Friday, June 26, 2020

Book Review and Giveaway - The Woman in the Green Dress by Tea Cooper

My Review
The Woman in the Green Dress is a historical novel set in Sydney, Australia in 1853 and London - and then Sydney - in 1918.  It is the story of a mysterious woman in a green dress, a white kangaroo, an opal that is said to carry a curse, an unusual little curio shop, a botanist who falls in love, and a woman post-World War I who is desperatley trying to find out if her husband survived the war.

I wanted to read this novel because it sounded so unique. I have not read a lot of historical fiction set in Australia, and I was very inrigued by the setting. As someone who sells vintage items for a living, I was particularly curious about the curio shop.

This is a dual storyline novel. The 1918 storyline is about Fleur Richards, a British woman who has received unofficial word that her Australian husband died in World War I. She receives a sizable inheritance which she doesn't want to accept, so she travels to Sydney to learn the truth.

In Sydney the story flashes back to 1853, an Austrian botanist newly arrived and intrigued by a beautiful young woman who has made friends with a white kangaroo, the curio shop the girl's aunt runs, and an assortment of mysterious stories including a huge opal and an unusual curio shop.

Initially I was much more interested in Fleur's storyline and her search for her lost husband in 1918. The 1853 storyline was much more complex with many characters and locales and it took me longer to really become invested in that story.  Then, about halfway through the book, I suddenly found that story completely fascinating and just could not put the book down!

This is such an unusual book.  It combines mystery, romance, and topics like opals, the properties of arsenic, and taxidermy in the 1800's.  I have been thinking about it since I finished reading, something that I always consider a hallmark of a really exceptional read.

I recommend The Woman in the Green Dress for fans of historical fiction, for anyone interested in Australia, and for anyone looking for a unique glimpse at history that is rarely addressed in fiction.

Book Synopsis
A cursed opal, a gnarled family tree, and a sinister woman in a green dress emerge in the aftermath of World War I.

After a whirlwind romance, London teashop waitress Fleur Richards can’t wait for her new husband, Hugh, to return from the Great War. But when word of his death arrives on Armistice Day, Fleur learns he has left her a sizable family fortune. Refusing to accept the inheritance, she heads to his beloved home country of Australia in search of the relatives who deserve it more.

In spite of her reluctance, she soon finds herself the sole owner of a remote farm and a dilapidated curio shop full of long-forgotten artifacts, remarkable preserved creatures, and a mystery that began more than sixty-five years ago. With the help of Kip, a repatriated soldier dealing with the sobering aftereffects of war, Fleur finds herself unable to resist pulling on the threads of the past. What she finds is a shocking story surrounding an opal and a woman in a green dress. . . a story that, nevertheless, offers hope and healing for the future.

This romantic mystery from award-winning Australian novelist Tea Cooper will keep readers guessing until the astonishing conclusion.


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Author Bio
Téa Cooper is an award-winning, bestselling author of Australian historical fiction. In a past life she was a teacher, a journalist and a farmer. These days she haunts museums and indulges her passion for storytelling.


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During the Blog Tour, we are giving away 5 paperback copies of The Woman in the Green Dress! To enter, please use the Gleam form below. 

Giveaway Rules 
– Giveaway ends at 11:59 pm EST on June 30th. You must be 18 or older to enter.
– Paperback giveaway is open to the US only. 
– Only one entry per household. 
– All giveaway entrants agree to be honest and not cheat the systems; any suspicion of fraud will be decided upon by blog/site owner and the sponsor, and entrants may be disqualified at our discretion. 
– The winner has 48 hours to claim prize or a new winner is chosen.  


Book Review - The Key to Everything by Valerie Fraser Luesse

My Review
The Key to Everything is a historical novel that begins in 1947 Savannah.  Peyton Cabot is 15 years old when a family tragedy prompts him to retrace his father's long ago bicycle ride from Savannah to Key West.  Over the summer trip he discovers his dreams, a sense of family, and first love.

I wanted to read The Key to Everything because I am originally from Savannah and was intrigued by the setting.  I also love vintage Florida and was curious about that aspect of the novel.

This novel is such a lovely, leisurely road trip!  Peyton is such a likable, kind-hearted young man and I enjoyed his pursuit of an unlikely dream - to travel to Key West on bicycle.  My father was just a little older than Peyton during this time period and I found the novel particularly interesting because of this connection.

The details of life in Savannah and vintage Florida (especially St. Augustine and Key West) were lovely.  The author does a beautiful job at evoking another time and place, with passages like:

"St. Augustine was a marvel. Peyton had grown up around historic architecture in Savannah, but this place was seriously old. Everywhere, you could see remnants of Spanish buildings— and others still intact and in use. Tourists swarmed the centuries-old fort on the waterfront. He picked up a map in a candy shop, where he couldn’t resist the aroma of chocolate, and wandered cobblestone streets while he nibbled on fudge. Eventually, he made his way to the Ponce de Leon, a grand hotel built by the man who had dreamed up the railroad to Key West. It looked like something out of Arabian Nights." (Kindle location 1242)

The coming of age aspect of this book and the iconic nature of Peyton's journey (and his father's journey years ago) was so moving.  This passage encapsulates the family legend:

"The boys listened as their Uncle Gil retold his favorite story, the same one he told at every spring picnic. 'Marshall says to me, he says, ‘I believe I’ve seen all this ol’ camp has to offer.’ And I says, ‘What you plan on doin’ about it ?’ That’s when he pointed at the bicycles Papa had left for us. He says, ‘I’m gonna ride my bicycle to Key West and see what those islands look like.' The cousins finished the story with their uncle, repeating his favorite line in unison: 'And that, ladies and gentlemen, was the last time Marshall Cabot ever let anybody tell him what to do.'" (Kindle location 120).

I truly enjoyed The Key to Everything and recommend it highly for fans of historical fiction, southern fiction, and for anyone interested in life in Georgia and Florida during the 1940's.  

Book Synopsis
"Promise me you'll never come back here, Peyton. It's too much--it's just way too much."

Peyton Cabot's fifteenth year will be a painful and transformative one. His father, the heroic but reluctant head of a moneyed Savannah family, has come home from World War II a troubled vet, drowning his demons in bourbon and distancing himself from his son. A tragic accident shows Peyton the depths of his parents' devotion to each other but interrupts his own budding romance with the girl of his dreams.

Struggling to cope with a young life upended, Peyton makes a daring decision: He will retrace a journey his father took at fifteen, riding his bicycle from St. Augustine, Florida, all the way to Key West. Part declaration of independence, part search for self, Peyton's journey will bring him more than he ever could have imagined--namely, the key to his unknowable father, a longed-for reunion, and a calling that will shape the rest of his life.

Author Bio
Valerie Fraser Luesse is the bestselling author of the Christy Award-winning Missing Isaac and Almost Home, as well as an award-winning magazine writer best known for her feature stories and essays in Southern Living, where she is currently senior travel editor. Specializing in stories about unique pockets of Southern culture, Luesse received the 2009 Writer of the Year award from the Southeast Tourism Society for her editorial section on Hurricane Katrina recovery in Mississippi and Louisiana. A graduate of Auburn University and Baylor University, she lives in Birmingham, Alabama, with her husband, Dave.