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. 

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Cover Cliché: Portrait d'une négresse

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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Ponce, Puerto Rico, at the turn of the century: Ana Belén Opaku, an Afro-Cuban born into slavery, is a proud midwife with a tempestuous past. After testifying at an infanticide trial, Ana is forced to reveal a dark secret from her past, but continues to hide an even more sinister one. Pitted against the parish priest, Padre Vicénte, and young Doctór Héctor Rivera, Ana must battle to preserve her twenty-five year career as the only midwife in La Playa.

Serafina is a respectable young widow with two small children, who marries an older, wealthy merchant from a distinguished family. A crime against Serafina during her last pregnancy forever bonds her to Ana in an ill-conceived plan to avoid a scandal and preserve Serafina’s honor.

Set against the combustive backdrop of a chauvinistic society, where women are treated as possessions, A Decent Woman is the provocative story of these two women as they battle for their dignity and for love against the pain of betrayal and social change.

This story of love and revolution takes place during the Argentine struggle for independence (1810-1820) and focuses on the character of the national hero, Manuel Belgrano. However, Belgrano's story is told through the voices of the real heroes of the novel-María Kumbá a mulatto healer-priestess, fighter, and nurse to the common soldiers; and Gregorio Rivas, mestizo son of a well-to-do Spanish businessman.

Sky of Drums is filled with political and personal intrigue. At the core of the novel is the issue of racial discrimination. Belgrano is blinded to the love Maríahas for him and the good counsel she has to offer because of his contempt for blacks. His open contempt for Rivas as a mestizo leads to his death. Rivas becomes María's lover but is always haunted by María's evident adoration of Belgrano. The manner in which the love-hate triangle plays out is filled with surprises and cuts to the heart of Argentina's troubled identity.

Of black Martinican provenance, Patrick Chamoiseau gives us Texaco (winner of the Prix Goncourt, France's most prestigious literary prize), an international literary achievement, tracing one hundred and fifty years of post-slavery Caribbean history: a novel that is as much about self-affirmation engendered by memory as it is about a quest for the adequacy of its own form.

In a narrative composed of short sequences, each recounting episodes or developments of moment, and interspersed with extracts from fictive notebooks and from statements by an urban planner, Marie-Sophie Laborieux, the saucy, aging daughter of a slave affranchised by his master, tells the story of the tormented foundation of her people's identity. The shantytown established by Marie-Sophie is menaced from without by hostile landowners and from within by the volatility of its own provisional state. Hers is a brilliant polyphonic rendering of individual stories informed by rhythmic orality and subversive humor that shape a collective experience.

A joyous affirmation of literature that brings to mind Boccaccio, La Fontaine, Lewis Carroll, Montaigne, Rabelais, and Joyce, Texaco is a work of rare power and ambition, a masterpiece.

The Book of Night Women is a sweeping, startling novel, a true tour de force of both voice and storytelling. It is the story of Lilith, born into slavery on a Jamaican sugar plantation at the end of the eighteenth century. Even at her birth, the slave women around her recognize a dark power that they and she will come to both revere and fear.

The Night Women, as they call themselves, have long been plotting a slave revolt, and as Lilith comes of age and reveals the extent of her power, they see her as the key to their plans. But when she begins to understand her own feelings and desires and identity, Lilith starts to push at the edges of what is imaginable for the life of a slave woman in Jamaica, and risks becoming the conspiracy's weak link.

Lilith's story overflows with high drama and heartbreak, and life on the plantation is rife with dangerous secrets, unspoken jealousies, inhuman violence, and very human emotion between slave and master, between slave and overseer, and among the slaves themselves. Lilith finds herself at the heart of it all. And all of it told in one of the boldest literary voices to grace the page recently--and the secret of that voice is one of the book's most intriguing mysteries.

Abiola is a clever young warrior in West Africa and part of a highly developed, ritualized society that is rich not only in trade but in metaphorical and spiritual understanding. But neither his prowess nor the sophistication of his culture can save him from betrayal, capture, and being sold into slavery. Abiola's story ends when he is given a new name—Cornelius—and becomes the property of a Frenchman who sells harpsichords in the American South. Eventually Cornelius runs away and joins the British who are fighting the Americans. If the British win, he reasons, he may gain his freedom. But the British lose the American War of Independence, and Cornelius and his family are eventually repatriated back to West Africa and the newly founded country of Sierra Leone. But all is not as Cornelius had dreamed: Sierra Leone is run like a colony, and though trading in slaves has been officially banned, in practice it continues, having become ever more lucrative for being driven underground. Cornelius’s daughter, Epiphany, however, has discovered that she has the same gift of metaphorical and spiritual understanding as her ancestors, and she seeks to use it for the aid of her family.

