Thursday, June 22, 2017

Cover Crush: The Trick by Emanuel Bermann

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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I love the cover of Emanuel Bergmann's The Trick. Close-ups on female models are normal, but it is exceedingly rare to see a male model flying solo on a historical fiction jacket. I also like how the ticket itself hints at the novel's premise.

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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


Monday, June 19, 2017

The Irish Tempest by Elizabeth J. Sparrow

Rating: ★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆
Obtained from: Netgalley
Read: June 14, 2017

Ireland, 1911: After seven centuries of unyielding oppression, there is a tempest rising, a national yearning for Irish independence. It threatens to sweep away all that is precious to the very privileged O'Rourke and de la Roche families. Seismic changes are but a whisper away. What begins as a squabbling friendship between the wastrel Courtland O'Rourke and the defiant, mischief-making Lacey de la Roche matures into a deeply passionate, tempestuous love, fraught with secrets of lethal consequences and sins of omission. In this debut historical novel, The Irish Tempest beckons the reader into a world, where landowner and tenant farmer, the well-off and the working-class are chafing under the chokehold of British domination. Pulled apart by personal and social conflicts, Court and Lacey experience the world from perspectives both transformative and destructive. Court, compelled to accept a commission in the British army, initiates a disastrous affair with rippling aftershocks. Lacey, fueled by the arrogance of adolescence, is beguiled by a charismatic but sociopathic horse trainer. The Irish Tempest thrusts the reader into the anguish of the 1916 Easter Rising and beyond as Ireland seethes on the cusp of revolution. Deftly paced with vividly drawn characters, The Irish Tempest embraces historical elements while preserving the essence of evocative storytelling.

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The signatories of the Proclamation: Tom Clarke,
Seán MacDiarmada, Thomas MacDonagh, Patrick Pearse,
Éamonn Ceannt, James Connolly, and Joseph Plunkett.
Elizabeth J. Sparrow’s The Irish Tempest is marketed as a historical romance, but it should be understood that the ratio is round about 30:70 in favor of fitful mewling and surging loins. There’s nothing wrong with that, romance is a booming genre with an avid readership, but I personally prefer historic romance that is weighted in the other direction.

The jacket places certain emphasis on the Rising so let’s start there. The beginning of the insurrection is traditionally marked by Pearse’s reading of the 1916 Proclamation outside the GPO. The declaration was signed by seven of the movement’s leaders, but for some unknown reason Sparrow mentions only five: Tom Clarke, James Connelly, Joseph Plunkett, Thomas MacDonagh, and Patrick Pearse. The remaining two, Sean MacDiarmada and Eamonn Ceannt, are entirely omitted from the text and replaced by Michael Collins and Éamon de Valera. I was annoyed as hell that Sparrow eclipsed the Rising with a scene of attempted rape, but there's simply no excuse to have dropped two of the key players from enjoying their moment in the limelight.

On a similar note, the Rising didn’t just happen. It wasn’t planned at the last moment and the ideals that drove it weren’t new. Clarke himself had been fighting for the cause of Irish freedom since the late 1870s. Tensions had been steadily increasing for years, but Sparrow’s narrative ignores this reality and fumbles any and all development of the political landscape that shaped these men and their ideals. I wanted these concepts to take center stage, the prominence placed on them in the description are why I picked up the book, but at the end of the day the subject matter wasn’t central to the story at hand and that fact left me bitterly disappointed.

The love story didn’t interest me and I can’t say I cared much for Sparrow’s cast, but I’m not above giving the author credit where due. There are passages in this piece that are downright lyrical and I found much of the dialogue humorous and entertaining. There’s also noticeable build up to the conflict between Collins and de Valera in the final chapters of the story and I like how that attention sets the stage for the intended sequel.

Not a complete wash, but not something I see myself recommending to fellow readers.

