Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Underground by June Hutton





First Line: A mud sky churns over a mud field broken by coils of barbed wire, a wheel severed from a cart, a tangle of brown limbs.

Underground by June Hutton is a compelling novel about one man’s journey to rediscover and redefine himself after a set of devastating experiences in World War I.

Al Fraser volunteered for war. He finds himself in a trench on the front line of a battle in Somme. Before long he is struck down by an explosion that buries him alive in the mud and muck. He manages to climb out and survives, shell-shocked and riddled with shrapnel. When physically able, he is returned home to British Columbia a lost soul, broken and desperate to overcome the horrors in his mind. Somehow, he must create a new life for himself.

Life is hard and his family poor. He finds work as a painter of ceilings for the homes of the affluent. But luck runs out when is engulfed by the desperation of the Great Depression and is forced to live as a hobo. He finds himself in a bit of trouble with the law and travels to northern Canada where he finds home and love for a while. But something inside of him demands that he fight again in order to fully heal, and Al soon volunteers to fight again in the Spanish Civil War.

The prose is intuitive, discerning, and often gut-wrenching. The story has a very realistic and eerie feel to it because it is based on June Hutton’s own grandfather who actually suffered the protaganist’s fate in the battle at Somme, and to some extent, thereafter. It is a compelling tale of one man’s journey of self-discovery through pain, love, war, and hardship. And for a debut novel, it’s incredibly engrossing.


Dragon at the Edge of the World

Dragon at the Edge of the World by Charles White is the story of two Viking brothers, Lief and Kevin, and now you know it's also a tongue-in-cheek fantasy.

The first line of the book: "There were not many places where Lief the
Invincible was welcome."

Apparently this includes home. When Lief's brother Kevin sails his new boat away from Greenland and winds up lost in North America, their mother nags Lief into rescuing Kevin. Mischief ensues when Kevin is captured by the Wendat Indians and Lief by the Mohawks. With each Indian tribe vying to use their confiscated Viking warships to destroy each other, the brothers have to find a way to survive.

Through harrowing river trips, schemes, betrayals and rescues of damsels in distress, the brothers eventually come together to defeat the blood thirsty Rood Fugger before he can bring gunpowder to North America and destroy the Indian way of life - prematurely.

The humor in "Dragon at the Edge of the World" is welcome, but there was room for more of it. Hopefully, Charles White, the author of "Dragon at the Edge of the World," will find more points of whimsy in his next book.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

The Glassblower of Murano by Marina Fiorato

Back Cover

Venice 1681.  Glassblowing is the lifeblood of the Republic, and Venetian mirrors are more precious than gold.  Jealously guarded by the murderous Council of Ten, the glassblowers of Murano are virtually imprisoned on their island in the lagoon.  But the greatest of the artists, Corradino Manin, sells his methods and his soul to Louis XIV of France to protect his secret daughter.  In the present day, his descendent - Leonora Manin, leaves London for a new life as a glassblower in Venice - only to find her fate inextricably linked with her ancestor's dangerous secrets.

First Line

As Corradino Manin looked on the lights of San Marco for the last time, Venice from the lagoon seemed to him a golden constellation in the dark blue velvet dusk.

Book Review

I happened to stumble on this novel accidentally while searching on Amazon for Italian fiction.  This is the first book of Marina Fiorato's that I ordered.  The moment I finished reading this book, I went back on Amazon and ordered another.

Marina Fiorato is part Venetian part English.  In this regard, the novel parallels her life.  It is obvious through her writing that she is highly familiar with Venice, its history, its streets, its culture.  The story she weaves has plenty of intrigue and captured my interest from the very start.  She delves deeply into the way of life for glassblowers and the process is well described.  Immaculately researched, and highly accurate, this is one novel that should be on the book shelves of all who love Italian history.  Brava Marina!  No wonder it's an International Bestseller!

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

I Serve by Rosanne E. Lortz



First Line: It was an unusual sight these fifteen years and more to see a man traveling the road – especially a solitary Englishman in the heart of the French countryside.

In 14th century England, John Potenhale is an impoverished young man from a very modest background who serves a patient knight and works hard at the tasks he faces. Partly through wit and partly through intelligence, he comes to the attention of Prince Edward, the Black Prince of Wales who knights him on a battlefield in France. Thus he rises to become one of the Prince’s innermost circle, privy to his master’s thoughts and actions.

The Black Prince loves a young beauty named Joan. Through this relationship, John falls madly in love with Joan’s maidservant, a feisty and sharp-tongued young woman named Margery who knows her lady’s darkest secrets. But Margery’s often vile tongue keeps John at arm’s length. At one point, he considers abandoning his knighthood to enter into a monastery. Thankfully, the wisdom of a seasoned, French knight deters him from that path.

For both Prince Edward and John Potenhale, one man blocks their path to true love and happiness – Thomas Holland, a beligerant, war-lusty warrior with little regard for honour. At years of war over land in France plague the English, Potenhale finds himself traveling back and forth between England and France several times over many years.

The passions of love and war and the turmoil of difficult politics affect the lives of the people trapped in its throes. Rosanne Lortz tells a wonderful tale of the Hundred Year war. Through vivid language and in-depth descriptions, she nudges the emotion and credibility out of the story, making the reader truly understand the difficulties of this turbulent era. Even though a lot of historical fact is relayed, she does it brilliantly, through the thoughts, dialogues, and actions of her characters. Her battle scenes were written carefully and accurately with clarity so that even days later, I can envision them in my mind. I also engaged with the characters, including the villain Thomas Holland who could be despicable at times. This novel makes an excellent read that both genders can appreciate.


Monday, December 21, 2009

Interview with Kristina Emmons

Author Kristina Emmons joins us to talk about her fabulous debut, Roeing Oaks.







Please tell readers about yourself and your background.


I was born in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and lived there until recently, when my husband and I and our two children transferred to Miami, Florida for a job offer and to be near family. I am quiet and observant, and I’ve always been attracted to books and the written word. I first recognized myself as a writer when I noticed that I think in prose. I often define the world around me in concise little sentences!

Roeing Oaks is your most recent release. Please tell us about the story.

Roeing Oaks is set in 1870 England. It is the story of a girl named Kate who is trapped in a life of poverty on a remote farm, though her parents were of noble birth. At age sixteen she learns her true heritage, and that her real father committed an unthinkable act: he auctioned off her mother, while barely pregnant with Kate, at a public market, abandoning her to the highest bidder. Kate must decide what to do with this information, and the opportunities that arise to confront her bloodline. Along the way a mysterious man named Mr. Roeing weaves himself into her world, and he has a secret of his own.

How long did it take you to write Roeing Oaks?

It took me nine years to pen Roeing Oaks. There was quite a bit of research to be done on the time period, and learning the process of writing a novel took time. I was also occupied with starting a family.

What inspired the tale of Roeing Oaks?

My faith inspired Roeing Oaks. I adore a good romantic story, but at the end of the day there is no real Prince Charming. In my walk with God I’ve had many intimate moments on a soul level and I wanted to dramatize that sort of romantic, unbelievably compassionate aspect of Him that I don’t think is stressed enough, and how He has intervened in my life during difficult times. I felt Victorian England was a good place to stage the story, given the rigid class distinction of the time and the presence of royalty. The story and the characters really took on a pulse of their own to make Roeing Oaks a living breathing tale that I really love.

Were there any interesting places, literally and figuratively, where your research for the book may have taken you?

So many figurative places, none literal as yet, unless we speak of the library! Figuratively, I learned so much about myself as a woman, and all of the things we modern women take for granted in the form of freedoms. As part of my research I read many works of fiction that were either based in the time period or written during the time period, so I journeyed in that way.

If Roeing Oaks were made into a movie, whom do you envision as the main characters?

  • Mr. Roeing: I can’t overlook Hugh Jackman! Alternatively, maybe Noah Huntley.
  • Kate: it would have to be just the right person—someone soft who could really transform on screen. I haven’t put a face on her yet.
  • Kate’s mother: Cate Blanchett (as a brunette).
  • Madam Braithwaite: Helen Mirren, or even Meryl Streep.
  • Lord Percy: Daniel Day-Lewis please!
  • Jonathan: Reid Emmons, my talented nephew!
Wouldn’t it be something to see all of those actors on screen together?

What are your future writing plans?

