Friday, September 18, 2020

Book Review: The Lost Jewels by Kirsty Manning

 Book Review


The Lost Jewels

Kirsty Manning

 

 

Book Description:

Why would someone bury a bucket of precious jewels and gemstones and never return?  

Present Day. When respected American jewelry historian, Kate Kirby, receives a call about the Cheapside jewels, she knows she’s on the brink of the experience of a lifetime. 

But the trip to London forces Kate to explore secrets that have long been buried by her own family. Back in Boston, Kate has uncovered a series of sketches in her great-grandmother’s papers linking her suffragette great-grandmother Essie to the Cheapside collection. Could these sketches hold the key to Essie’s secret life in Edwardian London? 

In the summer of 1912, impoverished Irish immigrant Essie Murphy happens to be visiting her brother when a workman’s pickaxe strikes through the floor of an old tenement house in Cheapside, near St. Paul’s Cathedral in London. The workmen uncover a stash of treasure—from Ottoman pendants to Elizabethan and Jacobean gems—and then the finds disappear again! Could these jewels—one in particular—change the fortunes of Essie and her sisters? 

Together with photographer Marcus Holt, Kate Kirby chases the history of the Cheapside gems and jewels, especially the story of a small diamond champlevé enamel ring. Soon, everything Kate believes about her family, gemology, and herself will be threatened.

Based on a fascinating true story, The Lost Jewels is a riveting historical fiction novel that will captivate readers from the beginning to the unforgettable, surprising end.

Buy Now:

Amazon Kindle

 

 My 5-Star Review:

An interesting duel-timeline historical story of a granddaughter searching for answers to her family’s history through antique jewels. The story of her grandmother’s past is rich and beautifully written, and the history of the jewels throughout the centuries is quite interesting. I really enjoyed this story and recommend it to readers who love a story that brings the past and present alive.

 

 


About the Author:

 Kirsty Manning grew up in northern New South Wales. She has degrees in literature and communications and worked as an editor and publishing manager in book publishing for over a decade. A country girl with wanderlust, her travels and studies have taken her through most of Europe, the east and west coasts of the United States and pockets of Asia. Kirsty's journalism and photography specializing in lifestyle and travel regularly appear in magazines, newspapers and online.


In 2005, Kirsty and her husband, with two toddlers and a baby in tow, built a house in an old chestnut grove in the Macedon Ranges. Together, they planted an orchard and veggie patch, created large herbal 'walks' brimming with sage and rosemary, wove borders from chestnuts branches and constructed far too many stone walls by hand.

Kirsty loves cooking with her kids and has several large heirloom copper pots that do not fit anywhere easily, but are perfect for making (and occasionally burning) jams, chutneys and soups. With husband Alex Wilcox, Kirsty is a partner in the award-winning Melbourne wine bar Bellota, and the Prince Wine Store in Sydney and Melbourne.


Tuesday, September 15, 2020

Blending Fact with Fiction Part Two: Ah-Gwah-Ching Tuberculosis Sanatorium in Walker, Minnesota





When I began writing my latest novel, THE ONES WE LEAVE BEHIND, last year, I had no idea we’d be living in the middle of a pandemic by the time it was released. It seemed strange since a portion of my novel takes place during the tuberculosis epidemic. In order to write about it, I did a significant amount of research, which thankfully I enjoy.

In one chapter of my book, the main character, Anna, goes with her father to the Ah-Gwah-Ching Sanatorium in Walker, Minnesota to receive treatment. Since Anna isn’t infected, she can’t live at the sanatorium and is taken in by one of the doctors to work as a mother’s helper. I researched Ah-Gwah-Ching extensively and came up with some interesting facts about the sanatorium.

If you watch any of those ghost hunting shows, they’d have you believe that tuberculosis facilities were full of scary procedures and horrendous care. It was quite the opposite at Ah-Gwah-Ching. The setting was beautiful, the staff worked hard to care for patients, and many, many patients survived to live long full lives.

Originally built in 1907 to house up to sixty-five patients, the Minnesota Sanatorium for Consumptives (its original name before it was changed to Ah-Gwah-Ching in 1922) was founded. By 1927, it grew to 300 patients, and additional buildings had sprung up. Ah-Gwah-Ching – meaning “out of doors” in Objibwa – was built to be self-sufficient in many ways. Located two miles south of the town of Walker, it originally had its own train depot, farm for fresh food, and a dairy herd for fresh milk and other products. The idea was to give patients fresh food and fresh air in order to heal their diseased lungs. There were several types of treatments, such as aspirating the fluid from lungs, collapsing diseased lungs so they could heal, and placing patient beds beside open windows, even in the winter, so they could breathe in the fresh air while lying under warm blankets to keep their bodies warm. In the summer, patients were sent outdoors to lie in the sun because it was thought that the ultra-violet rays could also heal them. (When COVID-19 started this past spring, there was talk about killing the virus with UV light. It wasn’t a new concept – they’d used it for TB patients.)  

