Tuesday, September 26, 2017

#BookReview: That Woman by Wayne Clark

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Beating the Odds in Colonial New York

Kidnapped in France and brought to America as an indentured servant, a young woman takes on the brutal merchant king of New York’s East River waterfront…

Illness suddenly deprives 17-year-old Sarah Da Silva and her older brother Jacob of a mother. Before Sarah has come to terms with that loss, her merchant father grows frail and increasingly desperate in the face of impending bankruptcy. On the rainy night their father scours the docks of Bordeaux, France, to make his final bid to save his family, his children are kidnapped and forced onto a ship bound for New York City where they’ll be separated and sold to the highest bidder as indentured labor. 

Purchased by a grotesque merchant whose wealth, backed by a team of henchmen, allows him to dominate the chaotic East River docks, Sarah strikes back the only way she can. Vowing to never allow him to put his hands on her again, she presses a knife to his fat neck. She demands her freedom, a roof over her head and the means to start a business. Her leverage? Knowledge obtained on the voyage that would bring the big man to his knees forever. He yields to her demands but privately swears to become her worst nightmare.
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Rating: ★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆   |   Obtained from: Edelweiss   |   Read: September 21, 2017
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Most readers have been blown away by Wayne Clark’s That Woman and while I completely respect that fact, I can’t claim to run with the crowd. I stand by my review, but I want to be very clear that I am in the minority when it comes to this book and that my comments should be understood as the exception rather than the norm.

For the record, I quite liked the idea of this story and applaud the author’s vision and choice of subject matter. I don’t think there’s enough colonial fiction on the market and I’m always happy to see titles that venture off the beaten path, even when the end result isn’t quite what I expected.

Much as the premise intrigued me, Clark’s style and tone failed to capture my imagination. The depth of his research is evident, but I felt the wealth of historic exposition detrimental to the story’s pacing. I also struggled with Sarah who struck me as one-dimensional Mary Sue.

At the end of the day, That Woman boasts a great story, but the telling wasn't a good fit for me and I'd have difficulty recommending it forward.

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"I am that woman, and it was my greatest moment."
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#CoverCliché: Louise de Kérouaille

Sometimes, while browsing the virtual shelves on Amazon and Goodreads, I see jacket art that gives me a disconcerting sense of deja vu. I know I've not read the book, but I am equally certain I've seen its image somewhere before.

This phenomenon is what inspired Cover Clichés. Image recycling is fairly common as cover artists are often forced to work from a limited pool of stock images and copyright free material. The details vary cover to cover, but each boasts a certain similarity and I find comparing the finished designs quite interesting.

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Abandoned pregnant and penniless on the teeming streets of London, 16-year-old Amber St. Clare manages, by using her wits, beauty, and courage, to climb to the highest position a woman could achieve in Restoration England-that of favorite mistress of the Merry Monarch, Charles II. From whores and highwaymen to courtiers and noblemen, from events such as the Great Plague and the Fire of London to the intimate passions of ordinary-and extraordinary-men and women, Amber experiences it all. But throughout her trials and escapades, she remains, in her heart, true to the one man she really loves, the one man she can never have.

Frequently compared to Gone with the Wind, Forever Amber is the other great historical romance, outselling every other American novel of the 1940s-despite being banned in Boston for its sheer sexiness. A book to read and reread, this edition brings back to print an unforgettable romance and a timeless masterpiece.



From the author of The King's Favorite-a new novel based on a dazzling and decadent true story of Restoration England.

The daughter of a poor nobleman, Louise leaves the French countryside for the court of King Louis XIV, where she must not only please the tastes of the jaded king, but serve as a spy for France. With few friends, many rivals, and ever-shifting loyalties, Louise learns the perils of her new role. Yet she is too ambitious to be a pawn in the intrigues of others. With the promise of riches, power, and even the love of a king, Louise creates her own destiny in a dance of intrigue between two monarchs-and two countries.