"Stunning...Maryse Conde's imaginative subversion of historical records forms a critque of contemporary American society and its ingrained racism and sexism." THE BOSTON SUNDAY GLOBE

At the age of seven, Tituba watched as her mother was hanged for daring to wound a plantation owner who tried to rape her. She was raised from then on by Mama Yaya, a gifted woman who shared with her the secrets of healing and magic. But it was Tituba's love of the slave John Indian that led her from safety into slavery, and the bitter, vengeful religion practiced by the good citizens of Salem, Massachusetts. Though protected by the spirits, Tituba could not escape the lies and accusations of that hysterical time.

As history and fantasy merge, Maryse Conde, acclaimed author of TREE OF LIFE and SEGU, creates the richly imagined life of a fascinating woman.

English title: I, Tituba, Black Witch of Salem

Elisabeth Samson, a free black Surinamese woman who lived in 18th-century Dutch Guyana, is the central character in this compelling novel. Challenging the prevailing racial stereotypes by demonstrating her intelligence and business acumen, she is determined to marry a white man in defiance of all established norms and conventions. Set amidst the rich backdrop of the Golden Age of Suriname, this biographical account depicts the complex social and racial stratifications which were features of slave colonies of the era as well as this remarkable woman who overcame institutionalized discrimination and prejudice to become one of the wealthiest individuals in the slave colony of Dutch Guyana.

Based on a true story, Ourika relates the experiences of a Senegalese girl who is rescued from slavery and raised by an aristocratic French family during the French Revolution. Brought up in a household of learning and privilege, she is unaware of her difference until she overhears a conversation that makes her suddenly conscious of her race - and of the prejudice it arouses. From this point on, Ourika lives her life not as a French woman but as a black woman "cut off from the entire human race." As the Reign of Terror threatens her and her adoptive family, Ourika struggles with her unusual position as an educated African woman in eighteenth-century Europe. A best-seller in the 1820s, Ourika captured the attention of Duras's peers, including Stendhal, and became the subject of four contemporary plays. The work represents a number of firsts: the first novel set in Europe to have a black heroine, the first French literary work narrated by a black female protagonist, and, as John Fowles points out in the foreword to his translation, "the first serious attempt by a white novelist to enter a black mind." An inspiration for Fowles's acclaimed novel The French Lieutenant's Woman, Ourika will astonish and haunt modern readers.

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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. 

Saturday, October 15, 2016

A Song of War by Kate Quinn, Christian Cameron, Libbie Hawker, Vicky Alvear Shecter, Russell Whitfield, Stephanie Thornton, & S.J.A. Turney

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★
Obtained from: Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours
Read: August 31, 2016

Troy: city of gold, gatekeeper of the east, haven of the god-born and the lucky, a city destined to last a thousand years. But the Fates have other plans—the Fates, and a woman named Helen. In the shadow of Troy's gates, all must be reborn in the greatest war of the ancient world: slaves and queens, heroes and cowards, seers and kings... and these are their stories. A young princess and an embittered prince join forces to prevent a fatal elopement. A tormented seeress challenges the gods themselves to save her city from the impending disaster. A tragedy-haunted king battles private demons and envious rivals as the siege grinds on. A captured slave girl seizes the reins of her future as two mighty heroes meet in an epic duel. A grizzled archer and a desperate Amazon risk their lives to avenge their dead. A trickster conceives the greatest trick of all. A goddess' son battles to save the spirit of Troy even as the walls are breached in fire and blood. Seven authors bring to life the epic tale of the Trojan War: its heroes, its villains, its survivors, its dead. Who will lie forgotten in the embers, and who will rise to shape the bloody dawn of a new age? 

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Trends in historic fiction are changing. I’ve read the genre for the better part of the last two decades and I’ve never seen a format grow in popularity the way anthologies and continuities have. I’ve no problem admitting that I've avoided both for as I typically find the stories unbalanced and the authors poorly matched, but books like A Day of Fire and A Year of Ravens have gone a long way in changing that opinion.

A Song of War is the third release from The H Team and I personally think it the strongest of thus far. Unlike the earlier books, the magnitude and scope of the Trojan war allowed each author to explore a pivotal event in the conflict and afforded each contributor a moment to shine in a way the earlier books hadn’t. The stories are intrinsically connected and follow the well-known course of events, but I liked how each author had their own platform and how of their individual voices were showcased within the larger chorus.