I am in the midst of writing the sequel to Roeing Oaks, which I am very excited about. In the periphery I am also working on another historical novel and a present day novel. I guess my writing plans are to continue writing! I enjoy using unusual topics in my work.

What advice would you give to aspiring writers?

Of course, never stop perfecting your craft technically, but above all, immerse yourself in your characters. I think it’s the only way for them to become authentic. Join a local writer’s group if you can.

How can readers learn more about you? Please share your website, social media sites, blogs, etc.

I can be found at http://www.roeingoaks.com/ or on Facebook.

Any closing thoughts you’d like to share?

I am so excited to hear feedback for Roeing Oaks! I hope it gives the reader as much of a thrill to read as it did for me to write it.

Thanks for your time, Kristina, and best of luck with Roeing Oaks. Thank you!


Be sure to leave a comment to receive a free copy of Kristina's Roeing Oaks.

Roeing Oaks by Kristina Emmons



With an intriguing premise, gripping characters, and varied settings, author Kristina Emmons demonstrates her wonderful skill at storytelling with her debut novel, Roeing Oaks.

In Victorian England, Kate has only known a life of labor for sixteen years, toiling on a farm beside her mother, Victoria. When a letter arrives for Victoria, its startling contents alter Kate’s world, as she learns about her mother’s hidden past. The pair journeys to the majestic estate where Victoria once lived, until she married the charismatic Lord Alistair Percy, who was not what he seemed. To secure his future happiness, he callously condemned Victoria to a life of servitude, just after she discovered she was pregnant with Kate.

After Kate and her mother return to the farm, they discover Mr. Roeing, who has undertaken managing the farm for its absentee owner. He is enigmatic, but kind to both women. Kate’s innocent charm endears her to him, but surprisingly, it has also thawed the icy reserves of her matronly grandmother, who invites Kate to return to Victoria’s ancestral home. Under a pretext, Kate experiences the life she might have had as Lord Percy’s acknowledged child. However, her reappearance threatens the reputations of two powerful families, who are intent on keeping the past where it belongs, at all costs. Kate also has a surprising reunion with Mr. Roeing, which will have consequences for her future.

What is it about the power of words to transform and transport? In Roeing Oaks, the words in a letter forever alter the heroine’s perceptions about her place in society. It is also Ms. Emmons’ skill with words that have the ability to sweep a reader to another place and time. When I started reading, I quickly became absorbed in this suspenseful, well-paced story, with its vivid characters. Although I did have some inkling as to the heroine’s fate, her meanderings on the journey to the past kept it all from being obvious. Roeing Oaks is a wonderful debut, and I look forward to reading more of Ms. Emmons’ work in the future.

Please leave a comment to win a free copy of Roeing Oaks, and join us later today for our interview with author Kristina Emmons.

Winner of Scoundrel's Kiss

We have a winner!  Martha, please contact Carrie to receive your copy of Scoundrel's Kiss, and thank you to all who posted comments. 

Friday, December 18, 2009

Guest Author: Carrie Lofty


We're especially pleased to welcome author Carrie Lofty, who chats with us about the road to publication and her newest release, Scoundrel's Kiss, from Kensington Zebra, January 2010.

GUEST AUTHOR CARRIE LOFTY

Aside from my family, including my fantastic husband of twelve years and our two precocious daughters, the love of my life is history. I started out at age ten when I investigated the plot to assassinate Lincoln. My father, who had been reading about the Civil War for years, admitted that I knew more about the plot than he did. That thrill—knowing pieces of the past that no one else did—became an obsession.

But oh, then came puberty. I fell hard for the early-90s melodrama "The Young Riders," which fictionalized the lives of pony express riders. Hot guys! Plus history! Plus...a hint of romance! I couldn't help it. My impression of history from that point on became ever-so-slightly rose colored. Discovering historical romances round about that same time didn't help me overcome what would eventually become my creative destiny.

After earning a bachelor's in English and history, then a master's in history, I returned to my rosy roots and began pursuing a career in romantic fiction.

Ever since, I've been in conflict with myself. Historical romance is...*gasp*...genre fiction! How could I justify bending and twisting history to meet my own ends as a storyteller? For years I wrestled with this issue. My ability to create a great romance, however, suffered. I needed to give myself permission to be a novelist first, then an historian.


This process of giving myself permission came to fruition when I wrote my debut novel, WHAT A SCOUNDREL WANTS. Because of its Robin Hood theme, I could be a little…creative. After all, very little is actually known about the man who may have once been Robin Hood. Most of the stories that have come about are just that: stories. So grounding my romance within the bounds of a legend--not hard history--was the perfect step-down from my days as a hardcore researcher!

Then I got the hang of it! I can be factual and engaging. It can be done. In my latest medieval romance, SCOUNDREL'S KISS, I took inspiration from fact and then wove it into my fiction. For example, the town of Uclés, where much of SCOUNDREL'S KISS is set, was frequently attacked, besieged, and fractured by conflicting monastic leadership. I chose to portray that Uclés was safe from harm throughout the course of this novel, and I simplified the power struggle immensely. Why? Because for the purposes of the romance, all of those interesting mechanizations weren't necessary. I loved reading about it--the historian in me--but that doesn't mean everyone else will!

To my way of thinking, I've remained true to the period and the culture while still giving my readers exactly what they want: a compelling romance. After all, those who get interested in the history will go investigate on their own. That's what I did with "The Young Riders," and look where it got me!


Carrie Lofty is the author of sexy, adventurous historical romances, including her Robin Hood-themed debut, WHAT A SCOUNDREL WANTS. Her latest, SCOUNDREL'S KISS, in which a warrior monk must resist the troubled woman he's sworn to protect, hits the shelves this month.

This June, Carrie's Austrian-set tale of two lovelorn musicians will launch Harlequin's Carina Press. And coming soon from Penguin are three hot-n-dirty apocalyptic romances, co-written with Ann Aguirre under the name Ellen Connor.

Thank you, Carrie, for visiting with us! Remember to leave a comment to win a copy of Scoundrel's Kiss.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Scoundrel's Kiss by Carrie Lofty



Carrie Lofty sweeps her readers away to exotic Moorish Spain, in her newest novel Scoundrel’s Kiss, a fabulous follow-up to her Zebra debut, What a Scoundrel Wants.


In a land of contrasts, divided by several faiths, Ada of Keyworth is in the throes of a debilitating dependence on opium. Once a scholar in England, now Ada seeks only a mindless, blissful escape from brutal memories of her past in England. In her desperation, she rushes headlong into danger.

Gavriel de Marqueda is a novice of the knightly Order of Santiago, also determined to leave the past behind him. He blindly follows his master, Gonzalo Pacheco, who has one final test of Gavriel’s devotion before he can join the Order. Gavriel soon finds himself standing in a brothel, where the beautiful Ada, in the clutches of the opium, awaits the highest bidder. Her friend Jacob rescues her, but knowing he cannot ease Ada’s addiction, he asks Gavriel to help her overcome it. She will be his final test.

Traveling north beyond the ragged mountains of Toledo, Ada awakens from her stupor to find herself in the company of Gavriel, his master and another novice, Fernan. Neither man is truly as he appears, each carrying a secret of his own. Ada teases Gavriel with her bold sensuality. He struggles with a growing attraction to her, which threatens to undo his tenuous control. Later, Gavriel separates from the brothers of his Orders, and travels alone with her. Danger stalks them along the frontier. Shadowy men with ties to Gavriel’s past are on their trails. All his personal oaths are soon in jeopardy, for in addition to a vow not to kill, he’s also taken a vow of celibacy.

When Ada arrives at the Order’s stronghold, she seemingly free of her opium dependence, but another addictive need, for Gavriel, has replaced it. The old temptation of the drug is also never far from her. Yet, Gavriel remains steadfast at her side. Their bond strengthens when he reveals his past, and recognizes the danger which surrounds them. But unknown to both of them, Ada holds a stunning connection to his past, one that will determine their fates, and the survival of a Spanish kingdom.

Carrie Lofty is a wonderfully, talented writer, and her Scoundrel’s Kiss is an engaging story. Ada and Gavriel, both haunted by their pasts, find common ground and absolution in each other. They are memorable, for their bravery and resilience with each new trial, but even more, for the power of their love. Their story was a great pleasure to read and I highly recommend Scoundrel’s Kiss.

Remember to leave a comment to win a copy of Scoundrel's Kiss, and join us tomorrow, with our guest blogger Carrie Lofty.