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There is an inevitable forgetfulness that comes with inheriting a privileged albeit circumscribed life. When there is wealth and abundant resources to pass on to the next generation, one may forget that those ancestral woes—the devastation of blight and famine, the theft of birthright and property, the debasement of language and culture—still may claim a person, in the here and now of one’s very indulgent existence.
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Friday, June 16, 2017

The Autobiography of Mrs. Tom Thumb by Melanie Benjamin

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆
Obtained from: Personal Kindle Library
Read: June 5, 2017

She was only two-foot eight-inches tall, but her legend reaches out to us more than a century later. As a child, Mercy Lavinia “Vinnie” Bump was encouraged to live a life hidden away from the public. Instead, she reached out to the immortal impresario P. T. Barnum, married the tiny superstar General Tom Thumb in the wedding of the century, and transformed into the world’s most unexpected celebrity. Here, in Vinnie’s singular and spirited voice, is her amazing adventure—from a showboat “freak” revue where she endured jeering mobs to her fateful meeting with the two men who would change her life: P. T. Barnum and Charles Stratton, AKA Tom Thumb. Their wedding would captivate the nation, preempt coverage of the Civil War, and usher them into the White House and the company of presidents and queens. But Vinnie’s fame would also endanger the person she prized most: her similarly-sized sister, Minnie, a gentle soul unable to escape the glare of Vinnie’s spotlight. A barnstorming novel of the Gilded Age, and of a woman’s public triumphs and personal tragedies, The Autobiography of Mrs. Tom Thumb is the irresistible epic of a heroine who conquered the country with a heart as big as her dreams—and whose story will surely win over yours.

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Lavinia Warren
Several months ago, I stumbled over a documentary entitled The Seven Dwarfs of Auschwitz. The broadcast centers on the Ovitz family and after watching it, I went looking for a fictional account of their lives and experiences. Unfortunately for me, their story has not yet inspired an author to put pen to paper, but by the time I discovered that fact, I was dead set on finding a book that featured a dwarf in the leading role which is what led to my discovery of Melanie Benjamin’s The Autobiography of Mrs. Tom Thumb.

Vinnie’s path to fame was inherently related to her size, but she did not allow her stature to define her and I love how Benjamin threaded that principle into the fabric of her narrative. The author does not shy away from the daily challenges of life as a little person, but her central themes are those of an ambitious and fiercely passionate woman, fighting to achieve her dreams and face down the world on her own terms. Excuse me for gushing, but I think that a beautiful message and couldn’t help admiring Benjamin for honing it on it as she did here.

The historic elements of the story, however, were less compelling. I found the details pertaining to the intricacies and eccentricities of P.T. Barnum’s amusements fascinating, but the intermission sequences that tied Vinnie’s life to larger world events such as the American Civil War seemed out of place, distracting, and detrimental to the already plodding pace of the narrative.

Though I love what the character represented, I also struggled with Vinnie’s arrogance and self-superiority. I often grew so frustrated with her that I wanted to scream and more than once considered abandoning the novel outright. I loved the supporting cast – Sylvia, Minnie, and Charles in particular – but Vinnie herself tested my patience.

Would I recommend The Autobiography of Mrs. Tom Thumb? Yes, but hesitantly and after both The Aviator’s Wife and The Swans of Fifth Avenue. I don’t mean to be hard on the novel. I liked a lot of the thematic execution, but the found the execution difficult to navigate.

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“That's just it, don't you see? I don't want to be taken care of! I don't want be hidden away, a burden! I want to make my own way! To have a greater purpose!'” 
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Thursday, June 15, 2017

Cover Crush: Imperatrix by Russell Whitfield

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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I love the cover of Russell Whitfield's Imperatrix. The color scheme is dramatic, but the mix of feminine and masculine elements tease the imagination. To be fair, the design took their cues directly from the story itself, but I still love how the artist was able to recreate those themes through the cover imagery.

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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, June 14, 2017

Miss Whitaker Opens Her Heart by Jennifer Moore

Rating: ★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆
Obtained from: Netgalley
Read: June 12, 2017

Australia, 1814. As a young child bound for a strange country, Sarah Whitaker dreamed of life with her father on his sprawling Australian ranch. But her hopes were shattered when she learned of his death and of her new role as heiress of the largest sheep farm in New Wales. Orphaned in a land greatly populated by petty criminals exiled from England, the future seemed grim. But now, ten years later, Sarah has defied the odds and become a successful businesswoman much to the chagrin of her male counterparts. Hardened by the dishonesty of both her fellow ranchers and the felons in her employ, Sarah has learned one important truth: no one is to be trusted. Daniel Burton is a lucky man. Sentenced to death for his role in a horse-race scandal, Daniel was granted reprieve thanks to the influence of his wealthy relatives. Now, rather than death, Daniel faces exile in Australia an opportunity to put past mistakes behind him. But when he purchases land with the intention of farming it, he unwittingly arouses the wrath of his new neighbor, Sarah. What begins as a battle of wits, however, soon becomes a warm friendship and perhaps something more. But when Daniel's secret past is revealed, will Sarah be able forgive yet another deception?

