[Review and Excerpt] The Tacksman’s Daughter by Donna Scott

Publisher and Publication Date: Atlantic Publishing. The paperback was published January 10, 2022. The Kindle edition was published January 3, 2022.
Genre: Historical fiction.
Pages: 368.
Format: E-book.
Source: I received a complimentary e-book copy from Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours. I am not required to write a positive review.
Audience: Historical fiction readers. Readers who have an interest in Scottish history.
Rating: Very good.

Link for the book tour page: Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours.

Link for the book @ Amazon.

Link for the book @ Barnes and Noble.

About the Author:

Donna Scott is an award-winning author of 17th and 18th century historical fiction. Before embarking on a writing career, she spent her time in the world of academia. She earned her BA in English from the University of Miami and her MS and EdD (ABD) from Florida International University. She has two sons and lives in sunny South Florida with her husband. Her first novel, Shame the Devil, received the first place Chaucer Award for historical fiction and a Best Book designation from Chanticleer International Book Reviews. Her newest novel, The London Monster, was released in November 2020. To learn about new releases and special offers, please sign up for Donna’s newsletter.

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Summary:

Scotland, 1692. To escape a brutal winter storm, King William’s regiments descend on the small village of Glencoe. Caitriona Cameron, the tacksman’s daughter, cannot forget her unpleasant encounter the last time English troops appeared. She senses the army’s arrival might not be as innocent as it seems, but her warnings go unheeded. Not even MacIain, the MacDonald clan chief, listens. After twelve days of billeting in the villagers’ homes, the soldiers attack, committing one of the greatest atrocities in Highland history.

Cait escapes the assault with the help of Sergeant Edward Gage who is accused of being a traitor for not taking up arms against the MacDonalds. Edward is hunted by his debauched half-brother, Alexander, who stands to lose everything if King William attaints their father for his treasonous past deeds. With bad blood between them, Alexander sets out to capture Edward to prove his loyalty and save himself from ruin.

Cait and Edward travel to Edinburgh to confront the men they suspect are behind the attack, unaware that Alexander is headed there as well. Although Cait is convinced the chief of Clan Campbell is responsible, Edward suspects something much more sinister—that the orders came from higher up, possibly even from the king himself.

As accusations of betrayal, deceit, and treason abound, they are all trapped in a web of intrigue and danger, but not everyone will escape.

Excerpt:

MEET EDWARD, the hero~
The snow found its way inside Edward’s collar and shirtsleeves. He pulled at his broad-brimmed hat, praying for some protection from the wind. His feet were wet and numb from having accidentally stepped in a shallow stream he’d thought was frozen over. He and the others had been marching for weeks now, since December, to meet the Earl of Argyll’s regiment in Inveraray. Sir John Dalrymple, the Master of Stair, had sent the orders, conveniently forgetting—or not caring—that it was the middle of winter and almost impossible to travel through the snow-covered passes. If Edward and his men didn’t perish from trying to navigate the dangerous Highland terrain, they’d die from the cold. Now with the regiments joined, Argyll’s men marched ahead, most of them Scottish and faring slightly better cocooned in green plaids with their blue wool bonnets protecting their ears from the wind’s frosty teeth. Edward tugged his hat lower, hoping to ease the icy burn on his forehead.
Alexander, his brother, marched farther up front, his shoulders hunched liked all the others, the wind forcing his head down, his chin to his chest. Even with the north and south sides of the glen framed by tall ridges, there was no respite from the freezing gusts. The only sounds were the howling wind and the crunch of their boots as they made their way through the snow.
After a while, Edward found it difficult to tell if the noises were real or if his mind had simply allowed their interminable rhythm to play in his head.
“Edward!” Alexander called to him with an urgent wave. It was an unnecessary gesture, for Edward could spot his brother in any crowd. It was like looking in a mirror. They were both a half a head taller than most men, their shoulders straight and broad, their hair long and dark. The only remarkable difference lay in their eyes—Alexander’s the colour of weak tea and Edward’s blue. Like his mother’s.
The regiment stopped. Edward edged by some soldiers to join his brother. “What is it?”
Alexander nudged his chin towards the brae. “It looks like Highlanders near Argyll’s troops. Could mean trouble.”
Edward scanned the sloping hillside down to the edge of the loch. There were men there, maybe twenty or so, but they didn’t appear to be armed. “They don’t seem as if they mean harm. I see no weapons.”
Alexander laughed without humour. “They are Highlanders. Each one of them has five blades hidden in his plaid.”
Edward blew into his hands, then rubbed them together. “A bit of an exaggeration, don’t you think?”
“They are armed. Trust me. Come.”
They trudged through the snow to Argyll’s men and reached them just as Captain Campbell yelled, “Order your muskets! Order your pikes! Rest on your arms, men!”
One large Scot descended the hill first, the others trailing behind. Edward guessed he was in his early thirties and seemed to have the respect of his men. He was likely not the clan chief, but he displayed the confidence of a man in charge.
Alexander moved slightly, resting his hand on the hilt of his sword. He was always so distrustful, too quick to attack.
“Stay your hand, brother,” Edward urged under his breath.

