Monday, May 31, 2010

Contest - Book Giveaway - Watermark by Vanitha Sankaran


We are very excited and proud to feature Vanitha Sankaran and her novel, Watermark, all this week. 

Vanitha is giving away a copy of Watermark to the person who best answers the following questions and leaves their email address:

1.  Describe 2 jobs Vanitha has done in her life.

2.  Name the two essays found on her website.

3.  Tell Vanitha why you deserve to win a copy of this book. 

Vanitha will judge your answers and announce a winner on Friday.

Good Luck!

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Alice Adams by Booth Tarkington

Alice Adams

By Booth Tarkington

(Pulitzer Prize winning classic novel)

Envy!

Alice Adams is the only daughter in a middle-class family living in the industrialized "midland country" at the turn of the 20th century. It is against this dingy backdrop that Alice Adams seeks to distinguish herself. She goes to a dance in a used dress, which her mother attempts to renew by changing the lining and adding some lace. She adorns herself not with orchids sent by the florist but with a bouquet of violets she has picked herself. Because her family cannot afford to equip her with the social props or "background" so needed to shine in society, Alice is forced to make do. Ultimately, her ambitions for making a successful marriage must be tempered by the realities of her situation.

This novel of envy is about a young girl and her mother who desire to move up in society.  Alice Adams's resiliency of spirit makes her one of Tarkington's most compelling female characters.

$1.00 USD

Friday, May 28, 2010

The Cigar Maker by Mark Carlos McGinty

Reviewed by L. Gregory Graham

The book follows the life of Salvador Ortiz, his friends, and his family as they struggle against first the Spanish repression and occupation of Cuba at the turn of the twentieth century, and then the economic repression of the Cuban expatriots in Tampa. In Florida, the story centers on the cigar making industry, and its fight to unionize against the wishes of the factory owners and white society in general. I am probably making the book sound tamer than it really is. There are desperados, kidnappings, cane fields set afire, riots, arson, stabbings, strikes, mercy killings, and desperate treks through tropical jungles. Through it all, Salvador is a modern day Odysseus desiring nothing more than home and family as the world sets one sinister obstacle after another before him.

Before reading this book, I knew three facts about this era. I knew that the battleship Maine blew up in Havana harbor precipitating the Spanish American War, I knew that Teddy Roosevelt gained fame charging up San Juan Hill, and I knew that cigar makers used to have men read to them at work while they made their cigars.

This book fills in all the blanks. It details the Ten Years War for independence in Cuba before the Spanish American War allowing us to understand the bitterness of the Cubans against their Spanish overlords, it takes us into the mind set of Cuban immigrants learning to adapt and thrive in a sometimes hostile, sometimes merely uncaring United States, and it leads us deep into the conditions that brought on the very first attempts at unionizing industry. The book also tells of the lectors. The men who read to the cigar workers as they worked turning the workers into educated, motivated men despite their illiteracy, and inability to speak English.

At the center of it all, Salvador, a poor native Cuban and his wife Olympia, the daughter of Spanish landed gentry raise three sons and a daughter fighting poverty, and disease first in Havana and then in Tampa.
Salvador is the best drawn of all the characters. He is a poor Cuban peasant far wiser than he realizes. Olympia, a child of luxury, becomes his wife after she is driven from her family when they discover that she is pregnant. An insurgent raped her while she was being held for ransom. Together they form an unlikely family that moves to Florida to make better lives for themselves and their children repeating the journey that all our families have made.

What I enjoyed most about the book is Salvador’s family life. Like most families, they fight, disagree, quarrel, love and celebrate. We get beautiful glimpses of Cuban culture, and Cuban society. We learn of the common people who never lead charges, build skyscrapers, or become captains of industry, and yet are quietly heroic as they sacrifice for their families and their children’s future. The story here is about a Cuban American family, but in a real sense, it is about every immigrant family that dared to risk everything in the hope of making a better life.

The book is a little long. In some respects I wish it were two books. The first book devoted to how Salvador transitioned from peasant insurrectionist to cigar maker in Cuba, and the second book devoted to their life in Tampa’s Ybor City adapting to American ways and the changing cigar industry. I’d recommend it to anyone like myself who enjoys probing into the neglected corners of history, and to those who wish to understand Cuban expatriots in south Florida and their curious love/hate relationship with Cuba.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Featured Author - Tim Newark


What attracted you to write a book about the Highlander and their regiments?
It’s partly because of my family roots, but also all the fascinating stories you hear about them made me want to explore their history.

The book holds a wealth of information. Where did you find your resources and how long did the research take you?
I have studied Celtic warfare for twenty years. I visited all regimental archives, in Inverness, Aberdeen, and Stirling. I looked at personal diaries and letters. It took me six months for completing the research.

You use individual stories to show the bigger picture. What made you choose this structure?
I like showing the everyday life of a soldier. It helps debunking myths.

What is the key take away you want the reader to get from your book?
How the individual characters contributed to the legend and the big stories, how they transformed the Highlander’s image of rebels and bandits into heroes of the British Isles. Seeing the Highlanders’ successes, the English people embraced and respected their fighting spirit.

In fiction we like to travel to the place our stories take place. Do you visit locations of your book events, too?
Yes, of course, for instance Culloden. You have to be there to understand and to appreciate what had happened. Once you’ve tried to ran on the boggy ground of Culloden, you’ll understand how difficult it must have been for the Jacobites to advance.

Readers are always interested to get a glimpse of your personal life. What does your favourite work place look like?
It’s a desk surrounded by a lot of shelves of books, and stretcher to lie down and think. I love to be surrounded by books.

You prefer writing books about military subjects.
My interest is in history all together, medieval arts. I wrote a thesis about painted armour, so I’m not a typical armchair general. I’m more interested in the individual.

What is your next project?
It’s going to be about Irish soldiers fighting abroad.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Review of Highlander - The History of the Legendary Highland Soldier by Tim Newark

‘Highlander – The History of the Highland Soldier’ by Tim Newark is a non-fiction book that spans the history of the Highlander Regiments from the late 17th Century to now. It explores the individuals’ stories rather than presenting a bone-dry list of dates and accounts of casualties.

Over centuries, the fierce fighting spirit of the Highland soldier transformed the legend of the ‘wild savage’ of the North to a well respected member of the British Isles. The Gaelic culture of the clans was based on warring, loyalty, and honor in the Highlands and the Western Isles for a thousand years. In the early modern times, many Highlanders joined the first regiments patrolling the Highlands at first on private basis and later as standing armies. The journey of the Highland Regiments takes off when in mid-eighteenth century the Jacobites rose for their last time and subsequently were crushed on the boggy grounds of Culloden field. Young Highlanders were left with little choices to earn their living, and the only way of having a military career was by joining regiments. From then on, the Highlander Regiments stood their ground for Great Britain in many foreign countries, in Canada, in the USA, in India and many countries more. 

