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Dark Lady: A Novel of Emilia Bassano Lanyer by Charlene Ball

Source: Caitlin Hamilton Marketing & Publicity
Paperback, 300 pgs.
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Dark Lady by Charlene Ball is a fictional account of Emilia Bassano’s life in the late 1500s. She is rumored to be the “dark lady” in Shakespeare’s sonnets and is considered the first professional female poet. Ball has taken a format that resembles journal entries in that they jump forward in time, but the narrative is not told in the first person. She was a young woman who was sent to live with the Countess of Kent at a young age and much of her family were musicians at court. She often felt held back by the social norms in which women were passed about as property and often judged as fallen or bad women just based on appearances. Many of her actions seem haphazard and naive, which is to be expected for a girl sent away from her home at a young age.

“It was a day of sun and white waves on the water that curled around the prow of the boat. Emilia moved closer to Lord Hunsdon, wrapped in his cloak against the chill of the morning. Earlier the sky had been soft pearl gray, and now it was streaked with scarlet, purple, and deep crimson.” (pg. 13)

“Emilia made a face. ‘Don’t bring raw noses into my parlor, I beg you.’

‘And should I leave my poor nose at the door waiting in the cold? Shivering, dripping, unkerchiefed?'” (pg. 87)

Ball infuses Bassano’s tale with beauty and darkness, but there also is humor. Despite the tragedies in her life, Bassano strives to take her fate in her own hands. She meets a young playwright named Shakespeare, a man who wants to be a professional poet with a patron, but his works and his carefree attitude capture her attention away from a lord who has protected her when she needed it most. She is torn between her gratitude for the man who has protected her all this time, despite his own marriage and family, and the passion she knows lies beneath the disguises of a married player. The interactions between Bassano and Shakespeare are eerily familiar to those in the movie “Shakespeare in Love,” at least in terms of the cross-dressing and cloak-and-dagger tactics Bassano and Shakespeare engage in.

Dark Lady by Charlene Ball looks at the life of one female artist in a time when men dominated society and women were pawns. While she was strong in many ways, it was clear that she was still a victim of her own naivete and her inability to protect herself from situations that could harm her. Readers may find that the format and style keeps them at a distance from the main character as the story unfolds, but she certainly led an interesting life full of colorful people.

RATING: Tercet

About the Author:

Charlene Ball holds a PhD in comparative literature and has taught English and women’s studies at colleges and universities. Although she has written nonfiction, reviews, and academic articles, writing fiction has always been her first love. She has published fiction and nonfiction in The North Atlantic Review, Concho River Review, The NWSA Journal, and other journals. She has reviewed theater and written articles on the arts for Atlanta papers. She is a Fellow of the Hambidge Center for the Arts and held a residency at the Wurlitzer Foundation of New Mexico. She attends fiction workshops by Carol Lee Lorenzo, and she belongs to a writers’ group that she helped found. She retired from the Women’s Studies Institute (now the Institute for Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies) at Georgia State University in 2009 and has been busier than ever with writing and bookselling. She also volunteers with her congregation and other social justice groups. She and her wife, Libby Ware, an author and bookseller, were married in May 2016.

New Authors Reading Challenge 2017

The California Wife by Kristen Harnisch

Source: Caitlin Hamilton Marketing & Publicity
Paperback, 432 pgs.
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The California Wife by Kristen Harnisch is everything readers will want in a sequel and more.  I would recommend reading this after reading The Vintner’s Daughter.

***Spoilers for previous book below***

The Lemieux family has a wide open future ahead of them as their California vineyard seeks to become one of the best. Sara continues to be independent and strive for the revival of her family’s vineyard in France, while her husband continues to perceive himself as the lone captain of the family ship. He’s as hard-headed as she is, but when it comes to the wine business, they both know their stuff. Unfortunately for him, his wife has a mind of her own and will not back down when she sets her sights on something she wants for herself and their future. As they navigate their new marriage, their family faces threats from within their neighborhood and from outside — competing vineyards plagued by phylloxera and the price wars and prohibition. Although their love has been tested in the previous book, it remains to be seen if that love can overcome their headstrong notions about winemaking and their roles in that business.

