Spotlight on: Daughter of the Sea by Elisabeth J. Hobbes

 Rachel’s Random Resources

Pages: 430

Publisher: One More Chapter (HarperCollins)

Publication date: 12/20/2021

ARC provided by Rachel’s Random Resources

Romantic historical fantasy

(period unclear from promo materials)

Daughter of the Sea

On a windswept British coastline the tide deposits an unexpected gift…

It was the cry that she first noticed, the plaintive wail that called to her over the crash of winter waves. Wrapped only in a sealskin, the baby girl looks up at Effie and instantly captures her heart. She meant only to temporarily foster the young orphan but when news reaches Effie that her husband has been lost at sea, and months pass without anyone claiming the infant, she embraces her new family – her son Jack and her adopted daughter Morna.
 
Effie has always been an outcast in her village, the only granddaughter of a woman people whisper is a witch, so she’s used to a solitary existence. But when Midsummer arrives so too does a man claiming to be Morna’s father. There’s no denying Lachlan is the girl’s kin and so Effie is surprised when he asks her to continue looking after his daughter, mysteriously refusing to explain why. She agrees, but when he returns six months hence she pushes him for answers. And Lachlan tells a story she never anticipated … one of selkies, legend, and the power of the sea…

Purchase Link – https://getbook.at/DaughteroftheSea 

Author Bio – Elisabeth’s writing career began when she finished in third place in Harlequin’s So You Think You Can Write contest in 2013.  She was offered a two-book contract and consequently had to admit secret writing was why the house was such a tip.  She is the author of numerous historical romances with Harlequin Mills & Boon covering the Medieval period to Victorian England, and a Second World War romantic historical with One More Chapter. She lives in Cheshire because the car broke down there in 1999 and she never left.

Social Media Links – 

https://www.facebook.com/ElisabethHobbes

https://www.bookbub.com/profile/elisabeth-hobbes?follow=true

Giveaway – Win a signed copy of Daughter of the Sea (UK Only)

*Terms and Conditions –UK entries welcome; enter here. The winner will be selected at random via Rafflecopter from all valid entries and will be notified by Twitter and/or email. If no response is received within 7 days then Rachel’s Random Resources reserves the right to select an alternative winner. Open to all entrants aged 18 or over.  Any personal data given as part of the competition entry is used for this purpose only and will not be shared with third parties, with the exception of the winners’ information. This will passed to the giveaway organiser and used only for fulfilment of the prize, after which time Rachel’s Random Resources will delete the data.  I am not responsible for despatch or delivery of the prize.

Welcome to the Hotel Meroe

Reckless Girls by Rachel Hawkins

r/suggestmeabook: I want to be stuck on a small and spooky desert island with two rich boys, two girls linked by tragedy, and two girls who are in relationships with the rich boys.

Movie rating: R

Pages: 320

Publisher: St. Martin’s Press

ARC provided by NetGalley

Publication date: 1/4/2022

Contemporary psychological thriller

From the publisher: Six stunning twentysomethings are about to embark on a blissful, free-spirited journey—one filled with sun-drenched days and intoxicating nights. But as it becomes clear that the group is even more cut off from civilization than they initially thought, it starts to feel like the island itself is closing in, sending them on a dangerous spiral of discovery.

I happen to be going through a phase of revisiting The Eagles, my favorite band when I was in high school, and as soon as I sat down to write this review, “Hotel California” went through my head. For me, that song encapsulates the mood of Rachel Hawkins’s Reckless Girls (and if it’s ever adapted to film, I want credit for the song being used in the movie).

I was excited to read this new book from Hawkins, having really enjoyed The Woman Upstairs. The writing, again, is clean and clear, and Hawkins definitely knows how to create an atmosphere of increasing dread. In many ways, this is a feminist book, looking at how women find themselves defined by the relationships they’re in and how trapped they can become, economically, by those relationships.

Dreams were for people with money and time, people who didn’t feel hollowed out from watching the only person who loved them die in agony. Dreams for people who had choices, opportunities. I didn’t believe I had any of those things.

Rachel Hawkins, Reckless Girls

The island of Meroe serves almost as a character in the book, malevolent and always lurking in the background, which is emphasized by the periodic “postings” included in the book; these postings warn of the weirdness of the island. This Meroe Island, however, appears to be completely fictional, as the Google search only turned up an island belonging to India and an archeological site on the Nile. (A search of my public libraries databases didn’t do me any better.) The fictional history is that it was named after the 1822 wreck of the HMS Meroe, a frigate whose survivors met mysterious ends on the island, including possibly being sacrificed to feed others.

North West Beach. Henderson Island (United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland).  © UNESCO, Ron Van Oers

It sounds much like some of the facts of the Essex shipwreck, which inspired Moby Dick by Herman Melville. In that case, though, the three crew members who elected to stay on the island did better than those who sailed on (which is where the cannibalism happened) and the vessel in question was a whaler rather than a frigate. At any rate, there were sufficient shipwrecks on atolls with grisly overtones that Meroe Island of the book resonates as a real place.

The protagonist, Lux, is trying to figure out what she wants to do about her life. She left home with Nico, a rich boy with a boat, to travel the world, but they only got as far as Hawaii, and now she’s beginning to worry about the future. Her recent past was full of pain, and that trauma informs the story. Lux’s trauma, as well as that of other characters, is something others fail to recognize, acknowledge, or feel; and yet Lux feels like she should keep it to herself, as if she’s not entitled to support and understanding. This divide between the traumatized and those who appear to live golden lives free of trauma and want is another theme Hawkins explores.

