Tuesday, April 29, 2008

The Secret Magdalene by Ki Longfellow

Visit Ki Longfellow at: http://kilongfellow.com/

The Secret Magdalene, Ki Longfellow, Three Rivers Press, $14.95, USD, $19.95 CAN, trade paperback, 978-0-307-344667-4

In the 1st century A.D., 10 year old Mariamne recovers from a strange illness which has left her with the gift of prophecy. Whenever she sees the future, she is possessed of a voice not her own. Born into a life of priviledge, Mariamne and her sister Salome, develop an interest in the occult through a friend of their father, Josephus of Arimathaea. The two girls dream adventure and traveling the world as future sorceresses.

But their dreams soon dissolve when their illicit study is discovered by one of their father's friends who introduces them to a religious sect who await the discovery of the One who will come and save them. Mariamne and Salome visit regularly. Late one night, the two girls escape and while on their way to a meeting with these people, they are discovered. Enraged at their disobedience and fall from virtue, their father casts them out of his life.

A philosopher adopts the two girls and permits them to pursue their interests. The sisters are raised diverse religious ideas strongly influenced by their mentor's passion for Socrates.

From the first time she met him, Salome is taken by John the Baptist and she believes he is the promised Messiah, Mariamne becomes a follower and close friend of Yehoshua (Jesus) of Galilee, a cousin of the Baptist.

What makes this particular story unique, is that it is told through the point of view of a young innocent woman who searches to find joy and meaning in her life. It is a novel not to be taken lightly, but rather read carefully and at a leisurely pace to benefit from the deep emotion and powerful story contained within its pages. It is satisfying and moving, rich and thought provoking.

Mirella Patzer, author of Bloodstone Castle

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Mistress of the Revolution by Catherine Delors

Visit: www.catherinedelors.com

MISTRESS OF THE REVOLUTION, Catherine Delors, Penguin Group (USA) Inc., $25.95 USD, hardcover, ISBN: 978-0-525-95054-7

After the turbulent years of the French Revolution, an exiled noblewoman reflects on her life. So begins the story of Gabrielle de Montserrat, whose origins in a remote French province do not prepare her for the horrors to come. Abandoned by her overly critical mother, Gabrielle is raised in a convent until she is eleven. She worships her brother the Marquis de Castel, who as her guardian has absolute power over her life. He returns her to her birthplace but his behavior toward Gabrielle is at turns, heartless and disturbing. When she is fifteen, Gabrielle falls in love with a commoner, Pierre-Andre Coffinhal. The differences in their background prohibit a marriage. After the Marquis arranges a marriage with the cruel Baron de Peyre, Gabrielle attempts to elope with Pierre-Andre but the promise of her brother’s retribution forces her to submit to a brutal marriage. Her only comforts are the memories of Pierre-Andre and the birth of her daughter Aimee.

When the Baron dies, Gabrielle learns he has made no provision for his family. Her brother refuses to offer her refuge in their ancestral home. She and Aimee leave for the glittering court of the haughty Queen Marie Antoinette and her decadent husband King Louis XVI. Befriended by the Duchess d’Arpajon and the Chevalier des Huttes, Gabrielle also makes the acquaintance of the Count de Villers. Her impoverished circumstances allow her few options except to become his mistress. Villers is a generous lover but jealously questions Gabrielle’s devotion. While with him in Paris, by chance Gabrielle sees her former lover Pierre-Andre but her status as a kept woman embarrasses her. When the political situation in France degenerates and Villers’ obsession imperils Gabrielle’s life, she faces the greatest trial she has ever known. But now, Pierre-Andre stands in judgment over her at the Revolutionary Tribunal. He despises everything Gabrielle’s status represents and has had years to nurse his feelings of abandonment and betrayal. Humbling herself before him, Gabrielle makes a desperate bid to save her life and find the happiness with Pierre-Andre which eluded her in the past.

Mistress of the Revolution is Catherine Delors' fabulous debut novel. In addition to the fictional characters of Gabrielle and her family, the reader encounters real-life figures including the architects of the French Revolution and the self-indulgent courtiers at Versailles who are doomed to lose their positions and lives when the Revolution sweeps across France. Gabrielle’s naïveté is at times infuriating, but also offers a sobering perspective of the options available to women in pre-Revolutionary France. She assumes that by confessing her love for Pierre-Andre, her brother will be inclined to see to her happiness. But she does not understand how the Marquis’ obsessive affection for her and his prejudices will drive the lovers apart for many years. When she first encounters the Count de Villers, she hopes for the prospect of marriage. But a year later after she becomes his mistress, his unpredictable nature leads her to conclude that it would be better not to become his wife. She is a witness to some of the most violent episodes of the Revolution and faces the prospect of death at intervals. Her determination to become self-reliant often puts her at risk, but her struggle to survive and ensure her daughter’s future is awe-inspiring.

Friday, April 11, 2008

The Venetian Mask by Rosalind Laker

Eighteenth century Venice is an era of decadence and sin, intrigue and corruption, illicit romance and dark secrets. Carnivale and the wearing of opulent masks make hiding while in public easy. Trysts and illicit encounters abound. Danger and violence lurk around any chosen corner. Under this magnificent and glamorous backdrop, the lives of three young girls, Adrianna, Elena, and Marietta, intertwine at the “Ospedale della Pieta” a renowned music conservatory for orphaned girls.
Adrianna, the most famous and most highly revered singer of the Pieta gives up the opportunity for a sensational career in the opera to marry a talented Venetian mask- maker whom she has fallen deeply in love with.

The beautiful blonde and blue-eyed Elena catches the attention of Marco and Fillipo Celano, two brothers from a very rich and powerful family. She is in love with and betrothed to Marco, but when he suddenly dies before their wedding, she must become the wife of his brother, Filipo, a man who is ambitious as well as dangerous. To maintain his lofty position within the Celano family, Filipo must sire an heir, but Elena remains barren. The more desperate he becomes for an heir, the more he turns to violence towards the gentle Elena.

