The Chef’s Secret by Crystal King

The Chef’s Secret by Crystal King

Published February 2019 – Atria Books

Review copy courtesy of the publisher

Description:  When Bartolomeo Scappi dies in 1577, he leaves his vast estate—properties, money, and his position—to his nephew and apprentice Giovanni. He also gives Giovanni the keys to two strongboxes and strict instructions to burn their contents. Despite Scappi’s dire warning that the information concealed in those boxes could put Giovanni’s life and others at risk, Giovanni is compelled to learn his uncle’s secrets. He undertakes the arduous task of decoding Scappi’s journals and uncovers a history of deception, betrayal, and murder—all to protect an illicit love affair.

As Giovanni pieces together the details of Scappi’s past, he must contend with two rivals who have joined forces—his brother Cesare and Scappi’s former protégé, Domenico Romoli, who will do anything to get his hands on the late chef’s recipes.

With luscious prose that captures the full-scale of the sumptuous feasts for which Scappi was known, The Chef’s Secret serves up power, intrigue, and passion, bringing Renaissance Italy to life in a delectable fashion. (publisher)

My take:  It’s been a while since I visited 16th century Italy in a historical fiction novel so when I had the opportunity to read The Chef’s Secret I was excited to begin the adventure. Author Crystal King’s novel is replete with opulent settings, rich and detailed food descriptions, and the passion of her characters.

I liked the dual-storylines of Italy’s most famous chef (he served Popes, Kings and other notables of the time) and the heir he hoped would follow in his culinary footsteps. Upon the death of his uncle, Giovanni received boxes that contained journals. The mostly encoded journals of Bartolomeo Scappi not only developed the characters but also unleashed long-held secrets that would put Gio in certain danger. All combined for an entertaining read that I can recommend to fans of historical fiction and the Renaissance era.


 

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The Victory Garden by Rhys Bowen

The Victory Garden by Rhys Bowen

Lake Union Publishing – February 2019

Review copy courtesy of the publisher and Little Bird Publicity

Description:  While World War I rages on the European continent, young Emily Bryce is getting restless under the thumb of her over-protective parents in Devonshire. Her best friend Clarissa is serving as a nurse at the front while Emily has been kept at home visiting wounded officers at a local convalescent hospital. There she meets a young rough-around-the-edges Australian pilot and falls in love with him, much to her parents’ chagrin. What’s more, Emily decides to finally set off on her own and contribute to the war effort, becoming a member of the Women’s Land Army, a post her mother finds most unsuitable. (publisher)

My take:  Emily Bryce has led a sheltered life. When she turns 21 she’s determined to do more to help her country which is in the midst of WWI. She joins the Women’s Land Army and learns to work with her hands. She meets a vast array of women who will become more family than acquaintances.

There’s a character who, near the end of the novel, says “We’ve no idea what we can do until we try.”  For me, that was the underlying tone of the novel. It’s a story about people who rose to the occasion. I loved Emily’s spirit and felt her emotional highs and lows throughout the story. She possessed an admirable strength of character.

Rhys Bowen’s novel explores the personal losses experienced during the war, new paths to travel in life, and a bit of a mystery to be solved. I loved learning about the Women’s Land Army. The Victory Garden is a satisfying work of historical fiction that I’m happy to recommend to fans of the genre and Rhys Bowen.


About the author:

Rhys Bowen is the New York Times bestselling author of 40 mystery novels. Her work includes In Farleigh Field and The Tuscan Child, both standalone novels about World War II; the Molly Murphy mysteries, set in 1900s New York City; the Royal Spyness novels, featuring a minor royal in 1930s England; and the Constable Evans mysteries about a police constable in contemporary Wales. Rhys’s works have won multiple Agatha, Anthony, and MacAvity awards, and In Farleigh Field was a 2018 Edgar Award nominee and Lefty Award winner. Rhys is a transplanted Brit who now divides her time between California and Arizona. Connect with her at rhysbowen.com


Praise for Rhys Bowen:

“Rhys Bowen is one of the very best fiction writers of the day. With a deep understanding of the wounded human heart, and an uncanny ability to capture the quiet emotions and the grand scale of war, she rises above her contemporaries.”
Louise Penny, New York Times bestselling author


 

Becoming Mrs. Lewis by Patti Callahan

Becoming Mrs. Lewis by Patti Callahan

Published:  October 2018 – Thomas Nelson

Free book provided by Thomas Nelson

Description:

From New York Times bestselling author Patti Callahan comes an exquisite novel of Joy Davidman, the woman C. S. Lewis called “my whole world.” When poet and writer Joy Davidman began writing letters to C. S. Lewis—known as Jack—she was looking for spiritual answers, not love. Love, after all, wasn’t holding together her crumbling marriage. Everything about New Yorker Joy seemed ill-matched for an Oxford don and the beloved writer of Narnia, yet their minds bonded over their letters. Embarking on the adventure of her life, Joy traveled from America to England and back again, facing heartbreak and poverty, discovering friendship and faith, and against all odds, finding a love that even the threat of death couldn’t destroy. 

In this masterful exploration of one of the greatest love stories of modern times, we meet a brilliant writer, a fiercely independent mother, and a passionate woman who changed the life of this respected author and inspired books that still enchant us and change us. Joy lived at a time when women weren’t meant to have a voice—and yet her love for Jack gave them both voices they didn’t know they had. (publisher)

My take:  Becoming Mrs. Lewis is about Joy Davidman and C.S. Lewis – how they met, became friends (kindred spirits, really) and eventually married. It’s a fascinating story that pulled me in and left me a bit emotional as I turned the last page. Theirs was a cerebral relationship that grew passionate in time. Davidman and Lewis had much in common, not the least being a spiritual conversion – the reason for Davidman’s first letter to Lewis, which he answered, much to her surprise. When she travels to England on the advice of her physician Davidman finally meets Lewis in person. The rest, as they say, is history. Patti Callahan’s novel is well-researched (as detailed in her author’s note at the end of the book). I’m a fan of historical fiction and love when an author motivates me to read more about the subject. That was the case with Becoming Mrs. Lewis. I’ve added titles by Davidman and Lewis to my TBR list. Recommended to fans of the genre and Joy Davidman and C.S. Lewis.


 

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.


 

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.