Categories
Book reviews

#Bookreview Three books by women for everybody @SarahMallery1 @KimHeadlee and @sgc58 #TuesdayBookBlog

Hi all:

I anticipate I’m going to have a few incredibly busy reading weeks ahead (I’m helping with the selection process for the Historical Fiction M. M. Bennetts Award) and I’m also going to be busy preparing for my first book fair (check the post by fabulous author Christoph Fischer who explains everything about the Llandeillo Book Fair here and you can also visit the Facebook page of the event) so I’m not sure what my blog is going to be like (as I had promised I’d be recovering some of the old posts from my previous WordPress site that didn’t manage to survive the move, there will be some of that for sure) but I count on your patience and support as usual. I might share a bit more of my WIP (while I try to work out what the cover should look like. Thanks for the suggestions!), share some reviews as far as I can (I don’t want to disrupt the award process, although I’ll let you know the results), keep looking for ideas and feedback on my non-fiction project… We shall see.

But, as I’ve accumulated a few reviews I thought that would make an interesting post. The three authors I bring you today have visited my blog before. They are women of substance, who blog, research, help their fellow authors, and write wonderfully, and although I’m sure you know them all, if you don’t, for their works you’ll know them…

Enough blah, blah. Here they come:

The Dolan Girls by S. R. Mallery
The Dolan Girls by S. R. Mallery

The Dolan Girls by S. R. Mallery.

Description:

Set in Nebraska during the 1800s, whorehouse madams, ladies of the night, a schoolmarm, a Pinkerton detective, a Shakespeare-quoting old coot, brutal outlaws, and a horse-wrangler fill out the cast of characters. Add to the mix are colorful descriptions of an 1856 land rush, Buffalo Bill and his Wild West Show, Annie Oakley, bank/train robberies, small town local politics, and of course, romance. Two, in fact!

Body of review:

I was given a free copy of the novel in exchange for an honest review.

I’ve read two of S. R. Mallery’s books before and I’ve always admired her ease in creating stories emotionally real and characters we care for set in historical eras and around historical events that add dimension and depth to the narration.  Most of her stories centre on female protagonists and we experience through them the travails and challenges these women had to face in different times in history, be it because of their class, race, gender, profession or their situation.

Cora and Minnie, the young girls arrived from Ireland with their parents, who plan to get some land in Nebraska but fail, end up alone and living in a brothel after tragedy strikes. Madam Ana treats them like her daughters and the brothel becomes their home and later their business. Cora’s love story is ruined by a terrible event, a baddie with no redeeming qualities (Wes’) rapes her and impregnates her, and she doesn’t trust men again. She focuses her life on the business and her family, and wants to ensure that her daughter will be respected and safe, even against her wishes.

The three Dolan girls, Cora, Minnie and Ellie embody different models of womanhood: Cora worries about society’s views and being respected, and is straight-laced and serious. Minnie is free, unconventional and only worries about doing what’s right and fun, no matter what anybody else might think. Ellie loves education, learning, and is passionate about enlightening the population and not taking no for an answer. Despite their differences, they all have in common their strength, their perseverance, and their determination to live life their own way, no matter what polite society might think.

Annie Oakley, Buffalo Bill and Lola Montez make significant appearances and add to the historical interest but their appearance is not an exercise in hero worshiping. The author blends beautifully historical detail, language and décor without dumping information or appearing to quote from a textbook.

The bandits’ train-raid and later arrival at South Benton, Buffalo Bill’s first show, and the Pinkerton detective agency and their work add a good dose of adventure and make it a page turner even for people who wouldn’t consider reading a standard romantic novel.

The male protagonists are heroic but understanding and not overbearing. Their behaviour seemed to me somewhat idealised but well within the conventions of the genre.

The Dolan Girls shows us that winning the West wasn’t only a man’s endeavour, that not all immigrants were the same (Irish not being welcome with open arms), that gender violence is not new, and that women can be strong together.