The first few months that a patient was at the sanatorium, they were restricted to complete bed rest. That meant never leaving their beds. If they had to be moved, it was done by moving the bed or in a wheelchair. As you can imagine, people grew bored lying in bed for weeks. Many used their time writing letters to family and friends, reading, knitting, crocheting, or tatting. Many of the men even learned how to crochet or knit in order to pass the time. On site, there was a craft shop where patients could sell their fancywork and other items they made to other patients. Some would sell items like gift wrap, bows, and stationery that they’d purchased for resale from companies found at the back of a magazine. A sound system with headphones for each patient was set up throughout the compound so patients could listen to music, prayer services on Sunday, and even sports.

The site consisted of several buildings for patients in varying stages of illness. If you moved from one building to another, it was a big deal. You knew you were healing. In 1934, the Chippewa Indian Sanatorium at Onigum on Leech Lake burned down, and the native residents were transferred to their own building at Ah-Gwah-Ching. A Penal Camp, connected to the St. Cloud Reformatory, was also set up at Ah-Gwah-Ching in 1935, and the prisoners worked the farm and dairy and other jobs around the campus. Unfortunately, because of its remote location, it was easy for many prisoners to escape, and they had to eventually end that program.

Because of the rural nature of the sanatorium, it was difficult to recruit and retain nurses and aides as well as other workers. The turnover was high. Many of the native nurses began working in the facility. Patients rarely saw friends or family because of the distance between the sanatorium and their homes. Many would go months, even years, without visitors. Because of that, the patients grew close to one another, almost like their own little family. If a resident died, they’d all mourn. If someone went home, they’d all cheer.

In 1964, Ah-Gwah-Ching became a state nursing home for patients with “challenging behaviors.” State offices were also located in the facility. In fact, my mother-in-law worked in the offices at Aw-Gwah-Ching in the late 1960s for a while. In the early 2000s, it was still being used as state offices, and a woman I worked with in the non-profit sector had an office there, too. I asked her once if the building was haunted. She told me that she’d heard it was but hadn’t seen any ghosts. So much for the sad souls haunting the sanatoriums.

Ah-Gwah-Ching closed, and all the buildings were demolished in 2008. Much like Diane in my novel, I find that sad. It would have been nice to have even one of the buildings left to remind us of the time when so many lives passed through there in its 100 years of operation. For me, though, it’s personal on a small level. Remember how my character, Anna, went to live with a doctor to care for his children while her father received treatment? That actually happened to my grandmother. Sometime around 1923, my twelve-year-old grandmother accompanied her father to Ah-Gwah-Ching so he could be treated. Her mother has already passed away, and she had nowhere else to go. A doctor kindly took her in for nearly two years, and she helped his wife by babysitting their children. Some of her fondest memories were of swimming in Leech Lake with the children.

While my novel is fiction, I strive to add as much truth as possible because I feel it adds depth to the story. That is the joy of writing historical fiction novels; delving into the past and hopefully preserving it, even after it’s long gone.


My novel, The Ones We Leave Behind, is available for purchase on Amazon in ebook, paperback, and audiobook.  https://amzn.to/3gxUa5c

 

Sunday, September 13, 2020

Book Review: Magic Lessons by Alice Hoffman

 Book Review


Magic Lessons

Alice Hoffman

 

Book Description:

In an unforgettable novel that traces a centuries-old curse to its source, beloved author Alice Hoffman unveils the story of Maria Owens, accused of witchcraft in Salem, and matriarch of a line of the amazing Owens women and men featured in Practical Magic and The Rules of Magic.

Where does the story of the Owens bloodline begin? With Maria Owens, in the 1600s, when she’s abandoned in a snowy field in rural England as a baby. Under the care of Hannah Owens, Maria learns about the “Unnamed Arts.” Hannah recognizes that Maria has a gift and she teaches the girl all she knows. It is here that she learns her first important lesson: Always love someone who will love you back.

When Maria is abandoned by the man who has declared his love for her, she follows him to Salem, Massachusetts. Here she invokes the curse that will haunt her family. And it’s here that she learns the rules of magic and the lesson that she will carry with her for the rest of her life. Love is the only thing that matters.

Release Date: October 6, 2020

Buy on:

Amazon Kindle

 

My 5-Star Review:

If you are a Practical Magic fan and have always wondered about Maria Owens’ story, you no longer have to wait. Alice Hoffman has graced us with another amazing story about the Owens’ women starting with the very first one.

Magic Lessons begins when Maria is left in a snowy field as a newborn and Hannah Owens finds her and takes her into her cottage. She raises the girl as her own, teaching her the art of magic. Tragedy marks Maria as a young girl many times, leaving her vulnerable and alone. But when she falls in love with a man who makes promises he doesn’t keep; Maria places the curse that will follow the Owens’ women for centuries.

Magic Lessons has everything you’d expect from a novel by Alice Hoffman. Maria’s story is filled with all you’d expect and so much more. It’s a beautifully written tale that will satisfy your desire for the complete story of the Owens’ women. Another wonderful novel by the talented Alice Hoffman.

 


About the Author:

Alice Hoffman was born in New York City on March 16, 1952 and grew up on Long Island. After graduating from high school in 1969, she attended Adelphi University, from which she received a BA, and then received a Mirrellees Fellowship to the Stanford University Creative Writing Center, which she attended in 1973 and 74, receiving an MA in creative writing. She currently lives in Boston and New York.

