Midnight in Berlin by James MacManusMidnight in Berlin by James MacManus
on April 19, 2016
Pages: 416
Format: ARC
Source: Publisher
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In 1939, British Colonel Noel Macrae, stationed in Berlin and witness to the rise of the Reich, decides that he might be the only Englishman with the opportunity to avert war. As he attempts to convince the British government of his mission, the colonel becomes torn between his government's orders and his own personal beliefs, especially as he falls in love with a German-Jewish woman. Blackmailed by the Nazis, the woman and her family have faced unspeakable horrors, and the colonel must do whatever it takes to help her escape.

But the colonel doesn't know that the Gestapo have formed a plan of their own. Aware of the colonel's intense hatred of the Nazi regime, the Gestapo work to draw him into a fabricated plot against Hitler. As the colonel finds himself caught up in a tangled web of shifting loyalties, corruption, and shocking indifference, he soon realizes he must find a way to hold on to his sense of humanity to save not only the woman he loves but also himself.

Inspired by true events and characters, James MacManus's Midnight in Berlin is a love story set against a world on the brink of war that will leave you in awe of the human capacity for self-sacrifice and resilience.

This book goes beyond capturing the music, fashion, and style of the WWII era and paints a picture of the chaotic attitudes, theories, failed diplomacy, and missed connections that contributed to the start of the world’s bloodiest war to date. The tone of the novel is serious and the author does an excellent job of capturing the psychosis and sexism of not only the Nazi party but the culture in general. Pre-Nazi party, Berlin was actually a safe haven with an incredibly liberal climate under the Weimar Republic. Many African American entertainers moved to Berlin to escape the deeply rooted racism in America. But things changed in dramatic fashion after Hitler seized power, and the author does a great job at capturing the grey areas that still lingered after this dramatic shift in social and political climate.

Mid in Berlin photo

Set in Berlin, the story world is as deftly crafted as the characters, and I felt absorbed by the novel, if not a little overwhelmed as well. There is a lot of interesting internal dialogue and information to keep straight in this book, so I suggest reading it free of any kind of distractions.

Both the male and female protagonist of the story were likeable in a tense way, if that makes any sense. They are characters that had to make decisions outside of their own character in order to survive the times and plots they found themselves tangled in.

Like with any novel that has a well developed story world and well fleshed out characters, the pacing was slow and steady. The romance between the two MCs was both sad and exciting as only forbidden love can be set against a backdrop of war and racism.

I would recommend this book to those historical fiction fans that are interested in the diplomatic and psychological aspects that contributed to the start of WWII. It’s a heavier read that was incredibly insightful about the actual events leading up to the war and completely engaging on an intellectual and emotional level.

Have you read Midnight in Berlin? I’d love to know your thoughts on it.

Setting the Mood:

Fred and Ginger were famous the world over and Germans were still enjoying their music and films, as well as other American entertainment, at the onset of the war.

 

Just for fun:

Here’s a Donald Duck American anti-Nazi propaganda cartoon that would have been showed in theaters around America at the time.

 

 

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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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Summer Reading Abroad: I’ll See You in Paris Review + GIVEAWAY!

by Michelle Gable
on February 9, 2016
Pages: 400
Format: Hardcover
Source: Publisher
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After losing her fiancé in the Vietnam War, nineteen-year-old Laurel Haley takes a job in England, hoping the distance will mend her shattered heart. Laurel expects the pain might lessen but does not foresee the beguiling man she meets or that they’ll go to Paris, where the city’s magic will take over and alter everything Laurel believes about love.

Thirty years later, Laurel’s daughter Annie is newly engaged and an old question resurfaces: who is Annie’s father and what happened to him? Laurel has always been vague about the details and Annie’s told herself it doesn’t matter. But with her impending marriage, Annie has to know everything. Why won’t Laurel tell her the truth?

The key to unlocking Laurel’s secrets starts with a mysterious book about an infamous woman known as the Duchess of Marlborough. Annie’s quest to understand the Duchess, and therefore her own history, takes her from a charming hamlet in the English countryside, to a decaying estate kept behind barbed wire, and ultimately to Paris where answers will be found at last.

