Upcoming Release: Girl in the Afternoon by Serena Burdick

by Serena Burdick
Published by St. Martin's Press on July 12, 2016
Format: Hardcover
Source: Publisher
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Born into a wealthy Parisian family at the center of Belle Epoque society, 18-year-old Aimée Savaray dreams of becoming a respected painter in the male-dominated art world; and secretly, she also dreams of being loved by Henri, the boy her parents took in as a child and raised alongside her.

But when Henri inexplicably disappears, in the midst of the Franco-Prussian war, the Savarays’ privileged lives begin to unravel. Heartbroken, Aimée tries to find him, but Henri doesn’t want to be found—and only one member of the family knows why.

As Aimée seeks refuge in the art world, mentored by the Impressionist Édouard Manet, she unwittingly finds her way back to Henri. With so many years gone by and secrets buried, their eventual reunion unmasks the lies that once held the family together, but now threaten to tear them apart.

A rich and opulent saga, Girl in the Afternoon brings the Impressionists to life in this portrait of scandal, fortune, and unrequited love.

 

A Bar at the Folies Bergere- Manet
A Bar at the Folies Bergere- Manet

Belle Époque Paris. Three words that will sell me on a book in a heartbeat. The opulence of fashion and architecture. The richness of artistic and intellectual life. The idea of “The Salon” and sparkling soirees that lasted until the morning sun lit the sky a color to match the Perrier Jouet in party-goers crystal flutes. BELLE EPOQUE PARIS. YES.

The setting of Girl in the Afternoon lived up to my expectations of Paris during this era. The descriptions of the clothes, the streets, the people, the flats, and artist studios were as vivid and lush as a painting. The descriptive sentences use to describe the main character’s emotions and observations were poetic and evoked images like a painting as well. I found that this was my favorite part of Girl in the Afternoon.

I was not crazy about the characters. I did not feel a connection with any of them, and I despised the mother of the main female character, but I think that was the point. I would have to say that Edouard Manet was my favorite character of this novel. Unfortunately, he only exists on the fringes of the story.

Despite the characters who were a little underdeveloped for my liking, the plot was thick and complicated. Depressing and twisted, feminist and emotional, the dark secret at the heart of the story is the stuff that Lifetime television movies are made of.

Girl in the Afternoon is a quick read that is great on ambiance and drama. Have you read Girl in the Afternoon? I would love to know your thoughts on it in the comments section below.

 

Edouard Manet Cafe Painting
Edouard Manet Cafe Painting

Here’s a little sampler of some café music that captures a less serious, less refined culture of the Belle Époque. When listening to this music, it’s easy to imagine people laughing, bathed in a romantic carefree glow, toasting overflowing steins of beer and bubbly champagne while admiring an impromptu can-can show at the local street café.

And just for FUN:

Here is a classical music playlist that captures the more intellectual, bohemian, and artistic mood of Belle Époque Paris.

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The Beauty Queen of Jerusalem by Sarit Yishai-LeviThe Beauty Queen of Jerusalem by Sarit Yishai-Levi
Published by St. Martin's Press, Thomas Dunne Books on April 5, 2016
Pages: 374
Format: Hardcover
Source: Publisher
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The Beauty Queen of Jerusalem is a dazzling novel of mothers and daughters, stories told and untold, and the binds that tie four generations of women.

Gabriela's mother Luna is the most beautiful woman in all of Jerusalem, though her famed beauty and charm seem to be reserved for everyone but her daughter. Ever since Gabriela can remember, she and Luna have struggled to connect. But when tragedy strikes, Gabriela senses there's more to her mother than painted nails and lips.

Desperate to understand their relationship, Gabriela pieces together the stories of her family's previous generations—from Great-Grandmother Mercada the renowned healer, to Grandma Rosa who cleaned houses for the English, to Luna who had the nicest legs in Jerusalem. But as she uncovers shocking secrets, forbidden romances, and the family curse that links the women together, Gabriela must face a past and present far more complex than she ever imagined.

Set against the Golden Age of Hollywood, the dark days of World War II, and the swingin' '70s, The Beauty Queen of Jerusalem follows generations of unforgettable women as they forge their own paths through times of dramatic change. With great humor and heart, Sarit Yishai-Levi has given us a powerful story of love and forgiveness—and the unexpected and enchanting places we find each.

“Set against the golden age of Hollywood, the dark days of WWII, and the swinging ’70s, The Beauty Queen of Jerusalem follows generations of unforgettable women as they forge their own paths through times of dramatic change.” – jacket excerpt

Looove this cov so much.
Looove this cov so much.

