Beth's Book-Nook Blog

Reviews of What I've Been Reading….

The Sound of Freedom by Kathy Kacer

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This was a wonderful young readers’ story about a family escaping Europe during WWII through an orchestra that was created to save Jewish musicians in the Holocaust. Based on true events, I’d recommend it for grades 5 and up.

Thank you for my e-copy!

Description

A Note From the Publisher

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TWO JOURNEYS HOME by Kevin O’Connell

A while back, I read and reviewed BEYOND DERRYNANE by Kevin O’Connell, a story of an Irish family of “fallen aristocracy” in the 1700’s and how they lived with the courts of Europe when ousted from Ireland. I was thrilled that Mr. O’Connell reached out to offer me TWO JOURNEYS HOME, a sequel to DERRYNANE that continues Eileen’s story.

Here’s the overview:

It’s now the late-Summer of 1767. As the eagerly anticipated sequel to Beyond Derrynane opens, having spent almost six eventful years at the court of Maria Theresa, Eileen O’Connell has availed herself of a fortuitous opportunity to travel back to Ireland.

Her vivacious personality matched only by her arresting physical presence, Eileen returns to Derrynane this time not as a teenage widow but, rather, as one of the most recognised figures at the glittering Habsburg court. Before departing Ireland several months later she experiences a whirlwind romance, leading to a tumult of betrayal and conflict within the O’Connell clan. Once back in Vienna she unexpectedly finds her responsibilities as governess to the youngest Habsburg archduchess now linked to relations between France and Austria.

Abigail, rather than being eclipsed by her colourful younger sister, has instead ascended to the vaulted position of principal lady-in-waiting to Empress Maria Theresa. No longer “just a girl from deep in Kerry,” she is a beloved – and powerful – figure at court.

Hugh O’Connell, the youngest of the large family, leaves behind waning adolescence and a fleeting attraction to the youngest archduchess when he begins a military career in the Irish Brigade of the armies of Louis XV. But, perhaps as a foreshadowing of his adult life and career, more royal entanglement awaits him in France …

In the continuing saga, the O’Connells will confront intrigue, romance – even violence. Despite their innate wisdom, cunning and guile, what their futures hold remains to be seen.

With his uniquely-descriptive prose, Kevin O’Connell again deftly weaves threads of historical fact and fancy to create a colourful tapestry affording unique insights into the courts of eighteenth-century Catholic Europe as well as Protestant Ascendancy-ruled Ireland. Watch as the epic unfolds amongst the O’Connells, their friends and enemies, as the tumultuously-dangerous worlds in which they dwell continue to gradually – but inexorably – change.

Along with Beyond Derrynane, Two Journeys Home – and the two books to follow in The Derrynane Saga – comprise an enthralling series of historical novels, presenting a sweeping chronicle, set against the larger drama of Europe in the early stages of significant change, dramatising the roles, which have never before been treated in fiction, played by a small number of expatriate Irish Catholics of the fallen “Gaelic Aristocracy” at the courts of Catholic Europe, as well as relating their complex, at times dangerous, lives at home in an Ireland still controlled by the Sassenach.

In addition to Eileen’s, the books trace the largely-fictional lives of several other O’Connells of Derrynane, it is the tantalisingly few facts that are historically documented about them which provide the basic facts which give rise to the tale, into which strategic additions of numerous historical and fictional personalities and events mesh seamlessly.

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O’Connell is a fantastic storyteller. His prose is so rich and beautiful, it is a joy to read. The story is compelling and the characters are memorable — all the more so because they are based on real people. I must admit, I am Irish but I did not know about this piece of Irish history. It is fascinating, but historical fiction at the same time – my favorite kind of read: keeps my interest and I learn something new!

Thank you to Mr. O’Connell for my copy. Highly recommended for historical fiction lovers!