The rich voice and beauty catapults Marietta into top spot at the Pieta. She becomes one of the most famed singers of Venice. Her notoriety draws the notice and love of a handsome Frenchman named Alix Desgrange. Their plans to elope are ruined when Alix’s guardian learns of the tryst. The two lovers are forever separated when Alix must marry someone else in his homeland of France.

Several years pass. Marietta receives a marriage proposal from Domenico Torrisi. The Torrisi and Celano families have been mortal enemies for many years. Once she marries into the Torrisi family, she will never be allowed to see Elena again. Both husbands forbid the two women to maintain their friendship. With the aid of Adrianna, Elena and Marietta begin to meet discreetly. Their friendship continues under these clandestine conditions. Further, they develop a repertoire of secret hand and eye signals to communicate with each other whenever in public.

Clandestine meetings, secret births, murder, vengeance, vendetta, betrayal, and political intrigue decorate this intricate plot. I was easily drawn into the story as the simplicity and joy of life for the three “Pieta” girls deteriorate.
Rosalind Laker vividly recreates the mystique of the “golden age” of Venice where sin can hide behind the mask of the wearer. She has wonderfully portrayed the decadence of Venice. The reader will be swept away on a heart-wrenching journey of violence, trickery, and dark secrets. The story’s realistic sub-plots of hatred and obsession draw the reader deeper into the tale. The rich decadence of Venetian life of centuries past, unforgettable characters, and the roller-coaster of twists and turns sprinkled throughout the story, make this an unforgettable novel. The stories of the three girls and the hardships they must overcome is endearing. The ending does not disappoint. I recommend this unique novel for anyone who wants to vividly experience the rich culture of the ancient city of Venice.

Friday, April 4, 2008

The Ethnic Presidency: How Race Decides the Race to the White House by Earl Ofari Hutchinson


The Ethnic Presidency: How Race Decides the Race to the White House is an explosive look at how racial and ethnic conflict has openly and covertly played a crucial role the past three decades in influencing, shaping and ultimately deciding who bags the world’s biggest political prize, the White House. It tells how racial politics will play an even bigger role in the 2008 presidential election and future elections.

It examines Obamamania, the Hillary and Bill factor, the soaring Latino vote, the silent but potent Asian-American vote, the immigration wars, the GOP’s love-hate relationship with black and Latino America, and Bush’s effort to recast the GOP from a clubby, ole white guys party to a party of racial diversity. The first primary is January 29.

Here is a sampling of questions The Ethnic Presidency asks and answers:

Will America accept a black president? Can Obama be that president?

Will America accept a woman president? Can Hillary be that president?

Will America accept a Latino president? Can Bill Richardson be that president?

Will America accept a Mormon president? Can Mitt Romney be that president?

How the GOP played the Southern Strategy through Presidents Nixon, Reagan, Bush Sr. and Bush Jr. to repeatedly win the White House. Can and will they abandon it in 2008?

Did blacks and Latinos elect Bush?

Have the Democrats taken the black and Latino vote for granted?

Why have Presidential candidates other than John Edwards avoided making poverty an issue?

Why immigration will be a stealth factor in the 2008 campaign. And did it help or hurt John McCain?

Will Rudolph Giuliani’s contentious relations with blacks as New York mayor hurt or help his White House bid?


Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author, syndicated columnist, political analyst and commentator.

He has been a frequent guest on Hannity and Colmes, The O’Reilly Factor, The Big Story, EXTRA, and numerous CNN News and Talk Shows.

He was a regular commentator on CNBC’s The Dennis Miller Show.

He has been a guest on the Today Show, Dateline, The Lehrer Hour, and BET News, America’s Black Forum. He is a frequent commentator for the American Urban Broadcast Network and Ed Gordon’s News and Notes on NPR

He is a featured columnist for www.BlackNews.com, www.BlackAmericaWeb.com, and www.Alternet.org.

He is associate editor of New America Media
His op-ed columns appear in the Baltimore Sun,L.A. Times, Los Angeles Daily News, Washington Post, Chicago Tribune, Newsday, the Philadelphia Inquirer, the San Francisco Chronicle, and the Christian Science Monitor, and other major newspapers.
He is the author of nine books that include:

Black and Reds: Race and Class in Conflict, 1919-1990 (Michigan State University Press, 1995)
Betrayed: A History of Presidential Failure to Protect Black Lives (Westview Press, 1996)
The Assassination of the Black Male Image (Simon & Schuster, 1996).
Beyond O.J.: Race, Sex and Class Lessons For America (Middle Passage Press)
The Crisis in Black and Black (Middle Passage Press, 1998)
The Disappearance of Black Leadership (Middle Passage Press, 2000)

For more information, visit this link


or visit www.ethnicpresidency.com to order your copy.

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Her Shadowed Heart by Anne Whitfield

In Yorkshire England in the year 1864, Anna Thornton is the eldest child of wealthy parents. She is wildly independent, empathetic and kind to the servants, and much beloved by all – except for her own mother. Anna does not understand why her mother is so cold and indifferent towards her. Anna believes her mother hates her.

Matt Cowan is a man of means who owns and operates rich mines in South America. The instant they meet, both are inexplicably drawn to each other. Because Anna’s mother does not approve of the dashing Matt Cowan, Anna and Matt begin to meet in secret. Before long, their trysts cause a strong attraction to blossom. Soon, they find themselves deeply in love with each other.

Matt must return to South America to tend to his business and mines. He proposes marriage to Anna, but wishes to wed when he returns from abroad in two years. Anna, however, wishes to wed immediately and travel to South America with him. Matt refuses, citing the land is too wild. They reach an impasse where the only solution is to part ways.

After a heart-wrenching day of lovemaking, Anna and Matt separate. Anna is devastated and falls into the depths of despair. When she discovers she is carrying Matt’s child, her mother banishes her from the family home. Anna finally learns the terrible secret which is the cause of her mother’s bitter aloofness towards her.
With all her possessions, her trusted maidservant, and a broken heart, Anna turns her back on her family and home, determined to start a new life. Before long, she acquires a dilapidated farm in Yorkshire and gathers a bevy of helpers she has either come upon accidentally or rescued from some mishap. A handsome, penniless, Irish laborer seeking work is added to the small makeshift family. The gratitude of those she aided turns into fierce loyalty and together, the small group begins to rebuild the farm and make it profitable.

