Bookish Happenings: Fancy These Two Beauties

Me IIThis past weekend I started two new novels and I am loving it! They are both competing for my attention. This is a good omen seeing as I have been on the lookout for the next five-star book. Will I rate both of them five stars or not at all? You’ll have to wait to find out! It won’t be long seeing as I don’t want to stop reading them. Meanwhile, add these two to your reading pile. Oh, heck, add them and bump them up your list. Go on. Just do it. Enjoy!

Stephanie M. Hopkins

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The Life She Was Given(This one is not for review but I’ll review it anyways.)

Paperback, 356 pages

Published July 25th 2017 by Kensington Publishing Corporation

From acclaimed author Ellen Marie Wiseman comes a vivid, daring novel about the devastating power of family secrets–beginning in the poignant, lurid world of a Depression-era traveling circus and coming full circle in the transformative 1950s.

On a summer evening in 1931, Lilly Blackwood glimpses circus lights from the grimy window of her attic bedroom. Lilly isn’t allowed to explore the meadows around Blackwood Manor. She’s never even ventured beyond her narrow room. Momma insists it’s for Lilly’s own protection, that people would be afraid if they saw her. But on this unforgettable night, Lilly is taken outside for the first time–and sold to the circus sideshow.

More than two decades later, nineteen-year-old Julia Blackwood has inherited her parents’ estate and horse farm. For Julia, home was an unhappy place full of strict rules and forbidden rooms, and she hopes that returning might erase those painful memories. Instead, she becomes immersed in a mystery involving a hidden attic room and photos of circus scenes featuring a striking young girl.

At first, The Barlow Brothers’ Circus is just another prison for Lilly. But in this rag-tag, sometimes brutal world, Lilly discovers strength, friendship, and a rare affinity for animals. Soon, thanks to elephants Pepper and JoJo and their handler, Cole, Lilly is no longer a sideshow spectacle but the circus’s biggest attraction. . .until tragedy and cruelty collide. It will fall to Julia to learn the truth about Lilly’s fate and her family’s shocking betrayal, and find a way to make Blackwood Manor into a place of healing at last.

Moving between Julia and Lilly’s stories, Ellen Marie Wiseman portrays two extraordinary, very different women in a novel that, while tender and heartbreaking, offers moments of joy and indomitable hope.

About Author:

Ellen Marie Wiseman

A first-generation German American, Ellen Marie Wiseman discovered her love of reading and writing while attending first grade in one of the last one-room schoolhouses in NYS. She is a bestselling author whose novels have been translated into seventeen languages. Her debut novel, THE PLUM TREE, is loosely based on her mother’s stories about growing up in Germany during the chaos of WWII. THE PLUM TREE received much praise for its depiction of WWII and was named by Bookbub as One of Thirteen Books To Read if You Loved ALL THE LIGHT WE CANNOT SEE. Ellen’s second novel, WHAT SHE LEFT BEHIND, was named a Huffington Post Best Books of Summer 2015. Her third novel, COAL RIVER, was called “one of the most “unputdownable” books of 2015″ by The Historical Novel Review. Her fourth novel, THE LIFE SHE WAS GIVEN, will be released in July 2017. She lives on the shores of Lake Ontario with her husband and two spoiled Shih-tzus, Izzy and Bella. When she’s not busy writing, she loves spending time with her children and grandchildren. Find Ellen on Facebook.

Villa America(This one is for review)

Hardcover, 426 pages

Published August 4th 2015 by Little, Brown and Company (first published April 23rd 2015)

A dazzling novel set in the Cap D’Antibes based on the real-life inspirations for Fitzgerald’s Tender is The Night.

In this gorgeous, glamorous, and affecting novel, Liza Klaussmann does for Sara and Gerald Murphy what Paula McLain and Michael Cunningham did for Ernest Hemingway and Virginia Woolf in The Paris Wife and The Hours. Villa America was in fact a real house on the French Riviera that Sara and Gerald Murphy built to escape to in the 1920’s. Members of a group of expat Americans, they were known for their fabulous parties and for making the Riviera into the glamorous place it is today. Their freewheeling days were filled with champagne and caviar, but these were people who kept secrets and who were, of course, heartbreakingly human.

