Friday, February 3, 2023

If You Love Historical Fiction Based on Real Women


It's been a few years since I updated this list and I've included some great new additions. You guys know that historical fiction is one of my favorite genres, but I especially love historical fiction based on real women from the past who lived extraordinary lives.  Here are some of my favorite novels inspired by real women. I linked the titles to my reviews when possible. 


1.  That Churchill Woman by Stephanie Barron - This novel focuses on Jennie Jerome, Winston Churchill's unconventional American mother.  

2.  A Well Behaved Woman by Therese Anne Fowler - This novel features Ava Vanderbilt, who was so much more than a wealthy woman. 


3.  The Kennedy Debutante by Kerri Maher - I really enjoyed learning more about Kathleen "Kick" Kennedy, the younger sister of John F. Kennedy. She led an amazing, but heartbreaking life.

4.  My Dear Hamilton by Stephanie Dray and Laura Kamoie - Most historians and storytellers focus on Alexander Hamilton, but this book features his just-as-interesting wife, Eliza Schuyler Hamilton.


5.  Three Sisters, Three Queens by Philippa Gregory - This novel features three important woman from the Tudor court: Katherine of Aragon, Margaret (Henry VIII's sister) and Margaret's younger sister, Mary. All three led important and fascinating lives. 

6.  The Summer Queen by Elizabeth Chadwick - This novel is all about Eleanor of Aquitaine, one of the most compelling and powerful queens of all-time.  

7.  Victoria by Daisy Goodwin - This book is the perfect introduction to Queen Victoria's life, especially if you are a fan of the PBS show.

8.  The Accidental Empress by Allison Pataki - This novel is a fascinating glimpse into the Hapsburg Empire as well as Empress Sisi's life.


9.  America's First Daughter by Stephanie Dray and Laura Kamoie - I had no prior knowledge of Martha "Patsy" Jefferson (the eldest daughter of Thomas Jefferson) before reading this novel, but was pleasantly surprised by her interesting life. 

10.  Becoming Marie Antoinette by Juliet Grey - Who isn't fascinated by Marie Antoinette's life?


11.  The Invention of Wings by Susan Monk Kidd - I loved learning more about the Grimke Sisters, who are famous abolitionists and suffragists. 

12.  Cousins' War series by Philippa Gregory - Women were just as important in the War of the Roses as men were and Gregory highlights some prominent female women from the time period, such as Elizabeth Woodville and Margaret Beaufort.  

14. Jacqueline in Paris by Ann Mah - This was such a fun frolic through Paris when Jacqueline Bouvier was studying abroad. 

15. Innocent Traitor by Allison Weir - A heartbreaking, yet compelling story about Lady Jane Grey, infamously referred to as the Nine Days' Queen.



15. The Other Windsor Girl by Georgia Blalock - Princess Margaret, known as the Royal rebel, lived an entertaining (and sometimes sad! )life, that is for sure.

16. The Girl in White Gloves by Kerri Maher - I love all things Grace Kelly, so this book was especially entertaining. 



17. And They Called It Camelot by Stephanie Marie Thornton - I love reading about the Kennedys and this one did not disappoint. 

18. Jackie and Me by Louis Bayard - This book focuses on Jackie before her marriage to Jack and her friendship with Lem Billings.

19. The Magnificent Lives of Marjorie Post by Alison Pataki - Who knew that the heir to the Post fortune would be so fascinating? This was one of my favorite books of 2022.  

20. The Glorious Guinness Girls by Emily Hourican - This book focuses on the heirs to the Guinness fortune and their interesting lives. 



21. Before the Crown by Flora Harding - I loved learning more about Queen Elizabeth II and the time period before she ascended to the throne.

22. The Invisible Woman by Erika Robuck - This focuses on a lesser known women who lived a remarkable life, Virginia Hall.

23. The People's Princess by Flora Harding - Who doesn't love a good Princess Diana book? 

24. The Bookseller's Secret by Michelle Gable - Nancy Mitford's life was most definitely an entertaining one, especially during WWII.



25. The Last White Rose by Alison Weir - You can always count on Weir to bring to life interesting lives from the past and this one focuses on Elizabeth of York, Henry VIII's mother. 

26. The Social Graces by Renee Rosen - The Vanderbilts and the Astors in Gilded Age New York City....yes, please!



27. The Paris Wife by Paula McLain - This focuses on Hadley Richardson, one of Hemingway's wives, and their adventures in Jazz Age Paris.