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The Apple by Kate Quinn
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Kate Quinn penned the first Song from the dual perspective of Hellenus and Andromache. I was vaguely familiar with the former, but had never given him much thought and was surprised by how quickly the quiet Trojan Prince grew on me. I found Quinn's characterization intensely relatable and I enjoyed how his personally played off her interpretations of his more recognizable siblings. Unlike her counterpart, Andromache was familiar to me and I greatly appreciated and enjoyed Quinn’s interpretation of the character. I found Andromache’s genuine emotion and personal challenges endearing and enjoyed seeing her come into her own and revel in a few moments of pure joy as the cloud of war gathered on her horizon.

Hector, Paris, Helen, and Odysseus made notable appearances in the first Song. Though they aren’t explored in significant detail, most of the narrators are introduced in Quinn’s submission and I appreciated how the effort facilitated transitions between submissions as I made my way through the book. I was also amused by how many secondary myths and stories were referenced in The Apple and appreciated how the piece set the stage for the conflict ahead.

* Best Moment in A Song of War – Kudos for a long overdue double bitch-slap. *

I wondered if Aphrodite was laughing at me, up on Olympus. How the goddess of love had played with my future: if I ever held the girl I loved, it would be over the corpse of the brother I revered.

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The Prophecy by Stephanie Thornton
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Quinn is one of my favorite writers and I pitied the author tasked with following in her wake. Or I did, until I discovered who it was. I’m a big fan of Stephanie Thornton and actually laughed out loud as I knew her story, regardless of subject, would hold its own. Quinn’s signature humor is unrivaled in my mind, but Thornton’s command of language has left me speechless on more than one occasion and while I knew the tone would take a dramatic turn in Song two, I was confident that Cassandra’s story would be as layered and memorable as Hellenus and Andromache's had been.

I found the second Song deliciously dark and strangely addictive. Thornton’s exploration of Cassandra’s family situation and the demons that haunted her tickled my imagination and I was fascinated by how author chose to illustrate Cassandra’s madness. Cassandra is obviously damaged, but there is genuine fire in her and a selflessness that no other character in the narrative rivals. Atmospherically I felt this one of the strongest submissions and I greatly admired the intensity and intelligence of the action and dialogue Thornton presented.

* Best Surprise in A Song of War –Apollo’s Temple… Grotesque, but surprising and satisfying. *

They called me mad because I uttered truths no one wished to hear.

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The Sacrifice by Russell Whitfield
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Russell Whitfield put himself on my radar when I read A Year of Ravens. I’ve actually reread that submission a couple of times since reading the book and could kick myself for not having acquired his solo publications, but long story short, I was excited to see he’d contributed to A Song of War.

That said, I was wholly unprepared for his take on Agamemnon. I’m not a fan of the character and my mind’s eye always flashes on Brian Cox when I read the name, but Whitfield turned that mental image upside down and challenged me to see his protagonist as a man burdened by guilt, alerted by grief, and embittered by years of war and responsibility. Agamemnon’s annoyance with Achilles is palpable, but it was the relationships he shares with Iphigenia and Chryseis that cut to my core. Whitfield’s Agamemnon is a man who gave everything to the campaign and lost his soul for his trouble. It’s a harsh story and brutal on a number of levels, but the presentation and the ideas it explores are a true testament to Whitfield’s creativity, vision, and talent.

* Best Character in A Song of War – Writing a hero is easy, reinventing a villain is an achievement. *

Lust - for women, for gold, for power. Men were base creatures. Ironic then, that he had to place their welfare and their objective first and foremost.

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The Duel by Christian Cameron
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Christian Cameron was the first of two contributors with which I was not previously familiar. I’d no idea what to expect from his writing, but I knew where we were in the story and I swore I’d rake him cross the coals if he didn’t do right by Hector. The outcome was a given, but the Trojan Prince is my favorite character and I didn’t need to see him slaughtered without putting up a decent fight. I’m a passionate reader and I make no apologies for it. I was going to love this submission or hate it, there was no middle ground.

I expected an intensely masculine story and was caught off guard when I realized Cameron had centered his story on Briseis, but I was floored by what happened next. Cameron’s submission was the first to show a different side of a previously established character and I was captivated by how Briseis’ opinions of Achilles contrasted Agamemnon’s. As a character Brises defied traditional gender roles and I loved how Cameron's choice of narrator allowed his to authentically illustrate the expanse of the battlefield. I formed a deep appreciation for the action itself, but Cameron capitalized on the enormity of the conflict and gave his readers a truly remarkable point of view.