Tim Newark allows us a closer look what had happened on the battlefields by sharing the soldiers’ personal stories, derived from letters, diaries, and journals. It’s this human touch which makes the book despite of its blood-drenched battlegrounds readable and even enjoyable. The book debunks some myths and adds scantly known events to the time line. Admittedly, the reader should have an interest in military action and the history of the Highland regiments, but the wealth of personalized experiences makes the book recommendable and standing out from many other military history books. ‘Highlander – The History of the Highland Soldier’ is an excellent resource for all who want to learn more about the legendary soldier of the Highlands.

Monday, May 24, 2010

The Carnivore by Mark Sinnett

It is 2004, and Ray Townes, an ex-Toronto policeman is dying from emphysema. In his final days, he looks back on his not-so-perfect life. Dominating his regrets are his extra-marital affairs, although he suffers from a certain lack of remorse. He also feels he deserves everything his is willing to go out and grab for himself, which didn't endear him much to this reader.

This attitude alsorepared the ground for me to sympathise with the internal thoughts of his long-suffering wife, Mary, whose romantic, naive view of their married life changes as she comes to realise what kind of man she has married.

Included in the mix is Ray’s part in Hurricane Hazel which struck the city in 1954. His heroic actions to save lives hides a dark secret he kept during that time.

Mary was an emergency room nurse on the night of the hurricane. One patient sticks out, a woman brought in with hypothermia and semi-conscious. Through the woman’s ramblings, Mary uncovers the secrets of what really happened that night and which fuels her growing resentment of the man she believed to be perfect.

When a young, enthusiastic reporter comes calling to rehash Ray’s story for an anniversary article, Ray relives the motives for his actions on that night in 1954.

Mark Sinnett delves into the minds of Ray and Mary, whose thoughts intrude upon what they ought to feel about events in their married life. Mary harbours no illusions about Ray, and her unstinting devotion has changed over the years to a spiteful tolerance.

One aspect I found interesting was the historical aspect of the hours before Hazel struck. No one appeared to take the weather seriously – where drunks lobbed beer bottles onto the streets to watch them bob along in the water.

Ray pounded on doors and waded through rising waters in an attempt to get the locals to move to higher ground, not always successfully. I felt his anger, and then his frustration when he ended up trapped in a house with a family of five and had to bash his way out through the roof, almost becoming a victim himself.

Their daughter, Jenny, plays a minor part in the book. So minor she isn’t really worth mentioning. Mary’s views on her daughter’s lesbianism could have been handled without her silent shadow in the doorway.

This is less the story of a hurricane, more the way guilt, betrayal and resentment can poison a relationship until there is nothing left but a quiet, festering hate. The author portrays Ray’s slowly fermenting guilt and Mary’s sense of betrayal eloquently, together with her private, cruel revenge she longs to wreak on her now helpless husband - if she could.

This novel is deep and haunting, with clever cameos to illustrate a marriage that died in its early stages. However, don’t expect a happy ending. There is too much bad history for Ray and Mary to achieve that.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

The Sea and the Silence by Peter Cunningham

In the middle of the 20th century, Ireland is a country plagued by social/political unrest. Iz, a beautiful young woman, has moved to the town of Monument to carve a new life with her husband Ronnie, and small son, Hector. Ronnie works as an auctioneer of land, and as their marriage progresses, Iz discovers he has made several devastating business deals and has been unfaithful. As Hector comes of age, he leaves Monument and joins the army. Over time, Iz's once happy life and marriage, disintegrates until Iz finds herself alone.

The second half of the book sweeps the reader into Iz's life before she married Ronnie. It is here that we really come to know and understand her. Family pressures to save their familial lands forces Iz to betroth herself to a man she does not love. All the while, her heart belongs to Frank, a man deeply involved in political subterfuge. But meddling family and friends thwart all their attempts to be together.

What makes this novel unique is the unusual way the story unfolds. The author weaves this complex story in reverse order. We learn about Iz's later life first and early life later. Like gently peeling an onion, bit by bit, the story is revealed. Although a bit perplexing at first, I found this style of storytelling helped to build suspense as the story progressed. It wasn't until the second half of the book that this tale truly gains momentum.

It took a while to initially fall into the story because the writer used dashes instead of quotation marks for dialogue and often didn't break the dialogue with new paragraphs when different characters spoke. It made for a rough start and kept me from engaging with the story in its early stages, but once I became accustomed to it, I did settle into the story.

Readers who persevere into the second half of the story will find themselves rewarded with the revelation of many secrets and a deeper understanding of Iz and the turmoil in her life. Along the way, the reader will discover beautiful descriptions of Ireland, an understanding of the country's struggles, along with some lovely prose. The ending leaves the reader haunted because of its poignancy. A unique novel about a beautiful country that has faced many hardships throughout history.

The Bad Queen: Rules and Instructions for Marie-Antoinette by Carolyn Meyer

The Bad Queen: Rules and Instructions for Marie-Antoinette by Carolyn Meyer

In the 18th Century, Archduchess Maria Antonia Josepha Johanna von Habsburg-Lothringen (Antoinia) is the youngest daughter of the formidable Empress Maria Theresa of Austria. Strict, politically astute, and demanding, the Empress seeks to arrange the most beneficial marriage for her youngest daughter. At the age of 12, on the brink of entering womanhood, Antonia is promised to Louis-Auguste, Dauphin of France, son of King Louis XV. In preparation for the wedding, the Empress subjects Antonia to intense training, which included painful operations to straighten her teeth, lessons in French and etiquette, dancing, and fittings for a most elaborate wardrobe.

On May 7, 1770, Antonia was officially handed over to France to marry the Dauphin, leaving behind all that she knew of her life and relinquishing her Austrian heritage. Maria Antonia is transformed to Marie Antoinette. She is wed by proxy to her new husband and is brought to the court of Versailles where everything is new and strange. Court etiquette is so cumbersome, its rules so intricate and smothering, that she finds herself immediately unhappy, restrained beyond her imaginations. To make matters worse, she soon learns of her unpopularity with the French who dub her “Autrichienne” (The Austrian bitch).

Although a friendship blooms between her and her new husband, lovemaking does not occur and Marie-Antoinette soon faces additional pressures to produce an heir. Seven years after their marriage, she delivers a daughter. Thereafter, several more children including two male heirs.

After several years, her frustration with court life reaches a crescendo and she decides to shun the stifling rules of the court and indulges herself. She orders elaborate new gowns and creates a towering new hair style. Amidst numerous parties, she learns to ride horses and wears breeches to do so. She even commissions the creation of an entire farm village complete with servants and architectural structures. Her spending knows no bounds. And all the while, the French people grow poorer, hungrier, and angrier.