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Miss Whitaker Opens Her Heart was the first Jennifer Moore novel I chanced to pick up and I’m in no rush to repeat the experience. I respect there are a lot of readers who appreciate this kind of storytelling and I mean no offense to the author or her fans, but Moore’s writing is simply too light and predictable for my tastes.

The novel is set in Australia, but nothing about the text feels authentic to the Land Down Under. There are some superficial details about convicts and their treatment, but Moore never gets into the thick of it and the lack of atmospheric detail made it hard to imagine life on either Sarah or Daniel’s station. I was similarly disappointed with Moore’s treatment of the indigenous people, but meaty subject matter wasn’t Moore’s game so it should come as no surprise that she barely skimmed the surface of Australia’s weightier and less admirable history. 

The romance Moore creates is sweet and while there is nothing wrong with that, I felt a distinct lack of chemistry between her leads. Both are Sarah and Danial are genuinely good people and while I appreciate the sentiment, such flawless personalities don’t exist in real life and I think their lack of individual flaw undermined their authenticity. Moore also has a tendency to tell more than she shows and omit character building scenes – Sarah’s embracing the role of station owner and/or Daniel’s crime and subsequent transport – that would have allowed readers to invest in the growth and experiences of her leads. 

At the end of the day Miss Whitaker Opens Her Heart missed its mark. If anything, I’d consider the novel a good in-between read, but I’d have difficulty recommending the story or subject matter to fellow readers.  

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What hope was there for him? And how was it to be found in a penal colony in an untamed land on the other side of the world?
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Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Cover Cliché: Seaside Sentinel

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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His greatest battle will be for her love. The Highland Mist series continues...

Once sworn enemies, the fearsome knight Sir Galen de Ogilvy and the beautiful, headstrong Scotswoman, Laoghaire MacKinnon, have been ordered by Robert the Bruce to wed one another in order to end the blood feud between their two families. And though their marriage is born of ancient hatreds, beneath the newlyweds’ fiery exchanges an explosive passion simmers. But Laoghaire soon discovers a far more dangerous enemy lurking in the shadows, one who will stop at nothing to sever the burgeoning bond between her and Galen. When the treachery is finally revealed, it will put their love and their lives in deadly peril.




After helping kill her husband to protect her child from his father's Satanic Order, Margerite embarks on a dangerous deception to cover up the murder. She pretends to be an Order priestess to keep the others from taking Wolfram away, but finds she cannot shed this falsehood so easily. Given in marriage to her husband's opponent to seal the end of the feud, she finds her youngest stepson has been instructed to continue her training in the black arts. She struggles to balance the safety of her child with the disposition of her soul, all the while trying to be faithful to her new husband when her heart actually belongs to her dead husband's captain of the guard. Even there she must choose as her love, Bertram, rushes off to save his own people from the Order and her stepson invites a demon to inhabit his older brother. Who should she aid first, and just how is she to do either while keeping herself and her baby safe?

* English Title: Falcon's Flight.




Set against the wild and perilous background of Scotland in the late 13th century, the adventurous lives of Robert the Bruce's five sisters come to life through their own words in a series of letters. Courage and tenacity are often associated with Scotland's great hero, but few appreciate the enormous challenges experienced by these remarkable sisters. Their intimate account of family life resonates still with love, loss and hope.

Isa leaves home to sail to the land of the Vikings to become Queen of Norway whilst her sister, Kirsty, finds herself Countess of Mar and chatelaine of the great Kildrummy Castle in Scotland's far northeast. Danger looms and the younger sisters, Mathilda and Margaret, escape to Orkney with Kirsty's children. As Scotland spirals into war, Robert's sisters face the wrath of King Edward of England, whose vengeance wrought the brutal death of William Wallace. Kirsty is incarcerated alone in an English nunnery, whilst Mary endures years of misery within a cage hanging from the walls of Roxburgh Castle. Under Robert's kingship, old wounds heal and Scotland's fighting force achieves a resounding victory at the Battle of Bannockburn. Only then are the fragile, traumatised women released, through the ransoming of English nobles, to return home to rebuild their shattered lives...




