Thursday, October 28, 2010

The Diamond of Drury Lane by Julia Golding

This novel is an historical fiction story aimed at children. Mr Sheridan the playwright finds an orphaned baby and brings her up in the Drury Lane Theatre, naming her Catherine [Cat] Royal. She lives there as a sort of mascot, maid-cum-runabout at the theatre where her main job includes tidying, and acting as a prompt during shows.

Cat overhears Mr Sheridan and a man named Marchmont talking about hiding a diamond in the theatre, this thus starts the problem which spans the entire novel 'Where (or who) is the diamond?'.

This story is written from Cat’s viewpoint as a child who knows she was unwanted, but feels privileged to lead a life behind the scenes of the theatre, running errands, watching the best shows and plays in London and sleeping amongst the costumes in the attics. 

After an accident with one of the props, Cat ends up dangling from the platforms above the stage. Pedro, a young black boy who has a genius for the violin, saves her life but then runs off, Cat goes to find him and they run into  a local gang of criminal boys led by Billy ‘Boil’ Shepherd– but attracts some punishment herself.  Cat is gutsy and charming, and also pragmatic – in that she shrugs off life’s injustices as something she has been dealt and must put up with.

The story begins in the luscious atmosphere of the theatre and extends to the filthy alleyways and markets of London which are Cat’s playground. She mingles with the high and low of society, from the actors on stage to the lords and ladies in the stalls to the barrow boys in the grimy marketplace. The tale is packed with local colour and authentic detail. There is, of course the mystery of the diamond to be revealed too.

I found this story and Cat’s characterisation delightful, and as an introduction for young people to the world of historical fiction, an excellent book and highly recommended.

This novel is part of a series which includes: "Cat Amoung the Pigeons", "Den of Thieves", "Cat O'Nine Tails" and "Black Heart of Jamaica".

The Queen of Last Hopes by Susan Higginbotham

A Review by Judith Arnopp

In 1445, aged fifteen, Margaret of Anjou was married to King Henry VI of England, a marriage intended to restore peace between France and England. When Henry declined into madness eight years later, the heavily pregnant Margaret was drawn to the forefront of English politics. In stepping from her prescribed feminine role to oppose the claims of the Yorkist faction she became a target for enemy propaganda. Her fierce protection of her son, Edward of Lancaster, and her refusal to admit defeat did not attract acclaim, as would have been the case had she been a man, instead she was accused of a variety transgressions.

Since the Wars of the Roses Margaret of Anjou has been seen as a vengeful, violent figure. Shakespeare presented her as an adulterous bitch whose natural female instinct for nurture was corrupted to homicide. Later historians and novelists have taken this opinion of Margaret and run with it and in numerous works she appears as a virulent, unnatural woman, a ‘she wolf’ meddling in the affairs of men. Recently, however, there have been revisions of Margaret’s character, a reassessment of her actions and a more balanced, detached view of her is emerging.

Susan Higginbotham’s novel, The Queen of Last Hopes, is spawned of this revisionist opinion. The tale is told from a Lancastrian perspective, multi-narrated by Margaret herself and various members of her retinue.
Although meticulously researched Higginbotham’s Margaret is, for me, unconvincing. In trying to negate the slander I feel the character emerges as ‘too nice for words,’ as my mum would say. Recorded instance of brutality are glossed over or excused and so she emerges almost as saintly as her husband, King Henry.
I also found that, in many areas, Higginbotham’s research gets in the way of a good story. I wanted to feel blades slicing through flesh, the horror of cousin fighting cousin, the raw, tearing grief of losing a child. Instead the trauma of Margaret’s experiences seem twice, even thrice removed. I did not hear her voice and received instead an anaesthetised account.

On the whole I found the male characters more convincing. The Duke of Somerset, Henry Beaufort, slightly rakish, foolhardy, is likeable because of his flaws and a far more comfortable read than Margaret. King Henry’s complex mix of confusion, religious dedication and loyalty makes him a likeable king, touchingly naive. And Margaret’s son, Edward of Lancaster’s honest narration and unfortunate end is just as well rounded and his death painfully poignant.

I appreciate the amount of research that Susan Higginbotham has put into this novel. Most novelists have approached the Wars of the Roses from a Yorkist point of view, I believe and I like the refreshing Lancastrian perspective. I admire the way Higginbotham dispenses with the propaganda against Margaret but, for me, she shines just a bit too brightly to be real. Also in ignoring the vilification against Margaret it would have been good if she could have done the same with the slanders that the Tudors levelled against the Yorkists but instead, many of the old defamations of Richard of Gloucester and Edward IV remain.

On the whole it is a solid, entertaining read, a little less historical detail and a little more blood and sweat would have improved it for me but, there, I am a bloodthirsty girl. The Queen of Last Hopes is a winner and will please Higginbotham’s fans and attract new readers from the adherents of the Lancastrian faction.
For more information on Susan and her novels go to

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Union of Renegades by Tracy Falbe

Dreibrand Veta is a skilled warrior from an impoverished and disgraced noble family. Angered by the actions of his military leader, Dreibrand rides off into an unexplored wilderness, hoping to gain wealth and fame by his discoveries of this new world. Alone and vulnerable, he encounters Miranda, a woman with two children who have fled the beatings of a cruel and abusive slave master.

In this secret land, Queen Onja reigns as supreme goddess of the Rys. Her powers are far reaching. She can enter the mind of her subjects and enemies, controlling them at her whim. Shan is a spellcaster with magical powers that rival those of Queen Onja's. Although he is her most respected advisor, he becomes disenchanted with her degrading cruelty. For years he has awaited to usurp her throne in order to save the kingdom.