The truth is, when your world is falling apart, you stop having ‘a thing.’ You get so focused on just making through each day that ‘interests’ or ‘ambitions’ kind of go out the window. You definitely don’t have time for passions.

Rachel Hawkins, Reckless Girls

It’s definitely an unsettling book, and even at the close I still felt unsettled. I’m not sure I like that feeling, but if that was what Hawkins was trying to achieve, she succeeded. The deception of beauty, from the island itself to some of the characters, is a part of what makes it unsettling—what we generally use as a way to keep ourselves safe, judging both places and people by appearances, can have fatal consequences.

And with people like that—people you meet on the road—there’s no real past and no real future. It can all be a glorious present where Eliza can be anyone she wants. She doesn’t have to tell people that her mum is in prison, doesn’t have to confess to the wasted years on wasted men and wasted opportunities.

Rachel Hawkins, Reckless Girls

Reckless Girls is more solid evidence that Rachel Hawkins is an author to watch for deliciously scary thrillers with deep themes; I can’t wait to see what she comes up with next.


Talleyrand’s table diplomat

The Secret of Chantilly by Laura Rahme

 Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours


Giveaway

Enter to win a copy of The Secret of Chantilly by Laura Rahme! The giveaway is open internationally and ends on December 17th. You must be 18 or older to enter.


r/suggestmeabook: I want a book about the first international celebrity chef, Marie-Antoine (Antonin) Carême, and how he contributed to French diplomacy.

Movie rating: PG

Pages: 377

Publisher: Self

ARC provided by Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours

French Revolution through Napoleonic Era

From the publisher: PARIS, 1792. Antonin Carême is eight years old when he is left to fend for himself in a city about to enter the darkest days of the French revolution. The imaginative boy who yearns for a fairy tale come true soon discovers his talent for pâtisserie. When he meets the mysterious Boucheseiche, maître d’hôtel for Napoleon’s minister, Charles Maurice de Talleyrand-Périgord, Carême’s world is turned upside down. 

In one of those odd coincidences in life, I happened to be in a group with three French folks while I was reading this, and asked what the popular perception of Talleyrand was. I didn’t really get an answer to my question so much as I got a question back: “Why do Americans know of Talleyrand?” My response was that most don’t; I’m a history (and historical fiction) nerd. But maybe this compulsively readable book from the point of view of his famous chef, Antonin Carême, will make more Americans familiar with the brilliant Talleyrand as well as the relatively unknown (in the US, at any rate) Carême.

To be clear, this is definitely Carême’s story. But Talleyrand, best known from his role as Napoleon’s foreign minister, is a constant presence in the story, as Carême is mesmerized by “the Devil,” as he often calls Talleyrand. Wikipedia states that “Talleyrand polarizes scholarly opinion. Some regard him as one of the most versatile, skilled and influential diplomats in European history, and some believe that he was a traitor, betraying in turn the Ancien Régime, the French Revolution, Napoleon, and the Restoration.” Perhaps that’s why I didn’t get a clear answer about public perception of Talleyrand from the three French folks I asked, although they agreed, without hesitation, that the chef would be instrumental to Talleyrand’s diplomatic success. One noted that the French also use “under the table” to describe private dealmaking and kickbacks, tying that to the diplomacy of the dining table.

Diplomacy, Carême, plays itself in the dining rooms, then in the drawing rooms, under the chandeliers at the balls, behind the scenes always, when those who have dined together, savored the same meals and shared the joys of the table, recognize one another, and enjoy relaxed company. But first, they must dine.

Laura Rahme, The Secret of Chantilly

However, during his life, Carême de Paris was probably just as well known internationally, at least among the aristocracy. Carême was called “Le Roi des Chefs et le Chef des Rois” (“The King of Chefs, and the Chef of Kings”), having served, among others, Emperor Napoleon, Tsar Alexander I, and  Prince Regent, later George IV of England. His first claim to fame was the creation of the pièce montée, an architectural “cake” made of choux pastry, marzipan, and nougat.

Gaston Lenôtre’s interpretation of Carême’s Venetian Gondola pièce montée.

Laura Rahme does a magnificent job imagining Carême’s journey from abandoned child to celebrity, transitioning smoothly from one part of his life to another. The majority of the book is from Carême’s POV, but there are occasional switches to a third person which were a little jarring, as there was no particular cue to realize the POV was switching, and it took a moment to recalibrate. Despite these minor transitional issues, Rahme’s writing and organization of the story is clear and compelling.

It turned out that in the British Isles, French fruit and wine were the delectable pleasures of the rich. I found this ironic, for in France, anyone could permit themselves an excellent meal.

Laura Rahme, The Secret of Chantilly

Rahme also does a great job of letting the reader draw their own conclusions about Talleyrand, despite the way Carême characterizes him, by showing all the ways Talleyrand was thinking ahead, trying to ensure the best future for France under whatever political circumstances. I would have liked more about his subsequent employment by James Rothschild; that period is covered, but in far less detail than Carême’s employment with Talleyrand.

Misery sharpens the critical pen. One’s penchant for finding fault is accentuated when one lives in a state of gloom.

Laura Rahme, The Secret of Chantilly

The narrator often describes his life as a fairy tale, and Rahme develops that metaphor in an extended way throughout the book. It’s cleverly done, as Carême’s life does sound like a male Cinderella at times, and demonstrates he that felt that his life was unique, sometimes even difficult for him to believe.

My fairy godfather had forever departed. How was I to face the world? My fairy tale could only end badly.

Laura Rahme, The Secret of Chantilly

Well-researched, thoughtful, and compelling, Laura Rahme’s The Secret of Chantilly has plenty to love for fans of food, cooking, pastry, the French Revolution, the Napoleonic Era, and/or rags-to-riches narratives.