The Lindsey Mountain Massacre was the stuff of legend-the spine chilling, wicked-cruel kind of story that evil-humored folk like to share on a dark and moonless night. It held all the makings of a fine and frightful tale, a blustering blizzard of a winter storm, a candlelit, backwoods mansion in the heart of the Blue Ridge Mountains, a Christmas Eve celebration in the year of nineteen and one, good folk killed by a vengeful haint... or a rabid bear-depending on who was doing the telling. Truth be told, no one ever really found out exactly what did happen or why, nor even realized just how far from the truth all their old stories fell...'til more than a century later, when folks 'round Lindsey started mysteriously disappearing and dying...and the ancient ones returned. From the nevermore mists, lost among dark realms of nothingness and myriad points of twinkling light, in a place that had never really been before or since, the Fates appeared, and with caprice and whimsy created all that followed as unscripted players on a stage designed for no more mind or purpose than to lessen the burdens that neverending eons of time lay upon the creators themselves. Vampiri, Sorceri, Faielri, Demorni...four distinct races, each imbued with a different bit of life and gnosis drawn from their creator's very souls-each with a Magick all their own. Each, in turn, allowed to play their own unique roles upon this wondrous stage and reign over all its beasts before fading away into an eternal life within the Paths of Mist. Each leaving the world, with their passing, a little less perfect, a little less Magick, a little dirtier, a little plainer...a little less desirable than before. This is the tale of three who dared defy the Fates...and the humans who paid the price.




Child of the Prophecy is the thrilling conclusion to Juliet Marillier's award-winning Sevenwaters Trilogy.

Magic is fading... and the ways of Man are driving the Old Ones to the West, beyond the ken of humankind. The ancient groves are being destroyed, and if nothing is done, Ireland will lose its essential mystic core.

The prophecies of long ago have foretold a way to prevent this horror, and it is the Sevenwaters clan that the Spirits of Eire look to for salvation. They are a family bound into the lifeblood of the land, and their promise to preserve the magic has been the cause of great joy to them... as well as great sorrow.

It is up to Fianne, daughter of Niamh, the lost sister of Sevenwaters, to solve the riddles of power. She is the shy child of a reclusive sorcerer, and her way is hard, for her father is the son of the wicked sorceress Oonagh, who has emerged from the shadows and seeks to destroy all that Sevenwaters has striven for. Oonagh will use her granddaughter Fianne most cruelly to accomplish her ends, and stops at nothing to see her will done.

Will Fianne be strong enough to battle this evil and save those she has come to love?


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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, June 12, 2017

The Boston Girl by Anita Diamant

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★
Obtained from: Netgalley
Read: June 7, 2017

From the New York Times bestselling author of The Red Tent and Day After Night, comes an unforgettable coming-of-age novel about family ties and values, friendship and feminism told through the eyes of a young Jewish woman growing up in Boston in the early twentieth century. Addie Baum is The Boston Girl, born in 1900 to immigrant parents who were unprepared for and suspicious of America and its effect on their three daughters. Growing up in the North End, then a teeming multicultural neighborhood, Addie's intelligence and curiosity take her to a world her parents can't imagine - a world of short skirts, movies, celebrity culture and new opportunities for women. Addie wants to finish high school and dreams of going to college. She wants a career and to find true love. Eighty-five-year-old Addie tells the story of her life to her twenty-two-year-old granddaughter, who has asked her "How did you get to be the woman you are today?" She begins in 1915, the year she found her voice and made friends who would help shape the course of her life. From the one-room tenement apartment she shared with her parents and two sisters, to the library group for girls she joins at a neighborhood settlement house, to her first, disastrous love affair, Addie recalls her adventures with compassion for the naïve girl she was and a wicked sense of humor. Written with the same attention to historical detail and emotional resonance that made Anita Diamant's previous novels bestsellers, The Boston Girl is a moving portrait of one woman’s complicated life in twentieth-century America, and a fascinating look at a generation of women finding their places in a changing world.

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I picked up Anita Diamant’s The Boston Girl as an in-between read, you know, one of those titles you crack open to ‘cleanse the palate’ between heavier fare? I was in the market for something light and it looked like it’d fit the bill so I pulled it up on my kindle and dug in. I’d no expectations and had no prior experience with the author’s work, so I was a surprised as anyone when the novel swept me clean off my feet.