In sum, a great read and a must for people who love historical romances. Ah, and don’t worry about the ending. You’ll love it!

Links:

Paperback
Kindle

And if you want to check a preview:

Next:

The Challenge by Kim Iverson Headlee
The Challenge by Kim Iverson Headlee

The Challenge (The Dragon’s Dove Chronicles) by Kim Iverson Headlee. The real challenge is to know what you’re fighting for.

Description

The gauntlet is thrown. One must die. Refusal is not an option.

Arthur the high king of Breatein has fallen captive of a longtime enemy, the Saxon warrior-princess, Camilla, who lusts to avenge the death of her betrothed at Gyan’s hands and will stop at nothing, even the black arts, to achieve her goal. Because Gyan and Arthur have grown estranged, she fears that Arthur may side with Camilla and make her his new queen.

Now Gyan must face all her demons – public as well as private.

My review

The Challenge is a part of Kim Headlee’s The Dragon’s Dove Chronicles and although it is the first story of the series I’ve read, that does not impede its enjoyment. It is a short story set in the world of the Arthurian legends and although it mixes fantasy elements (not that there are no fantasy elements in the story we’re all familiar with) it does refer back to older stories and traditions. Considering its length, the story packs an incredible amount of detail, not only of the action and fight itself (with vivid descriptions of weapons and gear), but also of the relationships of the queen, Gyan, with her men, of her feelings about her people and her kingdom, and also of her mental state at the time. She confronts a rival with supernatural strength, but more important than that she also has to fight her doubts about her relationship with the King. And although I’m not going to give you any spoilers, I can tell you that the ending won’t disappoint.

If you fancy a short read, full of action, with a good mix of historical detail and fantasy, and a superb strong female lead, I strongly recommend it.

Links:

Kindle

Audible

And the preview:

At the moment of preparing this post it’s FREE so check it out!

And last by not least…

Tales from the Garden by Sally Cronin
Tales from the Garden by Sally Cronin

Tales from the Garden by Sally Cronin. Enchanting stories in a magical garden

Tales from the Garden reveals the secrets that are hidden beneath hedges and trees. You will discover what really happens at night as you sleep unaware in your bed. Stone statues and those hidden worlds within the earth are about to share their stories. The guardians who have kept the sanctuary safe for over fifty years will allow you to peek behind the scenes of this magical place. They will take you on a journey through time and expand your horizons as they transport you to the land of fairies, butterflies and lost souls who have found a home here.
Fairy Stories for children of all ages from five to ninety-five that will change the way you look at your garden forever.

My review:

I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an unbiased review.

I follow Sally Cronin’s Smorgasboard blog and know she writes on a variety of themes, from the non-fictional: nutritional and health advice, features and reviews about books and writing, advice on marketing and blogging, and also fictional writing. After reading some of the stories she had shared on-line I had to read this book. And the description is correct. These are fairy stories for children of all ages. The characters are the stone sculptures in the garden and their adventures contain in equal parts warmth, pathos, magic and fantasy. We have animals escaping from hunting dogs, impossible love stories between humans and fairies, orchestras made up of the most varied characters, and a wonderful dedication to the author’s mother and her gardens. You will go through a variety of emotions and always feel better and more positive by the end of each story. The book will leave you smiling and that’s something that cannot be said of many books (or things) these days.

The writing is fluid, perfectly suited to the themes and you get the sense that you’ve been taken into the confidence of the characters and have become an honorary inhabitant of this wonderful garden. The pictures —all from the author and her family’s gardens— that illustrate the book help make the reader feel even more at home.

Recommended to any readers who need a bit of magic and wonder in their lives.

Links:

Kindle

The preview:

Sally, who has a blog everybody should follow, no matter what your interest, also  has her own publishing company and you might want to access this and her other books directly. Just in case, this is the link to her books in her blog.