Tuesday, December 15, 2009

A Glimpse of Happiness by Jean Fullerton

Ellen O’Casey has put the horrors of the villain Donovan’s trial behind her, married her true love Dr Robert Monroe and has spent twelve years in America. She and Robert return to London with their five children, and Josie her daughter by her first marriage to take up a post at the London Hospital.

Josie discovers that her childhood sweetheart Patrick Nolan, whom she believed to be dead as his letters stopped coming, is alive and well. However despite his family trying to keep it from her, Josie finds out Patrick married and has two small children. His wife ran off with another man, but he is still not free .

Josie tries to forget about Patrick and settle back into life in the East End, though she has not forgotten her roots and keeps loyal to Patrick’s sister, Matty who is due to be married soon. . Josie tries to keep a distance from Patrick, but finds herself pulled back to him at every opportunity.

Patrick has his own problems as an East End Boatman, he wants to bring his daughter, Annie and son Mickey up the right way, and avoid the rocky road persistently offered him by Ma Tugman and her two reprobate sons, Harry and Charlie. He finds this increasingly difficult however, when the Tugman boys target Josie as Patrick’s weakness. Ma Tugman is a wonderfully convincing villain with no redeeming features other than her love for her two dreadful sons, the three of them running a criminal regime that terrifies the East End.

Goaded beyond endurance, Patrick decides enough is enough and he will do what Ellen did all those years ago and trap Ma Tugman into incriminating herself. But not all members of the authorities have the welfare of the inhabitants at heart, some prefer to line their own pockets along the way.

Josie also comes up against her stepfather’s mother, who openly resents her and prefers her own grandchildren. When Ellen recuperates in Scotland with Robert after a stillbirth, Mrs Monroe sees her opportunity to inflict a harsh regime on her grandchildren. Josie runs up against the Tugman brothers and when she is brought home by Patrick, Mrs Monroe declares her ruined beyond help and throws her out.

Ms Fullerton’s first book, ‘No Cure For Love’ was an excellent read, and if possible this book was even better. With her penchant for historic detail, and the way she handles the roller coaster of events that strive to keep this couple apart, I was glued to this book until it's satisfying conlusion.

Jean Fullerton's Website is here.

Monday, December 14, 2009

The Afflicted Girls by Suzy Witten

Book Reviewed by Helena Gowan / Edited and posted by Mirella Patzer.

This 17th century New England tale unfolds with the burial of a baby of the Putnam family, leading the reader into a sinister world, where not every mourner present has good intentions and a clear conscience.

Two orphans, Mercy and Abigail, travel to Salem Village, but along the way, have an accident. Two men come to their rescue, one of which is named Joseph. Mercy, who has special powers she likes to keep secret, becomes infatuated with Joseph, who is vain and weak. She is placed into indenture with the bitter Putnam family, where she quickly wins the hearts of the Putnam girls, as only the girls survived their infancy. Abigail, however, settles in her uncle’s house.

Entangled in her hopeless love, Mercy asks Bridget Bishop, the attractive female innkeeper of a jovial high-road tavern for a love charm. Abigail finds out about the secret charm that should make Joseph fall in love with Mercy. About the same time she discovers a Caribbean slave making cakes from a strange plant. Curious things happen to people who eat them. Underestimating the plant’s powers, Abigail distributes the cakes as charms and people soon become ill. In the resulting hysteria, the wheels of witchcraft investigation are set in motion by revenge, malice, and greed.

Suzy Witten has managed to make a familiar story her own. The story is told in many voices and points of view. The writing is rich and in-period, her research has been done well, and the added poems and quotations provide an extra air of authenticity.

With all the story’s gloominess and doom, Suzie Witten ends with a high note, whre sound reasoning prevails. All readers like myself who don’t mind a bit of horror and fantasy in historical fiction and appreciate a quirky tone should enjoy this new twist on the happenings in Salem Village so many years ago.

Visit Suzy Witten's website at: www.theafflictedgirls.com

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Kreativ Blogger Award

Our blog was recently nominated and tagged as a Kreativ Blogger. The rules of earning this nomination is to complete the following:

1. Tell readers seven things about yourself.
2. In the Kreativ Blogger post, add the link of the blog who nominated you.
3. Give the links to seven favourite blogs and let them know you have nominated them to participate.

So I completed this on behalf of our wonderful group of ladies. Here is our submission:

7 Things about myself:

I once met Paul Newman at a local movie theatre in Calgary Alberta. He pulled up to the box office in a silver Ferrari to buy two tickets to The Pink Panther - his guest was Joanne Wooward, his wife.

I’ve had the very expensive privilege of riding in a Gondola in Venice.

I once dreamed all the numbers in the lotto, which was 10 million dollars. The excitement woke me up and I drifted between sleep and wakefulness for a few minutes. Then I darted from bed and scrambled for a pen to write the numbers down. I could remember only 4 of the six numbers. They all came up. If I hadn’t of lingered, I would have remembered all six and would have been a multi-millionaire today. So if you ever remember the numbers, for goodness sake, believe them, write them down, and play them.

When I was on a bus once, standing, ready to get off, the bus suddenly lurched and I fell head first into the lap of a nice looking young man. My nose hit the bulls-eye! I was so embarassed, I simply ran out as soon as the doors opened.

I love to crochet novelty items like intricate teacups and beautiful heirloom blankets. I taught myself to crochet when I was seven.

I make the best tira-mi-su recipe I’ve ever tasted. LOL

In my early 20’s, I had an appointment with Simon Alexander, a world famous psychic from England. Everything he told me has come true. The last thing he said was that I was going to live to be 89. I plan on proving him false.


My Link Back to the Blog who nominated us:

Ron Empress


And here are my 7 links I nominate for the Kreativ Blogger Award:

Historical Fiction Roundtable

This is a brand new blog and one to keep your eyes on. These ladies will be reviewing some of today’s hottest historical fiction novels. They're just getting started, and it looks fabulous so far.

StarSeeker Connection

This is the site of a professional astrologer who is branching out to do astrological charts for an authors’ characters. Her blog posts are accurate and fascinating. And she has given me some excellent insight into my main character.

The Book Shelf Muse/

This is a fabulous blog for writers. The author has compiled a wonderful thesaurus for body language as it pertains to emotions. I visit this little goldmine of information frequently, and so will you.

Historical Saga Novels

Who doesn’t love a good family saga? I sure do. Here’s a blog that is written by a collection of historical family saga writers. The novels they have featured so far are intriguing. You'll find many favourites here.

My Dog Ate My Manuscript

Here’s the blog of a fellow author, Gemini Sasson. She’s a talented writer and one to definitely keep your eyes on. Her works in progress are brilliant and her writing is unbelievable beautiful.

Women of History

I’ve been addicted to Melisende’s Women of History blog for several years now. Over the years, her blog has grown to a wealth of information on women from all over the world. It is worth spending your time at her blog. Fascinating as well as informative.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Harbour by Paul House

Harbour is a novel about Hong Kong society in the months leading up to the 1941 invasion of Hong Kong by Japan. It is a time of great contrast, of decadence and deficiency, of prejudice and acceptance, of greed, and of love and hate.
Molly is a young girl of mixed blood caught between two worlds; those of her Chinese mother and her American military father, Willard Russell. Willard is wheelchair bound in Hong Kong and near destitute. He sends for his wife and daughter who must make an onerous journey from their home in China to Hong Kong. Along the way, Molly’s mother dies and Willard must now raise his young daughter alone and in poverty.

When Willard receives an invitation to allow Molly to become the companion of the beautiful Tung Nien, the wife of a Chinese drug overlord and head of the Dragon Triad group, Chen Liew, under the guidance of Miss Dekyvere an ex-pat making her home in Hong Kong, he readily accepts. Deep in the throes of grief, Willard drinks himself into daily stupors. He soon meets Kenji, a Japanese barber who becomes his mentor.

Dr. Laughton and his wife Mary are childless and their marriage is failing. The moment Dr. Laughton sets his eyes on Tung Nien, he is intrigued by Tung Nien and lusts for her. Bored with her loveless, sexless marriage, Tung Nien begins a heated affair with Dr. Laughton.

As the days of the imminent invasion grow closer, the lives of the novel’s characters intertwine, enmesh, and collide. Their lives spin out of control and degrade. Each must confront their own destiny in search of happiness.

