Historical Fiction

#Excerpt
Becoming Bonnie by Jenni L. Walsh
@jennilwalsh @torbooks

Synopsis:

From debut historical novelist Jenni L. Walsh, Becoming Bonnie is the untold story of how wholesome Bonnelyn Parker became half of the infamous Bonnie and Clyde duo!

The summer of 1927 might be the height of the Roaring Twenties, but Bonnelyn Parker is more likely to belt out a church hymn than sling drinks at an illicit juice joint. She’s a sharp girl with plans to overcome her family’s poverty, provide for herself, and maybe someday marry her boyfriend, Roy Thornton. But when Roy springs a proposal on her and financial woes jeopardize her ambitions, Bonnelyn finds salvation in an unlikely place: Dallas’s newest speakeasy, Doc’s.

Living the life of a moll at night, Bonnie remains a wholesome girl by day, engaged to Roy, attending school and working toward a steady future. When Roy discovers her secret life, and embraces it—perhaps too much, especially when it comes to booze and gambling—Bonnie tries to make the pieces fit. Maybe she can have it all: the American Dream, the husband, and the intoxicating allure of jazz music. What she doesn’t know is that her life—like her country—is headed for a crash.

She’s about to meet Clyde Barrow.

Few details are known about Bonnie’s life prior to meeting her infamous partner. In Becoming Bonnie, Jenni L. Walsh shows a young woman promised the American dream and given the Great Depression, and offers a compelling account of why she fell so hard for a convicted felon—and turned to crime herself.

Excerpt:

Chapter 1    

But I, being poor, have only my dreams.

Hands in my hair, I look over the words I wrote on the Mason jar atop my bureau. I snigger, almost as if I’m antagonizing the sentiment. One day I won’t be poor with dreams. I’ll have money and dreams.

I drop my hair and swallow a growl, never able to get my stubborn curls quite right.

My little sister carefully sets her pillow down, tugs at the corner to give it shape, the final touch to making her bed. “Stop messing with it.”

“Easy for you to say. The humidity ain’t playing games with your hair.”

And Little Billie’s hair is down. Smooth and straight. Mine is pinned back into a low bun. Modest and practical.

Little Billie chuckles. “Well, I’m going before Mama hollers at me. Church starts in twenty minutes and you know she’s got to watch everyone come in.”

I shake my head; that woman always has her nose to the ground. Little Billie scoots out of our bedroom and I get back to taming my flyaways and scan my bureau for my favorite stud earrings, one of our few family heirlooms. Footsteps in the hall quicken my fingers. I slide in another hairpin, jabbing my skull. “I’m coming, Ma!”

A deep cough.

I turn to find my boyfriend taking up much of the doorway. He’s got his broad shoulders and tall frame to thank for that.

I smile, saying, “Oh, it’s only you.”

Roy’s own smile doesn’t quite form. “Yes, it’s only me.”

I wave him off, a strand falling out of place. Roy being ’round ain’t nothin’ new, but on a Sunday morning … That gets my heart bumping with intrigue. “What ya doing here so early? The birds are barely chirpin’.”

“It ain’t so early. Got us less than twenty minutes ’til—”

“I know.”

“Thought I could walk you to church,” Roy says.

“Is that so?” My curiosity builds, ’specially with how this boy is shifting his weight from side to side. He’s up to something. And I ain’t one to be kept in the dark. Fingers busy with my hair, I motion with my elbow and arch a brow. “That for me?”

Roy glances down at an envelope in his hand, as if he forgot he was even holding it. He moves it behind his back. “It can wait. There’s actually something else—”

I’m across the room in a heartbeat, tugging on his arm. “Oh no it can’t.”

On the envelope, “Final Notice” stares back at me in bold letters. The sender is our electric company. Any excitement is gone.

“I’m sorry, Bonnelyn,” Roy says. “Caught my eye on it in the bushes out front.”

My arms fall to my sides and I stare unblinking at the envelope, not sure how something so small, so light, could mean something so big, so heavy, for our family. “I didn’t know my ma hadn’t been paying this.”

Roy pushes the envelope, facedown, onto my bureau. “I can help pay—”

“Thanks, but we’ll figure it out.” I sigh at my hair, at our unpaid bill, at the fact I’m watching my sister after church instead of putting in hours at the diner. Fortunately, my brother’s pulling a double at the cement plant. Ma will be at the factory all afternoon. But will it be enough?

I move in front of the wall mirror to distract myself. Seeing my hand-me-down blouse ain’t helping. I peek at Roy, hoping I don’t find pity on his face. There he goes again, throwing his weight from foot to foot. And, sure, that boy is sweet as pie, but I know he ain’t antsy thinkin’ my lights are suddenly going to go off.

“Everything okay, Roy?”

“Yeah.”

That yeah ain’t so convincing.

“You almost done here?” he asks. Roy shifts the old Mason jar to the side, holds up the earring I’d been looking for.

I nod—to the earring, not to being done—and he brings it to me. Despite how this morning is turning out, I smile, liking that Roy knew what I was looking for without me having to tell him.

“Ready now?” he says.

I slide another pin into my hair. “Why’s everyone rushing me?”

Roy swallows, and if I had five clams to bet, I’d bet he’s nervous ’bout something. He edges closer to my bureau. He shakes the Mason jar, the pieces of paper rustling inside. “When did you write this on the outside?”

But I, being poor, have only my dreams.

I avert my eyes, being those words weren’t meant for Roy’s. “Not too long ago.”

“Ya know, Bonnelyn, you won’t always be poor. I’ll make sure of that.”

“I know I won’t.” I add a final pin to my hair. I’ll make sure of that.

