book review, history, New Book

The House on the Hill

It’s no secret that I’m a fan of Irina Shapiro. From the first page, I know there will be heartbreak, betrayal, and a story that will twist through time. So today, I’d like to introduce you to The House on the Hill.

  • Genre: Historical Fiction and Contemporary and Historical Romance
  • Heat Level: ❤️❤️
  • Overall Rating: 6/6 Glass Slippers

In the modern day, Laura has recently been widowed, having lost her husband in Iraq. She leaves their apartment in the heart of Boston for a summer of healing in an old house on the shores of Cape Cod. She’s hoping to leave her ghosts behind and perhaps find new inspiration for a book. But a ghostly visitor shows her there’s something different about the Holland House.

In the 1700s, Sophie is on the cusp of adulthood, counting the days until she can marry Teddy, a boy she’s loved for years. Her book maker father has his sights set on a man with a title or some money, and forbids his only daughter from following her heart. When her hand is forced and she must make a decision to save herself, her life begins to unravel.

While Laura works to learn more about her ghostly visitor and sort out her feelings about the handsome vet she met in town, Sophie’s charmed world shatters. Both women are trapped in webs of lies and grief woven hundreds of years apart, but inexplicably tied.

Every time I read something by Shapiro, I’m instantly on edge. I know terrible things will happen, but I savor the slight feeling of apprehension. Wondering who will be the one to stab the man character in the back is something I’ve come to expect and thoroughly enjoy.

My historical specialty is European-based, so having American history tidbits was very welcome. I live on the East Coast and admittedly don’t know a lot about colonial life other than what’s taught in basic classes. I always like how Shapiro brings in facts to give her books a level of realism that inspires me to explore the themes more on my own.

Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed this book and recommend it to all lovers of historical fiction and romantic suspense.

book review

After Anna

I love horror and thrillers. Something about zombies and midnight murders really pull me into stories. But nothing gets to me quite like books with realistic bases. Nothing’s scarier to me than what people can to do to each other. I recently read After Anna by Alex Lake and I have a lot to say.

  • Genre: Thriller
  • Overall Rating 6/6 Glass slippers

Julia’s life isn’t perfect. She and her husband are separating, her mother-in-law hates her, and her meetings at work often run late. The one shining spot is her five year old daughter Anna. But one day, another meeting runs late and she doesn’t get to the school in time to pick Anna up. When she arrives, the school is empty and Anna is gone.

A week later, Anna returns. Julia thinks the nightmare is over, but maybe it’s only just begun.

What follows is the harrowing reality for Julia that she has become part of an international news story, the kind she used to read with her morning coffee and think, that would never happen to me. I wouldn’t be so negligent. I wouldn’t make the same mistake as those parents. I would find my daughter.

I have a five year old daughter, so this book hit particularly close to home for me. It mirrored some of my own fears about raising a child in a world so large, it’s scarily easy to disappear. The author did a fantastic job of bringing those feelings to the page in an uncomfortable, winding way that made my skin crawl.

Another element that was particularly jarring was the glimpses into the kidnapper. They had a plan, they were too smart for police, they would never get caught. They were so sure that everything would go just as they hoped, failure was not an option. This little peeks into their thoughts were just enough to drive home how deranged this person was, and how meticulous they were.

Overall, I really enjoyed the chilling tale, even if it had predictable moments. They really caught the terror one small mistake can ultimately bring.

book review, history

The Tattooist of Auschwitz

Since beginning social distancing, I’ve been diving into my massive TBR list containing books that I’ve had waiting for months upon months. First up, The Tattooist of Auschwitz by Heather Morris. It’s the memoir of Ludwig “Lali” Sokolov nee Eisenberg, called Lale in the book, and he was once the tattooer of Auschwitz.