Paul House does an excellent job of displaying his characters with all their faults and strengths. Like a tapestry, he weaves their lives together, sometimes in good ways, and sometimes in ways most detrimental to their lives. This keeps the interest strong throughout the story. Not only does he depict the political climate, he also includes the criminal element, the drug trade, in the story.

If you’re interested in reading a good novel in a unique setting, then this is a good one to pick up.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

The Boleyn Wife by Brandy Purdy



In an enduring tale, filled with intrigue and glamour, love and lust, Brandy Purdy invites the reader into the dynamic world of the Tudors, with her novel The Boleyn Wife. Her heroine Jane in particular, is a vibrant character, not black or white, but with infinite shades of gray. Easily dismissed by all, her words and actions will destroy the Boleyn family, and seal the fates of two of the Queens of Henry VIII.


Timid and unremarkable, Jane Parker falls in love with her future husband George Boleyn, before she even knows his name. Determined to have him, despite her father’s misgivings and with little encouragement from her chosen partner, she is dismayed to find that she has a rival for his affections. His sister, Anne, is the darling of her family, the young fops who are her constant companions, and eventually, the court of King Henry VIII. Through Jane’s narration, she comes across as a vapid, scheming woman with no real beauty to recommend her. Yet she has everything Jane wants, especially George’s love. Though they are married, Jane seethes with jealousy at his continued devotion to his sister, his love of friends, gaming and prostitutes. Even worse, she is consistently at Anne’s side, watching while the King and courtiers fall under her spell.

When Henry secretly weds Anne and she bears their only daughter Elizabeth, Jane foresees the beginning of the end for her rival, even as she weeps for her own lack of a child with George. She is merciless and heartless in revealing Henry’s growing infidelities to a beleaguered Anne. Her desperation achieves none of her goals; George continually shrinks from her and clings to his sister. Unwittingly, Jane plays her role in Anne’s ending with the support of Henry’s advisor Thomas Cromwell, and also seals the fate of her beloved George in the process.

Through Jane’s eyes, the reader also meets Henry’s later Queens. There is the tragic Jane Seymour, mother the prince whom Henry has destroyed his first two marriages to have; Anna of Cleves, who is not quite what she seems, and finally Katherine Howard, whose past and her association with Jane will lead to the downfall of both women. At the end of her life, Jane is haunted by the ghosts of her past, a shadow of the woman who helped engineer Anne Boleyn’s death.

In towering majesty of Tudor castles and the murky depths of dungeons where the King’s enemies, real or perceived, live out their last, Ms. Purdy’s detailed accounts of the period, a myriad of characters and the settings take the reader on an engrossing journey to the past. A few scenes seemed contrived, requiring Jane to always be at the right place and the right time whenever something went tragically wrong for Anne; whether by peeking through a bedroom door, or being the first to deliver tragic news that caused Anne to suffer her last miscarriage. Jane has gone down in history as the woman who helped destroy Anne Boleyn, but in Ms. Purdy’s portrayal, her enduring love for her husband inspires even her most deceitful, damning actions. She remains a woman of many contrasts; devoted to George, but pitiable in her desperation for his affection, made vulnerable by her undying love for him, yet also powerful, in her proximity to the doomed Anne. The Boleyn Wife is an unforgettable read.

Interview with Brandy Purdy

Brandy Purdy, author of The Boleyn Wife, provides fascinating insight into her beginnings as a writer.


1. At what age did you start reading books?

I think I actually started reading at about age four or five, but I looked at books, like children's picture books or adult books with photographs and illustrations that appealed to me from the time I was physically able to, I remember I always loved to look at books with historical costumes and castles and things like that. I was a classic movie fan from a very early age and even before I could read, or was old enough to understand, them I used to get books about classic films filled with glamour portraits of stars like Jean Harlow and Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers from the library and look at those.


2. Growing up, who were your favorite Authors?

I've always been drawn more to the subjects of books than who the author is. I read "Gone With The Wind" at an early age, when I was about ten I think, because that has always been my favourite movie, and "Green Darkness" by Anya Seton has also been a great favourite of mine since I read it when I thirteen or fourteen.


3. Describe the thought process behind self publishing your first book?

I spent about five years being represented by my first agent, trying to get published in the traditional way, when it didn't happen I decided I didn't want all that hard work to just be stuffed into a drawer and forgotten about or thrown away someday by someone who didn't care and saw it as just junk or old papers. Since no one else would take a chance and gamble on me, I decided to do it myself. And, in all honesty, I think I was a bit rankled by the fact that those around me, people who did not understand or care about the intricacies of the publishing industry and realize the difficulty in getting published, assumed that my failure to do so meant I wasn't any good, that I had no talent and had just been wasting my time and ink cartridges all those years. I suppose a part of me wanted to prove them wrong, to silence the complaints and criticisms if possible.


4. When you are working on a new book, what little things do you do to help get the thought process going?

I read and take notes about the subject and I also like to look at portraits of people and places from the era. I always look for little details, things that will jump out and latch onto my mind, that I can use in some way to lend the story a special touch.


5. Who are your favorite authors now?

I still read more for subject than for author. I read mostly historical fiction, biographies, true crime, and books about ghosts and real-life unsolved mysteries, really just anything that grabs my attention.


6. Is the Tudor Period your favorite period in time?

I don't know, if I had a time machine it might be nice to visit but I wouldn't want to stay in any era without the advantages of modern dentistry.


7. If you could write about anything, absolutely anything, what would you write about?

I don't know, I suppose whatever I felt drawn to at that particular moment.


8. Is there a particular chapter in your books that mean the most to you?

The chapter called "In The Dungeon of Warwick Castle" in The Confession of Piers Gaveston.


9. If you could be a Character from either of your books, who would you be and why?

Anne Boleyn, because she was confident, assertive, talented and creative, and never lonely. Granted many despised her and her life wasn't all sunshine and lollipops, but she had the ability to fascinate and captivate, to inspire loyalty and passion.


10. Everyone wants to be remembered for something, Brandy, what would you like to be remembered for?

I'm not ambitious, so being famous or leaving a publicly available legacy doesn't matter all that much to me, I would rather be remembered as having been special to, or even loved by, one person, and that I was an important part of his life. Having talent, and having that talent appreciated and admired is a very nice thing indeed, but I know from personal experience that published works and praise are not a balm against loneliness.


Thanks for sharing with us on the blog, Brandy.

The Creed of Violence by Boston Teran

First Line: He was born in Scabtown the day Lincoln was assassinated at Ford's Theatre.

The Creed of Violence by Boston Teran is a fascinating, multi-faceted novel that takes place in Mexico in 1910. It is the poignant tale of two men who must come to terms with their horrific pasts. The story is set against the political backdrop of Mexico, a country on the verge of a revolution and embroiled in a fight for oil.

From the dregs of poverty, depravity, and criminality, a man named Rawbone struggles to eek out a living. Many years ago, he had a wife and son, who he abandoned. Now, nearly destitute, he catches a ride with two men in a truck who are secretly transporting weapons. He poisons the men and takes their truck with all its armaments. Rawbone travels to his old friend, a corrupt lawyer addicted to opium, for advice.

John Lourdes is an FBI agent and Rawbone’s long, lost son. In return for his freedom, Rawbone is required to drive the truck and arms to American security agents in Tampico. The catch is that he must be supervised by John Lourdes the entire time. Rawbone does not recognize his son, but Lourdes remembers his father very well and despises him for not only abandoning him and his mother, but for the murderer and criminal he has become. Lourde’s is a self-made man, having successfully crawled out of the poverty and slums he was born into. And he hates his father.

Father and son encounter numerous obstacles together in their assignment to expose the criminals at the core of the revolution. Amidst train wrecks, greed, explosions, murder, and intrigue, father and son enter upon a life and death collision course and must come to terms with each other. Slowly, they secretly come to know each other. More than anything else, this is also a tale of forgiveness.

This little book packs a huge wallop. It reads like a blockbuster movie. It is no wonder that The Creed of Violence was recently purchased by Universal Pictures for the second highest price ever paid for a manuscript. I can even visualize the part of Rawbone being portrayed by Clint Eastwood.

Everything about this book is fascinating, even the author’s bio:

No one knows the identify of Boston Teran. Some say that he is a well-known writer using a pseudonym. Others say Boston Teran is the name used by a small group of writers working together to create one identity…The Creed of Violence is his sixth book.