Life is not easy, however, and Anna must surmount numerous misfortunes that test her resolve. Soon, Anna finds herself attracted to the hard-working Irishman – something she deeply resents because of the pain of her severed romance with Matt Cowan and his lies. She fights her attraction to him. Just as her life begins to turn around, however, secrets from the past come to the forefront and threaten to destroy everything she has built.

From start to finish, Anne Whitfield draws the reader intensely into this well written, hard-luck tale. The primary and secondary characters are colorfully realistic. They draw on the reader’s emotions and their memory will linger long after the book is finished. I have read several of Anne Whitfield’s novels and they are all of exceptional quality and very well written. There is no doubt she is a talented writer and one to continue to watch in the future. This is a wonderful tale about the power of one woman to overcome the hardships of life. I highly recommend it.

A Tarnished Heart by Leslie Dicken

In Victorian England, Lizzie Parker wants to keep her life simple and uncomplicated. She loves the people of her village, tending her garden, and caring for her aging father, the local pastor. She falls in love with her father’s curate, but her father has grander hopes for his only daughter. He arranges for her to go to London to participate in the decadent Season with the man who broke her heart years before.

The Earl of Markham is a man of mystery. He harbours a dark secret and guards it well. He remains aloof not only from London’s society, but also from his young son, even though he loves the boy. He will do anything to protect his son’s inheritance. One day, he receives a letter of blackmail from the pastor of the nearby village. The pastor demands the Earl court his only daughter, Lizzie. If he fails to comply, the pastor will expose the Earl’s secret and place his son’s inheritance at risk. Reluctantly, the Earl accepts the challenge and takes responsibility for his new charge. He takes her to his home in London.
Lizzie harbours a painful memory about the Earl of Markham who shattered her dreams when she was a young girl. She tries to thwart the Earl’s every act so that she may return to the curate she is in love with.

A Tarnished Heart was a finalist in the Romancing the Tome Contest. It is a story worth reading. Leslie Dicken has written a truly heart-warming novel about love that blossoms despite the circumstances that threaten to keep a young couple apart. The story is rich in detail, vivid in description, and historically accurate to the times. This is a romance that you can instantly escape into the story with its believable characters and plot. Leslie Dicken is one author to watch and follow if you are a fan of historical fiction.

Thief's Desire by Isabo Kelly

Thief’s Desire by Isabo Kelly

In the mystical kingdom of Karasnia, Victoria Flash, abandoned in childhood, is a street smart thief and a gambler of exceptional talent. When she wins a large amount of money at a card game against Big Charlie, the leader of a rival gang, his wrath forces her into hiding.

By accident, she encounters the handsome and intriguing Jacob Marin, a general of the King’s Own guards. He is so impressed with her many crafty talents, he hires her to spy for him. This catapults the unsuspecting Vic and Jacob into a world of dark and evil.

Together, Vic and Jacob find themselves trying to overcome a very evil villain bent on becoming more powerful. They must overcome powerful magic spells, fight off terrible forest beasts, face goblins, and save a small baby who can influence the destiny of the entire world. The danger and adventure result in an inextricable bond and abounding love to blossom between them.

The author, Isabo Kelly, sweeps us into a very realistic romantic fantasy adventure. Victoria and Jacob are believable characters - strong, charismatic, and intriguing. Both are vulnerable not only to each other but to their own strengths and weaknesses. The romance unfolds gradually and very realistically. I especially enjoyed some of the unique and humorous situations the two characters often found themselves immersed in.

Jacob and Vic are powerful and sly and very much draw the reader into the tale. I especially enjoyed the realistic settinga and circumstances of the story. If you want to get lost in a real romp through the annals of time, then this medieval fantasy is a great one to do just that.

The Reluctant Queen by Jean Plaidy

In 15th century England, Lady Anne Neville is the daughter of the Earl of Warwick, a wealthy, ambition man with the influence to determine kingship. The War of the Roses, a war between the houses of Lancaster and York for the throne of England has ended. The Lancastrians demand to reinstate the elderly and insane King Henry VI lost. Anne’s father’s support won the throne for the young, charismatic King Edward IV, a man the Earl of Warwick is confident he can influence.

To secure his power over King Edward, Warwick marries his eldest daughter Isabel to King Edward’s brother, George, the Duke of Clarence. When King Edward’s younger, more serious brother, Richard, is sent to Middleham, Warwick’s family home, to train, Anne falls in love with him and he with her.

King Edward is an independent man and he proves to be uncontrollable by the wily Warwick. The entire country is aghast when Edward marries Elizabeth Woodville, a commoner and widow with two young children. Rumours abound that Elizabeth bewitched the king in a wood. As queen, she is anxious to raise the status of her family and ambitiously arranges political marriages and secures positions and estates for them. Before long, the Woodvilles are in power, not King Edward and certainly not the Earl of Warwick.

Angered, Warwick shifts his loyalties to the Lancastrians and betroths his youngest daughter Anne to the son of the insane Henry VI, also named Edward. Anne, who has only ever known the Lancastrians as the enemy is now sent to France with her future mother-in-law, Henry's wife, the strident and voracious Margaret. Together, the two women wait as Warwick and the Lancastrians battle to overcome King Edward and reinstate Anne’s betrothed as the rightful king.

The Lancastrian’s lose the battle and Anne’s betrothed is killed. King Edward places her under the guardianship of her brother-in-law, Clarence, and she is returned to England.

Misfortune strikes again however. Clarence is ruthless and has always wanted to usurp the crown from his elder brother, King Edward. Anne and Richard are reunited and they pledge their hearts to each other and await approval for marriage. Clarence is determined to keep his hands on Isabel’s and Anne's fortune and does not wish Anne to marry Richard. He is behind a treacherous plot that not only rips the two lovers from each, but removes Anne from all that she has known and loved. Poor Anne, all she wants from life is to live quietly with her family. Instead, circumstance after circumstance plunge her into turmoil until ultimately she is adorned as queen, a position she never desired.

