The Splendor Before The Dark by Margaret George

The Splendor Before The Dark by Margaret George

November 6, 2018 – Berkley Hardcover

Book courtesy of Berkley and NetGalley

Description:

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:  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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Spotlight/US Giveaway: Master Of His Fate

Master Of His Fate by Barbara Taylor Bradford

Publication date:  November 20, 2018 – St. Martin’s Press

Book provided by the publisher

Description:

From #1 New York Times bestselling author Barbara Taylor Bradford comes the first book in a stunning new historical saga.

Victorian England is a country of sharp divides between rich and poor, but James Lionel Falconer, who spends his days working at his father’s market stall, is determined to become a merchant prince. Even as a child, he is everything a self-made man should be: handsome, ambitious, charming, and brimming with self-confidence. James quickly rises through the ranks, proving himself both hardworking and trustworthy, and catching the eye of Henry Malvern, head of the most prestigious shipping company in London. But when threats against his reputation – and his life – begin to emerge, James will have to prove that he truly is the master of his fate.

Through scandal and romance, tragedy and triumph, the Falconer and Malvern family’s lives intertwine in unexpected ways in this expansive and intricately detailed new novel filled with drama, intrigue, and Bradford’s trademark cast of compelling characters. (publisher)


About the author:

Barbara Taylor Bradford was born and brought up in England and started her writing career as a journalist. She has written thirty international bestsellers. MASTER OF HIS FATE is her thirty-third novel. In 2007, Queen Elizabeth awarded her the OBE (Order of the British Empire) for her literary achievements. She lives in New York with her husband, TV and film producer Robert Bradford.


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The Little Shop of Found Things by Paula Brackston

The Little Shop of Found Things by Paula Brackston

Published October 2018 – St. Martin’s Press

Book courtesy of the publisher

Description:

An antique shop haunted by a ghost.
A silver treasure with an injustice in its story.
An adventure to the past she’ll never forget.

Xanthe and her mother Flora leave London behind for a fresh start, taking over an antique shop in the historic town of Marlborough. Xanthe has always had an affinity with some of the antiques she finds. When she touches them, she can sense something of the past they come from and the stories they hold. When she has an intense connection to a beautiful silver chatelaine she has to know more.

It is while she’s examining the chatelaine that she’s transported back to the seventeenth century where it has its origins. She discovers there is an injustice in its history. The spirit that inhabits her new home confronts her and charges her with saving her daughter’s life, threatening to take Flora’s if she fails.

While Xanthe fights to save the girl amid the turbulent days of 1605, she meets architect Samuel Appleby. He may be the person who can help her succeed. He may also be the reason she can’t bring herself to leave. (publisher)

My take:  Xanthe and her mother are moving to Marlborough and opening an antiques shop – hoping for a major reboot of their life. When Xanthe buys a beautiful chatelaine she finds that not only is it a lovely piece but it will transport her to another time (1600s Marlborough) and the reality of a young girl who needs her help. Xanthe will make good use of her highly developed intuitive sense – at least that is the hope of one contentious specter who inhabits the antiques shop. Will Xanthe be able to accomplish her task and save her own mother from the wrath of the spirit? You’ll have to read to find out.

The Little Shop of Found Things is the first in a new series and recommended to fans of time travel and novels about fresh starts.


 

The Girl From Berlin by Ronald H. Balson

The Girl From Berlin by Ronald H. Balson

Published October 2018 – St. Martin’s Press

Review copy courtesy of the publisher

Description:

In the newest novel from internationally-bestselling author Ronald. H. Balson, Liam and Catherine come to the aid of an old friend and are drawn into a property dispute in Tuscany that unearths long-buried secrets

An old friend calls Catherine Lockhart and Liam Taggart to his famous Italian restaurant to enlist their help. His aunt is being evicted from her home in the Tuscan hills by a powerful corporation claiming they own the deeds, even though she can produce her own set of deeds to her land. Catherine and Liam’s only clue is a bound handwritten manuscript, entirely in German, and hidden in its pages is a story long-forgotten…

Ada Baumgarten was born in Berlin in 1918, at the end of the war. The daughter of an accomplished first-chair violinist in the prestigious Berlin Philharmonic, and herself a violin prodigy, Ada’s life was full of the rich culture of Berlin’s interwar society. She formed a deep attachment to her childhood friend Kurt, but they were torn apart by the growing unrest as her Jewish family came under suspicion. As the tides of history turned, it was her extraordinary talent that would carry her through an unraveling society turned to war, and make her a target even as it saved her, allowing her to move to Bologna―though Italy was not the haven her family had hoped, and further heartache awaited.