Boston Teran has won numerous awards:
- Winner of the 1999 BOMC Stephen Crane Literary First Fiction Award
- Finalist for the 1999 Mystery Writers of America Edgar Award for Best
First Novel
- Winner of the 2000 CWA John Creasey Award for Best First Novel
- Nominee for the 2001 International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award
- Winner of the 2002 Fiction Lovers Association of Japan Fiction
- Novel of the Year Award Winner of the 2002 Fiction Lovers
- Grand Prix Calibre 38 (Meilleur roman policier) 2004
- Association of Japan Crime Novel of the Year Award

This is an easy read, but with full entertainment value. Keep your eye out for the movie, which is sure to be a big hit, just like the book will be.

Wildflowers of Terezin by Robert Elmer

Book Review written by Cori Van Housen

Robert Elmer’s tale of WW11 occupied Denmark grabs you from the start with engaging characters and explosive action on the streets of Copenhagen. German forces, meanwhile, plan to round up the country’s Jewish citizens for deportation, and worse. Elmer’s protagonist, the unassuming clergyman, Steffan Peterson, is likeable and humorous. He enjoys a sheltered, bookish life until he meets Hanne Abramsen, a young and determined Jewish nurse with loose connections to the Resistance. An unlikely friendship develops, awakening Steffan’s slumbering spirit, leading him out of the comfortable security of his church and into grave danger, but also deeper, more vibrant faith.

Elmer weaves historical fact seamlessly into his storyline, making this book not only a great read, but interesting and informative. I had never heard of the camp for which the book was named: Czechoslovakia’s Terezin. Nor had I knowledge of conditions in Denmark during the time of the Reich. It was heartening to know that Danish clergy stood against the Nazi agenda, not simply bowing to it as sometimes happened elsewhere. But Elmer neither preaches nor teaches in the usual sense. Instead, Steffan navigates the razor’s edge between obedience to God and obedience to existing (German) authorities. Not until reading the afterword do you realize how much of the story is firmly rooted in actual events, in actual places.
Elmer accomplishes the feat of communicating the terror of war without gratuitous violence or obscenity. The book is well constructed and evenly paced. Or so you think, until half way through you realize it has you by the collar and you are running with it. A sometimes tense, but thoroughly satisfying read.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

The Sentinels: Fortunes of War by Gordon Zuckerman

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First Line: Karl von Schagel paced the drawing room. In the last five minutes, he had probably consulted his pocket watch a dozen times.

Set during World War II, this historical political thriller is the story of six wealthy, brilliant economics students who reunite from several different countries and form a coalition to stop the Nazis. Their plan is to cleverly divert money from Germany’s powerful industrialists, who they believe are fueling the war, and use it for their own purposes. They do this by converting millions of dollars worth of gold. But the Germans soon catch wind that something is amiss and the six sentinels find themselves embroiled in intrigue with their very lives at stake.

Although the cover looks as if this novel is another World War II story, it is not. It deals only with the political climate of that era and provides motivation for the plot to evolve.

The story is very fast-paced with a large cast of characters who are so human with their faults and strengths, that the reader is immediately drawn to them. Political turmoil and romance mix together to form a novel of intense action with a riveting plot. It is a well written, well edited tale. The Sentinels: Fortunes of War is the first book in a series about these Six Sentinels. For more information, visit www.thesentinelseries.com.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

The Whispering Bell by Brian Sellars


First Line: After the great sickness famine gripped the land, garnishing it for riot and murder.

The Whispering Bell is a novel about Wynflaed, a young woman of Mercia who was orphaned because of a famine that ravaged the land. A good thegn and his family found her, took her in, and raised her with love and kindness.

Wynflaed and her unwavering courage come to the notice of Wulfric, a powerful warrior and leader within the king’s army. He so enchanted by her, that he seeks her hand in marriage. As a wedding gift, Wynflaed receives a floundering lead mine. Wulfric is eager to enter into a lifetime of peace with his new wife and soon-to-be family and vows never to go to war again. But this promise proves too difficult to keep, and encouraged by his father, Wulfric departs to fight one last battle.

Wynflaed is left behind to care for their home and estates under the scrutiny of Wulfric’s malicious brother, Rendil. The mine flourishes and everything is going well. When rumours reach her that Wulfric has been killed in battle, Wynflaed’s world quickly deteriorates and she finds herself homeless, hunted, enslaved, and persecuted.

In The Whispering Bell, author Brian Sellars unleashes a rich, intriguing plot, ripe with emotion. It is a complex tale of woe, which rivets the reader to its endearing heroine whose courage in the face of adversity draws the reader deep into the story. Brian Sellar’s intense research into this period of history is clearly evident, making the story highly believable. The characters evolve with the story, some holding steadfast and others changing in unexpected, very human, ways. Filled with vivid descriptions of people, places, and articles, this book shines as an authentic example of early English history. The Whispering Bell has it all, love, passion, turmoil, treachery, murder, and intrigue.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

I Rode a Horse of Milk White Jade by Diane Wilson


I Rode a Horse of Milk White Jade opens with the main character as an elderly woman telling her tale to her granddaughter. So while there is never any question as to the main character's survival, this YA book nonetheless captured my imagination and I am not someone who routinely reads YA. Ms. Wilson's fantasy is fluid, descriptive and unobtrusive. You'll never realize she holds the reins. If you rate by the tears-o-meter, it is by far the best book I've read in months.

When Oyuna of the Kerait tribe is mamed – her foot crushed – by a black mare, she is marked forever. Her parents try every treatment imaginable, but there is no cure for her foot, her life or her luck. Still, Oyuna knows she is meant for more than stirring mare's milk into ayrag. She dreams of speed and freedom, but needs a fast horse to win the next great race and make her dream come true.

Yet when her father allows her to pick a horse, her choice is Bayan, a mare well past her prime. But Oyuna cannot turn away when she hears the horse's plea for help. Reluctantly, Oyuna rescues Bayan and their friendship changes Oyuna's life.

The soldiers of Kublai Khan take riders, food and horses from Oyuna's tribe, including Bayan. Rather than lose her mare, Oyuna masquerades as her stepbrother and leaves with Bayan and the soldiers. Oyuna is discovered and she and Bayan are dismissed from military service. They now serve as a currier to the great Khan. This is good news to Oyuna, who knows the Khan has a herd of ten thousand white mares. If she and Bayan deliver his precious message in time, perhaps he will give her a fast horse.

She and Bayan brave many dangers crossing the Gobi, but at last reach Kublai Khan's court. Received well, Oyuna develops a friendship with the Khan, but he wants Bayan for his own. Rather than leave her friend or trade her for the mount she wants, Oyuna stays in her ruler's service. Then tragedy strikes the Khan's herds including Bayan. Only Oyuna can save her beloved mare, but time is faster than any horse.

You must read "I Rode a Horse of Milk White Jade" to discover the ending. Nothing will induce me to tell, but be prepared when you read this book. Pack a lunch so you won't have to get up and have tissues close by. You'll need them.

Interview with Cerridwen Fallingstar


Welcome, I’m so glad to have this opportunity to chat with you. Can you share with my readers the essence of the story you’ve penned?

The essence at the heart of these two Japanese novels in the ‘White as Bone, Red as Blood’ series (‘The Fox Sorceress’, which has just been published, and ‘The Storm God’ which will come out next spring) is the contrast between war and peace. The novels contrast the art, poetry and love affairs which characterized the Heian period of Japan with the dawn of the Samurai, the beginning of the Kamakura period characterized by the rise of the warrior cult.


What I found most fascinating, is the knowledge that you drew on your own past-life experiences to learn about and then write this fantastic story. Can you tell us more about this – when did you first learn of Seiko and what happens when you go back in time?

I had my first memories of being Japanese when I was a child; I dressed as Japanese several times for Halloween, cherishing the illusion of re-inhabiting one of my old skins. Memories of two different Japanese lifetimes re-surfaced strongly in my early thirties. By looking through Japanese art books I was able to pinpoint the time period to the 12th century. When I started researching that period, I was stunned to realize that the people I remembered as my friends, enemies and lovers in that life were well-known figures in Japanese history. Going back in time is always a powerful and poignant experience.


What makes this book special to you?

What makes these books special for me is the deep feeling of love it evokes. It is wonderful to re-experience connections with loved ones from another time. Love doesn’t die.


What makes this a book that people MUST read and WHY?