The Beauty Queen of Jerusalem is an absorbing novel that traces the familial and amorous relationships and life-shaping decisions of four generations of Israeli women.

1940s dressmakers

“The shop employed several seamstresses who made the clothes according to patterns that appeared in Burda magazine, and Luna would devour the magazine voraciously, studying it for hours on end. She spent all of her wages on clothes she purchased from the shop, and was always dressed at the height of fashion, accessorized to the most minute detail.  The polish on her fingernails matched that on her toenails, which matched her lipstick, which in turn matched her dress, shoes, and handbag. As she dressed, she also blossomed.”

Here is a fun Pinterest board with some vintage covers of Burda magazine.
Here is a fun Pinterest board with some vintage covers of Burda magazine.

I have to admit, I really loved one of the main female characters, Luna, because of her obsession with fashion and her unstoppable desire to look good. It seemed like an act of defiance in a culture that controlled women and their bodies.

But the beauty of this story is beyond cover-deep. The author’s prose is as classy as the cover of this book and provided an often overlooked, alternative snapshot of WWII era. I have read SO MANY WWII historical fiction novels, but not once have I read one from the Israeli perspective. It was refreshing and completely engaging to follow the narratives of the women at the heart of this intricately woven tale that examines the strained and tumultuous mother-daughter relationships set against a backdrop of unstable times in Jerusalem.

While the pacing of this book takes some dedication, it is completely worth the time it takes to read. The author masterfully captures the struggles that younger generations experience with their parents and older relatives. There is almost a voyeuristic feel because of the candid, ”airing of dirty laundry” scenarios that give real depth to this tale. The author captures the rigid patriarchal culture of the times and how women both accepted and rejected the constraints of it throughout the four generations featured in the novel. Despite cultural and temporal differences, I identified with many of the situations and lines of thought among the female characters.

Any lover of historical fiction and literary family portraits will want to add this to their collection. Reading The Beauty Queen of Jerusalem was an enriching experience.

And just for fun:

I liked the WWII era storyline the best, so here is a fun and informative article about fashion in the 1940s. This fashion history website is addictive to look at and full of educational information. Enjoy!

1940s fashion pic

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The Violinist of Venice: A Story of Vivaldi by Alyssa PalomboThe Violinist of Venice by Alyssa Polombo
Published by St. Martin's Griffin, St. Martin's Press on December 15, 2015
Pages: 448
Format: ARC
Source: Publisher
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A sweeping historical novel of composer and priest Antonio Vivaldi, a secret wealthy mistress, and their passion for music and each other

Like most 18th century Venetians, Adriana d'Amato adores music-except her strict merchant father has forbidden her to cultivate her gift for the violin. But she refuses to let that stop her from living her dreams and begins sneaking out of her family's palazzo under the cover of night to take violin lessons from virtuoso violinist and composer Antonio Vivaldi. However, what begins as secret lessons swiftly evolves into a passionate, consuming love affair.

Adriana's father is intent on seeing her married to a wealthy, prominent member of Venice's patrician class-and a handsome, charming suitor, whom she knows she could love, only complicates matters-but Vivaldi is a priest, making their relationship forbidden in the eyes of the Church and of society. They both know their affair will end upon Adriana's marriage, but she cannot anticipate the events that will force Vivaldi to choose between her and his music. The repercussions of his choice-and of Adriana's own choices-will haunt both of their lives in ways they never imagined.

Spanning more than 30 years of Adriana's life, Alyssa Palombo's The Violinist of Venice is a story of passion, music, ambition, and finding the strength to both fall in love and to carry on when it ends.

 

 

 

“Playing the violin again ignited a permanent glow that I carried inside me, which burned gently and steadily just beneath my breast bone. Before I left Maestro Vivaldi’s house, we agreed I should return at noon in three days’ time, but I knew my frequent comings and goings would not go unremarked upon for long. I was tempting il destino, but I couldn’t stop.”

The man, the myth, the legend:

Antonio Vivaldi
            Antonio Vivaldi

Most ears are familiar with Vivaldi’s Four Seasons and think of him as the Italian Violin Master with no recollection of the exact period he was from, or with any idea that he was even a priest. While the maestro was, indeed, a priest, he was also an 18th century playboy by way of his rock star status. Yes, even 18th century Venice had rock stars. Vivaldi’s skill at playing the violin and at composition thrusted an aura of virtuoso virility around him that the ladies found hard to resist. Especially his virginal music pupils.

Original Vivaldi score auctioned at Sotheby's.
Original Vivaldi score auctioned at Sotheby’s.