Praise for the Book:

The Tacksman’s Daughter is a fascinating read, at the heart of which is a truly horrifying historical massacre. The author brings the times alive in vivid detail, skillfully (and often humorously) weaving in ancient Gaelic language. Readers will be riveted!”—KD Alden, author of A Mother’s Promise

“. . . it’s a gripping read, and the author has a real skill for keeping the reader turning pages.” –SS, Penguin RH

“[Scott] does an excellent job of transporting her reader back to the seventeenth century Highlands. The dialogue felt so authentic, and the characters and Scottish landscape really jumped off the page.” -KK, Simon and Schuster

My Thoughts:

One of my favorite settings in a story is Scotland. I’m also fond of Ireland, Wales, and England. The time period is another favorite because of the history of this time: the Jacobite group and the current ruling monarch in England. These are strong reasons for me to become swept up in the story.

Another reason I fell in love with the story is the character, Caitriona or Cait. She is both beautiful and wise. She has a hidden talent rare for a female and this gives her an interesting and enticing bonus.

The two brothers are Alexander and Edward. They are polar opposites which also create elements for the story. Plus, when there are characters who are so opposite in nature it causes each to become larger in the eyes of the reader. What I am saying is if the very bad and mean character were not so very bad and mean he would not make the very good character look so good. I hope that makes sense. It is like placing a diamond beside a piece of coal. The diamond seems to be more brilliant and beautiful beside that piece of coal rather than placed alone. It is the same with the two female characters. One of them is feisty and wise. The other is innocent and naive.

What did I learn or take away from the story?
A. That people see sometimes what they want to see in another person. Love often obscures vision.
B. Freedom and truth is worth fighting for.
C. When a person is deceptive, their behavior will eventually show who they really are as a person.

How do I wish the story had ended?
A. I wish the brother with the terrible qualities had changed his character to positive attributes.
B. I wish the lovemaking scenes held tenderness, gentleness, and patience. In this story there are two brothers with two very different ways of engaging in sex. I had hoped to find a more gentle and patient nature in one of the brothers. I’m not saying he is a brute, but I am tired of lovemaking scenes in stories being all about quick fiery passion. One of the best love scenes in a story I’ve read is in the book, For Whom the Bell Tolls by Ernest Hemingway. Hemingway understands that women don’t always want a quick fiery pop of sex.

Themes in the story: family honor, courage, deception, revenge, romance, survival, war, rebellion, beauty, greed, loyalty, jealousy, redemption, obsession, bravery, and betrayal.

[Review] Sisters of the Great War by Suzanne Feldman

Publisher and Publication Date: Mira Books. October 26, 2021.
Genre: Historical fiction.
Pages: 400.
Format: Paperback.
Source: Self-purchase.
Audience: Readers of World War I historical fiction, both combat, and medical/nursing care. Readers of romance: male/female romance and a same sex female romance.
Rating: Okay to good.