About the Author

Kevin O’Connell is a native of of New York City, descended from a young officer of what had – from 1690 to 1792 – been the Irish Brigade of the French army, believed to have arrived in French Canada sometime following the execution of Queen Marie Antoinette in October, 1793. At least one grandson subsequently returned to Ireland; Mr. O’Connell’s own grandparents arrived in New York in the early Twentieth Century. He holds both Irish and American citizenship. Given this heritage, he has been a serious student of Eighteenth Century Irish and European history for virtually all his life; one significant aspect of this has been a continuing scholarly as well as personal interest in the extended O’Connell family. As a result, in 2014, Mr. O’Connell began writing a series of historical fiction novels, now known as the Derrynane Saga. His first book, Beyond Derrynane: A Novel of Eighteenth Century Europe, was published by The Gortcullinane Press in July 2016, is in global circulation and has received a range of positive critical reviews, in the United States, the UK and in Europe. An alumnus of Don Bosco Preparatory School, he is a graduate of Providence College and Georgetown University Law Centre. For much of his forty-plus year long legal career, Mr. O’Connell has practiced international business transactional law, primarily involving direct-investment matters, throughout Asia, Europe and the Middle East O’Connell is married, has five children and ten grandchildren. He resides with his wife, Laurette, and their golden retriever, Katie, near Annapolis, Maryland, USA.

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Rhys Bowen’s On Her Majesty’s Frightfully Secret Service

 

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If you read me, you know I love ALL Rhys Bowen’s novels, but I particularly enjoy the Royal Spyness Mysteries with Lady Georgiana and her adventures that are both exciting and funny. I never find this series boring as each installment is unique and engaging.

Here’s what is happening this time:

Description (via Net Galley)

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Poor Georgie! Will she ever be able to marry Darcy?? Will good friend Belinda ever think of anyone except herself and her enjoyment? Will Georgie’s mother act like a mother for once?
You’ll have to read it to find out!
I hope Ms. Bowen continues writing these novels for quite some time. She’s a bit of an Agatha Christie — you just never get tired of her!
Thank you for my review e-copy!
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THE FINISHING SCHOOL by Joanna Goodman

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I had heard about this book via the blogosphere, but I couldn’t get it via my usual sources; thus I was thrilled when the author kindly sent me a copy of it!

Here’s the overview via Amazon:

In this suspenseful, provocative novel of friendship, secrets, and deceit, a successful writer returns to her elite Swiss boarding school to get to the bottom of a tragic accident that took place while she was a student twenty years earlier.

How far would you go to uncover the truth?

One spring night in 1998 the beautiful Cressida Strauss plunges from a fourth-floor balcony at the Lycée Internationale Suisse with catastrophic consequences. Loath to draw negative publicity to the school, a bastion of European wealth and glamour, officials quickly dismiss the incident as an accident, but questions remain: Was it a suicide attempt? Or was Cressida pushed? It was no secret that she had a selfish streak and had earned as many enemies as allies in her tenure at the school. For her best friend, scholarship student Kersti Kuusk, the lingering questions surrounding Cressida’s fall continue to nag long after she leaves the Lycée.

Kersti marries and becomes a bestselling writer, but never stops wondering about Cressida’s obsession with the Helvetian Society—a secret club banned years before their arrival at the school—and a pair of its members who were expelled. When Kersti is invited as a guest to the Lycée’s 100th Anniversary, she begins probing the cover-up, unearthing a frightening underbelly of lies and abuse at the prestigious establishment. And in one portentous moment, Kersti makes a decision that will connect her to Cressida forever and raise the stakes dangerously high in her own desire to solve the mystery and redeem her past.

An unputdownable read as clever as it is compelling, The Finishing School offers a riveting glimpse into a privileged, rarefied world in which nothing is as it appears.

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So – if you read me, you know that I love novels that take place in boarding schools and that are suspenseful. This storyline pulled me in from the start and kept me reading. It does toggle back and forth in time, from the girls’ time there as students to Kersti in modern life, which I know some readers don’t like. I did figure out most of the mystery well in advance of its big reveal, but I enjoyed it anyway. At first I thought I would give it to my 8th grader to read when I was done, but sexual content and abuse included makes me say this one is really for adults or older YA readers.

Quick to read and with a story that can haunt you, The Finishing School is a suspenseful summer find! Thank you for my review copy!

