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The Woman Before Wallis: A Novel of Windsors, Vanderbilts, and Royal Scandal by Bryn Turnbull Review

I received a free copy of this book in exchange for a fair and honest review. All opinions are my own. 

A young woman caught in a complex love affair with a member of British Royalty leaves for America to support her beloved sister in a grueling custody battle, never knowing the person she asked to stay behind with her beloved would become one of history’s most remembered figures for twentieth century royals in author Bryn Turnbull’s “The Woman Before Wallis”.

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The Synopsis 

For fans of The Paris Wife and The Crown, this stunning novel tells the true story of the American divorcée who captured Prince Edward’s heart before he abdicated his throne for Wallis Simpson.

In the summer of 1926, when Thelma Morgan marries Viscount Duke Furness after a whirlwind romance, she’s immersed in a gilded world of extraordinary wealth and privilege. For Thelma, the daughter of an American diplomat, her new life as a member of the British aristocracy is like a fairy tale—even more so when her husband introduces her to Edward, Prince of Wales.

In a twist of fate, her marriage to Duke leads her to fall headlong into a love affair with Edward. But happiness is fleeting, and their love is threatened when Thelma’s sister, Gloria Morgan Vanderbilt, becomes embroiled in a scandal with far-reaching implications. As Thelma sails to New York to support Gloria, she leaves Edward in the hands of her trusted friend Wallis, never imagining the consequences that will follow.

Bryn Turnbull takes readers from the raucous glamour of the Paris Ritz and the French Riviera to the quiet, private corners of St. James’s Palace in this sweeping story of love, loyalty and betrayal.

The Review

This was a fantastic and unique historical fiction drama. The author brilliantly delves into the dynamics of this complex love affair and the inherent problems that arise within the Royal Family and high society as a whole in the early twentieth century. 

What stood out obviously was the fact that this novel focused not on the infamous Edward and Wallis of Windsor, but on the equally infamous Thelma and Gloria of the Vanderbilt family. Getting two distinct timelines to explore, (Thelma’s love life and the later custody battle for “Little Gloria”), was an inspired and creative choice of topic for this novel, and allowed readers to delve more distinctly into not only these two infamous sisters but the dynamics between each other and those surrounding them. 

The novel also does an excellent job of capturing the importance placed upon high society and perception back in those days. From the scandals created for both sisters as they each underwent some loss of a marriage, to love affairs with royalty, this novel captures the era and the atmosphere of that time perfectly.

The Verdict

A remarkable, entertaining, and engaging historical fiction novel, author Bryn Turnbull’s “The Woman Before Wallis” is a must-read story. The slow build between both timelines explored by the author accompanied by the infamous history behind this narrative and fantastic character development make this a truly special read that is not to be missed. Be sure to grab your copy today!

Rating: 10/10

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About the Author

Bryn Turnbull is a writer of historical fiction with a penchant for fountain pens and antique furniture. Equipped with a Master of Letters in Creative Writing from the University of St. Andrews, a Master of Professional Communication from Ryerson University, and a Bachelor’s degree in English Literature from McGill University, Bryn focuses on finding the stories of women found within the cracks of the historical record. When she’s not writing, Bryn can be found exploring new coffee shops, spending time with her family in cottage country, or traveling. She lives in Toronto, and can generally be found with a book in hand.

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Posted in reviews

The Lost Apothecary by Sarah Penner Review

I received a free copy of this book in exchange for a fair and honest review. All opinions are my own.

A historian discovers an old Apothecary vial, and unravels a centuries old mystery surrounding a series of murders known as the “apothecary murders” in author Sarah Penner’s “The Lost Apothecary”.

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The Synopsis

In this addictive and spectacularly imagined debut, a female apothecary secretly dispenses poisons to liberate women from the men who have wronged them—setting three lives across centuries on a dangerous collision course. Pitched as Kate Morton meets The Miniaturist, The Lost Apothecary is a bold work of historical fiction with a rebellious twist that heralds the coming of an explosive new talent.

A forgotten history. A secret network of women. A legacy of poison and revenge. Welcome to The Lost Apothecary…

Hidden in the depths of eighteenth-century London, a secret apothecary shop caters to an unusual kind of clientele. Women across the city whisper of a mysterious figure named Nella who sells well-disguised poisons to use against the oppressive men in their lives. But the apothecary’s fate is jeopardized when her newest patron, a precocious twelve-year-old, makes a fatal mistake, sparking a string of consequences that echo through the centuries.

Meanwhile in present-day London, aspiring historian Caroline Parcewell spends her tenth wedding anniversary alone, running from her own demons. When she stumbles upon a clue to the unsolved apothecary murders that haunted London two hundred years ago, her life collides with the apothecary’s in a stunning twist of fate—and not everyone will survive.

With crackling suspense, unforgettable characters and searing insight, The Lost Apothecary is a subversive and intoxicating debut novel of secrets, vengeance and the remarkable ways women can save each other despite the barrier of time.

The Review

A hauntingly entertaining and engaging read, author Sarah Penner does a fantastic job of crafting a narrative that speaks to both historical fiction fans and fans of a serial killer-driven thriller, with a focus on the struggles and hardships of women throughout 18th century England. 

The story is perfectly written to explore the past of the apothecary while showcasing how this mystery impacts the life of struggling historian Caroline, who’s dealing with an unfaithful husband and must somehow find her true calling in life. The story does an excellent job of showcasing how this woman in the past became a serial killer, in essence, helping women throughout London either gain vengeance or escape impossible struggles utilizing poisons, while also making her plight sympathetic at the same time. 

The Verdict

A masterfully-thrilling, thought-provoking, and lengthy yet memorable read, author Sarah Penner’s “The Lost Apothecary” is a must-read. The story is inviting and engaging, while the protagonists keep the reader invested. The story is perfect for both fans of history-driven backstories with a modern twist that explores the struggles of women in the world while searching to gain more power and confidence in themselves, making the characters truly remarkable to read. If you haven’t yet, be sure to grab your copy today!

Rating: 10/10

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About the Author

Sarah Penner is the debut author of The Lost Apothecary, to be translated in eleven languages worldwide. She works full-time in finance and is a member of the Historical Novel Society and the Women’s Fiction Writers Association. She and her husband live in St. Petersburg, Florida, with their miniature dachshund, Zoe. To learn more, visit slpenner.com.

