This historical fiction book by G.G. Vandagriff is outstandingly written, full of marvelous detail and fascinating characters. I can tell that the author has researched her subject thoroughly and that she loves the characters she writes about. When I wasn’t reading the book, I missed being immersed in her fictional world. It is a love story set in Austria/Germany/Poland during the tumultuous World War I and World War II periods where the heroine must make many heartbreaking choices that ultimately test her ability to survive and the moral fabric of her very being. GG does an excellent job of character development, making you care about and love her heroes and heroine. I especially love her heroine who is human, makes mistakes, and yet is someone you can respect and want to be like. Watching the heroine struggle through her enormous trials made me resolve to go through my own trials with similar faith and strength. The suspense is also high. I was sweating bullets for awhile wondering what the heroine would choose, but so proud of the decision she made in the end. I recommend this book for all women who love to be immersed in a love story full of rich detail and exciting drama with a satisfying ending. I am sad that the book ended. G.G., I’m a fan for life!
Archive for March, 2009
I have some mental pictures of what Amalia, my heroine in The Last Waltz, would look like and have played the game of trying to decide which actress would play the part if there were ever a movie.
My husband, David, is working on a website for the book and has found some wonderful photographs and paintings from turn-of-the-century Vienna (19th into 20th). Following are two paintings by the great Viennese artist, Gustav Klimt, that fit my image of what Amalia would have looked like.
The first portrait is of Amalia at the beginning of the book, a girl of 19 just entering into society.
The second painting is Amalia in her late 30’s, involved in politics and Viennese society as the wife of a minister in the Austrian government.
The actual portraits are of Sonia Knips, painted in 1898, Emilie Floege, a Viennese fashion designer and long-time friend of Klimt, completed in 1902.
When I was a freshman at Stanford, I became friends with an effervescent, beautiful girl named Christy Eitner. She was a tremendous tease about all my LDS values, but despite that fact, we were fast friends.
Her father, a native Austrian Lorenz Eitner, was my art history professor when I lived in Austria. He led me through the beauties of Vienna, many of which I would have missed on my own, and originated for me the passion that I have for that city. Interwoven in his art lectures, were bits of information about the history of Austria. These things have stayed with me for 41 years!
Just recently, Christy wrote to tell me of her father’s death and I was greatly saddened, for I was planning a trip to see Christy and her parents this Spring, and I was anxious to tell him about The Last Waltz and how he inspired me. Now it is too late.
In my own family, my father cheered me on for the past 33 years, urging me almost desperately to get the book published. I kept telling him that it wasn’t finished. That I didn’t know enough emotionally to write a believable novel about such a world-changing period. That my heroine was insipid, no matter what I did to make her otherwise.
The last talk I ever had with my father, a year and a half ago, he repeated his plea. He told me everything that was unique and true about the book and that I just didn’t have enough confidence. Shortly thereafter, he died suddenly.
I took the novel out of storage and asked myself “What would Tolstoy do with Amalia?” The answer was immediate. He wouldn’t tell such an epic story from the viewpoint of a 19 year old innocent! He would use multiple viewpoints! I was on fire. The book finally felt right as I dove into the characters of all the men in Amalia’s life, and told the story from their viewpoints. At last, I had tapped into the Vienna that Dr. Eitner had taught me about.
However, even though I have dedicated the book to my father, it is too late.
I have learned a lesson the hard way. Don’t let your insecurities hold you back. Attack them! Work with the Lord to make your weaknesses strong, for you never know what will happen when you do. The Lord knows who we are. We don’t. Not really.
Review by Tristi Pinkston: Award Winning Writer of Historical Fiction
The Last Waltz—GG Vandagriff
When I first received my copy of “The Last Waltz” in the mail, I was a little intimidated by its size. This bad boy comes in at 591 pages and one deftly placed blow would stop a midnight marauder in his tracks. But once I opened the covers, I was hooked and the size didn’t matter so much—in fact, it meant more story to enjoy.
The first thing that attracted me to the story is the fact that it’s set during World War I. We don’t see a lot of fiction based on this era—World War II gets most of the attention in that regard. I also appreciated that the book was set in Austria, a country that is sometimes overlooked in the shadow of Germany’s history. And the third thing … well, I’m going to be blatantly honest. I’m not much of a romance reader, but this book had my heart going pitty-pat on more than one occasion.