Apologies to the author for misspelling her name in the original post—note that the last name ends with an “e”!


In search of Andreas Vesalius

The King’s Anatomist by Ron Blumenfeld

 Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours

r/suggestmeabook: I want to watch a man grapple with a life-long friendship that seems more contentious upon the friend’s death in the context of the burgeoning conflicts between the old and new.

Movie rating: R

Pages: 282

Publisher: History Through Fiction

ARC provided by Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours

Scientific Revolution with a touch of mystery

From the publisher: In 1565 Brussels, the reclusive mathematician Jan van den Bossche receives shattering news that his lifelong friend, the renowned and controversial anatomist Andreas Vesalius, has died on the Greek island of Zante returning from a pilgrimage to the Holy Land. Jan decides to journey to his friend’s grave to offer his last goodbye. Jan’s sentimental and arduous journey to Greece with his assistant Marcus is marked by shared memories, recalled letters, and inner dialogues with Andreas, all devices to shed light on Andreas’ development as a scientist, physician, and anatomist. But the journey also gradually uncovers a dark side of Andreas even as Jan yearns for the widow of Vesalius, Anne.

Giveaway

Enter to win a paperback copy of The King’s Anatomist by Ron Blumenfeld. The giveaway is open to the US only and ends on November 5th. You must be 18 or older to enter.


I’m going to start with a content warning here. The dissection scenes are very graphic and I found them too difficult to read. It wasn’t gratuitous, really, just more detail than I could deal with before starting to get nauseated. I skimmed those sections to get to the rest of the story.

There was a certain liberation, even joy, in seeing what we look like under our skins, in seeing our humanness through and through.

Ron Blumenfeld, The King’s Anatomist

Consider yourself warned. Now to the heart of the story. Ron Blumenfeld illustrates the foment of the Scientific Revolution, situated as it was in the context of the Renaissance and the Reformation, and the tension between the old way of looking to authority as having all the answers, whether the authority of the bible, church, or classical writers and the evolving way of looking to demonstrable evidence as the standard of proof for truth, particularly in the sciences.

The Spanish physicians still think that Galen has taught them all they need to know and see no merit in putting their clumsy hooves inside a corpse.

Ron Blumenfeld, The King’s Anatomist

In that sense, The King’s Anatomist is a great travelogue of the period, documenting landmark moments in the context of Jan trying to figure out just how his best friend’s life ended and to make sense of the relationship. The novel hits some high points and some big names in the journey to recreate Andreas Vesalius’s last year or so.

I had been living as if our friendship transcended time and mortality.

Ron Blumenfeld, The King’s Anatomist

There are some very witty bits sprinkled throughout the book, which, along with a very clear writing style, makes it a coherent and well-paced read. Blumenfeld does a great job of bringing a flavor of the language of the period into the style of the book, yet manages to keep it close enough to modern to keep the prose crisp. When I went back through the book, I was surprised by the number of very quotable lines throughout the text.

Reason is a precious gift granted to mankind, but in human relations reason takes us only so far. In the end it is faith in each other—trust, if you prefer the term—and the capacity to forgive that allows love to take root and endure.

Ron Blumenfeld, The King’s Anatomist

However, it has some issues as a story. First, the female protagonist, Anne, is more of a placekeeper than having any developed personality. Blumenfeld treats her in a very old-fashioned way, where she is the vague fulfillment of someone’s ideal of what love should be, but she’s not really a fully fledged character. The other major female character is Jan’s mother, whom we mostly hear about from Jan, and although he mentions the hold she had on him but Andreas helped break, that subplot is never fleshed out. So this woman, as well, is a flat cutout.

With his urging, I learned that I could safely lie to Mother because she thought it unimaginable that I would deceive her.

Ron Blumenfeld, The King’s Anatomist

On the other hand, Jan is very well-developed, as is the mutual school friend of Jan and Andreas, Antoine the bishop, and Jan’s associate/servant, Marcus. Each of them feels three-dimensional, motivated, and convincing. Andreas, though, who is the titular character, comes out a bit flat, partially because of the inconsistencies and omitted explanations of the end of his life. He is clearly driven, but even by the end of the book, I still didn’t feel like I had a handle on his character, but for the fact that he dominated the relationship with Jan and was a brilliant iconoclastic rebel.

I am grateful for my life as I am living it, and unapologetic about my circumstances.

Ron Blumenfeld, The King’s Anatomist

However, I never felt like the decisions Andreas made to the detriment of Jan were ever adequately explained in terms of Andreas’s motivations. Granted, Jan was hero-struck by Andreas and didn’t think critically about him until, it appears, the events that start the quest of the book, but because that was the main character arc in the story—Jan coming to a more realistic assessment of Andreas—it felt like those specific instances needed to be processed more fully by Jan so that he could accept Andreas’s flaws rather than simply fail to see them, as he had until that time, or to be stuck in an in-between place where Jan could not resolve the hero-Andreas with the kind-of-an-ass-Andreas.

If those who study nature—be they physicians, botanists, or astronomers—fail to guard against their human failings in the greater interest of truth and progress, then it will fall to others to correct the record.

Ron Blumenfeld, The King’s Anatomist

The breadth of the novel, though, is a lovely overview of the foment in the intellectual world of Europe at the beginning of the Reformation. Blumenfeld folds in several cameos of well-known figures of the era, which is fun, but what he does exceptionally well is to give a very clear sense of the cultural environment of the time: the reliance on Galen and authority, the taboos associated with dissection, the Inquisition, the various bits and pieces of the early phases of the European wars of religion (particularly Huguenots vs. French Catholics), the suspicion of witchcraft, and the interaction of politics and science (nope, there’s rarely anything completely new). The King’s Anatomist does an exceptional job of creating the context into which these medical and scientific advances began.