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An Exclusive Excerpt From “The Lost Apothecary”

Nella

February 3, 1791

She would come at daybreak—the woman whose letter I held in my hands, the woman whose name I did not yet know.

I knew neither her age nor where she lived. I did not know her rank in society nor the dark things of which she dreamed when night fell. She could be a victim or a transgressor. A new wife or a vengeful widow. A nursemaid or a courtesan.

But despite all that I did not know, I understood this: the woman knew exactly who she wanted dead.

I lifted the blush-colored paper, illuminated by the dying f lame of a single rush wick candle. I ran my fingers over the ink of her words, imagining what despair brought the woman to seek out someone like me. Not just an apothecary, but a murderer. A master of disguise.

Her request was simple and straightforward. For my mistress’s husband, with his breakfast. Daybreak, 4 Feb. At once, I drew to mind a middle-aged housemaid, called to do the bidding of her mistress. And with an instinct perfected over the last two decades, I knew immediately the remedy most suited to this request: a chicken egg laced with nux vomica.

The preparation would take mere minutes; the poison was within reach. But for a reason yet unknown to me, something about the letter left me unsettled. It was not the subtle, woodsy odor of the parchment or the way the lower left corner curled forward slightly, as though once damp with tears. Instead, the disquiet brewed inside of me. An intuitive understanding that something must be avoided.

But what unwritten warning could reside on a single sheet of parchment, shrouded beneath pen strokes? None at all, I assured myself; this letter was no omen. My troubling thoughts were merely the result of my fatigue—the hour was late—and the persistent discomfort in my joints.

I drew my attention to my calfskin register on the table in front of me. My precious register was a record of life and death; an inventory of the many women who sought potions from here, the darkest of apothecary shops.

In the front pages of my register, the ink was soft, written with a lighter hand, void of grief and resistance. These faded, worn entries belonged to my mother. This apothecary shop for women’s maladies, situated at 3 Back Alley, was hers long before it was mine.

On occasion I read her entries—23 Mar 1767, Mrs. R. Ranford, Yarrow Milfoil 15 dr. 3x—and the words evoked memories of her: the way her hair fell against the back of her neck as she ground the yarrow stem with the pestle, or the taut, papery skin of her hand as she plucked seeds from the flower’s head. But my mother had not disguised her shop behind a false wall, and she had not slipped her remedies into vessels of dark red wine. She’d had no need to hide. The tinctures she dispensed were meant only for good: soothing the raw, tender parts of a new mother, or bringing menses upon a barren wife. Thus, she filled her register pages with the most benign of herbal remedies. They would raise no suspicion.

On my register pages, I wrote things such as nettle and hyssop and amaranth, yes, but also remedies more sinister: nightshade and hellebore and arsenic. Beneath the ink strokes of my register hid betrayal, anguish…and dark secrets.

Secrets about the vigorous young man who suffered an ailing heart on the eve of his wedding, or how it came to pass that a healthy new father fell victim to a sudden fever. My register laid it all bare: these were not weak hearts and fevers at all, but thorn apple juice and nightshade slipped into wines and pies by cunning women whose names now stained my register.

Oh, but if only the register told my own secret, the truth about how this all began. For I had documented every victim in these pages, all but one: Frederick. The sharp, black lines of his name defaced only my sullen heart, my scarred womb.

I gently closed the register, for I had no use of it tonight, and returned my attention to the letter. What worried me so? The edge of the parchment continued to catch my eye, as though something crawled beneath it. And the longer I remained at my table, the more my belly ached and my fingers trembled. In the distance, beyond the walls of the shop, the bells on a carriage sounded frighteningly similar to the chains on a constable’s belt. But I assured myself that the bailiffs would not come tonight, just as they had not come for the last two decades. My shop, like my poisons, was too cleverly disguised. No man would find this place; it was buried deep behind a cupboard wall at the base of a twisted alleyway in the darkest depths of London.

I drew my eyes to the soot-stained wall that I had not the heart, nor the strength, to scrub clean. An empty bottle on a shelf caught my reflection. My eyes, once bright green like my mother’s, now held little life within them. My cheeks, too, once flushed with vitality, were sallow and sunken. I had the appearance of a ghost, much older than my forty-one years of age.

Tenderly, I began to rub the round bone in my left wrist, swollen with heat like a stone left in the fire and forgotten. The discomfort in my joints had crawled through my body for years; it had grown so severe, I lived not a waking hour without pain. Every poison I dispensed brought a new wave of it upon me; some evenings, my fingers were so distended and stiff, I felt sure the skin would split open and expose what lay underneath.

Killing and secret-keeping had done this to me. It had begun to rot me from the inside out, and something inside meant to tear me open.

At once, the air grew stagnant, and smoke began to curl into the low stone ceiling of my hidden room. The candle was nearly spent, and soon the laudanum drops would wrap me in their heavy warmth. Night had long ago fallen, and she would arrive in just a few hours: the woman whose name I would add to my register and whose mystery I would begin to unravel, no matter the unease it brewed inside of me.

Excerpted from The Lost Apothecary by Sarah Penner, Copyright © 2021 by Sarah Penner. Published by Park Row Books. 

Posted in Blog Tours, Book Events, reviews

Find Me In Havana: A Novel by Serena Burdick Review

I received a free copy of this book in exchange for a fair and honest review. All opinions are my own. 

A young woman must navigate the shocking and mysterious death of her mother, who spent her adult life as a famous actress and singer, in author Serena Burdick’s historical fiction drama, “Find Me In Havana”. 

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The Synopsis 

Cuba, 1936: When Estelita Rodriguez sings in a hazy Havana nightclub for the very first time, she is nine years old. From then on, that spotlight of adoration—from Havana to New York’s Copacabana and then Hollywood—becomes the one true accomplishment no one can take from her. Not the 1933 Cuban Revolution that drove her family into poverty. Not the revolving door of husbands and the fickle world of film. Not even the tragic devastation of Castro’s revolution that rained down on her loved ones.

A new historical novel from Serena Burdick, the author of THE GIRLS WITH NO NAMES, based on the true story of Estelita Rodriguez, a Cuban-born Hollywood actress and singer, as her daughter Nina traces her mother’s life from Cuba to Hollywood to understand her mysterious death, think NEXT YEAR IN HAVANA meets THE SEVEN HUSBANDS OF EVELYN HUGO.