What became of Ada? How is she connected to the conflicting land deeds of a small Italian villa? As they dig through the layers of lies, corruption, and human evil, Catherine and Liam uncover an unfinished story of heart, redemption, and hope―the ending of which is yet to be written.(publisher)

My take: When Catherine and Liam (married attorney and investigator) go to Italy to help a friend’s aunt with a property dispute they wind up with a decades old mystery to solve in addition to the original reason for travel. The story moves back and forth from 1930s Germany and Italy to 2017 Italy slowly winding it’s way to the solution of the mystery. The plight of the Jews in Germany plays out in the storyline of a young musician, Ada and her family. I knew where the story would go but was unsure of the Italian connection. I’ve read many historical fiction novels written about this era. The Girl From Berlin is a bit different but also similar in its heartbreaking events. The legal mystery was interesting. I especially appreciated the music aspect of the plot. Recommended to fans of historical fiction and the author. This book is the 5th installment of the Liam Taggert and Catherine Lockhart series but easily stands alone.


 

The Spellbook of Katrina Van Tassel by Alyssa Palombo

The Spellbook of Katrina Van Tassel by Alyssa Palombo

Published Oct. 2, 2018 – St. Martin’s Griffin

Book courtesy of the publisher

Description:  When Ichabod Crane arrives in the spooky little village of Sleepy Hollow as the new schoolmaster, Katrina Van Tassel is instantly drawn to him. Through their shared love of books and music, they form a friendship that quickly develops into romance. Ichabod knows that as an itinerant schoolteacher of little social standing, he has nothing to offer the wealthy Katrina – unlike her childhood friend-turned-enemy, Brom Van Brunt, who is the suitor Katrina’s father favors. 

But when romance gives way to passion, Ichabod and Katrina embark on a secret love affair, sneaking away into the woods after dark to be together – all while praying they do not catch sight of Sleepy Hollow’s legendary Headless Horseman. That is, until All Hallows’s Eve, when Ichabod suddenly disappears, leaving Katrina alone and in a perilous position.

Enlisting the help of her friend – and rumored witch – Charlotte Jansen, Katrina seeks the truth of Ichabod Crane’s disappearance, investigating the forest around Sleepy Hollow using unconventional – often magical – means. What they find forces Katrina to question everything she once knew, and to wonder if the Headless Horseman is perhaps more than just a story after all. In Alyssa Palombo’s The Spellbook of Katrina Van Tassel nothing is as it seems, and love is a thing even death won’t erase. (publisher)

My take:  I put off reading The Spellbook of Katrina Van Tassel until October because I expected it to be a good one to read near Halloween. I liked it but didn’t find it at all spooky. Alyssa Palombo’s romantic tale involves forbidden love between two young people of different classes, the Sleepy Hollow legend, and a bit of imagined magic – all from Katrina’s point of view. I think that is what I enjoyed most about this retelling. She’s a young woman with admirable temperament, high intelligence, and a good heart. Her parents love their only child but they expect her to marry well. She’s an heiress so only suitors of means are welcome. Poor Ichabod Crane doesn’t stand a chance. They love each other and hope to change her father’s mind. If you’re familiar with the Legend of Sleepy Hollow you know where the story goes. I’d recommend this version to fans of romantic retellings of classic tales.


 

Spotlight: The Collector’s Apprentice by B.A. Shapiro

 

THE COLLECTOR’S APPRENTICE
by B. A. Shapiro
Algonquin Books / Publication Date: October 16, 2018
Price: $27.95; Hardcover; 352 pages; ISBN: 978-1-61620-358-0

Description: (provided by the publicist)

New York Times bestselling author B. A. Shapiro has made the historical art thriller her own with such novels as The Muralist and The Art Forger, which The Washington Post praised for its “skillful balance of brisk plotting, significant emotional depth and a multi-layered narration rich with a sense of moral consequence.” With THE COLLECTOR’S APPRENTICE—her third, boldest, and best book with Algonquin—Shapiro takes readers to Paris in the 1920s and the ever-fascinating world of Gertrude Stein’s salon and the artists, such as Matisse and Picasso, with whom she surrounded herself. These and other real-life icons are deftly integrated into a gripping mystery involving love, intrigue, murder and, of course, art.

When she is accused of playing a role in a Ponzi scheme perpetrated by her erstwhile fiancé, Paulien Mertens seeks solace and sanctuary in Paris, where she creates a false identity as a Frenchwoman named Vivienne Gregsby. As Vivienne attempts to recover her father’s art collection—stolen along with all her family’s assets—and prove her innocence, the eccentric and wealthy American art collector Edwin Bradley offers her a job. She is soon immersed in the world of expatriates and post-Impressionist art, becoming Matisse’s lover, and traveling between Paris and Bradley’s native Philadelphia, where he is building an art museum. But her exciting new life is abruptly interrupted when Vivienne is arrested for Bradley’s murder.

“THE COLLECTOR’S APPRENTICE is a work of fiction loosely inspired by the lives of the art collector Albert Barnes and his assistant, Violette de Mazia, as well as the history of the Barnes Foundation, which he founded and they both nurtured,” Shapiro explains. From this raw material, she has invented a tantalizing story that draws on extensive research into not only the lives of Barnes and de Mazia, but of the many historical characters in the book. The evolution, principles, artists, and works of the post-Impressionist movement that are central to the story are drawn with particular accuracy and appreciation.