I enjoyed this story for the rich bits of history and biography revealed through long-lost discovered correspondence and the two main narrators of the story. The most entertaining character in the book was The Duchess of Marlborough, who tries her hardest to deny that she is, indeed, the duchess.

Gladys Deacon (aka the Duchess of Marlborough) Boldini painting.
Gladys Deacon (aka the Duchess of Marlborough) Boldini painting.

The story does some time hopping as each chapter reveals another piece of the puzzle concerning the duchess and the main female protagonist’s parentage. The pacing of the story is rather slow, which I have come to expect with novels that interweave the threads of multiple characters and different generations of a family. But it was a nice kind of slow. The kind of slow that goes great with a glass of wine and a bubble bath.

In addition to the fun mystery at the heart of the story that concerns identity and familial bonds, the author held my attention with the lush descriptions of Gilded Age New York, late Belle Epoque Paris, and the luscious English country side.

English house

I enjoyed the witty dialogue in this literary mystery. There are several laugh-out-loud moments throughout that you can imagine translating perfectly onto the big screen. This book definitely has a certain cinematic appeal because of the vivid descriptions and complicated characters. It is the perfect read for a lazy summer weekend when you want to indulge in an atmospheric story for some armchair travel.

If you have had the pleasure of watching the Smithsonian Channel’s two seasons of Million Dollar American Princesses and enjoyed it, then this book will be right up your ally. It has the same appeal.

Million Dollar
Million Dollar American Princesses Smithsonian Channel

Enter below for the chance to WIN a paperback copy of Michelle Gable’s lovely story, I’ll See You in Paris.

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Midnight in St. Petersburg by Vanora BennettMidnight St. Petersburg by Vanora Bennett
Published by St. Martin's Griffin, Thomas Dunne Books on January 19, 2016
Pages: 384
Format: ARC
Source: Publisher
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St. Petersburg, 1911: Inna Feldman has fled the pogroms of the south to take refuge with distant relatives in Russia's capital city. Welcomed by the flamboyant Leman family, she is apprenticed into their violin-making workshop. She feels instantly at home in their bohemian circle, but revolution is in the air, and as society begins to fracture, she is forced to choose between her heart and her head. She loves her brooding cousin, Yasha, but he is wild, destructive and devoted to revolution; Horace Wallick, an Englishman who makes precious Faberge creations, is older and promises security and respectability. And, like many others, she is drawn to the mysterious, charismatic figure beginning to make a name for himself in the city: Rasputin.

As the rebellion descends into anarchy and bloodshed, a commission to repair a priceless Stradivarius violin offers Inna a means of escape. But which man will she choose to take with her? And is it already too late? A magical and passionate story steeped in history and intrigue, Midnight in St. Petersburg is an extraordinary novel of music, politics, and the toll that revolution exacts on the human heart.

“Bennett’s sophisticated grasp of historical realities and psychological complexity gives power and depth to what might easily have been a clichéd romance.” – Sunday Times

St. Petersburg

First, let me help you set the mood before starting this sweeping story of revolution, music, and romance. Do yourself a favor and Spotify or buy Anna Netrebko’s Russian Album to steep this reading experience in even more magic. Netrebko brings such rich, velvety tones and mastery of subject matter to the Russian arias on the album, reflecting the same qualities in Vanora Bennett’s novel.

Russian Album

Fans of Doctor Zhivago, both the novel and film adaptations, will love Midnight in St. Petersburg. Midnight in St. Petersburg unfolds at a similar pace to Zhivago and addresses a lot of the same emotional and psychological complexities that drive and sustain people during turbulent times. Fans of classics such as Anna Karenina, War and Peace, Crime and Punishment, etc. will enjoy the intricacy of thoughts and subject matter in this third-person narrative.

Doctor Zhivago Movie Poster

The story explores the lives of those who are passively and actively experiencing the Russian Revolution making for a rich historical and psychological experience. I liked how the author delved into the circles of the artists and intellectuals of the time and how their roles contributed to the revolution.

The female protagonist at the center of the story, Inna, is a talented violinist who has to make her own luck until she enters the world of two men who help shape her destiny, both whom she becomes romantically ensnared with.