Thirty years later, her young adult daughter, Nina Rodriguez, is blindsided by her mother’s mysterious, untimely death. Seeking answers no one else wants to hear, the grieving Nina navigates the troubling, opulent memories of their life together and discovers how much Estelita sacrificed to live the American dream on her own terms.

Based on true events and exclusive interviews with the real Nina Rodriguez, Find Me in Havana weaves two unforgettable voices into one extraordinary journey that explores the unbreakable bond between mother and child, and the ever-changing landscape of self-discovery.

The Review

A beautiful story of two women connected by family and fate, the novel expertly crafts a narrative of how the daughter of a renowned actress and singer must come to terms with the childhood she had and the life she’s led thus far after her mother’s passing. The shift in perspective between both Nina and her mother Estelita was an inspired choice, as readers are able to get a better sense of where each of them was coming from, and the tragic circumstances they each found themselves in. 

The backdrop of Cuba and the nation’s violent history of revolution and war did a great job of highlighting not only the nation’s history but the vast culture that the people of Cuba had as well. However the core of this story is undoubtedly the relationship between a mother and her daughter, and the daughters need to understand her mother’s life and how to let go of the past in order to move on with her own life. The novel is marred by tragic events to be sure, but the emotional journey is well worth the known outcome and makes this a truly intimate historical fiction read.

The Verdict

A mesmerizing, emotional, and heartfelt read of the relationship between a mother and her daughter, author Serena Burdick’s “Find Me In Havana” is a must-read historical fiction novel. The real-life people within this novel come to life in a memorable way, and the honest look into the lives of these two women will be something so many of us can connect with. If you haven’t yet, grab your copies today!

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About the Author

Serena Burdick graduated from The American Academy of Dramatic Arts in California before moving to New York City to pursue a degree in English Literature at Brooklyn College. Author of the International Bestseller THE GIRLS WITH NO NAMES and GIRL IN THE AFTERNOON, she lives in Western Massachusetts with her husband and two sons.

SOCIAL LINKS:

Author website: http://www.serenaburdick.com/

Instagram: @serenaburdick

Twitter: @serenaburdick

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Excerpt From “Find Me In Havana”

One

Big Sur, 1966

CLIFFS

Mother,

In August, Big Sur crackles with drought. Grass dries to a crisp and turns gold as ember. Rattlers lay in wait. Fat insects purr, and banana slugs languish. The air is ripe with eucalyptus, their slender, green leaves blanketing the canyon paths. Poison oak claws the hillside. This is not the season of lemons trees or emerald hills or crisp sunshine. Summer on the coast is a season of bone-chilling fog.

Overlooking the Pacific, I stand on Nepenthe’s stone patio, the restaurant’s windows spilling light around me as I watch the gray mass of fog crawl and heave up the cliff. You would have liked it here, Mom, but we never drove up the coast together. We never had the chance. I close my eyes as the fog settles over me, damp and soft as a whisper. Below, the surf thunders against the rocks, and I feel the sway of the sea in my legs and picture myself stepping over the low stone wall and lifting my arms into the air. The ocean will catch me, release me, hollow out my body and wash it up on the shore like an empty shell.

I need a shell. Hard skin. A barrier against the world of missing you. 

How is there no you left? No Mom. No Wife. No Movie Actress. No Singer. There are photographs, and moving pictures where you swing your hips and make funny faces, but I cannot touch or smell or feel or speak to this two-dimensional version.

I want an explanation.

Memories root and twist inside me, blossom, grow thorns, beautiful and gnarled, but the truth remains hidden, and I am left with the image of the bathroom floor and the weight of you in my arms.

I do not want this to be our last memory.

Opening my eyes, I take a deep breath, let the cool wetness lie over my tongue. Next to me, a fire crackles in the open hearth warming one side of my leg. I think how outdoor fires do this, warm only one side of you while the other side freezes. I wear a short skirt without pantyhose, white tennis shoes and a tight, knit sweater. The guests have all gone, the movie stars and bohemian artists, the former donning glitter and fur, the latter beads and loose-folding fabric, each hoping to authenticate themselves in originality. Each failing.

“Nina?” I jump at the sound of my manager’s voice. He stands in the open patio doorway of the restaurant polishing a wineglass. “Your ride is here.”

He looks at me kindly, unconcerned. He doesn’t know anything about me. I feel the warmth of the fire on my backside and think how cold it will be in the hollowed-out redwood tree where I sleep.

“I’ll just wipe down the tables,” I say, stalling. I don’t want to face my ride any more than I want to face the cold night on the forest floor with the insects.

My manager is a slender, vigorous man who looks as if he’s been breathing ocean air since birth. “It’s late,” he smiles. “You go on home now. I’ll take care of the tables.”

Walking away from the restaurant, the stone path slick with moisture, I dig my doll from the bottom of my bag and tuck her under one arm. She has a cloth body and a plastic head with blue eyes that open and close when you tilt her. Her plastic head is dotted with dark holes where her carefully arranged hair used to be. On her stomach is a scar—held together with a safety pin—from the time I cut her open and pulled out the stuffing.

Bret waits in his mint-green Volvo with the engine running. He is smoking a joint and doesn’t open the door for me. I slide into the passenger seat and he leans over and gives me a sloppy kiss, his hand pressed to the back of my head as if this is something romantic. His tongue tastes of stale smoke and alcohol. “Hey, baby,” he breathes into my face and passes me the joint. I take it, inhale and try to stifle a cough as Bret maneuvers the car onto the dark road.

We met five months ago when I first arrived in Big Sur. My friend Delia and I had eaten a handful of mushrooms and were dancing around a bonfire at a beach party when Bret slipped into the wavy, illuminated light of my vision. His embroidered shirt rippled over his chest and I thought he was something supernatural. The next morning when I woke up beside him on the beach, he’d turned solid. He was nothing more than a thin-chested man with a tangled beard and skinny legs sticking out from his cutoff jean shorts.

Bret hooks the car around a sharp bend, and the wheels kick up gravel that makes a sound like thunder under our feet.

“You’re going too fast,” I say, pressing my hand flat against the passenger window.

He grins and steps on the gas, a man who likes to challenge a woman. This is familiar to me. I watched men challenge you your whole life, each one of your four husbands, in their own way, pushing you to the edge. Despite your effort to understand them, to please them, it was, in the end, your unwillingness to be controlled or possessed that got you killed.

