American heiress Consuelo Vanderbilt provides a rich inspiration for this fictionalized novel of her life beginning in the 1890s. In American Duchess, Consuelo, a member of the privileged Vanderbilt family, is engaged and married, against her will, to the 9th Duke of Marlborough. Overruled by her dominating and controlling mother Alva, she is merely a pawn in Alva’s desire for an even higher social status as well as the Duke’s need to preserve his family’s estate and financial well-being.
We first meet Consuelo on her wedding day to the Duke of Marlborough in 1895. She is in tears as she is about to marry not the man she loves, but the man her mother has chosen for her. With her sense of duty to her family’s legacy, she carries on and enters the church to marry the Duke. It is only after her marriage that we learn that she was actually in love with a man who her parents did not approve of as a suitable match for their daughter. Alva has her sights set on matching her daughter with British royalty and does everything in her power to play matchmaker. Blenheim Palace, the seat of the Duke’s family, is in need of money to maintain the estate and who better to supply the money than the Vanderbilt family with a bride for the Duke?
After the wedding, Consuelo, now the Duchess of Marlborough, attempts to find her place, helping the less fortunate in the surrounding areas and learning more about her new role as head of the household. Throughout her time at Blenheim Palace, a close ally emerges in her husband’s cousin, Winston Churchill, and the two share a close friendship. As time passes, the relationship between she and the Duke grows more and more strained to a breaking point. Consuelo finds the strength to eventually follow her heart and make difficult, but necessary decisions.
This novel is a fictionalized account of a fascinating, yet little known historical figure whose life did not start the way she had envisioned. Throughout her life she gathered the strength and courage to live her life on her own terms. Many believe that Meghan Markle, the Duchess of Sussex, is the first American born Duchess but it turns out that over 100 years ago, England welcomed an American Duchess, Consuelo Vanderbilt. This novel gives the reader a good sense of the challenges she faced in her new country.
I have inadvertently been reading a lot of historical fiction about World War II. How is this inadvertent you ask? I put a bunch of audiobooks on hold through OverDrive and as it so happened, five came ready at the same time. The last two that I’ve listened to have all been about World War II with the main women both playing the violin and one of the main men named Max. During the second book, I had to pay very close attention, so I wouldn’t mix up the books. Hidden Among the Stars was the second World War II fiction I listened to this week. It may be time for a lighthearted read…
Hidden Among the Stars by Melanie Dobson slips from the past to the future in this gripping tale of hidden treasure, a castle, and ordinary people fighting to resist evil any way possible. This piece of inspirational fiction unites 1938 Vienna, Austria with 2018 United States.
1938. Austria. Hitler’s troops are sweeping into Vienna, much to the chagrin of Max Dornbach. With political views that differ from his parents, Max has no desire to shun his Jewish friends. Max offers to help his Jewish friends hide their most valuable possessions, so they won’t fall into the hands of the Nazis. Max works closely with the father of Luzia Weiss, a young Jewish woman he has grown to love. Smuggling those goods to his family’s summer estate near Hallstatt, Max quickly finds himself needing the help of Annika Knopf. Annika’s father is the current caretaker of the summer estate, meaning that Annika and Max have grown up together. Annika has loved Max for as long as she can remember and has thusly decided to help him however she can. Her loyalty and love for Max is stretched when Max brings Luzia with him on one of his trips to the summer estate. Agreeing to hide Luzia in the castle, Annika doesn’t realize the full extent of what is on the line until the Nazis come to Hallstatt and destroy the castle. Luzia and the treasure have disappeared, throwing everyone’s lives into turmoil.
Flash forward eighty years. Callie Randall may not be living the life she thought she’d have at this point, but she’s mostly happy with what she has. Callie is running a small local bookstore with her sister where she is known as Storygirl with amazing striped socks. Callie also runs a blog where she writes stories about different authors. While working on her current article, Callie stumbles upon a cryptic list in an old edition of Bambi that introduces her to the bewildering world of Annika’s story. Digging into Annika’s life, Callie finds that this story may be connected to the life of a close dear friend of hers. In order to find the truth, Callie must venture outside of the safe place she has built for herself. She soon finds herself on an adventure with a chance for new love and long-awaited for answers.
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If you could read a book and get a glimpse into another society, would you? By reading fiction books, I will often find a topic that intrigues me that will then push me to read a nonfiction book about the same topic. It’s an enjoyable cycle! Historical fiction is one of the biggest genres that leads me to nonfiction books. I love fact-checking the fiction book to see how closely the author wrote to what happened in real life. Historical fiction that focuses on remarkable women is one of my favorites. Stephanie Barron’s latest works falls under this category.