“Inna began with a quiet, disciplined G major scale, a fluid run of quavers from the bottom to the top of the violin and back […] Her playing got gradually louder over the next few scales, up through D to E-flat. She’s not joining in, he thought, with disappointment. She’s just drowning me out. Using music as a weapon. Making war.”

The three main characters were deep and represented three unique viewpoints on the Russian Revolution. Inna is a lovely combination of strength and vulnerability that made me immediately empathize and identify with her character.

I also enjoyed the perspective on Rasputin’s character throughout the story. Like many other Russian Historical Fiction novels I have read, Rasputin is cast in a sympathetic light and demystified at the same time.

The story world was lush and developed with loving attention to detail. After reading Midnight in St.Petersburg, I could not shake the impression it left on me and I wanted to continue the atmospheric experience by listening to some Tchaikovsky or watching a film based on Russian literature.

Here are some great films to watch after reading Midnight in St.Petersburg:

Dr Z Keira KnightlyThe Last Station movie coverAnna Karenina Knightly

I love Russian history, music, literature, poetry, and films so this book was a real treat for me. Those who are interested in the people that made up Russia during the revolutionary period as much as the events that created it, will love this book.

Here’s a short and fun video on Russia that will help understand how the Russian people’s culture and identity has been shaped over the centuries:

If you liked J. Nell Patrick’s Tsarina, you will also enjoy the more dramatic Midnight in St. Petersburg.

Tsarina

And just for fun:

Here is a nice preview with Russian scenery of Netrebko’s Russian Album and following that video is the best of Shostakovich, a revolutionary era composer, for your listening pleasure:

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The Debt of Tamar by Nicole DweckThe Debt of Tamar by Nicole Dweck
Published by Thomas Dunne Books on September 8, 2015
Pages: 304
Format: Hardcover
Source: Publisher
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A USA TODAY Best seller!

Bestselling author Nicole Dweck brings to life one of history's greatest yet overlooked stories of love and resilience.

In 2002, thirty-two-year-old Selim Osman, the last descendant of Ottoman Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent, flees Istanbul for New York. In a twist of fate he meets Hannah, the daughter of a Holocaust survivor and an artist striving to understand a father she barely knows. Unaware the connection they share goes back centuries, the two feel an immediate pull to one another. But as their story intertwines with that of their ancestors, the heroic but ultimately tragic decision that bound two families centuries ago ripples into the future, threatening to tear Hannah and Selim apart.

From a 16th-century harem to a seaside village in the Holy Land, from Nazi-occupied Paris to modern-day Manhattan, Nicole Dweck's The Debt of Tamar weaves a spellbinding tapestry of love, history, and fate that will enchant readers from the very first page.

“Through it all, the very same sun and moon and stars never wavered, never once failed to rise and fall and shine their light upon the world. And though mankind itself had run amok, the universe never once collapsed in on itself.

Through seismic shifts, wars, famine, and mankind’s great experiment with its own free will, the universe never lost sight of even its most infinitesimal need for balance. “

Ottoman textile 1Ottoman textile 2

Some lovely Ottoman textiles. 

The Debt of Tamar was truly a gift.

It’s been a while since I’ve read a book that has tugged at the magical heartstrings that make me feel connected to the universe and humankind as a whole.

Inspired by the author’s longing to know more about her heritage, this book is a beautiful example of how genealogy and historical research can yield a treasure trove of thought and lyrical beauty bound into a spellbinding story.

Some familiar Ottoman architecture
Some familiar Ottoman architecture.

The Debt of Tamar filled me with wonder, sadness, courage and hope. I was enraptured by the author’s elegant writing style that mined diamonds of thought and ancient wisdom from simple yet profound sentences and character constructions on the page. Infused with rich elements like Sufi Mysticism, The Ottoman Empire, Holocaust Paris, and modern day Instanbul and New York, the story unfolds over centuries and lives connected by the same lines that hold constellations together at a pace that kept me reading ”just one more page”.

People being rounded up or escaping during the French Holocaust.
Jewish people being rounded up or escaping during the French Holocaust.

