Cover Image: The Lady with the Dark Hair

The Lady with the Dark Hair

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Member Reviews

Another great story from the pen of Erin Bartels!

Viviana must continually change her name and appearance to keep one step ahead of the authorities. After pretending to be a man, she is able to join a war effort with her twin brother, but during one of the battles, an accident occurs, and her brother is killed, and she is blamed for the murder after she is exposed as a woman. Working across Europe by yourself in 1879 is hard enough but finding work and a place to hide makes it worse. While in France working as a maid at the Renaud household, she accidentally becomes acquainted with the famed painter and is salesman friend, Vella. Through this chance encounter, she discovers that she is an artist, but can never come out into the spotlight.

In present day Michigan, Esther and her family hold claim to the last known painting by Impressionist era artist, Vella. But when the portraits is claimed to have not been painted by Vella after all, Esther must cross the Atlantic on a trip to Gibraltar to discover the truth behind both the painting and her family’s history. Will Esther discover more to her life along the way?

Erin Bartels does a great job weaving together the timelines of two women spanning over a century. Both women felt stifled in their current situations but were able to make something of a name for themselves as they moved throughout time. It’s too hard to choose what timeline I preferred, but I found myself more drawn to Esther as she had to take care of her mother and wouldn’t venture outside of comfort zone due to fear. Bartels’ stories are always uplifting for women and this is no exception. I can’t wait to see what she comes up with next!

I received a complimentary copy of this title from the publisher. The views and opinions expressed within are my own.

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This dual-timeline perspective was completely intriguing and well written. Following two different stories and timelines was completely fascinating. Readers will enjoy the contemporary versus historical aspects. If you want to be pulled into two different worlds and two different lives then this is definitely the book for you. Fans of contemporary fiction and historical fiction alike will enjoy The Lady with the Dark Hair! I received a copy of this book for free; all thoughts and opinions are my own.

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The Lady with the Dark Hair
By Erin Bartels

This is a split-time book that follows Esther Markstrom, who lives in the present day, and Viviana Torrens, who called the later half of the 19th-century home. Ester's life has been dictated by her mother's artistic tendencies and their familial ties to Francisco Vella, a minor painter during the Impressionist Era.

Vella is a bit of a mystery, with not much known about his work other than the collection of works shown at the museum run by Esther's family. But we, as readers get to see Vella and his "relationship" with Viviana. Viviana can no longer return to her home. She is an orphan who, through a series of events, finds herself seeking refuge and escape. We get to experience Viviana's journey as she discovers herself and the world through the eyes of an artist.

Both these timelines are brought together as Esther begins a journey for answers, thanks to questions raised by her former professor. Who painted The Lady with the Dark Hair? Was it her ancestor as her family has long believed? Or was it another? But this journey will do more than answer questions about the past. It will help Esther discover truths about herself that she's never had the luxury to explore.

I love duel timelines and the way the story unfolds, revealing bits and pieces of the mystery. And there are so many facets that draw one attention to the world of art. I found the process of making paint in the late 1800s fascinating. I have to be honest, I had never before given any thought as to where paint came from. In my limited experience, it comes from a tube or a small pot. Overall, I would say, this was a good read. There's a mystery and a touch of romance, but nothing to keep you up all night. If you want a book you can read leisurely without the tension that suspense causes, you will love this book.

I was provided a complementary copy of this book with no expectations but that I provide my honest opinion. All thoughts expressed are my own.

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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.
I have read every book that Erin Bartels has written and have found them all different but very well written. This one is about painters and art about The Lady with the Dark Hair. This is a dual timeline-story that takes us to the Mediterranean. I found this book very interesting as I had no idea that Erin was an artist. I find her very intriguing and do look forward to what comes next from her. If you like art and painting I’m sure you would love this book. Pick it up and read it as you will be surprised as I was that the book is actually well worth the read!

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If you enjoy art, hidden identities, and finding out about your family history, then this book is for you. In this dual timeline, we have two women who are trapped in their circumstances. Beginning with 1879 and the current time, we see these two women's stories merge into quite a twisty tale.