The ‘White as Bone, Red as Blood’ series opens a gateway into a world unknown to western readers; it is a unique window onto that long-vanished culture. If you want to understand the soul of Japan, this book is a must. My books are the only past-life novels which qualify as quality literary fiction. They are essentially posthumous autobiography.


What sparks your creativity? Any tips to help others spark their own creativity?

Creativity is our natural state of being. Just get out of your own way. Adopting a playful, non-judgmental attitude towards your work can help. As Sylvia Plath once wrote; ‘Perfection is terrible. It cannot have children. It tamps the womb.’ Accept that your work will be imperfect—and gorgeous—like you.


What has been the biggest stumbling block in your writing? Can you share some tips to help others get past similar problems?

My biggest block has been the necessity of earning a living, and therefore fitting in my writing around the edges. This particular book was derailed for a long time by my husband’s sudden and unexpected death and by a car accident which left me with on-going pain from injuries. I lost years of work from the combined effect of these events. There is really no way to speed up that sort of unguided tour to the underworld; you can only hope it will provide depth and insight and compassion which will deepen your work later.


Tell me about the most unusual things you have done to promote your book?

I offer a mini past-life journey (using hypnosis) to each group of people attending one of my book signings. People love it!


Each author is different in the way they create a work of fiction. Please describe for us how you plan or plot a story.

For the past-life novels, I make a trance/hypnosis tape to guide myself into the time period I am writing about. Once in trance, I put in a new tape and record all my memories and perceptions. Then I emerge from the trance and transcribe the tape onto my computer. And then, of course, I re-write the material a hundred times, refining it into literature. I also do all the conventional research, visiting all the significant sites in Japan where the books take place and researching the historical events to ensure that my depictions of them are accurate.


Authors are very unique in the way they write, the tools they use, when they write, etc. Please describe a typical writing day for you? How do you organize your day?

I usually write in the morning. Research can happen at any time of the day. The story unfolds organically; I do not outline. Sometimes I am as surprised by a turn of events as the reader.


What is your current work in progress?

I am nearing completion on a non-fiction inspirational book, a ‘Wiccan Soup for the Soul’, if you will. I have also begun work on another past-life novel. This one is set in Minoan Crete.


Can you tell us where to find more information about you and your books and how readers can reach you?

My first past-life historical novel about Witchcraft in 16th century Scotland, ‘The Heart of the Fire’, is still available through Amazon. It has sold over 20,000 copies, mostly through word of mouth. The second book in this Japan series, ‘White as Bone, Red as Blood: The Storm God’, will be released in Spring of 2010. More information is available at www.cerridwenfallingstar.com. I teach classes and give lectures, offer private hypnosis and healing sessions, and lead sacred site tours. Have broom, will travel.


What would you like our readers to know about you and your writing?

Read the books. That will tell you everything you need to know. Don’t loan the books to your friends; you’ll never see the books again. Buy them their own copies. If you fall in love with an author’s work, support them. Literature is being dumbed down into blandness and mediocrity by the consolidation of publishing companies and big-box bookstores. Vote with your pocketbook; buy quality books from independent booksellers. My book can be ordered by your favorite bookstore from Ingram or Baker and Taylor.



Excerpt - White As Bone Red As Blood



Chapter Fifty-Two
1177

I am seated beside the Empress at a banquet honoring nobles from the north who are visiting Kyoto. My hair decorations jingle distractingly when I turn my head, but the Empress gave them to me, so I must wear them. They are shaped like gold flames, swirling around the layers of hair piled on my head. She gave the headdress to me saying it reminded her of my fiery, passionate nature. Sticks of ivory and silver protrude so far from her own hair arrangement, I fear that I will poke my eye out if I lean over and whisper to her. It is hot in the room, and we are wearing a full complement of eighteen robes. In spite of all the fans we are wielding, I feel suffocated. The real reason that women don’t eat much during these banquets is that we are so hot and weighted down by our robes and headdresses we can barely move. It is not uncommon for women to swoon on such occasions. The cold sake is refreshing, and drinking makes one feel less miserable, but one must be careful not to drink so much as to become unladylike in one’s behavior. It seems perfectly all right for the men to become ungentleman-like, pounding on the tables, making obscene jokes that we can hear, or worse, lascivious comments regarding us. They pull serving maids onto their laps and fondle them in full view of everyone, stumble out to the garden and vomit in the carp ponds, challenge each other to archery contests that leave arrows bristling from trees, walls, pillars and doors, or lay on the floor giggling until they pass out. I don’t even know why they invite us to these parties, as they could just place a bunch of stuffed dolls representing us at one end of the table and it would be just as entertaining. I can’t wait to get back to my room to take off all these layers. I smile thinking of how wonderful it is going to feel to have Machiko take off this headdress and brush out my hair. The other huge advantage of fans, besides their cooling properties, is that when you can no longer keep your hot, disgruntled feelings out of your face, you can hold your fan in front of you, conveying an impression of mystery rather than misery.

The only entertaining aspect is the younger women speculating behind their fans about this or that nobleman, how they are in bed, whether they are available for marriage, who is likely to end up with who. The gallants come over and kneel beside us periodically to tell jokes and flirt and beg for dainties off our plates. Some of them are very attractive, and every bit as beautifully made up as we are, wearing fewer layers, but taking just as much care to match their sleeves and decorate their hair with an artful placement of feathers or gems. Because they do not wear as many layers, you can see the outline of their bodies, which makes things more interesting. I get my share of swains; men who pride themselves on their wordplay are always eager to test wits with me. Eyebrows, eyelids and teeth are darkened, our faces bright with rice powder, lips carmine. To one young man pushing up against me like a cat, begging for a kiss, I say;

“Lips a bridge of flowers

Over the dark abyss....

Can such a fall be risked?”



Immediately my poem catches the fancy of the room and the first two lines, “Lips a bridge of flowers/over the dark abyss,” are whispered around the table again and again in a variety of intonations.

As the evening goes on, the poems become more and more sexually suggestive, as the young men test to see which of the women might be receptive to a late night visit. A woman of our class would not risk her reputation by going to a man’s quarters, which makes it difficult. There are so many women housed close together in the Empress’s quarters privacy is hard to come by, and the Empress takes seriously her responsibility to protect the young ladies in her care who have come to court looking for husbands. She makes clear that she disapproves of anyone entertaining men behind curtains in the warren of little rooms and alcoves in our section of the Palace, and houses the young girls two and three to a room together. After a banquet she often has her servants arrange beds for her and the young maidens in the main rooms so she can keep an eye on them. I have one of the most private rooms though it is far more likely I will be carousing with two or three of the other ladies after a banquet, rather than the men who have spent so much time trying to impress us.

Dishes of food continue to be brought, fantastic combinations of fish, fruits and vegetables arranged as gorgeously as Ikebana. I envy the men who are so much less constrained than we are. “I wish I were that morsel, entering between your lips,” sighs one swain as I bring one irresistible delicacy to my mouth.

Some of the visiting nobles from another district have brought a troupe of dancers with them to show off their local customs. In Kyoto, nobles enjoy adding their own fillips and interpretations of the old dances, making them both evocative and modern. The dances we witness tonight seem old-fashioned and quaint by comparison. When you know the people who are dancing it is always an interesting insight into another part of their personality. This performance seems stilted, but the dancers are not of noble birth and must be utterly awed to be in the presence of the Emperor, in such glamorous surroundings. The men applaud loudly after every set. The Empress has prepared gifts for the dancers, as well as many presents for the visiting nobles. It is important to be gracious, since it is the noble families with their fiefs in the countryside who provide the rice, cloth, sake and other goods which keep the court as wealthy and opulent as it is, and the last few years have seen peasant unrest and rebellion in many areas.

The dancers have just launched into another dance requested as an encore when messengers burst in, interrupting the performance. Normally, court messengers are very discreet and subtle in their approach, so I can only think there is some crises. They go directly to the Emperor, Shigemori and Lord Kiyomori. Tsunemasa joins them, frown lines hiking up his forehead, and Munemori struggles up from under three attractive serving maids to join the discussion.

Shigemori is the one who has been talking with the noblemen visiting from the north; they stand near him, legs widespread as if they were ready to take some action, looking alarmed.

