Monday, March 27, 2017

Blog Tour: The Mapping of Love and Death (Maisie Dobbs #7) by Jacqueline Winspear: A Book Review

The Mapping of Love and Death (Maisie Dobbs #7)
Author: Jacqueline Winspear
Genre: Historical Fiction, Mystery
Publisher: HarperCollins
Release Date: 2010
Pages: 482
Source: This book was given to me by TLC Book Tours in exchange for an honest review.
Synopsis: In the New York Times bestselling series, Maisie Dobbs must unravel a case of wartime love and death—an investigation that leads her to a long-hidden affair between a young cartographer and a mysterious nurse.

     August 1914. Michael Clifton is mapping the land he has just purchased in California's beautiful Santa Ynez Valley, certain that oil lies beneath its surface. But as the young cartographer prepares to return home to Boston, war is declared in Europe. Michael—the youngest son of an expatriate Englishman—puts duty first and sails for his father's native country to serve in the British army. Three years later, he is listed among those missing in action.

     April 1932. London psychologist and investigator Maisie Dobbs is retained by Michael's parents, who have recently learned that their son's remains have been unearthed in France. They want Maisie to find the unnamed nurse whose love letters were among Michael's belongings—a quest that takes Maisie back to her own bittersweet wartime love. Her inquiries, and the stunning discovery that Michael Clifton was murdered in his trench, unleash a web of intrigue and violence that threatens to engulf the soldier's family and even Maisie herself. Over the course of her investigation, Maisie must cope with the approaching loss of her mentor, Maurice Blanche, and her growing awareness that she is once again falling in love.

     Following the critically acclaimed bestseller Among the Mad, The Mapping of Love and Death delivers the most gripping and satisfying chapter yet in the life of Maisie Dobbs.

     My Review: In 1914, Michael Clifton, an American who joined the British army to fight in WWI, bought a piece of land in the Santa Ynez Valley of California. He was never to return to America again. Believing he was killed in action, Michael Clifton’s parents discover Michael’s journal and a box of love letters and hires Maisie Dobbs to find the author of the letters. As Maisie sets out to find the woman who loved Michael Clifton, she learns that there may be more to Michael’s death. She comes to the realization that instead of being killed in war, Michael most likely had been murdered.

     I really like Maisie Dobbs in this novel. She was a strong, sensible heroine. Maisie comes across to me as a workaholic. She is devoted to her case, and never stops working to get to the bottom of the truth. Maisie is also a caring woman. She cares about the victim, whom she never met, and his family. Even though she is persistent in her case, Maisie experiences moments of sadness and also love that she never thought was possible. Thus, Maisie has to navigate through her profession and her personal life. Maisie is forced to make hard choices in order to find happiness.

   Overall, this book explores the dreams and ambitions of a young American soldier that sadly never came to fruition. The characters are fleshed out, and I wished that there were more appearances of the side characters, for instance, Maisie’s father, James Compton, and Priscilla. The mystery was predictable. You would know who the bad guys are as soon as they make their appearance on the page. However, I didn't mind about the mystery, I was more enthralled with the victim’s story and wanted to know more about him. The time period seemed to come alive, and I felt as if I had transported back into the 1930s. Thus, this was a solid mystery, and I look forward to reading more of the Maisie Dobbs series.

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars




About Jacqueline Winspear




Jacqueline Winspear is the author of the New York Times bestselling Maisie Dobbs series, which includes In This Grave Hour, Journey to Munich, A Dangerous Place, Leaving Everything Most Loved, Elegy for Eddie, and eight other novels. Her standalone novel, The Care and Management of Lies, was also a New York Times bestseller and a Dayton Literary Peace Prize finalist. Originally from the United Kingdom, she now lives in California.

Find out more about Jacqueline at her website, www.jacquelinewinspear.com, and find her on Facebook.





Sunday, March 26, 2017

The Secret Keeper by Kate Morton: A Book Review

The Secret Keeper
Author: Kate Morton
Genre: Historical Fiction, Mystery & Suspense
Publisher: Atria Books
Release Date: 2012
Pages: 597
Source: Personal collection
Synopsis: From the New York Times and internationally bestselling author of The Distant Hours, The Forgotten Garden, and The House at Riverton, a spellbinding new novel filled with mystery, thievery, murder, and enduring love. 

     During a summer party at the family farm in the English countryside, sixteen-year-old Laurel Nicolson has escaped to her childhood tree house and is happily dreaming of the future. She spies a stranger coming up the long road to the farm and watches as her mother speaks to him. Before the afternoon is over, Laurel will witness a shocking crime. A crime that challenges everything she knows about her family and especially her mother, Dorothy—her vivacious, loving, nearly perfect mother. 

     Now, fifty years later, Laurel is a successful and well-regarded actress living in London. The family is gathering at Greenacres farm for Dorothy’s ninetieth birthday. Realizing that this may be her last chance, Laurel searches for answers to the questions that still haunt her from that long-ago day, answers that can only be found in Dorothy’s past. 

     Dorothy’s story takes the reader from pre–WWII England through the blitz, to the ’60s and beyond. It is the secret history of three strangers from vastly different worlds—Dorothy, Vivien, and Jimmy—who meet by chance in wartime London and whose lives are forever entwined. The Secret Keeper explores longings and dreams and the unexpected consequences they sometimes bring. It is an unforgettable story of lovers and friends, deception and passion that is told—in Morton’s signature style—against a backdrop of events that changed the world.

     My Review: At a summer party, sixteen year-old Laurel witnesses her mother, Dorothy, killing a man. Fifty years later, Laurel is a successful actress, yet that day still haunts her. There are still many questions that her curious mind wants to know. Her chance arrives at her mother’s ninetieth birthday. Laurel searches into Dorothy’s past to understand her motives for killing a stranger. This novel takes us into two time periods, Modern day and pre-WWII era, in an attempt for readers to understand Dorothy.

