognized during my reading.

I also struggled with the novel’s structure. The reader is aware that something isn’t right from the get go as Andrassy is introduce in the prologue, but Pataki dedicates the next eighty percent of the story to developing Elisabeth and Franz as a couple, building up their romance and slowing tearing it apart. I get the idea, but I honestly felt she was beating a dead horse. The affair was already established and spending so much time on the circumstances that gave rise to it seemed moot. I didn’t want to know how they got there, they were there, and I wanted to know what happened next, but it seems that is a story of another day and is not chronicled between these pages.

Character development was another issue for me as I found Pataki built Elisabeth up by dumbing everyone else down. The presentation also struck me as inconsistent and I often found myself wondering how Elisabeth got from Point A to Point B. For the sake of example, there is a moment where Elisabeth declares she will take back her household and be mother to her children, but paragraphs later she pulls a one-eighty, her fervor vanishes and she is seen abandoning the family out of jealousy and spite. Instances like this were common and made a significant impression on my opinions of both the primary and supporting cast.

I freely admit that much of my difficulty has roots in the passion I have for the material, but that aside, I was unconvinced by the style and tone of this telling and would have great difficulty recommending The Accidental Empress to other readers. It's an interesting idea, but the book hit all the wrong notes and lacked the charisma and dramatic appeal I expected when I requested it for review.

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"A deity does not quake simply because the crowd yells. An empress stands fixed, immutable: the calm that continues on, even as the world rages."
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Cover Cliché: Old Hollywood Glamour

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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Berlin, 1933. Warning bells ring across Europe as Hitler comes to power. Clara Vine, an attractive young Anglo-German actress, arrives in Berlin to find work at the famous Ufa studios. Through a chance meeting, she is unwillingly drawn into a circle of Nazi wives, among them Magda Goebbels, Anneliese von Ribbentrop and Goering's girlfriend Emmy Sonnemann.

As part of his plan to create a new pure German race, Hitler wants to make sweeping changes to the lives of women, starting with the formation of a Reich Fashion Bureau, instructing women on what to wear and how to behave. Clara is invited to model the dowdy, unflattering clothes. Then she meets Leo Quinn who is working for British intelligence and who sees in Clara the perfect recruit to spy on her new elite friends, using her acting skills to win their confidence.

But when Magda Goebbels reveals to Clara a dramatic secret and entrusts her with an extraordinary mission, Clara feels threatened, compromised, desperately caught between her duty towards — and growing affection for — Leo, and the impossibly dangerous task Magda has forced upon her.

Set in the glamorous 1920s, A Fine Imitation is an intoxicating debut that sweeps readers into a privileged Manhattan socialite’s restless life and the affair with a mysterious painter that upends her world, flashing back to her years at Vassar and the friendship that brought her to the brink of ruin.

Vera Bellington has beauty, pedigree, and a penthouse at The Angelus—the most coveted address on Park Avenue. But behind the sparkling social whirl, Vera is living a life of quiet desperation. Her days are an unbroken loop of empty, champagne-soaked socializing, while her nights are silent and cold, spent waiting alone in her cavernous apartment for a husband who seldom comes home.

Then Emil Hallan arrives at The Angelus to paint a mural above its glittering subterranean pool. The handsome French artist moves into the building, shrouds his work in secrecy, and piques Vera’s curiosity, especially when the painter keeps dodging questions about his past. Is he the man he claims to be? Even as she finds herself increasingly drawn to Hallan’s warmth and passion, Vera can’t supress her suspicions. After all, she has plenty of secrets, too—and some of them involve art forgers like her bold, artistically talented former friend, Bea, who years ago, at Vassar, brought Vera to the brink of catastrophe and social exile.

When the dangerous mysteries of Emil’s past are revealed, Vera faces an impossible choice—whether to cling to her familiar world of privilege and propriety or to risk her future with the enigmatic man who has taken her heart. A Fine Imitation explores what happens when we realize that the life we’ve always led is not the life we want to have.

Maureen Howard has long enchanted her readers with an urgent history of our extraordinary life and times. In The Silver Screen she conjures up the last days of silent movies in the story of Isabel Maher, who renounces the glamour of Hollywood and her talent. As Bel Murphy, wife and mother, she is confined to the drama of domestic life and plays it like a star.

Bel’s children struggle against the lives she has scripted for them: Joe, a Jesuit priest, is unsuccessful as a healer of souls; spinster Rita runs off with the love of her life, a gangster who turns state’s evidence; and there’s Gemma, an angry ambitious girl, who enters the Murphys’ magic circle. All three are pilgrims struggling to discard the myths of the past for the comforts and sorrows of the present. Joe’s journey takes him to the war of the gospel in El Salvador; Rita’s to the witness protection program; Gemma’s to problematic fame as a postmodern photographer. The flickering seductions and distortions of private lives play out against the novel’s rich historical awareness.

Darkly comic and truly moving, this is a brilliant exploration of the claims of the past and a passionate bid for freedom. Howard gives us the enduring pleasure of astounding writing and the superb craft of a consummate storyteller.

Mesdames et Messieurs, presenting La Petite Mort, or, A Little Death... A silent film, destroyed in a fire in 1913 at the Pathé studio, before it was seen even by its director. A lowly seamstress, who makes the costumes she should be wearing, but believes her talent - and the secret she keeps too - will soon get her a dressing room of her own. A beautiful house in Paris, with a curving staircase, a lake, and locked rooms. A famous - and dashing - creator of spectacular cinematic illusions, husband to a beautiful, volatile actress, the most adored icon of the Parisian studios. All fit together, like scenes in a movie. And as you will see, this plot has a twist we beg you not to disclose...

Coco Chanel and Composer Igor Stravinsky.
Their love affair inspired their art.
Their art defined an era.

In 1913, at the premiere of Igor Stravinsky's Rite of Spring, the young couturiere Coco Chanel witnesses the birth of a musical revolution- one that, like her designs, rips down the artifice of the old regime and ushers in something profoundly modern. Seven years later, she invites Stravinsky and his family, now exiled from their Russian homeland, for a summer at her villa, and the powerful charge between them ignites into a deep love affair. As Stravinsky enjoys a new burst of creativity and Chanel brings forth her own revolutionary creation-the perfume Chanel No. 5-their love threatens to overtake work, family and life.

In 1936 a celebrated American writer, Nathan Sutherland, arrives alone in Hawaii from bohemian Paris, fleeing the approach of fascism and war. He claims that he has come to the islands to write and search the high jungle for a lost species of orchid, but he seems little interested in doing either.

The wealthy and entrenched colonialist community are pleased to welcome him into their midst as a famous writer. Nathan is sophisticated, charming and refined, a man who knows their world.

Although Nathan joins the privileged society, he is not a man who cares to belong to it, he much prefers the unpredictable company of the flamboyant woman who is the scandal of the community.

After Nathan meets Sara Van Meer, a spirited Dutch woman at the heart of the island society who is mistress of a large sugar cane plantation, his bohemianism begins to bring him into conflict with the morally decadent but discreet aristocratic community.

Nathan is prepared to break all the rules of the community to make the fiercely independent Sara his lover, but she is tightly bound by her society. Nathan comes from an artistic world in which the highest value is love and the expression of passion for life, but here marriage is a business pact which is binding until death.

But Nathan is a man who intends to find what he has come to Hawaii to seek..

The book is an authentic look at American colonialism in the elegant 1930s.

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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.