Hoffman's first novel, Property Of, was written at the age of twenty-one, while she was studying at Stanford, and published shortly thereafter by Farrar Straus and Giroux. She credits her mentor, professor and writer Albert J. Guerard, and his wife, the writer Maclin Bocock Guerard, for helping her to publish her first short story in the magazine Fiction. Editor Ted Solotaroff then contacted her to ask if she had a novel, at which point she quickly began to write what was to become Property Of, a section of which was published in Mr. Solotaroff's magazine, American Review.

Since that remarkable beginning, Alice Hoffman has become one of our most distinguished novelists. She has published a total of eighteen novels, two books of short fiction, and eight books for children and young adults. Her novel, Here on Earth, an Oprah Book Club choice, was a modern reworking of some of the themes of Emily Bronte's masterpiece Wuthering Heights. Practical Magic was made into a Warner film starring Sandra Bullock and Nicole Kidman. Her novel, At Risk, which concerns a family dealing with AIDS, can be found on the reading lists of many universities, colleges and secondary schools. Her advance from Local Girls, a collection of inter-related fictions about love and loss on Long Island, was donated to help create the Hoffman (Women's Cancer) Center at Mt. Auburn Hospital in Cambridge, MA. Blackbird House is a book of stories centering around an old farm on Cape Cod. Hoffman's recent books include Aquamarine and Indigo, novels for pre-teens, and The New York Times bestsellers The River King, Blue Diary, The Probable Future, and The Ice Queen. Green Angel, a post-apocalyptic fairy tale about loss and love, was published by Scholastic and The Foretelling, a book about an Amazon girl in the Bronze Age, was published by Little Brown. In 2007 Little Brown published the teen novel Incantation, a story about hidden Jews during the Spanish Inquisition, which Publishers Weekly has chosen as one of the best books of the year. In January 2007, Skylight Confessions, a novel about one family's secret history, was released on the 30th anniversary of the publication of Her first novel. Her most recent novel is The Story Sisters (2009), published by Shaye Areheart Books.

Hoffman's work has been published in more than twenty translations and more than one hundred foreign editions. Her novels have received mention as notable books of the year by The New York Times, Entertainment Weekly, The Los Angeles Times, Library Journal, and People Magazine. She has also worked as a screenwriter and is the author of the original screenplay "Independence Day" a film starring Kathleen Quinlan and Diane Wiest. Her short fiction and non-fiction have appeared in The New York Times, The Boston Globe Magazine, Kenyon Review, Redbook, Architectural Digest, Gourmet, Self, and other magazines. Her teen novel Aquamarine was recently made into a film starring Emma Roberts.


Monday, September 7, 2020

Blending Fact with Fiction: The Minnesota State Reformatory for Women

 Blending Fact with Fiction: The Minnesota State Reformatory for Women




In my latest historical novel, THE ONES WE LEAVE BEHIND, the main character, Anna Craine, is released from the Minnesota Correctional Facility in Shakopee, Minnesota, after having served a sixty-five-year sentence for murder. (The original name of the facility was The Minnesota State Reformatory for Women.) In fact, the building on the book’s cover is the original building from 1919 called the Isabel Higbee Hall, named for the woman who literally died at the state capital after testifying in 1915 to the committee of men that women needed their own reformatory rather than being housed at Stillwater Prison. Her death prompted the committee to move forward with her request.

Although my character, Anna, doesn’t go into great detail about her life in the reformatory, we hear tidbits of her time there. That meant I needed to do my homework about the facility, and I was surprised by what I’d found. Completed in 1919, the reformatory began as one large, two-story building that housed eighteen individual rooms for the women, a general assembly room, a dining room, bathrooms, and matron’s rooms. The first floor had staff rooms, a large kitchen, a hospital wing, and the room for the superintendent. The basement housed the sewing room and laundry. There were no bars on the windows or locks on any of the rooms, even the inmate’s rooms. There was no fencing around the grounds. The idea was to reform the women by reward rather than punishment. Over the ensuing years, several cottages were added to the campus to house more women.

The first superintendent, Florence Monahan, is credited with molding the reformatory into the unique place that it became. Prior to running the facility, she was sent by the state to several women’s reformatories across the country to learn how they were run and what she could do better. She was the person who decided that reward rather than punishment was the best way to reform women. The women were expected to work eight-hour days, six days a week. Various jobs included working in the kitchen, cleaning, sewing, working in the office, and outside on their own farm that grew the majority of their food. They were paid six to fifteen cents per day and were allowed to buy personal items through the superintendent’s office once a month. If their behavior was good, they would earn privileges, if not, they’d lose privileges. It worked well for most of the inmates. They were learning skills in a positive environment so that one day they might leave and become respectable members of society.

Word soon spread about the reformatory in Shakopee, and many superintendents of women’s prisons around the country and the world came to visit. They were impressed by how Monahan was running the reformatory and by the behavior of the inmates. Many returned to their own facilities with the hope of making changes that mirrored Shakopee.