That Churchill Woman by Stephanie Barron chronicles the life of one of history’s most remarkable, controversial, and influential women: Winston Churchill’s scandalous American mother, Jennie Jerome. Jennie was born in Brooklyn to a prosperous American financier father and a mother with high social ambitions for both herself and her daughters. Eventually ending up in Europe with her mother and siblings after a scandal rocked her parents, Jennie realizes that she is responsible for securing her own destiny. Jennie is wealthy, privileged, and raised by her father to be fiercely independent. The moment she landed in Victorian England, Jennie and her family took the area by storm.
Jennie runs into Lord Randolph Churchill at a party and decides she wants to marry him when she is just nineteen years old. The shocker? They have only known each other for three days when Jennie decides to marry him. Once they are married, she is instantly swept into a crazy whirlwind of British politics and the social climbers that surround Bertie, Prince of Wales. Jennie is now the new Lady Randolph Churchill, a brash American woman who thinks for herself and is careless of English society rules. She becomes a London sensation, traveling without her husband to Marlborough House and gathering admirers and critics along the way. Since Jennie knows about politics and is also a gifted piano player, she uses her talents to begin shaping her husband’s rise in Parliament. Jennie is also widely known as the mother of Winston Churchill. She uses her talents to help navigate Winston’s journey into manhood. He had a difficult childhood, but Jennie made sure to be at his side.
As the Churchill family becomes more influential, scandal and tragedy begin to strike them. Jennie has had lovers besides her husband, but none mean as much to her as Count Charles Kinsky. Kinsky is a man who loves horses like she does and passionately loves Jennie the way her husband can’t. Once Bertie, Prince of Wales, catches wind of their affair, Jennie is forced to rethink their love as she quickly realizes just how much her every move is judged in public. She must decide how to balance duty and desire, a choice which has consequences that ripple across the Atlantic. Jennie’s decision takes her to a new level of scandal as her children’s lives and all of those around her are greatly affected. This novel is a loving portrait of a woman who helped shape the Churchill era. Jennie’s legacy may be of a difficult and scandalous woman, but the balancing act she works out between obligation, desire, duty, love, and freedom is a testament to the soul of a woman who through sheer force of will was able to alter the course of history.
Girls Burn Brighter by Shobha Rao is the story of two young girls who are trying to find their place in a world that values men higher than women. Poornima and Savitha are the eldest girls in their respective families in India. Chance leads the girls together where they strike up a once-in-a-lifetime friendship. Poornima’s mother died when she was young, leaving her to fill the mother role to all of her younger siblings long before she was actually ready to fulfill it. Working hard to help her father provide for the family, Poornima quickly realizes that even though her family isn’t dirt poor, they’re still scraping by. To help supplement their income, Poornima’s father hires Savitha to work one of their sari looms, thus allowing Poornima’s family to bring in more money while also giving Savitha money for hers. Poornima and Savitha begin to turn to each other for comfort. Savitha’s family is more impoverished than Poornima’s, but Savitha quickly shows Poornima how to find joy and beauty in the little day to day parts of life. Savitha’s infectious personality finally allows Poornima to imagine the possibility of a fulfilling life beyond the arranged marriage her father is so desperately looking for her to fill.
Just when Poornima and Savitha have reached a comfortable rhythm, a devastating act of cruelty and violence occurs that destroys their newfound joy. As a result, Savitha is ruined and driven away from their small village. Poornima is wrecked and decides to do everything in her power to find Savitha, so they can live a happy life together. Poornima’s journey takes her away from everything that she is accustomed to and everything that she holds dear. Poornima finds herself searching India’s dark underworld for any sign of Savitha. Willing to do anything to find her, Poornima goes on a journey across India and even ends up traveling to the United States.
This novel alternates between both Poornima and Savitha’s perspectives. They have never lost hope that they will eventually find each other, even when circumstances turn dangerous. Rao tackles many urgent issues facing women across the world: immigration, feminism, human trafficking, and domestic abuse, just to name a few. These issues provide a solid foundation for Rao to explore how friendship and the will to survive can help women work towards a better, more hopeful future.
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I’m an anxious flyer. The whole process terrifies me. To keep myself calm, I usually avoid fiction that has anything to do with planes or crashes. Jessica Barry’s novel, Freefall, was a notable exception as from the very beginning, readers know that the main character survived! A novel involving a plane crash with a positive outcome? Yes please!
Freefall by Jessica Barry is a psychological thriller following the lives of Maggie Carpenter and her daughter Allison. Maggie lives in Owl Creek, Maine. At home one day, Maggie isn’t surprised to see a police officer at her front door, given that he’s the husband of one of her best friends. What he has to say, however, shocks her to her core. Allison is dead. She died in a private plane crash in the mountains in Colorado. People keep telling Maggie that Allison’s death was a terrible accident, but she finds that hard to believe. Allison has always been a survivor. Looking for answers, Maggie digs deep into Allison’s life and the situation that led to her death. Maggie lost touch with her daughter over two years ago, but she hopes that Allison’s life hasn’t changed that much since then. Her research pulls up startling revelations that Maggie isn’t prepared to know, but what she finds gives her more hope that Allison is alive. Maggie must do everything she can to find Allison, even if that means looking through every detail of her daughter’s life.