28. Call Me Zelda by Erika Robuck - A novel focusing on the eccentric Zelda Fitzgerald, Scott Fitzgerald's wife. 



29.  Lilac Girls by Martha Hall Kelly - This one is also based on real life heroines of WWII.

30. The Lost Girls of Paris by Pam Jenoff - This is based on a real-life ring of female spies. 



31. The Collector's Daughter by Gill Paul - Most people know about the Earl of Carnarvon, but not his daughter, Lady Evelyn Hebert, the woman who took the first steps into the tomb of Pharaoh Tutankhamun

32. The Woman Before Wallis  by Bryn Turnbull - This focuses on Thelma Morgan, the American woman involved with Prince Edward before his famous marriage to Wallis Simpson. 



33. The Most Beautiful Girl in Cuba by Chanel Cleeton - This novel brings to life the story of Evangelina Cisneros. 

34. In Royal Service to the Queen by Tessa Arlen - This historical novel focuses on the life of the governess Marian Crawford, who took care of Princesses Elizabeth and Margaret. 

35. The Marriage Portrait by Maggie O'Farrell - This book focuses on a lesser known woman in history, Duchess Lucrezia de’ Medici and her sad fate. 

36. A Dress of Violet Taffeta by Tessa Arlen - This historical novel highlights a fashion icon, Lady Duff Gordon.

Books on My TBR List:

1. The Queen's Secret by Karen Harper (Elizabeth, The Queen Mother)

2. American Princess by Stephanie Marie Thornton (Alice Roosevelt)

3. Her Lost Words by Stephanie Thornton (Mary Shelley and Mary Wollstonecraft)


4. The Paris Bookseller by Kerri Maher (Sylvia Beach)

5. The Personal Librarian by Marie Benedict and Victoria Christopher Murray (Belle de Costa Greene) 

6. Starring Adele Astaire by Eliza Knight (Adele Astaire, Fred Astaire's sister)


7. Fifth Avenue Glamour Girl by Renee Rosen (Estee Lauder)

8. The Empress by Gigi Griffis (Sisi of Austria)

9. Becoming Mrs. Lewis by Patti Callahan (Joy Davidman, C.S. Lewis's wife)


10. Strangers in the Night by Heather Webb (Frank Sinatra and Ava Gardner) 

11. The Woman with a Cure by Lynn Cullen (Dr. Dorothy Hortsmann)

What are some of your favorite historical novels based on real-life women? Have you read any of these novels? Let me know your thoughts in the comments and if you have any recommendations for me.

Thursday, February 2, 2023

Mini Reviews: Mystery/Thriller Edition

These two new releases are both mystery/thrillers in their own sense of the way and while both have an amazing premise, they both are missing something to really make them hits for me. Let me know your thoughts on these two new releases.

The Cloisters by Katy Hays
Pages: 312
Genre: Adult Fiction
Pub. Date: November 1, 2022
Publisher: Atria
Source: Personal Copy
My Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars


Goodreads says, "When Ann Stilwell arrives in New York City, she expects to spend her summer working as a curatorial associate at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Instead, she finds herself assigned to The Cloisters, a gothic museum and garden renowned for its medieval art collection and its group of enigmatic researchers studying the history of divination. Desperate to escape her painful past, Ann is happy to indulge the researchers’ more outlandish theories about the history of fortune telling. But what begins as academic curiosity quickly turns into obsession when Ann discovers a hidden 15th-century deck of tarot cards that might hold the key to predicting the future. When the dangerous game of power, seduction, and ambition at The Cloisters turns deadly, Ann becomes locked in a race for answers as the line between the arcane and the modern blurs. A haunting and magical blend of genres, The Cloisters is a gripping debut that will keep you on the edge of your seat."



Ann Stilwell just graduated college and has an internship in New York City, which is much different than her hometown of Walla Walla. She thought she was interning at the prestigious Met, but instead is assigned to a much smaller museum, The Cloisters. Patrick, the curator, is very interested in the Renaissance, with a strange focus on the occult. Rachel, also a recent college graduate, is working there as well assisting Patrick with his strange exhibition on Renaissance occult, divination, and tarot. While there, Ann meets Leo, the gardener, and while he is extremely charismatic and interesting, he has some strange hobbies. One night Patrick, Rachel, and Ann perform a tarot reading which changes everything. Cue major creepiness, tragedy, and a haunting mood. While I felt The Cloisters by Katy Hayes was an atmospheric read, ultimately, it was missing something to take it from a good read to a great one.