The Violinist of Venice reads with the alternating tempos of adagio and vivace. It is an ambitious book that does a lovely job of capturing the culture and landscape of the times it is set in. I went into this book expecting the author to completely demonize and generalize Vivaldi’s character, but was pleasantly surprised when she didn’t. She composed his character with as much thought and dimension as Adriana, the female lead.

Adriana is a strong and rebellious character who embodies what I would hope to have been like had I been alive in 18th century Venice. The author does a great job at capturing the suffocating patriarchy that made women the property of their fathers or husbands in this era and dictated what they could and could not do. For a girl like Adriana, pursuing her musical aspirations was literally gambling with her life.

Carnivale Boat Venice

Carnivale! Venice, Italy.

Lush settings, including a few delicious scenes at Carnivale, and historically accurate social climates made this book an enthralling read. I loved the thematic elements such as the divisions of sections and chapter titles that made this book like reading a musical score. The Violinist of Venice was a smart and entertaining window into Vivaldi’s lifetime and that of the women who met his hypnotic and inspiring charms. Musician and non-musician alike will enjoy this emotionally engaging and epic love story that doesn’t play out as one would expect. I can’t wait to read the next novel by Alyssa Palombo.

Setting the mood:

Although Paganini came to fame a while after Vivaldi, the rock star aura of this talented violinist/composer drove women crazy in the same way. It’s not hard to see why in the film The Devil’s Violinist which tells the tumultuous story of Paginini during the height of his fame. This is a great film to watch before reading The Violinist of Venice to help paint a picture of how musicians like this were received in society, and a great film to follow-up with is The Red Violin which tells the story of a violin spanning over 3 centuries, all the way back to its creation in 17th century Italy.

And just for fun:

Everyone knows Vivaldi composed moving violin pieces, but not very many know that he also composed arias and other vocal pieces. Simone Kermes is one of my favorite contemporary Baroque vocalists, and I have included a Spotify playlist of her Viva! Vivaldi album for your listening pleasure. Enjoy!

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ARC Review: The Last Midwife by Sandra DallasThe Last Midwife by Sandra Dallas
Published by St. Martin's Press on September 29, 2015
Pages: 368
Format: ARC
Source: Publisher
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It is 1880 and Gracy Brookens is the only midwife in a small Colorado mining town where she has delivered hundreds, maybe thousands, of babies in her lifetime. The women of Swandyke trust and depend on Gracy, and most couldn't imagine getting through pregnancy and labor without her by their sides.

But everything changes when a baby is found dead...and the evidence points to Gracy as the murderer.

She didn't commit the crime, but clearing her name isn't so easy when her innocence is not quite as simple, either. She knows things, and that's dangerous. Invited into her neighbors' homes during their most intimate and vulnerable times, she can't help what she sees and hears. A woman sometimes says things in the birthing bed, when life and death seem suspended within the same moment. Gracy has always tucked those revelations away, even the confessions that have cast shadows on her heart.

With her friends taking sides and a trial looming, Gracy must decide whether it's worth risking everything to prove her innocence. And she knows that her years of discretion may simply demand too high a price now...especially since she's been keeping more than a few dark secrets of her own.

With Sandra Dallas's incomparable gift for creating a sense of time and place and characters that capture your heart, The Last Midwife tells the story of family, community, and the secrets that can destroy and unite them.

The Last Midwife was the most scandalous Western Mystery I have ever read. I LOVED it.

By the late 19th century, women like Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton were making a name for themselves in the first Women’s Suffrage movement and Gynecology had just been professionalized. Where women’s care and the delivery of their babies had previously been left up to midwives, the culture was changing as men crowned themselves Gynecologists and cursed the tried-and-true midwives as ”witch doctors” or superstitious crows. Men were pushing women out of midwifery and we see an example of this in the novel. But despite men’s insistence on taking over this birthing role, tradition and modesty kept many a midwife around especially in more rural areas. Sandra Dallas offers a compelling gender and cultural study in The Last Midwife where the Midwest is slowly catching up to the new medical ”advances” and cultural shifts of the time.

A Midwife wrapping her kit, preparing to leave for a delivery.
A Midwife wrapping her kit, preparing to leave for a delivery.

This novel was simply captivating. The first hundred pages or so move along at a slower pace as the story world is being set up and the main characters are being introduced, but good God I couldn’t put this book down afterwards.

Set in a Colorado mining town in the 1880s (think post-Civil War/Reconstruction) Sandra Dallas paints a thought-provoking story of the culture of the American Midwest while divulging the secret lives of its inhabitants through the eyes of Gracy Brookens, the main character.