The book is written in the first person and as a result, feels intensely intimidate. Addie is an irresistibly candid character with a sparkling sense of humor and her earnest account of her life experiences grant the novel a unique degree of emotional depth. I read historic fiction for the history, but even I can’t deny that the emotional elements of the story are what set The Boston Girl apart.

Thematically the book has a lot going on and I admire how it explores immigration as a long-term prospect with implications that ripple across generations. Addie grows up in family environment that is rooted in old world traditions, but the multicultural neighborhood of Boston’s North End has an influence all its own. Addie is a product of both and I think the novel invites understanding of what that experience really means for those who live it.

Heartfelt and emotive, The Boston Girl isn’t to be missed. A beautiful and highly recommended read.

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"You should always be kind to people, Ava. You never know what sorrows they’re carrying around."
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Friday, June 9, 2017

Duty to the Crown by Aimie K. Runyan

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
Obtained from: Netgalley
Read: September 28, 2016

Set amid the promise and challenge of the first Canadian colonies, Aimie K. Runyan’s vividly rendered novel provides a fascinating portrait of the women who would become the founding mothers of New France. In 1667, an invisible wall separates settlers in New France from their Huron neighbors. Yet whether in the fledgling city of Quebec or within one of the native tribes, every woman’s fate depends on the man she chooses—or is obligated—to marry. Although Claudine Deschamps and Gabrielle Giroux both live within the settlement, their prospects are very different. French-born Claudine has followed her older sister across the Atlantic hoping to attract a wealthy husband through her beauty and connections. Gabrielle, orphan daughter of the town drunkard, is forced into a loveless union by a cruel law that requires her to marry by her sixteenth birthday. And Manon Lefebvre, born in the Huron village and later adopted by settlers, has faced the prejudices of both societies and is convinced she can no longer be accepted in either. Drawn into unexpected friendship through their loves, losses, and dreams of home and family, all three women will have to call on their bravery and resilience to succeed in this new world…

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Arrival of the Brides by Eleanor Fortescue-Brickdale.
Lysander reflects that “The course of true love never did run smooth…”  in Act 1, Scene 1 of William Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream. The play is not my favorite, but the line speaks to a truth few writers are willing and/or able to recreate. We all know that ‘happily ever after’ endings sell like hotcakes, but the reality of love is far more complicated than most fiction suggests.

Romantic love is obviously the most popular, but familial, parental, spiritual, and communal love, are equally powerful and important which is what Claudine Deschamps, Gabrielle Giroux, and Manon Lefebvre discover in Aimie K. Runyan’s Duty to the Crown. Each faces a unique set of challenges, but when all is said and done, it is the relationships they form along the way that see them through.

I give Runyan a lot of credit for tackling a number of complex social issues through the trials and tribulations for her three heroines and I don’t mean to downplay the historic value of the novel in any way, but it was her illustration of Quebec’s greater community of women that captured my imagination. It is obvious that a great deal of research when into this piece and that the author has a lot of respect for both French and Canadian culture, but the strength and fortitude of the nation’s founding mothers is first and foremost among her chosen themes and I greatly appreciated how she chose to display and explore those ideas through her fiction.

Duty to the Crown is the second book the Daughters of New France series and while it isn’t entirely necessary to read the novels in order, I’d definitely recommend tackling the volumes chronologically. 

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God in heaven, I escaped my father’s house only to find myself in a deeper circle of hell. I don’t know what I’ve done to offend, but I think it’s You who must make amends now.
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Thursday, June 8, 2017

Cover Crush: The Promise of Breeze Hill by Pam Hillman

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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Pam Hillman's The Promise of Breeze Hill is likely lighter than my usual fare, but I adore the jacket. The geometric elements of the design draw the eye and I like how the trees mimic the larger circles. The soft colors give the novel a polished look and the overlapping shapes pop in market flooding with singles layer imagery.   