Written in third person, The Debt of Tamar reminded me of the film Amelie or A Very Long Engagement in its presentation. If you are a fan of films like the aforementioned or a fan of fairy tales, then you will enjoy this book. It is a fast, completely engaging read that will bring tears to your eyes on more than one occasion and that will leave you pondering the interconnectedness of everything long after you turn the last page. It was my pleasure to read The Debt of Tamar.

 

And just for fun:

Here’s a BBC documentary on The Ottoman Empire that will satisfy your thirst for more on this rich era after reading The Debt of Tamar:

 

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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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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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ARC Review: Lamp Black, Wolf Grey by Paula BrackstonLamp Black, Wolf Grey by Paula Brackston
Published by St. Martin's Griffin, Thomas Dunne Books on August 4, 2015
Pages: 336
Format: ARC
Source: Publisher
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Artist Laura Matthews finds her new home in the Welsh mountains to be a place so charged with tales and legends that she is able to reach through the gossamer-fine veil that separates her own world from that of myth and fable.

She and her husband Dan have given up their city life and moved to Blaencwm, an ancient longhouse high in the hills. Here she hopes that the wild beauty will inspire her to produce her best art and will give her the baby they have longed for. But this high valley is also home to others, such as Rhys the charismatic loner who pursues Laura with fervor. And Anwen, the wise old woman from the neighboring farm who seems to know so much but talks in riddles. And then there is Merlin.

Lamp Black, Wolf Grey tells both Laura's story and Merlin's. For once he too walked these hills, with his faithful grey wolf at his heel. It was here he fell in love with Megan, nurse-maid to the children of the hated local noble, Lord Geraint. Merlin was young, at the start of his renowned career as a magician, but when he refuses to help Lord Geraint it is Megan who may pay the price.

In the latest from Paula Brackston, a young artist goes to the Welsh mountains in search of love, but is faced with ancient legends and a mysterious man from the past – Merlin himself.

You can find my reviews of other Paula Brackston novels HERE.

All I have to do is see Paula Brackston’s name on a novel and know that I’m going to love it. Her writing is so rich and engrossing, and as Kirkus Reviews aptly puts it, “full-blooded”. The other books I’ve read by Paula revolve around the lives of female witches, but Lamp Black, Wolf Grey doesn’t have the same ”witch-y” elements as her other novels and instead revolves around a woman in her child-bearing prime and the legendary Merlin.

Growing up, I was obsessed with Arthurian legends and Mary Stuart’s Merlin trilogy was one of my favorites so I was equal parts excited and skeptical going into this novel because of the Merlin aspect. All read and done, LAMP BLACK, WOLF GREY IS ONE OF MY FAVORITE PAULA BRACKSTON NOVELS YET.

This one was a page turner. Every time I set the book down, the suspenseful plot called to me like German chocolate cake. I had no choice but to put everything else on hold and dive back in. This book hooked me like the 2000 film What Lies Beneath starring Michelle Pfeiffer. LB,WG has the same delicious elements (ghost story, revenge, romantic suspense, atmospheric, etc.) that left me feeling completely satisfied after reading it.

The Beguiling of Merlin by Edward Burne-Jones
The Beguiling of Merlin by Edward Burne-Jones

The Merlin aspect is brilliant. What I feared could turn into something cheesy ended up being something completely creative and clever. I really enjoyed how the legend of this ancient warlock tied into the contemporary aspect of the story.

A Magical Welsh Forest.
A Magical Welsh Forest.

This was the second book I’ve read of Paula’s that was set in Wales and I absolutely love the magical way she infused the history and folklore of this region into her work. The world building was marvelous as ever; I felt like I was experiencing something far more delightful than a Thomas Kinkade painting every time I read a description of the main character’s surroundings.

I loved the deep and emotionally stirring adult themes concerning conceiving a child and marital issues that the magical realism flourishes around in the story.

Like in The Silver Witch, the author goes back and forth between an ancient and contemporary world to tell the story of two characters who’s lives are mystically linked. Paula really has a knack for this kind of story telling. This is a device that can be confusing and overwhelming at times, but it is pulled off with ease and clarity under Paula’s hand.

To sum things up, LB, WG was: Magical. Hypnotic. Suspenseful. DELICIOUS.