Find it on Amazon where I am an Associate:

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HFVBTour for BEYOND DERRYNANE by Kevin O’Connell

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I’m so happy to be taking part in the Historical Fiction Blog Tour for DERRYNANE, a story of Ireland in the 1700’s and the start of a saga. It is a beautifully written and engaging story, and the start of a larger chronicle. Here’s the scoop:

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Beyond Derrynane by Kevin O’ Connell

Publication Date: July 7, 2016
Gortcullinane Press
eBook & Paperback; 348 Pages

Series: The Derrynane Saga, Volume 1
Genre: Historical Fiction

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Wed in an arranged marriage to a man nearly fifty years her senior, sixteen-year-old Eileen O’Connell goes from being one of five unmarried sisters to become the mistress of Ballyhar, the great estate of John O’Connor, one of the wealthiest and most influential men in Ireland.

When O’Connor dies suddenly seven months into their marriage, Eileen must decide whether she will fulfill her brother’s strategic goals for her family by marrying her late husband’s son.

Headstrong and outspoken, Eileen frustrates her brother’s wishes, as, through the auspices of her uncle, General Moritz O’Connell of the Imperial Austrian Army, she, along with her ebullient elder sister, Abigail, spend the ensuing richly-dramatic and eventful years at the court of the Empress Maria Theresa in Vienna.The sisters learn to navigate the complex and frequently contradictory ways of the court–making a place for themselves in a world far different from remote Derrynane. Together with the general, they experience a complex life at the pinnacle of the Hapsburg Empire.

Beyond Derrynane – and the three books to follow in The Derrynane Saga – will present a sweeping chronicle, set against the larger drama of Europe in the early stages of significant change, dramatising the roles, which have never before been treated in fiction, played by a small number of expatriate Irish Catholics of the fallen “Gaelic Aristocracy” (of which the O’Connells were counted as being amongst its few basically still-intact families) at the courts of Catholic Europe, as well as relating their complex, at times dangerous, lives at home in Protestant Ascendancy-ruled Ireland.

In addition to Eileen’s, the books trace the largely-fictional lives of several other O’Connells of Derrynane, it is the tantalisingly few facts that are historically documented about them which provide the basic threads around which the tale itself is woven, into which strategic additions of numerous historical and fictional personalities and events intertwine seamlessly.

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Me again — I loved the character of Eileen in this book. She was quite strong and independent. As someone who’s great grandparents came from Ireland, I thought I was fairly familiar with Irish history, but I really did not know about the expat Irish who went to court in Europe (full disclosure: I came from a fairly long line of farmers not aristocracy!). This book was so interesting and also well-written.

Thank you for making me part of the tour and for my review copy!

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | IndieBound

About the Author

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Kevin O’Connell is a native of New York City and a descendant of a young officer of what had—from 1690 to 1792—been the Irish Brigade of the French army, believed to have arrived in French Canada following the execution of Queen Marie Antoinette in October of 1793. At least one grandson subsequently returned to Ireland and Mr. O’Connell’s own grandparents came to New York in the early twentieth century. He holds both Irish and American citizenship.

He is a graduate of Providence College and Georgetown University Law Centre.

For more than four decades, O’Connell has practiced international business transactional law, primarily involving direct-investment matters, throughout Asia (principally China), Europe, and the Middle East.

Mr. O’Connell has been a serious student of selected (especially the Eighteenth Century) periods of the history of Ireland for virtually all of his life; one significant aspect of this has been a continuing scholarly as well as personal interest in the extended O’Connell family at Derrynane, many even distant and long-ago members of which, especially the characters about whom he writes, he has “known” intimately since childhood.

The father of five children and grandfather of ten, he and his wife, Laurette, live with their golden retriever, Katie, near Annapolis, Maryland.

Blog Tour Schedule

Monday, January 16
Kick Off at Passages to the Past

Tuesday, January 17
Review at Broken Teepee

Wednesday, January 18
Review at Luxury Reading
Review at A Chick Who Reads

Thursday, January 19
Review at Books, Dreams, Life

Friday, January 20
Review at The Book Junkie Reads

Sunday, January 22
Review at Carole’s Ramblings

Monday, January 23
Review at Jorie Loves a Story

Tuesday, January 24
Review at Kinx’s Book Nook

Wednesday, January 25
Review at A Bookaholic Swede
Excerpt at A Literary Vacation

Friday, January 27
Review at CelticLady’s Reviews
Interview at Dianne Ascroft’s Blog

Monday, January 30
Review at Beth’s Book Nook Blog

Tuesday, January 31
Review at Book Nerd

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THE SULTAN, THE VAMPYR, AND THE SOOTHSAYER by Lucille Turner — Guest Post included!