Harnisch’s characters are wonderfully drawn, and while Sara is independent and a bit childish at times when she wants her way, it’s not surprising given the age difference between herself and her husband. She’s a bit more emotional given the tragedies she’s dealt with beginning in early adolescence, while he’s a bit more practical, working through all the facts and figures to find the best solution to their business problems. Aurora remains the mother Sara doesn’t have in California, guiding her through grief and disagreements, but she’s also a mother to her husband, helping him realize his dreams and steering him to less volatile waters where his wife is concerned. She’s an excellent sounding board.

Even though readers may want to see more of the 1900 World’s Fair in Paris, Harnisch provides enough of a glimpse to understand the role American winemakers played in the competition and how they were viewed by the rest of the world. As the Lemieux family navigates the world stage, some of their old friends come back into their lives, including midwife Marie Chevreau, who embarks on a struggle of her own against patriarchy. The California Wife by Kristen Harnisch is a saga you’ll want to read over the summer with a glass of white or red wine, most likely from Napa Valley, and soak in the tannins and ferment.

RATING: Cinquain

About the Author:

Kristen Harnisch’s ancestors emigrated from Normandy, France, to Canada in the 1600s. She is a descendant of Louis Hebert, who came to New France from Paris with Samuel de Champlain and is considered the first Canadian apothecary. She has a degree in economics from Villanova University and now lives in Connecticut. The Vintner’s Daughter, her debut novel, is the first in a series about the changing world of vineyard life at the turn of the century.

Tasa’s Song by Linda Kass

Source: Caitlin Hamilton Marketing & Publicity and She Writes Press
Paperback, 256 pgs.
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Tasa’s Song by Linda Kass, BRONZE WINNER, IPPY AWARD for HISTORICAL FICTION, is a concerto built on the jarring experiences of young violinist Tasa Rosinski in war-torn Poland during WWII.  Poland has changed hands many times before and does so again during the war, a war that many never expected to get as far as it did. As a young girl, she’s sent for additional schooling in Brody with her cousin Danik, but even as she enjoys school, she sees how the townspeople begin to treat their Jewish neighbors.  As fear creeps along the streets, Tasa softens the sharp edges with her violin, practicing music and losing herself in its timbres.

“In conveying the complicated history of Poland, Tasa’s schoolteacher used Podkamien as an example when she said you could live and die in one spot and occupy four different countries, because this part of Poland was constantly being invaded and carved up, then ‘liberated’ by somebody.” (pg. 15)

Tasa’s Jewish family is well liked by the townspeople of Podkamien because her father invested in the town, even as his family’s wealth grew.  He helped bring electricity and infrastructure to the village, making the lives of others better.  When the Nazis move on Poland and it is caught in between them and the Soviets, her family is able to escape for the most part with the help of non-Jewish families.  However, the tensions in the village are immediate, and the fear of being discovered can be difficult to live with.  Tasa, however, finds strength in her memories of her encouraging grandfather and her supportive mother, but also in her music, which provides her an escape from fear and loss.  She’s a strong young woman, and her strength helps others to keep going.

Tasa’s Song by Linda Kass demonstrates the tension within families at a time when there is so much uncertainty, and it illustrates the changing tides in just one nation during WWII.  Being Jewish in Europe during WWII was dangerous, and while luck can be with you, that luck also can turn out to be a bad omen.  This is a story of growing up in war, but also of learning to navigate uncertainty and reach into the future for something better without losing hope or the memory of those left behind, many in unmarked graves.

RATING: Quatrain

About the Author:

Linda Kass wrote for regional and national publications, including Columbus Monthly, TIME and The Detroit Free Press, early in her career as a journalist. TASA’S SONG, her debut novel, is inspired by her mother’s life in eastern Poland during the Second World War.