 

And just for fun….Here’s the trailer to What Lies Beneath. It doesn’t really have anything to do with LB,WG except that this film satisfied me in the same way that Paula’s latest novel did.

 

 

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The Silver Witch by Paula Brackston Review + Giveaway!!!The Silver Witch by Paula Brackston
Published by St. Martin's Griffin, Thomas Dunne Books on April 21, 2015
Pages: 320
Format: Hardcover
Source: Publisher
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A year after her husband’s sudden death, ceramic artist Tilda Fordwells finally moves into the secluded Welsh cottage that was to be their new home. She hopes that the tranquil surroundings will help ease her grief, and lessen her disturbing visions of Mat’s death. Instead, the lake in the valley below her cottage seems to spark something dormant in her – a sensitivity, and a power of some sort. Animals are drawn to her, electricity shorts out when she’s near, and strangest of all, she sees a new vision; a boatful of ancient people approaching her across the water.

On this same lake in Celtic times lived Seren, a witch and shaman. She was respected but feared, kept separate from the community for her strange looks. When a vision came to her of the Prince amid a nest of vipers she warned of betrayal from one of his own. Prince Brynach both loved and revered her, but could not believe someone close to him wished him harm, even as the danger grew.

In her own time, Tilda’s grief begins to fade beside her newfound powers and a fresh love. When she explores the lake’s ancient magic and her own she discovers Seren, the woman in her vision of the boat. Their two lives strangely mirror each others, suggesting a strong connection between the women. As Tilda comes under threat from a dark power, one reminiscent of Seren’s prophecy, she must rely on Seren and ancient magic if death and disaster are not to shatter her life once more.

If you’ve ever had any interest in Welsh or Celtic mythology or ancient Welsh culture, you will be obsessed with this book.

The Silver Witch was AWESOME. I was enthralled with how Paula Brackston wraps up her fantasy/supernatural narratives in solid, mesmerizing historical research. You can find some of the historical artifacts she writes about in this novel here.

With spellbinding craft,  Ms. Brackston weaves the life of a contemporary widowed woman with the life of an ancient Celtic female witch/shaman in The Silver Witch. Haunting and alluring mythology is divulged in pieces as the story goes back and forth between Tilda, the main character, and Seren, the ancient shaman to a Celtic prince.

Silver Witch House
The Welsh cottage where Tilda resides, close to a lake.

The pacing of the novel was slow enough to luxuriate in all of the wonderful and creepy aspects of the story, but not so slow that my attention span was tested. Brackston’s character development is masterful and almost overwhelms the senses with the depth and beauty of detail she lends her page people. I found myself reading the book as if I were living the book and that, of course, is a reader’s dream come true.

The crannog on the lake outside of Tilda's cottage where much of the story unfolds.
The crannog on the lake outside of Tilda’s cottage where much of the story unfolds.

There is a thread of romance that had substance without challenging the main plot and made The Silver Witch seem like a really well-rounded read. The tone and the setting of the book are so gloriously mysterious and mystical. Just think of fog hovering over a lake and tinkling wind-chimes playing atonal melodies or a Lydian mode to get a sense of the feel of this book.

This was my second novel of Paul Brackston’s to read, and I cannot wait to burn my way through the rest of her books. You can find my review of The Midnight Witch here.

Enter below for a chance to WIN a FINISHED COPY of The Silver Witch, courtesy of St. Martin’s Press. 

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Monarch Madness: The Midnight Witch by Paula Brackston + GIVEAWAY!The Midnight Witch by Paula Brackston
Published by St. Martin's Griffin, Thomas Dunne Books on March 25, 2014
Pages: 352
Format: Paperback
Source: Publisher
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"The dead are seldom silent. All that is required for them to be heard is that someone be willing to listen. I have been listening to the dead all my life."

Lilith is the daughter of the sixth Duke of Radnor. She is one of the most beautiful young women in London and engaged to the city’s most eligible bachelor. She is also a witch.