* Best Battle Scene in A Song of War – Hand to hand combat between two ‘worthy’ opponents. *

War is brutal, but it is far more brutal to women than men, who, mostly, can only die when their bodies are torn asunder, rather than live on with their lives torn out like the entrails of an antelope taken by dogs.

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The Bow by Libbie Hawker
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I’d stumbled over Libbie Hawker’s work prior to reading A Song of War, but The Bow marks my first time reading it. As with Cameron's work I didn't know what to expect from the writing, but I knew where the story was going. I'd opinion about the material, but I was fairly open minded in regard to how it should play out which is why I was surprised to discover The Bow was the most personally challenging of the entire novel.

I didn’t care much for Penthesilea and struggled to engage in her arc. I liked the general idea, but as with the The Queen by Stephanie Dray, I felt this character could carry her own story and didn’t feel right about it being condensed to so short a piece. I thought Priam had some very interesting moments at this point in the story, but I was confused by Paris, Helen, Andromache, and Cassandra as Hawker’s interpretations weren’t entirely consistent with those of the authors who’d introduced them earlier in the novel.

That said, Philoctetes proved a breath of fresh air. Straight off the boat, he didn’t exude the war weary aura that had settled on much of the cast and I think his perspective allowed Hawker to explore the field in a way none of her peers could. I felt she took full advantage of the opportunity this afforded and applauded her for illustrating homosexual affection without effeminizing her protagonist in the process.

* Best Iconic Moment in A Song of War – Hawker popped the weasel! *

Life without honor is not worth living.

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The Horse by Vicky Alvear Shecter
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Vicky Alvear Shecter is not a new author for me, but as far as I’m concerned, The Horse left the rest of her work in the dust and I’m not just saying that because she had the guts to tackle my second favorite character. Odysseus is easily the most iconic voice in A Song of War and I honestly thought Shecter crazy for attempting to write him, but her interpretation blew me away and left me in absolute awe of her imagination and skill.

Troy is primed and ready to fall in these scenes. Alliances are shifting, some characters are breaking and others are showing their true colors. There’s a lot going on in this piece, but Shecter made it work while drawing the novel towards its climax in a way that complimented both the vision of her peers and the original source material.

* Best Submission in A Song of War – Finest adaptation of original story. *

How do I explain that I would not dare shed blood— especially the blood of the goddess’s servants— lest she curse me and my family for generations for the sacrilege? His approach would only beget an endless cycle of bloodshed. And yet because I shed no blood, I should be ashamed?

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The Fall by S.J.A. Turney
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S.J.A. Turney was in the hot seat from the beginning. His submission anchors the narrative which is challenging enough, but Shecter’s story upped the ante threefold. Aeneas is an interesting character, but Shecter’s Odysseus was untouchable and I wondered if Turney could possibly close the novel in a way that didn’t fizzle in the wake of its predecessor.

It was a legitimate question in the moment, but the concern proved entirely unfounded. Turney’s adaptation of the material didn’t inspire my imagination the same way Shecter’s had, but the emotional aspects of The Fall were nothing short of brilliant. Turney’s prose is my favorite of all the author featured in A Song of War and beautifully emphasizes the intense and powerful themes of his submission. His descriptions are stark and often crushing, but there is a candle flame of hope in his story and I loved how his conclusion tied A Song of War to the entirety of The H Team’s existing catalogue.

* Best Tone in A Song of War – Amazing illustration of human emotion. *

I straightened with a frown. ‘While there is still a Troy to save, I have to save it,’ I said with an air of finality. I do not know even now whether it was pride that drove me to turn my back on the notion of flight, or whether it was the call to duty that every warrior feels, for I suffer from both in equal measure. All I do know, as I look back on that decision, is that it was made in defiance of the urging of both men and gods, against the weaving of the Fates, and it brought us only more pain.

