Cilka’s Journey

Like many others, I was fascinated by Heather Morris’ book, The Tattooist of Auschwitz about Lale Sokolov. During their time together, Mr. Sokolov told Heather Morris that Cilka Klein “was the bravest person” he ever met and said she was the person who saved his life. In their conversations Ms. Morris learned that Cilka, a very beautiful young girl of 16, was imprisoned at Auschwitz-Birkenau and only survived by allowing herself to be repeatedly raped by two senior SS officers. The first part of her story is mentioned in The Tattooist of Auschwitz. In the epilogue the author states she received many inquiries as to what happened to Cilka. This novel is the answer to that question. While one would not need to read The Tattooist of Auschwitz prior to reading this book, I think would be helpful.

This novel starts right after Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp is liberated by the Soviets. Cilka is immediately convicted, without a trial, of working with the enemy, as a prostitute and additionally as a spy . Her punishment is to be further imprisoned for fifteen years in the coldest place on earth, Vorkuta Gulag.

Cilka is a fascinating character. She is smart, loyal, and generous. She is befriended by a kind female physician, who allows Cilka to train as a nurse. Cilka is able to improve the condition of the nursery, and is a comfort to many people. She is brave and often entered dangerous situations as a member of the ambulance crew. Cilka was human too, often entering into dark periods because of the hopelessness she often found herself in. She lives with the guilt of her time at Auschwitz-Birkenau.

Heather Morris has done a fantastic job of historical research to show us the horrendous conditions of the Vorkuta Gulag, where Trustees ruled in gangs, raped as many women prisoners as they pleased, and tormented the staff.

Thanks to St. Martin’s Press and NetGalley for the advanced reader copy of this book that will be released on October 1, 2019. 5 stars.

Dear Me! What Was I Thinking?

Dear Me! What was I thinking when I decided to read a book about a young boy who was the sole survivor on a plane crash? It’s not a pleasant topic, or a subject that I ordinarily read… but something just drew me to it. Whatever it was, I am very glad I read the book Dear Edward by Ann Napolitano. It’s good to be pushed outside one’s comfort zone every now and then.

Eddie is a 12 year old boy who boards a flight from Newark to Los Angeles with his mother, father, and 15 year old brother, Jordan. They are moving to LA where his mother has a new writing job. Eddie and Jordan have always been very close, and their math genius father has home schooled them. After the plane crashes, Eddie is the sole survivor, and the other 191 people aboard have died. He goes to live with his mother’s sister, Lacey, and her husband John. They tell the press and medical staff to call him Edward instead of Eddie.

The book treats Edward’s depression, confusion, and often fugue state of mind with compassion and reality. John and Lacey were already having marital difficulties due to infertility when Edward arrives at their home. They are totally ill-equipped to deal with their own lives, let alone him. But they try and try to love him and protect him from the media circus that surrounds him, as well as all the other strangers who feel they have the right to tell him how to live.

Throughout the story, Edward experiences considerable mournfulness over the loss of his brother. Edward is often reminded that he is “special” for having survived. However, he often lacks the social skills to deal with all the situations he faces. Edward befriends the next door neighbor, Shay, and she helps him deal with issues of school and grief. Their bond is very endearing.

The book divides into chapters dealing with Edward and his recovery, and other chapters regarding the flight before it crashes. The flight chapters spend a little too much time on back stories other several other people on the plane. There was a lot of story line about the first class flight attendant, but I don’t remember there being any meaningful post crash connection between any of her family members and Edward.

Towards the end of the book, we learn of letters that were written to “Dear Edward” after the crash. While sometimes disturbing, these letters help Edward in unexpected ways. Slowly he is able to learn to live with the memories of his past and possibilities of his future. Along the way he supported by his aunt and uncle, Shay and her mom, his therapist, a fantastic school principal, and a PE Coach.

I enjoyed this character driven book much more than I expected. It will be published on January 14, 2020. 4.5 stars. Be sure to put it on your To Read List.

Thanks to Netgalley and to Random House – The Dial Press for my advanced reader copy of the book in exchange for my honest review.

