[739]: Bachelor Girl by Kim Van Alkemade

A captivating page-turner that successfully combines baseball history, romance & friendships while ambitiously highlighting social issues of the times.


Bachelor Girl
Kim Van Alkemade

This was such a bountiful surprise.

Before there were doping scandals in professional baseball, there was Babe Ruth. He was the beacon of excess in the sport. His personality was so big – too big for any baseball field in America. He was a womanizer, a gambler, and was even rumoured to have died of a sexually transmitted disease. He liked to party and had a bit of a diva personality. When Boston Red Sox wouldn’t meet his demands, they sold him to the Yankees. This was where the legend was born, regardless of the titles he’d helped the Sox win.

Colonel Jacob Ruppert was the owner of the Yankees. A shrewed business man who has the nose for his opponent’s weaknesses. He made the Yankees a brand that’s synanymous to American baseball – even to this day. When he died, he left the majority of his fortune, and ownership of the team to one Helen Winthrope.  Bachelor Girl imagines her story that brings out to light all the whys of Colonel Ruppert’s intentions.

As I was saying, this was a bountiful surprise. I knew next to nothing about the Yankees as I’m barely a baseball fan. (I do follow the Blue Jays, but not as fanatic as say, the San Diego Charges). I’ve said it before and I’ll say it over and over again. When the book you just read made you dive into the oblivion that is internet research, you know the author did an outstanding job. And that is exactly what I did after reading Bachelor Girl. I sought out all what I can gather about Colonel Ruppert. And while I probably didn’t do such an extensive job as the author, I thought it was pretty interesting to find so many parallels to the real thing vs. Bachelor Girl.

Helen Wintrophe had so many stories to tell. She’s a dichotomy sometimes. A feminist when it comes to her rights and abilities but at the same time, she fell prey way too easily to other men. Which made her as close to being real, in my opinion. This is the Jazz Age – in New York City. And while New York was progressive with some stance, there were still social issues that the state lagged on. I love how Ms. Van Alkemade tackled them in a way that was quite possibly appropriate for the era. Like a relationship between Helen and her friend, who was an African American wouldn’t come to anything just because. But Helen still fought for him and remained her friend right to the end, even after he married somebody else.

Gay rights, social cast differences, abortion, gender inequality, and prohibition were also tactfully explored.

Overall, Bachelor Girl was both informative and entertaining. It’s about secrets and what they’ll do to keep them if only to prevent hurting the people they love. I vacillated between frustration and anxiety while waiting for the truth to be revealed. And while I didn’t get the resolution that I selfishly wanted, it was the way Helen’s story needed to be told.

[738]: Songs of Love And War by Santa Montefiore

A sprawling saga of love and family spanning generations of people connected by friendships and their entanglements.


Songs of Love and War
by Santa Montefiore

Admittedly, this book was intimidating at first glance. At 528 pages, I didn’t think I was going to finish reading this in time to write a review for my blog tour stop. To my surprise, Songs of Love and War was readable enough that I barely notice time passing by. It was that captivating.

As a child, Kitty Deverill grew up barely interacting with her parents. Her fiery red hair and her “plain face” didn’t encourage the kind of love from her mother. Her father, on the other hand, was too busy having an affair to notice the bold and brave little miss. Despite the lack of paternal affections, her childhood didn’t lack for love. Her grandparents gave her more than enough. She also had the friendships of Birdie – the cook’s daughter, and Jack, the son of the town’s veterinarian.

Growing up in the Castle Deverill also was hardly a tedious living. Having inherited her grandmother’s ability to communicate with the dead, she’s entertained by the ghosts of the Deverill men who were cursed to haunt the castle. All in all, she managed to grow up a well-adjusted, opinionated, and intelligent woman.

But a war was brewing between Anglo-Irish and the Irish. And since her family was English who owned a castle in an Irish land, things were turbulent. Kitty will find herself sympathizing with the Irish and forming an alliance with a person she least expects.

Meanwhile, Birdie has suffered one heartbreak after another. From the death of her father and unfathomable losses, she was left with no choice but to leave Ireland and find her fortunes in America. There, she would once again be a servant; forever regretting the choices she made and thinking about the family she left behind.