'I had so long habituated myself to a Life of Vice, that really it appear'd to be no Vice to me'

Beautiful, proud Roxana is terrified of being poor. When her foolish husband leaves her penniless with five children, she must choose between being a virtuous beggar or a rich whore. Embarking on a career as a courtesan and kept woman, the glamour of her new existence soon becomes too enticing and Roxana passes from man to man in order to maintain her lavish society parties, luxurious clothes and amassed wealth. But this life comes at a cost, and she is fatally torn between the sinful prosperity she has become used to and the respectability she craves. A vivid satire on a dissolute society, Roxana (1724) is a devastating evocation of the ways in which vanity and ambition can corrupt the human soul.

In his introduction, David Blewett discusses Defoe's literary career, his moral stance and his portrayal of his heroine's psychological turmoil and the social world she inhabits. This edition includes a chronology, bibliography, notes and a map of Roxana's London.

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Which cover strikes your fancy and why? What colors draw your eye? Do you think the image appropriate next to the jacket description? Leave your comments below!

Have you seen this image elsewhere? Shoot me an email or leave a comment and let me know. 


Monday, September 25, 2017

#BookReview: I Was Anastasia by Ariel Lawhon

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Ariel Lawhon, a rising star in historical suspense, has set her sights on one of history's most beguiling mysteries: Did Anastasia Romanov survive the Russian Revolution, or was Anna Anderson, the woman who notoriously claimed her identity, an impostor?

Russia, July 17, 1918 Under direct orders from Vladimir Lenin, Bolshevik secret police force Anastasia Romanov, along with the entire imperial family, into a damp basement in Siberia where they face a merciless firing squad. None survive. At least that is what the executioners have always claimed.

Germany, February 17, 1920 A young woman bearing an uncanny resemblance to Anastasia Romanov is pulled shivering and senseless from a canal. Refusing to explain her presence in the freezing water or even acknowledge her rescuers, she is taken to the hospital where an examination reveals that her body is riddled with countless, horrific scars. When she finally does speak, this frightened, mysterious young woman claims to be the Russian Grand Duchess.

As rumors begin to circulate through European society that the youngest Romanov daughter has survived the massacre at Ekaterinburg, old enemies and new threats are awakened. The question of who this woman is and what actually happened to Anastasia creates a saga that spans fifty years and three continents. This thrilling page-turner is every bit as moving and momentous as it is harrowing and twisted.
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Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆   |   Obtained from: Netgalley   |   Read: September 19, 2017
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I Was Anastasia marks my first experience with author Ariel Lawhon. I discovered the novel while compiling The Morally Questionable Green Hat and made note of it as the premise reminded me Anastasia: The Mystery of Anna (1986). I was familiar with the history behind the novel, but I didn’t have any real expectations when I picked it up and was more than a little surprised when the book proved almost impossible to put aside.

Lawhon’s style and tone captured my attention from the first line and refused to release its hold till the very end of the narrative. I hate to gush, but Lawhon’s ability to convey genuine tension is nothing short of brilliant. I knew where this story was going, but I still felt real fear and desperation in musings and movements of both her leads and loved how their emotions emanated so distinctly from the page.

The drama of the story is enhanced by Lawhon brazenly ambitious structuring of the narrative. Anastasia’s chapters progress chronologically, but Anna’s are inversed. The end result leaves the reader questioning if the two voices run parallel to one another or if they are in fact two parts of a singular whole. The finale itself is wonderful, but it should be understood that Lawhon was not writing about the answer so much as the question. The ambiguity of Anna’s origin and inability to definitely identify her during her lifetime immortalized Anastasia and I adore how Lawhon’s narrative plays on that reality.

The novel incorporates great historic details, but I will admit to struggling with a handful of scenes. As much as I loved the story, I was keenly aware that certain moments were based rumor rather than verifiable fact and while I appreciate what those passages brought in terms of storytelling, the history buff in me couldn’t help wrinkling her nose. Lawhon’s characterization of Anastasia was also more mature and worldly than I envision her, but at the end of the day my only real comment on Lawhon’s interpretation is that it’s clear favored Anna. I can’t presume to know why, but reading between the line, the author seemed to have more fun with Anna’s chapters than she did Anastasia’s.