     I was really looking forward to reading this book because I adored Kate Morton’s The Lake House. As soon as I bought The Secret Keeper, I began to read the first pages. I was hoping that this novel would give me a few days of an enjoyable read during a lazy afternoon. However, because of the dragging plot, I found myself spending two years to get through this book. Reading this didn’t seem like a pleasure anymore. Instead, it became a chore, and I dreaded opening the pages.

    Besides the dragging plot, I would have enjoyed this story more if I liked the characters. I really like Laurel. She was very sensible and also very imaginative. She had a strong head on her shoulders. I could relate to Laurel for she had been haunted by the terrifying scene and was curious to know why her mother killed him. I liked the modern storyline better than the historical aspect. I really disliked Dorothy. She was manipulative and selfish. She did horrible things to her friends. I hated reading Dorothy’s parts and contemplated skipping them, but I didn’t because they may be important in the future. Instead, I read with bored interest, and I learned that most of her storyline didn’t matter in the end. 

     Overall, this story is about family, friendship, and secrets. It is about a daughter who wants to understand her mother. The characters were not very fleshed out. Most of them were one-dimensional. The story dragged, reminiscent of a Sunday afternoon. I think the novel should have been shortened by at least hundred and fifty pages because the middle and Dorothy's storyline was mostly filler. The mystery was predictable, and the reader could see it many miles away. Thus, The Secret Keeper was a disappointing read. I was really ecstatic to finally be done with this novel. I have bought all of Kate Morton’s novels on the same day, and was really looking forward to having a Kate Morton marathon, but since this book took me two years, I am very hesitant to pick another of her books right up. However, I really did love The Lake House, and Kate Morton has interesting ideas, and can write beautiful sentences, so maybe I’ll pick up another book of hers. It will have to be very much later because I have to get rid of the bitter taste in my mouth. The Secret Keeper may appeal to readers of Susanna Kearsley, Hannah Richell, and Chris Bohjalian.

Rating: 2½ out of 5 stars

Here is the official book trailer for Kate Morton's The Secret Keeper:



This is a video of Kate Morton talking about her novel, The Secret Keeper:

Saturday, March 25, 2017

The Enemies of Versailles (The Mistresses of Versailles Trilogy #3) by Sally Christie: A Book Review

The Enemies of Versailles (The Mistresses of Versailles Trilogy #3)
Author: Sally Christie
Genre: Historical Fiction
Publisher: Atria Books
Release Date: March 21, 2017
Pages: 416
Source: Netgalley/Publisher in exchange for an honest review.
Synopsis: In the final installment of Sally Christie’s “tantalizing” (New York Daily News) Mistresses of Versailles trilogy, Jeanne Becu, a woman of astounding beauty but humble birth, works her way from the grimy back streets of Paris to the palace of Versailles, where the aging King Louis XV has become a jaded and bitter old philanderer. Jeanne bursts into his life and, as the Comtesse du Barry, quickly becomes his official mistress.

     “That beastly bourgeois Pompadour was one thing; a common prostitute is quite another kettle of fish.”

     After decades of suffering the King's endless stream of Royal Favorites, the princesses of the Court have reached a breaking point. Horrified that he would bring the lowborn Comtesse du Barry into the hallowed halls of Versailles, Louis XV’s daughters, led by the indomitable Madame Adelaide, vow eternal enmity and enlist the young dauphiness Marie Antoinette in their fight against the new mistress. But as tensions rise and the French Revolution draws closer, a prostitute in the palace soon becomes the least of the nobility’s concerns.

     Told in Christie’s witty and engaging style, the final book in The Mistresses of Versailles trilogy will delight and entrance fans as it once again brings to life the sumptuous and cruel world of eighteenth century Versailles, and France as it approaches irrevocable change.

      My Review: The Enemies of Versailles is the third book in The Mistresses of Versailles trilogy. The story is told from Madame du Barry’s perspective and her enemy, Princess Adelaide. Jeanne Becu rose from her humble beginnings only to find herself at the top spot in France. She has become the official mistress to Louis XV. However, Jeanne has made many enemies who disapprove of her humble beginnings. One of these is Princess Adelaide, who is tired of her father parading his mistresses at court. In order to get Madame du Barry to leave, she persuades Marie Antoinette to fight against Madame du Barry. However, the fight between Marie Antoinette and Madame du Barry takes a backseat as the French Revolution looms near.

      I found the characters of Madame du Barry and Madame Adelaide to be very unlikable. In some ways Madame du Barry is very similar to Madame de Pompadour. She is very selfish and proud. There were some moments that it seemed that she may have truly cared for Louis XV. However, I found her to use him more for her own benefit. During the French Revolution, I did start to care for her and empathized with her. Her fate in the French Revolution didn’t seem fair.

     I also didn’t like Princess Adelaide, while I agreed with most of her opinions about Madame du Barry, I found her to be a narrator that you could hardly trust. Princess Adelaide was very judgemental. She was also very manipulative. The thing that I did not like about her was that she didn’t care about the deaths in the French Revolution, especially Madame du Barry. She didn’t care about the chaos in France because it didn’t affect her for she had sought refuge.