“So why’d you write it?”

“I didn’t. William Butler Yeats did.”

Roy shoves his hands in his pockets. “You know what I mean.”

I shrug and stare at my reflection. “It inspires me, wanting to be more than that line. And I will. I’ll put a white picket fence in front of my house to prove it.”

Your house?”

I turn away from the mirror to face him. His voice sounded off. Too high. But Roy ain’t looking at me. He’s staring at the wall above my head. “Our house,” I correct, a pang of guilt stabbing me in the belly ’cause I didn’t say our to begin with. “That jar is full of our dreams, after all.”

Really, it’s full of doodles, scribbled on whatever paper Roy had on hand. Napkins. Ripped corners of his textbook pages. The top flap of a cereal box. He shoved the first scrap of paper in my hand when we were only knee-high to a grasshopper: quick little drawings of me and him in front of the Eiffel Tower, riding horses with dogs running ’round our feet, holding hands by the Gulf’s crashing waves.

Our dreams. Plenty of ’em. Big and small. Whimsical and sweet.

But this here is the twenties. Women can vote; women are equals, wanting to make a name for themselves. I’m no exception. Sure, I’ll bring those doodles to life with Roy, but I would’ve added my own sketches to the jar if I could draw. Standing at the front of my very own classroom. At a bank counter, depositing my payroll checks. Shaking hands with a salesman, purchasing my first car.

Call it selfish, call it whatever ya like, but after struggling for money all my life, my dreams have always come before ours.

Still, I link our hands. “I’m ready to go.”

* * *

“Hallelujah!”

The congregation mimics my pastor’s booming voice. The women flick their fans faster with excitement. Pastor Frank shuffles to the right, then to the left, sixty-some eyes following his every movement. From the choir pews off to the side, I watch his mesmerized flock hang on his every word, myself included. My ma is amidst the familiar faces. She prefers to use Daddy’s brown hat to cool herself, holding on to him even after he’s been gone all these years. I can’t say I blame her.

“Amen!” we chime.

Pastor Frank nods at me, and I move from the choir box to the piano. I bring my hands down and the first chords of “Onward, Christian Soldiers” roar to life. Every Sunday, I sit on this here bench, press my fingers into the keys, and let the Lord’s words roll off my tongue. Ma says Daddy would be proud too. I sure hope that’s true.

It’s another reason why I’ll make something of myself. In our small town or in a big city, it doesn’t matter much, but Bonnelyn Parker is going to be somebody. Wherever life takes me, whatever final notice stands in my way, my daddy will look down on me and smile, knowing I ain’t struggling, I’m thriving. I’m more than poor.

I push my voice louder, raise my chin, and sing the hymn’s last note, letting it vibrate with the piano’s final chord.

The congregation shouts praises to the Lord as Pastor Frank clasps his hands together and tells us all to, “Go and spread His word.”

Voices break out, everyone beating their gums at once. I slip off the bench, weave through the crowd. A few people are always louder than the rest. Mrs. Davis is having a potluck lunch. Mr. Miller’s best horse is sick. He spent his early morning hours in his barn, from the looks of his dirty overalls.

Ma’s got more pride than a lion and makes certain we’re dressed to the nines, even if our nine is really only a five. Still, my older brother’s vest and slacks are his Sunday best. And even though we’ve got secondhand clothes, my sister’s and my white blouses are neatly tucked into our skirts. We may be pretending to look the part, but our family always gets by. We find a way, just like we’ll make sure that electric bill gets paid. Though I don’t like how Ma let this bill get so late.

I rush through the church’s double doors, sucking in fresh air, and shield my eyes from the sun. A laugh slips out. There’s my brother, playing keep-away from my little sister with one of her once white shoes. Buster tosses the shoe to Roy. Roy fumbles it. No surprise there, but part of me wonders if his nerves from earlier are sticking ’round. On the way to church, he wouldn’t let me get a word in, going on nonstop ’bout the weather. I reckon the summer of 1927 is hot, real hot, but not worth all his fuss.

“Little Billie, those boys picking on you?” I call, skipping down the church steps, keeping my eyes on Roy.

He takes immediate notice of me, missing my brother’s next throw. “Say, Bonnelyn.” Roy wipes his hairline. “I was hoping to do this before church, but you were having trouble with your…” He gestures toward his own hair, then stops, wisely thinkin’ better of it. “I’ve a surprise for you.”

“A surprise? Why didn’t you tell me so? I could’ve hurried.”

He also wisely doesn’t comment on my earlier irritation at being hurried.

“Follow me?” Roy asks, his brown eyes hopeful.

“Not today, lover boy,” Buster cuts in. “Bonn’s watching Billie.”

Billie hops toward me on one foot, her voice bouncing as she proclaims how she’s eleven and doesn’t need to be babysat no more. I bend to pick up her lost shoe, letting out a long sigh. Roy sighs too. But Roy also looks like a puppy that’s been kicked.

“Will the surprise take long?” I ask him. “Buster doesn’t need to be at work for another two hours.”

“Actually an hour,” my brother says. “But Roy here probably only needs a few minutes, tops.” He winks, and Roy playfully charges him.

My cheeks flush, and not ’cause Roy and I have done that. Roy hasn’t even looked at me in a way that would lead to that.

“Let’s go.” I bounce on my toes and push Roy down the dirt-packed street, then realize I don’t know where I’m going and let Roy lead. Buster’s laugher trails us.

We go over one block, passing my house, nestled between the cemetery and the library. An old picket fence that Ma’s been harping on my brother to paint for ages stretches ’cross the front.