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Friday, October 14, 2016

The Kaiser's Last Kiss by Alan Judd

Rating: ★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆
Obtained from: Edelweiss
Read: October 11, 2016

A fictionalised account of the Kaiser Wilhelm's last years in Nazi-occupied Holland.It is 1940 and the exiled Kaiser is living in Holland, at his palace Huis Doorn.The old German king spends his days chopping logs and musing on what might have been.When the Nazis invade Holland, the Kaiser's Dutch staff are replaced by SS guards, led by young, eager Untersturmfuhrer Krebbs, and an unlikely relationship develops between the king and his keeper. While they agree on the rightfulness of German expansion and on holding the country's Jewish population accountable for all ills, they disagree on the solutions. Krebbs's growing attraction and love affair with Akki, a Jewish maid in the house, further undermines his belief in Nazism. But as the tides of war roll around them, all three find themselves increasingly compromised and gravely at risk.This subtle, tender novel borrows heavily from real history and events, but remains a work of superlative, literary fiction.Through Judd's depiction of the Lear-like Kaiser and the softening of brutal Krebbs, the novel draws unique parallels between Germany at the turn of the 20th century and Hitler's Germany.

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Kaiser Wilhelm
Alan Judd’s The Kaiser’s Last Kiss demanded my attention the moment I stumbled over it on Edelweiss. I waited impatiently to see if I’d be granted a copy for review and jumped for joy when one came through. Few stories get me this excited, but I’ve spent a lot of time reading about the Kaiser, WWI and WWII and couldn’t help feeling giddy about a story that features elements of all three. Unfortunately, my enthusiasm distracted me from my usual routine and I failed to do my homework before diving into the narrative.

Had I bothered to look, I might have approached The Kaiser’s Last Kiss differently, but I didn’t and missed noting that I’ve read Judd before and wasn’t impressed with the result. I’d eyed Dancing with Eva for several months before acquiring a copy in 2013 and was bitterly disappointed when the execution failed to live up to my expectations. The pacing was sluggish and the characters stilted. The telling was anticlimactic and I remember being impressed with myself for not throwing the damned book at the wall.

Why is any of this important? Well let’s just say history repeats itself and while I found The Kaiser’s Last Kiss marginally better than its predecessor, I honestly feel that it suffers many of the same technical and structural difficulties. I found Krebbs and Akki woefully underdeveloped and the fact that I felt something off in each negatively underscored Judd’s primary plot twist. Much like I did with his earlier work, I finished this novel feeling distinctly unsatisfied with the central story and wishing I hadn’t invested my time in the narrative.

The story lacked punch and I didn’t warm to Krebbs or Akki, but I did note some fun historic detail in the politics of the narrative and I actually liked Judd’s interpretation of Kaiser Wilhelm. Judd’s characterization of the exiled monarch mirrors my own impressions and I found his scenes amusing despite my lack of interest in the rest of the story.

Would I recommend The Kaiser’s Last Kiss? Probably not. I don’t mean to turn anyone away from the novel, I don’t think it capitalized on the full potential of the subject matter and I wasn’t impressed with the fictional elements of the piece.

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“People fear that because I have lived in Holland for over twenty years I do not know what the German people are thinking. But I do. I know very well what the German people think because people tell me and because I understand them here... It is not war itself they seek, but they hunger for justice and war is the only way. So for this new war, they have, since 1918, been ready to march at once, to strangle the French. Well, now they are doing that but they cannot finish the job properly until they have driven Juda out of England, as they are driving them from the continent. The Jews and Anglo-American commercialism and materialism make it impossible for European peoples to live in decent peace and spiritual harmony. This war will be a divine judgment on Juda-England, you will see. That is why the soldiers of the Wehrmachtare here in Holland, Major van Houten. It is not against you or your country, and when the business is complete they will go. I promise you that."
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Thursday, October 13, 2016

For The Most Beautiful by Emily Hauser

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆
Obtained from: Netgalley
Read: October 3, 2016

Three thousand years ago a war took place that gave birth to legends - to Achilles, the greatest of the Greeks, and Hector, prince of Troy. It was a war that made - and destroyed - both men, a war that shook the very foundations of the world. But what if there was more to this epic conflict? What if there was another, hidden tale of the Trojan War that had yet to be told? Now is that time - time for the women of Troy to tell their story. Thrillingly imagined and startlingly original, For the Most Beautiful reveals the true story of true for the first time. The story of Krisayis, daughter of the Trojans' High Priest, and of Briseis, princess of Pedasus, who fight to determine the fate of a city and its people in this ancient time of mischievous gods and mythic heroes. In a novel full of passion and revenge, loyalty and betrayal, bravery and sacrifice, Emily Hauser breathes exhilarating new life into one of the greatest legends of all - in a story that has waited millennia to be told.

