The First Actress

When you hear the name Sarah Bernhardt it is synonymous with drama, with that of the stage, with an actress.  That is exactly what she is, first and foremost an actress, first and foremost a drama queen

Born illiterately, her mother an high-class courtesan, never showed her any love, in fact she was cold, and heartless, giving her love more to her "suitors" who attended her salon.  Taken away from her Nana as a youngster, she sent to a convent where she stayed for 7 years.  As a Jew, nevertheless she attended the Catholic boarding school, paid for her by her father who paid the fee for her schooling and board. 

It was after she left the convent that she was able to join the Comedie Française with the help of one of her mother's suitors, Duke of Morny.  There were others who came to help her, the author Alexandre Dumas who also used his influence, calling her "my little star."  But, with her volatile personality ,it wasn't long before she caused a scandal and was dismissed from the theatre. Facing struggles, trying to assert her independence and earn some decent money, she even became a courtesan and found herself pregnant. Not wanting to have an abortion, she was denied the responsibility and any financial by the aristocrat who was the father. She gave birth to a son, Maurice Bernhardt.

The family's battles continued, her mother having two more illegitimate children, her aunt Rosine also became a courtesan, both women paying less attention to Sarah. After the birth of her son Maurice, to support herself and her son, Sarah played minor roles and was an understudy at popular melodrama theater.   Her breakthrough performance was in a play written by Dumas, in which she had the leading role.  Eventually she received an invitation to come back to the  Comedie Française wherein she took the most famous and demanding roles. She toured both England and America with much success, becoming the "Divine Sarah."

She honored her craft, meeting famous writers along the way, as well as admirers such as Oscar Wilde, the Rothschilds and other notables of those times. This book was exquisite in its detail, it was a pleasure to read this book, it was outstanding.  Highly recommended.

My thanks to NetGalley for this ARC in exchange for an honest review.

4 stars



This historical fiction is set in Shanghai...a multigenerational story, one that starts in 1935 wherein we first come upon Mini Pao, the grandmother who grew up before the Communist revolution.  In 1975 we find Ting, the granddaughter growing up in Communist Shanghai as well as Jing Ling, Ting's mother.  Up until a visit from her grandmother, who now lives in Hawaii, Ting had no idea she had a grandmother... of course she wants to know everything about her.   This story, while it is told through these women, it is actually more of Mini's story.  Her background, with her father working for the British consulate, was a bit less traditional than most Chinese families.  Shanghai in the 30's/40's was a lively city, its citizens looked down their noses at the peasants that lived in the country.  Mini was an independent woman, living in a household where her father insisted she learn English, she was headstrong and insistent, she found love, she also found betrayal.

For Ting, living in Communist Shanghai  she lives behind the wall of Communism, where the walls have eyes and ears, food is scarce, the living conditions poor.  Ting's thirst for knowledge, the awe she has for her grandmother and the fact that she lives in Hawaii, and wanting to learn as much as she can about her grandmother's life is quite compelling.  As Ting learns of her family's past, the hardships, the  politics, she is filled with a growing sense of independence.   The struggles both grandmother and granddaughter have, their independence and strong willed personalities, is woven into a book that cannot be put down.

As you read this book you see how China has changed from the 30's and into the 70's.  How the country shook off its cocoon and emerged into the modern world.  It is absolutely fascinating to learn the cultural differences between the East and West, how families relate to one another   Highly recommended.

My thanks to NetGalley for this ARC in exchange for an honest review.

5 stars

Reviewed on Goodreads, Amazon


The Secrets of Saffron Hall

Two women five centuries apart...a secret/mystery set at the time of King Henry VIII 1538. 2019 an ancient book found at Saffron Hall with a dark secret. Amber is staying with her Grandfather at his old home called Saffron Hall, grief stricken over the loss of her baby. While there she discovers an old prayer book that belonged to a woman named Eleanor from 500 years before. So begins a journey to uncover the secrets lurking in the old home. We are taken back to the time of the Tudors where we are immersed in its history.

Eleanor at 17 in 1538 is married by her guardian to Greville Richard Lutton, a wealthy merchant looking to move into the exalted circle of the King’s men. Her only dowry is the bulbs of crocus that is given to her by the priests of the Priory to which Eleanor is infinitely attached. Eleanor and her faithful friend and companion Joan begin a new life in Milfleet, growing into the responsibilities of being a mother to Greville’s 3 yr old child, and as the new mistress of the hall. Each and every change in her life with the birth of Henry, adopting the young mute boy Thomas, bringing her husband riches and value in the form of the saffron she cultivates in the fields, Eleanor has her hands full. It is also the time in history when the King ordered the closure of abbeys and monasteries thus leading to daring acts of courage and bravery.

Amber in 2019, recovering from a traumatic event has taken refuge at her family estate called Saffron Hall cataloguing her grandfather’s immense collection of books. When a Book of hours is discovered in a tower room abandoned by the family for centuries, Amber becomes intrigued and begins the search for answers about her family history and the significance of the name Saffron.

I thoroughly enjoyed the history and the writing. Clare Marchant's debut novel was excellent, I look forward to what she has in store for us down the line.

Thanks to NetGalley and Avon Books for this ARC in exchange for an honest review.

4 stars

Reviewed on Goodreads, Amazon


A story told in different segments, different eras...the late 18th century New Orleans, revolutionary Haiti and the modern Ohio. In each of these eras the author tells a story of a woman of color, all different ages, but all equally as strong, each facing personal conflicts and struggles. Each protagonist has the commonality of being of Creole ancestry, each having a different magic or power if you will. Words floating on the wind, whispers from one slave to another, the message "freedom" the "Underground Railroad" and how to get there. Racism, revolution, slavery...these are not just words, they are real, the lives of those who lived in the past and one particular word that sums up our present time. Ms. Woods has woven a tapestry in words that will long resonate within me. While the element of mysticism brought the entire book together.

