A Modern Day Fairy Tale

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The Lady with the Dark Hair by Erin Bartels: Book Review

  *Book received for consideration. All thoughts are my own.





Esther Markstrom and her artist mother have always been proud of their ancestor, painter Francisco Vella. They even run a small museum and gallery dedicated to raising awareness of his scandalously underappreciated work. But when Esther reconnects with her former art history professor, she finds her once-solid family history on shaky ground as questions arise about Vella's greatest work--a portrait entitled The Lady with the Dark Hair.

In 1879, Catalan orphan-turned-fugitive Viviana Torrens has found sanctuary serving in the home of an aging artist in Southern France. It is in his studio that she meets Francisco Vella, a Gibraltarian merchant who sells artists' pigments. When her past catches up to her, she is compelled to pose as Vella's sister and join him on his travels or be deported back to Spain to stand trial. Along the way she will discover that the many parts she has been playing in order to hide her identity have far-reaching implications she never could have foreseen.

This dual-timeline story from award-winning author Erin Bartels takes readers from the sleepy Midwest to the sultry Mediterranean on a relentless search for truth, identity, and the freedom to follow one's dreams.


Erin Bartels writes character-driven fiction for curious people. Her readers know to expect that each of her novels will tell a unique story about fallible characters so fully realized that it's hard to believe they are not real people. Whether urban, rural, or somewhere in between, her settings come alive with carefully crafted details that engage all the senses and transport the reader to a singular time and place. And her themes of reckoning with the past, improving the present, and looking with hope to the future leave her readers with a sense of peace and possibility.

Erin is the author of 
We Hope for Better Things, The Words between UsAll That We CarriedThe Girl Who Could Breathe Under Water, and Everything Is Just Beginning. A two-time Christy finalist and winner of two 2020 WFWA Star Awards and the 2020 Michigan Notable Book Award, Erin has been a publishing professional for more than twenty years. After eighteen years in Lansing, Michigan, Erin and her family are busy enjoying the simple blessings of a less urban life in a small town outside the capital city.

You can find her online at ErinBartels.com, on Facebook @ErinBartelsAuthor, and on Instagram @erinbartelswrites.

Simply put, this was a beautifully intriguing story! 

This is a dual timeline story, alternating between Viviana's story in 1879 Europe and Esther's story in present-day US. Both women have had difficult pasts, overcoming tremendous obstacles. Oftentimes with dual-timeline novels, I find myself preferring one time over the other... but I found that this is one where I felt equally invested in both. Both stories were quite complex and I find myself wanting to learn more about both.

For the historical timeline, the author did a great job of taking us back and giving us a feel for what women (and particularly women artists) had to deal with at this time. The amount of research that went into bring the story to life was clear, down to the techniques and mediums that were used in the time. I don't know much about art history, but I found that really interesting. I have always love Mary Cassatt's paintings- though I didn't know anything of her history- so I really thought the inclusion of her and other artists through history was wonderful too. In the current-day, I love that it took on mental illness... and did so quite well, I thought. 

If you enjoy dual-timeline women's fiction and art history, this is definitely one you'll want to check out for yourself. 



Grab your copy here: https://amzn.to/48s0EN6

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