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.  


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: THE OTHER ALCOTT


“All these years, her family had humored her artistic aspirations: Father built her a tiny art studio off his office; Marmee let her draw on the walls of her bedroom; Louisa permitted her to illustrate Little Women. But May always suspected, deep down, they didn’t believe she was an artist, not in the same way that Louisa had always been considered one. Was it because Louisa suffered for her writing? Must one suffer for art? May certainly hoped not.” Elise Hooper, The Other Alcott

Publisher Synopsis:

We all know the story of the March sisters, heroines of Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women. But while everyone cheers on Jo March, based on Louisa herself, Amy March is often the least favorite sister. Now, it’s time to learn the truth about the real “Amy”, Louisa’s sister, May.

Stylish, outgoing, creative, May Alcott grows up longing to experience the wide world beyond Concord, Massachusetts. While her sister Louisa crafts stories, May herself is a talented and dedicated artist, taking lessons in Boston, turning down a marriage proposal from a well-off suitor, and facing scorn for entering what is very much a man’s profession.

Life for the Alcott family has never been easy, so when Louisa’s Little Women is published, its success eases the financial burdens they’d faced for so many years. Everyone agrees the novel is charming, but May is struck to the core by the portrayal of selfish, spoiled “Amy March.” Is this what her beloved sister really thinks of her?

So May embarks on a quest to discover her own true identity, as an artist and a woman. From Boston to Rome, London, and Paris, this brave, talented, and determined woman forges an amazing life of her own, making her so much more than merely “The Other Alcott.”

My Recommendation: 

This is the second novel of May Alcott I have read, and I enjoyed this every bit as much as the other. Both stories focus on different aspects of May, highlighting times and places in unique ways, with THE OTHER ALCOTT giving special attention to the relationship between the sisters: May and Louisa.

Hooper has done a marvelous job showing a flawed character who is a delight, even when she stumbles. Like Jane Austen’s Emma, May is charming and her struggles are relatable. Her need to carve an identity of her own is palpable and drives her brilliant arc as an artist and a woman.

Lovers of history will be intrigued by the sketches of figures both well known and unknown, and Hooper gives just enough detail to enhance the story without overburdening it. I spent hours online looking up the supporting and leading characters of the novel, and was fascinated by the talented men and women in the Alcotts’ lives.

If you enjoy biographical historical fiction about women that spans the globe, you will enjoy THE OTHER ALCOTT. This is Hooper’s debut, and I am eager to hear what she’s working on next.

For more on the book or the author, visit:



Book Recommendation: THE ADDRESS




“Around her was treeless farmland and cattle grazing in muddy fields. It was as if the landscape had been flattened by an enormous gust of wind and only now was coming back to life…This was New York?” Fiona Davis, THE ADDRESS

Publisher Synopsis:

After a failed apprenticeship, working her way up to head housekeeper of a posh London hotel is more than Sara Smythe ever thought she’d make of herself. But when a chance encounter with Theodore Camden, one of the architects of the grand New York apartment house The Dakota, leads to a job offer, her world is suddenly awash in possibility—no mean feat for a servant in 1884. The opportunity to move to America, where a person can rise above one’s station. The opportunity to be the female manager of The Dakota, which promises to be the greatest apartment house in the world. And the opportunity to see more of Theo, who understands Sara like no one else…and is living in The Dakota with his wife and three young children.

In 1985, Bailey Camden is desperate for new opportunities. Fresh out of rehab, the former party girl and interior designer is homeless, jobless, and penniless. Two generations ago, Bailey’s grandfather was the ward of famed architect Theodore Camden. But the absence of a genetic connection means Bailey won’t see a dime of the Camden family’s substantial estate. Instead, her “cousin” Melinda—Camden’s biological great-granddaughter—will inherit almost everything. So when Melinda offers to let Bailey oversee the renovation of her lavish Dakota apartment, Bailey jumps at the chance, despite her dislike of Melinda’s vision. The renovation will take away all the character and history of the apartment Theodore Camden himself lived in…and died in, after suffering multiple stab wounds by a madwoman named Sara Smythe, a former Dakota employee who had previously spent seven months in an insane asylum on Blackwell’s Island.

One hundred years apart, Sara and Bailey are both tempted by and struggle against the golden excess of their respective ages—for Sara, the opulence of a world ruled by the Astors and Vanderbilts; for Bailey, the free-flowing drinks and cocaine in the nightclubs of New York City—and take refuge and solace in the Upper West Side’s gilded fortress. But a building with a history as rich—and often tragic—as The Dakota’s can’t hold its secrets forever, and what Bailey discovers in its basement could turn everything she thought she knew about Theodore Camden—and the woman who killed him—on its head.

With rich historical detail, nuanced characters, and gorgeous prose, Fiona Davis once again delivers a compulsively readable novel that peels back the layers of not only a famed institution, but the lives—and lies—of the beating hearts within.

My Recommendation:

The construct of novels set in multiple time periods lends a natural suspense, but it is rare that each time holds the same level of intrigue for the reader. THE ADDRESS, by Fiona Davis, however, succeeds where many other dual period novels fail; both story lines are fully developed and equally compelling.

Lovers of New York City will thrill over period details–delighting in imagining the beginnings of the Dakota and the city at large–and will enjoy learning about the famous men and women who lived within the great halls of one of its most famous landmarks.

Through dialogue and description, Davis moves with ease between the centuries, clearly showing the challenges of each time while illustrating the connections between the past and the present. Her characters make bad decisions, but they remain sympathetic, earnest, and endearingly human, and some of their struggles are particularly moving and relatable.

Davis is an assured and gifted storyteller, and I look forward to reading more of her work. Those who enjoy dual period novels and stories from the Gilded Age will devour THE ADDRESS.



Book Recommendation: THE UNDERGROUND RIVER


“A strange feeling came over me then, as though we’d entered a dark, secret world. We crept along the north side of the river and the banks seemed to squeeze in on us while the river itself churned up mud. We passed a stand of bleached white oak trees, dead but still standing guard…the mist floated upward into a dirty strip of gauze across the sky.” Martha Conway, THE UNDERGROUND RIVER

Publisher Synopsis:

Set aboard a nineteenth century riverboat theater, this is the moving, page-turning story of a charmingly frank and naive seamstress…

My Recommendation:

I find I am in the bizarre position of having to cut off the publisher synopsis. It reveals far too much about the book and steals some of the surprises, of which there are many.

The heart of THE UNDERGROUND RIVER is May Bedloe, an honest-to-a-fault, practical, and endearing young woman. This story is about her coming of age, overcoming loneliness, and the development of her courage. We learn about her world as she does, and author Martha Conway does a brilliant job embodying May, firmly placing the reader in her shoes and rooting for her success.

The book is less about abolitionists and more about the heroine’s journey. Adventures and challenges are numerous and riveting, and each obstacle faced and overcome adds to May’s development, and the growth (or regression) of those around her.

It was hard to put down THE UNDERGROUND RIVER. The story is moving, and as it ends–in some ways–it feels as if it’s just beginning. I hope Conway considers writing a sequel because I want more of these characters.

Fans of historical fiction, pre-Civil War era literature, and suspense will enjoy THE UNDERGROUND RIVER. For more on the book and the author, visit