    Overall, this novel was a very superficial novel of Madame du Barry. The writing was the same. It was stilted and repetitious. The dialogue was still juvenile. The plot was so fast-paced that it didn’t take the time to flesh out the characters. This left me very disappointed because I wanted to learn more about Jeanne’s background and to understand her character more by the time she arrived at Versailles. The book still has trouble with the narration. The story is mostly told and not shown. This novel should have been a nonfiction book. Still, the thing that I did like in the novel was the French Revolution. I thought the death of Madame du Barry to be very moving, and thought that she didn’t deserve her fate. Even though I didn’t like the last two books as much as I did The Sisters of Versailles, I recommend that you should read this trilogy. It is very worthwhile. While the trilogy is about the mistresses of Louis XV, it is actually about Louis XV himself. The author does a good job showing how Louis XV changed throughout his life. At first, he wanted to be a good king and be faithful to his wife. Through the course of the trilogy, Louis XV has a series of mistresses and helped bring about the French Revolution. These books helps us to understand how Louis XV managed to reach this point. Overall, I recommend this series to fans of Juliet Grey,  Heather Webb, and Laura Purcell.

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

Friday, March 24, 2017

Blog Tour: Beauty of the Beast by Rachel L. Demeter: A Book Review


Beauty of the Beast


by Rachel L. Demeter Fairy Tale Retellings, #1 Publication Date: March 15, 2017 Genres: Historical Romance, Fairy Tale Retelling, Gothic Romance, Adult


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🌹 Book Blurb 🌹

    
 Experience the world’s most enchanting and timeless love story—retold with a dark and realistic twist.

     A BEAST LIVING IN THE SHADOW OF HIS PAST


     Reclusive and severely scarred Prince Adam Delacroix has remained hidden inside a secluded, decrepit castle ever since he witnessed his family’s brutal massacre. Cloaked in shadow, with only the lamentations of past ghosts for company, he has abandoned all hope, allowing the world to believe he died on that tragic eve twenty-five years ago.


     A BEAUTY IN PURSUIT OF A BETTER FUTURE


     Caught in a fierce snowstorm, beautiful and strong-willed Isabelle Rose seeks shelter at a castle—unaware that its beastly and disfigured master is much more than he appears to be. When he imprisons her gravely ill and blind father, she bravely offers herself in his place.


     BEAUTY AND THE BEAST


     Stripped of his emotional defenses, Adam’s humanity reawakens as he encounters a kindred soul in Isabelle. Together they will wade through darkness and discover beauty and passion in the most unlikely of places. But when a monster from Isabelle’s former life threatens their new love, Demrov’s forgotten prince must emerge from his shadows and face the world once more…


     Perfect for fans of Beauty and the Beast and The Phantom of the Opera, Beauty of the Beast brings a familiar and well-loved fairy tale to life with a rich setting in the kingdom of Demrov and a captivating, Gothic voice.


     Beauty of the Beast is the first standalone installment in a series of classic fairy tales reimagined with a dark and realistic twist.

     Disclaimer: This is an edgy retelling of the classic fairy tale. Due to strong sexual content, profanity, and dark subject matter, including an instance of sexual assault committed by the villain, Beauty of the Beast is not intended for readers under the age of 18.

     My Review: After witnessing a brutal massacre that killed all his family, especially his infant baby sister, Prince Alex of Demrov finds all hope lost in the world. Angry, depressed, and melancholy, he hides himself away from the world and seeks refuge in his lonely castle and made his kingdom believe that he was dead.  His life remains in quiet solitude as he spends his time haunted by the memories of the dead. Until one day his life changes when a beautiful young woman named Isabella arrives at the castle with her father. In a rage, the prince imprisons her father. However, Isabelle makes a deal to trade her life instead of her father. Prince Alex accepts. Could the two look beneath the outward appearances and find the beauty within? Could the two find love, hope, and redemption in a cruel and unforgiving world? 

       I found the two to be very likable characters. Both Isabelle and Alex are emotionally scarred by what happened to them in the past. Isabella is a fierce, determined, and strong-willed character. She cares deeply and loves her father more than herself. She dreams of running away with her father from her village, where she can be free from her selfish step-sisters and her monster fiance. I also adore her relationship with Alex. Both of them eventually come to need and love each other. They are eventually able to give each other comfort and warmth. Thus, I was rooting for both Isabella and Alex and hoped that they would find their happily ever after.

     Overall, this book was about hope, friendship, love, and redemption. The characters were very fleshed out. The setting was dark and atmospheric like a grim fairy tale. I found the writing to be beautiful, haunting, and lyrical. Ms. Demeter’s retelling of Beauty and the Beast sucked me in from the very first page. While there were a few scenes that I didn’t like in the story, it didn’t detract from the novel. Both Alex and Isabelle are compelling characters and their relationship left me fascinated. The pace of the book is slow, but it was a character-driven novel. This retelling was very faithful to the original. I think that this is Rachel L. Demeter’s best book yet, and I look forward to reading more of her fairytale retellings. This book will appeal to fans of Tanith Lee’s White as Snow, Juliet Marillier’s Daughter of the Forest, and Neil Gaiman's Stardust.


Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

🎬 

Book Trailer 🎬






🌹 EXCERPT 🌹


~ The East Tower ~

     Arms sprang out from the darkness. They spun her full circle and slammed her body against the king’s portrait. Isabelle gasped, more in shock than from pain, as she stared into Adam’s deformed face. The lantern flickered behind his massive form, casting his cloaked body in silhouette. But she saw enough to know he was far from pleased. Rage and frustration radiated from his body like a palpable force.

     “I warned you to stay out of here,” he said, his voice dangerously cold and deep. Those rugged vocals vibrated against her body and seeped into her marrow. “What part of forbidden didn’t you comprehend?” His voice lashed out from the darkness like a hurtled knife, and the word “forbidden” seemed to whisper another meaning altogether. Isabelle tried to answer but failed to find her voice. Indeed, her vocal cords had turned to solid ice, as numb and cold as the blood rushing through her veins. She couldn’t breathe; she felt like she was suffocating.