The car takes another corner, and the cliff drops to my right at a precarious angle where sumac and sagebrush cling to the edge. People love Highway 1 for its beauty. They think it cuts a benevolent path along the ocean cliff for our pleasure. What I see is a snake luring us with its curvaceous body, a thing of nature waiting for us to step on it so it can strike and fling us off.

I squish my doll’s head in, making her face look like something in a distorting mirror. “I don’t want to do this anymore,” I say, watching the doll’s features slowly inflate and pop back into place.

Bret’s profile remains neutral, his eyes on the road as he reaches over and strokes my thigh. “Don’t be like that, baby. This is good.”

I’ve tried to break up with him before. I don’t know why he won’t let me go, or how he can feel anything for me when I feel nothing inside. After your death, they sedated me because I was angry and didn’t behave properly. Now, I do what I can to sedate myself.

“I mean it. I’m done.” I shove his hand away, and this makes him angry.

He puts both hands on the wheel, grips it with white knuckles, his eyes forward, his jaw clenched. “What the fuck, Nina?” he says.

The headlights strike the road. Yellow lines blink past like winking eyes.

His anger scares me. “I’m sorry,” I say. I’m not good at this. Charming men. Giving them what they want. Doing what I watched you do, for the good ones and the bad. You appeased the good men, hoping they’d stay with you; placated the bad ones, hoping they wouldn’t hurt you. With each husband you tried a little harder, stayed a little longer, so certain you’d get it right.

If Bret is any indication, I won’t get it right, either. Looking at him, his hard profile reflected in the dashboard lights, his scruffy beard and long hair curling at the base of his neck, he reminds me of the rebel soldiers in Cuba.

This is not a memory I want. “Bret, I really can’t do this. Please, pull over. I need to get out.”

“You don’t know what you need.”

The arrogance in his voice disgusts me, the anger I’d been tamping down with drugs is now rising in my throat. For all his meditating and chanting and seeking enlightenment, Bret is a prick. I am twenty years old, you are dead, and there’s no one to tell me what to do anymore. You are not here to laugh it away, or tell me to chin-up, to silence me or put me in a mental institution or stick me in a boarding school. “Fuck you, Bret!” I shout. “Pull over. I want to get out.”

“Fuck me?” He speeds up, swerves the car near the shoulder of the road, gravel and dirt hitting my window and ricocheting off the glass like buckshot.

I suck in my breath and grip the door handle. “Don’t do that!”

“Do what? This?” He swerves again, and all I see, for a moment, is empty, black space.

What I should do is calm him down, convince him I’m sorry and that I won’t break up with him. Stop the car, and we’ll talk about it, I should say, but a part of me wants him to do something drastic. To pull the trigger for me.

We are crossing Bixby Bridge. The fog has receded, and I can see all the way down to the dark strip of beach where the waves crash and foam like a giant frothing at the mouth. I know, in that split second right before Bret takes us over the edge, that he’s going to do it. It’s not the plunge into water I’d imagined on the patio at Nepenthe. I am not sailing peacefully off the cliff with my arms out but trapped in a metal box that jerks to the right so abruptly my head smacks the window. I expect free fall, silence, stillness, but the air is sharp and compact and splintered with glass.

And then you are in my arms, your face flushed, your dark hair limp on your wet forehead, vomit ringing the corners of your mouth. “Help me,” I plead, even though you are the one dying. “Don’t go,” I cry. “I need you,” but I have already hit bottom, and the world has gone quiet.

Excerpted from Find Me in Havana by Serena Burdick, Copyright © 2021 by Serena Burdick. Published by Park Row Books. 

Posted in Blog Tours, Book Events, reviews

The Chanel Sisters by Judithe Little Review

I received a free copy of this book in exchange for a fair and honest review. All opinions are my own. 

The history of iconic fashion designer Coco Chanel is shown through a new lens as her sister Antoinette takes center stage in author Judithe Little’s “The Chanel Sisters”.

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The Synopsis

A novel of survival, love, loss, triumph—and the sisters who changed fashion forever

Antoinette and Gabrielle “Coco” Chanel know they’re destined for something better. Abandoned by their family years before, they’ve grown up under the guidance of pious nuns preparing them for simple lives as the wives of tradesmen or shopkeepers. At night, their secret stash of romantic novels and magazine cutouts beneath the floorboards are all they have to keep their dreams of the future alive.

The walls of the convent can’t shield them forever, and when they’re finally of age, the Chanel sisters set out together with a fierce determination to prove themselves worthy to a society that has never accepted them. Their journey propels them out of poverty and to the stylish cafés of Moulins, the dazzling performance halls of Vichy—and to a small hat shop on the rue Cambon in Paris, where a business takes hold and expands to the glamorous French resort towns. But when World War I breaks out, their lives are irrevocably changed, and the sisters must gather the courage to fashion their own places in the world, even if apart from each other.

The Review

A truly fascinating look into the life and challenges of Coco Chanel, the author brilliantly places the less well-known sister of Coco, Antoinette, into the shoes of the protagonist, giving readers a perspective of the iconic French fashion designer that few probably had. The blending of known facts from the icon’s life with fiction helps to fill in some of the mysterious gaps in Coco’s life. From an early life spent at a convent as a child, where she learned to sew and began her steps into the world of fashion, to the rise of her stardom and even the early beginnings of her infamous scent, the author shows the icon and her sisters as dreamers who sought “chic” to contrast the mundane, everyday life they were forced to lead as orphans at this convent. 

As a fan of history, it was fascinating to see Coco’s life through Antoinette’s eyes. It has been said that the designer herself was known to embellish or change the story of her past as her fame grew, so to see the history through her own sister’s eyes was an inspired choice creatively. Antoinette herself managed to become the emotional core of this story, despite her sister’s rising fame, and how events like WWI impacted both the business side of things and their lives personally was definitely an emotional driving force in the book’s closing chapters.

The Verdict

A mesmerizing historical fiction like no other, author Judithe Little’s “The Chanel Sisters” is a must-read. Impactful imagery used early on in the book to showcase the harsh reality of the girl’s lives after losing their mother and being abandoned by their father made for an early emotional start, and the shocking and heartfelt finale to this tale will leave readers breathless. If you haven’t yet, be sure to grab your copy of this amazing read today!