Link for the book @ Amazon.

Link @ Barnes and Noble.

The last pages in the book are the Acknowledgement and Source pages. It’s brief.
If you are interested in reading more about World War I, I am including the books I’ve read. These books are nonfiction and fiction.
Birdsong by Sebastian Faulks.
A World Undone: The Story of the Great War 1914 to 1918 by G. J. Meyer.
All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque.
The character Bess Crawford in the mystery series by Charles Todd. She was a nurse during World War I but became a sleuth-detective both during the war and afterwards. The settings are in England, Ireland, and France.
None of Us the Same by Jeffrey Walker.
Letters to Doberitz by Derek R. Payne.
The Great Influenza by John M. Barry.

I recently watched Charite and Charite at War on Netflix. I enjoyed both series. Watching them piqued my interest in reading about nursing/medical care during a time of war. I’ve read more books about World War II and wanted to read about World War I medical care. This interest led me to search for books on Amazon that were in this genre. I settled on Sisters of the Great War. However, I’d like to read a book that’s primary focus is on nursing and medical care during World War I.

Summary:

The story begins in 1914. The story ends in 1920.

Ruth and Elise Duncan are sisters who live in Baltimore, Maryland. When the story begins Ruth is a nursing student at Loyola College of Nursing. Elise is the family mechanic. Ruth is the older of the two sisters. Elise is 18. Their father is a physician. Their grandfather lives with them. Their mother died in childbirth having Elise. In August of 1914, both sisters decide to travel to Ypres, Belgium and help with the war. Ruth will be a nurse. Elise will be an ambulance driver. They arrive in Belgium, April 1915.

Meanwhile, Ruth had met John in Maryland, who is now a medical doctor in Belgium treating the wounded soldiers.

Elise is coming into her own person about who she is and what she wants in life.

Both sisters are on the cusp of discoveries about who they are and what they will persevere to become.

My Thoughts:

The main problem I have with the story is it’s too busy. War itself is a gigantic and busy theme for Sisters of the Great War. But added to it is two sisters with their own personal stories: romances, war experiences, injuries, life decisions, female traditional roles, social customs, society in early 20th century, traumatic family history, and decisions about who they are and what they want in life. One sister would be sufficient for a book. By adding two sisters, I feel it makes the book top heavy. When a book is full of heavy themes, plots, etc., it is difficult to become swept away and feel an investment in and feel a part of the story, because I don’t have time to settle down and become engaged with the story and characters. Another words I felt yanked from here to there too much.

The setting for most of the story is in Belgium. The specific places are the hospital settings, living quarters for Ruth and Elise, and Elise’s ambulance driving in the war zone areas.

Sisters of the Great War is told from the 3rd person point of view.

I feel it is too much to expect Ruth and Elise will continue through all the time they are involved in the war effort, to be near one another in location. It is the same for Ruth and John. I feel these are valid points that cause the book to lack in believability. By the end of the war, there were about 22-23,000 nurses who had given care. And there had been almost 5,000 ambulance drivers. Yet these three people are able to remain near one another.

The story ends too clean. I almost expected a red bow pasted to the last word. Where is the believability in this? War causes loss-multiple losses. John lost a body part. But his story about how he feels as well as the aspect of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder for all the characters who were in the war is not talked about. At that time, it was called Shellshock. I had hoped the book would address this. I am disappointed.

I have read several reviews from people who are disappointed in the same sex romance. They didn’t know this theme is in the book. Actually, in the opening pages of the book where the publisher usually has a short list of what the genre, subjects, or themes of the book is listed-nothing is written! I feel it is beneficial to know about the genre and other aspects of a book. Not everyone wants to read about sexual activities. Not everyone wants to read about combat operations in a war. Not everyone wants to read about a sexual assault. Not everyone wants to read about other types of subjects or themes in books. It is helpful to know about a book before purchase or reading. Good communication is also for the books we read.
I do not name call or call a person out because they do not want to read about certain themes in a book. When I think about this situation, I am reminded about being on the playground in elementary school with other kids taunting other kids. It is never okay to name call-neither side. I have a great love and compassion for people no matter who they are. And I dislike name calling.
I am only disappointed because I wanted the book to have a primary focus on medical and nursing care during World War I. Nevertheless, Sisters of the Great War is a good starting place.