Vivian Torrens, 1879, has lived a rough life. An orphan, brother dead, a servant looked down upon, and a woman, she really has no hope of a better life. But due to an incident, meant to harm, she becomes acquainted with a renowned artist, his wife, and a friend who is also a fellow painter. Through this association she begins to discover painting and a love for it. However, before she can get too comfortable, her heart is broken and other women's jealousies and vendettas sends the past that Vivian has been trying to hide from, roaring back for her. So, she must leave and change her identity again. But on her adventures, she meets some of the real-life Impressionist painters and the author gives artist Mary Cassat a voice in this story.

In the present-day Esther Markstrom is running an art museum in Michigan that is mostly dedicated to her famous ancestorial painter. Esther is an artist herself who often feels tied down as she must care for her mother, another artist, but a woman that is dealing with mental illness. Esther has become the mother instead. However, circumstances lead Esther on a hunt on who the mysterious woman with the dark hair who appears in many of the paintings done by her ancestor. What Esther discovers rocks her world. Main themes are identity- knowing yourself and your worth and a woman's role and limitations in culture, especially in the past.

I was provided a copy of this novel from the publisher. I was not required to post a positive review and all views and opinions are my own.

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My goodness! This dual-timeline character-driven novel was such a page turner. I couldn’t read it fast enough!

Esther Markstrom has dedicated her entire adult life to serving as the director and curator of a museum displaying the artwork of her ancestor Francisco Vella. The crowning jewel of his work is a portrait titled The Lady with the Dark Hair. Esther has never had a reason to doubt that Vella was the creator of this portrait—until . . .

Centuries earlier and thousands of miles away, Viviana Torrens, a Catalonian woman with a tortured past, meets Francisco Vella while serving as a scullery maid for a wealthy French artist (Valentin Renaud) and his ailing wife. She becomes the subject of Renaud’s artwork and, after a while, his protege—until . . .

While I feel like as you get to know the characters, you can predict certain elements of the story, I still really wanted to see how it all played out. I was still left with questions, but the story wasn’t incomplete or unresolved.

I enjoy a good dual timeline story and this one was fascinating! I loved the mental illness representation and the struggles depicted around that. I also thoroughly enjoyed a story depicting a female in her mid-40s that didn’t center around romance or her lack of it.

I could say so much more because this story had so many layer, but I’ll just encourage you to read it yourself! It was a solid 4.5 stars for me.

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This book is a brilliantly written dual-timeline novel with captivating characters and fascinating research intertwined seamlessly into the story. The present day protagonist is Esther, an art history major who is the head of the family’s museum that promotes a family ancestor, artist Francisco Vella. She is also the caretaker of her mentally ill mother Lorena, quite a quirky and demanding woman. The other part of the story is told in the late 1800’s and is about Viviana, a woman in hiding from justice in Spain while pursuing her interest in art with Vella, a man who is a merchant of art supplies. I was captured by the unselfishness of Esther caring tirelessly for her mother, even though she would like to have her own life. Equally compelling was the story of Viviana as she travels with Vella and finds out that it is not always easy or advisable to travel using an alias. The novel includes a cleverly written mystery about a painting and its origins as well as its artist. “The Lady with the Dark Hair” is a story within a story, cleverly written to reveal details methodically and keeping me glued to the page as I sought answers to the identity of the artist and the outcome of Esther’s life of selflessness. I really enjoyed the pace of the plot because it was perfect to keep me interested. The characters were dynamic and also believable and relatable. The story was complex, but the author’s way of revealing the layers like peeling an onion was exceptionally unique and delightful. I loved the story, learned from the research and identified with the characters. This novel is thought-provoking, intriguing and remarkably written to entertain as well as educate.
Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher via Netgalley. I was not required to write a positive review and all opinions expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16th CFR, Part 255, “Guidelines Concerning the Use of Testimonials and Endorsements in Advertising.”

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The Lady With The Dark Hair" by author Erin Bartels is a dual timeline story with a beautiful cover, that will give you a high anticipation to read it. It is filled with mystery, romance but a woeful lack of faith throughout the story. I did not care to finish but I did and probably won't be coming back to this author for more. I would not recommend. Disclaimer: I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher and I was not required to write a favorable review. All opinions are my own.

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WOW, this book is a stunner!

It's the third book I've read by Bartels, and is absolutely my favorite by far. She's grown exponentially as an author, and this is truly a masterpiece--one of my favorite reads of 2024 to date. My only complaints are that I waited so long (comparatively) to read this, and that it's over!