Rating: 8/10

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About the Author

JUDITHE LITTLE is the award-winning author of Wickwythe Hall. She earned a BA in foreign affairs from the University of Virginia and a law degree from the University of Virginia School of Law. She grew up in Virginia and now lives with her husband, three teenagers, and three dogs in Houston, Texas. Find her on Instagram, @judithelittle, and on Facebook, facebook.com/judithelittle.

SOCIAL LINKS:

Author website: http://www.judithelittle.com/

Instagram: @judithelittle

FB: @judithe.little

BUY LINKS:

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Author Q&A

Q: I didn’t know Coco had a sister. How did you come up with the idea for your novel?

A: When I read in a biography of Coco that she had a sister, I knew right away I wanted to write about her.  A lot of books have been written about Coco, but none have been written from the point of view of Antoinette. I thought that the sister of Coco Chanel might have an interesting story to tell, and it turns out that she did.

Q: Explain the staying power and interest in (anything) Chanel?

A: I think that Chanel is the symbol for reinvention and the idea that you can be whoever you want to be and that has a universal appeal.

Q: Do you plan your books in advance or let them develop as you write?

A: They are planned in the sense that they’re based on historical events so there’s already a timeline in place and I know generally what happens. The characters themselves develop as I write.

Q: Have you ever had a character take over a story, and if so, who was it and why?

A: I’ve had minor characters take over small parts of a story such as the baron at Royallieu (I attribute the kite dance idea to him). Arturo also seemed to take over the scenes he was in and tell me what he was going to do instead of vice-versa. 

Q: Which one of The Chanel Sisters’s characters was the hardest to write and why?

A: Julia-Berthe was the hardest to write because of the three sisters, she’s the one about whom the least is known. 

Q: What does a day in the life of Judithe Little look like?

A: Busy! I’m a lawyer so during the day I take care of my law firm work and in the evenings I typically write or do other book-related activities. Mixed in is typical stuff like grocery shopping, errands, and driving my youngest who is a high school sophomore here and there.

Q: What do you use to inspire you when you get Writer’s Block?

A: This may sound strange but I rearrange furniture or shelves or redecorate in some way. Maybe it’s the new perspective but changing my surroundings seems to get the juices flowing again.

Q: Do you have stories on the back burner that are just waiting to be written?

A: I usually have one or two waiting in the wings. 

Q: What advice would you give budding authors about publishing?

A: I think it’s important to have critique partners or a critique group. Mine has been invaluable to me. Persistence and thick skin help too. 

Q: What was the last thing you read?

A:  Bryn Turnball’s The Woman Before Wallis which I loved.

Q: Book you’ve bought just for the cover?

A: Susan Meissner’s Secrets of a Charmed Life because I loved the color of the green dress and the way the figure of the woman was interposed with the river and London. More recently, Jane Smiley’s Perestroika because it has a horse and the Eiffel Tower on the cover–two of my favorite things.

Q: Tell us about what you’re working on now.

A: I’m working on a new novel that takes place in Paris in the 1920s and 1930s and is told from the perspective once again of someone close to Coco Chanel but who was famous in her own right. 


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Excerpt From “The Chanel Sisters”

IN LATER YEARS, I WOULD THINK BACK TO THAT COLD MARCH day in 1897 at the convent orphanage in Aubazine.

We orphelines sat in a circle practicing our stitches, the hush of the workroom interrupted only by my occasional mindless chatter to the girls nearby. When I felt Sister Xavier’s gaze, I quieted, looking down at my work as if in deep concentration. I expected her to scold me as she usually did: Custody of the tongue, Mademoiselle Chanel. Instead, she drew closer to my place near the stove, moving, as all the nuns did, as if she were floating. The smell of incense and the ages fluttered out from the folds of her black wool skirt. Her starched headdress planed unnaturally toward heaven as if she might be lifted up at any moment. I prayed that she would be, a ray of light breaking through the pitched roof and raising her to the clouds in a shining beam of holy salvation.

But such miracles only happened in paintings of angels and saints. She stopped at my shoulder, dark and looming like a storm cloud over the sloping forests of the Massif Central outside the window. She cleared her throat and, as if she were the Holy Roman Emperor himself, made her grim pronouncement.

“You, Antoinette Chanel, talk too much. Your sewing is slovenly. You are always daydreaming. If you don’t take heed, I fear you will turn out to be just like your mother.”

My stomach twisted like a knot. I had to bite the inside of my mouth to keep from arguing back. I looked over at my sister Gabrielle sitting on the other side of the room with the older girls and rolled my eyes.

“Don’t listen to the nuns, Ninette,” Gabrielle said once we’d been dismissed to the courtyard for recreation.

We sat on a bench, surrounded by bare-limbed trees that appeared as frozen as we felt. Why did they lose their leaves in the season they needed them most? Beside us, our oldest sister, Julia-Berthe, tossed bread crumbs from her pockets to a flock of crows that squawked and fought for position.

I pulled my hands into my sleeves, trying to warm them. “I’m not going to be like our mother. I’m not going to be anything the nuns say I’m going to be. I’m not even going to be what they say I can’t be.”

We laughed at this, a bitter laugh. As the temporary keepers of our souls, the nuns thought constantly about the day we would be ready to go out and live in the world. What would become of us? What was to be our place?

We’d been at the convent for two years and by now were used to the nuns’ declarations in the middle of choir practice or as we worked on our handwriting or recited the kings of France.

You, Ondine, with your penmanship, will never be the wife of a tradesman.

You, Pierrette, with your clumsy hands, will never find work with a farm woman. 

You, Hélène, with your weak stomach, will never be the wife of a butcher.

You, Gabrielle, must hope to make an adequate living as a seamstress. 

You, Julia-Berthe, must pray for a calling. Girls with figures like yours should keep to a nunnery.

I was told that if I was lucky, I could convince a plowman to marry me.

I pushed my hands back out of my sleeves and blew on them. “I’m not going to marry a plowman,” I said.

“I’m not going to be a seamstress,” Gabrielle said. “I hate sewing.”

“Then what will you be?” Julia-Berthe gazed at us with wide, questioning eyes. She was considered slow, “touched,” people said. To her everything was simple, black and white like the tunics and veils of the nuns’ habits. If the nuns said it, we would be it.

“Something better,” I said.

“What’s something better?” Julia-Berthe said.

“It’s…” Gabrielle started but didn’t finish.

She didn’t know what Something Better was any more than I did, but I knew she felt it just the same, a tingling in her bones. Restlessness was in our blood.