In truth, this book is hard to break down. It simply is impossible. The only thing you should anticipate is how easily their stories will captivate you. The Ireland she described will make you pine for a country as much as the Irish pined for the loss during the invasion of England and their fight to take it back. There are plenty of romances here, but also some difficult scenes of rape. Both of which are not connected, to be clear. On the flipside of those romances are heartbreaks as well. Kitty was not spared from this; not Jack, and especially not Birdie.

And if that’s not epic enough, there is also a supernatural aspect here. The castle itself felt like a living, breathing character in the background. The curse of the Deverill men being trapped in the castle forever was not the focal point, but certainly an interesting and integral part of the story.

[737]: Bonfire by Krysten Ritter

A dark, suspenseful dive into small town shady cover-ups starring a complex and flawed character.


Bonfire
by Krysten Ritter

It took me a while to realize that the author of this novel is none other than the Jessica Jones. But it sure didn’t take long for this book to get its hooks on me, no matter how frustrated I was with the heroine.

Historically speaking, I’ve always had a difficult relationship with deeply flawed characters. Complex though as they may be, I found myself wanting to reach into the book and shake the living daylights out of them. But perhaps that feeling is clear evidence of the efficacy of one’s writing. Their ability to incite such an emotion conflates with the feeling of confusion or a battle within yourself to either root for the character or hate them altogether.

Such was my dilemma with Abby Williams.

Growing up in the town of Barrens, Indiana hasn’t been all that easy for Abby. She wasn’t so much as the paraiah, but more like the kid that everyone ignored. Her history with the town and its people was forgettable, humiliating, and hurtful. So when her next case as an environmental lawyer takes her back to her hometown, she was filled with trepidation and somewhat morbid curiousity. Especially since the case was against the very life force that kept the town going.

There, Abby will be reintroduced to her past – all the good and bad. The bullies that made her life miserable; her father with whom she’d had a strained relationship over the years. The boy who kissed her in the woods and made her promised not to tell. But most of all, she was forced to confront the one thing that ate at her after all these years: the disappearance of her former friend and enemy.

Reminiscent of Erin Brockovich, Abby Williams peeled the layers of secrets to get to the bottom of the swamp. Pay offs, teen prostitution/pornography ring, blackmail, and murder, were just some of the dark secrets the small town had been harboring. Optimal Plastics has been the only source of income for most of the residents of Barrens. People were hesitant to talk, but most could no longer ignore the unexplained illnesses, birth defects, and severe rashes that plagued the town.  In a way, Abby was the perfect character to unearth the truth. She has a built in connection with the town, as well an underlying need for revenge. Though that connection sometimes got her in trouble. It blinded her to the truth at times and made her transparent to her enemies. But she was strong minded and determined to make those who were responsible pay.

Krysten Ritter succeeded in writing a suspenseful novel. It was fast-paced and full of sinister vibes. Other than the obvious culprit (Optimal Plastics), she did very well in hiding all the town’s secrets and specific perpetrators. I’ve had my doubts with celebrities publishing fiction but I must admit, this was an outstanding debut.

Genevieve Graham on the Inevitability of Writing About Nazis.


I’m sensing a theme with my questions. I can’t help it. I’ve always been curious about a book’s conception and giving it the story its life. So my questions with the authors that stop by my blog are always about the process involved. Today’s Timeless Tour stop is pretty much the same. I have Ms. Genevieve Graham, whose work, Come From Away just came out this past Tuesday. You can read my review of her book here.

What kind of research is involved in writing your stories?

Approximately fifty per cent of the time it takes for me to write a book (eight to ten months) is spent on research, so where is all that time being spent? Well, once I’ve chosen my topic, my first stop is always the library. Those folks know what I’m going to write about before anyone else does. Fortunately, they’re very understanding when I forget to renew … I take out non-fiction books, some fiction books—though in general I don’t read many of those because I don’t want to risk being influenced, and even some books written for children. I’m not very good, to be perfectly honest, with straight non-fiction. Just like when I was in high school, dry facts tend to put me to sleep. But I glean all I can from them, then I move on to the internet. The most wonderful things about the internet are a) the plethora of sites you can find on specific items/events/time periods/people b) the wonderful, dedicated contacts you can make online, and c) the Rabbit Hole. Of course the downsides of the internet are a) conflicting information and b) too many distractions. All that means is that I have to dig deeper to confirm the truth … and I need to shut down facebook.