Thanks to the three authors for their varied and fantastic books, thanks to all of you for reading and don’t forget to like, share, comment, CLICK, and of course, if you read, REVIEW!

Categories
Book reviews

#Bookreviews ‘Unexpected Gifts’ by S.R. Mallery (@SarahMallery1) and ‘Women on the Brink’ by G. Elizabeth Kretchmer (@gekretchmer). Women’s stories and histories. #TuesdayBookBlog

Hi all:

With Christmas just a few days away, I’m trying to share as many of the reviews I have pending before the end of the year as I can, to make sure you have enough to read over the holidays. Also, I have to warn you I’m planning on having some reshuffling, maintenance and hopefully improvements (and a bit of a move) in the blog over the next few days. I hope I won’t disappear completely, but one never knows… If I do it’s most likely a technical problem rather than anything else… (she said, holding on tight).

After all that, time to share reviews. Today I’m revisiting two writers whose work I really enjoyed the first time around, so I repeated. Here they are.

First, S. R. Mallery with Unexpected Gifts:

Unexpected Gifts by S.R. Mallery
Unexpected Gifts by S.R. Mallery

First, the description:

A TRUE AMERICAN FAMILY SAGA: Can we learn from our ancestors? Do our relatives’ behaviors help shape our own?
In “Unexpected Gifts” that is precisely what happens to Sonia, a confused college student, heading for addictions and forever choosing the wrong man. Searching for answers, she begins to read her family’s diaries and journals from America’s past: the Vietnam War, Woodstock, and Timothy Leary era; Tupperware parties, McCarthyism, and Black Power; the Great Depression, dance marathons, and Eleanor Roosevelt; the immigrant experience and the Suffragists. Back and forth the book journeys, linking yesteryear with modern life until finally, by understanding her ancestors’ hardships and faults, she gains enough clarity to make some right choices.

Here, my review:

Unexpected Gifts by Sarah Mallery. The power of stories and the value of remembering the past.

Having read Mallery’s book of stories Sewing Can Be Dangerous and Other Small Threads I was looking forward to reading her novel. And although not unexpected, it definitely was a gift. The story of Sonia, a young woman studying psychology, in a complicated relationship with the lead singer of a band, and plagued by rituals and other symptoms of OCD, her story frames the novel and provides a conduit for telling many other stories. Through her we get to know her parents, and when her mother suggests she might find direction and some useful ideas by checking the attic and the family boxes that have accumulated there, each box goes on to reveal something about her family members and helps her discover more about herself.

The book is beautifully written, with vivid descriptions of places and people, that in a few sentences transport the reader to the recent (and less recent) past) and to locations and situations that spread from the new to the old world and from America to Bulgaria, via Vietnam. The structure of the novel is clever and works well in progressively unveiling Sonia’s heritage. Every time she reaches a conclusion about one of her ancestors, the next bit of information or evidence contained in the box corresponding to that person makes her reconsider and reach a better understanding (if not always a kinder opinion) about their lives. The box within a box or the Russian wooden dolls that must be opened up or peeled back to discover what hides inside (that are also mentioned in the novel) work well as a metaphor or visual representation for the structure of the novel.

The stories will affect or touch people differently, but they are all interesting and revisit crucial historical events and periods, adding a personal perspective. We have Vietnam War veterans, the hippy movement, European emigrants arriving in Ellis Island, American Suffragettes, Racial Conflict and Race Riots, the McCarthy era Communist witch hunt, Dance Marathons and the Depression Era, and romances that seem to be fated to end up badly. By exploring the past, Sonia seeks a way of understanding her behaviour and of breaking up patterns that result in sadness and unhappiness. I don’t want to reveal too much, but can add I enjoyed the ending that brought closure and a nice conclusion to the novel.

I recommend Unexpected Gifts to anybody who enjoys a good novel, with a solid historical background and strong characters, especially to people who prefer variety and many different stories. As the book is structured I think it will also appeal to readers of short stories and of anthologies of different styles of writing, as it provides multiple voices and many narrations in one single volume. Another great achievement for the author.

