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The Splendor before the Dark by Margaret George
Paperback publication: October 8, 2019 – Berkley Books
Ascending to the throne was only the beginning… Now Margaret George, the author of The Confessions of Young Nero, weaves a web of politics and passion, as ancient Rome’s most infamous emperor cements his place in history.
With the beautiful and cunning Poppaea at his side, Nero Augustus commands the Roman empire, ushering in an unprecedented era of artistic and cultural splendor. Although he has yet to produce an heir, his power is unquestioned.
But in the tenth year of his reign, a terrifying prophecy comes to pass and a fire engulfs Rome, reducing entire swaths of the city to rubble. Rumors of Nero’s complicity in the blaze start to sow unrest among the populace–and the politicians…
For better or worse, Nero knows that his fate is now tied to Rome’s–and he vows to rebuild it as a city that will stun the world. But there are those who find his rampant quest for glory dangerous. Throughout the empire, false friends and spies conspire against him, not understanding what drives him to undertake the impossible.
Nero will either survive and be the first in his family to escape the web of betrayals that is the Roman court, or be ensnared and remembered as the last radiance of the greatest dynasty the world had ever known. (publisher)
My take: (originally posted November 2018 – Hardcover edition)
I confess to knowing virtually nothing about Nero going into this novel – save a visual of him playing the fiddle while Rome burned. As usual, Margaret George brought me up to speed in a most entertaining way. Her historical fiction novel played out in the form of Nero’s autobiography with additional viewpoints from his first love, Acte, and Locusto, his poisons consultant. It’s a story of political plots and intrigue, living with rumors and innuendo, and never quite knowing who was worthy of Nero’s trust.
I’ve read Margaret Georges’s previous novels about Cleopatra and Helen of Troy so I was unsurprised by the 500+ pages it took to tell Nero’s story. I also knew it would be meticulously researched and presented in her usual engaging style. The Afterword is very interesting and I appreciated the family tree and maps included at the beginning of the book. I think fans of the author and historical fiction will enjoy and learn from this story. I certainly did.
About the author:
Margaret George is the New York Times bestselling author of seven novels of biographical historical fiction, including The Confessions of Young Nero; Elizabeth I; Helen of Troy; Mary, Called Magdalene; The Memoirs of Cleopatra; Mary Queen of Scotland and the Isles; and The Autobiography of Henry VIII. She also has coauthored a children’s book, Lucile Lost.
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The Perfect Son by Lauren North
Published: August 2019 – Berkley Trade Paperback Original
Book courtesy of the publisher
Description: When Tess Clarke wakes up in the hospital the day after her son Jamie’s eighth birthday, she’s sure of these things: She’s been stabbed, her son is missing, her brother-in-law and her grief counselor are involved. But no one is listening to her.
After her husband, Mark, died suddenly in a terrible accident a few months earlier, the only thing keeping Tess together is Jamie. As they struggle to make sense of their new life without Mark, they find joy in brief moments of normalcy like walking to school and watching television together. Life is hard without Mark, but Tess has Jamie, and that’s what matters.
But there in the hospital, confused and surrounded by people who won’t listen, Tess’s world falls apart. To save her son, she must piece together what happened between Mark’s death and Jamie’s birthday, but the truth might just be too much for her to bear. (publisher)
My take: Tess Clarke’s husband died recently and she’s grateful to have their 8 year old son Jamie as she deals with grief and the accompanying depression. She makes a new friend in the grief counselor who soon takes on the role of running interference for Tess from people who don’t seem to have her best interest in mind. And then mysterious phone calls and people begin to make Tess wonder if she can trust anyone. I felt the same way and read with my jaw clenched most of the time. Despite my sore jaw I found the story addictive in a ‘just one more chapter’ way. I liked The Perfect Son but was looking for a little more from the ending. I realize that’s just personal preference so check out other reviews. Still, I’m glad I read it and would definitely read the author’s next book. The Perfect Son is Lauren North’s debut novel.
About the author:
Lauren North studied psychology before moving to London, where she lived and worked for many years. She now lives with her family in the Suffolk countryside. The Perfect Son is her first novel, and she’s working on her second.
Praise for The Perfect Son:
“North offers an intimate, unbalancing mix of grief, paranoia, gaslighting, maternal protectiveness, and profound compassion.” – STARRED review from Publishers Weekly
“A powerful, unpredictable debut thriller about a mother’s attempt to reassemble her life from the shards of tragedy. Lauren North’s skillful narrative casts everyone as a suspect and keeps the reader guessing until the final, emotion-packed pages.” – David Bell, USA Today bestselling author of Layover
“A heart-rending evocation of grief that packs a devious punch. It left me reeling.” – Lesley Kara, author of the international bestseller The Rumor
“As satisfyingly intriguing and page-turning as you could possibly want. An emotional read – the end is a shocker!” – Emma Curtis, author of When I Find You
“Beautifully written psychological suspense about the power of love after a life-changing loss. A sense of impending doom and foreboding gripped me from the first page….The ending is stunning and powerful.” – Mary Torjussen, author of The Girl I Used to Be
“A captivating, suspenseful thriller that draws you in – with a twist that will take your breath away.” – T.M. Logan, author of Lies
The Favorite Daughter by Patti Callahan Henry
Berkley Trade Paperback Original; June 4, 2019
Book provided by the publisher and Tandem Literary
Ten years ago the unthinkable happened. Lena Donohue experienced the ultimate betrayal by her sister—and on her wedding day, no less. A betrayal so profound and painful that the only way she knew how to survive it was to run, something she hasn’t stopped doing since. Now, having reinvented herself as a travel writer based in New York, it feels like she might be able to avoid her past forever. But of course, history has a way of returning to the present.
