Review: The Girl in the Castle by Santa Montefiore

Review: The Girl in the Castle by Santa MontefioreThe Girl in the Castle (Deverill Chronicles #1) by Santa Montefiore
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: family saga, historical fiction
Series: Deverill Chronicles #1
Pages: 576
Published by William Morrow Paperbacks on September 27th 2016
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
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International sensation Santa Montefiore presents the first book in a trilogy that follows three Irish women through the decades of the twentieth century—perfect for fans of Kate Morton and Hazel Gaynor.
Born on the ninth day of the ninth month in the year 1900, Kitty Deverill is special as her grandmother has always told her. Built on the stunning green hills of West Cork, Ireland, Castle Deverill is Kitty’s beloved home, where many generations of Deverills have also resided. Although she’s Anglo-Irish, Kitty’s heart completely belongs to the wild countryside of the Emerald Isle, and her devotion to her Irish-Catholic friends Bridie Doyle, the daughter of the castle’s cook, and Jack O’Leary, the vet’s son, is unmatched—even if Jack is always reminding her that she isn’t fully Irish. Still, Jack and Kitty can’t help falling in love although they both know their union faces the greatest obstacles since they are from different worlds.
Bridie cherishes her friendship with Kitty, who makes her feel more like her equal than a servant. Yet she can’t help dreaming of someday having all the wealth and glamour Kitty’s station in life affords her. But when she discovers a secret that Kitty has been keeping from her, Bridie finds herself growing resentful toward the girl in the castle who seems to have it all.
When the Irish revolt to throw over British rule in Southern Ireland, Jack enlists to fight. Worried for her safety, Jack warns Kitty to keep her distance, but she refuses and throws herself into the cause for Irish liberty, running messages and ammunition between the rebels. But as Kitty soon discovers, her allegiance to her family and her friends will be tested—and when Castle Deverill comes under attack, the only home and life she’s ever known are threatened.
A powerful story of love, loyalty, and friendship, The Girl in the Castle is an exquisitely written novel set against the magical, captivating landscape of Ireland.

My Review:

The Girl in the Castle is one of those big, sprawling historical family sagas that they don’t seem to make anymore. But maybe they should.

This is a big story. While it focuses on one family, the backdrop is large and tumultuous. The story takes place in the first quarter of the 20th century, and gives readers a glimpse into the causes and the effects of the Irish Rebellion. Our main point of view character is Kitty Deverill, a child of the Anglo-Irish Ascendancy, who feels herself to be Irish to the bone, and English not at all. But through Kitty we see the world around her, her family who both love and hate Ireland, and see that the world they ruled is fading away, while being drenched in blood.

But the Deverills aren’t the only people in their little town Ballynakelly. Kitty’s best friend is Bridie Doyle, the daughter of the Deverill cook. Bridie is the only girl Kitty’s age, and the two become fast friends in spite of their differences in class and religion. The only thing that divides them is that they both love Jack O’Leary, and neither can have him.

As the veterinarian’s son, Jack is too far above Bridie and her poverty stricken family for his family to consider her a good match for him. And aristocratic Kitty is seen as an English interloper, whether she fights for the revolution or not. Her family will see Jack as too far below them.

It’s ironic that a marriage between Jack and Kitty would end an old family curse. A curse that Kitty, gifted with the proverbial second sight, knows is all too real.

But as the Irish Free State rises, the three young friends are forced to scatter. Kitty to glittering salons in London, Bridie to a new life in America, while Jack languishes in prison as a convicted rebel.

It’s only when they all return to Castle Deverill and Ballynakelly that there is hope of healing all the wounds – if they don’t break out afresh over old and new wrongs.

Escape Rating B: This is a book that rewards sticking with it. It’s a big story and it takes a lot of pages to set up the real action. The story begins when Kitty, Bridie and Jack are all children, and it takes a while for them to reach adult age with adult sensibilities.

Not that child-Kitty isn’t very observant, but she lacks adult context that the reader has to piece together. Once the trio are all grown up, both the personal stories and the battlefields heat up.

There is a lot of tragedy in this story, with happiness being difficult for the characters to grasp, even at the end. World War I casts its shadow over much of Kitty’s teenage years, and British treatment of the Irish both during the war and immediately afterwards is as tragic as the loss of life on the battlefields and in the trenches.

Readers who loved Downton Abbey, especially the subplot involving Tom the Irish chauffeur, will find much that strikes the same chord.

The family drama and melodrama are a big part of the charm of this story. This is not a functional family, which makes them much more interesting to read about. Kitty in particular is a high-spirited young woman who refuses to bend to either society’s expectations or her mother’s. While she is capable of doing the right thing, her tendency towards self-indulgence spells trouble for future books in the series.

The other fascinating story is Bridie’s tale of rags to disgrace to riches (and social opprobrium). After her own tragedy, she moves very far from the life she was expected to lead, and becomes something new and different. She also becomes cynical and practical, at least until she returns to where she began, only to discover that not nearly enough has changed.

daughters of castle deverill by santa montefioreThis is the first book in a projected trilogy. The Girl in the Castle was published last year in Britain as Songs of Love and War to rave reviews. It ends with not a conclusion, but an extremely pregnant pause. I’m looking forward to the US release of Daughters of Castle Deverill whenever it makes it to these shores.

Review: The Buried Book by D.M. Pulley + Giveaway

Review: The Buried Book by D.M. Pulley + GiveawayThe Buried Book by D.M. Pulley
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical fiction, literary fiction, mystery
Pages: 399
Published by Lake Union Publishing on August 23rd 2016
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & Noble
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When Althea Leary abandons her nine-year-old son, Jasper, he’s left on his uncle’s farm with nothing but a change of clothes and a Bible.
It’s 1952, and Jasper isn’t allowed to ask questions or make a fuss. He’s lucky to even have a home and must keep his mouth shut and his ears open to stay in his uncle’s good graces. No one knows where his mother went or whether she’s coming back. Desperate to see her again, he must take matters into his own hands. From the farm, he embarks on a treacherous search that will take him to the squalid hideaways of Detroit and back again, through tawdry taverns, peep shows, and gambling houses.
As he’s drawn deeper into an adult world of corruption, scandal, and murder, Jasper uncovers the shocking past still chasing his mother—and now it’s chasing him too.

My Review:

The Buried Book is a chilling story about the loss of innocence and the end of childhood, told by a narrator who is unreliable for all the right reasons, but who just keeps trying to understand.