This is a stunning story about the Lost Generation, about a marriage, about a golden age which could not last.

About Author:

Liza Klaussmann

Liza Klaussmann worked as a journalist for the New York Times for over a decade. She received a BA in Creative Writing from Barnard College, where she was awarded the Howard M. Teichman Prize for Prose. She lived in Paris for ten years and she recently completed with distinction an MA in Creative Writing at Royal Holloway, in London, where she lives. She is the great-great-great granddaughter of Herman Melville.

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Book Spotlight: By Fire, By Water by Mitchell James Kaplan

By Fire, By WaterPaperback: 284 pages

Published May 18, 2010

Recipient of the Independent Publishers Award for Historical Fiction (Gold Medal), the Foreword Book of the Year Award for Historical Fiction (Bronze Medal), and an honorable mention in the category of General Fiction for the Eric Hoffer Award.

Luis de Santángel, chancellor to the court and longtime friend of the lusty King Ferdinand, has had enough of the Spanish Inquisition. As the power of Inquisitor General Tomás de Torquemada grows, so does the brutality of the Spanish church and the suspicion and paranoia it inspires. When a dear friend’s demise brings the violence close to home, Santángel is enraged and takes retribution into his own hands.  But he is from a family of conversos, and his Jewish heritage makes him an easy target. As Santángel witnesses the horrific persecution of his loved ones, he begins slowly to reconnect with the Jewish faith his family left behind. Feeding his curiosity about his past is his growing love for Judith Migdal, a clever and beautiful Jewish woman navigating the mounting tensions in Granada. While he struggles to decide what his reputation is worth and what he can sacrifice, one man offers him a chance he thought he’d lost…the chance to hope for a better world. Christopher Columbus has plans to discover a route to paradise, and only Luis de Santángel can help him.

Within the dramatic story lies a subtle, insightful examination of the crisis of faith at the heart of the Spanish Inquisition. Irresolvable conflict rages within the conversos in By Fire, By Water, torn between the religion they left behind and the conversion meant to ensure their safety. In this story of love, God, faith, and torture, fifteenth-century Spain comes to dazzling, engrossing life.

Available on Amazon HERE

Author Website

Praise for By Fire, By Water

“A heart wrenching tale told with skill…Mitchell James Kaplan has effectively written a powerful story that I will always remember.” —  Marie Burton, The Burton Review

“[Kaplan’s] portrayal of this remarkable man and woman and their struggles to reconcile their past with their future amidst a rising storm of persecution humanizes his tale; and his evocation of a troubled Spain at the crossroads of its own past and future is equally well drawn.” — CW Gortner, author of The Confessions of Catherine de Medici

“Recreates a historical moment of vast and far-reaching changes as well as the complex personality of Santángel, the high government official who placed his hopes for redemption far beyond his society’s horizons.” – Reform Judaism Magazine (Fall, 2010)

“Debut novelist Kaplan depicts a turbulent period in 15th-century Spain, focusing on the story of Aragon’s royal chancellor… Deftly moves through a complex web of personal relationships, religious zeal and political fervor.” — Kirkus Reviews

“Kaplan has done remarkable homework on the period and crafted a convincing and complex figure in Santángel in what is a naturally cinematic narrative and a fine debut.” — Publishers Weekly

“[A] brilliant and poetic novel of decent people in a world gone mad…  Author Mitchell James Kaplan writes with breathtaking poetry and compassion… A rich story, a wonderful book, a deeply feeling writer.” – Stephanie Cowell, author of Claude and Camille

Book Review: The Woman on the Orient Express by Lindsay Jayne Ashford

The Woman on the Orient Express IIThe Woman on the Orient Express

by Lindsay Jayne Ashford

Published September 20th 2016 by Lake Union Publishing

Hoping to make a clean break from a fractured marriage, Agatha Christie boards the Orient Express in disguise. But unlike her famous detective Hercule Poirot, she can’t neatly unravel the mysteries she encounters on this fateful journey.