Lady Daigon-no-suke, who has been sitting with her husband, Shigehira, comes over and informs us that the messengers are reporting that there has been a serious outbreak of fire in the city. Fires are a common enough occurrence. Buildings in Kyoto are very close together, constructed mostly of wood with thatch roofs. The normal hazards of splattering cooking oil, or a lantern knocked over is enough to wipe out a few blocks, though the soldiers are very accustomed to organizing bucket brigades from the River Uji and can usually subdue it as they would any enemy.

“Well, is it under control?” the Empress asks.

“Regrettably not,” Lady Daigon-no-suke replies. “Apparently the wind is blowing quite hard and it is spreading rapidly.”

Tokushi nods and servants rush to help her stand up; some help rising is required when wearing the formal complement of robes. Shigemori comes around the table to talk with her. I can tell by his gestures that he is saying calming things. He seems to take it as his responsibility to cushion his younger sister from the harsher realities. Shigehira, another of Tokushi’s brothers, comes and stands beside them for a moment, then dashes off.

“The Palace can’t be in danger, can it?” whispers one of the frightened ladies

“Of course not, that’s absurd,” one of the gallants assures her. “We shall keep you quite safe, in any case.”

The girls are concerned about their families who live elsewhere in Kyoto, and all are anxious to find out what area of the city is affected, though the gardens and pools surrounding most mansions generally keep them safe.

Emperor Takakura comes to stand beside Tokushi. He seems serene, as always, and she smiles at him warmly. They give such an impression of a happy couple. He announces that there is a severe conflagration, and apologizes to his guests for the necessity of interrupting the banquet, but that all the men must attend to the situation, and that the guests should quickly leave the mansions in which they are staying and find accommodation closer to the palace.

Suddenly servants are running everywhere. The noblemen are all talking seriously and importantly of who needs to do what. One young man says he will take his horse, Sumi-e, ‘Ink-Painting’, and ride ‘faster than the wind can carry the flames’ to the garrison on the northern edge of the city to fetch soldiers to fight the fire. He strides out stripping off layers of outer garments and tying his hair back. He cuts a heroic figure, and the way the ladies clutch their chests and fan themselves tells me that if Tommayo survives this night, he will not lack for female companionship for a long time to come.

Tsunemasa comes over to us, and speaks softly and reassuringly. He says we should all retire to our quarters. Most of the other men of the nobility scatter to their homes in Kyoto to protect their own families and belongings. Tsunemasa and one of the other men escort us back to our quarters. Tokushi tries to get Takakura to stay with us, but he bows politely and says he must direct the efforts to save the people of Kyoto.

“Then I should stay by your side,” she says.

“No, no. Return to your quarters and keep your ladies calm. That is all I could possibly require of you.”

Tokushi looks disappointed, but claps her hands. “Come ladies, we must leave the men to respond to this crises. We will only be in the way.”

Lord Kiyomori has left to gather troops to fight the fire. Shigemori is clearly in command here. I cannot hear what he is saying to the men he is directing, but his every gesture draws immediate compliance and respect.

“Oh, it is all so exciting. I think I am going to faint,” one of the younger women exclaims.

“It’s probably just the number of robes you have on,” I say. I am feeling faint myself as we move along the hallways back to our quarters. Fire destroyed my life once. There is nothing I fear more. All I can think is how badly I want to get back to my room and strip off all my clothing in case we need to flee. We could never outrun flames dressed as we are; we are like bulky cloth wicks waiting to ignite.

“Just in case, ladies, we must change into our traveling costumes,” Tokushi cautions.

The inside of my mouth tastes coppery.

“Oh, heavens, my Lady, are we in danger?” one of the ladies cries out. Several of the girls are crying for their families, one slides to the floor in a dramatic faint, others are hyperventilating. I breathe slowly and deliberately to manage my own terror.

“No, no, it is merely a precaution,” Tokushi says, trying to calm the girls.

“Don’t be ridiculous, “Lady Daigon-no-suke exclaims. “There is no reason to stay formally dressed anyway, is there? Just take off your clothes, make yourselves comfortable...” she begins barking orders to servants who rush over and begin undressing their charges with shaking hands. The girls whose families live in Kyoto are the most frantic, since none of us knows which areas of the city are most endangered. I am glad my loved ones are far away.

With Machiko’s help, I am the first one undressed and redressed in a simple tunic over divided pants. A piercing shriek comes from the direction of the garden. I run out, though my hair has not been taken down yet. Several of the maids and a couple of the younger women are staring, clenched fists to their mouths, at the city stretching out beyond the Palace. The wall and the Palace roof obscure the view, but a pinkish glow has commandeered the whole sky, flickering and shifting like a demonic presence. We run down the path to one of the moon bridges arcing across the water and climb up to its apex. From this vantage point we can barely see over the tops of the Palace buildings. The wind is whipping through the garden, setting the chimes in my hair furiously fluttering like flags, jingling with the intensity of alarms. Alarm bells are ringing throughout the city, and faintly, I see parts of the city glowing red gold with the advancing flames. One of the girls starts shrieking for her family so vigorously she almost falls off the bridge. I go back to my room, buffeted by the wind kami as I run back across the garden, and take the ornaments out of my hair, yanking them out faster than Machiko can put them away. I wonder how my stepmother and her family are faring. Usually it is the poorer districts, and the area of the pleasure houses where people tend to be drunk which fare the worst, but with the wind like this, nothing is safe. For once I am glad not to be a man, for they are expected to go out and supervise the fire-fighting activities. Machiko takes out the hair extensions and the hair decorations I could not reach. It is all I can do not to shout at her to hurry. I keep imagining the sound of crashing timbers, and I desperately want to go back outside. If worst comes to worst we could go into the ponds and breathe through reeds. Machiko finally finishes, gives my hair a quick brush, then ties it back loosely.

The ladies gather outside in their traveling costumes with simple jackets. I tuck my layers up under my sash in case I have to run. I know I should help Tokushi try to calm the others, but while I may not look panicky I am as bad off as the worst of them, almost frozen with fear. Tokushi sends messengers to find out if it would be best for her and the ladies to take carriages and exit the city.

I see that some of the ladies have retreated to the highest moon bridge in the garden. “I’ll go check on the ladies in the garden,” I say. “Perhaps you should get all those remaining inside to come out.”

“I’ll take care of those,” she says, watching some of the women running around packing hysterically, sobbing that they want to go home. I am afraid to let Tokushi go back inside, but I allow Machiko to lead me back towards the others in the garden.

The ladies are standing on top of the bridge, shading their eyes with their hands. A reflected rose-gold light plays across their faces. Machiko gently pushes me along; I am so rigid it is as if my knees and hips have forgotten how to bend. It is so bright out now, it is like day in the night. The carp mill about expectantly along the edges of the artificial stream and under the bridge, gold and orange, white and black, like fire in the water. One of the girls calls from the top of the bridge; “Machiko, bring Seiko up here. With her height, she can see the best.” By the time we reach the crest of the bridge, my heart is pounding as if we had climbed Fujiyama. Turning towards the city, I understand the stunned expressions on their faces. A huge quadrant of the city is on fire, solid flame for as far as the eye can see. It is still a ways off from us, but if a quarter of the city is already on fire, what hope is there that any will be spared? Why did it take so long before messengers came to the Palace?

I hope Tsunemasa and the other men supervising the peasants and soldiers fighting the fire are safe. How can any number of men passing buckets of water from the Uji River hope to stop such an unquenchable dragon of flame? It just doesn’t seem possible that a conflagration this size could be stopped by anything but a torrential rain. As if she had heard my though, Machiko clasps my hand and says, “Maybe the clouds will bring rain.” But those are not storm clouds swirling black in the tempestuous wind, but billows of smoke; the acrid smell and heat reaching us even here. As we watch, the wind drives huge showers of sparks before it, and where the sparks touch shops and houses, new flames gush skyward.

I want to say that we must leave the Capitol now, while there is still time but it is as if my tongue had evaporated, leaving me with no power of speech. The roaring of the fire sounds like a distant ocean, or the bellowing of a dragon, but there is another sound, that while fainter, is more terrible; the screams of humans and animals. I sway almost over the side of the bridge. Machiko grabs me and half carries me down the bridge, her sturdy frame all muscle as she braces me from falling. I can’t breathe, but not from the smoke which is still faint. An enormous hand is squeezing my heart and lungs together; my mind flickers like a blown candle. I collapse onto my knees at the bottom of the bridge.

“Mistress, mistress, are you well?” Machiko asks.

