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!

“Unclean, unclean,” they must cry

The Second Life of Mirielle West by Amanda Skenandore

 Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours

r/suggestmeabook: I want to watch how a privileged, self-centered young woman deals with leprosy and all it entails in 1920s America.

Movie rating: PG-13

Pages: 304

Publisher: Kensington

ARC provided by Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours

1920s Medical Drama

From the publisher: 1920s Los Angeles: Socialite Mirielle West’s days are crowded with shopping, luncheons, and prepping for the myriad glittering parties she attends with her actor husband, Charlie. She’s been too busy to even notice the small patch of pale skin on the back of her hand. Other than an occasional over-indulgence in gin and champagne, which helps to numb the pain of recent tragedy, Mirielle is the picture of health. When Charlie insists that she goes to the doctor to have a burn checked, the consequences come fast. The diagnosis–leprosy–is devastating and unthinkable.

Giveaway

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Mirielle West feels so sorry for herself, it’s hard for the reader to, but it’s a good thing. When the horrifying ordeal is happening to someone self-centered and in so much denial that you aren’t swamped in the bleakness of life for a leper, even if it’s a little improved at United States Marine Hospital Number 66 (better known as “Carville”) when compared to most of history. Like Mirielle, I grew up reading stories of lepers in the Bible, where they rang the bell and cried, “Unclean, unclean” to warn others of their presence, and was shocked to learn in my teen years that leprosy, now referred to as Hansen’s disease, persisted to the current day.

There’s a reason that the word “leper” has come to mean an outcast or untouchable. That was exactly what happened to someone with the disease throughout the world and history (and is still the case in the few places around the world where it clusters). In the early 20th century, a patient was likely to be treated no better than a wanted criminal; lepers were unable to vote in Louisiana until 1940.

Hell, our families would be better off if we were dead.

Amanda Skenandore, The Second Life of Mirielle West

The Second Life of Mirielle West honors the leprosarium, its inhabitants, and its staff by Amanda Skenandore’s masterful character development and sense of place. Mirielle is a fabulous character: I spent a good deal of the time wanting to slap her, but, in the end, I loved her and her complexity. It’s part of the author’s genius that you end up feeling compassion for everyone from the harsh nun who runs things at the hospital to the impossibly out-of-touch Hollywood husband.

With the stark, dreary whiteness all around them, she understood why he did it. It was an escape from the tedium of their daily lives and the horrors of the disease. It gave them something to talk about in the dressing clinic when she unbandaged and dressed their feet.

Amanda Skenandore, The Second Life of Mirielle West

Skenandore also does a marvelous job in how she delivers the information about the disease. Anyone wanting a study in how to deliver exposition would do themselves a favor by reading this novel. I came to that conclusion when I realized how much I learned about leprosy and how patients were treated and couldn’t come up with a single time when I felt that the story was bogged down in explanations. You learn as Mirielle does, and she cannot absorb it all in one sitting (mostly because it takes her so long to accept the diagnosis and pay attention). No long paragraphs about the disease or its history—it all comes out organically and never breaks the pace.

The seemingly inconsequential details and events she left out of her letters built one upon the other to shape her life here.

Amanda Skenandore, The Second Life of Mirielle West

The novel also examines how we deal with loss: loss of privilege, autonomy, health, loved ones, and our sense of self. It also manages to raise the question of whether we are our best selves when we are overly pampered, and although leprosy is rather an extreme remedy for privilege, the point is subtly made that a life that requires nothing of us is unhealthy as well. Which is worse, the physical leprosy, or a emotional/intellectual/spiritual one? (“Must we have one or the other?” Mirielle would have probably asked.)

There are two types of patients at Carville: those who count themselves among the dead, and those who have the pluck to claim their place among the living. The choice is yours.

Amanda Skenandore, The Second Life of Mirielle West

Mirielle also is a case study in assumptions. She assumes so much about her fellow patients, not to mention the staff, but it all mostly adds up to a blanket assumption that no one can understand her pain, whether because they are too insensitive or boorish or because they have not suffered like her. Little by little, she begins to learn, grudgingly, that no one is immune to pain, even with a disease that numbs.

None of their names stuck in her addled mind. All she noticed was their disease. A few had islands of lesions across their skin—dry, thick patches more or less circular in shape. One had pea-sized blisters up and down her arms. Another hadn’t any eyebrows, only thickened, red skin in their place.

Amanda Skenandore, The Second Life of Mirielle West

And then there are the wonderful touches that root the story in Louisiana. Mirielle isn’t the fan of gumbo that I am, but she takes to Southern sweet tea. I share her difficulty with understanding a thick Cajun accent, although I’d be willing to bet she’s not as mesmerized by it. Mardi Gras is celebrated at the facility with the grudging consent of the Sisters of Charity, and the descriptions of their floats made it come to life. Levees surround the grounds on three sides, holding back the mighty Mississippi, but it’s not to be missed that they are three of the four barricades keeping patients restricted to the grounds.

The Second Life of Mirielle West is not to be missed—it’s a novel that will resonate long after you finish.


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Medea in Chicago

Devil by the Tail by Jeanne Matthews

 Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours

r/suggestmeabook: I want a mystery set in 1867 Chicago with a plucky heroine navigating the corrupt and seamy city with the assistance of a former rebel soldier.

Movie rating: PG-13

Pages: 252

Publisher: D. X. Varos, Ltd.

Series: Garnick & Paschal Mystery

ARC provided by Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours

Historical mystery

From the publisher: Quinn Sinclair, who uses the name Mrs. Paschal professionally, and her wryly observant partner Garnick get two cases on the same day – one to help a man prove he didn’t kill his wife, another to help a lawyer find reasonable doubt that his client killed her ex-lover’s new bride. As the detectives dig deeper, they unearth facts that tie the cases together in disturbing ways.

Giveaway

Enter to win a paperback copy of Devil by the Tail by Jeanne Matthews! We have 2 copies up for grabs! The giveaway is open to US residents only and ends on July 30th. You must be 18 or older to enter.