Agatha isn’t the only passenger on board with secrets. Her cabinmate Katharine Keeling’s first marriage ended in tragedy, propelling her toward a second relationship mired in deceit. Nancy Nelson—newly married but carrying another man’s child—is desperate to conceal the pregnancy and teeters on the brink of utter despair. Each woman hides her past from the others, ferociously guarding her secrets. But as the train bound for the Middle East speeds down the track, the parallel courses of their lives shift to intersect—with lasting repercussions.

Filled with evocative imagery, suspense, and emotional complexity, The Woman on the Orient Express explores the bonds of sisterhood forged by shared pain and the power of secrets.

My thoughts:

Agatha Christie is an iconic author of writing mystery and her works still influence many writers and readers today. She is famous for her characters, Hercule Poirot and Miss Jane Marple. The story she wrote that has left an impression on me is, Murder on the Orient Express. When I came across The Woman on the Orient Express, I was immediately intrigued and knew that I must read this story soon. Alas, the book has been sitting on my shelf for some time calling out my name in dire neglect!

Here is a book blurb of Murder on the Orient Express:

“The murderer is with us – on the train now…”

Just after midnight, the famous Orient Express is stopped in its tracks by a snowdrift. By morning, the millionaire Samuel Ratchett lies dead in his compartment, stabbed a dozen times, his door locked from the inside. One of his fellow passengers must be the murderer.

Isolated by the storm and with a killer in their midst, detective Hercule Poirot must find the killer amongst a dozen of the dead man’s enemies, before the murderer decides to strike again…”

Lindsay Jayne Ashford story has Agatha Christie boarding the Orient Express making her way to the middle east. I had no idea that Christie in real life traveled to those places and that really captured my attention even more. I wanted to read what it was like before terrorism exploded in the middle east (Baghdad and Mesopotamia) and being seen through an Engish woman was a nice touch. Christie was an extraordinary woman to say the least and The Woman on the Orient Express shows this.

Her relationships with Katherine Keeling and Nancy Nelson was inspiring to read about. All three of them were unique woman who had secrets about their lives they were afraid to reveal. As they were brought together by the train, they found themselves needing each other more than they would have thought. Another aspect of the story that stuck out to me was the authors description of the middle east and the people that lives there.

This story was beautiful told and the pace of the story was perfect for the era the story takes place in. The author even weaves fiction with fact perfectly and her character development was strong.

I have rated this book four stars and I look forward to reading more from this author.

Stephanie M. Hopkins

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Cover Crush: The Winter Loon by Lori Henriksen

Cover Crush banner

I am not a cover designer but I can agree that cover layouts play an important role in the overall presentation of stories and I must admit, often times I first judge a book by its cover.

The Winter LoonThe Winter Loon by Lori Henriksen

Published May 16th 2017 by Cougar Creek Books

Amazon Kindle Price $1.99

In the shadow of the Great Depression, long before historical changes leading toward LGBTQ advocacy and equality, unpretentious eighteen-year-old Ruth Thompson defies expectations to marry her sweetheart, Duke. Impulsively deciding to join a rodeo circuit with her cousin in order to earn money for college, Ruth comes of age in the rough and tumble male-dominated culture of rodeo competition.

Ruth returns home to Minnesota a prize-winning competitor and resumes her familiar relationship with Duke. Once at college she grows increasingly restless in her role as a sorority girl with Duke as her escort for all social occasions. Her safe existence is upended when she meets confident and free-spirited Gisela and then further unravels when the two women fall in love.

The lives of Gisela and Duke entwine over the years as Ruth embarks on a journey of self-discovery, struggling with deep-rooted societal dogma fraught with the risk of dangerous repercussions and the possibility of losing everyone and everything dear to her. After the U.S. enters WWII, each faces a test of their own fortitude as all three must come to grips with redemption, forgiveness, the meaning of family and how to honor their authentic truth during this perilous time in history.