Cement City is barely more than an intersection, and there ain’t much farther to go; just the cement plant, a few farms, and the river. Then there are the railroad tracks, separating us from Dallas.

I glance up at Roy, confused, when we stop at a home just past the library.

He motions toward the house, his sweaty hand taking mine with his. He swallows, his Adam’s apple bobbing.

“What is it?” I ask him. “Why’re we here?”

“My father said they are going to tear down this old shack.”

With its crooked shutters, chipped paint, caved-in roof, I can understand why. No one’s lived here for years, and Ma doesn’t go a day without complaining ’bout its drab looks and how it’s bad for our little town.

I nod in agreement.

“But,” he says, “I’ve been squirreling away my pennies, and I’ve enough to save her.”

A cool heat rushes me, but I’m not sure how that’s possible. I wipe a strand of hair from my face. “You’re buying this here house?”

“I am,” he says, his Adam’s apple bouncing again. “For you and me. Our house.” Roy keeps talking before I can get a word—or thought—in. “Bonnelyn…” He trails off, digs into his pocket. “Here’s another one for your jar.”

My eyes light up, recognizing one of Roy’s infamous black-and-white doodles.

It’s our church.

It’s Roy.

It’s me, in a puffy dress.

I look up from the doodle. It’s Roy no longer standing in front of me but down on one knee.

“Bonnelyn Elizabeth Parker,” he says, “I’m fixin’ to take you down the middle aisle.”

I knit my brows. “Are you proposing?”

“Well I ain’t down here to tie my shoe.”

I’d laugh, but I’m stunned. Marriage? With Roy? I swallow, and stare at the drawing, his lovely, heartfelt drawing.

Sure, marrying Roy has always been in the cards. But … I’m not sure I’m ready yet. Some people wait ’til their twenties to get married, in today’s day and age, giving ’em plenty of time to make their own mark.

Roy taps the underside of my chin, forcing my gaze away from his doodle and down to him.

“I … um … I’m flattered Roy. I am. But we’re only seventeen—”

“Not now.” He stands slowly and palms my cheek that’s probably as flushed as his own. “We’ve got some growing up to do first. I know you got dreams for yourself.”

I sigh, in a good way. Hearing him acknowledge my goals relaxes me. Those jitterbugs change a smidge to butterflies. “You really want to marry me?”

“I do, Bonn.” Roy leans down, quite the feat to my five-foot-nothin’ height, and presses his lips lightly to mine. “When we’re good and ready. You tell me when, and that’ll be it. We’ll create a life together. How does that sound?”

I smile, even while my chest rises from a shaky breath. I curse my nerves for dulling my excitement. My boyfriend declaring he’s ready to build a life with me shouldn’t give me the heebie-jeebies. It doesn’t, I decide.

“We’ll finish school,” Roy says.

I force my smile wider.

“I’ll get a good-paying job as a reporter,” he goes on. “You can become a teacher, like you’ve always wanted. You can lead the drama club, be onstage, do pageants with our little girls.”

Now my grin is genuine. “We’re going to have little girls?”

“Of course. A little fella, too. ’Til then, I’ll fix this house up. She’ll be spiffy when I’m done with her, white picket fence and everything.”

“You think?”

“I know it.” He dips to my eye level. “You’re happy, right?”

Am I happy? I roll those five letters ’round my head. Yes, I’ve been stuck on Roy for ages. He made me happy when we were seven and he picked me dandelions, when we were ten and he stopped Buster from making me kiss a frog, when we were thirteen and he patched up my knee after I fell off my bike. The memories keep on coming, and I don’t want that happiness to stop. His proposal caught me off guard, that’s all. But, yes, we’ll make something of ourselves, and we’ll do it together.

I lean onto my tiptoes and peck his lips with a kiss. “Roy Thornton, I’d be honored to be your wife one day.”

He hoots, swooping his arms under me. Before I know it, I’m cradled against his chest and we’re swinging in a circle.

I scream, but it’s playful. “You better not drop me, you clumsy fool.”

He answers me with a kiss on the side of my head, and then another and another, as he carries me toward my ma’s house.

Freeze, I think. I don’t want the secure way he holds me, the way the air catches my skirt, the hope for what’s to come, to stop, ever.

Copyright © 2017 by Jenni L. Walsh

About the Author:

Jenni L. Walsh spent her early years chasing around cats, dogs, and chickens in Philadelphia’s countryside, before dividing time between a soccer field and a classroom at Villanova University. She put her marketing degree to good use as an advertising copywriter, zip-code hopping with her husband to DC, NYC, NJ, and not surprisingly, back to Philly. There, Jenni’s passion for words continued, adding author to her resume. She now balances her laptop with a kid on each hip, and a four-legged child at her feet.

 

Thank you to Jenni L. Walsh and Forge Books for providing me with an extract for my blog today! It was truly an honour to participate!

This novel is available now!

Pick up a copy from your favourite retailer or from one of the following links:

                                          

For more information on Jenni L. Walsh visit her website at: jennilwalsh.com 

or follow her on Twitter at: @jennilwalsh

#BlogTour & #Excerpt
The Summer House Party by Caro Fraser
@carofraser @HoZ_Books

Synopsis:

In the gloriously hot summer of 1936, a group of people meet at a country house party. Within three years, the country will be engulfed in war, but for now time stands still as they sip champagne on the lawn, engaging in casual flirtations and carefree conversation. Then a shocking death puts an end to their revelry, changing everything in an instant.

For all of them, that summer house party will be a turning point. The mistakes made during that fateful weekend will change their lives forever.

