Book review: Portrait of Conspiracy by Da Vinci’s Disciples – Book One by Donna Russo Morin

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  • Publication Date: May 10, 2016
  • Diversion Books
  • eBook & Paperback; 290 Pages
  • Genre: Historical Mystery

Book Description:

One murder ignites the powderkeg that threatens to consume the Medici’s Florence. Amidst the chaos, five women and one legendary artist weave together a plot that could bring peace, or get them all killed. Seeking to wrest power from the Medici family in 15th Century Florence, members of the Pazzi family drew their blades in a church and slew Giuliano. But Lorenzo de Medici survives, and seeks revenge on everyone involved, plunging the city into a murderous chaos that takes dozens of lives. Bodies are dragged through the streets, and no one is safe. Five women steal away to a church to ply their craft in secret.

Viviana, Fiammetta, Isabetta, Natasia, and Mattea are painters, not allowed to be public with their skill, but freed from the restrictions in their lives by their art. When a sixth member of their group, Lapaccia, goes missing, and is rumored to have stolen a much sought after painting as she vanished, the women must venture out into the dangerous streets to find their friend and see her safe. They will have help from one of the most renowned painters of their era the peaceful and kind Leonardo Da Vinci. It is under his tutelage that they will flourish as artists, and with his access that they will infiltrate some of the highest, most secretive places in Florence, unraveling one conspiracy as they build another in its place. Historical fiction at its finest, Donna Russo Morin begins a series of Da Vinci s disciples with a novel both vibrant and absorbing, perfect for the readers of Sarah Dunant.

“A riveting page-turner unlike any historical novel you’ve read, weaving passion, adventure, artistic rebirth, and consequences of ambition into the first of a trilogy by a masterful writer at the peak of her craft.” -C. W. Gortner, author of The Confessions of Catherine de’ Medici and The Vatican Princess

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million | IndieBound

DonnaRussoMorinwebsiteMeet the Author:

Donna Russo Morin is the award winning of author of historical fiction. A graduate of the University of Rhode Island, she lives near the shore with her two sons, Devon and Dylan, her greatest works in progress.

Donna enjoys meeting with book groups in person and via Skype chat.

 

Visit her website at www.donnarussomorin.com; friend her on Facebook and follow her on Twitter @DonnaRussoMorin.

REVIEW:

Portrait of a Conspiracy is not for the faint of heart or weak of stomach.  The story opens amidst a bloodbath of violence between the Pazzi and the Medici. Thrust into the midst of political upheaval and revenge are six women artists united through their love of art (despite coming from very different backgrounds and social classes) who practice their respective artistic skills with utmost secrecy.

When one of their fellow artists goes missing, they set out on dangerous missions to find her before she is found by those seeking revenge.  A painting mysteriously disappears at the same time and the five remaining women must determine why the painting is so important.  A surprise is the involvement of Leonardo da Vinci as a young man.  He becomes their mentor and confidante and it is interesting to imagine him as a real person apart from his life as a painter.

Although this book is described as historical fiction, I would add “thriller” and “mystery” to describe the book.  The subplots keep you turning the pages until its ultimately satisfying conclusion.

Although not based on historical incidences, it is interesting to imagine how much artwork was actually produced by women during this time period.

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Book review: The Rivals of Versailles (The Mistresses of Versailles Trilogy #2) by Sally Christie

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  • Publication date:  April 5, 2016
  • Publisher:  Atria Books
  • 448 pages
  • Genre:  Historical fiction

Description:

And you thought sisters were a thing to fear! In this compelling follow-up to Sally Christie’s clever and absorbing debut, we meet none other than the Marquise de Pompadour, one of the greatest beauties of her generation and the first bourgeois mistress ever to grace the hallowed halls of Versailles.

The year is 1745 and Louis XV’s bed is once again empty. Enter Jeanne-Antoinette Poisson, a beautiful girl from the middle classes. As a child, a fortune teller had mapped out Jeanne’s destiny: she would become the lover of a king and the most powerful woman in the land. Eventually connections, luck, and a little scheming pave her way to Versailles and into the King’s arms.