  • Genre: Memoir
  • Overall Rating 5/6 Glass Slippers

In April of 1942, Lale arrived in Auschwitz-Berkinau. Due to his wit and talent for languages, he was soon made the tattooist’s apprentice, then the tattooist himself. He was put in the dangerous and prestigious position of tattooing the numbers on the arm of everyone who entered the camp. He had to be a cog in the Nazi machine, but was also able to help save a few lives.

His tattooing bag is a free pass through the camp, a sign of his status as an essential worker. He’s able to speak with guards, meet the workers from the nearby village who are building the crematoriums, and barter for food with goods slipped from the warehouse used to store and sort the stolen possessions of the prisoners. But Lale uses the most of his influence to keep someone special alive.

He first notices Gita’s dark eyes, and soon he’s smitten with the young woman in a way he can’t explain. He begs and steals, cutting deals to get her a job in the administration office where at least she’ll be warm in the long winter months. He trades hidden gems for chocolate with the village workers for her, and does everything in his power to make sure that when they’re free, they’ll have a future together. But first, they have to survive.

In college, I studied the Holocaust in depth, reading memoirs, taking classes, and taking advantage of my school’s Holocaust Resource Center where survivors would often come to speak. Overall, I found the memoir to be both heart wrenching, and a good lesson in humanizing what happened and how it changed the world. It’s easy to look at numbers in a text book and skim over the labels of Jew and Gypsy without really internalizing what those numbers truly mean. Lali wasn’t a number, nor were any of the other victims.

I wrote many papers on that part of history in my genocidal studies program, Auschwitz-Birkenau and Dr. Mengele in particular. I found some inconsistencies in how Morris portrayed Mengele and his experiments, fabricating some parts perhaps for shock value, although what he did was so terrible without the additional attractions, I didn’t see the reason for them. There were other inconsistencies highlighted by the Auschwitz Memorial Research Center, but I won’t go into because after all is said and done, this isn’t a history book, it’s a memoir based on the extraordinary life of one man.

Overall, I enjoyed the book and the story it told, even with the inaccuracies and simple phrasings. Memories, like memoirs, are tricky things, but I don’t think I’ll ever be able to forget the story of Lali Sokolov.

history, Podcast

My Fav Podcasts

With the quarantines and social distancing , we’re all looking for ways to escape a bit. While I love reading and writing, I always adore a good podcast. I’ve compiled a list of shows I really enjoy, so while you’re working out, taking walks, driving, cleaning, whatever, you can immerse yourselves in some awesome stories. I listen strictly on the Apple Podcast app, but these shows are usually available on all podcast platforms.

Crime Junkies

Crime Junkies is a true crime series hosted by a pair of best friends who lay out the facts about murders, kidnappings, and missing people in a way that really pulls you in. While they cover the big stories, they also dive into the lesser known cases that might be new for you. It’s great for true crime lovers who aren’t looking to be bogged down with too much back story. The hosts are also really good at connecting with their fans and have active blogs and Facebook pages so you can double down. You can listen on any podcast platform HERE.

Tumanbay

This podcast was inspired by the Mamluk Slave Dynasty of ancient Egypt and pulls historical themes and all new elements in to build a sweeping story. It follows the intertwining lives of several people, including the nephew of a Sultan, a king turned slave, a slave trader’s daughter, and a mysterious queen with a vast network of spies. It really feels like you’re listening to an episode of Game of Thrones without the dragons. Really, the narration and the background noises are insanely good. From BBC Radio, it’s available HERE or wherever you listen to your podcasts.

History Extra Podcast

A podcast that follows the stories published in BBC History Magazine, it delivers bite sized facts for any history lover. From war to food to famous figures, there are dozens of episodes that cover a multitude of themes and periods. History fans really shouldn’t miss this informative show, which has taught me quite a few lesser-known tales from bygone ages. You can begin listening HERE.

Dateline

This one is exactly what you think…Dateline shows turned podcast episodes. Watching Dateline was never my thing, but I really like true crime and enjoy how each Dateline episode is folded into a neat story. It’s edited in such a way that not seeing the evidence and photos doesn’t complicate things. You can start listening now HERE.