Links:

http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00YWGATTU/

http://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B00YWGATTU/

Here the link to her author page (and don’t forget to follow her):

http://www.amazon.com/S.-R.-Mallery/e/B00CIUW3W8/

And G. Elizabeth Kretchmer’s Women on the Brink.

Women on the Brink by G. Elizabeth Kretchmer
Women on the Brink by G. Elizabeth Kretchmer

The description:

Women on the Brink is a stunning collection of loosely linked stories in which women aged thirteen to ninety must face the unwelcome realities of their lives. Sometimes gritty, sometimes humorous, and always compassionate, G. Elizabeth Kretchmer’s prose takes the reader on a compelling ride alongside these ordinary women as they wrestle with family relationships, self-esteem, socioeconomic status, maternal obligations, and need for independence.

In “Skydancer,” a young mother resents her newborn baby. In “Float Away,” an at-risk teen is desperate to find a new home. A minister’s wife struggles with secrets in “Liar’s Game.” A despondent housewife longs for purpose in “Alligator Poetry.” The protagonist in “Tasting Freedom” wrestles with decisions about her aging mother’s care. And in “From Here to Cafayate,” a woman refuses to give up on the perpetually flawed relationship she has shared with her sister for nearly ninety years.

Each story is enhanced by one of fourteen original poems contributed by talented poets specifically for this collection and its themes. Although the stories stand alone, they are further strengthened by the relationships among the various characters throughout the collection. Readers of Ms. Kretchmer’s first novel, The Damnable Legacy, will also delight to find that some of the characters from that novel have reappeared here.

The women in this collection may or may not be the type you’d invite over for lunch. Some of them are tough. Some aren’t all that likeable. Some might not see the world the way you do. But they’re compelling in their own right as they reflect women in today’s world—women who have come along a difficult path—and as they courageously take control of their lives.

My review:

Women on the Brink by G. Elizabeth Kretchmer. The World if Full of Possibilities if you Dare.

I was offered a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

I read and reviewed Kretchmer’s novel ‘The Damnable Legacy of a Minister’s Wife’ this summer and was fascinated not only by the story (the Alaskan setting also helped) but also by the complex characterisation and the psychological insights. When I was offered a copy of ‘Women on the Brink’ I didn’t hesitate.

The book combines short stories by Kretchmer with poems that are interpretations of themes, feelings or sensations related to the stories that follow. The title perfectly reflects the nature of those stories. The women in them are at different stages of their lives, from teenagers trying to find themselves, to elderly women escaping a retirement home, but they all find themselves at a point when they question their lives as they are and what they are going to do next.

I enjoyed the different settings and characters, the writing style, easy to read and varied, adapting well to the different stories —some more introspective, some more comedic— and also the open-endedness of them. In ‘Bridge Out’ the main character, who after retirement decides to become a trucker, mentions ‘Thelma and Louise’ and like that movie, the stories show women going their own way, and these are many different ways. Perhaps piloting their own plane, going away to help in a disaster zone, confronting their past… And we never see them crash. Because one of the messages of this collection is that the world is full of possibilities if you only dare.

For those who have read the author’s previous novel there are some familiar characters, and there are also characters mentioned in several stories and who appear in more than one, hinting at the interconnectedness between all of our lives.

Although I wouldn’t say my circumstances are exactly those of any of the women in the stories, I identified with the feelings and the emotions described, I cheered (worriedly) for the ‘Girls Against Perfection’, and I thoroughly enjoyed the transformation of Margee in ‘Coco Palms’, from obedient wife to avenging warrior.