Jean Plaidy has successfully recreated a highly complex period in English history. The author did an excellent job of explaining the complicated inter-relationships between the characters which made the story easy to follow. She made it easy to understand how the Lancastrians came to be enemies of the house of York and how their different claims came about.

Jean Plaidy manages to keep readers' interest throughout while bringing this rich story to life. The novel highlights a very critical era in English history and Jean Plaidy made it fun to learn.

Now Face to Face by Karleen Koen

Visit Karleen Koen at http://www.randomhouse.com/crown/karleenkoen/

Now Face to Face by Karleen Koen

Now Face to Face is the sequel to Through a Glass Darkly by Karleen Koen.

Georgian England is a time of tumultuous upheaval. A powerful Jacobite conspiracy to usurp King George and enthrone the last Stuart claimant, Jamie, in place of King George, is at the centre of conflict in this tale.

In this second novel, newly widowed, Lady Barbara Devane is sent to Virginia in the New World as a reprieve from the South Sea Bubble, a scandal that caused financial devastation throughout all of London that involved her late husband. Barbara was forced to sell almost everything she owned in order to make restitution. As a reprieve from the devastation this wrought upon her life, her grandmother, the Duchess of Tamworth, sends her to the New World requiring her to run First Curle, her tobacco plantation.

Barbara is a high society noblewoman in the wilds of the new colony. Thrilled to have a member of the nobility in their midst, Barbara causes a stir with both the men and women of the colony. The women vie for a glimpse of her high fashioned clothing and cultured manners. The men wish to garner her good graces to further their political alliances. No one believes the “fragile black butterfly” possesses what it takes to successfully run a profitable plantation.

But they are wrong. Barbara is determined to make First Curle a top producing tobacco plantation. In so doing, she must come to terms with the realities and harshness of life in the colony - slavery, tobacco, and illegal smuggling. While she learns the ins and outs of growing tobacco and running a profitable business, subversion surrounds her. Unbeknownst to Barbara, her young African servant, Hyacinthe, accidently discovers a terrible secret. When tragedy strikes, it shatters Barbara’s illusion and dreams to build a new life. With great controversy, she frees her slaves, leaves a freed prisoner in charge of the plantation, and returns to England.

Turmoil awaits her in England. The after-effects of the South Sea Bubble that consisted of the financial speculations that caused financial devastation to numerous investors, and ruined Barbara's life, continue to plague her. Barbara soon learns that family and friends are entrenched in sedition. Worse still, she cannot help but be drawn into the treachery.

Through a Glass Darkly was a favourite book of mine, so it was with great enthusiasm that I read Now Face to Face. Once again, Karleen Koen does not disappoint. Koen’s prose is colourful and thorough as she brings the multi dimensional characters to life. The creation of suspense, the many various plot twists, and duplicitous characters engaged me to the last page.

Neatly encompassed in the multi-faceted plot are the issues of the time – rebellion, political unrest, slavery, and illegal smuggling. Murder and intrigue are also prominent in this richly complex tale.

In order to receive the full benefit and enjoyment of this story, I highly recommend readers read Through a Glass Darkly first. Now Face to Face is a continuation and it relies heavily upon the characters and circumstances of the first novel.

If you are looking for a book that will capture and hold you entranced from start to finish, then this is a must read. Treachery, betrayal, evil, disloyalty, and love are strong elements throughout. With every page, the characters changed, some for the better, some for the worse. It is a story of struggle and survival and the power of one woman to overcome. I highly recommend this novel to all historical fiction aficionados.

The Traitor's Wife by Susan Higginbotham

THE TRAITOR'S WIFE: A NOVEL OF THE REIGN OF EDWARD II, Susan Higginbotham, iUniverse Inc., 2005, $15.00 USD, paperback, 492 pages, ISBN: 978-0595359592.

In an enduring tale, filled with intrigue and greed, love and lust, Susan Higginbotham enthralls the reader with her work entitled, The Traitor’s Wife: A Novel of the Reign of Edward II. Her heroine Eleanor de Clare, granddaughter of England’s first King Edward, is a remarkable woman who lived in tumultuous times.

Teen-aged Eleanor weds Hugh le Despenser, a minor noble who is only a few years older than her. They share a happy beginning and have several children together. Her pride is a perfect match for his ambition. Throughout their lives, Hugh’s incessant scheming endangers their future. In a bold bid for power, he becomes the lover of the English king Edward II, his wife’s uncle. Eleanor seems a pawn in the presence of her willful uncle, and her rakish husband. But in her interactions with England’s long-suffering and vengeful queen, her power-hungry sisters and her numerous detractors, Eleanor’s inner strength shines through.

When her husband’s maneuvers lead to a tragic end for the Despensers and the royal family, Eleanor’s fortitude and wisdom protects her young children. While she cannot prevent the deaths of her husband and the king, or the forced veiling of her daughters as nuns, she secures the best possible future. With daring and boldness akin to her husband, she thwarts the enemies who seek to destroy her. She also finds love again and enjoys a happy home at the end of her days.

From the towering majesty of medieval English castles, to the wild and romantic Welsh countryside, Ms. Higginbotham takes her readers on an engrossing journey to the past. Her detailed accounts of the period, a myriad of characters and the settings are well-researched and engaging. Her heroine is an inspiration, proving that medieval women were not wilting wallflowers. Eleanor de Clare loved passionately and loyally but she fought against all odds to protect her family. This book is a must-read for all those who love authentic medieval tales. I highly recommend The Traitor’s Wife.

Liszt's Kiss by Susan Dunlap

In Victorian Paris, a rampant cholera outbreak kills thousands of its citizens. Countess Anne Barbier-Chouant lives a privileged life surrounded by the brimming love of her mother. They spend many hours together indulging in a mutual love for music. But their idyllic life is soon shattered when the plague claims her mother. Her father, grieves so deeply, he locks the music room and places extreme restrictions on his daughter, even denying her solace in music.