There are some truly scandalous scenarios relayed as Gracy remembers all of the women she has served and the babies she has delivered. It was such a clever point of view to tell this story from. Despite the era and culture Gracy has come to age in, she is a strong and independent woman. There is a story that unfolds in the background about Gracy and her husband and her son that once completely revealed, squeezed my voice box with emotion.

This was the first book I had the pleasure of reading by Sandra Dallas and I will definitely be checking out the rest of her work. If you like historical snapshots of time periods that study gender roles and cultural climates, then you will love this book. The mystery was an added bonus to the execution of this historically vivid and accurate picture of life in the 1880s, and the twist ending didn’t disappoint.

Just for fun:

If you are interested in a more modern look at Midwifery or, professionalized midwifery, take a look at the great PBS/BBC series Call the Midwife.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aVfdZevxf_o

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The Hollow Ground by Natalie S. HarnettThe Hollow Ground by Natalie S. Harnett
Published by St. Martin's Griffin, St. Martin's Paperbacks, St. Martin's Press, Thomas Dunne Books on May 13, 2014
Pages: 336
Format: Paperback
Source: Publisher
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The underground mine fires ravaging Pennsylvania coal country have forced Brigid Howley and her family to seek refuge with her estranged grandparents, the formidable Gram and the Black Lung stricken Gramp. Tragedy is no stranger to the Howleys, a proud Irish-American clan who takes strange pleasure in the "curse" laid upon them generations earlier by a priest who ran afoul of the Molly Maguires. The weight of this legacy rests heavily on a new generation, when Brigid, already struggling to keep her family together, makes a grisly discovery in a long-abandoned bootleg mine shaft. In the aftermath, decades' old secrets threaten to prove just as dangerous to the Howleys as the burning, hollow ground beneath their feet. Inspired by real-life events in now-infamous Centralia and the equally devastated town of Carbondale, The Hollow Ground is an extraordinary debut with an atmospheric, voice-driven narrative and an indelible sense of place.

“We walk on fire or air, so Daddy liked to say. Basement floors too hot to touch. Steaming green lawns in the dead of winter. Sinkholes, quick and sudden, plunging open at your feet.”

The synopsis of this book is the kind that plants little hooks inside my historically minded brain and pulls on it. Especially the part of my brain that loves hauntingly atmospheric settings set among neglected snapshots of American history.

The below picture is what first came to mind when I read that the story setting was in a coal mining town in Pennsylvania. I immediately imagined the coal mining children of the early 1900s then realized that Harnett’s novel is set in the 1960s.

Penn boy miners

 

Close your eyes and imagine you live in a half-deserted town that has abandoned coal mines scattered about and end-of-the-world sized cracks in the ground with what looks like the steamy breath of hell seeping through them. That’s the story setting. Part of me was really wishing that this had been a full-fledged horror novel. There are, indeed, some horrific moments and they are presented in that strange and spellbinding way that leaves you questioning what exactly ‘just happened’.

 

Centralia 2Centralia 1Centralia 3

Pictures of the town of Centralia from brave tourists.

Brutal and raw in its telling, the book deals with a murder mystery, a family curse and the adolescence of the book’s narrator, Brigid Howley.  I enjoyed how these plot lines were woven through the story of Brigid’s personal experiences. While I sympathized with Brigid, I cannot say I enjoyed seeing the world through her eyes. It was utterly depressing and the supporting characters are so dramatically flawed that I found myself feeling rage on more than one occasion. I found it particularly meaningful in how the book presented the Irish-American family’s ”curse”. This thread of the story highlighted the importance behind words and beliefs and how a child can interpret the careless words of adults in damaging ways.

The Hollow Ground has been compared to To Kill A Mocking Bird and a Tree Grows in Brooklyn. I’ve read both of those books (it’s been a LONG while) and I understand the comparison, but those were not the associations this book conjured for me. There are adult themes of abuse, alcoholism and violence that are presented in a much more raw way than what I remember from TKAM and ATGIB. I think those comparisons are aimed at a specific audience and as someone who reads all over the charts, I found myself comparing The Hollow Ground to Victorian era classic literature and a Young Adult novel (strange, I know).  If I had to compare this book to others, I would say it’s a mix between a Thomas Hardy novel and a Cat Winter’s novel.

The author has done an amazing job of capturing the coming-of-age voice of Brigid Howely and has painted the story world in a way that the reader knows it’s the 1960s but feels like the little town of Centralia, PA is stuck in an ominous time-warp, still holding on to the early 20th century. I would recommend this book for the author’s lovely writing alone, but also recommend it for those who like to read about tucked away tragedies in small, creepy towns.