Imaginatively tenacious and creatively composed, I Was Anastasia brings life to a mystery that captivated the world for much of the twentieth century. Highly recommended. An absolute must read.

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If I tell you what happened that night in Ekaterinburg I will have to unwind my memory - all the twisted coils - and lay it in your palm. It will be the gift and curse I bestow upon you. A confession for which you may never forgive me.
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Thursday, September 21, 2017

Cover Crush: The Girl Who Could See by Kara Swanson

We all know we shouldn't judge a book by its cover, but in today's increasingly competitive market, a memorable jacket can make or break sales.

I am not a professional, but I am a consumer and much as I loath admitting it, jacket design is one of the first things I notice when browsing the shelves at Goodreads and Amazon. My love of cover art is what inspired Cover Crush, a weekly post dedicated to those prints that have captured my attention and/or piqued my interest. Enjoy!

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It's been a minute since I've read much science fiction or fantasy, but the cover of Kara Swanson's The Girl Who Could See turned my head just the same. The various layers grant great depth to the image and the contrast in the color scheme is nothing short of striking. 

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Did this week's cover catch your eye? Do you have an opinion you'd like to share? Please leave a comment below. I'd love to hear from you!

INTERESTED IN SEEING MORE?
CHECK OUT WHAT MY FRIENDS HAVE BOOKMARKED:

Magdalena at A Bookaholic Swede
Colleen at A Literary Vacation
Heather at The Maiden's Court
Holly at 2 Kids and Tired
Meghan at Of Quills & Vellum
Stephanie at Layered Pages


Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Wishlist Reads: September 2017

Like many readers, my TBR grows faster than it shrinks. I find a subject that interests me and titles start piling up one right after the other. With so many bookmarked, I thought it'd be fun to sort through and feature five titles a month here at Flashlight Commentary. 

I'm feeling a little homesick and nostalgic so I decided to dedicate my wishlist to fiction set in my home state. Montana is a popular setting for romance writers, but fiction writers have not been as open to it so it took longer than expected to compile the following. That said, I can't wait to get my hands on these books!

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In the spring of 1898, A. E. (Alexandria) Bartram--a spirited young woman with a love for botany--is invited to join a field study in Yellowstone National Park. The study's leader, a mild-mannered professor from Montana, assumes she is a man, and is less than pleased to discover the truth. Once the scientists overcome the shock of having a woman on their team, they forge ahead on a summer of adventure, forming an enlightening web of relationships as they move from Mammoth Hot Springs to a camp high in the backcountry. But as they make their way collecting amid Yellowstone's beauty the group is splintered by differing views on science, nature, and economics. In the tradition of A. S. Byatt's Angels and Insects and Andrea Barrett's Ship Fever, this delightful novel captures an ever-fascinating era and one woman's attempt to take charge of her life.




In 1886, Gretta Pope wakes one morning to discover that her husband is gone. Ulysses Pope has left his family behind on the far edge of Minnesota’s western prairie with only the briefest of notes and no explanation for why he left or where he’s headed. It doesn’t take long for Gretta’s young sons, Eli and Danny, to set off after him, following the scant clues they can find, jumping trains to get where they need to go, and ending up in the rugged badlands of Montana.

Gretta has no choice but to search for her sons and her husband, leading her to the doorstep of a woman who seems intent on making Ulysses her own. Meanwhile, the boys find that the closer they come to Ulysses’ trail, the greater the perils that confront them, until each is faced with a choice about whom he will defend, and who he will become.

Enger’s breathtaking portrait of the vast plains landscape is matched by the rich expanse of his characters’ emotional terrain, as pivotal historical events--the bloody turmoil of expansionism, the near total demise of the bison herds, and the subjugation of the Plains Indians--blend seamlessly with the intimate story of a family’s sacrifice and devotion.