Both heart wrenching and uplifting, The Winter Loon honors the strength and spirit of all those who grapple with social persecution because of who they love and how they define family whether it is one’s own flesh and blood kinfolk and/or those nearest and dearest to their heart.

My thoughts:

I love this cover and it drew me in to find out more about this book. The story has a theme that is often times sensitive and a complex issue for many and gives us an historical account of social persecution, forgiveness, honor, truth and so much more. I look forward to finding out more about this book. 

Stephanie M. Hopkins 

Cover Crush is a weekly series that originated with Erin at Flashlight Commentary.

Other great book bloggers who cover crush:

Heather @ The Maiden’s Court-Coming soon

Magdalena @ A Bookaholic Swede-Coming soon

Holly @ 2 Kids and Tired Books-Coming soon

Colleen @ A Literary Vacation-Coming soon

Meghan @ Of Quills & Vellum-Coming soon

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Book Spotlight: Love in the Rockies by Ciara Knight

I’m really into the history of the American Civil War and I have to admit what first caught my attention about this book is that it mentions the aftermath of General Sherman’s march through Atlanta. I’m curious as to how the author portrays this. I might be giving this story a try in the near future regardless that it’s an historical romance.

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Love in the RockiesSeries: McKinnie Mail Order Brides

Paperback: 212 pages

Publisher: Ciara Knight (July 16, 2017)

Language: English

Josephine McKinnie wants to escape. Escape the aftermath of General Sherman’s march through Atlanta where he burned her land, her home, and her honor. In the hope for a new life far away from her memories and shame, Josephine travels to Colorado to marry a man that will never know the truth of her past. Hope is restored in her life, until she reaches the small town where she faces the disapproving mother-in-law, a man who threatens to reveal her secret, and her marriage bed. Nathaniel Branson needs a wife if he’s to be mayor of Silver Ridge, Colorado, but his mother’s choice will never work. Not if he wants to keep his secret that he’s half a man. With the wounds of war leaving deeper scars than mere physical wounds, he hopes that the sweet woman-his soon to be -will appreciate the finery he can give her, even if he can’t give her the ultimate gift. Children.

Weekend Reading: So many books…

Me III was going to read The Visitors by Catherine Burns this weekend and I started it but couldn’t get into it after the first chapter. I put the book aside and started reading The Woman on the Orient Express and I’m quite enjoying the story. I will probably post a review for it this week sometime. Now, I’m not giving up reading The Visitors. I just think my mood wasn’t right for it at the time and I want to give the book a chance. The premise really intrigues me. -Stephanie M. Hopkins

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The Woman On the Orient Express by Lindsay AshfordBook Description of The Woman on the Orient Express:

Hoping to make a clean break from a fractured marriage, Agatha Christie boards the Orient Express in disguise. But unlike her famous detective Hercule Poirot, she can’t neatly unravel the mysteries she encounters on this fateful journey.

Agatha isn’t the only passenger on board with secrets. Her cabinmate Katharine Keeling’s first marriage ended in tragedy, propelling her toward a second relationship mired in deceit. Nancy Nelson—newly married but carrying another man’s child—is desperate to conceal the pregnancy and teeters on the brink of utter despair. Each woman hides her past from the others, ferociously guarding her secrets. But as the train bound for the Middle East speeds down the track, the parallel courses of their lives shift to intersect—with lasting repercussions.

Filled with evocative imagery, suspense, and emotional complexity, The Woman on the Orient Express explores the bonds of sisterhood forged by shared pain and the power of secrets.