Excerpt:

1     

     It was an afternoon in late August, and Daniel Ranscombe was travelling on the 4.49 train from Waterloo to Surrey. The train drew to a creaking halt just outside the sleepy village of Staplow, and settled with a hiss of steam into the summer silence. Dan gazed out of the window at a field of mournful-eyed cows twitching their tails at flies. Half-remembered lines of poetry from school slipped into his mind, something about a train stopped at a country station… No one left and no one came on the bare platform – tee tum tee something Adlestrop … and willows, willow-herb and grass, and meadowsweet, and hay- cocks high… He tried to string the verses together – he had known them by heart once – but his lazy mind wasn’t up to it. He stretched his legs out, closed his eyes, and contemplated in his mind the coming house party, which was being hosted by his godmother, Sonia, and her husband Henry Haddon, the renowned artist. The prospect of spending ten days at the fag end of summer enjoying the comforts of a fine country house was more than agreeable, especially as there would be other young people there, in the shape of Sonia’s niece, Meg, and Paul and Diana Latimer, to keep things lively. Meg he had yet to meet, though he had heard a few things about her from both Paul and Diana. The Latimers were the son and daughter of old friends of the Haddons, and Dan knew them well. Diana was a regular on the London social scene, and she and Dan flirted with one another whenever their paths crossed, though more as a matter of course than with any genuine conviction. Diana’s older brother, Paul, had been Dan’s senior by three years at Eton, and then at Cambridge, and Dan had certain misgivings – misgivings which he freely admitted were born out of envy and resentment – about meeting him again.

     It seemed he was constantly being made aware of Paul’s achievements, which markedly eclipsed Dan’s so far unspectacular headway in the world. Paul had been a veritable hero to Dan at school – athletic, brainy, captain of the First XV and head of house, friendly and decent, full of charm and self-confidence. When Dan had encountered him again at Cambridge the school- boy charm had begun to wear a trifle thin – the self-confidence was turning into self-importance, and the bluff affability had taken on a somewhat patronising quality – but there was no doubt that Paul’s star continued to burn with undimmed lustre. He had a reputation as a fine oar, an excellent bat, and a debater of such formidable skill that a career in Parliament was confidently predicted. Not that Paul had much need of a career. His parents had died while he and Diana were still in their teens, and to come into that much money at so young an age – well, it just seemed damnably unfair to add wealth to such a store of talent. Dan was acutely resentful of Paul’s ability to spend half the year climbing mountains and crossing deserts, and generally leading the life of the English gentleman adventurer, and the other half idling in his club and studying the stock market. Lucky blighter. He would probably arrive at Woodbourne House by car, with a ton of luggage and a manservant. Dan’s own luggage consisted of one suitcase containing his dress suit, the few decent shirts and ties he possessed, flannels and a blazer, underwear, pyjamas, shaving kit and toothbrush. It was all he could afford, and it would have to do.

     Dan himself had come down from Cambridge two years ago with a degree in modern languages and, unwilling to follow his father into the diplomatic service, had taken a job as a reporter on the London Graphic. Despite his innate laziness he had been surprised to discover that he was, even with the minimum of effort, quite a good journalist. Now, a year later, he had graduated to being the Graphic’s arts correspondent. It wasn’t a job that brought him a great deal of money.

     Dan contemplated the cows as they ripped up soft mouthfuls of cud, and wondered how much he would have to tip the Woodbourne House servants. That kind of thing could bleed a man dry. Not a consideration which would worry Paul Latimer – but then, nothing much worried Paul, favourite of the gods.

     The train gave a creak and chugged slowly into life. Dan rummaged in his pocket for his cigarettes. As he pulled them out, the stout matron sitting opposite raised her eyes from her knitting and gave him a reproving glance. He returned them to his pocket and glanced at his wristwatch. Only ten more minutes till they reached Malton where, his godmother had informed him, her niece Margaret would meet him.

     As the train slid into a tunnel, Dan contemplated his reflection in the carriage window. Aware of his own good looks since the age of twelve, he had yet to become bored by them. The face that looked back at him was handsome, the features nicely chiselled, the mouth sensitive and not too full, eyes blue and soulful. If the old bird hadn’t been present, he might have practiced his charming, crooked grin, but he made do instead with passing his fingers through the waves of his thick blond hair and giving his reflection a final admiring glance before the train slid back into sunlight. He hoped there would be a few decent girls at the house party.

     Dan was the only passenger to alight at Melton. He saw a little two-seater Austin parked next to the fence by the road, a girl in a short-sleeved blouse and linen trousers leaning against its bonnet. She waved when she saw Dan, and he carried his case over to the car. So this was Meg. Neither Paul nor Diana had mentioned quite how attractive she was. She had long, curling chestnut hair and dark eyes flecked with green, delicately arched brows and lightly tanned skin, and a very pretty figure. His hopes had been fulfilled. At least one looker on the premises.

     ‘You must be Daniel. I’m Meg Slater,’ she said.

     Dan smiled and shook her hand. ‘Please, call me Dan. Good to meet you at last. I’ve heard a lot about you from Paul and Diana.’

     ‘Nice things, I hope. Here, chuck your bag in the back.’ She got into the car and settled herself behind the wheel. Dan guessed from the intentness of her gaze and the set of her body that she hadn’t been driving for long.

About the Author:

 

Caro Fraser is the author of the bestselling Caper Court novels, based on her own experiences as a lawyer. She is the daughter of bestselling Flashman author George MacDonald Fraser.


Thank you to Caro Fraser and Head of Zeus for providing me with an extract for my blog today! It was truly an honour to participate!

This novel is available now!