The book reminds me of why I was a European Studies major in college, and also why I love Chattanooga's arts district (I was just recently there, so it's on the brain, heh) and entertainment like _White Collar_--the art, culture, history, and languages of Europe. I really didn't know much about Gibraltar before reading this, and I'm super curious to learn more--thank goodness Bartels included an extensive resource list at the end! ;) #geek

I found the characters compelling in both storylines, and would be hard pressed to pick which one I preferred--a rarity for me in dual-time novels. I kept getting annoyed, in a good way, when the story switched between the two--usually because it was (naturally!) on the heels of a plot twist!

So, so, so good. Looking forward to reading more of Bartels' books.

I received an eARC of the book from the publisher via NetGalley. All opinions are my own.

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I always enjoy a good dual timeline approach & I really enjoyed the last Erin Bartles book I read! She’s a really great and gifted writer.

I really felt like the complaining about being a wife and mother was just not it. And with this book coming from a Christian publisher- I honestly didn’t feel like it had strong faith themes.

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Art and family history come together in The Lady with the Dark Hair, an exploration of the her-story of said lady and its impact on a modern day art history major with a passion for a specific painter. Esther Markstrom is a descendant of Francisco Vella, curator of the museum which houses a collection of his paintings, and caretaker of her mentally ill mother. All of these components of her identity also carry the heavy burden of responsibility. The most prized Vella painting does not reside in the museum, however, but in her family home. Never seen by anyone other than Esther and her mother, never questioned beyond her mild curiosity about the identity of The Lady with the Dark Hair, never challenged. Then Esther invites her former professor to visit La Dama del Cabello Oscuro, kicking off a chain of events she could not have predicted for her mundane life. Events that not only shake up everything anyone knows about Francisco Vella, but also everything Esther has ever known about herself.

Told in dual time fashion, The Lady with the Dark Hair delivers the stories of Esther and La Dama. Their own relationships with Vella are brought to light, as history opens itself to explore the struggles and expectations of women in the late 19th century and its parallels with those Esther faces in her own experiences. Characters in both eras leap from the page as the author has painted her story so vividly that its pull is inescapable.

Thank you to the author and publisher for allowing me a copy to read and review. All opinions expressed here are my own and are completely genuine.

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I love dual timeline stories! Seeing how the past affects the present is always intriguing to me. This one was so well-done! I enjoyed seeing how Esther comes to terms with her life. I also loved seeing Viviana and her quest to becoming her own person. The art content was pretty interesting as someone who doesn't have an artsy bone in her body could find. I wish the ending was just more, but I really did enjoy these stories as a whole. Highly recommend!

I received a complimentary copy of this book from NetGalley. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.

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The Lady with the Dark Hair by Erin Bartels

Esther Markstrom is the curator of an art museum featuring the work of her famous ancestor, Francisco Vella. She runs the museum and cares for her mentally ill mother. She wonders if she is destined to live an uneventful, boring even, life, when she encounters her former college art professor, who turns her world upside down by a recent discovery.

Bartels skillfully weaves the two storylines of Esther and Vivienne, a 19th century artist together to reveal the mystery of the lady with the dark hair. Not only does she tell the story skillfully, but she illuminates the process by which artists paint and how the pigments themselves were created and distributed.

The main point of the story is the struggle that women painters encountered as they tried to break into an art dominated by men in the late 1800s. The spiritual content of this book seemed a little lighter than Bartels’ other works, but Vivienne especially references Him in her trials. However, this was a very enjoyable and clean novel and should be palatable to readers who may be offended by spiritual references. It doesn’t contain pithy life lessons like a Lynn Austin novel or showcase spiritual growth like a Jamie Langston Turner novel, but it does contain two women who come to terms with what they want from life and take action to get it.

I enjoyed this novel and appreciate the arc I received from the publisher in exchange for this, my honest review.

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I thoroughly enjoyed this book and loved following these two incredible women through their respective journeys. I am always impressed by historical fiction and this one does not disappoint. I've never known anything about Gibraltar and I felt like I was walking along with each protagonist in her time. What a fascinating story and one that will stick with me.