When Onja steals Miranda's children and leaves her to freeze to death on a glacier, Shan rises to action. Together with Dreibrand, they rescue Miranda. Shan plans his rebellion and the three set out to convince the leaders of other Rys tribes to join them in rebellion against Onja.

This book was a very pleasant surprise, gripping me from its first few chapters. The three dimensional characters were intriguing and believable. Thrust into impossible situations, their personalities developed as the story evolved, soliciting sympathy from the reader for their individual plights.

Tracy Falbe has created a credible fantasy world filled with conflict and danger. The story was easy to follow and most enjoyable. The author's lovely writing style allowed the story to unfold seamlessly and at a good pace. As I got further into the story, I could not help but feel as if I was deeply involved with the characters and their plight.

Union of Renegades is the first book in the Rys Chronicles. Even more exciting is the fact that you can download it for free at

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

The Giveaway Winner Is...

Butterfly Swords (Harlequin Historical)Many thanks to all those who participated this week. According to my number-pickin' toddler, the winner for this site's copy of "Butterfly Swords" is...

Carol T! Carol, I will contact you via the email address you left. (Thank you for doing that!)

Interview with Jeannie Lin

Please give a warm welcome to Butterfly Swords author, Jeannie Lin, who graciously agreed to answer all of my questions (please go to the Rōnempire for the rest of the interview).
What obstacles did you have to work through while writing?
J.L: I did have a 60 hour a week job while writing most of the time. So exhaustion and just finding the time were obstacles at first, but once you really want it. Those things don’t stop you anymore.
I know a lot of writers (myself included) are squeamish about writing love scenes because our mother seems to be reading along. Did you ever have that problem? How did you get over it?
J.L: I didn’t worry about my mother as much as my Little Sis (who’s my critique partner). I worried more about not being able to do it and the scene being laughable. I still have problems re-reading my love scenes and will tend to lightly edit them or just rewrite them all together. Now my mum, my namesake, my cousins, former classmates, even former students have likely read my book. It does feel odd when I let myself think of it. 
As a writer, you have to get to the point where you can construct a love scene the same way you’d construct any other scene. And there are way more uncomfortable situations in life: shame, grief, disappointment. Why should love and desire tie us into such knots? The story is the greater purpose.
Most writers instill some portion of themselves in their work – are there any similarities between you, Ailey and/or Ryam?
J.L: Ailey is only like me in her tendency to decide and then act. Other than that, we’re quite different. She’s more steadfast and divides the world into black and white, where for me, everything is always shifting and gray. Ryam is also too nice of a guy to be like me. He always tries to do the right thing and botches it. I’ve actually always identified more with the characters of Adrian and Miya, [other characters in "Butterfly Swords"] who are alpha dogs. LOL.
About how long did it take to write “Butterfly Swords” from your initial idea through research, writing, polishing, etc?    (And for additional points to help those of us still dreaming, how much time passed between your agent’s representation offer and publication?)
J.L: Butterfly Swords took I’d say about a year to write, including all the polishing and such. It was a finished manuscript after three months, but there were many rounds of revisions after that. Once my agent offered, it was sort of in end game. I had the Golden Heart nomination and editors were reading. My agent offered in April of 2009 and I sold July 2009. 

This is something I like to ask just about every writer I talk to because I find the varied responses fascinating: Every author works in a different way – would you share how you approach writing a novel? The way you set out the plot, your workplace, anything that contributes to the process.
J.L: I start out by plot-dreaming. (Hey, that’s the first time I’ve used that word.) Like right now, I’m spinning ideas about two characters in my head. It’s a Romeo and Juliet type story where they actually had to get married.  But their families are still at war with each other. So since they do start the care for each other, it actually keeps them apart because they know their respective families will try to exploit that. So I’m stirring ideas around. I see how they meet, I see some conflicted moments they have. I see vague shadows of the other characters.
There’s no plot there yet, but eventually I’ll sit down and do a general outline. Twenty-four chapters, three scenes each. Ha! Writers never say anything that concrete, do they? I’ll write the first three to five chapters without pressure. Then I’ll set aside two weeks and Fast Draft through most of the rest of the book. Then I slow down a bit at the end again. With this process, it takes me about two to three months to complete a manuscript. But then I revise like crazy. Writing is revising for me.   
Obviously you have “Butterfly Swords,” and “The Taming of Mei Lin.” I read in one of your other interviews that you do have other stories in this mileu. Are you working on them now? (Pleasepleaseplease.)
J.L: The two other manuscripts are actually contracted and finished, except for editorial revisions. There are also two more short stories coming. One is complete and one is in progress. 
If not, what are you planning for your next book?
      J.L: Well, there’s that Romeo and Juliet story. There’s also a paranormal series in the
      works.  Fingers crossed.
Another question I love to ask: Do you have any advice which may help others get past blocks?
J.L: Ask yourself, how much do you want this? There is really no other way.
Are you interested in writing in other genres or age ranges? (If you answered this above, then disregard this question.)
J.L: Probably not age range. I don’t have the right touch for a YA or younger book. That’s my sister’s expertise. As to genre, I may write in a contemporary setting one day or historical fiction, non-romance.

You mentioned in other reviews and a recent newsletter that Butterfly Swords will only be available in stores through the end of this month. After that, we’ll be ordering copies through Amazon. Why is that?
J.L: The reason the book only has one month in bookstores is that it's part of a category line: Harlequin Historical. These books have multiple releases a month and are only in the bookstores for one month before they're moved off to make room for the new month. 

That's one of the reasons I've been pushing so hard for this month. Afterward, the book can only be ordered online.
So, if you want a free copy of Jeannie Lin’s book, please leave a comment either here or at the Rōnempire. For other opportunities to win some neat stuff, check out Jeannie’s site for the launch celebration rules.