Linda lives in Columbus, Ohio, where she is a strong advocate of education, literacy, and the arts. Her past experience as a trustee and board chair of the Columbus Symphony Orchestra fed into much of the music that fills the pages of TASA’S SONG. Linda enjoys long distance road cycling and rides in an annual event to support cancer research.

Mailbox Monday #359

Mailbox Monday, created by Marcia at To Be Continued, formerly The Printed Page, has a permanent home at its own blog.

To check out what everyone has received over the last week, visit the blog and check out the links.  Leave yours too.

Also, each week, Leslie, Vicki, and I will share the Books that Caught Our Eye from everyone’s weekly links.

Here’s what I received:

The California Wife by Kristen Harnisch from Caitlin Hamilton Marketing & Publicity.

It is 1897, and Sara and Philippe Lemieux, newly married and full of hope for the future, are determined to make Eagle’s Run, their Napa vineyard, into a world-renowned winemaking operation. But the swift arrival of the 20th century brings a host of obstacles they never dreamed of: price wars and the twin threats of phylloxera and prohibition endanger the success of their business, and the fiercely independent Sara is reluctant to leave the fields behind for the new and strange role of wife and mother.

An invitation to the World’s Fair in 1900 comes just in time to revive the vineyard’s prospects, and amid the jewel-coloured wonders of Belle epoque Paris, Sara and Philippe’s passion is rekindled as well. But then family tragedy strikes, and, upon their return to California, a secret from Philippe’s past threatens to derail their hard-won happiness in one stroke.

Sara gains an ally when Marie Chevreau, her dear friend, arrives in San Francisco as the first female surgery student to be admitted to prestigious Cooper Medical College. Through Marie, Sara gets a glimpse of the glittering world of San Francisco’s high society, and she also forges friendships with local women’s rights advocates, inciting new tensions in her marriage. Philippe issues Sara an ultimatum: will she abandon the struggle for freedom to protect her family’s winemaking business, or will she ignore Philippe and campaign for a woman’s right to vote and earn a fair wage?

Fate has other plans in store in the spring of 1906, which brings with it a challenge unlike any other that the Lemieux family or their fellow Northern Californians have ever faced.

What did you receive?

Water on the Moon by Jean P. Moore

tlc tour host

Source: TLC Book Tours
Paperback, 244 pgs.
I am an Amazon Affiliate

Water on the Moon by Jean P. Moore is a spiral of mystery in which Lidia Raven, the mother of teenage twin girls, has her life upended by a pane that crashes into her family home.  Raven’s life already had jolted off track when her husband left her for another man, and she chose to parent her children on her own, leaving a prosperous career for the suburbs.  Behind the home, the apple orchards stand guard, watching over the new generations as the previous generations’ secrets remain hidden in passages beneath the house and among the surviving generations.  With nods to Byron’s poetry and to the bravery and passion of Amelia Earhart, Moore’s prose is winding, meandering through Lidia’s concerns about her daughters, her obsessions with the flyer who crashed into her home, and her difficulty in letting go of her past life with her husband.  Her neighbor, Polly, takes the Raven family in as the house is restored and the FBI investigation wraps up, and this woman is a sage, offering sound advice to those willing to listen.

Since the breakup of her ideal family, Lidia has spent a lot of hours worrying about when the next shoe would drop and upend her world again.  She’s been in protectionist mode for far too long, and with help from Polly, she learns to be more open and more flexible, but she also has to face some of the ghosts in her family’s past.  While the intricacies of the family mystery are interesting and the pilot’s obsession with Earhart are engaging, the main story often gets lost in the references to Byron and to Earhart.  The story would have felt less distant if the reader could have connected closer with Lidia and her heartbreak.