     “My mother gave me that musical box on my fourth birthday,” he said, the sensual lull of his voice causing the fine hairs on her nape to stand erect. “And now your recklessness has destroyed it. Have you nothing to say?”

     “I—I’m sorry.” He offered no reply; only the ragged sound of his breathing and the hammering blizzard broke the silence. “Please—I didn’t mean any harm.”

     She struggled under the weight of Adam’s colossal body and battled to free herself. He merely gave a low chuckle and pressed her firmly against the portrait. He looked otherworldly at that moment, like an angel of death seeking vengeance. Both beautiful and monstrous, his cool, sapphire eyes overflowed with warring emotions. In spite of his harsh and ruthless exterior, she detected a quaver in his voice and saw that his large, cloaked shoulders trembled. The darkness in his soul cast a shadow that embraced her; as she peered up at him, she knew he was drowning in the turbulent waters of a past time.

     “What a disappointment,” he went on, his voice growing deeper still, mocking her words from so many days ago, “You’re like any other woman.”

     “I—I’m sorry. Please, Adam. I—” Her gaze shot past his body and over the wreckage of a past life. She thought of her private chamber again—of the stale perfumes and outdated garments.

     Her flight or fight instinct seized hold of her. She attempted to scramble free, but he merely grabbed her shoulder and whirled her back against the portrait. Gloves wrapped his hands; his long, silk-clad fingers grasped her shoulder and kept her firmly in place.

     He stood intimately close.

     Far too close.

     As close as Raphael had been that night.

    “Going somewhere, ma belle? After you’ve worked so hard to find my East Tower?”

     Hands like two steel bands held her wrists in place. Hot breaths, which faintly smelled of wine, seared her cheeks and assaulted her senses. Her breasts flattened against the pressure of his strong chest, and she felt that same chest swell and deflate in perfect sync with her own. One large hand slipped down her elbow and glided across her extended arm. The lush material of his gloves drew a shudder from her heaving chest. His breathing grew more ragged, shallower, and the erratic beat of his heart banged against her own.

     Anger and desire warred on his face, twisting his features into a mess of both monster and man. “Find anything of interest, aside from my musical box? Come, come. You went through such great trouble to get here,” he asked, his voice now threaded with both anger and something else.

      Yes, Isabelle recognized that something else. It was the same note that had entered Raphael’s voice that night…

     She attempted to duck under his arm, but he moved swiftly, capturing her in the crook of his elbow. Reeling her toward him, he emitted a low, haunting chuckle that swelled the eastern tower to its rafters. She was back where she’d started—pinned against the portrait, Adam’s body serving as a flesh-and-blood blockade.

     Hunger radiated from him, enfolding her in a current of sizzling power. His silk-clad hand grazed the curve of her breast as it moved down her body in a painfully slow caress. Even more alarming was her reaction to him. Her treacherous body responded with a crush of hot and cold pulsating waves. Then he whispered a taunt in her ear, and his liquid baritone slid down her backbone like honey; it swirled inside her, finding its home in her most intimate area.

     He leaned closer still. His face’s uneven skin brushed against her neck, the black waves of his hair tickled her chin... His thick arousal expanded against her, reminding her of what he was capable of—and of her sheer vulnerability.

     His lips teased the base of her throat. Cursing her traitorous body, Isabelle gasped at the gentle scraping of his teeth. His tongue and lips tormented her throbbing pulse—just barely, stirring her skin in a mere ghost of a touch.


🌹 Meet the Author 🌹


 

     Rachel L. Demeter lives in the beautiful hills of Anaheim, California with Teddy, her goofy lowland sheepdog, and her high school sweetheart of fourteen years. She enjoys writing poignant romances that challenge the reader’s emotions and explore the redeeming power of love. Imagining dynamic worlds and characters has been Rachel’s passion for longer than she can remember. Before learning how to read or write, she would dictate stories while her mother would record them for her. She holds a special affinity for the tortured hero and unconventional romances. Whether crafting the protagonist or antagonist, she ensures every character is given a soul. Rachel endeavors to defy conventions by blending elements of romance, suspense, and horror. Some themes her stories never stray too far from: forbidden romance, soul mates, the power of love to redeem, mend all wounds, and triumph over darkness. Her dream is to move readers and leave an emotional impact through her words. Don’t be a stranger! Rachel loves to connect and interact with her readers:




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Thursday, March 23, 2017

The Silent Songbird (Hagenheim Series #7) by Melanie Dickerson: A Book Review

The Silent Songbird (Hagenheim Series #7)
Author: Melanie Dickerson
Genre: YA, Historical Fiction, Christian
Publisher: Thomas Nelson
Release Date: 2016
Pages: 302
Source: Netgalley/Publisher in exchange for an honest review.
Synopsis: Evangeline is gifted with a heavenly voice, but she is trapped in a sinister betrothal until she embarks on a daring escape and meets brave Westley le Wyse. Can he help her discover the freedom to sing again?

     Desperate to flee a political marriage to her cousin King Richard II’s closest advisor, Lord Shiveley—a man twice her age with shadowy motives—Evangeline runs away and joins a small band of servants journeying back to Glynval, their home village.

     Pretending to be mute, she gets to know Westley le Wyse, their handsome young leader, who is intrigued by the beautiful servant girl. But when the truth comes out, it may shatter any hope that love could grow between them.

     More than Evangeline’s future is at stake as she finds herself entangled in a web of intrigue that threatens England’s monarchy. Should she give herself up to protect the only person who cares about her? If she does, who will save the king from a plot to steal his throne?