AMAZON | BARNES AND NOBLE | BOOKSHOPEBOOKSPUBLISHER

Some quickie reviews: Comfort women in space, rumors of a squirrel conspiracy, and the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire

I’ve let these sit too long and just want to get some quick comments up before I forget everything! It’s one speculative, one cozy mystery, and a historical, so a mix of all the things!

The First Sister by Linden A. Lewis

r/suggestmeabook: I’d like a trip to the future where humanity is split into two battling factions and there are horrors in either group.

Movie rating: R

Pages: 351

Publisher: Skybound Publishing

Series: The First Sister Trilogy

ARC provided by NetGalley

Dystopic future scifi

From the publisher: This epic space opera filled with “lush prose” (Publishers Weekly) follows a comfort woman as she claims her agency, a soldier questioning his allegiances, and a non-binary hero out to save the solar system.

Voiceless women who fight each other for position, a disgraced soldier unjustly charged with losing a battle, and a missing son of the elite: these are the protagonists in Linden A. Lewis’s gripping drama placed centuries in the future. Each character is distinct and has a fascinating character arc, and the plot moves at the perfect place, with unexpected twists which are earned by Lewis’s ability to lay the groundwork.

Humanity has split into two groups. The Geans, on Earth and Mars, are ruled, at least in a large part, by the Sisterhood, a religious group which gives some women power by serving up their sisters as confessors and prostitutes to the military. The Icarii split away from Earth, no longer wanting to be involved in an endless war, and settled on Mercury and Venus (yes, there’s a magic element found on one of the planets that explains how that’s possible). The former are considered militant; the latter are technocrats who have manipulated their genes to survive, creating a separate species of humanity.

As is so often the case in the best science fiction, the postulated world reveals insights into our own, showing how both theocracies and technocracies can go wrong, showing how they impact the lives of the powerless. If that doesn’t appeal to you, it’s a great story as well, and I strongly recommend checking out this amazing book.


War of the Squirrels by Kristen Weiss

r/suggestmeabook: I want to watch an amateur sleuth figure out a murder while sorting out alien enthusiasts, retired spies, and rich kids.

Movie rating: PG

Pages: 224

Publisher: Misterio Press

Series: Wits’ End Cozy Mystery

ARC provided by GoddessFish

Contemporary cozy mystery

From the publisher: All Susan wants is to get through this visit from her controlling parents without tumbling down a black hole of despair. But galactic forces are colliding at her whimsical B&B, Wits’ End, and her parents have plans of their own.

The silly pun of the name gives you a feel for what’s to come. Kirsten Weiss does a nice job of creating tension in a small town which has a disproportionate number of murders, and gives some really clear descriptions—to the point that I remember little scenes vividly six months after I finished the book (told you I was behind!). The traveling corpse is pretty cute, and the murder victim is appropriately dislikable. However, the tale stretches credulity, and the squirrels, well, they’re more or less in the background to create the pun and some silly shenanigans to keep the alien enthusiast motif. The earlier book(s) appear to play into the story more than I’d like for picking up one mid-series, as there are constant references to a prior event, but that’s on me for starting with the fourth book in the series (although I usually ask if prior books are required reading before picking up mid-thread).

Easy, quick read when you’re in the mood for something light.


Fiery Girls by Heather Wardell

r/suggestmeabook: I’m in the mood to watch immigrant girls overcome their differences for the common good.

Movie rating: PG-13

Pages: 273

Publisher: Self

ARC provided by Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours

Progressive era working women

From the publisher: In 1909, shy sixteen-year-old Rosie Lehrer is sent to New York City to earn money for her family’s emigration from Russia. She will, but she also longs to make her mark on the world before her parents arrive and marry her to a suitable Jewish man. Maria Cirrito, spoiled and confident at sixteen, lands at Ellis Island a few weeks later. She’s supposed to spend four years earning American wages then return home to Italy with her new-found wealth to make her family’s lives better. But the boy she loves has promised, with only a little coaxing, to follow her to America and marry her. 

This well-researched book occasionally falls a little flat. The transformations of the two protagonists, particularly Maria, feel a bit rushed, although the overall pace of the book is a little slow. It’s at its best when highlighting the efforts of the girls to unionize; the purely imagined parts are where it begins to flag a little. If you’re not familiar with the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire, it’s a pretty good introduction to the tragedy and the women whose lives were radically changed by it.

Spotlight on: The Fey and the Factory Girl by Nadine Galinsky Feldman

 Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours

Giveaway

Enter to win a paperback copy of The Factory Girl and the Fey by Nadine Galinsky Feldman! The giveaway is open to US addresses only and ends on October 28th. You must be 18 or older to enter.

Pages: 360

Publisher: Self

Publication date: October 14, 2021

ARC provided by Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours

19th century Scottish Fantasy

From the publisher: Jane Thorburn straddles two worlds: her life as a “factory girl” in Scotland’s mills, and her birthright as fairy royalty. Abandoned by her parents as an infant, and uncertain about the true motives of the Fey, she learns to depend only on herself. All she wants is to be a great weaver and to maintain her independence.

The Fair Folk, fighting for their very survival, have other plans for her, as does the handsome and charismatic Robert Stein. What life will she choose? And will she even have a choice?

A historical fantasy inspired by the author’s ancestors, The Factory Girl and the Fey is an affectionate tribute to the women who helped fuel Scotland’s Industrial Age, from the workers to the poets…and to the Fey who remind us that magic is real when we believe in it.

