Friday, September 29, 2017

#BookReview: Daughters of the Night Sky by Aimie K. Runyan

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A novel—inspired by the most celebrated regiment in the Red Army—about a woman’s sacrifice, courage, and love in a time of war.

Russia, 1941. Katya Ivanova is a young pilot in a far-flung military academy in the Ural Mountains. From childhood, she’s dreamed of taking to the skies to escape her bleak mountain life. With the Nazis on the march across Europe, she is called on to use her wings to serve her country in its darkest hour. Not even the entreaties of her new husband—a sensitive artist who fears for her safety—can dissuade her from doing her part as a proud daughter of Russia.

After years of arduous training, Katya is assigned to the 588th Night Bomber Regiment—one of the only Soviet air units comprised entirely of women. The Germans quickly learn to fear nocturnal raids by the daring fliers they call “Night Witches.” But the brutal campaign will exact a bitter toll on Katya and her sisters-in-arms. When the smoke of war clears, nothing will ever be the same—and one of Russia’s most decorated military heroines will face the most agonizing choice of all.
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Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆   |   Obtained from: Netegalley   |   Read: September 20, 2017
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Daughters of the Night Sky marks my third experience with author Aimie K.Runyan and represents a significant shift in the scope of her storytelling. Inspired by the real-life exploits of the female aviators of the Soviet Air Forces, the novel explores the experience of the Night Witches through the eyes of a young woman facing the dramatic realities of a world at war.

Before I get too far ahead of myself, I want to note my admiration for Runyan’s gentle handling of the material. It’d have been easy to stereotype the Night Witches as a group of gung-ho feminists hell bent on defying the patriarchy, but Runyan took obvious care to illustrate diversity within the ranks. Her characters are passionate, patriotic, and driven, but they are also emotional and exhibit a variety of traditionally feminine attributes and I loved the context and authenticity that lent her fiction.

Katya enjoys a romantic relationship with Vanya over the course of the story and while the plot line is a central component of the narrative, I was pleased to see that Runyan never allowed it to define her heroine. This actually became quite important to me as the novel progressed as I feared the love story would eventually overshadow Katya’s personal ambition, but my concern was ultimately unwarranted and I found great appreciation for how Runyan used Katya’s love life to round-out and balance her character. 

Personally, I’d have loved to see more technical details in the fabric of the narrative, but that’s just me. Politically speaking, the novel is easy to follow which makes it ideal for those unfamiliar with the history and I felt the story itself a lovely compliment to the spirit of the women who inspired it. 

Recommended to fans of war era fiction, particularly those who enjoyed The Beauty Shop.

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"Only madmen and sadists want war. We wanted to fly, and when the war came, we wanted to do our duty. It's not foolish. It's brave."
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Thursday, September 28, 2017

#BookReview: The Way to London: A Novel of World War II by Alix Rickloff

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From the author of Secrets of Nanreath Hall comes this gripping, beautifully written historical fiction novel set during World War II—the unforgettable story of a young woman who must leave Singapore and forge a new life in England.

On the eve of Pearl Harbor, impetuous and overindulged, Lucy Stanhope, the granddaughter of an earl, is living a life of pampered luxury in Singapore until one reckless act will change her life forever.

Exiled to England to stay with an aunt she barely remembers, Lucy never dreamed that she would be one of the last people to escape Singapore before war engulfs the entire island, and that her parents would disappear in the devastating aftermath. Now grief stricken and all alone, she must cope with the realities of a grim, battle-weary England.

Then she meets Bill, a young evacuee sent to the country to escape the Blitz, and in a moment of weakness, Lucy agrees to help him find his mother in London. The unlikely runaways take off on a seemingly simple journey across the country, but her world becomes even more complicated when she is reunited with an invalided soldier she knew in Singapore.

Now Lucy will be forced to finally confront the choices she has made if she ever hopes to have the future she yearns for. 
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Rating: ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆   |   Obtained from: Edelweiss   |   Read: September 21, 2017
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Alix Rickloff’s Secrets of Nanreath Hall made a fabulous impression on several of my friends, but The Way to London: A Novel of World War II marks my first experience with her work. I’m not entirely sure what I expected going in, but I was generally optimistic and am pleased to report my confidence was not entirely misplaced.