My favorite place in the story (even though it is sad) is when an aero plane flew over a hospital and shot at the defenseless and vulnerable people on the ground. This action scene shows the destruction and brutality of war. The moment when Ruth took charge is a “bravo” moment for the whole book!

Themes in the story: war, peace, romance, heroism, courage, power of love, bravery, perseverance, survival, judgment, family honor, hope, tolerance, conformity, resistance, and suffering.



[Review] Eternal by Lisa Scottoline

Publisher and Publication Date: G P Putnam’s Sons. March 23, 2021.
Genre: Historical fiction
Pages: 480.
Format: Kindle e-book.
Source: Self-purchase.
Audience: Readers of historical fiction with an interest in the Holocaust, Italian history, Rome, and World War II.
Rating: Excellent.

Link @ Amazon for the Kindle copy.
Link @ Audible.
Link @ Barnes and Noble.

Link @ Penguin Random House.

Lisa Scottoline’s Goodread author page/ Website/ Twitter/ Instagram.

An interactive map for the book, Eternal.

Summary:

Elisabetta, Sandro, and Marco grew up together in Rome, Italy. While growing up as children they were best friends. During the teenage years their feelings changed to romantic love. Two young men in love with the same young woman. Elisabetta loves them both, yet differently.

The story begins in 1937, in Rome, Italy. Benito Mussolini or Duce is in power in Italy. He is a Fascist dictator. The rise in antisemitism is in Italy just as in other European countries. In Germany, the Nazi’s are in power, and they are tightening restrictions and spurring hatred of the Jews. Their power is spreading.

In Italy, the members of the Fascist Party wear black shirts. Marco and his father are Fascists. Sandro and his family are Jews. To make things even more complicated, the two families have been friends for years. And the relationship will remain strained and at a danger to all of them.

My Thoughts:

Eternal is a name of Rome-the Eternal City. Rome is both the setting and a character of the story. Sometimes a home, church, or city can be so descriptive and alive that it too can be compared to a character in a book. Rome-the Eternal City-is to me a character. The setting of Rome is a breathing character-it is alive and vivid. This is the first reason why I love this story. The setting of Rome, Italy is described beautifully (despite the horrors of the evil atrocities of some people) Rome is still itself beautiful and loved by its people. I am also glad to have a World War II historical fiction story in a different place than most of the other books.

The love relationship between three people is not going to end positive for someone. Someone will get hurt, maybe multiple people. At times in the story, I had no idea what to expect in this entanglement. What would be the final outcome? This is both a theme, conflict, and a strong reason to continue turning the pages.

I love the passion of the characters. I am not referring to just romantic passion. For example, the passionate love of Italy. The passionate love of parents.

Internal and external conflicts are strong. The external conflicts are Italian Fascists, Mussolini, Nazi Germany, antisemitism, the love triangle, and the war. The internal conflicts are the love triangle, duty, loyalty, power of love, revenge, grief, intolerance of race and religion, and other factors.

Further themes in the story: jealousy, compassion, bravery, kindness, survival, sacrifice, honor, suffering, peace, war, and resistance.

Eternal is an emotionally moving and memorable story. It is a story I will not forget.

[Review] The Tattooist of Auschwitz by Heather Morris

Publisher and Publication Date: Harper. September 4, 2018.
Genre: Historical fiction. The Tattooist of Auschwitz is based on a true story.
Pages: 273.
Format: Paperback.
Source: Self-purchase.
Audience: Readers of historical fiction with a subject of the Holocaust.
Rating: Very good.