Addendum: If you haven't read Jeannie's prequel novelette to "Butterfly Swords," you can buy "The Taming of Mei Lin" wherever e-books are sold: Amazon, Kobo, Harlequin. Stay tuned! The winner of our giveaway will be announced this evening.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Butterfly Swords Giveaway

Butterfly Swords (Harlequin Historical)For a free copy of Butterfly Swords, all we're asking you do to is:

1. Be a follower of Historical Novel Review and Jeannie Lin's blog.
2. Tell us why you're interested in the book.

Good luck, readers!

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Butterfly Swords Review

     Butterfly Swords (Harlequin Historical)
Butterfly Swords is not the sort of book I think of when I look at Harlequin Romances.  I expect lots of hot and heavy breathing, but no whistling blades arcing into flesh. I certainly don’t expect Tang dynasty China. Yet Butterfly Swords carries itself with all the confidence of its warrior class heroine through scenes both sensual and blood-stirring, and all of it set within a tumultuous period of China’s history: the later Tang Dynasty (760s). The story does tweak history a bit in that the rebellion described is loosely based on the An Lushan rebellion, but the book's events are fictional. In that sense, Butterfly Swords is an historical romantic fantasy.
     I read most of the book in one sitting, enjoying the flow and power of the author’s language. Then I decided I had read it too quickly to do it justice in a review, so I sat down a few days later and picked it up again. Darned if I didn’t get halfway through before remembering why I had decided to re-read it! It grabs and pulls in ways I can’t begin to describe. I can only appreciate the skill used.
     Consider the following scene where the heroine Ailey has agreed to a friendly duel with Ryam, the hero. If he wins, he will receive one kiss. If she wins, he has to take her to her family home in Changan.
     Ryam couldn’t resist the promise of a kiss to keep him company on the cold journey back to the frontier. It  might even be worth the risk of facing Imperial soldiers again – not that he intended to lose.
     Ailey stood across from him, poised and still. She shook the hair from her eyes with a slight toss of her head and her braid whipped over her shoulder. When she focused again on him, the young woman disappeared and a warrior stood in her place.
     The fight started here, at the moment of decision, long before his sword ever reached striking distance. Ailey radiated more determination than many a seasoned fighter. She bowed formally, bending slightly at the waist with her eyes trained on him. He considered, for a brief moment, whether Ailey had been bluffing all along.
     ‘Ready?’ he murmured.
     She flew at him.
     In a flash of silver, the butterfly swords cut tight lines through the air. He deflected in two sharp clashes of steel, surprised by the strength of the attack.
     ‘I thought this was a friendly match – ‘
     The next swipe of her blade whistled by his throat.
     Ailey pushed inside his defense without fear, without caution. For a second she darted within arm’s reach. He considered simply grabbing her and wrestling her to the ground. Pin her beneath him. The image lingered dangerously. Definitely not honourable.
     He had to jump back to avoid her knee as she drove it upwards.
     ‘I can’t take you to Changan if you kill me.’
     He twisted her next attack aside only to have her spring back, eyes dark with intent, a hint of green sparking within them. She left no room, no time to recover. His heart pumped hard as instinct took hold of him. According to her rules, he could only defend and not attack. He side-stepped and angled the strikes away. Ailey knew what she was doing, keeping him close so he couldn’t use his reach against her. She danced around him with deadly elegance, matching him toe to toe. The rhythm of it almost sexual.
     Better than sexual.
     ‘Ten,’ he announced.
     ‘Show me what you have,’ she retorted.
     The book had one surprising moment for me. The heroine's first goal is to return to her family and reveal the treachery of her fiance, the treacherous General Tao. With the hero's help, Ailey meets with her father and discovers that he's aware of the General's political ambitions. Her father requires her to marry Tao anyway and for some reason, the book's path from then on took me to unexpected places. Not that I minded; I was simply surprised. The plot does move a little slowly as the hero debates whether he can have the life he wants with Ailey. After he concludes that he can't, the villain captures Ailey. 
     After a book's length of errors, our hero decides to stand up for himself and what he wants. The actions he takes at that point moved me and fulfilled what I want from a book. Since this is a romance, you know you get a happy ever after. I won't tell you how, but I can tell you a border guard's love and desire for an imperial princess is satisfied in a realistic, but unsappy fashion.
     Make no mistake, this is not your mother’s Harlequin. This is the sort of romance that has crossover appeal  (potentially) to both sexes,  to readers of straightforward history and to the fantasy crowd who tend to love history.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

The Half Slave by Trevor Bloom

Reviewed by: L. Greg Graham

It is the last half of the fifth century. The Roman Empire is a wizened old man unable to protect Rome much less Northern Gaul where partially Romanized Franks ally with the last of the Romans to protect their homes from the land and loot hungry Germanic tribes to the north and east. On the outside looking in are the Theodi, a small Germanic tribe, who live a marginal existence in the Rhine delta. Looting the last of the Roman settlements supplements the meager sustenance they pull from the ground and out of the sea.

This is the situation that Ascha, the hero of the story, is born into. He is a half slave. His mother is a Christian Prittani captured during a raid to Britain; his father is headman of the Theodi. In the rigid society of the Saxons, Ascha is not a free man because his mother was a slave, and he is not a slave because his father was a free man. His story is what he must do to get himself declared a free man. Along the way he works as a spy, a wood carver, a military commander, and a slave.

