Tag Archives: Historical fiction

What I’ve Been Reading: In the Shadow of Lakecrest

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In the Shadow of Lakecrest by Elizabeth Blackwell is a lively story in the gothic style that I mostly enjoyed. Kate Moore meets handsome, wealthy, kind Matthew Lemont on a transatlantic crossing and is thrilled when he wants to continue their relationship after they dock in New York. On a whim, she travels with him in his private train car to Chicago, where they wed after a short courtship. This should be the answer to Kate’s prayers, who was determined to marry well to escape her violent and poverty-stricken past—a past that she is careful to hide from Matthew.
When Matthew takes Kate to his family’s estate—a crumbling hodgepodge of a mansion on Lake Michigan, cobbled together from odds and ends Matthew’s grandfather imported from Europe—Kate begins to realize that the Lemonts have their own dark secrets. What happened to the aunt, who disappeared one night after holding a strange ceremony in the labyrinth built on the grounds? And why does Matthew’s twin sister seem so jealous of Kate?
The story is a page turner that is hard to put down. I have mixed feelings about the ending though; I wish there had been more hints that the person who takes the final action of the novel had the potential to do such a thing.

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What I’ve Been Reading: Wolf Winter

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WOLF WINTER by Cecilia Ekbäck is amazing. The mood is atmospheric, and the setting—far northern Sweden in 1717—is unique in my reading experience. The book is a historical thriller, but there are so many cultural, psychological, and even political layers underlying the story, that in many ways, it felt more like a literary novel.

Maija, her husband Paavo, and their two daughters have come from Finland to their uncle’s old homestead in Lapland. Almost immediately, the oldest daughter, Frederika, discovers a mutilated body high on the nearby mountain when she takes the family’s goats up to pasture. Maija and her daughter are pulled into trying to solve that crime and unearth the many dark secrets of their new community even as they fight to survive the most brutal winter in Sweden’s history. As events unfold, Frederika discovers her own supernatural gifts and must choose whether to use them.

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What I’ve Been Reading: Tan

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TAN by David Lawlor is a solid adventure / war story. The pace is quick, there is plenty of action, the plot has twists and turns. If you want a quick read set during the Irish War of Independence—and one with a pro-Irish slant—you’ll probably enjoy it. But the book has weaknesses. I thought the characterizations were disappointingly black and white. The book is populated with good characters and bad characters without much of the complexity that most humans display.

I was also disappointed to see that the book had errors that should have been caught before publication. I found many punctuation mistakes and several typos—such as the character of Eoin suddenly being called Eon. And there were distracting misused words: cygnet ring instead of signet ring; heap of slack instead of heap of slag, and others. No published work is ever completely clean, but there were more issues than I would expect from someone with this author’s experience.

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What I’ve Been Reading: The Secret Language of Women

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The Secret Language of Women by Nina Romano is such an unusual and exotic story. Lian, a half Italian-half Chinese woman, falls in love with Giacomo, an Italian sailor whose ship is patrolling the waters around China during the violent Boxer rebellion of the late 1890s when Chinese nationalists tried to drive all foreigners from their country. In such a difficult situation, the lovers’ lives are endangered simply because of who they are, and their relationship only places them in more jeopardy. I don’t want to say anything more about the plot for fear of giving too much away. But what I loved most about the novel was the way rich aspects of both Sicilian and Chinese culture are interwoven into the story and the way these two very different people realized they are kindred spirits.

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What I’ve Been Reading: The Painted Girls

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I recently finished The Painted Girls and gave it five stars on Goodreads.

Although on the surface about ballet and art, this book certainly shows the underside of Paris. Three sisters, whose father is dead and whose mother cares only about absinthe, live in grinding poverty and dream of finding a way out. Each tries to make it as a ballet rat (young dancer), with varying success. Of the two oldest girls, Antionette is a strong and insolent fighter who falls in with a boy of bad character. The other, Marie, comes to the attention of Edgar Degas and models for him as a way to earn extra money. Each makes questionable choices that she must struggle to overcome. I was moved by the book’s ending.

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Free Giveaway

“You say my father haunts the White House. . . .”

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I am giving away electronic copies of my historical short story “Robert Todd Lincoln’s Last Words.” All you need to do is to follow this link to sign up for my mailing list.

 

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Review of Madame Picasso

410LZWzaT7L._AA160_ When I attended the Historical Novel Society convention in June, I heard a panel that included Diane Haeger, who also writes under the name Anne Girard. Her discussion of her novel Madame Picasso intrigued me, partially because it’s set in a fascinating time period and partially because it—like my novel The Ambitious Madame Bonaparte—tells the story of a bold, clever woman who isn’t widely known today.

The novel recounts five years in the life of Eva Gouel, one of Pablo Picasso’s early lovers. The daughter of Polish immigrants, Eva wanted more from life than an early marriage and a domestic existence. In this way, she reminded me a little bit of my own Betsy Bonaparte. Eva moved to Paris without her parents’ knowledge or permission and eventually got a position as a seamstress at the famous Moulin Rouge. It was in this milieu that she came to know Picasso.

The book effectively portrays Eva’s complex personality. When it came to her job, she was determined and at times daring. When it came to her love life, she was generous and supportive of the man she adored. The psychological portraits of Picasso is also quite interesting; Girard portrays a more vulnerable and giving man than the Picasso of legend—although one that is every bit as arrogant!

The settings add further interest to the book. Seeing backstage at the Moulin Rouge made me feel like an insider for a day, and I loved the chapters that covered Picasso’s painting excursions to various locales in France and Spain.

I don’t want to give too much away about the development of the two main characters’ relationship except to say that it did not disappoint. I thoroughly enjoyed this historical novel and give it five stars.

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