(4.5 / 5)
The Beaten Territory is a fast-paced, deeply textured tale of three women whose lives interconnect in late nineteenth century Denver. Annie, enmeshed in the prostitution trade, yearns to become an independent businesswoman, with her own saloon and brothel. Lydia, owner of the building Annie rents, is drawn to Hop Alley and the opium dents to supplement her laudanum additions while her naiveté exposes her to risks she doesn’t suspect. Annie’s niece, Pearl, is nurtured into the trade by her aunt and is soon trapped into a life of prostitution. Attractive and resentful, she plays the game, waiting for her chance to get out. The lives of the three women intertwine, but each exists in her own world, none knowing enough about the others’ affairs to sense how much of a spider-web their lives eventually become. When each attempts to satisfy her own goal, all are put in danger.
Samuelson-Brown’s use of vivid, metaphorical language brings historic Denver and surrounding towns to life. Many passages are almost lyrical in tone without subtracting from the story itself—a delicate balance. Her secondary characters convey the shadiness of the red-light districts of the past and add depth to the story. Setting and flavor are admirably accomplished.
But it is the masterful weaving of individual stories that makes this novel stand out as unique. At the onset, each character has her own separate story. Annie, Lydia, and Pearl each have dreams as well as flaws that hold them back. Samuelson-Brown adeptly establishes each of the three as sympathetic while never losing track of the rough edges that make them who they are. As she winds the three plotlines together into a complicated tapestry, she reminds the reader of the tragic influences of the underworld. The story is a captivating yet realistic glimpse into prostitution in the Old West and how trapped such women became, despite their strengths.
(4.5 / 5)
Pirate Andre Dubois can deny his wife nothing. They both know that. So even though Andre much prefers the high seas to dry land, when Sophie Bellard Dubois asks to spend Christmas in New Orleans with Andre’s father, he reluctantly agrees. What neither of them know is who is also home for the holidays — fellow pirate and arch enemy, Gilbert Harrington IV. Sophie has still not psychologically recovered from the scars Gilbert left when he forcibly robbed her of her maidenhood five years earlier. Once he finds Sophie in the Crescent City, he demands she privately entertain him again, lest Andre be thrown in the stocks. Sophie fears there is no way out, unless she can create one of her own.
Cathy Skendrovich’s sequel to The Pirate’s Bride is a saucy, delightful romp through eighteenth-century La Nouvelle-Orléans. The liberal sprinkling of French throughout Holiday Masquerade adds charm and texture; the story is briskly paced and realistic. Sophie is fierce and independent. So it makes sense that the high point of the book comes when she regains her sense of power over Capitan Harrington, and even though Andre is present, she doesn’t need him to save her.
Skendrovich does a wonderful job of creating chemistry and passion between the two title characters. Those are key to a really good romance, after all, and Andre and Sophie have them in spades. That is fully evident in the titillating lovemaking scenes sprinkled throughout the book. From bed to bed and beginning to end, Andre and Sophie are lively and entertaining. Even though The Pirate’s Bride: Holiday Masquerade is set during Yuletide, it is a perfect read for any season.
(3.5 / 5)
In 1667, King Louis XIV created a program to promote emigration of young women to New France as wives for Canadian colonists. Promised to the Crown follows the story of three fictional young women who answer the call. Rose leaves a bleak life in a charity hospital; Nicole hopes for a better future than that promised for a poor farmer’s daughter; Elizabeth flees her mother’s schemes for her future. Each has her own demons, her own dreams, and her own story.
Runyan masterfully creates a composite tale, combining accounts of many of the real King’s Daughters into a single captivating story that weaves the lives of three women together. She is able to create characters with believable flaws and complicated histories. Her adept merging of historical facts from the lives of many women to build these three distinct protagonists speaks to Runyan’s skill as both a researcher and a writer. Each woman responds uniquely to the unexpected realities of Quebec: its harsh climate, difficult conditions, the sometimes discouraging attitudes of those already there. Expectations are tested when Rose, Nicole, and Elizabeth discover life in New France to be different than anticipated. All three women demonstrate resiliency as they adapt and grow. Historical information not utilized for her main characters is highlighted via dialogue and secondary characters.
Each of the women in the novel has faults and makes choices that can sometimes be a bit exasperating to the modern reader. It is a credit to Runyan’s skill that she is able to motivate their seventeenth-century responses with backstory. Her careful construction of their personalities allows us to identify with them despite the span of time and culture that separates us from them. The book is worth the read to glean a glimpse of this often forgotten chapter of history.
(4.5 / 5)
Freelance writer Hannah has a predilection for the unwanted and for distancing herself from others (with the exception of her cat), so when she comes across a Victorian era house for sale located in the wilderness outside of Calgary, she knows she’s found the perfect place. Tucked an hour away from everyone she knows, she soon discovers that it is someone else’s place as well—the resident ghost, who has scared off all previous owners of the beautiful, lovingly crafted home. But Hannah is as intransigent as the ghost and refuses to leave her newfound sanctuary. The two battle for control; all changes to the home are met with door-slamming and the knocking over of lamps, and even her cat starts behaving strangely. When Hannah’s journalistic drive leads her to discover what motivates her spooky companion, she finds a commonality between the two of them—and wonders if the ghost’s fate may also be hers.
Judith Docken paints the small town of Spruce Valley and its denizens as well as the quiet beauty and solitude of the woods outside Calgary in a way that makes the reader visualize it all perfectly. She possesses a strong voice as a writer, as shown by the subtle details of her characters, all who feel like distinct personalities. Hannah, the protagonist, is an independent, stubborn, and completely relatable woman in her early thirties with a penchant for wine and an equally independent and stubborn cat named Jimi (for Jimi Hendrix, whose black hair the cat resembles, which I found to be a nice touch). Any cat owner will chuckle knowingly at Jimi’s antics, as well as Docken’s deadpan humor, which contrasts perfectly with the heavier aspects of tragedy and loss that pervade the story. Ghosted is a strong debut novel from Docken, and a thoroughly enjoyable read.
(4 / 5)
Ava’s twenty-five-year marriage unravels after her husband Jim leaves her for another woman. Ava’s children are grown; her son if off to work in another country and her troubled daughter Maggie leaves for Europe to attend school. Ava is lonely and desperate for company, and though she is not an avid reader, she begs her friend Cate to let her join Cate’s monthly book group where members choose the books they want to discuss throughout the year. This year’s theme is for each member to choose the book that mattered most to them over the course of their lives. Ava, struggling to name a book that matters most to her, chooses a book from her childhood which she read after the traumatic deaths of her sister and mother, for which Ava blames herself. Ava, trying to fit in with the group, tells them that she has invited the author of her book to come to the group and speak. The problem is that Ave does not know, nor can she locate, the author. Maggie disappears in Europe, and Ava must now find both her daughter and the author. These quests both confuse Ava and help her to untangle secrets from her past including the death of her mother.
The Book That Matters Most if filled with misdirection but ultimately these direct the reader to a predictable ending. In spite of this, the story is smoothly written as it examines grief and healing, and is filled with a tangible depth of emotion. Hood weaves humor throughout the moody and intricate plot and builds suspense, forcing this reader to turn pages.