One morning in 1943, close to eighty men descended into the Smith coal mine in Bearcreek, Montana. Only three came out alive. “Goodbye wifes and daughters . . .” wrote two of the miners as they died. The story of that tragic day and its aftermath unfolds in this book through the eyes of those wives and daughters—women who lost their husbands, fathers, and sons, livelihoods, neighbors, and homes, yet managed to fight back and persevere. Susan Kushner Resnick has uncovered the story behind all those losses. She chronicles the missteps and questionable ethics of the mine’s managers, who blamed their disregard for safety on the exigencies of World War II; the efforts of an earnest federal mine inspector and the mine union’s president (later a notorious murderer), who tried in vain to make the mine safer; the heroism of the men who battled for nine days to rescue the trapped miners; and the effect the disaster had on the entire mining industry. Resnick illuminates a particular historical tragedy with all its human ramifications while also reminding us that such tragedies caused by corporate greed and indifference are with us to this day.




A stirring novel about idealism laid waste and the haunting, redemptive bonds of friendship

Deirdre McNamer has won praise for the intelligence, beauty, precision, and sweep of her fiction. Her first novel in seven years, Red Rover tells the story of three Montana men who get swept up in the machinations of World War II and its fateful aftermath. As boys, Aidan and Neil Tierney ride horseback for miles across unfenced prairie, picturing themselves as gauchos, horsemen of the Argentine pampas. A hundred miles away, Roland Taliaferro wants only to escape the violence and poverty of his family. As war approaches, Aidan and Roland join the FBI. Roland serves Stateside while Aidan—in a gesture as exuberant as a child in a game of Red Rover—requests hazardous duty and is sent as an undercover agent to Nazi-ridden Argentina. Neil becomes a B-29 bomber pilot.

Aidan returns to Montana ill, shaken, and divided from Roland over the FBI’s role in the war. On a cold December day in 1946, he is found fatally shot, an apparent suicide. The FBI stays silent. Only when Neil and Roland are very old men, meeting by chance in a rehabilitation facility, does Aidan’s death become illuminated, atoned for, and fully put to rest. This beautifully crafted, far- ranging novel will catch readers up in the grace and hard truths of the lives it unfolds.




A classic portrait of America's vast frontier that inspired the Western genre in fiction.

Originally published more than fifty years ago, The Big Sky is the first of A. B. Guthrie Jr.'s epic adventure novels set in the American West. Here he introduces Boone Caudill, Jim Deakins, and Dick Summers: traveling the Missouri River from St. Louis to the Rockies, these frontiersmen live as trappers, traders, guides, and explorers. The story centers on Caudill, a young Kentuckian driven by a raging hunger for life and a longing for the blue sky and brown earth of big, wild places. Caught up in the freedom and savagery of the wilderness, Caudill becomes an untamed mountain man, whom only the beautiful daughter of a Blackfoot chief dares to love. 


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INTERESTED IN MORE WISHLISTS?
CHECK OUT WHAT MY FRIENDS HAVE BOOKMARKED:

Stephanie at Layered Pages
Magdalena at A Bookaholic Swede
Heather at The Maiden's Court

Monday, September 18, 2017

Cover Cliché: Plunging V

Sometimes, while browsing the virtual shelves on Amazon and Goodreads, I see jacket art that gives me a disconcerting sense of deja vu. I know I've not read the book, but I am equally certain I've seen its image somewhere before.

This phenomenon is what inspired Cover Clichés. Image recycling is fairly common as cover artists are often forced to work from a limited pool of stock images and copyright free material. The details vary cover to cover, but each boasts a certain similarity and I find comparing the finished designs quite interesting.

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For readers of The Paris Wife and Z comes a vivid novel full of drama, passion, tragedy, and beauty that stunningly imagines the life of iconic fashion designer Coco Chanel—the ambitious, gifted laundrywoman’s daughter who revolutionized fashion, built an international empire, and become one of the most influential and controversial figures of the twentieth century

Born into rural poverty, Gabrielle Chanel and her siblings are sent to orphanage after their mother’s death. The sisters nurture Gabrielle’s exceptional sewing skills, a talent that will propel the willful young woman into a life far removed from the drudgery of her childhood.