Spoiled socialite, Lucy Stanhope, reminded me quite strongly of Naomi Watts’ Kitty Fane, but that’s not entirely surprising when one considers the nature and scope of the story. There is an oft ridiculous immaturity in her make-up and while I respect the opinions of those who struggled to appreciate her personality, I’d like to point out how difficult it’d be to recognize her emotional transformation if the author had centered the novel on a universally likable protagonist.

The story itself is chock-full of wit, but the novel is character driven and those looking for a hard hitting historical are destined for disappointment. Rickoff’s is human story that wastes little time on the politics or cultural impact of the war which is where I struggled to appreciate the narrative. It’s fun and engaging, but it was light and leaves little for the reader to sink their teeth into.

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She was sweating. Please be there. Please want him back. Please love him.
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#CoverCrush: Merchants of Virtue by Paul C.R. Monk

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

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

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MERCHANTS OF VIRTUE follows a rich merchant family during of the repeal of religious tolerance by Louis XIV. 

France 1685, Protestants fear for their lives following Louis the Greats revocation of their rights. Jeanne Delpech returns from her chateau to the Quercy capital to find her townhouse overrun by mercenary soldiers. The Sun Kings dragoons are given carte blanche to rob, beat, and commit atrocities to force Huguenots (French Protestants) to abjure their religion. Can Jeanne keep her children and her unborn baby without forsaking her faith? 

A true story rich in historical detail, fast-moving action and powerful emotion.


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I've a sneaking suspicion that I've featured this cover artist more than once, but that's no reason to pass on a good design. At first glance there's not much to in, but I really like how the male silhouette is filled by the female model and wonder if the characters are as intrinsically linked within the narrative.  

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

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

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


Wednesday, September 27, 2017

#BookReview: Twilight of Empire: The Tragedy at Mayerling and the End of the Habsburgs by Greg King & Penny Wilson

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On a snowy January morning in 1889, a worried servant hacked open a locked door at the remote hunting lodge deep in the Vienna Woods. Inside, he found two bodies sprawled on an ornate bed, blood oozing from their mouths. Crown Prince Rudolf of Austria-Hungary appeared to have shot his seventeen-year-old mistress Baroness Mary Vetsera as she slept, sat with the corpse for hours and, when dawn broke, turned the pistol on himself.

A century has transformed this bloody scene into romantic tragedy: star-crossed lovers who preferred death together than to be parted by a cold, unfeeling Viennese Court. But Mayerling is also the story of family secrets: incestuous relationships and mental instability; blackmail, venereal disease, and political treason; and a disillusioned, morphine-addicted Crown Prince and a naïve schoolgirl caught up in a dangerous and deadly waltz inside a decaying empire. What happened in that locked room remains one of history’s most evocative mysteries: What led Rudolf and mistress to this desperate act? Was it really a suicide pact? Or did something far more disturbing take place at that remote hunting lodge and result in murder?

Drawing interviews with members of the Habsburg family and archival sources in Vienna, Greg King and Penny Wilson reconstruct this historical mystery, laying out evidence and information long ignored that conclusively refutes the romantic myth and the conspiracy stories.
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Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★   |   Obtained from: Netgalley   |   Read: September 1, 2017
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Crown Prince Rudolf has fascinated me for years, but finding information on him can be a challenge for an English speaker in the United States. The Road to Mayerling by Richard Barkeley is fabulous, but I think Mayerling: The Facts Behind the Legend by Fritz Judtmann a stronger resource. If asked a week ago, it’d have been the only title I’d have recommended, but that was before I’d gotten my hands on an advanced copy of Twilight of Empire: The Tragedy at Mayerling and the End of the Habsburgs.

Between these pages, Greg King and Penny Wilson offer compelling and complex arguments for Rudolf’s actions, present a detailed glimpse at his inner circle, and pull aside the curtain the surrounds his relationship with the Baroness Mary Vetsera. They understand the sentimental romanticism that characterizes their subject matter, but what I love about this book is how the authors dissect and separate fact from fiction to uncover the truths beneath.

Twilight of Empire is easily one of the most comprehensive and detailed accounts of the of the double-suicide and while I don’t agree with all of the authors’ conclusions, I do feel they come closer to than any of their peers and recommend their work as one of the best available.