Jeanne Matthews has done a great job of starting the action of Devil by the Tail in medias res—I felt sure there was an earlier installment, but, no, there is simply a lot of backstory that is effectively ladled in so that you want to know more. Her depiction of Chicago in 1867 evokes a city bursting with postwar growth and riddled with corruption.

Only those with nothing to lose can afford to pull the Devil by the tail.

Jeanne Matthews, Devil by the Tail

This mystery drags her heroine, Quinn Sinclair AKA Mrs. Paschal, through a couple of whorehouses, which is problematic for a woman who wishes to stay respectable. However, Quinn comes to realize that she can’t be as judgmental as she had been in the past when she realizes how little stands between any given woman and prostitution in a world that doesn’t allow for women to make a living in very many ways.

Detective Paschal, self-styled heroine and daring non-conformist, afraid to lose her respectable, cozy niche at the boardinghouse breakfast table, afraid of the opinion of a bunch of prissy old hens.

Jeanne Matthews, Devil by the Tail

The themes of men and women and how they relate is interwoven through the story, as are the twin mysteries of the man claiming to be falsely accused of murdering his wife and the woman who is on trial for an arson that killed the bride of the man who jilted her as well as the bride’s father.

Quinn’s mind stretched in equipoise like a clothesline hung with contrary reasons and contrary feelings, not to mention a load of dirty linen.

Jeanne Matthews, Devil by the Tail

The misogyny of the period (which can still be seen today) is on full display, as is the tendency of people to judge on the superficial. Clothing, then as now, is a huge signifier of class, wealth, and respectability, and Matthews takes care to let us know what the ladies are wearing as well as how the dress is coded in that period.

Tightly corseted in a low-cut canary yellow dress, she resembled a belted balloon, the upper bulge near to bursting.

Jeanne Matthews, Devil by the Tail

Euripedes’s version of Medea is used to great effect to frame the mystery and its various suspects. In case you don’t remember the play (I was grateful for the reminder within the novel), Jason (of Jason and the Argonauts) dumps Medea, who has killed her brother for him, in order to wed another, and Medea takes her revenge upon the bride. As Matthews deftly insinuates, Jason is as much at fault as Medea, but society immediately makes Medea the sole problem, a horrifying corruption of womanhood.

Men could walk unmolested wherever they chose while women had to skitter about like prey.

Jeanne Matthews, Devil by the Tail

In this mystery, Medea is introduced by a reporter who has no regard for truth, only for the sales of the newspaper, and he threads Medea into his descriptions of the crime, knowing that the play had toured in Chicago relatively recently. Women latch onto this myth as much as the men, often becoming quite ugly about other women in the process.

The leech showed up in Rock Island penniless, a runaway from some little prairie town, all rags and fleas.

Jeanne Matthews, Devil by the Tail

Then there’s the recent Civil War, which is also handled cleverly. Garnick, the former rebel, had been a POW in Camp Douglas, a hellhole which is only lightly discussed, although the Confederate dead play a role in the story. Garnick has disavowed the Cause, wishing he’d never put on the uniform, which mitigates any issues a reader might have about a sympathetic Johnny Reb. Hopefully this history will be explored more in future installments.

No way to justify going to war to keep people in chains. At first I had some notion of loyalty to my neck of the woods, allegiance to kith and kin like the states rights firebrands preached.

Jeanne Matthews, Devil by the Tail

Another theme from the time that Matthews works into the story is that of the prejudice against the Irish. Quinn is often having to sidestep her Irish roots, hearing people disparage the Irish regularly. Her heritage is also at the root of her dispute with her former mother-in-law, who can’t stand to let Quinn inherit from her dead son.

You can wall people in, but I learned you can also wall them out.

Jeanne Matthews, Devil by the Tail

The characters are well-formed, the themes interesting, and the mystery absorbing. There’s a little bit of a let-down in that not all of the people we find out are engaged in nefarious dealings are served justice, but, of course, that can be one of the downsides of historical fiction: the constraints of the facts (unless, of course, you’re Quentin Tarantino). I’m really looking forward to the next installment of this well-constructed mystery series.


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To investigate, or not to investigate?

Death on the Lake by Jo Allen

 Rachel’s Random Resources Book Tours

r/suggestmeabook: I want to watch how detectives balance competing cases as well as their personal/work lives in the context of a well-crafted mystery.

Movie rating: PG-13

Pages: 392

Publisher: Self

Series: DCI Satterthwaite Mysteries

ARC provided by Rachel’s Random Resources

Contemporary traditional mystery

From the publisher: When a young woman, Summer Raine, is found drowned, apparently accidentally, after an afternoon spent drinking on a boat on Ullswater, DCI Jude Satterthwaite is deeply concerned — more so when his boss refuses to let him investigate the matter any further to avoid compromising a fraud case.

This is the sixth of Jo Allen’s DCI Satterthwaite Mysteries, and the second I’ve read, and she does not disappoint—this one is just as good as the last one I reviewed, Death at Rainbow Cottage. Allen has a talent for keeping you guessing, and, just like last time, I was constantly sure I had the riddle solved and then realized, nope, I hadn’t. In this case, there was one key fact that wasn’t disclosed that would have made the difference, but I’m okay with that, as that disclosure also would have made the whole thing rather obvious (or at least it seems that way to me in retrospect).

Shared secrets allowed you to love someone for what they were, just as confession cleared your conscience.

Jo Allen, Death on the Lake

I particularly enjoyed that Allen talked about the use of resources in this book, something I don’t know I’ve ever seen before. My retired cop husband’s constant bitch about TV shows involving police investigation (and one of many, many reasons we don’t watch them) is that they act like the full resources of the police are available for every case, and that every department has all of the latest scientific testing available. So having the prickly Detective Superintendent Faye Scanlon set some very difficult parameters for DCI Jude Satterthwaite’s investigation of Summer Raine’s death was quite rewarding.

Thirty-six years of insatiable curiosity had matured into a store of rock-solid local knowledge.