Sarah Jio’s love letter to Paris

Paris, to me, truly is a city of love and lights. My husband and I love to share a kiss on the Pont Alexandre III bridge with the Eiffel Tower glowing in the background. The city just seems to celebrate enlightment “la ville lumière” and vibrancy “la joie de vivre”.

It is almost unbearable to think of the time when the city of love and lights was occupied by Nazis, who were filled with hate and darkness. In Sarah Jio’s new novel, All the Flowers in Paris, we see this terrible time through the eyes of Celine. In 1943 Celine is a widow and single mother who lives with her father, the owner of a flower shop. Once her father’s partial Jewish ancestry is discovered, a yellow star is painted on the flower shop. The business is ruined when customers refuse to do business with them, neighbors become traitors, old friendships are lost, and the family is torn apart. Celine is then held hostage in the apartment of a high ranking German official, who lives at 18 Rue Cler.

Celine represents the strength, dignity and courage of French Jewish people and those in the Resistance movement during the war. She also shows the steadfastness of a mother’s love as she protects her young daughter, Cosi, from all the evil surrounding them. Celine’s boyfriend, Luc, is a policeman who leaves to fight for the resistance. His is mother is the owner of Bistro Jeanty, who tries to find favor with the Germans to keep her restaurant flourishing during the occupation. Celine’s childhood friend, Suzette, is one of the many who are seduced by the Germans, and end up conflicted and emotionally unstable.

The other main character in the book is Caroline, who is living in France in 2009. She suffers a head injury in a bicycle accident after leaving the Bistro Jeanty after an unpleasant encounter with an unnamed man. She wakes up five days after the accident with temporary memory loss. Upon discharge from the hospital, she returns to her apartment at 18 Rue Cler, to try to discover her true identity. She befriends the new owner of the Bistro Jeanty, Victor, as well as a college student who is studying the history of occupied Paris. We follow not only Caroline’s recovery, but learn of how the apartment connects the lives of Celine and Caroline. Like lotus flowers, they lead harrowing journeys, forging their ways through darkness, summon inter strength, and emerge and bloom triumphantly.

Thank you #NetGalley and #BallantineBooks for my advanced reader copy. This book will be published on August 13, 2019.

4 Stars.

May and June Book Reviews

And A Question for You!

I read ten books in May & June. That has to be a personal record. I normally read two to three books a month. Steve and I spent a week at the beach, and I was able to get in a lot of quality reading time. Four of the books were Advanced Reader Copies through NetGalley. You can click on the title to see my full review of those books as well as my author interview with the delightful Terry Lynn Crane.

Ask Again, Yes by Mary Beth Keane. 5 Stars. I think this will be on the Best Seller list. It would be a great book club discussion book. This was an advanced reader copy. The publisher’s plot summary for this book is “A profoundly moving novel about two neighboring families in a suburban town, the friendship (and love) between their children (Peter and Kate), a tragedy that reverberates over four decades, and the power of forgiveness.”

The book has now been published.

Becoming by Michelle Obama. Beautifully written, albeit sometimes with too much detail, autobiography about the interesting life of Michelle Obama. The story focuses on her own family, her education, her life being married to a politician, her children, and those who have mentored and encouraged her. It gives an interesting insight as to what it is like to be first lady and to try and raise children inside the White House. The book resonates with hope and encouragement. Mrs. Obama rarely says anything negative about anyone, until it she gets to Donald Trump where her ill will is evident. Like many others, my favorite quote is: “If you don’t get out there and define yourself, you’ll be quickly and inaccurately defined by others.”

Bethlehem by Karen Kelly. 3.5 Stars. A young woman arrives at the grand ancestral home of her husband’s family, hoping to fortify her cracking marriage. But what she finds is not what she expected: tragedy haunts the hallways, whispering of heartache and a past she never knew existed. This was an advanced reader copy. The book should be published next week.

The Beantown Girls by Jane Healey. 5 Stars. I choose this book as my selection for book club. It made for an interesting discussion. I love a good World War II Historical Fiction. This one was about the Red Cross Club Mobile Girls. Prior to this book, I had never heard of the Club Mobile program of sending young women in 2 ton food trucks to the war front to serve coffee and donuts to soldiers. The book gives great insight to the friendships along with the dangers these brave women faced.