We begin the book with nineteen-year-old Amalia, a girl born into the aristocracy, engaged to Eberhard von Waldburg, a Prussian baron. He has decided to enlist in the army and wants to call off their engagement, knowing war is eminent, and fearing he will be killed. She’s hurt and outraged, believing herself to be in love with him, but he tells her that someday, she’ll know what it means to truly be in love, and she’ll realize that her feelings for him were just an infatuation. This doesn’t soften the blow of his leaving, but soon she has the chance to realize what he meant, when Andrzej, a charming and enigmatic Polish doctor, comes into her life.
Their chemistry is instant, but she badly wants to avoid the scandal of her broken engagement to Eberhard seeming to come so soon before an engagement to another man. She puts Andrzej off, believing it to be for the best, but when he finds out she’s no longer engaged, and has been delaying him, his feelings are hurt and he lashes out at her in turn.
This sends both of their lives into a spiral. They each make decisions, some for good and some for ill, as fate continues to bring them together across the years. We see World War I through their eyes, and later, see the groundwork laid for World War II. I can only hope there is a sequel that will take us through that momentous event as well.
Through it all, we see Amalia grow up from the idealistic teenager to the mature woman who still wants to see the world made a fair place. She does the best she can with her circumstances, which are far from ideal, and we feel every bit of anguish she experiences as she copes with death, insanity, misplaced trust, misplaced mistrust, and a passion that lives in her heart, even though she tries time and time again to push it down.
I really liked this book. The history was woven in beautifully as we see the characters react to it. We didn’t jolt out of the story to hear rehearsed historical facts and figures – something that always drives me nuts when I’m reading a historical fiction. I felt connected to the characters and just about ate my liver out when Amalia … well, I’ll let you read the book for yourself and see if your liver comes out of it unscathed. I’ll just say, the book held me captive all afternoon and I congratulate author GG Vandagriff on a well-written, well-researched novel that deserves rich praise.
(This book was published by Shadow Mountain in 2009.)
Review by Anne Bradshaw–another award-winning author of books and screenplays.
I’m sad to have finished G. G. Vandagriff’s epic historical romance, The Last Waltz, and grateful for the splendid read. What a grand, eye-opening adventure! I feel like I’ve lived in Austria and Germany since Page 1 and enjoyed every minute of my visit.
This novel of love and war carries messages from which nations today could well take heed. Dangerous politics that produced World Wars I and II also brought immeasurable tragedies to individuals and families.
Along with heartbreaks come selfless heroics, and individual growth. And this to me is the theme of The Last Waltz. One piece of dialogue that stays in my mind is found on Page 206 when the main character, spunky young Amalia, asks her friend Louisa, “And what is the ultimate tragedy, then?” Louisa replies, “To become less than we were born to be.”
To quote from the back cover:
“In this gripping tale of love and war, a dazzling young socialite of the old world contends with deeply contradictory notions and personal crises to become a woman who would be extraordinary in any age.”
Amalia has to choose between a love so deep it refuses to die, and a different kind of love that holds her heart with loyalties born of sacrifice, devotion, and an iron will.
I highly recommend this book for everyone who enjoys soaking up history in foreign lands and at the same time getting teary-eyed over a wonderful love story. I can well imagine The Last Waltz as a breath-taking movie production that fills movie theaters worldwide.
There is, however, one small thing I’d like to ask the author, and that is, “How do you pronounce Andrzej?”
From the publisher, Shadow Mountain: “The Last Waltz is a culminating work for the author. She started it decades ago during a study abroad in Austria and has been revising and researching it ever since. When she wasn’t publishing one of the other half dozen novels she has published, she was working on this historical romance novel.”
Paperback – 591 pages
Price: $19.95 – 2009
If you haven’t realized it by now, I work on the rewards system. When I finished my first draft and picked myself up off the floor, I gave myself the gift of a facial. I have a wonderful salon run by my good Korean friends Jade and Heather (their American names), members of the church who have been blessed with the gift of gentle, cosseting hands. For one hour, Jade has me lean back in a chair, turns on beautiful new age music, and does all kinds of wonderful things to my old skin, cleaning it, massaging it, treating it, and moisturizing it. It is beyond heaven.