This is the first novel I’ve ready by Carol Meyer, but it won’t be the last. It was one of the best novels of Marie Antoinette I’ve encountered. Although it is considered a Young Adult novel, it transcends all demographics and will appeal to adults too.

To research this novel, Carolyn Meyer travelled to Marie Antoinette’s homes in Austria and France. She walked the hallways of the castles and gardens to obtain the essence and a deep understanding of this fascinating woman of history. The result – a credible, profound story told in first person narrative that portrays Marie Antoinette’s life in a credible, larger than life way. The novel covers her life from her early youth to the day of her death. Her portrayal of this tragic queen who was so young and naive and ill prepared for the intrigues of the court is truly poignant and beautiful. A must read for women of all ages!

The Keeper's Gift by Richard Bowers

In the early 20th century, Uley Bauer is a young man of great promise, but luck works against him, and he soon finds himself embarking on a journey, driven by wanderlust and the need to find himself.  Drawn to California, along with his friend, Russell, they set off on a journey towards their separate destinies.

Uley's travels takes him to small towns and busy mining camps. Along the way, they gather friends and make enemies. They meet ruthless enemies who would steal the clothes off their backs and meet colorful characters who will forever change their lives. In the rough and tumble world of California in the early 20th century, Uley is tested, and through trial and error, he forges a new life, enters manhood, and discovers himself.

The Keeper’s Gift is a sweeping novel of 458 pages. Richard Bowers weaves true stories of his home town in Sedalia Missouri with actual California history to recount this epic tale. The novel is written in first person narrative in Uley’s own voice and is pleasing and easy to follow.  I did encounter some spelling/typos in the book, but they were easily overlooked in order to focus on the richness of the story.  The author writes in great detail, painting colorful images and showing readers the era with vivid descriptions. It is a “journey” and "character" driven novel, deep with meaning, as the main character travels from one locale to another to his destination. If you like adventure stories of this era , then this novel is sure to please.

Friday, May 21, 2010

The Pendant - The Winner is...

This week we had the honor to feature Mirella Patzer and her novel The Pendant. We hope you enjoyed reading about Mirella and her novel as much as Idid.

We also have a winner in our contest:



An email will be sent to her.

See you next time, and this is the Historical Novel Review Show.

All the Best

Helena

Contest Winner - The Pendant by Mirella Patzer




The contest is now officially closed!
A big thank you to everyone who stopped by to read and learn more about me and my novel. Contests like this are never easy to judge. There can only be one official winner, so my heartfelt congratulations go out to Dara.

But you're all winners. Everyone who took the time to enter will win a free PDF of the book.

I'll be contacting each of you shortly.

If you are "SHE", please leave a comment on this blog with an email address for me to contact you.

A big thank you to Helena Gowan who so kindly read and reviewed my book and hosted me!  

I hope you all enjoy the book. And if you like it, I would be honored if you would tell two friends about it!

Thanks again and have a wonderful weekend. 


Warm Regards
Mirella Patzer

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Interview with Mirella Patzer

Helena, thanks very much for taking the time to host me. It’s always a great honor to talk about my work.

I’ve read on your bio that you have Italian roots. Did they inspire you to write this book?
Yes, my Italian roots most definitely inspire my reading and my writing. I have many aunts, uncles, and cousins in Italy and have visited there many times. The culture is in my blood and Italy’s history is fascinating from ancient Rome to the rise and fall of the Medici family and everything in between.

What made you choose this time frame (1270 AD)?
I love stories set in medieval times. I had a lot of research set during this time and was comfortable in this era. Also, the castle of Portovenere which is at the center of my story was built around this time, so to keep things simple, I chose that time period.

Is it easier for you to slip into the hero’s role or into the heroine’s?
Gender differences are very interesting but complex, so it’s easier for me to portray a woman’s point of view rather than a man’s point of view. I have some wonderful male critique partners that often help me get further into a hero’s head and help me accurately write their inner thoughts. I think it’s critical to have input from both sexes when writing.

Count Ernesto is such a hateful villain. Often readers want to know whether you draw the characters by using real life examples. Where do you get your ideas about characters?
I love books with really bad villains. I worked as a civilian manager for a local police service for twenty-eight years. During that time, I learned of many heinous crimes. Afterwards, I often wondered what kind of person would do such things? So, although Ernesto is not based on any person in particular, he is based upon some of the worst villains from true life and movies that I’ve heard about.

How long did it take you to write this book from the first ideas to the final proof for publishing? Would you mind share a bit from the book’s journey?
I’ve been writing a biographical novel about a medieval queen for several years now. I’ve done a great deal of research and completed the first of two books. Having been mired in so much research and striving to relate the true history as accurately as possible doesn’t leave much for creativity. Sometimes, I wanted to let my characters go and do things that entered my imagination, but couldn’t in a biographical novel. So I needed a bit of a break from all that serious stuff. Hence, I came up with the plot for The Pendant which allowed me complete freedom. It isn’t based on any real persons or circumstances. It was great fun allowing my characters free rein.

What was your biggest learning experience from writing this book?
I learned that writing a romance novel is a lot harder than it seems. There is a fine balance between telling a good tale and mixing it with a lot of sexual tension and love. Biographical and mainstream historical stories is where I am most comfortable. So I tip my hat to all those romance authors out there who have mastered this genre. They have my admiration.

Last not least, what are your next projects?
I have several projects in the works. I am currently focusing on The Blighted Troth of Emilie Basseaux, an 18th century tale based upon the Italian classic novel, The Betrothed, by Alessandro Manzoni. I’ve changed the setting to New France (Quebec) in 1702 and modified and enhanced the story. This novel is 70% complete or 10 chapters away from completion.

After The Blighted Troth, I’ll likely complete Orphan of the Olive Tree, which is more than 50% complete. This is a tale of Tuscany in the 13th century.

Finally, I’ll return to The First Queen, which is about Mechthild of Ringleheim, the first Queen of Germany and complete her story.

For more details on my projects and progress, I encourage readers to check out my website at: www.mirellapatzer.com.

Thank you very much for taking the time to read The Pendant and for interviewing me, Helena. It’s been wonderful working with you.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

The Pendant - Review


“The Pendant” by Mirella Patzer takes the reader to medieval Italy and right into a tale of deception, murder, and love. It is 1270, and dashing Amoro promises his father, the Duke of Genoa, on his deathbed to wed Contessa Morena, the daughter of his archenemy, in order to end the feud between their families.
Amoro takes on the challenge and travels to the castle of his enemies. What he doesn’t know is that Morena is betrothed to Count Ernesto since her childhood days. Proud and strong, Morena is not willing to give easily into Amoro’s wooing, although she discovers feelings for him. Desperately, she waits for her father’s return, but to no avail. Unbeknownst to her, Morena’s father had wanted to undo the betrothal contract, because he had found out about the true nature of Ernesto’s greedy heart. Helped by a disappointed previous lover of Amoro, Ernesto abducts Morena to force her into marriage, and Amoro comes to the rescue, but it will be Morena who will have their fates in her hand.