I lost My Girlish Laughter by Jane Allen. 4 Stars. This novel was first published in 1938. It is based about the co-writers’ experiences working in the movie industry during the golden years. This rollicking epistolary novel gives us a secretary’s viewpoint of life at a 1930’s Hollywood studio through free spirited personal letters, newspaper gossip columns, telegrams, interoffice memos, calendar entries, and the secretary’s private journal entries. 

The Seven Sisters by Lucinda Riley. This is the first book in a series about For the most part I really enjoyed this story about Maia and her journey to find where she came from. The historical fiction regarding Christ the Redeemer was especially interesting. However, the part about Pa Star and his adopted girls who never questioned who he was drove me a little crazy. My rating is more like 3.5 stars. I might read another one, but it won’t be a high priority.

Pachinko by Min Jin Lee. 3 Stars. I didn’t fall in love with this multi-generational novel as so many others have. I became bored with the constant discrimination of Koreans by the Japanese over the course of 50 years. After 496 pages, I was glad to be finished. It has a 4.26 rating on Goodreads and a friend of mine highly recommended it. On the up side it is a story of is a story of love, sacrifice, ambition, and loyalty during very difficult circumstances.

Fiddle Dee Dee Recipes: A Taste of”Gone With The Windby Terry Lynn Crane. This book is filled with wonderful stories of the cast of Gone With The Wind. It is so much more than a cookbook! Thanks to the author for the great interview! I have really enjoyed making the recipes.

This Tender Land by William Kent Krueger. 10 stars on a scale of 1 to 5. I loved this book of Huckleberry Finn, meets the Odyssey, meets the Book of Job. This was an advanced reader copy. This book won’t be released until September, 2019. Put it on your to read list! I have a very strong feeling that this will be my favorite book of 2019. I recommend it especially to those of you who loved Where The Crawdads Sing and Before We Were Yours.

The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller. 3 stars. A very unique take on the life of Achilles as told by Patroclus, his gay lover of many years. I wanted to love this as much as I did Circe. Unfortunately, it was slow and boring during many parts, especially the war.

And Now for My question to you: What has been your favorite read this year?

God Is A Tornado!

My favorite book of 2019 (I know it’s only June, but this book will be hard to top as my favorite)

How special it is to find one of those rare and beautiful books that etches a place in your heart. This Tender Land is certainly one of those books for me. I have a feeling after it is published in September 2019, it will be on the best seller list for quite a while. Thank you to NetGalley and to Atria Books for my advanced reader copy. And thank you to the author, William Kent Krueger, for sharing your heart with this book.

The book starts with the narrator, Odie O’Bannion, looking back upon events from the great depression. He tells the reader to open themselves to every possibility, for there is nothing your heart can imagine that is not so. Then he promises a tale of killing, kidnapping, children pursued by demons (and a very persistent Black Witch), courage, cowardice, love, betrayal, and of course hope. And boy does he deliver a magical story!

It is an odyssey of four orphaned children who escape a horrible existence at an Indian School in Minnesota and try to travel via canoe to try to find an aunt in St. Louis, Missouri. The year is 1932. Odie, along with his brother (the only two white children at the Indian school) their best friend Mose, rescue a young girl, Emmy, and take off with some stolen cash and a gun. They know they will be chased by the law and accused of kidnapping Emmy. As they follow the twists and turns of the great rivers they paddle, the four learn more and more about themselves. There are many well wishers, who always say to them “God be with you”. There are also several evil people, who shake their belief system entirely.

Odie O’Bannon, who was only 12 years old, tries to understand God, who had taken away his last hope of happiness with a tornado that killed Emmy’s mother and his favorite teacher. He felt like at every corner of the journey the Tornado God had its ultimate purpose to deny the boy a happy ending. But as the journey continues, he realizes he can’t pin down God. The most important truth he learns is that when he yields to the river and embraces the journey that he finds peace. The other 3 children are also able to come to peace with their purpose, and to find a place they could call home.