In addition to the initial research I’ve done up front, my fact-finding continues throughout the creation of the book. My characters lead me along the story, then they stop short and point out a historical fact that requires my attention. For example, if someone needs to sail somewhere, what kind of ship was it on? Where were the ports of departure and arrival? How many people were on that ship? What did they eat? Where did they sleep? Those details may sound minute, but they are actually what bring a story alive. Anyone can look up dates and names and places, but “the devil’s in the details”, as they say.

You seem to have a love for the Canadian East Coast and particularly set in that period. Do you think you would be inspired to take your stories elsewhere?

The first three books I wrote were set in 1745 and took place in Scotland and the colonies. That was because my initial inspiration to write happened after I read the Outlander series over and over again, and I was fascinated by that time period. Then my family and I moved from Calgary to Nova Scotia in 2008, and everywhere I looked I came into contact with history. I wanted to learn about it, and when I write my books my characters will experience this history first hand, with me by their side.“Tides of Honour” happened because I didn’t know anything about the Halifax Explosion until I moved here, and digging into the Explosion automatically led to learning about WW1. “Promises to Keep” came along after my husband and I visited the Grand Pré Historical Site and in my head, the incredible story of the Acadian Expulsion was crying out to be told. “Come From Away” actually began because so many of my readers asked (and I was wondering, too) what happened to the Baker family after “Tides of Honour”. I realized the children from the first book would have grown up and become a part of the next world war. I needed to know how Danny would react, considering his own deep, painful memories of war, but the story (as usual) took on a life of its own and the spotlight went to the younger generation instead.

Would I be inspired to take my stories elsewhere? Definitely! I already am. My plan is to write Canadian Historical Fiction about all regions in Canada. The next book will be set in the West with the early Mounties and the Klondike Gold Rush, then I have at least one story set in Ontario (already in the works). As recently as yesterday I saw a news article that may inspire yet another Ontario book. I’m always open to suggestions!

Lately, there’s been a backlash on authors writing a romance novel that features a Nazi soldier. Was this a factor in making your character an ex-Nazi?

I actually had no idea there was a backlash. Why? I have a couple of issues on that, now that you ask. First off, I don’t consider my books to be “romance”. Yes they are love stories, but they are within the Historical Fiction framework (you’ll notice I don’t write sex – I’ve tried, but it always seems so cheesy when I’m reading it after!). And since they are Historical Fiction, it is imperative that I stick to the truths of history. Otherwise, why not just call it fiction? And well, Nazis were a part of history that simply cannot – and should not – be forgotten. So no, that wasn’t why Rudi ended up an “ex-Nazi”. Rudi was who he was because of his upbringing, then he adjusted due to the situation that landed him in Nova Scotia. Would he have been an ex-Nazi if he hadn’t ended up here? Who knows. We know he was uncomfortable with some of the things he’d seen, heard, and done, but he was raised to be loyal to the military. It would have taken something extreme to make him question everything.

ADDENDUM: “Backlash” may be the wrong word to use. But it’s come to my attention a novel featuring a Nazi romantic hero usually gets the quirk of a brow at the least. I have read Come From Away and agree that Rudi was the way he was because of how he was raised. I sent this question before I had a full grasp of Rudi’s character. I would’ve omitted this question & Ms. Graham’s answer but I feel it would be remiss of me.

Thank you so much for taking the time to answer my questions, Genevieve!

Santa Montefiore: On Reading and Research


Hello, everyone.

I have Ms. Santa Montefiore on the blog today for my Timeless Tour stop. I never know what questions to ask whenever I do these kind of things. And sometimes, I ask too many questions that the blog post becomes a novel. 🙂 So today, I limited my questions to three and I made sure they count.

Thank you for taking the time, Ms. Santafiore. I loved your book and I’m looking forward to finding out more about the Devirells.