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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


Wednesday, June 7, 2017

We Sink or Swim Together by Gill Paul

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆
Obtained from: Personal Kindle Library
Read: April 11, 2017

Gerda Nielsen is on her way from Brooklyn to Liverpool aboard the ill-fated Lusitania in 1915. Jack Walsh is returning to England, ready to take up a post developing new types of portable field telephones to help the war effort. Unmarried, he’s keen to settle and as he and Gerda spend more and more time onboard together they realise that each has found someone very special. But it’s the afternoon before they dock in Liverpool, and tragedy strikes. As the torpedoed ship lists to one side Jack and Gerda must make frightening decisions that become a matter of life or death… A beautiful, romantic and moving tale based on a true story.

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RMS Lusitania
I don’t want to toot my own horn or anything, but my Cover Cliché series at Flashlight Commentary is one of my favorites. The posts are fun to compose, they are surprisingly popular, and they inspire some great discussions, but they’ve also caused me to consider the various titles I feature which is how I found myself purchasing a copy of Gill Paul’s We Sink or Swim Together

I featured the book in Unspoken Attraction last April, but it was the jacket description that captured my imagination. I was familiar with the sinking, but short of the made-for-tv movie starring John Hannah, had never seen it adapted and was curious to see if an author could pull off a shipboard romance on a doomed ocean liner that didn’t read like a cheap imitation of James Cameron’s epic.

Did Paul succeed? Yes and no. At only thirty pages in length – the final third of the book is actually an excerpt from Paul’s No Place for a Lady - the story is hardly comprehensive. That said, I felt the author made creative use of the material despite the limitations created by format. The characters are fairly simple and can’t be considered memorable by any means, but the love story provides a sweet sort of distraction for those who appreciate lighter lit with a historic twist.

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I like this man, she thought. He was easy to talk to. You didn’t have to work to come up with new topics of conversation because he listened to what you said and asked relevant questions and somehow the words just flowed.
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Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Cover Cliché: Worried Waif

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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Katherine, Lady of Clarendon, has been promised in marriage to Percy, Duke of Loneshire by her parents. She does not know the deadly secret that he holds. When the Duke's brother, Oliver, escorts Katherine to Loneshire, feelings between the two develop, but she marries the Duke, and her nightmare begins. When Oliver finds out the Duke's secret, things turn deadly.

Sophia Wilson writes a clean and wholesome tale of unrequited love, romantic twists and deadly secrets.





It is 1763. James Blakiston, overseer of Lord Ravenshead's estate and a newcomer to the Durham parish of Ryton, is determined to solve the mystery of old Reuben Cooper's murder - but he has no idea how to go about it. As enclosure threatens to make the poor even poorer, Blakiston follows one misguided hunch after another. The only thing that he can really be certain of is his love for the beautiful and spirited Kate Greener - a love he is determined to resist, for Kate is the daughter of a penniless labourer and Blakiston has in any case not recovered from being thrown over by the woman he believed loved him. The mysterious Joseph Kelly, an Irishman who is not an Irishman, falls under suspicion. But Kelly cannot be found. Then Matthew Higson flees to America, leaving his boyhood love Catherine Robinson behind in his headlong rush to be gone, and the mystery is solved. Higson was the murderer. But when Higson is found, not fled but murdered in his turn, Blakiston's search resumes. As he builds a picture of the history of the murderous Cooper family over three generations, a missing coat also begins to occupy his mind. How did it get from where it was to where it is? And why? A chance remark by Lady Isabella Claverley opens the door to the murderer at last. And Blakiston rejects love. But will love let him go?




Journey into Whitechapel, London, during Jack the Ripper’s brutal reign of terror.

When innocent Catherine Bell stumbles into the seedy world of Madame Davenport’s brothel lodging-house, she meets lothario Edward Cross, who feels his ambitious diary of the Whitechapel area’s prostitutes will benefit favourably with her entry.

Catherine soon begins to experience animosity from the other women there, as well as mounting fears over Cross’s brutal and strange sexual manner. With nowhere to turn things worsen when prostitutes in the area begin to disappear one by one, only to be found murdered by a ruthless and bloody man.

Soon every woman in Whitechapel is terrified and asking, who is Jack the Ripper?




It's been two years since Lady Marion Tunstall lost her husband at sea. Two years of sorrow and grief. Only now has the young, comely widow finally re-entered society. It isn't until she and her family attend the merriment of a country dance that Lady Marion sees her dead husband, alive and well... and faints dead away.