Her mother's friend, Marie d'Agoult, enters Anne's life and introduces her to society's elite and musical prodigies. Anne spends many hours playing the pianoforte. Marie introduces Anne to famous composer Franz Liszt and arranges for him to tutor her in music in the hopes that a romance will blossom between the two. Intensely handsome and full of passion, he caused many women to swoon at his performances. But Liszt is not interested in Anne. It is Marie who has captured his heart. With secret notes he sends to Anne but which are meant to incite Marie's interest, Anne grows to love Liszt. She is convinced he sends the romantic notes to her.

Anne's father arranges a marriage for her to a distant cousin by the name of Armand de Barbier. Although a friendship develops with her intended, Anne's heart remains fixed upon Liszt. While Anne is enhancing her musical skills under Liszt's tutelage, Armand de Barbier volunteers his time in a local hospital. He eventually becomes ill and is operated on by a dedicated physician, Pierre Talon. A man of little means, Pierre meets Anne at a concert after she fainted after Liszt's magnificent performance. He runs to her rescue and falls instantly in love with her. But her identity alludes him.

At a later date, when he brings Armand to Anne’s home, he re-encounters Anne, the woman he has dreamed of and searched for. The story becomes complex with side plots of unrequited love, mistaken affection, and misguided expectations.

Meanwhile, Anne learns her father is keeping dark secrets. When Armand fails to recover, Anne begins to suspect her father as the culprit. The plot begins to take the reader through interesting and unanticipated turns.

My favourite part of the novel, however, was "the kiss" - Liszt's kiss. Never before has a kiss been so skillfully and artfully explained. It mesmerizes the reader and I can understand why it became the title of the novel. The kiss left me breathless and I had to re-read it several times because of its incredible intensity.

Susanne has written a masterful story that enthralls the reader throughout. The characters are highly developed, varied, and interesting. Nothing is ever as it appears so the reader is kept in a state of interest until the very end. Menace, love, murder, and tragedy combine to make this tale one of the best stories I have ever read.

Duking Days Revolution by Anita Davison

Duking Days Revolution by Anita Davison

One of the most horrific times in England's history began in 1685. They people dubbed this era "Duking Days" because it all began when Charles II's illegitimate protestant son, the Duke of Monmouth, and 81 of his men sailed into Lyme Regis harbour accompanied to wrest the British crown from his uncle, James II. The Duke of Monmouth managed to gather 6000 to help him fight for his cause. Poorly armed and badly disciplined the rebels seized Somerset. The rebels declared Monmouth 'King' in Taunton market place.

During the battle of Sedgemoor, Monmouth's army failed. The King Charles' men captured Monmouth cowering in a ditch and brought him to trial. The King executed Monmouth for leading the rebellion. Even so, the bloodshed continued. The King executed hundreds of rebels and transported hundreds more to the West Indies to toil on the sugar plantations.

The brutality and blood-spattered aftermath of the battle of Sedgemoor continues to haunt England to this very day. Stories of ghosts abound to this very day. This cruel period compelled author Anita Davidson to pen a novel about a family who struggled to survive during these desperate times.

In Duking Days Revolution, the sequel to Duking Days Rebellion, Helena Woulfe Palmer settles into a new life. Her husband, Guy Palmer, a London Goldsmith Banker, flourishes in business. Trapped in an unhappy marriage, Guy and Helena allow their weaknesses for others turn into unwise liaisons.

Helena's father, Sir Jonathan Woulfe, Helena's father is still missing, his fate unknown.

Her elder brother, Aaron, continues to plot against the Catholic James II. Helena is grows ever fearful for Aaron and longs for him to come home again. Her wish is soon fulfilled. Helena is reunited with Aaron, who not only becomes a member of the new royal court, but also strives to regain their family estates lost during the rebellion.

Her younger brother, Henry enjoys a quiet life as an apprentice to an architect, but suffers greatly when he falls in love with his employer’s daughter, Mary Ann Newman. Mary also loves Henry, but she must enter into an arranged marriage to someone else.

Dark secrets, mystery, and turmoil continue to plague the siblings as they each strive in their own way to carve a new life from the destruction of the revolution. The novel culminates with a poignant ending that leaves the reader both contented and crying out for more.

Anita Davidson has captured the tumultuous period with spirit, accuracy, and brilliant writing. Her characters each struggle to find their own way, with plenty of dark secrets and danger to curse their path. Impeccable research and detail mark this novel as a "must read" for everyone who is interested in this era and who wants to experience how the politics of the time affected individual citizens and forever altered so many innocent and not so innocent lives.

Nefertiti by Michelle Moran

Visit: http://www.michellemoran.com/
NEFERTITI, Michelle Moran, Crown, 2007, $24.95 USD, hardcover, 480 pages, ISBN: 978-0307381460

Greed, murder, betrayal, and palace intrigue abound as Nefertiti, one of Egypt’s most enigmatic queens, comes to life again. Seen through the eyes of her younger sister Mutnodjmet, Nefertiti is the favored daughter of a powerful vizier, destined to wed the next Pharaoh of Egypt. When the favored crown prince dies suspiciously, Nefertiti marries his unstable, obsessive brother Amunhotep, later known as the Pharaoh Akhenaten. As her husband devolves into suspicion and madness, various factions of the court pin their hopes on Nefertiti to control Pharaoh and guide Egypt’s future.

Pharaoh’s heretical desire to raise a new son god, the Aten, above all others soon plunges the country into chaos. He destroys centuries of religious tradition, closing the temples to all other gods and establishing the Aten as supreme. Nefertiti encourages her husband’s prideful foolishness, so long as it keeps her and her family in control. When the royals establish a glittering new court at Amarna, the on-going rivalry between Nefertiti and Pharaoh’s second wife, Kiya grows dangerous. Nefertiti tries in vain to produce a son. With priests, ministers and the military vying to exert control over Pharaoh, the only person whom Nefertiti can consistently rely on for the truth is her sister Mutnodjmet. However, Mutnodjmet finds her loyalty often tested by Nefertiti’s determination and the desires of her own heart.