As time went on, the number of inmates decreased, and soon two of the cottages were closed. The state decided to use one of the cottages, the Anne Howard Shaw Cottage, as a home for mentally disabled children in 1951. Thirty young girls between the ages of four and twelve were sent there to be cared for and were designated by the state as unable to learn. But between their state-paid caretakers and the inmates who requested to work with the children, they proved the state wrong. The children flourished, as did the inmates who worked with them. The program gave the women a chance to care for someone else and the children an opportunity to learn in a loving environment.

Another program run at the reformatory was the Braille Project in the mid-1950s to 1970. It began with four of the inmates completing their training and becoming Volunteer Braille Transcribers. In the ensuing years, they translated thousands of pages of books and textbooks into braille, earning recognition for their service.

Over the years, the Minnesota Correctional Facility in Shakopee has seen many changes. The old buildings were replaced by newer ones, and the farm is long gone. But the women’s correctional facility is still running, and to this day, still has no fence surrounding it. It’s incredible how one woman’s vision, carried on by many other determined women, could bring positive change in society for decades.

 

THE ONES WE LEAVE BEHIND is available on Amazon Kindle, in paperback, and audiobook. http://ow.ly/4UE630qIXRo




Saturday, August 8, 2020

The Ones We Leave Behind Giveaway!

In celebration of my upcoming new release - let's have a giveaway!

The Ones We Leave Behind Giveaway!


Two lucky winners will have a chance
to each win one $50 Amazon Gift Card.

Contest runs August 8th through
September 7, 2020.

It is open to everyone!

Please use the Rafflecopter below to enter.

You may enter by leaving a comment below instead, but I urge you to use the Rafflecopter.

Thanks for entering!

Don't forget that

THE ONES WE LEAVE BEHIND

will be available September 8, 2020

Preorder on Amazon


Good Luck!


a Rafflecopter giveaway

Tuesday, July 7, 2020

Book Review: A Week at the Shore by Barbara Delinsky


Book Review


A Week at the Shore

Barbara Delinsky


Book Description:

One phone call is all it takes to lure Mallory Aldiss back to her family’s Rhode Island beach home. It's been twenty years since she's been gone—running from the scandal that destroyed her parents' marriage, drove her and her two sisters apart, and crushed her relationship with the love of her life, Jack Sabathian. Twenty years during which she lived in New York, building her career as a photographer and raising her now teenage daughter Joy.

But that phone call makes it clear that something has brought the past forward again—something involving Mallory’s father. Compelled by concern for her family and by Joy’s wish to visit her mother’s childhood home, Mallory returns to Bay Bluff, where conflicting loyalties will be faced and painful truths revealed.

In just seven watershed days at the Rhode Island shore, she will test the bonds of friendship and family—and discover the role that love plays in defining their lives.

Buy Now:



My 5-Star Review

I’ve been reading Barbara Delinsky’s books for years and have never been disappointed. In her latest novel, A Week at the Shore, we meet the Aldiss family—three sisters who’ve grown apart over the years and their aging father who is slowly succumbing to dementia. Mallory has stayed away from her family home since the scandal that broke her family apart and since losing the man she once loved, Jack. Now, after years creating a life for herself and her daughter, Mallory is called back home by a brusque phone call by Jack to check on her sister and father. Reluctantly, Mallory returns and is quickly pulled back into the mystery of what happened to Jack’s mother that fateful night everything fell apart, and in doing so, finds she is still attracted to the man she left all those years ago.

A Week at the Shore is a heartfelt family story with a touch of mystery that will keep you reading long into the night. Beautifully written, clever, and touching, you are sure to enjoy this amazing novel by the talented Barbara Delinsky. Highly recommended.


About the Author:

Barbara Delinsky, author of A WEEK AT THE SHORE (May 2020), BEFORE AND AGAIN (2018), BLUEPRINTS (2015), SWEET SALT AIR (2013), ESCAPE (2011), and NOT MY DAUGHTER (2010), has written twenty-five New York Times bestsellers, with many more of her books on other national bestseller lists. There are nearly forty million copies of her books in print, including those published in thirty languages worldwide.

Barbara's fiction centers upon everyday families facing not-so-everyday challenges. She is particularly drawn to exploring themes of motherhood, marriage, sibling rivalry, and friendship.

A lifelong New Englander, Barbara earned a B.A. in Psychology at Tufts University and an M.A. in Sociology at Boston College. As a breast cancer survivor who lost her mother to the disease when she was only eight, Barbara compiled the non-fiction book Uplift: Secrets from the Sisterhood of Breast Cancer Survivors, a handbook of practical tips and upbeat anecdotes. She donates her proceeds from the sale of this book to her charitable foundation, which funds an ongoing research fellowship at Massachusetts General Hospital.

Barbara enjoys knitting, photography, and cats. She also loves to interact with her readers through her website at www.barbaradelinsky.com, on Facebook at www.facebook.com/bdelinsky, on Instagram at https://www.instagram.com/barbaradelinsky/, and on Twitter as @BarbaraDelinsky.

Wednesday, July 1, 2020

First Chapter Reveal: THE ONES WE LEAVE BEHIND by Deanna Lynn Sletten

Hi all,

I'm so thrilled to share the first chapter of my upcoming novel: THE ONES WE LEAVE BEHIND. It is an historical women's fiction novel about a woman growing up in the 1930s - 1950s and how her life turns tragic in one terrifying moment. At age ninety-five, she is let out of prison. Her granddaughter finds her and soon learns the details that led up to that fateful night.