Pick up a copy from your favourite retailer or from one of the following links:

                                          

For more information on Caro Fraser visit her website at: caro-fraser.co.uk 

or follow her on Twitter at: @carofraser

#BookReview
The Shadow Sister by Lucinda Riley
@lucindariley @AtriaBooks

Synopsis:

Travel through the lush English countryside and explore the magnificent estates of the British aristocracy in this next spellbinding love story in The Seven Sisters series by #1 internationally bestselling author Lucinda Riley.

Star D’Aplièse is at a crossroads in her life after the sudden death of her beloved father—the elusive billionaire, affectionately called Pa Salt by his six daughters, all adopted from across the four corners of the world. He has left each of them a clue to her true heritage, and Star nervously decides to follow hers, which leads her to an antiquarian bookshop in London, and the start of a whole new world.

A hundred years earlier, headstrong and independent Flora MacNichol vows she will never marry. She is happy and secure in her home in England’s picturesque Lake District—just a stone’s throw away from the residence of her childhood idol, Beatrix Potter—when machinations lead her to London, and the home of one of Edwardian society’s most notorious society hostesses, Alice Keppel. Flora is torn between passionate love and her duty to her family, but finds herself a pawn in a larger game. That is, until a meeting with a mysterious gentleman unveils the answers that Flora has been searching for her whole life…

As Star learns more of Flora’s incredible journey, she too goes on a voyage of discovery, finally stepping out of the shadow of her sister and opening herself up to the possibility of love.

The Shadow Sister is the third in the sweeping Seven Sisters series, “soaked in glamour and romance” (Daily Mail) and perfect for fans of Downton Abbey and the novels of Kate Morton.


Book Rating: 10/10

Atmospheric, absorbing and incredibly descriptive!

In this third instalment of The Seven Sisters we delve into the life of Star, a young woman who is yearning for a little independence from her sister CeCe and who discovers on her journey to find her parentage that she loves the simple things in life, taking care of others, dusty bookshops and small-town country living.

The story, itself, is exceptionally compelling and is filled with drama, familial dynamics, emotion, self discovery, secrets, love, loss, duty, courage, heartbreak and passion; as well as an intriguing look at the influential, glamorous, and regal figures of the Edwardian period. The characters are unique, flawed, multifaceted, lovable, and eccentric. And the prose is remarkably well-turned and eloquent.

This truly is a beautifully written novel that grabs you from the very start and does a wonderful job of blending historical facts with compelling and believable fiction. It is certainly a book for book lovers and even though I have loved all The Seven Sisters books so far, I think this one might just be my favourite. If you haven’t read this series yet, you really should!

Thank you to NetGalley, especially Atria Books, for providing me with a copy in exchange for an honest review.

This book is available now.

Pick up a copy from your favourite retailer or from one of the following links. 

                                          

For more information on Lucinda Riley, visit her website at: lucindariley.co.uk

or follow her on Twitter at: @lucindariley

#BookReview The Most Beautiful Woman in Florence
by Alyssa Palombo
@AlyssInWnderlnd @StMartinsPress

Synopsis:

A girl as beautiful as Simonetta Cattaneo never wants for marriage proposals in 15th Century Italy, but she jumps at the chance to marry Marco Vespucci. Marco is young, handsome and well-educated. Not to mention he is one of the powerful Medici family’s favored circle.

Even before her marriage with Marco is set, Simonetta is swept up into Lorenzo and Giuliano de’ Medici’s glittering circle of politicians, poets, artists, and philosophers. The men of Florence―most notably the rakish Giuliano de’ Medici―become enthralled with her beauty. That she is educated and an ardent reader of poetry makes her more desirable and fashionable still. But it is her acquaintance with a young painter, Sandro Botticelli, which strikes her heart most. Botticelli immediately invites Simonetta, newly proclaimed the most beautiful woman in Florence, to pose for him. As Simonetta learns to navigate her marriage, her place in Florentine society, and the politics of beauty and desire, she and Botticelli develop a passionate intimacy, one that leads to her immortalization in his masterpiece, The Birth of Venus.


Book Rating: 8/10

This is an intriguing interpretation about the life of Simonetta Cattaneo, a young, intelligent girl who became known as the “Most Beautiful Woman of Florence” and who developed a close, intimate relationship with the famous Renaissance painter, Sandro Botticelli.

It is a story about familial responsibilities, duty, strength, coming-of-age, friendship, art, passion, desire, loss and love.

Simonetta was a feminist ahead of her time who understood quickly that her beauty was both a gift and a curse, and who ultimately longed and strived in her regrettably short life to be known and loved for her knowledge and mind instead.

The prose is smooth and fluid, and the storyline takes us back to the mid-to-late 1400s to the city of Florence when politics, learning and the liberal arts were revered and who you knew was certainly more important than what you knew.

This certainly is a well written, vivid, rich story, and even though there is not much known about Simonetta’s life and the events that led up to Botticelli’s immortalization of her in his famous painting, Palombo has done a remarkable job of taking those historical facts and surrounding them with fiction that is passionate, alluring and incredibly captivating.

Thank you to NetGalley, especially St. Martin’s Press, for providing me with a copy in exchange for an honest review.

This novel is due to be published on April 25, 2017.

Pick up a copy from your favourite retailer or from one of the following links.

                                            

For more information on Alyssa Palombo, visit her website at: alyssapalombo.com

or follow her on Twitter at: @AlyssInWnderlnd

#BookReview
The Storm Sister by Lucinda Riley
@lucindariley

Synopsis:

Ally D’Aplièse is about to compete in one of the world’s most perilous yacht races, when she hears the news of her adoptive father’s sudden, mysterious death. Rushing back to meet her five sisters at their family home, she discovers that her father – an elusive billionaire affectionately known to his daughters as Pa Salt – has left each of them a tantalising clue to their true heritage.