While Maggie learns more about Allison, Allison herself is struggling to survive. She has survived the plane crash and is wounded. Hiking through the mountains, Allison is running from her past. As she fights her way to freedom and struggles to survive in the wilderness, Allison has to come to terms with the mess her life has become. She has lost her perfect fiancé and the luxurious way of life to which she has become accustomed. As she trudges through the forest looking through any signs of civilization, Allison frequently flashes back to previous moments in her life. Engaged to wealthy pharmaceutical CEO Ben Gardner, Allison thought she had it all. How did she end up with so many dark secrets? How did she end up willing to leave it all behind? How will she survive? What if the people after her get to her mother? Allison must make it back to her mother in time. Hoping against all hope that Maggie is safe, Allison fights to get to Maine no matter the consequences.
This book is told from both Maggie and Allison’s perspectives giving readers a glimpse into how far a mother and daughter are willing to go when the other is in danger. Even though they are separated by distance and their relationship is strained, both Maggie and Allison feel a tug connecting them as each works to protect and keep the other from coming to any harm.
Also I forgot to mention that Maggie is a retired librarian! How cool is that?? Read this book and let me know what you think of it in the comments below.
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In the chaotic aftermath of World War II three very different lives intersect as they all seek one goal – to find and bring a cold-blooded killer to justice in The Huntress by Kate Quinn.
Ian, a newspaperman who went into battle alongside the soldiers he reported on, can no longer find it in him to write. He now hunts down former Nazi’s that have slipped away, bringing them to trial to answer for their crimes. Nina, raised in Siberia to be tough and unforgiving, fought in the war as a bomber pilot for the Soviet Union. When her father is disavowed by the Soviet government, Nina is considered guilty by association and, despite the fact that she has served loyally she must flee, past the front lines into German-held territory where she barely survives. And Jordan, safely tucked away in America slowly realizes that the war has come to her, years after it officially ends.
This is one of those can’t-put-down books not just for the twists and turns and tension (which there is plenty of) but to find out more about the characters and their lives. Nina is especially interesting – her (very harsh) childhood in Siberia, her training to be a pilot and her exploits in the Soviet Army as a bomber pilot (the Soviet Union was the only country to use women in combat roles in World War II) as part of the all-female 588th Night Bomber Regiment nicknamed the “Night Witches” by the Germans. The blending of Nina’s fictional story and the true exploits of the Night Witches is fascinating and introduced me to a little-known part of the war.
Ian is also an interesting character. He is obviously suffering from PTSD brought on by some of the horrors of war he has witnessed when following soldiers into battle armed only with a notebook. He now channels his guilt and energy into tracking down former Nazi’s that have escaped notice in the chaos at the end of the war. Many of them fled to other countries, changing their names and trying to hide among ordinary people. Many countries, including the United States, turned a blind eye and a war-weary world chose to move on. Ian has not forgotten though and goes after these minor Nazi’s with dogged determination.
Jordan may seem the least touched by the war but in the end it is she that brushes up against it’s brutality most intimately. Her suspicions of her new stepmother only grow as time passes and she is thrust into a race to save the people she loves. It is “The Huntress” herself that ties these people together and when their stories finally intersect, the result is explosive.
A tense, absorbing read. Highly recommended.
Author Kristin Hannah has a knack for creating vast sweeping sagas spanning multiple generations in a family’s story. In The Great Alone, Hannah crafts the story of teenager Leni Allbright who is growing up the the Pacific Northwest in the early 1970s. Leni’s father, Ernt, has just returned from the Vietnam War and is struggling with his life back in the United States. Her mother, Cora, attempts to cope as best as humanly possible, but struggles with trying to navigate a new life with her husband and growing daughter. Soon after Ernt returns from the war, he is informed that one of his soldier friends, who was killed in Vietnam, has left him a large swath of land in Alaska. Without much forethought, Ernt announces to his wife and daughter that they are packing their van and heading from Washington state to Alaska.
After arriving in Alaska, the trio quickly realize that living in the wild will not be as easy as they initially thought and they are woefully unprepared. They befriend a group of folks, some Alaska natives and some with the same dreams as they did upon their arrival, to live on their own terms. It soon becomes clear that the scars of war are still affecting Ernt and his mental health continues to deteriorate as the dark and cold winter approaches. Before too long Leni and Cora become isolated, both mentally and physically, by Ernt. When a small dispute arises with the neighbors and escalates, Leni has to choose sides, with possibly treacherous results.