The VisitorsBook Description of The Visitors by Catherine Burns/ Pub Date 26 Sep 2017

Marion Zetland lives with her domineering older brother John in a crumbling mansion on the edge of a northern seaside resort. A timid spinster in her fifties who still sleeps with teddy bears, Marion does her best to live by John’s rules, even if it means turning a blind eye to the noises she hears coming from behind the cellar door…and turning a blind eye to the women’s laundry in the hamper that isn’t hers. For years, she’s buried the signs of John’s devastating secret into the deep recesses of her mind—until the day John is crippled by a heart attack, and Marion becomes the only one whose shoulders are fit to bear his secret. Forced to go down to the cellar and face what her brother has kept hidden, Marion discovers more about herself than she ever thought possible. As the truth is slowly unraveled, we finally begin to understand: maybe John isn’t the only one with a dark side….

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Book Review: I, Eliza Hamilton by Susan Holloway Scott

I, Eliza Hamilton II

Paperback, 400 pages
Expected publication: September 26th 2017
by Kensington Publishing Corporation

“Love is not easy with a man chosen by Fate for greatness . . .”

As the daughter of a respected general, Elizabeth Schuyler is accustomed to socializing with dignitaries and soldiers. But no visitor to her parents’ home has affected her so strongly as Alexander Hamilton, a charismatic, ambitious aide to George Washington. They marry quickly, and despite the tumult of the American Revolution, Eliza is confident in her brilliant husband and in her role as his helpmate. But it is in the aftermath of war, as Hamilton becomes one of the country’s most important figures, that she truly comes into her own.

In the new capital, Eliza becomes an adored member of society, respected for her fierce devotion to Hamilton as well as her grace. Behind closed doors, she astutely manages their expanding household, and assists her husband with his political writings. Yet some challenges are impossible to prepare for. Through public scandal, betrayal, personal heartbreak, and tragedy, she is tested again and again. In the end, it will be Eliza’s indomitable strength that makes her not only Hamilton’s most crucial ally in life, but his most loyal advocate after his death, determined to preserve his legacy while pursuing her own extraordinary path through the nation they helped shape together.

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My thoughts:

I do not typically read Historical Romance but the subject matter, era and the notable characters sparked my interest. There is also the fact that I hadn’t read a story by Susan Holloway Scott yet and I’ve heard about her stories and wanted to give it a try. As an enthusiast of American History, I have to admit, I originally decided not to read any historical fiction books about Hamilton for reasons I won’t go into here today. Since the story is written in another person’s point of view-his wife-I had to see how the author portrayed Hamilton in this light.

Alexander Hamilton, is an important figure in our history and has certainly has had the spotlight of late. He served under George Washington during the American Revolution and was the first Secretary of the Treasury in this new Country. He was intelligent, visionary and had high goals for his life and country. But what about his personal life and his relationships with the people around Him? That is what I wanted to read more about.

Elizabeth Schulyler Hamilton was the daughter of a wealthy War General and whose family was high regarded. She grew up in the comfort and well-being of her parent’s household. History tells us she was a woman of strong character and kindness.

In I, Eliza Hamilton, Eliza and Hamilton’s relationship grew quickly as I can imagine it did in real life and you get a real sense of how it could have been. I hung on to ever word for the first half of the book and was truly in awe over the prose. Beautiful writing and I really felt like I was transported back in the period. The portrayal of Hamilton was an interesting one. I’m still undecided how I truly feel about him. In this story, I really don’t feel I got a sense of his greatness as I thought I would but I did get a sense of the man he was in his personal life. For me that was interesting to see the contrast between the two.

I will admit that a little over half way through I was starting to run out of steam a bit. Eliza was getting on my nerves and I felt things were getting a bit repetitive-if you will. I put the story aside for a few days before picking it up again to finish and I was able to finish it. I had serious doubts I wasn’t going to be able to finish the book, which bothered me since this story is beautifully written. I rallied on and took some time to gather my thoughts about the story as a whole. I believe this story could have been shorten a bit and scenes left out. I also wanted to see some of the other characters role in the story expanded a little. Having said that all this, overall, I am glad I chose to read the book.

I have rated this story three stars.

Stephanie M. Hopkins

I obtained a copy of this book from the publishers through NetGalley for my honest opinion.