Ms. Moran skillfully weaves a tale of Egypt’s iconic queen, known worldwide as an ideal of feminine beauty. Nefertiti remains as enigmatic today as she seemed when Egyptologists discovered her limestone bust, now housed in Berlin’s Altes Museum. The narrator permits the reader inside Nefertiti’s world, to explore the complexity of her character. Nefertiti inspires sympathy and dislike in turns. The pawn of her powerful family, their machinations force her into marriage to a deluded tyrant. Yet, Nefertiti retains unrealistic expectations of her younger sister and manipulates those whom she claims to love.

Ms. Moran’s portrayal of the Amarna period is not without some controversy. The family tree indicates Mutnodjmet as mother to Nefertari, chief queen of Ramses the Great. It does not show Mutnodjmet as the eventual wife of the Pharaoh Horemheb. Mutnodjmet also raises Kiya’s son Tutankhamen although Nefertiti was Kiya’s greatest rival. The lack of a complete record of Nefertiti’s influence has fueled centuries of speculation and theories. However, Ms. Moran fills in the gaps of history with such creative skill that most minor distortions do not detract from her flowing narrative or compelling characters. Nefertiti remains an entertaining read throughout.

Vivaldi's Virgins by Barbara Quick

Visit: http://www.vivaldisvirgins.com
VIVALDI'S VIRGINSBarbara Quick, Harper Collins, 2007, $24.95 USD / $31.00 CND, hardcover, 284 pages, ISBN: 978-0-06-089052-0

Anna Maria dal Violin was abandoned as a baby and lives as an orphan in the foundling home and cloisters of the Ospedale della Pieta in Venice. From an early age, she was taught to play the violin and became part of an elite orchestra of orphan girls. Antonio Vivaldi, the "Red Priest" composed many of his pieces for them.

Anna Maria longs to learn who her parents are. Sister Laura instructs Anna Maria to share her most inner thoughts and aspirations into letters to the mother she has never known. She soon rises to become Vivaldi's favorite and he composes challenges pieces for her to play.

But Anna Maria longs to learn who she is and longs to see Venice. On more than one occasion, she manages to escape from the orphanage. Each time she is caught and punished. A small golden locket and chain is presented to her by a Jewish seamstress. Anna Maria knows it holds the secret of her parentage. Eventually, Anna Maria does learn the truth about herself and some of the other characters.

Behind the masks of Carnivale and the musical scores of Vivaldi, 18th century Venice comes brilliantly to life. In this passionate novel, Vivaldi is seen through the eyes of Anna Maria. The plot takes several twists and turns that enthrall the reader. The details of history are well researched and the imagery sensational. The prose is lyrical and mesmerizing at times.

Quick has included a glossary at the end to help the reader with Italian words and phrases. At the end, Barbara Quick describes what is historical fact and what she created from her imagination. This is a complex tale and will appeal to lovers of Italian history as well as fans of Vivaldi and his music. Barbara Quick has written a truly enduring coming of age story.

Duking Days Rebellion by Anita Davison

The cruelty and aftermath of Monmouth's rebellion left havoc in the wake of many a noble's life and family. For Helena Woulfe, the daughter of a wealthy Exeter nobleman, the complete destruction of her previous privileged life became her reality.

Shunned by society because of her rebel father and brother after the bloody defeat in the battle of Sedgemoor, Helena leaves behind her destitute family. Somewhere amid the devastation is her father and brother and she is determined to find them and bring them home.

But while she is away, misfortune once again strikes her family. Soldiers enter her home to arrest her traitor father. When he cannot be located, they tear the family home apart and confiscate it on behalf of the crown. During the ransacking, her mother loses her life. Helena and her younger brother, Henry, flees to the safety of a family who are willing to give them shelter, but as danger draws ever closer, Helena and Henry depart for London where it is easier to hide among the large crowds.
Labeled as a traitor's daughter, Helena does her best to restore her life, but her family's reputation continues to haunt her as King James wants revenge on all who opposed him.

Through all the death and destruction of her life, Helena finally meets Guy, a young man who offers her love and security and hope to restore her respectability.
Anita Davison has skillfully brought to life the realities of this brutal time in England's history. Well researched, the novel evokes strong emotion pertaining to the rebellion and the state of the country afterwards. I enjoyed the perseverance and strength of the characters, especially that of Helena. A tremendous novel that accurately depicts the era.

The Banners of Alba by Jen Black

Malcolm, King of Alba is the uncle of Daveth mac Finlay who also commands one of the King's regiments. Childless, the king chooses Finlay as heir to his kingdom. Finlay is a good man, both loyal to and wary of his uncle.

Finlay loves a woman named Kilda. Her noble lineage will guarantee powerful alliances to the crown and many scheming suitors seek her hand in marriage. However, King Malcolm has other plans for Finlay. To keep them apart, Malcolm sends Finlay to the English court. While there, the king orders the marriage of Kilda to Gille Malbride, Finlay's own cousin. Upon his return, Finlay is outraged and attempts to elope with Kilda. Nevertheless, they are caught and Finlay is thrown into the king's dungeons for several days.

Meanwhile, Thorfinn of Orkney, a long time friend of Finlay, claims lands near Alba and becomes a real threat to the king. The king orders Finlay released from the dungeons. He commands him to go to Thorfinn and kill him. Then Finlay is to marry Thorfinn's half-sister Ratagan. Reluctantly, Finlay goes along with the plan but asks that Gille go with him causing all to believe Finlay will kill Gille in order to wed Kilda.

Once Finlay is with Thorfinn, however, he is torn between his loyalty to King Malcolm and the kindness of his good friend, Thorfinn. Further, he is intrigued by Ratagan, a strong, fiercely independent woman and is growing less fond of his old love Kilda. Intrigue and lies plague him as he must decide what is most important.

Ratagan begins to care for the haughty and self-assured Finlay, but is not convinced he can make her happy.

Jen Black has written an exciting adventure interwoven with love and intrigue. Although there are numerous characters to keep track of, the readers find themselves absorbed in this medieval tale. The main characters evolve and their destinies change and intertwine with each other. There are plenty of twists to keep the reader engrossed throughout. But it is the attention to the details of medieval life that Jen Black has brought to life so vividly that makes this book a must to read.