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Logios Hermes
I have mixed feelings about Emily Hauser’s For the Most Beautiful. Parts of it worked beautifully, but others fell flat in my eyes. I enjoyed the time I spent with it and can honestly say that I’d recommend it alongside A Song of War and Helen of Sparta, but there were weak points in the narrative and I wasn’t thoroughly sold on the final product.

Hauser approaches the classic story from the joint perspectives of Krisayis and Briseis. I thought the idea original, but I wasn’t drawn to either heroine and that reality went a long way in defining my experience with the narrative. I found their backstory stories interesting enough, but I never connected with either character and wasn’t particularly invested in discovering how their experiences played out.

That said, I was highly amused by the antics of the Gods. Most of the mythic fiction I’ve encountered has downplayed the celestial cast, written them out of the action entirely, or regulated them to vague supporting roles. Hauser bucks the trend and I caught myself laughing out loud over the drama that played out in the heavens above the battlefield.

Long story short, I found the book entertaining in its way and would recommend it to enthusiasts, but I'm not sure it'd be the first adaptation I’d throw out to other readers when asked for recommended myth based fiction.

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He cocks his head, his excitement rising, like the foaming crest of a wave before the shore. He can almost hear the sharpening of the weapons – the delightful scraping of bronze on stone that means the mortals are at it again. Definitely time for a war, he thinks. It’s getting far too pastoral around here. A little blood to stain the plain, a few heroes fighting and dying, a couple of cities burnt, the columns of soot and ash curling up to heaven, like the smoke of a sacrifice...
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Wednesday, October 12, 2016

The Undesirables by Chad Thumann

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
Obtained from: Netgalley
Read: October 6, 2016

In the winter of 1941–1942, Leningrad is under siege, and Karen Hamilton, a seventeen-year-old American musician, finds herself trapped and struggling to survive. Throughout the city, people are dying of starvation and frostbite, and Karen knows that if she doesn’t escape immediately, she will share their fate. If she has any hope of leaving Russia and reuniting with her fiancé, Bobby, in New York, she must do the impossible: cross enemy lines and then stow away. On her harrowing journey, Karen encounters Petr, a young conscripted Russian soldier. She isn’t sure she can trust him—he is equally wary of her. But as the two join forces in order to stay alive, an unexpected romance takes root. Now, as Karen gets closer to the reality of escape, she has a choice to make: Will she return to a safe life in America with Bobby, or remain in war-torn Russia with Petr?

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Chad Thumann’s The Undersireables stood out. WWII fiction is easy enough to find, but stories set in Russia aren’t as common as those set in England, Germany, or France and I captivated and intrigued by the premise presented in the jacket description. I’d never heard of the author, but I took a chance in requesting it and was happy to receive an ARC from Lake Union Publishing.

Historically speaking, the novel is breathtaking. Thumann’s descriptions of Leningrad are stark, but I was thoroughly impressed by how the author captured the realities of the situation through the eyes of a stranded American woman. I also appreciated how he balanced the challenges faced by civilians against the action and brutality of survival on the front lines. The details are fascinating and I think Thumann did an amazing job recreating the period for his readers.

I found the cast interesting, but slightly less dynamic. Karen is driven, but she is also selfish and rather single-minded. I didn’t admire her at all and frequently found myself rolling my eyes over her decisions. Petr had moments, but I found his character one dimensional and Bobby had potential, but he was noticeably less developed than the other narrators and I thought that damaged the intensity of the love triangle at the heart of the story. That said, I was quite impressed with members of the supporting cast. Inna, Sasha, Lenka, Krause, and Duck fascinated me and I found myself intrigued by the personalities and story lines Thumann created for them.

The pacing lent an addictive quality to the text and I found myself oddly satisfied with both climax and conclusion of the narrative. The Undersirables is a very different kind of war story, but I greatly enjoyed the time I spent with it and can easily see myself recommending it to other readers. 

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Those people who could not work efficiently—the slackers or naturally slovenly—should be eliminated. As Oster saw it, these people were the Russians, Bolsheviks, partisans, bohemians, and anyone else who didn’t agree with official German policy. These were the so-called undesirables. And it was good and proper that Oster and his companions were ridding the world of them. The world would become a more efficient, and more pleasant, place to live.
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Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Cover Cliché: The Gatekeeper

Sometimes, while browsing the virtual shelves on Amazon and Goodreads, I see an image that gives me an oddly disconcerting sense of deja vu. I could swear I've never read the book, but I know I've seen the jacket image somewhere before.

This phenomenon is what inspired Cover Clichés. Images are often recycled because cover artists are often forced to work from a limited pool of stock images and copyright free material. That said, I find comparing their finished designs quite interesting.  