I noticed that Songs of Love and War was not the original title of the novel. Was there a specific reason for this? 

That’s a good question. I think the American’s felt the title was too grand and remote for their readership. They called it The Girl in the Castle and later changed it to The Irish Girl. To be honest it’s very unsatisfactory and causes all sorts of problems because people buy the book thinking it’s new and then get furious with me when they realise they’ve already read it under a different title. All the bad reviews on Amazon were about that, not about the book, which was really depressing for me. I prefer my foreign publishers to keep the same title to avoid that confusion!

 

I can only imagine! I must say that these titles and covers still look gorgeous and very much appropriate. 

Songs of Love and War is such an epic saga spanning years and generations of history. I can only imagine the amount of work it took you to write it. What was the most interesting fact that you’ve discovered during your research of this book?

I knew very little about the Irish War of Independence and the Civil War that followed. While researching the books I learned a great deal about the Irish struggle for independence. It was fascinating and enlightening, and I really sympathised with their cause.  I was lucky enough to meet a man on the internet, who was a fan of my work, who was Irish, born in Co Cork, and had an encyclopaedic knowledge of his country’s history. He was full of amazing stories. I had no idea that poor children did not wear shoes, even in midwinter in the snow! Right up until the second world war! That’s extraordinary. The poverty was terrible. I immersed myself in the history by reading wonderful novels as well as watching movies, and became totally obsessed with that era. I adore Ireland, but my love of that beautiful, gothic, mystical island has definitely deepened through my learning about it.

Based on what I’ve read, the Irish people were sure made from some tough stuff!

BOOKS READ WHILST RESEARCHING SONGS OF LOVE AND WAR:

I read some wonderful book, here they are: Daphne du Maurier’s Hungry Hill;  Walled Garden by Annabel Goff; Trinity by Leon Uris; A Long Long Way, by Sebastian Barry; Troubles by JG Farrell; Voices from the Great Houses, Cork and Kerry by Jane O’Hea O’Keefe; Picnic in a Foreign Land by Ann Morrow; The Children of Castletown House by Sarah Conolly-Carew; Experiences of an Irish R.M.  Somerville & Ross. I also watched movies like Michael Collins and The Wind that Shakes the Barley.

 

 

 

[736]: Come From Away by Genevieve Graham

A poignant story about the heartbreaks and anxieties of war; of love and trust, and of second chances.


Come From Away
by Genevieve Graham

Genevieve Graham has made it her purpose to “breathe life back into history one story at a time.” Certainly good news for someone like me who knows next to nothing about Canadian History. Truly, I never knew how close the Germans were to our East Coast until I read this book. “U-boats” or submarines have sank 20 merchant ships and 3 Canadian warships in our waters, particularly in St. Lawrence River and the gulf.

Come From Away is the story of one German sailor whose U-boat sank and was the lone survivor stranded in Canada. Once he realized he was on his own, he set out to hide in the wildnerness – from the Canadian authorities and from his own Navy as well. It was luck that he stumbled upon a camp that was properly stocked that would shelter him from the brutal winter. As a child, he was taught to trap and to hunt – skills that would help him survive as he figures out what he should do with his life: return to Germany to keep fighting for a war whose very ideology was no longer his own? Or start anew in a country who could not be as forgiving to someone like him, a Nazi who’s feared and hated at the same time?

But supplies do dwindle and must be replenished. So it was those days when he was left with no choice but to make the trek into town that he would have encounters with Grace Baker.

Grace has personally known the worries and apprehensions of someone whose loved ones were away fighting in the war. Her father was a former soldier and her three brothers were serving the country. She’s known the heartbreaks as well, so her deep rooted hatred for the Nazi was well founded. Meeting Rudi was a distraction from her worries. But that was before she found out his true identity.

Their love story has a back and forth progression. The attraction was instantaneous that was only tampered when Rudi came out of hiding. Grace was livid to say the least. But her anger was more because she felt betrayed and possibly a little humiliated that she was taken for a fool.