Excerpt

Beitris continued to heat the poker. In the calm voice of one who spent many, many years calming nervous young mothers, she said, “This is nae yer bairn. This is a changeling. Whit ye’ll see will look strange, cruel even, but you must trust me. Set it in the cradle noo.” 

Still doubtful, Elizabeth placed the changeling in Jane’s cradle with the same care she would have given her own child. Stepping back to give the old howdiewife room was one of the hardest things she’d ever done. 

Beitris grabbed the now-hot poker in both hands, wielding it like a sword between her weathered arms as she moved toward the cradle.

“Dinna hurt her!” Elizabeth cried. 

Ellen grabbed hold of Elizabeth. “This isnae Jane, remember. Beitris will bring the real Jane back.” 

As she held on to Elizabeth, Ellen squeezed her eyes shut in anticipation of disaster. This was all her fault. She had caused this to happen, back on the day of the baptism. Until now she had managed to shut away the memories, but now they rushed forward to taunt her. 

That day dawned bright with sun and promise. Ellen arrived early to help. They dressed wee Jane in a white lace gown that had once been Elizabeth’s. Jane, tiny as a doll, swam in the dress, her head nearly disappearing amidst the layers of fabric. Ellen wished for more time to alter it, as Elizabeth was too fatigued and sad to do it herself. This would have to do, though. The town would likely gossip about the child’s ill-fitting gown, but that mattered less than giving her God’s protection as soon as possible.

Tradition called for someone to offer a gift of bread and cheese to the first person she met on the path to the church. Ellen volunteered, honored to play a role in this special ritual. Carrying Jane in one arm, light as a cloud, and the basket with the food offerings in the other, Ellen headed toward the kirk, with Elizabeth and Robert to follow a few minutes later. 

Ellen didn’t have to wait long before an old man, listing to the right and hunched over a too-short walking stick, ambled toward her. His clothes were rumpled and torn, and they hung on his gaunt frame. Poor man, she thought. Apoplexy had robbed him of his dignity. As she neared him, his face twisted in a grimace. Perhaps the news of a new, precious babe would help to cheer him.

Holding the basket out toward him she said, “Good sir, we offer ye a gift from this new bairn.” 

He stopped without speaking, looked at her, then at the baby, his face twisting even further into a sneer. “Pah!” He spat on the ground and walked away, leaving her standing with the basket still outstretched. Jane started to whimper and squirm. 

“Sir?” Ellen pleaded to his back. “Please, sir, dinna curse the bairn this way.” 

Yet he kept moving, ignoring her completely.  

“Whit shall we do?” she asked Jane, her knees shaking from the encounter. Jane responded only with sleepy sucking sounds. “Well, I see ye dinna want tae help me. I’ll have tae fix this myself.”  

Normally the streets bustled with activity as townspeople prepared for morning service, but today they were oddly empty. Ellen continued to murmur loving words to Jane as they walked, praying for someone else to cross their path. She walked to within a block of the kirk when a young couple appeared. The woman, not more than eighteen, was ripe with her own child. 

Ellen nearly dropped to her knees in gratitude and relief. Holding out the food offering with trembling hands, she said, “Good folks, this is a gift from a new bairn that we offer ye.” She hoped she didn’t look too desperate.

“Aye, of course,” the young woman said, patting her own belly. “May I see the lass?”

Ellen held Jane up and the woman drew in a sharp breath, her eyes alight with the sight of the young beauty. Her mouth twisted and turned, not in bitterness, but rather in protection. To express a child’s beauty aloud would invite evil influences.

“Thank ye,” the woman said. “We would be honored.” 

Her husband, who stood next to his wife, silent until now, accepted the basket of food, then tipped his hat and bowed to Jane. “Welcome tae the world, lass,” he said. Then the young couple continued on their way.

The baptism occurred as planned, and Ellen breathed easier, telling herself that no harm would come from tucking away the unfortunate details of the first encounter. Surely the goodwill of the young couple would render the old man’s bitterness moot and bring good fortune to the child. They would put the incident behind them, and no one needed to know. 

Yet the scene unfolding in front of Ellen in the tiny flat, with a new mother numb with fright and a howdiewife wielding a hot poker, was no mere bad dream. She moved her mouth in prayer, begging for forgiveness and hoping Beitris could bring Jane back home. Then she remembered her children were present, stunned silent but wide-eyed and open-mouthed. “Go back tae the flat,” she said. “We will protect wee Jane.”

About the Author

Nadine Galinsky Feldman is an author of women’s and historical fiction. Her novel What She Knew was a finalist in the 2016 Next Generation Indie Book awards. The Foreign Language of Friends was a finalist in the 2012 Next Generation Indie Book Awards, Chick Lit category. It was also named a Gold Medal Winner, Women’s Issues, in the 2011 eLit Book Awards.

As an editor, Nadine produced Patchwork and Ornament: A Woman’s Journey of Life, Love, and Art by Jeanette Feldman, which won the 2010 Indie Excellence Award for Best Memoir.

Her first book, When a Grandchild Dies: What to Do, What to Say, How to Cope, provided grief support to an underserved population.

When not working on her many writing projects, Nadine loves traveling, gardening, genealogy, and yoga. She lives in the beautiful Hudson Valley of New York state.


AMAZON | BARNES AND NOBLE | INDIEBOUND

Ginger Rogers’s less famous cousin

The Limits of Limelight by Margaret Porter

 Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours

Giveaway

During the Blog Tour, we are giving away some fabulous prizes!