All too soon, conniving politicians and hopeful beauties seek to replace the bourgeoise interloper with a more suitable mistress. As Jeanne, now the Marquise de Pompadour, takes on her many rivals—including a lustful lady-in-waiting, a precocious 14-year-old prostitute, and even a cousin of the notorious Nesle sisters—she helps the king give himself over to a life of luxury and depravity. Around them, war rages, discontent grows, and France inches ever closer to the Revolution.

Enigmatic beauty, social climber, actress, trendsetter, patron of the arts, spendthrift, whoremonger, friend, lover, foe: history books say many things about the famous Marquise de Pompadour. Alongside Catherine the Great of Russia and Maria Theresa of Austria, she is considered one of the three most powerful women of the 18th century, and one of the most influential royal mistresses of all time.

In The Rivals of Versailles, Christie gets to the heart of Pompadour’s legendary relationship with Louis XV, France’s most “well-beloved” king. Pompadour was not only his mistress, but his confidante and influential political adviser for close to twenty years. Full of historical insight, decadence, wit and scandal, The Rivals of Versailles is about one woman’s trials and triumphs, her love for a king, and her role in shaping a nation.

Buy the book:   Amazon   Barnes & Noble

unnamed-5Meet the author:

I’m a life-long history buff – and I mean life-long. One of the first adult books I read was Antonia Fraser’s masterful Mary, Queen of Scots. Wow! That book just blew my little ten year old mind: something about the way it brought the past right back to life, made it live again on the page. I date my obsession with history to that time, but I’d been writing (“writing”) ever since I was able to hold a pencil.

If you’d told my 12-year old self that I’d not be a writer when I grew up, I would have laughed you out of the tree house. With a few detours along the way, to work overseas in consulting and development, as well as to go to business school, I’ve finally come full circle to where I think I should be.

I currently live in Toronto and when I’m not writing, I’m playing lots of tennis; doing random historical research (old census records are my favorite); playing Scrabble, and squirrel-watching (the room where I write has French doors leading out to a deck; I avidly follow, and feed, a scruffy gang).

For more information please visit Sally Christie’s website. You can also find her on Goodreads and Pinterest.

REVIEW:

This second book of the Mistresses of Versailles series picks up where book one left off, with the death of the youngest of the Nestle sisters.  All of the royal court is agog with anticipation as to who would fill the role of the next royal mistress.

I looked forward with interest to see how the author would portray Madame de Pompadour in this second book in the Mistresses of Versailles series.  I love French history and have studied the portraits of Madame de Pompadour. Formerly known as Jeanne Antoinette Poisson, this beautiful young, bourgeoise girl is cleverly maneuvered to catch the eye of Louis XV.  As she rises in Louis’ affections, and attains status and power, she cultivates friendships with learned men and writers (such as Voltaire) and reads voraciously.  Voltaire wrote that “She had read more at her age than any old woman in the country where she is going to reign and where it is proper to wish that she reign”.

Her love of and encouragement of the arts were one of her greatest achievements.  She instituted the Manufacture de Vincennes which was the precursor to the Manufacture de Sevres.

Madame de Pompadour’s achievements were alluded to in Sally Christie’s book however, what went on behind closed doors was the dominant theme of the novel.  Louis XV was a man of excess and Pompadour always needed to be one step ahead of him, both politically and privately to ensure her position at Versailles.  Theirs was apparently a love match, as Louis felt he could be himself with Pompadour.  His respect for her keen intelligence placed on her shoulders much of demands and decision making for the government and it was generally accepted the Pompadour was the real ruler at the time

The court intrigues, factions and enemies of the royal favourite would continue until Pompadour (or the Marquise’s) death in 1764.

The novel is heavy with dialogue and characters, however, I never felt that I was confused.  At 428 pages it is a very long novel, however the suspense and plot twists kept my attention to the end.  

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Book review: The Railwayman’s Wife by Ashley Hay

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Publication Date: April 5, 2016
Publisher:  Atria Books
Hardcover, eBook, & AudioBook
288 Pages

Genre: Historical Fiction/Literary

Book description:

Amidst the strange, silent aftermath of World War II, a widow, a poet, and a doctor search for lasting peace and fresh beginnings in this internationally acclaimed, award-winning novel.