When her father dies, her hapless brother Freddie takes the title. But it is Lilith, instructed in the art of necromancy, who inherits their father’s role as Head Witch of the Lazarus Coven. And it is Lilith who must face the threat of the Sentinels, a powerful group of sorcerers intent on reclaiming the Elixir from the coven’s guardianship for their own dark purposes. Lilith knows the Lazarus creed: secrecy and silence. To abandon either would put both the coven and all she holds dear in grave danger. She has spent her life honoring it, right down to her charming fiancé and fellow witch, Viscount Louis Harcourt.

Until the day she meets Bram, a talented artist who is neither a witch nor a member of her class. With him, she must not be secret and silent. Despite her loyalty to the coven and duty to her family, Lilith cannot keep her life as a witch hidden from the man she loves.

To tell him will risk everything.

Spanning the opulence of Edwardian London and the dark days of World War I, The Midnight Witch is the third novel from New York Timesbestselling author Paula Brackston.

monarch

 

Okay, so this book doesn’t technically involve a monarch BUT it does involve a Duke and Duchess, so I’ve decided to include this review and the giveaway hosted by St.Martin’s Press.

I had not had the pleasure of reading one of Paula Brackston’s books until The Midnight Witch, and I cannot believe it took me this long to get around to it.

I can’t imagine a more magical combination for a Historical Fiction lover and all around genre lover than what Ms. Brackston has merged together in this book. We have: Royalty, World War I, Witches, Ghosts, Bohemia, Romance, and CATS. ——-Yes, you read that correctly; all of those luscious elements are embodied in this book.

Lilith has two very separate lives; she’s a Duchess and she’s the head witch of her coven. A necromancer coven. Lilith’s coven communes with the dead and can bring the departed back to life and use spirits as guides and helpers. Lilith keeps her witch side under the cloak of night, but both of her worlds end up colliding in this novel. The paranormal and the mundane become inextricably linked as Lilith discovers a sinister plot that will harm those she loves most.

And then she looks up and spies Bram, and her green eyes shine, and the smile with which she greets him warms his heart. As soon as she reaches him he snatches up her hand and presses it to his lips. For a moment they stand close, without speaking, desire fizzing between them.

The romance that spans the novel is beautiful and bohemian-like. Lilith is torn between the gentelman that is right for her status, and the one that is right for her heart.

I really enjoyed Brackston’s characters, and felt like they had a familiarity to them. The way the story unfolds was reminiscent of Anne Rice’s The Witching Hour. The Midnight Witch had a very epic feel and pace to it. The writing was beautiful and lyrical, but I would have liked a little more of the time period to have been captured as far as what was going on outside of Lilith’s circle. The part in the summary that mentions World War I was a huge pull-factor for me, but what is captured of it in the story is not satisfying for someone who really enjoys this time period.

Overall, I really liked this book and was inspired to read more of Brackston’s work. Full of rich descriptive detail and wonderfully crafted sentences, The Midnight Witch was a pleasure to read. ENTER BELOW for a finished Paperback copy of The Midnight Witch that includes a SNEAK PEAK at Paula’s forthcoming novel, The Silver Witch!

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Monarch Madness: The Queen’s Dwarf by Ella March Chase + GIVEAWAY!!!The Queen's Dwarf by Ella March Chase
Published by Thomas Dunne Books on January 21, 2014
Pages: 384
Format: Paperback
Source: the Publisher
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It's 1629, and King Charles I and his French queen Henrietta-Maria have reigned in England for less than three years. Young dwarf Jeffrey Hudson is swept away from a village shambles and plunged into the Stuart court when his father sells him to the most hated man in England--the Duke of Buckingham.

Buckingham trains Jeffrey to be his spy in the household of Charles' seventeen-year-old bride, hoping to gain intelligence that will help him undermine the vivacious queen's influence with the king. Desperately homesick in a country that hates her for her nationality and Catholic faith, Henrietta-Maria surrounds herself with her "Royal Menagerie of Freaks and Curiosities of Nature"--a "collection" consisting of a giant, two other dwarves, a rope dancer, an acrobat/animal trainer and now Jeffrey, who is dubbed "Lord Minimus."