The nuns said we should be content with our station in life, that it was God-pleasing. But we could never be content where we were, with what we had. We came from a long line of peddlers, of dreamers traveling down winding roads, sure that Something Better was just ahead.

Excerpted from The Chanel Sisters by Judithe Little, Copyright © 2020 by Judithe Little. Published by Graydon House Books. 

Posted in reviews

Water Sight (Last of the Gifted Book 2) by Marie Powell Review

I received a free copy of this book in exchange for a fair and honest review. All opinions are my own. 

As the Kingdom of England threatens to take over Wales, two siblings must use their magic gifts to save their home. Yet one must choose to save their sibling, or the love of their life, in author Marie Powell’s “Water Sight”, the second book in the Last of the Gifted series. 

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The Synopsis

Wales, 1283: A world at war

Catrin can see the future in a drop of water.

Her brother Hyw can take the shape of any bird or animal.

Only their magic can thwart the invading English forces determined to bring down the country.

The Prince of Wales needs three magical relics to rally the straggling Welsh forces. Catrin’s gift of Second Sight may be the only hope for success—if she can outwit the English lord who wants to use her gift to capture the prince.

Her brother Hyw is on the run with the prince and the dwindling Welsh army. To escape the betrayal dogging their heels, Hyw takes refuge in his evolving gift—until shifting shapes puts his humanity in jeopardy.

With Hyw trapped in his magic and her betrothed in an English jail, Catrin faces an impossible choice: save her brother, or save the man she loves.

The Review

An incredible read, author Marie Powell showcases a strong mastery of the fantasy/historical fiction style storytelling that has become so popular over the years. The protagonists, brother and sister Hyw and Cat, are well rounded, and the author does an amazing job of highlighting the well-rounded nature of each hero, flaws and all. 

The emotional core of the story is Cat’s struggle to not only save her people but protect her brother and the man she loves all at the same time while helping to fight off the English invaders led by King Edward. The amount of history the author was able to incorporate into the narrative was amazing. As a history buff, it was incredible to learn more about the era before Wales officially became part of England, when revolts were fought to maintain their independence and kingdom. The fantasy elements feel natural as the story progresses, as each hero’s power leads to difficult choices that many readers will be able to identify with. 

The Verdict

An amazingly written, emotionally driven, and fantasy-fueled read, author Marie Powell’s second entry into the Last of the Gifted series, “Water Sight”, is a must-read for fans of the historical fiction/fantasy genres. Action-packed and evenly paced, this is the perfect end of 2020 fantasy book for all readers, but especially fans of the YA genre. Be sure to grab your copy today!

Rating: 10/10

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About the Author

Marie Powell’s castle-hopping across North Wales to explore her family roots resulted in her YA historical fantasy Spirit Sight (Last of the Gifted Book 1). Book 2, Water sight, will be released in fall 2020. Among other degrees, she holds a Master of Fine Arts (MFA) in Creative Writing from the University of BC. Marie lives on Treaty 4 land in Regina, Saskatchewan, and her writing workshops are popular across the region.

Posted in reviews

Salamis by Harry Turtledove Review

I received a free copy of this book in exchange for a fair and honest review. All opinions are my own. 

Two men and the neutral country they call home are caught in the midst of a legendary battle between two warring Marshalls of Alexander the Great in author Harry Turtledove’s historical fiction novel, “Salamis”. 

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The Synopsis

In 306 BC, the small, free, and independent polis of Rhodes is trying to stay neutral between the local great powers, each ruled by one of Alexander the Great’s marshals: Asia Minor, controlled by one-eyed Antigonos, and the Egypt of Ptolemaios. Antigonos’ son, Demetrios, comes to Rhodes seeking an alliance against Ptolemaios. The Rhodians, who trade a lot with Egypt, refuse his offer.

Menedemos and Sostratos take the Aphrodite to Egypt for business…and to tell Ptolemaios what has been going on. Just before they leave, they learn Demetrios has invaded the island of Cyprus, which Ptolemaios dominates. He is advancing on the southeastern town of Salamis, where Ptolemaios’ brother, Menelaos, has concentrated his forces.

After they pass on their news, Menedemos does business in the brash new city of Alexandria while Sostratos travels up the Nile to old, old Memphis to trade there, and to see the Pyramids and the Sphinx. Ptolemaios, meanwhile, readies a fleet to rescue his brother and drive Demetrios back to Asia Minor.

Ptolemaios, needing shipping to carry weapons for the army he intends to land, coerces Menedemos into bringing the Aphrodite along as part of his expeditionary force. And so, very much against their will, Menedemos and Sostratos become small parts of one of the ancient world’s greatest naval battles. 

The Review

A wonderful deep-dive into ancient history, author Harry Turtledove has done it again with a stellar novel. The balance the author achieves with the historical background and events of the war between Ptolemaios and Demetrios and the personal relationships and struggles of the protagonists Menedemos and Sostratos is remarkable. War was an all too common event in this period of history, and getting to know the characters personally who were caught in the midst of this war was fascinating to see unfold.

The author’s use of imagery shone brightly in this narrative, with the cities of Salamis, Alexandria, and Memphis coming to life and exploring pivotal locations in Ancient Greece and Egypt. As a history fan, exploring the aftermath of Alexander the Great’s passing as his successors fought over who deserved to rule over the empire he had built was amazing, and giving the role of protagonist to a small historical figure and a fictitious character both was an inspired choice. 

The Verdict

Enthralling, action-packed, and historically driven, author Harry Turtledove’s “Salamis” is a must-read historical fiction novel. The fifth of the Hellenic Traders Universe that the author has crafted around Menedemos and Sostratos was a massive success, with an evenly-paced narrative and engaging characters that made the story come to life as one of history’s greatest battles became the stage for this plot to come to life. From the way, society ran during those days in places like Rhodes to the bond between a family being tested, especially for Menedemos, made this a truly entertaining read. Be sure to grab your copy today!

Rating: 10/10

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About the Author

Dr Harry Norman Turtledove is an American novelist, who has produced a sizeable number of works in several genres including alternate history, historical fiction, fantasy and science fiction.

Harry Turtledove attended UCLA, where he received a Ph.D. in Byzantine history in 1977.