Jo Allen, Death on the Lake

I also really like the way Allen is investigating the romantic relationships of the recurring characters. Ashleigh and Jude are so much more honest about their relationship than most people are, and both understand how much a career in law enforcement complicates everything, particularly in a situation like theirs, where overtime is expected and required.

But he knew and she knew he knew, and the resulting tension was always there between them.

Jo Allen, Death on the Lake

Another lovely feature was grappling with the relative importance of various crimes. Police officers have a great deal of discretion, so when is it appropriate to bust someone for marijuana and when should you let it go? Which is worse, murder or money-laundering/fraud? Satterthwaite comes down firmly on the side that murder is worse, but money-laundering/fraud can, depending on the particular scam, ruin far more lives than a single murder, so which really is more important to stop? (If you’ve read anything on recidivism, you’ll know that most studies show that murderers tend to have a lower recidivism rate; my old criminal law prof joked it was because “you only have one mother-in-law.”)

There must have been a reason why everyone disliked him, but for all that he was her family.

Jo Allen, Death on the Lake

And then there are the characters who are around (presumably) for just this installment. The family at the center of the murder, fraud, and money-laundering questions, the Neilsons, are fascinating: a young wife trying to help raise privileged-as-hell twins of 18 with an oft-absent wealthy husband who came from the area and made his fortune after leaving. There are so many levels to explore in this family, and Allen does a good job of covering the waterfront.

It was rare she coveted anything, but the Neilsons’ summer mansion brought out the worst in her.

Jo Allen, Death on the Lake

And then there’s the setting. More so than the last book, the Lake District’s geography comes into play in this novel. I took some time to look at some of the landmarks Allen discusses in the book, and the difficulties the lay of the land create for observation and security become quite obvious.

Because fear, like loyalty and friendship, made you do terrible, terrible things.

Jo Allen, Death on the Lake

All-in-all, Death on the Lake is a triumphant installment of this engaging murder mystery series, marked both for the clever puzzle and the layers of depth in its treatment of the crimes and characters.


Spotlight: From Ashes to Song by Hilary Hauck

Summary, Excerpt, Praise, and Author Bio

Pages: 219

Publisher: Sudbury House

ARC provided by FSB Associates

Progressive Era

From the Publisher

Italy, 1911. Pietro’s life on the family vineyard is idyllic. He has at last captured the melody of the grape harvest on his clarinet and can’t wait to share his composition with his grandfather, but before he can play, news arrives of a deadly disease sweeping the countryside. They have no choice but to burn the vineyard to stop its spread. The loss is too much for Pietro’s grandfather, and by morning Pietro has lost two of the most precious things in his life—his grandfather and the vineyard. All he has left is his music, but a disastrous performance at his grandfather’s funeral suggests that music, too, is now beyond his reach.

Adrift with grief, Pietro seeks a new start in America. He goes to work in a Pennsylvania coal mine where his musician’s hands blister and his days are spent in the muffled silence of underground.

When the beautiful voice and gentle heart of a friend’s wife stirs a new song in him, Pietro at last encounters a glimmer of hope. From a respectful distance and without catching the attention of her husband, Pietro draws on Assunta for inspiration and soon his gift for music returns. But when grief strikes in Assunta’s life, Pietro is to blame. When Prohibition steals Pietro’s last pleasure, he has to do something before Assunta’s grief consumes them both. Inspired by true events, From Ashes to Song is a story of unconventional love, hope, and the extraordinary gifts brought to America by ordinary people in the great wave of immigration.

Excerpt

From Ashes to Song

Assunta had reconciled her heart to the fact that Nandy had married another woman in America. Mary, her name was. She’d even borne his child—may they both rest in peace. She would not remain bitter about it. He’d been far from home, alone, and he’d already paid the worst price by losing them both

What she was having a harder time accepting was how he’d let Beatrice dig her seductive claws into him when he had returned to Italy.

“I would have come straight to you,” he’d said. “But I was too embarrassed. I didn’t know how to tell you about Mary.”

They could put this all behind them soon. By the end of the day, she and Nandy would be married as they’d intended eight years earlier, and they would travel a world away from the clutches of Beatrice. 

Assunta’s wedding dress was an elegant yellow, not bright like a sunflower, more like a rose that grew on a balcony overlooking the piazza in Verona. 

Mamma had surprised her with the fabric the same day Nandy had shown up to propose. “Pretty, isn’t it?” she’d asked. “I came across it at the market one time when your father was still alive. It’s been tucked hidden away all this time.” 

Mamma had spent the ensuing weeks industriously planning and incessantly cleaning, appearing wholly confident that Assunta’s life had always meant to take this direction, despite Papà’s decree. Mamma even had the style of Assunta’s dress decided, and being so sure of her plan, she had very nearly forgotten to take Assunta to the dressmakers with her. 

“You always look out for me,” Assunta had told her. “I don’t know what I’ll do without you.” 

“You’ll do just fine, that’s how you’ll do” Mamma had taken the fabric from the dressmaker’s hands and adjusted the folds. “Wider pleats, this wide, all the way down the front to the hem.” 

Assunta would be eternally grateful to her mother, but for all the love in the world—and she’d never break her mother’s heart by telling her this—it was high time she started to make decisions for herself. 

She planned to start small. She might decide to have morning coffee before making the beds and sweeping the floor. It’d be up to her whether they had pasta or rice or minestra on what day of the week. And to think, no more mornings spent kneading the dough to make gnocchi for her brother, Vito, to sell in his shop. Perhaps she’d make them to sell elsewhere, and if she did, it would not be when and how her brother decided. She’d make sure her gnocchi looked as good as they tasted, and she wouldn’t use the plain tubs her brother used. She’d choose wooden or copper bowls, oval like the gnocchi themselves, and worthy in their own right of being on show. 

She’d sell her homemade tagliatelle, and once a week, she’d make pasta al forno and serve it hot mid-morning, none of which Vito had agreed to do. Then again, she barely made a lira on the work she did for him, so it was probably just as well. 