Here’s an interesting documentary on the town of Centralia if you are intrigued by its history after reading The Hollow Ground like I was:

 

And just for fun:

Here’s a creepy little video comparing Centralia to Silent Hill, the creepy-ass video game that has given me nightmares since teen-hood, lol. (If you don’t care about the full backstory, you can skip in to 2:30 to see the drive through town footage.)

 

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Enchantress of Paris by Marci Jefferson Review + GIVEAWAY!!!Enchantress of Paris by Marci Jefferson
Published by St. Martin's Press, Thomas Dunne Books on August 4, 2015
Pages: 336
Format: Hardcover
Source: Publisher
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Purchase Links: Amazon | B&N | Kobo
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The alignment of the stars at Marie Mancini's birth warned that although she would be gifted at divination, she was destined to disgrace her family. Ignoring the dark warnings of his sister and astrologers, Cardinal Mazarin brings his niece to the French court, where the forbidden occult arts thrive in secret. In France, Marie learns her uncle has become the power behind the throne by using her sister Olympia to hold the Sun King, Louis XIV, in thrall.

Desperate to avoid her mother's dying wish that she spend her life in a convent, Marie burns her grimoire, trading Italian superstitions for polite sophistication. But as her star rises, King Louis becomes enchanted by Marie's charm. Sensing a chance to grasp even greater glory, Cardinal Mazarin pits the sisters against each other, showering Marie with diamonds and silks in exchange for bending King Louis to his will.

Disgusted by Mazarin's ruthlessness, Marie rebels. She sacrifices everything, but exposing Mazarin's deepest secret threatens to tear France apart. When even King Louis's love fails to protect Marie, she must summon her forbidden powers of divination to shield her family, protect France, and help the Sun King fulfill his destiny.

Check out my PSYCHOLOGICAL ANALYSIS of Marci Jefferson HERE, and don’t forget to ENTER to WIN a finished copy of the Enchantress of Paris at the end of the review!

“Fraught with conspiracy and passion, the Sun King’s opulent court is brought to vivid life in this captivating tale about a woman whose love was more powerful than magic.”

COULD ANYONE ASK FOR ANYTHING MORE IN AN HISTORICAL NOVEL?!

Versailles Palace GardensVersailles Hall of Mirrorsversailles_water_terrace

Some opulent scenery from King Louis XIV’s Versailles Palace

I loved Marci Jefferson’s Girl on the Golden Coin which focuses on Frances Stuart so I already had high expectations for Enchantress of Paris. BUT FOR THE LOVE OF LOUIS, this book surpassed my expectations a hundred fold.

As a musician, I sometimes come across a book that reads like music to me. Full of the kind of lyricism and glorious texture that sweeps me up with all the verve and passion of a symphony piece. There’s the side of my brain that wanted to stop and dissect the anatomy of this novel. What makes it so magical and pitch perfect?  But the side of my brain that prefers to be swept up in such a composition won.

Marie Mancini, The King’s Mistress                                                                           Louis XIV, The Sun King

Marie Mancini, the Sun King's MistressKing Louis XIV

Gah! Is there anything more satisfying for a Historical Fiction lover or Historian than being introduced to a Historical Figure that you didn’t even know existed?! I knew nothing about Marie Mancini before the Enchantress of Paris and now I want to know EVERYTHING about her. Marie is the kind of hypnotic female protagonist that will be haunting the halls of your brain for weeks to come after reading this novel. She is clever and strong, defiant and demanding- all the things that make a captivating heroine.

Marci Jefferson’s storytelling is a full sensory experience. I swear, it’s like Marci tapped into some kind of ”powers that be” to craft such a rich and fascinating story. The mysticism that infuses Marie’s narrative was such an unexpected dimension to this story and added such an exciting and exotic feel to this European tale. Every aspect of the culture of the time period is touched upon in the Enchantress of Paris, and I adore Marci for giving some great historical detail about Jean-Baptiste Lully, the Sun King’s personal composer and  court musician.

Here’s an entertaining scene from the film about King Louis XIV, Le Roi Danse, featuring a Soprano singing an aria written by Lully:

As I’ve come to expect from Marci’s writing, the world building and characterization are equally brilliant and transcendent. The balance between historical detail and narrative is perfect. The ill-fated romance between Marie and Louis XIV was engrossing and infuriating at the same time- such a perfect combination. Marci really knows how to stir the blood with intimate scenes and clandestine dalliances.

We could hardly see so far from the lights of the palais. But we sensed each other and fell into each other’s arms.

“Did you come here to read the heavens?” he asked.

I glanced up and searched for the constellation Virgo, the virgin. But she had not yet ascended to the early spring sky. Instead I saw a shooting star sweep across the heavens. A sign of change? I chose to believe it meant we would overcome the odds. “You know I came for you.”