The result, like all of Shapiro’s much-loved work, is a seamless blend of art history set against a wider historical backdrop, and all wrapped in an impossible-to-put-down fictional narrative.


About the Author:

B. A. Shapiro is New York Times bestselling author of The Muralist and The Art Forger, which won the New England Book Award for Fiction and the Boston Authors Society Award for Fiction, among other honors. Her books have been selected as Community Reads in numerous cities and have been translated into over ten languages. Shapiro has taught sociology at Tufts University and creative writing at Northeastern University. She divides her time between Boston and Florida along with her husband, Dan, and their dog, Sagan. Her website is http://www.bashapirobooks.com.

Photo credit: Lynn Wayne


Praise for THE COLLECTOR’S APPRENTICE:

“I was engrossed in every twist and turn in this compulsively captivating page turner, all the way until its astonishing denouement. Shapiro has done it again!” —Thrity Umrigar, bestselling author of The Space Between Us

“Dazzling and seductive, The Collector’s Apprentice is a tour de force—an exhilarating tale of shifting identities, desire, and intrigue set between 1920s Paris and Philadelphia. Shapiro is a master at melding historical and fictional characters to bring the past alive on the page, and in The Collector’s Apprenticeshe has forged an exquisite, multilayered story that maps the cogent and singular fire of a young woman’s ambition and the risks she will take for the sake of art.” —Dawn Tripp, bestselling author of Georgia

“Shapiro delivers a clever and complex tale of art fraud, theft, scandal, murder, and revenge. [Her] portrayal of the 1920s art scene in Paris and Philadelphia is vibrant, and is populated by figures like Alice B. Toklas and Thornton Wilder; readers will be swept away by this thoroughly rewarding novel.”—Publishers Weekly

“A seamless blend of art history set against a wider historical backdrop.”—Detroit Jewish News

“B. A. Shapiro is back with a platinum potion of art, love, and scandal, set against the big backdrop of Paris between the wars. If you can put The Collector’s Apprentice down, you’re made of stronger stuff than I am. I read it in one sumptuous sitting. This is a big story, from a big talent.”—Jacquelyn Mitchard, bestselling author of The Deep End of the Ocean


THE COLLECTOR’S APPRENTICE
by B. A. Shapiro
Algonquin Books / Publication Date: October 16, 2018
Price: $27.95; Hardcover; 352 pages; ISBN: 978-1-61620-358-0 Follow Algonquin books on Twitter at @algonquinbooks or on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/algonquinbooks


Spotlight on: The Little Shop of Found Things by Paula Brackston

The Little Shop of Found Things by Paula Brackston

Pub. date: October 16, 2018 – St. Martin’s Press

Publisher’s description:

New York Times bestselling author of The Witch’s Daughter, Paula Brackston, returns to her trademark blend of magic and romance to start a new series that will enchant her audience more than ever before. THE LITTLE SHOP OF FOUND THINGS tells the captivating story of a young woman whose connection to antiques takes her on a magical journey.

Xanthe and her mother Flora leave London behind for a fresh start, taking over an antique shop in the historic town of Marlborough. Xanthe has always had an affinity with some of the antiques she finds. When she touches them, she can sense something of the past they come from and the stories they hold. So when she has an intense connection to a beautiful silver chatelaine she has to know more.

It’s while she’s examining the chatelaine that she’s transported back to the seventeenth century. And shortly after, she’s confronted by a ghost who reveals that this is where the antique has its origins. The ghost tasks Xanthe with putting right the injustice in its story to save an innocent girl’s life, or else it’ll cost her Flora’s.

While Xanthe fights to save her amid the turbulent days of 1605, she meets architect Samuel Appleby. He may be the person who can help her succeed. He may also be the reason she can’t bring herself to leave.

With its rich historical detail, strong mother-daughter relationship, and picturesque English village, THE LITTLE SHOP OF FOUND THINGS is set to be a strong, whimsical start to this new series.


About the author:

Paula Brackston is the New York Times bestselling author of The Witch’s Daughter, The Winter Witch, The Midnight Witch, The Silver Witch, and The Return of the Witch. She has a master’s degree in creative writing from Lancaster University in the UK. She lives in Wales with her family.


Praise for Paula Brackston and THE LITTLE SHOP OF FOUND THINGS:

“A solid, enjoyable read with a hint of magical time travel.” – Booklist

“Brackston wonderfully blends history with the time-travel elements and a touch of romance. This series debut is a page-turner that will no doubt leave readers eager for future series installments.” – Publishers Weekly

“Fans of Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander collection will delight in Brackston’s new series and eagerly await its second installment. A bewitching tale of love across centuries.” – Kirkus