On a scale of 1 to 5, I give this 10 stars. I really loved this book. It will be published on September 3, 2019. Be sure to add it to your “To Read List”!

Oh Fiddle Dee Dee! My Interview with author and radio personality Terry Lynn Crane

Hello Readers,

I have always loved cookbooks.  I recently purchased a very unique cookbook entitled FIDDLE DEE DEE RECIPES: A TASTE OF “GONE WITH THE WIND.” It was written by Terry Lynn Crane, the widow of actor Fred Crane.  Fred, along with George Reeves (later known as Superman), played the Tarleton Twins in the movie, “Gone With The Wind.” Fred’s character, Brent Tarleton, is remembered for speaking the opening lines of the film. 

Fred and Terry Lynn Crane purchased and restored a Georgian Revival home which was on the National Registry for Historic places and had served as a Confederate Headquarters and hospital during The War Between the States, circa 1849. They opened Tarleton Oaks Bed and Breakfast in June of 2000.  The home also housed the Gone With The Wind Hall of Stars Museum which displayed “Gone With The Wind” memorabilia, including costumes owned and worn by Vivian Leigh, Leslie Howard, and Clark Gable;  autographed photographs and personal items belonging to many of the stars.  The bed and breakfast is no longer open, but during its tenure, the guests were treated royally to delicious breakfasts, high tea, personal tours of the house and museum as well as an evening hearing behind the scene stories by actor Fred Crane. The cookbook is filled with these special recipes and so much more.

Terry Lynn was gracious enough to allow me to interview her.  I hope you enjoy reading her fascinating story.

1. FIDDLE DEE DEE RECIPES: A TASTE OF “GONE WITH THE WIND” is not a typical cookbook.  Tell the readers what is included in addition to the recipes.  

Thank you, Kerrin, for including me and “The Baby” in your entertaining blog.  FIDDLE DEE DEE RECIPES: A TASTE OF “GONE WITH THE WIND” is filled with behind the scene stories from the filming of “Gone With The Wind,” rare photographs and information about many of the cast members, funny anecdotes that happened at Tarleton Oaks, rare autographs, scenes cut from the movie as well as some of my original artwork. 

2.  You have referred to FIDDLE DEE DEE RECIPES: A TASTE OF “GONE WITH THE WIND” as “The Baby.” What  was the process to write and publish it? 

Kerrin, yes. It took over 10 years to complete the book and the process was likening to birthing a baby! I wanted it to be special and something so different so I put a lot of thought, effort and love into every single page. To make a long story short, I had the conception for the book while Fred and I owned and operated Tarleton Oaks Bed and Breakfast. So much had been written about the movie, but, unfortunately, they contained errors; so, since Fred was a cast member and was one of the few members of the cast who was actually there and still living, we thought we could “set the record straight” and tell the true stories about the cast and behind the scene stories along with some historical recipes from that period as well as recipes we served at Tarleton Oaks Bed and Breakfast. Like the movie, there were many obstacles to overcome in getting this book published. But, in the end, the book came out exactly the way I had conceptualized it. Fred helped me from the Other Side, quite miraculously, which is a story in itself! With all the blood, sweat and tears I put into the completion of the book, it had become a part of me—like birthing a baby!