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‘What a thought-provoking novel by Erin Bartels.
Erin Bartel is a skilful writer who has a way with words that will get you interested in her work right at the beginning. The Lady with the Dark Hair is story of two women living in different times whose lives are intertwined by a painting, La Dama del Cabello. Vivianna Torrens living in 1879 is a young fugitive who has escaped to France after fleeing her homeland. Her work as a scullery maid brings in her path two men who will help shape her life: Monsieur Renaud and Francisco Vella. One man will usher her into the world of painting while the other will take her across Europe and eventually be a catalyst in her pursuit for freedom.
Esther Markstrom, living in present time Michigan is an artist and an art gallery owner whose life needs a spark. Like Vivianna she yearns for freedom but is saddled with taking care of her schizophrenic mother and a barely surviving family art gallery. Like Vivianna, two men enter her life who become the catalyst to bring vibrancy in her life: Ian Peters, her former college tutor and Adam Peters, cousin of Ian. Both Esther and Vivianna are women struggling to find their place of belonging and identity in the period they belong in.
I loved the consistency in Erin Bartels’ writing and how Vivianna and Esther’s story were well written. The added knowledge of painting and geography in relations to Vivianna and Esther’s travels was also a plus for me in this novel. The suspense in this novel was very subtle but enough to engage me to the very end of the story. Erin Bartels’ The Lady with the Dark Hair is one of those novels that builds up an anticipation in you but does not leave you fully quenched. The ending was a bit of a cliffhanger. Having followed Vivianna’s journey from Vivianna to Vivianne to Veronica, it was quite a disappointment the way the novel ended for her character. I hope there is a sequel to this novel.
Overall, a very good read. I did not struggle to read this novel and I would recommend this novel to Erin Bartels fans and to new fans like me.
I received a complimentary copy courtesy of Bethany House through NetGalley and Interviews & Reviews for my honest opinion.’

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The Lady with the Dark Hair is a dual timeline novel with strong female main characters. Readers travel the world with Viviana Torrens in the late 1800s, learning about some of her own personal struggles and the struggles of females in the art world at that time. Meanwhile in current time, Esther Markstrom is facing her own struggles, caring for a mother with mental health issues and attempting to keep her family's art museum afloat. The story of Viviana creating her art and finding herself intertwines with the narrative of Esther finding that same art and also rediscovering her own identity. Both women initially relied on others to define who they were. Both women went on a journey and eventually determined who they were on their own right.

I really enjoyed this book. I actually would have liked a little more self-discovery from Esther. She struggles with loss of identity at one point in the book, and I would have liked to see more of how she embraced herself. I think, if it were up to me, books that I enjoy would be much longer!! I loved the structure of this book. As the narrative alternated between Viviana's and Esther's lives, the paths crossed closer and closer, with Esther walking the same spaces that Viviana walked and gazing at the paintings Viviana had created while learning more about her own ancestors.

Great Book. Great Author. Highly recommend this one and more. Two others that I have read and enjoyed are We Hope for Better Things and The Words Between Us! Go check out one (or more), you won't regret it!

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While I didn't love The Lady with the Dark Hair by Erin Bartels. I did enjoy reading the dual time story. I'm a sucker for a good dual time novel. Normally I find myself loving one time period more than the other. And that held true for this one. I loved the 1879 story a little more than the present day one. Though the present-day story with Esther kept me turning pages, because I do indeed love a good family secret story. I love reading and seeing the character growth that comes with learning that their family might not be as perfect as they think. As well as seeing their emotions and thoughts run the gambit till, they get to the point they solve the mystery and expect it. And end up better for it.

This book gave me three things I love in a novel. Good historical fiction, romance and a mystery. I think that's one of the reasons that I love dual-time novels, it gives me both a contemporary story and a historical fiction. As well as the chance for a mystery and romance. I look forward to more by the author.

I received a copy of this book from the publisher as part of a blog tour I was not required to write a positive review. All opinions expressed are mine alone.

I received a copy of this book from the publisher through netgalley. I was not required to write a positive review. All opinions expressed are mine alone.

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This author has a way with words, of drawing a reader in with beautiful prose and descriptions yet she manages to keep the story flowing and moving at a steady pace. The tale volleys between a present day woman feeling stuck in her life due to choices outside of her control and a woman of history who must try to buck the traditional limitations placed on her gender. Both seek freedom while their similarities and differences add rich layers to the plot. The author uses such detail with her characters and with her art knowledge that the reader can’t help but to be entranced.