THE ONES WE LEAVE BEHIND can be preordered on Amazon Kindle. It will also be available in paperback and audiobook upon release.





First Chapter

Chapter One

Diane




Diane Martin strode down the hallway of the Rosewood Senior Living Apartments, smiling and waving to the many residents she passed. The hallway walls were painted a soothing light gray with dark gray wainscoting on the bottom half. Lovely watercolor paintings depicting lake, river, and woodland scenes decorated the walls, and each door displayed a cheerful flower or autumn leaf wreath. But the calming interior did nothing to soothe Diane’s frayed nerves. It was Friday afternoon, and she’d just come from the high school where she taught history and social studies. She was tired, but she still had to take her mother shopping and out to dinner as she did every Friday. It wasn’t that she minded helping her mother; it was the fact that her mother could be difficult at times and Diane could never gauge when her mother’s mood might change. Diane was eager for the day to end.

Walking up to room 212, Diane steeled herself before knocking twice, then slowly opening the door. “Mom? It’s me,” she called.

“Come in. Come in,” an impatient voice called from inside the bedroom. “I’ll be ready in a minute.”

Diane stepped inside the space and quietly closed the door. Her mother, Joan Hartman, had a two-bedroom apartment with a small kitchen and a good-sized living and dining room combination. She’d moved into the senior apartment building a year ago after she’d fallen and broken her hip. Once it had healed, the seventy-year-old had finally decided she could no longer live alone in her house and had moved in here. It wasn’t exactly a care facility—many of the residents still drove and cooked their own meals. But Joan did have the choice of eating all her meals in the dining room, and there were security devices in each apartment so residents could call for help if needed.

“You’ll never believe what Lucy Sutton did at lunch today,” Joan said, coming out of her bedroom. She was dressed in a pair of slacks, a light sweater, and flats. Her gray hair was cut short and styled nicely. “She choked on a cut-up grape.”

Diane’s brows rose. “Is she okay?”

“She’ll live,” Joan said offhandedly. “But it was quite the spectacle when Arnold jumped up and tried to do the Heimlich maneuver on her. He grabbed her around the waist and squeezed, and they both almost fell over backward.” Joan laughed. “If the lunch attendant hadn’t intervened, they’d both be in the hospital.”

“Mom. That’s not funny,” Diane said, pushing her shoulder-length blond hair behind one ear. “They could have been seriously hurt.”

Joan swatted her hand through the air. “They’re fine. It was funny, watching them. We’re all old. It’s nice to have some excitement once in a while.”

Diane shook her head at her mother. Joan wasn’t very tall, and she was petite in size, but she could be a tough one when he wanted to be. She’d always been a tough cookie.

The phone on the end table started ringing and Diane headed over to answer it.

“Leave it alone,” her mother ordered. “Let’s go. I have a lot of shopping to do.”

Diane stopped, startled by her mother’s brusque tone. Diane was fifty-one years old and three inches taller than Joan, but her mother still insisted on talking to her as if she were a child.

The phone stopped ringing, so Diane ignored it. “You should bring a light jacket,” she told her mother. “The fall weather is nice right now, but once the sun goes down, it’ll be chilly.”

Joan nodded and walked slowly toward the closet by the door to get her jacket. She moved slower now since her hip had been replaced. She had other health issues as well, with arthritic knees and hands, and her eyesight wasn’t the best, even when wearing her glasses. Moving into the senior apartments had been a relief for Diane. Living in a place where Joan could get help if needed meant Diane didn’t have to worry about her mother falling and needing assistance. Winters could be harsh in their town of Minnetonka, MN, with the threat of snow and ice causing a bad fall. Having her mother live in Rosewood took a lot of stress off Diane.

The phone began ringing again. Diane watched as Joan turned and glared at it but didn’t move to answer it.

“This is silly,” Diane said, annoyed, heading for the phone. “I’ll just answer it.”

“Don’t!” her mother yelled.

Diane ignored her and picked up the handset. “Hello?”

“Hello? Mrs. Hartman?” a male voice asked, sounding rushed. “I’m from the Sun-Times. I wanted to ask you a couple of questions.”

Diane frowned and looked at her mother. Joan was waving her hands through the air and saying, “Hang up!”

“I’m sorry,” Diane said into the receiver. “What do you want?”

“I’d like to ask you a question. How do you feel about your mother being let out of jail today after sixty-five years?”

Diane’s mouth dropped open. She looked again at Joan, whose shoulders had sagged in defeat. Hanging up the phone, Diane approached her mother. “My grandmother is alive?”

Joan nodded. “Yes."

The phone began ringing again as Diane’s whole life felt like it was spinning out of control.

 




Want to read more?

THE ONES WE LEAVE BEHIND 

releases on September 8, 2020

Pre-order now!





Thursday, June 11, 2020

Book Review: The First Actress: A Novel of Sarah Bernhardt by C.W. Gortner

Book Review


The First Actress

A Novel of Sarah Bernhardt

C.W. Gortner


Book Description:

From her beginnings as the daughter of a courtesan to her extraordinary transformation into the most celebrated actress of her era, Sarah Bernhardt is brought to life by an internationally bestselling author praised for his historical novels featuring famous women.