Good historical literature takes the reader to a time and a society that he or she knows little about. The very best historical literature allows the reader to think and dream and understand the world as that far away protagonist might. Mr. Bloom succeeds admirably. We are taken to a world where a person’s worth is determined by his closeness to you. A family member is better than a tribe member who is better than a Saxon who is better than a Frisian who is better than a Frank who is better than a slave. The Saxons do not wish to destroy the Romans and the Franks; they want to replace them. They yearn for the comfort and the material wealth that the Franks and the Romans are accustomed to. The Saxon tribes unite and invade Gaul. Ascha through no fault of his own finds himself between the Saxons and the Franks, and must decide which side he is on.

One of the strengths of the book is the cast of characters Ascha encounters along the way. We meet and understand the world-views of Saxon warriors, Frankish warriors, river traders, a rash king, Roman patricians, Frankish usurpers, a Hun warrior, and slaves. Mr. Bloom’s research is impeccable. He works hard to avoid the clichés. The Saxons are not bellowing, mead-swilling berserkers, the Romans are neither hard-bitten legionnaires nor are they effete patricians, and the Franks are not barbarian clods pretending to be Romans. Each character instead is fresh and vivid.

We experience the squalor of Fifth Century life, the uncertainty of the food supply, and the very first clashes of Christianity against the Germanic gods. A theme that runs through this book is that civilization is a hard won ideal, and that there were times in history when the forces that drove us apart were stronger than the forces that kept us together. Ascha in the end decides that civilization with all its flaws is better than chaos.

There are two groups I would heartily recommend this book to. People who love a good adventure should enjoy this book; Ascha is a heroic character in every respect. The second group I would recommend this book to are those trying to understand that critical period in western history when the old Roman ways are supplanted by newer, rawer forms of government.

Catching Moondrops - Jennifer Erin Valent

Inspirational Historical by Jennifer Erin Valent - Reviewed by Ginger Simpson

It’s 1938 in Calloway, Virginia. Jessilynn Lassiter has grown into a young woman, and at almost nineteen, she still loves Luke Tally just as much as she did when they were kids. And...Luke is finally looking at her with the same emotion in his eyes. Her family is extraordinary, in that they don’t see color…they see people. Jessie’s best friend, Gemma, lives with the Lassiters. They took her in when her parent’s died, despite the narrow-minded bigots in Calloway who consider the Lassiter's good intentions as misguided.  After all what decent white family would associate with anyone of color?

It’s been six years since the last real Klan activity but the arrival of a young negro doctor, Tal Pritchett, stirs the group to action, especially when he tends to the ailments of an elderly, white woman. Flaming crosses, burning churches, and the hanging of Noah, an innocent young black, is more than Jessilynn can stand.

Love is in the air as Gemma and Tal grow closer, but Jessie has demons to fight. She wants revenge on the Klan for their prejudicial acts. With a lot of soul-searching and praye, she eventually realizes her hatred is no different than those she detests.

 Catching Moondrops by Jennifer Erin Valent draws you back to a time in history when bigotry and racial strife was at it’s worst. Although things have improved, this novel is a much-needed reminder that hate is hate and color plays no part in the load on one’s heart.

Jennifer Erin Valent won the 2007 Christian Writer’s Guild Operation First-Novel contest for her debut novel, Fireflies in December, so it's no wonder she writes with realistic dialogue and descriptions pertinent to the era and locale. Unfortunately for me, my dislike for first person didn't allow me to truly get into the character's POV and experience the story through their eyes. There are places where I felt the story was told rather than shown, but this may just be a personal problem on my part. Regardless, Catching Moondrops is a very entertaining read about a not-so-bright time in American history. I applaud the author for broaching a touchy topic and delivering a strong message.

The book is offered by Tyndale House Publishers, and you can read more about Ms. Valent on her website:

Friday, October 22, 2010

The Pigtailed Heart by Ruth Francisco

Author Ruth Francisco delivers an intelligent, multilayered, and rapidly paced historical crime novel of 1930’s Los Angeles in The Pigtailed Heart. Based on an actual criminal trial, this story swings from the courtroom, to seedy backroom gambling parlors populated by Hollywood socialites, to even more sordid political entanglements that reach far beyond the glitter and sunshine of southern California.

George Kendall Dazey is a well known doctor whose wife, the lovely yet troubled starlet Doris Dazey, dies under mysterious circumstances. The death is at first ruled a suicide, but later when Dazey remarries and seeks to claim full custody of his son from his powerful in-laws, a murder charge suddenly surfaces and Dazey’s life becomes the object of unbearable scrutiny.

Former detective Jack Clayton is retrieved from a quiet life of manual labor on his family’s orchards by renowned L.A. defense lawyer Jerry Geisler to investigate the charges. But what starts out to be a simple case of searching for evidence to uphold Dazey’s innocence becomes something far more. Every clue leads to more questions and incriminations, as the scope of those involved becomes broader and ever more scandalous. Slowly, as Dazey’s trial progresses, Jack begins to uncover a bully’s playground of organized crime, political corruption, espionage and eugenics.

The Pigtailed Heart is a gripping crime thriller that will keep readers teetering on the edges of their seats and reluctant to put the book down until the very last word. Impressively detailed and impeccably researched, this story will not only hurl you back to the darker side of Hollywood’s golden era, but leave your heart pounding and your palms sweaty.

("Ruth Francisco worked in the film industry for fifteen years before selling her first novel
Confessions of a Deathmaiden to Warner Books in 2003, followed by Good Morning, Darkness, which was selected by Publishers’ Weekly as one of the best mysteries of the year, and her controversial third novel, The Secret Memoirs of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis. She now has four new novels, including The Pigtailed Heart, up on Kindle. She is a frequent contributor to The Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine, and currently lives in Florida.")