Lord Tristan Tunstall has no choice but to confess—he is alive, yes, but not a whole man who can be a husband and father. When he offers her a divorce, however, Marion stubbornly refuses. Now she has forced herself back into his life, and into his home and (oh, God forgive his weakness) his bed. He cannot stop himself from wanting her. Loving her. But can he live with the secret she is keeping from him?




The year is 1888. Justine Holloway finds herself an orphan after her parents die in a horrific fire. She is sent to live with her godparents, Harold Mendenhall and his sister Frances. On the boat ride home, she meets Amun Farouk, a handsome Egyptian Ambassador who is also sailing to England to meet her godfather. What Justine does not realize as she dons the veil of mourning is that Harold runs a secret organization under the nose of polite society, much to the dismay of his genteel sister.

The Council was created for the protection of humanity from the Varius, refugees from a parallel universe who shift their form while others channel the forces of magic. They seek refuge in Victorian London, hidden in the slums, easily forgotten until a human ends up incinerated or sucked dry.

Drawn into the plot against her will, Justine finds herself the object of a vampire’s lurid obsession. According to ancient texts, vampires kill humans for fodder, their blood and the air they breathe inferior, but this killer has other intentions for her. Does Justine’s survival depend on Amun or will he kill her to save humanity?




Since childhood Sara has lived with the reality of being ugly. Something her awful family never ceased to remind her. After her sisters run off to Gretna Green, she's left with one choice--go to London and take their place for a Season. It's up to her to marry well and save her family from financial ruin.

A distant aunt decides it's in her best interest to sponsor Sara for the season and help her snag a husband by any means possible.

Nicholas Devons, Earl of Renwick, is a retired rake and consequently bored with life. He's given up beautiful women and carnal pleasures. Desperation makes him decide to give his massive fortune away and marry the first country girl he sees.

Lucky for Sara she's that girl. Unlucky for Nicholas, he's to be her new tutor in the ways of the ton. Two waltzes, one masquerade, a violent carriage ride, and two duckless ponds later.... and all that's left is a fun twist on one of the oldest stories ever told.





Soth, the Marquess of Southerton, is on quest to retrieve some love letters from a Duke's past lover. Bored to go through another season, he goes to the Lady’s house and finds a way to be invited to stay.

The Lady is married to a man who looks like a scholar and very genteel but she seems to be
intensely unhappy.

After a while, South finds out some strange happenings in the house. What is the mystery of the bleeding mirror?





The last thing Dawne Wyatt ever excepted or thought would happen was that she’d fall in love. To make matters worse, it’s Lady Sophia Stephens’s older brother. Torn between her heart’s desires and the dictates of society she tries to make sense of it all. When logic doesn’t work, she turns to Lady Stephens for help.

Guilty until proven innocent Lord Edward James Walker turns to Dawne to help prove another man in the one Bow Street should be hunting. Now he has two problems, the authorities and winning over the love of his life while keeping his. For the first he has assistance from his sister while the second it ends up two ladies against one gentleman.

Who will win? The authorities, Edward or Dawne.




A tragic accident.

A battle for succession and power.

And an opportunity for young Isabella Cavendish to marry the man of her dreams and augment her royal title in the process.

That man is Lord Jeffrey Rowley, who is about to become the Duke of Leicester. His father's health is failing, and when Lord Jeffrey assumes his royal title he will become one of the most powerful men in England.

But Jeffrey is about to be betrothed to Lady Beatrice Oxfordshire, a timid, frail creature who is ill-matched for the dashing, handsome young lord.

Fate intervenes, however, when the carriage carrying Beatrice to the betrothal ceremony has a tragic accident, creating an opportunity for Isabella to win Jeffrey's heart. Can she seize the opportunity fate has given her and find true love with Lord Jeffrey?

To find out, download The Dashing Duke Makes His Selection and enjoy this sweet, stirring romance, which is written by one of the most exciting new voices in clean Regency romance!