My favorite aspect of The Cloisters was the haunting setting. In fact, the novel was a bit darker than I thought it would be, like in a sinister sense. Also, Rachel is a very complex character and is hiding some things. She is more than just a wealthy college graduate. Leo, who appears to be a simple gardener, is actually growing hallucinogenics and selling them! So, obviously, there is more than meets the eye here for Ann. I really liked the incorporation of tarot and like I said, the setting was fantastic. The ending was also surprising! However, this is the author's debut novel and quite frankly, it felt like it. The writing felt a little heavy at times and some of the ideas weren't fully executed in my opinion. So, all in all, it was an entertaining read, especially if you like dark academia novels, but overall, quite average.  

The Villa by Rachel Hawkins
Pages: 279
Genre: Adult Fiction
Pub. Date: January 3, 2023
Publisher: St. Martin's
Source: Personal Copy
Other Books By Author: Reckless Girls,
My Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars

Goodreads says, "As kids, Emily and Chess were inseparable. But by their 30s, their bond has been strained by the demands of their adult lives. So when Chess suggests a girls trip to Italy, Emily jumps at the chance to reconnect with her best friend. Villa Aestas in Orvieto is a high-end holiday home now, but in 1974, it was known as Villa Rosato, and rented for the summer by a notorious rock star, Noel Gordon. In an attempt to reignite his creative spark, Noel invites up-and-coming musician, Pierce Sheldon to join him, as well as Pierce’s girlfriend, Mari, and her stepsister, Lara. But he also sets in motion a chain of events that leads to Mari writing one of the greatest horror novels of all time, Lara composing a platinum album––and ends in Pierce’s brutal murder. As Emily digs into the villa’s complicated history, she begins to think there might be more to the story of that fateful summer in 1974. That perhaps Pierce’s murder wasn’t just a tale of sex, drugs, and rock & roll gone wrong, but that something more sinister might have occurred––and that there might be clues hidden in the now-iconic works that Mari and Lara left behind. Yet the closer that Emily gets to the truth, the more tension she feels developing between her and Chess. As secrets from the past come to light, equally dangerous betrayals from the present also emerge––and it begins to look like the villa will claim another victim before the summer ends."


Emily and Chess have been best friends since they were children and now as adults even though they don't talk daily, they are still close. Emily writes cozy mysteries and Chess is a full-blown self-help guru who has even been featured by Oprah. Chess decides she needs a good vacation away from it all and invites Emily to come along as well. She has rented an Italian villa for six weeks, so how could Emily possibly say no? Emily is going through a divorce and experiencing a writing slump, so perhaps this is the change she desperately needs. After some research, Emily finds out that this house is notorious for a murder back in the 70s. Despite her hesitation, she still goes on vacation. While there, she finds a book, Lilith Rising, and it was written by one of the people who stayed in the house during the infamous murder. Now Emily is feeling inspired to write again, but Chess has been acting so weird. Does Chess really have Emily's best interests in mind? Hawkins also switches the narrative to the 1970s and to Mari, the house guest/resident author. She is there with her boyfriend and up and coming musician, Pierce, as well as her step-sister, a famous musician, Noel, and a groupie. This particular part of the novel is a re-imagining of Mary Shelley, Percy Bysshe Shelley, and Lord Byron's ghost story contest where Frankenstein was born.  While The Villa by Rachel Hawkins is a brilliant concept and I was most definitely entertained, something was missing from the story to take it to the next level. 

The gothic vibe of The Villa was well done by Hawkins. I was here for it as well as the Italian setting. I mean who wouldn't want to stay at a private villa for six weeks in Italy? It sounded luxurious minus the creep factor. To add to the creep factor, Chess and Emily's relationship is very complex and as they spend more time there, readers will realize that their friendship isn't healthy. The narrative then switches back to the past, which was interesting in that it highlights a lot of the tension within the household before the night of the murder. Like I said, the premise in The Villa is brilliant, but the execution of all of these ideas felt too heavy. Despite it's flaws, it was still a fun read and a nice way to spend an afternoon caught up in this low-key thriller.

Have you read The Cloisters or The Villa? Are they on your TBR list? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below.


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