Book Recommendation: THE SILENT COMPANIONS


I am not dead. Elsie recited the words as her carriage sluiced through country roads, churning up clods of mud. The wheels made a wet, sucking noise. I am not dead. But it was hard to believe, looking through the rain-spattered window at the ghost of her reflection: pale skin, cadaverous cheeks; curls eclipsed by black gauze.

Outside the sky was iron grey, the monotony broken only by crows. Mile after mile and the scenery did not change. Stubble fields, skeletal trees. They are burying me, she realized. They are burying me along with Rupert.” Laura Purcell, The Silent Companions

Publisher Synopsis:

When newly widowed Elsie is sent to see out her pregnancy at her late husband’s crumbling country estate, what greets her is far from the life of wealth and privilege she was expecting . . .
When Elsie married handsome young heir Rupert Bainbridge, she believed she was destined for a life of luxury. But with her husband dead just weeks after their marriage, her new servants resentful, and the local villagers actively hostile, Elsie has only her husband’s awkward cousin for company. Or so she thinks. Inside her new home lies a locked door, beyond which is a painted wooden figure—a silent companion—that bears a striking resemblance to Elsie herself. The residents of the estate are terrified of the figure, but Elsie tries to shrug this off as simple superstition—that is, until she notices the figure’s eyes following her.

A Victorian ghost story that evokes a most unsettling kind of fear, The Silent Companions is a tale that creeps its way through the consciousness in ways you least expect—much like the companions themselves.

My Recommendation:

At an ancient English estate, alternating between 1635 and 1865, The Silent Companions is a dual narrative about a house whose evil history rendered it haunted. Because the events at the estate following Elsie’s husband’s death have driven her to St. Joseph’s Hospital for the Insane, the story is slowly revealed during her therapy.

The pervading tension and ominous warnings, the dangerous explorations of the troubled house, and the slowly unraveling grip on reality of those dwelling within its walls make for captivating, frightening reading. The time periods are equally interesting, and the climax is gruesome and disturbing.

Notes of Poe, hints of Shirley Jackson, and an overall Hitchcockian sense of the macabre pervade The Silent Companions and firmly place Purcell with the masters of Gothic storytelling. If you enjoy a scary, atmospheric tale, I highly recommend it.  


Historical Fiction Giveaway!


Historical fiction lovers: I have one advanced reader copy of ISLAND OF SWEET PIES AND SOLDIERS, by Sara Ackerman, to giveaway to one lucky reader. Due to my own research reading and writing, I have not yet had the pleasure of reading it, but I hope to change that very soon. In the meantime, I didn’t want to let this pub day pass.

To win a copy, simply comment below about your favorite WWII historical fiction, and share the post on social media by Tuesday, Feb. 20th, 9 PM EST, when I’ll select one winner (US only, please) via Good luck, and happy reading!

Publisher Synopsis:

Hawaii, 1944. The Pacific battles of World War II continue to threaten American soil, and on the home front, the bonds of friendship and the strength of love are tested.

Violet Iverson and her young daughter, Ella, are piecing their lives together one year after the disappearance of her husband. As rumors swirl and questions about his loyalties surface, Violet believes Ella knows something. But Ella is stubbornly silent. Something—or someone—has scared her. And with the island overrun by troops training for a secret mission, tension and suspicion between neighbors is rising.

Violet bands together with her close friends to get through the difficult days. To support themselves, they open a pie stand near the military base, offering the soldiers a little homemade comfort. Try as she might, Violet can’t ignore her attraction to the brash marine who comes to her aid when the women are accused of spying. Desperate to discover the truth behind what happened to her husband, while keeping her friends and daughter safe, Violet is torn by guilt, fear and longing as she faces losing everything. Again.

Book Recommendation: Where the Wild Cherries Grow


“In the morning light the house looks sad, softly decaying. The yellow stone around the doors and windows is crumbling and green with lichen, but once it must have glowed, radiating the heat of a summer’s day. The creepers choking the walls must once have been climbing flowers, the wilderness of grass a lawn for games and picnics. All around, the trees echo with birdsong. Would Emeline Vane have heard the same songs, fifty years ago?” –Laura Madeleine, WHERE THE WILD CHERRIES GROW

Publisher Synopsis:

How far must you run to leave the past behind you?

It is 1919 and the end of the war has not brought peace for Emeline Vane. Lost in grief, she is suddenly alone at the heart of a depleted family. She can no longer cope. And as everything seems to be slipping beyond her control, in a moment of desperation, she boards a train and runs away.

Fifty years later, a young solicitor on his first case finds Emeline’s diary. What Bill Perch finds in the tattered pages of neat script goes against everything he has been told. He begins to trace an anguished story of love and betrayal that will send him on a journey to discover the truth.

What really happened to Emeline all those years ago?