Dropped into this family of misfits, Jeffrey must negotiate a labyrinth of court intrigue and his own increasingly divided loyalties. For not even the plotting of the Duke nor the dangers of a tumultuous kingdom can order the heart of a man. Though he is only eighteen inches tall, Jeffrey Hudson's love will reach far beyond his grasp--to the queen he has been sent to destroy.

Full of vibrant period detail and with shades of Gregory Maguire's Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister and Philippa Gregory's The Queen's Fool, The Queen's Dwarf is a rich, thrilling and evocative portrait of an intriguing era

 

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The Queen’s Dwarf was a completely engrossing historical tale of turmoil and  intrigue from the perspective of the cherubic, 18 inch tall Jeffrey Hudson- a spy planted in the Queen’s Menagerie of freaks.

Jeffrey Hudson, The Queen’s Dwarf, and Queen Henrietta Maria

Jeffrey Dwarf and Queen Henrietta

 

I have not read much historical biography or fiction from the reign of King Charles I, and this book was such a great introduction to the time period. The Stuart era is lushly crafted, and the author moves her characters beyond the personas we usually associate with royalty. Ella March Chase gives her characters just the right amount of depth and development, and really grabbed me on the psychological level of each of the main players.

Was I like these people? Once I stepped through this door, I would be embracing the fact that I was a grotesque, repellent as the living corpse or the aged fool who seemed constructed of nothing but bile and gristle.

Still, what did it matter what outcasts such as these thought of me? I took a bold step into the room, trying to seem confident, though my breeches were bagging. […]

“Look at the shape of him!” I heard someone murmur.

“An angelic freak,” another marveled.

“This is Jeffrey Hudson.” Will said, interrupting. “His ears may be small, but they work just fine.”

Jeffrey’s character was endearing and hypnotic. It was somewhat heartbreaking- here was the complex reality of a young man who lived his life before the palace as someone who tried to blend in and navigate the world without being squashed to death. And then of a young man who is thrust into court life as a freakish marvel and is looked at as a ”pet” or possession. I loved how the author captured the sadness and frustration of Jeffrey as a man with desires and feelings the same as any normal size person but being prevented from expressing those feelings or embracing them wholly because of his dwarfism.  I couldn’t help but feel a protectiveness towards Jeffrey by the end of the novel. I loved being inside of his head and seeing him go through the very real, very troubling situations that tested his duties to Buckingham- the devilish duke that took him away from his family and employed him as his spy-and his loyalty to the French Queen. Loyalty that Jefferey could not help but feel towards the woman he was meant to destroy because he was so beguiled by her tenderness towards him and by her naivete.

Her luminous brown eyes sank a hook in my heart. I could feel them drawing me in. I bowed, flinging off Goodfellow’s cloak, baring my ridiculousness on purpose. Laughter rose from the ladies and even the queen herself.

King Charles I, Queen Henrietta Maria, Duke of Buckingham

King Charles I(c) The Bowes Museum; Supplied by The Public Catalogue FoundationDuke of Buckingham King Charles I

 

It was wonderful to be shown the perspective of a commoner and what Jeffrey thought about royalty and the monarchs while living beyond the palace walls, and then how that changed once he was in the midst of it all. It’s seems everyone, including Buckingham, was much more complex and tormented than one would assume. Despite the lavish parties, entertainment, and settings, every day in court seemed like a day playing Russian Roulette. I really enjoyed how the author meticulously represented all of this through her descriptive details that encompassed much more than lovely or -freakish- facades.

 

Greenwich Palace

Greenwhich Palace ceiling

 

The pacing of the story was just right, so as to fully develop every aspect of Jeffrey’s life and experiences and the Stuart era. There were many flashbacks throughout that help us understand Jeffrey as a character, and give insight to how he suspected his dwarfism came about. I can’t wait to read another book by Ella March Chase, and I recommend The Queen’s Dwarf to any Historical Fiction fan who is interested in reading about royalty from an un-royal and unique perspective. This book is also perfect for anyone interested in the Stuart era, or anyone who wants to be swept up in a lovely interpretation and depiction of real historical figures.

Many thanks to St.Martin’s Griffin for providing me with a copy for review of this novel, and for also providing a finished paperback copy for giveaway. The giveaway is open to U.S. and Canada residents only. Enter below for a chance TO WIN!

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