      My Review: Evangeline is a cousin of King Richard. She is forced to marry an ugly and decrepit man, Lord Shively. Repulsed, Evangeline runs aways. She disguises herself as a mute girl and meets Westley le Wyse, a kind stranger who out of compassion takes her into his household. When she arrives at the household, she gradually comes to care for the people and falls in love with Westley. However, once Wesley discovers the truth to her lies, will they finally be able to love and trust each other or will the lies tear the couple apart forever?

       I really didn’t like the main characters in this book. They were not very relatable. Evangeline was very selfish. She didn’t care that her actions negatively affected others because all she cared about was her own happiness. I loathed how she treated her servant, Muriel. She dragged her into deception, and when they were separated from each other in the le Wyse’s household, she didn’t bother to check up on her or asked to care for her. She also didn’t take the time getting to know her friend, Nicola. All she cared about was her relationship with Westley. She did not take anyone’s feelings into consideration. Thus, while she is supposed to be a good character, I thought that she was no different from the mean girl, and I didn’t understand why Westley would fall for her.

     Westley was also unlikable in this novel. He made very unwise decisions in this novel. He was very gullible. He was described by many characters as being kind, but I never really saw it. He was also very selfish. He didn’t interact much with many of the servants except for Evangeline. The only reason he hung around her and fell for her was because she was beautiful. There were no other reasons for why he loved her. Thus, their relationship felt very forced and had no chemistry. As a hero, he was very weak and was often a damsel-in-distress. His servants said he was an expert swordsman, yet nowhere in the book did it show that he was a good fighter. He always had to be saved by his enemies from Evangeline.  This leads me to the ending. The climax was a letdown. The author gave her characters an easy way out of a dangerous situation. Thus, because Westley was a weak character, he was able to save his lady love without lifting a finger or even use a little wit.

     Overall, this book is about love, choices, and hope. The characters were not very well-written. However, what I disliked most about the two protagonists was that they never really suffered any consequences in this story. Also, having read all of Melanie Dickerson’s books, this was mostly a recycled version from her other books. There was no original plot in the novel. Thus, if you have read all the major plot points from her previous novels, you will notice that there is nothing new. The same contrivances are also here. Girl is forced to marry an ugly, old man; girl is a servant in a love interest’s household; girl marries love interest. As a fan of Melanie Dickerson, I hope that she comes up with something more original. I love all her novels, and have re-read the series many times. Yet, The Silent Songbird lacks creativity. The reason why I am disappointed with this book is because she is one of my favorite authors, and I know that she is capable of doing better. I think that the reason why this book is not top quality was because she had three books released that year. I think that instead of her focusing on how many novels she produced over the year, she should focus on the quality of her product. It is not necessarily about quantity but quality. Thus, The Silent Songbird was a very promising novel, and one of my most anticipated books of 2016. Sadly, it didn’t live up to its potential. I’m still going to re-read this book again simply because I love her Hagenheim series. This novel will be sure to please many fans of her works. However, I think her previous novels are better. I’m looking forward to reading the next books in this series because I’m sure that they will be more enjoyable than this novel.

Rating: 2½ out of 5 stars

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Guest post: Marie Benedict: Mileva Maric

     Today's guest writer is Marie Benedict. She is the author of The Other Einstein, a novel about Albert Einstein's wife. In this guest post, she writes how she was intrigued to write about women who have been overshadowed by their illustrious husbands and also introduces us to Mrs. Einstein's story. Thus, I hope this guest post will not only give you some insight into the novel, but will leave you fascinated fascinated with Mrs. Einstein. Thank you, Ms. Benedict!



Mileva Maric


I feel like I have been on the lookout for the story of Mileva Maric since I was a girl. Growing up, I was fortunate to have a wonderful aunt — who was an English professor and a forward-thinking nun — who fed me a steady diet of thought-provoking literature. One birthday, she gifted me with a book that rocked my perspective on the world. That book was Marion Zimmer Bradley’s The Mists of Avalon, a ground-breaking re-telling of the Arthurian legend from the perspective of the women in Arthur’s life, Guinevere and Morgan LeFay. This book made me wonder at the other untold stories of women that exist in legend and history, and set me on the path toward excavating women’s narratives.

So when I started reading the Scholastic biography for children Who Was Albert Einstein with one of my sons in preparation for his book report, I already had a well-developed antennae for the secret tales of women. The biography mentioned that Albert Einstein met his first wife at university where they were both physics students, and that they were married during his most prolific period. I was intrigued at the thought of this woman — a university student when very few women even received high school educations and who was married to one of the world’s most renown scientists during his “miracle year” of 1905 when he published four of his most important theories. What was her story? And what role might she have played in the foundation of modern physics?

I dug into the research about Mileva Maric. I learned that her largely untold history was mesmerizing in its right, not just as a fresh perspective on Albert’s life. Her climb from the remote regions of the Austro-Hungarian empire where it was illegal for girls to attend high school to the higher physics classrooms of a European university was astonishing in itself. From this backdrop and research THE OTHER EINSTEIN was born, and with it, the story of Mileva Maric was uncovered and revealed.  


The Other Einstein
by Marie Benedict
Publisher: Sourcebooks Landmark
Release Date: 2016
Pages: 304
Synopsis: What secrets may have lurked in the shadows of Albert Einstein’s fame? His first wife, Mileva “Mitza” Mari­, was more than the devoted mother of their three children—she was also a brilliant physicist in her own right, and her contributions to the special theory of relativity have been hotly debated for more than a century.
     In 1896, the extraordinarily gifted Mileva is the only woman studying physics at an elite school in Zürich. There, she falls for charismatic fellow student Albert Einstein, who promises to treat her as an equal in both love and science. But as Albert’s fame grows, so too does Mileva’s worry that her light will be lost in her husband’s shadow forever. A literary historical in the tradition of The Paris Wife and Mrs. Poe, The Other Einstein reveals a complicated partnership that is as fascinating as it is troubling.