3. Fascinating! How did your late husband help you from the Other Side? 

Kerrin, I was in Danville, Kentucky mailing a wedding gift to my son and daughter-in-love. Afterwards, I was going to the grocery store for a few items when, all of a sudden, I heard my late husband’s voice just as clearly as if he was sitting right next to me. He said, “Terry Lynn, you need to go over to the little antique store on Lexington Avenue right now.” I thought I was imagining it; so, I continued driving to my destination. Again, I heard his voice again. “Terry Lynn, you need to go NOW to the little antique store on Lexington Avenue!”  He was so adamant about it and it was so strong that I dutifully drove all the way across town to the little antique store—although I didn’t need any furnishings or anything. It had been a couple of years since I had shopped there. I went inside and walked around. I really didn’t see anything that caught my eye until I almost got up to the front counter. On the floor, was a basket of books. The top book was THE ART OF GONE WITH THE WIND by Judy Cameron. It was a beautiful coffee table book. The book had been written by a friend of Fred’s and was gifted to him by the author. I had the hard bound version of it in storage back in Georgia. I picked up the book and knew it was out of print so I thought, “$4.99. I’ll buy it!” I took it up to the cashier. There were two couples there who had just paid for their goods. I laid the book on the counter and the cashier exclaimed, “Gone With The Wind! That’s my favorite book and movie!” I smiled and agreed, “That’s mine, too, but I might be a little biased. My late husband was in the motion picture!” The man, who was standing closest to me, added, “Who was your late husband?” I picked up the book and randomly open it and there was a whole page of pictures of Fred! I replied, “As a matter of fact, here he is!” The man exclaimed, “Fred Crane! Your late husband was Fred Crane?!” I replied, “Yes, Sir.” He held out his hand and said, “Let me introduce myself. My name is Deacon Steve Swope and I’m the President and CEO of Gone With The Wind Partners, LLC. We own all the literary rights to GONE WITH THE WIND.” I said, “How fortuitous! I am writing a book about “Gone With The Wind”—a cookbook which is more than a cookbook. It contains info about the cast, behind the scene stories, rare photographs and much more!” Swope said, “Well, you’ll need our Board’s permission if you want to use Gone With The Wind in the title of your book and if you want to use the character names in your book. We meet next month.” He reached into his coat pocket and handed me his business card. He wrote some additional phone numbers on it and said, “Here’s my cell phone number and my attorney’s name and number. Let!s see what we can do!” I had goose bumps the size of apples come up on my arms! I knew that Fred had sent me there. The amazing thing is that Deacon Steve Swope and his wife had been visiting friends there in Danville and were heading back home to Newnan, Georgia, right after they were leaving the antique store! There was only a very small window of time that I could have met him. I had no idea who to contact for permissions to publish my book. By the way, I also had to gain permission from Warner Brothers because they owned the movie rights and all the photographs. Deacon Swope was a Deacon for the Catholic Church in Atlanta. The property of GONE WITH THE WIND actually belongs to the Archdiocese of Atlanta—the Catholic Church!  

4. After Brent Tarleton, who is your favorite Gone With The Wind character?  

Well, it would have to be Scarlett O’Hara because I admired her tenacity. She was a survivor. 

5. What were some of Fred Crane’s favorite memories about the filming of Gone With The Wind? 

Gosh, Kerrin, there were SO many! He enjoyed visiting with Vivian Leigh who he said was so lovely and down to earth—a consummate actress. He described her complexion as having very fine hairs on it like soft, peach fuzz and had such a beautiful smile. He also had fond memories of speaking with Clark Gable, Leslie Howard, Olivia deHavilland and Hattie McDaniel. He had some great times with pals, George Reeves and Rand Brooks. I am editing another book that Fred and I wrote entitled, GONE WITH THE PEN: A JOURNEY TO THE HEART which contains a lot of his memories as well as most of our over 1,600 letters that we had written to each other during our courtship. It will be a while yet before I release it for publication, though. 

6. When you and Fred owned and operated Tarleton Oaks Bed and Breakfast, what were your guests favorite recipes?  

I believe The Tarleton Oaks Breakfast Casserole, Tarleton Oaks Breakfast Pizza and Bonnie’s Egg Blossoms were some of their favorites.  

7. You are a woman of many talents!  Besides being the author of several books, a public speaker, an artist, and a radio show host, what other things are you currently doing? 

Wow! Thank you, Kerrin! I am enjoying spending time with my family—my precious and supportive husband, Frank, my dear mother who lives with us, my animals—two dogs, a German Shepherd, Anna,,a Coton de Tulear, Mr. Snuggles, a cat, Miz Scarlett, two horses, Farrah, a Tennessee Walking Horse, and Velvet, a young Friesian, who is almost two years old and doting on my new 11 month old grand baby, Sofia Grace. I just wish she, my older son, Jim, and daughter-in-love, Angie, lived closer to us. They are living on the west coast in Washington state. I am blessed to have my younger son, Tray, not too far away from us in Lexington, Kentucky. My husband, Frank, aka my partner extraordinaire, and I also enjoy doing radio together. We own a home studio and internet radio station and have met the greatest people and listeners from around the world—USA, Canada, England, Ireland, Australia, New Zealand, Germany, The Netherlands, China, etc. We play music continually on our station 24 hours a day, 7 days a week and, then, we do live shows—Cruisin’ to the Oldies, 50’s, 60’s and 70’s, Love Notes, 70’s, 80’s and 90’s, Motown and More, Country Cruisin’ and also do live celebrity interviews. We have a lot of fun with it! Our station can be accessed via your computer, smartphone or IPad-type device by going to:

8. What is the best way for the readers to purchase a copy of the book?

Thank you, again, Kerrin.  FIDDLE DEE DEE RECIPES: A TASTE OF “GONE WITH THE WIND,” as well as my other books and autographed GWTW memorabilia, are available on my secure website:

Terry Lynn Crane, Author, Performer, Radio Personality 

My versions of Dolly’s Eight Layer Salad and Bonnie’s Egg Blossoms

In the words of Terry Lynn Crane,  “Bon appetit, y’all!”

I Lost My Girlish Laughter

This epistolary novel gives us a secretary’s viewpoint of life at a 1930’s Hollywood studio through free spirited personal letters, newspaper gossip columns, telegrams, interoffice memos, calendar entries, and the secretary’s private journal entries. It was co-authored by Silvia Schulman Lardner, who was David O. Selznick’s personal secretary. The main character, Madge Lawrence, is clearly based on Lardner’s personal experiences. It is a quick and fun read for anyone who loves classic films or the film making industry.

The book introduction is invaluable to the modern reader, 81 years after the book was first published. It explains who the characters are modeled after as well as personal insight to the authors.

Thanks to #Netgalley and Penguin Random House for the advanced reader copy in exchange for my review. 4 stars!

Ask Again, Yes

Many thanks to #Net Galley and #Scribner to allow me to review this beautiful story. 5 STARS

The publisher’s plot summary for this book is “A profoundly moving novel about two neighboring families in a suburban town, the friendship (and love) between their children (Peter and Kate), a tragedy that reverberates over four decades, and the power of forgiveness.” To be honest, it will be difficult for me to describe it better than that, other to add poignant as one of the descriptive terms.

The story deals with the issues of abandonment, mental illness, loyalty, alcoholism, forgiveness, strength from adversity, the poverty of happiness, and above all what it means to love your spouse and your family.

There were times when reading about the years and events that followed the tragedy, that I felt a tension… like something would set the main characters off in another bizarre turn of events. But as the characters matured over the years, they began looking at the events through different eyes. One of my favorite quotes is from Peter’s uncle George who wisely says: “The thing is, Peter, grown-ups don’t what they’re doing any better than kids do. That’s the truth.” And Kate’s thoughts after Peter’s return from the hospital “What used to be fluent between them felt incomprehensible now, far more difficult to translate. But things were meant to change, Peter said. Because life changes and people change. As long as we change together, we’re okay. “

First Quarter 2019 Books

January – April  2019 BOOKS Read  

Loved this biographical novel about Gini and Stephen Courtauld.  5 stars. See my review here

My Second Time to read this awesome book based on the true story of the Tennessee Children’s Home Society.

5 stars

Intriguing Historical Fiction about Nazi Hunters. 5 stars.  See my review here

A lovely story about a mysterious child that teaches two strangers how to love again.  4 stars

So glad I re-read this well written story of the Galveston Hurricane of 1900 and the struggles of the U.S Weather bureau. 5 stars

Great insight into the making of the beloved play. 4 stars

I must confess, after getting through the first four Outlander books, I was exhausted. I was thrilled to learn that this book gives the condensed version of the last four books. Hallejulah! It also includes some of the Lord John stories, but I didn’t read those. 4 stars.

One of the most depressing memoirs I’ve ever read. I wish I could forget the stories of his abusive childhood and general disdain for white people.

Interesting novel about a European circus that hid Jews and other refugees during WWII.