I would quite happily have read more about any of the characters in the stories, and confess I could see quite a few of them turned into much longer works (I loved the light touch in ‘Accelerant’ and Maureen, the perhaps not-as-confused-as-she-seems grandmother, is a fabulous character). Despite their length, the author creates fully-fledged characters and situations in each one of the stories, condensing descriptions and sharpening her prose, with not a word spare.

The poems complement beautifully the book and provide an effective and lyrical link between them.

I recommend it to all readers, those who enjoy short fiction and poetry, and also those who don’t read short stories, because we should challenge ourselves and they might be pleasantly surprised.

Links:

http://www.amazon.com/dp/1513702351/

http://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/1513702351/

The link to the Author’s page (and don’t forget to follow!)

http://www.amazon.com/G.-Elizabeth-Kretchmer/e/B00L2T253I/

Thanks to S.R. Mallery and to G. Elizabeth Kretchmer for their novels, thanks to all of you for reading, and you know what to do, like, share, comment and CLICK!

Categories
New books

#Newbooks. ‘The Dolan Girls’ by S.R. Mallery (@SarahMallery1) and ‘Ludwika’ by Christoph Fischer (@CFFBooks). Strong women in fiction and history.

Hi all:

As you know Fridays is time to share new books and/or authors. Today, both of the authors who are visiting with new books have graced my blog before, and I’m pleased to say I’ve read some of their books (next Tuesday I’ll be sharing a review for one of Sarah Mallery’s novels) and they more than deserve to be featured here. They are fairly different, but I wanted to give you a chance to catch up with both before the holiday season.

First:’The Dolan Girls by S. R. Mallery

The Dolan Girls, by S. R. Mallery
The Dolan Girls, by S. R. Mallery

Set in Nebraska during the 1800s, whorehouse madams, ladies of the night, a schoolmarm, a Pinkerton detective, a Shakespeare-quoting old coot, brutal outlaws, and a horse-wrangler fill out the cast of characters. Add to the mix are colorful descriptions of an 1856 land rush, Buffalo Bill and his Wild West Show, Annie Oakley, bank/train robberies, small town local politics, and of course, romance. Two, in fact!

Links

http://www.amazon.com/dp/B018Y063XA/
http://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B018Y063XA/

And a couple of reviews (both 5 stars):
S.R. Mallery has done it again and in her usual style, she has done it well. I love historical fiction (and the books of S.R. Mallery) because I learn from them and they echo truth. The Dolan Girls is a story about three strong, resilient and very different women and their difficult and ardulous journey through life in the old West. Set in Nebraska after the California Gold Rush, the Dolan Girls is brimming with realism, history, vivid description and amazing characters designed and developed so well I wanted to know more about them.. If you’re a fan of the old west, strong women and enjoy a great read, this book is for you. Recommend highly!

 

Though I am not normally a reader of historical fiction, I do enjoy movies about the Old West. Films like ‘The Outlaw Josey Wales,’ ‘Unforgiven’ and ‘True Grit’ (the Coen Brothers’ version, not the original). There’s something very appealing about these desperate, iconic characters struggling to survive in a desolate setting, with the promise of Progress—usually in the form of a new railroad—looming somewhere on the horizon. When I read THE DOLAN GIRLS, I found many of the things I love—strong women, villains cut from the cloth of a harsh adherence to tradition, and some other pretty colorful characters, both real and fictional.

THE DOLAN GIRLS is western fiction as you’ve never read it. S.R. Mallery’s words thunder off the page like a cattle stampede. And her sharply written characters demonstrate that truly it was WOMEN who tamed the American West.

Don’t forget to check the author page in Amazon and follow her for news about her books.

http://www.amazon.com/S.-R.-Mallery/e/B00CIUW3W8/

And now,  Christoph Fischer, who has visited my blog a few times, has a new book out (just out on the 14th of December). The book goes back to history, one of his favourite subjects, and the story behind the writing of the book is fascinating too.