Yes, this marriage and the journey ahead of them was the launch of a new and everlasting chapter, one where she would run the home, care for her husband, for their children. The final piece of the puzzle that was this life. 

“Here, they’re real silk,” Mamma held up a garland of white flowers. “To pin to your veil. They can’t blemish. That’s my wish for you, a marriage with no blemish.” 

Mamma’s intention might have been to ward off troubles. Still, the only blemish—the enormous blemish that everyone had so far avoided talking about these past weeks would be the wife and the girlfriend Nandy had had since he’d first proposed to Assunta. 

“I couldn’t be happier.” Even to Assunta, her words sounded forced. “With the flowers, I mean, not—” Not what? His women? She wouldn’t say that out loud. 

“Crying shame, your father, not being here.” Mamma had either taken Assunta’s hesitation as a moment of sorrow or was deliberately redirecting the subject. 

Assunta resisted the urge to set her straight and point out that if Papà had been here, she wouldn’t be marrying Nandy at all, but there was little point opening that old wound today. 

Despite her intention, Assunta spent the entire walk to church thinking about how, if Papà had let them marry eight years ago, Nandy would never have ended up with another wife and girlfriend in the first place. And following on from that thought, she reminded herself that she had forgiven him, and therefore those two women had no business being on her mind today. And yet they were. 

Vito was waiting for them outside the church door, looking dashing though a little uncomfortable in a silk topper. 

“Papà would have been proud to walk you down the aisle,” Mamma said. 

“He wouldn’t be walking me to Nandy, though, would he?” Assunta said without thinking. There, she’d blown it. “Sorry,” she murmured. 

If Mamma reacted to the paltry apology, Assunta didn’t see because her brother pulled her in for a swift kiss on both cheeks. 

“You look beautiful.” Vito let go of Assunta just in time for her to glimpse Mamma pressing her handkerchief to her nose with uncharacteristic drama and disappear into the church.

“She’s taking this hard,” Vito said, tilting his chin after Mamma.

Assunta lifted her veil, careful not to dislodge the silk flowers.

“Is Nandy here?” Assunta asked.

“I can’t see around corners, but as he’s the groom, I would presume so. 

Another thing I can’t see around the corner is your future. It bothers me.”
“I can tell you the future—we’re getting married, and we’re going to live happily ever after.” Vito had chosen a fine time to cast his doubts. Well, if everyone intended to focus on what would hinder rather than nurture this marriage, she might as well not hold back. “Did Beatrice show up? Is she in there?”

“She wouldn’t dare, and you shouldn’t think of her. Not today, not ever again. As for your future, I have no doubt you’ll make a perfect home and a happy husband. It’s where you’re going that worries us all.” 

America had always been the worry. Papà hadn’t doubted Nandy’s character so much as his destination. “We’re not the first to go. Besides, Nandy can provide well for us in America.” 

“I’m sure he can. Thing’s will work out for you, I know it.” 

Far from helping, her brother’s sudden change in tone and certainty unsettled her. Now she felt uncertain again. She should send Vito inside the church, have him explain that she needed a bit more time to think about this marriage, not pulling out necessarily, just needing a bit of time alone. But knowing her brother, he would do it his way. He’d call out their other siblings, Mamma too, and make everyone else wait in the pews while they decided her fate as a family. 

No, she’d got herself into this. Nandy couldn’t be blamed for straying; he’d been a free man. Now Assunta needed to focus on how this was her time, and Nandy had always been the right man for her. 

The organist switched to play the Wedding March. Assunta did not move. “Our home will be joyous with the sound of children,” she told Vito.
“We are supposed to walk, not talk when the music starts,” Vito said. Assunta felt the tug of his arm on hers but held still. This was meant to be. 

It was time to take her place at Nandy’s side, the conclusion of a long path to a fulfilled adulthood. 

“You want to leave?” Vito asked.

“I’m okay,” she said, wishing she meant it.

She didn’t look up to see if Nandy was there, nor to either side and into the faces of the congregation.

At the top of the aisle, she kept her eyes firmly on the stone floor. If Mamma was crying, Assunta would cry, too. If Mamma were stoic, Assunta would cry anyway because Mamma would be putting a brave face on the fact that this marriage meant a ticket to a life a world away. 

She saw Nandy’s feet first. They were big. She should have checked them. 

She was grateful for the veil that hid her smile at the memory of just a few months ago after Nandy had turned back up, but before he drummed up the courage to speak to her, Assunta had asked Mamma to find her another man to marry. One who hadn’t returned from his world travels, a widower to boot, and proceeded to walk out with another—Beatrice of all people—with not so much as a courtesy call to Assunta. She’d specified that the new version of husband Mamma was to find should not have smelly feet, nor a brood of ready-made children like the man her aunt had married. 

Assunta kept her eyes down as Vito kissed her cheek. She clung tighter to his arm, but he pulled her fingers away from his sleeve. There was a moment of shuffling and silence, then Assunta let her brother go. 

She knelt next to Nandy, and without greeting or welcome, the priest began his ritual. Someone in the congregation coughed, Assunta stiffened. Was this someone clearing their throat to speak, to call out that she couldn’t, after all, have him? Nobody spoke. The priest carried on. 

Someone sneezed. A sneeze didn’t mean the start of an objection, but still, it made Assunta want to turn and look. She wouldn’t put it past Beatrice to show up. Or for someone else to say it was all a big mistake, that he was still married, that his other wife had not died after all. Assunta clasped her hands tight through the liturgies and rites, her white gloves bunching around the fingers. Then the priest asked if anyone knew any reason why the two people standing before him should not be joined in holy matrimony—Assunta was surely going to choke—but the priest was talking again. Did that mean nobody had spoken? He was talking about man and wife—they were truly married. 

She turned to look at Nandy for the first time today. Kneeling, they were equal height, the extra few inches he had on her must be in the length of his legs. His profile was important, his brown-black mustache freshly oiled, chin jutting forward slightly, clearly focused on the solemnity of the service. If she thought hard enough, perhaps she could make him turn and look at her, but he kept his gaze firmly on the altar. He was taking this so seriously, reverent in the face of their future—a comforting sign. 