Sarah’s highly dramatic life starts when she returns to Paris after her convent schooling and is confronted by her mother’s demand to follow in the family trade as a courtesan. To escape this fate, Sarah pursues a career onstage at the esteemed Comédie-Française, until her rebellious acting style leads to her scandalous dismissal. Only nineteen years old and unemployed, Sarah is forced to submit to her mother’s wishes. But her seductive ease as a courtesan comes to an abrupt end when she discovers she is pregnant. Unwilling to give up her child, Sarah defies social condemnation and is cast adrift, penniless and alone. 

With her striking beauty and innovative performances in a bohemian theater, Sarah catapults to unexpected success; suddenly, audiences clamor to see this controversial young actress. But her world is torn asunder by the brutal 1870 siege of Paris. Sarah refuses to abandon the ravaged city, nursing wounded soldiers and risking her life.

Her return to the Comédie and her tempestuous affair with her leading man plunge Sarah into a fierce quest for independence. Undeterred, she risks everything to become France’s most acclaimed actress, enthralling audiences with her shocking portrayals of female and male characters. Sarah’s daring talent and outrageous London engagement pave her path to worldwide celebrity, with sold-out tours in Europe and America. 

Told in her own voice, this is Sarah Bernhardt’s incandescent story—a fascinating, intimate account of a woman whose unrivaled talent and indomitable spirit has enshrined her in history as the Divine Sarah.

Biographical Historical Fiction

Buy Now:

Amazon Kindle: https://amzn.to/3fhP4Ji


My 5-Star Review:

The First Actress is an interesting novel written from Sarah Bernhardt’s perspective taking the reader on a journey from the famous actress’s childhood through adulthood. Born the daughter of a courtesan and raised in a convent, Bernhardt’s life is quite an interesting one, especially when you consider the time period. Becoming an actress was considered to be a profession lower than that of a prostitute. But the young woman worked hard and persevered, with many roadblocks along the way.

Written to keep you reading, I found this novel intriguing. A wonderful choice for book clubs or lovers of historical fiction.






About the Author:

C.W. Gortner holds an MFA in Writing with an emphasis on Renaissance Studies from the New College of California and a degree in fashion marketing. In his extensive travels to research his books, he has experienced life in a Spanish castle and danced in a Tudor great hall. Half-Spanish by birth, his novels have been translated in over 20 languages to date.

He is the internationally acclaimed and bestselling author of The Romanov Empress, Mademoiselle Chanel, The Queen’s Vow, The Confessions of Catherine de Medici, The Last Queen, The Vatican Princess, and Marlene, among other books. He lives in Northern California.

C.W. enjoys talking to book groups. To schedule a chat or find out more about his work, visit: http://www.cwgortner.com

Saturday, May 30, 2020

Book Review: The Heirloom Garden by Viola Shipman


Book Review:


The Heirloom Garden


Viola Shipman


Book Description:

In her inimitable style, Viola Shipman explores the unlikely relationship between two very different women brought together by the pain of war, but bonded by hope, purpose…and flowers.

Iris Maynard lost her husband in World War II, her daughter to illness and, finally, her reason to live. Walled off from the world for decades behind the towering fence surrounding her home, Iris has built a new family…of flowers. Iris propagates her own daylilies and roses while tending to a garden filled with the heirloom starts that keep the memories of her loved ones alive.

When Abby Peterson moves next door with her family—a husband traumatized by his service in the Iraq War and a young daughter searching for stability—Iris is reluctantly yet inevitably drawn into her boisterous neighbor’s life, where, united by loss and a love of flowers, she and Abby tentatively unearth their secrets, and help each other discover how much life they have yet to live.


Buy Now:




My 5-Star Review:

When you pick up a book by Viola Shipman, you know you’re in for a treat. This heartwarming story is no exception. Her novels are always populated with broken, lost characters who have lost their way or purpose and somehow find a way back to happiness. In this one, a woman who has lost everything and has isolated herself from the world soon befriends the family that is renting from her next door and finds there may be more to life than she’d thought.

Iris is a complicated character who has a broken life and has found solace in her garden. She creates beautiful flowers which originated from her grandmother’s garden, and they bring her joy. Abby, her neighbor, is trying her best to keep her family together despite the stress of her husband’s PTSD, her new job, and caring for her young daughter. She is overwhelmed. But upon meeting Iris, she feels a kinship with the older woman and slowly they begin to create a bond. But changing one’s life isn’t always easy.

This is a beautiful story that is sure to touch your heart. Perfect for those who love heartwarming women’s fiction novels.



About the Author:

Dear Reader:

Does your garden tell a story? Mine does. And it’s the inspiration behind my new novel, The Heirloom Garden, which explores the unlikely relationship between two very different women brought together by the pain of war, but bonded by hope, purpose … and flowers.

My grandma was a grand gardener, and many of her original flowers (like her perfumed peonies!) now live in my garden. Each has a memory that reminds me of family. If you love multigenerational sagas filled with hope and history (this explores WWII Victory Gardens, and 2020 marks the 75th anniversary of WWII’s end), love to garden or just love books and flowers, The Heirloom Garden is the spring “pick” for you!