He ran a hand inside my cloak, feeling my satins. “You’ll be cold in this.”

“Not with the Sun King to warm me.”

“Look at us, forced to meet in the dark. What will happen to us, Marie.”

“You will shine, ” I whispered, “and darkness will flee.”

There, under stars tossed like silver against a velvet sky, our lips met.

Lets just face it. Marci Jefferson was born to write Historical Fiction. With the face of an angel and the brain of a she-devil, Marci Jefferson has made me a mega-fan with her second novel. I can’t wait to eat read the pages of the next thing she writes.

For your viewing pleasure, here’s an entertaining montage from the film Les Roi Danse featuring the best dance numbers in the film. (LOL)

Aaaand, just for fun:

If you are the type of reader who likes to listen to soundtracks with their novels, try Patricia Petibon’s French Baroque Arias which features music from Lully and other artists of the period.

 

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Girl on the Golden Coin by Marci JeffersonGirl on the Golden Coin by Marci Jefferson
Published by St. Martin's Press, Thomas Dunne Books on February 11, 2014
Pages: 336
Format: Paperback
Source: Publisher
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Purchase Links: Amazon | B&N | iBooks
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Impoverished and exiled to the French countryside after the overthrow of the English Crown, Frances Stuart survives merely by her blood-relation to the Stuart Royals. But in 1660, the Restoration of Stuart Monarchy in England returns her family to favor. Frances discards threadbare gowns and springs to gilded Fontainebleau Palace, where she soon catches King Louis XIV’s eye. But Frances is no ordinary court beauty, she has Stuart secrets to keep and people to protect. The king turns vengeful when she rejects his offer to become his Official Mistress. He banishes her to England with orders to seduce King Charles II and stop a war.

Armed in pearls and silk, Frances maneuvers through the political turbulence of Whitehall Palace, but still can’t afford to stir a scandal. Her tactic to inspire King Charles to greatness captivates him. He believes her love can make him an honest man and even chooses Frances to pose as Britannia for England’s coins. Frances survives the Great Fire, the Great Plague, and the debauchery of the Restoration Court, yet loses her heart to the very king she must control. Until she is forced to choose between love or war.

On the eve of England’s Glorious Revolution, James II forces Frances to decide whether to remain loyal to her Stuart heritage or, like England, make her stand for Liberty. Her portrait as Britannia is minted on every copper coin. There she remains for generations, an enduring symbol of Britain’s independent spirit and her own struggle for freedom.

Are you a fan of Historical Fiction? Then join me and others in the Historical Fiction Reading Challenge!

I read a ton of European Historical Fiction/Romance and general History but I have to admit, my reading experience with the Stuart era has been nil until the past year. What inspired me to delve into literature on King Charles I and II was a lovely blog I follow called The Seventeenth Century Lady. You can find all sorts of information on the 17th Century and “The Merry Monarch” on this historian’s/author’s website.

Frances Stuart gracing the Britannia.
Frances Stuart gracing the Britannia.

Girl on the Golden Coin was a rich and addictive story about Frances Stuart, a woman who became King Charles II’s biggest weakness. Marci Jefferson presents the fascinating Frances Stuart in a narrative rich with all the romantic suspense and scandal of a Harlequin Romance. The gloriously fleshed out historical atmosphere and fully realized characters kept me captivated beyond the page. There were a few surprising and sensuous gems of passion and romance embedded in this story, making for a very compelling read.

Below is an aria, Dido’s Lament,  from a composition by Henry Purcell that became popular around the same time that Frances Stuart’s story begins. Patricia Petibon’s rendition of this aria and her music video are so haunting and perfect for what I imagined Frances to be feeling on the darker days of her tumultuous life. Frances Stuart was remembered; her face never being forgotten while it graced the Golden Coin.

I had a love/hate relationship with most of the historical characters in this novel. I could not make up my mind if I ”saw” Frances Stuart in a flattering light or not. I honestly feel on the fence about her after reading Girl on The Golden Coin. Frances basically let herself be used as a political-prostitute-pawn in a game between two Kings (Louis XIV and Charles II), but we see that she chose this path as the lesser of two evils. She could risk living her life in ruin and having disastrous family secrets exposed, or, betrayed by her beauty, she could play the game that many a king’s mistress before her had played and save her family from further scandal. I think I love the author even more for making me feel so conflicted about Frances Stuart.

King Charles II and Frances Stuart.
King Charles II and Frances Stuart.

What is admirable about Frances in this retelling of her life is that she wasn’t all beauty, but possessed intelligence and bravery. Frances Stuart was a victim of the era she lived in. She had to play the cards she was dealt and she played them well for the most part.