“The Pendant” is historical romantic Fantasy as its finest and settings and characters feel authentic and real. The book offers a journey to temperamental Italy where the word ‘vendetta’ still has a meaning today. Romance is the driver of the plot, the lovers are in peril by the intrigues of a villain and by rejected love. Readers who like straight forward romance with a touch of erotic and adventure will enjoy this book as much as I did.

Monday, May 17, 2010

The Pendant Contest!

This week we will feature Mirella Patzer and her book "The Pendant". You will have a chance to win a copy of the book. 


In order to win, answer those three questions below. Post them as a comment under any of this week's blog articles. Have fun exploring Mirella's website : 


Mirella's website

In which country does Mirella live?
What book or history related blog does Mirella feature?
What was the title of her first short story?
Tell us why you want to read Mirella's book!

I hope you enjoy this week's author and her book as much as I did!

Helena Gowan

Sunday, May 16, 2010

A Woman of Influence by Rebecca Ann Collins

A Woman of Influence, is the ninth book in the The Pemberley Chronicles, a continuation of the story of the Darcy, Bingley, Lucas, and Gardiner families who began their story in Jane Austen’s Pride & Prejudice. The chronicles tell the stories of the marriages of their children and grandchildren. Though I felt sorry for poor Mary Bennett, who for some unexplained reason was left out.

Rebecca Ann Collin's latest novel is about the middle years of Becky Collins, the younger daughter of Charlotte Lucas’ and Mr Collins. When Becky was young, she fell in love with Jonathan Bingley, the son of Jane Bennett and Mr Charles Bingley, only to be left heartbroken when he married her sister, Amelia-Jane, and again when he took as his second wife, Becky’s cousin, Anna.

Becky married a man she didn’t love out of hurt pride, but the marriage was not a success and they separated. The story begins soon after her husband’s death, when Becky is a relatively new widow and against her domineering son’s selfish wishes, sells her London house and buys a place of her own in Kent.

Dedicated to good works and an independent life, Becky sets about looking for deserving lame ducks to help and finds two sleeping in a barn in the form of a young woman, Alice and her son, Tom. When she hears this waif’s story of injustice and betrayal resulting in the imprisonment of her husband, Becky is determined to obtain a pardon for the young man.

The means by which she does this, apart from a visit to Alice's employer, is to write letters and eagerly await the replies. When the longed-for pardon does come, its arrival and delivery to the grateful Alice, comes as an anticlimax, because there was never any doubt one would be granted.

Becky spends an inordinate time mooning over Jonathan Bingley, until an Italian gentleman from the past with whom she established more than a passing fondness - another man she loved and lost - comes back into her life. This event gave me something to hope for, in that Becky would finally find happiness after her unfortunate history with the men in her life.

In order to keep the reader updated, the author alludes to tragedy and loss in the past for the Darcy and Bingley children, however I found everyone was a bit too perfect, devoted, kind, and loving. When the characters spoke about each other, or came together, there was nothing but kisses and delight. No dark secrets, angst or bad feeling emerged that might have lent some interest to a pedestrian story. Even the fact Becky lost her true love to her sister is mentioned with restrained emotion and understanding rather than as the cause of sibling resentment it might have.

Elizabeth and Fitzwilliam Darcy do not feature in this book – which may be because the timeline puts them in their seventies at this stage. The style of writing is reminiscent of Jane Austen, in that it is an account given by an omniscient narrator who occasionally dips into a conversation or someone's thoughts.

There is the odd gem, for instance at the opera, Jonathan Bingley remarks that, ‘..a lady’s knowledge of the opera is usually in inverse proportion to the value of the gems she wears to the performance.’ Instead of a sharp Lizzy Bennett response, all he gets back is a light protest and a hope that Becky and Anna aren’t wearing too many jewels.

This narrative lacks Austen’s nuances of language, her exquisite humour, and her insight into her characters that give colour and life to a story of genteel folk going about their generally uninteresting lives. I also saw the characters move through Regency settings because there was little to remind me we were in Victorian England apart from the occasional mention of trains.

I found Becky rather uninteresting, and although independent, she was not at all unconventional in any way that drew criticism. However, for those who have read the other books in the series, it may be the culmination of a family saga which ties up loose ends. The story is gentle and with no real high and lows, but a slow and steady progression to a satisfying end for Becky.

The Last Rendezvous by Anne Plantagenet

“Women are not supposed to write; yet I write.” –Marceline Desbordes-Valmore

The Last Rendezvous by Anne Plantagenet is the fictionalized biography of Marceline Desbordes-Valmore, a renowned French poet and actress. The story takes place in early 19th century France in an era where women writers were greatly discouraged.

At the end of the French Revolution, Marceline’s father, a painter of heralds and crests, finds himself without work. When he seeks solace in drink, Marceline’s mother takes Marceline and leaves the family. Together, they travel through France until they board a ship for the Carribbean in search of a wealthy relative. But upon their arrival they learn the relative is dead and soon thereafter, Marceline’s mother contracts yellow fever and dies. Marceline is forced to find her own way back home to France. When she arrives, she finds work as an actress and establishes herself in theatre. Because her true passion is writing, Marceline finds the time to pen her poetry.

The Last Rendezvous is the tale of Marceline’s struggles to escape the tragedies of her life in a never-ending search for happiness and fulfillment. Her life is not easy. Through marriage and illicit affairs with lovers, she manages to bear several children, but her heart breaks when death takes them in childhood. Only one child outlived her. Financial turmoil, frequent infidelities, and constant travel throughout France and Italy brings many challenges to her life. Although her acting career is successful, she struggles for recognition with her poetry. Soon, her written words become popular and volumes of her work were not only published, but selling well, even to this day.

Anne Plantagenet’s expressive, lyrical writing pays homage to the story of the fascinating Marceline Desbordes-Valmore. Cleverly told through flashbacks, the life and loves of this fascinating woman are slowly, but poignantly portrayed. Several of Marceline’s poems are included at the end of the novel, providing a compelling closure to this beautifully woven tale.



Gold Fever by Vicki Delany

Gold Fever by Vicki Delany is the second book in a series about the 19th century gold-rush in the Yukon. She once again brings to life the harsh realities of that magical era where men and women rushed northward, desperate to find gold and become rich.

Fiona MacGillivray returns as the gutsy heroine, who after fleeing England and Toronto, finds herself in the Yukon as the owner of a successful dance hall and saloon named The Savoy. In a rough and tumble world, her grit, determination, and savvy not only help her survive in such a brutal environment, but also gives her the means to support her young twelve year old son, Angus, comfortably.