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For to long, rumor has displaced fact. The time has come to rend the veil gauzy romanticism and bizarre conspiracies, revealing - as much as is possible - the byzantine truth that led to tragedy.
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Tuesday, September 26, 2017

#BookReview: That Woman by Wayne Clark

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Beating the Odds in Colonial New York

Kidnapped in France and brought to America as an indentured servant, a young woman takes on the brutal merchant king of New York’s East River waterfront…

Illness suddenly deprives 17-year-old Sarah Da Silva and her older brother Jacob of a mother. Before Sarah has come to terms with that loss, her merchant father grows frail and increasingly desperate in the face of impending bankruptcy. On the rainy night their father scours the docks of Bordeaux, France, to make his final bid to save his family, his children are kidnapped and forced onto a ship bound for New York City where they’ll be separated and sold to the highest bidder as indentured labor. 

Purchased by a grotesque merchant whose wealth, backed by a team of henchmen, allows him to dominate the chaotic East River docks, Sarah strikes back the only way she can. Vowing to never allow him to put his hands on her again, she presses a knife to his fat neck. She demands her freedom, a roof over her head and the means to start a business. Her leverage? Knowledge obtained on the voyage that would bring the big man to his knees forever. He yields to her demands but privately swears to become her worst nightmare.
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Rating: ★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆   |   Obtained from: Edelweiss   |   Read: September 21, 2017
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Most readers have been blown away by Wayne Clark’s That Woman and while I completely respect that fact, I can’t claim to run with the crowd. I stand by my review, but I want to be very clear that I am in the minority when it comes to this book and that my comments should be understood as the exception rather than the norm.

For the record, I quite liked the idea of this story and applaud the author’s vision and choice of subject matter. I don’t think there’s enough colonial fiction on the market and I’m always happy to see titles that venture off the beaten path, even when the end result isn’t quite what I expected.

Much as the premise intrigued me, Clark’s style and tone failed to capture my imagination. The depth of his research is evident, but I felt the wealth of historic exposition detrimental to the story’s pacing. I also struggled with Sarah who struck me as one-dimensional Mary Sue.

At the end of the day, That Woman boasts a great story, but the telling wasn't a good fit for me and I'd have difficulty recommending it forward.

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"I am that woman, and it was my greatest moment."
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#CoverCliché: Louise de Kérouaille

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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Abandoned pregnant and penniless on the teeming streets of London, 16-year-old Amber St. Clare manages, by using her wits, beauty, and courage, to climb to the highest position a woman could achieve in Restoration England-that of favorite mistress of the Merry Monarch, Charles II. From whores and highwaymen to courtiers and noblemen, from events such as the Great Plague and the Fire of London to the intimate passions of ordinary-and extraordinary-men and women, Amber experiences it all. But throughout her trials and escapades, she remains, in her heart, true to the one man she really loves, the one man she can never have.

Frequently compared to Gone with the Wind, Forever Amber is the other great historical romance, outselling every other American novel of the 1940s-despite being banned in Boston for its sheer sexiness. A book to read and reread, this edition brings back to print an unforgettable romance and a timeless masterpiece.



From the author of The King's Favorite-a new novel based on a dazzling and decadent true story of Restoration England.

The daughter of a poor nobleman, Louise leaves the French countryside for the court of King Louis XIV, where she must not only please the tastes of the jaded king, but serve as a spy for France. With few friends, many rivals, and ever-shifting loyalties, Louise learns the perils of her new role. Yet she is too ambitious to be a pawn in the intrigues of others. With the promise of riches, power, and even the love of a king, Louise creates her own destiny in a dance of intrigue between two monarchs-and two countries.



'I had so long habituated myself to a Life of Vice, that really it appear'd to be no Vice to me'

Beautiful, proud Roxana is terrified of being poor. When her foolish husband leaves her penniless with five children, she must choose between being a virtuous beggar or a rich whore. Embarking on a career as a courtesan and kept woman, the glamour of her new existence soon becomes too enticing and Roxana passes from man to man in order to maintain her lavish society parties, luxurious clothes and amassed wealth. But this life comes at a cost, and she is fatally torn between the sinful prosperity she has become used to and the respectability she craves. A vivid satire on a dissolute society, Roxana (1724) is a devastating evocation of the ways in which vanity and ambition can corrupt the human soul.

In his introduction, David Blewett discusses Defoe's literary career, his moral stance and his portrayal of his heroine's psychological turmoil and the social world she inhabits. This edition includes a chronology, bibliography, notes and a map of Roxana's London.