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

The de Lacy Inheritance by Elizabeth Ashworth

Set in 1192, England, the story begins with the exclusion ceremony of a leper returned from the Crusades in the Holy Land. Richard de Eustace feels his affliction is in some way God’s punishment for his sin of love with a native girl and accepts his fate.

He must take his farewell of his mother, grandmother and sisters, leave his estates at Halton Castle and live out his life as a hermit. He journeys north into the newly named county of Lancashire, his final task but before he leaves, his grandmother comes to see him in secret and begs him to take a letter to her kinsman, Sir Robert de Lacy, at Cliderhou Castle and there press his consideration of her claim to his estate.

At Halton, Richard's headstrong fourteen-year-old sister, Johanna is distraught. The fate of her beloved elder brother has done more than leave her bereft. Her other brother, ruthless and ambitious Roger has returned to take his place as head of the family. He and Johanna's mother have contrived a marriage for her to a wealthy old landowner, and without Richard's protection there seems little she can do about it unless she can escape and find him.

This is a beautifully written story whose characters engage the reader from the first page. Richard is a worth hero with a Medieval hero’s aims and emotions, his main flaw being his longing for his lost love in Palestine. Johanna FitzEustace is a feisty and strong-willed girl on the brink of womanhood, but she remains a twelfth century maiden without the expectations of a modern heroine.
All Elizabeth Ashworth’s characters are well rounded - the ruthless Roger FitzEustace and the tyrant Dean of Wallei to the kind and gentle Geoffrey, with whom it's very easy to fall in love. This is a lovely story which is very well told and easy to read. I thoroughly enjoyed it.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

The Turning of the Tide by Liz Shakespeare

Review by Sheila R. Lamb

The Turning of the Tide by Liz Shakespeare is an immensely engaging story that captures the reader from the first page. Selina is a destitute, unwed mother, forced into the Bideford Workhouse. Trapped by her unfortunate circumstances, she – like all the mothers in the workhouse – lives for the few hours a week that she can visit her sons.

Dr. Ackland, a visiting physician to the workhouse, feels compassion for Selina when her eldest son dies. He employs her as a maid in his own home, much to the consternation of his wife, Sophia. Although their home is a better environment than the institutionalized prison-like life of the workhouse, Selina longs for her only son, Will, who is sent to live with her parents in the neighboring village of Clovelly.

Selina, timid and skittish from the abuse she has endured, faces societal condemnation for having two children out of wedlock.  Her sharpest critic is Sophia Ackland, although Sophia’s harsh judgments are internal. While the two women deal with their unspoken fears, Dr. Ackland is determined to bring hygiene, and therefore health, to Bideford. Shakespeare deftly illustrates the medical practices of the time and the diseases people were challenged with daily.

The Acklands agree to keep Selina employed on a temporary basis. Sophia slowly learns to trust her new maid and teaches her to read, yet she still retains a snobbish sense of betterment over her.  As the story unfolds, Sophia is compelled to face the hardships Selina has borne. In the meantime, Selina grows in confidence and health, and begins to recognize dreams and longings of her own.

In a unique and fascinating twist, Shakespeare smoothly inserts primary source documents within the text as the novel is based on historical figures from Bideford and Clovelly Documents include Bideford Workhouse records, newspaper clippings, marriage certificates, letters and photographs. Each document corresponds to an event that occurs in the novel (or perhaps, the novel corresponds to the event.) For example, in the novel, Dr. Ackland attends a tempestuous board meeting over his goal of expanding the local Smallpox Hospital. A newspaper article follows the chapter, dated December 1871, recounting a similarly dramatic board meeting.

Shakespeare provides a fascinating glimpse of life in 1871 Devon, England. She paints thorough portraits of the landscape as well as of the social community. No detail is left out, from examining social health, the class system, and attitudes of the time. Even more importantly, she writes a beautiful story of Selina’s strength and courage that holds the reader until the end.

The Turning of the Tide is available through Ms. Shakespeare's website.

The Distant Hours by Kate Morton


An ancient castle, dark family secrets, obsession, and madness are at the heart of Kate Morton's newest novel, The Distant Hours.

For most of their lives, a distance has always existed between Edie Burchill and her mother. Then one day, a letter, lost for decades, mysteriously appears. Edie cannot help but burn with curiosity at her mother's reaction and the secrets of her past.

During World War II, Edie's mother, Meredith, was one of thousands of children evacuated from war torn London into the safety of the English countryside and into Millderhurst Castle owned by the Blythe family. There, Juniper Blythe and her twin sisters, Pen and Saffy, and their father Raymond, the author of a classic children's novel, make a home for the displaced girl. Enchanted by the magnificence of the castle and its family, Meredith is enthralled by her new, but temporary circumstances, and falls in love with her surroundings.  

Decades later, gripped with curiosity of her mother's past, Edie travels to Millderhurst castle and meets the elderly and eccentric Blythe spinsters. Little by little, she discovers the dark secrets that lurk behind the castle walls and the real truth about the distant hours - the not too distant past.

The Distant Hours by Kate Morton is a masterful tale that unfolds slowly, one secret at a time, teasing the reader with every turn of the page. The setting itself is compelling – an ancient castle ravaged by time with plenty of secret rooms and passageways. I found all the characters enigmatic, each with their own fascinating story.  There's a little of everything in this story - love, betrayal, murder, and tragedy and it all lends a powerful ambience from the start of this fabulous story to the powerful end.  Kate Morton writes with detail and deep introspection, making the characters convincing and larger than life.  One cannot help but like this story and admire the clever way it unfolds. I could not put this book down and it kept me awake at night as I was eager to read on to discover the next secret.  It truly is a beautifully written story. If you like a cozy mystery that involves ancient castles with loads of mystery, this is a must to have on your reading list.