Jasper Leary is 9 years old. He feels abandoned when his somewhat mercurial mother takes him to her brother’s farm in rural Michigan, and leaves him there for an indefinite future. It is 1952 and all Jasper can see is that his mother doesn’t want him and his father doesn’t care enough to know where he is.

And living on the farm isn’t half as much fun for real as it is for vacation.

Everyone is trying to protect poor little Jasper. This isn’t the first time his mother has run off, but this is the first time she’s left him so far from home. And Jasper’s picture is probably the one in the dictionary next to the saying about “little pitchers” and “big ears”. No one tells Jasper exactly what’s going on with his mother, but he hears plenty – and all of it bad.

When he finds his mother’s childhood diary hidden away in the burned wreck of her parents’ old house, Jasper finds himself seeing into the thoughts and feelings of his mother when she was a 15-year-old girl – and discovers that there was plenty of bad stuff swimming below the surface of this sleepy little farming community back then – and fears that some of it might still be chasing his mother all these years later.

We follow Jasper as he tries to piece together a picture of what happened to his mother, then and now. There is so much that he tries to understand about the world around him, and he so often fails.

Not because he’s not intelligent, but because he has so little to go on. Everyone is trying to protect him from what they perceive as the inevitable awful truth. As far as most people are concerned, his mother is just a bad seed who probably came to her rightfully bad end. And he is, after all, just 9 years old, and he doesn’t yet understand all the terrible ways that the world works.

But she is Jasper’s mother. And he can’t give up, no matter how much trouble he gets himself into. He keeps pursuing that elusive truth, no matter how much the adults, both good and bad, try to keep him from pursuing his missing mother.

Jasper takes a journey through dark places that he is too young to understand. But he keeps going anyway. And in the end, learns that there are some things he would be better off not knowing. But he’ll never be a child again.

Escape Rating A-: The Buried Book is a story that rewards the reader’s patience. The set up takes a long time, and Jasper’s necessarily limited understanding and rightfully childish point of view can make it difficult for adult readers to get inside his head. It’s not a comfortable fit.

But it is a rewarding one. At about halfway, the story suddenly takes off. Jasper has learned enough, or stumbled into enough, that whatever is chasing his mother is also chasing him. He’s afraid to trust any of the adults in his world. He has no way of knowing friend from foe, but he is rightfully certain that the adults mostly want to stop him. And even if it is supposedly for his own good, he can’t let go.

There’s a painful lesson in here about the darkness that lies beneath, and that people don’t want to see. The events of his mother’s adolescence are still with her in Jasper’s present. She wasn’t able to trust any of the adults in her life, either. But the way that they failed her, and continue to do so, is a big part of what destroyed her life, and may also consume Jasper’s.