Ludwika by Christoph Fischer
Ludwika by Christoph Fischer

Ludwika: A Polish Woman’s Struggle To Survive In Nazi Germany by Christoph Fischer

It’s World War II and Ludwika Gierz, a young Polish woman, is forced to leave her family and go to Nazi Germany to work for an SS officer. There, she must walk a tightrope, learning to live as a second-class citizen in a world where one wrong word could spell disaster and every day could be her last. Based on real events, this is a story of hope amid despair, of love amid loss . . . ultimately, it’s one woman’s story of survival.
Editorial Review:

“This is the best kind of fiction—it’s based on the real life. Ludwika’s story highlights the magnitude of human suffering caused by WWII, transcending multiple generations and many nations.

WWII left no one unscarred, and Ludwika’s life illustrates this tragic fact. But she also reminds us how bright the human spirit can shine when darkness falls in that unrelenting way it does during wartime.

This book was a rollercoaster ride of action and emotion, skilfully told by Mr. Fischer, who brought something fresh and new to a topic about which thousands of stories have already been told.”

Links:

http://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B018UTHX7A/

http://www.amazon.com/dp/B018UTHX7A/

Paper:

http://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/1519539118/

http://www.amazon.com/dp/1519539118/

Don’t forget to check his author page in Amazon, and follow for news of his books:

http://www.amazon.co.uk/Christoph-Fischer/e/B00CLO9VMQ/

I share a couple of the posts Christoph has written about the book in his own blog, that include excerpts. There are others, so don’t be shy and wander around a bit.

https://writerchristophfischer.wordpress.com/2015/12/04/ludwika-a-polish-womans-struggle-to-survive-in-nazi-germany-is-available-for-pre-order/

https://writerchristophfischer.wordpress.com/2015/12/10/displaced-polish-people-after-ww2-and-a-first-excerpt-from-ludwika-a-polish-womans-struggle-to-survive-in-nazi-germany/

And a couple of five star reviews:

Ludwika: A Polish Woman’s Struggle To Survive In Nazi Germany by Christoph Fischer starts with an introduction to the story’s protagonist, Ludwika Gierz, a 4 foot-ten inches, 22 year-old, beautiful Polish woman with piercing blue eyes. Children like her because of her friendly disposition. She has a 5 year-old daughter Irena from a non-marital relationship she had years ago, after which the father of the child left town. The well-written prose starts with undertones interjected on the horizon and we know there will be danger: the German invasion and fleeing of the townspeople, including Ludwika’s father, who disappeared with the retreat of troops; and the fact that Ludwika’s looks, her beauty, was once an asset but now is a liability as it attracts brutish German soldiers. It is a time of war with Hitler’s regime moving in and taking over, which establishes the story’s tension and conflict. In her town in Poland, Ludwika works her farm with her younger sister and mother. Siblings are mentioned, including her brother Franz who drowned in a river 2 years earlier, the memory still raw and painful. The story is off to a good start as we care about the protagonist and sense the danger that’s been alluded to. The story progresses and Ludwika encounters a Nazi soldier on the road who becomes attracted to her and protective of her, granting her rights others do not have. As Jews are being hauled off and the elderly assassinated, Ludwika is learning German from the translator that her “Nazi friend” has enlisted to help him. There’s now enough conflict in the story to propel it forward in this horrific time in history where madness prevailed. Without retelling this page turner suffice it to say that it goes deep and does not hold back as the plot moves through Ludwika’s drive to survive, and all the emotional turmoil, good and bad, that goes along with it. I’ve read several other books by this author and have to say that next to The Luck of the Weissensteiner’s this is my favorite.

And a brief one but it says it all:

Great to see Christoph Fischer, author of The Three Nations trilogy, back with another classic world war 2 story. This is probably his tightest, best work yet. It’s intense and cinematic. Fans of world war two dramas will eat this one up. Well done!

Thanks so much to S. R. Mallery and Christoph Fischer for their books, thanks to you for reading, and you know what to do, like, share, comment and CLICK!

 

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