I consider The Heirloom Garden to be my richest, deepest, and most moving work to date. The later Dorothea Benton Frank, who I miss dearly, said of the novel, “Every now and then a new voice in fiction arrives to completely charm, entertain and remind us what matters. Viola Shipman is that voice.”

The Heirloom Garden explores how loss and loneliness affect us, how we cope and – too often – how we don’t. As an author, I always start my novels not with an heirloom in mind, or certain character, but a question. In this novel, my questions were, “What makes us isolate ourselves from the world? And what gives us hope?” In the novel, two women scarred by war – World War II and the Iraq War – are united by loss and a love of flowers. In my case, much of the pain I explore in the novel is real: My brother died when he was just 17, still a child in so many ways, and his loss had a profound impact on me and my family. How we healed, how we came together, how we found faith – and each other – again is a huge part of this novel.

2020 marks the 75th anniversary of the end of World War II (on August 15, 1945, Japan surrendered, with documents signed on the deck of the American battleship USS Missouri on September 2, officially ending the war). In addition, The Heirloom Garden also explores the history of Victory Gardens and their importance in America and World War II. Thousands of gardens were started in cities, large and small, all across America – women leading the charge – and they helped feed their own families and communities as well as our troops and allies. Today’s resurgence of urban and community gardens is a legacy of those Victory Gardens.

Like my previous book, The Summer Cottage – which was the #1 bestselling novel in Michigan last year – I am honored to be able to write novels that are inspired by my grandmothers’ and mom’s heirlooms, lives, lessons and love. The multigenerational family sagas I write are meant to serve as a universal tribute to our elders, whose stories and sacrifices helped shape us and make us the people we are today. They are meant to serve as a tribute to family and to remind readers of what’s most important in life. And in these turbulent times, my novels are meant to give us hope, something we need more than every right now.

(Viola Shipman is a pen name used by author Wade Rouse)

Sunday, May 24, 2020

Cover Reveal: The Ones We Leave Behind by Deanna Lynn Sletten

Cover Reveal


I am so excited to share my upcoming historical women's fiction novel with you

THE ONES WE LEAVE BEHIND

A heart-wrenching story of family, loss, and redemption.


The amazing cover is designed by
Deborah Bradseth of Tugboat Design


Book Description:

Diane picked up her mother’s phone. “How do you feel about your mother being let out of prison today after sixty-five years?” the reporter asked. Diane stared at her mother. “My grandmother is alive?” That one phone call hurled shock waves throughout the entire family.


1955 – Anna Bergman Craine’s life changes in an instant when she commits a crime of passion and is sentenced to life in prison. Leaving behind two young children, she is left alone in the world, never to hear from family or friends again. Decades later, she is set free, and finds she has a family that has chosen to forget her. What caused this beautiful, intelligent, young woman to commit such a drastic deed that would pull her away from everyone she loved?

2020 – Diane Martin is shocked to learn that not only is her maternal grandmother alive, but she’s just been released after decades in prison. Against her aging mother’s wishes, she visits the older woman and soon hears a tale of the events that led up to that tragic day in 1955. Diane realizes that her own life has mirrored that of her grandmother’s and, had circumstances gone differently that fateful day, she might have experienced the same fate.

A heart-wrenching story of a family torn apart because of a moment in time and trying to put the pieces together after being separated for decades.


Historical Women's Fiction

Release Date: September 8, 2020

Preorder now on:


Will also be available on Kindle Unlimited

Coming also to:

Paperback and Audiobook


I can't wait for you to read Anna's story!



Sunday, April 5, 2020

Book Review: Dovetail by Karen McQuestion

Book Review


Dovetail: A Novel

Karen McQuestion




Book Description:

Joe Arneson’s ordinary life is upended by troubling dreams of himself as a different man in another place and time. It isn’t until he visits his estranged grandmother, Pearl, in her Wisconsin hometown that a startling connection emerges.
Drawn into his family’s past, Joe discovers secrets weighing on the old woman’s soul: the tragic death of her sister Alice a half century ago and its ripple effect on all who loved her. Digging into the events of that summer in 1916, Joe is convinced that his recurrent visions relate to Alice’s untimely passing and to the beloved man she meant to marry. With the help of Kathleen, a local woman Joe’s fallen for, the puzzles of the past start falling into place.
As uncovered truths bring Joe and Kathleen closer together, they also reveal a new danger. For Joe’s dreams may be a warning—from one star-crossed couple to another.


Buy on Amazon:





My 5-Star Review:

A skillfully written novel about romance, mystery, and family secrets. Author Karen McQuestion weaves together a story about the secrets a family keeps and the length they will go to keep those secrets hidden.

When Joe is rescued from a mental hospital by the grandmother he’s never met and thought was dead, he is both confused and intrigued. She takes him to her family home and asks him to pack up her house as she is too old to deal with it. Plagued by disturbing dreams he is unable to understand, Joe takes on the job as an opportunity to get to know his grandmother and to clear his mind. What he doesn’t realize is the past will rear its ugly head and place him right in the middle of a family drama.