The end of this story is utterly heartbreaking. Jasper learns a terrible lesson. It’s the one about being careful what you wish for, because you might get it. When the story ends, Jasper is 12, and his childhood is over.

~~~~~~ GIVEAWAY ~~~~~~

I am giving away a copy of The Buried Book by D.M. Pulley to one lucky US or Canadian commenter:

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Review: Pistols and Petticoats by Erika Janik

Review: Pistols and Petticoats by Erika JanikPistols and Petticoats: 175 Years of Lady Detectives in Fact and Fiction by Erika Janik
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook
Genres: feminist history, historical fiction, historical mystery, history, mystery, women's history
Pages: 248
Published by Beacon Press on April 26th 2016
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A lively exploration of the struggles faced by women in law enforcement and mystery fiction for the past 175 years
In 1910, Alice Wells took the oath to join the all-male Los Angeles Police Department. She wore no uniform, carried no weapon, and kept her badge stuffed in her pocketbook. She wasn’t the first or only policewoman, but she became the movement’s most visible voice.
Police work from its very beginning was considered a male domain, far too dangerous and rough for a respectable woman to even contemplate doing, much less take on as a profession. A policewoman worked outside the home, walking dangerous city streets late at night to confront burglars, drunks, scam artists, and prostitutes. To solve crimes, she observed, collected evidence, and used reason and logic—traits typically associated with men. And most controversially of all, she had a purpose separate from her husband, children, and home. Women who donned the badge faced harassment and discrimination. It would take more than seventy years for women to enter the force as full-fledged officers.
Yet within the covers of popular fiction, women not only wrote mysteries but also created female characters that handily solved crimes. Smart, independent, and courageous, these nineteenth- and early twentieth-century female sleuths (including a healthy number created by male writers) set the stage for Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple, Sara Paretsky’s V. I. Warshawski, Patricia Cornwell’s Kay Scarpetta, and Sue Grafton’s Kinsey Millhone, as well as TV detectives such as Prime Suspect’s Jane Tennison and Law and Order’s Olivia Benson. The authors were not amateurs dabbling in detection but professional writers who helped define the genre and competed with men, often to greater success.
Pistols and Petticoats tells the story of women’s very early place in crime fiction and their public crusade to transform policing. Whether real or fictional, investigating women were nearly always at odds with society. Most women refused to let that stop them, paving the way to a modern professional life for women on the force and in popular culture.

My Review:

I want to make a joke about Pistols and Petticoats being “two, two, two books in one”, but the problem with the book is that it isn’t. Instead it is two books that attempt to be combined into one. Unfortunately the seam between the two books is rather visible, and leaves a nasty and distinguishing scar.

What we have feels like an attempt to yoke a scholarly study about the changing roles of women in detection and police work joined at the slightly non-working hip with a book about the changing roles of women in detective fiction and the lives and careers of women who have made successful and even groundbreaking forays into the mystery genre.

The desire, often stated in the book, is to show how the increased roles of women in novels and later other media often presaged the increasing roles for women in real-life police work. But the two parts don’t flow into one another, possibly because there isn’t much there, well, there.

Instead, in the historical narrative, police work for women was often proposed as, and in many cases restricted to, an extension of the reform zeal of the late 1800s and the belief that dealing with social problems and juvenile crime were a natural outgrowth of women’s roles in the home. Fictional female sleuths, on the other hand, were created first of all to entertain, but created in a way that was not supposed to upset the status quo. Which explains both Miss Marple and the reason that so many young female sleuths’ careers ended in marriage.

Women were supposed to remain in the domestic sphere, and that sphere was supposed to be the pinnacle of all their ambitions. Elderly spinsters like Miss Marple needed something to occupy their time, particularly in eras where so many women were left without spouses after a generation of young men died in warfare.

Pistols and Petticoats does not read like a successful amalgamation of the author’s two “plot” lines. The historical sections that detail women’s real and increasing contributions to police work and detection, read, unfortunately, like rather dry history. It’s interesting, but only becomes lively when the women themselves have interesting lives, like Alice Clement or Kate Warne.

The parts that thrill are where the author sinks her teeth into the history of female detectives and the history of the females who have written successful mysteries. The early years of female writers who made the genre what it is today, but whose works have not continued to find readers, was fascinating.

The information about where certain trends in mystery took their cues from contemporary life and women’s places in it also pulled me in. Not just the heroines of the Golden Age, like Christie and Marple, and Sayers with Harriet Vane, but also how those characters fit into their own society.

murderess ink by dilys winnEscape Rating C+: All in all, the parts of the book that dealt with mystery fiction made for more compelling reading. They also reminded me of a book that I have not thought of in years, Murderess Ink. Murderess Ink, the followup to Murder Ink, was a lighthearted study of the women who created and populated the mystery genre from the Golden Age until its late 1970s present. As much as I enjoyed the sections of Pistols and Petticoats that dealt with the genre, perhaps it is time for an update of Murder Ink and Murderess Ink.

Review: A Certain Age by Beatriz Williams

Review: A Certain Age by Beatriz WilliamsA Certain Age by Beatriz Williams
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical fiction
Pages: 336
Published by William Morrow on June 28th 2016
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
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The bestselling author of A Hundred Summers, brings the Roaring Twenties brilliantly to life in this enchanting and compulsively readable tale of intrigue, romance, and scandal in New York Society, brimming with lush atmosphere, striking characters, and irresistible charm.
As the freedom of the Jazz Age transforms New York City, the iridescent Mrs. Theresa Marshall of Fifth Avenue and Southampton, Long Island, has done the unthinkable: she’s fallen in love with her young paramour, Captain Octavian Rofrano, a handsome aviator and hero of the Great War. An intense and deeply honorable man, Octavian is devoted to the beautiful socialite of a certain age and wants to marry her. While times are changing and she does adore the Boy, divorce for a woman of Theresa’s wealth and social standing is out of the question, and there is no need; she has an understanding with Sylvo, her generous and well-respected philanderer husband.
But their relationship subtly shifts when her bachelor brother, Ox, decides to tie the knot with the sweet younger daughter of a newly wealthy inventor. Engaging a longstanding family tradition, Theresa enlists the Boy to act as her brother’s cavalier, presenting the family’s diamond rose ring to Ox’s intended, Miss Sophie Fortescue—and to check into the background of the little-known Fortescue family. When Octavian meets Sophie, he falls under the spell of the pretty ingénue, even as he uncovers a shocking family secret. As the love triangle of Theresa, Octavian, and Sophie progresses, it transforms into a saga of divided loyalties, dangerous revelations, and surprising twists that will lead to a shocking transgression . . . and eventually force Theresa to make a bittersweet choice.
Full of the glamour, wit and delicious twists that are the hallmarks of Beatriz Williams’ fiction and alternating between Sophie’s spirited voice and Theresa’s vibrant timbre, A Certain Age is a beguiling reinterpretation of Richard Strauss’s comic opera Der Rosenkavalier, set against the sweeping decadence of Gatsby’s New York.

My Review:

There’s a pun in the title of this fascinating story. The protagonist, Mrs. Theresa Sylvester Marshall, often refers to her 40-something self by the coy term, “a woman of a certain age”. But in addition to Theresa’s “certain age”, the time period in which this story takes place is also “a certain age”. It’s the Jazz Age of the 1920’s. Prohibition, speakeasies, bootleg gin, the lost generation of young men and women who survived the war, the hedonistic freedom of an era of excess without restraint.

Until it all crashes at the end of the decade, but no one sees that coming in the early 1920s. From here, it seems as if the good times will roll on forever.

Among the New York City upper-crust, Theresa is one of the shining stars. Her family is old New York blueblood, and her husband is new New York money. But she is also a woman slipping from youth to middle-age, and she is in the throes of a crazy and slightly desperate fling.

She’s in love with her young lover, and that turns out to be a recipe for disaster.

Not that it’s a problem for her husband – they have an understanding and he has a young mistress of his own. But Captain Octavian Rofrano is an honorable man who wants to marry his lover, and Sylvo Marshall is a middle-aged man who wants to grab at happiness one last time before it is too late.

And in helping her brother enact an old family tradition, Theresa makes the mistake of introducing her lover to the woman he has been searching for all his life.

When the dust finally settles, everyone’s world is a much different place from where they began. Except for Theresa and Sylvo. They find themselves right back where they started.

Escape Rating A-: For the first third of the book, the story seems a bit slow. Or perhaps I should say quiet. The action is set up in a way that tries to pull the reader into the middle of the story, but doesn’t quite gel at first.

Once it gels, it takes off like the gallop of Man o’ War, the famous horse that brings Theresa and Octavian together. Once the story gets its legs under it, so to speak, I couldn’t put it down, not even when I needed to be someplace urgently. Once the story grabbed me, I could not let it go until the end.

About that beginning – we find ourselves reading a gossip columnist covering the latest “trial of the century”. Theresa is one of the witnesses, as is nearly everyone else in this drama. And her scandalous relationship with her young Captain really gives the gossip mongers something delicious to chew over.

Some of what they are chewing over showcases the shallowness and self-absorption of that upper-crust. It’s only as the layers are stripped away that the people develop depth and become interesting (very interesting) enough to care about.

But as we see the events that led up to the trial, we get involved in the lives of all the players. Because the young lady that Theresa’s brother wants to marry is the daughter of the accused murderer. And she’s the woman that Theresa’s young lover should have been with all along.

But he’s the person who exposed her father’s crime – if her father committed a crime at all. Something that the jury will have to decide.

In the events leading up to the trial, we discover just how entangled all of these relationships are.

The central relationship in this story is the one between Theresa and Octavian, who she always calls “Boy” or “Boyo”. And that’s the way she refers to him in her own head, whenever she thinks about him. As much as she claims to love him, it’s clear that what she really loves is the idea of him and the way that he makes her feel. And she certainly doesn’t see him as anything approaching an equal. He’s a toy that she indulges, and that she indulges herself with. He’s not a separate entity in his own right, until he begins to pull away.

It is ironic for Theresa that all of the events that turn her life upside down are at her own instigation. She’s the person who insists that Octavian present her brother’s ring to Sophie as part of an old family tradition. She’s the one who asks Octavian to look into the Fortescue family to find out if there are any major skeletons in the family closet. And in the end, she’s the one who finally does the right thing.

Which redeems her character, and takes the whole story from interesting to awesome.

I tried to describe A Certain Age at dinner, and fell into hyperbole. It’s a Jazz Age story. And a coming of age story. And a story of the “lost generation”. It’s a woman finally finding herself. And another woman losing her identity. And a story about the dawn of aviation. And a bit of murder mystery. It’s just a great read. Enjoy!

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Review: The Woman in the Photo by Mary Hogan + Giveaway

Review: The Woman in the Photo by Mary Hogan + GiveawayThe Woman in the Photo: A Novel by Mary Hogan
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: paperback, library binding, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical fiction, women's fiction
Pages: 432
Published by William Morrow Paperbacks on June 14th 2016
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
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In this compulsively readable historical novel, from the author of the critically-acclaimed Two Sisters, comes the story of two young women—one in America’s Gilded Age, one in scrappy modern-day California—whose lives are linked by a single tragic afternoon in history.
1888: Elizabeth Haberlin, of the Pittsburgh Haberlins, spends every summer with her family on a beautiful lake in an exclusive club. Nestled in the Allegheny Mountains above the working class community of Johnstown, Pennsylvania, the private retreat is patronized by society’s elite. Elizabeth summers with Carnegies, Mellons, and Fricks, following the rigid etiquette of her class. But Elizabeth is blessed (cursed) with a mind of her own. Case in point: her friendship with Eugene Eggar, a Johnstown steel mill worker. And when Elizabeth discovers that the club’s poorly maintained dam is about to burst and send 20 million tons of water careening down the mountain, she risks all to warn Eugene and the townspeople in the lake’s deadly shadow.
Present day: On her 18th birthday, genetic information from Lee Parker’s closed adoption is unlocked. She also sees an old photograph of a genetic relative—a 19th century woman with hair and eyes likes hers—standing in a pile of rubble from an ecological disaster next to none other than Clara Barton, the founder of the American Red Cross. Determined to identify the woman in the photo and unearth the mystery of that captured moment, Lee digs into history. Her journey takes her from California to Johnstown, Pennsylvania, from her present financial woes to her past of privilege, from the daily grind to an epic disaster. Once Lee’s heroic DNA is revealed, will she decide to forge a new fate?

My Review:

In The Woman in the Photo there are two stories. One is the story of Elizabeth Haberlin in the May of 1888 and the critical May of 1889. She’s the wealthy daughter of a doctor. Most important for this story, she’s the daughter of the private physician to all of the rich “bosses” who have their second homes at the South Fork Fishing and Hunting Club on Lake Conemaugh. The dam and the lake are perched ominously, and eventually disastrously, above the town of Johnstown, Pennsylvania.

Until the fateful day, May 31, 1889, Elizabeth Haberlin led a privileged, if restricted, life. She chafed at those restrictions but didn’t often challenge them, at least not until the flood, when she took a horse and attempted to warn the citizens of Johnstown before the dam gave way. In the face of the disaster wrought by the sheer selfishness and greed of her peers, Elizabeth chose to take up a life of purpose, assisting Clara Barton and her newly established Red Cross in their disaster relief efforts.

Her family never took her back. And she never forgave them for their callous self-centeredness.

In the 21st century, Elizabeth Parker, called Lee by her adopted mother, sees a picture of Clara Barton and an unknown woman who looks like her when her closed adoption file is pried open to give her limited genetic information.

Lee begins a quest through libraries, databases and finally back to the scene of that long ago tragedy, in her attempt to find out who she is and where she came from. Only to discover that while her family history is interesting, she is who she has always been, the daughter of the woman who loved and adopted her.

Escape Rating B-: I don’t believe that I have ever read a story that buried the lede as deeply as the author has in this book.

To “bury the lede” in journalistic parlance is to begin a story with details of secondary importance to the reader while postponing more essential points or facts.

Throughout most of the story in the past, Elizabeth Haberlin is a self-absorbed and vain young woman who has nothing better to do than choose which dress to wear and how to escape her mother’s suffocating expectations for her.

And we get to read a whole lot of that, to the point where it drags, in order to get to the incredibly fascinating parts of her life. After the terrible tragedy, Elizabeth becomes an entirely new person, finding joy in purpose and throwing off the expectations of her family. That’s the person I wanted to read about and follow along with, and it is that part of this story that gets the fewest number of pages and the least amount of time. I wanted to see who she became, and how she felt about it. Her life as a debutante was so pointless and boring that it bored even her.

I loved the parts about Elizabeth Haberlin after she chose to become her own person, and that’s what I got the least of in this story.

The 21st century parts also suffered from too much setup and not enough payoff. We get a lot of exposure to Lee’s current circumstances, which pretty much suck. The fascinating part of Lee’s story is her search and eventual discovery of her blood relations, and that is the shortest part of her story with the least emphasis.

I want the book I didn’t get – the story of Elizabeth Haberlin’s life after the Flood. I want to know so much more about the person she became, the life she led, and how she felt about turning her back on her old life and its old expectations. That’s not the book I got. Damn it.