Grand Prize Winner: Choice of an autographed paperback or an ebook or an audiobook, plus an acrylic 16-oz sippy “go” cup with straw.

2nd and 3rd Prize Winners: Choice of an autographed paperback or an ebook or an audiobook.

Runners-up (5): Reproduction vintage Ginger Rogers & Fred Astaire postcard, plus author-autographed bookplate.

The giveaway is open internationally and ends on October 6th. You must be 18 or older to enter.

From the publisher: Pretty Oklahoma teenager Helen Nichols accepts an invitation from her cousin, rising movie actress Ginger Rogers, and her Aunt Lela, to try her luck in motion pictures. Her relatives, convinced that her looks and personality will ensure success, provide her with a new name and help her land a contract with RKO. As Phyllis Fraser, she swiftly discovers that Depression-era Hollywood’s surface glamour and glitter obscure the ceaseless struggle of the hopeful starlet.

Lela Rogers, intensely devoted to her daughter and her niece, outwardly accepting of her stage mother label, is nonetheless determined to establish her reputation as screenwriter, stage director, and studio talent scout. For Phyllis, she’s an inspiring model of grit and persistence in an industry run by men.

While Ginger soars to the heights of stardom in musicals with Fred Astaire, Phyllis is tempted by a career more fulfilling than the one she was thrust into. Should she continue working in films, or devote herself to the profession she’s dreamed about since childhood? And which choice might lead her to the lasting love that seems so elusive?

Excerpt

“We’ve been studying our fellow passengers,” Ginger explained to her mother. “There’s one lady who wears a monocle and carries a tiny dog and speaks with a veddy, veddy affected accent. We’re convinced she’s pretending to be English.”

She plopped onto the narrow sofa that opened into a bed, clutching pen and paper, and crooked a finger. “Come here. I’ve got a present for you, but not one I can put in a ribbon-wrapped box. You’re getting a new name. To use professionally.”

Helen cast a questioning look at Lela.

“There’s nothing wrong with Helen Nichols,” her aunt declared. “It’s elegant and refi ned, and easy to pronounce. Four syllables, like Ginger Rogers.” With a smile for Helen, she added, “That nickname you gave her when you were a tot turned out to be perfect for show business. Spicy and strong, that’s my girl.”

With a twitch of her auburn head, Ginger opined, “Helen is pretty enough, but not unique or memorable. If she dislikes what I came up with, I’ll keep thinking.”

“What is it?” Helen wanted to know.

“Phyllis. Fraser—with an ‘s.” Ginger handed over the paper. “It has alliteration. You’re an English scholar, you know what that means. I think it suits you. We’ll try it out when I introduce you to people at RKO-Pathé. When you go home, you can be Helen again. Write it out. An actress has to practice her autograph.”

She followed instructions. Dissatisfied with the plain P and F, she tried a more graceful, fl owing version. “How’s this?”

“Perfect!” Ginger placed a beautifully manicured finger on the paper. “Write it again. And again. I want that whole sheet covered—front and back—before we get to Salt Lake City.” With a glance at her mother, she added, “We’re calling her Phyllis from now on, so she’ll get used to it.”

That night when she settled into her bunk, the new name echoed in her mind, keeping time with the steel wheels pounding the steel rails. 

Phyl-lis Fras-er. Phyl-lis Fras-er. Phyl-lis Fras-er.

About the Author

MARGARET PORTER is the author of more than a dozen works of historical fiction, including The Limits of Limelight (September 2021) and the award-winning Beautiful Invention: A Novel of Hedy Lamarr. Her critically acclaimed novels have been translated into several foreign languages. Other writing credits include nonfiction, newspaper and magazine articles, and poetry. She studied British history in the U.K. and afterwards worked professionally in theatre, film and television. Margaret and her husband live in New England with their dog, dividing their time between a book-filled house in a small city and a waterfront cottage located on one of the region’s largest lakes. When not writing, she keeps busy reading, tending her extensive rose gardens, or playing the mandolin.

More information is available on her website and blog. You can also connect with her on FacebookTwitterInstagram, and Goodreads.


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Nurses, spies, romance, and the Sinai and Palestine campaign

Windswept by Annabelle McCormack

 Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours

r/suggestmeabook: I want a romance between an endearingly plucky nurse and a man who could ruin her set in Palestine and Egypt during WWI.

Movie rating: R

Pages: 440

Publisher: Self

Series: Windswept Saga

ARC provided by Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours

WWI British Middle East Romance

From the publisher: May, 1917. Ginger Whitman left a life of wealth and privilege in England to train as a battlefield nurse and serve in the Great War. Working on the brutal frontlines in Palestine, she finds a wounded soldier hiding in her camp. The soldier claims to carry intelligence unmasking a secret plot against the British—and that traitors within British intelligence are searching for him. Desperate and dying, the soldier entrusts a coded message to her care.

Giveaway

Enter to win a paperback copy of Windswept by Annabelle McCormack! The giveaway is open to US addresses only and ends on October 22nd. You must be 18 or older to enter.


This action-packed romance set among British troops in Palestine and Egypt is a ripping tale. The well-bred lady becoming a nurse is fairly common, but Ginger’s ambition to be a doctor, the Middle Eastern setting, and the addition of the spy world makes this anything but a run-of-the-mill WWI romance.

Rules for good reasons. Rules that, when broken, incurred a father’s wrath for dismissing a wealthy “well-matched” marriage proposal in favor of a doctor who couldn’t help bolster her family’s estate. Rules that stopped her from entertaining thoughts of the London School of Medicine for Women in favor of a much more “sensible” nursing education.