They stood up and were permitted to kiss. At last, Nandy turned, his eyes like something that would melt solid bronze. He took her in his arms, turned her, and bent her backward so she’d have toppled to the ground if he hadn’t held her so tightly, and he kissed her like there was nobody watching. 

Excerpted from From Ashes to Song by Hilary Hauck. Copyright © 2021 by Hilary Hauck. 

Praise for From Ashes to Song

From Ashes to Song by Hilary Hauck is a gorgeous story inspired by true events. Gifted musician, Pietro, and beautiful Assunta wander the world, hearts closed and hard, each marred by pain, making choices out of uncertainty and grief. Their paths cross then join as the two grope for the next right thing to do. It’s nearly too late when they finally recognize the love right in front of them. Hauck’s exquisite prose calls on the beauty of music to illuminate the harsh, dark world of coal mines and company towns. The immigrant population fuels an industry but as individuals they wield little power over their daily obligations. Luckily, they carry with them dreams for better lives, affection for family, the seeds of good wine, and the strains of enchanting music—an invitation to share in the magic of love in all its forms.”

—Kathleen Shoop, Award-winning, bestselling author of historical fiction, women’s fiction, and romance

“From Ashes to Song enticed me with its pleasurably beautiful prose. Pietro tries to perfect a song for his grandfather Nonno as he gazes over the family vineyards in Piedmont, Italy. The musicality of the story kept me enthralled from the beginning. The love story of talented Pietro and honey voiced Assunta, inspired by true events, is a quintessential immigrant story. But it is also the tale of two lovers who cross paths only to be separated again and again against the backdrop of hard life of coal miners of Pennsylvania. The “land of milk and honey” is beyond their reach but they overcome their day-to-day struggles and frustrations with fond memories, newly forged relationships and dreams for a better life. Pietro’s melodies for Assunta kept me magnetized as much as their love amidst scarcity. At the end the musical threads coalesced into one poignant and powerful scene like the crescendo of an unforgettable symphony.”

—Madhu B. Wangu, award-winning author and founder of Mindful Writers Groups and Retreats


“From the vineyards of Piedmont to the coal mines of southwestern Pennsylvania, From Ashes to Song by Hilary Hauck poignantly captures the challenges and triumphs of the Italian immigrant experience at the turn of the century. Based on real-life events, the characters at the center of this big-hearted and beautiful debut, Pietro and Assunta, find love in the face of devastating loss. Their story of resourcefulness, resilience and the power of music to inspire and to heal is one to savor. Like the long finish of a fine wine, From Ashes to Song will linger in the mind long after the last page has been turned.”
—Meredith Mileti, author of Aftertaste: A Novel in Five Courses

About the Author

Hilary Hauck is the author of From Ashes to Song, her debut novel. A writer and translator, her work has appeared in the Mindful Writers Retreat Series anthologies, the Ekphrastic Review, Balloons Lit. Journal, and the Telepoem Booth. She moved to Italy from her native UK as a young adult, where she mastered the language, learned how to cook food she can no longer eat, and won a karate championship. After meeting her husband, Hilary came to the US and drew inspiration from Pennsylvania coal history, which soon became the setting for her debut novel. Hilary is Chair of the Festival of Books in the Alleghenies, past president of Pennwriters, and a graduate of RULE. She lives on a small patch of woods in rural Pennsylvania with her husband, one of their three adult children, a cat with a passion for laundry, and an oversized German Shepherd called Hobbes—of the Calvin variety. 

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Spotlight: The Walls of Rome by Robert M. Kidd

Rachel’s Random Resources

Giveaway, Summary, and Author Bio

Pages: 322

Publisher: Self-published

Series: The Histories of Sphax

ARC provided by Rachel’s Random Resources

Second Punic War

Giveaway to win a signed and dedicated copy of A Hostage of Rome (Book 3).

*Terms and Conditions –Worldwide entries welcome.  Please enter using the Rafflecopter box below.  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.

From the publisher

218 BC. Sphax is seventeen and haunted by the brutal murder of his parents at the hands of Rome. After ten years of miserable slavery he will make his last bid for freedom and go in search of Hannibal’s army and his birthright. He will have his revenge on the stinking cesspit that is Rome!

Destiny will see him taken under the wing of Maharbal, Hannibal’s brilliant general, and groomed to lead the finest horsemen in the world – the feared Numidian cavalry that would become the scourge of Rome.

From the crossing of the great Rhodanus River, Sphax’s epic journey takes him through the lands of the Gaul to the highest pass in the Alps. This is the story of the most famous march in history. A march against impossible odds, against savage mountain Gauls, a brutal winter and Sphax’s own demons. 

This is more than a struggle for empire. This is the last great war to save the beauty of the old world, the civilized world of Carthage, Greece and Gaul. The world of art and philosophy – before it is ground into dust by the upstart barbarity of Rome.

AMAZON (US)AMAZON (UK)

From the Author

When Cato the Censor demanded that ‘Carthage must be destroyed,’ Rome did just that. In 146 BC, after a three year siege, Carthage was raised to the ground, its surviving citizens sold into slavery and the fields where this once magnificent city had stood, ploughed by oxen. Carthage was erased from history.

That’s why I’m a novelist on a mission! I want to set the historical record straight. Our entire history of Hannibal’s wars with Rome is nothing short of propaganda, written by Greeks and Romans for their Roman clients. It intrigues me that Hannibal took two Greek scholars and historians with him on campaign, yet their histories of Rome’s deadliest war have never seen the light of day. 

My hero, Sphax the Numidian, tells a different story!

When I’m not waging war with my pen, I like to indulge my passion for travel and hill walking, and like my hero, I too love horses. I live in Pembrokeshire, West Wales.

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Imagining discovery and colonialism in the South Seas

To the Fair Land by Lucienne Boyce

r/suggestmeabook: I want to immerse myself in the British perspective of empire-building and colonialism from both someone who’s stayed in the home country and one who’s voyaged.