~~~~~~ GIVEAWAY ~~~~~~

The publisher is giving away a copy of The Woman in the Photo to one lucky US/CAN commenter:

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Review: June by Miranda Beverly Whittemore + Giveaway

Review: June by Miranda Beverly Whittemore + GiveawayJune by Miranda Beverly-Whittemore
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, ebook, audiobook
Genres: family saga, historical fiction
Pages: 400
Published by Crown on May 31st 2016
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
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From the New York Times bestselling author of Bittersweet comes a novel of suspense and passion about a terrible mistake made sixty years ago that threatens to change a modern family forever. 
Twenty-five-year-old Cassie Danvers is holed up in her family’s crumbling mansion in rural St. Jude, Ohio, mourning the loss of the woman who raised her—her grandmother, June. But a knock on the door forces her out of isolation. Cassie has been named the sole heir to legendary matinee idol Jack Montgomery's vast fortune. How did Jack Montgomery know her name? Could he have crossed paths with her grandmother all those years ago? What other shocking secrets could June’s once-stately mansion hold?
Soon Jack’s famous daughters come knocking, determined to wrestle Cassie away from the inheritance they feel is their due. Together, they all come to discover the true reasons for June’s silence about that long-ago summer, when Hollywood came to town, and June and Jack’s lives were forever altered by murder, blackmail, and betrayal.
As this page-turner shifts deftly between the past and present, Cassie and her guests will be forced to reexamine their legacies, their definition of family, and what it truly means to love someone, steadfastly, across the ages.