Link @ Amazon.
Link @ Audible.
Link @ Barnes and Noble.

Heather Morris website.

Heather Morris’s Goodread’s Author Page.

The Tattooist of Auschwitz is book 1 in a series of 3 books. The other two books are Cilka’s Journey, and Three Sisters. I have these books and will be reading and reviewing them in the future.

Heather Morris met and interviewed Lale Sokolov. She has the support of his son in the writing of this book. I don’t know why the book is not nonfiction. I don’t know what the fiction part of this story is or why she chose to make this a fiction instead of nonfiction.

Summary: The account begins in April 1942. The men are in a crowded, stifling, windowless cattle train traveling to a camp. All of them are Jews. The story centers on a young man named Lale. He is 25. Lale’s hometown is Krompachy, Slovakia. After two days of travel, they arrive at Auschwitz. Lale is not at Auschwitz long when he is given a job as a tattooist. It is his job to tattoo the series of numbers on the people who have been brought to Auschwitz. These people are prisoners. They are men and women, boys and girls. They are Jews and Romany. Lale does not want to look at the faces of the people he tattoos. At times he is under stress and nervous, this causes his tattooing to be rough and painful. One particular time he looks up and into the beautiful eyes of a woman. It is at this moment his heart flutters and he is struck with emotion.

The Tattooist of Auschwitz is one man’s harrowing story of a hellish existence at Auschwitz and his love for a woman.

My Thoughts:

I’ve read a long list of Holocaust stories. Most of the stories do not completely take place at a concentration camp. At some point in the story, there will be a memory-reminiscing of that time or there will be a point in the story when the character is a prisoner. The Tattooist of Auschwitz is about 98% at Auschwitz. This means that because of the horrors, murders, sickness, suffering, and depravity of that place (including the anticipation of further horrible things) there will be no pauses in this story. In certain fiction stories, an author places moments of rest so the reader can catch a break (a breather before another stressful event occurs), especially if the story is mysterious, gruesome, and bleak.

Lale is an amazing character. These are the traits I found: charming, intelligent, observant, dressed well before his imprisonment, long-suffering, resilient, an encourager, the ability to adapt to new jobs quickly, and courageous. When Morris interviewed him, Lale was mistrustful and didn’t want just anyone to document his story. I am glad Morris added in the author’s note a brief sketch of their interviews and relationship.

The Tattooist of Auschwitz documents a daily survival in Auschwitz. A descriptive paragraph gives evidence of this: “The months that follow are particularly harsh. Prisoners die in all manner of ways. Many are taken by disease, malnutrition, and exposure to the cold. A few make it to an electrified fence, killing themselves. Others are shot by a tower guard before they can. The gas chambers and crematoria are also working overtime, and Lale and Leon’s tattooing stations teem with people as tens of thousands are transported to Auschwitz and Birkenau.” Page 155.

Romance is a theme in the story. But the romance does not shift away from the mood or tone of the story. This is a story of extreme suffering and stress and sorrow. The romantic element is stolen moments so they can be together. A paying off of people is done so they will have time together. He shares what he can with her including his food rations. Their courtship is extravagant considering their place of forced exile.

Other themes in the story: war, peace, survival, good and evil, courage, bravery, compassion, power of love, injustice, and resistance.

[Review] The London House by Katherine Reay

Publisher and Publication Date: Harper Muse. November 2, 2021.
Genre: Historical fiction.
Pages: 368.
Format: E-book.
Source: I received a complimentary e-book from NetGalley. I am not required to write a positive review.
Audience: Historical fiction readers of World War II.
Rating: Excellent.

Link @ Harper Muse.

Link @ Amazon.

Link @ Barnes and Noble.

Link @ Book Depository.

Katherine Reay’s website/ Facebook/ Twitter/ Instagram/ Pinterest.

An excerpt audio.

Summary:

Chapter One begins in America with the modern time period.