On the particular occasion, however Jade forgot the head wrap and was actually massaging hydrating products into my hair. That wouldn’t have mattered, except I had a date with Rachel to go listen to her enrichment presentation in Salt Lake. Jade told me not to touch my skin for 24 hours, so that let makeup out! But when I saw what had happened to my hair, I almost cried. I looked like I had just emerged from doing baptisms for the dead (make that the very dead). And speaking of the dead, I was sincerely glad my mother missed this little adventure. She would have shot me cold.
Rachel was seriously concerned. I looked so different she could hardly recognize me. We spent the drive to SLC wondering what we were going to do., Fortunately, we arrived 20 minutes early. Picture Rachel running into the 7-11 to buy a comb, and then trying to tease my hair into some kind of style in the ladies’ room. It probably wouldn’t have been so bad, except that Rachel looked like a goddess (as usual) and she had to introduce me as her friend!
As big-hearted Rachel said, “We’ll be laughing about this for years!”
These are questions people are asking as they read The Last Waltz.
To my great surprise, David looked it up and said Andrzej was pronounced On-zhay. No r! I’ve been saying it wrong for 33 years. I don’t know if I can change it!
As far as a sequel goes, that’s up to my fans. If there is sufficient outcry, I will embark upon one, but you must all realize that it will take at least a couple of years, plus a trip to Europe for background. I would love to write a sequel, because I love that period, I studied it in detail, and I’m very attached to my characters.
Chocolates are ready to be sent to my volunteer bloggers! Hope you’re not finding the read too onerous!
Just had one of those experiences where one of my characters in my latest mystery rises up and slaps me silly, “That’s NOT what I would do!!!” Since this is a main character, it means a major rewrite. And the dang book is due Apr. 15! So back to the drawing board.
The Last Waltz should be in stores by this weekend.
Award-winning author Anne Bradshaw has posted a review of The Last Waltz on her website.
The URL is Annebradshaw.blogspot.com. She’s won her chocolates! She also agrees with me that it should be made into a movie with Richard Armitage (sigh) as the Baron von Schoenenburg! See Review of Last Waltz
Starting next week I will be writing my semi-final draft (the very final draft is the galleys!) of The Hidden Branch, my fifth Alex and Briggie mystery. It is due April 15, and I expect to be busy right up to the last making A & B jump through my hoops! I have actually (with the help of my cleaning lady) organized and cleaned my office in preparation.
I will also be holding 4-6 signings to launch my new book, The Last Waltz. The confirmed signings are as follows:
- Saturday, March 28, 12-2, Seagull Book, East Bay, Provo Store
- Friday, April 3, 7-9, Pleasant Grove Public Library, Pleasant Grove
- 6-8:00, Layton Hills Mall Deseret Book, Layton
After my book goes to the publisher I will spend time preparing for what is to come:
On April 24 I will fly to California to spend quality time with my daughter and grandson, Jack. I have been stocking up at the craft store and am mailing supplies ahead! We’re going to finger paint, bake and decorate, paint and decorate a treasure box for our tent, make 3-D dinosaurs, dance to Pictures at an Exhibition, have adventures in our tent, and finally go to stay with my sister and visit the beach for Jack’s first time. He wants to make sand castles.
I will return on May 4, have lab work done on May 5 and a hip replacement on May 6. I will be in the hospital for 3 days. During my recuperation, I am planning to write a children’s book “The Extraordinary Adventures of Jack and His Nana.”
When I am sufficiently recuperated, I will depart on an extended book tour to:
San Diego, Orange County, Upland, The San Fernando Valley, Bakersfield, Fresno, Palo Alto and environs, Seattle and environs, Baltimore, and Washington D.C. I am very fortunate that my publisher is so willing and excited to promote my novel. I will be staying with Stanford friends, my sister, and my daughter.
I will post signing information when all has been organized!
For those of you who are fans of my Alex and Briggie Genealogy novels, I have finished my first draft of The Hidden Branch, my sequel to Poisoned Pedigree. As usual Briggie gets herself in multiple pickles, and Alex gets not only clonked on the head, but more seriously injured. The Pacific Ocean surfer’s scene and a gregarious family of Armenians provide the setting. The mystery is one of their most puzzling.
It’s due at DB on April 15, after which I’m going to visit my grandson and then have major surgery, so I have quite a month ahead of me!