My Review:

June is two stories that run kind of in parallel, but finally come together at the end. The two stories themselves are fascinating, but how much the reader will enjoy this story may come down to how you end up feeling about the house having, and providing, dreams to its inhabitants.

In 2015 Cassie Danvers inherits the shambling, decaying mansion of Two Oaks in small-town Ohio from her late grandmother, June. When Cassie holes herself up in the crumbling pile, she is suffering from a deep depression and a truckload of survivor’s guilt.

Cassie’s grandmother raised her after her parents were killed in an alcohol-fueled automobile accident when Cassie was 8. The last time Cassie and her grandmother spoke was at Cassie’s exhibition of her photographic recreation of that accident. June was incensed at the wanton display of her life’s greatest tragedy. Cancer took her before enough time passed to heal both their wounds.

Into Cassie’s grief-stricken wallow, comes Hollywood actress Tate Montgomery and her entourage. Tate is Hollywood royalty, her parents, Jack Montgomery and Diane DeSoto, were big Golden Age stars, who, once upon a time, filmed a movie in Cassie and June’s tiny little town of St. Jude. Jack has just died and left his entire considerable fortune to Cassie – but no one knows why.

As the story unfolds, and as Cassie, Tate and her assistants Nick and Hank investigate that long-ago summer, truths are revealed that change the lives of all involved. And some history repeats itself, just a tiny bit.

But when the revelations poke every bit as big a hole in both Cassie’s and Tate’s identities as the giant hole that opens in the mansion’s roof, they both have to go back and figure out who they really are, and what they really feel about the world that has so suddenly changed.

And Cassie has to decide whether she loves Nick enough to forgive him for choosing his job over his life. And hers.

Escape Rating B: The two stories themselves are absorbing. In 1955 we see June and her friend best friend Lindie as the entire town is captivated by the stars that come to their little town. Because the perspective is mostly Lindie’s we also feel her heartache. Lindie, who is 14 when this story opens, loves her friend June, even it she isn’t ready to acknowledge exactly what she feels or what that means about her and her future. June is 18, and has no clue. She expects to live a conventional small town life, marrying the man who has been chosen for her and making her own kind of happiness.

Instead, the events surrounding the movie shoot change both their lives forever. Whether for the better or the worse is something that the reader has to judge for themselves. But Cassie’s discovery of the events of that long-ago summer change her life in 2015.

In the present, Cassie, Tate and Tate’s half sister Esmeralda become caught up in the hunt for the truth about that long-lost summer. It is only after the facts are finally revealed and the Hollywood invasion is long gone that Cassie discovers that the truth has been living across the street from her all along.

As I read June, it also felt a bit reminiscent of Nora Roberts’ Tribute. Parts of the setup are similar – granddaughter inherits house from grandmother, discovers that grandmother’s past with the movie business was different and more dangerous than she was ever told. The difference is that the past in June wants to be revealed, and the past in Tribute contains evil that still wants to be concealed.