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I recently read Lucille Turner’s previous book, LA GIOCONDA, about Leonardo da Vinci, and loved it, so I was thrilled when she offered me a copy of her new book: The Sultan, the Vampyr, and the Soothsayer. This is a fascinating account of the historical character behind Dracula.

Here’s the overview:

1442: When Vlad Dracula arrives at the court of the Ottoman Sultan Murad II, his life is turned upside down. His father Dracul cannot protect him; he must battle his demons alone. And when the Sultan calls for the services of a soothsayer, even the shrewd teller of fortunes is unprepared for what he learns.

Meanwhile, the Ottoman Turks are advancing through the Balkans with Vienna in their sights and Constantinople, the Orthodox Greek capital, within their grasp. As Eastern Europe struggles against the tide of a Muslim advance it cannot counter, Western Christendom needs only one prize to overthrow its enemies.

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Ms. Turner is an excellent writer and also an excellent historian. I had to think that this book took hours of research as it was so incredibly detailed. I will admit to knowing next to nothing about life in eastern Europe in the 1400’s, and I found the story fascinating. I was particularly impressed with the level of visual detail included and how I could easily imagine the scenes.

I had some questions for Lucille regarding her novel and she kindly agreed to guest post with me today!

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–How much of this story is true?

True to the genre of historical fiction, the historical facts about the life of Vlad Dracula, his family and that of the Ottoman dynasty have been preserved in so far as they are known. Vlad Dracula and his younger brother, Radu, spent a number of years at the palace of the Ottoman Sultan Murad II, where they encountered the Sultan’s notorious son Mehmet. The unsustainable politics that forced the Dracul family into such a corner were certainly responsible for the tragedies the family as a whole was forced to endure. As for the parts of the book that touch upon the myth of the vampire, or strigoi, in Romania, these are based on documented evidence from the region itself, which has a cult of the dead on a par with Ancient Egypt. I drew on this folklore when I wrote the book, as well as on the stories of the Goths, and their close cousins the Getae, of Gets, who populated the Black Sea regions in ancient times. There I found a link to the vampire myth in the legend of the wolf-men of the Goths and the ‘twice-born’ of the Gets. It was these legends and myths, together with the local customs and traditions based around the undisputed existence of the Romanian strigoi that helped me re-imagine the connection between the Dracul family and their ‘vampire’ future.

— How did you research your novel?

The initial inspiration for The Sultan, the Vampyr and the Soothsayer came after I visited Istanbul in 2012. One of the sultanate’s most famous hostages was Vlad Dracula, whose family played a major role in defending Christendom from the Turks, although I didn’t know that at the time. What fascinated me about the remains of the Topkapı palace at Istanbul was the harem, which was a real labyrinth of courtyards and rooms. It struck me as a prison, which is effectively what it was, even though many historians stress the power that certain women had at one point in the seraglio of the Ottoman court. Nevertheless, it was a kind of female prison, and the female characters in my book, on the Ottoman side, are forced to battle against not only their keepers, the men, but also against their fellow inmates, the women — none of which makes for an easy life.

The second element of the book, the Romanian, or Rumani one, was suggested by a book on Romanian folklore, which I discovered in a French library. The book is out of print now; if that book was not the last copy in circulation, it was certainly one of the last. It was a documented exploration of the myth of the Romanian vampire, complete with bibliography. It gave me nightmares for weeks.

–How does your story differ from “Dracula” by Bram Stoker?