Rudi, for his part, did his best to earn the trust of her family. He had a good upbringing; raised by parents whose ideologies were to think first and foremost, to question, and to be human. That’s why Grace’s anger toward him didn’t really last long. Because Rudi was a good man, but also a soldier who followed orders all his life. The Baker’s were a true blue Canadian. They gave Rudi the benefit of the doubt despite being on the opposite sides of allegiances.

Come from Away is everything I’ve come to admire about Ms. Graham’s novels. The romance, the history, the stories of the human condition when faced with difficult choices. It’s a tender romance between people who triumphed over adverse circumstances. It’s about forgiveness and second chances. Ms. Graham truly has the corner in Canadian Historical Fiction. I’m looking forward to reading more and learning more.

[735]: Bellewether by Susanna Kearsley

 A perfect blending of romance, history, and mysticism.


Bellewether
by Susanna Kearsly

Ms. Kearsley is widely known for writing novels that slip from one time period to another. She writes them so well that I could easily imagine her characters – both from the present and the past – walking the same path and at the same time. I don’t know if that makes sense but she does the time slips so seamlessly. And she employs the same methodology with efficacy in her latest novel.

Fair warning: I might be inclined to talk about Lydia and Jean-Phillippe more over Charley and Sam. And that’s just because, the romance between them has one of my favorite dynamics.

Bellewether features two major plot points that I couldn’t get enough of. Often times, I was desperately looking for spare seconds just to get back to the story. I’m a romance reader first and foremost. So Lydia’s and Jean-Philippe’s doomed romance was the proverbial potato chip that I couldn’t stop devouring. I couldn’t read fast enough. In truth, I found myself skipping banal descriptions of places, people, and objects because I was trying to get to the good parts. It’s horrible to admit, for sure. But I know I will read this again in time and will savor their stories when that time comes.

Charley and Sam’s romance was, for the most part, well, regular – for lack of a better word. There weren’t any fireworks to speak of when they met. But that doesn’t mean theirs didn’t produce any as the story goes on. Honestly, I was very focused on her “haunting”, more than anything because like I mentioned above, I was more interested in the other couple.

Back to Lydia and Jean-Phillippe, theirs was not an instant, blatant attraction from the start. Lydia, for the most part, was almost always antagonizing – understandable, considering what she and her family had recently gone through. But Jean-Phillippe had always held her in a quiet regard. I love their rocky start. I love how it culminated into a slow-burning fire.

Ms. Kearsly also writes the best heroines; set in their ways, determined, and fierce. This could not be more obvious with both Lydia and Charley. I love that Lydia spoke her mind as well as Charley. Conversely, they also know when to pick their battles. Jean-Phillippe and Sam are their perfect counterparts. And though, I found their characterizations to be minimal, I had the barest understanding that Ms. Kearsely wanted the focus on Lydia and Charley.

The thing about SK’s books is that you’re always getting more than what you’ve paid for. Her uncanny ability to seamlessly combine two stories is one of her best strength as a writer. Her books are always well-researched and meticulously close to being accurate. Her passion for history shines through and as a reader, I’m always inclined to read up on the topic with which her novel discussed. And I think, as a historical fiction writer, you’ve more than did a great service in educating us if you were able to induce such curiousity.

 

 

On the Night Table with Susanna Kearseley

As a certifiable bibliophile, I’m always curious to see what a person is reading. So I take advantage of any opportunity that I can get to see what an author/blogger/celebrity is reading at any given moment. Well, today, I have Ms. Susanna Kearsely. She’s incredibly busy, I know this. But she’s such a lovely person for indulging my quirks.


I don’t read much fiction while I’m writing. Every writer is different, but for me, I find that if another storyteller’s voice is strong, it sometimes influences mine without my even knowing it, so I usually stick to more visual entertainment like movies or TV while writing.

Between books, though, I do try to make a dent in my ever-growing TBR stack.

These five books are closest to the top. The fact they’re all male-authored mysteries is because the novel I’ll be writing next, The Vanished Days, has a mysterious storyline narrated by a man, so I’m doing research—pleasure reading with a purpose:

Thieftaker and Thieves’ Quarry, by D.B. Jackson—the first two books in his Thieftaker Chronicles, a historical urban fantasy series set in pre-revolutionary war era Boston, with a conjurer hero named Ethan Kaille.