I liked how this book was formatted. I appreciated the map of France and England, and the list of characters before the story begins. This book is for the Stuart era laymen as well as the Stuart scholar. Rich historical detail and psychologically stimulating characters made Girl on the Golden Coin shine.

Here’s a fun and informative short video on The Stuart Era:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K8Ho76_rk4g

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I received this book for free from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

RELEASE DAY and REVIEW: Breathe into Me by Sara FawkesBreathe into Me by Sara Fawkes
Published by St. Martin's Press on April 8, 2014
Pages: 288
Format: eARC
Source: Netgalley
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Purchase Links: Amazon
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How did my life get so broken? It’s a question Lacey St. James asks herself every day. Stuck raising her little brother in a trailer park while she works a dead end job at a grocery store, she has a stalker exboyfriend, a bad reputation, and no way out.

And then, she meets Everett, who changes her entire existence.

Everett is an outsider who’s housesitting his family’s mansion off the coast, and for reasons Lacey can’t understand, he’s completely transfixed by her. He seems determined to show her that life can offer more than she’d ever hoped for, if only she believes in herself. She desperately yearns to trust him, but what happens when she finds out that everything he’s told her is a lie?

review

My thoughts…

This is the first book by Author Sara Fawkes that I’ve read. I wasn’t sure what to expect going into this one, but the synopsis captured my attention and I couldn’t wait to get started reading it.

I liked both of the main characters and some of the secondary characters. Lacey has had a rough life the last few years. After her father dies her mother packs herself, Lacey, and Lacey’s little brother Davy up and moves them across the country to live with their grandmother. Her grandmother… is an evil biotch. Her mom’s not much better. Her current boyfriends is also a piece of work. The poor girl couldn’t seem to catch a break. She meets Everett one night at bar. Right away I liked him. He took an interest in her and there was just something about him that drew me in.

These two together make for an unlikely pair. Whereas he seems well out together, she’s anything but. I enjoyed seeing their relationship grow from friendship into something more. He’s hiding secrets though. Ones that make the story really interesting.

There are a few twists and turns within the pages of this one. Some of them her predictable, but I don’t that think took away from the overall story. I kept trying to figure out what Everett was hiding.

The sex scenes are comparable to adult mainstream. They weren’t overly explicit in nature, but were well written.

Overall, I enjoyed this one. If you’re a fan of NA romance I suggest you give it a try. I think ms Fawkes did a great job writing this one and I’m looking forward to reading more of her work in the future.

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Death, Doom, and Detention by Darynda JonesDeath, Doom, and Detention by Darynda Jones
Published by St. Martin's Press on March 5, 2013
Pages: 320
Format: eBook
Source: Amazon
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Purchase Links: Amazon | B&N
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The normal part of Lorelei MacAlister’s life didn’t just slip away quietly the day Jared Kovach came to town. Nope. The normal part of her life shattered. It exploded. It burst into a gazillion shards of fleeting light.

It went out with a bang.

Goodbye normal.

Hello dark and eerie.

While her best friend, Brooklyn, is focusing all of her energy on helping Lorelei hone her abilities, Lorelei is dealing with the reality that Satan’s second in command has taken up residence inside her body. Oh, and the fact that she has a crush on the Angel of Death. But what a beautiful death it is. If those weren’t bad enough, something sinister has come to town and it wants nothing more than to hear Lorelei’s dying breath as it strangles it out of her. Thank goodness the gang has a supernatural champion. But what happens when the only being who can save them switches sides midstream? How can a group of misfits capture one of the most powerful beings ever created? And will they find out how to bring Jared back to them before it’s too late?

My favorite red-headed pixie chic is back full force in Death, Doom, and Detention. Many revelations (quite similar to the Book of Revelations)  left Lorelei with an identity crisis and warring emotions in Death and the Girl Next Door. She  found out the boy she’s in love with is the Angel of Death, her creepy stalker is her Nephilim body-guard, and there is a dormant demon residing in her. And that’s just a short list. Now, in Death, Doom, and Detention, things have started to boil over and Lorelei and her close crew are fighting for their lives.

A darkness has settled over their small town of Riley’s Switch, New Mexico and there is an impending feeling of doom at Lorelei’s school. One by one, the students are starting to act strange and withdrawn, only coming to life if it’s to fight. It brought to memory the movie Disturbing Behavior with James Marsden and Nick Stahl, but more sinister.  Jared and Cameron are more protective of Lorelei than ever, but things go awry when our handsome Angel of Death goes missing for several days and turns up bloodied and disturbed. There’s something sinister about Jared now, and Lorelei’s grandparents have been telling her he could be dangerous. Their point is proven in this book, to Lorelei’s dismay.