Back to June – I found the events in the past more compelling reading than the present. But it’s Lindie’s story at the end that is really sticking with me. What I’m still having a difficult time coming to terms with is the whole thing about the house dreaming and revealing the truth of the past to Cassie through dreams as a plot device in what is otherwise a fairly straightforward – but fascinating – family saga.

~~~~~~ GIVEAWAY ~~~~~~

I am giving away a copy of June to one lucky (US/Canada) commenter on this post:

a Rafflecopter giveaway

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Review: The Summer Guest by Alison Anderson

Review: The Summer Guest by Alison AndersonThe Summer Guest by Alison Anderson
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical fiction, literary fiction
Pages: 400
Published by Harper on March 8th 2016
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Blinded by a fatal illness, young Ukrainian doctor Zinaida Lintvaryova is living on her family’s rural estate in the summer of 1888. When a family from Moscow rents a cottage on the grounds, Zinaida develops a deep bond with one of their sons, a doctor and writer of modest but growing fame called Anton Pavlovich Chekhov. Intelligent, curious, and increasingly introspective as her condition worsens, Zinaida keeps a diary chronicling this extraordinary friendship that comes to define the last years of her life.
In the winter of 2014, Katya Kendall’s London publishing house is floundering-as is her marriage. Katya is convinced that salvation lies in publishing Zinaida’s diary, and she approaches translator Ana Harding about the job. As Ana reads the diary, she is captivated by the voice of the dying young doctor. And hidden within Zinaida’s words, Ana discovers tantalizing clues suggesting that Chekhov—who was known to have composed only plays and short stories—actually wrote a novel during his summers with Zinaida that was subsequently lost. Ana is determined to find Chekhov’s “lost” manuscript, but in her search she discovers it is but one of several mysteries involving Zinaida’s diary.
Inspired by fragments of historical truth, The Summer Guest is a transportive, masterfully written novel about an unusual, fascinating friendship that transcends the limits of its time and place. It’s also a contemporary story about two compelling, women, both of whom find solace in Zinaida and Chekhov as they contemplate all that’s missing in their own lives.

My Review:

“She had dared to believe in the truth of the imagination.” But the question that echoes after the book is done is whose imagination? And even more tellingly, whose truth?

This is a story of three women, spread across two eras and three countries, and the commonality they find, or are found to have, over their love of the work of Anton Chekhov.

In 1888, Chekhov and his family spend that summer, and the following summer as summer guests of the Lintvaryov family in Luka, in what is now Ukraine. At that point in his life, he was known but not yet famous, and still making his reputation. But his writings, rather than his medical practice, were the economic support of his family. His parents, his sisters and his brothers. Their support was both a joy and somewhat of a distracting burden.

They took him, or he took them, to Luka, so that he could write and relax. Or the other way around.

He became friends with the oldest daughter of the Lintvaryov house, a doctor like himself, But Zinaida Mikhailovna was no longer practicing medicine. She had been struck down by illness, most likely a brain tumor. In 1888 she was already blind, and her world was closing in.

To keep the internal darkness at bay, Zinaida kept a diary, by writing in a special box designed to keep her lines apart and legible. In 2014, Katya Kendall sends Zinaida’s diary, in the original Russian, to translator Ana Harding.

Katya’s small publishing company, a joint effort between herself and her somewhat distant husband Peter, is failing. Their business of publishing translations of Russian and Eastern European works has never recovered from the recession of 2008, especially as it was followed by so much political unrest in the countries that were their biggest customers.

Katya and Peter hope that the publication of Zinaida’s diary, illuminating as it does a documented but little known piece of Chekhov’s life, will allow them to recover their fortunes. Ana, captivated with the voice of the woman in the diary she has received, hopes that the publication of her translation will make her reputation, and in a way, justify the choices she has made in her life.

But Zinaida takes her under her spell, bringing those long-lost summers to life. In Zinaida’s words, Ana finds truths that captivate her to the point of visiting Luka herself, now in a brief calm between wars, in order to find the truth of the most surprising revelation of the diary – that Chekhov, the master of the play and the short story, left behind one novel, entrusted to the care of his dying friend.

Or did he?

Escape Rating B: The Summer Guest is a story of fiction as the lie that tells the truth. Ana and Katya both find themselves enraptured by Zinaida’s writing across the years, although in much different ways and for completely different reasons.

They both find the long-ago diarist a kindred spirit – a woman who still reached out to the world, even as her own was closing in. As both Katya’s and Ana’s lives seem to be, although not in the same way.

In the end, it is Zinaida’s voice that shines most clearly in the story, in spite of the way that it comes to be. And it is Ana’s search for meaning and purpose that provides the resolution at the end. Even though the diary turned out to be a lie, it still told Ana a truth that she needed to see.

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Review: The Rivals of Versailles by Sally Christie

Review: The Rivals of Versailles by Sally ChristieThe Rivals of Versailles (The Mistresses of Versailles Trilogy, #2) by Sally Christie
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss, publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical fiction
Series: Mistresses of Versailles #2
Pages: 448
Published by Atria Books on April 5th 2016
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

And you thought sisters were a thing to fear. In this compelling follow-up to Sally Christie's clever and absorbing debut, we meet none other than the Marquise de Pompadour, one of the greatest beauties of her generation and the first bourgeois mistress ever to grace the hallowed halls of Versailles.
I write this before her blood is even cold. She is dead, suddenly, from a high fever. The King is inconsolable, but the way is now clear.
The way is now clear.
The year is 1745. Marie-Anne, the youngest of the infamous Nesle sisters and King Louis XV's most beloved mistress, is gone, making room for the next Royal Favorite.
Enter Jeanne-Antoinette Poisson, a stunningly beautiful girl from the middle classes. Fifteen years prior, a fortune teller had mapped out young Jeanne's destiny: she would become the lover of a king and the most powerful woman in the land. Eventually connections, luck, and a little scheming pave her way to Versailles and into the King's arms.
All too soon, conniving politicians and hopeful beauties seek to replace the bourgeois interloper with a more suitable mistress. As Jeanne, now the Marquise de Pompadour, takes on her many rivals - including a lustful lady-in-waiting; a precocious fourteen-year-old prostitute, and even a cousin of the notorious Nesle sisters - she helps the king give himself over to a life of luxury and depravity. Around them, war rages, discontent grows, and France inches ever closer to the Revolution.
Enigmatic beauty, social climber, actress, trendsetter, patron of the arts, spendthrift, whoremonger, friend, lover, foe. History books may say many things about the famous Marquise de Pompadour, but one thing is clear: for almost twenty years, she ruled France and the King's heart.
Told in Christie's witty and modern style, this second book in the Mistresses of Versailles trilogy will delight and entrance fans as it once again brings to life the world of eighteenth century Versailles in all its pride, pestilence and glory.

My Review:

Age and treachery beat youth and skill, set amid the long, twilight fall of France into the abyss of the Revolution.

Alternate possibility, there’s nothing new under the sun. Especially not Desperate Wives of Wherever and the Kardashians. And isn’t that a frightening thought?

Louis XV by Rigaud (1730)
Louis XV by Rigaud (1730)

The Rivals of Versailles is the second book in Sally Christie’s Mistresses of Versailles series. All of those titular mistresses were the mistresses, official or otherwise, of Louis XV of France. His predecessor Louis XIV was called “The Sun King” because the power of France was at its height during his rule. His great-grandson, Louis XV squandered all of the goodwill generated by his illustrious fore-bearer, and bequeathed a broke and humbled France to his grandson, Louis XVI. Who in his turn lost his throne and then his head in the Revolution.

But the story in The Rivals of Versailles follows not Louis, but the career of his most famous mistress, Madame de Pompadour. And what a career it was!