Cloudland, by Joseph Olshan, a literary thriller based on a true story of unsolved crimes, set in Vermont, and written by the award-winning author of Clara’s Heart.

So Disdained, a World War II thriller by one of my favourite writers, Nevil Shute. I’ve read most of his novels, but I’ve purposely held back a few, like this one, to reward myself with between writing my own books.

and,

The Man From St. Petersburg, by Ken Follett. I read this one years ago, when it first came out, but I’ve mostly forgotten the finer details of the plot, so I’ve cycled it back again onto my reading pile.

Give it a week, though, and I’m sure there’ll be other books piled on top of these. My TBR bookstack grows like a weed. I can’t help myself.


Thank you for sharing, Ms. Kearsely. These books sound intense in their own way. Piqued my curiosity, to say the least. 🙂

Genevieve Graham and Her Love for Canadian History

In high school, I had no interest in history. Now that I’m an adult, there’s a lot I don’t know. Non-fiction usually puts me to sleep, so I turned to historical fiction. My obsession with the genre started with “Outlander”, and I never stopped reading.

I’d never written anything, never dreamed of it, but in 2007 I made my first attempt and my Scottish historical trilogy became a bestseller. In 2008, my family and I moved to Nova Scotia, and it was full of history! My first eye-opening lesson was about the Halifax Explosion, the largest manmade explosion before Hiroshima. Despite my excellent education, I had never heard of it. I needed to know all about the Explosion, and I learn by visualizing. I dropped my fictional characters into the setting and walked beside them, writing as we went.

I have become addicted to the little known or untold stories in Canadian history and am determined to tell more. “Promises to Keep” covered the Acadian Expulsion. “Come From Away” returns to Nova Scotia during WWII, and soon I will get back to work on three more books which are already partially written: the Klondike Gold Rush (and the early Mounties), the British Home Children, and more.

My agent once told me the secret to successful publishing is to “write a really great book.” Well, I want more than that. I want to write a good book and I want to bring history back to life … so no one sleeps through class anymore.

 

Thanks for stopping by, Genevieve. As a Canadian, and as someone who didn’t have the opportunity to study here, I try to glean as much history as I can from the books I read. So reading your books is something that I look forward to with great interest if only to learn about the country that have embraced me and my family so warmly. Thank you for all you do and for taking the time to write this piece. 

@GenGrahamAuthor | Facebook | Website

Buy her books here: Amazon | Chapters Indigo | Barnes & Noble | Book Depository

The Timeless Tour Kick Off


Last year, I was fortunate enough to have been a part of The Timeless Tour hosted by Simon & Schuster Canada. I was really excited to see which authors and works I’ll get to discover. I’m happy to see Ms. Genevieve Graham again and super pumped to read her recent work. Ms. Kearsley is, of course, a household Canadian name so to see Bellewhether amongst the list of books is a delight. I’ve already read Songs of Love and War by Ms. Montefiore and have loved it. As well, Ms. Van Alkemade’s Bachelor Girl.

To kick off this tour, we were asked three questions about our interest in Historical Fiction. As you know, I read a whole variety of stuff. But I find myself leaning towards Historical Fiction when I’m in need of something more cerebral, oddly enough.

To understand the past is to determine our future.

Historical fiction enables me to travel back in time and learn about the world I live in. History is not always an enthusiastic subject for me, but it feels different to see it through another person’s story instead of a stone-cold statement of facts. The irony is, I love to read about historical facts told in a fictional account of someone’s story.  So I love learning about it any way I can.

If I could travel back in time, which period would I want to be and why?

Elizabeth Bennett has done her part in making me feel like the Georgian era would be ideal for me. All we have to worry about is dodging our meddling mothers in finding us husbands and we’ll be golden.

Dinner for Two

There’s never been a great representation of grace and charm than the late Princess Diana. She’s not a perfect person, sure. But her life was the epitome of goodness and kindness towards the less fortunate, the sick children, and those in need. She would’ve had a lot of stories and experiences to tell, so if I could have a sit down with any historical figures, I would give a limb to have that time with her.

Thanks for reading!