Tangled Hearts by Rosemary Morris

As a young child, Richelda Shaw's ancestral home is sequestered after Charles I's execution. Just before her father abandons Richelda and her mother to flee the country, he makes Richelda promise to reclaim their home one day and find the buried treasure secreted somewhere within its walls.

As Richelda grows to womanhood, her mother dies and she is completely alone and destitute. Only Elsie, her nursemaid and servant, remains to care for her.
Richelda grows up with Dudley, the parson's son and she declares her love for him. But Dudley is ambitious and he yearns to be rich. He makes it known to Richelda that he will never marry her.

Meanwhile, in an effort to honor the promise she made her father, Richelda secures a gun and accosts the man she believes owns her familial home. The man is a Viscount and her attempt to restore her home fails.

Meanwhile, Richelda's wealthy aunt seeks her out and makes her heir to a vast fortune. Richelda once again enjoys the privileges of a life of luxury. Her aunt arranges a marriage for her - to the same Viscount Richelda held at gunpoint.
In her search to restore her ancestral home and locate the legendary treasurer, Richelda fights for freedom and love. Because her heart has always been on Dudley, she fails to open her heart to the Viscount. As she nears discovering the secret treasure, treachery and betrayal threaten her very existence.

Rosemary Morris weaves a splendid tale that kept me awake until the early morning hours. The characters seem authentic and very well developed, changing and growing more complex as the story unfolds. The prose is smooth and flowing. The burgeoning love between Richelda and the Viscount evolves at a realistic pace. I especially enjoyed the tension that led to a highly satisfying ending that was touched with mystery and decorated with gothic detail. I highly recommend this novel to anyone who loves historical romance and the Queen Anne or Regency eras of England's turbulent history.

Daughter of the Sun by Barbara Wood

Daughter of the Sun
Barbara Wood, St. Martin's Griffin, 2007, $13.95 U.S./$16.95 CDN, Trade Paperback, 464 pages, ISBN: 0-312-36368-0

In the Pre-Columbian times (later to become known as New Mexico) a young seventeen year old woman named Hoshi'tiwa is a gifted potter of rain jars. The daughter of a corn-grower, she is deeply in love and betrothed to Ahote, the son of the village storyteller.

Center Place, a wealthy town ruled by the violent Toltec tribe, is suffering through a severe drought. Their leader, the powerful and violent Lord Jakal, learns of her skill in creating beautiful jars that bring rain from the sky and orders her captured and brought to him. In this strange new town of incredible riches, Hoshi'tiwa must learn to adapt to a new way of living while harboring the memories of her clan and lover, Ahote. She garners the attention of Lord Jakal who becomes strongly attracted to her and a rich young woman named Lady White Orchid, who wants to marry Jakal herself and plots great harm to Hoshi'tiwa.

Xikli, captain of the elite Jaguar military unit, will do anything to gain power and usurp Lord Jakal. He sets his eyes on Lady White Orchid because if he marries her, it will bring him political alliances and power enough to achieve his coup. Xikli disapproves of Jakal's preferential treatment of Hoshi'tiwa and he seeks to have her killed.

As Hoshi'tiwa grows into womanhood, she rises to power all on her own merit and skill and becomes a leader.

Barbara Wood weaves a wonderfully complex tale with plot twists that will keep reading and reading. This novel has it all, adventure, murder, and unrequited love in a time of pagan gods and human sacrifices. It is a story of struggle and survival and the power of a woman to overcome. I would recommend this book to anyone who wishes to read a book about an exotic time period in history.

The Landlord's Black-Eyed daughter by Mary Ellen Dennis

The Landlord's Black-Eyed Daughter
Mary Ellen Dennis, Five Star, 2007, $26.95, Hardcover, 419 pages, ISBN: 978-1-59414-575-9

John Randolph Remington leads a double life, one as a nobleman and one as a "Knight of the Road", a notorious brand of highwayman known for ruthless robberies but who always shared the proceeds amongst the less fortunate of society. While in London, Randolph meets gothic romance writer Elizabeth Wyndham, a woman he swears he has met before. Elizabeth Wyndham also believes she has met the mysterious Remington before too. Neither of them can recall the circumstances.

Randolph and Elizabeth share a strong fascination with a legend in the 13th century. Randolph is exactly like the hero in her latest romance, a 13th century knight who died in combat. In fact, she comes to believe they are almost one in the same. Separately, Elizabeth and Randolph search to uncover the truth about the legend and why they both harbor such a fascination with that era.

Lord Walter Stafford romantically pursues Elizabeth, but she is not interested in him; Randolph is the only man who fascinates her. Offended by Elizabeth's rebuff, Stafford pursues Randolph and Elizabeth and arrests them, sending them to Newgate prison where Randolph is due to hang for his crimes as a highwayman.

Elizabeth must write a passionate plea to the king in order to free Randolph from the hangman's noose, just like the legend of the 13th century.

The famous poem, The Highwayman, captured the author's interest in her childhood, and she recreated the plot in this novel. The characters are likeable, but predictable, and I enjoyed how well they interacted with each other. The story-line of this Georgian romance is fast-paced and includes a romance blended with a gothic twist with links to medieval times.

The House of Scorta by Laurent Gaude

Awarded France’s most prestigious literary award, Le Prix Goncourt 2004, this novel has sold over 400,000 copies. After reading it, you will understand why. Each page mesmerizes, evoking deep emotion.

In 1870 in southern Italy, an ex-convict rides into town on the back of a donkey, knowing the villagers will kill him to avenge the crimes he committed against them. There he rapes the woman he has longed to bed during his years in prison. But he has the wrong woman. Rocco Scorta is the bastard product of their union - a villain whose crimes rival those of his murdered father.

Rocco marries a mute – a woman who can never speak or reveal his unlawful activities. The Mute bears him three children, Giuseppe, Carmela, and Domenico. Doomed from birth, the three, along with Raffaele, their brother at heart, are blessed with pride and a belief in their own potential. Together, they open a little tobacco shop and settle into a tumultuous life where true happiness eludes them. As the next generation is born, the family battles the malevolent legacy of their past and struggles to overcome the hardships of the present.