“No. We need...to get all the women out.” With Machiko’s help I stagger back to the Palace, find Lady Daigon-no-suke.

“We must escape. The whole city is going to burn,” I gasp to her.

Her painted-on eyebrows rear up onto her forehead in alarm. She strides over to Tokushi, who is attempting to comfort a heap of sobbing girls moaning and tearing their hair on the floor, takes her by the elbow and steers her over to us.

“Lady, we must flee here. The fire...the fire...” I stagger, unable to breathe as a fish thrown into hostile air. Only Machiko’s strong arms keep me from falling.

“Is it truly that bad Seiko?” Tokushi asks.

I nod. “We must take the women....before it’s too late...”

“I am waiting to hear back. Until Tsunemasa or Shigehira or my father sends word we cannot....”

Just then a maidservant rushes up, folds over in a bow. “My Lady, Lord Tsunemasa is here with a young page--they are covered in soot...”

“Show him in immediately.” Tokushi orders. There is no time for formalities. Servants quickly seat us on some pillows, and on that instant Tsunemasa and the page arrive and kneel beside us, leaving streaks of ash on the floor.

“Shall we prepare to depart?” Tokushi asks.

“My lady, it is more dangerous to leave now than to stay,” Tsunemasa replies.

I hear my voice croaking, “We must leave immediately.”

Tsunemasa looks at me, alarmed, then gathers himself, takes my hand. “Lady Fujiwara, are you speaking now as a soothsayer...or as a woman who lost her mother in a fire?”

I pull my hand away from him, angry that he should speak familiarly of my past in front of others. He who is usually so mannerly! I want to shout at him but an unseen hand is gripping all the breath out of my throat.

“Forgive me,” he says, “but there is too much chaos; the streets are impassable. The soldiers cannot fight the fire and subdue the looters as well. You are safer here.”

Tokushi bows her head to him. “We put our faith in you, cousin. You are the Master of my Household. Our lives are in your hands.”

“We have just finished burning a large section three streets wide to create a firebreak to protect the Palace,” he says.

Is he mad? They set a fire themselves? This is the person we should trust?

Tsunemasa goes on to explain that by setting a blaze and extinguishing it, the advancing larger fire will find nothing to cling to and will not be able to leap across to continue its carnage.

I do not understand how lighting a fire can stop a fire. He and Tokushi keep talking, but it is as if they had begun speaking in another language. My hair and the back of my garments are heavy, soaking with blood. My hands are raw, abraded from gripping tightly to a statue of Kannon.

Servants kneel before us, offering trays of tea and sake. Machiko pushes the ceramic edge of a cup between my lips. Vaguely I feel Tokushi’s hand on my shoulder. Later, servants apologize for the delay in preparing some food for us, saying that most of the kitchen servants and cooks have fled.

Then we are back outside, though I have no memory of how we got here. Machiko has my box of remedies and is asking which one will help me. I have no remedy for preventing death by fire. We are sitting under a willow by the water. The grass is cool. I look at the reeds sighing in the wind, thinking that we can cut them open to make breathing tubes and lie under the water with the carp. The smoke is thick now in the garden, and women are sobbing that it is the end of the world. It is amazing how peaceful Tokushi continues to be, calming the girls with her soft, authoritative voice. I can tell that Lady Daigon-no-suke must be frightened because she is more gruff than usual, and I have come to see that when she sounds the most harsh is when she feels the most anxious. I am holding Machiko’s hand as tightly as I ever did when I was in labor. Servants continue to ferry tea and sake and small treats from the kitchen as if it were a moon-viewing party rather than an end of the world party.

“Lord Taira Tsunemasa will take care of us, Mistress,” Machiko assures me. “He won’t let anything happen to us.” But I know that no matter how powerful someone is, it does not make them immortal. My mother was killed, and she had more power than all the Taira combined.

No one sleeps, and while the light of the fire made the night seem like day, the smoke from the fire makes the next day seem like night. No one wants to risk falling asleep inside the Palace, so servants bring out layers of kimonos and futons and make beds for us out in the garden. Women sit in clusters crying and praying. Petitions are offered up to Shina Tsu Hime to cease the evil winds that are driving the flames. A brazier of fire is lit and everyone writes prayers on paper and offers them to the flames, conjuring the fire Goddesses Huchi and Fuchi to have mercy on us. Some beg pity from Kannon, others burn pine incense and perform water ablution ceremonies to invoke the protection of Kishi-Mujin, the ancient mother Goddess. Tokushi asks me to invoke protection from Inari, but these forces are not middle counselors to be bribed or cajoled. If Inari could not save her own Priestess, Fujiwara Fujuri, on her own mountain, how can she protect us here? Fire is without conscience; it seeks only to perpetuate its own life by devouring whatever is in its path. My only prayer is to put my hand on the trunk of the willow, to feel her green life force pulsing under my hand, to absorb her calm acceptance.

By evening, most of those who had been sobbing and hysterical have been reduced to weak whimpers. All of us are choking and coughing on the smoke. Tokushi asks me to make up some teas to help all of us with the pain in our lungs, but I am unable to move. Machiko knows the lung formulas, so she enlists another servant to help her brew them on portable stoves that have been set up outside. Tokushi sends messengers to find other healers, and soon two men and a woman are brought to us and start brewing steams and teas over the stoves, and placing acupuncture needles in the women who are suffering most. The sight of even those small fires under the stoves makes me tremble. I am helpless to stop them, since I can neither speak nor move. I can only cling tightly to the rough bark of the willow, and drink whatever Machiko puts to my lips.

Finally I sleep, holding onto Machiko, and wake the next morning to find Tsunemasa telling Tokushi that the fire, while not yet extinguished, has at least been contained. Sixteen mansions have been destroyed, and untold thousands of people, cattle, horses and other animals have lost their lives. Tommayo, the young man who galloped bravely off through the fire is safe, though his horse’s tail has been scorched. All of Tokushi’s brothers and cousins are safe. My lungs feel raw, and like everyone I am hacking and sneezing up soot, but quivering with relief.

A few days later, I find Machiko sobbing. She has just gotten word that all her brothers and sisters and their families survived the fire. I feel ashamed that she was able to be so strong for me in spite of having no idea how her family fared in the disaster. Two of their homes were destroyed, but I give Machiko enough money to see that they are rebuilt. It is the least I can do to show my gratitude for her caring for me while I was lost in the past, and leading me back to my life.

A pall of smoke hangs over the grounds for days. As soon as the fires were put out, the wind stopped as if it had been conjured up by evil sorcerers just to fan the flames. Now that the winds would be welcome to disperse the stench, they retreat, and no amount of entreaties to Tatsu Ta Hime to gently blow away the contamination helps. Many of the women have lung sicknesses, from the combined effects of smoke and sorrow. I am troubled by the apparent sickness of my mind. It seems that I am falling back into that blankness that absorbed me after my mother’s death, and I do not know how to banish it. Chinese physicians come to see me several times a day, stimulating points to heal my spirit and giving me vile tasting concoctions. Shamans come to cleanse the Empress’s apartments, banishing ghosts and evil spirits. Yet in spite of their efforts, if it were not for Machiko brushing my hair, singing to me and talking to me even when I did not reply, I might have retreated to that cold, frozen part of my mind and never emerged again.

Word went out that the same evil sorcerers who had conjured this terrible fire had attacked the Empress’ sorceress, and for all I know, perhaps that was true. A third of the city of Kyoto had been destroyed by the fire. The stench of burnt flesh, human and animal was so pervasive, no amount of incense and perfumes could cover it up. Funeral pyres cremating the remains of those who had not been already reduced to ash kept the smell of fresh smoke drifting. Though they tried to cremate the half-burnt bodies quickly to prevent the spread of disease, contagion spread through the city like another fire, adding corpses to those already stacked waiting for fresh supplies of wood to be fetched from the mountains. The whispering said that Yoritomo and the other Genji must have hired some extremely powerful sorcerers to attack the Capitol magically. I do not have the strength to prevail against these dark forces. I have my mother’s key, but not her powers. The fault is mine. I have failed to help Tokushi produce an heir.

We were not allowed to go out and witness the devastation, as those sights would be far too horrible for the eyes of aristocratic ladies. Often rebellious against the restrictions imposed on my gender, this time I was thoroughly relieved to shielded and sheltered. I remember well enough the blackened remains of my mother’s house.