Ally has also recently embarked on a deeply passionate love affair that will change her destiny forever. But with her life now turned upside down, Ally decides to leave the open seas and follow the trail that her father left her, which leads her to the icy beauty of Norway…

There, Ally begins to discover her roots – and how her story is inextricably bound to that of a young unknown singer, Anna Landvik, who lived there over 100 years before, and sang in the first performance of Grieg’s iconic music set to Ibsen’s play ‘Peer Gynt’. As Ally learns more about Anna, she also begins to question who her father, Pa Salt, really was. And why is the seventh sister missing?

Following the bestselling The Seven Sisters, The Storm Sister is the second book in Lucinda Riley’s spellbinding series based loosely on the mythology surrounding the famous star constellation.


Book Rating: 9/10

Fascinating, enchanting and bittersweet!

This story is predominantly set in Norway during the late 1800s, as well as present day, and is told from two different perspectives, Ally, a young sailor who journeys to Scandinavia to unravel the mystery surrounding her ancestry after suffering heartbreaking tragedies; and Anna a country girl with an angelic voice that at times was not only a blessing but a curse.

The story, itself, is a dramatic tale filled with family, love, loss, grief, introspection, and new beginnings; as well as a comprehensive look into the composition of music and the art of sailing. 

The prose is lyrical, fluid and vividly descriptive. The characters are complex, intriguing, sympathetic and real. And the plot is written in a back and forth, past/present, style that captivates and engages you as it sweeps you along through the highs and lows of both Ally and Anna’s life.

This once again is another large novel by Riley, with over 700 pages, but it is so remarkably researched and well written that before you know it the story is finished and you’re yearning for more. I absolutely loved this story and even though it can be read as a standalone novel I strongly recommend you read The Seven Sisters (Book #1) first.

If you haven’t already done so, pick up a copy of this story from your favourite retailer or from one of the following links. 

                                          

For more information on Lucinda Riley, visit her website at: lucindariley.co.uk

or follow her on Twitter at: @lucindariley

#BookReview
The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane
by Lisa See @Lisa_See @ScribnerBooks

Synopsis:

A thrilling new novel from #1 New York Times bestselling author Lisa See explores the lives of a Chinese mother and her daughter who has been adopted by an American couple.

Li-yan and her family align their lives around the seasons and the farming of tea. There is ritual and routine, and it has been ever thus for generations. Then one day a jeep appears at the village gate—the first automobile any of them have seen—and a stranger arrives.

In this remote Yunnan village, the stranger finds the rare tea he has been seeking and a reticent Akha people. In her biggest seller, Snow Flower and the Secret Fan, See introduced the Yao people to her readers. Here she shares the customs of another Chinese ethnic minority, the Akha, whose world will soon change. Li-yan, one of the few educated girls on her mountain, translates for the stranger and is among the first to reject the rules that have shaped her existence. When she has a baby outside of wedlock, rather than stand by tradition, she wraps her daughter in a blanket, with a tea cake hidden in her swaddling, and abandons her in the nearest city.

After mother and daughter have gone their separate ways, Li-yan slowly emerges from the security and insularity of her village to encounter modern life while Haley grows up a privileged and well-loved California girl. Despite Haley’s happy home life, she wonders about her origins; and Li-yan longs for her lost daughter. They both search for and find answers in the tea that has shaped their family’s destiny for generations.

A powerful story about a family, separated by circumstances, culture, and distance, Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane paints an unforgettable portrait of a little known region and its people and celebrates the bond that connects mothers and daughters.


Book Rating: 8/10

Atmospheric, evocative, and remarkably researched!

This story is predominantly set in a mountainous village in rural China where the Akha subsist off the tea tree leaves that grace the landscape and are governed by the ancient superstitions, traditions and spirituality passed down from generation to generation.

The prose is descriptive and precise. The characters are genuine, strong, intelligent and hardworking. And the story has two distinct plots; one involving the coming-of-age, independence, perseverance and success of Li-Yan as she bravely follows her aspirations beyond the confines of her home; and the other which details the struggles and difficulties faced by her daughter, Haley, being raised by adoptive parents of a different race, culture and country than that of her ancestry. 

I would have to say that although I found the history of tea production and insight into the ethnic minorities of China incredibly fascinating and enjoyable in this novel the ending felt just a little bit rushed. I would definitely have appreciated and welcomed a few more pages dedicated to the climactic mother-daughter reunion at the end.

However, overall this book is well written, engrossing and well worth the read.

Thank you to NetGalley, especially Scribner, for providing me with a copy in exchange for an honest review.

This book is due to be published on March 21, 2017.

Pick up a copy from your favourite retailer or from one of the following links.

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For more information on Lisa See, visit her website at: LisaSee.com

or follow her on Twitter at: @Lisa_See

#BookReview
The Illusionist’s Apprentice by Kristy Cambron @KCambronAuthor @ThomasNelson

Synopsis:

Harry Houdni’s one-time apprentice holds fantastic secrets about the greatest illusionist in the world. But someone wants to claim them . . . or silence her before she can reveal them on her own.

Boston, 1926. Jenny “Wren” Lockhart is a bold eccentric—even for a female vaudevillian. As notorious for her inherited wealth and gentleman’s dress as she is for her unsavory upbringing in the back halls of a vaudeville theater, Wren lives in a world that challenges all manner of conventions.

