The Tide Watchers by Lisa Chaplin

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Lisbeth has nothing left. Abandoned by her husband, her newborn son stolen, she has been forced to work as a tavern wench and unable to leave the France to return to her native Britain in dangerous times with Napoleon plotting to take over the world. A handsome stranger saves her from an unpleasant encounter with ruffians, and offers her a deal she can’t refuse.

He will save her from her miserable situation, get her son back for her and take her to safety…If she will help the British spy network to spy on the American inventor who is working on submersible watercrafts which could change Britain’s efforts against Napoleon and bring them levels of intelligence they’ve never had before. She will, of course, do whatever it takes to convince the inventor that she can be trusted…Even if her virtue is at stake.

Thrown into a world of politics, crime, murder, espionage, and even a touch of romance, Lisbeth’s life is being turned upside down. Can she escape to safety in the end? Can she get her son back? Who can she trust? What will she do to save her son from the clutches of his horrible father? Will she give up all of her principles? Where will she end up, if she fails?

The Tide Watchers, by Lisa Chaplin, is NOT a quick, easy weekend read-the novel is intelligent and full of history and politics. If you want a novel that’s meaty and complex, The Tide Watchers is for you. I, personally, enjoyed it very much and look forward to the inevitable second installment of Lisbeth’s story.

The Nazi Officer’s Wife: How One Jewish Woman Survived the Holocaust, by Edith Hahn Beer (with Susan Dworkin)

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The Nazi Officer’s Wife: How One Jewish Woman Survived the Holocaust, by Edith Hahn Beer with Susan Dworkin, is one story you will not be about to put down…But don’t pick it up at all if you want something sweet and romantic and warm and fuzzy. Because this is not that kind of story.

Edith Hahn was raised by Jewish parents, but raised as a pretty typical Austrian girl. Her parents had high hopes for her future, and she was encouraged to go to college and planned to one day be a lawyer. In her final stretch of school, unfortunately, the worst thing imaginable happened….The Holocaust began. Jewish citizens began to lose their basic human rights and even personal possessions. They were treated like lesser beings. They were denied jobs, education, even communication with the outside world. Jews started to disappear, running away to friendly neighboring countries, going into hiding, forced into labor, imprisoned, killed in random acts of violence.

Edith’s world was getting smaller every day. Her father passed away, her sister left the country, and her mother and a scattering of relatives was all that remained of the life she used to live. One day she and her mother are separated. She begs Nazi officers to spare her mother as they are being hauled off to do mandatory labor out on a farm…And she never sees her mother again.

When Edith is finally done with her labor, she is released and only wants to see her mother again. But her mother is gone and she is no longer welcome in the homes of her old German friends. She is too dangerous to have around. She is homeless, nameless, destitute…She must work the system and deceive everyone into believing that she isn’t Jewish…And what better way to cover her tracks than to marry a Nazi officer?

The Nazi Officer’s Wife is the most powerful story I’ve read this year, putting it squarely into a spot on my Best of 2015 List. The horrors of the holocaust, the inhumanity, the strength of one woman who had nothing and still survived. She risked everything and nearly sold her own soul to stay alive and persevere.

The story is that of Edith Hahn Beer, but it was made into a novel by Susan Dworkin. If you want literature that moves you, pulls your heartstrings, makes you angry, makes you feel desperate for the character to survive, then The Nazi Officer’s Wife is for you. I stayed up much too late at night reading this one….And if you can make it all the way through, I can guarantee you will lose some sleep, too.

The Red Tent by Anita Diamant

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Dinah is the daughter of the Biblical Jacob, his only daughter in a passel of 13 children by 4 different wives. She is briefly mentioned in the Bible, part of a story about a young lady who falls in love with a a nobleman and falls into his bed before they are married, and whose father and brothers did something horrible in retaliation of her lost honor. The story of Dinah starts when she is a young girl, and ends when she is an old woman, and shares what it would have been like for a woman in biblical times, when women were treated like a commodity, traded and negotiated for like livestock, and expected to be fruitful with healthy sons.

Surprisingly, however, this novel is empowering for women. Despite the conditions, these women were strong and worked together with unbelievable loyalty and solidarity. The wives had unbreakable bonds, and the Red Tent, where a woman was expected to pass her monthly courses, became a place where a woman could just be a woman among friends. Plans were made, advice was passed around, compassion was doled out. Possibly the most important lesson of this novel is that the relationships between women are remarkable, beautiful and unbreakable.

I wasn’t sure what to expect when I started this novel, but I heard it was really good and I have always been interested in biblical mythology and history. I was blown away by the strength of the women, through everything they were subjected to in the course of their lives. The Red Tent, by Anita Diamant,  is a must-read. I promise.

The Aviator’s Wife by Melanie Benjamin

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Anne Morrow was a shy college girl who dreamed of being a writer. Charles Lindbergh swept into her life in his airplane and the two found a connection that surprised them both. They were swiftly married and she became Mrs. Charles Lindbergh. She learned to fly, which was remarkable for a woman of her day, when “aviatrixes” were even more rare than they are today, by far. They traveled the globe, flew together, took on world record challenges, and her life was anything but dull. When Anne gets pregnant, however, strain comes into the relationship. Anne’s nesting instincts kick in, and her availability to trot the globe with Charles becomes limited. She quickly begins to see a new reality about what it’s like to be “The Aviator’s Wife”.