A colourful caste of characters decorate the pages of this who-dunnit. Young Angus risks his own life to save a suicidal native woman fleeing from a life of prostitution. This innocent act of good will sets off an interesting chain of events. With nowhere else to go, and feeling somewhat responsible for the woman, Angus brings her home to Fiona who helps her find meaningful work to keep her from being drawn back into whoring.

This draws the attention of the woman’s Madame, eager to get the prostitute back to work. Shortly thereafter, two murders happen in Dawson and Angus is slowly drawn into trouble. Ever the protective mother, Fiona seeks to save him with the aid of a journalist and Constable Richard Sterling who is Angus’ mentor and Fiona’s would-be suitor.

Vicki Delany has a knack for detail and realism. The colors, smells, dreams, filth, and toughness of the Klondike evoke the memories of an era long past, but one that is important in Canadian history. Gold Fever is a highly entertaining mystery that glows with realism and kept me turning the pages. A fine book, true to the times it depicts.

Although Gold Digger is the first book in this series, it isn't necessary to read the novels in chronological order.


Saturday, May 15, 2010

Contest Winner of Under Heaven


This week was a huge privilege and thrill for me. Not many people get to interview a favorite author, and I'm so thankful to Mr. Kay for the opportunity.

Now, what you've all been waiting for...



the winner is ...



Cassie!

Cassie, I've already sent you a message via your contest posting. If you'll please email me your address, I'll make sure you receive your copy of this marvelous book.

Until next time, zai jian. :)

Friday, May 14, 2010

An Excerpt From Under Heaven





The following passage occurs beside a lake where the hero, Shen Tai has buried war dead for two years. My sole difficulty in sharing it with you was deciding where to stop, as my eyes and heart wanted to continue reading.

That's a problem inherent to the novel.




Betrayal

His instincts had been dulled by solitude, two years away from anything remotely like blades pointed towards him. Keeping an eye out for wolves or mountain cats, making sure the goats were pinned at night, did nothing to make you ready to deal with an assassin.

But he'd felt something wrong about the guard even as Yan had ridden up with her. He couldn't have said what that feeling was; it was normal, prudent, for a traveller to arrange protection, and Yan was sufficiently unused to journeying (and had enough family wealth) to have gone all the way to hiring a Kanlin, even if he'd only intended to go west a little and then down towards the Wai.

That wasn't it. It had been something in her eyes and posture, Tai decided, staring at the swords. Both were towards him, in fact, not at Yan: she would know which one of them was a danger.

Riding up, reining her horse before the cabin door, she ought not to have seemed quite so alert, staring at him. She had been hired to get a man somewhere, and they'd come to that place. A task done, or the outbound stage of it. Payment partly earned. But her glance at Tai had been appraising, as much as anything else.

The sort of look you gave a man you expected to fight.

Or simply kill, since Tai's own swords were where they always were, against the wall, and there was no hope of notching arrow to bowstring before she cut him in two.

Everyone knew what Kanlin blades in Kanlin hands could do.

Yan's face had gone pale with horror. His mouth gaped, fish-like. Poor man. The drawn sword of betrayal was not a part of the world he knew. He'd done something immensely courageous coming here, had reached beyond himself in the name of friendship ... and found only this for reward. Tai wondered what his tidings were, what had caused him to do this. He might never know, he realized.

That angered and disturbed him, equally. He said, setting the world in motion again, "I must assume I am your named target. That my friend knows nothing of why you really came here. There is no need for him to die."

"But there is," she said softly. Her eyes stayed on him, weighing every movement he made, or might make.

"What? Because he'll name you? You think it will not be known who killed me when they come here from Iron Gate? You will have been recorded when you arrived at the fortress. What can he add to that?"

The swords did not waver. She smiled thinly. A beautiful, cold face. Like the lake, Tai thought, death within it.

"Not that," she said. "He insulted me, with his eyes. On the journey."

"He saw you as a woman? That would have taken some effort," Tai said deliberately.

"Have a care," she said.

"Why? Or you'll kill me?" Anger within him more than anything now. He was a man helped by rage, though, steered towards thoughts, decisiveness. He was trying to see what it did to her. "The Kanlin are taught proportion and restraint. In movement, in deeds. You would kill a man because he admired your face and body? A disgrace to your mentors on the mountain, if so."

"You will tell me what Kanlin teachings are?"

"If I must," Tai said coolly. "Are you going to do this with honour, and allow me my swords?"

She shook her head. His heart sank. "I would prefer that, but my instructions were precise. I was not to allow you to fight me when we came here. This is not to be a combat." A hint of regret, some explanation for the appraising look: Who is this one? What sort of man, that she was told to fear him?

Tai registered something else, however. "When you came here? You knew I was at Kuala Nor? Not at home? How?"

She said nothing. Had made an error, he realized. Not that it was likely to matter. He needed to keep talking. Silence would be death, he was certain of it. "They thought I would kill you, if we fought. Who decided this? Who is protecting you from me?"

"You are very sure of yourself," the assassin murmured.

He had a thought. A poor one, almost hopeless, but nothing better seemed to be arriving in the swirling of these moments.

"I am sure only of the uncertainty of life," he said. "If I am to end here by Kuala Nor and you will not fight me, will you kill me outside? I would offer my last prayer to the water and sky and lie among those I have been burying. It is not a great request."

"No," she said, and he didn't know what she meant, until she added, "It is not." She paused. It would be wrong to call it a hesitation. "I would have fought you, had my orders not been precise."

Orders. Precise orders. Who would do that? He needed to shape time, create it, find some way to his swords. The earlier thought really was a useless one, he decided.

He had to make her move, shift her footing, look away from him.

"Yan, who suggested you hire a Kanlin?"

"Silence!" the woman snapped, before Chou Yan could speak.

"Does it matter?" Tai said. "You are about to kill us without a fight, like a frightened child who fears her lack of skill." It was possible─just─that goaded enough she might make another mistake.

His sheathed blades were behind the assassin, by his writing table. The room was small, the distance trivial─unless you wanted to be alive when you reached them.

"No. Like a Warrior accepting orders given," the woman amended calmly.

She seemed serene again, as if his taunting had, instead of provoking, imposed a remembrance of discipline. Tai knew how that could happen. It didn't help him.

"It was Xin Lun who suggested it to me," Yan said bravely.

Tai heard the words, saw the woman's hard eyes, knew what was coming. He cried a warning.

Yan took her right-hand sword, a backhanded stroke, in his side, angled upwards to cut between ribs.

The slash-and-withdraw was precise, elegant, her wrist flexed, the blade swiftly returned─to be levelled towards where Tai had been. No time seeming to have passed: time held and controlled. The Kanlin were taught that way.