Annabelle McCormack, Windswept

The characters are vivid and likable or hate-able (shouldn’t that be a word?) as applies. My only quibble is that the heroine, Ginger Whitman, despite both being described as and demonstrating intelligence and independence, manages to not figure out whom to distrust for a good portion of the book, even though it’s obvious to the reader about 15% into the story. Usually that uncharacteristic obliviousness drives me nuts, but Ginger is charming enough that it didn’t bother me as much.

Death made equals of cowards and heroes, friend or foe.

Annabelle McCormack, Windswept

Ginger’s inability to see what is evident to readers is explained, to some extent, by the facts of her upbringing: privileged, denied any opportunity to assert herself until the war gave her the option of nursing, and conditioned to put The Family over all. She’s often unnecessarily consumed by guilt, but that’s really not uncommon for women raised in a role of subservience (or anyone in a patriarchy).

The bleak horror of her work had numbed her to the idea of a merciful God. Why would he listen to prayers for the mundane and ignore the cries of humanity slaughtering itself?

Annabelle McCormack, Windswept

As for the looming British Mandate (1918-1948) issues, Annabelle McCormack lets the facts stand without the patriotic protagonists doing much but some questions and a sense of duty to country. After all, the conflict was a result of the Ottoman Empire’s actions, right? However, McCormack does hint at the trouble in the future as the mentioned, but not actually in the book, T.E. Lawrence is making promises to the Arabs he’s courting while the British are simultaneously making the same kinds of promises to the Zionists. (I’m slightly disappointed Gertrude Bell earned no mention, though.) It’s hard to ignore, though, as a person of our era, well aware of the bloodshed that the former colonial power wreaked on the region.

The leadership in London had never dressed wounds or held soldiers’ hands as they wept over lost limbs.

Annabelle McCormack, Windswept

However, in the context of the book, there appear to be no alternatives to those living in those times, which is a reasonable position. Even now it’s hard to come up with a solution for resisting the Germans in the Middle East during WWI without using the local interests to British advantage. It’s tempting to say that the powers that be should have done something different, as it should have been clear from the beginning that going back on promises would probably create longterm animosity, but it’s difficult to predict how different choices during WWI would have lead to better outcomes for more people. The rule of unintended consequences is a bitch.

[P]eople who feel betrayed and mistreated have a tendency to act irrationally.

Annabelle McCormack, Windswept

Windswept’s blooming romance in the midst of machinations of so many parties is a great read with characters you’ll love and hate well.


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Living with the Klan and other racists

When Stars Rain Down by Angela Jackson-Brown

r/suggestmeabook: I want to feel what it’s like to live in small town Georgia in 1936 as an 18-year-old Black girl.

Movie rating: PG-13

Pages: 368

Publisher: Thomas Nelson

ARC provided by NetGalley

Depression Era American South

From the publisher: The summer of 1936 in Parsons, Georgia, is unseasonably hot, and Opal Pruitt can sense a nameless storm coming. She hopes this foreboding feeling won’t overshadow her upcoming eighteenth birthday or the annual Founder’s Day celebration in just a few weeks. But when the Ku Klux Klan descends on Opal’s neighborhood of Colored Town, the tight-knit community is shaken in every way.

One of the wonderful things about great fiction is that it allows you to see the world through someone else’s eyes in a way that few other experiences can. Angela Jackson-Brown’s When Stars Rain Down is just such a book, and should be required reading for every American. But it’s not just a great book about race and the challenges faced by Black Americans both then and now, it’s a great coming-of-age story for anyone.

Every girl I knew, Colored or white, was waiting for the day she could become a wife or a mother. That was all we knew. That was all we had ever seen.

Angela Jackson-Brown, When Stars Rain Down

However, I’m going to talk mostly about the first part, about how When Stars Rain Down gave me new ideas, contexts, and imaginative reframings about being Black in the South. The lyrical ode to Colored Town was a perspective changer, as the protagonist, Opal Pruitt, doesn’t see it as exclusion but as a retreat from the demands of Jim Crow, even though the woman she works for, and her household, are “good” white people.

On any given night you might hear soft quarrels, the sounds of lovemaking, or the giggles and laughter that were just natural sounds to hear among those of us who lived in Colored Town. Not one of us was rich, but we had all that we ever needed, and that was each other.

Angela Jackson-Brown, When Stars Rain Down

This is one of the questions Opal has to answer for herself: are there actually any whites who will choose right over white when the issue involves a Black person? The illustration of the well-meaning white girl trying to help but not listening is a lesson for anyone who hasn’t lived the life of the protagonists but thinks she knows best how to help.

I looked at her, really looked at her, and I could tell she was sorry. I had never experienced that before. Most white folks, especially rich white folks, took us for granted and never really thought about our feelings.

Angela Jackson-Brown, When Stars Rain Down

I’m not sure there’s a single movie that captured for me the visceral sense of waiting for the Klan to strike like this lovely book. The oppressive environment, the strain of the impending raid, the deep internal struggles of how best to deal with the Klan, the fear of both what the Klan might do and how to limit repercussions of how the Black community responds to the Klan: all of these are given visceral reality.

I guess if you live in a world where angry white men can come out of the blue and burn down your property without any fear of payback, there is no normal. There’s just getting by from day to day.

Angela Jackson-Brown, When Stars Rain Down

The cameo appearance by Satchel Paige was a fun addition, giving a glimpse of how important these early barrier-busting athletes were to their communities. Jackson-Brown’s use of concrete details makes him (and, indeed, all of the characters) breathe on the page.

He liked sitting on the porch playing the spirituals, but he made it very clear that he thought God was something white folks made up to keep Colored folks in line.