Noble Blood

Noble Blood is a new favorite of mine. It lays out the darker stories of the kings, queens, and other blue bloods who had less than picture perfect lives…or ends. It’s sparked more than a few midnight Google searches, which is basically what we all need right now. History and royalty lovers will adore listening to tales of poison, jilted lovers, and missing gems. Dive in HERE.

The White Vault

A fictional found footage drama, each season follows a new cast as they explore and unearth ancient secrets that are more dangerous than they could ever imagine. The cast is amazing and the storyline is detailed, but easy enough to follow, even if you’re multi-tasking. Fans of horror and sci-fi will probably really enjoy following the repair team to an arctic outpost or a team of archeologists as they explore hidden caves. Start listening on any platform HERE.

Stuff you Missed in History Class

This show is a lighter look at some of the stranger pieces of history, like the Victorian Orchid craze or the haunted Flannan Islands. Of course they cover some of the basic historical themes like World War II, but from new angles that are great for old fans of specific eras or newbies interested in learning some fun facts. It’s a nice way to learn a fun fact or two incase Jeopardy ever calls. They’re on all platforms, so start listening HERE.

We’re Alive

Set in the backdrop of a zombie apocalypse, it follows a ragtag military team as they try to contain an outbreak and pick up civilians along the way. Each character has their own voice actor and the stories, while deep, are easy to follow. The story continues for decades with the cast aging, dying, having kids, and exploring new ways of finding out how to rebuild in a post-undead world. Horror and sci-fi fans will declare this one a hit. Start listening HERE.

Blackout

Rami Malek is the star host of this apocalyptic drama where he plays a small town radio DJ who watches as the world goes dark. As his teenage son and his friends try to make their way home from a camping trip, Rami’s character tries to stick to the facts on his radio show as things around him fall apart. Part thriller, part drama, it’s a must for lost who enjoy heart racing stories. Begin episode one HERE.


I’m always on the lookout for something new. If you have a podcast to share, please let me know! And Sarah and I both hope that you and your families stay safe, happy, and healthy in this difficult time.

book review, history, review, television

The Bonfire of Destiny

Hello, everyone! It’s freezing here in New Jersey, which means it’s time to binge read and watch until I can go outside without 64 layers on. So between my usual book reviews, I’ll be sharing shows I think you should be watching. And if it’s based on true events, I’ll give you the real deal.

The first show? The Bonfire of Destiny.

Genre: Historical Drama

Where to Watch: Netflix

In 1897 Paris, the aristocracy has descended on an annual charity bazaar to see the moving picture show, shop with all their wealthy friends, and generally be seen. It’s just one of the many social functions for the French elite who have no idea, tragedy will strike.

Adrienne is the unhappy wife of a politician who mistreats her terribly. Although he has just sent their daughter away to boarding school to punish Adrienne, she must still make an appearance at the bazaar. As soon as she shows her face, she slips back outside and into a waiting carriage, safe from the impending flames. But she’s not free from danger.

Alice, Adrienne’s niece, is thrilled to go out on the town with her maid Rose, both to do some shopping and to see a man she’s had her eye on. Wide eyed and wealthy, she’s has a good heart and doesn’t expect one small fire to destroy everything. And as those around her being sifting through the rubble, she sees everything in a new light.

Rose the maid is gearing up to sail to a new life with her husband Jean. She’s fiercely dedicated to Alice, and even goes back into the building to se if she can save her mistress before the fire gets out of hand. She enters the bazaar a nobody, and like a Phoenix, rises from the ashes.

The mood is electric and stories are intertwined as a fire both destroys lives and gives the chance for new ones. As the show goes on, murder, intrigue, and secret affairs are revealed with death in the background.

Even if historical shows aren’t usually your deal, the soapy dramas and lovable, and hatable, characters pull you in. The voiceovers are immaculate, and every episode leaves you wondering when the other shoe will drop.