Turtledove has been dubbed “The Master of Alternate History”. Within this genre he is known both for creating original scenarios: such as survival of the Byzantine Empire; an alien invasion in the middle of the World War II; and for giving a fresh and original treatment to themes previously dealt with by other authors, such as the victory of the South in the American Civil War; and of Nazi Germany in the Second World War.

His novels have been credited with bringing alternate history into the mainstream. His style of alternate history has a strong military theme.

https://www.sfsite.com/~silverag/turtledove.html

Posted in Interviews

Interview with Author Cat Rambo

 1) Tell us a little bit about yourself. How did you get into writing?

My family always assumed I would be a writer for two reasons. One is that I was an early and extremely avid reader. My babysitter Bernadette started reading The Hobbit to me when I was in second grade and I got so caught up in Bilbo’s adventures that I started sneaking chapters in between babysitting visits — and then got my grandmother to buy me the trilogy. She was always happy to buy me books, because of the second reason my family thought I’d become a writer: she was a writer herself, and wrote a number of young adults sports novels as well as a mystery. She often brought me books that had been signed to me by the author, because she’d met them at book conferences. One of those books, which was a kid’s book about creative writing called Turn Not Pale, Beloved Snail by Jacqueline Jackson, I read over and over. It had a suggested reading list at the back that I devoted myself to reading every item on as well. I’ve still got the book on my shelf.

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2) What inspired you to write your book?

With this book, it was because Harry came and asked if I would come play. Good collaborations are always a joy, challenge, and learning experience — hopefully to a somewhat similar degree — and this was certainly one.

It was particularly challenging because I was writing with two amazingly talented co-writers! Not only that, but they gave me wildly dissimilar acts one and two for me to write a third act from. I had to spend a week or so just thinking about how I wanted to handle it.

At the same time, this project came with yet another challenge, which was to write a book that (hopefully) helps people see how much danger America is in if we don’t vote in this election — not just at the national but the local level — and continue to push back when the forces that have weaponized hatred, racism, misogyny, and other fear-based drives to put themselves in power try to extend their hold even farther. I can’t overstate this. While I don’t think the events we’ve portrayed will happen, I fear less entertaining ones will, and that they will kill America as we know it in the process. Actually, they’re trying to kill it right now.

Wow, that started lighthearted and skewed serious fast. But these are serious times.

3) What theme or message do you hope readers will take away from your book?

I’ve been talking about this a lot lately, and I’m going to take the liberty of quoting something I said in my most recent newsletter: As we come into these final days before the election, you will see unprecedented efforts to spread mistruths, to distract and confuse, and to divide us. Stay strong and focused. Maintain your own health and take a breather when you need to. Factcheck before you spread information. Encourage and enable those on the front lines of this fight.

And be kind. Be loving. Be generous and honest and open in your vulnerabilities, because in these days, that is a rebellious act. Be gentle when you can and fierce when you need to be. Know that you are loved. Know that we are all in this together.

4) What drew you into this particular genre?

I have always loved escaping into other worlds! Not just Middle Earth but later Narnia and Pern, Perelandra and Barsoom. In high school I started playing games at a local book and game store and wallowed happily in fantasy and science fiction from there as well as from my local library. That was the 70s, and so I read a lot of New Wave as well as the classics. Lots of Michael Moorcock, Andre Norton, Fritz Leiber… so much great stuff! I also babysat for a family that happened to have The Science Fiction Hall of Fame on their bookshelf and so I read that a number of times.

5) If you could sit down with any character in your book, what would you ask them and why?

I’d ask Natalie why they followed their friend into the heart of darkness, Kansas City, because I think there’s another story lurking there.

6) What social media site has been the most helpful in developing your readership?

I enjoy Twitter and I’ve made a lot of connections through it, but social media is certainly a double-edged sword for writers in that it provides a pretty alluring form of procrastination! I actually wrote a book on writers and online presence a few years back (it’s due for an update) and so I try new platforms when they come out, and have a presence on most of them. I would say writers should find one that they enjoy using and go with that. If you’re having a good time, it shows through. If you’re tweeting out of a sense of duty and not having fun, that also shows through.

7) What advice would you give to aspiring or just starting authors out there?

Don’t get discouraged. Butt in chair and writing is the best thing you can do. I sometimes suggest that people look at writers who are where they would like to be in 3-5 years and see how they got there. But the most important thing is the writing. Unless you’re doing that, you have nothing to sell.

8) What does the future hold in store for you? Any new books/projects on the horizon?

So much stuff! I just turned in Exiles of Tabat,  the third volume of my fantasy series, the Tabat Quartet, and am about to start the last book of that, . I’ve also got a space opera, You Sexy Thing, coming out with Tor Macmillan next year that is the start of a series that I am super stoked about and I’m finishing up book 2 of that, which is tentatively entitled Devil’s Gun.. I’m also editing a science fiction anthology, The Reinvented Heart, which will come out next summer, and continuing to produce serial fiction through my Patreon. So lots of new stuff, all the time. 🙂

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About the Author

Cat Rambo is a prolific science fiction and fantasy writer of short stories. Her two hundred plus stories have appeared in many anthologies and magazines including Asimov’sClarkesworld, and Tor.com.

She has been nominated for the Nebula and the World Fantasy Award, and been a finalist for the Million Writers and the Compton Crook Awards, as well as been on the Locus Recommended Reading List.

Cat was the co-editor of Fantasy Magazine from 2007 to 2011 and is a past President (two terms) of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America (SFWA). She lives and teaches in the Pacific Northwest.

Posted in reviews

And the Last Trump Shall Sound by Harry Turtledove, James Morrow and Cat Rambo Review

I received a free copy of this book in exchange for a fair and honest review. All opinions are my own. 

Three authors share a very relevant collection of short stories that showcase the horrors that await the United States if division continues to take hold in the novel “And the Last Trump Shall Sound”. 

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The Synopsis

Set in the near future, And the Last Trump Shall Sound is prophetic warning about where we, as a nation, may be headed. A politically torn nation watches as the Republicans solidify their hold over the US with a series of electoral victories and judicial appointments. Mike Pence leads the country, succeeding Donald Trump as the flag-bearer of an increasingly dogmatic movement.

There are parts of the country, however, that cannot abide by what they view as a betrayal of the nation’s founding principles. At what point do these communities break down and the unthinkable suddenly becomes the only possible solution…the end of the Union.

Harry Turtledove, James Morrow, and Cat Rambo give us three novellas, each following the other, describing the frightening possible consequences of our increased polarization–a dire warning to all of us about where we may be headed unless we can learn to come together again.