Angela Jackson-Brown, When Stars Rain Down

Although the book echoes issues and attitudes still with us to this day, it is firmly situated in the period. When Stars Rain Down presents the world of Black Southerners living in the Jim Crow era unflinchingly, showing both the joy and pain of that life, offering no easy answers, and illustrating the reach of history.

Money, sex, and silent movies

Scandal in Babylon by Barbara Hambly

r/suggestmeabook: I want a fast-paced murder mystery revolving around a rising starlet and investigated by an English fish-out-of-water.

Movie rating: R

Pages: 240

Series: Silver Screen Mysteries

Publisher: Severn House

Golden Age of Hollywood, the Silent Years

ARC provided by the publisher via NetGalley

From the publisher: 1924. After six months in Hollywood, young British widow Emma Blackstone has come to love her new employer, glamorous movie-star Kitty Flint—even if her late husband’s sister is one of the worst actresses she’s ever seen. Looking after Kitty and her three adorable Pekinese dogs isn’t work Emma dreamed of, but Kitty rescued her when she was all alone in the world.

I’ve read Barbara Hambly’s books since the 80’s, so I was thrilled to see that she has started a new series set in pre-sound Hollywood. Her fictional biography of Mary Todd Lincoln, The Emancipator’s Wife, is one I’ve recommended repeatedly, but it’s a much more serious book than this frothy and fun Hollywood mystery. Apparently Bride of the Rat God (one of Hambly’s novels I hadn’t read) has many of the same features (the dogs and the British war widow, same time period, but different names), but I can’t speak to how much overlap there is between the two.

Although the Hays Code wouldn’t come about until 1934, the specter of censorship and scandal were haunting actors in the wake of the Fatty Arbuckle trial. The studios weren’t quite as affected in that all publicity was good publicity. So when the (former?) husband of Camille de la Rose, née Kitty Flint, is found shot dead in her trailer, her burgeoning career is threatened, even if she is oblivious to that threat, and her assistant, Emma Blackstone, is determined to clear her name.

The writing is clear and crisp, and the pace fast. Hambly’s ability to sketch memorable characters is at the fore, and there’s never a point where I had to suspend disbelief because of an improbable plot turn—she always does a great job of setting the groundwork so that the turns seem reasonable in the context of the story world. The characters are so believable that I had to double-check that they were all fictional (there is a Foremost Productions, but it wasn’t started until 1990). The larger context of the period, though, is dead on; every time I had a “wait a minute, is that right?” moment, Hambly had her facts in a row.

Her months in Hollywood had given her a front row seat on an astounding display of the misuse of power, and there far worse things to spend money on than fountains of bootleg champagne at one’s parties or solid gold door-handles for one’s car.

Barbara Hambly, Scandal in Babylon

And that accuracy is pretty important in that there is a delightful running commentary about the historical inaccuracies of Hollywood. The protagonist, Emma Blackstone, is fluent in Latin and perhaps Greek as well, having gone to Oxford and assisted her father’s research. (I don’t know that I’ve ever seen a classical Greek quotation in a light-hearted murder mystery.) As a historical fiction reader who is also a fan of straight history, it tickled me to have the character roll her eyes at the Queen of Babylon going to Rome as it did in the script being filmed in the background of the story.

A wrangler passed across the square, leading four horses in what Hollywood fondly believed to be Roman saddles (meaning blankets strapped over English saddles, with anachronistic stirrups visibly dangling).

Barbara Hambly, Scandal in Babylon

Moreover, Emma Blackstone works well as the voice of the story, told in a close third person, as she’s not really a part of the Hollywood scene, smart enough to be useful, and open-minded enough to accept differences without losing sight of how those differences would play in Oxford. Zal Rokatansky, cameraman and love interest, is the kind of reliable, kind man that everyone needs in their life, and I was delighted to have a couple where the woman was taller than the man. The height difference is noted, but it’s not an issue, which is charming.

Zal was teaching her to wield chopsticks, one of several skills—along with mixing cocktails and tallying baseball scores—which she had not expected to learn in America.

Barbara Hambly, Scandal in Babylon

Then there’s the ditzy Kitty Flint, sister of Blackstone’s deceased husband, who is juggling men left and right, including the rather intimidating studio chief Frank Pugh and the wealthy Ambrose Crain. Kitty is one of those people you become fond of despite yourself, as she can be thoughtless and self-absorbed, but she has a generous and kind streak that redeems her.

“But would any of them,” pursued Emma, “Actually kill a man to get you out of the way”

“Gloria Swanson,” replied Kitty promptly, “would kill a man who beat her to a taxi-cab.”

“Don’t be silly, Kitty,” put in Zal. “Swanson never takes taxis.”

Barbara Hambly, Scandal in Babylon

The minor characters are fun too, particularly the foul-mouthed director Madge Burdon and the polite bootlegger Tony Cornero. Each character introduced feels well-developed and authentic rather then just fulfilling a plot point, from the Hedda Hopper type and the jealous actress trying to climb to the top over Kitty’s back.

Well, I suppose if Odysseus could get information by giving libations to the spirits in Hell, it’s no surprise it works here as well.

Barbara Hambly, Scandal in Babylon

Readers of cozy mysteries will probably enjoy this as long as they don’t have an issue with salty language; that’s the only thing that made me rate this an R, as there was nothing particularly gory or oppressive about the novel.

His glance was like a smiling kiss, and her eyes received it like one, before she hurried down the thirty marble steps to the 2000 square feet of laboriously imported sand.

Barbara Hambly, Scandal in Babylon

Scandal in Babylon forecasts a wonderful series from Hambly, and I can’t wait to see these characters again!