This famous family is most widely known for the kidnapping of their first born baby, and the The Aviator’s Wife tells a version of that story, but more than anything it tells the story of the relationship between Anne and her celebrity husband from the moment they meet until the moment of his death. The truth about the man, as a husband, as a father, all flaws exposed. Secrets about Charles Lindbergh came out years after his death, and those secrets are exposed in this novel that carries you through the perspective of his wife through everything they encounter, including time spent in Nazi Germany and much more.

If you like to read novels about famous celebrities in history, The Aviator’s Wife , by Melanie Benjamin, is not to be missed. The audiobook format of the novel is also excellent.

The Queen’s Lover by Francine du Plessix Gray

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In popular culture, Marie Antoinette is very well-known for being the Queen who was beheaded by her people.  She is also portrayed as having her own tidy collection of male admirers. One such man considered himself above the rest -Count Axel von Fersen was a friend to the royal family, soldier, diplomat, and bodyguard. He served his queen in many ways, but considered himself her one true love and considered her his own true love. This does not, however, mean that he remained faithful to the queen during the long separations caused by politics of the time period stretching over years, through her crowning, the American Revolution, and later, the revolution of her own country. Faithful or not, however, he always returned and he always supported her in every situation.

This unique novel has taken the story of Marie Antoinette and put it into the eyes and mouth of her lover, giving you a perspective that feels exclusive and personal, without idealizing the woman or her behavior in any way.  More than anything, the novel discusses the politics of the world during the life span of Marie Antoinette and the period following her overthrow.

This is NOT a bodice-ripper, although it has its share of scandal. If you like historical romance more than you like HISTORY, then don’t bother with this one. If you want to learn more about the events leading up to and following the death of Marie Antoinette, however, this novel will be very interesting for you.  Give it a try and see what you think!

The Hangman in the Mirror by Kate Cayley

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Francoise Laurent is the 16-year-old daughter of an alcoholic laundress and a drunkard. She wears her fingers down to the bone helping her parents to pay the rent and keep a minimum of food on the table. She dreams of another life, life as a maid, with nice clean dresses and ribbons in her hair. When small pox strikes her household and she is the only survivor, she sees an opportunity to be all that she had ever dreamed of…Maid to Madame Pommereau, the wife of a wealthy fur trader. She humbles herself to the woman and is taken under her wing…But the mistress is very moody and her sharp tongue is almost unbearable at times. One day, Francoise sees the chance to take a pair of Madame’s beautiful gloves, relishing the thought of having something so very beautiful to call her own.

Before Francoise knows what is happening, she is thrown into jail, accused of stealing the gloves and sentenced to death by hanging. Everyone in Quebec in the time period knows that the only way for a woman awaiting death to avoid the noose is if she marries the hangman and he makes himself responsible for her. Due to an untimely death, there is no hangman, so she lives day after day in her cell, waiting for a man to be appointed the position. Then she gets an idea. The man next to her will be released from jail when his sentence has been served….What if she could convince him to become the hangman and marry her? And so she tells him her sad story…. Can she convince this man to volunteer for the worst job of all, being responsible for the deaths of hundreds of people who have sometimes only stolen food for starving families? Will he marry her?

This novel does a beautiful job of showing the harshness of Quebec in 18th-century Canada, where people left France to find a New World, and only found disease, poverty, and tyrannical laws. If you enjoy historical fiction that shows the injustice of the times, like Kathleen Kent’s The Heretic’s Daughter, you will want to add The Hangman in the Mirror, by Kate Cayley, to your to-read list.

Shadow of Night by Deborah Harkness

Diana Bishop is back in the second installment in the All Souls Trilogy-the first book of which was called A Discovery of Witches and was insanely popular among paranormal romance readers. In Shadow of Night, Diana and the sexy vampire geneticist Matthew Clairmont have time traveled back to Elizabethan England to find the famous manuscript, Ashmole 782,  that started the saga in the first novel. Diana and Matthew must get the manuscript to keep it out of the wrong hands, and every supernatural creature wants the book for his kind, and is willing to take out Diana and Matthew in the process-but the hero and heroine are determined to save the supernatural world by preserving the book and the current status quo between the species.

Christopher Marlowe, William Shakespeare, Queen Elizabeth, and MANY other historical figures make their way into the plot of the story, so if you love historical fiction, you will be tickled by the references made and the excellent attention to detail that the author, Deborah Harkness, is well-known for. If you read the first novel, you won’t want to miss the second, and if you haven’t, I suggest you start from the beginning!

Readers who enjoyed The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane, by Katherine Howe, and The Witch’s Daughter, by Paula Brackston, will love the A Discovery of Witches and Shadow of Night. Paranormal romance with a touch of history and elements of magic with hints of time travel….