Transforming herself into Coco—a seamstress and sometime torch singer—the petite brunette burns with ambition, an incandescence that draws a wealthy gentleman who will become the love of her life. She immerses herself in his world of money and luxury, discovering a freedom that sparks her creativity. But it is only when her lover takes her to Paris that Coco discovers her destiny.

Rejecting the frilly, corseted silhouette of the past, her sleek, minimalist styles reflect the youthful ease and confidence of the 1920s modern woman. As Coco’s reputation spreads, her couturier business explodes, taking her into rarefied society circles and bohemian salons. But her fame and fortune cannot save her from heartbreak as the years pass. And when Paris falls to the Nazis, Coco is forced to make choices that will haunt her.

An enthralling novel of an extraordinary woman who created the life she desired, Mademoiselle Chanel explores the inner world of a woman of staggering ambition whose strength, passion and artistic vision would become her trademark.





One summer night in 1930, Judge Joseph Crater steps into a New York City cab and is never heard from again. Behind this great man are three women, each with her own tale to tell: Stella, his fashionable wife, the picture of propriety; Maria, their steadfast maid, indebted to the judge; and Ritzi, his showgirl mistress, willing to seize any chance to break out of the chorus line.

As the twisted truth emerges, Ariel Lawhon’s wickedly entertaining debut mystery transports us into the smoky jazz clubs, the seedy backstage dressing rooms, and the shadowy streets beneath the Art Deco skyline.



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Which cover strikes your fancy and why? What colors draw your eye? Do you think the image appropriate next to the jacket description? Leave your comments below!

Have you seen this image elsewhere? Shoot me an email or leave a comment and let me know. 


Friday, September 15, 2017

Kiss of Life by Debbie Viguié

Rating: ★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆
Obtained from: Personal Kindle Library
Read: September 13, 2017

The Baron has lived for hundreds of years, a vampire who makes the most of his immortal life. Having personally learned the value of freedom, he has lately been using his exceptional fighting skills to assist the Union Army in the American War Between the States. When two ladies are kidnapped by ruthless guerrilla fighters who call themselves the Raiders, he agrees to help not just because he may be the only one who can save them, but because he owes a debt that he has been repaying for centuries. A companion short story to New York Times bestselling author Debbie Viguie's Kiss Trilogy, this e-book exclusive also includes an extended preview of the first novel in the series, Kiss of Night.

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I discovered Debbie Viguié’s Kiss of Life while browsing Amazon’s extensive selection of historic fiction. The author was new to me and I’d no experience with the Kiss trilogy, but felt the premise vaguely interesting. I was curious, but after checking the prices, I felt the short complementary piece the safest investment. No point spending $6 when I could test drive the author for only $1 after all.

There’s a stereotypical joke to be made about cheap Scots here, but I’m not in the mood to poke fun at my heritage. I’ve shared this story to illustrate how I buy books and while I can’t claim to represent any particular demographic, it seems fair to say that at least some portion of the population treat shorts as writing samples. I’m not saying it’s a crime for a short to complement a larger series, but I think it important for writers to remember they’ve no control over how or why a reader picks up their work. They might have written it for their established fanbase, but anyone can download it and at the end of the day new readers shouldn’t feel cheated for taking interest.

Getting back to the story, I’ve no trouble admitting that Kiss of Life disappointed me. The whole of the plot is dependent on Jeanette’s being a lady of Bryas which may or may not be a spoiler in need of marking. The problem, you see, is that Viguié doesn’t bother explaining the concept and I’ve no idea in hell what it means. One could argue that I should read Kiss of Night to learn more, but I’m not actually inclined to spend $6 on a book by an author I know prone to plot holes...

Great cover art, but not recommended to those unfamiliar with the larger canon. Forgettable and without closure.

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"You are an abomination," Erik said. "And I refuse to release you on the world..."
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