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

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


Monday, September 25, 2017

#BookReview: I Was Anastasia by Ariel Lawhon

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Ariel Lawhon, a rising star in historical suspense, has set her sights on one of history's most beguiling mysteries: Did Anastasia Romanov survive the Russian Revolution, or was Anna Anderson, the woman who notoriously claimed her identity, an impostor?

Russia, July 17, 1918 Under direct orders from Vladimir Lenin, Bolshevik secret police force Anastasia Romanov, along with the entire imperial family, into a damp basement in Siberia where they face a merciless firing squad. None survive. At least that is what the executioners have always claimed.

Germany, February 17, 1920 A young woman bearing an uncanny resemblance to Anastasia Romanov is pulled shivering and senseless from a canal. Refusing to explain her presence in the freezing water or even acknowledge her rescuers, she is taken to the hospital where an examination reveals that her body is riddled with countless, horrific scars. When she finally does speak, this frightened, mysterious young woman claims to be the Russian Grand Duchess.

As rumors begin to circulate through European society that the youngest Romanov daughter has survived the massacre at Ekaterinburg, old enemies and new threats are awakened. The question of who this woman is and what actually happened to Anastasia creates a saga that spans fifty years and three continents. This thrilling page-turner is every bit as moving and momentous as it is harrowing and twisted.
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Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆   |   Obtained from: Netgalley   |   Read: September 19, 2017
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I Was Anastasia marks my first experience with author Ariel Lawhon. I discovered the novel while compiling The Morally Questionable Green Hat and made note of it as the premise reminded me Anastasia: The Mystery of Anna (1986). I was familiar with the history behind the novel, but I didn’t have any real expectations when I picked it up and was more than a little surprised when the book proved almost impossible to put aside.

Lawhon’s style and tone captured my attention from the first line and refused to release its hold till the very end of the narrative. I hate to gush, but Lawhon’s ability to convey genuine tension is nothing short of brilliant. I knew where this story was going, but I still felt real fear and desperation in the musings and movements of both her leads and loved how their emotions emanated so distinctly from the page.

The drama of the story is enhanced by Lawhon's brazenly ambitious structuring of the narrative. Anastasia’s chapters progress chronologically, but Anna’s are inversed. The end result leaves the reader questioning if the two voices run parallel to one another or if they are in fact two parts of a singular whole. The finale itself is wonderful, but it should be understood that Lawhon was not writing about the answer so much as the question. The ambiguity of Anna’s origin and inability to definitely identify her during her lifetime immortalized Anastasia and I adore how Lawhon’s narrative plays on that reality.

The novel incorporates great historic details, but I will admit to struggling with a handful of scenes. As much as I loved the story, I was keenly aware that certain moments were based more on rumor rather than verifiable fact and while I appreciate what those passages brought in terms of storytelling, the history buff in me couldn’t help wrinkling her nose. Lawhon’s characterization of Anastasia was also more mature and worldly than I envision her, but at the end of the day my only real comment on Lawhon’s interpretation is that it’s clear she favored Anna. I can’t presume to know why, but reading between the lines, the author seemed to have more fun with Anna’s chapters than she did Anastasia’s.

Imaginatively tenacious and creatively composed, I Was Anastasia brings life to a mystery that captivated the world for much of the twentieth century. Highly recommended. An absolute must read.

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If I tell you what happened that night in Ekaterinburg I will have to unwind my memory - all the twisted coils - and lay it in your palm. It will be the gift and curse I bestow upon you. A confession for which you may never forgive me.
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Thursday, September 21, 2017

Cover Crush: The Girl Who Could See by Kara Swanson

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

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

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It's been a minute since I've read much science fiction or fantasy, but the cover of Kara Swanson's The Girl Who Could See turned my head just the same. The various layers grant great depth to the image and the contrast in the color scheme is nothing short of striking. 

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

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

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


Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Wishlist Reads: September 2017

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

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

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




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

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

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




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




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

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

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




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

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


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

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

Monday, September 18, 2017

Cover Cliché: Plunging V

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

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

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

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

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

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

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





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

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



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

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


Friday, September 15, 2017

Kiss of Life by Debbie Viguié

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

Cover Crush: Wild Whistling Blackbirds by Allen Kent

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

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

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

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

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

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


Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Cover Cliché: Echoes of the Past

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

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

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

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

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

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

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





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





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

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

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




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

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

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

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

Until she’s met with a shocking surprise.


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

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


Monday, September 4, 2017

Searching for Irene by Marlene Bateman

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

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

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

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

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

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

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