Praise for The Other Einstein:


      “In her compelling novel… Benedict makes a strong case that the brilliant woman behind [Albert Einstein] was integral to his success, and creates a rich historical portrait in the process.” — Publishers Weekly

     “Benedict's debut novel carefully traces Mileva's life—from studious schoolgirl to bereaved mother—with attention paid to the conflicts between personal goals and social conventions. An intriguing… reimagining of one of the strongest intellectual partnerships of the 19th century.” — Kirkus

     “Many will enjoy Benedict’s feminist views and be fascinated by the life of an almost unknown woman.” — RT Book Reviews, 4 Stars

     “…an ENGAGING and THOUGHT PROVOKING fictional telling of the poignant story of an overshadowed woman scientist.” — Booklist

About the Author: 


     Once a New York City lawyer, Marie Benedict had long dreamed about a fantastical job unraveling the larger mysteries of the past as an archaeologist or historian -- before she tried her hand at writing. While drafting her first book, she realized that she could excavate the possible truths lurking in history through fiction, and has done so in THE OTHER EINSTEIN, the story of Mileva Maric, Albert Einstein's first wife and a physicist herself. Writing as Heather Terrell, Marie also authored The Chrysalis, The Map Thief, and Brigid of Kildare. She is a graduate of Boston College and the Boston University School of Law, and lives in Pittsburgh with her family. For more information, visit her website.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Guest Post: Germaine Shames: Giving an Indomitable Ballerina Her Moment in the Spotlight

     Today's guest writer is Germaine Shames. She is the author of Between Two Deserts. Her most recent novel You, Fascinating You, is about an Italian Maestro, who wrote a love song about his lost wife. In this guest post, she writes about the life of Margit Wolf, the novel's main protagonist. She was a ballerina, who was forced to separate from her husband, Pasquale Frustaci. It was not until twenty-two years later that the couple would meet again. I hope this guest post will give you some insight into this novel. Thank you, Ms. Shames!




Giving an Indomitable Ballerina Her Moment in the Spotlight


     When, back in 2007, I began to research the life of ballerina Margit Wolf, not a single archive or database mentioned her. Today, she is the protagonist of a novel, e-book, audiobook and Broadway-scale musical, all titled You, Fascinating You.

     Next year will mark fully a decade devoted to this epic, real-life story in which Wolf, seeking her fortune in 1920s Italy, inspired a timeless love song, only to fade from history without a trace.

     Margit was born in 1910 and began her ballet training at the Hungarian State Opera at the age of four.  In 1928, a young ballerina of  only 17, she set off—along with three other dancers, including the legendary Karola Szalai—for Italy, where she was promised an audition at La Scala.

     The audition never materialized and the young ballerinas found themselves dancing in music halls alongside popular artists touring as part of Italy’s then vibrant musical theater scene. Margit soon met the up-and-coming Neapolitan conductor/composer Pasquale Frustaci, who would become her husband and father of her one child.

     While the couple scrambled for a toehold in the increasingly fascist-regulated entertainment industry, Europe seethed beneath the surface with old enmities. As Mussolini and Hitler spun a twisted alliance, Italy’s racial policies became increasingly severe until, in 1938, all foreign Jews were given six months to leave the country.

     Twenty-two years would pass before the ballerina and her maestro again met face-to-face.

     In adversity Margit Wolf’s innate heroism rose to the fore, demonstrating the lengths to which a woman will go to protect and honor those she loves. Her example has buoyed me through the long, and often trying, journey from inspiration to first draft, from paperback to e-book, from audition to audiobook, and page to stage. Watching people’s faces when they speak of You, Fascinating You and how Wolf’s indomitable spirit has touched their lives, I know the effort has been worth it.

To order the Audiobook: http://goo.gl/U7Td2P

To order the Print or e-Book: http://palefirepress.com/you-fascinating-you-book/
Intro to the Audiobook: https://youtu.be/mNaPoOVLUFE
Book Trailer: https://youtu.be/bUh9lk16KGA
Audio Excerpt: https://youtu.be/MK7xlVs9jhA
Website of Germaine Shames: http://germainewrites.com
Facebook page of You, Fascinating You: https://www.facebook.com/YFYMusical/



You, Fascinating You


by Germaine Shames
Publisher: Pale Fire Press
Release Date: 2012
Pages: 258
Synopsis: "People who love do the impossible all the time"-Margit Wolf

     Behind every great love song is an unforgettable woman.

     In the final weeks of 1938, in the shadow of Kristallnacht and imminent war, a heartsick Italian maestro wrote a love song called “Tu Solamente Tu.”

     Its lyrics lamented his forced separation from his wife, the Hungarian ballerina Margit Wolf, in the wake of Mussolini’s edict banishing foreign Jews from Italy. The song, first recorded by Vittorio de Sica in 1939, catapulted to the top of the Hit Parade and earned the composer the moniker the “Italian Cole Porter.” The German version, “Du Immer Wieder Du,” would be performed by Zarah Leander, the foremost film star of the German Reich, and its English counterpart, “You, Fascinating You,” by the Glenn Miller Army Air Force Band.

     Twenty-two years would pass before the maestro and his ballerina again met face-to-face.

     You, Fascinating You begins as a backstage romance and ends as an epic triumph of the human spirit.


     Here is an excerpt from the audiobook, You, Fascinating You:



About the Author:


     Germaine Shames scours the globe in search of compelling stories. Shames is author of Between Two Deserts, two earlier nonfiction books, and three feature screenplays. A former foreign correspondent and contributor to Hemispheres, More, and National Geographic Traveler, she has lived and worked in such diverse locations as the Australian outback, Swiss Alps, interior of Bulgaria, coast of Colombia, Fiji Islands, and Gaza Strip. With You, Fascinating You the author returns to her roots in the performing arts to reveal a hidden story painstakingly researched across three countries over the course of five years. For more information, visit her website.