Water on the Moon by Jean P. Moore offers tidbits of conflict that are resolved either too quickly or barely resolved.  Lidia is a character that seems underdeveloped emotionally, and while the daughters are on the periphery, they have greater depth.  Lidia’s character falls in love too quickly, is easily spooked, and has a stubborn streak when her heart is broken.  Without Polly, Lidia would have plugged along in her life without making any real changes, and in this way, she redeems the novel for this reader.  Polly’s life is fascinating, and her sage advice will remind readers of those grandmothers who carefully steer loved ones in the right direction.

About the Author:

Jean P. Moore began her professional life as an English teacher, later becoming a telecommunications executive. She and her husband, Steve, and Sly, their black Lab, divide their time between Greenwich, Connecticut and the Berkshires in Massachusetts, where Jean teaches yoga in the summers.

Her work has appeared in newspapers, magazines, and literary journals such as upstreet, SN Review, Adanna, Distillery, Skirt, Long Island Woman, the Hartford Courant, Greenwich Time, and the Philadelphia Inquirer. Water on the Moon was published in June of 2014 and won the 2015 Independent Publishers Book Award for Contemporary Fiction. Visit her on her website, on her blog, and Twitter.

Mailbox Monday #307

Mailbox Monday, created by Marcia at To Be Continued, formerly The Printed Page, has a permanent home at its own blog.

To check out what everyone has received over the last week, visit the blog and check out the links.  Leave yours too.

Also, each week, Leslie, Vicki, and I will share the Books that Caught Our Eye from everyone’s weekly links.

Here’s what I received:

1.  Puckster’s Christmas Hockey Tournament by Lorna Schultz Nicholson, Illustrated by Kelly Findley for review from LibraryThing Early Reviewers.

In Puckster’s Christmas Hockey Tournament, it is Christmas Eve and Puckster is nervously watching the heavy snowfall gather on the ground and in the trees. It is his first Christmas away from home and though he is excited to be with Team Canada at the World Junior Hockey Tournament, he is afraid that the winter storm will prevent his family and friends from traveling to the remote arena and arrive in time for Christmas morning.

But there is another traveler that Puckster and the players are excited to see this Christmas. Santa! When the heavy snow forces the closure of the roads, only Santa and his team of reindeer can help. Will everyone be together for Christmas? In this magical story of friendship, young hockey fans learn the true meaning of the holidays. Puckster’s Christmas Hockey Tournament is destined to be a holiday classic.

2. The World Is On Fire: Scrap, Treasure, and Songs of the Apocalypse by Joni Tevis, a surprise from Milkweed Editions.

Marked by the end-times sermons of her Southern youth, Joni Tevis has spent her life both haunted by and drawn to visions of apocalypse: Nuclear fallout, economic collapse, personal tragedy. This collection follows the pilgrimage she undertook to put her childhood dread to rest. Standing at Buddy Holly’s memorial in the middle of a farmer’s field recalls Doom Town—the model American suburb built in the Nevada desert to measure the devastation of a nuclear bomb. Wandering the abandoned shop floors of shuttered factories in her hometown conjures landscapes submerged by flooding. And her visceral experience of remote Alaskan wilderness merges into a meditation on the sublime instinctual joy, as well as the unutterable sorrow, that can result from a woman carrying a child in her body.

3. Stella Rose by Tammy Flanders Hetrick, a surprise from Caitlin Hamilton Marketing.

Before her death, Stella Rose asks her best friend, Abby, to take care of her sixteen-year-old daughter, and Abby does the only thing she can: she says yes. After Stella s death, Abby moves to Stella s house in rural Vermont and struggles to connect with Olivia, who immediately begins to engage in disturbing behavior starting with ditching her old group of friends for a crowd of dubious characters. As the fog of grief lifts, Abby reconnects with old friends, enlists the aid of Olivia s school guidance counselor, and partners with Betsy, another single mom, in an effort to keep tabs on the headstrong teenager she s suddenly found herself responsible for but despite her best efforts, she is unable to keep Olivia from self-destruction. As Abby s journey unfolds, she grapples with raising a grieving teenager, realizes she didn’t know Stella as well as she thought, falls in love twice and discovers just how far she will go to save the most precious thing in her life.”