My thanks to NetGalley for this ARC in exchange for an honest review,

5 stars

The Lions of Ffth Avenue

New York City 1913 the New York Public Library, the two lions guarding the entrance. Jack and Laura Lyons and their two children live in an apartment in the library as Jack is the superintendent there and that apartment is provided for them. Laura, restless as a homemaker yearns for more and is able go to the Columbia School of Journalism. This is not just an adventure for a bored housewife, but a whole new world awaits her as she steps into studies that take her all over the city. As Laura continued on with her studies, she left her cloistered surroundings, going out into New York's bohemian neighborhood in Greenwich Village. It was there that she opened her eyes to the difficult reality and struggle of women's lives, the under privileged, the less fortunate, a life she never understood or was aware of. But there was so much more she learned, that of a bohemian lifestyle, so different from her's. In the meantime, Jack was going through his own problems, something else Laura was unaware of. However, there is grave danger that is about to destroy the Lyons lives, as valuable books are soon missing from the library.

Flash forward to 1993 where we now find Sadie Donovan who is the curator of the New York Public Library. Sadie, Laura's granddaughter, is actually the one in charge of her grandmother's legacy, the famous essayist Laura Lyons. Under her position as curator, however, missing manuscripts, private letters as well as notes and books begin missing from the famous Berg collection. With her career in jeopardy and the valuable items now missing, Sadie now finds herself in the midst of helping to find the thief. Yet, what else will she find, what family secrets will be unearthed and discovered in this search?

What a double entendre with the lions guarding the library and the Lyons living within! Between the grandmother and the grandchild, as the story unfolds, we see the absolute connection between the two. The research is impeccable, the characters well developed. Fiona Davis has done it again. She has given us, her readers, a book that is excellent, a story that I loved and readers will treasure. Ms. Davis is one of my favorite authors and I look forward, as always, to her next novel.

My thanks to NetGalley and Dutton Books for this ARC in exchange for an honest review.

5 stars

The Book of Lost Names

Paris 1942 and the life is getting more difficult for the Jewish families. Like many other Jews, Eva's parents feel they are safe even as those around them are being rounded up.  However, their denial is only false security when one night Eva's father is taken into custody.  With advice given from her father if anything should happen she is to go to a man her father has arranged to help her, get forged papers and leave Paris, immediately.

Eva and her mother flee to the free zone, Aurignon near Switzerland, and find a boarding house that will take them in.  It was there she recognized her talent for forgery.  Watching her father repair typewriters for years, she has found the ability to forge documents and the papers necessary to help people escape the arms of the Nazis.  Spending time at the local church, along with the priest and a fellow forger, Remy, she soon becomes involved in forging documents that help hundreds of Jewish people escape to Switzerland.  Many of these are children, whose names have been changed along with their lives as they may never see their parents again.  Deeply disturbed by this prospect, Eva, with the help of Remy, devises a system with secret codes hiding these codes in an 18th century religious book. Some 65 years later Eva at the age of 86 learns that the book was taken from the church near the end of WWII.  At the Berlin Library both Eva and the book are reunited,, something she thought would never happen. 

This book gave me the insight into the people who joined the Resistance.  There was more than one way to fight the Nazis and these forgers put their lives on the line along with so many others.  Tension filled and well written, this was a difficult book to put down.  "Who will remember us?"  This sentence is the essence of this novel, this sentence fills my heart with pain for those who did not survive.  But for those that did, and for those of us who love historical fiction, these authors will not let us forget. Kristen Hamel  has written many wonderful novels, add this one to the "pack."
My thanks to Netgalley for this ARC in exchange for an honest review.

5 stars

The First Emma

In 1914, Otto Koehler, a successful entrepreneur and President of the San Antonio Brewing Association/Pearl Brewing Company is murdered by Emma B., his mistress. Also at the scene of the murder is Emma D., his ex mistress. Both women were nurses to Otto’s wife Emma Koehler, who had accepted her husband’s indiscretions after a car accident left her in a wheelchair. Otto’s wife cared less about her loveless marriage than the thriving brewery business she helped build. She ignored the affairs in exchange for power in the company.

Fast forward to 1943 in Baltimore, where Mabel Hartley’s life keeps getting worse. The War has taken her brothers, her father has disappeared, her fiancé found someone else, and her boss could care less about his employee, other than the fact that she is young and pretty. When she takes a chance and answers an advertisement for a writer, she is shocked when chosen and leaves everything for a new start in San Antonio.  Young, smart and heartbroken Mabel Hartley responds to a job advertisement and is selected to travel to San Antonio to document the memoirs of a now aged and sick Emma Koehler. 
When she meets the 83 year old, Emma Koehler and starts to hear her story, she is instantly drawn into the amazement of Emma’s life and her strength over the years. As Emma shares her story and Mabel records it, she begins to find her own strength and direction. In 1914, at a time when women couldn’t vote, Emma Koehler was running the most successful company in the state of Texas. Her business sense and leadership skills would be impressive in any time period but this feisty woman kept the business growing long after her husband’s murder – through Prohibition, the Great Depression and beyond.

This is another well-written historical novel by Camille Di Maio.  Her characters are well-developed, and her historical events and settings are well-researched. Emma Koehler not only weathered the Great Depression, but the scandal of her husband’s murder, and other devastations in her life to come out successfully.  Ms. Di Maio captured this and more with the way she developed the novel.

Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for an advanced copy of this novel. 

4 stars