My Recommendation:

There is nothing that so enchants the imagination like a dual period story of ghosts and loss, empty old houses, decadent sensory details, and rich shores of color in faraway lands. WHERE THE WILD CHERRIES GROW is an absolute buffet of these novel ingredients.

The story of the reluctant protagonist of 1969 is every bit as interesting, compelling, and moving as the tale of the heroine of 1919. The reader will not be able to turn pages fast enough as the lives of the solicitor charged with proving a woman dead so the family might sell an old house, and the journey of a woman fleeing the family who wishes to lock her up rather than seek her healing, converge on the shimmering shores of Cerbère–the last French town before Spain.

The contrasts of William’s and Emeline’s lives before their travels move from black and white to luxurious color, waisted frames to healthy bodies, hollow spirits to those overflowing with life. In spite of bad decisions and missteps, these characters triumph and find redemption, and the conclusion of the novel is both surprising and deeply satisfying.

At times reminiscent of THE HAUNTING OF HILL HOUSE to BEAUTIFUL RUINS to LIKE WATER FOR CHOCOLATE, WHERE THE WILD CHERRIES GROW is a rich, memorable story with a cast of characters the reader won’t soon forget. As one of my favorite reads of 2018 so far, I give the novel my highest recommendation.

The publisher has kindly offered two books for a giveaway to US and Canadian readers. For a chance to win a copy, simply comment below with your favorite historical or multi-period novels, and share this post on social media by Friday, February 16th at 5 PM ET. Good luck!



Book Recommendation: FROM SAND AND ASH



“I was rebelling even then, pushing back against the fear, though I didn’t recognize it. Rebellion was always my biggest ally, though I sometimes hated her. She looked like me and hurt like me, but she wouldn’t let me give up. And when fear took my reasons for fighting, rebellion gave them back. 

My father told me once that we are on earth to learn. God wants us to receive everything that life was meant to teach. Then we take what we’ve learned, and it becomes our offering to God and to mankind. But we have to live in order to learn. And sometimes we have to fight in order to live.” ~Amy Harmon, FROM SAND AND ASH

Publisher Synopsis:

Italy, 1943—Germany occupies much of the country, placing the Jewish population in grave danger during World War II.

As children, Eva Rosselli and Angelo Bianco were raised like family but divided by circumstance and religion. As the years go by, the two find themselves falling in love. But the church calls to Angelo and, despite his deep feelings for Eva, he chooses the priesthood.

Now, more than a decade later, Angelo is a Catholic priest and Eva is a woman with nowhere to turn. With the Gestapo closing in, Angelo hides Eva within the walls of a convent, where Eva discovers she is just one of many Jews being sheltered by the Catholic Church.

But Eva can’t quietly hide, waiting for deliverance, while Angelo risks everything to keep her safe. With the world at war and so many in need, Angelo and Eva face trial after trial, choice after agonizing choice, until fate and fortune finally collide, leaving them with the most difficult decision of all.

My Recommendation:

FROM SAND AND ASH is a tender, agonizing, and redemptive story of love and war.  From its first page, author Amy Harmon spellbinds the reader, and makes us ask over and over again: What would I do?

The plot is fast-paced and suspenseful, the relationships are intense, and the exploration of the spiritual lives of Eva and Angelo make for full-bodied, well fleshed out characters. Passionate and powerful men and women lie at the novel’s heart, and the story is told with great honesty and detail.

This is a book that will make you lose sleep, and the characters will stay with you long after you close its pages. If you loved The Thorn Birds or The Nightingale, I highly recommend FROM SAND AND ASH.

Have you read any other novels by Harmon? If so, I’d love to hear what I should read next.




Book Recommendation: SALT TO THE SEA


“What had human beings become? Did war make us evil or just activate an evil already lurking within us?” Ruta Sepetys, SALT TO THE SEA

Publisher Synopsis:

“In 1945, World War II is drawing to a close in East Prussia and thousands of refugees are on a desperate trek toward freedom, almost all of them with something to hide.

Among them are Joana, Emilia, and Florian, whose paths converge en route to the ship that promises salvation, the Wilhelm Gustloff. Forced by circumstance to unite, the three find their strength, courage, and trust in each other tested with each step closer toward safety. Just when it seems freedom is within their grasp, tragedy strikes. Not country, nor culture, nor status matter as all ten thousand people aboard must fight for the same thing: survival.

A tribute to the people of Lithuania, Poland, and East Prussia, Ruta Sepetys unearths a shockingly little-known casualty of a gruesome war, and proves that humanity can prevail, even in the darkest of hours.