When Anikka Lachlan’s husband, Mac, is killed in a railway accident, she is offered—and accepts—a job at the Railway Institute’s library and searches there for some solace in her unexpectedly new life. But in Thirroul, in 1948, she’s not the only person trying to chase dreams through books. There’s Roy McKinnon, who found poetry in the mess of war, but who has now lost his words and his hope. There’s Frank Draper, trapped by the guilt of those his medical treatment and care failed on their first day of freedom. All three struggle to find their own peace, and their own new story.

But along with the firming of this triangle of friendship and a sense of lives inching towards renewal come other extremities—and misunderstandings. In the end, love and freedom can have unexpected ways of expressing themselves.

The Railwayman’s Wife explores the power of beginnings and endings, and how hard it can sometimes be to tell them apart. Most of all, it celebrates love in all its forms, and the beauty of discovering that loving someone can be as extraordinary as being loved yourself.

“Exquisitely written and deeply felt…a true book of wonders.” –Geraldine Brooks, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of TheSecret Chord

“An absorbing and uplifting read.” –M.L. Stedman, author of The Light Between Oceans

“This is a book in which grief and love are so entwined they make a new and wonderful kind of sense.” –Fiona McFarlane, author of The Night Guest

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million | IndieBound

f610eae8-b6a1-42d4-91c0-ffecba3fa633Meet the author:   Ashley Hay is the internationally acclaimed author of four nonfiction books, including The Secret: The Strange Marriage of Annabella Milbanke and Lord Byron, and the novels The Body in the Clouds and The Railwayman’s Wife, which was honored with the Colin Roderick Award by the Foundation for Australian Literary Studies and longlisted for the Miles Franklin Literary Award, the most prestigious literary prize in Australia, among numerous other accolades. She lives in Brisbane, Australia.

For more information please visit Ashley Hay’s website.

REVIEW:

The Railwayman’s Wife justly deserves praise  for it’s lovely prose.  Ashley Hay’s depiction of a young family in NSW, Australia during and after the second world war is particularly touching.  The war has not left their town untouched as it has taken away many of its fathers and husbands.  Although, Annika feels for these women, it is not until her husband Mac is killed in a railway accident that she fully begins to comprehend the grief and loss of someone she loved.

Several main characters form part of this storyline.  Roy, a poet and former teacher is lost and foundering after returning home from the war and Frank, a medical doctor who deals with his feelings of inadequacy as a healer is unable to make a commitment to the woman he loves.  And there is Isabelle, Annika’s daughter who must learn to live without her father but who’s pragmatic view of the events around her teach Annika that there is life beyond grief.

As their lives intertwine, the healing that comes from finding contentment in  friendship, the joys of nature and the love of a good book help to put to rest the memories of war and grief.

 

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Book Blast: War and Me by M.A. Wood

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  • Genre:  YA / historical fiction / romance
  • Published:  September 26, 2013
  • Ebook:  200 page

Book Description:

Flying model airplanes isn’t cool, not for fifteen-year-old girls in the 1940’s. No one understands Julianna’s love of flying model airplanes but her dad. When he leaves to fly bomber planes in Europe forcing Julianna to deal with her mother’s growing depression alone, she feels abandoned until she meets Ben, the new boy in town.

But when he signs up for the war, too, she has to consider whether letting her first love drift away would be far easier than waiting for the next casualties.

Buy the book:  Amazon   Amazon.UK

Meet the author:

1da64a24-b0e3-475a-b0ca-de0b223a778eMarcy Blesy is the author of several middle grade, young adult, and new adult novels and short stories. Her picture book, Am I Like My Daddy?, helps children who experienced the loss of a parent when they were much younger. She has also been published in two Chicken Soup for the Soul books as well as various newspapers and magazines. By day she runs an elementary school library and enjoys spending time with her husband and two boys.

Marcy is a believer in love and enjoys nothing more than making her readers feel a book more than simply reading it.

Connect with the author:  Website   Twitter   Facebook  Email

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BOOK REVIEW: Letters from a Patchwork Quilt by Clare Flynn

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Book Details:

Book Title Letters from a Patchwork Quilt by Clare Flynn
Category:  Adult fiction, 360 pages
Genre:  Historical fiction
Publisher:  Cranbook Press
Release date:  September 24, 2015
Available for review in:  Print and ebook: mobi (for Kindle)
Tour dates: February 15 – 26, 2016
Content Rating: PG – 13 + M (sexual situations)

Book Description:

In 1875 England, a young man, Jack Brennan, from a large and impoverished Catholic family refuses to be pushed into the priesthood and runs away to fulfil his dream of becoming a teacher.