The Distant Hours is scheduled for release in early November.  A very worthy novel that will be a bestseller! I have no doubt. 

N. Gemini Sasson Author Interview

1. Welcome to the Historical Novel Review.  Can you tell us a little about your novel?

Isabeau, A Novel of Queen Isabella and Sir Roger Mortimer, is the story of Isabella, who sought revenge on her husband Edward II, and her lover Roger Mortimer, who masterminded the invasion that accomplished it. In 1308, Isabella of France was married to the new King of England, Edward II. Although they had a harmonious stage earlier in their marriage, during which Isabella gave birth to four healthy children, eventually Edward’s intimate relationship with Lord Hugh Despenser drove an irreparable wedge between them. When her lands were taken from her, her income reduced and her access to her own children severely limited, Isabella turned to her brother, King Charles of France, for help.

There is a lot of conjecture about when and how Roger Mortimer and Isabella became involved, but likely she visited him at some point while he was imprisoned in the Tower of London for leading a rebellion against King Edward. Meanwhile, Mortimer’s wife and all of his twelve children were being held under guard at various places throughout England. With help, Mortimer escaped from the Tower and fled to France, where he began to form alliances and gather support, with every intention of returning to England to set matters straight.

Later, Isabella was permitted to journey to France to help negotiate a peace treaty between the two countries. There, she and Mortimer became romantically involved and plans to invade England and place her oldest son, also named Edward, on the throne were set in place.

2. What inspired you to write a novel about a woman in this period of history?

While researching The Bruce Trilogy, which takes place during the same time period, I kept running across Isabella’s name. Parts of those stories are from Edward II’s perspective, so my initial impression of her was quite different from what it is now. Older resources often referred to her as the ‘She-Wolf of France’ and painted her as a scheming adulteress. But the more I learned about her, the more sympathetic I became with her situation. In time, I came upon more recent works of non-fiction, namely Alison Weir’s Isabella and Ian Mortimer’s The Greatest Traitor, which gave me an entirely different view about her plight.

3. What hardships did women face in this particular century and what lessons can today's woman learn from it?

We have to realize that women then often didn’t have a voice. Marriage counseling didn’t exist and divorce wasn’t an option in most cases. Even though I believe she and Edward tried to make their marriage work – and in a sense they did by producing four children – in the end they simply weren’t suited to each other. If anything, we today should be grateful that communication and compromise are such important factors in marriage . . . and in the event that two people aren’t compatible, they can go their separate ways.

4. What inspired you about your heroine? Why did you choose her?

It surprises me that her story hasn’t been told more often, as fascinating as it is. What I found most intriguing was that Isabella defied her husband in an age when women were condemned for such actions. She did so at great personal cost, knowing that her children were still under Edward and Despenser’s control. But I really think that she chose to separate herself from Edward and take action against him as a last resort. It took a lot of bravery for her to do what she did.

Her involvement with Mortimer was another matter. I truly believe she loved him, and visa versa. Had they not been so drawn to each other, I’m not sure they would have gone to the extent that they did for one another.

5. Can you describe a typical writing day?

I’ve been fortunate to be a stay-at-home mom – although that really doesn’t convey the busy and full life I’ve had. Normally, I write for a couple of hours in the morning, after the coffee kicks in and e-mails are answered, and again after lunch when the chores are finished (we live on what some would call a mini-farm and breed Australian Shepherds, so there’s always something that needs to be done). When kids and spouse come home, I limit myself to spurts of editing, because it’s hard for me to get ‘into the zone’ when I’m constantly being interrupted with, “What’s for dinner?” or “Have you seen my new shirt?” With my youngest child now in his last year of high school, I’ll be going back to school soon myself to renew my teaching certificate. The writing schedule will have to shift then, but I’ll figure it out.

6. Can you tell us briefly about your other novels and any new novels in the works?

The first book in The Bruce Trilogy, The Crown in the Heather, was published earlier this year. It covers the early years of Robert the Bruce, his struggles against Longshanks (King Edward I) and how his love for Elizabeth de Burgh determined his path to kingship. If I can stay on schedule, I’ll have the second in that series, Worth Dying For, available as an e-book by December of 2010, later to be followed by the paperback. It covers the years from 1306 to the Battle of Bannockburn in 1314. A third Bruce book is roughed in and awaiting revisions. Somewhere on my computer, there’s a sequel to Isabeau about half written.

Thank you so much, Mirella, for this opportunity to share about my book. I’m just thrilled people are getting a chance to read it now.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Isabeau by N. Gemini Sasson

Isabeau by N. Gemini Sasson

The fascinating life of Queen Isabella of France and her marriage to England's King Edward II is spectacularly portrayed in N. Gemini Sasson’s newest novel, Isabeau. This riveting story sweeps the reader into the turbulence of 14th century England, Scotland, and France with passion and detailed historical fact.

From the earliest days of her marriage to Edward, Isabeau learns she must compete for her husband's attentions. Piers Gaveston is her husband's favourite, his lover; a peacock of a man whom Edward showers with gifts of vast wealth. Edward's incompetence on the throne of England is evident to everyone. His apparent attentions to Piers angers politicians and leaders. As the misguided Edwards errs in his political judgements, Isabeau attempts to guide her husband. Not only beautiful, but highly intelligent with sharp diplomatic skills, Isabeau attempts to influence Edward's decisions to keep tensions both within and outside of England to a minimum, but it proves to be a daunting task.