As it happened, he knew this, and time had passed, time that could be used. Timelessness was an illusion, and he wasn't where he'd been before.

His heart crying, knowing there was nothing he could have done to stop that stroke, he had leaped towards the doorway even as she'd turned to Yan─to kill him for speaking a name.

Tai screamed again, fury more than fear, though he expected to die now, himself.

A hundred thousand dead here, and two more.

He ignored his sheathed swords, they were too far. He whipped out the open door and to his right, towards the firewood by the goat pen. He had leaned his shovel on that wall. A gravedigger's shovel against two Kanlin swords. He got there. Claimed it, wheeled to face her.

The woman was running behind him. And then she wasn't.

Because the faint, foolish, desperate idea he'd had before entered into the sunlit world, became real.

The wind that rose in that moment conjured itself out of nothing at all, without warning. From within a spring afternoon's placidity, a terrifying force erupted.

There came a screaming sound: high, fierce, unnatural.

Not his voice, not the woman's, not anyone actually alive.

The wind didn't ruffle the meadow grass at all, or stir the pine trees. It didn't move the waters of the lake. It didn't touch Tai, though he heard what howled within it.

The wind poured around him, curving to either side like a pair of bows, as he faced the woman. It took the assassin bodily, lifted her and hurled her through the air as if she were a twig, a child's kite, an uprooted flower stalk in a gale. She was slammed against the wall of his cabin, pinned, unable to move.

It was as if she were nailed to the wood. Her eyes were wide with horror. She was trying to scream, her mouth was open, but whatever was blasting her, claiming her, didn't allow that either.

One sword was still in her hand, flattened against the cabin. The other had been ripped from her grasp. She had been lifted clear off the ground, he saw, her feet were dangling in air. She was suspended, hair and clothing splayed against the dark wood of the cabin wall.

The illusion, again, of a moment outside of time.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

An Interview With Guy Gavriel Kay


I'd like to thank Mr. Kay for this opportunity to chat about your latest novel, “Under Heaven.”

1. This is your first foray away from Europe and a Christianity-based world and out of all of China’s massive history, you chose the Tang Dynasty during the An-Lushan rebellion (circa 763) as your focus. Why did you choose this time and place?

I truly never know what a next book will be when I finish one. I am wide open at that time. With The Sarantine Mosaic, I ended up researching that world because three reviews of Lions of Al-Rassan (the previous book) made reference to my 'Byzantine' characters and plotting … so I took it as a 'sign' to learn more about Byzantium! As I said … wide open.

With Under Heaven, I originally approached it with an idea for a 'Silk Road book' but gradually as I read, and corresponded with people, the Tang period began to impose itself on me - the combination of high drama, brilliant figures, flux and chaos, dazzling wealth, and themes that 'worked' for me made it ultimately feel like a place I'd want to spend three years. One academic I know wrote me after, 'I always knew you would do the Tang.' I wrote back, 'I'm glad at least one of us did.'


2. Were there any other times in China’s history that appealed to you and do you plan on visiting them?

Absolutely: there were and are other deeply compelling periods. This is a history over two millennia with overwhelming richness for a writer. But as to visiting in the future: see previous answer. I truly never know.

3. Language barriers must have been a challenge when conducting research. What other challenges did you face writing “Under Heaven” that were unique to this book?

Interesting query. Every book has its own issues that confront me, from trying to make sure the names aren't daunting to looking for legitimate ways to explore the role and scope of women (something I am always engaged by). Language tends not to be a serious barrier, given how much scholarship is available in English. It did enter as I tried (very hard) to come to terms with the staggering achievement that is Tang Dynasty poetry … but so many translators and scholars have felt the same fascination that I did have guides and signposts there.

4. Charles DeLint said in a recent book review in “Fantasy and Science Fiction” that, “The quirkier, and often more interesting books—which are usually the ones with an actual sense of wonder—don't have the sweep, violence, and action that appears to have become the primary requirement for the genre.”

This put me in mind of a comment you made in a Goodreads.com thread. You mentioned how much you liked George Seferis’s work and that his power as a writer was refined in the crucible of World War II. That sort of refinement takes place in characters as well and made me realize, you rarely write your characters into the center - the action and violence - of warfare. They may fight: the end of “Tigana,” the battle scene in Fionavar, the fight at the end of “Lions of Al-Rassan,” but many of those episodes ended in a man-to-man combat challenge or much of the close-up fighting was put at a distance from the reader. Their development takes place before and after the battles and the conflicts you depict are carried out within the lives of the characters. I assume you made that choice deliberately, but why did you choose that route?

Another interesting question, you may force me to write an essay here! I'll try not to. I think what engages us creatively needs to shift, evolve, or we become (by definition) static artistically. I actually have done my share of 'warfare' scenes or battles, small and large scale, because this is simply a part of addressing history. But sometimes I do (as you note) like to play against that, offer scenes and themes that come off to the side of those battles. In The Sarantine Mosaic, for example, I was exploring the mood in a time and place that carried the expectation of warfare (based on Justinian's actual invasion of Italy). I shaped that book to challenge or explore our expectations of history, invite consideration of other possibilities. I did this in A Song for Arbonne as well, with the Albigensian Crusade.

In Under Heaven I'm doing something different with historical reality and the 'usual' approaches of fiction, but I don't want to discuss it too much because I hate spoilers as much as I'm sure you do!


5. You’ve used a central world idea many times in the past, but I don’t think I recall seeing it this time around. Did you feel it didn’t fit with the culture or was there a different reason behind your departure from that philosophy?

Partly, didn't want the motif (two moons, etc.) to become expected, or an obstacle to different nuances. I didn't want to be locked into something, in other words. For this book, as it happened, one secondary character, inspired by a real poet, had an intense (real world) identification with the moon in his life and art … and I thought off the top I'd use that to steer me away from the pattern of the previous few books. So that small element guided me to a different creative space.

6. I understand you prefer to write historical fantasies instead of claiming your novels contain the thoughts and feelings of a person who lived and breathed, but what was the impetus for the initial decision to do historical fantasy? Why “Tigana” after “The Fionavar Tapestry” and then “A Song For Arbonne?”

This one invites another speech - you are leading me into temptation! The short-short answer is I didn't want to write what I called a 'four volume trilogy' after finishing Fionavar. Those three books felt like what I had to say in that vein, and though it is often easier (and commercially wiser!) to repeat, I didn't want to do it. The segue towards Tigana and then even further to history with Arbonne wasn't formally planned or thought out (be wary of writers who claim all was premeditated when they look back!) … it grew organically, and I came to realize I had found a literary 'space' that suited me creatively and ethically.

7. You’ve written eleven novels of historical fantasy (and one book of poetry) and I’m curious if you’ve ever considered a different or additional genre? For instance, an historical mystery with or without fantastical elements.