 

I really enjoyed this book as a break from the romance-centric books I had been reading lately. The dynamic between the character’s introduced in book one remains entertaining and clever in book two. The new information revealed about Lorelei’s past is ominous and heartbreaking, giving us insight to Lorelei’s role as the prophet and revealing who has a hit out on her. We are given a few sultry and sweet moments between Jared and Lorelei, but I wish we were given more. Death, Doom, and Detention is heavy on action and humor, especially between Jared and Cameron. Darynda writes paranormal fights that play out like the characters in a Super Street Fighter game. Blurring at each other with supernatural speed, and throwing brick breaking punches. Although written from a chic’s perspective, I think guys would really enjoy this series.

Darynda brought on the dark comedy full force, and I alternated between fits of laughter and the jitters which  made me feel as though I were possessed myself. I’m hoping for some EPIC Prophet/Angel of Death kissing scenes in the third book due out this October. I might go a little Azrael myself if Darynda doesn’t deliver. 😉

One StarOne StarOne StarOne Star
Death And The Girl Next Door (Darklight #1)Death And The Girl Next Door by Darynda Jones
Published by St. Martin's Press on October 2, 2012
Pages: 274
Format: eBook
Source: Amazon
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Ten years ago, Lorelei's parents disappeared without a trace.  Raised by her grandparents and leaning on the support of her best friends, Lorelei is finally beginning to accept the fact that her parents are never coming home.  For Lorelei, life goes on.

High school is not quite as painful as she thinks it will be, and things are as normal as they can be.  Until the day the school's designated loner, Cameron Lusk, begins to stalk her, turning up where she least expects it,  standing outside her house in the dark, night after night.  Things get even more complicated when a new guy—terrifying, tough, sexy Jared Kovach—comes to school.  Cameron and Jared instantly despise each other and Lorelei seems to be the reason for their animosity.  What does Jared know about her parents?  Why does Cameron tell Jared he can't have Lorelei?  And what will any of them do when Death comes knocking for real?  Thrilling, sassy, sexy, and inventive, Darynda Jones's first foray into the world of teens will leave readers eager for the next installment.

Darynda Jones had me at FIVE FEET TALL…
“I lowered my voice, controlled the tone and inflection of every word, every syllable, striving to make myself sound menacing. I took up a mere five feet of vertical air space, so menacing was not always easy for me to accomplish.”

Welcome to the world of Lorelei McAlister. At five feet tall, red-headed, and alabaster complected, Darynda Jones creates quite the firecracker in our petite heroine. Lorelei’s parents vanished when she was 6 years old and the 10 year anniversary of that fateful day is upon her. Since being orphaned, Lorelei lives with her grandparents who run the town church and a small store.  Lorelei and her two best friends, Brooklyn and “Glitch” spend their time between the cliché town cafe and high-school  in their small home town of Riley’s Switch, New Mexico. Things are taking their normal course until Lorelei brushes against a tall, dark, and handsome stranger. The vision this encounter gives Lorelei is both beautiful and menacing. Something she can’t make any sense of, and that’s when things start to get weird.

The handsome stranger who inspired Lorelei’s haunting vision shows up at her school and knows more about her than he should. His name is Jared Kovach and he seems to be paying special attention to her along with the school loner, Cameron Lusk (our blonde hottie on the cover). Both of these guys are demonstrating supernatural strength and explosive hostility towards one another, and Lorelei is the catalyst. Jared and Cameron both have a secret and these old souls have an agenda with her. Both want to protect Lorelei’s life, but only one of them is supposed to. Riley’s Switch, New Mexico is about to enter the Twilight Zone.

The snarky humor and wit in this book had me laughing out loud on the very first page. I instantly became a fan of Darynda Jones.  My short girl with tall, hot guy fantasies were shown the light of day. This is the first book that I have read where the main character was five feet tall, and being in the same height bracket I instantly connected with Lorelei. Lorelei is a special gal in this book, and I felt like it was about time the awesomeness of short people was represented. A lot of punch is packed into Lorelei’s petite character. She’s clever, charmingly self-deprecating, and brave. The chemistry between ALL of the characters is  edgy and humorous, making this story an entertaining read the whole way through. The events and details that unfold through-out caught me off guard. It was a strange and wonderful juxtaposition of heavy elements mixed in with the light. Sometimes you read the first book in a series and you don’t feel obligated (or motivated) to read the next one. This isn’t one of those books. I can’t wait to dive into book two. After reading book one, I’m definitely Team Jared, but I’m keeping Cameron in my back pocket. That’s how I roll.

 

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