When her father’s health begins to fail, Lena must return to her hometown of Watersend, SC, where she has no choice but to put aside her own heartbreak and work with her estranged sister and younger brother to prepare for the worst. As Alzheimer’s rapidly claims their father’s precious memories, the siblings find themselves in a race against time to learn all they can about his life before it’s too late. But things take an unexpected turn when they stumble upon a life-shattering secret from his past that none of them could have predicted. (publisher)
My take: I’ve read a few novels that touched on Alzheimer’s disease but none made me feel like I did while reading The Favorite Daughter. That may be because I’m now going through what the Donohue siblings experienced. I can tell you it is spot on. My siblings and I have had the same conversations, almost word for word! So I credit Patti Callahan Henry for getting it right.
The Favorite Daughter is an honest look at a terrible disease. More than that, it’s about memories and how we all remember differently. It’s about how our past shapes us. It’s about being willing to forgive. And it’s about home – where it is and who it is. Recommended.
About the author:
Patti Callahan Henry is a New York Times bestselling author whose novels include The Bookshop at Water’s End, The Idea of Love, Driftwood Summer, The Art of Keeping Secrets, and Between the Tides.
Why Kill The Innocent by C.S. Harris
Published February 2019 – Berkley Trade Paperback
Book provided by the publisher
Description: London, 1814. As a cruel winter holds the city in its icy grip, the bloody body of a beautiful young musician is found half-buried in a snowdrift. Jane Ambrose’s ties to Princess Charlotte, the only child of the Prince Regent and heir presumptive to the throne, panic the palace, which moves quickly to shut down any investigation into the death of the talented pianist. But Sebastian St. Cyr, Viscount Devlin, and his wife Hero refuse to allow Jane’s murderer to escape justice.
Untangling the secrets of Jane’s world leads Sebastian into a maze of dangerous treachery where each player has his or her own unsavory agenda and no one can be trusted. As the Thames freezes over and the people of London pour onto the ice for a Frost Fair, Sebastian and Hero find their investigation circling back to the palace and building to a chilling crescendo of deceit and death . . . (publisher)
My take: Hero Devlin and her friend Alexi Sauvage are on their way home from visiting a young woman whose story will be integral to the article Hero is writing. The weather is frigid, the worst winter they’ve had in memory, and they are anxious to step into the carriage that awaits them at the end of a lane. Hero suddenly trips on what turns out to be the body of a young woman. When Hero discovers her identity she becomes intent on learning how she ended up on this small lane in a part of town that people of her sort wouldn’t be expected to be found. Hero and her husband Sebastian St. Cyr will make solving this mystery their primary focus but it won’t be easy. Palace interference, politics, family rivalries, and the winter of 1814 will put obstacles in their way as they grow closer to the truth.
The pace was good and kept me turning the pages as I learned quite a bit about that particular winter. Harris’s detailed settings brought me into each scene – from the palace to the Frost Fair on the frozen Thames to the drawing-room in Hero and Sebastian’s home. I enjoyed dipping into this series for the first time. Why Kill The Innocent is book thirteen but I didn’t feel lost. I realize I’ve missed a good deal of main character development which has me adding previous books to my list. Recommended to fans of the author and historical mysteries.
Why Kill the Innocent by C.S. Harris
Berkley Trade Paperback; February 26, 2019; $16
Description: WHY KILL THE INNOCENT transports readers to 1814, during the height of a frigid London winter. Lady Devlin literally stumbles upon trouble when she trips over a cadaver on a snowy city street. She soon discovers that the body belongs to beautiful young musician Jane Ambrose, the piano instructor of the royal Princess Charlotte. Ambrose’s death stirs fear within the palace, and any investigation into the matter is quickly dismissed. But Sebastian and Hero, determined to fight for justice, search all of London for Ambrose’s murderer. As the winter air turns bitterly cold, the brooding and contemplative Sebastian finds a chilling number of potential suspects, all with ample reason to kill the brilliant musician. Which of them forced Ambrose to take her final bow?
About the author:
Candice Proctor, aka C.S. Harris and C.S. Graham, is the bestselling, award-winning author of more than twenty novels including the Sebastian St. Cyr Regency mystery series written under the name C.S. Harris, the C.S. Graham thriller series co-written with Steven Harris, and seven historical romances. She is also the author of a nonfiction historical study of women in the French Revolution. Her books are available worldwide and have been translated into over twenty languages.
A former academic with a PhD in European history, Candice also worked as an archaeologist on a variety of sites including a Hudson’s Bay Company Fort in San Juan Island, a Cherokee village in Tennessee, a prehistoric kill site in Victoria, Australia, and a Roman cemetery and medieval manor house in Winchester, England. She loves to travel and has spent much of her life abroad, living in Spain, Greece, England, France, Jordan, and Australia. She now makes her home in New Orleans, Louisiana, with her husband, retired Army officer Steve Harris, and an ever-expanding number of cats.
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