Of course I have. One considers almost everything at some point or another (often when dodging the burden of getting back to a difficult chapter!). I may yet surface with a book of seafood recipes for you. Or a baseball novel. I'd enjoy that.

For more information on Mr. Kay's books and a wonderful forum where the author has candid discussions with fans, go to http://www.brightweavings.com/.

Finally, Mr. Kay was so generous with his responses, the remaining portion of this interview is posted on Victoria Dixon's blog.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

"Under Heaven" by Guy Gavriel Kay

To honor his deceased father, a general who led imperial forces in their last great war, Shen Tai has spent two years alone at a battle site by a mountain lake, burying the dead. At night he can hear the ghosts moan and stir. When a voice falls silent he knows that a ghost has been laid to rest.

One morning he learns that his vigil has been noticed at the highest level: the court of their one-time enemy is pleased to bestow on him two hundred and fifty coveted western horses. The Heavenly Horses are an overwhelming gift. They exalt Tai, and could bring him great power – or have him killed before he ever leaves the mountains, let alone reaches the imperial city.

Before he leaves the lake, he is threatened and a friend, murdered. Then things get more difficult as Tai hires a female body guard who annoys and attracts him, is tempted and threatened by local magistrates and entwines himself in an Empire-shaking rebellion. “Under Heaven” is the story of Tai’s journey home to his former life and all the unrest entailed there; it is a tale filled with love, loyalty and secret machinations.

The novel is set in an alternative world’s version of the Tang Dynasty during the An Lushan Rebellion (circa 755-763 A.D.) and is Kay’s first foray beyond a European setting. He does a memorable job. There are no jarring moments of modernism or western thought. He did a few atypical things, including a list of names due to the wide cast of characters. He also draws out the ending more than his norm, using it to tie up the various characters’ stories and leaving little ambiguity to the novel’s conclusion. This book has all of the characters and lovely language of a typical Kay novel, but strikes a balance between the plot’s strengths and Kay’s characterizations. Although he’s had stronger characters in previous novels, the denizens of Kitai were real individuals whom I cared for, identified with and plan on re-visiting soon.

For instance, the following extraordinary moment of characterization evokes young love, and the creation of life-long friendships within five sentences:

She shook her golden hair and gave him a look he knew well by then. I am enamoured of an idiot who will never amount to anything was, more or less, the import of the glance.

Tai found it amusing, sometimes said so. She found his saying so a cause of more extreme irritation. This, too, amused him, and she knew it.

For a moment after reading that passage, I flashed back to college. My (future) husband said something intended to exasperate and I responded with this exact look, or perhaps with a comment designed to make him laugh. Remembering that, I became Tai’s lover in this scene. That’s where Kay’s greatest skill lies; he doesn’t write fiction. He writes about us. Throughout his novels, Guy Gavriel Kay enlarges our foibles, failings, successes and courage into an enormous ongoing scene – a tapestry we love examining to find where he put us this time.

A fan asked me recently, “Am I going to hate him for being so good? Am I going to be inspired?” My response: “Was there ever any doubt?”

At the first viewing, one is dazzled by the audacity and beauty of “Under Heaven,” but like so many works of great art, it cannot be consumed in one sitting or in one reading. The reader will need to view it many times before appreciating the depth of craftsmanship. I expect to find the book grows in power upon a second and third reading.

“Under Heaven” is an adult novel, but is accessible to mature young adult readers. It was released April 27th by Roc.

Victoria Dixon writes book reviews and writer advice columns at http://ronempress.blogspot.com.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Under Heaven


To Honor his deceased father, a general who led imperial forces in their last great war, Shen Tai has spent two years alone at a battle site by a mountain lake, burying the dead. At night he can hear the ghosts moan and stir. When a voice falls silent he knows that a ghost has been laid to rest.

One morning he learns that his vigil has been noticed at the highest level: the court of their one-time enemy is pleased to bestow on him two hundred and fifty coveted western horses. The Heavenly Horses are an overwhelming gift. They exalt Tai, and could bring him great power─or have him killed before he ever leaves the mountains, let alone reaches the imperial city.

"Entrancing." ─Publishers Weekly
"Profound." ─Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction
"Brilliant." ─Locus
"Classic." ─Science Fiction Weekly

Monday, May 10, 2010

Contest and Giveaway Announcement: Under Heaven





All this week we'll feature Guy Gavriel Kay's latest novel, "Under Heaven." At the end of the week, we'll give away a free copy to our contest winner.

To win, blog about this giveaway, post it on your Facebook page, or tweet it on Twitter. Leave a comment with a link to your post or your twitter user name. This is a  separate contest to the one posted at Victoria Dixon's site, so you have two chances!

Good luck!

Friday, May 7, 2010

Featured Author Jennifer Hudson Taylor

Thank you for joining me on the Historical Novel Review Blog, Jennifer.

I’m glad to be here, Anita. Thank you for having me!

1. How long have you been writing historical fiction, and what makes you want to portray the past in the written word?


I started writing my first historical novel when I was 12—so that would be 26 years. History fascinates me. I love trying to imagine what it was like to live in different time periods, what my ancestors must have gone through and how neat it would be to travel back in time. I think it’s fun to bring history back to life.

2. For our readers who are unfamiliar with the concept, what makes an Inspirational Writer differ from any other Historical Fiction Author?
There is usually an element of faith in the story. The main purpose is not necessarily for the characters to find salvation—although they can—but to show how real people wrestle with trials, tribulations, temptation, the consequences of giving into temptation, and basic conflict. Through overcoming and surviving, their faith becomes stronger, they may have learned new things about themselves, their inner strength, or about their beliefs and God.

3. What specifically made you want to set your story in the Medieval Scottish Highlands with its mixture of Pagan and Roman Catholic beliefs?

I wasn’t thinking about religion when I first wrote my debut novel. It didn’t begin as an inspirational historical romance—that’s what it became. It began as Promised Betrayal, a secular romance novel set in medieval Scotland for the pure romanticism of the time and place. While I’ve been a Christian since childhood, I didn’t always want to write Christian fiction. I ran from the idea—much like the biblical prophet, Jonas.

4. Did your heroine, Akira, come entirely from your imagination, or is she based on a true character in history?

Akira MacKenzie is pure imagination, but I think she has my Scots-Irish temper.

5. What other historical fiction writers do you admire, and did any inspire your own work?

Too many to name. Although I will say that I really discovered inspirational fiction when I found Kathleen Morgan’s Scottish medieval, Embrace the Dawn, while browsing in Borders. At the beginning, the heroine is abused by her husband and she kills him trying to defend herself and her young son. The hero saves her. I remember thinking to myself, “I didn’t think something like that would be allowed in Christian fiction.” I bought the book, right then and there. I went home and began revising my novel that became Highland Blessings.