In the months following Houdini’s death, Wren is drawn into a web of mystery surrounding a spiritualist by the name of Horace Stapleton, a man defamed by Houdini’s ardent debunking of fraudulent mystics in the years leading up to his death. But in a public illusion that goes terribly wrong, one man is dead and another stands charged with his murder. Though he’s known as one of her teacher’s greatest critics, Wren must decide to become the one thing she never wanted to be: Stapleton’s defender.

Forced to team up with the newly formed FBI, Wren races against time and an unknown enemy, all to prove the innocence of a hated man. In a world of illusion, of the vaudeville halls that showcase the flamboyant and the strange, Wren’s carefully constructed world threatens to collapse around her. 

Layered with mystery, illusion, and the artistry of the Jazz Age’s bygone vaudeville era, The Illusionist’s Apprentice is a journey through love and loss and the underpinnings of faith on each life’s stage.


Book Rating: 8.5/10

This is a compelling tale about magic, jealousy, love, loss, greed, revenge, secrets and murder.

The story is set in Boston in the mid-to-late 1920s shortly after the death of the renowned Harry Houdini and at a time when variety entertainment, including defy-defying feats, tricks and illusions were all the rage.

There are two main memorable characters in this novel; Jenny “Wren”, a young Houdini protégé, famed in her own right and struggling with a dark past, an abundance of secrets, and a reluctance to trust; and Elliot, a FBI agent with a case to solve that not only involves a victim who momentarily comes back from the dead, but a list of suspects for whom deception is an art and a woman who may even steal his heart.

The writing is vivid and descriptive. The supporting characters are multi-layered, quirky and flawed. And the plot is unique and skillfully constructed with a good use of dialogue, banter and a past/present style that creates suspense and gives understanding and depth to the storyline.

Overall this is an extremely enjoyable, engaging read that does a remarkable job of interweaving historical facts, fiction, and mystery and I highly recommend it.

Thank you to NetGalley, especially Thomas Nelson, for providing me with a copy in exchange for an honest review.

This novel is due to be published on March 7, 2017. 

Pick up a copy of this story from your favourite retailer or from one of the following links.

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For more information on Kristy Cambron, visit her website at: kristycambron.com/writing-desk/

or follow her on Twitter at: @KCambronAuthor

#BookReview
The Dressmaker’s Dowry by Meredith Jaeger @Meredith_Jaeger @WmMorrowBks

Synopsis:

For readers of Lucinda Riley, Sarah Jio, or Susan Meissner, this gripping historical debut novel tells the story of two women: one, an immigrant seamstress who disappears from San Francisco’s gritty streets in 1876, and the other, a young woman in present day who must delve into the secrets of her husband’s wealthy family only to discover that she and the missing dressmaker might be connected in unexpected ways

An exquisite ring, passed down through generations, connects two women who learn that love is a choice, and forgiveness is the key to freedom…

San Francisco: 1876

Immigrant dressmakers Hannelore Schaeffer and Margaret O’Brien struggle to provide food for their siblings, while mending delicate clothing for the city’s most affluent ladies. When wealthy Lucas Havensworth enters the shop, Hanna’s future is altered forever. With Margaret’s encouragement and the power of a borrowed green dress, Hanna dares to see herself as worthy of him. Then Margaret disappears, and Hanna turns to Lucas. Braving the gritty streets of the Barbary Coast and daring to enter the mansions of Nob Hill, Hanna stumbles upon Margaret’s fate, forcing her to make a devastating decision…one that will echo through the generations.

San Francisco: Present Day

In her elegant Marina apartment overlooking the Golden Gate Bridge, Sarah Havensworth struggles to complete the novel she quit her job for. Afraid to tell her husband of her writer’s block, Sarah is also hiding a darker secret—one that has haunted her for 14 years. Then a news headline from 1876 sparks inspiration: Missing Dressmakers Believed to be Murdered. Compelled to discover what happened to Hannelore and Margaret, Sarah returns to her roots as a journalist. Will her beautiful heirloom engagement ring uncover a connection to Hanna Schaeffer?


Book Rating: 8/10

Intriguing, thought-provoking and heartwarming!

This story is told from two different perspectives. One is that of Sarah, a young woman who stumbles upon an unsolved mystery from the 1870s while working on her thesis. And the other is Hanna, a young woman struggling to survive and raise her siblings in a time when women had no rights and few options.

It is, ultimately, a story about loneliness, loss, injustice, determination, strength, tragedy, guilt, and love.

The writing is smooth. The characters are strong, multi-layered, and fascinating. And the multiple plots quickly unravel into a engrossing mystery that not only manages to intertwine all the subplots, but also ends with a little surprise.

Overall this is a wonderful debut novel and I look forward to reading more from Jaeger in the future.

Thank you to Edelweiss, especially William Morrow, for providing me with a copy in exchange for an honest review.

This book is due to be published on February 7, 2017.

Pick up a copy from your favourite retailer or from one of the following links.

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For more information on Meredith Jaeger, visit her website at: meredithjaegerauthor.com

or follow her on Twitter at: @Meredith_Jaeger

#BookReview & #BlogTour
Chasing Shadows by T.A. Williams @TAWilliamsBooks @canelo_co

Synopsis:

Amy had it all – money, brains and beauty. And then the accident happened.

The Present Day: Left blind and without her family, Amy feels she needs to get away. On a trip along the Camino, she is accompanied by the mysterious and troubled Luke. Having been set up to help Amy by a mutual friend, Luke finds he is also running from his past…

1314: A Templar Knight, Luc, is also running. He meets the wife of a former comrade, now blinded in a terrifying attack: Aimee. Taking her under his wing, they must journey together through a dangerous world.