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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, June 5, 2017

The Witchfinder's Sister by Beth Underdown

Rating: ★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆
Obtained from: Netgalley
Read: December 1, 2016

Essex, England, 1645. With a heavy heart, Alice Hopkins returns to the small town she grew up in. Widowed, with child, and without prospects, she is forced to find refuge at the house of her younger brother, Matthew. In the five years she has been gone, the boy she knew has become a man of influence and wealth--but more has changed than merely his fortunes. Alice fears that even as the cruel burns of a childhood accident still mark his face, something terrible has scarred Matthew's soul. There is a new darkness in the town, too--frightened whispers are stirring in the streets, and Alice's blood runs cold with dread when she discovers that Matthew is a ruthless hunter of suspected witches. Torn between devotion to her brother and horror at what he's become, Alice is desperate to intervene--and deathly afraid of the consequences. But as Matthew's reign of terror spreads, Alice must choose between her safety and her soul. Alone and surrounded by suspicious eyes, Alice seeks out the fuel firing her brother's brutal mission--and is drawn into the Hopkins family's past. There she finds secrets nested within secrets: and at their heart, the poisonous truth. Only by putting her own life and liberty in peril can she defeat this darkest of evils--before more innocent women are forced to the gallows. Inspired by the real-life story of notorious "Witchfinder General" Matthew Hopkins, Beth Underdown's thrilling debut novel blends spellbinding history with harrowing storytelling for a truly haunting reading experience.

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Frontispiece from Matthew Hopkins' The Discovery of
Witches (1647), showing witches identifying their
familiar spirits.
The New York Times Book Review says Beth Underdown’s The Witchfinder’s Sister is a “a novel for our times…” and if that is true, I fear for both our times and the quality of literature it produces. I mean no offense to the reviewer or to the author for that matter, but I wholeheartedly disagree with the assessment and am not inclined to pretend otherwise.

The novel centers on the fictitious Alice Hopkins. For those who aren’t aware, publishers don’t like narratives about men, so to tell stories like that of Matthew Hopkins, authors are forced to rely on gimmicks that allow them to approach male characters from female points of view which likely explains how the historic headliner of this particular publication came to occupy a supporting role in his own story. I find the trend annoying as all hell, but that’s a tirade for another day.

I obviously understand why Underdown required a female protagonist, but why she chose to create one is beyond my comprehension. Matthew had at least five siblings according to his father’s will, but only three are ever named: James, Thomas, and John. Could a sister have existed? It’s certainly plausible, but filling the void wasn’t entirely necessary. Matthew’s mother, Marie Hopkins, seems a prime candidate in my eyes, as does Mary Phillips, a midwife who partnered with Matthew in the course of his investigations. Then of course, there’s the hundreds of women he persecuted…

Now I don’t believe it fair to rake a book across the coals for the inclusion of a fictional caricature, so please don’t conclude that Alice’s presence in and of itself factors in the lukewarm rating above. I’ve lots of complaints about the narrative, but Alice’s lack of a historic counterpart is simply not among them. Her mouse-like demeanor bored me to tears, the fact that she is a witness rather than an active participant in much of the narrative inspired a number of yawns, and her inexplicable episode of courage in the final chapters struck me as contradictory to her nature, but I do not discriminate because she lacks real life inspiration.

Those familiar with Matthew’s legacy understand that his victims were largely comprised of the old, the poor, the feeble, the disabled, the defenseless, those who fell victim to the suspicion of their neighbors, and those upon whom others held grievances both real and imagined. Underdown chronicles this moderately well. She also offers up some great details about the realities of witch hunting over the course of the novel, but there is almost nothing about the politics or ideology behind the practice. I am not a writer, but I think the novel would have been stronger if she’d emphasized how Matthew’s ideas, which he recorded in The Discovery of Witches (1647), built on those of James I as recorded in Daemonologie (1597). Underdown’s fiction implies that Matthew was a fanatic which is entirely possible, but it fails to relay that much of what he believed was in line with both common thought and the beliefs of a king only two decades in his grave.

In my eyes, The Witchfinder’s Sister boasts tedious pacing, yawn-worthy characters, a gross underuse of historic fact, and an anti-climactic finale, but I’m not above giving credit where due. Underdown’s choice of inspiration had merit, but the execution paled in comparison to the portrayal offered by Vincent Price in Witchfinder General, a 1968 film based on Ronald Bassett's novel of the same name. I firmly believe Matthew’s is a tale worth telling, but when I’m entirely honest with myself, I don’t feel The Witchfinder’s Sister capitalized on the material and have to concede I’d have difficulty recommending it forward.

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“These last months, I have learned that the acknowledged history that belongs to the daylight, that is not the only history. Turn over the stone and you will find another history, wriggling to escape.” 
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