During her nearly 20 year reign as Louis’ official mistress, Jeanne Antoinette Poisson served as both Louis’ chief comforter and more importantly, seemingly his chief minister, even after she no longer filled what would otherwise seem to be the most important function of a mistress – she stopped sharing his bed. Instead, she shared his mind, or possibly served as the best part of it, and shared what heart he had left.

This is not a pretty story. Jeanne starts out as a young girl who is told she is destined to catch the eye of the king. Her family grooms her assiduously for the position, and when his favorite mistress, Marie-Anne de Mailly dies, Jeanne’s backers put her in the way of the grieving king.

(The story of Louis’ affairs with Marie-Anne de Mailly and nearly all of her five sisters is told in The Sisters of Versailles, but it is not necessary to read that book to get into this one, the stories are very different)

sisters of versailles by sally christieUnlike The Sisters of Versailles, where the five de Mailly sisters squabble over the king and share his bed in turns, The Rivals of Versailles follows de Pompadour and her rivals through the course of her life at court. Even when some younger woman thinks she has a chance to oust de Pompadour, all of their efforts, and the efforts of the various parties who back them, come to naught.

Even as the king sinks further into depravity in his over-indulged middle-age, it is always Madame de Pompadour that he turns to for comfort and counsel. She is the person that he rails to about the demands of Parlement and she is the one he consults on all decisions. It is Madame de Pompadour who fosters the French rapprochement with their old enemies, the Austrians, and it is de Pompadour who helps to determine the terms of the Treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle, which led to France’s involvement in what is known to American history as the French and Indian War, and the loss of all of France’s North American colonies.

Her reach was long, her influence was wide. She was one of the most powerful women of Europe in the 18th century. The Rivals of Versailles is her story.

Escape Rating B: Although the period and setting are just as over-indulgent as The Sisters of Versailles, I found The Rivals of Versailles to be a more accessible book. In Sisters, while survivor Hortense begins and ends the story, the narration moves around among all the de Mailly sisters, and none of them make likeable protagonists.

Madame de Pompadour, portrait by François Boucher
Madame de Pompadour, portrait by François Boucher

In The Rivals of Versailles, Madame de Pompadour is the point of view character for most of the story. And even when she is not directly relating the action, she is still a very strong presence. Even the women who are trying to supplant her are forced to reckon with her power over the king.

One thing drove this reader just a bit nuts. The story begins with Jeanne as a young girl, and is from her childish and naive perspective. When she comes to court, we see her mature and harden into the woman who becomes Madame de Pompadour, and it’s a hard and frequently painful journey.

As political factions find young women to supplant her, we see their stories from their perspectives, and they are, to a person, very young, very naive and very selfish. Also in at least one case, uneducated and unintelligent into the bargain. Sometimes it is difficult to read from inside their heads, because there’s just no there, there.

However, one aspect of this progression is sad but also telling. As the king gets older, the women who are procured for him get younger and younger, also stupider and stupider. And the king is constantly indulged while the Revolution seems to literally brew around him. As the story continues, the storm to come feels more and more inevitable.

But what makes this book work better than Sisters is the voice of de Pompadour. She does her best to keep her king happy. And his happiness means that she takes as much of the burden of ruling as she can from behind the throne. She seems to truly love him, and to be truly doing her best to keep him happy, even as the deeds she must commit or at least condone get darker and darker.

This is the sad story of a woman who only wanted to be loved, but discovered that the accumulation power was addicting, and was the only way that she could survive.

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Review: Terrible Virtue by Ellen Feldman

Review: Terrible Virtue by Ellen FeldmanTerrible Virtue by Ellen Feldman
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, ebook, audiobook
Genres: feminist history, historical fiction
Pages: 272
Published by Harper on March 22nd 2016
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

In the spirit of The Paris Wife and Loving Frank, the provocative and compelling story of one of the most fascinating and influential figures of the twentieth century: Margaret Sanger, the founder of Planned Parenthood—an indomitable woman who, more than any other, and at great personal cost, shaped the sexual landscape we inhabit today.
The daughter of a hard-drinking, smooth-tongued free thinker and a mother worn down by thirteen children, Margaret Sanger vowed her life would be different. Trained as a nurse, she fought for social justice beside labor organizers, anarchists, socialists, and other progressives, eventually channeling her energy to one singular cause: legalizing contraception. It was a battle that would pit her against puritanical, patriarchal lawmakers, send her to prison again and again, force her to flee to England, and ultimately change the lives of women across the country and around the world.
This complex enigmatic revolutionary was at once vain and charismatic, generous and ruthless, sexually impulsive and coolly calculating—a competitive, self-centered woman who championed all women, a conflicted mother who suffered the worst tragedy a parent can experience. From opening the first illegal birth control clinic in America in 1916 through the founding of Planned Parenthood to the arrival of the Pill in the 1960s, Margaret Sanger sacrificed two husbands, three children, and scores of lovers in her fight for sexual equality and freedom.
With cameos by such legendary figures as Emma Goldman, John Reed, Big Bill Haywood, H. G. Wells, and the love of Margaret’s life, Havelock Ellis, this richly imagined portrait of a larger-than-life woman is at once sympathetic to her suffering and unsparing of her faults. Deeply insightful, Terrible Virtue is Margaret Sanger’s story as she herself might have told it.

My Review:

Margaret Sanger in 1922
Margaret Sanger in 1922

When the phrase, “Well-behaved women seldom make history” was first penned by Laurel Thatcher Ulrich in 1976, Margaret Sanger had been dead for ten years. But that short, pithy phrase still sums up her life.

On the one hand, all women, at least in Western countries, owe Sanger a debt. Whether one believes that birth control is a blessing, a right, or even a pernicious evil, Sanger made that choice possible. More importantly, she challenged and eventually forced the overthrow of laws that didn’t just make birth control illegal, but made it illegal for women to be educated about the “facts of life” about their own bodies.

And those of us who have chosen the spacing and number of our children, or not to have children at all, can trace that ability, that choice, back to her crusade.

But crusaders and saints are generally terrible people to live with. In Sanger’s case, it seems as if her husbands, her lovers, and especially her own children suffered a great deal from her obsessive devotion to her cause. That we are the better for it doesn’t change the damage to them. But if she had chosen to be a traditional wife and mother, where would we be now?

Terrible Virtue is a fictionalized version of Sanger’s life, told primarily through her own eyes. And we are all unreliable narrators of our own lives, as Sanger is. Not that she deliberately lies, but certainly that she justifies her behavior in her own mind. As do we all.

The occasional insertions of brief comments from the point of view of those closest to her, those who most often found themselves sacrificed on the altar of her crusade, provide a much-needed leavening counterpoint. Sanger gave birth to a revolution, but everyone around her paid the price.

Sanger is charming, and vain, and frequently ruthless in the pursuit of her goals. She’s obsessed with her groundbreaking work, and neglectful of anyone and everyone in her life in pursuit of those goals. She’s a difficult person to sympathize with, and the reader frequently does not, but her life was endlessly fascinating. She pursued a revolution for all of her life, and did so with a keen intellect and an eye for who would best advance the cause that she strove for. She succeeded beyond her wildest dreams. And occasionally in the middle of her greatest nightmares.

And she built one of the cornerstones of women’s rights in the 20th and 21st centuries – not just the right but also the capability for women to decide when, if, or how many children they would have. She made it possible for middle-class and poor women to have the same choices that rich women have always had, to control the size of their families.

While she may have entered on this crusade to prevent women from suffering the fate of her own mother, 13 children and dead before her time, she gave the gift to us all.