Onto the facts! Starting in 1885, the Catholic aristocracy of Paris held the annual charity bazaar. It was a chance for the wealthy women and their maids to socialize while giving back to a good cause. But in 1897, everything would literally come crashing down.

The bazaar that year was held in a wooden building, where the inside was transformed into a medieval Paris street with the use of wood, papier-mâché, canvas for a roof, and other various other flammable things. Scheduled to last for four days, it was expected to be a hit.

More than 1,500 people were in attendance on the second day of the bazaar. Even Americans and other Europeans came to see the sites. One of the most notable was Duchess Sophie, the sister of Empress Elisabeth of Austria. At around four thirty, the projector in the small cinema caught on fire. The fire burned hot and fast, rapidly engulfing the building in flames and setting the cloth ceiling alight.

There were several exits, but none of them were clearly marked, and some were hidden behind the decorations. Many ran for the main doors, which were soon clogged with people. There were men in attendance, who were faster and stronger than the women, who struggled to move quickly in their mass of skirts. There were reports of men pushing women and children out of the way to escape first.

This was before the idea of modern fire safety. There was a fire brigade, but no contemporary hydrants or way for them to really put out the flames. People escaped though some of the exits, though many of the doors opened inwards and jammed when frantic people pushed against them. Those outside broke out windows to help people climb to the streets. Most notably, the cook and manager of the Hotel du Palais broke bars off a window and saved over 150 women while also poring water down on the flaming bazaar from the hotel.

But the fire moved quickly and soon it became too risky to try to save anyone else. People, mostly women, were still trapped inside. Their skirts were flammable, many had been trampled, and the walls and ceiling were beginning to fall. The fireman continued to spray the building as those inside screamed until the only sound that was left was the crackle of fire.

In the end, 126 people were confirmed dead while around 200 were injured. Many were so badly burned, they could only be identified by their jewelry. Some dentists were even called on to identify their patients by their teeth, one of the first uses of dental records in the identification of a body.

The aristocracy, and the Parisians at large, we’re shocked and demanded both an explanation and justice. In the end, it was officially noted to be an accident. But the public still wanted someone to answer for the tragedy.

The President of the Charity Bazaar Committee Ange-Ferdinand-Armand, the Baron of Mackau was the first. His charge was negligence, as he didn’t hire enough staff or ensure the doors were clearly marked. Then came the cinema operator Victor Bailac and his assistant Gregoire Bagrachow. Apparently, the light for the projector went out and the cinema staff had to hurry to relight the small flame. But in their haste, a mistake was made as the match they used lit the ether gasses that surrounded them. Soon, the drapery caught fire and the damage was done.

In the end, all charged were set to pay fines, and Bailac and Bagrachow were sentenced to short prison terms. Items found in the bazaar’s rubble were auctioned off and the lessons learned from the tragedy resulted in better fire safety laws in France.


I hope you enjoyed this little look into The Bonfire of Destiny. Check back soon for similar posts on shows like Vikings, You, Daybreakers, Banished, and more.

New Book

The Power of Witches

Noa Rembrandt was found in a dumpster. 

Since then, she’s been wanting only one thing in life: to find a loving family to take her in or successfully age out of the foster system. She thought she’d found her family, until after her eighth birthday, her younger foster brother died under suspicious circumstances—circumstances Noa might have had a part in.

Now at sixteen and with no where else to go, Noa Rembrandt is sent to Gardenside County Home for Troubled Youth. With a countdown to her eighteenth birthday, Noa is determined to keep her head down and not cause any trouble.

Trouble instead finds her, in the form of her eccentric roommate and cute boy across the hall who both seem to know more about Noa’s background than she does.

Preorder The Power of Witches now HERE!


Shay Bencosme is a 22 Navy servicemember who writes and photographs in her spare time. She currently lives in North Carolina, USA with her husband, Josh, and their kitten, Lucy.