Movie rating: PG-13

Pages: 332

Publisher: Silverwood Books

ARC provided by Rachel’s Random Resources; apologies for the late review!

Georgian Imperialism Mystery/Adventure

From the publisher: In 1789 struggling writer Ben Dearlove rescues a woman from a furious Covent Garden mob. The woman is ill and in her delirium cries out the name “Miranda.” Weeks later an anonymous novel about the voyage of the Miranda to the fabled Great Southern Continent causes a sensation. Ben decides to find the author everyone is talking about. He is sure the woman can help him – but she has disappeared.

Let me open with this: I was fascinated by the story line of To the Fair Land. I was pulled in immediately by the description of the play, which immediately triggered my brain to produce the theme song from Blackadder the Third, set a little later, but close to the right time period (however, not the right tone at all). Lucienne Boyce’s writing style is dynamic and engaging, and I was propelled to read to the finish.

The book starts in 1789, after the conclusion of Captain James Cook’s exploration of the South Seas, and I’ve included illustrations from those voyages, as they inform the imagery and plot of the book. England was rapidly moving from the voyages of discovery to full-fledged capitalist industrial exploitation of countries without the wherewithal to resist. The occupation of India started over a century before the initial portion of the novel, and the Caribbean and North American colonies had been well-established, and the 13 colonies that will make up the United States have been lost.

Cook’s journeys were taken in part to try to find a mythical southern continent known as Terra Australis, although that motivation was kept secret; at least at the start he was ostensibly tracking the course of Venus. He didn’t find Terra Australis, instead being credited as the first European to encounter the Hawaiian islands. Cook’s travels did, however, lay the groundwork for the extensive occupation of the South Seas by Britain.

In To the Fair Land, Boyce contemplates questions of power and the application of realpolitik by individuals in their choices, particularly with reference to colonialism, but also frequently about beliefs and roles of women. The mechanism for this is the two stories that make up the novel: that of Ben Dearlove’s search for the author of the anonymous novel and the story of the delirious woman, both of which are quite interesting. The anonymous novel is about the discovery of a mythical land by characters with names to reflect their attributes; for example, the hero is called Mr. Noble.

Ben, the son of a Bristol pharmacist, is living in London and trying to make a living as an author to avoid going home to the family business. As a rather conventional white male of the period, he starts from the twin premises that England’s colonial policy is a positive force in the world and that women are incapable of feats routinely carried out by men. The anonymous woman, on the other hand, views colonialism as a destruction of native culture and has flouted social convention. These two characters highlight social issues and concerns by their comparison.

He spoke with the dusty wheeze of a man who breathed nothing but particles of paper and parchment.

Lucienne Boyce, To the Fair Land

Both characters are well-realized, and their individual stories are excellent. I really enjoyed Ben’s character development, particularly with regard to how he views women. Class distinctions are felt throughout the story, and Boyce also highlights privilege and the way it influences actions. I also loved how it contemplated problematic aspects of colonialism.

Walking around the Exchange’s vaulted colonnade, he indulged himself in his usual game of guessing what business brought people here.

Lucienne Boyce, To the Fair Land

In particular, what stays with me was the point at which a character says, after a discussion of consequences of colonialism on the indigenous civilization, “If they do exist, they cannot remain unknown to the civilized part of the world…The French, the Spanish and the Dutch also wish to expand their territories. If anyone is to govern them, it is better for the natives that they should be under British rule.”

Although I’d say it’s pretty hard to figure out who did colonialism the worst, as they all have some egregious periods, the rationalization is hard to avoid: If it’s inevitable that a culture that has less technology with which to defend itself would be discovered and become a colony, what’s the right thing to do with the information that would lead the Western powers to finding it sooner? Is it better to reveal its whereabouts to the country you believe will be the least destructive or to try to keep the location secret?

What do you think happens to a land when it has been discovered? What do you think it becomes once it has been exposed to our greed and cruelty?

Lucienne Boyce, To the Fair Land

The reason I didn’t give a higher numerical rating has more to do with how I felt after finishing the book than how I felt while reading it, which always makes for a tricky explanation if you’re trying not to give spoilers. So I’ll give a rather vague one here, with a more specific and potentially spoiler-y one down below the picture of the bird (a red-rumped parrot).

What sort of woman could have written such a book? Only one who has entirely lost all sense of feminine delicacy. The best place for her is an asylum.

Lucienne Boyce, To the Fair Land

The problem I had was that there is a major shift of the type of story being told at about the 67% mark. Up until then, it’s more in the vein of a mystery; at that point, it shifts to a travel adventure. The change in tone, and in POV, makes the book feel disjointed rather than having two parallel stories or timelines. The mystery is all about the anonymously published hit book about the discovery of a mythical continent: who the author is, why they are hiding, and why others are pursuing them as well? You’d expect the second tone to be a little foreshadowed by excerpts from the book in question, but the book within the book is more fantasy than the realistic discussion that takes place in the travel adventure.

Not so much the Scottish poet these days as the sottish poet.

Lucienne Boyce, To the Fair Land

More importantly, there’s a key plot point which didn’t make sense to me. Whether that’s due to how I read the book or to my preconceived ideas of how the world works or to the writing, I can’t say. But it diminished my experience of the book’s overall arc.

It was not the dark little man’s sibilant spitefulness that bothered Ben so much as the fountains of spittle that drenched anyone who happened to be within range of his criticisms.

Lucienne Boyce, To the Fair Land

I was also disappointed there wasn’t an author’s note to give me a better idea of what was imagined versus what was factual. All that’s included is a glossary at the back, which gives a few insights, but isn’t as detailed as I’d like, as there were more allusions than explanations of Cook’s voyages, which, after looking into it more, would have been nice to have known as I was reading the story. Perhaps there’s less reason for that for a UK than a US audience, as the Cook journeys may be more emphasized in the former than the latter.

I will be watching for new books from Boyce, though, as her writing is compelling, and the topic and period she chose to address are relatively rarely covered in historical fiction, and I appreciated the imaginative way she included questions that are still being debated about imperialism and women’s rights.