I really enjoyed this story that takes the reader between two time periods as the family mystery unfolds. The perfect story for those who love duel-timeline historical fiction with a touch of romance and suspense.



About the Author:

Karen McQuestion is the author of more than a dozen novels and has sold over a million books worldwide. Her publishing story has been covered by the Wall Street Journal, Entertainment Weekly, and NPR and she has appeared on ABC's World News Now and America This Morning. McQuestion’s books share common themes of connection and kindness. She lives in Hartland, Wisconsin.

Friday, April 3, 2020

Book Review: Big Lies in a Small Town by Diane Chamberlain


Book Review

Big Lies in a Small Town


Diane Chamberlain


Book Description:

North Carolina, 2018:
Morgan Christopher's life has been derailed. Taking the fall for a crime she did not commit, her dream of a career in art is put on hold—until a mysterious visitor makes her an offer that will get her released from prison immediately. Her assignment: restore an old post office mural in a sleepy southern town. Morgan knows nothing about art restoration, but desperate to be free, she accepts. What she finds under the layers of grime is a painting that tells the story of madness, violence, and a conspiracy of small town secrets.
North Carolina, 1940:
Anna Dale, an artist from New Jersey, wins a national contest to paint a mural for the post office in Edenton, North Carolina. Alone in the world and in great need of work, she accepts. But what she doesn't expect is to find herself immersed in a town where prejudices run deep, where people are hiding secrets behind closed doors, and where the price of being different might just end in murder.
What happened to Anna Dale? Are the clues hidden in the decrepit mural? Can Morgan overcome her own demons to discover what exists beneath the layers of lies?


Buy Now:



My 5-Star Review:

An amazing story written by a talented author. Big Lies in a Small Town by Diane Chamberlain takes the reader on a journey through time between 1940 and today. When Morgan Christopher is released from jail to restore an old mural, she is confused as to why she was chosen. And after she sees how damaged the mural is, she wonders how she will do a good job of it with her limited talent of restoration. But others are depending on her to not only finish it, but finish it on time. And as she works on it, she becomes intrigued by the original artist, Anna Dale, who’d created the mural in 1940. Her interest soon becomes an obsession to learn what had become of the artist after tragedy had befallen both her and the small town.

Just like the mural, this story is full of layers about the small town of Edenton, North Carolina and its inhabitants. Mystery, murder, and a touch of a love story all combine to create a story that you just can’t put down. Those who love a good duel-timeline historical novel will love this book.



About the Author:

Diane Chamberlain is the New York Times, USA Today and (London) Sunday Times best-selling author of 27 novels. The daughter of a school principal who supplied her with a new book almost daily, Diane quickly learned the emotional power of story. Although she wrote many small “books” as a child, she didn’t seriously turn to writing fiction until her early thirties when she was waiting for a delayed doctor’s appointment with nothing more than a pad, a pen, and an idea. She was instantly hooked.

Diane was born and raised in Plainfield, New Jersey and lived for many years in both San Diego and northern Virginia. She received her master’s degree in clinical social work from San Diego State University. Prior to her writing career, she was a hospital social worker in both San Diego and Washington, D.C, and a psychotherapist in private practice in Alexandria, Virginia, working primarily with adolescents.

More than two decades ago, Diane was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis, which changed the way she works: She wrote two novels using voice recognition software before new medication allowed her to get back to typing. She feels fortunate that her arthritis is not more severe and that she’s able to enjoy everyday activities as well as keep up with a busy travel schedule.

Diane lives in North Carolina with her significant other, photographer John Pagliuca, and their odd but lovable Shetland Sheepdog, Cole.

Please visit Diane's website at www.dianechamberlain.com for her event schedule and for more information on her newest novel, Big Lies in a Small Town, as well as a complete list of her books.



Thursday, March 19, 2020

Finding Libbie ~ Returning March 23, 2020


FINDING LIBBIE
Re-Release!


I'm so excited to share that my novel 
FINDING LIBBIE 
has been returned to me from my publisher and I will be republishing it on March 23, 2020. 
It will be the same beautiful story with a brand new cover designed by Deborah at Tugboat Design. 






Audiobook will be available soon.

Finding Libbie is also available in Kindle Unlimited.



Historical Women's Fiction
Publish Date: 3/23/2020


Book Description:

A love so strong that decades couldn’t tear it apart.


Poring over a dusty hatbox of photographs in her grandmother’s closet, Emily Prentice is shocked to discover her father was married to his high school sweetheart before meeting her mother.
In the summer of 1968, Jack and Libbie fall in love under the spell of their small town, untouched by the chaos of the late sixties. Though Libbie’s well-to-do parents disapprove of Jack’s working-class family and his chosen career as a mechanic, she marries Jack a year after they graduate high school. But soon their happiness crumbles as Libbie’s mental state unravels and she is drawn to alcohol and drugs. Despite his efforts to help her, Jack loses the woman he loves and is forced to move on with his life.

Now that Emily’s mother has passed away, Jack is alone again, and Emily grows obsessed with the beautiful woman who had given her father such joy. Determined to find Libbie, Emily pieces together the couple’s fragmented past. But is it too late for happy endings?

The Romance Reviews

The Romance Reviews