Jack falls in love with Eliza Hewlett, but his dreams and plans are thwarted when his landlord’s daughter, Mary Ellen MacBride, falsely accuses him of fathering the child she is expecting.

Rather than be forced to marry his accuser, Jack decides to run away to America with Eliza. Just as they are about to sail, Jack is arrested and dragged from the ship, leaving Eliza alone en route to New York with just a few shillings in her pocket.

Buy the book:   Amazon

PRAISE

“The story is different, original and touching. It’s interesting to read how the lives of Jack and Eliza unfold in different countries. The plot is powerful, the characters are well sketched, memorable, and their personalities will remain in the minds of readers even after they finish the story. It’s a story of love loss and tragedy; a heartbreaking and moving tale where readers will wish to see Jack and Eliza reunited and happy together. The narration is descriptive; it also speaks about the society that existed during that age and pulls readers into the story. It’s well written and the story is not predictable, making it a engaging read.” -Readers’ Favorite (5 Star Medal)

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

8151983Clare Flynn is also the author of A Greater World, set in Australia in 1920 and Kurinji Flowers, set in India in the 1930s and 40s. She is a graduate of Manchester University where she read English Language and Literature.

After a career in international marketing, working on brands from nappies to tinned tuna and living in Paris, Milan, Brussels and Sydney, she ran her own consulting business for 15 years and now lives in West London. Co-founder of the popular website, Make it and Mend it, and co-author of the 2012 book of the same name, Letters From a Patchwork Quilt is her third novel.

When not writing and reading, Clare loves to splash about with watercolours and grabs any available opportunity to travel – sometimes under the guise of research.

Connect with the author:     Website   Twitter   Facebook   Instagram   Blog   Goodreads   Pinterest

REVIEW:

What could be more intriguing that finding a letter stitched into the backing of a quilt?  Our curiosity is piqued when, under a magnifying glass the letters are unstitched from inside the quilt and the story unfolds.

Jack’s story begins in 1875 in Derby, England.  His very poor family intend for him to become a Catholic priest, sooner than later,  and as Jack has no ambition to become a priest he leaves for a teaching assignment in Bristol. Content with his new position and newfound love, Eliza it appears that his future prospects are well in hand.

Unaware of treachery brewing in the background, Jack falls victim to an unprincipled and unscrupulous priest who intends to ruin his life to protect his own reputation.  Jack and Eliza immediate make plans to leave for America, but at the last moment are separated.  Eliza, penniless, leaves for America alone.

The novel follows the storylines of both Jack and Eliza and what they must do to survive and move on with their lives.  Their love remains strong for each other even though they seem to be powerless to effect any change in their situation.  If you are looking for a light romance, this is probably not the story for you.  This book has its fill of plenty of tragedy and heartbreak. Personal weakness on Jack’s part as well as the methods used by the Catholic church to cover up wrongdoings of its priesthood arise time and again and you wonder, will things ever get any better?

This is not exactly a clean read, PG 13 + M.  The offensive subject matter is well within historical accuracy and has been inserted into the storyline for a reason.  Nonetheless, I found that the plot kept me interested until the last page.  Sorry, no spoilers!

Blog Tour Schedule

Monday, February 15
Review at Jorie Loves a Story
Review at Beth’s Book Nook Blog

Tuesday, February 16
Interview at Flashlight Commentary

Wednesday, February 17
Review at A Holland Reads
Review at With her Nose Stuck in a Book

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Interview at A Holland Reads

Friday, February 19
Excerpt at Layered Pages
Spotlight & Giveaway at Teddy Rose Book Reviews Plus More

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Spotlight & Giveaway at Passages to the Past

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Review at Back Porchervations
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Review at Book Nerd
Excerpt & Giveaway at Let Them Read Books

Thursday, February 25
Review at A Silver Twig
Review at Author Dianne Ascroft’s Blog

Friday, February 26
Review at #redhead.with.book
Excerpt at Boom Baby Reviews