Caroline is contacted by an old college friend who is writing a story about her family. Caroline and Mat meet to discuss his intentions about writing a story about her great aunt’s betrayal to family and country during World War II. Mat had already met with Caroline’s dad. Her dad is furious about the expose. Caroline decides to go to London and stay with her mother to discover for herself the real story of Aunt Caro.

Caroline is the modern time period’s heroine. She is named after her aunt Caroline, but Aunt Caroline is known through most of the book as Caro. Caro, a British citizen, had lived in Paris and worked in a couture dress shop in the late 1930s to 1941.

The story’s main time period is the modern time period and will reflect back to the 1930s and 1940s-especially during the readings of letters and journals.

My Thoughts:

I have several thoughts!

After I read a book, I read a few reviews over at Goodreads. I did not know Katherine Reay has written Christian fiction stories. The London House is the first book I’ve read by her. So, I have no other work of hers to compare to this one. I am not a fan of Christian fiction. I’ve read a few Christian fiction books over the years but do not consider myself knowledgeable about that genre.

It’s interesting that The London House and another book I’d finished the day before are both polar in writing style. The other book is a quick read type story. There is little building to events-just a jump right into the scene’s story. There are some detailed descriptions. The story has a bite as far as the over-all dark theme…review on that book will be later!

The London House is a thinking story-a mature story. It is mature in that the characters (all of them) have moments of clarity, recognition, conviction, forgiveness, reconciliation, and a peaceful resolution. Now, there is nothing in the book that is considered Christianese words, but those themes I listed are Christian in nature. I dislike a story that pastes Christianese words so that the book will be labeled as a Christian fiction book. I want to yawn while typing that comment. I want to yawn because it does not help a story by pasting words without development of action or behavior in the characters. And the behavior of characters will be remembered longer than pretty words.

Caroline knows there is something in her family’s past they are not talking about. This is a prime example of not communicating and thus the intimacy and bond with the family members is disconnected and frayed. This has happened in my family. This has happened in many families-the inability to communicate about what is wrong. Communication is hard work. For many of the people I know, they don’t know where to begin. The words will not even come to them in their brain so that they can speak audibly. This can be true in all types of families. I dislike a label that this only happens in families that are not Christian. Pooh.

Caroline is a remarkable person. Despite the disconnect in the family, she perseveres to find a point of connection with her parents. She does not give up. She is responsible, protective, kind, hardworking, educated, independent, and patient. I love her transformation that progresses in the story!

Caroline’s parents struggle. They share a bitter traumatic memory. My heart grieves for them as well as for Caroline. In addition, Caroline’s father carries an unresolved generational trauma that impacted him as a child and is still evident. And it has impacted the generation of Caroline. On multiple points the family needs help. Katherine Reay did a splendid job of perfectly describing the family’s awkwardness and yet trying to find a place to connect.

Caro is a character who I know through her letters and her sister’s memories. Caro is so much more than what her family has pegged her. Isn’t this often the case? People make a preconceived judgement (without all the facts) about a person and then build on that until the person is whittled down to a matchstick of what they really are. It is terribly sad. Caro’s story is the important background story that sets The London House in motion. Caro represents all those courageous people who through action defied the enemy.

I love the story’s relocation to London. I love the places they visit. For example, cafes and tourist stops. Towards the end of the story there is Paris.

The London House is a story that builds. It is not a quick paced story. It is a visceral story. It is a story with a strong focus-mystery to solve-a need to find the truth and reveal it.

The London House shows me some of the characters thoughts and feelings. The primary characters are heavy developed in their thoughts, feelings, words, and actions.

The London House shows me that the truth comes out eventually. But during the journey, there will be other important discoveries.

The London House does not sweep up everything tidy and put a bow on it to show this is a perfect family because there are no perfect families, but it is real and endearing.

Themes in the story: loyalty, perseverance, courage, bravery, redemption, acceptance, compassion, patience, circle of life, sacrifice, romance, suffering, judgment, war, survival, wisdom, grief, hope, justice, and love.