[Review] A Last Goodbye by Dee Yates

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In a remote hill farm in beautiful Scotland, Ellen and her father Duncan are enjoying a peaceful life away from the belching mills and hustle and bustle of the growing towns. In time they’re joined by rugged farmhand Tom, come to lend some muscle to Ellen’s ageing father, who has begun to find sheep farming hard to manage alone. Almost inevitably romance grows between Ellen and the new arrival but once married however, Ellen discovers that Tom has a brutish side to his character. As war in Europe spreads, she begins to dream of him leaving for the trenches as a way for her to escape.

Even with Tom fighting abroad however, the family can not hide from the realities of war as a group of POWs are brought to their valley to build a reservoir. And amongst the men, sworn enemies and shunned by all the locals, Ellen finds a gentler heart that she finds difficult to resist…

First of all I’d just like to extend a massive thanks to Head of Zeus for allowing me to review this book. I’ve been on a bit of a historical fiction kick recently so when I was approached to review it, I jumped at the chance. It helped that the subject line in the email said it was heartbreaking.

I’m a sucker for pain.

And let me tell you…it was worth every painful moment that made me want to hate this book and throw my kindle out of the window in a storm of tears.

Yates’ newest work is set in the highlands of Scotland on a remote sheep farm, right in the midst of the First World War. Our main character is Ellen, a young woman who lives with her aging father and gets a little too involved with their new shephard Tom. And when I say gets a little too involved, I mean that she lands herself in a whole heap of trouble and has to marry Tom. I’m going to be honest here, I despised Tom from the moment I first met him – there was just something terribly off about his character, the sort of young man who comes across as slimey – and my hatred for him only got worse after he married Ellen and shipped himself off to fight in the War.

Poor Ellen finds herself stuck in a violent marriage with a small child so is it any wonder that she wants to find happiness elsewhere?

With Tom away fighting in France, Ellen ends up spending time with a young German POW. This young man is sweet and kind, everything that Tom isn’t. And you can really see the differences between the two men when Tom returns from the Front. He’s brutish and violent, affected by his time in the trenches (which I’ll be honest, I did feel very sorry for him at this point. I’ve studied the First World War in some details and the effects of shell shock are horrendous) Ellen’s loyalties are completely torn and as you read, you can literally feel her confusion and her pain over it all. She’s married and has fallen out of love with her violent husband, but she knows she has to remain loyal to him. Yet at the same time she’s fallen head over heels in love with a man who is supposed to be the enemy.

This book is seriously gripping and I couldn’t put it down no matter how much I wanted to at times. Yates’ writing really hooks you and reels you in, her characterisation of these people practically consuming you. It’s not often that a writer can make you despise and love a character with just a flick of a page. And it’s even more rare to find yourself feeling sorry for, and crying over, a character who has just been a massive arse for the whole novel.

If you like painful romance in your historical fiction, then this is the book for you. And trust me when I tell you it is painful. Very painful. The ending is so bittersweet that it leaves you feeling almost bereft – and Yates should be commended for that. This read is a gripping, fast paced page turner that truly takes you into the world these characters live in – I highly recommend it.

[Review] The Flames of Florence by Donna Russo Morin

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Il Magnifico, Lorenzo de’ Medici, is dead, and his now-exiled son, Piero, has brought ruin upon Florence. War and famine have tarnished and dulled the glittering city. Yet, the glory that is Renaissance artistry grows more magnificent, as does the work of the women known as Da Vinci’s Disciples. Now, they face their most dangerous challenge thus far, one shrouded in the cloak of a monk.

From the ashes of war, Friar Girolamo Savonarola rises. Some call him a savior and a prophet, a man willing to overthrow tyrannical rulers and corrupt clergy, the Borgia Pope among them. Fra Girolamo is determined to remold Florence from an avaricious, secular culture to a paragon of Christian virtues.

Many call Savonarola a delusional heretic, incapable of anything but self-serving fanaticism. When he sets out to destroy all secular art forms―literature, sculpture, paintings―Da Vinci’s Disciples call him an enemy…most, but not all of them.

Savonarola divides the people of Florence; neighbor turns on neighbor. Within the Disciples―within their families―fissures slash them when Viviana devises a dangerous plan to save whatever they can of the city’s art from Savonarola’s bonfires.

Who will reign triumphant? Will their families―their loves, friendships, and their art―survive the treacherous threat? Will the Disciples themselves―and all they’ve fought for and achieved―burn…in THE FLAMES OF FLORENCE?

I was lucky enough to get a copy of this book through NetGalley and the moment I received the email saying I could review it, I was SUPER excited. I’d actually found this book by accident, idly perusing the historical fiction section on the NetGalley website – normally I stick to their nonfiction but the moment I saw this one, and read the blurb, I knew I HAD to read it. And why? Historical fiction on Savonarola is rare – I’ve only read a couple of fiction books about him or including him and it’s gotten to the point where I really want to write a novel about him myself. I may even have the first chapter of such a tale tucked away somewhere on my computer…

But anyway, I digress. This book is the third in Morin’s ‘Da Vinci’s Disciples’ trilogy but I’d like to stress – you do not need to have read the other two to understand this one. It happily stands on its own as a tale of love, betrayal and heresy in Renaissance Florence. For the years that Savonarola ruled Florence were a torrid time which split the populace right down the middle with those who supported the friar and those who didn’t. In this novel we see just how much that split can affect a group of people who truly believe themselves to be family. For that is what the Disciples are – a family of women who paint, having been tutored under the great Leonardo da Vinci. I don’t want to give too much away about this plot point but let me tell you – you see how the split affects these women and you can truly feel the betrayal when it all comes to light.

I was particularly impressed with Morin’s characterisation of Savonarola. Having spent so long researching the man myself, you could really tell when reading this novel that she had done the same. And she has done the fascinating character of Girolamo Savonarola a justice that I have never seen another writer do before. Not only has she put the research in with Savonarola and his followers (I loved how she put in the friar firing the arquebus during the Siege of San Marco – a true story!) but she’s put the research in for the Florence that he occupied, mixing historical fact with exceptionally well written fiction involving a sect of female artists.

This book is truly excellent and one that I would highly recommend for anyone interested in Renaissance Florence. It’s an absolutely stunning read – Morin deserves high praise for creating such a masterpiece, weaving the real life character who existed in with those she has created. And she’s done it excellently. I’ll certainly be reading her previous two books in this trilogy at some point VERY soon.

The Flames of Florence, book 3 in the Da Vinci’s Disciples trilogy is released on 24 May 2018 in the UK, and available for pre-order now.