4. Doll God by Luanne Castle for my first Poetic Book Tours blog tour.

Luanne Castle’s new collection, Doll God, is sublime. The manner of these poems—that they embrace the doll and bring to it humanity and divinity—is something to behold. The voice in these poems is tender, visceral, and wonderfully human. Ms. Castle has forged a vision that feels like something you want to dance with, dress up, talk to like a child, but with an adult’s sensibility. I love these poems with my whole heart because they make me feel both childlike and grown, simultaneously. Doll mistresses, primordial conches, Barbies, infuse these poems with tremendous humanity, and they delight with purpose, sadness and joy, and an incredible range that will leave you breathless.
—Matthew Lippman, author of American Chew

What did you receive?

The Vintner’s Daughter by Kristen Harnisch

Source: Caitlin Hamilton Marketing and She Writes Press
Paperback, 368 pgs
On Amazon and on Kobo

The Vintner’s Daughter by Kristen Harnisch is set in Loire, France, in 1895 on the Thibault vineyards, as a family struggles to revive their grapes after a blight rocked the industry.  Sara has dreams of becoming a vintner like her father, and he has cultivated those dreams, allowing her to work the vines and learn all that she can from Jacques, the foreman.  She keeps a seasonal notebook about each harvest and process for making the wine, but when a blight threatens their harvest once again and the set price for barrels offered by the Lemieux family is too low to pay the vineyard’s debts, her father makes a fateful decision that changes the course of the entire family’s lives.  Harnisch clearly knows wine, vineyards, and the trade itself; her research is in depth and adds layers to her narrative.  Her characters are dynamic and engaging, and readers will be drawn into the Thibault family and cheer for them to triumph over the rival Lemieux family.

“Upon Jacques’s return, Sara wished him adieu and lifted her skirts to trudge through the mud between the vines toward the other end of the field.  There she hunched over to examine one of the vines more closely.  She ran her fingers over the leaves’ withering edges, fearing the worst.  She took her knife from her belt and split the vine’s bark.  With the tip of her blade, she scraped out hundreds of translucent eggs that lined the interior of the vine.  Some had already hatched, producing the dreaded pale yellow insects that were now sucking the vine dry.”  (page 8 ARC)

Fleeing France with her sister, Lydia (who resembles the Lydia of Pride & Prejudice in some ways), Sara finds herself adrift in New York City and reliant on the kindness of a convent and the church.  In their highly regimented life, she learns of the lush land in California and its vineyards, and she finally begins to dream of a way in which she can reclaim her family’s lost fortune.  While she’s making plans, she’s swept up in a different life, assisting a midwife.  As she learns to hold her ground in this more modern world in which women are making their own way, Sara is even more confident that she can right the wrongs done to her family.  When tragedy strikes again, Sara is forced to remain strong and to do what she thinks is best as she runs from the specter of the guillotine.

The Vintner’s Daughter by Kristen Harnisch is a fascinating look at the business of vineyards right around the time of prohibition in the United States and during the suffrage movement for women.  Sara comes into her own in the New World, and she learns what it is she truly has lost when she is pushed back to France by her boss in California.  Harnisch has crafted a emotional journey of a young woman coming into her own in the modern world and learning to forgive and be forgiven.  Stunning debut.

About the Author:

Kristen Harnisch’s ancestors emigrated from Normandy, France, to Canada in the 1600s. She is a descendant of Louis Hebert, who came to New France from Paris with Samuel de Champlain and is considered the first Canadian apothecary. She has a degree in economics from Villanova University and now lives in Connecticut. The Vintner’s Daughter, her debut novel, is the first in a series about the changing world of vineyard life at the turn of the century.

29th book for 2014 Historical Fiction Reading Challenge.

 

 

 

 

56th book for 2014 New Author Reading Challenge.