As they travel through the stunning scenery of Northern Spain, this couple, so very like Luke and Amy, emerge from the shadows of time carrying a treasure of inestimable value.


Book Rating: 8.5/10

Heartwarming, clever and incredibly intriguing!

In this latest novel by Williams he diverts from his usual genre of contemporary romance with a touch of history and instead gives us an historical time-slip piece full of mystery, facts, friendship, relationship dynamics, and of course a little love. 

The writing is vividly described, well researched, and remarkably eloquent. The characters in both time periods are troubled, strong and endearing. And the plot is a captivating, sometimes dangerous journey from the beautiful countryside of the South of France, over the rugged mountainous Somport Pass, to the Galicia region of Spain and the tomb of St. James.

T. A. Williams wrote one of my favourite books last year, What Happens at the Beach…, and once again he has written a novel that shows his extraordinary talent as a writer and his passion for history in a tale that sweeps you away to another time and place and leaves you yearning to travel.

About the Author

My name is Trevor Williams. I write under the androgynous name T A Williams because 65% of books are read by women. In my first book, “Dirty Minds” one of the (female) characters suggests the imbalance is due to the fact that men spend too much time getting drunk and watching football. I couldn’t possibly comment. Ask my wife…

My background, before taking up writing full time, was in teaching and I was principal of a big English language school for many years. This involved me in travelling all over the world and my love of foreign parts is easy to find in my books. I speak a few languages and my Italian wife and I still speak Italian together.

I’ve written all sorts: thrillers, historical novels, short stories and now I’m enjoying myself hugely writing humour and romance. My most recent books are the What happens… series. What happens in Tuscany reached #1 in the Amazon.uk Romantic Comedy chart and What Happens on the Beach, the last in the series, came out in July. Chasing Shadows is still romance, but with the added spice of a liberal helping of medieval history, one of my pet hobbies. I do a lot of cycling and I rode all the way to Santiago de Compostela on a bike a few years back. This provided both the inspiration and the background research for Chasing Shadows.

I’m originally from Exeter, and I’ve lived all over Europe, but now I live in a little village in sleepy Devon, tucked away down here in south west England. I love the place.

Thank you to Canelo and T. A. Williams for providing me with a copy in an exchange for an honest review.

This book is available now. Pick up a copy from your favourite retailer or from one of the following links.

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For more information on T.A. Williams, visit his website at: tawilliamsbooks.com

or follow him on Twitter at: @TAWilliamsBooks

#BookReview – The Wicked City by Beatriz Williams @bcwilliamsbooks @WmMorrowBks

Synopsis:

New York Times bestselling author Beatriz Williams recreates the New York City of A Certain Age in this deliciously spicy adventure that mixes past and present and centers on a Jazz Age love triangle involving a rugged Prohibition agent, a saucy redheaded flapper, and a debonair Princetonian from a wealthy family.

When she discovers her husband cheating, Ella Hawthorne impulsively moves out of their SoHo loft and into a small apartment in an old Greenwich Village building. Her surprisingly attractive new neighbor, Hector, warns her to stay out of the basement at night. Tenants have reported strange noises after midnight—laughter, clinking glasses, jazz piano—even though the space has been empty for decades. Back in the Roaring Twenties, the place hid a speakeasy.

In 1924, Geneva “Gin” Kelly, a smart-mouthed flapper from the hills of western Maryland, is a regular at this Village hideaway known as the Christopher Club. Caught up in a raid, Gin becomes entangled with Prohibition enforcement agent Oliver Anson, who persuades her to help him catch her stepfather Duke Kelly, one of Appalachia’s most notorious bootleggers.

Headstrong and independent, Gin is no weak-kneed fool. So how can she be falling in love with the taciturn, straight-arrow Revenue agent when she’s got Princeton boy Billy Marshall, the dashing son of society doyenne Theresa Marshall, begging to make an honest woman of her? While anything goes in the Roaring Twenties, Gin’s adventures will shake proper Manhattan society to its foundations, exposing secrets that shock even this free-spirited redhead—secrets that will echo from Park Avenue to the hollers of her Southern hometown.

As Ella discovers more about the basement speakeasy, she becomes inspired by the spirit of her exuberant predecessor, and decides to live with abandon in the wicked city too. . . . 


Book Rating: 9/10

Once again Beatriz Williams sweeps us away into another time and place with a storyline full of deception, lies, adultery, jealousy, love, loss, passion and murder.

The story is told from two different perspectives. Gin, a young, strong-minded woman who enjoys her independence and the love of more than one man in New York City in the Roaring Twenties when prohibition, jazz, and speakeasies are the norm.  And Ella, an intelligent, inquisitive woman who is determined to move forward after discovering her husband’s infidelity in the Big Apple metropolis of the late 1990s.

The prose is exquisite and vividly described. The characters are flawed, multi-faceted, and intriguing. And the plot is a fast-paced, complex, fascinating tale with lots of twists, turns, action and suspense that will keep you engaged until the very end.

What more can I say, I really enjoyed this novel and I can’t help but highly recommend it.

If you haven’t had a chance to check out my review of her previous novel, A Certain Age, you can find it HERE.

Thank you to Edelweiss, especially William Morrow, for providing me with a copy in exchange for an honest review.

This novel is due to be published on January 17, 2016. 

Pick up a copy of this story from your favourite retailer or from one of the following links.

Amazon UKAmazon USAmazon CanadaIndigoKoboB&N

For more information on Beatriz Williams, visit her website at: beatrizwilliams.com

or follow her on Twitter at: @bcwilliamsbooks

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