Edward, however, is not so easily influenced and as time passes, matters worsen for him. His unpopularity reaches new heights. The attentions he lavishes upon Piers Gaveston ires his countrymen and soon Piers is executed. Isabeau is hopeful that perhaps now, her husband will turn his attentions back to her. It was not to be. Before long, she learns her husband has taken a new lover - Hugh Despenser, a dangerous, ambitious man who will stop at nothing to wield his influence and destroy Isabeau whom he sees as his enemy.

Isabeau's plight increases as Hugh Despenser manipulates Edward's every action. Isabeau finds herself separated by her children and sent to France to negotiate on her husband's behalf. It is in France that she reunites with Sir Roger Mortimer, a man she saved from the Tower several years earlier. Unable to deny their love for each other, the two enter into a dangerous liaison that will take them back to the shores of England where Isabelle leads an army to recapture the country on behalf of her son, Edward III.

From start to finish, the novel, Isabeau, kept me turning its pages. Lulled by the beautiful prose and stunning descriptions, N. Gemini Sasson breathed life into the woman known as the She-Wolf and portrayed her with sensitivity and great humanity. As I made my way through the story, I was impressed by Sasson's descriptions of people and places. Every detail of every scene was written with clarity, activating all the reader's senses. The novel spans nearly twenty years of her life and includes numerous characters of the era. The fact that the author has spent years researching English and Scottish history during this time is evident. For anyone who loves European history or biographical novels about influential women of days of yore, you must read this novel. It will bring you hours of reading pleasure. I guarantee it.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Book Giveaway - Isabeau by N. Gemini Sasson

Book Giveaway

For the next three days, we're featuring this newly released novel about Isabelle of France, queen consort of Edward II.

To celebrate the release of this beautifully written novel, we'll be giving away a free copy to one of our readers. To enter, all you have to do is:

1. Be a follower of this blog (Historical Novel Review) and (My Dog Ate My Manuscript)

2. Leave a comment about why you want to read this book.

That's all that is required.

Please stop by and visit for your chance to win.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Valeria's Cross by Kathi Macias and Susan Wales


In 3rd century Rome, Valeria is the daughter of Emperor Diocletian.  She secretly abandons her pagan Roman faith and becomes a Christian. When she falls in love with the handsome Mauritius, also a Christian and the leader of an elite troop of skilled warriors named the Theban Legion, her life is full of hope for their future together. But shortly after they meet, Mauritius is called to war.  He promises that upon his return, he will ask Valeria's father for her hand in marriage.

Galerius is an ambitious general who will stop at nothing to rise to power and he sets his sights on Valeria, the Emperor's daughter. Valeria does everything to discourage his lecherous lust.

On the battlefield, however, Mauritius falls under the evil machinations of Galerius who executes him and the entire Theban Legion because of their Christianity. Valeria grieves at news of her beloved's death. Her life turns upside down when she learns her father has betrothed her to the licentious Galerius, a man she loathes. As time passes, Valeria struggles to accept her new life with a man she does not love.

Based on actual historical events, Valeria's Cross, co-authored by Kathi Macias and Susan Wales is an interesting novel of the brutality of the Roman Empire and the struggles of early Christianity. They did an excellent job of portraying the persecution of the Christians in that violent era. I must admit, I struggled to accept the marriage between Galerius and Valeria, and I could not grow to like him, no matter how hard he tried to be a good husband to Valeria. Nevertheless, this novel offers much for readers interested in early Christianity and includes Reader's Group questions at the end.

Hope Against Hope by Sally Zigmond

Eighteen-year-old Carrie Hope and her younger sister May, who is twelve, lose both home and livelihood when their Leeds pub is sold out from under them to make way for the coming of the railway.

They head for Harrogate to find work in the newly prosperous spa town, but lose all their possessions in an accident along the way. Spurning the help of Alex Sinclair, a kindly Scot who comes to their rescue, Carrie presses on for Harrogate where the girls immediately fall prey to predators. A misunderstanding drives the sisters apart, and their mutual pride won’t allow them to reconcile over the coming years, despite the encouragement of friends.

Carrie marries a wealthy man for money, and to escape a brothel, May goes to Paris with a lecherous man she does not know and becomes his mistress. Carrie becomes a virtual slave to the vicious hostess of a filthy boarding house and the victim of her vindictive son.

Alex Sinclair, a bold and warm-spirited Scot, a railway engineer loves Carrie, but when his wealthy and disreputable doctor friend, Charles Hammond, is forced to marry her for money, he keeps his feelings to himself and leaves her to her fate. The years pass and the sisters overcome more than their fair share of various hardships. May becomes the most sought after dressmaker in Paris, and Carrie, the proprietor of the most successful hotel in Harrogate.

Charles Hammond, Carrie’s husband in name only, is almost destroyed through gambling, drunkenness and medical ineptitude, but tired of his destructive way of life, appeals to Carrie who helps him onto the long and difficult road to redemption.

In 1848, when Carrie and May have been estranged for ten years, the streets of Paris erupt in bloody insurrection...while Alex Sinclair is commissioned to bring the railway to Harrogate.

This novel is almost an epic, which jumps from Harrogate to Paris and back again as the two sisters pursue happiness, with friends, but also enemies and at times the reader wonders if either will ever have a quiet life.

There is plenty of adventure for the sisters in this novel and it makes a good read if you don’t mind suspending your disbelief at some points. For instance how would an eighteen-year-old girl be running a pub alone in 1837? There is also a line where Carrie has a faded picture of Queen Victoria’s coronation, a year before she was crowned. There is also a reference to two of their friends being ‘like Albert and Victoria’, three years before the royal couple actually marry.

But then this is fiction, so maybe historical accuracy isn’t necessary, and as far as a rollicking story goes, this should satisfy readers who like epic novels – and at 448 pages - this is a long book!