The first in Diane Kelly’s new Fixer Upper cozy mystery series. A fun read. 5 stars. See my interview with Diane here

A very short book about British explorer Henry Worsley, who was obsessed with treks to the Antarctic. Better to read hardback to see the numerous pictures. 4 stars

Cute story about a young woman who teaches a writing course to older Punjabi widows in London. For some dumb reason, I was surprised by the amount of erotica stories incorporated into the book. 4 stars

Fictionalized biography about the marriage of Ernest Hemingway and Martha Gelhorn. 3.5 stars.

A college student who needs to write a biography is introduced to a convicted murderer, who is dying. Good plot. 4 stars.

When her estranged father dies, a young woman goes to Tuscany in search of her father’s past and of course finds love. 3.5 stars

A historical novel based on the true story of high school teacher Tylene Wilson who became the first female high school football coach in Texas.

The Dragon Lady

A very special thank you to Bloomsbury and Netgalley for allowing me to read this book in exchange for an honest review. #TheDragonLady #NetGalley

The Dragon Lady is a fictionalized biography that explores the life of Lady Virginia (Ginie) Courtauld and her second husband, Sir Stephen Courtauld with emphasis on their time in Rhodesia in the 1950’s. It also gives the first person view of Catherine, who in the first chapter of the book reflects back to the time when she witnessed Ginie, a/k/aThe Dragon Lady, being shot while speaking to Catherine’s father, Mark, a naturalist and forestry consultant in Rhodesia.

Ginie Courtauld is a difficult personality. Her mother, Rosa, openly disliked her for being spirited and excessive. Her father, Riccardo was more loving. Her mother was thrilled when Gini was to be married to Paulo Spinola, who came from an aristocratic Italian family in Genoa. As a young woman, Gini lied to and omitted giving important facts about herself to both of her husbands prior to marriage. These lies caused the failure of her marriage to Paulo. She waited until years after being married to Stephen to finally be truthful. By then, Stephen was so full devoted to her, it did not matter.
Gini longed for social status, and spent a great deal of effort in trying to achieve her place in the elite class. As a divorcee, she was never fully accepted in England. She took each social rejection to heart. “The anguish of loss never left Ginie. Pain had settled in and fused with her DNA.” Ginie was outspoken and brash. She loved being mysterious and told many a different story about the origins of her snake tattoo, which eventually led to her being called The Dragon Lady. She had such great hopes for achieving a new social prominence in Rhodesia, but again was met with scorn for her belief that the Africans were being treated unfairly by the white majority, who were racists and elitists. While she worked hard to better the lives of those in her community, it felt like it was always being done with an expectation that others should be extremely grateful and glorify her. She felt miserable all the time because she didn’t get the respect she demanded.

Stephen Courtauld was the more likeable one of the Courtaulds. He came from an extremely wealthy London family, but did not work because he suffered from PTSD after World War I. He was a lover of art, fine architecture, botany, music and theater. Stephen’s actions, especially in Rhodesia, seemed truly philanthropic. Despite threatening letters ; physical harm to his personal property, and endless social shunning, Stephen continued doing what he believed right. He was awarded his knighthood for his work and leadership in the establishment of the Rhodes National Gallery, for an outstanding contribution to the civic life of the community and for wide-ranging philanthropy. Instead of seeking social status, Stephen desired social conscience.

The character of Catherine is used to show the consequences that Gini’s actions had on those who surround her. The results at time were terrible, and Gini was always mindless of how she set things into motion.

It is obvious that the author, Louisa Treger, meticulously researched the Courtaulds. She was able to bring to light the social norms of European elite in the 1910’s – 1940’s. The readers get to experience the grandeur of the Courtauld’s homes. She transports the readers through Italy, England, Scotland and then fully immerses us in 1950’s Rhodesia. My one small complaint is that the chapter headings are given in broad decade terms, such as “Ginie, London, 1920s or Stephen, Rhodesia, 1950’s”. I would have prefered the heading to give more specific years. For example “Stephen, Rhodesia, 1958”, which was the year he was knighted. That would have made it seem more biographical and less fictionalized to me.

I recommend this book to any one who loves historical fiction, especially the sub-category of fictionalized biography.