In the present day, Esther learns to open her heart again to options she may have declared lost to her while Viviana remains focused on her own journey. This story does not have violent scenes nor heavy Biblical themes. It is a clean read of an astounding story based on familial love, self love, discovery, and of taking a step from the ordinary.

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“The human body was meant for movement, as was the human life.” Two women connected through time by one amazing painting. The Lady with the Dark Hair was such a unique, well written, intriguing read! I loved the dual time period mystery with a hint of romance. I was swept away by the vivid, beautiful descriptions and the heartfelt stories.

Present day art history graduate Esther Markstrom runs her family museum dedicated to her mother’s ancestor, painter Francisco Vella. His most prized work, a portrait entitled The Lady with the Dark Hair comes into question when Esther’s former professor visits. As Esther discovers more about her ancestor’s past, everything she thought she knew is turned upside down.

In 1879, Vivianna Torrens is a Catalonian orphan on the run. She’s found a place as a servant in the home of a painter in Southern France from whom she learns much. When she’s asked to pose for a painting, she meets Francisco Vella, a merchant who sells art pigments. The instant attraction between them is palpable, but Vivianna is skeptical. When her past resurfaces, she’s forced to go on the run with him posing as his sister. Her travels will take her across the Mediterranean from Morocco to Gibraltar as she uses her new found skills to create captivating masterpieces.

I thoroughly enjoyed this story. I loved the gorgeous settings I could easily picture in my mind. I also enjoyed the beautiful descriptions of art and painting. Both Esther and Vivianna are compelling characters who are easy to connect with. Esther struggles to keep the family museum going while also trying to care for a mother suffering from mental illness. I appreciated her struggle as she tries to keep her mother alive while her mother strives to find her own voice and control over her life. Vivianna’s life was filled with pain and difficulty and bares both physical and mental scars from what she experienced from a young age. I loved how she found a new voice through painting.

The mysterious way these two women’s lives intersect was so fun to discover throughout the story. I found myself eagerly turning the pages and loved how each event that happened in the past was discovered in the present day. The ending was completely satisfying and paid tribute to all the women in the story. It’s a story I’ll be thinking about for a long while after reading and look forward to what this author writes next. I received an advanced complimentary copy through NetGalley. All opinions are my own and voluntarily provided. 4 1/2 stars!

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4.5 stars

Richly drawn characters, vibrant settings, and thoughtful explorations of timeless themes… No, I’m not talking about the artwork that graces The Lady with the Dark Hair by Erin Bartels but about the book itself. Bartels immediately immersed me in both timelines with her vivid descriptions and exquisite writing voice, and there were times when I could have sworn I smelled wet paint and sea air as I read.

Esther (present day) and Viviana (past) are connected by more than just their ties to the enigmatic Francisco Vella. They both have bittersweet stories of – on the one hand – overcoming the odds stacked against them to survive but, on the other hand, still struggling to thrive. I especially found Viviana’s story compelling, made all the more so by what she has already overcome before we even meet her on the pages, though the layers to Esther’s story are perhaps more empathetic and definitely more relatable to modern readers. And yet, whether or not we have experienced what either of these characters have lived through, we can certainly identify with the empty places of the heart & soul they are both seeking to fill. Along with befriending these two heroines during our reading time together, I also loved meeting the supporting characters (who add further depth to both timelines) and vicariously visiting intriguing places such as France, Tunisia, and Gibraltar.

Bottom Line: There is so much I want to gush about when it comes to The Lady with the Dark Hair by Erin Bartels… the treatment of mental health, the real-life historical artists we encounter, the family/art history mystery that connects the timelines. the vibrant settings, the timeless theme of finding one’s place & purpose in the world. Suffice it to say that I was thoroughly captivated by this story, as much a work of art as the pieces hanging in Esther’s museum and her house. Bartels’ writing is impeccable, her characters are full of life, and her mastery of both timelines is seamless. I was completely satisfied with the ending but I also want to know the ‘rest’ of the story – what happens after we leave Viviana and Esther for the final time on these pages – and I would gobble up a sequel! Perfect for fans of Melanie Dobson and Kate Morton!

(I voluntarily reviewed a complimentary copy of this book)

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