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Genghis: Bones of the Hills by Conn Iguldden

Any novel that takes on the life of the Mongolian conqueror Genghis Khan has to be dramatic and sweeping in its scale, to do justice to the enigmatic life of its subject. Conn Iggulden's Genghis: Bones of the Hill was my first Kindle purchase and a great introduction into the author's view of Mongolian steppe life. I'm late to the Khan series and reading the books out of sequence, but Iggulden completely immerses his reader in the storyline, so that I had a good feeling for the character development from the two earlier novels.

Genghis' sons, brothers, and generals have completed bloody military campaigns against the Khan's enemies. On the southern steppes, the great general Tsubodai has defeated Russians in battle with the support of Jochi, Genghis' eldest son. In the kingdom of Koryo, the second son Chagatai and General Jelme await the full submission of the Koryon emperor. On the outskirts of Chin lands, Genghis' brother Khasar with the Khan's third son Ogedai plans the final destruction of Kaifeng. All receive the summons to return home at Genghis' command because he plans to make war on the Islamic dynasty of Khwarezmia.  

The relationships in the novel bear a tremendous strain, the most obvious being the conflicts between Genghis and Jochi, and in turn, Jochi and Chagatai. The divisions stem from Jochi's conception. Early in Genghis' first marriage, his wife was stolen and given away to another man. He rescued her and within a year, she gave birth to Jochi. Genghis cannot forgive his son for the circumstances of his conception, and Chagatai as his brother's rival refuses to follow "the rape-born whelp," his favorite term for Jochi. He even goes so far as goading Jochi into fighting a tiger, and nearly deserting him in a key moment of battle. Jochi's resentment is painfully laid bare on the pages, and his plight is sympathetic.

When Genghis sends his family and generals against the Khwarezmia Dynasty, Iggulden also provides the viewpoint of the enemy, the Shah Alaudin and his eldest son, Jelaudin. Iggulden shows great skill in portraying equally sympathetic antagonists and protagonists. The Shah and his son begin with the intent of destroying the Mongol invaders, but soon Alaudin dies and Jelaudin must struggle to assume his father's power.

Everything about life on the steppes is hard for the characters, whether in the daily struggle to survive brutal weather or fierce conflicts, or in the punishments they mete out to various enemies. Each character is fully fleshed out, their emotions deftly sketched. Iggulden makes the reader feel Genghis' righteous fury against the Shah for the deaths of his men, his general Tsubodai's sadness when the Khan asks him to commit a murder that goes against his principles, and Jelaudin's religious fervor, in equal parts. While Amazon reviews are sharply divided over the merits of Iggulden's writing (one reviewer claimed "the author has raped historical facts..."), I loved Genghis: Bones of the Hill, even for its bittersweet ending. I look forward to reading an advance copy of the next title from Iggulden, Khan: Empire of Silver. 

Monday, October 11, 2010

Whisper On the Wind Review by Ginger Simpson

It's 1914. The German army left their devastating boot mark on the town of Louvain, Belgium.  They may have destroyed the buildings, but the spirit of the people who survive remains steadfast.  Edward Kirkland, a young man thought dead at the hands of the Germans, hides his identity behind the make-up mask of a much older man.  He fears for his mother and younger brother, and mourns his father. Food is scarce, danger is plentiful, but an underground newspaper fuels the citizens’ determination.

Isa Lassone grew up in Belgium. The hours spent with Edward’s family made leaving difficult and the very reason she arranged to be smuggled past enemy lines, back to rescue those she loves. Her return brings no joy for Edward…only another burden to carry as he fights the attraction he feels growing for her. She’s no longer the child he remembers from two years past.

She and her family fled Belgium at the hint of war.  Safe with her wealthy and respected parents, Edward cannot fathom why she risks coming back to death and destruction. In her heart, she carries the impetus: Isa has loved Edward since childhood and has returned to convince him and his family to leave.  Edward refuses, insisting she should go back where she came from.  Though she longs to see love shining in his eyes, everything about him is centered on hatred for those who have ruined his country and killed innocent people.  Determined to stay, Isa soon becomes involved in La Libre Belgique, the underground paper that can be the death of anyone involved with its printing.  Isa is willing to  risk anything to be with Edward.

Maureen Lang has authored a compelling read in Whisper on the Wind.  Her characters are believable, her descriptions so well done that you can picture the destruction, and the emotions so high, you’ll experience them along with Isa and Edward.  Secondary characters such as Genny and the Major, lend even more to the romantic aspect of the story, and prove that love can overcome hatred if given the change.

Even if you aren’t a fan of war stories, this is still a book not to be missed. Whisper on the Wind is so much more.  Ms. Lang has taken a very distasteful period of time and conveyed a strong message in her storyline.  I urge you not to pass this one by.  Kudos for a smoothly written, interesting, and well-researched novel.  You’re sure to become a Maureen Lang fan.

This story is published by Tyndale House Publishers, Inc.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Once Upon a Place by Renee Goudeau

In 1922 in the town of Lake Badin, Louisiana, Giselle O’Connell Richards is a young war widow and partial owner of the local newspaper. Passionate about justice, the spirited Giselle targets Frank Cotton III, also known as Rabbit. He is a money-hungry extortionist and Captain of the Krewe of the Corsairs – a dastardly group of bigots and criminals bent on destruction. When Rabbit turns his attention to Giselle’s aunt and blackmails her, she fights back. 

Peppered with very vivid and detailed descriptions, Renee Goudreau sweeps us to Louisianna’s Bayou. This is a tale of mystery and suspense with a courageous heroine as its heartbeat. There is a strong Cajun accent throughout the novel that sometimes makes it difficult to follow the prose, but the story is rich and complex. A good depiction of the deep south in the time of Prohibition.