Escape Rating B+: Sanger’s life is fascinating, but she is not a sympathetic narrator. She’s selfish, obsessed, and ignores anyone and anything that doesn’t further her cause. That neglect generally covered her children, her two husbands, and any and all of her lovers. But it is her own children that suffer most for her crusade to let every woman decide how many children to have.

She may have pretended to be a respectable middle-class woman, but she certainly used the privilege she created, and had affairs with many famous and influential men, including but certainly not limited to Havelock Ellis and H.G. Wells. But her life wasn’t ruled by her love affairs – whatever else was going on in her life, she worked on the cause tirelessly and relentlessly.

At the end of the story, readers may respect Sanger, but not like her. She would have been hell to live with. But revolution is never easy. Or bloodless.

Because the story is from Sanger’s point of view, and because she is both self-serving and self-centered, she glosses over the accusations that were later leveled at her work. From her own point of view, she was not really a eugenicist. She did not advocate genocide of any populations. Instead, her goal was always to allow poor women of any race or ethnicity to be able to have the same choice that rich women have always had – the ability to limit the number of children they had to what they desired and would be economically feasible. She believed that the accusations of genocide that were leveled at her were the result of deliberate attempts to discredit her work.

We can’t know today. But we can see the way that governments and legislatures are still trying to denigrate any attempts for poor women to control their own biology in the continued witch hunt that hounds Planned Parenthood, and in the ever increasing number of laws that restrict women’s choices and inject medically incorrect dogma into women’s pursuit of those choices.

This book is an eye opener. A fascinating woman, an amazing life, and an influence that changed the world. And seems to have been the inspiration for Wonder Woman into the bargain!

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Review: Journey to Munich by Jacqueline Winspear + Giveaway

Review: Journey to Munich by Jacqueline Winspear + GiveawayJourney to Munich (Maisie Dobbs, #12) by Jacqueline Winspear
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, ebook, large print, audiobook
Genres: historical fiction, historical mystery
Series: Maisie Dobbs #12
Pages: 233
Published by Harper on March 29th 2016
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Working with the British Secret Service on an undercover mission, Maisie Dobbs is sent to Hitler’s Germany in this thrilling tale of danger and intrigue—the twelfth novel in Jacqueline Winspear’s New York Times bestselling “series that seems to get better with each entry” (Wall Street Journal).
It’s early 1938, and Maisie Dobbs is back in England. On a fine yet chilly morning, as she walks towards Fitzroy Square—a place of many memories—she is intercepted by Brian Huntley and Robert MacFarlane of the Secret Service. The German government has agreed to release a British subject from prison, but only if he is handed over to a family member. Because the man’s wife is bedridden and his daughter has been killed in an accident, the Secret Service wants Maisie—who bears a striking resemblance to the daughter—to retrieve the man from Dachau, on the outskirts of Munich.
The British government is not alone in its interest in Maisie’s travel plans. Her nemesis—the man she holds responsible for her husband’s death—has learned of her journey, and is also desperate for her help.
Traveling into the heart of Nazi Germany, Maisie encounters unexpected dangers—and finds herself questioning whether it’s time to return to the work she loved. But the Secret Service may have other ideas. . . .

My Review:

It seems very fitting that I’m reviewing Journey to Munich right after The Murder of Mary Russell. If you take a look at the “Readers Also Enjoyed” sidebar for each book on Goodreads, they are effectively listed as “read-alikes” for each other.

And they are. Both feature young women as investigators in the post-World War I era. However, there are a couple of key differences. One is that Mary Russell always has her seemingly immortal partner and husband, Sherlock Holmes, at her side.

leaving everything most loved by jacqueline winspearMaisie Dobbs is singularly alone. She lost her first love to a bomb that exploded in the aid station they were working in. While he physically survived, mentally he was gone. In the interstitial period between Leaving Everything Most Loved and A Dangerous Place, Maisie married her second love, and he was killed while flying an experimental plane, causing Maisie to miscarry their only child.

Now Maisie is seemingly without hostages to fortune, which is one of the reasons why the British Secret Service is more than willing to recruit this indomitable and seemingly undauntable young woman. They have a specific job for her.

One of Britain’s most inventive engineering minds has been imprisoned by the Nazis at Dachau. Her mission is to pose as his daughter and bring him home. The diplomatic arrangements have already been made, or so everyone thinks.

But if things were that simple, the Secret Service wouldn’t need Maisie. And if there weren’t wheels within wheels, Maisie wouldn’t also be tasked with the sidejob of rescuing the woman who should have been piloting Maisie’s husband’s fatal plane from one too many errors of her own selfish making.

As Maisie dodges well-meaning British officials, secretive American agents, and brutal Nazi officers, she finally discovers something that has eluded her since the death of her husband and child. Now that she is in fear for her life, she comes to the dawning realization that she truly does want to live.

If she survives.

Escape Rating A: This is a hard review to write. The book is excellent, but the background of this story is frightening – as it should be.

This case takes Maisie to Nazi Germany in the late 1930s, just before World War II breaks into a hot war. Two of the framing events are the Anschluss, when Nazi Germany annexed Austria, and Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain’s infamous “peace for our time” speech. It seems so obvious in retrospect that the peace he thought he had secured was utterly impossible. What is more, at least in this story that was obvious to many people at the time, people who gave warnings that were not heeded.

In the context of the story, both the British Secret Service and those agents who would form the OSS, the forerunner of the American C.I.A. were not only aware that war was coming, but were actively preparing for it. As were at least the power brokers in the British Army.

As were the industrialists, which in the end provides the motives for many of the events on the British side of this story.

At the same time, the background seems to be a human version of the old story about the frog and the pan of boiling water. It is clear that there is an increasingly fearful and oppressive atmosphere in Germany, but most people have managed to adjust most of the time. The water has risen in temperature so slowly that they are able to pretend they haven’t noticed it. Except for the two little girls that Maisie spies playing together in a back alley. If they want to remain friends and play together, they have to hide. One of those little girls is Jewish, and as we know now, will probably be taken to the camps and killed long before the end of the war.

It is also clear from the story that the British Secret Service at least knew perfectly well exactly what the already infamous Dachau was, and that more concentration camps were being built. It is also clear that they already knew that Jews were being systematically turned into “nonpersons” in preparation for the atrocities yet to come, and that there were many organizations working to get people out before the worst happened. As it did.

Ironically, in the midst of the death and darkness, Maisie’s story finally turns toward the light. She is able to forgive the family that caused so much of her grief and pain, and as she lives under constant threat of death, she finally realizes that she wants to live, and to have the chance to use her skills and talents for the greater good, and because working makes her feel alive. She has much to do and is finally ready to do it.

But seeing Nazi Germany through Maisie’s eyes, watching as a sensitive, intelligent, thinking, feeling person experiences some of the worst of humanity or its utter lack, gave this reader chills.

Reviewer’s Note: Considering publication schedules, this book was probably completed a year or so ago. However, for this reader at least, there is a tremendous resonance between the political climate related in this story and the current U.S. presidential campaigns. Your reading may be different, but for this reader, the parallels are difficult to miss.

~~~~~~ GIVEAWAY ~~~~~~

As part of this week’s Blogo-Birthday Celebration, I am giving away the winner’s choice a copy of any book in the Maisie Dobbs series, including today’s review book, Journey to Munich. Books will be shipped by The Book Depository, so this giveaway is open to anyone who lives anyplace they ship. For those in the U.S., if you prefer an ebook, you can choose an ebook copy from either Amazon or B&N.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

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