Monday, March 20, 2017

With Ballet in My Soul: Adventures of a Globetrotting Impresario by Eva Maze

     Eva Maze’s memoir With Ballet in My Soul: Adventures of a Globetrotting Impresario is set to be released in April 2017, published by Moonstone Press LLC.




Synopsis:


     A life spanning close to 100 years is noteworthy, if only because of its longevity. The rich life of a woman committed to a professional vision ahead of its time, filled with glamour, excitement, and adventure, is truly remarkable. Narrated in her own words, this is the story of such a woman, Eva Maze, who, from the time she left Romania as a teenager in 1939, dreamed of being a ballet dancer, and through a series a circumstances, became instead one of the most successful theatrical impresarios in Europe – with a career spanning more than 40 years.

     Now in her nineties, Maze looks back at the path and passion that led her from Bucharest to the United States as an immigrant, and then, as a married woman, back again to Europe and Asia, where she found her professional calling.

     Set against key historical events of the 20th century, including the building of the Berlin Wall, the massacre at the 1972 Munich Olympic Games, as well as the rise and fall of Pan American Airlines, Maze’s fascinating past is brought to life through a combination of serious commentary and amusing anecdotes about the risks and rewards of the business side of theater and dance, some of the personalities who were part of those worlds from the 1940s to the 1990s, her own motivation for being an impresario, and her personal life. Her narration is supported by more than 250 captivating historical and modern images going back to her birth in 1922.

     Representing artists and companies abroad from a vast array of talent in the performing arts of the time – including The Alvin Ailey Dance Company, The Living Theatre, and The Swingle Singers – this unique woman became a prolific producer of more than 100 different types of theatrical programs from the world of dance, music, mime, cabaret, and drama.


Praise:


     “Lively, educational, and a fun romp through Europe's professional circles, With Ballet in My Soul blends the artistry of performance and visual enhancements with an adventurer's heart to provide a heady mix of travelogue, career journey and personal odyssey that's hard to put down.” - Midwest Book Review

     “A fascinating life story about a remarkable woman who had a thriving career as an impresario that lasted for more than forty years, With Ballet in My Soul is an excellent memoir about one woman’s world travels, and how the places we travel to can shape our lives. Growing up in Bucharest, Romania, the narrative told in Maze’s own words spans the course of her life, following her leaving Romania in 1939 and immigrating to the United States, with dreams of becoming a ballet dancer often on her mind. After getting married in Brooklyn, New York, Maze eventually returns to Europe, and then travels to Asia, finding her calling not as a dancer, but as an impresario, who put together many successful theatrical performances. With intriguing images following along the rich text, the life of Maze comes alive on the page, as real world events such as the building of the Berlin Wall, the Munich massacre, and the rise and fall of Pan Am airlines are discussed through Maze’s viewpoint. The story is told in a variety of styles, including straight-forward commentary and entertaining anecdotes detailing the business side of theater and dance, revelations about personalities who were part of those worlds across the decades, and Maze’s own motivation for being an impresario, with details of her personal life sprinkled throughout the text, allowing the reader to get to know the author in an intimate fashion. This is a well-constructed autobiography about a woman who has accomplished much in her years. With beautiful photographs throughout the book, accompanying a pleasing design that makes the memoir feel as if it is almost a scrapbook, the story is engaging, well-written, and constantly surprising.” – 5 Stars, Red City Review

     "Although this memoir details the life of a remarkable woman, it documents many important historical world events. From life in England shortly after WWII, to New Delhi in the 1950s, to being a part of the 1972 Munich Summer Olympics, to living in Greece during turbulent times, there is a wealth of interesting, factual material. She includes many photographs, newspaper articles, and personal artifacts throughout the book. In With Ballet in My Soul: Adventures of a Globetrotting Impresario, Eva Maze shares many memories from her extraordinary life. Ms. Maze is an excellent writer, captivating the reader from the first chapter to the last.” - 5 Stars, Readers’ Favorite


Excerpt:

Chapter 1 – Bucharest


     My dreams of becoming a ballerina were shattered when I was diagnosed with scarlet fever in the Spring of 1929. “I can’t see, Mamma. Mamma, I’m blind,” I kept repeating over and over again. My body shook, racked with a very high fever, and I couldn’t stop crying. “It will be fine,” my mother whispered as she held me in her arms.“ The doctor is coming.” My mother’s voice was calm as she tried to soothe me, but nothing she said or did seemed to help. I was seven years old, exhausted, and terrified. In my panic, I remember a doctor coming to our house to deliver the verdict.

     It was not unusual in those days for a child my age to come down with scarlet fever, or what was also known as “brain fever.” Usually contracted at school, it would begin with a sore throat and rash, and once diagnosed, the entire family was isolated and quarantined. There were no vaccines or antibiotics then, and the child would often die.

     Following a previous misdiagnosis – that of an ear infection – I was finally rushed to the hospital for an operation by a specialist, a 70-year-old ear, nose, and throat surgeon known as Professor Popovici. He ended up breaking the mastoid bones behind my ears to drain the buildup of fluids from my brain. In today’s world, this disease would have successfully been treated with antibiotics, but this was Bucharest, Romania, in 1929, and many medical advances lay in the future. The surgery was successful, and with two scars that, to this day, have remained behind my ears, I am indebted to Dr. Popovici for having saved my eyesight – and my life. While this was to be the most traumatic experience of my childhood, it taught me something perhaps more valuable that has carried me through life: to have courage.