Shay has always had aspirations of being a writer and just decided to go for it one day, finishing her debut novel is less than 3 months. Since choosing self-publishing, she’s loved every step of her journey through the indie world.

book review, New Book

Once Upon a Highland Glen

It’s no secret I’ve been a fan of Suzan Tisdale for years. Before Outlander, she was my introduction to the world of hot Scots. And now she’s launched her own publishing house called Glenfinnan Publishing and launched her new endeavor with a historical, romantic anthology, Once Upon a Highland Glen.

Since there are six stories, I’ll have six sections in this review, with my thoughts italicized for easier reading.

  • Heat Level: the stories range from wholesome to steamy.
  • Genre: Historical Romance
  • Overall Rating: 5/6 Glass Slippers

The Legend by Violetta Rand

Laird Bron Kieth was not a kind man, and one night when we went out in search of his prized ram. He was set upon by his enemies and drug himself to the safety of a glen. A mysterious woman gives him one wish and he asks for a second chance at life, so he can be a better man.

This short introduction set the scene for the rest of the stories.

Wager of the Heart by Suzan Tisdale

Graham Kieth is the descendant of Bron, but has yet to learn the same lesson. A directionless cad, he drunklenly stumbles into a glen after a game of cards, where he laments his loneliness and wishes he had a family to care for him. When he awakes to find his wish comes true, he’s less than thrilled with his new reality. But when he must decide what kind of man he wants to be, more than one future will depend on him.

I thought this story was cute and could have easily been a full length book on its own. Graham and Leelah weren’t a match made in heaven, and he’s certainly no match for her stubbornness. It’s hard to tell who needs who more by the end of this story.

Clouds Across the Moon by Kathryn Lynn Davis

Braida is only sixteen when her daughter is born. Her husband Bran is twenty-two, the tutor for the laird’s children, and not an overly kind man. He feels detached from his daughter and longs for his wife to be the carefree, moldable teen he once met.

I have to admit I wasn’t a huge fan of this tale. A husband being basically disgusted by his child bride’s changed body and her devotion to their baby made me uncomfortable. There wasn’t the romance I expected.

Highland Heart’s Desire by Victoria Zak

The fairy Breena was enchanted by the forbidden human world. While she’s not very good with magic yet, she does what she can to keep the animals in her forest safe. When a hunter is injured, she breaks the fae laws to tend to him. Robert Keith thinks he imagined the beautiful woman that day, but five years later, he’ll question everything he ever knew.

This story was sweet and charming with a lot of heart. Breena was adorable and Robert was a gem. Watching their romance span the years was lovely.

The Lost Soul by Ceci Giltenan

Spoiled Margaret Grant is sent to live with her betrothed, Logan Carr’s clan in an attempt to make her come to peace with her betrothal. After a fall, she finds herself in a glen where she makes a wish to prove she can be a better person. But before she can go back to her pampered life, she must walk in the shoes of another.

This story was a bit on the humorous side, without losing the message that’s been carried through the anthology. It also held a nice amount of detail that really set the tone.

Whispers to the Soul by Kate Robbins

Kenzie is on the run from a vile clan guardsman when she’s rescued by the handsome Gaelin. But she soon learns she is no simple kitchen maid as she and Gaelin go on a journey to find safety and the truth.

This was my favorite story in the anthology, so I believe Robbins has found a new fan in me! Witty and steamy, Kenzie was a heroine in her own right and I would have lived to read a full book focused on her tale.

The Courageous Highlander by Lily Baldwin.

Laird Owen MacArthur rules over a secluded clan where every year the laird must hunt alone to bring prosperity to the people. On one of these hunts, he finds the beautiful Gwynn help captive in a strange glen. He’s struck by her beauty and promises to free her, but at what cost?

A magic tale, Baldwin’s addition was action packed with a touch of mystery. It was a wonderful addition.


Overall, I enjoyed most of the anthology with a few standing out as deserving a full length novels. I recommended this collection to all historical romance fans.