6. Every author works in a different way – would you share with us how you approach writing a novel? The way you set out the plot, your workplace, anything that contributes to the process.


Highland Blessings was written as I went. The novels I write now are outlined and plotted. I begin with a working title, a plot paragraph, and then I write a character sketch of all the main characters. I add sub-characters as needed. Then I write an outline, a couple of sentences for each scene. I do some basic research, print things I think I’m going to need, and create a research folder for that novel. From there I write a 3-4 page synopsis and then I write the first draft of the book.

7. After doing a bit of web browsing, I discovered that Inspirational Romance is experiencing a surge in popularity. What would you attribute this to?

I think there are a lot of people out there who believe in God, they have a desire to know more about the truth, but they don’t want to be preached to when they sit down to read for entertainment. Yet they don’t mind a good story with a moral, something that will inspire them to think positive, or make them ponder tough issues. Even when I read a secular romance, I skip over all the graphic sex. I’m more interested in the emotional heartbeat of the romance, the sensuality over the sex, the attraction over the detail, the love over the lust. I think there is a huge market out there who feels this way and as publishers began publishing other alternatives, people tried it and many liked it.

8. What is your current work in progress?

Highland Sanctuary, the sequel to Highland Blessings. It is set in Caithness, Scotland in 1477. Gavin MacKenzie is hired to restore the ancient Castle of Braigh. He discovers a hidden village of outcasts that have created their own private sanctuary from the world. Among them is Serena Boyd, a mysterious and comely lass who captures Gavin’s heart. The villagers have an intriguing secret, while Serena harbors a deadly past that could destroy her future. When a fierce enemy launches an attack against them, greed leads to bitter betrayal. As Gavin prepares a defense, the villagers unite in a bold act of faith, showing how God’s love is more powerful than any human force on earth.

9. Where can readers find more information about you and your books?


Website: www.jenniferhudsontaylor.com
Writing Blog: http://jenniferswriting.blogspot.com/
Carolina Scots-Irish Blog: http://carolinascots-irish.blogspot.com/
Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/pages/Author-Jennifer-Hudson-Taylor/334126764915
Twitter: http://www.twitter/jt4novels

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


My novels tend to have complex plots that contain a thread of romance, faith, mystery and/or suspense. I like several historical time periods and so I’m also working on some Regencies, an Irish historical, and some Carolina historicals.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Highland Blessings by Jennifer Hudson Taylor

The story opens with the death of Bryce MacPhearson’s father in the Highlands of Scotland of 1473, who entreats his son to make him a promise that he hopes will end a half century of feuding between his clan and the MacKenzies.

In an effort to carry out his vow, warrior Bryce kidnaps Akira MacKenzie on her wedding day with the intention of marrying her to his reluctant elder brother, Evan. However, the timing is not ideal, for it is Akira’s wedding day to Gregor Matheson, although Bryce cannot know that Akira has already renounced her prospective groom. Dragged off on Bryce’s horse, Akira is horrified to learn she is intended not for the man who kidnapped her, but for his brother, Evan MacPhearson.

Humiliated, Akira fights Bryce and the two enter into a resentful but grudging alliance when through his carelessness, she almost drowns. He takes her home to recover, but then Akira learns Evan has little intention of marrying a MacKenzie and her humiliation is complete.

Akira forms a bond with the MacPhearson deaf-mute younger brother, Sim, but then her clan enters MacPhearson land to reclaim her and in a skirmish of misunderstanding, Arkira’s prospective groom and Evan are killed.

In order to keep his promise to his father, and now Clan Chief, Bryce forces the issue by marrying Akira by proxy and presenting her with a fait accomplis. Furious, Akira refuses to accept him at first, but her feelings undergo a change when she learns more of her husband’s character. Perhaps God has given her a higher purpose in this forced marriage.

An uneasy truce exists between Bryce and Akira’s brothers, Elliot and Gavin. Then a string of murders leaves a trail of suspicion and fear, so that Akira no longer trusts anyone and worse, Bryce doesn’t trust her. Before long, Akira finds her own life is in jeopardy.

Clearly, there is a traitor in their midst who must be uncovered, or Bryce may never get past his suspicions about his wife and neither can find happiness .

Highland Blessings is a gentle story which takes a sinister twist when the plot turns to murder. Akira is a confused girl who doesn’t understand what her role is and to whom she should feel loyalty. Feeling unloved by her family, she seeks a way to come to terms with what God has destined for her. Her battles become more complicated as she falls deeper in love with Bryce.

Jennifer Hudson Taylor’s Akira MacKenzie draws Medieval Scotland very well in her characters and their motivations, beliefs and loyalties. I found her heroine more reflective and soul searching than the usual romantic heroine, but then that could be because I have never read an inspirational romance before, so her internal conflict and its conclusion have a purpose.

For those who revel in stories of Medieval Scotland and the romantic Highlands in particular, you will find empathy with Akira and her battles, both emotional and spiritual.


Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Nonna's Book of Mysteries by Mary Osborne

Set against the canopy of the Italian Renaissance, a fourteen year old girl in Florence, Emilia Serafini, dreams of painting. But painting is not for women to learn and Emilia’s father is anxious to see her well-married to Benozzo, a man of his own choosing who will someday take over his business. Benozzo is ten years older than Emilia, a boring man with little interest other than his work.

Through the love of her wise and indulgent mother, Emilia’s father is convinced to allow Emilia to disguise herself as a boy and enter into an apprenticeship with a local painter for the period of a year. After that, Emilia is to marry Benozzo and give up all dreams of painting.

When Emilia turned fourteen, her mother presented her with an ancient manuscript entitled A Manual to the Science of Alchemy. It is nicknamed Nonna’s book because it originated from Emilia’s great-great-great grandmother and was passed down from mother to daughter through the generations. The book’s special provenance and its antiquity pulls Emilia into its mystique. Full of wisdom and fascinating secrets from days gone past, it is her most prized possession, a book so rare, that many seek to acquire it, and Emilia takes every precaution to protect it and keep it secret from everyone.

Franco Villani is a man of moderate wealth who yearns to rise in rank and enter the court of the powerful Medici family. One day, he enters the workshop of the kind gentleman Emilia is apprenticed to and learns of the secret book. Anxious to get his hands on the rare antique and bring it to Cosimo de Medici’s attention, he concocts a plan. Through great cunning, he captures Emilia’s heart and persuades her father to allow him to marry Emilia.

Nonna’s Book of Mysteries is a novel with a subliminal message that encourages young women to chase their dreams and goals, no matter how insurmountable they may seem. Through a very intricate, exciting plot, Mary Osborne has managed to weave a highly entertaining tale, but one which encourages young girls and women to chase their dreams and never settle for anything less. Although the novel is for Young Adults, it easily transcends age denominations and can be enjoyed by women of all ages. This is Italian fiction at its best and well worth the read!