My Recommendation:

SALT TO THE SEA was published in 2016 for YA readers, and has since received the following awards and honors:

A #1 New York Times Bestseller

A New York Times Notable Book

A Carnegie Medal Nominee

A Publishers Weekly Best Book of 2016

An Amazon Best Book of 2016

Goodreads Finalist Best YA Book of 2016

A School Library Journal Best Book of 2016

A Shelf Awareness Best Book of 2016

A Junior Library Guild Book Pick

A New York Public Library Best Book for Teens

A Chicago Public Library Best Book of 2016

#1 “Library Reads” Selection

#1 Indie Next List Selection

I only just read it because my reading life is sometimes dictated by research, review and blurb requests, and simple, unexplained urges toward a particular story or another. Once I finally picked it up, I consumed SALT TO THE SEA in less than 72 hours, and I can assure you, it is worthy of every honor bestowed upon it.

War stories offer high stakes and opportunity for strong feelings from the reader. When characters are as well done as these, the emotional intensity of the story is every bit as compelling as the physical urgency of the plot.

The characters are all of us: the shoe poet, the wandering boy, the Pole with the pink hat, the giant woman, the blind girl, the soldier. It’s easy to slip on their coats and walk with them, laugh and cry with them, and ultimately try to imagine what we would do in their shoes.

Not a word is wasted in the novel; Sepetys packs her short chapters from alternating points of view with vast windows of revelation into the pasts, the desires, and the vulnerabilities of her characters. Even amid the horrors of war, moments of sweetness punctuate the devastation: dancing to old records in a crumbling, abandoned estate, an orphan and a widower finding each other, a stolen kiss in a ship’s chimney…

I had never heard of the climactic incident in SALT TO THE SEA, but–like all good historical fiction–the novel sent me to the internet, wishing to learn more. In my searches, I found the book trailer. Watch it here.

There are no shortage of excellent novels set during World War Two, but this stands on another level. I give SALT TO THE SEA my highest recommendation.

Have you read this book, or any others by Ruta Sepetys? Let me know what else I should read by her.


Book Recommendation: LAST CHRISTMAS IN PARIS


“Those of us who are lucky enough to find a letter on the doormat devour the words inside with the appetite of a starving man. Those of us whose doormats remain empty must somehow find the courage to step over them and go out into a world we no longer recognise.” Hazel Gaynor and Heather Webb, LAST CHRISTMAS IN PARIS 

Publisher Synopsis:

August 1914. England is at war. As Evie Elliott watches her brother, Will, and his best friend, Thomas Harding, depart for the front, she believes—as everyone does—that it will be over by Christmas, when the trio plan to celebrate the holiday among the romantic cafes of Paris.

But as history tells us, it all happened so differently…

Evie and Thomas experience a very different war. Frustrated by life as a privileged young lady, Evie longs to play a greater part in the conflict—but how?—and as Thomas struggles with the unimaginable realities of war he also faces personal battles back home where War Office regulations on press reporting cause trouble at his father’s newspaper business. Through their letters, Evie and Thomas share their greatest hopes and fears—and grow ever fonder from afar. Can love flourish amid the horror of the First World War, or will fate intervene?

Christmas 1968. With failing health, Thomas returns to Paris—a cherished packet of letters in hand—determined to lay to rest the ghosts of his past. But one final letter is waiting for him…

My Recommendation:

If you have had an ache of longing since you finished reading THE GUERNSEY LITERARY AND POTATO PEEL SOCIETY, or since the conclusion of DOWNTON ABBEY, this novel is just the tonic.

LAST CHRISTMAS IN PARIS: A NOVEL OF WORLD WAR I, is an epistolary novel. Told in letters, telegrams, and newspaper dispatches, the marvelous, tragic, romantic, and fascinating story of Evie and Tom is one for the ages. Readers will not be able to turn the pages fast enough to find out the fates of their beloved characters, all while trying to savor the delightful exchanges.

At turns ebullient and heartbreaking, and often in quick succession, LAST CHRISTMAS IN PARIS is a true gem in historical fiction. Gaynor and Webb wrote the book in their own kind of letter exchange, giving it a special air of authenticity.

This was the first novel I read in 2018, and I’m afraid the bar has been set very high for whatever follows. If you are searching for a book to fall in love with, I cannot recommend LAST CHRISTMAS IN PARIS enough.


Best Books of 2017


Here is my much agonized over list of the best novels of 2017. (Notice, some of these are not historical; I’m broadening my horizons.) Some of the books were not published in 2017, but that is when I read them. My criteria for making the list:

*I read it obsessively.

*I can’t stop thinking about it.

*I can’t stop recommending it.

Whittling down my choices is always a challenge. I only feature the best of the best on the blog, so these are the best of the best of the best. Also, as always, I do an enormous amount of research reading, so I did not get to as many books for pleasure as I would have liked.

Without further ado, and in no particular order (my full reviews are linked to each title):

  1. If I Could Tell You, by Elizabeth Wilhide
  2. The Child Finder, by Rene Denfeld
  3. The Baker’s Secret, by Stephen P. Kiernan
  4. The Underground Railroad, by Colson Whitehead
  5. Beartown, by Fredrik Backman

What were your favorites of 2017?