The Review

This was a marvelous, eye-opening, and engaging mixture of historical fiction/dystopian future novels with a “what if…” twist. The narratives each author brought to life capture the raw emotion and power that this world’s division has created in recent years, and showcases how the world and in particular the United States could look like if events continue to unfold the way they are. 

From a future that sees the West Coast states seceding from the Union to the leader of the free world turning portions of the United States into a religious-run state and the “resurrection” of the man who started it all, these author present ideas and futures which could prove to be our future. The way the authors write captures the emotion of our nation as it stands now: confusion, frustration, anger, and sadness all extend over us all right now. 

The Verdict

Fast-paced, engaging, and detail-oriented in its delivery, the authors give readers a marvelous yet haunting look into what the United States could become. In the face of racial tension, immigration horrors, pandemics and so much more, the American Empire as it stands could look drastically different in just a couple of decades. Utilizing real political and historical figures into a well-developed fictional political satire, these authors have delivered a memorable novel that cannot be missed. Be sure to grab your copy today!

Rating: 10/10

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About the Authors

James Morrow

“Watch out for James Morrow: He’s magic” is how The Washington Post’s Ron Charles describes the author.

Janet Maslin of The New York Times call him “a novelist of intellect, bravado and wildly phantasmagorical imagination.”

James Morrow’s fiction always presents an original (frequently outrageous and eccentric) take on any subject he tackles, often using satire to bring his point home. Much of his work has received high praise, not only from within the science fiction community but from the mainstream literary world as well.

Russian translations of his novel, Only Begotten Daughter, and collection, Bible Stories for Adults, led to him being invited to participate in the Fifteenth International Tolstoy Conference.

James Morrow calls State College, Pennsylvania, his home, where he resides with his wife, his son, and an enigmatic sheepdog and a loopy beagle.



Harry Turtledove

Dubbed as “The Master of Alternate History” by Publishers Weekly, Harry Turtledove has written a number of classic bestsellers in the subgenre, including How Few RemainThe Guns of the South and The Man with the Iron Heart.

He uses his study of history (with a Ph.D in Byzantine history) to create alternate worlds in intricate detail; crafting enthralling adventures that have garnered him high critical praise as well as making him one of the most successful bestselling authors in alternate history.

Turtledove has won, or been nominated, for nearly every major award in science fiction (multiple times, for many) including the Hugo, Nebula, Sidewise (alternate history), Homer (short stories), The John Esten Cooke Award for Southern Fiction and the Prometheus Award.

Many consider him to be one of the most distinguished authors of alternate history to have ever written in that sub-genre―he is certainly one of the most critically acclaimed.

Harry Turtledove is married to novelist Laura Frankos. They have three daughters, Alison, Rachel and Rebecca.

http://www.sfsite.com/~silverag/turtledove.html



Cat Rambo

Cat Rambo is a prolific science fiction and fantasy writer of short stories. Her two hundred plus stories have appeared in many anthologies and magazines including Asimov’sClarkesworld, and Tor.com.

She has been nominated for the Nebula and the World Fantasy Award, and been a finalist for the Million Writers and the Compton Crook Awards, as well as been on the Locus Recommended Reading List.

Cat was the co-editor of Fantasy Magazine from 2007 to 2011 and is a past President (two terms) of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America (SFWA). She lives and teaches in the Pacific Northwest.

Posted in reviews

What the Wind Brings by Matthew Hughes Review

I received a free copy of this book in exchange for a fair and honest review. All opinions are my own. 

Three individuals in the sixteenth century find themselves brought together after a shipwreck brings escaped African slaves together with local indigenous people on coastal Ecuador to face the Spanish and become an independent state in author Matthew Hughes historical fiction novel, “What the Wind Brings”. 

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The Synopsis

In the mid 1500s shipwrecked African slaves melded with the indigenous peoples of coastal Ecuador and together they fought the Spanish colonial power to a standstill, to remain independent for centuries. The story of the people of Esmeraldas is told through the eyes of three characters: Alonso, an escaped slave; Expectation, an a-gender shaman; and Alejandro, a priest on the run from the Inquisition. With its slipstream elements this novel carries a flavor of South American magical realism tradition into a grand historical epic. Both sweeping and intimate, it is a delight to read from beginning to end.

The Review

The author does a fantastic job of crafting a narrative that draws its strength from intricate and memorable characters. The use of historical figures as the protagonists was an inspired choice and made it easier for readers to connect with the characters overall. 

What really makes this story stand out is the time period for which the narrative is based around. The setting of 16th century South America and the tumultuous time that came from the Spanish colonization efforts that resulted in conquered peoples, enslavement, and eventually rebellion and bloodshed gave readers a rarely seen point in time to learn about and connect with. The strength it took for the African escaped slaves and the indigenous people to come together and face the many obstacles they did to become an independent state are fascinating to read about.

The Verdict

A lengthy yet powerful read, author Matthew Hughes’s novel “What the Wind Brings” is a must-read historical fiction read. The way the author took in the various belief systems and cultures of those involved in the narrative and how they both clashed and came together made this a one-of-a-kind story. This is a fascinating read that will engage with readers who love history, so be sure to grab your copy today!

Rating: 10/10

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About the Author

Born in Liverpool, his family moved to Canada when he was five years old. Married since late 1960s, he has three grown sons. He is currently relocated to Britain. He is a former director of the Federation of British Columbia Writers.

A university drop-out from a working poor background, he worked in a factory that made school desks, drove a grocery delivery truck, was night janitor in a GM dealership, and did a short stint as an orderly in a private mental hospital. As a teenager, he served a year as a volunteer with the Company of Young Canadians.

He has made his living as a writer all of his adult life, first as a journalist in newspapers, then as a staff speechwriter to the Canadian Ministers of Justice and Environment, and, since 1979, as a freelance corporate and political speechwriter in British Columbia.

His short fiction has appeared in Alfred Hitchcock’sAsimov’sThe Magazine of Fantasy & Science FictionPostscriptsInterzone, and a number of “Year’s Best” anthologies. Night Shade Books published his short story collection, The Gist Hunter and Other Stories, in 2005.

He has won the Arthur Ellis Award from the Crime Writers of Canada. His novels and stories regularly make the Locus Magazine annual recommended reading list.

http://www.matthewhughes.org