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Warning: Spoilers follow

Here’s the crux of my problem: I don’t see the connection between knowing about Sarah Edgecumbe and the Miranda’s voyage and prosecuting either Bowood or Jacob Edgecumbe for the murder of his father. The motive wasn’t what happened; it was fear of what might have happened. And even at that, it’s tenuous enough for a conviction of any sort, so all of the story that hinges on that connection fell apart for me, meaning that the reason the Navy would go after Bowood seems forced.

I like that the tone of the speakers was different between Ben and Sarah, but everything in her account seemed so removed from the type of story and the themes of Ben’s that the two tales didn’t seem to mesh all that well, even though I found each separate story intriguing. But I think the murder of Ben’s father and his search for justice may have undermined that as well. I preferred the original motivation, to discover the author and get some cash, which could easily have turned into a quest for the answer itself without requiring revenge as a motivation.

I also couldn’t decide whether the incest allegation was true or if it was supposed to be deliberately somewhat ambiguous. I rather like the idea that the truth of the allegation was irrelevant to just about everyone and therefore it was not clear to me as a reader, but there’s the brief passage where Sarah is watching her brother change that seems to be confirmation of the allegations. However, that passage is vague enough that I wasn’t sure how I was supposed to take it; coupled with the earlier discovery of the siblings in a rather inappropriate situation, it seems like I’m supposed to surmise that there actually was an incestuous relationship.

I’m not all that crazy about the incest plot because if I’m supposed to believe it actually happened, I’d like more details about the power dynamic. The brother was significantly older than the sister, so on the face of it, it’s hard to take it as consensual. And it’s the consensuality of it that drives how I feel about the characters and their attitudes toward it if the sibling incest is to be considered true in the context of the novel, which is part of why I rather favor the idea that it’s probably not true, but the truth was irrelevant to the other characters because the allegation suited their objectives.

Mastering gifts, politics and relationships

The Shadow of Water by Jacquelyn Benson

r/suggestmeabook: I want to follow the adventures of a precog learning to master her talent and her gifted friends in the shadow of the beginning of WWI.

Movie rating: PG

Pages: 494

Publisher: Vaughn Woods Publishing

Series: The Charismatics

ARC provided by Book Sirens

From the publisher: In an England on the brink of war, Lily is plagued by psychic visions of the cataclysmic destruction of London. An ancient prophecy is coming to fruition, and it starts with the gruesome discovery of a corpse in the sewers.

Jacquelyn Benson’s writing style is lovely, and I love the characters. It’s always hard reviewing a sequel, as it’s hard to avoid comparing it to the preceding book. “The Shadow of Water” would not have stood up well on its own, as my feelings about the characters is derived more from the relationships built in the first book in the series, “The Fire in the Glass,” than in this one. In particular, the relationship between Strangford and Lily was less evoked by Strangford’s actions than by Lily’s summary comments. And for some reason I was having more difficulty keeping Ash and Cairncross straight, although that could be more my issue than that of the author.

Fear the pain of grief. Fear neglecting to embrace life with both your arms and draw all the joy of it that you can. Fear being stingy with your love or your compassion. But do not fear Death.

Jacquelyn Benson, The Shadow of Water

Also, since much of the tension in the first book was derived from the question of whether her precognition showed an unalterable future, that tension was lost and there wasn’t as much to replace it. I felt less on-the-edge-of-my-seat about how things would turn out than in the first book.

Alone. Such a small word for such an enormous burden. It had driven her to poor choices in the past.

Jacquelyn Benson, The Shadow of Water

This installment felt less layered and complex, although the mystery of Sam’s past was a great subplot, and I felt like Sam was developed much more in this book, which I enjoyed, although the characterization of his relationship with Ash was a bit repetitive and not really resolved.

Progress is like water. It will always find a way.

Jacquelyn Benson, The Shadow of Water

The other thing I missed was the inclusion of someone you love to hate. Viscount Deveral was perfectly nasty and Joseph Hartwell creepy in the last book, but there wasn’t a concrete baddie to hate in this book. At best, there were people taking actions that were murky or unpleasant, such as Ash and Strangford’s mother, but those actors weren’t personally reprehensible.

The debutante caught the gaze of another young woman tied to a dour chaperone. She flashed her a flirtatious smile.

Jacquelyn Benson, The Shadow of Water

So although I love Benson’s writing, and I’ll still read the next installment in the series, “The Shadow of Water” was a little bit of a let down.


Spotlight: Paris in Ruins by M.K. Tod

Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours

Summary, Excerpt, Praise, and Author Bio

Pages: 370

Publisher: Heath Street Publishing

ARC provided by Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours

Franco-Prussian War

From the publisher

Paris 1870. Raised for a life of parties and servants, Camille and Mariele have much in common, but it takes the horrors of war to bring them together to fight for the city and people they love.

A few weeks after the abdication of Napoleon III, the Prussian army lays siege to Paris. Camille Noisette, the daughter of a wealthy family, volunteers to nurse wounded soldiers and agrees to spy on a group of radicals plotting to overthrow the French government. Her future sister-in-law, Mariele de Crécy, is appalled by the gaps between rich and poor. She volunteers to look after destitute children whose families can barely afford to eat.

Somehow, Camille and Mariele must find the courage and strength to endure months of devastating siege, bloody civil war, and great personal risk. Through it all, an unexpected friendship grows between the two women, as they face the destruction of Paris and discover that in war women have as much to fight for as men.

War has a way of teaching lessons—if only Camille and Mariele can survive long enough to learn them.

AMAZON | BARNES AND NOBLE | GOOGLE PLAYKOBO

Excerpt

Although laughter followed, the conversation soon returned to the perilous state of Paris.

“Our leaders have been too busy organizing a new republic and ensuring positions of power for themselves,” said Ernest Garnier, whose bald head and white beard conferred an air of authority.