Bram Stoker’s novel was not really historical fiction. It was a novel inspired by a real historical character, Dracula. It took the myth of the vampire, which already existed and has existed since practically the dawn of civilisation, and made it into a sensation by adding a good dose of sex, fangs and blood. Certainly, there is a connection between all

of these elements and the vampire, or strigoi of myth (although I would seriously argue against the fangs), in that the strigoi was often said to revisit its relatives or loved ones first, during what is called its ‘second life’ — and if you substitute family ties for ‘blood’ ties, the connection makes even more sense. But The Sultan, the Vampyr and the Soothsayer is really historical fiction with an element of myth running through it. Because it is historical fiction, it delivers the bigger picture around the lives of the Dracul family, including their intriguing involvement with the Ottomans of Turkey and the Greeks of Constantinople. The novel’s principal themes emerge from this historical perspective.

 

THANK YOU, LUCILLE TURNER, FOR SHARING YOUR TIME AND YOUR TALENT WITH US TODAY!

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OXBLOOD by Annalisa Grant

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Description via Net Galley —

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For my Ears: THE LOST WIFE by Alyson Richman

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I was currently reading an ARC of THE VELVET HOURS and enjoying it, so I got THE LOST WIFE, also by Alyson Richman, to listen to in the car.

Here’s an overview via GoodReads:

A rapturous novel of first love in a time of war-from the celebrated author of The Rhythm of Memory and The Last Van Gogh. In pre-war Prague, the dreams of two young lovers are shattered when they are separated by the Nazi invasion. Then, decades later, thousands of miles away in New York, there’s an inescapable glance of recognition between two strangers…

Providence is giving Lenka and Josef one more chance. From the glamorous ease of life in Prague before the Occupation, to the horrors of Nazi Europe, The Lost Wife explores the power of first love, the resilience of the human spirit- and the strength of memory.

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I loved this story, which moved back and forth through time — from the present, to pre-WWII, to post-WWII, to the present. Josef and Lenka are separated by circumstances in the war, and both think the other is dead. Yet throughout their lives they never forget each other.

A lovely and touching story, it is read in two voices (George Guidall for Josef and Suzanne Toren for Lenka), and made me wonder: “Could something like this really happen?” Apparently yes, as in the afterword Ms. Richman states that reading about a reunited couple who thought the other was dead in WWII gave her the idea for this story.

Recommended for those who like the WWII genre – in audio or paper!

I got mine via Audible with my monthly credit.

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HFVBTour of THE LAST WIFE OF ATTILA THE HUN by Joan Schweighardt

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I’m excited today to be part of the blog tour for THE LAST WIFE OF ATTILA THE HUN.

Here’s the scoop from HFVBT:

The Last Wife of Attila the Hun
by Joan Schweighardt

Publication Date: October 13, 2015
Booktrope Editions
Paperback; eBook; 272 Pages

Genre: Literary/Historical Fiction

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Two threads are flawlessly woven together in this sweeping historical novel. In one, Gudrun, a Burgundian noblewoman, dares to enter the City of Attila to give its ruler what she hopes is a cursed sword; the second reveals the unimaginable events that have driven her to this mission.

Based in part on the true history of the times and in part on the same Nordic legends that inspired Wagner’s Ring Cycle and other great works of art, The Last Wife of Attila the Hun offers readers a thrilling story of love, betrayal, passion and revenge, all set against an ancient backdrop itself gushing with intrigue. Lovers of history and fantasy alike will find realism and legend at work in Joan Schweighardt’s latest offering.

AMAZON | BARNES & NOBLE | ITUNES

Praise

“The hero-tales of the Germanic peoples form a glowing thread in the tapestry of European literature. The Last Wife of Attila the Hun presents one of the greatest of those legends from a woman’s perspective, with emotion as well as action, bringing new meaning to an ancient tale.” – Diana L. Paxson, author of the Wodan’s Children trilogy, and co-author of the New York Times bestseller Priestess of Avalon

“Richly woven, yet simply told, The Last Wife of Attila the Hun is an epic delivered in lucid and lyric verse. Schweighardt creates a mesmerizing story deserving to be read aloud and celebrated like all the world’s best tales.” – Julie Shigekuni, author of A Bridge Between Us, Invisible Gardens and Unending Nova.

About the Author

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Joan Schweighardt is the author of five novels. A former independent publisher, she makes her living editing, writing and ghostwriting for private and corporate clients.