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Although her home state of Maryland hasn’t sworn allegiance to either Union or Confederacy, twenty-two-year-old Elizabeth Archer’s life is shattered. Her father has fled North, abandoning the household. The man she loved—and who married her sister instead— is killed in battle. Elizabeth’s life of parties and societal obligations dwindles down to isolation and too many empty hours; hours to mourn the man who gave her up to chase an inheritance.

She meets Confederate general Jeb Stuart by chance and, in an instant, she’s the center of his attention.

As commander of the Army of Northern Virginia’s cavalry division, General Stuart doesn’t ask, he orders. The attraction seems mutual and, flattered by his affection, Elizabeth agrees to spy for the Confederacy. She’s Stuart’s La Belle Rebelle, the Beautiful Rebel; the siren of the south. She’s notorious in the Union and lauded in the Confederacy. And she’s falling in love with him.

Notoriety, however, is a spy’s worst enemy. Now pursued by a Federal officer tasked to stop her at any cost, Elizabeth faces the sentence of hanging if she’s convicted of treason against the Union. Devoted to a cause she doesn’t believe in and with Federal blood on her hands, Elizabeth must save herself—or die a traitor.

Time is running out. And no one, not even La Belle Rebelle, can outrun the war.

Penelope Fairweather from rural Finnshire arrives in London with a hopeful heart. The dowager invites her for a season to catch a husband. Unfortunately Penelope's rustic finesse is as delicate as a fat bear ripping apart a honeycomb infested with buzzing bees. Fake mustaches, highwaymen, pickpockets, and a devilishly handsome duke follow.

It's 1836, and nineteen-year-old Fanny Appleton, a privileged daughter of a wealthy, upper-class Boston industrialist, is touring Europe with her family. Like many girls of her day, she enjoys the fine clothes, food, and company of the elite social circles. But unlike her peers, Fanny is also drawn to education, literature, and more intellectual pursuits.

Published author and poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow is also touring Europe, but under much different circumstances. Widowed while on tour, he has stayed in order to gather credentials that he hopes will secure his professorship at Harvard College. When Henry meets Fanny, he sees in her a kindred spirit, a lover of language and literature and high ideals. He is in love. Fanny, however, is uncertain. He is ten years older than she is, and from a much lower social class. How could such a relationship ever thrive

Could a book of Henry’s poetry, personally delivered, persuade Fanny to believe in a love that lasts forever and forever?

London 1868 – The newspapers call him The Surgeon, a killer targeting pauper children in Limehouse district leaving their bodies discarded in death as they were in life. Discouraged by the lack of physical clues Dr. Peter Ainsley joins Scotland Yard's Inspector Simms as he scours the city to learn where the children came from and how they fell into the clutches of one of London's worst criminal minds.

When clues emerge connecting the children to a foundling school, the matron's son, Elliot Holliwell falls under suspicion but without enough evidence Simms and Ainsley are forced to monitor him from a distance.

Frustration mounting, Ainsley throws himself into his work apprenticing an orphaned boy in the trade of morgue porter but when the adolescent fails to report to work one day Ainsley can no longer hold back and decides to approach his number one suspect with or without Scotland Yard's blessing. Nothing during his medical training could have prepared him for what he finds and when Ainsley finally catches up with the child killer neither of them will ever be the same.

Kit finds himself on a hunt for a beautiful kidnapped young lady...and it takes him into the jaws of hell. He'll rescue her, or die trying. The legendary Christopher ""Kit"" Carson, a skilled marksman, trapper, and hunter, finds himself involved in a manhunt when the beautiful daughter of a Missouri colonel is kidnapped, and he becomes determined to find her at any cost. Don't miss this great action adventure by America's finest, Douglas Hirt.

Set during the American Civil War, BUT FOR THE GRACE OF GOD combines a sweet old-fashioned love story with a compassionate look at the people affected by the struggle for equality. Hannah Carter never expected to find love, especially during a time of war. By the spring of 1864, the conflict between North and South has raged on for years and still shows no sign of resolution. On her small farm in West Virginia, the young widow and her household have managed to remain untouched until a mysterious green-eyed soldier shows up, wounded and in desperate need of medical attention. Never able to turn away someone in need, Hannah risks everything to take in the stranger and tend to his injuries. Beau develops tender feelings toward Hannah, and she is equally smitten, but circumstances conspire to hinder their happiness. Beau is a Confederate soldier wanted for the murder of one of his own, and Hannah's farm is a rest stop for fugitive slaves en route to freedom in the North. Will justice catch up with Beau and force him to pay for his crimes? Will he discover Hannah's secret humanitarian efforts and betray her to the authorities? Or will they find a way to overcome their differences-to make peace, to live, and to love?