Camille knew Garnier and his son Jules, who was developing a reputation as a portrait artist. She leaned forward. “And what do you think of our new government, Monsieur Garnier?” she asked. “Will these men be able to lead us through such difficult times?”

“Our government has too many republicans with radical views for my liking,” Ernest Garnier replied. “And too many neophytes. This is a time for men of experience, not men who merely know how to appeal to the masses.”

Garnier’s reply reminded her of the speeches she’d heard at the republican club. “And the women, Monsieur? How do you feel the women can best be of service?”

“Well, the actresses of the Comédie-Française have turned the theater into a convalescent hospital, and there’s a rumor that Sarah Bernhardt will do the same with the Odéon. Perhaps they will need volunteers. No doubt Bernhardt’s relationship with Kératry will enable her to get all the necessary supplies.” Garnier’s eyes twinkled.

Camille had no idea why the men laughed in response. She made a mental note to ask
Bertrand on the way home.

“But to answer your question, Mademoiselle, I don’t believe actresses are suitable companions for a young lady like you,” Garnier continued, bringing the lighthearted moment to an end. “Women like you should stay at home and leave the worrying to us.”

Despite the man’s condescending attitude, Camille smiled to acknowledge his opinion. A few seconds later, she felt a tap on her shoulder. When she turned to look, André tilted his head and gestured at a window next to a potted palm. She waited until the next round of conversation got underway before joining him.

“That conversation was becoming tedious,” André said. “Too many men who think they could do a better job. I doubt any of them have military experience. I need a breath of air. Will you join me on the balcony?”

“When did you join the Guard?” Camille asked after they moved onto the balcony. “I didn’t realize you planned to do so.”

André stared at the street below, where a dog sniffed the ground beneath a lamppost. “I feel it’s my duty. I’m not a man who desires combat, but the times call for extraordinary measures. If men like me refuse to enlist, the National Guard will be dominated by extreme factions who believe in overthrowing the government.”

Camille pressed her lips together. “How will Paris withstand the kind of siege those men are expecting? There won’t be enough food for everyone. The shops and trades won’t have enough business. The poor . . . I can’t imagine what the poor will do. Life is difficult enough for them now. And the Prussians . . .” Suddenly, she felt as if she couldn’t breathe.

“Do you wish me to be frank?” André’s tone remained neutral.

“Of course.”

“Paris can withstand a siege until the level of suffering demands surrender. It’s September. The weather is warm, and for the moment, we have an abundance of food. Come November or December, the poor will be dying in the streets from cold and starvation. People like us will find ways to manage, but others will soon run out of money. Think of the little children who’ll be affected and the women whose husbands will lose their livelihood, or even their lives. Those people won’t be able to keep a roof over their heads. And to make matters worse, the radicals might seize the opportunity to create further turmoil. We could even face another revolution.”

“You make it sound dire, Monsieur and I applaud your decision to enlist. As for me, I hope to volunteer at one of the hospitals.”

“You don’t plan to heed Monsieur Garnier’s words, then.”

“No, Monsieur. His opinions are firmly entrenched in the past. Fortunately, my father
permits me a little more liberty. I chose to remain in Paris in order to be useful.”

“I’m certain you will be more than useful.” He turned to face her. “Will you go to the meetings in Montmartre?”

After attending the club at Restaurant Polignac, she’d spent hours considering André’s request, weighing the dangers against her desire to contribute to the country’s future and the bolder approach to living she’d adopted since Juliette’s death. Ultimately, she had sent him a letter confirming her participation.

“Yes. I gave you my word, Monsieur. I’ll attend the next meeting and let you know what happens.”

He did not smile. “Don’t write anything down. Tell me in person.”

Praise

“The story of two women whose families were caught up in the defense of Paris is deeply moving and suspenseful.” -Margaret George, author of Splendor Before the Dark: A Novel of the Emperor Nero

“Tod is not only a good historian, but also an accomplished writer … a gripping, well-limned picture of a time and a place that provide universal lessons.” -Kirkus Reviews

“M.K. Tod’s elegant style and uncanny eye for time and place again shine through in her riveting new tale, Paris in Ruins.” -Jeffrey K. Walker author of No Hero’s Welcome

About the Author

Paris In Ruins is M.K. Tod’s fourth novel. Mary began writing in 2005 while living as an expat in Hong Kong. What started as an interest in her grandparents’ lives turned into a full-time occupation writing historical fiction. Her other novels are Time and Regret, Lies Told in Silence, and Unravelled.

Beyond writing novels, Mary’s award-winning blog, www.awriterofhistory.com features the reading and writing of historical fiction. When she’s not writing, or thinking about writing, you can find her hiking, golfing, traveling, or hanging out with friends and family. Mary is married and has two adult children and two delightful grandchildren.

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Fiery Girls by Heather Wardell

A book blast from Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours

Progressive Era Historical Fiction

Giveaway

During the Blog Tour, the publisher is giving away a $20 Amazon Gift Card! The giveaway is open internationally and ends on April 9th. You must be 18 or older to enter.

From the publisher

Two young immigrant women. One historic strike. And the fire that changed America.

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. Could she somehow become one of the passionate and articulate “fiery girls” of her garment workers’ union?

Maria Cirrito, spoiled and confident, 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. So she plans to stay forever. With him.

Rosie and Maria meet and become friends during the “Uprising of the 20,000” garment workers’ strike, and they’re working together at the Triangle Waist Company on March 25, 1911 when a discarded cigarette sets the factory ablaze. 146 people die that day, and even those who survive will be changed forever.

Carefully researched and full of historic detail, Fiery Girls is a novel of hope: for a better life, for turning tragedy into progress, and for becoming who you’re meant to be.

AMAZON | BARNES AND NOBLE | INDIEBOUND


About the Author

Heather is a natural 1200 wpm speed reader and the author of twenty-one self-published novels. She came to writing after careers as a software developer and elementary school computer teacher and can’t imagine ever leaving it. In her spare time, she reads, swims, walks, lifts weights, crochets, changes her hair colour, and plays drums and clarinet. Generally not all at once.

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