WEBSITE | FACEBOOK | TWITTER

Blog Tour Schedule

Monday, December 14
Spotlight at Flashlight Commentary

Tuesday, December 15
Spotlight at Unshelfish

Wednesday, December 16
Review at History From a Woman’s Perspective

Thursday, December 17
Review at Book Nerd

Friday, December 18
Review at Beth’s Book Nook Blog
Spotlight at CelticLady’s Reviews

Saturday, December 19
Spotlight at Svetlana’s Reads and Views

Sunday, December 20
Review at Carole’s Ramblings
Review at One Book Shy of a Full Shelf

Monday, December 21
Review at Let Them Read Books
Spotlight at A Literary Vacation

And here’s a Giveaway!

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Giveaway

To win a Paperback copy of The Last Wife of Attila the Hun please enter the giveaway via the GLEAM form below.

Rules

– Giveaway starts at 12:01am EST on December 14th and ends at 11:59pm EST on December 21st. You must be 18 or older to enter.
– Giveaway is open internationally.
– Only one entry per household.
– All giveaway entrants agree to be honest and not cheat the systems; any suspect of fraud is decided upon by blog/site owner and the sponsor, and entrants may be disqualified at our discretion
– Winner has 48 hours to claim prize or new winner is chosen.

 

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Well, I am very excited about this book (which I am still in the midst of reading). I have to say that I know little about Attila the Hun. I remember reading somewhere that the Huns were quite fierce and feared. Beyond that, my only other “experience” of Attila is in the Night at the Museum movies. This book is so interesting to me as it’s all new – the time period, the legends, the people. The story is well-written and holds my attention, and I look forward to the conclusion.

I’m so glad I got to be part of this tour – thank you for my e-copy to review!

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Review: LITTLE WOMAN IN BLUE by Jeannine Atkins

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So – we all know my obsession with all things Alcott, right? Well, this summer at the Summer Conversational Series, I met Jeannine Atkins, who was quite charming, and she was speaking about May Alcott and her new novel about her (which came out in September). Of course I NEEDED this book and right away. Jeannine kindly gifted me with an ARC and I tucked it away so that I could savor it.

If you know me, you know that I am very, very picky when I read about the Alcotts. If stories don’t fit what I deem to be true and right, well then I don’t want any part of it. I’ve been know to stop reading a book, shout “Hogwash!”, and actually toss it away if it contains what I perceive to be Alcott sacrilege. Jeannine was such a genuinely nice person that I had my fingers crossed that I would not be doing any book tossing!

Well, no worries. This book is an absolute delight. Right from the first pages I knew Jeannine had done her homework. There is SO MUCH of the real Alcotts included in her pages, from things they said to the flowers they picked to the food they ate to the people they visited. This book is so on target that I know Jeannine had to have spent hours reading and digesting the real journals and letters of the family. Kudos to her!

If you only know the Alcotts as the family of Little Women, then you are in for a treat. Even if you only know me peripherally, you know that I am always talking about the whole family and how fascinating they all were. May is my favorite. Sweet, beautiful May (“Amy” for you Alcott newbies) was the youngest, the most beautiful, the most vivacious, and the talented artist who spent her late teen/early adult years developing her art, teaching art to the young people of Concord, and drawing on the walls of her bedroom at Orchard House (still seen today!). May was determined to see and study in Europe and to become a true artist. This book is May’s story — her friendship with Julian Hawthorne, her complicated relationship with Louisa, her love for her family, and her struggle to become an artist when female artists were not encouraged. It is also May’s love story of her relationship with Ernst and her dream of one day being both an artist and a mother.

Now I’ll be honest — SPOILER ALERT — I dragged out this book so that it didn’t have to end. I cried the last three chapters because I know what was coming. I just have always loved May (the REAL May, not “Amy”). I loved this book so much!

Jeannine, if you are reading this, I am sending you a virtual hug because I’m just so happy that you portrayed the Alcotts so realistically. Thank you so much for your beautiful novel of “summer’s golden child”.

To the rest of you – even if you are just a little bit curious, go out and get this book – pronto! You can thank me later.

(picture from google images)

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