     As far back as I can remember, I had dreamt of becoming a ballerina, and though I eventually made a full recovery, my hopes of dancing on stage soon faded when my parents, concerned about my health, refused to allow me to exert myself physically in any way. Ballet classes I had previously taken and thoroughly enjoyed were now forbidden. I was their only child, and had almost died, so their overprotection was perhaps understandable, but I was very disappointed, especially since, prior to my illness, my mother had actually wanted me to study ballet. She had taken me to a ballet performance at the Opera House in Bucharest and, much to my delight, arranged for my first ballet lessons at the age of five. My teacher at the time – an imposing former Russian dancer named Madame Semeonova – thought I had a talent for ballet, and even offered me a scholarship. Once I had recovered completely, she did her best to convince my parents to have me resume my lessons, but they would have none of it. My mother had made up her mind that any strenuous activity, including ballet, would endanger my health.

     I did, however, continue to dance around the house on my own, since moving my body to music came naturally to me. We all have different ways of expressing ourselves, and responding to beautiful music physically made me feel romantic and ethereal – as if I were floating on air. It would be another 13 years until I returned to my early love of ballet class when, as a young, married 20-year-old, I began training seriously in New York City. By then, I knew it was too late for me to have a professional career as a ballet dancer, though I continued to have a deep affection for the world of music and dance – and felt an almost mystical connection to it. Little did I know this feeling would eventually lead me to another fascinating career in the performing arts: that of managing and touring other talented dancers and artists. Though I myself would not end up dancing on stage in front of audiences around the world (other than in a few bit parts early in my professional life), I would do my best to work behind the scenes and instead, as what is known as an “impresario,” bring the wonderfully artistic world of dance – and other highly creative theatrical mediums – directly to the myriads of passionate spectators who support them worldwide.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

The Rivals of Versailles (The Mistresses of Versailles Trilogy #2) by Sally Christie: A Book Review

The Rivals of Versailles (The Mistresses of Versailles Trilogy #2)
Author: Sally Christie
Genre: Historical Fiction
Publisher: Atria Books
Release Date: 2016
Pages: 449
Source: Edelweiss/Publisher in exchange for an honest review.
Synopsis: And you thought sisters were a thing to fear. In this captivating follow-up to Sally Christie’s clever and absorbing debut, we meet none other than the Marquise de Pompadour, one of the greatest beauties of her generation and the first bourgeois mistress ever to grace the hallowed halls of Versailles.

     The year is 1745 and King Louis XV’s bed is once again empty. Enter Jeanne-Antoinette Poisson, a beautiful girl from the middle classes. As a child, a fortune teller had told young Jeanne’s destiny: she would become the lover of a king and the most powerful woman in the land. Eventually connections, luck, and a little scheming pave her way to Versailles and into the King’s arms.


     All too soon, conniving politicians and hopeful beauties seek to replace the bourgeois interloper with a more suitable mistress. As Jeanne, now the Marquise de Pompadour, takes on her many rivals—including a lustful lady-in-waiting, a precocious fourteen-year-old prostitute, and even a cousin of the notorious Nesle sisters—she helps the king give himself over to a life of luxury and depravity. Around them, war rages, discontent grows, and France inches ever closer to the Revolution.


     Told in Christie's celebrated witty and modern style, The Rivals of Versailles will delight and entrance fans as it brings to life the court of Louis XV in all its pride, pestilence, and glory.


      My Review: The Rivals of Versailles tells the story of one of France’s most infamous historical figures, Madame de Pompadour. As a child, a child, a fortune teller prophesied that Jeanne will become a king’s lover and be the most powerful woman in France. Ecstatic about the prophecy of Jeanne’s bright future, her mother begins planning on how to make the prophecy come true. With the help of Jeanne’s connections, schemes, and luck, she is finally able to catch King Louis XV’s eye. However, the relationship is not all filled with sunshine and happiness. Jeanne must outshine her enemies in order to maintain her position.
   
  When Sally Christie announced this sequel to The Sisters of Versailles, I was elated because Madame de Pompadour is one of my favorite historical figures. I expected to love it more than her first book simply because of the subject matter. However, this is only a paper thin portrayal of Madame de Pompadour.

  In this novel, Madame de Pompadour is a shallow character. There is no character development in this novel. The first part focuses on her schemes to become the king’s mistress. In the second part, she is merely a background character, when all the other rivals are introduced. The Rivals of Versailles shows Jeanne to be a selfish, vain, and weak character. Ms. Christie rushes through the novel, and doesn’t take time to flesh her out. Thus, Madame de Pompadour is very one-dimensional, and her portrayal of one of the most powerful women in France is very unsatisfactory.

   Overall, this was a very superficial novel about Madame de Pompadour. The writing is stilted and repetitious. The dialogue is juvenile. The plot of the book is very fast-paced and does not take the time to flesh out the characters. The most obvious flaw in the book is that the narration of the story is mostly told rather than shown. I would have enjoyed this novel more if it was a nonfiction book, where it only gives the basic details of her life. However, this was a flat historical fiction novel. I was very upset for not liking The Rivals of Versailles. This book had so much potential, and I loved The Sisters of Versailles. Like the movie, Marie Antoinette, starring Kirsten Dunst, this novel was like candy. However, like candy, it left a bitter aftertaste in your mouth because it is all sweetness and no substance. I am still going to give The Enemies of Versailles a chance because of the French Revolution. However, I still have to look elsewhere for a historical fiction novel that can do Madame de Pompadour justice. The Rivals of Versailles will appeal to fans of Philippa Gregory, Michelle Moran, and Marci Jefferson.

Rating: 2½ out of 5 stars