Inspired by his love for Italy and stories of his wife’s family, Laurent Gaudé paints a vivid picture of life in a poor Italian village. He writes in an evocative prose, rich in quality and simplicity. He infuses his characters with villainous deeds and the burden of undisclosed lies. The pace is fast and the characters always shock the reader by doing the unexpected. They are rash and make mistakes for which they suffer, yet they are endearing and believably unique.

Books like this happen rarely. Laurent Gaudé is a skilful writer who pushes the story into unpredictable twists and turns that will keep you enthralled to the very end.

The Gentle Wind's Caress by Anne Whitfield

After the death of her mother and sister, and the abandonment of her father, Isabelle Gibson is alone in the world with a young brother to raise in an 1876 workhouse. The living and work conditions are horrible, but if she leaves, she will be a woman without resources on the street. To make matters worse, the matron’s son, Neville Peacock, grows more and more obsessed with Isabelle. When he tries to rape her, Isabelle knows she must find a way out. Unbeknownst to Isabelle, the matron pays a moorland farmer named Farrell who is looking for a wife to marry Isabelle. Because it is the only way Isabelle has to escape the clutches of Neville, and a life of servitude, Isabelle agrees to marry in the hopes that farm-life will bring security to their lives.

But Farrell turns out to be a drunkard and a thief who regularly beats isabelle and Hughie. To make matters worse, because of a long-standing feud Farrell has with the landlord, Ethan Harrington, the farm is in a pathetic, run-down state of poverty.

Farrell’s life of crime soon progresses to robbery and when one of his plunders goes awry, he flees, leaving Isabelle and Hughie to fend for themselves. When Ethan meets Isabelle, a strong interest burgeons that soon turns to love. But Ethan is trapped in a loveless marriage with Clarice, a hefty woman who indulges in bonbons and immerses herself in a life of lethargic leisure.

As Ethan and Isabelle struggle to keep their love a secret, one hardship after another haunts them. Isabelle’s attempts to earn money by baking pies for the market are thwarted as scandalous gossip about her and Ethan spreads.

Because Ethan and Belle are both married to someone else, it seems like their love is impossible.

Anne Whitfield has carefully crafted a powerful love story with vivid characters who will stay with you long after the book is read. The ending is gripping and unexpected, leaving the reader breathless with both sadness and joy. This book is beyond a simple romance. Rather, it is an enduring tale about the strength of a woman to overcome poverty, destitution, and scandal by fighting for love. If you want to read a romance story different from all other romance stories before it, then this is the book to read. This is one story where you can expect the unexpected!

Cold Cache by Tim Champlin

Kent Rasmussen, an officer of the North West Mounted Police, is leaving the force to return home to his mother and sister in Minnesota. While withdrawing his final pay from a bank in Windsor, he encounters Nellie Newburn who is trying to withdraw the outrageous sum of $347,000. She approaches him and offers to pay him a large sum of money if he will escort her and the money safely home to her family. A lucrative offer he cannot refuse.

As they begin their travel, he learns about the cold cache – a vast sum of money and gold buried somewhere in New Mexico Territory by a group known as the Knights of the Golden Circle who want the money to fund the creation of a new nation. Knowledge that Jesse James and other outlaws added to treasure with their ill-gotten gains peaks Rasmussen’s interest even further. A short while into their journey, much to Rasmussen’s embarrassment, Nellie’s $347,000 is stolen. Rasmussen is soon caught up in the midst of a violent feud between the Claytons and the Newburns for possession of the cache.

This is an excellent novel that abounds with action and suspense.

Betrayal by Karen Fenech

In the year 1122, Lady Katherine Stanfield’s husband, William Norris, is murdered. Heavy with child, Katherine does not grieve for her detestable husband and soon gives birth to twins – a boy who lives and a girl who dies.

Ranulf, a cruel and ambitious Lord invades Stanfield keep to wed Katherine and bring Stanfield under his control. She gives her surviving son to her maidservant and Commander Sir Guy to hide and then flees to her former betrothed, De Lauren, for help.

Still embittered at not knowing why Katherine broke off their betrothal to wed Norris, De Lauren insists she must marry him. He then sends a small army to recapture Stanfield keep and discovers the brutal massacre of its inhabitants. Inside, De Lauren discovers that Ranulf decapitated Katherine’s dead daughter and buries her.

While Katherine and De Lauren rediscover their love for each other, Ranulf plots to murder De Lauren with poison and makes it appear as if Katherine is guilty. Secrets long buried are revealed as Katherine desperately tries to protect the lives of her son and husband.

This is a fast-paced medieval tale that keeps the reader riveted until the very last word.

Sister Teresa by Barbara Jujica

Sister Teresa
Barbara Mujica, The Overlook Press, 2007, $24.95 (U.S.) $31.00 (CAN), soft cover, 383 pages, ISBN 1-58567-834-1
Saint Teresa of Avila is the compelling story of a young woman of renowned beauty who became the beloved patron saint of Spain. During the Spanish Inquisition of the 1500’s, Teresa, the daughter of rich parents, lived a life of comfort and wealth. For young noblewomen, there were two possibilities, namely marriage or the convent. When she began to take an interest in a handsome young man and romantic books of chivalry, her father took offence because such passions only diminished Teresa's value as a potential bride. During this time, her mother died. At the age of eighteen, her father sent her to board with the Augustinian nuns at Santa Maria de Gracia for guidance and discipline. She was not happy to be there and ill health soon forced her to return home.

Under her father’s roof, Teresa once again faced the choice: marriage or the convent. One night, she ran away to the Carmelite Convent of the Incarnation. While there, Teresa discovered piety and became a nun. Ill health continued to plague Teresa. During one bout of illness, she fell into a coma so profound that all believed her dead, but she came back to life just before her burial but was paralyzed in her legs for 3 years.

The story unfolds through the eyes of her childhood servant and friend, Sister Angelica who follows her mistress throughout her tumultuous life as a mystic, her religious fervors, mysterious illnesses, sexual scandals, and the founding of convents. Barbara Mujica brings this tumultuous time in history to vivid life. A very interesting and compelling novel to read where the focus is more upon the life of this woman than religion.