Ella Wainsworth has been in love with her neighbor, Calvert Newlin, ever since she was old enough to understand what the word meant, maybe before. She’s already suffered the heart ache of watching him marry another and learned to be her friend despite the pain. Now she is watching Calvert bury his wife and struggle to raise his daughter alone. Ella thought she had set aside the crush but finds it has returned full force as she watches him attempt to pick up the pieces. She’s too young for him, she knows that, but that doesn’t stop her heart from longing. When he begins to show interest in her vain, shallow sister it is almost more than she can take. After her outburst and harsh words at a neighborhood bar-be-cue and his abrupt departure from town, Ella too flees off to finishing school certain she has ruined her friendship with the only man she can ever imagine loving. When she returns nearly three years later it isn’t as a young girl anymore but as a woman who still has strong feelings for Calvert. With his arrival back in town nearly on her heels, does she finally have a chance after all?

Betrayed by those she trusted, penniless and alone, Darcie Finch is forced to accept a position that no one else dares, as assistant to dangerously attractive Dr. Damien Cole. Ignoring the whispered warnings and rumours that he's a man to fear, she takes her position at his eerie estate, where she quickly discovers that nothing is at it seems, least of all her handsome and brooding employer. As Darcie struggles with her fierce attraction to Damien, she must also deal with the blood, the disappearances ... and the murders.

With her options dwindling and time running out, Darcie must rely on her instincts as she confronts the man she falling in love with. Is he an innocent and misunderstood man ... or a remorseless killer who prowls the East End streets?

Just follow your heart, and everything will turn out the way it is supposed to…

This is the way Jane Addison has always lived her life, but it doesn’t seem like anything ever turns out according to what her heart truly desires. This is especially true when her husband is gunned down by Confederate soldiers on their eighth wedding anniversary.

Then, when she meets and falls in love with her late husband’s married best friend, things really get confusing for the young widow.

Will she and Cole follow their hearts and give up their homes, their lives, and everything they believe in? Or will they deny their feelings to protect their families? Which will they choose at the SUN’S PARTING RAY?

October, 1866

Mary Catherine is devastated when her family emigrates from Georgia to Brazil because her father and maternal uncle refuse to accept the terms of Reconstruction following the Confederacy’s defeat. Shortly after arrival in their new country, she is orphaned, leaving her in Uncle Nathan’s care. He hates Mary Catherine, blaming her for his sister’s death. She despises him because she believes Nathan murdered her father. When Mary Catherine discovers Nathan’s plan to be rid of her as well, she flees into the mountain wilderness filled with jaguars and equally dangerous men.

Finding refuge among kind peasants, she grows into a beauty, ultimately marrying the scion of a wealthy Portuguese family. Happiness and security seem assured until civil unrest brings armed marauders who have an inexplicable connection to Mary Catherine. Recreating herself has protected Mary Catherine in the past, but this new crisis will demand all of the courage, intelligence, and creativity she possesses simply to survive.

The sequel to Surrender at Orchard Rest.

After finding herself amidst scandal in Century Grove, Alabama, Somerset Forrest moves into her mother's former home, Somerset Manor. The Civil War has been over for three years, but Somerset finds the war within her family is ongoing. Her father hires her ex-fiancé, Sawyer Russell, as overseer, and as Somerset struggles with having Sawyer in her home, a mysterious stranger arrives, claiming to be family.

At Orchard Rest, Joseph Forrest is battling his inner demons and trying to run the plantation. Just as he and Ivy begin to adjust to their new life together, their marriage is tested in such a way that their love may not endure.

Filled with beloved characters and surprises, this second book in the Orchard Rest series was written especially for all the readers who asked for "more about Somerset".

Desperate to save her family’s land and the only home she’s ever known, Stella Strom convinces herself she can brave the strict confines of social politics and etiquette of the Royal Court long enough to find a wealthy husband.

Raised strong and independent by her widowed father, offering herself to any man of wealth and influence to pay off their overdue taxes goes against every belief she values.

A chance meeting on her journey to the castle changes everything. A moment of passion, a single kiss divides her heart. Forced to choose, can she sacrifice a blossoming love for her family’s survival?

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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.