Although the story is set in the 1970s, many of the issues facing the Allbright family align with events that are current in today’s world. The Great Alone isn’t always an easy read and the characters face choices that are part necessary and part catastrophic. In the end, a novel that is well worth the investment.
Starting a new relationship means that you are not just in a relationship with your new partner, but that you have to build relationships with their family and friends. Sometimes those relationships are positive, while others start rocky and only get worse. In Sandie Jones’ new novel, The Other Woman, Jones examines the relationships that exist between a woman and the intense bond she shares with the man she loves.
The Other Woman is a twisty thriller that centers around how far someone is willing to go to get what they want. After a bad breakup, Emily has finally met the man of her dreams. Adam is perfect and everything she has ever wanted in a man. Emily thinks that her life couldn’t be any more perfect until she meets Adam’s mom, Pammie. Right from the start, Emily notices the odd and slightly off relationship that Pammie and Adam share. Thinking that Pammie is just overprotective of her son, Emily tries to work things out. Quickly things spiral out of control. Pammie is overbearing, overprotective, and, worst of all, extremely critical of everything Emily wears, says, or does around her. Nothing Emily does could ever be right. No one else notices Pammie’s bizarre behavior though. Mentioning this to Adam only serves to anger him and tarnish his mother’s perfect reputation in his eyes. Emily decides to stay the course.
Adam and Emily’s relationship progresses and flourishes as they begin to make plans to spend the rest of their lives together. Emily and Pammie’s relationship? Still rocky. With each new milestone Emily and Adam reach, Pammie seems to lose control even more. When Emily finally secures a forever relationship with Adam, she quickly learns that Pammie will do anything to keep her and Adam apart. Pammie wants Emily gone forever. Emily wants Adam forever. Those wants are not compatible. These two formidable women face off against each other in a battle of wills that will leave their relationships and lives in tatters.
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A non-fiction work that reads like a fast paced fiction novel, Bad Blood by John Carreyrou of the Wall Street Journal, is the story of Theranos, a start-up company in Silicon Valley run by a charismatic young entrepreneur whose fraud, arrogance and lies make for a stunning story.
Carreyrou leads the reader through the rise and fall of Theranos, a Silicon Valley medical company started by Elizabeth Holmes when she was a student at Stanford. According to her claims, Theranos had developed a blood testing device that was simpler, more cost-effective and could test a person for hundreds of diseases with a single drop of blood. Holmes promised to revolutionize the entire medical industry with the invention. In addition to the above claims, Theranos had amassed a large number of wealthy investors and was initially valued at nearly $9 billion, with Holmes being named by Forbes magazine as the youngest self-made billionaire, with a net worth of $4.5 billion. Theranos and Holmes were everywhere – magazine covers, television stories and other high-profile places. Simultaneously, a handful of their 800 employees were beginning to realize that the claims being made about the testing device were simply not true – it did not work.
Carreyrou’s book, which grew from an earlier Wall Street Journal story, details how the company defrauded and lied to employees, corporations and investors. His article, in part, set Theranos on a downward trajectory with the deception exposed. Presently, the United States attorney’s office in California has filed charges against Elizabeth Holmes and another executive. They have pleaded not guilty.
Initially, I was not sure if I would enjoy this book coming from a non-medical background, but I quickly became engrossed in the story and the massive deception that occurred within the company. A highly recommended read!
Cross Her Heart is another hit for author Sarah Pinborough (after another great novel, Behind Her Eyes). Written in alternate chapters by different characters, Cross Her Heart is a fabulous addition to the psychological suspense genre. Taking place in present day Britain, single mother Lisa is overly cautious and very protective of her teenage daughter, Ava. Ava is annoyed at her mother’s clingy nature, which only increases when she is in the company of her friends, whose parents are much more trusting of their own children.
Lisa’s life consists of work and her home life with Ava. Her nights out are few and far between and they are usually with a close co-worker, Marilyn, and her husband, Richard. But, unbeknownst to anyone who knows her, Lisa’s life is starting to unravel when glimmers from her past begin to emerge. She wakes up every day with panic that her past will come back to haunt her carefully constructed life. But Lisa isn’t the only one with secrets. Ava has also been keeping secrets from her mother and is involved with someone older who says they care for her, or do they?
While attending a town festival, Ava rescues a toddler from a near tragedy and the fanfare that develops around Lisa and her daughter has catastrophic results for the two of them. Someone recognizes Lisa and the life she has built for herself and her daughter is in jeopardy. Both Lisa and Ava are at danger and Lisa leans on her trusty friend Marilyn for support. With asking Marilyn for help, also means that Lisa has to be completely honest with her which could put everyone at risk.
The twists and turns in Cross Her Heart are fast and jaw dropping. If you love this genre, Sarah Pinborough is a great author to check out.